Interview with Ole C. Helstad (Sâver)

Sâver - Interview


Olso’s Sâver are a powerhouse in international post-metal ever since they released their debut record through Pelagic in 2019. Our very own Norwegian Knut met up with Ole Christian Helstad to talk about Sâver and his role in the Norwegian scene.

Now first of all, congratulations on the new release. Who came up with the idea of joining forces with Psychonaut? Both yours and Psychonaut´s track are long, did you somehow agree on making two long tracks to explore the musical possibilities you as a band has?

Thank you! The release of They Came With Sunlight had been well received and the feedback had been good and as a band, we felt we had a really good momentum and in March 2020 we started a tour with BelzebonG. Then the Corona-thing hit and everything came to a halt. Only one gig in Budapest and then stop. We lost some of the mentioned momentum. It felt like that, anyway. Pelagic Records wanted to team us up with Psychonaut who had just released an album. They wanted to keep up the attention on Psychonaut and at the same time lift us and shorten the time for the next album by us. The label wanted us to make between 15 and 20 minutes of music on each side of the split, they did not have any guidelines for the length of each track. Both bands independently made one long song each. Pelagic Records were very pleased with the result. And so are we.

How must we envision that writing and recording process?

The first part of the song is entirely Ole Rokseth´s, he is the synth-person in the band. He is very fond of film-music and makes a lot of cinematic stuff. In the first month of the Corona-pandemic he was in a very creative period and made four or five demos. The song on the split is the result of his creativity at the start. After a while we went to a small farm I have nearby Finnskogen with his ideas and we started to work on them. I have a redecorated barn there where we unloaded all our equipment and composed the song during a weekend.

How was the recording during the Corona-pandemic done?

We traveled back to Oslo and recorded the song with Kim Lillestøl who also mastered our first album. He has done so much work with us and Hymn, that he is almost to count as an extra member of the band. We were also allowed to track the drums at the Oslo venue Sentralen with our sound technician Eivind Johnsen. This venue has a marble hall and the sound is terrific. We recorded the rest at the Oslo studio Amper Tone Studio. That is a studio that has been very kind to us during the Corona pandemic, and we have been able to be there a lot, practicing.

Seen from one point of view, the corona time has in a way also been good for us. It is sad that there have been no live gigs because we enjoy that so much. But we have been enjoying many things we would not have been able to if the pandemic had not happened. We got more time on our hands to do what we want and dig deeper into it.

Did you write your own song for the split specifically or had it been written before?

The song on the split Emerald is not composed specifically for the split, but we chose it from material we had begun when working on the new album.

Has the Corona-epidemic changed your style of writing as a band? How do you normally write stuff?

Not really, except that we have had more time on our hands and could make more demos and send them to each other. But the process we go through when composing songs is like before. Everything is based on an idea for a riff or a riff structure, and developed from that when we practice in the rehearsal room. We do a lot together and we have always done that. We like to practice and we have spent a lot of time in the rehearsal room, practiced a lot, but also just being there and bounce ideas from each other.

Not only have you released an awesome split this year, but talking about the Corona-epidemic, you are the booking manager for both the Revolver venue and Høstsabbat. Together with other enthusiasts with long experience in the Norwegian music scene you have even started a new record company this year, Vinter Records, and will be releasing MoE´s new album this summer. From my point of view, you seem very optimistic about how things are going to be, even after being locked down for so long time. It is refreshing to witness such optimism on behalf of both audience and performers. How would you comment on that?

Well, on the last day in February 2020, I quit from a full time job that I had had for twenty years. I started in a new job as booker at the Venue Revolver in Oslo March 1st. Seven days later the venue, like every place else, closed down and I was temporarily laid off. The situation was absurd. I did not quite know how to relate to this. I had left a very safe job after twenty years, and now this! But when everything stops you get time on your hands, a lot of thinking can be done and then one sees possibilities. To think about what to do with your life.

Sâver as a band had to stop touring of course. We had planned this tour in Europe with BelzebonG starting March. One gig and then everything just got canceled and we had to get home on our own with all our equipment and merch. We were in fact stranded in Budapest without flight tickets and money. It was not easy. Eventually we managed to get home to Oslo and I was found infected with Covid-19. After I had gone through the illness, we could actually practice together. Looked at from that point of view, the pandemic has been good for the development for the band. But still, after fifteen months, I have not regained my sense of smell.

