21st century guitar hero Steinar Karlsen has appeared in many
reviews and many writers and radio stations have enjoyed spinning
his music over the past decade. Its been a while but Steinar
Karlsen returns in 2020 with Destination Venus. Co-produced,
engineered and mixed by Bård Ingegrigtsen, the
12-track, 36 minute Destination Venus features Steinars
guitars, synths, mellotron and more, backed up by a range of players
including Martin Langlie (drums, percussion) and Eirik Øien
(bass), as well as Børd Ingegrigtsen who also adds rhythm guitar
on a track along with Marita Vardal Igelkjøn on musical
saw. With song titles like Picnic On The Moon, Space
Camel, A Billion Stars, Venus listed
on the back of the CD cover, the theme of Destination Venus may
ostensibly be outer space, but thats just one among many musical
signposts. The album combines Steinars fascination with 1960s
guitar instrumentals, yet theres also something quite earthy
about this album, like a human being trying to make sense of the bewilderment
of the galaxies and the infinite possibilities of the solar system.
Theres nothing alien sounding about Destination Venus
and a good example of Steinars earthbound resilience is the
albums lead off track, The Goodbye, which sounds
like a Norwegian-inspired instrumental that Ry Cooder might have written
in his heyday. Another good example of this albums eclectic
nature is the track The Karman Line which is a very Scandinavian
meets neo-progressive rock track that combines Steinars jazzy
guitar work with a memorable Euro-sounding melodic approach. A definite
highlight here, Space Camel, combines surging vintage
keyboards with an enticing style rock fusion arrangement that truly
takes the listener into unknown territory. Another highlight track,
Monsters is a driving, guitar-centric rock instrumental
with very spooky sounding keyboards and Theremin-style accoutrements.
One track that does live up to its cosmic connection is the short
but sweet Red Skies, a track that could almost, funny
enough, pass as a New Age track. Those are just among the albums
highlights but in the case of Destination Venus, the whole
is clearly more than the sum of its parts and the sound and vision
is truly as deep as the universe itself. Although Steinar Karlsen
has released a wide range of acclaimed guitar-based instrumental albums
over the past decade, perhaps Destination Venus is both his
finest yet and certainly his most upbeat and colorful sounding album.
Steinar Karlsen brings his colorful blend of instrumental guitar music
to an interplanetary level of intrigue on Destination Venus.
mwe3.com presents an interview with
How are things in Norway 2020? I guess no one was really expecting
this pandemic / attack to pulverize the world. What are the latest
expectations in Norway as to when things might stabilize or is it
too soon to say?
Steinar Karlsen: The situation is not as bad as in other parts
of the world. We have been through this self-isolation period now
and it looks like it has stabilized the situation a bit. The government
is now opening up the schools and allowing cafes and pubs to open.
What will happen next I dont know, but I think we still should
be very careful out there.
mwe3: What guitars and amps are you playing on the Destination
Venus album? What else is new and current for you in the guitar
and gear world? Are you doing a lot of practicing of guitars and keyboards
or do you mostly use the guitars and keyboards as keys to composing
Steinar Karlsen: For most of the tracks I used my Epiphone
Sorento guitar or a Danelectro Dc-3. I also used the Airline Tuxedo
for a few tracks. For overdubs I used Gretsch Electromatic Jet Baritone,
a Framus acoustic guitar and Fender Cabronita tele.
I used a dual amp setup for this record. Amp number one was for all
tracks a Fender Deluxe Reverb. For amp number two I switched between
a Top Hat amp and a Tandberg Båndopptaker 2, which is an old
Norwegian reel to reel tape recorder used as an amp.
My pedals are: Boss TU-2, Voodoo Lab Tremolo, Tc electronic MojoMojo,
Strymon El capitan and VanAmps Sole-Mate spring reverb. I used Morley
The Tripler for splitting signal into two amps. On the
Night Flight track I also used an ampeg scrambler Fuzz
owned by the studio.
I bought a Tc electronic MojoMojo a few years ago besides that I havent
changed much of my equipment for some years now. So I think its
kind of the same setup as on my previous record Tur.
I practice guitar but I dont follow any program. It is more
like playing guitar instead of practicing. And I play a lot of guitar
when I write music. I record a lot of improvisations and pick the
parts of it that I like and make songs out of them. Keyboard is not
an instrument I play a lot, but I use it as a song writing tool, and
I do a lot of keyboard overdubs during recording.
Is your 2020 album, Destination Venus a different kind of album
for you in that its influenced by fantasies of outer space and
other planets? Are you into astrological phenomena? The title and
track titles aside, what brought on the idea of the Destination
Venus album? When were the tracks written and recorded?
Steinar Karlsen: Well Yes, the album or parts of the album
is a bit different from the earlier ones. I brought in some new elements
and longer improvisational parts, but I think it is still recognizable
me. No I am not into astrological phenomena. I am a bit more into
astronomy. I am fascinated how it is possible to send vessels both
with and without humans to outer space.
The idea for the album started when I saw Venus in the night sky.
I think it was during the winter some years ago and I wondered
maybe this time my music can travel to Venus. And I started out writing
the track Venus. During the recording sessions I came
up with the album title and made a plan for organizing the tracks
like a space travel in chronological order.
Most of the songs were written 2018-2019, and a few came out of older
ideas. Weightless and Acid rain were both
written together with the band during the recording of the album June
mwe3: Is The Goodbye sort of a take off or rather
the point of departure on the album? On that track, you play a lot
of the melodies in octaves. It an upbeat track and theres even
some Spanish motifs combined with country twang so its a very
even-tempered way to start the album. Is the title kind of sad in
that its unusual to start an album with the words goodbye?
