Challenging the Four Elements of Matter on Record: Novarupta interviewed

J.N. November 16, 2020

“Before the sun and moon have arisen in the world, there is no manifestation of light and radiance, the blinding darkness prevails. But when the sun and moon rise in the world, there is the manifestation of light; the blinding darkness, disappears and day and night are discerned, and Earth is manifested in four elements, earth, wind, fire and water”.

The interpretation on how Earth, and life, was born could also be a representation of the feelings manifested on Novarupta’s tetralogy on the four elements of matter. “Disillusioned Fire” was released last year, apparently representing “fire”, a record filled with aggression, anxiety and chaos, feelings that plagued Novarupta’s Alex Stjernfeldt at the time. But one record wasn’t enough to tell the full story on how Novarupta was brought to life. Just recently he released his sophomore album “Marine Snow”, a story revolving around water, and within the next two years he would have completed his tetralogy on the four elements of matter – and then Novarupta has come to an end.

Messed!Up met up with the former The Moth Gatherer frontman at Suicide Records office in Gothenburg with labelman Roger Andersson as the wingman, and chat about the collective Novarupta, running it all solo, and why Novarupta will stay in the studio and not tour.

The Novarupta collective

Novarupta is more than a music project, isn’t it? When you consider how music and artwork, and the concept about the four elements of matter, are intertwined it doesn’t feel like it’s “just” a music project. I wouldn’t be surprised to see an exhibition of the Novarupta art for instance.
I wouldn’t do the exhibition, Arjen [Kunnen] who did the artworks would. It’s not really my greatest skill (laugh).  

But Novarupta is a collective and Arjen is important for the Novarupta collective, we’ve always had a great dialogue on ideas. Just like the guest vocalists on my records he has full creative freedom. I just tell him “Do what you feel fits best”. When you look at the artwork on the first two albums of the tetralogy, you’ll see that he’s awesome. But in the end the music is the most important part of the project, that’s why I do it.

It doesn’t matter if people want to call it a band or an art project, I’m happy with both because I love the idea of concept albums, like Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” in the ‘70s, or Nine Inch Nails’ quite conceptual albums in the ‘90s. Although I’m the puppet master in the collective, obviously, Roger [Suicide Records labelman] is important to make it all work out, Arjen is super important as the visual artist of the collective and the guest vocalists are equally important because nothing would work out without them. The collective has so many parts that pieced-together will be an organic entity in an organic universe.

If the artwork can make someone to pick up one of my records and think “Wow, cool artwork. How does it sound?”, I may get a new fan. When that person listens to the full record and understands what the music is about, he or she will realize it’s something bigger than just one random song.

That’s why I don’t like Spotify. Well, I like Spotify because music becomes accessible whenever you want it, but I hate the culture it has shaped where bands just release singles. Songs should be part of something bigger, not just as single pieces.

When you left The Moth Gatherer and started Novarupta, it was as a solo artist featuring guest vocalists. Why a solo project, why not pull together a band?
I don’t have a great argument for it, it just happened and it stayed like that after the first record was done. I was in Stockholm to watch Ulver and had a chat with Claudio Marino [videographer, graphic designer, etc. who has worked with Ghost, Watain and Behemoth to mention a few] about me leaving The Moth Gatherer and starting on my own, and after that talk the idea of having guest vocalists started to grow.

When I left The Moth Gatherer I’ve already started writing new music that was supposed to be for Moth but ended up on my first record “Disillusioned Fire” because Moth didn’t want it. When you listen to Moth’s last record “Esoteric Oppression” and compare it to “Disillusioned Fire” you will understand why the band and I walked in different directions.

But you never feel the pressure of the huge workload that comes with being a solo artist? If anything is going to happen, you have to do it.
[Roger laughs] Yeah, there’s both pros and cons doing it yourself, but the divorce from Moth wasn’t easy at the time and not fun to go through at all and I just felt I needed to restart on my own.

Like you say, everything is dependent on me but I find it much easier to push the songwriting process forward today when I don’t have anyone telling me “Sorry, but it’s not good enough, let’s sort that song out”. If I believe in the music I write, it will be a much quicker process in the end. If it sounds like complete crap, it’s me you’ll blame (laugh).

Why did you want to do a concept series of records on the four elements and with just five or six songs per record?
It’s all about quality, not the quantity (laugh), and it’s also quite usual in the genre to release records with fewer songs, but long songs that don’t fit the radio format (laugh).

But I didn’t plan for a concept when I started Novarupta, it just happened after I released “Disillusioned Fire”. It all made sense to me. I never started writing the record as a piece of something bigger. Maybe it was something I knew subconsciously and the first record triggered it.

That first album was all about releasing a lot of pressure, lots of anxiety and anger I was carrying within me at the time, a lot of stuff that pushed me down. It wasn’t until I started writing new music for “Marine Snow” that I realized “Hey, it’s all connected and thematic”, and after a meeting with Roger it made sense to release a concept series of records.

