Interview with Monika Edvardsen
With their album "Contentum", the Norwegian band Atrox have released one of the most unusual and original metal albums ever. This is mostly owed to vocalist Monika Edvardsen who turned out to be a very sympathetic and kind person, who has got a lot to tell, so here we go:
Burkhard: How and when did your musical career start? Was your decision to become a singer/musician influenced in any way by your upbringing? Are your parents (professional) musicians? Or did your sister Ann-Mari influence you in any way?
I first met the Atrox guys on a 3rd & the Mortal gig where
I did some guest vocals, so she had something to do with it, but well, what
can I say? It’s not like choosing a job career; it’s more like if you really
love music and have the talent, you just use it, and if you get the chance
to join a band, you just do it! I played the guitar (classical) before (from
I was 16), but my problem was that my nails always broke (you need nails
to get a good sound) and that I just can’t stand private lessons. I nevertheless
kept playing and I tried to write music for the guitar, but I was never
satisfied with anything I made, and I found out that I was more able to
express myself with my voice. The world is full of guitar players anyway
hehehe! Well, actually we have also used music in Atrox that I made on the
guitar, so it wasn’t useless after all…
About my upbringing; no, my parents are not professional musicians, that is: My father did release an album with his own songs and he used to sing and play a lot, but I was never urged by my parents to play or sing. We are four children in my family, and we all had a great interest in music, but we weren’t allowed to listen to non-Christian music, so we had a major problem! Anyway, my mother made us listen to classical music, and I still love the music she introduced me to at that time.
Burkhard: Did your parents/friends/relatives support your decision to become the singer of a heavy metal band? Or did say: "Girl, why don´t you learn a proper job?"
Monika: My parents live 1000 km away, and I don’t think they knew that I joined the band. They haven’t heard any of the Atrox releases, but I played a demo of some of the songs that became "Contentum", and they surprised me by saying about "Unsummoned": "This is actually nice and melodious!" Of course they didn’t like the hardcore-esque vocals that occurred here and there on this demo, but they weren’t negative to me singing in Atrox. Although they of course would like it MUCH more if I worked harder with my education instead of the band… Other people usually think it’s cool.
Burkhard: What kind of music did you grow up with?
Monika: The Christian music my father liked and played himself, "teenage Christian music", Classical and then everything we could listen to in secrecy: pop music on the radio. I started to purchase records myself when I got interested in "soft metal" bands, like Europe (haha!), Poison (double haha!), and I really loved Yngwie Malmsteen, Dokken and Tesla! But it was very difficult to explore the "metal world" because when my father found my records, he burned them, so it lead mostly to wastage of money.
Burkhard: Did you sing in any other bands before you joined Atrox or were Atrox your first "real" band?
Monika: Yes, Atrox was my first real band. As I said earlier I did some guest vocals for 3rd & the Mortal on a concert and I also sang on "Eat the Distance" on their 3rd album. I sang on two rehearsals with a nameless band too, but they thought I was too shy to get up on a stage and I didn’t fit in socially, so it didn’t last. I have never seen these guys again later, and I guess the band didn’t last either. Anyway I was only happy that I didn’t join that band, and to meet the Atrox guys was like coming home in a way…
Burkhard: On the first Atrox album "Mesmerised" there was also a male vocalist. I refrained from buying this album, because I simply don´t like these "Beauty and The Beast"-constellations. The male "beasts" on these albums usually just scream and grunt. Apart from the fact that I´m generally not a big fan of extreme (male) screaming and grunting, I think it doesn´t fit with the music on these albums. I mean, imagining an album like "Tears Laid In Earth" or "Painting on Glass" with male screams and grunts is a terrible thought! As I haven’t heard the first Atrox album yet, I would like to know what was your function on this album? Were you involved in the song writing process in any way? Or was your role restricted to adding some vocal and visual "embellishment"?
Monika: No way! Haha! All the songs (except the vocals of course)
on "Mesmerised" were made before I joined the band. The guys simply
wanted a singer; the former Atrox vocalist, Gersa couldn’t sing, just growl,
so I stepped in… Of course I felt like I was just a part of this wave with
the "Beauty & Beast" effect, but I wanted to give it a shot,
cause I really believed I could add something special as well. After a while
I learned that no matter how much I strive to create my own original sound,
I will always appear just as an effect or spice as long as I sing together
with a "beast". This constellation has become so conventional and
within it there will always be expected that I shall sing beautifully only
and be sooo feminine and all these boring things. I mean, this contrast is
so strong that it overshadows all other contrasts in the music, and to use
a "beast" ruins music with so many subtle contrasts.
