Interview: Alex Stjernfeldt of Novarupta
Marine Snow is a journey from an earth engulfed in metaphorical flames, down to the deepest part of the ocean, embraced by constant darkness and crushing pressure. And if you survive that there might be a silver lining on the horizon during your ascension.
In the run up to the release of second album Marine Snow, Alex Stjernfeldt of Novarupta took some time out to answer questions about his musical background, the themes of the new album and the advantages of having a Covid friendly band setup.
(((o))): Novarupta and The Moth Gatherer are both post-metal/sludge leaning, what musical influences brought you to this style?
Alex Stjernfeldt: I come from a background in Death Metal and hardcore plus I have always been keen to explore new directions and genres. I remember reading a review of Neurosis – Eye of Every Storm and got really intrigued so I bought it later that afternoon. And from the first spin, it was no turning back.
(((o))): Along with Mr Death are there any other bands you have been in and styles that you also enjoy?
Alex Stjernfeldt: I love to play music and to meet new people and I can spend too many hours just browsing record stores and spotify looking for new music. With that said, I play in different bands besides Novarupta I play guitar and sing in Let Them Hang which is Death’n’Roll. Early next year we’ll release the debut EP with Grand Cadaver which is old school Death Metal. Plus we are working on a Punk Rock album with a new project. So I’m keeping myself busy, haha.
(((o))): How influential has the vibrant Swedish scene been on your musical endeavours?
Alex Stjernfeldt: I think that the scene here has been instrumental for my creativity. There are so many talented musicians everywhere and everyone wants to help and push new and young musicians forward. And Sweden has a long legacy of creating great music, whether it’s Pop or Death Metal or Electronic. So music is in our blood.
(((o))): You were in The Moth Gatherer from 2008-2018, what caused you to leave the band?
Alex Stjernfeldt: Anyone who plays in a band for a long time knows how difficult it is, you really become a family with everything that comes with that. You are also trying to create something with many different opinions and that can create some friction if you are on different pages. In this case, we reached a point where it became obvious that we wanted different things and had different visions. When you listen to Esoteric Oppression and Disillusioned Fire you can hear that we were going in different directions. But as I said, we are family and friends, and that comes first, so instead of risking our friendship over musical disputes I chose to step down.
(((o))): Your lyrics and ideas, including the album name, still formed a large chunk of the last Moth Gatherer album Esoteric Oppression, did you have much communication with the band as they created it and how do you feel about the finished product?
Alex Stjernfeldt: When we/they wrote Esoteric Oppression we had different visions, so while Victor, Svante and Ronny concentrated on the music, I spent my time writing lyrics and concepts. And then we reached the point where we knew that things would not work out, so I gave them the lyrics and concepts as a going away gift and left the band. I know that they tweaked the lyrics so they would fit better to the music and changed one or two titles. When I listen to the album today I think it is a great album with strong songs, especially ‘The Phosphorescent Blight’ which is one of the best songs released in 2019.
(((o))): The 2019 Novarupta debut album Disillusioned Fire followed on quite quickly from your Moth Gatherer departure, were these ideas you had been working on before that time?
Alex Stjernfeldt: Some of the songs that ended up on Disillusioned Fire was shown as early demos for The Moth Gatherer, but they were rejected. Which makes sense when you hear Esoteric Oppression, since they are very, very different. But when I left I was at a really bad place so many of the songs were written and arranged during the last 6 months of 2018. It came together quite fast, but it was a gruelling process.
(((o))): As a project you have a different vocalist on each track, do you prefer this over only having a single vocalist and was this approach planned or circumstantial?
Alex Stjernfeldt: From the beginning I don’t think I had any vision regarding vocals. I knew Claudio from way back and we met at an Ulver concert like 2 weeks after I had left The Moth Gatherer and started talking. And from there things just fell into place I guess. Sometimes everything works out for the best when you don’t plan or think, haha.
(((o))): How did you go about getting the vocalists and do you have an idea of who you want to sing when you are writing the song?
Alex Stjernfeldt: I’m always thinking about vocalists that I look up to and want to work with. But I think it kinda crystallize when the song is done, which voices, mood, sound would be most fitting. And so far I think that every vocalist has nailed it! When the song is recorded and I hear which vocalist I want, then it’s time for Sherlock Holmes to emerge! Trying to find out how to get in contact with them and then trying to convince them that it is a good idea to be a part of the Novarupta Collective!
(((o))): You played bass on a track for the last Terra Tenebrosa album, is there any plane for The Cuckoo to make an appearance on a future record?
Alex Stjernfeldt: That was a special experience, haha, I actually said no first when The Cuckoo asked me to play since he is one of my biggest influences, but I’m glad I came around and did it. And sadly no, I don’t see that The Cuckoo would sing on any future Novarupta releases.
(((o))): Second album Marine Snow is an ocean-based concept and it succeeds in avoiding anything similar in theme in the genre such as ISIS or The Ocean. Were you conscious of avoiding similarities or did Marine Snow just naturally follow a different path?
Alex Stjernfeldt: That was probably just naturally that I took a different path. To be honest I haven’t even reflected over that Isis and The Ocean has done these themes, to full of myself I guess, haha. But I think it was quite easy to go my own way since this is one concept album in a concept tetralogy.
(((o))): Pelagial by The Ocean dealt with going deep and deeper into the ocean layers, does Marine Snow have any structural concept such as that running through it?
Alex Stjernfeldt: Marine Snow is a journey from an earth engulfed in metaphorical flames, down to the deepest part of the ocean, embraced by constant darkness and crushing pressure. And if you survive that there might be a silver lining on the horizon during your ascension.
(((o))): You are creating high-quality output quite rapidly, do ideas just come to you or is it a focused, labour-intensive project for you?
Alex Stjernfeldt: I think that this here is why it’s good to have several musical outputs. Because when I write for Novarupta I am there in both mind and spirit. It all comes down to where I am mentally, so thanks to the different bands I can create different things depending on mood, which makes me super focused on the thing I am doing, instead of beating myself bloody trying to write something where I’m not at the moment. If that makes sense?
(((o))): Are you still mainly creating as a one-man band and has COVID made any difference to your process?
Alex Stjernfeldt: Novarupta has always been a Covid-19 friendly band since we all keep a great distance from each other. I write and record here in Gothenburg and then I send the song to the vocalist (wherever they might be) and they record the vocals there and send it back here, and then I send the finished song to Kristoffer Folin in Stockholm for mixing. So we kept our distance before Covid and we keep it now during the pandemic.
(((o))): There are two further albums scheduled as part of this series, how are they progressing, and do you have a time frame in mind for their release?
Alex Stjernfeldt: I think that in some way I’m always thinking about them and probably always will until it’s done. The plan is to keep momentum and do it like they did it in the 70’s, which means 4 albums in 4 years. The progress is under control I guess, at least for now. I’m just waiting for the day that panic sets in.
(((o))): Do time frames drive when you stop working on a song or do you just know when it is complete?
Alex Stjernfeldt: Suicide Records let’s me do what I want when I want, so I never feel stressed out by deadlines and things like that. When I write songs it often just feels logical when it’s done. I might have returned one or two times to a finished song to do some small arrangement fixes, but otherwise I let it be and trust that I did the right thing with the song.
(((o))): Due to the commitments of the different vocalists in Novarupta live shows are at a premium never mind in pandemic times. When/If things return to normal would you expect to attempt more gigs or are you happy to keep it to fewer occasional outings?
Alex Stjernfeldt: We have done one show, where we performed Disillusioned Fire with all 8 vocalists. It was one of the most surreal experiences ever. The band was on fire and the audience was the best we could have wished for, there was so much energy in that venue. But it was a logistical nightmare to reach that point. But I guess, if the planets are aligned and everything works out, we’ll do a show or two again!
(((o))): I notice unlike Disillusioned Fire there is no CD release for Novarupta. How do you see this format in a world of digital and the reappearance of cassette, will the CD have its time again?
Alex Stjernfeldt: Haha, I am a CD fan myself, still buy it (if they’ll have their time again you can call me a photo hipster)! I don’t know the answer to why Marine Snow won’t be available on CD, but I guess there’s an answer to that. Maybe I should do a cassette? Never done that with Novarupta. I am a nerd so I love all physical editions!