A wise man said once, that life is like a box of chocolates – you never know what you’re gonna get. The same thing applies not only to Shining’s frontman, Niklas Kvarforth, but also to the music he’s creating with Shining since more than 20 years. With music, which is, inseparably but against the members’ will, usually associated with emotion-packed live shows. The newest Shining album, “Varg Utan Flock”, managed to combine the brutality and aggression with sadness and reflexion. We had the opportunity to talk to Kvarforth Japan, books, Satanism and Internet addiction.
Alicja Sułkowska: This time it’s an official “hello”, I guess (laughs). How are you?
Well, just got back from Madrid.
Business or pleasure?
Nah, I don’t do things for pleasure (laughs). No, I went there to record there with a band formed with members of Teitanblood…
And how did it go?
We just finished the vocal recordings, so it was pretty cool actually. You know, it’s me, another guy from Shining, and guys from Teitanblood.
Are you already signed with any label?
Yes, we are. We haven’t gone official yet, I guess it might be the first time we announce it. The band is called Lice, like the things you get in your head when you’re a kid. It’ll be a whole album, a really cool one if you ask me – completely different from everything I’ve ever done before.
What kind of music can we expect then?
Well, some of it can be linked to old Norwegian black metal, but other parts rather to Joy Division or Tom Petty. It’s kind of fucked up, you know (laughs).
Sounds like a decent advertisement!
Yes, I’m also working on a new Skitliv album with Maniac. For the first time we have an actual line-up, so we’ve started to record Skitliv as well.
Are you- [Niklas started talking at the same time] Oh, I interrupted you, sorry!
Oh, no you didn’t, it’s just some bullshit coming out of my mouth. What did you want to ask about?
…If you plan to perform live with those two bands.
With Skitliv obviously yes, I’m not sure about Lice though, since it also depends on other members.
Changing topic a bit – you mostly do interviews on phone. What’s a source of your aversion towards e-mails?
Well, I can talk on phone or face to face. The reason I’m not doing e-mail interviews is just lack of time.
Isn’t being busy a positive thing?
Both yes and no, not for me at least. It has affected my body quite bad and I had some serious health problems because of that… But it’s getting better, that’s why I decided to start doing phone interviews again instead of sitting in front of a computer.
Can computers be a serious threat to both physical and mental health then?
Of course! It’s kind of good thing, as I’m not humanitarian in any way. You see that the whole world, and especially the whole generation has to grow up with all these things connected to the availability of information. The whole real world is not that important as the digital world anymore. It has a lot of pros and cons obviously, like in business for instance. But the downsides are that just too much happens at a single moment, what can be a serious problem. It’ll destroy a lot of companies, hopefully. And then you have all of the young people who are exposing themselves to the entire world without realizing the problems connected with it. Also, this information-jungle shouldn’t really be available like that. If you’re interested in something, you just search for it. And suddenly the one click of the mouse becomes discovering the truth, like “oh, that’s how it really is!”. I have this friend I work with, it’s like during the discussion we say for example “Yeah, I don’t know if a plane should do a dive during the crash”. And then she goes “Wait!” and just trying to search for it, but I’m like “Don’t do it, I want to have some mystery about that!”.
So could Internet addiction be compared to drug or alcohol addiction?
Of course, but I only have an alcohol addiction and drug addiction, so…
…you don’t need a third one (laughs)?
Well, I also have a sex addiction, that’s three already. Four would be a bit too much indeed!
Yeah, as people say, three is kind of a lucky number.
Not for me, but I get your point (laughs)…
Let’s get back to the music then. You’ve said it’s impossible to label Shining just as “black metal” – what would you say about your music now in that context?
This is so odd for me… When I was 12, I’ve started a band and called that what I’ve played “suicidal black metal”. People took it deadly serious and made a whole subgenre out of it, what I consider laughable. I mean, I am the only one who is the Satanist in the band, so I feel it would be blasphemy to my Lord if I would still call our music black metal, because, according to me, black metal should be a religious act. And I always follow my principals regarding that, but if I would have to give Shining an ultimate definition, I think it would just be “Darkness”.
Is Satanism obligatory to record a convincing piece of music?
