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Review + Q&A: Motorpsycho- Ancient Astronauts (2022, Stickman Records, Rune Grammofon)

Once again we enter the Motorpsycho realm. If you have not been living under a rock the past twenty years you know what kind of realm that is. It is a world in which anything is possible, at any given time. The only determining factor is the creative flow that Snah, Bent, and Tomas are picking up at the time they press “record”. The result often is surprising, breathtaking, engaging, and always an adventurous trip.

So different all yet still the same//all travellers on the astral plane…

Opener The Ladder takes its time to built momentum and then starts out with a familiar heavy riff reminiscent of the more heavy rocking moments on Kingdom Of Oblivion and the Gulvag Trilogy. But it fully takes use of its six-plus minutes building up with the theatric mellotron madness Motorpsycho has been making their trademark for some time now.

Next track The Flower Of Awareness is a bit of an intermission affair, building up its ambient noise soundtrack for two minutes, mostly to prepare the listener for the next full song.

Some say shit, some say sublime, a quest, a deep dark crime…

Which is Mona Lisa Azrael, a song that starts off very sensitive and serene, and quite beautiful. It almost becomes an archetypical love song and ballad, but just as Motorpsycho skillfully lulled you into a daze they throw a fire cracker on the fire by quickly spiraling out of control and turning into a hot and hip shaking jam fest. It conjures up images of The Mars Volta kicking up full salsa mode, never caring about anything else then following that muse, and worshipping the god of letting it flow on waves of extremely flammable improvisation. It is this kind of completely flipping the mood and going from calm and sensitive to absolutely crazy freak jazz jam rock that makes Motorpsycho stand out from so many others. It is a band at the very top of their game, caring about nothing else than that game, and winning it all the way.

To prove the point of creative independence the fourth and final track is a breathtaking 20+ minute affair called Chariots Of The Sun- To Phaeton On The Occasion Of Sunrise (Theme From An Imagined Movie). The song takes its time to introduce itself in a style that fits the title; gentle, soundtrack like, very slowly but steadily building up to the choral vocals in the first five minutes. A minute later the guitars kick in and the trip is finally ready to take off, still building and gathering steam for a good six more minutes until culminating in the grande finale. After the grande finale there is a big comedown to reflect on what just happened. Is it strange to go through twenty minutes of your favorite band jamming at full force and not notice the lack of lyrics for a second? Not if that favorite band is Motorpsycho, who could not write a dull piece of music if they tried.It is thoughts like these that shoot through my mind during this time. The choral voices pick up again and lead up to a final sweeping goodbye, and then the album is over.

Thanks again for another great trip Motorpsycho. In a world of so much instability, hypes, and crises it is a blessing to have you churning out so many magical jam sessions like this. Keep ‘m going guys, the Weirdo Shrine will always welcome them with ears wide open.

Bent, Snah, and Tomas: Motorpsycho in 2022

To my great surprise and delight the band was available for interviews, even for obscure and teeny tiny fanzines like this one! A long cherished wish came true as I fired these questions at bassist/vocalist Bent Saether who proved a funny and enthusiastic writer himself!

Hi Bent! How are all of you doing these days? I am so thrilled that you wanted to do this interview!
Hey, no sweat! we are, as usual, taking most of July of from band work, and I am chilling in the sun on an island in the Oslo fjord with the family for two weeks, feeling blessed and sunburned in equal measures while waiting for the new album to be released. what the others are up to, I have no idea! 

Can you sketch Motorpsycho’s current living situation when you’re not on tour? I imagine you guys live close to each other and a studio, right? You have been so prolific!

Well, the three of us (with families) all live in Trondheim (Reine is in Stockholm), in an old converted farm building with three separate living quarters, where the barn is converted into a studio/rehearsal room. my wife is the manager, Snah’s the cook/psychologist, and Tomas’ girlfriend the babysitter/teacher. There used to be a lot more communal activity, but these days we mostly do dinner etc separately. rituals are obviously obligatory for all.work hours are from 10 in the morning and for as long as we have focus. usually until 14 15-ish. this way we get a lot of work done 🤷🏻‍♂️

Have you always built your home situations around the band? Has it always been your main focus?
more or less. practical and also extremely focused. Snah and I met in high school and have never had outside jobs since starting the band in 1989. extremely lucky, we know, but also a result of putting everything into it. 