The pandemic has of course also affected the band´s economy as it has affected every band, but our fans have supported us throughout with buying merch from our site on Bandcamp. We had a lot of merch prepared for the canceled tour in Europe. We put everything up for sale. We experienced a lot of support from our fans. I cannot stress how big our gratitude is towards our fans. It saved us in more ways than one. We have used the possibilities we have had during the pandemic and done a lot of band practices. To start the record label Vinter Records with others has always been a dream for me. I have admired labels like the Swedish Burning Heart Records and now that I have gathered some experience and more contacts, I thought we can do this. Høstsabbat (the festival and concerts in between), Revolver (the venue) and the bands I am in: there are a lot of synergies to achieve here. We have now signed two bands that will release two insanely good albums, one is the Norwegian MoE. This is a band that has been an inspiration for years. And also one new album from a completely new international band. More on this later on.

We must talk about Norway’s scene. There have been so many awesome bands from Norway – do you have any explanation for this?

When it comes to metal bands I think we musically have got a lot of respect from what they started in the end of 80s and 90s in Norway, from the bands that had started out then. Especially from those with the highest credibility from those years; they created something especially Norwegian and that is recognized all over the world. I think what happened musically in Norway, both the eastern parts and the western parts of the country was and is perceived as somewhat exotic. Just to come from Norway gives you a lot of credibility in the metal scenes all over the world. I think we can thank the early Norwegian black metal movement for that.

How close is “the scene”? Which bands (apart from your other bands like Hymn and Kite) are you close with?

It is a bit difficult to answer because we do have the most contact with those we are branched out to, and a band that has a rehearsal room on the other side of the wall, as Lonely Kamel does. At the same time the music scene here in Oslo is like a village where everybody knows each other or knows about each other. And all the bands are really good at supporting each other, be it here in Oslo or in Norway in general. And as Guro (Skomsnes Moe) in MoE has been close to Hymn, we might say that MoE is the band we are closest to as a band. I also know many bands as booking manager for the festival Høstsabbat. All in all it is thumbs up for the music scene in Norway. That said, I want to add that Oslo might be the best city all over to live in when one is a musician or a music lover. That is because of all that happens here on the concert front. In normal times, there are two or three concerts every day throughout the year.

Although there are many good metal related releases in Norway, I have the impression that for a couple of years, 2018-2019, there was releases from four relatively new bands that really made an impact and were recognized internationally, Attan, Sibiir, Avast and topped by you in 2019. Is that impression somehow correct from you point of view?

I can agree on that. If you also bring in Dwaal. I agree that it is a good description and if you also think of doom related music, we might say that this is something that started in 2016, the band was formed and after a couple of years they released full length albums that were recognized internationally. One of the first concerts, without being a support band, Sâver did was with Attan in 2018.

Which other bands and labels should we check out?

The band Norna. Is it allowed to mention the one label I have been involved starting, Vinter Records? Haha! It might also be a bit strange to mention the label where Sâver is releasing, Pelagic Records. They have a really good roster. Almost everything released through Pelagic Records it is worth checking out. It was the label we really wanted to be releasing on.

If you had to explain your music through two of your songs – which ones would you choose and why?

It is extremely difficult to do that, but if I a must I will choose the song on the Emerald-split, ”Dimensions Lost, Obscured by Eons”. It shows what Sâver stands for as a band and also shows the many sides of the band in one song. The same goes with the first song on the album, ”Distant Path”.

What is the driving musical force behind Sâver?

It is as simple as this: We want to play this music, we like to compose it and develop it.

Sâver on stage - behind the mists

Have there been any bands that inspired you to start the band, except that you wanted a kind of fresh start from Tombstones? What made you somehow turn Tombstones into Sâver?

Tombstones was started as a stoner band and evolved from there. When the drummer Markus Støle joined we got a whole new sound that we did not have before. That evolved the band even further, and I am very proud oft he last album from Tombstone, Vargaris. But at the same time we as a band had developed quite a lot and felt that we did not fit the category or genre we were always placed in. We did not feel at home in the stoner genre anymore. We wanted to be judged inside the genre we ourselves as a band associated with, not what had happened before. We started out with blank sheets, but at the same time our Tombstones history certainly got us some attention and we were taken seriously.

Whenever I listen to your work I have the feeling of listening to a brilliant mix of industrial and heavy sludge – was that the intention?

