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Enigmatic Creator: An Exclusive Interview With MORTEN VELAND Of SIRENIA

By Caribbean Crab, Contributor
Saturday, February 20, 2021 @ 11:23 AM

"I think that being open-minded about listening to music is important as a composer because there is something to learn from each genre."

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Photo Credit: Richelle ter Heege

Few composers have captured my love and respect for what they do as much as Morten Veland. I first heard TRISTANIA’S “Widows Weeds” as a teenager, and it is to this day one of my favorite songs. The early albums of both TRISTANIA and SIRENIA set the stage for their genre today, and that is all thanks to Morten. Needless to say I was overjoyed to get the chance to chat with this enigmatic creator. He even shared some advice and a little bit of news, so I hope you enjoy our conversation.

KNAC.COM: Hello there Morten, thank you for taking the time for this interview. Just as a short introduction: my name is Anyssa and I’m from Trinidad and Tobago, talking to you on behalf of KNAC.COM.

VELAND: Hi, great to meet you and thanks to for your time as well!

KNAC.COM: I’ve seen you as a musical genius ever since I was a teenager. Those first two TRISTANIA albums and SIRENIA’s debut album had a very unique sound that still captivates me to this day. What was your inspiration back then to create such dark, heavy and unforgettable music?

VELAND: Good question…that was quite a long time ago but, I think it was just a period in my life where I listened to really dark music too. So it was the kind of atmosphere I wanted to create. I never really thought about it, it just came naturally. It was a nostalgic time for me back then as well, and when I listen to some of those first albums, it is a reminder of that time. I still listen to a lot of music from the 90’s, especially the first half of the 90’s. My main inspirations haven’t changed much from back then, and I listen to a very wide variety of music as well. I have always been very open to different types of music.

KNAC.COM: Ever listened to Bollywood music? That would be those Indian film songs. I always ask that when someone says they listen to all types of music…

VELAND: Ok there are probably some genres I don’t really know about of course, haha! But anything rock or metal related, yea I listen to that. But I really do listen to a lot of different styles. Classical, Black metal, Death metal…even some Pop music and Latin music and Opera. Country music too sometimes. I think that being open-minded about listening to music is important as a composer because there is something to learn from each genre. I like to look for the best in each one because all have some bad and some good…some have more bad than good. But I can find something I like in all genres. Of course, in rock and metal it is easier to find that.

KNAC.COM: A lot of that versatile musical taste tends to come out in your albums, because all of SIRENIA’s albums offer the listener a different feeling. I don’t ever feel like I know what to expect, and that’s a good thing isn’t it?

VELAND: Yea I mean that’s something that has always been very important to me. I want every album to be something new for the fans, while not straying too far from the the concept of SIRENIA. Every album is a representation of where we were musically at each given time, so each one really is different. When I listen to some of the older albums, I get an idea of where I was musically at the time…which can be enlightening.

KNAC.COM: SIRENIA has a lot of lineup changes... yet you hold it together and always create something beautiful. What is the most challenging part of SIRENIA for you?

VELAND: There are different things but one of the most challenging is that as people get older and get more responsibility, like kids and families and mortgages, it can be hard to balance that with being a musician. The travelling and touring and being away from family can be hard for people, and many choose to stay with their families rather than being away because they can’t stand being away form their kids. Another challenge is the economy because you don’t earn much being in a metal band. You must make a lot of sacrifices and at a certain age that can become a problem. It’s one thing when you’re young and living with parents…but when you have other priorities it’s a lot harder to make the needed sacrifices. So, looking back over the past 20 years, I’d say those two are the biggest challenges when it comes to keeping a stable line up. It takes people who are 100% dedicated to music and there aren’t many like that out there. You get a lot of 40% or 50% or even 60 %, but in the long run even that isn’t enough.

KNAC.COM: You seem to be one of those who dedicate yourself totally. Is it difficult to work with others who aren’t in that position?

VELAND: Yea because in order to keep the band together, everyone has to be dedicated. It can’t just be one person keeping it together. That’s my advice to all the musicians out there actually…you have to give everything if you want to do this professionally. So be sure to decide whether you want to just have music as a hobby or if you want to do it professionally. To succeed at it professionally you must be 100% dedicated to music.

KNAC.COM: Many musicians work with long lists of bands. But your list is fairly short and, SIRENIA clearly has a very special spot in your heart. Is that true and can you tell me more about the reason?

VELAND: Yes SIRENIA is very special to me and as I said I am very dedicated to music…so I put my all into SIRENIA. That’s been the case in every band I was involved with. MORTEMIA was always a side project and SIRENIA will always be my priority. I have been busy with SIRENIA in the last few years so I haven’t had time to work on side projects. But last year and even now, due to the pandemic and not being able to tour, I have a lot of extra studio time. So at the moment I am working on new stuff for MORTEMIA and I intend to release those songs later this year.

KNAC.COM: Oh I’d love that! Great to know we can look forward to that! Evidently, you seem to be the type who prefers quality over quantity.

