Interview, August 27, 2018
130dB is very impressed by the new album “Ruin” of the Norwegian band Cor Scorpii. We were allowed to do an interview with the vocalist of the band Thomas Øvstedal. But before we start, first a short history lesson.
Cor Scorpii actually started as a project of keyboard player Gaute Refsnes back in 2000. When he played at Windir, he continued to make music. When Windir came to an end, due to the death of band leader Valfar, Gaute hooked up with Thomas Øvstedal (vocals) and Cor Scorpii was born in 2004. Cor Scorpii means “Heart of the Scorpion”. It is the name of Astar in the Scorpius Constellation. Completed with Rune Sjøthun (guitar), Inge Jonny Lomheim (bass) and two bandmembers of late Windir (Stian “Strom” Bakketeig, guitar and Jørn “Steingrim” Holen, drums) a demo was recorded “Attergangar”. The feedback was overwhelming. After the demo, a deal was signed, new songs were written and a replacement drummer must be found, because Jørn was too busy with his other band, Vreid. Finally in 2008 the debut album “Monument” was finished. The feedback was brilliant, reviews top of the line and the response of the fans has been fantastic. Now, 10 years later the second album “Ruin” has arrived.
It is short, but have I missed something Thomas?
That is pretty much the essence of it. I guess the beginning of the band came from the idea that we wanted a band that stayed in one place, rehearsed regularly and that kind of thing. So the focus was very much the material that Gaute brought with him, but it was a band very early on. We ended up being a band that lived far from each other anyway, but I think the reason for how we survived these long years of not much activity actually stems from these forming years where we got to know each other well.
First of all, you get some questions about your background and personal taste, so we know a little bit more about you. Let’s start!
– Have you grown up in a musical environment (parents, brothers, sisters) and what music was played?
I have always had music around me. My dad used to play the guitar and has always been above average interested in music. Mostly rock and hard rock from the 60-70s, as well as some quality pop stuff from the early-mid 80s. My mom has always listened to music and after a time I got a stepdad who played and still plays the bass guitar. He introduced me to some of the more progressive rock acts of the 70-80s as well as some blues related fusion acts. Out of the bands I grew up with, many still get played quite often, including bands like Marillion, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Gary Moore and Genesis.
– Do you still know your first contact with Heavy Metal? How was that like?
I think some of the aforementioned bands could be said to be the first contact, but I will always remember the summer when I borrowed an Iron Maiden tape from a relative. I played that tape to pieces on my Walkman. Iron Maiden are not among my favourite bands, but I get very nostalgic when I hear their music.
– Which album has formed your heavy metal taste the most?
I think Metallica’s Black Album has been very important as it made me dig into their previous releases and let me discover Master of Puppets and perhaps the best Metallica album: …and justice for all.
– And what was the first metal album you ever bought?
I honestly can’t remember. It is really embarrassing actually.
– If you take a maximum of 5 albums with you, for example to an uninhabited island, which ones would you definitely take with you?
This is the equivalent of the Facebook challenges going around… Difficult question. I’d probably pick “Spiritual Black Dimensions”, “…and Justice for All”, “Viva Emptiness”, “In Absentia”, “Mezzanine”. You can figure out the bands 😉
– Which album do you play the most in recent weeks/months?
Definitely the new Ghost album! It is absolutely perfection.
– What is the coolest collectors item in your collection?
I don’t really think I have a bunch of collector items. Maybe the white vinyl edition of Vulture Industries’ The Tower is among those I appreciate the most. And of course I have a bunch of Cor Scorpii memorabilia. Been thinking about offering some of that stuff to die hard fans. If there is an interest in old laminates and stuff like that?
– How many vinyls and CDs do you have approximately in your collection? And do you also listen music through streaming?
I only own a few hundred albums. Today I listen to most music through streaming. It is convenient and I live in a place without a record store. I miss those the most.
– Which album do you like best so far in 2018?
Even though I think we released a pretty awesome album that should be topping many people’s lists by the end of the year (forgive me), but I think Ghost blew everyone out of the water with “Prequelle”.
– Now you can make some choices. Place the albums in order. The first is your number one and the fourth is your last. It can be tough ?, I hope so, but you can defend your call if you like. Some classics in different metal genres: Black Sabbath – Paranoid, Metallica – Ride the Lightning, Death – Leprosy and Iron Maiden – Number of the Beast.
– And again, the first is your number one and the fourth is your last. Some classics from your own country: Emperor – In the Nighside Eclipse, Mayhem – De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, Burzum – Det Som engang Var, Darkthrone – A Blaze in a Northern Sky.
– Next round, some fellow countrymen making Folk Metal, which band do you put on 1 to 4 ?: Borknagar, Enslaved, Ulver, Arcturus.
– Final round, companions all back from your own country. Which is your number one album up to number 4. Windir – 1184, Mistur – Attende, Vreid – Kraft, Cor Scorpii – Monument ?.
