Interview – Jens F Ryland/Artisan

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Published on: July 17, 2011

The rise of social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook give bands and artists unprecedented freedom to promote their music without the interference of any record company. Borknagar guitarist Jens F Ryland decided to capitalise on this by starting his own multimedia project, called Artisan. Besides music it features a very informative blog component as well. I had a very pleasant conversation with the man himself about this Artisan project, his other musical exploits with Borknagar and ICS Vortex and about the apparent acceptance of extreme metal in more mainstream circles..

Hi Jens and thank you for doing this interview. You’re active in several bands and projects, besides Borknagar. Can you give a quick head’s up of your current activities?

Hi there! Yeah, it seems like I’m getting into one of the more busy parts of my music career so far. We started recording the next Borknagar (www.borknagar.com) album in June, I’m probably going to try to get all my guitars done in August. The album is due in February and I can reveal here that we’re working with Jens Bogren in Fascination Street for the final production.
I also joined the band ICS Vortex (www.myspace.com/icsvortex) only a few months back. I don’t play on the album, but Vortex decided to create a band out of this and try to do some concerts, and he asked me. The first album is out in September already, hoping for a few concerts this fall with those guys.
Then it’s Artisan which is my own project. We already launched the first song, and as we’re working a bit different then your usual band I have chosen to call it a Music and Media Experiment more then a band. Asgeir Mickelson and myself have a blog going connected to this band and that keeps me continuously busy.

One of your more intriguing projects is Artisan. Can you tell something about its origins and who’s involved?

I play PC-games and a game I’ve been playing a lot for the last 1,5 year’s is Age of Conan which is a MMO. If you know anything at all about Conan and his universe you can probably agree that metal-music would be a great combination to this, and the game really gave me inspiration to make some music. After some consideration, discussion and brainstorming this turned out as my own band and my blog. I ran the idea by some good friends and asked an “in-game” friend to help me make a video, and the ball was rolling. I should add that this whole process took 1,5 years also, much reconsideration and quite some effort.
In the game I often played together with a character called “Soulburn” and after some time he also told me he could handle video- recording and editing. We call him “Vegasti”. I asked Asgeir Mickelson (ex-Borknagar, ex-Testament, Sarke, ICS Vortex) to do some drums and help me out as he handles recording and engineering. He soon became very involved with the whole concept. Then I talked Simen “ICS Vortex” Hestnæs (ex-Dimmu Borgir, Arcturus, Borknagar) into helping me and finally I presented the idea to Øyvind “Mustis” Mustaparta (ex-Dimmu Borgir). By the time the first song was done they were all very engaged in this.

Besides a band Artisan is a blog as well, which you co-run with Asgeir Mickelson (former Borknagar drummer). It’s basically about your life as a musician and the projects the two of you are involved in. What inspired you to start a blog and what can you tell about its concept?

I have spent a bit of time the last year studying “social media” and how it influences the growth and possibilities for any business. The actual idea about making my own blog sprung out of the inspiration I got from this and I chose to do it from the “Artisan” point of view as I call it “my own”. If you want to succeed as a band in 2011 you simply can’t ignore social media platforms. In my situation I have chosen to create a “news-room” for our activities and people who want to follow this can choose to do so. With this I can produce any news I want and popular demand will determine if this has any interest or not, I don’t have to rely on any newspaper or web-zine to find this interesting enough to publish. I can still get rejected by the readers if they don’t want to see what I’m up to, but at least it’s the readers directly, not a random journalist or editor.

The concept is “personal, not private” and I want to keep posts every day to always have something for the dedicated reader to look into. Asgeir and I are not always doing something exciting or innovative, then we tell about the everyday lives, inspirations and such. And loads of pictures to go with it.
I chose to start up 4 months ago because the Artisan video was about to get ready and we also started to work with Borknagar. Even though we have a majority of the posts now about our everyday life the ambition is to be busy enough as musicians to have that dominate the posts. And I think we have some quite exciting months ahead of us now with a lot of band- activity.

To what limits would you like to push Artisan as far the blog and the music goes?

No limits, but still I have my main priorities with Borknagar. I just want to try out some of my own ideas both about the creation of music and how you should build a band. Artisan could very well grow into a proper band, let’s see..

There’s also a lot of private stuff up there, like Asgeir’s recent poker exploits in Las Vegas and your holiday up in northern Norway. Don’t you think it takes a part of the magic away of being a musician or do you feel it’s a great opportunity for your fans to have a glance in your life outside your musical activities?

