Interview with Motorpsycho

24 Dec 2021 - Thorsten

Well, we want to kick off our end-of-the-year-interview-series with a bang! In the following days up to and including January 1st we will present you with one interview every day. Various artists, various genres, various levels of experience – there should be something for everyone. Some interviews will be video interviews, but most of them are classic written interviews. And what better way to kick off these nine days of madness than with an interview with one of the most eclectic, non-definable bands of the last thirty-some years? We present you: Motorpsycho!

Over the course of the next few days we will feature some artists whom we greatly admire and that can surely be said about Motorpsycho. The trio extraordinaire from Norway has been around for decades and has always been super-productive – a perfect basis for a look at their history, the importance of eclecticism, their interest for writing about literature and much more. Bent took the time and answered our questions patiently and carefully!

Hi, thanks for taking your time to do this. In the following interview I will focus on a few different things like movies, your eclecticism and some other things. Also I want to clarify three legends about your band. And now, let’s get going!

Motorpsycho Legend I: Is it true that you got your name during a Russ Meyer-triple-bill in the cinema? How did you guys react when one of you suggested to pick one of the three movies?!

Bent! We’d been desperate for a proper name for months by that time, so I think ‘relieved’ is the best description! And it felt like “The One” too – it described what we wanted our music to be and instantly felt just right.

Do you in general enjoy those sexploitation movies playing with male dominance (often not given), sadism and lust? How about the Blaxploitation movies like Shaft?!

Ha ha – we never even saw Motorpsycho until we’d released first four or five albums with that name, so it wasn’t the contents that tipped the scales! But, yeah – I guess so? in your early twenties, students, beer, pot and biker movies – it’s all a part of the same thing, isn’t it? At least it was back then. We are huge fans of underground culture in all shapes and sizes, and 60/70s underground film is certainly one of them, with all their violence, sex and exploitation. They are often more fun to discuss afterwards than actually watching though…!

Do you like the Tarantino movies which also sometimes use these stylistics?!

Sure! We’re the same generation as him, so his fandom and take on that thing is really something we recognize and love. Relatable for sure!

Russ Meyer was an outsider in “Hollywood”, and Motorpsycho was made the way it was because it couldn’t have been more brutal or the crew might have gone to prison. Do you consider yourself outsiders in the music business? And if so – is that in any way important to you?!

We are with Groucho Marx on this one, and do not want to be a member of any club that would want a band like us as members - i.e.: belonging to any category of music or scene or..whatever is not something for us. All the interesting stuff always happens between the established qualities, and it is in the state of becoming something all the most interesting art is made. Our duty is to remain in that state of becoming, so we can stay as excited and curious and genuinely moved by the music we make as we were thirty years ago. This is not what the music business wants you to be. And most audiences find this really weird too, so yeah I guess ‘outsiders’ is as good a term as any, since we find that most of the rules you’re supposed to play by are bullshit and not worth taking seriously if you want to make ‘good shit’. And that is the main objective: to ‘make good shit’. We always suck when we play it safe anyway, so we can’t really operate in any other way :-)

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Sticking to movies and connecting your music and love for movies:! What kind of period is Motorpsycho in now if it was a movie? Is this modern period (since approximately The Death Defying Unicorn) the Auteur-version of Motorpsycho? One where basically anything goes as long as it follows the storyline?!</b>

Oh… I have no clue! But, yeah maybe that is as good a way of putting it as any? We don’t really listen to anyone else’s opinions about what we do and are genuinely motivated by our own artistic vision, so we pretty much do it like the auteurs did (do?). It feels like a bit of a stretched analogy, but maybe there is something in it? I don’t know what else you could call it for sure!

In that aspect, one might consider your period from Let Them Eat Cake up to It’s A Love Cult to be your version of a Romantic Comedy or one of those John Hughes-Brat-Pack-movies? And Blissard and Angel And Demons… as the Catastrophe-movie-period?!

Ha Ha! Could be! The one thing that never seizes to amaze me though, is how those turn of the millennium albums are characterized as lightweight or shallow: there is way more substance and darkness in those records than the relatively banal and 2D Trust Us-era albums that are actually pretty cartoonish in places. It seems like judging books by the cover – or in this example, the heaviness of the music by the musical stylistics – is something most people do by default. But there you go. Finesse is a hard sell.

Is your song title “Mr Buttercut Goes to the Fair…” a pun on Mr Smith Goes to Washington?!

No, but it is a straight up movie reference! Albeit with a twist. … you want the truth or the legend? ‘’you can’t handle the truth’’! …but here it is anyway: What’s the name of the producer in the movie-in-the-movie in the best film of 1967?

