Mortiis: The Dark Deceiver (Part One)

Interview by Don Pettit

HMS has posted some terrific interviews over the last few years, but I must say the one you are about to read is probably the most important one we have landed in quite some time. In fact, Don Pettit (the newest addition to our ranks) sat down with the one and only Mortiis (bassist for Emperor) to get the full scoop on the musician's post black metal career. Thanks to Don's impressive interview skills, he has managed to get an exhaustive conversation going with the man in question. It is so big, that we decided to post the interview in two parts. So without further delay, let's introduce Don's wrap session with the man called Mortiis.

HMS: Mortiis, thank you for being here with us at Horror Metal Sounds this afternoon! I figured we might as well go over a bit of your history leading up to the new album "THE GREAT DECEIVER".

Mortiis: Thank you, No problem, that's why I'm here!

HMS: So you started your career playing bass for Emperor?

Mortiis: Well yeah, that's what people know about, I mean, I was doing a couple things before that, we all were, but anything before that isn't really important.

HMS: What caused you to want to depart and start your own solo stuff?

Mortiis: Bad Temper, You know, towards the end I was probably a little difficult to be around. Nothing physical, it's never been like that, I just had a period when I was younger where I was verbally abusive or some shit, haha. So I got the call, out of the band, you know how it goes. It's no secret, it's pretty official. We had just recorded the mini LP and the 7", we did it in like 3 or four days, and a week after I got the call.

HMS: Ah, ok, I've always wondered that! Moving on, With Mortiis, you have pretty much separated your catalog according to Eras - with Era 1 being all instrumental?

Mortiis: The first Era was like 5 albums, and the first 4 were instrumental. The 5th one which was The Stargate is sort of semi-instrumental, it does have a bunch of singing on it, but it's not me doing singing, it's Sarah Jezebel Diva who I was working with back in those days. She was doing a lot of the choir/vocal stuff. I just did the lyrics and she was kind of singing them and everything. I did some backing vocals for some male chorus stuff. So it's kind of like, not an instrumental record, cause it does have vocals, just more of a strange kind of orchestral/soundtrack kind of way.

HMS: With Era 2, 3, and this new one, was changing it up from the compositional style of writing to the more collective rock/industrial stylings a pre-conceived notion? As in something that was planned out? Or did you just kind of go with the flow of how things were coming out?

Mortiis: I think to a degree it was a going with the flow, I mean, The first time I took a step in that direction was with "The Smell of Rain" and I knew roughly the direction I wanted to take because in the second half of the 90's I was getting a lot more into bands like Ministry, Nine Inch Nails and Skinny Puppy and wanted to combine all those various ideas of music into this hybrid, mutant-like new thing. Obviously my first love is hard rock music with distorted guitars and then I got more into clean synth with Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk and that stuff. So Eventually I would discover bands like Ministry and those guys that would combine both worlds. At that time I was pretty sick and tired of what I was doing, which was, for a lack of better words, more synth based, ambient, soundtrack kinda stuff around the period of The Stargate. I knew that I wanted to take things in a more industrial rock, kind of 80's goth/electro type of direction. Generally I knew that is what I wanted to do, but I don't think I had a specific, calculated sound in mind for what I wanted to do. I just kind of went with the flow and knew the general path to take, and it's pretty much been that way ever since. I mean roughly I know the direction, but never quite knew where I was going to end up, so in that sense it's more about going with the flow.

HMS: Given you have been around since the early 90's, you've been active throughout the progressions in recording technology, going from tape to digital, and so forth. Has that affected how you write and perform your material in the studio? And if so how?

Mortiis: It's totally affected it, you know, the fact that I am doing stuff on the computer now as opposed to back in the day when I was just playing a keyboard straight on to tape, these possibilities when you're sitting there with the digital audio sequencing programs are endless. I mean, you can split, slice, paste and fuckin turn it sideways within a matter of seconds; with all of this available to you to experiment until the fucking moon turns blue, haha.

