With their Deep Calleth Upon Deep Australian Tour right around the corner, we were lucky enough to get on the phone with Satyricon frontman Sigurd Wongraven (AKA Satyr) to discuss a great many things including his love of wine, fast cars, black metal, and even the time he got the legendary King Diamond to sign his jacket!
This interview's a long one, so find yourself a comfy chair and read on.
MANIACS: Satyricon are coming back to Australia on tour soon. What are you looking forward to most about returning to Australia?
Satyr: After all these years of travelling the world there aren't that many places that feel exotic any more, but Australia does feel exotic.
It is a country that I like to visit because I like the vibe in Australia, I like the people, I like the culture. I feel relaxed and at home in Australia. That's the most important thing for me when I go somewhere - that I feel comfortable and at ease in a natural way. That sets the stage for me enjoying myself.
Australia has a long history of having an underground scene following Black Metal and this goes back to around 1994/95 around that time. That's when I remember my friends and I started making contact with people in Australia and we also had people from Australia coming over to Norway. And then obviously you had Danielle doing Modern Innovation importing Black Metal to Australia and exporting Black Metal as well. It is one of those countries that has a pretty long history with black metal unlike North America for example, speaking of things that are far away.
MANIACS: Australia does have a very healthy black metal scene. It's been a few years since we saw you back here. Is there any chance you will come to Australia more frequently in the future?
Satyr: Obviously with Australia and North America, Asia, the problems are the same. It's the cost of moving the entire operation over there. So I am afraid that realistically we're talking about maximum one time per album cycle.
I wish we could go more often, because honestly there are many places where we play all the time where I think to myself that I'd rather trade this for something more. For us it's really fun to go to Australia, it's really fun to go to Chile and Mexico and Colombia and it is fun to go to the States, but it isn't as accessible as all these European countries are. On the other hand, it makes sense for us to prioritise Europe because that's where all the main markets are for the music that we play.
MANIACS: Speaking of music, which tracks are you most looking forward to playing your Australian fans?
Satyr: The show is almost 2 hours long and it is built around the new record, but it has stuff all the way back from the first record 'til the new record. so we're not covering everything we've ever done, but we're covering the time-span 1993 to 2017.
MANIACS: We met you backstage at Soundwave back in 2014, where you told us a story about the leather jacket you were wearing, which you had signed by King Diamond - can you recount that story?
Satyr: Meeting King Diamond for the first time at Hellfest in France... So Hellfest is one of the biggest heavy metal festivals in the world, and we played there in 2012 where we met King Diamond at the airport the day after. We had a long conversation with him and turns out that the guy is as good a person as he is a great artist, and at the end of this conversation I asked him kindly to consider signing my leather jacket, which he happily did. It was an extravagant signature, much in the style of Frost's, and underneath the signature it just said "Stay Heavy" and I thought that was so King Diamond and so cool.
MANIACS: Is the signature still on there?
Satyr: It is still on there, but it's starting to fade. Six years have passed, so it's there, but it's kind of bleak now. I was in touch with King Diamond and his wife recently, because one of the last shows of the US tour was in Dallas and that's where they live. I invited them to the show as I would very much like to have them there as my guest, but it was memorial day in America and they were out of town with their son. So, unfortunately, it wasn't possible, but we'll meet them later and renew the signature or get another one on another leather jacket.
MANIACS: Speaking of King Diamond, what are your favourite tracks or records by King Diamond and Mercyful Fate?
Satyr: For me, Don't Break The Oath is one of the first things that comes to my mind. I guess that was the first Mercyful Fate record that really caught my attention that I still like a lot to this day. Perhaps I dunno if I have any favourite tracks from that record, but I really like the song Gypsy off Don't Break The Oath. Melissa record is fantastic as well. Tthe first King Diamond record I ever heard was Them and on that, I only really like the Welcome Home song and perhaps to this day, it's not one of my favourite records although one of my favourite King Diamond songs is the opening track on that record. The first record that I really got into was Abigail but perhaps the best record, in my opinion, might be Conspiracy.
