White Void have released one of the most exciting and unpredictable rock records of 2021. Simon Rushworth caught up with founder Lars Nedland to explore the band’s debut, Anti…and find out why a member of Solefald and Borknagar is stepping outside the metal arena.
Rushonrock: Why now for White Void?
Lars Nedland: It’s been a very natural process making this record. From writing the music to reaching the point where Anti has been released it’s felt very comfortable. It all started because I had a few songs knocking around that just didn’t fit into any of my other bands. All of these songs had a common denominator and that was that all of them were based on 70s hard rock but with a new wavey 80s feel to the melodies and vocals. That was the framework for the songs on the album Anti. Everything just came together.
Rushonrock: Was it always your intention to write Anti?
LN: Last year I was supposed to spend a lot of the year on tour with Borknagar and we had at least 60 gigs lined up. We were due to head over to the US on March 19 and then everything closed down, all of a sudden, on March 12. I found myself with some time on my hands to do a proper recording and the chance to produce the White Void album. Covid accelerated a project I’d wanted to do for some time.
Rushonrock: So the time is right for a band like White Void?
LN: Everyone is sat at home waiting for this whole thing to blow over and waiting for the opportunity to play gigs again. It’s a good time to make some music that will get people nodding their heads and drinking a few beers. And who knows? Maybe they’ll find something more complex beneath it all? Because we had more time on our hands we were able to think about some more complex structures and more complex concepts. What else was there to do? The US and Canadian tour was cancelled and I had five weeks on my hands when I had nothing planned. I sat down with Øystein Brun — the guitarist from Borknagar and also the producer of Anti — and we agreed we had to turn a negative into something positive. It was a real bummer missing out on those North American shows but we were determined it wouldn’t be time wasted. After we’d finished the recording we got in touch with Nuclear Blast and the deal was done to release Anti. But there was still so much to do. I have a day job as a director and producer of films and commercials and although the pandemic slowed that work down a little it was still there. But Anti was my priority this time last year and it’s been a major focus for a number of months now.
Rushonrock: Did you have a good idea of what you wanted Anti to sound like or did the album take shape organically?
LN: There were several stages to making the record. I wrote and demoed all of the songs before I put the band together. Once the album was ready I looked for musicians from a variety of backgrounds as I never wanted this to be a metal project. I wanted to create more of a hard rock/blues sound and make a leftfield record. The first guy to come in was the guitarist Eivind Marum. He has a blues rock background and plays a thunderous Stratocaster. There’s a certain attitude that comes with that guitar and it was perfect for Anti. We went through all of the songs together and Eivind translated everything that I’d written into these great riffs. In that respect it’s very different to the demos that I’d put together. I’m not a good guitarist but he captured the mood that I’d tried to create. The same thing happened with Tobias Solbakk (drums) and Vegard Kummen (keys).
Rushonrock: The drum sound is unique…tell us more.
LN: I’d just done drum programming on the demos to get a feel for what I wanted. Tobias came in and did a fantastic job. He’s got a CV with some metal on it — he’s played with Ihsahn and In Vain — but he’s done more jazz and fusion stuff than metal. He plays in a different way to other drummers who I’ve worked with and can twist things into a more progressive way. Not as in progressive metal but more in terms of the progressive beats you heard in the 60s and 70s from the likes of Cream, King Crimson and Camel. Tobias uses a very small kit. He has four drums and that’s it. I’m used to playing with guys who have 18 drums with cymbals and hi-hats and the works!
Rushonrock: Did the band’s versatility influence Anti’s final sound?
LN: There was something refreshing about working with musicians coming at this project from a different standpoint and it had a huge impact on the overall sound and attitude of the album. When we started recording things changed gradually. When you get together you realise certain songs need a bit more to the left or to the right and you start to take some things out and add some things in. It developed to the point where we had to say ‘ok, that’s finished now’! Because of the way we approached the record and because of the different musical approaches we could have gone on forever getting it just right but there comes a point where you have to believe in what you’ve done and draw a line under it.
Rushonrock: Production-wise was there a specific plan?
LN: When it came to the production we did everything very organically and a lot of what you hear on Anti is from one take. I really hate over-produced albums where you can’t even hear people playing their stuff anymore because everything’s been moved. It affects the humanity of the recording and I really wanted the human side of the band to shine through on Anti. From an early stage on this album I was preoccupied with the fact that you should be able to hear people playing. That’s the lifeblood of Anti.
Rushonrock: Are music fans more accepting of genre-fluid records in 2021 than they were 20 or 30 years ago?
LN: I remember when one of my other bands, Solefald, made some weird avant-garde music within a black metal framework in the late 90s. That was tough. We received death threats for daring to be different. It’s much easier to be genre fluid these days. People go ‘yeah, that’s interesting’ or ‘no, that’s not for me’. And we move on. I can go anywhere in the world and sit down with just about any metal fan and comfortably talk about Portishead, Nick Cave, Perturbator or whatever. Electronic music has really started to flow into metal frameworks in the last few years. There’s more acceptance and people are more relaxed. Of course, you still have your middle-of-the-road metal fans who are into Destruction or Sabaton and their tastes probably won’t change too much! But that’s ok. I think most metal fans are pretty open-minded these days.
