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Izakaya Heartbeat


Christian Larsen: “I think a musician from Florida would have a different approach on things than a musician growing up in Norway, even if they like a lot of similar bands. What you experience during your life, who you grow up with, the weather and nature around you, city you live in etc. should amount to there being some difference, especially in the lyrics I hope!
Naar aanleiding van het recent verschenen album ‘Subterranean Subset’ sprak Arrow Lords of Metal met de Noorse band Izakaya Heartbeat. We spraken over de Noorse muziekscene, die absoluut meer omvat dan (black) metal en de prangende vraag of we Izakaya Heartbeat wel of niet als een shoegaze band mogen beschouwen.
Jan-Simon Hoogschagen Ι 27 januari 2020

Thank you for taking some time to answer a few questions. Your latest album Subterranean Sunset was received very well here, but it also came as a big surprise. We hardly know anything about you, so as a start, can you give us a short introduction of you and your band?
Hey Jan-Simon, thank you! We are a psychedelic hypno-rock band from Oslo, consisting of five (sometimes six) people. Drums, bass, 3-4 guitars, and vocals. The band has been around for about ten years now, and we have released three albums; ‘Ancient Asobi / In Arcadia’ (2010), ‘Enter – Rainbow Lake’ (2013) and ‘Subterranean Sunset’ (2019).

The liner notes for Subterranean Sunset list a large number of people who contributed. What I could not make up from that list was who is actually in the band and who are guests?
Hehe, sorry about that! Today the band consists of Christian Næss on drums and percussion, Trond Harald Jensen on bass, and Kenneth Amundsen, Fredrik Falk, and Christian Larsen on guitars and vocals. On the latest album our good friend Lene Vinje, who sometimes also plays in the band, helped us with some vocals for the track ‘Psychic Vultures’ and Ann Kristin Traaen of the great Oslo-based riot grrrl three-piece Dark Times put down some vocal tracks on ‘Planetarium High’ and ‘Hallucinating Past and Future’. Noise and Metal artist Zweizz (Svein Egil Hatlevik) from Fleurety and Dødheimsgard helped us on the song ‘Endless Kiss’, and Jarle Steinhovden who produced, recorded and mixed the album put on some weirdo synth stuff on ‘Planetarium High’ and ‘Sometimes’.

One of the more intriguing things – to me at least – is the band name. How did that come about?
Our songwriter and guitarist, Christian, has been a bit obsessed with Japan ever since he saw the TV series Shogun as a small kid, and then all the ninja movies in the 80’s. Being intrigued by the hypnotizing traditional Japanese mantras and traditional Japanese music, when starting the band and looking for a band name, he wanted to implement some of that Japan feel. The band soon evolved to become something entirely different though, a lot more noisy than first intended, but the name stuck and has grown to become what the band is now.

I also noticed you recorded the album about three years ago. Still it saw its release in September 2019. This delay surely was not intended. What happened?
We have had some bumps on the way, for sure, personal stuff which has caused some delays. The death of someone close to us that caught us by surprise. A divorce. There have also been delays due to wonderfully positive reasons: kids.

To what extent does Subterranean Sunset still represent the band as it currently operates? I am sure some things will have changed in the past three years.
Good question! We have just started the process of planning our next album, so we’re excited to see which direction it will take us. For Subterranean Sunset we made about 50 songs, and picked the 10 we felt represented the band the most at that time. As mentioned, we had a few delays in the process of making it so it took a lot longer than we originally planned. We’ll probably record the next one in a much shorter time, which is likely to play into the feel and sound of the album. Every time is different, which is part of the excitement so, we’ll see!

How do you compare this new record with the previous ones?
Our first record ‘Ancient Asobi / In Arcadia’ released in 2010 was an acid-rock/drone/pop record, with weird synths, many guitars, elements of noise, and vocal chantings. Our most pop-oriented so far. Our live line-up then consisted of six members, drums, bass, and four guitars/synths! ‘Enter – Rainbow Lake’, our second LP was released in 2013. This one was more of an hypnotic and mantra-esque rock album, with longer songs, a lot of repetition, layers on layers. ‘Subterranean Sunset’ our third and latest album, is a cross between our two first albums, I think. Both hypnotic and pop, with a lot of guitars, synths, and repetitive elements. This time also with electronic drums as an added feature. Some shorter pop songs and some longer and more repetitive, some of them also a bit more heavy.

