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Ihsahn Interview

Conversation With The Emperor Frontman and Solo Artist




Candlelight Records
Updated May 24, 2008
After releasing his first solo CD The Adversary in 2006, former Emperor frontman Ihsahn returns with Angl (pronounced “angel”). It was recorded at Symphonique Studios in Notodden, Norway, which is the studio owned by Ihsahn and his wife/fellow musician Heidi (aka Ihriel). Guests on the CD include Opeth vocalist Mikael Akerfeldt. Ihsahn is an interesting interviewee who speaks flawless English. We talked about the new album, whether Emperor will be making a return, the legacy of black metal and several other topics.

Chad Bowar: What did you learn from The Adversary and that whole process that you applied to Angl?
Ihsahn: The structure of my work, for the most part, and also coming to terms of just playing metal again. I did much more experimental music in the years between Emperor and The Adversary. The Adversary was more all over the place, with me trying out other subgenres in metal that I didn’t really have a go at before. Angl is a much more focused album, and a more contemporary album about what I am as an artist today.

Your approach to making an album is pretty structured from what I’ve heard you say previously. Was that the case with Angl?
Yes. I started that with The Adversary because it’s so easy when you have your own studio. Me and my wife have a production company, and we can basically do anything with the technology we have. Since I don’t have any bandmates, it’s important to have a good structure. I learned that doing The Adversary, deciding to write all the songs all with just two guitar tracks, programmed drums and a piano sound.

I followed the same recipe with this one. Even before I started writing riffs, I actually sketched up guidelines about what kind of album I wanted to make, trying to have a very big idea of what the overall album should be like. Of course you change things over time, but having a main objective was very important to me. I wanted a more focused album, not so spread to different subgenres. I also wanted each song to have a special personality that would set it apart from the others. I wanted a more modern, contemporary, hard hitting sound. For The Adversary I wanted a more sparse sound picture, inspired by more ‘70s metal. I also mixed that album in an analog studio with equipment from the ‘50s. ‘60s and ‘70s and didn’t overdub any guitars.

In a band there are a lot of different people to bounce ideas off of. In a solo situation, who do you use as your sounding board?
Definitely my wife. We help each other in the studio. During the past 12 months we did a project together (Hardingrock) collaborating with a Norwegian fiddler playing folk music. She has just released her second solo album, and now I’m releasing my solo album. Lyrical ideas, musical ideas, sketches, we run by each other. We have good communication on that. I don’t really feel the need having a drummer have a say on the riffs or anything like that.

How did the collaboration with Mikael from Opeth come about?
I’ve known Mikael since the early ‘90s. Even though we haven’t been in contact that often, I’ve known him for many years and have always considered him a friend. Last time I met him we talked about that. I originally talked to him about doing something together before I started writing The Adversary. But unfortunately it didn’t work out. We met again at Wacken in Germany in 2006. Opeth played on Friday, and we were headlining with Emperor the next day. So me and him hung out and watched Celtic Frost and Morbid Angel and had a good time. We talked about it again that we should do something together at some point. He really wanted to do it. So I contacted him when I had some material ready. Of course he was busy working on the next Opeth album and we were finishing my album at the same time. I picked out the song I felt would be a natural for him to sing on and he recorded it after hours in the same studio as they used for their new album Watershed.

Are you still teaching music in Norway?
I’m actually currently on leave for about a year from teaching. I had been teaching a few hours a week.

Has teaching others had any effect on your own writing or musicianship?
In the beginning it had an impact in the way that I needed to actually figure out what I was doing to explain it. I never really gave any thought to why I did this or that. I needed to pin that down to explain it. It kept me playing every week. Usually I end up playing guitar only when writing new material. It was good to keep a regular rehearsing schedule. It kept me playing guitar every week.

Do you have any plans to do live shows in support of Angl?
No, I don’t have any immediate plans. I have a lot of requests and everybody asks me about it. From the first song I wrote for The Adversary I had that in the back of my mind, writing songs that are playable live for a five piece band. At some point I probably will, but being just one person, even though I have some hired guns, it’s still a matter of getting a full band together in the same room and doing proper rehearsals. Since there’s not a full band recording the songs in the studio and ready to go on the road, it’s a big project in itself. It’s not a natural progression of the work already done. For me I have to figure out if I want to invest my time and resources into doing that, or should I focus on writing a new album?

You mentioned the Hardingrock project with your wife and the Norwegian fiddler. Will there be another album from Hardingrock?
It was a one-off thing that we were invited to do. He contacted us. He’s a fantastic guy, and it was one of the best collaborations we ever had. We learned a lot from being involved in that.

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