By: kevin.stewart-panko Posted in: featured, interviews On: Thursday, December 19th, 2013
As long as Oslo’s Beaten to Death exists, debate will exist as to whether they’re taking grindcore into uncharted waters and making the world a better place because of it, or whether they just plain suck for the same reason. Personally, their first album Xes and Strokes and newest, Dødsfest! are two of the freshest and most exciting sounding platters I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing in recent memory. The combination of ginormous hooks, played naked and bare with little to no distortion, backed by machine gun blasts and a chameleon-like barrage of growls, grunts and wails has really knocked me on my ass. It’s done the same to some of my colleagues; not so much for others (Adrien, I love ya, but I’m taking an uncharacteristic stand to tell you you’re wrong). There’s a link at the bottom somewhere so you can check them out for yourself. In the meantime, I sent bassist Mika Martinussen and guitarist Martin Rygge a bunch of questions via email; here’s what they sent back.
First question: I’d like it if you could not only introduce, but review, yourself and the other members of Beaten to Death.
Mika: On lead vocals, we have Anders Bakke. You might have heard him strut his stuff in She Said Destroy. Or, if you live in Oslo, you might have seen him behind one of the capital’s finer cocktail bars, where he’ll make you an excellent “Flesh Prince With Swell Hair” while playing completely non-soothing music, tell you all you don’t need to know about Jared Allen, and maybe show you his “Krepsekamp” tattoo. On guitar, we have Martin Rygge and Tommy Hjelm, both from the band Insense, whose fifth album will be out early next year, by the way. Be sure to check it out, it will be their best effort yet! But I digress. Martin is the indie-pop/rock guy in Beaten to Death. Some of the riffs he comes up with would have been perfect for his former band Tvang, minus the blast beats and screaming, of course. Martin juggles a number of jobs, always has involuntarily funny comments on the ways of the world and is probably the main reason you have heard about the band at all. Tommy writes the majority of the music, and also records and mixes everything we do. He used to work as a studio engineer and producer, which comes in handy in a band who do most of the work themselves. Before he cut his hair, he smelled like an old wet dog. I kind of miss that smell, but not being hit in the eye by one of his dreads during concerts has it’s advantages. Then, there is drummer Christian “Bartender” Svendsen, who, unlike Anders, is not a bartender at all. Go figure. He’s not even seen that much in bars, being the extremely busy bee that he is, working full time and handling the drums in at least four other bands. Christian is without a doubt the most important, positive and hard working guy in the band. Without him, no Beaten To Death. He works his cute little tush off every time we practice and do gigs, while the rest of us move our fingers around a bit and drink beer. All hail Bartender! Saving the oldest for last; Mika Martinussen, on bass, axe-shaped or otherwise. My role in the band apart from providing distorted low-end string swing, is editing all the videos we do and make sure our web pages are more or less (always less) up to date. Other than that, I’m sometimes heard playing drums and percussion in the musical theatre realm. Beaten To Death is the first metal band I’ve ever been in, and I must say it’s been my most satisfying band experience yet. Now, let’s all hail Bartender some more!
What was the original intention for the band when you formed? What about the sonic direction? Was the distorted/not-so-distorted guitar tandem something you wanted to do from the start or something you stumbled on while fucking around?
Martin: I guess the idea came up in 2006 when Tommy and I played around with the idea of combining melodic riffs with extreme drumming. We jammed with Bartender, made some cool ideas and recorded a demo. The project was put on ice for a couple of years until 2011 when we added Mika and Anders to the mix. When we finally had a complete band, it didn’t take long to nail some more tracks and stake out the course. You won’t find too many of the same records in our collections, but we all love blast beats, and we all are suckers for a good melody. As for the guitar sound it was a fluke. We tried Telecasters for fun at rehearsal, and it fitted so fine with the rhythm section. The reason we have almost no distortion is because we had to use borrowed amps at a gig. The amps didn’t have any distortion channel and it sounded brilliant, so we kept that touch for this record. Art by accident.
What’s the song writing process like? Do you find the melodies coming first or the grind riffs? Did you find it a challenge incorporating strong melodies into faster music and having the duelling guitars playing without it sounding like a total mess?
Mika: The song process differs a little depending on who wrote the song/riff: Martin or Tommy (or, in one case so far, me). Tommy almost always brings more-or-less finished demos for the rest of us to learn and maybe re-arrange a little, while Martin usually brings one or two riffs that we combine and turn into a song in the rehearsal room. Anders usually comes up with ideas for screaming and lyrics, sometimes with contributions and direction from Tommy. On the subject of what comes first, the melody or the riffs, there is no apparent pattern. It all seems to come out more or less at the same time, as a whole. It’s great fun when Martin plays one of his indie-riffs/melodies during rehearsals, and at first it sounds ever-so-sweet, and then Bartender starts blasting away on whatever idea comes to him first, and voila!, a song is born. The dueling guitars and melodies in fast-paced music that you mention is not something I would say feels like that much of a challenge. Of course, sometimes ideas are tested and immediately thrown in the bin, or it takes a while to find the right tempo or “feel” to fit the guitar doodling, but usually all ideas turn in to songs in just a few hours without any notable hassle. That’s one of the great things with playing in Beaten To Death; the song writing train arrives pretty effortlessly to its final destination, without too many stops or malfunctions on the way. Not over-thinking or over-analyzing is one of the reasons we manage to write and release our music while playing in other bands or having full time jobs.
