Ihsahn: Emperor of the North
GW What are your main amplifiers?
IHSAHN I’ve tried many different amps, but I’ve found that I love the very hard-hitting, transparent sound I get from my Engl. For the Emperor live shows we used the Powerballs, which are very good for extreme metal. But I bought the Savage 120 for my studio because it has a nice clean sound and good overdrive. Even though you might have it fully distorted, you can still hear the attack of the pick on the strings. That’s what I like out of an amp: the ability to get the heavy tone and aggression without losing clarity.
GW You’re also a fan of amp simulations and re-amping.
IHSAHN I use Guitar Rig. I just plug in, turn up the reverb with the Engl emulation and go from there. I always record a direct signal, so when I’m finished recording the guitars I can re-amp them. I hook up my Engl Savage to my two cabs—the Engl with Celestion Vintage 30 speakers and my traditional 1960 Marshall cabinet. I put two Shure 57s on them and hit record.
GW What is your approach when using effects?
IHSAHN Just delay for my solos. I had a few guitar parts that I ran through phasers and delays, but mostly I use effects for keyboards. For the most part, the album is so full of stuff already. When you have 12 guitar tracks and you start layering on phasers, choruses and effects… well it just doesn’t really work.
GW You seem to have distilled your setup to its purest form.
IHSAHN I am kind of old-fashioned like that. [laughs] I’ve had pupils that feel they need new pickups and more expensive guitars and amps. But I’ve come to the conclusion that it really is all in the fingers. I’ve seen it so many times.
GW What kind of students do you tend to attract?
IHSAHN In the beginning, of course, I attracted a lot of the kids who wanted to play metal, but it’s such a small town that I’ve gradually been through all those students. And some of them have developed into very fine guitar players indeed. Most of my students come to me wanting to play rock songs. When they’re beginners you can always start them off with kid’s songs, but I think that would turn them off pretty easily. So for beginners who need to know the basic chords, I always start out with Marilyn Manson’s “In the Shadow of the Valley of Death.” It’s just basic chords, but they feel like they’re playing rock music, which is the idea.
GW Do you plan to tour for the new record?
IHSAHN I have considered it. It’s no big secret that I’m not a huge fan of touring. I also don’t feel like going out with my new band and playing three songs off my album and doing Emperor covers for the rest. I’m just not there yet. I’d rather wait until I have a few more Ihsahn albums and then do a proper solo show of my music—with a short Emperor set for encores. [laughs]
GW Does Emperor have plans for the future, or has that project officially been put to bed?
IHSAHN Put to bed. The only reason we came back to the States was because Samoth couldn’t come the first time around [due to work visa issues], so it was a good excuse to do it. It was a really nice experience. Coming from this small town and being able to play two sold-out shows at B.B. Kings in Times Square and the House of Blues in L.A., headline Wacken Open Air and hear 50,000 people scream [in metal voice] “Inno A Satana!”… That’s a good feeling.
Being a Norwegian musician, it’s been a great privilege to have an international career with Emperor. Having said that, I still feel I have so much more to learn and express. There are so many exciting things I want to do.
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