Interview With Tusmørke

Although Norway may be better known for its metal exports in the musical underground, Norway (as well as the rest of Scandinavia) have been the defacto torch bearers of the vintage progressive rock sound and spirit. Although progressive rock now has roots across the world, it is here where the highest concentration and density of ‘vintage’ progressive artists seem to reside, conjuring the spirit of the bygone 1970’s with the fuel of mellotrons, flutes, and psychedelic effects.  Tusmørke and their recent debut “Underjordisk Tusmørke” is an addition to this proud legacy of Scandinavian progressive rock, and the album’s been receiving some great acclaim from press and media lately, myself included! Their debut is highly recommended; a twisting, atmospheric melting pit of everything vintage and 70’s. Check them out!

Hello! How is the weather in Norway this time of year?

Benediktator: It’s really varied, we’ve had winter come and go twice so far, with snow and frost, then a sudden thaw, new snow and then mild again. It’s a bit confusing for the wildlife, plenty of blackbirds deciding not to migrate this year. It’s also a bit of pain for us, since we can’t wait to get our skis out to go trekking in the mighty woods of Nordmarka and Østmarka.  Traditionally, snow before winter solstice is not a dead certainty, loads of getting your hopes up only to see the snow turn to sludge the day after it has fallen. The days are short, the nights are cold, Orion is high in the sky and pretty soon there’ll be twilight around the clock, more or less.

For us non-Norwegian speakers, what does your name mean? Why did you choose to adopt Tusmørke as a band name?

Benediktator: Tusmørke translates as twilight, basically, but is most commonly used about the time when the sun is setting, i.e. dusk. We call dusk “skumring” and dawn “demring”, as well, and “tusmørke” may apply to both. We chose to adopt it as our band name since it contains the word for darkness, “mørke”, as well as “tus” or “tuss” (modern spelling), meaning elf, goblin or troll, so it denotes the murky, shadowy hour of uncivilised, supernatural, unbaptized creatures, like us. Also, when we started out in 1994, black metal and church burnings and cat sacrifices were ubiquitous in the media and gradually became a local pastime in our small town of Skien, Telemark, so we thought of it as a kind of play with the imagery of evil that was quickly becoming a cliché among young certain young people in Norway at the time. We are certainly misanthropic, hateful and grumpy, but not evil in the sense that we yearn to pervert God’s creation or anything like that. Not on a daily basis, anyways. Twilight is a dubious sort of half-light, it can be perceived as darkness or as light, just like our music is an amalgamation of several styles where people tend to perceive what they expect to find. Metal-heads see us as a metal band, prog-heads think we’re prog, while we’ve always viewed ourselves as a psychedelic folk band, first and foremost.

What’s the story behind the forming of Tusmørke? I would guess you have met each other through the Norwegian prog rock scene?

Benediktator: Yeah, we did. It’s a long story. Tusmørke was formed in 1994 in Skien, a small town two hours south of Oslo. I played the guitar in a psychedelic rock band called Captain Cumulonimbus and his Wondrous Cloudship, with Krizla playing various flutes and doing the vocals while Håkon Andersen played drums. It also featured Rune Seip on bass and vocals and Gunhild Lurås on cello. After a disastrous stint of gigs at local youth clubs, suffering abuse at the hands of local 12 year olds in exchange for a minuscule amount of much-needed cash, the cellist and bassist abandoned us before the final gig, leaving us as a trio. We jammed all night in front of a disinterested bunch of chavs in the sports hall of a school at Klyve, an unprivileged part of Grenland, itself a notoriously unprivileged part of south-eastern Norway. It is close to our then-home town of Skien, a place with all the problems of a big city but none of the opportunities. The only famous person to come out of Skien was Henrik Ibsen. He grew up there, moved to Grimstad when he was 15 and never came back, much like us, only we were 18 when we finally left. But I’m getting ahead of myself. We played the “concert” and decided that it couldn’t get much worse and since we didn’t really need the other two, we formed the trio of Tusmørke and soldiered on. The idea was that we should be an acoustic corner trio after the fashion of troubadours and gallery minstrels seen in Monty Python movies and the Black Adder series. We played several concerts and did a memorable Advent tour of local shopping malls, supported by the council. Angry news agents-ladies told us to take our African bongo nonsense elsewhere. Our former band mate Rune, now turned juggler, asked one particularly angry kiosk attendee whether she was feeling a lot of pain inside. She told us to piss off. We did.

