Motorpsycho are one of Norway’s finest bands today. Being active for 25 years now, they have been revolving around the progressive/psychedelic hard rock sphere in the past couple of years. However, they are renowned for their occasional musical shape shifting and their vast discography tackles several genres including metal, jazz, pop and even country. Their latest masterpiece, Behind the Sun, was released at the beginning of March and the band started touring their homeland the same month. After a short Chinese stint, they will cross Europe starting May and June. Luckily, bass player and vocalist Bent Saether found some spare time to answer a few questions for Sputnik Music:
You’ve been playing together for 25 years now and that’s a hell of a long time for bands these days. How do you guys feel now as a veteran act? What kept you guys intact and going so strong?
It’s hard to say what the reasons for our longevity are, but I think a few of the following facts may at least partially explain this:
Musically, we at some point early on decided that ‘all music we want to play is Motorpsycho music’. This takes the matter of “staying true” to whatever musical style you happened to play when you started out of the equation, and enables you as an artist to utilize whatever musical style you feel expresses your soul the best at any given time. In other words, we never stuck to one musical formula and never got an audience because of one, so we can write and play whatever music we like and still be Motorpsycho. This takes away a lot of artistic frustrations, is unusual and potentially career killing. But we got away with it, and it seems like we at some point actually redefined what Motorpsycho means to people: it somehow went from simply meaning ‘a band that plays rock’ to signifying ‘a band that plays music with a certain sensibility’. I like that!
We never had a hit, and never felt like we had to follow up anything. Thus our music research never got tainted by monetary or commercial motives.
We are good friends, and know very well that our abilities are compatible – Snah can do things I can’t and vice versa – so we never feel like we’re stepping on each other. This is important: ego clashes kill bands.
Was the constant musical shape shifting from one record to another an essential factor to your longevity? Did you feel that staying in your comfort zone would have diminished your creativity or was it a natural musical progress?
Yes and yes. As a creative being one moves on when one has succeeded in a particular field: for us it’s unnatural to ‘follow up’ something by doing a copy of whatever that was. In creating art – whatever it may be: painting, writing… – there’s this whole yin yang thing going on that needs to be addressed, a certain zen thing that has to be in place to keep things true. Going from concise to unclear, from hard to soft, from short to long, from big to small – all these shifts occur naturally to every artist, and are vital to address if you want to express all sides of your personality. I know most try, but I think we’re just better at paying attention to this than a lot of other bands. I think it has to do with a strong sense of needing to rob the career part of it of pretence, and a fundamental belief that for the music to be any good, we need to feel whole.
It has never been a calculated thing though: we are total hippies that go with the flow and head where the music takes us. Always.
Your latest album, Behind the Sun, sounds like an excellent mix of several musical styles the band has tackled with, plus some new elements too. How did it take shape? Was there a lot of jamming or a more rehearsed process?
The reason this album sounds like a ‘representative mix’ to a lot of people, is probably both because it was recorded over a longer period than usual, and because some of the songs have really old ‘roots’. ‘On a Plate’ stems from a riff we wrote way back before Gebhardt even joined, but somehow forgot until I stumbled upon it at a rehearsal. We just thought it was a fun thing to do to utilize such an old riff, and Snah found the perfect song for it too. Other bits are brand new (‘Ghost’, ‘Entropy’), but I think it’s remarkably consistent and it totally feels like an album to me. The new elements are mainly the extent to which Reine Fiske’s guitar parts and aesthetics have rubbed off on us and integrated itself into the music. He’s all over this thing, and this gives it a new and fresh feel to us oldtimers at least!
Behind the Sun is also your second album with collaborator Reine Fiske. How did he join the band?
