In between their ‘Transitions’ tour with The Observatory, we sat down for a chat with Norwegian noise rock band, MoE (Guro Skumsnes lead/bass, Joakim Heibø Johansen, drums, Håvard Skaset, guitars) on why they strayed away from the norm and how the three of them deal with everything else in between.
Well first off, can you draw similarities between Oslo and here?
Guro: Similarities? From what we have seen, nothing really. Haven’t seen similarities yet.
And that’s probably a good thing right?
Guro: Yes. Always. New environments are inspiring.
You just got here from Japan, could you tell us a bit about the environments over there as compared to here?
Skaset: There – it’s all on time and controlled, it’s a different kind of madness.
Guro: Everything is super on time. Forced into with doing things a certain way, whereas here it’s more of a harmonious madness. It’s not one thing or another, just that the extremes are further apart over there.
With all the travelling, do you take anything back when you start recording back in Norway?
Guro: Absolutely – with the music, from the lyrics to how we do them, on tour changes and the need for doing new material when you get back is so strong. It’s kinda hard not to be able to do new stuff now.
Skaset: From where we come from, all we know about this place is from the TV or people telling us how great it is everywhere, how much wealth & growth there is and only when we go and talk to people like ourselves, then we find out it isn’t how it is. It’s different because we only get the stories coming from the richer people. We learn a lot more about how things really are & what people fight for.
In your opinion, would you say your sound is a representative of an Oslo sound or is there even an Oslo sound?
Skaset: Nah, not in terms of type of music. It’s really not for us to judge. I think it would be easier for someone listening from the outside and make out an Oslo sound. But for us personally, we feel we play differently from most other bands. We take a lot of influences from the prog, experimental scene and also the hardcore & rock scene so we don’t feel like we’re a typical Oslo band. All of us come from different paths, all of us come from some sort of improvised music. As teenagers we started out in rock bands then we got into jazz, improvised music then all the way back again to individual stuff. That’s why we expanded and tried to put all of it together.
So each of you had your own thing/style. For each of you what was it?
Skaset: Rock band. Thrash metal. That was the original idea why I started to play music. Then as you grow older you hear so many other types of music and go through different phases.
But now that you are all established, do you still make time to listen to new music/material
Joakim: We try. We really get inspired by new music. When we were in Japan, we saw a few bands & fuck me.. We sounded super boring compared to them. You cannot find anything quite like it.
Did you guys play there?
Joakim: No…. How would we compete with these guys. But then again when we were in Osaka, it was kinda the same thing, same intensity and they did love our show. They really liked our stuff. I guess that everybody likes stuff that comes from elsewhere. That’s a good thing being a travelling musician, going around and you pick up what’s happening elsewhere & we didn’t think about that when we first started. It’s nice to expand your knowledge.
From your initial point of playing music, your past of playing the conventional trash metal – things that are found in a lot of scenes. At which point did you feel the need to distance from that conventional things and start playing impov and push away from that typical Oslo sound, whatever that is?
Guro: Our continuous curiosity or at least myself, why I’ve chosen what I’ve done in that sense, never been part of any scene and also perhaps that’s why it’s easier for us to make choices in the music that is needed. For me in my childhood, I listened to typical music but I really should have listened to like Slayer…. Black Sabbath..
Joakim: I used to listen to Michael Bolton but I think why I started to play improvised music instead of trash is because I started to pay attention to sound and the way things are played, instead of just the standard. It’s a recipe. It’s like cooking. We got the ingredients. We don’t wanna cook the same shit everyday or even follow the recipe from YouTube. So we just eat at a Malaysian shop and when we go back to Norway, and we go oh fuck, we can actually do it differently, we know that this kinda spice or ingredient can go together and you make your own. Our own dish.
Guro: We came into these from different angles.
Skaset: And at least for me I got formal education, we are all educated musicians so the first thing that kinda happen to me was, my god, I hated my teacher right away so I had to find my own way of doing it.
Skaset: Yeah! Because my teacher always wanted me to do this and that and there’s always a reaction from me that (I can’t do like that) can do it my own way. Ok so he’s good at that, he can do that, I have to do something else and we started to search somewhere else and you find other people doing it their own way and that felt so inspiring to see a person who’s super good at doing his stuff who can’t do all the classroom stuff but his own…he does really great.