Tusmørke the mediaevalesque trio developed into an electric outfit with the joining of Andreas Wettergren Strømman Prestmo in ‘96, who was really a guitarist but decided to play the bass for this project. He also played with Fangorn which became Father Robin and is currently singing and playing guitar in Wobbler. I started playing the electric guitar and the bongos were replaced by a drum kit. Krizla continued playing recorder and penny-whistles for a while, though, before finally investing in a proper flute. Things were falling into place. Not being completely out of tune and actually being able to hear the guitar meant a new direction for us.

Elektrisk Tusmørke became Les Fleurs du Mal when we all moved to Bærum outside of Oslo in 1997 and formed a commune there. We rehearsed every day for a long time in a youth club at Rykkin, a notoriously underprivileged area of ridiculously affluent Bærum, Akershus. Andreas worked as an activator/warden in this youth club, so we could rehearse from early morning until 1 PM when the kids would start coming in. We imported an organ player from Jæren called Trond Egil Aasen and watched in awe as he hauled a Hammond B-3, Leslie, Clavinet and MiniMoog into Rykkin Fritidsklubb. Things were looking good. Then Håkon lost interest in (un)popular music and was replaced by Henrik Harmer, the drummer of Father Robin. He did an excellent job filling in for Håkon and we did a concert with White Willow in Asker and a couple of gigs in Skien and Porsgrunn before recording a 17 minute demo called “Ode on Dawn”. We had an idea that we would be able to do this on a full-time basis and went on a band tour to London to strengthen bonds over this new commitment. It all turned pear shaped when it was discovered that we didn’t all share the same definition of the phrase full-time. The band split up on the bus on the way back from the airport, Andreas and Henrik continued with Father Robin and me and Krizla went back our university studies. Who knows what we could have accomplished had we only kept pushing forward. Father Robin has yet to release any of their material but are still recording from time to time, forever postponing the release date of their now four LP box set. It will be a marvel to behold when it is finally done. In the meantime, Andreas is with Wobbler and me and Krizla are doing Tusmørke again, after playing with outfits as varied and unique as Momrakattakk, the Few, Lydia Laska, the Mornings and the Mockery of Life.

As far as we were concerned, we pretty much made up our own scene back in the Skien-era. We were perhaps looking more for differences than similarities in those days, and felt alienated by the Oslo-crowd who embraced the neo-prog that we couldn’t stand. Håkon Andersen, the original Tusmørke drummer, is the nephew of Jørn Andersen who ran the Colours label, responsible for issuing the first albums by Änlagård and Anekdoten.  He showed us what was what, warning against black metal and telling us that music can’t be based entirely on hatred (it can) and told us why Flash was really superior to Yes (it isn’t). Still, we believed everything he told us and listened to loads of King Crimson, Jethro Tull, Høst, Yes, Gentle Giant, Bevis Frond, Ethereal Counterbalance, Omnia Opera, Genesis, Univers Zero, Yezda Urfa, Black Sabbath, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Cream and Black Widow. As far as a Norwegian prog secene went, we had our fanzine, Old Man Willow, and our book café, Lunarium, in Skien while in Oslo there was the godawful Prognetik magazine and the excellent Tarkus fanzine. When we became aware of prog nights in Oslo at a place called Månefisken, ten years later, the same people were still active! That is where we met HlewagastiR and Lars Fredrik Frøislie of Wobbler, as well. While the earlier versions of Tusmørke were marked by being friends first and band mates second, the current lineup, which is the seventh incarnation of the band, is based first and foremost on musical merit, roping in musicians to serve a particular purpose. The sixth incarnation was in 2009 and featured Svenno on percussion and Reggie (also of Father Robin) on keyboards. They were gradually replaced and finally Deadly Nightshade joined in 2011 so that the seventh manifestation of Tusmørke could plague the earth.

Each of you are involved in other bands in the Norwegian progressive scene- Wobbler put out a record last year that I really loved! How do you balance your responsibilities between the different bands? What makes Tusmørke different from these other bands?