VELAND: Yes, absolutely!

KNAC.COM: This may seem a strange one that I stuck in here simply because of the type of music that you create. So here goes! If you could summarize your opinion of the human species and human nature in general... what would it be? Good Luck…

VELAND: Hahaha, Yea thanks! That’s a complicated question and I don’t really know if I have a good answer to that. I mean, we humans are a very odd species, so to speak. If you look at history, you see that it tends to repeat itself a lot. It’s as if we don’t learn from our mistakes. That’s one thing about humans. It’s kind of impressive, but not in a good way, that we are unable to really learn. That’s just one of many things I can say but its not something I think about much. I think we would lose our minds if we spent too much time thinking on such things. So I don’t think I have a good answer to this one…

KNAC.COM: Well there is no good or bad answer, no right or wrong answer. What you said is pretty much what I and others think as well.

VELAND: Ok, well I’m glad I made some kind of sense, haha!

KNAC.COM: Of course you did! The reason I added that question is that many creators of extreme metal tend to be a bit on the misanthropic side. Not only is it a source of creativity for composers like you…but its something that we listeners feel too.

VELAND: That’s very true yes, definitely.

KNAC.COM: Speaking of creativity… the latest SIRENIA album drops during a pretty crazy time, and there have been many excellent metal albums last year during lockdowns as well. Would you say that music has been your coping mechanism?

VELAND: Oh yes I definitely think so. Music has always been like therapy to me as it’s something that I really love to do. There is so much negativity going around these days with this pandemic, and of course it will take a lot of time to get things under control. So in the meantime the only thing we can do is try to make the best of the situation. For me that’s just trying to use the time in the best way I can, which means creating a lot of new music. It’s important to keep on going and keep ourselves busy with positive activities, even throughout this negative time.

KNAC.COM: Agreed, and you’re a master of so many instruments too! Since you play them all... what’s your favorite and least favorite instrument?

VELAND: Guitar is definitely my favorite! That’s my main instrument and I start my song composition on the guitar, then I build everything around it. The least favorite? Hmmm, I don’t think I have a least favorite one. I have tried playing a lot of instruments that are not common in metal over the years…like harmonica or melodeon or different types of flutes. It was challenging to learn those new things so fast because of course I was working on an album and I needed to work within a time limit. So it was tough and at times frustrating to learn a new instrument in such a short time. But I can’t say that I disliked any of them.

KNAC.COM: You’ve been a composer for quite some time, you started creating music since age 15, which is pretty impressive. What are the biggest lessons that life as a musician has taught you?

VELAND: Since the very beginning I learnt how important it is to believe in your own music. Even back with that first band, we started writing songs and playing and rehearsing…and I’m sure the songs were not that good. But we believed in our music and in what we did, and we knew that sooner or later we would improve. Even if we got negative reactions or we were told to get a proper job, that never took away our focus from music and continuing to work on it. That’s another great bit of advice I can give to the young up and coming musicians out there….work hard and believe in what you’re doing. The results will come!

KNAC.COM: You Norwegians always give great advice, I hope it reaches those who are just starting their musical journey. Norway is at the top of my list of favorite countries actually. How do you feel about your homeland and do you draw inspiration from any aspect of it?

VELAND: I love my country and we have beautiful natural scenery up here. I find Norway to be quite inspiring in and of itself as a composer, especially the wintertime. That has always been a very special time because it gets so dark and cold. We get snow for most of the winter and it sets a different atmosphere, where things are moving a bit slower. I tend to get very focused and very creative and productive during this time of year. In the summer I feel more restless and less focused…because most days are bright and it doesn’t get dark for long. Summer time is the time to do things and go places so it’s harder to stay focused on creating music.

KNAC.COM: Ok…so I was right to assume that Norway’s long dark winters are the reason so many great metal bands come from there?

VELAND: It might be! Scandinavia in general is like that and there is an awful lot of rock and metal bands coming from these countries…so maybe there is something about those long dark winters after all.

KNAC.COM: Well hopefully I can visit again, but who knows when, since we are all just in limbo these days. Do you think that anything will actually go back to “normal”?

VELAND: I believe eventually yes it will, to some degree. It will take some time but maybe next year it will be better. It depends on how vaccination programs go but it will take time. I don’t have high expectations for this year. Maybe it will be possible to tour again at the end of the year or next year, But I expect the pandemic to last for quite some time again.

KNAC.COM: They say time heals…so let’s hope it does. That said, thank you for your time. It was great talking to you and I hope I was able to ask you some new and challenging questions.

VELAND: Oh yes, I certainly got some new ones so that was perfect!

KNAC.COM: Great then! Well you have a good day, take care!

VELAND: You have a good day too, take care, bye bye!

Thank you for reading and be sure to check out SIRENIA’s latest album Riddles, Ruins & Revelations, which released on February 12th from Napalm Records. We all know Morten never disappoints!

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