I saw that the second album ‘Enter – Rainbow Lake’ from 2013 was mastered by Kramer. Would that be the famous (at least in certain circles) Kramer who worked with artists ranging from Butthole Surfers, Galaxie 500 and Ween to Gwar and White Zombie? If it is the same guy, how did you end up with him as a relatively unknown Oslo band?
Absolutely, that would be him. The initial contact with Kramer came about in the MySpace era. He’d found Trond’s 8-bit metal project Laconic Zero and Kenneth and Trond’s indie rock group Mindy Misty and had taken an interest to it. So when one day we found a message sitting in our inbox from him contemplating a possible collaboration, we were very flattered and intrigued to say the least. A good chunk of our record collection could be attributed to his work as a producer and as a musician, so the feeling was that this would be a very significant and meaningful collaboration for us. Eventually he ended up mixing and mastering Mindy Misty’s debut album Protoplasma. Trond also went over to his studio in New York to record his debut album Tribeca (Handmade/2nd Shimmy digital). Over the years we have worked with Kramer quite a lot. He is a dear friend and a brilliant producer and mastering engineer so by the time Enter – Rainbow Lake was coming together it was a natural choice to have him lay the finishing touches on the record.

My first association with your music was shoegaze. To me there is a clear line from the British bands associated with that genre to you guys. Yet I can’t remember seeing the term in any of your press releases, or that of the record label for that matter. Is the term intentionally avoided in favour of descriptions like psychedelic hypno-rock?
I don’t think the term is avoided, but I also don’t think shoegaze is the term that captures the spirit or the personality of the band the most. I think our band is at times more aggressive, and divergent in expression than commonly associated with the shoegaze genre. But, we do absolutely share the shoegaze spirit in our love of loud guitars and noise elements though. On all of our albums I guess you can find some songs that draw from the genre more descriptively than others.

Aren’t you getting tired of being compared to My Bloody Valentine or do you see this as a compliment?
I’m not sure we have been compared to MBV before, to be honest. We have seen it in some recent reviews though. But we most definitely take it as a compliment. My Bloody Valentine is a fantastic band.

Perhaps a silly question, but because over here in the Netherlands we are not that well acquainted with the Norwegian alternative music scene, there is another Oslo-based band making similar music that is better known over here: Serena Maneesh. Are the people in this band friends, colleagues? Have you worked together?
Serena Maneesh is of course a well-known band from here that we know and love. Øystein Sandsdalen used to play guitar with both Serena Maneesh and Izakaya Heartbeat. Kenneth, our guitarist, also plays in Øystein’s band – Le Corbeau. Our drummer Christian Næss also plays with Hilma Nikolaisen from Serena Maneesh, so there you go. It’s all connected.

In my review of your album I suggested this type of music (shoegaze) was somehow more popular nowadays in Norway than elsewhere. Is this true or did I see things that aren’t there?
Hmm, maybe that’s true. Haven’t really thought about that. We have had some visits by the greats over the years though. MBV, Slowdive, Swervedriver, A Place To Bury Strangers. And with S-M it maybe helped spawn a renewed interest for a new generation. Porto Geese I think nods to that legacy though. Maybe the Uptights and The Slow Painters as well.

Of course every person is the product of upbringing and culture, but do you think growing up and living in a country such as Norway has inevitably caused you to make the kind of music you now create or does it make no difference? For instance, would you have created a record like Subterranean Sunset had you lived in Florida or Italy?
Wow, good one, and a very difficult one to answer. Within the band, we like a lot of different music from all over the world and a lot of different genres, so our music is a mash up of a lot of different inspirations. With the internet there really are very few limits to finding and checking out bands and music from all over, so in that respect musicians brought up whether in Italy, Norway, Brazil or anywhere else, potentially has pretty much the same possibilities to hear and get influenced by the same bands. But as you said, everyone is a product of one’s upbringing and culture, so naturally I think a musician from Florida would have a different approach on things than a musician growing up in Norway, even if they like a lot of similar bands. What you experience during your life, who you grow up with, the weather and nature around you, city you live in etc. should amount to there being some difference, especially in the lyrics I hope!

