Mo­tor­spy­cho_______

Motorpsycho’s mam­moth, multi-style discog­ra­phy is only set to ex­pand and dis­perse in new di­rec­tions, as new al­bum The Tower clearly in­di­cates. Bent Saether looks back over the band’s ca­reer and dis­cusses po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ences, new band mem­bers and recordin

Prog - - Contents -

Mul­ti­fac­eted Nor­we­gians de­liver the goods with new al­bum The Tower.

Even by their own stan­dards, Motorpsycho’s new al­bum is big. The Tower flexes its mus­cles across two discs, tak­ing in every­thing from hell­fire stoner rock to bu­colic folk prog. At times it threat­ens to col­lapse un­der its own sheer weight, only to shift its bal­ance in other, wholly un­ex­pected di­rec­tions. “I don’t know how many al­bums we’ve done now, but we’re pretty fed up with the nor­mal verse-cho­rus-verse way of do­ing things,” ex­plains singer/bassist Bent Saether, who also dou­bles on gui­tar and key­boards. “So this time around we started build­ing on var­i­ous themes and riffs and it all got quite hu­mon­gous in the end. We’ve ba­si­cally bit­ten off as much as we could.”

Motorpsycho rarely do any­thing by halves. Since form­ing in the Nor­we­gian city of Trond­heim nearly 30 years ago, the band have re­leased over two dozen al­bums.

Some of them, like 1994’s Ti­mothy’s Mon­ster or 2006’s Black Hole/Blank Can­vas, are voy­ag­ing epics. Oth­ers are slightly more suc­cinct. But no two Motorpsycho records are ever quite the same, their any­thing’s-game ap­proach as li­able to find the com­mon ground be­tween jazz and psychedelia as it is metal and prog. Or, in the case of 1994’s The Tus­sler – Orig­i­nal Mo­tion Pic­ture Sound­track, raw-boned coun­try mu­sic.

“We don’t see any point in re­peat­ing our­selves,” states

Saether, who co-founded the band with singer/gui­tarist Hans Magnus Ryan in 1989. “You’re bound to run into the same ter­ri­tory you’ve been to be­fore, but early on we re­alised that the worst thing you can do is com­pete with your­self. It’s only go­ing to be sec­ond-rate if you do that. All our favourite bands are the ones that have taken their ini­tial form and tried to ex­pand on it. I’m a big Dead­head and The Grate­ful Dead are the best ex­am­ple of that,

in that the

songs are just ex­cuses. It’s like there’s a key and a tempo, then here we go. That kind of loose­ness is re­ally in­spir­ing. We try to write songs that force you to be to­tally fo­cused on the here and now.”

De­spite all this creative wan­der­lust, Motorpsycho do op­er­ate un­der a set of guide­lines, how­ever mov­able. Saether puts this down to their be­gin­nings in the Trond­heim squat scene, where a bunch of hard­core noise bands formed just as grunge was tak­ing hold.

“We were try­ing to fuse Sonic Youth may­hem with Hawk­wind may­hem,” he re­calls, “but with maybe a prog song or two in there, and some Led Zep­pelin. If you look at every­thing roughly, that’s more or less what we’ve been do­ing ever since, though maybe wider and fur­ther out.”

The ar­rival of The Tower co­in­cides with both a new chap­ter in Motorpsycho’s life and our trou­bled new po­lit­i­cal cli­mate. Saether and Ryan recorded the al­bum in Cal­i­for­nia ear­lier this year with ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer

Dave Raphael. The mu­sic, es­pe­cially on disc one, is of­ten dense and fore­bod­ing – Bar­tok Of The Uni­verse, A Song For Ev­ery­one, the ti­tle track – while the lyrics speak of dark deeds and strange times.

As Saether points out, the al­bum’s themes were shaped by the seis­mic shift in Amer­i­can pol­i­tics as Don­ald Trump took of­fice.

“Mu­si­cally, we started way be­fore cur­rent events and all that stuff,” he says. “It was all in­stru­men­tal un­til I be­gan writ­ing the lyrics around the time of the US elec­tion. That was the di­rect re­sult of a lot of para­noia – it was the thing most for­ward in my mind at that point. Noth­ing else felt as im­por­tant.

“When it came time to record with Dave Raphael, who’s Amer­i­can, it kind of put it all into per­spec­tive. It’s all about de­cency, I think. That’s what the lyrics are ad­dress­ing. Do what­ever you need to do, but c’mon, be de­cent. Be hu­man.”

The louder mo­ments on The Tower were recorded with Raphael at White Buf­falo studios in Los An­ge­les, but Saether and Ryan felt they needed a change of scenery to cap­ture the less pu­n­ish­ing, more pas­toral tones that dom­i­nate disc two. They duly headed east to a record­ing space in Joshua Tree, nes­tled a cou­ple of hours away in the Mo­jave Desert.