No, absolutely not. Any fundamentalist religion can be used that way. If your speaking of Satanism in black metal, your art should be a tool for the Devil. And I feel that if you express your love to the Devil through your music and that’s called black metal, then I think it’s fine. But if you’re writing about Devil without having your eyes opened, then the music is just entertainment. Mostly shitty one.
What kind of tools may be used in music to spread the message you’ve mentioned?
What I do with Shining is somehow different, as I don’t speak directly about the Devil, but the Devil is always present in my work. He’s my life. At the same time, it couldn’t be any different, as my religious views have impacts on other aspects of my life. I would say, in music you have to speak bluntly. I try to convince people, as music is a weapon for me. And I use it as a weapon in all terms I can, although I would never consider myself as a kind of priest for example. While there are other people, who are really good at things like that and shall continue doing that. On the other hand, I have a talent for making people destroy themselves or at least get interested in criminality or gang violence. If I can get them do it, my work for the Devil is done. For me, of course, it is, but I don’t have to openly talk about it that much. If I wanted to show to establish it as a message, it would be somehow blasphemous, because I could have never spoken through His tongue. But my point is that the Devil is always present in each crime, each man-slaughter. It’s a purely negative emotion.
But, on the other hand, isn’t being a Satanist a next black-metal-cliché, strictly associated with that genre?
You know, when the Devil looks back at you, you either go insane or run for your fucking life. That happens to everyone. I mean, I’ve been to the black metal scene for 25 years, come on (laughs)! For me, that was a religious period of life, but I quickly saw that people were more interested in talking than actually doing what they were writing about.
When did it become clear to you that that’s the way you want to go?
Actually, the religious side came before the music. I always found myself attracted to the opposition. I was always interested in giving pain, hurting others, all of the darker shades of life… Shit, it’s so fucking cold here (laughs)!
Yeah, same here…
Well, we live pretty close to each other, I’m in Slovenia right now.
Not sure if it’s that close, you know (laughs)…
Oh, come on, it’s just a map (laughs). Anyway, it was the negativity, that always interested me as a kid and I think that the reason why I got into black metal so early. I was listening to Guns’n’Roses, but then I’ve met that guy, who showed me the darker side. That interest got me to see that there was a platform for that kind of ideas. At the same time, I’ve already figured out at the beginning, that the whole scene was basically built on bullshit.
Is the modern DSBM scene in any form built on the aspects you’ve mentioned?
That’s what I’m saying – I’ve coined the term and now I feel ashamed of it and of the modern bands. My idea of calling my music “suicidal black metal” back in the 90. was to create music which would make people commit suicide and other acts of violence. But these guys today basically just record albums for their girlfriends with the message like “Oh, I miss you so much”. I don’t understand how this works. I use situations from my daily life – if you look at Shining albums, they’re like pages in the diary. You have to use your own experience in order to force certain actions on others. Otherwise, the message isn’t valid. You were referring to this depressive suicidal kind of thing, I have no idea what they are and I don’t want to know. I’m not really interested in discovering the metal scene anyway.
Don’t you have an impression that the kind of music with a strong message, as you have with Shining, may become monotonous to both you and the listeners?
You know, if the listeners were bored of it, then I don’t see the reason why they would buy new albums. I don’t exactly know how I do it, I just do the things from my heart. I don’t sit down and say “Nah, I can’t do it, because I’ve already used this idea before”, I just concentrate and follow my heart wherever it leads me and eventually make an album from it. If the album is depressive or goes in other way is impossible to predict. That’s why I don’t use a term for that because I just do what I do, I don’t plan (laughs).
And even though you manage to release your albums almost with mathematical calculation every second year – any receipt for that?
If you live the life I do, many things can happen to you during two years. For instance, during last three years, I’ve lived in three different countries, been on trial, there was a lot going on in the meantime, and then I recorded an album… But stuff just happens. Sometimes I can write a whole album in two days. But it’s not that I sit with a guitar daily, it just comes, like sort of flash – and suddenly the whole album is ready, except of the recording, of course. It was similar with “Varg Utan Flock”, which is obviously very different than the previous ones.
Deliberately trying to make music more interesting is not a way then?
Well, I do what I want, and, what’s the most important, I have to make the music interesting for me. But I’ll never create something with premeditation just for a sake of pleasing an idiot. Then you’d betray your instincts and betray yourself as an artist. And when I speak about myself as about an artist, I don’t speak of the guy who uses art as his income (which I actually do), but of someone, who lives with and for what he does…
You’ve also mentioned that the main feelings that accompanied you were scorn and anger. Do you need that kind of strong emotions to create?