Rushonrock: Has there been any negative criticism of Anti because of its genre fluidity?
LN: Not really. Not of the album, anyway. I’ve seen a few negative comments flying around related to the fact that I’m from a black metal background and now I’m dabbling in more colourful stuff. I anticipated that. One of the first things that I talked about with Nuclear Blast was how we approached the promotion and branding. I chose pink as a prominent colour because it’s the most un-metal colour that there is. I wanted to be clear that White Void isn’t your standard metal band. I didn’t want us to be that ‘sticker’ band — one of those bands where there’s a sticker on the album listing all of the other bands that the various musicians are involved with. It would have given fans a false impression. I want White Void to be its own entity and for the music to have its own identity. I had some heat from some people because they were expecting some kind of progressive black metal or a different version of Borknagar. What they got was songs with choruses and a pink cover! There are always going to be some people disappointed because it’s not what they’d hoped for.
Rushonrock: Then again Anti does have its heavier moments…musically and thematically.
LN: No matter what I do I can’t — and won’t — throw away my black metal background. It sort of seeps into everything that I do. There are, absolutely, some black metal influences on Anti but they’re not as pronounced as they would have been had I been building an album around a metal framework.
Rushonrock: Is style almost as important as substance when it comes to White Void and the band’s multi-media approach and impact?
LN: It’s all connected. I remember when I first got into music — in a serious rather than a superficial way — there was no difference between the way I looked at the music and the way I looked at the images and artwork associated with the bands. Later I was able to separate the two but I guess I’ve always been visual-orientated. Making films is my day job and that’s why I make the videos for White Void. It was important for me that there was a strong connection between what you heard and what you saw where Anti is concerned. What you see influences the way you hear things. If I’d packaged White Void within a glam rock framework then I’m sure I could have persuaded some people that we play glam rock. And if I’d darkened everything down — visually and aurally — by using monochrome images and producing the same songs in a different way then some people would have believed this was more of a heavy metal album. I’m very conscious of the link between what you see and what you hear — or what you think you might hear. It’s all connected. I had a plan from the get-go of what to do with the album cover and the band photos and then how to drip feed the videos to complement that. All of that is linked to the lyrics and the overall concept at the heart of Anti. With White Void I wanted to create the whole package.
Rushonrock: Can you expand on the concept at the heart of Anti?
LN: It’s based on the philosophical direction of Albert Camus and his views on absurdism. I’ve read a lot of philosophy and I’ve become increasingly preoccupied with existentialism, materialism and nihilism. They all start with the same thing: the problem of the absurd. Camus talks about the distance between the human desire for significance, meaning and clarity on the one hand and the silent, cold universe — or nothingness — on the other. That’s where the band name comes from: the white void of existence. The black void is just non-existence. It’s where you come from in the first place and where you go back to when you die. The white void is all about our existence, our yearning for a sense of direction and trying to get some idea of what we’re supposed to do when we’re here. All of the songs on Anti are connected to this idea of absurdism and they were written using a ‘stream of consciousness’ approach. I try to mimic the way the brain works in the way that I write. In the sleeve notes you’ll find the actual lyrics written in black and then there are lines in between written in red. The red words are the philosophical commentary. Sometimes that commentary will say ‘well that’s fucking stupid’ or ‘that’s totally wrong’ but other times the commentary will reinforce what you’re thinking. As I said before, White Void is the full package and you probably need to read the lyrics and the commentary — as well as listen to the music — to truly immerse yourself in the concept.
Rushonrock: Are Anti’s challenging song titles purposefully oblique?
LN: If you looked at the list of song titles your perception would be of a dark and negative album. In fact, there are moments of optimism. There are so many things that we think of as negative because of certain perceptions or connotations and yet, in reality, they’re not so bad. Challenging perceptions is one of the reasons that the album is called Anti. Anti is just a prefix. It doesn’t really mean anything on its own. You have to join it with another word for it to mean something and I find that idea very interesting. Anti is a name that people will associate with negativity but why? If you put the word ‘anti’ before Anti then the double negative becomes a positive! But put any word after Anti and it becomes negative. It takes you right to the root of that absurdism philosophy. Do you look at things negatively? Do you accept that you can’t do anything about your life? Or do you accept who you are and what you do and use that to lift yourself above the normal and enjoy life to the full? I tried to connect the album title to that basic idea of duality.
Rushonrock: Will White Void play live?
LN: That’s the intention. We’re experimenting with different ways of doing things in the live arena. We’ve just signed a contract with a booking agency but finding free slots towards the end of this year and into 2022 is difficult. There are bands who were due to tour in 2020 and bands who were due to tour in the first half of 2021. They’re all looking for gaps in the schedule but that schedule is already pretty full with bands who always intended to tour from the summer of 2021 onwards! Everything is being pushed back and back but all we can do is make sure that we’re ready. We’re experimenting with how we can play this music live and how we can best reflect Anti within a show. We don’t want to replicate the record note for note. I hate that when I go to gigs. I want to see bands give their music some personality. So that will be our approach. It’s likely to come across a bit heavier when we play live — maybe a bit harder and a bit rougher.