Joakim: It’s like little pearls from everybody in the community, like this guy has his own specialty or else it would be like McDonalds on every fucking corner.
Guro: Also these qualities/these gifts, these outputs are gifts to the society. They are genuine.
So if you were to play another double bill, who would you absolutely love to play with?
Guro: The Observatory
Joakim: Absolutely The Observatory. It’s always good to play a split bill with something that’s different cause you wanna go to a show and hear different bands that’s great curating but if you have two bands playing the same stuff, that’s kinda boring.
So how did you meet The Observatory?
Guro: I first listened to Leslie Low play at Oslo , Yuen Chee Wai at this improvised festival inside the woods of Oslo. It was raining and we had to walk extremely far but that has nothing to do with it, then I heard them play, talked to them later. Then they played at this release party… Got back, listened to their music and was blown away by their sound. Inspired me a lot. Then I happen to hear that half a year later they would come back to Norway, so I said I would help with gigs and asked if they would be interested in a split tour in Norway in December. They were freezing as fuck. And then we toured a week in November, December then following April. Toured in Italy together. We also did the split vinyl release.
What about the three of you, how did you guys meet?
Guro: We needed a drummer, me and Guro met at a music school. Played at various groups/all kinds of settings. Then we saw Joakim play the snare drum at…
Joakim: I had a solo concert
Skaset: We saw a guy scratching his drum and we thought, that’s the guy we need! That’s the way to do it.
Can we expect a solo project from you soon?
Joakim: I have many bands. One noise band (ICH BIN N!NTENDO) also some hardcore and big band. I try to stay as busy as possible.
So all of you are full-time musicians?
Joakim: Full-time broke. That’s real life. Everybody thinks that if you live in Norway they just hand you money to every corner but it’s really not.
Skaset: It’s an expensive country to live in.
Guro: The average people in Norway cannot believe that it is possible to stay alive the way we do with our income but it’s very much possible.
But there is a great welfare system in Norway right?
Joakim: Yeah but you cannot be part of it if you play a gig. So basically, musician’s not part of the welfare system.
Well then I have to ask, are all musicians broke in Norway?
Joakim: Some are the richest musicians in Europe.
Guro: But then you have to have lots of reverbs and dress a certain way. You have to. But that’s a way of choosing how you want to live. In terms of being a rich musician if that’s your goal, that determines lots of choices how you want your life to be. For me, I’d rather be broke and sweaty in Malaysia.
Joakim: .. than just be playing for a fucking company.
Guro: So that’s just what you want in your life.
Well then what are your future plans? To try and put food on the table…
Skaset: Having a new record. Actually two releases, one old and one new. We recorded two albums at the same recording session and one is coming out this summer and another this fall. Then it will be tours. Just tour and play more. And hopefully record again and make new material.
Skaset: Probably not. Because it’s so expensive to record and release stuff. Fuck it, we’ll just come back and eat in Malaysia where it’s good and cheap.
I guess that’s it for the interview but I can’t help my curiosity thus I really need to know, how it’s like to be an experimental musician & making a living out of it in Norway. Do you see yourself doing this continuing forward?
Guro: I think for us we can be on this level for a long time, meaning being broke.
But then there are still quite a number of followers of your kinda music in Norway..
Joakim: We have about 640 likes on Facebook. The 666 like will get a free record. But 80% of our likes are from abroad. 50% is from Asia.
Guro: We understand that this trio will take a while before we can see money and so we don’t want that pressure ourselves, so we just focus on making good music first. Record, release and do more so that more people can hear it but yeah, that was totally ignoring your question about income but it balances out with other things you can get money from. I also make music for a puppet theater but also using this music.
Skaset: Right now in the music industry, it’s a rock bottom. There’s no money, at least if you’re an independent artist. We know that in Europe people will listen to your music, they would use Spotify or streaming services because it’s cheap and the money goes to the companies and then even concerts the money goes to the big management. So we are at this point where we will push it for a few more years and hopefully it will open up again. And hopefully, things will go back to like the 90s where it was easier to earn money by doing your own music.
Thank you so much and all the best to you guys.
MoE: Thank you.
Check out the band’s Facebook page for more info.
Interviewed by Azam Hisham & Mark Joshua