“Down­town LA doesn’t re­ally lend it­self to acous­tic gui­tars and hip­pie vibes, so we de­cided to add the other venue too,” Saether says. “Motorpsycho could’ve con­cen­trated on the other stuff and made a proper heavy rock al­bum, but we needed the acous­tics in there to add a dif­fer­ent tex­ture and make it more hip­pi­fied. We wanted it to rep­re­sent the whole band and what we’re about, so we needed that kind of con­cept too.”

Aside from the hith­erto largely un­ex­plored po­lit­i­cal agenda, the other fresh as­pect of The Tower is the in­clu­sion of Motorpsycho’s new drum­mer. In May 2016, just af­ter a Euro­pean tour pro­mot­ing their pre­vi­ous ef­fort, Here Be Mon­sters, Ken­neth Kap­stad quit the band. Kap­stad had been in place for nearly 10 years and was an in­te­gral part of the Motorpsycho set-up.

Saether and Ryan pressed on with a live score to ac­com­pany a Nor­we­gian theatre piece, Beg­yn­nelser, which trans­lates as ‘be­gin­nings’, be­fore fi­nally bring­ing in Swedish drum­mer To­mas Järmyr at Christ­mas. A grad­u­ate of the Trond­heim Jazz Con­ser­va­tory, he’s best known for his ten­ure with Ital­ian avant-noise trio Zu.

Järmyr proved a more than ca­pa­ble re­place­ment for Kap­stad. In fact, sug­gests Saether, the drum­mer has brought a unique dy­namic to Motorpsycho: “He has a dif­fer­ent style than Ken­neth, he’s not all over the place all the time. It’s a clearer ap­proach, a lit­tle more dis­ci­plined. It made the songs and riffs come more into fo­cus. The drums on the record are per­fect for what we were af­ter.”

The Tower is just the lat­est in a se­ries of land­marks in Motorpsycho’s record­ing ca­reer. The first of these came in 1993, in the form of the mam­moth De­mon Box. The al­bum co­in­cided with the ar­rival of fourth mem­ber Helge Sten (aka Death­prod), who brought his avant-garde in­flu­ences to bear on the band’s hard­core psych rock.

The up­shot was a re­newed sense of dar­ing and am­bi­tion, Motorpsycho craft­ing an ex­per­i­men­tal mas­ter­piece. Among Death­prod’s listed cred­its on De­mon Box are “var­i­ous ma­chines mak­ing lotsa noise”.

The al­bum earned them a Nor­we­gian Grammy nom­i­na­tion and fos­tered Motorpsycho’s rep­u­ta­tion as one of Scan­di­navia’s most es­sen­tial bands.

“It was the last record that we were con­tracted for,” Saether ex­plains, re­fer­ring to Oslo la­bel Voices Of Won­der. “We thought that this was the last call, so we de­cided to just put it all in there, every­thing that we’d ever wanted to try out. And some­how it worked. It has a lot of iden­tity – it’s our ‘fun’ al­bum. You can still

feel the ag­gres­sive­ness and lack of re­spect and sheer en­ergy of the thing when you lis­ten to De­mon Box to­day. It was the al­bum that opened the flood­gates, be­cause that was our first suc­cess as well.”

Motorpsycho lived up to their billing through­out the 90s. True to the spirit in which they were founded – they were named af­ter Russ Meyer’s cult biker flick from

1965, “be­cause we wanted to do some­thing like ‘mo­tor’, mean­ing en­ergy, and ‘psy­cho’, mean­ing psychedelia”, ex­plains Saether – the band roared through the decade with­out touch­ing the brakes. Ti­mothy’s Mon­ster, Blis­sard, An­gels And Dae­mons At Play and Trust Us all hur­tled on in the wake of De­mon Box.

Yet there was also a play­ful el­e­ment to Motorpsycho that took them way off the beaten track. As if to wrong-foot any­one who thought they might be able to bun­dle them into a tidy cat­e­gory, along came the band’s homage to clas­sic long­hair coun­try, The Tus­sler…. Cred­ited to Motorpsycho & Friends, the al­bum was a rad­i­cal de­par­ture from any­thing they’d at­tempted be­fore.

“I think it was a mix­ture of two things,” Saether says of its ge­n­e­sis. “First of all, our drum­mer [Håkon Geb­hardt] bought a banjo on tour and played it all the time. We dis­cov­ered coun­try mu­sic and fell in love with stuff like The Fly­ing Bur­rito Broth­ers and Gram Par­sons. Also, be­cause De­mon Box had been the heav­i­est, dark­est, car­toon-y metal-type thing, we wanted at all costs to avoid re­peat­ing that. So we threw a span­ner in the works and made it all the more con­fus­ing for every­body by mak­ing The Tus­sler…. It re­ally worked. We got away with it, which opened us up to be­ing any­thing we wanted to be.”

