Drott – Unmasking the Troll

Bergen band Drott, comprised of Arve Isdal (Enslaved), Ivar Thormodsæter (Ulver) and Matias Monsen released their latest album, “Troll”, in May 2023. It showcases the band’s varied musical background, ranging from metal and jazz to classical music, along with inspirations from forces of nature and Norse mythology. We spoke to Arve and Matias about the new record.

Text: Anne-Marie Forker
Photography: Jens Kristian Rimau

Hei, thank you both for your time today!
A – Hei!  How are you?
I’m good! I wanted to go back to the very beginning to start with and ask how Drott began.
A – Actually, me and the drummer really go way back. We actually studied music together back in the days.
In Bergen?
A – No, in my home town, Stord. Have you ever been to Haugesund?
Yes, I have – there’s a metal festival there every year.
A – Yeah, Karmøygeddon. So, it’s a place right between Bergen and Haugesund. It’s my home town where I grew up. So, we went to school there and played together in different bands over the years, and then we stopped played together for a long time, but we still hung out and stuff. Then we talked about playing together again, and then I started to work with Matias at this music education school. It turns out that he had played with Ivar as well, so I think we had talked about for years that we should try to play together, and that it could be an interesting line up with ‘cello, guitar and drums.
Yeah, it’s a very interesting sound, actually. Matias, are you from an area close to the same home town?
M – We’re all from the West part of Norway, but I am from further North, I’m from a little town called Florø, three hours North of Bergen, so me and Arve met in Bergen instead.
Okay. So, is it accurate to say that there’s a more Northern mythology on this record? Are the myths more from your part of Norway than from theirs?
M – No, I wouldn’t say that. It’s all based on our conception not of Northern mythology necessarily, but the Norwegian or Scandinavian folklore concerning superstition and magical creatures and trolls.
Hence the title «Troll»! (Album reviewed here!)
A – Yeah, plus we have included some local places in it, such as Troldhaugen, so that part is more like from the West of Norway. We wanted not to make the whole concept or album like that, but to make parts of it close to home, maybe.
That place has something to do with Grieg? And how big an influence was Grieg on this album?
M – Kind of. When we started playing three years ago, we had this idea of actually making an album or an EP called «Troldhaug», which is where Grieg ended up living his final years. So we had a lot of field tours, photo shoots at Troldhaugen. It’s a really nice place – have you been there, maybe?
No, but I’m going to check it out after what you just said. I’m a photographer as well, so if it’s good for photo shoots, I’m going to check it out.
A – You can say that it’s been an inspirational place for us, I guess. We’ve been there several times and sampled the whole atmosphere there. So, I can understand why he moved there.
I could hear a little bit on the record, «The Hall of the Mountain King», there was an element in «Grotten», which reminded me a little of it.
Both – Yeah, you got it.
And this is your second album in only two or three years. It’s probably a bit early, as it’s only your second, to say prolific. Do you have a lot of unreleased material already then?
A – Yeah, actually we do [laughs]. When we first started playing together, we didn’t quite know what to do or what kind of music we wanted to play, so we just went into the rehearsal room, rigged up and pressed record and started playing together for hours.
Just improvisational jams?
A – Yeah. So we did that for weeks and we didn’t even listen back to what we had done, we just kept on showing up at the rehearsal room, rigging up, pressing record and playing together, for hours. So when we first started listening back to it, we were all curious about what we had been doing – was there something here, or was it just nonsense? Then we figured out that there were a lot of good ideas – ideas for songs, arrangements and stuff. So, yeah, we still have a lot of that early stuff and we also have fully recorded on each session. We have had three sessions in the study already. The first one for the EP that came out first, and for the Orcus album, and for this album. We still have recorded a lot of songs that have not been released yet.
That’s good to hear. Did you always want to be primarily an instrumental band and avoid having a vocalist intentionally? Or did it just come about that way?
A – I think we have some vocals, actually, on the record.
Yeah, I wanted to ask about the guest vocals.
A – We thought about it.
M – We have kind of avoided having a lead singer.
Yeah, that’s what I meant. You didn’t want to deal with that.
A – One thing is that it gets more complicated, the more members you bring in. And also it felt like a cool thing to just be a three piece. We thought, well, it’s working good, so why change it already? So, when we brought in the vocal parts, the guest singers on both albums, it was more like to have a certain flavour on top. And it’s not like it’s like more typical lead vocals, with lyrics, it’s more like an instrument, like a fourth instrument.