Sometimes it seems as if there is something in the air (or water) in Scandinavia. How else can it be that not only Norway, but also Sweden and Finland have so many great rock and metal bands? At least considerably more than over here. Any explanation?
Sorry, no explanation there. But we tend to have very good quality water up here in the north, hehe!

Are there actually other Norwegian bands you feel a special connection with?
I’d say some of our peers would be bands like Burning Motherfuckers, Porto Geese, Europ Europ, Outer Limit Lotus, Moon Relay, Epikurs Euforie, MoE, Deathcrush, Le Corbeau, Yonakit, Lydia Laska and if you go digging from there you’ll find more, maybe at times with incestous constellations.

Looking at the names of the people you worked with and trying to find some background information, I see many cross references to metal artists. Is that a coincidence, or a reflection of a musical community that is not as sectarian as it is in other places (like punkers don’t talk to metalheads who again look down on the indiekids)?

Oslo is a fairly small city with a little under 700 thousand citizens. But there’s definitely a lot going on in the music and art scene here that makes it diverse and interesting. I guess maybe Black Metal, Noise and Electronic music has been the biggest exports from here through the years, but with few people there’s also a natural interconnection with anyone sharing a certain experimental approach. More like a common ground in spirit that exceeds genre specific output. We have a lot of friends making a lot of different stuff, some are into noise, some black metal, some prog, some punk, some rock, some pop, some weirdo-music, and some are into everything. No boundaries!

Can you give us a peek into your iPod / Walkman / mp3-player / Spotify playlist? In other words, what is your favourite music currently?
Quick peek from one of our phones search history just now: André Borgen, The Oh Sees, Omni, Witching Waves, Youth Lagoon, Karen Dalton, the Chinese Stars, Triggercut, Sam Cooke… This could go on forever

I have spoken to musicians who want to be as authentic as possible and therefore try not to listen too much to music made by others. On the other hand there are also those who are on the other end of the spectrum and enjoy going through countless crates filled with obscure slabs of vinyl. Where would you put yourself on that scale?
We all love to discover new music! There’s nothing disingenuous about being inspired by other musicians in our minds. Everything is different anyway and we only try to stay true to what we find interesting about our own collective output coming from different sources of inspiration. We’ve been through those mentioned crates over and over and always find new stuff, new/old stuff and even re-discover. Then there’s all those other sources of inspiration besides music.

Suppose you had to spend the rest of your life on a deserted island and could take a record player with you and only five records. Which ones would you take with you and why exactly these?
Thurston Moore – Psychic Hearts
Tasheyana Compost – USA Is A Monster
The Stooges – Raw Power
Zeni Geva – Freedom Bondage
CAN – Delay 1968

Ask us tomorrow and we’ll probably have a new list for you…..

Is there anything – apart from good music – you cannot do without? Or things you’d like to get rid of immediately? Does this in any way affect the music you create?
Need good wine, beer, art, food and good conversation. what else….

I read that you recently did a small tour in Europe, mainly Germany and central Europe. Do you do a lot of gigs? Is that mainly in Norway, or have you played abroad before?
Izakaya Heartbeat have mainly toured in Norway up until last year, but we are definitely planning to tour more abroad in the future. We’ve all toured in other projects for years so we’ve been all over in different disguises, shapes and forms. More to come for sure!

Finally, can you give us some hints regarding the future of Izakaya Heartbeat? Are there plans for new recordings and/or shows?
We are working on doing some shows in Be-Ne-Lux this spring, and making new songs for our next album, we want to record it this or early next year depending on how the stars align.

Thank you for your time. Here at Lords of Metal we wish you all the best and hope to hear a lot more from you. Any final words or wise thoughts you would like to share with our readers?
Love, patience and tolerance goes a long way.

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