I don’t need them, they’re already there. I don’t think: “Now I need that kind of feeling”. On this album, I went through a lot in my personal life, which affected me and affected everyone around me. Some people died, others left, it was just a very hard period in my life and I was extremely angry. That’s why the music turned out the way it is, definitely more aggressive. I just couldn’t imagine laughing in the studio and later going into vocal booth thinking “OK, now I need to be angry!”. It’s just something that’s already deep inside me. Nothing pleasant, but it’s necessary. I welcome these feelings of negativity in my life and that’s why… that’s why I don’t have any friends (bursts into laughter)!
(laughs) Speaking of negativity, it’s possible to observe its evolution on every album – it’s getting more symbolic, no more reduced to the “kill yourself” message. Would you agree?
That’s what people often get wrong – it’s not about “go kill yourself”, it never was. Yes, the topic of suicide had been used several times, but there is so much more beauty there: murder, homicide, matricide, patricide, genocide… You can manipulate people into doing horrible acts for the Devil. That’s what Shining is about. Obviously, the self-destructive elements are present as the expression of needs of a very destructive person, but it’s easy to force them upon others without too much complexity. You just need someone who is looking for something. The music changes according to the atmosphere and it’s nothing I can have control over. It’s impossible to distinguish these emotions and all those I know while this pilgrimage if I can use this word to describe my life recently… Morocco, all of these places I was looking for a home, was looking for freedom which I wanted to find after some events in my life. At the end of the day, I think that the knowledge of not having a home and basically being a nomad, puts an extra pressure on me as a person, blackening my soul a bit.
Did you manage to find the home yet?
Well, now I’m living in former Yugoslavia and I kind of like it, but we’ll see. I’m a creature that does not settle down easily – I’ve tried it with relationships. I mean, I’ve really tried it (chuckles), but at the end, the darkness inside tends to eat everything and everyone around me…
Let’s improve the mood a bit now… If you’re speaking of your music as a tool, what’s your opinion on Shining fans?
I’m not a people person, but I have to agree, the Shining fans are absolute number one. Without them, I wouldn’t have a life, as they literally pay my bills. I think it’s fantastic, that they seem to absorb the message and basically becoming children of mine. It’s like forming youth by an emissary. Of course, they mean everything to us, because without them I wouldn’t even have the purpose to make music. But, apart from the business kind of thing, I am grateful for every soul I might corrupt, that brings real joy to my heart. Last time when we had an opportunity to infect the America and other continents, it made me happy to see that there are so many people out there who are willing to take that step into the unknown. I also find a lot of passion in them, that means a lot to me, that they are taking this creation of mine and fuse with their own personal lives. But in a bad way.
Is it possible then…
Hang on… Shit, it’s so much snow here! I’m sorry, what did you say?
(Niklas had a little coughing fit here)
Are you okay?
Are you seriously asking me, if I’m okay (laughs)? That’s sweet…
I just wanted to ask you, if it’s possible for you to divide Shining from the other aspects of your life or are they one same thing?
I used to think, Shining was a magnifying glass of all negative aspects of my life. But later, especially after this pilgrimage, I somehow realized, that Shining has its positive elements as well. It doesn’t matter if I call it positive, because other people may not, but anyway. Now as I reflect those 22 years of Shining, I’m surprised, because I’ve always thought it was different. But then I came to the painful conclusion, that actually Shining is me and that is what turns the band into the kind of genuine power because what you see is me and it’s all extremely personal version of me. So no, I cannot distinguish Shining from my other life, because Shining is me, although it took some years for me to realize it.
Continuing this analogy, do you think that the music of Shining is strictly connected to the live gigs? Would it be the same if you’d stop performing live?
The live gigs are something completely different. To be honest, I don’t particularly enjoy being on stage, so for me, it’s more like personal experience, as I’ve said before about these pages of the diary. For me some of these pages are just bad things I’ve done to people I supposed to love/like, just to be able to create the inner conflict. And through this conflict to create something more evil I’d done otherwise. These are the self-destructive parts and the reason, why I’m alone is that I always follow them – not for pleasure, but to be able to reach this incredible level of pain and isolation. On stage, I’m living those nightmares over and over again. Sometimes I might be in a… not “happy mood”, but at least “content mood” about doing this, while on other points I might be a very bad position and then things usually go wrong. When you see a Shining show, it all depends on how well Niklas cooperates with Kvarforth.