Can we go back in time a little bit? Can you take me back to before you started working on the “Gulvag Trilogy”? Did you oversee it would lead to all this music it actually became? Because apart from the three albums Kingdom Of Oblivion also stems from those recordings, right?
whoo, big question, but I’ll try! Kenneth K quit after the 2016 spring tour. not unexpected, but still rough. we had some theatre work lined up for the summer/fall that year, and dove deep into that while contemplating the future and writing more songs. Tomas got in touch in December. we played for a bit and soon figured this would work. we rehearsed that winter before starting recording The Tower in California in March 2017. those songs were the most finished ones we had, and most of them were written after KK left, but there was no overarching theme as such – except for the political one that was unavoidable with the rise of Trump. another new aspect at this time was the artwork. Kim Hiorthøi did most of our covers from 1994 until Here Be Monsters (2016), but the last few covers he did for us felt like they belonged in a different reality to the one we felt we existed in, and on this new album we started working with designer Håvard Gjelseth instead. while discussing possible artists I mentioned Gullvåg. Håvard really liked that idea and organized it so that we got to use existing art for The Tower and The Crucible and that Gullvåg painted the cover for The All Is One on spec. It was perfect for us and for those albums, but three was enough – we didn’t want a Snaggletooth/Eddie thing to develop and ended it there. except for a synchronicity in feel, and it being a total honor to work with him, there is no other theme to this ‘Gullvåg trilogy’ than his art. the songs were written all the way through the period, and were not from some big pool we had going in. but the albums do feel like they belong together and it was a strong presentation that we are very happy with! to go on from the Gullvåg albums, we felt we needed contrast, and Malling is pretty much as technically far away from Gullvåg as you can get! Great drawing though, and a really memorable and evocative cover!Kingdom of Oblivion was – like almost all our records – not recorded in one spot at one time: it had recordings from a two year period on it, but it was in no way a compilation of leftovers or any such thing: it was a full blown proper album that took the mayhem and riffage further but also had moments of quiet and beauty. to me it is perhaps the best balanced of the four albums we’d done with Tomas so far. the new one is still to close for me to say anything smart about, but it is very much a snap shot of where we were – mentally, groupwise – the week we recorded it, and it feels like the world felt to us in the summer of 2021. as an artist you can’t ask for more than that. The pictures on the cover were taken the week before the album was recorded and helps show what it felt like to us. we hope! and that is new: we have not been on the cover of many of our albums before! 

How do you relate Ancient Astronauts to what yo did with the Gulvag Trilogy? It feels somehow more open, flowing and “jammy”, did it exist more out of a free form approach?

well, it is less dense, for sure! one of producer Deathprod’s bit things was to make it open sounding, so it is a bit more sparse, with fewer instruments on it than usual, and since the two longest songs were arranged while developing a dance performance, they are not compact pop structures at all, but rather more meandering and exploratory structures we hoped would suit the occasion. since this is kinda what we like doing the best anyhow, it felt very natural. but the album has a vibe of its own, and since it is a rather short album, it doesn’t outstay its welcome either. ‘leave them wanting more’ is an old showbiz adage, and a true one in this case!

These days Motorpsycho would be more categorized in “psychedelic” music, but it wasn’t always that way. Is this scene where you most feel at home? I bet being as self-minded as you guys are it could sometimes feel like you did not belong anywhere at all…did it ever feel lonely?
we never felt comfortable being a part of anyone else’s club or scene or … what have you. even today we find it extremely awkward to play genre-specific festivals, and are never less eager to pile on the riffs than when playing e.g. a ‘stoner’ festival. to paraphrase Groucho Marx: ‘we don’t want to be a part of a club that would want a band like us as a member’! since we hate being told what to be or indeed who we are more than anything, we always intuitively go against the grain if given the chance. we are not two-dimensional entertainment puppets, but hope and try to be three-dimensional humans in all our work. and we only ever play motorpsychodelic music :-)( i also think that if you go into music for the community spirit you are on the wrong track: this biz is full of self obsessed ego maniacs who don’t give a shit about anyone but themselves. at least we don’t rely on them for our sense of self! )

With Ancient Astronauts you lyrically take up some big themes, like the arch angel Azrael, and Phaeton out of Greek mythology…where do those subjects come from? And how do they relate to our current world?
the dance performance was called ‘Sacrificing’ so I wanted relatable themes for the lyrics/titles. these somehow showed up in my head, made sense in some way, and stuck 🤷🏻‍♂️it is easier to deal in myths and archetypes than in personal specifics when the musical structures are as big as these too, so that is an important reason why these made sense to use. such references are more open and interpretable than very personal stuff, which is what you want, and since themes like these are eternal they are always as current (or not), so i guess it depends on the listener how relatable they are to our world?

You have played live so much and in such different ways and places too, is there anything you till dream about in that area?

The next one! always and only the next one, because that is the first chance to find meaning through art that is available to us. every night is a new chance to experience transcendence through music, and there is nothing more rewarding than that. where it happens doesn’t matter. we’d like to play more and in more places, but have no ‘Big Gig’ dreams. 

What advice would you give a new and upcoming band/artist that looks up to Motorpsycho?
do not trust every story we tell to be 100% factual! we lie. a lot. some of the answers in this interview is total bullshit, but are more fun to read and more inspirational to any young band/artist than the truth would’ve been. when we don’t lie, we always try to tell the truth. always be honest in your art though: that is the only thing that matters. 

What should the Weirdo Shrine readers do immediately after this interview?
laugh at it and think ‘what a pretentious git’, then listen to our music to see if it doesn’t all make a little sense anyway. maybe?or go kiss their girl-/boyfriend before making some art of their own. that’d be better!

Thanks a lot for your time!!!

This was fun! have a good one! Bent 
Credits: Kostymer: Teateratelier v Leo Thörn og Berit Haltvik With Masker lånt av Sjiraffen Kultusenter Assistenter: Øyvind Gregersen og Kristin Nordsæter Foto: Terje Visnes

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