On the phone with Philip Anderson - November 1999
Mortiis is an enigma. As a former member of Norway's Black Metal scene band Emperor, he has already carved out a name for himself with many metal fans. He has come a long way since that time though, creating a new name and image for himself. Mortiis the mystery. With his long talons, pointed nose and ears, and dressed for battle, Mortiis' new look is that of an elfen demon. Although looking the part of a Nordic metal band member, his new sound is far from it. Mortiis has now become something closer to a composer of classically inspired progressive metal (although he somewhat doesn't like the genre association).
Mortiis' latest album is The Stargate. Within the realm of this new CD, Mortiis paints the picture of a sort of gateway to different worlds and dimensions. Unfortunately, The Stargate CD can only encompass the auditory aspect of Mortiis. What is missing is the visual side of this new entity. His shows are very graphic and often misunderstood - sometimes even called Satanic, even though Mortiis himself has nothing to do with the Satanic side of things in his show. There are many visuals of torture, skulls and dark imagery, but this is all to show a different side of life. Just as in real life, there is both light and dark and many things yet understood.
We recently had the opportunity to talk with the man known as Mortiis on an unfortunately crackling phone line and were able to delve into some of the thinking behind this new creation.
K2K: How long have you been doing Mortiis, the solo project?
M: I've been doing this for seven years.
K2K: What is the basis of your lyrics?
M: Well, on the Stargate album, the concept is travel between worlds using stars as gates.
K2K: Like as in the Stargate film?
M: Oh, fuck that movie! I created my concept, like, in 1992. That film didn't come out until 1995 which is fucking annoying. I knew all the time that I was going to make an album called The Stargate. I decided not to change the title just because of the movie.
K2K: As far as your look, do you have any affiliation with the Black Metal band scene anymore or is it different?
M: I feel it's different. I don't try to affiliate myself with that at all. I drifted away from that seven years ago.
K2K: How did you develop your new look and image?
M: That just came at the same time as I decided to do something different musically. I wanted something totally different visually as well. It just happened very naturally. I can't even remember about how I developed the look, it just happened. It was an alter-ego. It's much more than just pictures and photos and that. It's a whole big alter-ego personality thing. It's not like I sat down and thought, "OK. I want a big nose and ears." That's not how it happened. It just came. It just grew out.
K2K: Just another extension into what you're doing?
M: Yeah, yeah. Emphasizing the music.
K2K: What are your musical influences to what you're doing?
M: I don't know. I know basically, to me the main inspiration I had for The Stargate was, and the only one that I can put my finger on, was a guy called Basil Pollizorus (?). I'm not sure how to spell his name, but he did the soundtrack for the first Conan movie. Conan The Barbarian. That's a fantastic sountrack. The music from the film, not necessarily the film itself, but the music from it had quite an impact on the music writing on The Stargate.
K2K: So you're more soundtrack music influenced than classical?
M: Oh definitely. I don't even like classical music. A lot of people keep referring to my music as very classically inpsired and I'm like, "What the hell are you talking about? I don't even like classical music."
K2K: You don't like it at all?
M: I like some of Carl Orff's stuff like "Carmina Burana". You can't deny the theme of it. That's about it. [Grieg's] "[Hall Of] The Mountain King" is cool but that's where I draw the line.
K2K: What other influences have you had in the past? If you don't like classical, what else do you listen to?
M: I listen to rock music. That's my favorite style, but I can't say that that inspired me on this album. Not really. I mean, what inspired me for The Stargate music is bands like Tangerine Dream, German electronic music. I listen to all that. I was really into that type of stuff for some time. Back in the early '90s I got into it.
K2K: Have you heard the new Tangerine Dream by the way?
M: No, actually I haven't heard anything of theirs since 1989. I got into them late and I picked up everything they did up until about 1989.
(We talked about a few other German bands and some other progressive bands of the late '70s to early '80s)
K2K: You have quite the ecclectic taste in music.
M: Yeah, I have a very broad range in musical taste which I think is why I find black metal to be so unispiring. It's really so limited. There's nothing that you can do with it. It's boring, basically. It's flat out boring. That's how I feel about it.
K2K: What is the big appeal with Black Metal, especially from Norway? It seems odd from such a beautiful country to get this scene that just wants to destroy everything.
M: I was younger when I was into that. To me it was just a "cool thing". I didn't realize that it probably was just a fad, you know. I'm glad that everything happened. It was a real learning experience for me. I don't think it's a bad thing. I just drifted away from it very naturally. These days, I don't know. I don't know why Norway produces all these types of bands. I may have lost the question.
K2K: I was just asking why something like Black Metal inspired so much negativity such as church burnings and things like that. I was wondering what brings that on.
M: I don't know. Extreme people with extreme minds and we were all crazy. That's about the only answer that I can give you. We were all a bunch of fucked up, insane kids.