No! I think our readers and fans would appreciate the honesty in this. I don’t share glossy, photo-shopped pictures with hired models and all that. I take a pic of myself with my HTC and then share it, true and honest. I share a video of me jamming to “Colossus” in one take even though it has a few flaws because it’s not tempered with, honesty. This is what I look like, this is who I am, this is what I do. Brutal truth…

Time to move on to Borknagar. I understand that there’s a new album coming up. What can we expect from it and what’s your role in this venture?

Yes, you got that right!I think the most of the expectations leans towards the vocalists on this one, also from my side. There’s a new vibe in the band now because of our ambitions to do more concerts and I think that will influence the album. I’m back in the chair like I was on the Empiricism album again, I’m recording both lead and rhythm guitars alongside Øystein and very much looking forward to that.

You’re also involved with the new solo album by ICS Vortex and you’re a part of his backing band as well. What did you contribute to Storm Seeker and what will the album be like stylistically speaking?

I didn’t play on the album at all, Vortex did all the guitars himself except the solos Cyrus recorded. But as the album developed Vortex understood that this was much to good to release only as a solo- album and then forget about, he wanted to create a band out of this and do concerts, write a new album and see what happens. And so he called me and offered me to join. I had already heard most of the material at this point and really wanted to join in, and here we are.
I’m afraid to many people are expecting a Black Metal album in the path of Dimmu Borgir or that ICS Vortex will sound like Arcturus, I guess they will be disappointed. This band has it’s own sound and in my ears has little to do with BM. Vortex has recorded songs written in different settings and environments over a decade and then sewn it all together with the production. This is more hard rock or generic metal. Actually I think you’ll have problems boxing it.

As an outsider the whole Norwegian metal scene seems to be one big jam band with where almost every band is related in one way or the other. What is your take on this?

There are always some issues, front-lines and trenches, but I always said that the scene in Norway is much to small for any longtime quarreling to take place. It’s simply not worth it. This was even my motivation when I founded the Infernofestival in 2000 and it’s still valid. I think Hole in the Sky in Bergen is an even better catalyst for this the last years.

Another thing that strikes me is that extreme metal seems to be seen as a genuine form of art in Norway. Bands like Enslaved and Shining (Nor) are eligible for prestigious awards and Susperia even had their bit in the Eurovision Songfestival. That’s simply unheard here in the Netherlands. Here’s metal seen as a bunch of noise basically. What is your explanation?

Oh man, don’t get me started on this! Considering the history of Black Metal in Norway, most media and the mainstream music establishment here in Norway has always been neglecting the bands almost no matter how much success they had. I have many stories about that only from Borknagar for starters. Then after a while the business- people find out that there’s money in this and then they simply can’t ignore it anymore. Most western countries do have an amount of metal bands that do get a bit of tabloid display though, I think perhaps Holland is one of the few who don’t. The thing that distinguishes Norway from the rest is that anything with a growling vocal will be tied to the Black Metal history from -92/ -93 and therefor looked upon as something very bad. I think the best example of how money talks is how Dimmu Borgir just recently did a big concert in Oslo that was produced, recorded and then broadcasted by our national TV station, and they had both an entire orchestra and a choir supporting them. I don’t think anyone at all would have foreseen this even 5 years ago.

When it comes to Eurovision, oh man! Let me turn this around a bit. Remember that Eurovision is pop-culture and will always be focused on the business-part first. And as the establishment behind the curtains are always focused on how to make more money out of their show, they will always include any act that has a big enough audience. Now: consider a country with a fairly big metal audience who would never even touch the TV-set when Eurovision Songfestival is on (like Norway). What do you do to make them watch? What do you do to make them spend 0,5 euro for a vote? Answer is simple; you enter a metal-band in the contest. My personal calculations say that the extra revenue from Keep of Kalessin participation in 2010 was 1,5 mill NOK, around 200 000,- euro. Overall it’s a good thing is that we are slowly moving towards a setting where most of the music establishment and media here in Norway at least understands that almost all of the current active bands have nothing to do with the Black Metal scene of 1992 and everything that’s associated with that. There are always a few who need to stand out for something else then the music, and there’s nothing we can do about that, just don’t compare me to them. Bands like Borknagar, Immortal, Dimmu Borgir and Enslaved are here for the music. And we want to be acknowledged for that.

Time for the final question. What is next on your agenda for the upcoming time?

I will have to split my focus in the first few months; I need to record my guitars for the next Borknagar album, we will be rehearsing with ICS Vortex in case a tour comes up and we have loads of plans for what to do next with Artisan, but we need to decide what. I also have a joker in my sleeve at this time, but can’t really say much more about that he he. As I like to call it; I have several balloons up in the air, lets see which one takes off!

Artisan Norway Site

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