You have written and performed a score called Begynnelser? How did that happen?!

Back in 2016 we were asked by the Trøndelag Theatre if we wanted to be a part of a project involving author Frode Tiller and the free theatre group De Utvalgte. The idea was for him to write it, them to direct and stage it, and the actors from the theatre to perform it at the theatre. We read 20 pages of the script and made 20 or so musical ideas based on our impressions and feel for the manuscript that we sent to De Utvalgte. They used this in their selection of scenes to play from the manuscript, and we we ended up playing the music live – in the pit – for two hours plus, every night for 40 performances. It was a challenge and a steep learning curve, but fun and rewarding!

Your influences: Would you agree with the following list and examples: Space Rock (Hawkwind) to Country (Cash? Haggard?), Southern Rock (Allman Brothers) to Prog Rock (Rush), Canterbury Scene (Soft Machine) to Heavy Metal (Blue Cheer)?!

Sure. All of those and around 3500 more in 25 more genres of music! Anything you listen to (or watch or read) and enjoy will influence you in a greater or lesser way, and we are no different. We have been Motorpsycho since 1989, and have never stopped listening and watching and reading. Thus we have discovered and enjoyed huge amounts of culture over the last 30 plus years, and it all makes a difference in one way or another.

Would you agree that many of these are in some way old men‘ s heroes?!

Yes. but we are old men by now, so that is the way it would have to be. Or?
I don’t think it’d be a particularly graceful state of affairs to have us running around following trends and trying to stay hip, and I will rather cop to being an old man than do so! There is a lot of new music that inspires us though, so it’s not all old stuff or old men’s heroes. For what it’s worth, my favourite record this year is the latest Black MIDI album., and that is for sure not old man music! I like their development from the first album a lot and think that in itself is a great quality.

Which new bands do you listen to or that inspire you?!

Well, Black MIDI sure inspire in their fearlessness, and I like the later few Oh Sees albums like Face Hugger that are more ‘proggy’ too, but that is more out of a recognition of spirit than musical inspiration, if that makes sense? it’s their inquisitive and explorative essence that is inspiring. Same with bands as different as the Sleaford Mods and Fountaines DC , but it’s more the idea of those bands that inspires than the music. For that I have dived deep into the world of Stravinsky and his ilk lately: I am max-inspired by music I don’t understand or have a way to parse, and that stuff is perfect in that respect!

Talking about inspiration: Surely, music is one of the sources of inspiration, but how about literature?!

For sure. I always have at least two books going at any moment. Everything from music biographies, to non-fiction to scifi/fantasy or ‘regular’ fiction: it’s all good! Huge fan of dystopic sci-fi (Dick, Ballard), history (Ferguson, etc), popular culture, etc etc etc. too many to mention!

Two of your latest records (“the Crucible”, “The Tower” referring to the biblical story, I figure when looking at the record’s cover) had references to famous books or parts from books?!

Yup. I have increasingly found that I’m bored by writing about me and my shit all the time, and have tried to make it all a bit more universal and less navel gazing over the last few years. History or books are natural sources for topics when you are as into it as I am, and this band has given me a soapbox from which to share my ideas about the world with the world, and I am happy to do so. Sharing/discussing ideas gleaned from books or whatever is a better fundament for interaction or saying something real or important than my love life. more exciting as well!

Your live-shows are famous for their virtuosity and length – how much of a (daily) dose of refreshing the veins is playing live for you?!

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(Photo by Dave Raphael)

We are total nerds and are lucky enough to get to do this for a living, so we basically meet at 10 in the morning at the rehearsal room and nerd out untill 2 or 3 in the afternoon. We play, we write, we record, but mostly we drink coffee and talk. it’s a good life! And we are conditioned to it, so i do feel outta shape when we don’t work for a while, for sure. It is a part of who we are to play a lot, and losing ourselves in the music is our most favourite thing to do. so we do as often as we can for as long as we can!

Motorpsycho Legend II: Was “Vortex Surfer” really played for 24 hours on a Norwegian radio station on December 31st, 1999? How did you feel about that?!

Yes, it was. It was weird, but at the same time better than the alternative (”The Final Countdown” by Europe?), an honor, and a nod of recognition from the straight world. Not terribly important, but nice.

Do you get nostalgic over certain songs? Is “Vortex Surfer” one of them? Others?

Nope. Not at all. They are either done, finished and dead (and not played anymore) , or living entities with an emotional contents that still resonates and makes them worth playing. But no nostalgia at all. We are still in the middle of all of this, and are not able to look back at specific albums or songs the way fans do. We might get nostalgic when it’s all over and done, but not before. No time. Or need to.