K2K: It's too bad that that had to come from Norway though. Norway's always been one of my favorite countries to visit.
M: Yeah, well if you like nature and stuff, I guess, it's an OK country. Personally I don't a fuck as far as nature goes. I mean, I live in the middle of it. Nature. To me it's, "OK. There's some bushes and little trees. OK. So what?"
K2K: But it is a beautiful country though. Even if it gets boring after a while.
M: Yeah, yeah. (laughs) It is boring after a while if you're around it too much.
K2K: What is the next direction that you want to go now that you've done The Stargate?
M: I don't actually know yet. I've been working on some stuff and I have some stuff back home. It seems, at this point, that it could be a couple of different directions, so I don't actually know. All that I can at this point in time, because it's still a bit early, is that it will be interesting. Definitely, it will be different than The Stargate.
K2K: So it won't be the same musical style?
M: Uh, no. I don't think so. It's going to be Mortiis. You'll have orchestral pieces and all that stuff. That's never going to go away. As far as I'm concerned, that's a main ingredient of my music, anyway.
K2K: Since there are a few dates left on this tour, how soon before you come back to the U.S.?
M: Hopefully as soon as possible. Next year. This tour has been kind of fucked up in a few ways. The promotion has been really horrible. I don't really know who to blame, but someone hasn't done their job in the proper way. No one really knows about it. So many people found out about this tour by reading MY website. That's not right. That's not the way it should be. They should read an ad in the local newspaper or see posters on the wall. That's what they should see. Not a lot of people have done that so someone has been flaking out big time.
(We got onto talking about another popular Norwegian, non-Black Metal, band - TNT - also interviewed in this issue)
M: Oh yeah, the old dogs. I have their Knights Of The New Thunder album. It's a good power metal album. I think that they mellowed out after that.
K2K: The new album has a nice mix of styles on it. They also have a new Anthology coming out too.
M: A compilation album? [With] like "10,000 Lovers In One". Unfortunately. (laughs)
K2K: How long before Mortiis writes his own "10,000 Lovers In One" to get a radio hit?
M: (laughs) A long time.
K2K: For that matter, with your look and all, it would be rather interesting to have a pop hit, wouldn't it?
M: Yeah it would. Maybe I'll do that. Maybe I'll do a mix. I was thinking about doing something like that. I might do it.
K2K: So, on this latest tour - How is it that some people are accusing your show of being Satanic?
M: I don't know. I guess it also kind of depends on what kind of Satanic people think about. If it's LaVeyan form of Satanic, then I don't mind. Which I pretty much totally sympathize with because it's the nature of human beings anyways. It's all very natural. As far as being a devil worshipper and all that, desecrating graves and all that kind of bullshit, then I don't know why. I'm sure that people in their ignorance and prejudiced mind-state phases assume that I'm Satanic because they don't have any other titles to put on me. Uneducated people, I don't know.
K2K: But, musically you have nothing to do with any of that.
M: No. You can scrutinize my records and lyrics as much as you want, you're not going to find the word Satan or devil anywhere.
K2K: Not even just those terms, but on the albums there is nothing offense what-so-ever.
M: Right. My life's much more offensive than my records. (laughs)
K2K: Did you have a couple of shows cancelled or banned because of that though?
M: Yeah, it was a Tallahassee show that I was cancelled because of something related to something like that. Then we pulled a couple of shows, like the Chicago show where they wouldn't even let us do our show. I don't think it had anything to do with us. It was just them being stuck up a**holes. "Oh no, we don't want any blood on our stage. We don't want any sticky stuff on our stage." This was the House Of Blues. They were being complete jerks about it. So I said, "Fuck you then. I'm not doing the show." I felt that I was compromising too much. It was to a level where I was not comfortable anymore.
K2K: From listening to the latest CD, it would sound as though you would need the whole show to give the proper effect.
M: Yeah. I can compromise to a certain level but the ultimatum that they gave me was essentially was not possible. I didn't want to do that.
K2K: How did you like touring with Christian Death?
M: It was alright. We don't tour in the same bus. (laughs)
K2K: For a final question, if you weren't doing this style of music, what would you be doing?
M: If I wasn't doing this, then I would be doing metal music or rock music. If not music at all, I don't know. I do not know at all. I didn't do well in school so I probably wouldn't have a job anyway. I probably would do something not that great. Something fucked up. But, I'm not doing that, so it's a good thing.
And with that Mortiis was on his way to the next show. Check out the latest CD, The Stargate, and then look for Mortiis next year as he makes his way (hopefully better announced) through the U.S. and Europe.
Written by and all Photos © 1999 Philip Anderson

Philip Anderson is a musician, in addition to being a writer/photographer. He has performed as a guitarist/vocalist, as well as songwriter, in several bands over the past 20 years. As a writer and photographer, he has been published by several magazines and in several books, and had his works appear on television.

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