MANIACS: You have your own brand of wine - Wongraven Wines. As a touring artist, you have a lot of opportunities to try different wines around the world. Which countries do you think produce the best wine?
Satyr: Well I mean, every country produces interesting wines, to say at least the countries that have some viticultural tradition and history. But I think Italy and France are hard to avoid. After all, Italy has Piedmont and Tuscany where you have barolos, brunellos and barbaresco, and France has Burgundy, St Chavaignes, Champagne, Bordeaux and they have the northern Rhone valley and Saint Joseph and so on.
The position of France and Italy is pretty unique, but then everywhere else there's lots of stuff going on. Speaking of your country, what's been interesting in the last few years coming out of Australia is the wave of natural winemakers, and there's been this emphasis on Australia moving away from industrial wines to more boutique style wineries. They've been around in Australia for a long time because I remember tasting such wines while touring with The Age Of Nero which was ten years ago, but in the last 2-4 years these wines have made it onto the export market. So now you can find the crazy wines of Tommy Ruff in Oslo, not only in Australia.
And then there's Germany: always very interesting for white wines as it always has been. Lots of interesting stuff coming out of cool climate zones in California for the last 10 years, and more and more wine-making moving in the direction of organic and bio-dynamic which is a good, more sustainable type of agriculture. That was the past and that will be the future, and that's what I try to do with my own company.
MANIACS: It's not a fair question, but if you had the pick - red or white?
Satyr: It is difficult because they're seasonal, right. If you ask me now, the majority of what I drink in the hottest summer in the history of Oslo, it's white, champagne and rose. But with the seasons we have in Norway if it wasn't for this crazy summer, you consume more red wine than white wine because of the climate and because of the food.
MANIACS: Maynard James Keenan from Tool is also a wine enthusiast. Have you ever tried his wine?
Satyr: I have not, but I think it's written in the cards that one day Maynard and I will meet, and it will probably be interesting for both of us. We have a lot of mutual friends. What Maynard does, is he has his own vineyard holdings that he works together with producing wines in - of all places - Arizona, which is interesting. What I to do is work with a winery in Forst, Germany; I work with a winery in Champagne, France; and I work with two - soon three - wineries in Piedmont in north-west Italy.
We try and produce wines in a classic style. Some are more affordable and straightforward easy-drinking wines while others are very ambitious, rare, and rather expensive wines, but in general regardless of price category and whether it's from Germany, Italy, or France, we take what we do very seriously. We commit and dedicate ourselves to the cause of making serious wine. It's not for fun, it's not merchandise, it is for the love of wine and that's why I'm sure that eventually Maynard and I will cross paths and have the chance to sit down and talk wine and taste each others' stuff, because people who are on the same path sooner or later will meet.
MANIACS: You seem to be a fan of Porsche 911s. What started your interest in cars?
Satyr: My dad was a car guy, but not the kind of cars that I like. He was interested in rare old French cars and Range Rovers and whatever.
The first experience I had where I was able to try a car which I really enjoyed? I remember I was able to try a BMW that was much better than any car I'd ever driven and I thought to myself that it was fun to drive and it elevated the experience of driving a vehicle from just being something that would take me from A to B to something that in itself was enjoyable. Driving was fun.
Fourteen years ago there was a Porsche 911 that was available at a fairly good price and I thought it would be fun to try a car like that. So when I tried that car, I was hooked immediately. The engine sound. This was the so-called 993 series, so that was the last generation of air-cooled Porsche 911s and I was just blown away. I thought to myself some way or another I had to manage to scrape enough money together to buy that car.
Shortly after buying that car I was randomly introduced to driving on a track and I did a little bit of that, thought that was a lot of fun, so it became a little hobby of mine to do track days and then I got another, better 911 even more suited for track days and I had a lot of fun with that one.
Then I had a what was at the time a new Boxter S and I had that modified extensively to make it more track-friendly and drove more on the track than ever before. But then after that, my wife got pregnant and we had kids and had to get family cars. We couldn't afford to have a track-ready car and a family car on top of it so since 2012 I haven't had any track cars. But, from time to time because of my relationship with the regional importer, I get to drive some of their cars, be it on the track or on the road and it makes me want to get one, but they are expensive cars [laughs].
