(By our Norwegian correspondent Jan Ronald Stange. Photos by Silke Jochum, Arash Taheri, Jan Ronald Stange. Studio snapshots by Kim Ljung)
Alex Møklebust and Kim Ljung had lots of plans for their bands in 2020, but as with everyone else everything changed this year. Earlier this autumn we managed to slip in an hour for a talk at Alex’ place where he and Kim were having some studio time, preparing Zeromancer tracks and planning for next year’s releases.
Kim: The foundation for the Zeromancer recording sessions was laid before corona, and the recording with Noralf was quite compressed timewise, we had to get it done before he was becoming a father! We knew he would be in a hazy “breastfeeding” fog once the baby where born, so we were very happy we laid down his tracks in time.
Making a ZMR album is a laboriously process, all the way from the song writing to the finished product, and it doesn’t help getting older either. Everything goes slower, not just the body, but the brain also, and add to that we have less available time to work on this together. Things takes years, but worth it in the end. Like this process we’re in now, almost finished with the recording. As always in ZMR recordings Alex has to wear several hats; he’s the vocalist, but also technician, producer and programmer, trying not to mix these roles. We also have a new member; Per Olav, who are supposed to embed into this process.
When we started we weren’t sure if we’d end up with a single, EP or something more, but now we’re proud of the standard for the results that will result in a full album. And we’re quite picky, so it good to get the confirmation that our creativity and judgement are well preserved. It’s no coincidence either that it’s Alex and me that are doing our “synth rock workshop”, quite many this time around, because we agree on almost everything. This part has gotten very easy for us, showing us the value of collaborating for 30 years.
Alex: The funny thing us growing into grumpy, old men is that we actually are having a more playful approach when working together, experimenting more and going outside earlier boundaries. It makes the process more difficult for us, but also more fun.
Poor Per Olav that came into this and are supposed to understand what Kim and I are thinking. He came very well prepared, then we buried everything pre-planned because we’ve decided to go in another direction. Kudos to him for his almost chronic positive attitude which also helped a lot in this process.
Kim: Per Olav is still a relatively new guitarist in ZMR and have been with us for four gigs. He’s also playing in the band Untime, we’ve known him for a long time, and he also joined us on stage at the ZMR gig at Total, Tønsberg in 2014 for an encore. He’s the leader and driving force in his band, but in ZMR more like a wheel in an already well functioning machinery, not having to take so much responsibility as he’s used to. His understanding of how to play guitar in ZMR are impressive, because that’s not always so easy! When listening to a ZRM track it can be hard to tell if it’s a guitar or a synth you’re hearing, but he quickly decoded that part, and being a creative guitarist he also added elements himself, which made the overall result even better. He takes challenges very well, and I heard by ways of his stepdaughter, who’s rehearsing at Haugarock, that he’s playing a lot of guitar on his own time too.
Alex: He joined us first for the live gigs, and we understood that he came prepared extremely well when he’s telling us – the others who have been in the band for 20 years – about where to do things in the songs. That was a luxury, not having to “train” him, as he already knew just about everything beforehand.
Kim: No disrespected to our former guitarists, because they both were excellent, but when Dan decided to leave ZMR we went into crisis mode; how can we find someone as good and prepared as Chris or Dan? Could we bear instructing another guitarist from scratch? Then we find someone practically from the neighbourhood!
Alex: He understand what we’re about, fits us well on a human level, and came even more prepared than most of us – just slipped right in, a great relief for us.
But; the other side of the mirror when that happens is that we tend to forget he’s the new guy, not used to our “code” of communication, which some outsiders have found to be a bit hard and raw. So in that aspect he’s still a trainee, in for a learning period.
But sometimes that’s an issue with the rest of us too, even after working together for 20-30 years, there can still be times when one is extra sensitive and needs to tell the others to lay off the “code” for a while, and then the others respects that.
Kim: In all the bands we’re in we’re pals, but also colleagues when working, so have to tune in to which layer we’re in at the moment.
Alex: We’re working with our bands also when we’re not in top notch shape, when we’re not beaming of positivity, and that’s when we have to adjust the use of the “code”.
S-L: The Seigmen vinylbox was the initial reason for this talk – how and when did the idea for this emerge?
Kim: Many years ago! It’s been up for discussion several times, but there’s been various companies that owned the publishing rights to the albums. The main challenge and a big job was to get the licensing freed in order to release the albums. Most of the effort for making it possible was done by Otto Egil, so kudos to him for never giving up. The band are more focused on the musical part, looking forwards and not so much backwards, so it’s great to have others involved for that part.
The whole project seemed quite overwhelming, but we also had decided if we were to do this, is should be done properly. Otto Egil is a (big!) fan too, which helped immensely – if it was just business for him he’d probably given up at some point.
