Alex Møklebust (vocals) from Zeromancer
I arranged for an interview a few days after the second EP from the upcoming album, ‘Mourners’, was out. The feedback for the new ZEROMANCER music has been ravishing - I guess we all missed the Industrial prodigies not to mention the first two EPs already give a great taste of the things to come. I took the opportunity to ask Alex a few questions - not only about new songs and the mysterious photos on the covers of the releases but also about the impact the current situation has had on him or the band. We talked a lot about loneliness and ways of coping with this, so I must say after finishing this conversation I felt really uplifted - and curious about new music coming from their end.
Reflections of Darkness [RoD]: My first question actually would be probably the one that you’re getting a lot these days - what is it like to be back after such a long break? Because it’s been, like, eight years right since the last release?
Alex: Right, yeah, we have been playing live, we haven’t released a studio album for a long time but we’ve been working on songs for a long time as well and we have different projects so for us it doesn’t seem that long to be honest. But it’s definitely good, in the time we are in now, though it’s been perfect for me, especially to work because it’s nothing else we can do (laughs). So, well it’s been good. I think the weird part that scared me a little bit is that sometimes we make music you want people to understand what you try to say and now we’re in the middle of a situation in the world... I was at the beginning a little scared that they were like refer our songs to this period. I mean we did these songs many, many years ago, it’s been written over many years. None of the songs on this album has been written during the pandemic, it was way before that, so it’s really good to release new music to people and our fans but I’m also afraid that people are going to... Remember these songs from the time we are in now. As any musician I would like these songs to be timeless. That said, I think it’s important to release new music now. I listen to music more than ever actually.
RoD: The next question that I wanted to ask is about the reception - ‘Damned Le Monde’ was released in February and now ‘Mourners’ at the end of April - what has been the feedback that you received so far?
Alex: It’s been really good, regarding these songs it’s been absolutely fantastic. As I said it was really weird during a period like this: we need to support the release by touring and we can’t do that, so that’s why we chose to do it in a different way - to release a song and then it just slowly build up something and hopefully, we can end up doing live shows, in the end. The response has been fantastic but normally you have a different way of promoting things: by touring, doing interviews, travelling, club DJ’s playing songs in clubs... None of that is happening now, same for everyone, but it feels good to communicate in another way - is better than nothing. It’s been a fantastic response, I’m actually really surprised, we were really happy with the songs but it’s been flattering and there have been lots of different types of people that responded to the songs as well.
RoD: Well, the feedback that I read and also the impression that I personally have - especially about ‘Mourners’ is that the song is about loneliness but it’s also in a way giving comfort and I wanted to ask you what was your original idea behind this song?
Alex: Every album should have this one song that just kinda takes you through that journey. And it was an idea from Kim and I just loved it when I heard that track. But it was a scratch idea and then I started working on it because I wanted it to be - I said to Kim: “I want this to be electronic, this shouldn’t be like a typical band thing, it needs to have that electronic vibe to it”. And I tore it apart and started rebuilding it because the demo sounded really sloppy, you know, a demo is a demo (laughs). But when I took everything away, it lost the whole point to the song, that kind of fragile kind of thing and I didn’t know what it was, so long story short I decided to keep some of the guitars, some of the bass lines that Kim did on the demo and we got Per-Olav, our new guitarist, to do guitar on top of that. We kept that kind of imperfection in the song that just made the song the way it should be. I wanted it to sound perfect but imperfect as well because that’s what the song is about - the loneliness but also that there is no reason to give up, that you have to think on the positive side… When I was feeling sad when I was younger, I always listened to sad songs because they made me feel happy, they made me feel better. I never listened to happy songs, but it did never pull me further down, it pulled me right up. I don’t know why; it’s always been like that for me.
RoD: I was thinking about loneliness in this context - when we were setting for this interview, I listed several tools that we could use for communication - Teams, Skype, Zoom, you name it - and still it is said that people nowadays are lonely, even lonelier than they used to be. Do you agree with that?
Alex: Yeah. I totally agree with that because you cannot compensate humans. Human beings are made to interact and to meet and see each other. That’s why emojis on text messages are so important because they describe what you mean - if you are ironic or not - if you don’t have emojis you’re not sure what the other one really means. We got digital solutions for a lot of things but never ever - especially at work - a substitute for working with people. When you see people you kind of you get that kind of energy back. It’s there to stay, I know, but we need to meet people we need to see each other and hopefully now if you see kids today gaming a lot, which is cool absolutely, but now I see kids that are there - they chose to do gaming all night long but now they have to, it’s not a choice anymore so maybe it’s gonna be 1968 hippie all over again when the world opens up, I don’t know but I hope we can hang out more because we need that, we need to see each other, we need to meet people we need to see how is your body language, need to see how people react, that’s the only way we can communicate.