If it all started as an organic process, is there any pressure on how to represent earth and wind on the two remaining records?
That’s something that has bothered me a lot, I’m thinking about it quite much, but the third record about air is already done. I had the concept in my head the whole writing process and it will be very different from both ”Disillusioned Fire” and ”Marine Snow”, but how different I can’t tell you right now. You have to wait until it’s released (laugh).

At the moment I’m stuck in thinking about how to represent earth, it could be anything! I can write something one day and think “I nailed it, this is earth” and the next day I change everything. Let’s just say I’m stuck at the moment but I have lots of time to deal with it.

Live shows not necessary

After being the frontman of The Moth Gatherer for ten years Alex took a step back when Novarupta started. Just like on “Disillusioned Fire” he continues to work with guest vocalists and on “Marine Snow” you’ll get a piece of Josh Graham (Red Sparowes, Neurosis, etc.) and Martin Persner (Ghost, Magna Carta Cartel, etc.) among others. However, working with guest vocalists put you up for a challenge if you plan to get out on tour like most bands do, and getting six guest vocalists to join you for a few shows is a massive effort to pull off. But for Alex playing live isn’t the primary target. After playing major stages at festivals with The Moth Gatherer he’s quite fine with Novarupta being “just” a studio project.

The first chapter in your tetralogy was about fire and the new album “Marine Snow” is about water. How do these records differ music-wise?
When I was done with all the songs for “Marine Snow” and listened through it, I got the feeling “This is about water”. There’s this wavy, pulsating feeling in the music. Fire is something aggressive and violent, and when I listen to “Disillusioned Fire” today I feel hate and anger, much of what I went through emotionally at the time. But “Marine Snow” is about sorrow and to me that represents the depth of an abyss. Naturally, it’s water then.

You continue to feature guest vocalists, but you have lots of experience of being a frontman yourself. Why not do it yourself?
Because everyone is a better vocalist than me (laugh). The first time I had a meeting with I told him that Novarupta will never be a live act. Well, that didn’t really happen because I did one live show (laugh) but I’m not sure it will happen again.

But you haven’t been thinking about having a permanent set of live members just to make touring possible?
Of course I have. The Moth Gatherer and Novarupta have a lot in common on how the bands started. When we started Moth it was just I and Viktor [Wegeborn] and we never planned for starting a band, but as time passed by and we progressed as a band we also added Svante [Karlsson] and Ronny [Westphal]. Just like that we became a band (laugh).

I’ve played with the idea that something similar will happen to Novarupta, people will join the band, become permanent members and suddenly we’ll have a band. I already have a permanent set of live musicians; Viktor is the guitarist and Christian plays bass and it has struck me a few times to make them permanent members of the Novarupta collective, but in the end I always think “No, Novarupta is gonna be me and no one else”. It’s also about my ego and me proving for everyone that I can pull it through by myself on all four albums – my records.

And then we’re back to what you said before: Novarupta will be a studio project as long as you don’t take over the mic yourself.
Yeah, and I’m not really interested in that. Roger was picking on me after our only live show (laugh) because I mostly stayed in the background like “Hey, I’m the secondary guitarist and just stay here in the back, you do your job in the front”. But I didn’t plan it like that, it just happened because I’m not really interested in being the frontman anymore. I had my ten years fronting The Moth Gatherer, that’s enough for me. It would also destroy the idea of Novarupta as a collective if I’m the center of attention all the time.

I’m happy where I am at the moment, to have Novarupta as a studio project, but if there ever would be a perfect match with musicians and vocalists I’m game for live shows as well. I just learned to play two full songs from “Marine Snow” yesterday and feel ready (laugh).

I’ve accepted years ago that I won’t be the next Metallica and also accepted that I can’t live off music, the type of music I write has never been widely popular by fans out there (laugh). But I see myself as very lucky because I have been able to release music with several bands, and I have done heaps of live shows. The Moth Gatherer didn’t want to tour much which is the first rule for finding an audience but for some fucking reason we were booked to big festivals and played big stages, and that’s something no one can take away from me. That’s my personal success to have gone through all that.

I don’t really need to bring Novarupta on stage, not at all. In fact, I’m quite happy to cool down in the studio (laugh).

If you continue to release records at the same speed it must mean that the third album will be out in 2021 and the last in 2022. But what happens after that? Have you already planned for a new concept series?
When the tetralogy is done, Novarupta has reached its end. It’s a bit sad to think about it already because Novarupta has become such a big part of my life but I decided early to end it all after four records. I already know the title of the last song on the last record, but I won’t tell you (laugh). When I release the fourth record it’s all over. Period.

Photographers: Krichan Wihlborg and Richard Bloom.
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About The Author

Music researcher with an unhealthy passion for music and music festivals. Former studio owner, semi-functional drummer and with a fairly good collection of old analogue synthesizers from the 70's. Indie rock, post rock, electronic/industrial and drum & bass (kind of a mix, yeah?) are usual stuff in my playlists but everything that sounds good will fit in.