Alex: Our principle have always been “if we’re doing something, it should be done proper!”, which demands a lot of time and effort, and also makes it complicated. We had to find old original tapes and pictures, trying to emulate the look and feel from that time, involving hours in the basement or the attic going through old stuff for the umpteenth time. It’s a monster project, but we got to remember that we grew up as fans ourselves, and as you remember from the old days, there were lots of records shop in Tønsberg where we used to hang out in and buying records as fans. That’s been in the back of our minds; we want to make something that people wants with the quality they deserve, so it’s helpful thinking like a fan in this kind of process.
Kim: If we were working by the hour on a project like this we wouldn’t have done it at all. It’s extremely time consuming digging up old tapes and doing rounds of mastering again, finding pictures for the covers, recreating the CD design for 12” covers etc. Again, thanks to the nagging of Otto Egil and his suggestions for content, and him as a fan really hit the mark for what the fans would like in the box. The crowdfunding hit the target really fast and sold very well, mostly because he sold the concept as a fan to other fans. Another hellish challenge were recreating the lyrics, which hadn’t been printed before! Alex received several texts from me, asking “What are you singing here? What’s that sentence?”. There were a lot of repeat playing of the old CDs, trying to figure out the text. We had a taste of that last year, when rehearsing for the four Hulen concerts in Bergen, recreating our four first concerts there in the early 90’s. When we were finished with the vinyls Otto Egil told us “next up is the digi packs”, something we’d totally forgotten were supposed to be a part of the project. And those were of course different than the vinyls, fever tracks, other info and another round of designs. The proof reading took forever!
S-L: I guess it was a challenge, find the original photos in a quality good enough for a 12” cover?
Kim: Oh yes! I can tell you one story in particular – about the cover for ‘Total’. I’ve always been a fan of the design job for that one, with the bronze look and the booklet content, some of the design built upon an old post card I took home from my Interrail travels to Venice. The hard filtering and effects of the elements we used were impossible to recreate for an album booklet.
Alex: Don’t forget we also had a fire in the meantime!
Kim: Yep, it was just gone forever! Then we’re on holiday in Venice, I buy a lot of post cards and art cards as I always do, and at the end of the vacation I find the exact same post card again! This was at the same time we were in the final stages of the graphic work on the covers, so it was one of those things that just fall into place along the way.
Alex: One interesting aspect in my opinion was, partly related to my work at the college in Oslo, getting calls from other colleges and universities, asking what did we do in this crowdfunding making it a success. We were probably one of the first bands in Norway doing crowdfunding with our ‘Fra X til døden’ DVD, it hadn’t happened in that format until then. It took a while back then, maybe because it was the first time, but sold out and was considered successful. My answer was simply “if you offer something that doesn’t exists and people also like what you’re offering, it’s simple math”.
Same goes for the box set; we just released one album as vinyl in the 90’s (English version of ‘Metropolis’), and also put a lot of rarities in there that people have been craving for years. We also asked the fans what they wanted when making the DVD, which actually should have been focused on the final concert in 1999, but the tapes got lost in a flood in UK. The answer from the fans were “more!”, so it ended up to be 6 hours and a hell of a project!
Afterwards we promised ourself “never again”, it was going towards a loss project when developing. But it ended up in balance in the end, wouldn’t be so successful if we offered a “best of” compilation of something already available, one has to listen to the fans and offer more.
S-L: All the demos and rarities on the non-album CD – that must have been a real challenge putting together?
Kim: Well, I have lots of boxes and drawers around the house with demos of all the band, and when Otto Egil have been visiting me he had a go at them, and one could practically see lightbulbs switch on with ideas when he was rummaging around the tapes, DATs and CD-Rs. And there’s actually more Zermonancer demoes and versions than Seigmen, so we might not be finished with these retrospectives. Maybe when we get the licensing in order?
Alex: Again, as Kim says about Otto Egil, it’s important for us on big projects to work with people that understands where we want to go, wanting to do it our way, and that also applied to Terje Pedersen at Warners. Some might say “isn’t it only to do this or that…?”, but it never is – always much more work than expected, and that demands the right collaborators.
Kim: About the rarities; Otto Egil got access to a quantity of tapes of various qualities, a huge job just finding out what was on them and if it was good enough for publication. And we’re known to be quite strict about what we release into the public, as we have lots of weird stuff recorded. What I realized when I was listening through the suggestions for approval was what these tapes might show above all – they express our playfulness in the studio. Not what some would expect, of course we’re serious too, but if we weren’t having fun in the studio we could just end the band. A creative atmosphere in the studio is very important to us, and that starts by being relaxed and enjoying ourselves.
S-L: When I received the rarities CD from Otto Egil earlier this year and was planning for this interview, he was very explicit about not mentioning the last, secret track before all the orders were sent out, but now the corona situation have delayed everything, so here goes: tell us about this track #12 – ‘The great inferno’.
Kim: It’s a recording from our rehearsal room at the old library in Tønsberg, part of the recordings for ‘Radiowaves’, and I discovered the name ‘Inferno’ in a to-do list for recording various instruments. Thought it wasn’t much to care for, but it was actually a whole song.