I must say that "extreme" male vocals just isn’t extreme anymore; they’re just conventional and I don’t even notice them anymore. It’s like when you put on a vacuum cleaner; at first it’s an extreme sound to listen to, but after a while you get so used to it that you don’t hear it and it might even have a soporific effect… We had some kind of hardcore vocals on many of the "Contentum" songs on their demo versions, and I just didn’t notice them in the beginning, but after a while I started to really think about it and then I felt that it ruined the songs. We’re all happy now about how the album turned out, vocals and everything.
Anyway I still like bands with death metal vocals, and I think the vocals of Aaron (My Dying Bride) still has a great effect – he has an odd, very emotional edge to both his normal and his death metal vocals.
Burkhard: What happened after the release of "Mesmerised"?
Monika: Not much…We were on the infamous label Head Not Found under
the equally infamous mother company Voices of Wonder, and they don’t do much
to promote their releases. When we criticised them, they said we had to promote
ourselves too, but how? They didn’t even print flyers or promo CDs, so I thought
about copying the album on cassettes and spread it, but I just couldn’t afford
it! So the only thing I could do was to send out letters to mags asking them
to send me blank tapes for a recording of our album – that was fucking embarrassing!
Well, we made new songs and arranged with Head Not Found to record our 2nd album. We booked the studio, but Voices of Wonder never sent money to pay it! We called and found out that Head Not Found had forgotten to tell them about it, so we just had to cancel studio. We asked them to end our contract, and they agreed. So we recorded demos and got signed on a new label, Season of Mist. Three months before the recording of "Contentum" three members left the band, and we found a new drummer, Tor Arne.
Burkhard: Even though I haven´t heard the album "Mesmerised", I think it was a wise decision to let you do all the vocals on "Contentum". With your voice you manage to express such a wide spectrum of feelings and moods that there is absolutely no need for another "singer". Metaphorically speaking, it sometimes sounds as if you performed hilarious vocal acrobatics on a wire high up in the air (but you never fall down). To my ears you sound like a mixture of Kate Bush in her early days (especially these delightful screams), Ofra Haza (because of the slightly oriental touch of some vocal melodies) and Nina Hagen (because of a certain eccentric touch). How would you describe your voice?
Monika: Oh, that’s extremely difficult! To me it sometimes seems like
I have no voice in a way! Yes, it sounds ridiculous, but I just can’t grasp
my own voice; I just can’t get a real impression of it! It’s the same way
about how I feel about my appearance; sometimes I’m really surprised that
people are able to recognise me because I feel like my appearance doesn’t
have a distinctive character!
Well, I like the expression vocal acrobatics, and I have thought about before myself, but I am too humble to use it myself hehehe! But, yes, I do see it as acrobatics! I have also used to say that my voice is full of turbulence (like an aeroplane) but I guess that is mostly due to shivering nervousity in studio haha!
Many people says I sound pretty much like Kate Bush… On the demo version of "Sultry Air" I wanted to imitate a cat (!) and when I listened to it afterwards I heard that it sounded exactly like Kate Bush! Anyway; I got a new idea later and changed it, and I was surprised when people still said my voice reminds about Kate Bush. But after listening more to "Contentum" I guess I understand what you mean! It’s not that I think it’s negative if I sound like her (or other good singers) but my emotions aren’t so willing to accept it, cause most of all I just want to sound like myself, so I guess my subconsciousness drives me to change the passages where I think I sound like someone else!
Beate:· Have you got a favourite Kate Bush album? And which of Kate´s songs would you love to cover?
Monika: I don’t think Kate Bush should be covered… At least not by someone who is being compared to her! I heard a really slick power metal band with squeezed-balls-vocals covering "Wuthering Heights" and it just sounded ridiculous and embarrassing. Maybe it was meant to be ridiculous, I don’t know – it made me laugh all through the song. I also heard a Norwegian band called Velvet Belly doing a booooooring and nerveless version of "The Man With the Child in His Eyes". I think Kate Bush’s personality is so important in her songs that it’s wrong to cover them! But well, OK, maybe I’d go for "Sat In Your Lap" to hear it with cooler synth sounds! And of course since it is an intriguing and cool song. My favourite album is "Hounds of Love", especially the "Ninth Wave" part.
Burkhard: You´ve got a very powerful voice and my impression is that you really know how to handle it. Even in those passages where you sound somewhat "weird", you never sing off key, as far as I can judge. Did/do you have a professional vocal training or is it all self-taught?
Monika: Thanks for the compliments. I have had a few song lessons, but I didn’t learn much; I feel really uncomfortable with private lessons, so I can’t concentrate or perform anything in that situation. So I teach myself by experimenting and listening to and singing along with recordings of various great singers. The techniques of many Arabian, Indian and East European singers are very interesting and also sound for the voice. I listen to good singers to pick up good song techniques and I also listen to what bad singers do to find out what I should not do. So I analyse and take notes and experiment and make hypotheses about the various techniques, comparing them to each other and to bad techniques. I try and fail and try again, and make new hypotheses and my thoughts are confirmed when I become able to do what I want to. And then I try to make my own thing out of it; I haven’t really learned the techniques, I just use my own interpretations of them.
Burkhard: Your vocals on "Contentum" sound very original (others might say "weird"), possibly too original for many people. Has your record company ever tried to interfere and push you into a more "commercial" direction? What about the other band members? Did they ever tell you: "Hey, Monika, don´t overdo it!" or can you rely on their full support whatever you do?
Monika: I can rely on them! And if I did something they didn’t like, I would reconsider it, and do something else. The thing is that the other guys really like the weird things, so it has always been cool! Or, well, it has happened that someone said "This is so sick, maybe too sick" but the line-up has changed after this, and the present members often think the weirdest things are the coolest! About the record company; now that’s a different story… Well, nobody can force me to change, but the SoM boss has told me several times that we would become big if only I would start to sing "normally", and that if the album doesn’t sell, it’s my fault. I was really afraid for a while that he would manage to turn the other members against me, but we have talked about these things, and they don’t want me to change either. We just don’t make music to have commercial success; it is the feelings in the music that count. I simply have no interest in singing "normally"! If I had to do that in Atrox I wouldn’t stand it. Only the thought of it makes me want to scream my lungs out hahaha!
Burkhard: Even though the music on "Contentum" may not sound as original/"weird" as your vocals, I don´t think it´s easily accessible either. When I listened to the album for the first times, I found it hard to concentrate on the music for the entire running time of about 65 minutes, especially when I listened to it by earphones, - it seems the word "chorus" doesn´t exist for you. But now that I´ve listened to it about twenty times, my impression is that the more I listen to it the more I like it. What has the response been like from press and fans so far?
Monika: It has been much very, very positive response, and some very
bad – as we expected! We would probably have more listeners with a more easy
listening style, but I think the people who does like it as it is, likes it
much because it is peculiar, and I think it’s better that a few people
really loves it than if many people just likes it. I guess it can take some
time before people get used to the strangest aspects just as you say, but
the time you spend on it pays off hehehe!
The thing about using verse and refrain-structure in a song… Well, some of my favourite songs have this structure, but I’m not very keen on using it myself. It puts too much emphasis on just one part of a song, and we want our music to evolve and change the expression on the way. It’s so easy to just make a catchy refrain, and then just add a boring verse; it’s not meant to catch the attention anyway, only the refrains count… I don’t like this way of making music.
"Contentum" isn’t meant to be easily accessible; it’s much better if the music makes people notice their mixed emotions and therefore ponder about it. I have meant for also the people who really loves the music to hate it here and there, and thereby risking that people choose to just hate it instead, but I think it’s worth it!
Burkhard: The music on "Contentum" is definitely metal, though it´s lightyears away from what cer-tain people call "true metal". Did you always want to sing in a metal band? Or could you also imagine doing something completely different?
Monika: I never dreamt about it, actually! I wanted to play the guitar
in a band and I wanted to make music, but I didn’t want to sing before I discovered
that sounds I have used to make just for fun and to be annoying were actually
cool AND beautiful!
I thought I would become a painter, but I changed my mind. To be in a metal band will never become something I can make my living from, and I am a student now, although a lousy one, spending most of the time on music! But I don’t know what I will do in the future… except that I will continue with making music.
About metal/true metal: Some people say we’re not a metal band, because we have so much else going on in the music, but we don’t care! Metal is so filled with clichés and bad taste and it needs to be renewed… Well, I don’t expect many bands to follow in our footsteps (I hope not actually!) but I’m at least very happy to be part of such an original band.
Beate: What does the album title "Contentum" mean? And what does this expression mean to you personally?
Monika: "Contentum" is a Latin word and means something like a collection of varied things, bits and pieces. It points to the varied character of our music and that it does have a red thread running through, keeping it all together.
Burkhard: As you are the vocalist and only female band member of Atrox, the interest of (music) press and fans will probably focus on you. How do the other (male) band members deal with this? Do you sense any kind of envy?
Monika: Envy…? No. The reviews are often very focused on me because I do the most unusual things, which means that I get most of the praise, but I also get most of the shit too, so I’m not in a position anyone should envy! And if you that most of the interviews are answered by me, it’s simply because I answer the written interviews better than the others. Rune and Eivind (the guitarists) do the phone interviews. The questions are always written in a way that is not directed towards me, like "Is your singer bla bla". I think most magazines don’t expect me - a girl (!) to answer the interviews. I mean, most of the few girls in metal bands are there only to give the music a touch of erotica and "beauty". They seem to be of no importance when it comes to creating the music or to have any meanings at all. Since this is so common, it isn’t really that strange if people expect me to be like that too… I don’t like it, but well, I don’t to let it be a big problem for me, so I’ll just continue with doing my things, and if people don’t understand, then it’s their problem…
Beate: You sent me a German review where Atrox as a band and especially you as a singer got criticised very hard and in a very unfair manner. For example the guy who wrote that review claimed you should be locked away, put in chains and your tongue should be cut out. I must admit I would be very upset if somebody wrote something like that about me (even though MY singing would justify a treatment like that J). How do you handle such kind of destructive criticism? Does that demotivate you in a way? Or do you just don't allow critics like that to hurt you?
Monika: I have to shut it out or else I couldn’t continue to do what I want, and that would be far worse! So far I have seen four negative reviews (and lots of very positive ones), and it seems that those who wrote these reviews were very provoked by the way I sing, and that they therefore are entitled to call me bad names and stuff like that. Well, one thing I have disliked for a long time is music "journalists" who use the magazines to make themselves seem like "stars" by trampling down bands/artists and thereby try to rise above them. So I must say I became more upset by a review where we got 4 of 6 points, and the guy who reviewed it tried to give us some stupid advice about what we should do with our music to make it fit his taste better. I actually prefer when (seemingly) stupid people hates our music hahaha! I handled the first bad review very badly because this guy called me a cunt and a bitch, but later on I have laughed of the critics. Except when I’m down. Also I think it does something to me subconsciously. Sometimes when I really want to sing, something stops me and I become afraid and feel guilty about using my voice. So lately I have practised very little, but now that I am more aware, I do more to push myself to sing in spite of those who hates my vocals. I sometimes simply have to turn my singing into some kind of "Fuck you" to those who doesn’t like it… But that’s not good either, cause then they will influence me, and I will end up with some kind of "meta-vocals", that is: vocals about vocals. So I have to do my best to shut it all out…
Burkhard: Some of your lyrics (especially "Lizard Dance" and "Letters To Earth") as well as the album cover, which you painted yourself (and which I like very much!), make a somewhat surrealistic impression on me. Is there a deeper meaning hidden beneath which I haven´t been able to grasp yet?
Monika: My lyrics and pictures can always be divided in two groups;
in one of them I try to describe the world as I conceive it, and the other
one is mainly escapist… "Lizard Dance" falls into both categories-
I try to depict a scenery I’d love to see before my eyes (dancing lizards
throwing their skin and tail, speaking and singing etc. – I was utteringly
amazed when this idea came to me) and at the same time it describes some characters
I really don’t like; greedy, arrogant and sly. Also it conveys these mixed
emotions I find so interesting; I love these lizards for their appearance,
but I don’t like their arrogance. You can compare it to finding people attractive,
but in the end you realise you were just blinded by their appearance.
"Letters to Earth" is escapist; I often worry about that time flies and that there are so many things I don’t get the time to do, so much creativity I don’t get the time to use. So I thought to myself "What if time didn’t exist?" and of course I know that the concept of time is constructed by humans, so it led to some surrealistic thoughts I found most intriguing.
I say it is escapist, but it’s also to convey moods and mixed emotions which I think can be very fruitful for inspiration, becoming curious & ask new questions and for expanding the mind – to get a kick!
Burkhard: Are there any connections between your album cover and the lyrics? In "Lizard Dance" you´ve got a lizard saying "...And now give me my swim mask I want to explore this ket-tle!" and on the album cover there is - among many other things - a lizard (though not one with a swim mask, but with some kind of jester´s cap) which seems to have just escaped the kettle/cauldron underneath. In "What Crawls Underneath" there´s a line "The acrobat performs in his invisible-suit" and on the album cover there´s also an acrobat (but he is visible). Are these two connections mere coincidence?
Monika: No, they were calculated. I had made a more abstract (it showed
some 3-dimentional forms, but you wouldn’t know what it depicted) cover for
the album at first, but it was rejected by the label because "abstract
covers don’t sell". In this cover I employed a theme I keep coming back
to; the expression of something being dead , yet alive or alive, yet dead.
I had other paintings with this theme that were supposed to be in the cover
as well, but our label screwed it up!
Anyway I had to make a cover that showed identifiable things, so I decided to paint the visions I get from my lyrics, but with some new twists. The acrobat has the body of a doll and the head of a figure that puzzles me and that has become a constantly recurring element in my drawings. It also points to the acrobat in "What Crawls…" but I couldn’t paint an invisible figure (of course hehehe) so this was the solution.
Beate: The beautiful cover you drew made me to buy a promo copy of your album at a record fair. that was the way I discovered Atrox! I just love the style of your drawing. Do you draw or paint often? Or have you designed any other cover artworks so far?
Monika: Well, I have made the covers for all three of our releases,
and I will continue. I also painted the cover for another band’s album, but
the label ruined it with an extremely bad scanning, so I don’t want to tell
which one it is - I don’t want to get the blame for their bad work! I also
did an ornament for 3rd & the Mortal’s "Nightswan"
and a photograph for "In This Room".
I don’t paint or draw very often anymore, since I have both music and lyrics to express myself through now. I went to drawing and painting classes for 3 years (at high school), but the teachers were so bad, so I have learned most of what I can by myself.
Beate: How would you explain the general meaning of the cover. I discover fairies, love bugs, toys, a sea-horse, a horse-snail, a doll . Is it just a fantasy. A little girls dream? Or vision?
Monika: Yes, the cover is based on visions; my lyrics and things I find fascinating and expressive. Human and animal faces & bodies are very expressive; the seahorse looks shy, sad and beautiful, the snail-horse is both fiery and dull, the lizard looks accusing and as if it doesn’t feel quite comfortable in the hat I have put on it. The owl is curious and alert, the doll is alien and sinister and the acrobat is arrogant. The rest of the figures are like if they were dead, in deep thoughts or asleep. The whole picture is meant to convey mixed emotions and for identify oneself with it. Also it is meant for for escaping from the ordinary world, and bring some inspiration when you eventually return to the world.
Beate: What's the meaning of the slim male figure in the center of the cover?
Monika: He is the main dead-and-alive-element of the picture. He kind of sits on a throne and he is like the sun (his hair is a bit like cold sun-beams), but he’s very passive. He is like a king who rules unwillingly; the power means nothing to him. He just sits there thinking, and without knowing it, posing! He kind of holds together the whole picture without really being connected to the other elements. The octopus arms that makes up his ladder… Arms and hands can symbolise being able to get things done, so he has the possibility to do things if he wants to. Hmmm, it’s hard to put these things in words, but to me this picture is the perfect expression for all my acts of creativity.
Burkhard: The beginning and the end of "Lizard Dance" convey some kind of fairground atmosphere, such as it might have been at the beginning of the last century. Is it a sample taken from an old movie? (It also reminds me a (tiny) little bit of "Coffee Homeground" by Kate Bush.)
Monika: The strings is a sample (we don’t know where it comes from), and Rune has added the organ, drums and the voice – it IS pitched up hehehe! We had already made the song, and then Rune came up with this intro/outro and it really enhances the mood of the lyrics – I love it! And yes, it has some of the same feel as "Coffee Homeground"! I really like this kind of mood, but unfortunately it has become a trend in gothic/black metal to use horror-movie-esque themes, so we’ll be careful with it in the future and be sure we do it in our own special way.
Burkhard: Some time ago I read about a project called Tactile Gemma, in which you and your sister Ann-Mari are involved. What can you tell me about this project? Whose idea was it? What kind of music can we expect? And what does "Tactile Gemma" mean?
Gemma - a bud, something that will grow. Tactile - it’s able to physically
feel. We have considered to call it only Tactile, though. We’ll see.
The music is some sort of electronica; it’s based on samples, synths, some guitar and two singers. Some people find the music very strange, but it is often kind of catchy as well.
The idea had been there for a long time, but we didn’t start to work with it before Ann-Mari left 3rd & the Mortal. Rune and I had music that didn’t fit in Atrox, and Ann-Mari and I often talked about that we should sing together again, so we found the medium we needed in Tactile Gemma. We signed a contract with Season of Mist last year, but we’re still working on our album… It takes some time.
Burkhard: When you play live, do you try to stick to the studio versions of your songs as close as possible or do you also improvise a lot? I mean, especially as far as your singing is concerned, I could imagine that you just let your feelings go and don´t try to cling slavishly to the vocal lines on the album, do you?
Monika: Hmmm, not slavishly, no, but I don’t improvise much live since
I often play the synth while I sing and have a lot to concentrate about; the
shifting song techniques, lyrics, playing synth, changing sounds on the synth,
playing tight with the other instruments, coping with stage fright and somehow
have contact with the audience. Also I have already experimented so much with
my songlines already, doing it again and again until I find the ultimate melodies;
melodies I think fit perfectly, so I don’t really feel the need to change
anything. Also it takes much work to rehearse these often very difficult songlines,
so it would be impossible for me to come up with lines that are good enough
on stage while I’m nervous and stressed.
But we have only played live four times with today’s line-up, so if we get more experienced and possibly find a session synth player, we might improvise more. But then again is the question: will the audience be able to handle it? Usually people find our music very difficult to get into if they haven’t heard the album versions before, so to re-arrange or improvise on these songs (we’ll definitely not simplify them if we do!) might not be a huge success, at least not with the audience we have now.
Beate: I recognized you are also playing the keyboards besides singing (have seen a photo on your website). Are you doing the whole keyboard work for Atrox, or just a part of it.
Monika: I do all of it, on rehearsals, in studio and onstage, so I have a lot to concentrate about. I have to make song lines according to the synth lines and the other way around, and this can also make me come up with ideas I wouldn’t think of if I just did one of the two. I try to keep away from playing synth on 50% of the songs, first of all cause I don’t want to hear a synth through the whole albums and secondly to be able to concentrate 100% on the vocals sometimes. Also it’s better for the live situation if I don’t have to stare down at the synth all the time while I sing.
Burkhard: My impression is that you´re a woman with a very strong personality in the sense that it´s you who decides what your music and your vocals sound like and not the record company, a manager or someone else. Are there any models who influenced you?
Monika: Hmmm, to a certain degree, yes. But the most important thing for me is that everything the other guys of the band and I do feels right, feels perfectly customed for my own taste. When the record company wanted me to sing "normally", I said no, but one of the ex-members asked me to at least try. So I did; on one rehearsal I simplified my melodies and repeated them instead of evolving into new melodies. It sounded like Anneke of The Gathering or something, and I couldn’t stand it; it was so boring and I didn’t get the feeling for music or lyrics at all. I felt like a prisoner and it made me extremely aggressive and destructive, almost violent – I just wanted to scream my lungs out. The last thing I would want to do is to leave the band, but there’s no way I would put up with singing this way, without feelings, so I have to stay true to myself. It can be damn frightening at times, but it’s encouraging to hear other singers/musicians following their own path seemingly without a doubt. As I have listened to Dawn Crosby [RIP] on "Within the Veil" and seen how much it means to me that she pours out her feelings so honestly and sincerely, my fears of doing my own very emotional "thing" disappear.
Burkhard: Where do you get your inspiration from when you sing, write lyrics and music or paint? Do you take drugs? Or is music your (only) drug?
Monika: Yep, music is and will always be my only drug. OK I drink
at parties, but that’s all. I wouldn’t want to get intoxicated when I work
with creative things – it wouldn’t seem right to me. I have never been stoned
either – why should I? I don’t smoke ordinary cigarettes, never tried it when
I was a kid either – I thought: "Why should I?"
I want to be as aware of what happens in my mind as possible, and I know that drugs and alcohol can’t help me out of any problems (only generate more problems). I think and do creative things instead, so much of my creativity has its origin in problems and difficult questions. The music and all will then work to comfort and find solutions, hopefully for others than myself as well.
Burkhard: Women like Kate Bush, Tori Amos, Kari Bremnes and Mari Boine, to name but a few, proved that a woman can have (commercial) success by being just who she is and not what others (the manager or record company) might expect her to be. Over the past few years the number of so-called female singers/songwriters seems to have risen drastically. However, it also seems that heavy metal is still as male-dominated as it used to be 10 or 20 years ago. I mean, there have been a few female-fronted bands, but most of them didn´t get very far. If you take a look at the category speed/thrash metal, it looks even worse: There was Nicole Lee (Znowhite), Sabina Classen (Temple Of The Absurd, Ex-Holy Moses) and - definitely the most charismatic/fascinating female metal vocalist - Dawn Crosby (Fear Of God, Ex-Détente), who lamentably drank herself to death. And if you look for so-called all-girl metal bands, you can count them on one hand: Girlschool, Rock Goddess, Vixen (all three rather hard rock than metal), Meanstreak and Phantom Blue. (By the way, as far as I know, three former members of Meanstreak are married to members of Dream Theater.) Can´t women play heavy metal or aren´t they allowed to?
Monika: The main reason for this situation is in my opinion that there
are very few females into metal and that they are not expected or "supposed"
to actively take part in the metal scene. I mean, if the girls learn to play
themselves, the male rockers can’t impress the girls anymore! So maybe it’s
this fear that creates the prejudice you can often see male rockers are equipped
with: How many times haven’t I heard a boy say that girls who play the drums
are disgusting?!?! I wanted to play guitar, and I did play Classical guitar
for some years. I wanted to play electric guitar as well, but I didn’t have
the self-esteem to try, for the simple reason that girls aren’t supposed to
play or even like metal. It seems like much of the metal females are more
interested in boys with long hair than the music they play and that probably
make the metal dudes feel pretty safe; it enables them to shag these "groupies"
without more ado.
But well, now I am being prejudiced myself… But how can I not be? I see it all the time; I’m expected to throw off my clothes as "all the other girls" in the metal scene, maybe especially since I do the usual girlie-things (vocals & synth). In this position I’ll meet prejudice even from girls; the girls who play "typical man-instruments" will look down at me because I just play the "typical woman-instruments". Well, I think the whole thing is so fucking stupid. It makes me mad – blabla… boys Vs girls, dogs Vs cats, blue Vs red/pink, guitars Vs pianos… can’t people just stop being so fucking prejudiced???
Burkhard: Do you get more response from male or from female fans? Are there any differences how they react to your vocals, your music or your lyrics?
Monika: Hmmm, we don’t get much "fan mail", but I have noticed that it has been quite many girls doing the interviews. I don’t know if it means that it has become more girls in the metal scene or if we appeal especially to the few girls in the scene. Maybe both. I guess it’s cool for other girls to see a female in a metal band who is very active and not just an ornament meant to make the records sell more. Well, also boys think this a very positive aspect… And generally I can’t say I have noticed that there is a difference between the girls and the boys in how they react to the music. But I noticed something funny about how the audience were dispersed in front of the stage on our release party: All the metal girls were standing in front of Rune, the tall & dark fellow, the metal dudes and the non-metal girls were standing in front of me, and the "party-on-dudes" (or whatever hehehe) were headbanging in front of the other guys hehehe! I don’t think it was just coincidental…
Burkhard: In some German heavy metal magazines, you’ll find a lot of interviews with Norwegian black metal bands - sometimes you might get the impression that half of the Norwegian population consists of black metal musicians! - and many interviewees talk about how much they hate Christians/Christianity (or religion in general) and some even talk about a "war against Christianity". Do you have any idea where this extreme hate might stem from? Does Christian religion play such an important role in Norway that it´s perhaps an easy target for young people who feel the need to rebel against their parents/society or want to gain some public attention? As for myself, I definitely don´t like is any kind of (religious) fundamentalism/fanatism, because fundamentalism/fanatism always aims at building barriers in the sense: "If you´re not with us, you´re against us." It´s like: "We´re right, you´re wrong. We are the chosen ones in possession of the ultimate truth." But my impression is that those people who say they hate Christianity or religion in general are not able to differentiate between fundamentalism/fanatism and religion. In my opinion, religion is not fundamentalist by its nature, but within fundamentalist streams it can easily be abused as a means to manipulate people. Not religion is the problem, but those people who abuse it to pursue their own ends. Those preaching hate against Christianity/religion in general are no better than any (other) religious or political fanatic/fundamentalist. (Constructive) Criticism is OK, but just sowing hate and intolerance makes any discussion impossible and definitely isn´t a sign of mental maturity. I think (religious) fundamentalists/fanatics of any kind should be locked up together so they can smash in each other´s heads just as they please while all other people can live in peace.
Ahemmm, being a bit extreme yourself here eh heh heh! Well, I don’t this
hate really has much to do with Christianity at all, and I honestly don’t
know if this religion plays a more important role than in other countries.
I believe most people carries some degree of hate in them, and that it often
stems from traumatic experiences from childhood and/or later in life. The
church has misused its position through the history, so it is easy to choose
it as a scapegoat for all evils. But this so-called war against Christianity
doesn’t make sense to me. I have experienced myself being treated badly
"in the name of God", but I know that in reality this doesn’t
have much to do with the Christian religion. It has to do with the human
nature, and if I didn’t understand that I think I’d be in serious trouble
People simply needs something to put the blame for everything on and to get self esteem from. Yesterday I saw a demonstration done by some kids who attended a punk festival. The cause was "car-free town", and yes, why not? But I had the impression that these kids demonstrated only to demonstrate. They walked in the middle of the road so the cars couldn’t pass, and it was probably fun and made them feel important and like they were really sticking together. I believe each of them would have gone in a march for just about anything (politically correct) if "all the others" did it – just to look cool. And I think this "war against Christianity" is nothing more than this little demonstration.
Burkhard: Now for something completely different and more superficial: What are your hobbies? (Apart from making music and painting?)
Monika: Well, it’s only the other related things, like photographing and drawing cartoons. I don’t do that often anymore either. I like to swim; I’m a periodical swimmer hehe! And I like to go out on sightseeing on my bike. Sometimes I sew clothes. I don’t collect anything, except that I often buy toy animals and I must admit that I play with them too hehehe!
Burkhard: What are your favourite albums/bands/artists?
Monika: I mostly have fave songs, not whole albums… Led Zeppelin: "Tea for One" is THE all-time favourite! Also "Achilles’ Last Stand", "Dancing Days", "No Quarter" and lots of other Led Zeppelin-tunes. Savage Rose’s self-titled album is one favourite. Fear of God: "Within the Veil", Carcass: "Heartwork", My Dying Bride: "Turn Loose the Swans", Voivod: "Phobos", King Crimson: "In the Court of The Crimson King". David Sylvian: "Gone to Earth". And of ethnic music: Natacha Atlas, Sussan Deihim, Sheila Chandra, Ensemble Sharakan (the music is at times so beautiful I almost can’t stand to listen to it!) and the only song I have heard of Hamlet Gonashvili. Also I really love music of some contemporary composers: Arvo Pärt, Henryk Gorecki and Gavin Bryars. And movie soundtracks: Hellraiser, Exotica.
Burkhard: Are there any new promising artists in Norway/Scandinavia or elsewhere you would like to recommend to those people who are looking for interesting (new) bands/artists?
Monika: Anja Garbarek: "Balloon Mood" – strange and cool
Red Harvest: "Col Dark Matter" - industrial
Minstrel (demo-band still)
Kane (demo-band, but I think they’ll get signed soon. With two guys from 3rd & the Mortal)
Burkhard: Are there any plans for a tour in Germany?
Monika: Not yet, right now we must concentrate on promoting "Contentum" and work with the new material we’re going to record in January, but we hope we can find a bigger band to play support for after that.
Burkhard: Is there any question you’ve always wanted to answer, but you’ve never been asked?
Monika: Hmmm… Not really. Well, there are things I’d like people to know, but I don’t know what the questions would be… To me the most important with being a part of this band is to be able to express myself, but I don’t do it only of egoistic reasons… I hope that by creating and performing so honest and emotional music it can be a sort of consolation and "friend" for people like myself out there. I know now that my lyrics are more cryptic and harder to understand than I first thought, but I also hope & think the actual way I sing can make people think… Well, this might just be some pretentious bullshit and mother-Theresa-wannabe from my side, but still… It’s important to me. I have had these experiences with music myself, so why not? Music can have some kind of indirectly healing effects.
Burkhard: Is there any question you´d like to ask me?
Monika: Well, let’s go back to the "Beauty & Beast"-thing… What do you think of the effect of the "beasts" on Kate Bush’s "Waking The Witch"? It’s not death metal vocals of course, but it has some kind of resemblance to the mentioned effect, and it’s a damn cool element in this song!
Burkhard: On that point I agree with you, but as you already said, it´s not death metal vocals, and it´s just a short passage in one song. If this kind of vocals popped up in each and every song on "Hounds Of Love", I would regard it as extremely annoying and the album – especially the experimental side "The Ninth Wave" – would not be one of my favourite albums!
Beate: What does your band name "Atrox" mean? Something like cruel, or cruelty?
Monika: Yes, that and more. The English word atrocious comes from the Latin word atrox, and it means also disgusting, terrible, stuff like that: I guess the name fitted the old Atrox music style better than today’s style, but never mind!
Beate: There seem to be at least two other bands called Atrox. Do you know their music? Have there been any confusions so far, for example at concert bookings or something like that?
Monika: No. But for a while people asked us if we were going to play on a festival in Holland but that was Atrox from Austria. I think this is an ambient /industrial project. Then there’s one hardcore band in USA and also some kind of an 80’s rock (?) band in Italy, both called Atrox. I haven’t heard the music of any of these bands; they just pop up on the Internet when I search for stuff about us. But it has never been any problems or even any contact between us and any of the other bands. We don’t worry about it at all.
Beate: I discovered in your biography that the band was founded already in 1988 (it was then called Suffocation). Lots of members came and went away in these 12 years, and lots of things must have happened in the band's history. When did you join the band?
Monika: I first met the Atrox guys in early ´96, and I attended rehearsals only occasionally until the summer when we started to rehearse for studio recordings. After that I became a regular member at least for rehearsals, but the old vocalist didn’t want to let me become a member before the session synth player quit and I promised and proved that I would also play the synth – it was simply too many band members; 7! Ridiculous, huh? So I didn’t become an official member before in the end of ´96, almost a year after my first rehearsal with the band…
Beate: May I ask how old you are? I guess about 20 - 22???
Monika: I am 25.
Beate: This is my standard question nobody can avoid: Do you like reading, and what kind of books do you like? Any favourite authors???
Monika: I don’t read novels anymore, because if I start to read it, I’m not able to put the book away before I have read it all! Or I read one page and stop; it just doesn’t work! But I like reading, so besides school books I read psychology books, poems and short stories instead. I like spook stories (Lovecraft, Poe, Poppy Z Brite) and Kafka’s short stories. I discovered the poems of Don Domanski a year ago, and they are just brilliant; filled with animals and strange creatures like my lyrics! I also love the shifting moods in these poems, that’s also something I like to create in lyrics and music.
Beate: Have you seen the film "The 5th Element"? There is a figure called "The Diva", a very strange blue female being who is singing extremely beautiful. Your singing reminded me a bit of that wonderful (of course computer generated) diva. Have you seen the film, e.g. the scene where she's performing at a theatre, and did you like it?
Monika: Yes, I’ve seen it and I liked it very much! It is indeed a spectacular movie – inspiring! The 1st part of The Diva’s performance is a song from the Donizetti opera "Lucia d’Lammermoor" and I have heard it with other great singers, but The Diva’s interpretation of it is just fantastic; so emotional and such a beautiful voice!
Burkhard: Any - famous - last words to the readers of this interview?
Monika: Oh ehh… I have said it all, I think! What can I say? Read the interview again from the beginning – now! Hehe just kidding! Go to our homepage and check out my articles by clicking my photo on the line-up page. And write to me if you want to! Greetings from ATROX…
Burkhard: Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions. I wish you good luck for your future!
Beate: All the best, Monika – and thank you very, very much, that was great.
(this interview was done in August 2000)
Interview: - Burkhard & Beate - first released 10/00
Layout: Martin 07/03