RoD: Yes, exactly, that’s what I also thought about the idea of online concerts during the pandemic. So, ok it was a solution but for me, I mean I love the crowd, the energy right from the stage but also from the people around me, who we are jumping screaming together… So, I meant to ask you - have you ever considered performing your songs in such a way - in a form of an online concert. How do you feel about this solution?
Alex: No… I was probably the most negative one doing that because for me doing a show is about two-way communication. I meet the audience to do a show otherwise it’s a TV show. And I thought maybe it’s just me getting old but I have my students in Oslo and I asked them (because they are like at the beginning of their 20ies), but they said the same as me. It was ok at the start just seeing one show and it was alright, but then they got bored with it. The only thing they said it was, ok if the artist did something else, not the concert, but if there was something like the show at home or they did something else then it was cool. But not trying to compensate for a live concert, that didn’t work. But still, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be creative and find solutions - I think it’s a brilliant idea and I think lots of bands really did a good effort to keep the business alive: doing shows not just for themselves but also for the management, for the crew, for other people that do live shows that needed to survive. So that’s absolutely fantastic, but for us, it made no sense doing a show like that. But never say never, if this keeps on for 10 years… we will have to figure it out in a different way.
RoD: I also wanted to ask about the artists who did remixes for the songs like ROTERSAND or Sebastian Komor. Who actually decided on who will be doing the remixes for the releases - was it your decision or perhaps your label or was it like a joint decision? What was it like with the process?
Alex: Well, it’s been both, normally it’s just us asking - that’s the privilege we have as a band. We have friends all over the world and then lots of people say “Hey, yeah, yeah I want to but I don’t have the time and we have a deadline, so ok, maybe next time”, and then some say “yeah I’ll do remix if you sing on my track”. Yes, we do stuff like that, we do that all the time. With Sebastian, we did remixes for an American artist many years ago so I hooked up with him and asked him if he wants to do a track because we had a slow song, I thought Sebastian would be perfect to just do something different you know to make kinda mid-tempo, Techno thing that he does and to break it up. And with ROTERSAND and Krischan - it was the last show actually, the last live show I saw before the pandemic - NITZER EBB in Oslo. They came the day before so we went out having Indian food and had a great time. Krischan did live sound for NITZER EBB so I thought, “Hey, you wanna do a remix”? He had a rough schedule but he did it and it was absolutely fantastic. It’s kind of exchange and it is a really fun way for us all to get over, that’s the way how we hang out these days - helping each other, doing remixes for each other and I just love it; it’s fun to see how other artists interpret your songs and how they think about it, how they want to present it. And remixes - well, the good thing about remixes is that you don’t need to follow any rules, you can just do whatever you want so this kind all the artists well you know so sometimes you just discover all the artists you know through remixes. I think is it a cool thing that we artists just help each other out and I love that idea.
RoD: The next question that I wanted to ask is about the pictures that go with the songs. I absolutely love that kids’ photos that go with every song, they’re great, especially the kicking young lady… these photos, they aren’t new, right?
Alex: The story is that we were looking for just a single cover for ‘Damned le Monde’ and we wanted to describe it in a certain way and what better than a pissed off kid, definitely, because it’s not in general but sometimes it is in split second you are so pissed at everything, it doesn’t mean you are pissed with everything all the time, but in split second and kids are like that. The thing is Kim’s grandfather when he was young, was really interested in photography and filming, so he had all his super 8 videos from Kim’s parents’ childhood. I think the picture for ‘Damned Le Monde’ is Kim’s aunt and on ‘Mourners’ is Kim’s mom. It started with ‘Damned Le Monde’ because it was perfect for that song and we thought “hey we need to just keep this”. This has a connection, this is a family thing and it makes sense, it’s not just a random picture, so we decided to just keep on finding pictures that kind of describe the singles we wanted to release.
RoD: So, you mean there will be more? I mean what are the future steps - will it be like the new album out soon or there will be more songs that will be presented to us step-by-step together with new cover pictures?
Alex: There will be an album in the end but there will be a single before that; there will also be other stuff; some re-release stuff from vinyl editions of old albums. Things will happen but we are taking it step by step. We wanted to start, we wanted to release something now until summer and then the album after that.
RoD: I also wanted to ask about another thing - because you mentioned that the songs are actually not very new, that you kinda re-did them in a way, so actually what were these changes that you introduced and what influenced these changes with the songs?
Alex: Well, they were written a long time ago and then we started recording them later on, so this is a long process. The writing process has been long: me and Kim working on the song and we finally found the structure and then we recorded an album in bits and pieces, over time. But it’s true - ‘Damned Le Monde’ is one of the songs that we changed - we weren’t happy with the chorus so we rewrote the chorus. But all the songs - nearly all the songs (laughs) have the same structure as they did when we recorded them. But the thing is that I started programming of a sudden, mixing the songs and that it took a different direction. That’s why I’m one hour and 15 minutes late for this interview - I’m really stressed out because I have a deadline on things because we decided to rewrite another song - it’s very stressful - waking up early, being really tired… But it’s going to be alright. The thing is that an album needs to be ready way beyond the release, so there are so many things that need to be in place. But it’s all about a feeling - it doesn’t need to be perfect, just needs to give you that feeling that you are looking for in the song, that meaning of the song. So ‘Damned Le Monde’ was one of them, it had a great chorus at the start, but when I sang the verses, the chorus was terrible and when I sang the chorus in the right key the verses were terrible, so yeah, at the beginning I thought it was me, that I was just terrible basically, but then Kim and Per Olav came up with this guitar atmospheric things that happen in ‘Damned Le Monde’. chorus just changed everything for me when I started singing the song it just fell into place.