You also didn’t play live from the beginning, starting somehow later. What made you do this?
Uhm, I believe it was because we had John Doe and Hellhammer in the band. I just wanted to experiment with the scene, what could bring those nightmares up on stage. And of course, that was very weird, because I was very young, so the effect was… kind of thrilling, the whole experience and so on. It just happened, like everything in this band (laughs).
What you’ve called an experiment, many others describe as “controversial” …
Of course, it’s not intentional. If you’d listen to what I said, it’s not intentional, it’s just what happens. If someone thinks it’s controversial – fine, I can’t say anything against that. Again, I am not a person who will sit and plan, “Oh, today we would do a soft show, so we can get more fans”. I just do what I do. And if people have a problem with it, then fuck you. But sometimes I wish, the media and people, in general, would be not so busy calling up all of these “controversial” aspects of everything in a negative way. For example, in America, there was that girl who went ballistic after she saw our show and started to cry and wrote this fantastic review, which basically said “Oh, I’ve been into black metal for ten years and have seen two hundred black metal bands live. And then I see Shining, and I’ve never felt so scared in my entire life…” (laughs). Like come on, that’s what is supposes to be! If she goes to a fucking black metal show, doesn’t she want to experience something horrible, doesn’t she want to experience fear, doesn’t she want to experience the smell of death? Well, in another case just go there and stay in your bubble while thinking everything is okay…
Well, in Poland we had this case with Gorgoroth gig in Kraków in 2004, this one with crucified people and sheep heads… I mean, the media were kind of hyped, but the fans and people who attended that gig wouldn’t see any problem at all.
Actually, I’ve met Gaahl two days ago, as he was in Slovenia. We don’t speak about that particular gig-incident anymore, but about other ones, an everything Gaahl was involved in, when he was in Gorgoroth. I mean, he’s still the same guy he used to be, just no more the part of the band. To be honest, I don’t understand this whole “controversy-bullshit”. You can end up in any way, that’s a fucking controversy. People are shooting and stabbing each other (chuckles), but oh wait, there is some blood and some dead sheep, what a tragedy!
The tabloid media are actually mostly interested in music when they can make some controversy out of it…
You know, I used to like a lot of Polish bands, I still do actually. Graveland, for example, the fact that they were burning churches and stuff like that. And the same thing is being labeled as “controversial” to say too, what I can’t understand at all. I mean, sure, they could’ve been called neo-nazi in the past, whatever, I don’t give a fuck. If I like something, I listen to it. There’s the negative vibe in everything and I find it and end up liking it.
It’s also somehow interesting that the most bands seem to have the biggest problems in their actual country of origin – just take the example of you and Sweden or Behemoth in Poland…
I don’t know, but I got an e-mail from Adam a while back because I’ve found some old pictures of him from the 90., as he was in Sweden and in Norway (laughs). Behemoth is a really big band now and they absolutely deserve it, as Adam is a very interesting artist. I don’t know exactly how the situation in Poland is like though. But even if it’s pretty rough, it’s still hard to make some certain analogies with Shining and our show in 2007, which caused the mass panic in the country. There’s that expression, that it’s very hard to be the king in your own country, and I think it applies to both Behemoth and Shining. I think it actually has a lot to do with the people who are actually involved in the scene in a concrete country, they may feel jealousy, because they’re like “Adam is selling 700 000 CDs! That’s not okay, I’d like to be like it too”. But still, they stage the fake smile and pretend to support them. On the other hand, Adam is still there selling records and I highly doubt that he gives a single fuck about all of that what people are saying (laughs).
I agree with you here…
There is always the jealousy. I’m not talking just about our scene, but I’m also about every aspect of life here. Let’s say you work in a car showroom and you sell two more cars than the others, so basically become the owner’s pet, being invited damn barbecue on Saturday evening. And out of nowhere, other people feel envy, but not only envy, also the anger and will to punish you for achieving something they did not. It’s just the lack of competition.
Are people capable to live together and cooperate at all?