An­other key moment in the band’s tra­jec­tory came about at the turn of the mil­len­nium. Let Them Eat Cake dis­pensed with the dron­ing gui­tars and blasted tex­tures of their pre­vi­ous work (The Tus­sler… aside) and in­stead pre­sented a post­mod­ern take on Amer­i­can psych pop. Cue echoes of Bar­ret­tera Floyd and The Beach Boys, along­side brass, strings and bursts of jazz.

The ef­fect may have been star­tling for fans, but Motorpsycho were in­tent on clear­ing the ground for an­other fresh start. “Trust Us [1998] was the max of the kind of heavy, churn­ing stuff we’d been do­ing,” says Saether. “All of a sud­den we felt like writ­ing songs in­stead, work­ing on the vo­cals and ar­range­ments. And that made for a dif­fer­ent kind of song­writ­ing. It was the start of a new era for us.”

Var­i­ous mem­bers of the band looked to forge dif­fer­ent ways of com­pos­ing, re­sult­ing in a cou­ple of al­bums that in­cor­po­rated elec­tron­ica and im­pro­vised jams. In the mean­time, the Amer­i­cana boom brought an­other coun­try rock af­fair in 2004 with Motorpsycho Presents The In­ter­na­tional Tus­sler So­ci­ety. It wasn’t un­til 2006’s Black Hole/Blank Can­vas that Ryan and Saether re­turned to the pum­melling rockisms of their ear­li­est days.

That al­bum found them newly en­er­vated, at­tack­ing the songs with real gusto. It’s also as good a place as any to flag up their prog cre­den­tials. Dip into Motorpsycho’s back cat­a­logue at ran­dom and chances are you’ll dis­cern the jour­ney­ing spirit of the bands who took rock into the outer di­men­sions in the late 60s and early 70s.

“Prog has al­ways been a def­i­nite in­flu­ence,” af­firms Saether. “King Crim­son, Van der Graaf Gen­er­a­tor and Magma are the big three for me. And I hope it shows. But there are buck­et­loads of oth­ers as well, chiefly a 35-year love af­fair with Black Sab­bath.”

This same pioneering ethos feeds di­rectly into The Tower. Saether ad­mits he thought the al­bum might be too un­wieldy when he first lis­tened back to it in its en­tirety, but re­alised “there wasn’t re­ally any way to make it smaller with­out tak­ing away stuff that was nec­es­sary to make it whole”. He’s also acutely aware that Motorpsycho’s fiercely loyal fan base, who have stuck with them through every ca­reer turn, have cer­tain ex­pec­ta­tions.

“We have a very dif­fer­ent re­la­tion­ship to our fans than most bands,” he says. “When you think you’re be­ing com­mer­cial and writ­ing songs in that vein, our core au­di­ence doesn’t re­ally like that. They like it when we’re do­ing new stuff and try­ing to push our boundaries. For us, com­mer­cial is be­ing dif­fi­cult. So I guess, in that con­text, an al­bum like The Tower is re­ally com­mer­cial for us.

It’s kind of ass-back­wards, as they say in the States. As a song­writer, I think the most im­por­tant thing to re­mem­ber is not to cen­sor your­self. And if it doesn’t work in a cer­tain con­text, just put it away for a dif­fer­ent day.”

De­spite their pro­lific work rate and ex­ten­sive back cat­a­logue, Motorpsycho show no signs of put­ter­ing out yet. Rather, Saether in­sists that their best days re­main ahead of them.

“We’ve made a few good records,” he says mod­estly, “but we still have to make that bril­liant one, that clas­sic one. There are so many songs and struc­tures that we haven’t even writ­ten yet. And when you im­pro­vise as much as we do, it never gets stale.

“There’s no show­biz bull­shit with Motorpsycho – it’s all about the mu­sic and try­ing to find that spot where some kind of tran­scen­dence hap­pens. We have a high per­cent­age of ‘what the fuck just hap­pened?’ mo­ments in the stu­dio and on stage. I don’t think we’ll ever tire of that. There’s noth­ing in life I’d rather do. So why stop now?”

We don’t see any point in re­peat­ing our­selves – all our favourite bands are the ones that have taken their ini­tial form and tried to ex­pand on it.

Words: Rob Hughes Images: Geir Mo­gen

MO­TOR HEADS: THE BAND ARE BACK WITH A TOW­ER­ING NEW STATE­MENT OF IN­TENT.

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