Trollfest – No Boundaries or LimitationsSunday, 3rd February 2019
Few bands put fun into metal that way that Trollfest does. From their cartoon-y cover art, to over-the-top music videos, to entertaining costumes in their live shows, Trollfest bring with them a sense of humor that’s lacking in much of the scene. But the most important part, is that they have the musical prowess to make it more than a simple joke-machine. Each Trollfest album has evolved in its own way, and their latest offering, Norwegian Fairytales, displays a large amount of variety that should even pull in fans simply interested in some strong folk-oriented metal. We grabbed vocalist Trollmannen for some Q & A about the ups and downs of having a silly band image, the ideas behind their latest album, and their long working relationship with cartoonist Jonas Darnell.
Dead Rhetoric: How did you choose the concepts that would fit into your Norwegian Fairytales?
Trollmannen: The title is slightly misleading – the songs aren’t based on actual Norwegian fairytales, but new Norwegian fairytales. All of the lyrics are based on different mythological creatures from Norwegian folklore, so to speak. Each song deals with a different being that they used to believe in back in the day. The selection process was not too hard actually. I think there were just about enough mythological creatures to cover the whole album. At least I couldn’t find many more.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you feel that the new album is best experienced? Is it something you should listen to as a whole, or is it okay going track-to-track?
Trollmannen: I’d like to say a little of both. I think the order of the songs go really well together, in our opinion. The album flows nicely from beginning to end. But on the other hand, there’s no song where I feel you have to hear ‘that one’ first before the next. I’d like to think that all of the songs are strong enough to be stand-alone tracks, but it’s a fairly varied record. You have the fast paced, chaotic songs like “Fjøsnissens Fjaseri” and more slow and maybe even doomy songs like “Nøkken og Fossegrimen spiller opp til midnattstimen” and “Småfolkets store bragder.”
So there are fast songs, heavy songs, slow songs, we try to get a nice collection of different types of metal. In that sense, if fast-paced and frenetic songs are your cup of tea, there are 3-4 songs that you might want to pick out and listen to a lot, but on the other hand, if you like the doomy, slow-down type of songs, there are a few others you might like. If you are just looking for the happy-go-lucky folk metal anthems, there are a few of those as well. If you just want your “rocking foot” as we say in Norway, you just want to sit and stomp your foot there are a few songs to groove along as well.
In that sense, it’s a collection of stand-alone songs, but for us – when I listen to music, if I’m not in the right mood I get bored easily. I like a lot of stuff like Mr. Bungle and Fantomas – that kind of progressive stuff. There’s no time to get bored. Nothing lasts for more than 30 seconds and you are onto something completely different. I find that kind of stuff really refreshing to listen to. Without comparing us to those legends in any sort of way, we like to think that we are doing something slightly similar, I hope.
Dead Rhetoric: Could you talk about the relationship the band has with artist Jonas Darnell.
Trollmannen: When we were releasing our third album, we wanted to have a cartoonist do the cover for us. We thought that it went really well with the music. We sent out a proposal to a lot of cartoonists in Norway and Sweden, explaining that we were a small black metal band and that we were looking for something in the cross-section of a bathing duck and a second world war underwater mine. That was the mission statement so to speak.
I’m sorry on behalf of the cartooning world in Norway that none of them even bothered to reply to us. But Jonas Darnell, from Sweden, he sent back an email saying he used to do that when he was younger, and it would be fun to pick it up again. He asked how we wanted it, and other things – it didn’t take longer than to get the first sketch he ever made to realize that we hit the jackpot with that guy! In retrospect, I’m very happy that none of the Norwegians replied because there was guy that we really wanted to do it but he was obviously one of the ones that didn’t reply. Looking back at it today, I don’t think he would have even done a third of the job that Jonas Darnell did, and has continued to do for us.