HMS: Very True!

Mortiis: A lot of times those are all failures, like 1 out of 100 will stick and work but at least you're able to try a lot of different things and a lot of different ideas, you know, be it song ideas, arrangements or even sounds, and just fucking around with stuff and see if some cool noise comes out of it. Back in the day I wasn't even really thinking in those terms, mainly because Mortiis wasn't that type of musical project back in the reel to reel tape days. I wasn't even an experimental type person like that back then, but I can only imagine how complex that must have been for these older industrial bands that started back in the late 70's. Using tape loops, splicing and taping, creating weird shit must have taken like a week, haha, and today it's just a plug-in and you're done...like the magic is all gone when you think of it like that.

HMS: Exactly, like putting it together using your hands and only what's available to you, it's almost like that connection between the artist and his art is gone.

Mortiis: Yeah, it's like the work has been already done for you, like all you have to do is pull up a pre-set and you're done, that's it, also it will be the same pre-set that like 500,000 people have already used before you. It's not like the old days when you have like Throbbing Gristle and you're using fucking razor blades and tape, that's a real different story. It really forces you to be that much more imaginative back in those days, like, I can only imagine how deep their imaginations would have been forced to go because they didn't have any other ways to do it. You really had to think, you had to be creative as fuck back then. Even the bands at the start of the digital age, probably had to use samplers that had a floppy disk for disk space, where there was more equipment than space, there was no 'laptop' with 500,000 plug-ins to do it all for you.

HMS: Let's move ahead a little to the "Perfectly Defect" album. It was definitely more of an experimental album than "The Grudge" or "The Smell of Rain", it was also a freebee to the fans as an online download, and you opened up a remix site for the fans to download the multi-tracks and do their own remixes, how did that all come about?

Mortiis: Oh yeah, exactly, with that album there was about 9 or 10 songs and I think only 4 of them had vocals. The remixing was just me wanting to see what would happen if other people fucked around with them. I mean, that was only a semi-successful idea, and because of that we're not really doing it anymore. Too many people really didn't understand it. They thought that if you take the pitch of the song down just like half an octave that they have done a "remix".

HMS: Oh, wow...

Mortiis: Oh yeah, I got a lot of really weird shit back, cause back in the beginning of it we hooked this really cool ReverbNation player up that we updated for people to listen to whenever we got something really cool back, but yeah, we got a lot of really weird shit back from it, haha. I really don't do a lot of re-mixes anymore, because really I don't feel it...I'm weird like that, I also stopped doing collaborations, in terms of doing like guest vocals and stuff like that because I have a hard time feeling other people's music. I also find it weird to sing other people's lyrics, etc. It just doesn't feel like it's me, but I digress. I thought maybe we would have something really good where we get a lot of cool stuff come back and maybe do a remix album out of it or some shit like that, but, yeah, that didn't really happen. That's why I didn't put a lot of energy into that for "The Great Deceiver" or anything like that, I kinda' wanted to, but thought if that's the kind of stuff that was going to come back, nah...

HMS: Ahhh, yeah that's one of those let sleeping corpses lay kind of deals.

Mortiis: Yeah, I think it might be because we don't have a lot of, you know, electro fans, because the electro fans they already know how to use all these programs and how it all works, and it would have been nice to get a few of those back in. We got some back that were really great, but it wasn't enough to put together a whole re-mix record or anything. There was enough to make the player really cool, but just wasn't as successful as we would have liked.

HMS: I found Perfectly Defect had this sort feel to it like it was almost a gift to tide the fans over until the next album, like a "Here's a freeebee, but we've got something really cool in the works". Was that the original intention of it?

Mortiis: Well, you make it sound so cheap, haha!

HMS: HA! Oh no, not like that, I mean it's kind of like what Trent originally intended when he made NIN's "The Slip" and gave it to the fans as a gift, Was that kind of what you had in mind here?

"Obviously my first love is hard rock music with distorted guitars and then I got more into clean synth..."

