When Norwegian doomsters DEVIL visited Berlin in November, I had the honour of sitting down in the cramped backstage room of Prenzlauer Berg's White Trash for a chat with the guys. The interview is mainly with guitarist Stian Fossum, but comments from the rest of the band has been summarized in some parts.
Hello Stian, how are you and how do you like Berlin so far? Is it DEVIL's first time visiting the city?
– We love it! We've been talking about it just now actually. It's very much as I expected and I can understand why so many people has this fetish for Berlin, it's a very nice city but we haven't seen the rush traffic yet so that could be worse. I've played here with FAUSTCOVEN once but we only came, played and left so this is the first time I got to see some of the city.
Have you seen some of the sights yet?
–Yeah we've seen a piece of the wall and we've seen Brandenburger Tor. We've been actual typical tourists today.
This is your second day of the tour...
– Yes it is, we did Copenhagen on Friday with KADAVAR, which was great and then we had the day off here yesterday.
...and you have the Swedish band BELOW with you on the tour, how did you find them?
– BELOW is what CANDLEMASS wanted to sound like in 1990, but never made it. And they found us, because they have this manager, Tobias Rosén who is also in a band called NOCTUM. He wanted to put together a tour to get BELOW on the road and he asked if we wanted to join them and we like to do these small tours so it was very fitting for us to do this now.
What was the album that made you realize you wanted to be on stage?
– KISS "Unmasked" 1980, six years old.
[Other early influences mentioned by the guys are TWISTED SISTER's "Stay Hungry" and MÖTLEY CRÜE.]
Your latest album "Gather the Sinners" (review) is very basic and old school and even though I heard it digitally it still has a strong vinyl feeling to it.
– Yeah it's very much down to what gear you are using actually. You need to sound authentic or vintage like we are trying to and you need to do as many adjustments on both gear and production as you possibly can to get the right sound. We were aiming for something mid 70's but it probably ended up more like 1982-83 I think, but we're happy with the production.
Do you believe that keeping it simple makes the best music?
– Not necessarily but for us it's the only option (laughs). We also like complex music. I'm a fan of bands like PSYCHOTIC WALTZ, QUEENSRŸCHE, FATES WARNING and stuff so I think you can make good music with all kinds of complicity, from simple music like ours to SPIRAL ARCHITECHT and the other end of the scale.
[Someone points out that they want the songs to be played live, like they sound on the album and therefore they don't wanna keep adding and adding to the music.]
It's obvious that you've taken inspiration from bands like BLACK SABBATH and PENTAGRAM...
– It is? (Everybody laughs).
Why do you think this genre is still appealing today to young people? Everybody seems to love 70's rock.
– Yeah, I think music comes in waves. Approximately every 20 years you get a revival of 70's music. Even though it might sound far-fetched, you had it with grunge that is a big homage to the 70's and if you listen to PEARL JAM or SOUNDGARDEN now, 20 years after, it's very obvious how much of the 70's they brought into their music. And then of course you have WOLFMOTHER, a huge rock 'n' roll band with a 70's feel, the 70's will always be there. Just as the 60's will be in pop music.
[Another theory from the band is that a lot of groups went through the extreme metal thing and after that, the next step would be to go back to your roots.]
What "new" bands do you listen to?
–- I love a lot of the new bands like IN SOLITUDE, ENFORCER, BELOW, JEX THOTH...
[MUSE also gets mentioned and the fact that the band doesn't only listen to their own genre but to a lot of different music.]
Are you all record collectors in the band?
– Thomas (bass) doesn't collect many albums, I used to do but I'm a bit lazy now so I only know Joakim (vocals) buys shitloads of records everywhere.
Do you have any rare items in your collections?
– I've got the test press of CANDLEMASS's "Nightfall" signed by all the members, that's pretty rare I guess. Maybe five of them in the world.
[Other rare items owned by the members are a PARADISE LOST demo and also MAYHEM's legendary "Deathcrush". Another member points out that he collects cats.]
I've noticed the amazing artwork on your albums.
– Yeah the first album cover "Time to Repent", was made by a Polish guy (Rafal Kruszyk) and the second one "Gather the Sinners" by Adrian, a guy from Argentina, so there's two different artists.