What have the reactions been from both grindcore traditionalists and the broader spectrum of extreme music fan to your style and sound?
Mika: I’m not sure how to answer that. Overall, we receive extremely positive reviews, way beyond our expectations, from the extreme metal community. But on the other hand, it’s pretty obvious that we are a band some metal purists find easy to hate. The way we incorporate humour in almost everything we do is a tough pill for some to swallow. Also, the production of the album – especially in regards of the guitar tone – seem to divide people in “I love it!” and “what a crappy sounding piece of crap this crap is” groups, which is fine by us. Also, it seems that people who normally wouldn’t listen to metal if you put a gun to their dog’s head embrace what we do. I kind of understand why. We seem to be fun to watch in concerts, and you don’t really have to know anything about the grindcore or extreme metal scene to find us enjoyable – at least in small doses. At the same time, people who DO know their grind/metal seem to be divided in two groups, with one being those who think we suck ass and don’t belong in their beloved scene at all, and the other being those feel (and enjoy) that we take parts of different extreme metal elements – grind or otherwise – and mix it up with other stuff to create something a little out of the ordinary, which shouldn’t necessarily be labeled as grindcore.
What are some of the most ridiculous comparisons and descriptions that have been made to BtD?
Mika: Personally I usually don’t know any of the bands we are compared to, so it’s hard for me to say. However, I do feel a little bit embarrassed when a couple of times I’ve read comparisons to, say, Pig Destroyer, Brutal Truth, The Locust and Fuck the Facts, as all of those bands are waaaaaaay better bands than we’ll ever be. By the way, the good thing about being compared to bands I’ve never heard (or even heard of), is that I get a chance to discover awesome (for me) new music. The same applies (though to a lesser extent) to the rest of the band, maybe most notably when we read that we sounded a bit like the before mentioned Fuck the Facts. When it comes to descriptions of us as a band, the only thing I can come up with here and now is the relatively frequent accusation of us (or at least some of us) being hipsters. I didn’t see that one coming, that’s for sure. Then again, I’m not really sure what a hipster is, haha. And the one comment I saw the other day about our “gayish smile” in a press photo… Oh well, to each his own. In any case, it’s fun to read comments on what a bunch of cocksucking hipsters we are, and then other people’s comments on how ridiculous it is to care enough about such things that you actually make a conscious decision to transform your anti-hipster fury into a (often badly written) YouTube comment. People care about the strangest things. Ourselves included. Like, right now, we care about the 2013 World Championship of Chess. I didn’t see that one coming either.
On a related note, your music sometimes has images of cartoons flash through my head when I’m listening. If I held a gun to your head, who would you say are the cartoon characters that BtD might be channelling through your brand of grind?
Mika: Haha, funny question. If you held it to MY head, I would most likely say Homer Simpson and then do my less-than-perfect impersonation of him laughing.
What was the reasoning behind releasing the Live at Rockefeller DVD/CD so soon after the first album? Did anyone try to talk you out of it?
Mika: The reasoning, if that is the appropriate word for it, was “why not?” We had a couple of friends filming us supporting Killswitch Engage, thinking maybe we could use some of the footage for something. Then, somebody in the band said, “why not release the whole gig, unedited, just as it was, warts and all?” And although I myself felt we should have cut out 2-3 of the songs, we agreed to just go for it. Nobody tried to talk us out of it. And that was that. Also, to give the few who actually buy the DVD some value for their money, the DVD contains excerpts from our very first gig as well as the Xes and Strokes release gig and all videos from that album. There is a hidden track on it as well, but I honestly don’t know how you gain access to it.
How have people taken to the fact that you’re not shy about expressing a sense of humour in your music, song titles, lyrics, album art and overall attitude?
Mika: Humour is a serious thing. It can bring forth the best and worst in people. We’ve experienced both, but more often than not, people seem to get it. Having a sense of humour and incorporating that into music and art is good, but using it to escape difficult artistic decisions or “camouflage” bad ideas is something we try to avoid. You know how it is, some ideas and jokes seem funny the first time, but awful the ninth. We laugh and enjoys ourselves a lot during rehearsals, but the ideas that stick are the ones we feel have artistic value beyond just something that crack us up a couple of times. We meet people all the time who love the combination of brutal riffs, melodic lines and more or less childish humour, which is great and something of a surprise to us. Most critics seem to enjoy it as well, which is even more surprising.