Mortiis: Oh yeah! I thought that was inspiring, I was seeing the bigger bands doing it and thought "Fuck, that's a cool idea". I also really like that it was making a statement, cause I was really unhappy with the whole record industry at the time right, I mean, I have been for at least ten years because my experiences with the record industry are, well, disappointing at best, you know?

HMS: Gotta' love Earache eh?

Mortiis: YEAH! YEAH! For the longest time I thought they were the worst label in the world, but I realized that really, they're just another bastard label. They're just one of the many cunts that you have to deal with out there. I thought for a while that I was the most unlucky person in the world to be on that label, I was thinking 'You know what, this happens in so many places'. I spent a lot of years AVOIDING signing with people like that, and it could have so easily happened. So I thought the whole idea of putting something out there for free, especially when it came with that sort of "Fuck You music industry" attitude, where like, we don't fucking need you, we'll fucking bypass you. I didn't even care if I made a fucking dime because this was a statement, not a business idea. Of course this is not something that you can afford to do with each and every album, cause' at the end of the day, you have to pay for making these records.


Mortiis: You see at the time we were able to do it because all of the songs on Perfectly Defect and all of the songs on The Great Deceiver were written at pretty much the same time. At one point we were working on the albums back to back. All of the songs on Perfectly Defect were decided, pretty early on, that they weren't going to make the cut for The Great Deceiver, cause' we had all these songs going on at the same time right? And I knew half of the stuff I had going on at the time was really strange, artsy, experimental, and really kind of weird off the wall sorta' shit, and that's what became Perfectly Defect. We took that material and realized that it would take a long time to find a record deal for this, too long, you know? We could already start smelling that rat, so we figured, why not do what some of these bands are doing and make our statement at our level, because sure, we're not as big as all these other guys everyone writes home about but, we can at least do it for our fans. Like you said, it's not the big picture, but it's a little something until the next one is ready, and it's free, and it's a big middle fuckin finger to the industry.

HMS: Now that leads me right up to the next question, seeing how a lot of bands are doing it themselves now a days with technology where it is, it's almost the ORIGINAL DIY aesthetic that a lot of these bands did to get themselves out in the beginning before signing to the labels, so it almost seems to have come full circle. Do you think that these bands like yourself and let's say, uhm your label mates Napalm Death, who also started out DIY, did you really needed the "label" in the first place? Were they really a necessary evil?

Mortiis: Yeah, they were necessary, I mean I still think they're necessary in a way; it just depends on what you're trying to achieve. Then again, ever since the MySpace days you've heard about these unknown musicians or artists that somehow have 5 million fucking likes on their pages or 5 million friends no one ever hears from or about, you know, then the first thing they do it's an automatic 500,000 immediate likes; I have NO IDEA honestly how that phenomenon happens. Apparently that works for a chosen few, but to be honest, for the rest of us I see it as winning the lottery really - the Social Media lottery. These others, they get a fuck load of attention. Yet we never really find out who they are or even what they do really, but somehow everybody likes them.

HMS: I know right? It's like these Rebecca Black YouTube...I don't know what the fuck you call it...cause you can't call them stars, but yeah!

Mortiis: EXACTLY! But you see, maybe it's because I ain't a 15 year old kid, you know, the ones you walk up to and are like "I don't know what this is supposed to be, but have you heard Deep Purple?" And they just look at you like you're from another planet. It's like "Dude! They sold a hundred million fucking albums before you were born!!" And they just don't know. But that social media Facebook kid that has 85 billion fucking hits, they know who that is, I sure don't, haha! But honesty I think that guys like me and Napalm Death, we all need to be really working with the industry, and that's how I feel. You can go out and do a lot on your own, but to really bring it to the next level, like who among us who is not a record label has a network like that, I mean really, if a label has been around for 30 years, they have 30 years of connections, experience putting out albums, working with distributors and the media - I don't think a lot of bands can say that. Like if you have the money in the bank, you can rent as many publicists as you want and I mean, you can probably do just as well, but most of us, we don't have that and that's why we pay these labels well; everything we earn, to provide.