How do you feel about (being nominated for and then) winning prizes and awards in general?

Usually surprised more than anything! Honored, kinda, often… What a lot of people don’t understand is that in our world there are no prizes at the end of the race or …whatever metaphors you choose: there is no finish line to compete for, so all awards or prizes just feel kinda weird. You can’t sensibly compete in music as if it was a sport - that’s what’s so great about it! - and so prizes and all that just don’t feel like they belong in the context. it’s just the straight world’s attempt at being nice to something they don’t understand. like some old aunt giving you matchbox cars when you’re too old for them or something, you know? But we do appreciate their attempt at trying to be nice, honestly, even of we giggle at the ineptitude and lack of understanding at the same time! Surprised, and a little confused.

Second big topic: Eclecticism. Do you consider yourself an eclectic band? Or do you disregard such ideas because they imply that you want to write records with several genres on them?!

We have no game plan as far as musical styles go - we basically just potter on in our shed, and sometimes it comes out like this and sometimes like that. The point is that we are most inspired by stuff we haven’t quite understood or done yet, so we always go for the stuff that feels freshest and newest and most inspiring. I guess this leads to a certain natural eclecticism, since we like good music from any genre and have no prejudices to any kind of music. We have preferences of course, but are open and hopeful that anything new and unconquered will enrich our lives and make us feel good! And if we do, our music benefits from it.

Do you see a certain eclectic nature within your records because they never fit to one genre alone? Many records feature highly diverse and different rhythms?!

Formats are the antithesis to creativity and human expression, so albums with just one rhythm or feel or vibe get really boring and one dimensional really quick. we are not interested in cartoon-music or cliches, and are bored stiff by 99% of genre records. Bands that mix it up and show a variety of musics feel more real and true to us, so we try our best to be real and true in our work by including as much as we can of what we are on the albums. Commercially idiotic behaviour, but artistically sound.

When looking at the long list of instruments – it seems to be an inner strength of yours to always find interesting instruments that fit your diverse nature. Are you seeking chances to incorporate these instruments into your sound?

Every instrument has a different resonance on an emotional level, and are to be considered as different colours in the palette of music. we love to discover the right sounds and feeling it all come together because of it. magic!

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The Tower

Your records seem to revolve a lot of themes – another eclectic element, by the way – where do you find those?!

Uhm… that is a bit of a backwards way to look at it - it’s not like we sit down and look for a theme and then fill in the missing boxes - It’s actually the other way around! We write music that makes us think about stuff and makes us feel in a certain way, and then we try to write words that fit whatever that mood might be, and then we step back and try to find some sort of common theme or thread through all the music, and if we do then that kind of becomes the theme for the record. And the record gets a title that fits with all of that, so the theme kind of manifests on it’s own in a way, yeah?

Do those elements also give you some form of freedom? You are by now quite free from any kind of expectations or rules as your fans follow you wherever you take them with any new record!

The only obligation we feel towards anyone, is to not repeat what we did last year. I think what people like most about us, it that they can never quite be certain of what we’ll do next. neither can we, so we are constantly exploring this thing along with the fans and discovering what it can be as they do. that is at the same time a great freedom and a great responsibility, and it makes it exciting for all of us!

Does that also result in real artistic freedom and control?!

To us it does, yes.

I also feel as is you do not face any pressure from the outside when talking about “rules” like “you have to do this (or that) because that will get you further?” You sometimes seem to not follow rules like press cycles or things?!

This is why we are as much a punk band as a prog band or ….whatever: we try not to control these things, but let them develop naturally. We’re a record company or a manager’s nightmare in that respect :-) But having done it like this is what has brought us here. If we’d’ve been more professional or cynical or played by the pop rule book, we probably would’ve been done 20 years or more ago. I prefer this!

Looking at it from the other side – are you in some way a slave to your songs?!

Not to the songs. but to the music perhaps? being in the middle of it and living it is like a drug, and I don’t think I’d be as content with life without it. Or as frustrated! or as engaged.

This freedom and openness remind me of Punk when it comes to attitude? And simultaneously of (Prog)-Rock when it comes to musical possibilities?!

Yup, best of both worlds! (see above - spot on!)

Different topic – you do know that you are one of the hardest artists to collect – right? Your output could measure Zappa’s! Discogs lists 84 releases in roughly 32 years of existence. Is that number correct?!

I have absolutely no idea, sorry!

Why did you start the Motorpsycho Archives – label? What was the reason behind not sticking to Stickman for those releases?!

We are way more productive than your average artist, and in order for records to get reviews etc you shouldn’t release too many. So we created MTA as a safety valve label that could do stuff that we either thought was too weird or too much on the side or just too much for Stickman/Rune to deal with. and it’s fun!

