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“A lot of kids on the internet talk about black metal without knowing anything about it": the world according to Satyricon's Satyr

Satyricon
(Image credit: Press)

As the frontman of Norwegian black metal legends Satyricon for 30 years, Satyr has learned a hell of a lot about life. The vocalist and multi-instrumentalist lets us in on his lessons learned, from the importance of escaping into nature – "I like camping – preferably far away from people," he tells us – to how to be a brilliant band leader. 

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A good teacher can change your life

“At the age of 12 I started taking classical guitar lessons. I went to this private teacher once a week and she was really good. She taught me a lot about attitude and dedication. I would say to her, ‘Oh there’s no way I can play that! Can’t we focus on something that’s more suitable for my level of experience, or rather complete lack of any experience?’ She didn’t say that she understood or try to justify her choices. She just moved on, not in an arrogant way, but like, ‘OK, let’s just try it. Let’s just have a go at it.’ She managed to ignore my objections somehow and just moved on. She’d say, ‘One step at a time...’ In a matter of weeks I was amazed by how she taught me to play things that’d been unimaginable, unthinkable. I couldn’t believe it. That approach really worked well for me.”

If you want to succeed, try harder

“I tried to get in better physical shape for touring, after thinking, ‘What am I doing up here [onstage]? I’ve filled the room with people, but I’m up here struggling for breath because I’m just a metal guy and I’m out of shape...’ But I’m not just a metal guy, I’m a professional. People have paid to come and see me. I can’t stand here, gasping for breath, trying to hold onto my song. So I needed to address my physical shape. I found the right guy, an old-school guy who worked with Olympic athletes. Whenever I said, ‘There’s no way I can lift this weight!’ he’d just say, ‘No, come on, try harder.’ That was a defining moment. I felt I was already giving it everything, but he said, ‘Try harder. You’re not digging deep enough.’ Then in frustration and anger, I did dig deeper and I pulled the weight up and I was amazed. He just casually said, ‘Yup, there you go. That’s trying harder!’”

Trusting your intuition is the way forward

“Intuition is not some magical or spiritual thing that cannot be defined, some mystical inner feeling. I realised that intuition is just the accumulation of your own experience. It’s your inner voice saying, ‘I’ve seen this before, I’ve experienced this before’, and it either feels good or it feels wrong. I was in a situation in my wine business recently, with someone who was part of a partnership, and they were not really in line with what we’re trying to do, and didn’t seem very dedicated or committed. I suggested we should sever the relationship, because I’ve learned that if someone seems unmotivated and not really committed, it's going to take a lot for that person to suddenly acknowledge that they were wrong and start performing the way you want them to. It just doesn’t happen that way. Trust your intuition. If it feels wrong, it’s wrong.”

Satyricon

Frost and Satyr of Satyricon. (Image credit: Press)

In extreme vocal styles, stamina really matters

“There is nothing worse than the sound of a struggling metal drummer. Can you imagine Reign In Blood with a really feeble drummer? It wouldn’t have been Reign In Blood. You need someone with the determination and conviction of a Dave Lombardo, and it’s the same with vocals. You want that backpack of extra energy that you can pull out. You don’t want to be up there, feeling like you’re going to pass out. Your biggest friend will be great stamina. Before we tour I step it up, going from working on general fitness to really intense workouts for stamina. That could be rowing or running or bike, but anything with high intensity. That works really well. Then it’s just the usual stuff, from a technical point of view. Absolutely avoid alcohol before performing. Avoid spicy food. Make sure you do a proper warm-up routine and get enough sleep!”

Always sing like you mean it

“Let’s make it simple: if you’re about to sing a line that says, ‘I hate you!’ just make sure that the listener can really feel that you hate them. Make it real. It’s not about going through the motions and just remembering lyrics. It’s about being on the inside of the lyrics, trying to feel the message, so that when you sing it, you’re not just playing it, you’re living it. For me, vocals are even more personal than playing the guitar. I’m sure many guitarists will disagree, but they’re wrong! Ha ha ha! With singing, you have an even greater chance to be more intimate and close to those things deep on the inside. There is also a greater risk of screwing up the whole thing by just performing it instead of truly executing it. No one wants to listen to your half-hearted effort, as you try not to make any mistakes. They want to hear what you do when you’re deeply committed.”

Perfection in heavy metal is overrated

“Many of the greatest records of all time are rough around the edges. It’s why so many of us are so excited by Paul Baloff’s vocals on Bonded By Blood [by Exodus]. Because he really sounds like this front-row bully in the pit that wants to mess people up! I really like things like the song Riot Of Violence by Kreator, which I believe has the drummer Ventor singing on it. That just sounds ferocious and menacing. You have this feeling: ‘Watch out for this guy! He doesn’t take any prisoners!’ When you get that feeling, you connect with it. To the best of my ability, that’s what I try to get right every night on tour. I try to put myself spiritually into the right environment for the song, and make it resonate as it should.”

It's important to understand the history of the music you love

“A lot of kids on the internet talk about black metal without knowing anything about it or where it comes from. I’m pretty sure they’re not familiar with Celtic Frost’s To Mega Therion or Morbid Tales at all. I don’t think they’re familiar with early Mayhem. If they are, they haven’t understood it. Fenriz once said, and I understand his point, that people should stop talking about music and being geeks about it, and actually listen to music, to understand it on a deeper level. I agree with that, but I don’t agree that it’s senseless to talk about music, if you’re trying to understand why things are the way they are. I spent years trying to make my band appreciate the importance of why things are the way they are. That’s always been my approach.”

A strong relationship with nature is necessary for wellbeing 

“You might enjoy a walk in the park or the odd visit to the Grand Canyon or whatever it is, but that’s sightseeing. It’s not what I do. I’m out there in nature, at the very minimum, two or three days a week, and sometimes five or six days a week. Sometimes it’s walking in the forest. Sometimes it’s cross-country skiing into the woods, late at night with just a headlamp. I don’t do a whole lot of snowboarding anymore, but that’s something I’ve also enjoyed. I like swimming in the ocean. I like long bike rides. I like camping, preferably far away from people, in remote places where no one can hear me or see me, and I can’t hear anything, not even a plane in the sky. The problem is that most people haven’t spent enough time in nature to appreciate how good it can be for you. I need it for creativity, but also for my sanity.”

Responsibility comes to you with age whether you like it or not

“Leading a band isn’t about power, it’s about responsibility. You don’t understand anything about the psychology of leading a band when you’re a kid, but as you grow older you realise that just letting people talk about their concerns is really helpful for getting things the way you want them to be. If you don’t listen to people, it turns bad. Everyone is different. Some people appreciate that you give them space and influence, and they treat that respectfully. Other people think it’s some sort of weakness that you’re displaying and will try to exploit that. With those people you have to be quite firm! When you are firm with people like that, they’re always incredibly offended. So you just call them a taxi.”

Unfortunately, youth really is wasted on the young

“Yeah, I’m afraid it really is. For instance, I wish I’d had a better understanding of things when I did the front cover for The Shadowthrone! We had this great idea, but it didn’t turn out the way that I’d hoped for. The designer worked on it and said, ‘This is the best I can do...’ It didn’t feel great because it wasn’t what I wanted. But I was 18, and at that age you think, ‘I’ve spent all the money and I’ve spent a lot of time on this, so what will people say if I tell them we’ve got to do it all again? They’ll be pissed off!’ So we went with what we had. But knowing what I know now, it would be the easiest decision in the world to say, ‘This isn’t working and it’s not good enough.’ I wouldn’t hesitate. If I could have combined that understanding of how you solve these problems, with the ferocious energy of youth? Come on, we could have been the Beatles!”

Published in Metal Hammer #349. The reissues of Satyricon's first two albums, Dark Medieval Times and The Shadowthrone, are out now via Napalm