I think we got examples of people that don't need labels, but we also have examples of people that do and I think that most artists, can benefit from a label at least on the marketing and actually getting the record out there, because just manufacturing now, dude, it's fucking expensive. Is your contract going to be a good one? My experience is that they have been abysmal, they've been terrible, and you never see a fucking dime. They take EVERYTHING. So the magical fucking balance as to negotiate a record deal that is fair, so you can actually collaborate with a record label and everyone is happy, that also never happens. Can you imagine the morale difference? I know I would work VERY hard for a label that gave me a great deal, cause my morale would be fucking high and I would WANT to do records for those guys...But when they fuck me over, I don't want to do it, I don't want to do records in that case, so that's what I did, I just stopped. One of the reasons this one has taken so long.

HMS: I was wondering that, because there was a good 5 years in between Perfectly Defect and The Great Deceiver.

Mortiis: Yeah, a lot of what I said there was the problem, the magical balance between an artist and the record label seeing eye to eye and actually being able to draw up a deal that everybody is happy with. We tried so hard to make that happen between Perfectly Defect and The Great Deceiver, because of all the things we just said, we knew that if we wanted to really release a record, earn some money and be able to make a living in the music industry at a different level (i.e. living on making music every single day) without my kids starving to death, you need a deal to have at least some potential for a future, but there was nobody in the record industry willing to offer that. It was all "me, me, me, we're not going to take any chances...we're not gonna' do this, we're not gonna' do that". There was just a fuck load of delays. Some of these dudes we'd talk to, they held us like you would hold a carrot - dangling in front of you for months and months at a time, just to come up and say "Nah, we're not interested". Like fuck, you could have fucking told us this 8 months ago!

HMS: Yeah, that's like 8 months wasted down the drain.

Mortiis: That happened a couple times, and it's one of the big regrets I have right now. The Great Deceiver could have come out 2 years ago, easily. We should have skipped the whole fucking step, I mean we tried, but we got fucked.

HMS: Now we come to The Great Deceiver, which I'll be honest, from both a reviewer standpoint AND a fan standpoint is just fucking phenomenal. Following Perfectly Defect I was certainly not expecting this. It's so dark and angry, and this one has a ton of emotions coming from every which way. Even the imagery, the videos, there's a lot of shadow and in the dark work. Where did that come from, what story are you telling with this new work?

Mortiis: Thanks, well it was created over such a long period of time with all that shit going on that it's a nice variety, an eclectic mix of being fucking angry, pissed off, disappointed and a crushing anxiety all ending up in me just wanting to fucking die, haha. That whole spectrum of things that we as human beings normally try to avoid, That's what, the Great Deceiver is. All of those feelings I am happy to have experienced, even though at the time I just want to break down, I still consider myself lucky I could use it in such a creative way at the end of the day. I know there's a lot of people out there, you know, that have it much worse than I do, and have no way to ventilate it man. When you can't get it out, you can end up being a very dangerous person.

HMS: So true, like if you don't have an outlet for it; your guess is as good as mine how it can manifest itself.

Mortiis: Oh yeah! Like if you're a lonely person with no one to talk to about shit, luckily I'm not one of those, but dude, it's like a fucking bottle neck, you know, could go at any time, I mean, something's gotta' fuckin give!

...Part 2 coming soon!

Don Pettit, HMS

Back to Eerie Sounds directory

About the artist(s):

Mortiis is an electronic band from Notodden, Norway fronted by Håvard Ellefsen, who is also known as the namesake of the band. The name is a misspelling of the word "mortis", which is the pronunciation used by the band. Mortiis started as the solo project of Ellefsen as a means to convey a story. – Wikipedia

Social Media:

Music videos:

About the author:

Don Pettit is a music journalist and he has written several articles for HMS over the years.