Interview by Ed MacLaren
In the ancient mythologies of the Middle and Far East, the phoenix was a symbol of rebirth and renewal. In the world of metal, rebirth can mean rebuilding and retooling to recreate the past but sometimes rebirth can result in the creation of something completely different and unique. Rising from the ashes of promising Norwegian metal bands, Animal Alpha and Stonegard, vocalist Agnete Kjølsrud and drummer Erlend Gjerde have taken the best qualities of their former bands and created a refreshing and potent mix of hard rock and black metal. Augmented by the power riffing of Trelldom guitarist Stian Kårstad and punctuated by Agnete’s dynamic vocal gymnastics, Djerv’s self-titled debut is a unique release that rides high on melody and stays heavy on the crunch . Djerv vocalist, Agnete Kjølsrud, had a few things to say to Femme Metal about the formation of the band and her recipe for vocal greatness.<
Great work on the new album! A solid and most excellent debut. Were you satisfied with the results?Thank you very much! Yes, we are really satisfied. How did you get involved with Stian Kårstad and Erlend Gjerde. How were the seeds for Djerv planted? Both my previous band Animal Alpha and Erlend’s band Stonegard disbanded at the same time. We figured we wanted to start a band together, but wanted to have one more person in the band. We had met Stian a couple of times before, knew of our diverse backgrounds, and thought it would be interesting to see what the three of us could do together. I called Stian up and he was positive from the very beginning.
Djerv plays pretty aggressive hard rock – but with a clean black metal sheen to it. Did you sit down and decide how you wanted the band to sound or did it develop more organically? We have the backgrounds that we have, so we wanted to take the best out of that and see how it worked out. Stian’s riff-making is one of the reasons we contacted him. The riffs Stian makes in Djerv are riffs he could have used in Trelldom. Surely we wanted to have some black metal in it but we didn’t wanted to be a black metal band. I’m too melodic for that. We made songs we just thought were cool just like any other band. Threw away some things on the way and kept most of it. We wanted melodies, grooviness, cool riffs and a dark approach. We produced the album ourselves.
There are so many bands that are melding and twisting metal with other genres that it’s creating many new sounds. How important is it to have your own sound “stamp” in today’s musical environment? This doesn’t go especially for the metal genre. I believe this goes for any genre. You want to make your own thing, right? Of course. You don`t want to drown in all the bands that are out there and there are so many bands. What makes you so special? It doesn’t matter how good you are if the product stinks. And it doesn’t matter how special you are if you can`t play. That goes especially for the metal scene. Djerv wanted to make good music and with the three of us as the base. Our stamp is Stian’s riffs, Erlend’s grooviness, my female-melodic vocals and the darkness we added. We wanted you to look north. Look for Djerv in the cold Norwegian country.
Djerv has had a pretty rapid ascent in the metal world – you toured very quickly and got a lot of positive press early on. Is everything on schedule and according to plan? 😉
I’ve got to tell you – the reviews have been overwhelming. We’re so happy about it and really appreciate it! When you play in a band you need to understand that the “way is the goal”. You have to learn to appreciate all the things happening and not to want more all the time. You should always have goals and work for things to happen to the band, but don’t forget to have fun. It’s difficult, I think because you don’t have the time to stop. You must at all times work hard. So it’s a fine line…..If we’re on schedule? I don`t know. Things are happening. Concerts confirmed in Norway, England, Finland, Netherlands and Poland. It’s a good start! (Laughs) What’s next then, in the Djerv plan for establishing domination of the metal world?
We’re making new songs, at all times working with the band.
Did you and the band have any specific musical goals you set you to achieve? Just to make music we dig. You had a pretty good run with Animal Alpha and created some great music. Did you consider Animal Alpha a success? What qualities of the band did you bring to Djerv? I believe we should have made one more record just to see if it would break. Things started to happen and it’s a shame we didn’t get to see what would have happened to the band. Was Animal Alpha a success? It depends on how you define success. We got to play Europe and the States. We could at some point just do music, even though we didn’t have too much money. Well, I didn’t consider it as much a success back then, but when I think of what we actually were doing and what we achieved, it’s not far from being a success. (Laughs) Thank you so much for making me answer this question! When you left Animal Alpha, what were you actively looking for in a new group? Was there anything you swore you were never going to do again if you joined another band?
Sure. It’s going to be MY band if somebody eventually has to go. Also it has been really nice just being three making all the decisions. We’re a really good team. Also it’s important that I get my own time backstage – that it won’t be a party every night.