It should also be mentioned that Darnell has a Swedish cartoon series called Herman the Heathen. When I was a kid, that was in a comic book in Norway, and it was one of my favorites in that day and age. I sort of vaguely paid attention to stuff that he has been doing since I was 10 years old. To actually have him work with us was a bit of a home-run. But he lives in Sweden, we live in Norway, so we don’t get to really meet each other very often. We do stay in touch through email, and usually for each album we will send a slight description of what we are picturing and he just blows our mind every time.
Dead Rhetoric: Mr. Seidel’s animations have been a treat for your videos. This would be a ton of work for him, but would you like to see him do a complete concept for a full-album and put it in video form?
Trollmannen: In our dreams, all the time [laughs]. It’s an incredibly time-consuming thing to do. I doubt we will ever have the time to do it. If we should manage to get filthy rich and shitty famous, that’s one of the first things we’ll do.
Dead Rhetoric: How important is the entertainment value when you are writing, doing videos, or playing live?
Trollmannen: It’s of maximum importance. Musically we are serious and adamant about making the best possible music we can. But with everything else around it, we are always looking at the entertainment value – when it comes to the album cover, the live shows, the costumes, and especially the music videos. We’ve been going for the fun factor. Actually the two animated videos we have are the only one’s based on the lyrics. All of the other ones are made with the most important factor being that it is as entertaining as possible.
Dead Rhetoric: When you are thinking about it that way, is there ever a time when you say, “Oh, that’s too much for even us” or if you hit that point, do you try it anyway?
Trollmannen: I think the latter happens more often [laughs], but there have been times when we have thought that something was, not necessarily too stupid, but this is so stupid that no one else is going to get it. A lot of the time that we spend trying to come up with ideas or the next concept, we will get together and have a few beers and talk shit all night to see what we come up with. A lot of the time someone will have one joke, then someone will make a related joke, and then it continues along for 30-40 jokes, and it’s absolutely hilarious to us. But you need to have heard the first 40 jokes to get the brilliance of the 41st. On those occasions, we have been fortunate enough to see sense before putting in too much time and effort to making something entirely incomprehensible.
Dead Rhetoric: There’s been a lot of these characters you have developed over the years. What are some of your favorite characters that the band has created over the years?
Trollmannen: I have a weak spot for Kaptein Khaos – character-wise he is an interesting dude. Not only because of being a mad scientist and having a time machine, but when I wrote him I was picturing a semi-smart character with god-like powers. Being a spiteful, not necessarily good or evil – he doesn’t give a fuck, and putting that kind of character behind history’s car, so to speak. Going through random shitty events throughout history and blaming them on him was a lot of fun.
Dead Rhetoric: You brewed a beer for the new album’s release. Did it seem like a logical idea for you guys to brew a beer to celebrate the album?
Trollmannen: Yes – this is something we’ve wanted to do for quite some time. We haven’t had the finances nor time nor connections to pull it off properly until now. We met a guy who could hook us up with a professional company, and as you can see on YouTube, Mr. Seidel and DrekkaDag had a fantastic day visiting the brewery and it turned out really great. But then again, it matches exactly to our tastes so perhaps that is not surprising. It was really cool to finally get to do it.
Dead Rhetoric: What is it that you think Trollfest does best at this point in your career?
Trollmannen: I’m not sure. It’s kind of hard to have a neutral outlook on stuff that you have done yourself. You are an intellectual and involved and having made it, and you are emotionally involved and all qualities/shittiness is a reflection of your skill as a musician. So everything we do, we see as the best possible way to do it. I’d like to say everything, but that’s not true. The other logical conclusion is that we’ve done nothing the best [laughs]. There are bands that do things a bit better than us, but I do think we have a fairly unique and original combination. We are the best True Norwegian Balkan Metal band that there ever has been. That’s the beauty of defining your own genre!
Dead Rhetoric: There’s obviously a lot of musical competency involved with the band but also the goofiness in approach. What are the advantages and disadvantages of a silly approach that the band takes?
