Ihsahn: The Gun Shy Interview


In 2010, Ihsahn — the former frontman for the almighty Emperor — released what would end up being one of the year’s best albums: After. What struck me about the release, initially, was how brilliantly they wove jazz saxophone into a crushing, dismal progressive metal record.

Ihsahn’s forthcoming follow-up, Eremita, is just as brilliant an album, and again employs jazz saxophone — perhaps even more so this time.

I have to wonder: Do we cut guys like Ihsahn some slack when they incorporate non-traditional instruments into their sound than we would experimenting up-and-comers, simply because he was in Emperor? I don’t think so. If a young band can somehow make saxophone work as well in their music as it does on Eremita, more power to them.

“My fascination with the instrument comes from way back in the ‘90s, when i was listening to a Norwegian saxophone player named Jan Garbarek,” Ihsahn tells Gun Shy Assassin.

Ihsahn fell in love with Garbarek’s “very almost landscape-y, instrumental jazz music,” he says, “and for me, with the saxophone, you always kind of expect some solitary feeling… and I just love the sound of it. I never really found any room for it in the music I was making before. For the most part, there was room for doing more orchestral types of sounds, like strings. But with my third album, I felt that the whole concept of the album was very post-Apocalyptic: no life, there was nothing. In that scenario, the sounds of the saxophone just sort of fit in.”

Ihsahn says he knows some people absolutely hate the sax in his sound, but he doesn’t give a fuck.

“Having played extreme black metal for more than 20 years, that’s not a reaction that is unfamiliar for me,” he deadpans. “A lot of people hate my music. I take it as a compliment.”

Eremita is Ihsahn’s fourth solo offering, and easily one of the most forward-thinking metal records released so far in 2012.

It features some impressive guest contributions, including former Nevermore guitarist Jeff Loomis and Devin Townsend. Those two guest spots were “payback,” as Ihsahn puts it, for his recent contributions to their albums: Loomis’ new solo offering and Townsend’s 2011 Deconstruction album.

I asked Ihsahn how these contributions came about.

“I met Devin at Tuska Open Air, a festival in Finland, and we met for the first time and we just talked briefly, and we’ve kind of kept in touch by mail, and we met again. Devin is a talented musician, and I can sympathize with his way of working. He has his studio…it’s a very similar situation I find myself in.”

Like Devin, Ihsahn creates the music in his albums, unlike when he was in Emperor and Devin was in Strapping Young Lad, and it was more of a group effort.

“We bonded over talks of music and gear,” Ihsahn says of Devin. “In the end, he had this track he imagined my voice would be good on and he asked me to sing it. I had a similar situation, and he was very happy to return the favor. And the same thing with Jeff, really. We had been emailing over some amplifiers at some point, and he is a fantastic musician. So when he asked me to do a song for his new solo album, I thought it would be cool to be part of and I thought it would be cool to have him on one of my songs.”

Ihsahn doesn’t want the guest appearances — which also include Einar Solberg of Leprous, saxophonist Jorgen Munkeby, and Ihsahn’s wife, Ihriel.
“After I actually had these guests on the album, I thought, ‘Oh man, this will look very cynical… like a sales pitch.’ And I immediately said to Candlelight, ‘Please don’t do any stickers saying featuring this or that,’ or it would turn away from what I feel the album is about.

“When I make albums, I have absolutely no other intention than to try to make the best album I can,” Ihsahn adds. “If people like it, great; if they get inspired by it, that’s great, too. There are no limitations — just your imagination.”

Of course, I had to ask Ihsahn about Emperor, and whether there would ever be any more reunion shows; the last happened in 2007, and Emperor’s final release, Prometheus: The Discipline of Fire & Demise, came in 2001.

“After 2007, that was really a final chapter for all of us,” Ihsahn admits. “But there’s always some underlying pressure to do something. Usually, I just say plain ‘No.’ I can understand the nostalgia and all that. If I wanted to be as nostalgic as every one else, it wouldn’t make any sense for me to actually make any new music.”

Ihsahn says he’s evolved.

“People who are old time Emperor fans still think I’m 17,” he says. ”I am in contact with the guys, and we talk almost weekly; they’re good friends. What can I say? Never say never. For the moment, I am so occupied with my own project — that’s my main priority.”

Ihsahn says he left Emperor because he wanted differnt things.

“I ended up doing most of that last Emperor record on my own. If we still did Emperor, and if it were up to me, what I do now… that’s what we would sound like.”

But there will be no new music from Emperor, Ihsahn says.

“Part of the reason why our albums keep on selling is probably because we were always an uncompromising band, and that is a tradition I would like to uphold,” Ihsahn says. “If we did a new Emperor album, what kind of Emperor album would people like? I say listen to the stuff I do, and the stuff that Samoth does, and you can more or less figure out what a new Emperor record would sound like, and that sounds nothing like old Emperor. Trying to duplicate something from the past would just turn everything into a parody.

“Would anyone want a black metal album made just for the sake of making a lot of money?,” Ihsahn asks. “I get all of these requests to get back with Emperor. In the spirit of black metal, I do whatever the hell I want. That’s the whole point of black metal. If I even consider letting anyone else try to tell me what I should do with my music, that, by definition, would make it non-black metal…as I have learned it.”

Ihsahn says plans are afoot to get him over to the states for some one-off shows, but that he will not be touring in support of the new record, which drops June 19.

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