S-L: At first it sounded like a song I haven’t heard before, but gradually I recognize parts that reminds me of other song, like Zeromancers ‘Famous last words’? Ideas that have developed into other songs later?
Kim: That is correct – there’s also a Ljungblut song in there. And in hindsight years later I realize it wasn’t as bad after all, but at the time it was easily forgotten as we pushed on to other songs. It’s good for showing the diversity of the band, or bands, as ideas might travel across them. Lots will be gone and forgotten, but much is documented too. And even as we’re eager to move forward, remembering the past is also important. Our Christmas tour last year was a proof of that, playing really old songs from the Klisne Seigmenn days and showing the audience that we’re proud of our past too.
S-L: How has the feedback been for the box set?
Kim: I’m not very present on social medias, but what I hear from people I meet is that they’re sincerely happy with it. Many thinks these albums were made for vinyl, and some think they’ve always been on vinyl too, but releasing them like this now gives a kind of “justice” to the music itself.
S-L: A spring and a summer full of corona restrictions, and also health issues and surgeries have postponed concerts and releases; how was that challenging for you?
Kim: We’re used to health challenges in our bands, but we’re accepting it and fighting through it, trying to keep the balance between being ruthless towards ourselves in order to deliver a product we’re satisfied with, and at the same time being considerate towards each other. And it’s not getting any easier as time goes by, as we have a bar set for our goals, but we’re used to bite down the pain and push forward towards new challenges.
Alex: What we hope when doing a concert with any of our bands is that no one will notice anything. Our main objective is not stepping down even one notch on out performances, no crutches on the stage for me! A concert is also a physical experience – a crowd in front of us, sweat dripping of the walls, interaction.
Kim: Like almost everything this summer, all our summer festival gigs got postponed a year.
Alex: Summer 2021 is basically copy & paste of the summer 2020!
Kim: The most annoying thing was to postpone the ‘Clone your lover’ 20th anniversary concert in Hamburg a second time, but we just have to accept that – will still deliver the planned show April next year!
Alex: Yep, now we just have to wait and see what will work or not in the months ahead – time will show.
S-L: That’s actually my last question: what lies ahead for all three bands; Seigmen, Zeromancer and Ljungblut?
Kim: New Zeromancer album next year, but not until we also can do shows again. No fun in promoting an album without a tour, so the original plan about a release early next year will probably be somewhat postponed until we definitely know we can book shows, which we really look forward too.
S-L: Any singles or tasters before launch?
Kim: One or two singles, yes – but a bit early to talk about. We’re delivering the master three-four months before release, and will decide the singles and marketing when the mix is done, not before. We’ve done that error before, decided too early, and later discovered that another track was better suited… won’t do that again!
Seigmen should have been in the studio in March, recording an EP which might be a part of following releases. We had the tracks rehearsed, but now with this postponement we will need to rehearse again. I believe there’s a meaning with everything, so this will probably be ending up with something slightly different and better.
S-L: Any release date?
Kim: 2021 will be a busy year!
Alex: Despite the lockdown and restrictions, no concerts and so forth, we can use this time to studio work, prepare better for later when things eases up again. And we keep in touch with the recording studios regarding bookings so it’s easy to be flexible when openings occur.
PS! Late November the band were in the studio again – recording new material in Velvet Recording, november 2020. The same studio they recorded the album ‘Total’, at that time called Studio Nova.
S-L: … and no xmas tour this year I suppose?
Kim: I’m not a fan of relating it to xmas, but it’s become a tradition recent years and an opening for us to do a tour of several cities. We noticed early that the summer gigs would be cancelled, and probably the rest of the year too.
Alex: We won’t play for a limited, sitting audience, will have to wait until restrictions are lifted and things are back to normal. A Seigmen show needs a certain format, getting the right ambience when communicating with the audience, or else it’s not worth doing.
If I look at this on a positive note, it will be bloody fun to finally do live shows again! After this period it’ll feel extra special, and not only for musicians, but for other culture events, the travel businesses and all other that are affected by this situation.
Kim: Ljungblut is the band that’s benefited most from the corona period, several band members have been creative, written and sent me a lot of material. At the start of the lockdown I managed to sit in my studio and effectively work on their and my own ideas, so it’ll probably end up as a double album. Maybe we’ll grab Alex and go to a family cabin to record it, hopefully giving it an extra edge by being a bit remote and isolated.
By having several projects in the pipeline, the promise I gave my wife about not having three bands at the same time still remains broken. But there will be a time when there’s no bands, so we must do what we can now.
Alex: As long as we have something to say and are able to do it – and people like it – we find this way of life meaningful and fun.
Ending on a high note with that excellent quote it’s time to forget about 2020 and look forward to 2021 and beyond, because these guys have a lot more in store that’ll please our ears in the years to come.
Have a Merry Yuletide and a Happy New Year! 😀