Do you think that it feels more worth for fans to pay for vinyl (referring to the artwork) than downloads because people get more for their money?
– Yeah. I think at some point I knew the tracklist to every album I had, when I had vinyl. When I started buying CD's it's like, I like number 7 on that one... You don't read the booklet like you did with the vinyl.
Why do you think there's so many great rock and metal bands from the Nordic countries?
– It's a result of the system, they make it easy to play in a band with support from the government and the local community. You get a rehearsal space and money to buy gear and stuff so people in Norway has it quite easy to start a band compared to Eastern Europe or even South America.
The same goes for Sweden...
– Yeah, even if Norway has a lot of good bands, Sweden has ten times as many.
How is the rock and metal scene in Norway these days?
– There's still a lot of black metal bands, there's a new wave of black metal bands coming every other year. What's most popular right now is probably what's known as the Nidaros scene which is bands from Trondheim like MARE, ONE TAIL and those bands. There's an up-and-coming doom scene as well with RESONAUT, us of course and TOMBSTONES which are on the same label as us. They're also starting a new doom festival in Oslo this year that's called Autumn Sabbath. Two days with only Norwegian bands like LONELY CAMEL and stuff.
How important is the visual part on stage for a band like DEVIL?
– I think it's cool that people try to do what fits them best but it has to be a total package. We're not dressing up or anything but we wouldn't go on stage in sweatpants. I love everything from you know, BLACK SABBATH with just four guys on the stage, to KISS and IRON MAIDEN shows so whatever floats your boat, I think it can be done cool. As for outfits and stuff, we dress like this for work or holiday or wherever we go, so it's not an issue for us with costumes.
How does the creative process look within the band, how do you guys make music?
– We like to see it as a joint effort but Thomas writes a lot of the riffs and puts together a half finished song and then we go over it and switch some parts and we end up with a song. But we try to write at rehearsals more and more. I guess the share of the load is not even, Thomas does most of the creative work but everyone contributes. "Southern Sun" we wrote during a jam session, it's very fun to make stuff that way.
Do you all live in the same town?
– Town and town, it's out on the countryside. We live within 10 minutes from each other.
What are you up too when you're not making music?
– We're all working, one's a teacher, one works at the airport, two of the guys works with cell phones, I work in transport, we've been having the same jobs for ages so it's normal lives.
It's pretty hard to live of the music in Scandinavia I guess?
– Yeah, we don't live of the music. We all hang out besides the music, we're all friends. It's nice to go on these trips with good friends and the playing is just a bonus.
Do you book your own shows as well?
– Yeah mostly, on this tour we booked two of the shows and Tobias, the BELOW manager booked the rest. Prior to this we were on a booking agency called Mythology which is based in London but we do so little touring that we said to the guy that he could spend his time on more active bands. We can take care of the few jobs we do ourselves. So we're working independently.
How is a day on tour for you guys? Are you all party animals or do you stay focused?
– Usually we drink a lot. But if we were to tour for months, we couldn't do it like this. We get up in the morning and try to see a bit of the place where we are or even travel straight to the next place.
[The band doesn't drink that much before going on stage but they mention that they usually drink more than the other bands they play with. That is also the reason why they started the band, as an excuse to go to rehearsals and have a few beers.]
Do you prefer playing big stages or small, sweaty clubs?
– As long as there's good attendance I don't care if it's 100 or 1000 people but of course it's fun to present your music to as many people as possible. And the more people at the show, the more people we can party with afterwards.
[The best gigs they've ever played were in Bergen (Norway). The Hole In The Sky Festival and the Beyond The Gates Festival. The worst gig was according to the band also in Bergen at a drunken student festival with no stage where the drum kit fell apart.]
What would be the ultimate band to tour with, dead or alive?
[Everyone in unison: BLACK SABBATH! (Followed by laughter). DEVIL has also already played with PENTAGRAM and that was a dream came true for them.
– We used to say that we're gonna quit this band the day we open for PENTAGRAM but we actually did so we couldn't. It was one of the goals of the band to open for them but it only took about a year before we actually did so we had to carry on (laughter).