The sound textures from the vocals on this album are really beautiful, especially the female vocal on «Sabbat». I wanted to ask how you met each of the three vocalists – I know one of them is Gaahl, who is fairly well known. How did you come across each of them and why choose each particular vocalist?
A – As we started working on this album, we wanted like a human presence, a more organic sound in there, and it could be like a presence of a creature, like a troll, if you want. Then we thought about Gaahl, that he would be perfect for that, we thought [laughs].
Good choice!
A – Yeah, he’s a good friend of mine, so I just asked him. We’re doing this album, thinking, do you want to check it out, and so on, and he was like «Yeah, sure». So when we asked him if he could come to the studio, he said «well, I asked Lindy here to join as well» because they had been working a lot together, and they are also working on a project right now, or at least back then when we recorded the album, that Matias also played some cello on.
Ah, beautiful.
A – So, we didn’t really ask Lindy, she just joined Gaahl when he came along. ‘Cause we were just thinking about the song ought to have the voice present or sound. But then it turned out great when we went into the studio and started recording, and Kristian did some stuff, and then Lindy said «I have an idea, can I try something?» «Yeah, sure», we just put up a mic, and then went back and forth, trying out. And we said «this is cool, this maybe not».
Would they come in and join your jamming sessions or had you narrowed it down to a rough track or a song and then they came in?
A – It was more or less finished when they came in, because that’s when we started thinking about it. Okay, it’s finished now, but we kind of feel something is missing – like we said, the human presence – something.
M – Or the troll presence.
Yeah, you get that from the album cover as well, which I wanted to ask about. You can see the eyes! Are you not a fan of the cover?
M – I like the feeling I have about the cover, and that’s why I like the cover more now than maybe in the more creative process.  So, I think it’s probably because I had another idea and the other guys didn’t want it.
I know how that feels, actually.
M – I think it worked out really nice. It captures our basic energy, and if you can say the album has a narrative, it’s really representative, I feel.
Jumping a little bit back to the sessions, before they became songs and you were just playing together, were you tasked with narrowing those down, was that your job to do that, to decide which sections would be songs, or did you do that all together?
M – We did everything all together. We always have. It’s been kind of a trend for us in our previous album as well, visualizing the mood and playing with themes and stories, concepts. And in the Troll album, Arve was really eager to push through with this troll concept, and it felt natural to continue the narrative approach to this album. A kind of kind a concept album, you could say.
When you had the music ready, before you narrowed it down to songs, which was the most difficult to conceive of as a song and which was the easiest or quickest?
A – The first one, Troldhaug, was definitely the easiest one, because it was the one we made first, and that was from one of those first jam sessions, I think. So we had that even before we recorded the first EP. Then we talked about maybe well do another EP which is a little bit darker and we can call it «Troldhaug» or «Troldhaugen». But then when we started to work on that, we felt from the first, we had a lot of ideas and sketches for songs so we figured out that, okay, probably we want to make an album out of it. And also «Troldhaug» or «Troldhaugen» concept were kind of too specific and everyone would think about Greig and that place, and it just felt too small, kind of. Then, okay, we can keep the theme of it, but it make it a little more open and wide, because what we think og the troll concept is not only the big trolls and stuff [laughs].
No! that’s something I’ve come to learn. I’m a bit more informed now I’ve lived in Norway for a few years, than before, because the troll image outside Norway is very different to Norse mythology.
A – Yeah, so, it goes back way even before the Scandinavian trolls begin, I guess. But even so, we all grew up with the fairy tales about the trolls, so it’s close to home, and I lived right next to a forest when I grew up, which I always went to play in at night and it was cool, with the dark atmosphere in the forest.
It sounds wonderful. Speaking of «dark» and «forest», I’m almost sure there were trees in the promotional shoot, where you had these masks with long noses. I must ask – what are they? What does that represent?
M – Well, I believe they are Venetian carnival masks.
I thought – they look Italian but they must be Norwegian, what’s this?
M – It felt… we just agreed on all the promotional shoots, on «Orcus», which has this Etruscan, Mediterranean mythology as a basis, it was natural to hide behind these Italian masks, and they stuck.
Not literally stuck to your face?
M – Not literally – when I get home, I take it off [laughs].
A – I think the first time we used it was for the video shoot for the «Arch of Gloom», and the second single on the «Orcus» album. Because we just liked the way it felt, in the song. It was a cool thing, and it was right for the atmosphere for the song, and we took some photos with them. And then we were like «Hmm, it’s kind of cool» because it takes the focus a little away from us, and more towards the music maybe.
I can see that. Did you use them live at your release concert?
A – We did!
What was that like, playing with them on? Did it feel freer or could you not see?
A – Both. It was strange and really hard to play with. We did rehearse a little bit with them, because they were so small eyes, you could hardly see. And Matias actually had to cut some off the nose, because he couldn’t play with it [laughs].
Of course – the nose would be in the way – drrrrring!
M – I could use the nose as a bottleneck.
A – [Laughs] I like them, for now at least. I mean, it fits the music. Live, it’s only instrumental, it gives it a certain vibe, and I think, in my head at least, it makes it more focused on the music, because we’ve got no faces.

So, are you going to have any more live concerts?
A – Yeah, definitely. It was a good feeling playing that show.
This year?
A – Hopefully this year. We haven’t booked anything yet but we have talked about so, yeah.
Good, good. What comes next for you?
A – Well, we already started working on new stuff, new material. We don’t know what it’s going to be yet. Probably the next thing will be a new concert, I hope, after the summer sometime.
Would you keep it to the West coast or are you considering coming to Oslo?
A – We’re open to coming to Oslo. We’ll see.
Would you be thinking about another album release next year?
A – Well, we have released every year till now! So, we’ll see.
I look forward to it.

Originally published in Norway Rock Magazine #2/2023