This one is just mean…
1. Cor Scorpii – Monument,
2. Windir – 1184,
3. Mistur – Attende,
4. Vreid – Kraft.
All great albums though, but I have to go for the one I know the best. If I didn’t love our own music, I’d do something else with my time.
– Look at how many top bands Norway has. And then I have not mentioned so many others. It is absurd how many top notch bands come from Norway. To be completely jealous about. Do you have any idea why Norway has so many talented musicians / bands? Is it the school program?
I have pondered this question many times, but I don’t think there is a definitive answer. A combination between the mentality of the people and the society allowing bands and artists to play music that might provoke certain dogmatically inclined people. There is, especially in the rural parts of Norway, a certain attitude regarding doing things. If you want something to happen, you have to do it yourself.
– I always listen to metal. But I also have some guilty pleasures. Reggae, classical music, seventies rock, Nick Cave. What are your “guilty pleasures”?
I listen to a lot that is not metal related, but not much that I would be ashamed of admitting. A few rotten 90s hits though tingle my sing along muscles… I’ll keep them to myself for the time being.
– Do you have any more interest besides Metal?
Music in general is important to me, but I enjoy reading and writing. But of course my children and my family trumps everything.
– And we’ll finish this background and personal taste thing off with the most happy question of all, which song should they definitely play on your funeral?
I think I’ll leave this one up to my bereaved. As long as my organs are harvested for the benefit of others or for science, the remains cremated and I avoid the religious ceremony, I’ll leave the musical theme to the ones left behind. It’s their party.
Allright, now that we have a picture of you, let’s switch to your band Cor Scorpii.
– It took 10 years before you could release the successor of the debut. That’s quite a while. Is there a reason why it took a while, or are you just not in a hurry and you are busy with other things?
Life got in the way this time. Between us we’ve produced 9 kids since the debut, pursued our separate careers and basically tried to write and do music in the moments we have available. It was never the intent to spend this much time on it, but we were constantly faced with the difficulty of simultaneous availability. We just couldn’t get together as much.
– Just after the release of your debut album “Monument“, your record label back then, Descent Records, fell apart. After some time, you were signed by Dark Essence (Taake, Helheim, Mistur). What was their opinion that it took a while before you arrived with a new album, or do you have totally freedom?
They displayed proper patience, but I am sure they would have liked to see the album finished earlier. They never interfered with the process. They knew what we were when they signed us and I think we have delivered. Albeit a little later than first anticipated….
– Given the pace of new material release, it seems to me that everyone has a full time job next to the band. You will probably not be able to live on the profits of Cor Scorpii alone. Is that ambition still there? To be able to live from the profits of Cor Scorpii? And does everyone still have the same ambition? Obviously, it becomes difficult when there are a few band members who want to go full and are willing to give up their permanent job and some who do not dare to. Do or did you talk about that?
This is perhaps the most challenging element of playing in a band and trying for some sort of success. A full time job is the only way. Cor Scorpii does not generate any part of our income. With the few gigs that we have played, we barely cover the expenses related to each show. At some point after “Monument” we had this discussion and we tried. It was difficult getting enough gigs and the moment passed. At this time we only want to play as much as we can and try to reach as many listeners as possible. We love to play live and we think we put on a great show. I don’t know many people who are able to live from their band. The ones I know who make a living from music, are in a bunch of bands and also have to take the odd shitty part-time job for shorter and longer periods. Not a thing we would even consider at our age and having families and homes.
– When Windir stopped, two band members continued as Vreid and two with Cor Scorpii. The drummer was shared by both bands. Meanwhile the drummer is definitely active at Vreid and guitarist Strian moved in 2010 from Cor Scorpii to Vreid. Vreid now consists of only former members of Windir. Cor Scorpii has lost two band members to Vreid. In an interview back in 2005, you indicated that both bands are friends of each other and might work together in the future.
Because of Jørn’s choice to drum with Vreid and Strian to become the guitarist of Vreid, did that do something with your friendship? And how do you look at this moment at a possible joint venture? Probably it’s not an issue right now, but would that still be a possible option for you in the future?
It had no impact on our friendship other then the fact that we don’t get to meet as often anymore. We are good friends and there were no disagreements that led to the splits. We knew Jørn would not be able to do live shows with us at that time, so that was a natural process. When Stian decided to take up Vreid’s offer to join, we understood his decision. Cor Scorpii was in a period of little progress and few live shows, while Vreid were busy recording and touring all the time. He wanted more action and we respected his choice.
– Do you see each other as band members often? Are you friends? Do you play music together? Drinking some beer. Are you even going on holiday together? Are you baby sitting on each other’s children maybe? Are the women, friends of each other? Or are you more musical colleagues? Working together on music, fine, but that’s it. How close is your friendship?
We are definitely close friends. We got along immediately. I was the only outsider in the beginning, but we shared a mentality towards music that I think is amazing to this day. We know each other’s girlfriends and wives. We stay at each other’s houses when we practice and occasionally get together for the sake of hanging out. I count the guys in Cor Scorpii as among my best friends in life.