I don’t know, I don’t like people, so I would never live with them. No, seriously, I have these selected few people that I consider my friends, brothers, and sisters, but they are very few and I talk to them very seldom. Once for several months or even years, because I’m not that kind of person, who would like to be in a situation, where I need to be close to another human being for too long.
But, after all, you somehow chose the job that demands from you to be around other people quite a lot…
No, not really… During past 10 years, we had seven band members, so I think it kind of explains why it’s like this (chuckles). Apart from that, when we play concerts, I’m fortunate enough to be in the hotel instead of the tour bus, because I need some time alone. No matter how this sounds, it’s really for the security of the others. I just don’t want to be forced to be with people, when I just want to lie down and watch “Simpsons”.
Is it possible to say, that our society somehow forces upon people to socialize with others, even if that’s against their will?
If you work in the business I do, or Adam, or Erik from Watain does, you have to have that social side to be able to interact with people doing the business– in this way, yes. No matter how hard it is, at the end of the day you put the conviction to your head, I mean in my case, the Devil plays the role in this. And if the Devil has his needs, you are basically His and have to put aside your personal agenda and have to understand, that your personal feelings don’t really matter, until you get his will done. (After few seconds of silence) I sound like a fucking dictator (laughs)!
In this case, I hope you’ll allow me to ask the next music-related question. Why does Aokigahara, the suicide forest in Japan, fascinate you?
Yeah. I mean, I can somehow imagine the reason (laughs), but tell me something more about it…
I’ve always been interested in Japanese culture, religion and its attributes, especially the Yūrei. When I heard about these ghosts, which, in usual translation, are basically “the ghosts”, but in the traditional sense mean “a man or a woman who died of sorrow”. And this kind of ghost exists all over Japan and at the feet of the Mount Fuji, where the suicide forest is located. In Japanese culture, if you’re not intelligent enough to get straight As and become a successful person, you have two other choices: you either join the Yakuza or you kill yourself, so you won’t be a reason of shame to your family. Aokigahara is a place, where Yūreis’ energy is particularly strong. Five or six years ago, Hoest from Taake showed me this documentary about the person who’s cleaning the forest from the bodies. They had this feeling that they had to remain with the corpse in a house so the spirit can’t flee and become the Yūrei. They take spirituality very seriously and that always attracted me. Then, of course, Hollywood came and destroyed the whole concept.
…and that exactly supposed to be my next question (laughs). Have you seen the movies about the forest?
I believe there were three made, which one do you mean?
The newest one, from like 2016 or something around…
Yeah, it sucks. I’m currently finishing another book, in which I’m writing about contemporary horror cinema because I watch a lot of movies and I wanted to create something about the horror itself and how the darkness of horrors can dominate certain movie and culture-landscapes. So basically, I thought the concept of the Aokigahara would make a really good movie, but obviously, they fucked it up.
Would Japanese make a better movie out of it then?
Japanese, except maybe Takashi Miike, tend to treat the source material with more respect. In America, it’s not a thing, but I don’t cross out Hollywood cinema like that, because of what for example Blumhouse Productions did, horror movies are becoming something brilliant again. I don’t know, I just think it’s sad. This Aokigahara title, I just wanted to finally use it on this album, but then I realized “Holy shit, it’s not the right time to do it, everyone will think now I’ve just watched a bad movie” (laughs). Together with Marduk, we visited Japan, soon we’re going back there, so we hope to have a little picnic in the forest…
Still, it’s not the only movie-related element on “Varg Utan Flock” – let’s not forget about “Cry Little Sister” from “Lost Boys” soundtrack… Was the movie the reason you’ve recorded the cover?
I’ve watched it, but no. It’s kind of weird story though – we’ve recorded three covers, but it was actually Season of Mist, who wanted “Cry Little Sister” there. I don’t think it suits the whole album at all. I initially recorded it for my brother, because the song has a lot of meaning for us, people who are dead, who used to be our friends. Then the label liked it and wanted to use it on the vinyl version of the album, special digipack or shit like that. Still, it has nothing to do with the rest of the recording.
The next one is the cover of The Coffinshakers “No Rest for the Wicked”…
Oh, that one (laughs)!
All three covers create some kind of gothic/new wave atmosphere – was it some kind of concept?
No, I just like recording covers. I was seating with the guitar, that was used to record King Diamond’s “Abigail” album and I really loved the sound of that instrument, so I’ve just recorded songs and put some vocals on them and… voila, it ended up on a vinyl (laughs).