Each member of Djerv comes from an established band. With the myriad of experiences working with your other bands were there any surprises over the dynamic of working with a new group?
No, it went very well. We know how to pick a fight and it works very good.
The three of you are the core members of the band but are augmented by other musicians during live performances. Why not take the plunge and bring another guitarist and bassist into the fold?
We might do it, but right now it`s fine being just the three of us.
“Madman” and “Headstone” are awesome tracks but what track on the album do you think best represents all the qualities you and the band have poured into Djerv?
I personally like “Abmuse” a lot. I think “Immortal” is a song that really represent us good, but I think the guys would have mentioned “The Bowling Pin”. You and the band produced your debut with some pretty solid backup from Daniel Bergstrand taking on the engineering duties to Matt Hyde working behind the mixing board. How important was it to have experienced talents like them backing you up for your debut album?
It was so great working with these guys. We wanted to work with people we thought could add something to the band. I have to mention that I worked with Sylvia Massey (Johnny Cash, Red Hot Chili Peppers, SOAD, Tool), so we are not totally new in the game even though we’re a debut! Both me and Erlend have worked with Bergstrand before, and that’s why we picked him. Because you know, these guys have special experiences that none of us have. We listen to some of the stuff Hyde had done, and we thought it would fit us. Therefore, we got in contact with him. But it’s important to know that nobody knows the Djerv-music better then Djerv, therefore we were in studio at all times wanting to have a word on everything. We even went to LA to sit beside Matt when he mixed. You know…nobody will work more than the band to get it as the band wants it. You’re very adept at morphing and contorting your voice to the emotion of each track. Did the new album force you to up your game a bit or did it feel totally natural? Both. The feeling I get when I listen to the music and trying to sort out vocals is the feeling I try to make in studio when I sing the lyrics. When I make lyrics, I never force a word into the song. The flow and the singing of a word is very important for me. Therefore, the lyrics are written after I`ve found the feel to the song. I want people to really feel that I mean what I say. I work with my way of delivering things and some things just come easily but other things are more difficult. I’m classically trained and have been singing in different ways over the years. Not a surprise for the people who know that my biggest influence is Mike Patton. But it’s important to know that not everything fits Djerv. These are things we need to consider during the process of making Djerv-songs. Interviewers seem to have a challenge identifying the unique qualities in your voice. If your voice was like a good recipe what would the vocal ingredients be?
(Laughs) Thanks. Yes, I think you must listen carefully and see that there is a lot hidden that you might not see in the very beginning. Well food… I think it must be tacos. You know… corn, shells, meat, paprika, cucumber, sour cream, guacamole, cheese. Say no more, say no more! (Laughs) You recorded a few songs for the latest Dimmu Borgir album “Abrahadabra”. How did you get involved with those guys? They didn’t just kidnap you and hold you hostage until your vocals were done did they? Not really. (Laughs) I met Shagrath out drinking beer. We got in contact through some common friends that night. Shagrath is actually a fan of Djerv, and a couple of weeks later he just called me up. It was not a very difficult decision to make. I got the lyrics to “Gateways” sent over and the other stuff we just did when I came to the studio. I did some of the vocal-parts at home and some of it we did in studio. I was very focused and it went faaaaast! Great guys.
Did you learn a lot working with a band of their ability and experience? I’m really proud of being asked by Dimmu to join them for this album. Also getting to participate in their Oslo-shows have been really cool experiences. But I have to admit that I really want to be perceived as a pro myself, and therefore I do what I am supposed to do, without asking too many questions. I was very well prepared and did not wanted to take up too much of their time. It all went very fast in the studio and I just delivered what I was asked for. Djerv’s already done some touring and played some festivals so your stage show must be something to see. Who’re the lucky countries that are going to get Djerv in their vicinity next?
Thanks. Yes, the lineup is very good right now, Djerv is very tight and we´re doing pretty good shows, I must say. Although we are strict and if we feel something could have been done better, we tell each other. We require a lot from one another but that`s how it must be. We are going to England, Netherlands and Finland in late September and we´re really looking forward to play for all our friends over there. We are working on getting a bigger tour as well. Looking forward to it all!
(Famous) Last words?
Thank you very much for taking the time to read this interview! Hope you will check out Djerv, love the music and support us. Search us on Facebook and we will do our best to meet you in your town!
Photo credit by Jørn Veberg