Martin: I can add that we just lost a distribution deal with Season of Mist as a result of it. The label manager liked the music, but wanted to double check with his grindcore “experts” first. They didn’t like the humour and the deal was off.
[We contacted SoM about this and the story behind the distro no-go essentially matches up, though there was a little more depth to it and no one used the term "grindcore experts."]
To that end, Mika’s bass is the same axe-shaped beast Gene Simmons used in the 70s. What took longer: for him to find one of those or for Martin to cultivate his look which has him looking like a dead ringer for Mike Levine, bassist in Canadian hard rock heroes, Triumph?
Mika: Haha! The latter, without a doubt. I stumbled across the bass here in Oslo in January, and because it cost less than two pairs of hipster shoes, and “play a Gene Simmons axe-shaped bass on stage even though it’s just a copy” was on my bucket list, I just had to buy it. They played “Crazy Nights” in the store when I left, laughing their ass off. It was incredibly embarrassing to carry that atrocity home from the store, as it comes in a not-very-discreet bag with Gene Simmons’ mug on it. I probably won’t use it again, as it really isn’t designed for the type of playing I do, but I’ll hang on to it nevertheless. It’s like taking care of a really ugly cat you find wandering in the streets and give it a home and train it for the upcoming Olympics.
Martin: Haven’t heard that before, but I just Googled him and I can’t disagree; he looks like me. Poor dude! I’ve heard from local drunks that I look like either Bobby Liebling from Pentagram or Geezer Butler from Sabbath, so it seems like I’ve been born in the wrong decade. I should have been around in the 60s, so I could start a band with those guys just for the band photos. Haha!
What does Dødsfest! refer to or what is the meaning/story behind the album title?
Mika: This is an incredibly boring story. When Anders and Tommy recorded vocals, Tommy sent Anders an idea for something to which Anders misspelled his reply. He meant to write “dødsfett!”, which means something like “awesome!” (well, “fett” means “awesome”, and adding “døds-” means it’s even more awsome), but he wrote “dødsfest!”, which isn’t a word, but translates directly as something like “party of death” (“død” means “death”, “fest” means “party”). And then the song they recorded next – and the album itself – was given that title. As I said, boring. What is not so boring, though, is how our friend Remi “Painbucket” Juliebø came up with the art work after hearing what the album would be called. We love that album cover so much, it’s way better than our music. All hail Remi!
Tell us about the decision to record both of your full-lengths in your rehearsal room. Is this something that you feel you will continue doing in the future? What do you feel has been the biggest lesson you’ve learned in doing this?
Mika: I’m sure we’ll record the next album in a similar way as the previous ones, yes. At least I’m positive we’ll never do it in a traditional studio setting. Tommy has the necessary skills, having recorded and produced a number of albums in the past and between the five of us we have a decent amount of experience from recording sessions. We’re all very comfortable with the way we recorded both our albums. It’s convenient, and it doesn’t cost us anything (other than a few Norwegian Kroner for coffee, cake and take-away), but above that is the relaxed atmosphere we get from recording there. On Dødsfest! we started each day with listening to the Carpenters over coffee and “Bestemors Marmorkake,” and then started recording when we felt like it. So I guess what we have learned is that the magic trick behind recording such instant classics like “The Egg Thrower” is to listen to “Close to You” first.
Why is it so difficult for a non-Norwegian – specifically, me – to find and buy one of your “Cat Olympics” shirts?
Martin: That’s my fault. If I don’t do things right away, I tend to not do it at all. I was supposed to have them up on our web shop, but when I tried to figure out what the shipping would cost I lost motivation. The Norwegian post office is so expensive we actually lose money if we want to have decent prices, which we do. The same goes for vinyl. When I ship records to the US the only ones making money is the damn Post Office. If you read this and run an independent distribution, get in touch!
Are you surprised at how well you albums have been received thus far? What’s next for the band?
Mika: Yes, as I said earlier we are very surprised. I don’t think any of us saw that coming at all, and even though we should have gotten used to it by now, it still comes as a surprise, every time. Also, speaking for myself, I learn a lot from reading the reviews, as some of them are very well written, with an insight on grindcore and the extreme metal scene that is quite overwhelming sometimes. I learn a lot about our style of music and other bands that I had no idea about previously, and some of the reviews are not only well written and informative, but great fun to read as well. Very refreshing. As for what’s next for the band, we have a couple of gigs in Oslo coming up, and we’re writing new material for the next album, having 4-5 more or less (just less) finished songs already. We also have some new merch coming soon, which I seriously think is the coolest merch I’ve seen for a long long time. And also the silliest.
[Kiss bass and live photo: Per Georg Krokstad; Triumph photo: ripped out of an old Circus Magazine]