I don’t know how much you’re into the world of visual arts, but there was that Polish painter once, who created while being drunk and on drugs. After finishing a work, he would write in the corner, what kind of stuff did he take, so the audience could see the impacts of drugs. Would you say that Shining’s music may be divided into these categories?
(laughs) Actually, somehow it does… I’m working on the book about Shining, a sort of biography. It’s going to tell the whole story, drugs included. But “Varg Utan Flock” for example was recorded while I was completely sober. Drugs have a good way of turning you into… not something else, but expanding your vision. And capability of turning this vision into…Well, I’m not sure…
You’ve mentioned, you’re working on a book right now. When it’ll be published?
At the moment, I’m writing two – the one about horror cinema is going to be finished in autumn and the Shining one hopefully in the summer.
It’s good on the other hand. If I’m not busy, I might do stupid things.
How do you feel in the role of the writer and author? Do you like it?
No. I mean, I like writing, I like reading, but what I find appealing is beyond anything one could read and turn into words. But I like the form of releasing books, all different editions, like with “When Prozac No Longer Helps” – it also will be released in, I think, Russian and French. I like the concept of doing books, the formats, I like the idea that someone is actually buying physical copies of blood, sweat, and paper. That’s why it’s somehow sad, how the digital copies are killing this form, but you know…
When you’re talking about books, you mention Goethe and “The Sorrows of Young Werther” and that people committed suicide after reading a book. Is it somehow inspiring to you?
I believe it’s the thing that I am just an equivalent of Shining albums, also the equivalent of Werther’s sorrows… It’s all about inner suffering.
Which aspects of this book made such an impression on readers?
I think it’s because it opened his [Goethe’s] heart and his soul from within, instead of masking it with censorship. It was like “I know it’s about myself, people will find out. They may look at me in a weird way”. But he wrote it anyway and didn’t give a fuck. Goethe managed to speak to people in the only completely truthful work of art can do.
The main character Goethe’s book is obviously dealing with some… well, let’s call it the stuff of different origin. In today’s world, you can have an impression on the other hand, that more attention is being paid to the mental illness and the ill themselves?
You know, I’m mentally ill, so I focus on that instead of other people except if I’d want to make it worse.
But did you meet people who altruistically tried to help you somehow or “show the right way”?
Yeah, every girl I’ve ever fucked (laughs). Every fucking person tried to convince me “you just have to do this and this”. But I’ve just said, “I am who I am, I have my diagnosis and there’s nothing I can do about it, honey”. People have a hard time accepting that, and accepting mental illness in general. That’s the way it’ll always be, I guess. And so I stay at home and work instead of going to the bar (laughs)!
In which way did the “Cold Void” documentary manage to capture the reality of mental illness?
The guy contacted me when I was in the studio and told me about doing this documentary. I said “no” at the beginning, because we’re working on this Shining movie for many years. But then he said it won’t have anything to do with the band, it’ll be just about mental illness and my point of view. I think he made it in an extremely good way and actually, some universities and schools purchased the movie to be able to educate the students about dealing with issues like that.
Did you have any influence on the process of the making of this movie?
No, Claudio just asked my questions, my role was just to answer them. It’s all his work.
One last question – are you planning to do a regular tour this year apart of these few festival gigs announced?
Because of some problems with one of our members, about which I cannot talk openly, we are not able to tour until autumn – we’ll start the tour in either September or October, but we’ll do it a bit different and doing like one country at the time, a week or so.
Rather necessity, to be honest, because of all those structural issues. But I really hope we can return to Poland, as it was such a long time ago we played there for the last time… When was it? Right, 2009 with Satyricon. Fuck, it was nine years ago! See, time flies fast when you’re having fun (laughs). All we can do is to wait for someone to contact us, because, you know, I like Poland (laughs)!
Great to hear that! Well, it was all from me – if you’d like to add something, go ahead!
There’s the new side company of Shining called Shining Legions with the webshop, where all the special vinyl editions and stuff are available and we will continue doing that, so check that out! And, of course, try to force the promoters to get us to play all over there and…I don’t know… I also want to thank you for the interview, which was pretty interesting – don’t quit what you’re doing (laughs).
For polish version of interview click here.