Trollmannen: A disadvantage is that there seems to be a lot of, especially music critics – I don’t meet too many of them in the crowd out and about after shows, but at least from their perspective, there are a lot of people that subscribe to the idea that humor doesn’t belong in music. Even though Frank Zappa proved them all wrong in the ‘70s. The disadvantage for us is that we are trying to be as serious we can as musicians, and I think personally, if you sit and listen to the music it will shine through in the first couple of minutes. But at the same time, you sometimes read reviews or hear someone who has talked to someone who just states off the bat, “the comedy band, Trollfest” – the jokesters, the teenage boys – before they hear a note we actually play, they assume or know they are going to hate it because someone said it was a comedy band at some point.
On the other hand, I think there are more advantages, at least the way I see it. When you don’t take yourself too seriously, there’s a tendency to be more honest, and people tend to appreciate honesty. Both in your heart and in your performances. People tend to sense if you are coming from the heart, or if you are trying to convince someone that you are a badass, so to speak. So one advantage is that it is probably easier for us to be entertaining than say, I don’t know, a very serious black metal band.
The entertainment is a bit easier – easier to make a music video or find something cool to do for a music video. It’s easier to find a costume that everyone is happy with or finds entertaining. It’s easier to cultivate your image. It’s also easier to change the live show – we change it each time we release a new album. We have new costumes with the new songs, and try to do everything as fresh as possible. For us, that’s fantastic. You don’t get to the point where you are bored with your own shit. Whereas, if you have a serious image, like if you dress up like Vikings and play Viking metal, than anything other than Viking costumes and metal will make you unserious and stupid. In that way, you are limited both creatively and artistically. You put a lot of limitations on what you can and cannot do, just by deciding to do one thing. For us, we have established that the next time we come around, everything will be different. The costumes, the stage set-up, the album will have a different vibe – for us as musicians, it’s nice to be able to do that kind of thing.
We still have songs in the set from our first album. As much as I loved those songs when we wrote them and recorded them, I am getting fairly sick of playing them. I don’t mind playing them on stage, because you get to watch the audience and there’s always someone that really liked that you played that song, and they have a lot of fun so you feed off of that. But to be in the rehearsal room and play that song that you have done 1000 times at least, you do get a bit bored with it. I think the same thing happens if you have the same costume and image with your career, unless you find that one little thing that really, really rocks your boat I think you will get really bored by doing the same thing over and over again. It’s not easy to inspire people to have fun when you are actually a little bit bored.
Dead Rhetoric: I think the fans would appreciate that as well. It’s more enticing to go see Trollfest for the tenth time because you switch it up and do things differently.
Trollmannen: Exactly, that’s a little bit of our idea as well. By switching it up, it will be worth coming to see us twice. Shit won’t be the same next time around. To come back around to AC/DC, if you saw them ten years ago, there haven’t been a lot of changes. They still do the school uniforms, Angus is still jumping about on one leg. The only new props are the rock and roll train, or something like that. Everything else is very similar from time to time. But AC/DC was the first band I ever loved, and I still love their music, even if I don’t listen to it quite as often as I used to. I love what they do, but they are already doing that. We don’t need every band in the whole fucking world to do that thing, because they’ve nailed that thing. Try to nail something else instead. That’s part of the thought process behind our ever-changing house of characters and costumes.
Dead Rhetoric: Lastly, what is going on with the band in 2019?
Trollmannen: We have a festival in the UK on February 16 – we are playing the HRH metal festival. Then at the end of the month we are going on tour with Korpiklaani and Turisas and we will go through Europe. That will last for about a month, then it is quiet until we do some festivals this summer. We are doing Hellfest in France – we have been there once before and it was awesome. We are hoping to, but nothing has been confirmed yet – we are currently trying to work on a US tour for the fall. At the end of this year, if we are lucky enough to find people to book us, we will be coming back to the States. Granted we get visas and all that.