Saturday 23 July 2016

An Interview with Olav Iversen from SAHG

SAHG have been playing their blend of Psych Doom/Stoner Metal for the best part of 12 years now. They've released 4 albums to critical acclaim by fans and critics alike. SAHG are about to release their new album – Memento Mori.

As you can tell from the title of the album it's a very dark affair compared to their previous albums. This sees SAHG leave their Doom/Stoner Metal roots behind and venture into more heavy based Progressive/Heavy Metal territory. Though you're still treated to the classic style SAHG sound.

It looked like the end of SAHG in 2015 when two members of the band (Thomas Tofthagen and Thomas Lønnheim) left to pursue other interests. Most bands would have quit but SAHG pressed on, regrouped and made one of their strongest and heaviest albums to date.

I recently caught up with Olav Iversen (Vocals, Guitars) from SAHG to see how they came up with this album and how the untimely deaths of musical icons Lemmy and David Bowie help inspire this album.

Hi Olav. Thanks for doing this interview. How are things with SAHG today.

Things are good! We are excited about having finished the new album, and getting ready to let it out in the open.

Congrats on your new album – Memento Mori. Such a stunning and brave record compared to your previous albums.

Thanks, we are very proud of it, considering everything that has been going on since the last one.

What can people expect to hear from Memento Mori.

This album has some of the most metal-oriented songs we have ever made, and on the other hand, there are things like (Praise The) Electric Sun, which is probably our most mellow song ever. There is great variety, but also a strong tendency towards a darker and heavier expression than we have had in a long time, and perhaps ever before.

I read the press notes on the album and Olav stated the album took a different direction when Lemmy and David Bowie sadly passed away. What was the original vision of the album. And was it very different to final version being released.

Lemmy and David Bowie both died while we were writing and recording the album. Rather than changing the direction of the album, their passing confirmed the direction we were already heading in, and gave it a new perspective. It made us make the final decision about the album title and it affected the general theme of the album. Seeing icons like that pass away was yet another reminder of our mortality. Even the "immortal" are mortal, after all. Their deaths definitely made an impact, it created a special vibe in the studio, and gave us inspiration in the remaining work on the album. It is good that such tragic events at least can have that positive effect.

Was it a stressful and emotional time recording this album compared to your previous works.

Stressful – less than ever. We had a very smooth and well planned process, without the usual unforeseen problems and tight schedule. Emotionally, we were affected by Lemmy and Bowie's deaths, as mentioned, since they happened during the busiest phase of the making of the album. It gave us an extra sense of solemnity, and made us focus even stronger on bringing across the gravity of the music in the best way that we could.

Did the songs changed dramatically from those sad events or was it just minor things that were changed.

It affected the way we approached certain songs and parts of songs in the studio. Vocal ideas, intensity and dynamics – things like that. The album would sound differently without that inspiration.

Memento Mori is very different to your past albums. It’s way more darker, doom orientated and perhaps even more progressive. But I can hear vibes of David Bowie and even Lemmy running through out the album. Was that the plan for the new album. To release something different to your previous works.

We always try to renew ourselves to a certain extent. The last thing we want is to end up making the same album over again. But of course, the change in line-up made the biggest difference this time. The new guitarist, Ole, and new drummer Mads both hail from the more extreme ends of metal, and that certainly makes the band sound heavier and more aggressive.

The artwork for the album is very cool and very subtle indeed. Who designed that cover. Did you give the artist an overall theme or objective to work from.

The cover art was made as a collaboration between graphic artist Robert Høyem, who previously designed the artwork for Delusions Of Grandeur, and myself. Robert has an incredible hand-drawing style that we wanted for this artwork, so we presented him with the overall theme and the idea that we wanted the cover to be very simplistic and iconic. We worked closely together, juggled around some ideas, and through his pen stroke, we drafted out the front cover idea and some other illustrated elements. I took charge of the graphic part myself this time, since I had a very clear vision of how it should turn out, which became even clearer after working on it with Robert.

Olav - you’re the only original member of SAHG. Has it been a hard process recording SAHG albums with different line-ups. Or do you thrive on challenges such as this Did you ever think of letting SAHG end so you could focus on different musical projects.

Sahg has gone through several lineup changes through the years. I guess nobody can stand playing in a band with an asshole like me, right?? Hehe! No, changing members is never something you plan or intend to do. But when it happens, it is a challenge and an inspiration both at the same time. It always takes some time before the new members find their place and fit into their natural role in the band. But most of all, it is an inspiration working with new people who bring new assets and influences into the music.

I try to let the quality of new players and the way they play influence my song-writing That makes me always think in new ways when I write music, and helps my song-writing from becoming uniform and repetitive.

About one and a half years ago, two of the band members quit at the same time. At that point, it looked like Sahg was coming to an end. Suddenly losing half the band like that was a tough blow to take, and it certainly brought up some existential issues. Was it worth going on? It really felt like hanging from one hand off the edge of a cliff. But Tony and I soon realised that we had too much unfinished business and unrealised goals to give it all up. We just had too much more to give. But we got a feel of how fragile existence is. But Sahg is still alive. Memento Mori is living proof of that.

Will you be touring this record heavily or will it be select dates.

We will do a good lot of touring on this record. There are only a few dates announced at the moment, three in Norway and Leafmeal Festival in Dortmund, Germany. But there are many more dates for this year ready to be announced very soon, and we are working on another run of touring next year. So you'll be seeing us around, we can't wait to get out and play.

You’ve been involved with SAHG for over twelve years now. Did you ever expect the journey would last that long. Five albums and countless tours.

No, like all new things, it was all about the there and then when we started Sahg. I never thought about how long it was going to last, and I certainly didn't think it would last twelve years, and counting. But time flies, and it's been a blast. And all of a sudden, here we are, with album number five on our hands, and who knows how many gigs. It makes me proud and very positive about the future.

What have been your high points and low points with SAHG. Any interesting stories you could share with our readers.

There have been so many of both, mostly high points. But if I was to mention one of the top ones, it would be when we opened for Iron Maiden at a huge outdoor gig in Bergen, Norway, two years ago. Maiden was on the Maiden England Tour. And just walking onto that stage with the stage props from the Seventh Son album artwork, and seeing the huge Eddie at the back of the stage, was just completely surreal. And not least playing that show in front of thousands of our home fans. That was a moment for the books.

The low points don't stick that well with me. But one of them would be when we played a show to celebrate the release of Sahg III, our third album, back in 2010. This one guy among the audience made the effort of walking out of the venue, across the street to a 7 Eleven, bought a pack of eggs, and smuggled them back inside the club.

The fact that he made it back inside with a pack of eggs in the drunken state that he was in, is no less than a miracle. Anyway, this shit-faced moron started throwing eggs onto the stage in the middle of our set, and our bass player at the time didn't take it nicely. He snapped instantly, threw his bass on the ground and jumped off the stage, into the crowd to get hold of the 'egg man'. They disappeared out of sight for quite a while, and in the meantime, the rest of us just had to keep the jam going, waiting for our bass player to turn up again.

He eventually came back on, and we finished our set. We were all sliding around up there though, the stage was slippery like ice from all the broken eggs. It wasn't our best performance.

Words by Steve Howe and Olav Iversen

Thanks to Olav for taking the time out to doing this interview. Thanks to Andy at Palmer Turner Overdrive for arranging this interview. Memento Mori will be available to buy on CD/DD/Vinyl via Indie Recordings from September 23rd 2016.