We rehearse less often, for a start. Usually, we meet up once a week, and if we have new material to work on, maybe we put in a day or two of extra work. Apart from this, we rehearse individually. HlewagastiR is a human dynamo, able to fly in straight from a gig with Wobbler in Germany, go to work at Teknisk Museum, meet at rehearsal with Tusmørke the same night and play a concert the following day. His energy is extraordinary. We are all friends with the Wobbler lot and even share the same rehearsal space. There is a strong feeling of mutual support. What separates Tusmørke from other projects like Wobbler is that we are willing to go on stage and present new material that’s barely rehearsed and just rely on improvisation to save the day. Inspiration, spur of the moment and sheer intensity are usually our saving graces. (I nearly wrote insanity there, but I didn’t.  Oh, wait, I did.)

“Underjordisk Tusmørke” is the name of your new album, and a great album it is! I think it really manages to capture the vintage warmth of the classic progressive rock very well. What is the story behind this album? What went into making it a reality?

Benediktator: Meeting HlawagastiR and Lars Fredrik Frøislie through Andreas Strømman Wettergren Prestmo and hanging out at Månefisken discussing the inflated price of the reissue of Museo Rosenbach’s Zarathustra made the recording possible, really. Tusmørke had reformed in 2009 as a trio with me on bass and vocals, my twin brother Krizla on flute and vocals and Svenno on percussion. Around this time, I had just quit wasting time as the bassist in punk band Lydia Laska and started rehearsing my own compositions as The Mockery of Life with an assorted band of local Oslo freaks, including songs composed to win over my wife-to-be Nadia. I recorded a cassette of songs telling her of my feelings for her, which eventually resulted in a wedding on the Nile in Cairo with Andreas as my best man in 2010. In 2009 it hit me that the natural thing to do after quitting Lydia Laska would be to revive Tusmørke, which had  lain dormant for a decade, to rehearse songs of wonder and magic and enchantment. The inspiration for this came mainly from listening to the early albums of Current 93, Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV. It instilled a feeling that everything is allowed in music and that you don’t need to follow rules. I especially wanted to break the rule that you need a guitarist in the band. Soon the trio was bolstered by Reggie on keyboards. Svenno and Reggie quit after a string of concerts, to be replaced by HlawagastiR whom we had met at prog nights at Månefisken in Oslo, and Deadly Nightshade, a fellow space cadet from jam sessions in the attic of Hersleb skole, a local school in the centre of Oslo. We had rehearsed loads of material with Svenno and Reggie in the living room of my flat in a derelict apartment house in Oslo, so when the two new members joined and we had rented a proper rehearsal space we chose the most suitable of these tracks for recording the debut album. We laid down the basic tracks with Lars in the basement den of the farm of the Frøislie family and recorded the rest in his apartment in Tøyen, Oslo.

The album artwork for this album is pretty strange, is it meant to represent or convey anything in particular?

Benediktator: It’s meant to convey the eeriness of the underworld of the subterraneans, a fixture of Norwegian folklore. The art was made by Camilla Kloster a long time ago; her art was brought to our attention by Sverre of Fresh Tea, who issued our first single. We chose the artwork because it features the kind of beings you might encounter in dreams of elves and also the passage to the beyond, a gateway between light and darkness, an aperture of pleasure and ecstasy and yet the entrance to the mundane world.

The lyrics on the album fit the music very well- “The Quintessence of Elements” for example deals with concepts of alchemy. What inspired these lyrics? Are there any topics of interest you might recommend myself and other proggers looking into?

Benediktator: With regards to “the Quintessence of Elements”, I’ll let by brother Krizla answer for himself:

“The lyrics are inspired by the concept of the philosophers’ stone, in traditional alchemy usually presented as a substance or artefact that enables the magus to transmute base metals into gold. The stone of the philosophers is also used to discover the fifth essence in nature, the higher reality beyond the mundane existence constituted by the four elements of fire, earth, water, and air. The stone, of course, is really a mystical metaphor for a certain knowledge or insight through which transformations in the world can be brought about. It may also stand as a metaphor for the attainment of knowledge about the true meaning of the world and existence. However, most occult writers tend to emphasise the material aspects of the quintessence of elements: there is no end to recipes and methods described to attain this so-called stone, typically including the boiling of mercury under the full moon whilst chewing on a toad. Rest assured, this is a smoke screen for non-initiates, comparable to the methods by which financial experts turn nature and work into numerical gold through the holy rites of the stock market.