I saw you helping some smaller Scandinavian record labels (like Crispin Glover Records) by releasing something through them – how did these collaborations come to happen?!

You talk to people and you get to know them and sometimes you do little projects together. I play in Sugarfoot and used to play in Spidergawd, and both those bands are signed to Crispin, so I have gotten to know the guys pretty well over the years. The main guy lives just across the park, 400m away, and we hang out sometimes too. small town, small but solid scene!

You are highly productive – is that because of an inability to sit still?!

I don’t know. To me writing a song is like a 3D puzzle, and it tickles my brain to solve it. I think that is the main thing: it’s challenging, fun and addictive. Dogs and bones, etc

How do go about writing new songs? Is it a band effort or is there one songwriter (for each song)? If so, how strict is that then? How much input do the others have then?!

All possible variants of all the above scenarios have resulted in songs. No rules, anything goes!

The artwork for your records – who comes up with the ideas?!

Sometimes we do, sometimes a designer/artist does. Lately we have in cooperation with Håvard the designer, but most albums from Timothy’s Monster up to Still Life With Eggplant were Kim Hiorthøy’s ideas. That last one felt almost like an insult, so we grabbed the reins from then on. These last few ones have therefore been more specific to the themes of the records than the earlier ones, something that might be a good or a bad thing all according to your taste. We like them since they fit the music.

Usually (without the exception of Lobotomizer, the live-recordings and the second Tussler-record) there are no band pics?!

True. we are such pretty boys that having our pics on the sleeves would take away the focus from the music, so we’ve chosen not to.

You are known for having a taste for good songs to cover? Who comes up with the ideas for a new cover?!

Mostly me, sometimes the others. on tour we tend to get into stuff and listen to music together, and then sometimes new covers present themselves.

Is your cover of “Workin for MCA” you joking about being on a major label back then?!

Yes, obviously!

You can wish for one artist to cover one of your songs – which artist and which song would it be?!

I can see Emmylou Harris doing ”September” from the second Tussler album. That’d be amazing! Or Phoebe Bridgers doing ”Feel”. That could work. and it’d make us rich!

Over the years you collaborated with a lot of artists – how did the one with Alice Cooper happen?!

I don’t think you could call that a collaboration: the guy who ran the Sawblade single label licensed the rights to the song and asked us if we wanted to do it. The Sawblade shape was as much an incentive as the Cooper song, but I am a huge fan of those first few albums of theirs and am still stoked we did that one!

Do you consider the collab with Jaga Jazzist back then for the In The Fishtank Series the start of you working with Kenneth?!

Not really? That was recorded 5 or so years before KK got in the picture, and I don’t think we even knew of him back then. But if you’re asking if this looser, less rock format music was something HM and I were more interested in than Geb, you are right. And yes, KK was more into that than Geb was.

Which artist would love to work with (living or dead)? What would you aim for with that collab?!

Oh hard to say! but … Alan Moore? a proper big fucking concept album/comic book thingy with lots of magic and weirdness! Or a concert film directed by Andrey Tarkovski? Or a biographical film with Jodorowsky, full of symbolism, lies and fairytales! The aim would as always be excellence.

Is my research right that you release less singles nowadays than in the 90s? If so, is there a reason for that?!

Well, first off, less people by the things! the prices for pressing vinyl has gone up a lot, esp 10’’ s which is what we used to do for every album back in the day. Also we do tend to use up all the music and not have as many B-sides lying around as we used to… multiple reasons, but the main reason is that singles these days are single songs on a streaming platform and not a little 7’’ plastic piece of perfection. Different times.

Do you consider yourself a “Norwegian” band? roots? More than just being from Norway? I mean sometimes you used songs from Norwegian artists and you also did a collaboration with Ole Paus recently?!

I do think the way we interact with the world and see ourselves in it, is a Norwegian thing, but I don’t know if our music feels Norwegian to a foreigner or if we use any such national traits consciously in our music. Do we?

True III – Are you gonna play five shows for a non-profit-organization in Oslo that was formerly a house occupied and is now an organization fighting fascism, racism, misogyny, xenophobia and more of that ugly stuff?!

We are playing legendary squat / gig Blitz in Oslo for five nights in November, yes! We played there a lot in the beginning – e.g with Neurosis back in 1992 - but haven’t played there in 25 years or so, so it’ll be fun to go back and almost do a residency type gig. Can’t wait!

Thank you for taking your time and we hope the questions were a bit “off the beaten path” so that it were not the same questions you always have to answer.!

These were great questions, thanks! Hope you got some answers that make sense! peace, Bent