Have you seen the documentary "Last Days Here" about Bobby Liebling? (Singer of PENTAGRAM with a drug fuelled past).
– I like the documentary but I think the bad thing with "Last Days Here" and the "Anvil" movie is that it attracts so many posers to the scene, you know, now everybody thinks they know ANVIL. No one really did when they should have been supporting them. I liked "Last Days Here" but I wanted it to carry on because it was a great movie and I wanted it to go on like a road movie.
Do you think Bobby will stay clean?
– Maybe he will or maybe he won't but... I think maybe he's been too far out to be completely back on track. There's always factors that's keeping him on the right side of the line. He's got the kid, he's got Hallie Liebling (his wife), he's got the band of course. If one of those factors should disappear from his life, I think that just might be enough...
What should people expect coming to a DEVIL show?
– What you see is what you get. Rock 'n' roll, good mood both from us and the audience. I think we deliver a pretty nice show, nothing fancy and nothing excessive only good clean fun.
[Someone points out there will be nothing occult as could be expected from a band in this genre. If they enjoy a gig they will smile.]
– In the beginning I think people were a bit disappointed that we were closer to MOTÖRHEAD than DEVILS BLOOD but most people know now that we're in this for the beer, there's no mystery.
The occult thing is a big part of the genre, are you interested in the occult at all?
– I read some but I'm not practicing withchcraft (giggles) . Tom is interested in mythology and the historical part. I like reading about witches and witch trials and the historic part. We write songs about local histories and add some mystical shit to it, based on reality. I think it's easy to write lyrics for this band because there's so much history to take from. Endless source of inspiration within folklore and old tales.
Do you believe in the Devil or God?
[Everybody says no and one of the guys explains he's a teacher in religion.]
– But I believe in the principal and the dark powers of man, I believe in that part.
Do you like horror films, name your top 3?
– Yeah! "Jaws", I'm a sucker for "Jaws". "Amityville Horror" and the remake of "The Thing", not the new one, the Kurt Russel one by John Carpenter.
[Other band member's favourites are "Maniac", "Carrie" and "The Exorcist" and they all grew up with slasher movies.]
– Of course, and not the remake (laughs).
You're on Soulseller records, how is it working with them?
– Great. We get to do whatever we want and they are doing a great job as a small independent label. It's a give and take relationship. We are happy, we're on Soulseller for one more record but we have no urge to move to another label or see what's out there, we wouldn't mind keep making albums (with them). We like to work with people that likes the music.
BLOODY HAMMERS are on the same label as you, do you like them?
– Hmmm next question (laughter). I've only heard them once but if you can't say anything nice about your label mates...
I really like both DEVIL and BLOODY HAMMERS and since you're on the same label, a combined tour would be great.
– Jorn from Soulseller also has the dream of bringing them over to play with us and then we'd go there and play with them.
[It's quite clear that DEVIL are not fans of BLOODY HAMMERS but on the other hand they wouldn't mind a tour together. They also point out that they have nothing against the band or anything it's just that they don't listen to the music.]
What would be the moment where you feel that you've done everything as a musician?
– When I can't write good songs anymore. When you don't come up with any more cool stuff. We have no superior goals, if we can be ourselves and have enough self insight to understand when it's starting to get worse, when the band gets boring then we should do something else.
[To open for BLACK SABBATH would also be one of their new main goals.]
But BLACK SABBATH these days are very different from the original, it's more the Ozzy show these days but you'd still like to play with them?
[Everybody agrees that they would.]
– I'm gonna see them one week after we get home. I like the new album.
What's next, any new album planned?
– We've got some songs and we're hoping to get another album out maybe sometime late next year. And we're doing a split with the side project of Chad Davis from HOUR OF 13 that's gonna be on EP and we're hoping to do that next year as well.
With these words the interview has to end. It's time for BELOW to warm up the audience and the backstage room is getting busy. Both bands delivered wicked performances and the full review of the evening can be read here. DEVIL is a band with their feet on the ground and a great passion for what they're doing and with that it can't go wrong. I expect lots of more heavy doom from these guys in the future.