Celebrating the Norse Identity: An Interview with Ivar Bjørnson

Photo: Christian Misje

Enslaved fans are more than likely familiar with guitarist and founding member Ivar Bjørnson for helping lead the band through nearly three decades of challenging and progressive music, but what is less known is that Bjørnson, in collaboration with a few other like minded and forward-thinking individuals, is a founding member of Norwegian musical collective ByNorse.

Founded in 2015 by Bjørnson along with Simon Füllemann (All Independent Service Alliance, LLC) and Einar Selvik (Wardruna), ByNorse Music serves as “a platform to push Norwegian Art, Music, literature, film and culture.” Bjørnson says it came together around the time that the Enslaved guitarist was releasing Skuggsja, his collaboration with Selvik, on CD and preparing to celebrate Enslaved’s 25th anniversary.

Decibel spoke to Bjørnson on a frigid Christmas Eve to discuss the label side of ByNorse Music, as well as the band’s new album—E—and what fans can expect to hear on the upcoming Decibel Tour.

“It’s a representation,” he says. “The core is what we call art or music with a Norse identity, and that can pretty much be anything. Of course you have Enslaved and Wardruna, which are the bands that released the first four albums in the catalog of ByNorse. The fifth was my electronic project, BardSpec, which I guess also proves that it fits under the umbrella. It doesn’t really matter if it’s contemporary music or if Wardruna is doing this authentic historical music, or whatever. It wouldn’t be a problem to do an album from an artist pretty much anywhere in the world if we felt that the mindset fits with the spirit of what we’re doing. For us, the Norse spirit has more to do with exploration and a certain backbone more than necessarily a geographical location or anything like that.”

So would you say that quality is really important to what you’re doing? To release it, it has to reach a certain standard?
Exactly. The most challenging one was the first, which is the Enslaved Vikingligr Veldi on vinyl, that came after 24 years. That album finally got its vinyl release and it was a tough one… It took two years for him to find time between his other projects to get it into pressing. He was working with the pressing plant. The way he wanted to do it was hard for them with the inner sleeves, so a lot of the pressings that they made ended up having some split seams in the inner sleeves, and that’s been quite a fight having to send things back and forth and back and forth. A lot of distributors don’t really get why we want to send it back to the pressing plant, but that’s the mindset we think ourselves. If you’ve been waiting for a band to release something for twenty years and you pre-order it, you don’t want to have a hole in your sleeve. Some people don’t care, but we want to respect the people who do. There was fifty copies of that we were never able to get them to replace, so we’re bringing them along on the Decibel Tour and we’re going to find some kind of lottery to give it away.

There will be a ByNorse table at every stop of the tour, correct?
I hope it’s as many as possible.

What will people expect to see at that table? Will you have all of the ByNorse releases? Will fans be able to talk to you?
We’re going to have, being people who love the classic old scene, we’re going to have flyers with info that people can bring home and use the info on the flyers to log on and check us out online afterwards. There’s going to be a compilation CD for free if people want to hear at least one or two songs from each of our releases, including an exclusive pre-listen of releases coming as late as April next year. We’re going to do that in a limited amount of 1,000 copies. I’m going to be there; a lot of the time where I would spend time backstage or out in the hall, checking out the support bands, I’m going to be at the ByNorse table if people want to come over and have a look at what we’re doing, get a description of the releases that are there and if they want give some input to our label if they’ve heard some of our stuff and want to give us some feedback on that. I’ve done that for a couple of festivals already.

For us, it’s good because, me being from Enslaved and the relationship to Enslaved, it’s easy to get the conversation going. People are curious about the releases and they’re curious about the plans I have and so on. Sometimes people want to submit their demos and that’s fine, of course. I like being in touch with people that are interested in the music we’re making and the albums we’re releasing.

Piggybacking on the Decibel Tour, Enslaved is the headliner this year. What can fans expect? You have the new album, E, but you also have a pretty large back catalogue of music. What can fans expect to hear
We’ve distilled a pretty amazing setlist, if I can say so. We do quite a large portion of the new album, E, but also some stuff from the very old days.

We’re at the time where we’re focusing a lot on newer Enslaved, but also on the early days. For some weird reason, those periods of time really fit together. It doesn’t sound like two different components put together; it really complements each other and I think we’re going to continue that with the Decibel Tour. I can pretty much guarantee that we’re going to play some of the old stuff on that tour that’s never been played in the US before.

This is 25 years for Enslaved. What do you think or feel when you examine where your roots are and where you are now?
It’s a sense of both pride and a bit of wonder, in a sense. What a strange journey. What are the odds of having that development that we’ve had and ending up where we are? I think that’s the beauty of it, that we’ve been hardworking, we’ve been trying to find ways to be more and better organized with the things we do around the band, but the main focus has always been the artistic things. I would say we made quite a few daring choices over the years and now we’re in a position where we’re given a lot of freedom.

Don’t miss out on your chance to see Enslaved tearing up stages across the United States and Canada with Wolves in the Throne Room, Myrkur and Khemmis. Get your tickets to the 2018 Decibel Magazine tour here, and find all ByNorse titles here.