The result will always be false, and potentially very harmful to the would-be initiate! Now, the lyrics of The Quintessence of Elements are rather personal, and are informed by the results of certain mystic and unholy rituals that do reveal the truth concerning the philosophers’ stone and the attainment of the fifth essence of the four elements. This knowledge is hidden somewhere on the album Underjordisk Tusmørke and can be found by those who seek! For those proggers interested in the topic of alchemy, Aleister Crowley and his Magick in Theory and Practice is a good place to start, together with Eliphas Levi’s Transcendental Magic. However, these schools of ritual magick are based in masonic and theistic traditions that I don’t really care for. I’m more interested in rituals based in learning sorcery directly, through experiences in the magick of nature and through musical improvisation. The fifth essence that unites the four elements is very close, there is no need for high priests or self-professed revelators.”

Benediktator: As for myself I am interested in reading about Egyptian and Ancient Norse mythology as well as studying various texts concerning the years of migration in Europe around 300-700 AD. The International Bronze age is a favourite topic, as well as books on Nordic petroglyphs. There are some really nice petroglyphs from the Nordic Bronze Age close to where my identical twin brother and I grew up; a picture of the petroglyphs is featured on the tray of the CD version of Underjordisk Tusmørke.  I enjoy reading Goethe’s Faust and Milton’s Paradise Lost, the poetry of Coleridge, Rimbaud, Keats and Baudelaire, the plays of Shakespeare and Ibsen,  and of course the Bible and the Quran. For spiritual enlightenment I thoroughly recommend contemplating the texts of Plotin. As for inspiration, no amount of reading can match a nice stroll in the countryside, bird watching and ruin spotting.

On my promo of “Underjordisk Tusmørke”, there are three ‘bonus’ tracks, with “Ode on Dawn” treading into full-fledged prog epic territory. What kept these songs off of the ‘real’ album; why were they kept as bonuses?

Benediktator: The first two bonus tracks were issued as a 7” vinyl single in 200 copies by Fresh Tea in 2011, the final track is the only proper recording ever made by Tusmørke’s predecessor Les Fleurs du Mal, in 1997. We wanted the CD to be like the crammed reissues of the 90s were every available minute was filled with music. This is a result of our sense of humour, which arguably is perverse.

I would argue that there are two major schools of progressive rock at this point- one that tries to merge the progressive spirit with contemporary rock, and the other that stays true to the vintage sound. Tusmørke are most certainly adherents to the latter style. Do you think this ‘vintage’ sound of progressive rock is as relevant today as it was in the 1970’s?

Benediktator: We do not care much for the modern age. We neither strive for commercial success nor for making our music palatable to the jaded masses. Relevance is certainly relative to the listener; to some we are utterly pointless, to others we are spot on.

What’s the scene like locally in Norway for progressive rock? Undoubtedly, Scandinavia has taken on a great significance in the revival of progressive rock…

Benediktator: There is no scene as such, just a hell of lot of lone wolves, ha ha! I think a lot of musicians in Oslo are open minded, there is a sense of community in a way regardless of genre, there is a lot going on, people hang out in bars, meet at concerts and so on. We are not concerned with limiting ourselves to being a progressive rock band, labels like “prog” and “retro” are more damaging than anything, I find, since they tend to exclude rather than invite would-be listeners; we are a psychedelic folk band intent on blowing minds and moving feet. We are not about reviving anything, but rather express our romantic yearning in a musical form that makes your imagination and body move. The groove is in the Heart of Darkness and Tusmørke draws breath in time with its pulse, beating out the rhythm to stirr the air inside your ear and make you dance.

What advice would you give to young and uninitiated progressive musicians, looking to start a band or get their music heard in today’s world?

Benediktator: Practice a lot and make good songs, grow old but don’t grow up.

Favourite beers?

Benediktator: Various Belgian Trappist beers, Norwegian Haandbryggeriet’s Dark Force and Dobbel Dose, Guiness and Newcastle Brown Ale.

Favourite cheeseburgers?

Benediktator: Anything with bacon and  Blue Castello.

What have you been listening to lately?

Benediktator: Skogen Brinner, The Folklords, Hexvessel, Arktau Eos, Alice Coltrane, Neu!, Fairuz, Death in June and while writing this interview, the mighty Omar Khorshid, Egyptian king of electric guitar.

Are there possible tours in the future for Tusmørke? Come to Vancouver- we haven’t had vintage prog rock around these parts in quite a while!

Benediktator: We’d love to go to Vancouver, book us and we’ll come!

Any last words for the progressive community at large?

Benediktator: Destroy that which destroys you.

Cheers, and Slainte from Canada! Conor Fynes

Benediktator: Cheers and skål from Norway!

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