MANIACS: What would be your dream car?
Satyr: Last week I drove the 911 GT2 RS 1100kms, and I had it from Friday morning until the following Monday afternoon. The regular 911 is a good combination of everyday usability and track-friendliness, and then you have something like the 911 GT3, which is the track day version of the 911, where it is much more uncompromising and focused. It is a car made for driving on the track, but it can be driven on the road. But the GT2 RS is different. It doesn't feel like a sports car that is made for driving on the track. It feels like it is a track car solely, that you could drive on the road if you must, but it is a very unforgiving car.
There is a lot of it that I am sure if Porsche wanted to they could fine-tune and make a lot more perfect, but I think they purposefully intended the GT2 RS to be a real bad-boy. So when you drive that car, first of all, it is very impressive, but it also is a little bit intimidating and I think they wanted it to be like that. So that would probably be my dream car.
MANIACS: Do you have a favourite type of music to listen to on the road?
Satyr: Most of the time when I listen to music - whether I drive or I'm at the gym or whatever - it is Satyricon. For the simple reason that we've now been putting out records for 25 years and once we're in the middle of an album cycle it is pretty consistent, but there's always a couple of songs that we'll take from night to night, and after a tour I'll say "I'm sick and tired of playing this and that song, let's change that for the next tour. Let's bring in these three guys instead."
So, in order to be able to do that and to constantly be able to consider what is in the best interest of Satyricon's live set, I have to regularly listen to songs that are not a part of our everyday routine. I have to listen to songs and feel them and get to know them and consider possible tweaks and adjustments for future live performances. I have to listen to songs that we don't play that often so that I can still remember all of the lyrics and the vocal rhythm structure and everything about it. It might just be something about the guitars that do not sound the way that I remember it when we rehearse, so then you know I'll listen to the song a few times, or maybe there's just something about the feel or the way Frost plays on a certain song.
A good example of how I work is on the fourth song of Nemesis Divina from 1996 is the Norwegian titled song called Du Som Hater Gud (The one who hates god). I remember we hadn't played that song in a while and I said "is everyone ready to play that at once?" and everyone's kinda like "it's been a while, but yeah sure let's try" and we had a go at it at rehearsal and after two or three times it went pretty well and I made a little recording of it. I sat there listening to myself thinking "wow that is a lot of cymbals at the end" and I started listening to the original at the gym and I thought "this is nowhere near what he's playing during the recording" and then I listened to it in the car and I realised that Frost was playing a cymbal pattern at rehearsal eight times that he's supposed to do three times. So basically more than double.
The reason why I give you that story is that just goes to show that as the songwriter, lyricist, and the one who arranges the songs, ultimately I am the one with number one responsibility for the song as a whole. Not just my part, and that's why I try and find all these opportunities to listen to the music. To constantly stay in touch and on top of what we're doing as a band live on stage.
MANIACS: Are there any newer black metal artists that you follow?
Satyr: I'm paying attention to what Myrkur out of Denmark is doing. I think she is very inspired by Norwegian black metal and Norwegian folk music and that is something that we've tried to do as a band as long as we've been going on. I think that she and her colleagues have sort of been picking up on what has been done in Norway for a long time, but she's introducing way more folk music into it, and she's also very versatile and can play a lot of different instruments and is a very good singer. Myrkur is perhaps one of the most interesting things going on out there in the black metal related world.
I think that the last Immortal record sounds like a return to form. I thought it was a good record. If I'm allowed to be a little bit critical, maybe one could argue that it is at times very similar to things they have done already on Battles In The North and Pure Holocaust, but nevertheless, it sounds to me like a good record with good songs.
Other than that, I dunno if I'm that up to date in the latest in black metal. I tend to try and listen to things that I haven't been listening to in a long while or try and play something that I don't know too much about. I try and listen a bit to classical music and jazz, electronica, classic rock, and the type of things I've been listening to my whole life, but just try and be open-minded and try and get a rich perspective both as a listener and a composer.
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