Håvard Ellefsen is a performance artist and musician… he is my kind of underground, not only from my generation, but from my culture of clan, that of the metal head/hessian culture… Mortiis was part of the original black metal underground, he has run his own label to publish his own work, very DIY spirit and is a trend killer, great qualities of the underground. His work is high concept and deep. I just dig his art and attitude, he was after all in one of the original church burning bands, Emperor.
What is underground art?
To me growing up, the underground was basically the art most people were not aware of, art that was either deliberately staying obscure and out of the mainstream, or art that simply had not succeeded in climbing into the spotlight yet… I mean there’s a thousand ways to be “underground”. In my life art was music, but I think the same applies to any form of creative expression. Some of it was perhaps very offensive to some people and as such more or less doomed to remain underground, no commercial outlet (label) would touch it, some simply didn’t cut it quality wise, some didn’t work hard enough… The list goes on. I don’t think underground art is one specific thing. It’s a labyrinth, and I suppose that’s what makes it interesting and exciting, as opposed to the mainstream (again, in the case of music) it sort of feels like you’ve pretty much heard whatever is going on after leaving the radio on for a day, or dial in MTV (well, not much music left on that station) and leave it on for a day…The underground would take a lifetime to explore.
Are there rules or a set of ethics to the underground?
I think it’s totally individual. I can only really speak with (some) confidence about the music underground, though. There are certain genres that seem a lot more anal in terms of “rules” and “restrictions”, etc. I grew up on heavy metal, and in time branched out to explore a lot of the different styles and sub genres that developed from that…But it all felt sort of “homophobic” in a sense, really narrow-minded, no visitors welcome, if you know what I mean. I caught a fair amount of shit for doing what i did, which was to essentially take a very extreme metal-influenced visual thing (my image and artwork at the time) and put that to synth-created music. But at the same time, in the favor of many metal people (primarily black metal people, at the time, where I think atmospheres within music was valued, not just how heavy or fast it was) my music and expression was also valued. But there are a lot of purists out there, depending on the genres. I notice it in most genres actually, perhaps to different extremes. The synth crowd can be very snotty about it, the old school industrial (like the Throbbing Gristle / NON / SPK old school crowd, right back to day 1 stuff) can be rather elitist from my experience… I fell between chairs for a while when I was signed with CMI and they were putting out mostly industrial stuff and to a lot of the people around that label I was just a heavy metal kid and I think some of them were confused or threatened by my presence there. I don’t know about there being fixed rules or ethics as such, not where I was… There were purists for sure…
What is selling out?
I suppose putting a price tag on or turning your back on what you truly believe in. Betraying your personal beliefs and principles in favor of (the promise of) commercial success. So basically, what every heavy metal band did back in the mid-80′ ies when everyone would hire people like Desmond Child to write their songs, and let glossy producers Pop up their sound…Haha!! Then again, that’s not to say a lot of those bands had any other motives than to actually make it big no matter what the cost would be. Blind ambition or sellouts from the get go? I dunno…I find it a bit unappealing regardless. I have no problem with commercial success, why struggle and starve if you can make it and not worry about putting food on the table? But it should be on our own terms…
Can underground go above ground and still be underground?
I think that depends on what you perceive as “underground”. A band like Rammstein is obviously very commercial in terms of success, but you look at their lyrical content, it’s disturbing stuff. Does that belong in the mainstream? In my opinion yeah sure, absolutely, but I think at that level, the lyrical content, it’s dark and twisted and at least it feels like it has more in common with underground art. Other examples of course being NIN, Manson, etc. Highly successful and with lyrical content that feels very underground. It’s awesome that singing about fucking like animals and the antichrist can sell millions.
Have you ever sold out?
Not according to the way I look at selling out. I never turned my back on my beliefs and principals. I always write about stuff that is important to me. I never tried to dumb down my stuff to sell more. I know bands who did, or if they didn’t then are truly dumb in real life. Obviously I change as a person as I get older…I might have felt weird about writing more “rock oriented” songs in 1993 if I had known I would do that in the future, I might have felt that that musical change would have been selling out. But that was me in 1993, in 2001 I realized i needed a drastic change or I’d put a bullet in my brain or something like that, so I made that change and that was me being true to my feelings.
Is it possible to steal an idea?
I don’t know, is it? It’s certainly possible to steal musical parts, melodies, techniques and so on, but whether it is possible to steal an idea I don’t know. You’d have to know exactly what the idea was, context, emotions, all that crap, haha!! Maybe I’m reading too deeply into it. If an idea to you is a riff, or a musical piece or some sort of concept, then yeah I think you can steal it. If taking someone’s idea and claiming it as your own is what you’re thinking of, then I suppose it’s possible, but it would take a real asshole to do that.
Your biggest artistic regret?
Not learning to play guitar or any instrument properly.
Your biggest artistic inspiration?
It at least used to be artists like NIN, Clouser, Skinny Puppy, Enigma…these days it’s hard to tell…I have taught myself to always keep my eyes, ears and not least my mind, very open…I have picked up on a lot of great ideas that way.
What is dangerous art?
I don’t know… Again I think that is in the eye of the beholder… whatever challenges the norm in your life, whatever grabs you and upsets you, makes you think… But to me, that’s not dangerous art, that would be enlightening art, or perhaps disturbing art, useful art, haha! I could go on and say that to the wrong set of eyes, some art that you and I would perceive as enlightening, or informative, suggestive, etc – the wrong set of eyes, or ears – might perceive that as a threat, not compliant with what they regard as proper or not compliant with their society…
In music, bands like Twisted Sister, W.A.S.P. and Judas Priest were dangerous in the eyes of parents.
To religious fanatics, bands like Blue Oyster Cult, KISS, and even Jethro Tull were considered satanic, as in their eyes, clearly dangerous.
Bonus question…nature or nurture?
I have to admit this question was unknown to me until you posed it. I looked it up briefly and I’m not going to pretend that I am intellectual enough to get into that debate at any level, but from a personal standpoint and limited understanding of the debate itself, I would say Nurture. That’s just me though. I know I behave as a result of my experiences, my personality and very being all stems from what I have done and what has been done to me throughout my life. Perhaps it would be more spiritual of me to chose Nature, but I’m not an innocent baby anymore. I have had 37 years of experiences so far. Some great. some pointless, some fucked up and some beyond fucked up. It shapes a man. No two ways about it.