Ihsahn: On 'After', 8-Strings and Achieving Post-Apocalyptic Sounds
What was the creative process like with him?
IHSAHN Jørgen is a very skilled musician. I sent him the tracks and told him to double some specific melody lines, such as “Undercurrent” and “On These Shores,” which share the same melody. They both represent the same theme, and I had him play the lines a certain way. Of course, overall, there was room for improvisation. It was a pleasure working with him in the studio. I didn’t expect him to catch on to the atmosphere I wanted on the first take, but when I showed him some images and explained to him abstractly what I wanted, he caught on very quickly. He was so in tune to what I wanted. I was very lucky to have played with him and he actually performed with me at the Inferno Festival in Oslo back in April and in London, where Shining supported me, last Friday. He won’t be here tonight, I’m afraid.
After contains lots of riffing with your new Ibanez eight-string. What was the most challenging thing from making the transition from six to eight strings?
IHSAHN I’ve been using the Ibanez seven-string for a while now, actually. I first bought one while I was on tour in America with Emperor back in ’99. That guitar actually inspired a lot of the riffs of the final Emperor album, Prometheus. It’s just inspiring to have that extra range.
When we did the Emperor reunion show in Los Angeles, I met up with Mike Taft [from Ibanez] and he brought me a prototype for the eight-string. He wanted me to try it out during the soundcheck. It didn’t feel that weird to me. It still had that RG neck which I’m already familiar with, except it was a bit wider. The only challenge this time was, like with the seven-string, that you can’t go much deeper with power chords. You have to treat those lower strings like a bass string, which is generally what it is. That’s also how I felt when I got my seven-string. I didn’t want to just transpose all my riffs for the lower string. I wanted to implement the eighth string with more string-skipping things, such as ringing notes. I don’t want to use it as a tool to play two guitar parts because it just sounds different. The extra range just provides me with more opportunities. The best thing, especially for someone like me who’s been playing guitar for 25 years, is to watch your fingers feel out the neck as if it was your first time. That’s why on the second album I did some songs with alternate tunings just to keep it fresh. Even with the eight-string, you have to skip the analyzing part and go straight into the listening part. I think that’s the most important for me.
Did you have to get new gear to accomodate the eight-string’s lower notes?
IHSAHN I did get some new gear after I got my guitar. I’ve been really focused on getting gear that can help sustain and contain the lower notes—especially the cabinets. I’m with Blackstar Amps now, and I play the Series One 200 amps. Gus G. actually uses the same amp. It’s a very nice one. It’s super easy to dial in your tone. A funny thing that I’ve noticed is that although the cabinet has Vintage 30s, my speaker preference, my Engl cabinet with the same speakers seems to be tighter. I don’t know if there’s some damping on the back of that cabinet or what, but the Blackstar guys are working on a new cabinet now. I notice this especially during rehearsals, where we have three eight-string guitars, and the sound can get unfocused and sloppy.
Your playing and technique has come a long way since your beginnings as a black metal musician, and I’m sure your musical tastes have expanded, as well. What do you enjoy listening to now?
IHSAHN For a long time, I’ve enjoyed listening to anything Radiohead. Apart from that, it’s a mix of new and old things. I recently bought Mastodon’s Crack the Skye, and I really like it. Actually I’ve been reading about it in Guitar World. [laughs] They use a lot of old analog tube gear, which always interests me. I listen to a lot of things that I’ve been listening to forever as well as some jazz things and soundtracks. I also really love the new Massive Attack [Heligoland]. I didn’t like 100th Window much but this one I really like.
Your playing has gotten more progressive and, in a way, more ambitious with every album. Was there ever a point while tracking guitar that you felt like the music has gotten too progressive or technical for the average listener?
IHSAHN No disrespect to my listeners, but I never take anyone into consideration while writing. I feel that I would cheat myself and my listeners if I considered outside opinions. I always maintain the idea of doing my absolute best. I wouldn’t say my playing is becoming more ambitious. I would say that, with the eight-string especially, I’m merely keeping myself entertained and excited. I feel that with After, I was even less occupied with technicalities. I just went straight to the source of myself and just listened to what I was doing. I also think that with this being my third album, I’ve gotten a lot more confident. I would never have guessed that I would have a 10-minute song with two chords [“On the Shores”]. It’s a pretty slow song and I went for the feel. I didn’t care if I was going to be boring people. It just felt right. My guitar playing is as progressive as I’m curious. I always write guitars with two parts and with a counterpoint. Unfortunately, I’m not good at writing one-guitar riffs. I wish I could. All the classic riffs are just single-guitar riffs. [laughs]
Finally, you mentioned After is the end of a trilogy. What’s next for Ihsahn?
IHSAHN A new album, but beyond the framework of the trilogy. I started my solo career with a trilogy to give myself time for what’s next. The processs has allowed time for me to build myself up to where I want to be. And with After, I feel like I have come to where I wanted to be. I’m now more confident in going even further. After is a departure from the previous two albums so I don’t think people will know what to expect next. And I think that’s a good starting point.
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