We’ve known him for 15 years, but not as ‘the guitar player from Dungen’ – he was just this great guy who showed up whenever we played Stockholm, and it was years before we made that connection. He’s a really friendly dude and a total music geek, and we invited him to take part in the recordings that form the basis for Still life with Eggplant primarily as a producer, but it quickly became clear that it was his playing that was needed. We’ve had multiple keyboard players in the band over the years, but never a guitarist that could pull his weight or had such a clear voice on the instrument as Reine. Him and Snah are like chalk and cheese and are in the process of becoming a really fearsome pair! Reine is also interested in different stuff in music than Kenneth – they are really opposites when it comes to music – so that helps pull the songwriting in a different direction than it has been for the last few years too. That keeps it fresh!
You are a prolific act, releasing new music almost every year. Some bands struggle with new material, yet you guys drop fresh tunes all the time. What’s your secret?
See point one in my first answer: all music we write is Motorpsycho music, and we don’t have to adhere to any set notion of what that is: our limits are our imagination, and that is still as big as it ever was!
Looking back, what are some of your favorite Motorpsycho albums and tracks?
Kenneth always likes the newest, because that is what feels most true to him right now.
Snah has said something vital changed in his head when ‘Un Chien d’Espace’ was formulated back in 1996, and holds that as a key moment in his development as an artist.
I have many favorites, but it all changes all the time and it’s hard to pin down one special song or album. I’m not embarrassed by much of it, though – thank god! Lately I rediscovered ‘Circles’ from It’s A Love Cult, and was blown away by its compositional intricacies. I’d totally forgotten what a stretch that was to write and how advanced it is compared to my usual efforts, and was impressed! That was fun. But I don’t have a definite favorite album or song, no. They are all documenting who we’ve been over these last 25 years, and are all in one sense equally true to us.
You have just started touring the new record. With such a vast catalog, how do you create the setlist? Are there any surprises we can expect track wise?
We always rehearse as many songs as we can before the tour starts, and decide which ones to play at dinner before the show. The only rule is that we never play the same set twice. Outside of that it’s all wide open, but we try to use the soundcheck to refresh at least one ‘new’ old song every day, and if it works we’ll play it that night.
This approach keeps it fresh and focused every night, and makes it interesting for everyone all the time. It is in other words not ‘a show’ as such, but more like a continued exploration! A trip, if you like.
Is it harder or easier these days to tour than it was 10-15-20 years ago? Is it more accessible? Also, are there any new countries you set to visit this year, some venues you’ve never played before?
It’s kinda easier since you’re more used to it and the band is more established, but it’s still work – albeit the best job in the world!
We play new clubs all the time, but also revisit a few every tour, so it’s usually a good mixture of seeing known faces and exploring new uncharted territory. This time we’re doing Spain and France too – France for the first time in years, and Spain for the first time as a part of an European tour (we usually fly down especially). That’ll be fun!
What countries would you guys like to play, but you haven’t had the chance yet? Why?
We still haven’t played any Eastern European countries. I dunno why!
Ditto South America and China… I want to go everywhere, so I’m hoping this will change, but it was hard to open new territories in the old days when people actually bought music and agents and labels actually made money, and even harder now when there is no money anywhere anymore. To labels and agents it’s easier to try to break a bunch of fresh faced tykes than spending energy on old farts like us, so the opportunities are fewer and farther between. Alas.
Are there any particular bands you would love to share the stage or tour with?
Not really – It’s kinda hard to find someone bigger than us that has the same versatility and/or that has the same kind of jam-focus as we do. But please feel free to advise!
One of the things I think is special about Motorpsycho, is the fact that we seem to appeal to all kinds of audiences: metal, stoner, folk, jazz, avantgarde, indie and jam crowds all seem to get off on our thing. We like to mix it up too, so that we play with all kinds of bands, but we also try our best to not get lumped in with any specific genre for too long. We are our own thing, and could fit loosely with a bunch of bands, but never totally with any.
I know it’s still early to ask, but with the speed you guys are constantly moving – what’s next for Motorpsycho? Can we expect new material next year too or are you planning on taking a break?
We have a couple of commissioned bigger works later this year, and hope to have that all documented for posterity. We’re also planning something special for the fans only, so keep checking out our website (www.motorpsycho.no) for further news!
Feel free to stream the entire album here: