Elliott Berlin from Telemark, Aesthetic Perfection and others
Elliott Berlin is a versatile artist cooperating with many bands, my impression of first seeing him on stage in April in Dresden was that he combines rock frenzy with perfection of performance. I usually try to introduce the artists I’m interviewing, but this time my guest did it better than I ever could so I think I’ll just leave the stage over to him. Here is what he has to say - about himself, the music and more… Elliott Berlin:
Hi, my name is Elliott Berlin. I’m a musician, audio engineer, stage and tour manager, roadie type guy from Sweden, based in southern Poland. I currently work with or have worked with bands like AESTHETIC PERFECTION, COMBICHRIST, ASHBURY HEIGHTS, EMPATHY TEST, YELLOW LAZARUS, THE KENDOLLS, FUCKING WEREWOLF, DE/VISION, MESH, IMPERATIVE REACTION, VNV NATION, COVENANT, AUTO AUTO and many, many, many more. Sometimes I appear under my own flag TELEMARK, my old - new name MASKINOPERATÖR, my own name ELLIOTT BERLIN or my Melodic Black Metal alias NIDBILD. I sometimes have a big mouth and because I couldn’t keep it shut I landed myself in a... let’s call it philosophical discourse, with representatives of Reflections of Darkness and as a means to an end I offered and interview. And so here we are.
Reflections of Darkness [RoD]: We started our discussion with the live shows, I asked how you plan them.
Elliott: The planning stage is usually about working out what format I would like to make of it. For example, would it be a more traditional concert format with a band facing an audience, something more personal and intimate, or possibly clubby, loud and including like a dance floor vibe. This will give me an idea of how to approach the technical aspects and what songs to include, what instruments are suitable etc. Then follows the process of re-writing songs for a show, which includes hours and hours and hours of post processing and reimagining tracks. What can I do to lift certain passages, what is the hook, how do I transition from one part to another and so on. All of this funnels down into what I bring to a show, both in terms of gear and in terms of mindset and expectation.
RoD: We also discussed a bit the things the artist has or has not an influence on during the show - what is your opinion on it? How do you prepare for the show, is it a spontaneous action or rather an event that you plan in detail?
Elliott: Well, this is where planning is put to the test. There is no way to anticipate or plan for the unexpected, and believe me, playing different venues every day in front of hundreds, sometimes thousands of people never turns out the way you planned. I have hundreds of stories of shit gone wrong, but for the most part nobody except me and a few other people knew it happened. THAT is the result of planning ahead; damage control.
I’m not talking about having a fool-proof plan or anything, but with experience one starts realizing the weaker links in a show-production and work towards having backup-plans. Sometimes it’s as simple as putting a roll of tape at the right place or making sure that a pedal sits stuck where it’s supposed to. Liquids is my worst enemy. I’ve had synths, amps, mixing desks and even band members fall causality to liquids on stage floors. One time, a million years ago, the Teddy bears from Sweden pulled the main fuse on stage 3 times during a headline festival set because their bassist kept putting his beer on the bass amp. And of course, it kept falling into a power outlet. These things you can’t plan to avoid, just deal with when they happen. And honestly, if nothing could go wrong... what’s the point?
RoD: You perform with numerous bands - how would you say the cooperation with each band differs? Does it require a dose of flexibility or you rather stay yourself?
Elliott: Every group of people has a different dynamic. I find it both interesting and frustrating to equal amounts. At one point in forces me to downplay my ego, my identity and my predicted satisfaction, because being part of a group is to me much a bigger experience than doing anything on my own. On the other hand, I am always butting heads and disagreeing with someone, because creative minds are inevitably stubborn. But I don’t think great things come easily. That said, I’ve never had to experience anyone question my abilities or knowledge, most of the time when there are arguments they’re simply different opinions or creative directions.
With ASHBURY HEIGHTS I have a role which is something of a stage manager, as well as live performer, meaning I have to make sure the production is fit for the event. I make sure the technical aspects are in order beforehand, make it all work on stage and then play the show. Sometimes dealing with whatever problems may come up at the same time. I had a similar role in COMBICHRIST, as I stage-managed them for years before briefly joining the band on stage as the keyboardist. COMBICHRIST is a complex and exhausting live show, it’s very energetic and relentless. But again, nothing good comes easy. With AESTHETIC PERFECTION it’s easier, because we worked ourselves up for a long time, going from the bare minimum to a larger scale production and even when the days get longer the work doesn’t feel heavy. Even if I’m playing 5 instruments through the show and also build and tear down audio technical and sometimes lighting elements. It’s a lot, but most days it beats the hell out of working 9-5 in a warehouse. And coming from a hardcore punk environment… work ethic is my gospel.
RoD: You’ve just completed an intensive tour in the US with AESTHETIC PERFECTION and EMPATHY TEST, I noticed the competition regarding the number of shows each artist had on his/her account... the numbers were hitting 94... 100... What are your impressions regarding the tour and this kind of lifestyle in general? It seems to me it’s very chaotic, demanding and intense.... do you enjoy it?
Elliott: My 2020 shows over 60 booked shows already at this point of writing, and they were not even talking about autumn yet. I think it takes a certain kind of mentality to be able to deal with this sort of lifestyle, absolutely. I call it “the nonsense” because it’s just extremely accurate. While most people strive to create a safe and reliable environment for themselves, the rest of us seem to seek discomfort, stupidity, randomness and over all something other than what can be expected. I have asked myself “why” more times than I would like to admit, and to be perfectly honest I still have no idea.
My closest thing to a theory goes something like “Everyone is an addict. The difference is the trigger. Most people are security-addicts and they want to be able to count on a system every day to get them from point A to B. Some people are addicted to adventure and their trigger is the unexpected, the dangerous and wild. That’s where I fit in. I would personally NEVER jump out of a functioning airplane or off of a tall bridge strapped to whatever the fuck, but if you pull up with a van screaming ROAD TRIP... I’ll probably jump right in.”
We’re all different levels of insane and I think the better your brain wraps around a “liquid form of stability” the better you are off handling life on tour. That said... people like us are exactly the ones who flip out over eggs fried the wrong way, when there’s only Diet Coke in the fridge or when all the meat eaters ate all of the veggie portions because they thought they were starters. We’re all mad here, as the book says, and we have our own form of order... and if you don’t follow it, someone mean looking with face tattoos is likely to stare angrily at you from afar when you’re not looking. As we get older some things come into play though, like one thing that probably surprises a lot of people is that I absolutely HATE graffiti. Tags, murals, street art, whatever I don’t care, I don’t like it. And honestly, Germany... we get it. All cops are bastards and fuck Nazis. It’s okay, you can stop writing it everywhere. Move on please.
RoD: Have you always wanted to be a musician? How did your journey with art world start?
Elliott: Oh no, no. I wanted to study archaeology, like my mother and sister both have. My sister has a PHD in ancient religion and mother used to take us to historically significant places when I was young for summer vacations as she was studying at the university of Gothenburg. I’ve climbed a lot of historical steps and gazed at a lot of historical statues of naked men... But mom had the idea that no education was complete without cultural education, so my sister played the piano and I played the violin from early age. I think my sister’s gift was more with the arts, she was an excellent painter. I was never good at anything other than languages before I discovered the electric guitar. I just HAD to have one. And from then on, I didn’t care much about anything but playing REALLY LOUD. As it turned out being loud was my passion and when I figured out that the PA system was the loudest thing in the room, I naturally had to control that. So, I because an audio engineer, and with all the technical aspects came synths. And so, here we are.
RoD: I saw you at the show with AESTHETIC PERFECTION - you add the element of crazy to the show aside from technical perfection... what do you think the live shows are for?
Elliott: Ufff. That’s a difficult question. I would love to say “for the fans” but honestly, once I’m on stage I don’t give a fuck about fans, press, managers, agents or whoever. As long as it’s loud as hell I don’t think I care about anything at all. It’s total catharsis. Laps of reasonable thought. Primal emotion. I think we all carry this deep inside us and many struggles with it. I think music, rhythm and tone, are fundamental in our development as a species over thousands of centuries and is a form of subconscious communication, I think it is as important as verbal communication of the written word. And to me, music needs to be primitive, raw and deliver frustration, anger, fear, hate, passion, all of these emotions, in the purest form possible. I’ve been asked many times what I was thinking in certain situations on stage and the simple answer is, I wasn’t. I was simply responding to my most primal instinct.
RoD: You have the insight into various audiences - do they differ in across the countries? Do you care for audience’s reactions while performing at all?
Elliott: Well, see previous answer... but yes absolutely it does differ. Western Europeans are very much watching a show, Eastern Europeans consider the concert foreplay for the drinking session. And they intend to get DRUNK. I live in Poland and I love the insanity. In Southern Europe they just want to dance and, in the north… I come from Scandinavia but I really have no idea what they want. Get smashed at the bar and then kill themselves stage diving, bleed all over the place, get kicked out, get into a fight with their partners, take a cab home, pass out on the sofa and wake up wondering who hit them in the face, why, and where did all their money go? Russians are always a rowdy, loud bunch and they’re participating a lot with the artists. They like to be involved.
In the Far East... you know, it’s just straight up weird. But I like it! It’s a respectful vibe and everyone seem to enjoy to participate rather than to just watch a show. Americans are generally absolutely crazy but also polite and the absolutely do not take any bullshit. I love playing in America. Latin America is the same. I don’t think I could ever forget touring in Brazil. What a crazy place, what incredible people. I think ultimately, I draw energy from the audience, I don’t feel like I play for them, but WITH them. If they don’t care, well fuck them, I’ll do my own thing and have fun. I’m not an entertainer, I didn’t come to put on a show for anybody. If they’re excited, well let’s go, let’s see how far we can take it and how crazy it can get. My favourite moments are positive interaction with the audience, breaking the fourth wall and just diving right into it. A bit contradictory, right? I know. Who cares?
RoD: How do you feel about the fans' feedback regarding the shows?
Elliott: I’m indifferent to critique, positive or negative. I never feel like I should listen and learn, I know exactly what I had problems with, what I liked and what didn’t resonate. I probably should pay attention more, but one of my early mentors in audio engineering once told me “if you listen to every opinion in the room, you’ll do nothing but push faders up and down all night. I didn’t hire you to care what the audience think about your mixing, I hired you to show them what a good mix should sound like.” It’s maybe a bit of a dickhead thing to say, but years later this stuck with me. No matter if I’m on stage or behind the console my job is to deliver what I think is the best performance according to my ability. And if I listen to everyone else... well then, I’m simply not doing the best that I can do.
RoD: What is the music for you - personally?
Elliott: Again, a difficult question. I rarely listen to music anymore; I find myself just deconstructing songs and making them into basic layers of production and theory. I guess music for me is magic. It’s the space between the sounds, the meaning behind the words and the invisible connection over distance and time. When the perfect balance between song writing, lyrics, instruments and human performance is achieved - then I want to listen. When that happens... who knows. Sometimes it’s a jazz song played on the street by a toothless man with a broken guitar, sometimes it’s a huge classical piece and sometimes is a fucking kid with a laptop in his mom’ s basement. If it truly is magical, if the connection is there, then I’ll listen.
RoD: What is the most important thing in making music for you? What is it that you would like to achieve in this field?
Elliott: I fear stagnation more than anything. I think as long as I can keep find new interesting sounds, sources, ways of achieving them and new ways of hearing them... then I will never stop. But the moment I feel stuck, like if I can’t feel something new, I will feel the need to do something else. Historically this has led to 6 month-long binges of video games when I haven’t touched any instruments at all. One time I sold all my rare vintage guitars and amplifiers for crazy low prices because I thought I would never want to play again. But so far.... I always come back for more. Inspiration is cruel mistress.
RoD: Do you have any people who inspire you? Is there anyone you call your teacher?
Elliott: Many, many, many people. But, because I am all clichés, I will say my mother, who told me once in a moment of despair and self-doubt to not listen to anyone else’s advice. She said “everyone will always try to tell you what to do and how to do it. And especially what NOT to do. But you know, nobody will ever thank you for NOT doing what YOU want to do. You only have one life, one chance to do as much as possible. So, go do what YOU want to do, and if the others have a problem with any of it... well, then it will be THEIR problem.” But on a more musical note, I’m deeply inspired by artists and creators who take their craft “out of the box” and do something different. Mozart was my first obsession, I Love ABBA but also MAIDEN, METALLICA and PANTERA. VANGELIS, OLDFIELD, SERGE GAINSBOURG, KRAFTWERK, ONUKA, GOLDFRAPP, MOLOKO, and tons, tons, tons of Hip-Hop. Not to mention all of the punk and hardcore bands which completely change my view on everything as a teenager.
RoD: What is your life motto? Do you have any?
Elliott: Live your life to the fullest - die without fear and regret. Then you have done the most with what you had.
RoD: I also have a question I am personally curious about - Sosnowiec (ed. note an industrial city in southern Poland, Silesian voivodeship) located ...what’s the story behind it? How did you actually land in here?
Elliott: I could ask you the same about Wroclaw, haha. But seriously, I had come to a complete and full stop in Gothenburg after 8 years or so living and working in the entertainment industry. I was completely burnt out and constantly working, drinking started becoming problematic, I became homeless for 6 months until my old friend Johan forced me to move in with him. After over a year sleeping on Johan’s couch it was time to move one and I didn’t see any future for me in Sweden. So, I decided, as the red blooded socialist old eastern bloc romantic I am, to move to the Czech Republic.
I didn’t, instead I found a flat in Siemianowice Slaskie in southern Poland. So, I moved there. After two years there I had an argument with the landlord and I decided to move out, and my next option was Sosnowiec where I got an even cheaper rent and a bigger flat. I absolutely love “Gorny Slonsk”, greater Silesia, it’s covered in beautiful nature, it’s close to mountains, the summer thunder storms are insane, in the winter is snows, it’s modern and old both at once and the Silesian Metropolitan area, with Katowice as a centre point, is arguably the most central part of Europe, within 650km to Warszawa, Prague, Vienna, Bratislava and Berlin. 6 international airports within a few hours and the low cost of living allows me to work in the arts and still afford to live a normal (well....) life. That’s something where Sweden failed massively.
RoD: Future plans - what are they?
Elliott: Generally speaking; pointless. Life happens while we make plans.