– Your “band base” is in Sogndal. A small town in the middle of nowhere. I had read that it has about 8,000 inhabitants. When looking for a replacement of Jørn you indicated that it was not so easy to find a replacement given the band’s location. How was the search for the replacement for Strian? Did you know Erlend Nybø from his former band Funeral or does he come from the neighborhood and you know him from school?
When we started out, the base was Sogndal, as we lived there and in the area surrounding it. When we started looking for a replacement for Jør, to focus on new material and eventually live shows, we figured it would be difficult getting a competent drummer to travel there for rehearsals and stuff like that. The metal scene was very small (I think it still is) in Sogndal, and we had no real options there. We communicated with a few drummers, but when Ole travelled to Sogndal to rehearse with us, we knew that he was the guy.
As mentioned, I knew Erlend from high school, so we had to ask him if he would be interested and if he saw himself doing that kind of music. He jumped at it and is a super dedicated guitarist. He had to learn some new things and I think he has contributed a lot to the new album.
– If you look at the future with Cor Scorpii, are you talking about that as a band? Do you have a goal with the band? Or is it only a hobby? I can also imagine that not all band members have the same idea about that. For example, if someone is a single person, he might want to tour the world for months rather than a band member who has 4 small children at home.
This is the neverending predicament. We all have jobs and careers. Most of us have families and children. Our ambitions have naturally been adjusted over the years, but we still want to go out and play. We have discussed this at length, and agree that at certain times we may have to get a substitute to help us do the shows. When you have a family, it is tough getting time off work and loose that income. But this band is definitely a big step up from a hobby. We are invested in this band with more than just time and money. We are in it with our flesh, blood and minds as well.
– Does the record company have anything to say about that? They also have an idea about the future, I assume. Or do they leave you completely free and you may even put together a rap album if you like?
I feel we have the support of our record company. Although I doubt they’d appreciate a rap album. We have not talked about the future, so we’ll have to see about that. We still live in the bubble that is “Ruin”.
– Your album is just out, so this question is a bit ahead of things. But I can imagine that you have written quite some material in those 10 years. Do you already have enough material for a third album? Or have you already used the best material for Ruin and what is left is b material.
I do believe that the songwriting has started, but that does not mean that we are anywhere near even thinking about a new album. Getting this album done has been the biggest struggle for us, so now we have to see what we can do with it. Hopefully we’ll get the chance to do a few shows and then we’ll think about the future and new music.
– Are there tour plans? And is that a puzzle to coordinate that with everyone’s home front / work?
There are no concrete plans. We are in talks about some upcoming shows, but we’ll see what happens. There is always a puzzle element due to conflicting schedules, but we usually make it work.
– I have played team competition. In a team there are always people who perform less than the rest. You are as good as your worst player. It also happens at work, not everyone is equally good. I can imagine that this also occurs in a band. Not everyone is equally good. You can change a person during a match within a soccer team. In a band that is more difficult and you do not have any substitute players. Is it clear to everyone where the limitations are in the band? And how do you deal with that as a band? Or is that not a subject?
In this band, I think we all to a degree put in an element that is necessary for it to work. We all have our strengths and weaknesses that both hinder and contribute to progress. We argue and fight for what we think, but usually we end up with something we can all accept if not totally agree on. It is a band, not a dictatorship.
– A bit of an open question, but what has Cor Scorpii brought you?
Speaking for myself, Cor Scorpii opened a different world for me. I got the chance to express myself in writing and to perform on stages across Europe. I feel very much at home on a stage, something I was not so sure about at first. I get nervous speaking to new people, but have no problem making dumb jokes and kicking ass on the stage. It is weird.
– You have been able to work on the music for Ruin for 10 years. At one point a song is finished. Painters find that sometimes difficult. When is a painting finished? Does a brush stroke add or does it detract? Do you also recognize that, the struggle when a song is completely finished? You had the time to think about that ?…
I think this question would be better answered by the composers in the band, but I think that the songs are never finished written. It just has to be finished when it passes a certain point in the production. When the songs are sent to the pressing plant, it is too late anyway.
– Do you read the reviews about “Ruin“? If someone appreciates your music enormously, it should be nice to read. But what does it do to you if someone is critical? Do you listen to that criticism? And if you (partially) agree, do you do something with it?
I read reviews when I see them. I like to get other people’s perspective on our music. Many times I can agree with the critique, but often get the feeling that many reviewers judge the music based on too few listens and also on misconseptions about our objectives. Some call us black metal and then think we are too melodic. Some call us folk metal and then think we are too aggressive. It is impossible to please everyone, and we never have that in mind when we write. We write this shit for ourselves, and when it is time to release it to the world we suddenly remember that other people are going to hear it too. It is a bit scary.
– And the final question, is there anything else you would like to say?
This has probably been the longest interview I’ve done in years. I would like to thank you for the opportunity to talk about our music and our world. I hope that the readers will bother to check out our music, and to spread the word if you like it. Contact your favourite festival or local venue and tell them you want us to play there. Thanks again! Keep it metal!
Many thanks for answering all these questions!