It is an interesting thought because we have never thought about that. But I see what you mean because there are some clinical and minimalist parts in there sometimes.

We must talk a little about your visual designs that are complete through covers, live shows, band pictures together with the tight sound. Do you do it yourself or do you work with designers? How do you manage that at live performances playing at different venues, do you have your own light and sound engineer with you always?

Using colors is important to us, hence our satisfaction with the cover on the split. We did not have so much saying there, but it turned out fine. From the start, with our first album, we used Simen Skari for band photos and live visuals. He can make the ordinary look extraordinary with his creativity. For Sâver as a band it is very important to have all the visuals in place and with colors. We felt that we somewhat had succeeded when Robin Staps from Pelagic saw us perform at Øyafestivalen and said he was very surprised by our use of colors as he thought bands like us just use black and white. When we are touring, we bring a video that Simen has developed for the set we are going go play. That way the visual design is with us when we are touring. When it comes to sound we only bring our wonderful sound engineer Eivind Johnsen when we can afford it.

We do not bring our own sound engineer when we are touring outside Norway. We have practiced a lot and played a lot live, we are musically very tight and intertwined – we know each other so well that it will sound just like we want it to sound. We give basic instructions to the sound engineer at the venue where we are going to play, and then it is more or less just controlling the volume.

How do you know which songs are Sâver and which ones are best for Hymn or Kite?

I am not the main song writer in any of these bands, I have to emphasize that. We do a lot together in Sâver. We just intuitively know that the ideas and concepts are for Sâver. The ideas and concepts for Sâver are really thought through before we enter our practice and begin developing them. We know intuitively that they belong in Sâver. For Hymn´s part it is Ole Rokseth that writes the most, comes up with the riffs and in Kite the main writer is Ronny Flissunet. There are big differences in the sound from the three bands, one just knows which will go where. By the way, we have recorded a new Kite album, releasing in October. I am very also proud of that album which will be released on the Swedish label Majestic Mountain Records.

Ole on stage

How did the collaboration with Pelagic come along? Who contacted who?

As a band, we were very determined that we wanted to be released on Pelagic Records, we just knew our sound would fit their roster. But it was very difficult to get in contact with them. As all the well-liked, highly favored labels they also get sent a heap load of demos and just have to say “thank you, but we cannot evaluate that now”. For many years I have been at Roadburn and have been well acquainted with the creative force behind the festival, Walter Hoeijmakers. I asked if he could help to get our demo to someone at Pelagic who would listen. Normally I do not like to do it that way, but our dream was that the album we had recorded should be released on Pelagic. Walter sent the demo and the day after, June 6th (2018), in the morning, Robin Staps sent us a contract from Pelagic. We felt a profound joy and satisfaction. It is one of the best things that has happened to us and we are very happy to be able to release on that label.

Before we end with a quick questionnaire, I just have to ask about the band name. Is it a word play on the Norwegian for “sleep” or is it something to do about saving? Or would you rather like that to be up to the listener to interpret for themselves?

I am from Flisa, a couple of hours’ drive north east of Oslo. In the Norwegian dialect we have there, the word for sleeping (sover) is pronounced “sæver”. We were there with some friends and one of us fell asleep. One pointed at the one sleeping and said in Norwegian “han sæver” (he is sleeping). One other replied “there you have the band name”. And there it was, we put a circumflex on top for the visual and to show that it is not a saver. In Sami and French among other languages, they have this. But it is pronounced “sæver” (saever) and we use the spelling with the circumflex when we communicate digitally and cannot use the Nordic æ.

Some quick questions – you get two choices and must choose one, a short explanation would be awesome.

Tour with Pink Floyd or Eyehategod? Pink Floyd as we have already toured with Eyehategod

The mountains or the sea? Neither. I will choose the woods. I grew up in a place called Finnskogen surrounded by large woods. I prefer the lowlands with woods, not so much the seaside or the mountains. Sea is beautiful, but kind of unfamiliar.

Gothenburg or Copenhagen? Copenhagen

Touring or recording? (NOT writing) Touring. Nothing is more fun than being on tour.

Beer or Wine? Beer

Holiday or staycation? Neither, I have to say touring here too. Then one can combine all three.

This is their split with Psychonaut:

Be sure to check out our review of the split with Psychonaut.

And here you can get the full dose Sâver in the form of their debut album They Came With Sunlight: