Matterhorn: on the upcoming album, and the bleakness of the human condition
Recently I was lucky enough to sit down for a nice talk with Tommy Sebastian Halseth, Edvin Matthieson and Rune Eriksen of up and coming band Matterhorn.
So, Tommy, please tell us about the history of the band, how did this project surface?
Tommy: Matterhorn really started when I was offered the vocalist-job in In The Woods. At that time I started to feel that I should really have a solo-project as well. When the job with In The Woods did not happen, I was left with a lot of material, which I decided to continue working on.
Was this material that was originally intended for In The Woods?
Tommy: Some of it was, mainly vocal lines which I then used as the basis to create accords and interweave with backing vocals and new melodies.
What year are we talking now?
Tommy: Well, this has to be back in 2015. It’s taken a few years for the project to come to fruition. You know, I’ve been involved with so many bands up through the years. So this time around I wanted this to be “100% me”. I wanted to be satisfied with every melody and vocal line that was recorded for Matterhorn. I decided to put a lot of work into it, so you know, I spent one and a half year on just the first song I released. I needed it to be perfect. Ideas were added underway, and the track ended up being eight minutes long.
For instance, I got the idea to add choir. My uncles sing in a male choir, and I wanted to add that to the track, creating a kind of medieval atmosphere. When I told people about the idea they all assumed that it would be some kind of Gregorian monk-choir, but that wasn’t exactly what I was going for. More of a Nordic medieval sounding choir. Nothing wrong with having monks on your album (laughs), but that wasn’t what I was going for.
Recently you have been in the studio. Are you working on the debut album now, and will any of the tracks you have released up until now be re-recorded, or even included on the album?
Tommy: All of the tracks will be remixed because we will of course need that “red thread” going through the album. ‘Aorta Part 2’ will not be on the album, as that track was a collaboration I did with Skei from Manes. It still belongs in the Matterhorn-universe though, and came of as a result of me wanting to experiment with adding electronic sounds into my music, something I feel worked great.
We might add ‘Aorta Part 2’ as a bonus-track on the CD, but it will not be added to the vinyl pressing of the debut album which will consist of eighth tracks all forming a concept.
How did the cooperation with Skei come about?
Tommy: Well, as you know I was the live-vocalist for his band Manes for two-and-a-half, maybe three years, and we knew each other quite well even before that, so I just asked. He got to hear some of the material, and then got free hands to take it back home into his “laboratory” and do his magic. I’m very happy with the result.
You have played in tons of bands up to this point Tommy. Griffin, Manes, Atrox, In The Woods and Godsend to name a few. Most of it being metal bands, often quite extreme as well. How does Matterhorn compare to your previous endeavors?
Tommy: I’ve never been locked into one genre, but back then I sort of had to, or you would get strange looks. You couldn’t listen to David Bowie and play heavy metal (laughs). But I have always enjoyed different music regardless of genre, as long as it sounded good to me. Period!
When the boys were all listening to “Hell Bent For Leather” I was at home enjoying Kent.
Well it seems to be a trend that a lot of metal-heads from back then have “skeletons in the closet”, some music that they enjoyed, but did not necessarily share with others?
Tommy: Yes, our so-called “guru” of progressive music, Steven Wilson, said somewhere that he never had any material he felt could not use because it was outside of a specific genre. He’s not confined by it, but focuses on the music, pop, rock, jazz or whatever, and I feel he’s “spot-on” with that statement.
I remember being younger, when all my friends listened to heavy-metal. You could not bring ‘Tin Machine’ with Bowie, or Marillons ‘Clutching At Straws’ to those parties, they had to stay at home (laughs). So that’s why Matterhorn has become what it is, all those inspirations and not being restricted by genres. Also I’ve been lucky to find some great musicians to add to my vision.
So Rune and Edvin, what are your musical backgrounds, and how did you become involved with Matterhorn?
Rune: (laughs), well I’m a rock-hard bedroom guitarist! I’ve been involved with some local bands, but never anything big. Way back I played in a cover band with Tommy.
Tommy: The only time I’ve ever actually gotten paid for playing a gig!
Edvin: I used to play with a band called Talrusha. It was a prog metal band, and we played covers of Dream Theater as well as out own compositions. But the last few years I’ve played with a cover band called “Battery”. We have traveled all over Norway, playing covers of old Metallica-songs. It’s actually been a lot of fun, and worked great because we all became parents recently, with small children you don’t have a lot of spare time. Playing Metallica was like; “do we really have to rehearse?”. “No! Let’s just go play” so that worked out well (laughs).
I met Tommy for the first time when he was a booker for a local venue (Veita Scene, in Trondheim), at that point I was a stand-in bassist for a band called Concrete Art, where drummer Andreas Stunes also played (Stunes is now the new drummer for Matterhorn).
Edvin, as you have experience playing more “classic prog metal” how do you view the music you are now creating with Matterhorn put up against that? What is different with your approach here?
Edvin: When it comes to the work I do with Matterhorn, my focus has been to hold back more. Create more room and dynamics in the music, rather than playing fast, or very complex stuff. It differs quite a bit from what we did with Talrusha, where it sometimes was about adding as many notes as possible to our music.
That seems natural since Talrusha was firmly within the progmetal genre, while Matterhorn incorporates different inspirations such as avant-garde, alternative, and experimental music. While the band operates outside of bounds of classical progmetal, you have nonetheless gotten a lot of attention from prog related press. Hard question, but does Matterhorn belong to the prog genre?
Tommy: Hard question for sure, but much of the music I’ve enjoyed through my life have been prog-related. No matter if it was progrock, pop-prog or progmetal I’ve listened a lot to prog. Of course that has colored my songwriting, as well as my personality.
I never really sit down with the intent of writing progressive music. I just work through it, adding accords, vocal lines and themes, and see where it leads me. On the lyrical side I’ve been lucky to have help from Torstein Parelius (Manes, Cthon etc). The guy is a wizard when it comes to writing lyrics, and has worked with many other bands from Trondheim (among others Keep Of Kalessin and Khonsu).
I usually start working from the lyrics, and then create vocals and melody, maybe a strange way of doing it, but that’s my process. Then I will go through it, asking myself “is this good enough to keep”, throwing away what I feel is sub-par.
I’ve used a lot of musicians and acquaintances in the process. Sending out demos and small snippets of music, asking for honest feedback. If I got criticism I had to think differently. That has been very important as up until now I’ve been creating my music in a sort of “bubble” locked away in my home-studio. Therefore using my network became very important. I was not looking for feedback saying “this is great”, or “this is shit”, but for people to give me reasons me why they felt certain parts were good, or lacking. That’s the kind of feedback I could work with. Using my network this way has been a very positive and creative way of working. I’m very grateful that people actually took the time to listen to my ideas, and give constructive feedback.
Now you recently were in Autumnsongs Studio with Rhys Marsh (Kaukasus, Mandala etc.), how was that experience?
Tommy: It was great, Rhys is very to the point, but a part of the concept of the album is dark/light, Yin/Yang or blanc/noir. That means that the four tracks recorded with Rhys will be one side of the vinyl, and the four other tracks recorded as a band, will be the other. The tracks with the band will be recorded in s different manner, but the entire album will be mixed by the same person, as to keep the “red thread” running through it.
I have written about 4000 words on the concept of the album, so that is an important part of the whole. It is related to the dark side of humanity. Everything from bullying, to mental health issues. That’s what I’m focusing on, digging in the dirt, to put it that way.
Will that concept be visible in any way apart from the music/lyrics themselves, as it seems you have done a lot of work on it?
Tommy: The cover will be created by Rune Folgerø (Atrox),. He’s been given the music and lyrics, some visuals, and the colors I’d like to feature. Aside from that he’s been given full artistic liberty to create the packaging of the album which will of course reflect the concept. He’s also been told the title of the album “Aura Noir”, which also will be the name of the title-track. It’s a very personal song to me. The album will be quite bleak concept wise, not because I intended it to, but because that’s were my “digging in the dirt” led me. Issues we have to cope with as humans and as a society.
So, when will you start recording the last four songs for the album?
Tommy: The work has begun seriously on two of them, One is named “Døden og meg” (trans. Death And Me), where I will sing in Norwegian. This is a concept I’ve been working on for quite some time. The song features a monologue read by actor Åsmund Brede Eike, as well as vocal lines sung by me. Åsmund is a Norwegian actor that has experience from movies, TV as well as the stage. We worked together at Trondheim Theater way back, so I decided to ask him, and he was very enthusiastic about it. The lyrics and sound for this track will be very dark and bleak. For this I have another lyricist that writes under the pseudonym B.Moll, as he wants to remain anonymous.
Singing in Norwegian is actually a bit frightening, as things come closer when it’s your own language. So the framework is really there for all four tracks, and they will be written as a band, with Edvin on bass, and Rune on guitar. As mentioned the band will also feature Andreas Stunes (Pekka Volt) on drums and William Ernstsen (Stargazer) on lead guitar.
So when can we expect to hear “Aura Noir”?
Tommy: Well, I spoke to Robin Mortensen of Apollon/Karisma Records yesterday, and he’s happy with a 2019 release, so we’re shooting for that (laughs). But we really have no deadline apart from that. It’s gonna be exiting going forward, now that I have managed to recruit these guys, and we are all fully committed to Matterhorn.
Be sure to check out Matterhorn on Facebook and Youtube to hear music, and keep to up with the work that is going into their debut album. Highly recommended!