RoD: You mentioned before that we wouldn’t like to have the songs seen in the context of the pandemic. But what is your very own experience related to it? You mentioned that you were working all the time during the lockdown etc., but how has your perception of things changed because of what we all experienced?
Alex: To be honest… not everyone here, but a lot of people lost their jobs and lost everything maybe the whole they’d been working for their whole life, but for me personally it’s - don’t misunderstand me, right, - but I’ve been through - on a personal level - very difficult three years. Since last year and a half, I’ve been hospitalized a lot so for me, it’s been easier in many ways cause I just (Alex is showing leg covered in bandages) haven’t been walking for nearly a year, I had three operations the last year 13 months. So, understand me right, if the world has been normal, it would have been horrible for me. I was quite fine (laughs), yes, I’m being a little ironic here. I’m always trying to think positive and something positive will come out of this, but I feel I’ve been lucky that’s what I’m trying to say. I feel lucky because I had to go through something in a period that everybody else has a difficult time so I feel like we just doing this together and it made my time easier. But I know other people struggle a lot so hopefully, things can start over again. But you know I’m an only child, I don’t have any brothers and sisters so I’m used to so I don’t get bored easily.
I have my studio; I sit there all the time and I work and months just puff… go. I’ve got so much to do; I am so looking forward to starting walking again - on the 1st of June I can, finally. I’m so looking forward to that side, just trying to think on the positive side and I don’t ever want to go down that rabbit hole because there is always something to look forward to, whatever happens, there is always something to look forward to. I just don’t wanna go into that rabbit hole where you kinda feel sorry for yourself because it’s so easy to do that, because there’re so many reasons to do that, but if you do that it doesn’t help. The most important thing is, as you started talking about in start this interview is for people to have human contact with others basically, no matter who it is, just because that kind of gives you energy. If you make your world small, it will get smaller and then you have no reflection over life anymore; you need to hear other peoples’ opinion, you have to get that energy from other people who try to keep on fighting. This scares me especially for the younger ones, who are really at the top of the game of their lives. For teenagers, it is the best time of their lives and suddenly they have to stay inside, which is terrible.
RoD: Ok, so to wind up our interview I wanted to ask about the concerts, but since your leg is as it is so I imagine there will be a rehabilitation of some sort first or do you expect just to stand up and jump?
Alex: (laughs) My leg now is the size of a toothpick, I haven’t been working out so it’s like yeah… (laughs) Hopefully things will get better soon. It’s gonna be all right, so it’s not about me, it’s about the world basically, it’s about the pandemic. I don’t think shows will happen this summer. They are starting but everything is being postponed. But I hope this fall things can start opening up again, but I think summer is still too early. Amphi Festival is still open, but I don’t think it is gonna happen because Germany is hit harder than Norway and every single festival in Norway has been postponed till next year.
RoD: Ok, so we are now looking forward to new songs to come from your end…
Alex: Looking forward to that as well and it is actually really nice releasing singles. Because sometimes when you have a release for an album yet so joyful and then everything goes away. For now, we have like two releases and it’s been awesome. So big thank you to everybody out there responding to these songs send them saying nice words giving you nice feedback in it really means a lot.
RoD: I think people have been missing you so now, while you’re back the fans are really happy so it’s just natural that we cling to these new songs and appreciate them a lot.
Alex: I’m flattered, it’s just really nice and I do hope everyone out there just keep up the spirit. It’s been a rougher year and a half for a lot of people but they are trying to keep up the spirit as they can. Listen to music, talk to people, interact in the way we can these days - that’s helpful but I really think the most important thing is that we stay positive to each other. Right now, there’s no room for negative people, we need to be nice to each other now…
RoD: Because we are all fighting a heavy battle…
Alex: Yeah, everybody says, and that pisses me off, that yeah, we’re all in the same boat. No, we are not. We are all in the same storm but somebody’s got yachts, really nice boats and somebody is swimming and have nothing. We are in the same storm but we are not in the same boat. So, there’s so much difference between people. Some are doing really well, earning a lot of money in this pandemic, some lost everything so I think we need to be careful about it, we have to take care of each other basically both economically the socially.
RoD: Ok Alex, thank you very much for finding the time for me. Wish you lots of health and really looking forward to new music from your end!
Pictures by Tom Lund