Steinar Karlsen: A goodbye is not always sad. Sometimes its
the start of something new. In this case, its the point of departure
for a new adventure.
Are the band members that play with you on Destination Venus musicians
you worked with on your earlier albums? Did you rehearse a lot with
them to get such a high level of performance? The playing is very
much in-sync sounding between you and the band. Also tell us about
the Destination Venus co-producer Bård Ingebrigtsen
and how you worked with him.
Steinar Karlsen: The band and co-producer is the same on my
record Tur. Their style suits my music very well so I asked
them to join me on Destination Venus too. I made demos for
the songs. Everybody listened and learned these in advance. We did
not play the songs together until the recording session started. We
rehearsed each song in the studio until it started to sound good,
then we hit record. Bård was very important during this process,
he helps us keeping track of the good vibe. The advantage of working
this way is that every tune often sounds more fresh and inspired.
I dont mean it is not good to do band rehearsals, but it is
often a special energy and feeling in music played together for the
first time. That's what I wanted to capture this time.
mwe3: Night Flight is a very up-tempo track. Did
you have some idea on what you wanted the track titles to say about
the musical direction of the album or did you want the tracks to follow
any kind of story line you might have envisioned ? Night Flight
is a very hard rocking yet effective track. You get into some guitar
shredding on that track!
Steinar Karlsen: Some of the songs had their place in the story
line from the beginning. But I did reorganize order and names for
some songs to fit in after the finished recording. Night Flight
ended up heavier than planned. So on the album it is the right
after take-off part of the journey.
mwe3: I keep going to back to The Karman Line as
to my ears its very Nordic or Scandinavian sounding. Does it
have something to do with the recent movie of the same name and what
did you want the track to feel like or say? How about the Scandinavian
sounding connection in the melody?
Steinar Karlsen: I have not seen the movie The Karman
Line. Ill definitely check it out. Well, on the track
on the album, I imagine how it looks like if you travel and cross
the Karman Line on your way to outer space. It must be a fantastic
sight. Looking down on earth and if Im lucky Ill see Norway
somewhere down there
the Scandinavian sounding connection!
The Karman Line bleeds right into the following track
called Weightless. Is there a reason or a connection why
the two tracks are joined together at the hip? Weightless
is also the shortest track on Destination Venus. Is Weightless
one of the most spaciest tracks youve done?
Steinar Karlsen: Yes, Weightless is an abnormal
track for me, but it was fun making it. It came out of a late night
jam in the studio. Its kind of weird and it must be weird being
weightless too. So I thought it was suitable for the journey. I join
it to the end of The Karman Line as the next stage of
the travel to Venus.
mwe3: Track 5, Picnic On The Moon has a humorous
title, yet its very rocked out. How would you describe the chord
progression on that track and tell us about the keyboards on that
track. They have a very retro 1960s sound to it. Are there reference
points or influences you might have drawn on while writing and recording
Picnic On The Moon? Bård also adds in rhythm
guitar on that track? Would you consider that track a candidate for
a single release or video?
Steinar Karlsen: It could be fun making a video for this one,
well see. As the word Picnic, the chords and the
song has a kind of French vibe. Maybe its those minor seven
chords and the Farfisa organ? Bård is playing rhythm guitar
and we all play with a bit more pop music attitude. In the beginning,
this track did not have anything to do with the space travel idea.
As the mood differs from the other songs, it made me think of using
it as a little break from the other songs. It all came natural taking
that little break on the moon, a picnic on the moon.
mwe3: Space Camel is another unusual sounding title
and speaking of camels, the track offers a kind of Arabian musical
vibe. Did you want to conjure belly dancers in outer space? The bridge
is very eerie sounding. You are playing all the guitars and keyboards
on Space Camel? How did you approach multi-tracking all
the guitars and keyboards on Space Camel? I really like
the way the guitars and keyboards surge on different parts of the
track. Have you used this surging effect before in a track?
Steinar Karlsen: Thank you. This is also a track not made for
the space travel, but this is one of my favorites and I wanted to
include it on the album. I saw a space movie some years ago. I dont
remember the name, but there was a Space Camel in one of the scenes.
I guess thats where I got the idea for the title. I did a lot
of overdubs on this one. I guess I didnt think the song sounded
like a proper song after recording it, so I made this extra melody
on the bridge. It is played with mellotron strings and dubbed with
slide guitar. I also did some multitrack mandolins and added extra
synth tracks for the song. I guess I was lucky arranging the overdubs
in the way that kept the dynamics on the track. The biggest challenge
overdubbing is to know when to stop. And it is not unusual to not
use the overdubs, but I kept all for this one.
Monsters is one of my personal favorites from the Destination
Venus album. I was thinking it has such a driving beat but its
also a great soundtrack sort of song with eerie sound effects that
makes it sound like a surf rock theme from an Ed Wood soundtrack.
Were you using theremin on that track? Oh, now I see it is the musical
saw. I remember that group Triangulus featuring the musical saw on
their first album. In addition to the Saw, did you use other special
effects on that track and other tracks in order to achieve that sci-fi
effect? Was the track cut live or was the saw added after and overall,
was there a lot of overdubbing on Destination Venus?
Steinar Karlsen: Guitar, bass and drums are cut live, but
there is a lot of overdubs here: synth, organ, percussion, baritone
guitar and saw are overdubs. Most of the overdubs just make the sound
bigger. The most important Sci-fi effect is the saw, it is multi-tracked
many times to sound even more sci-fi. Especially at the end.
All tracks, except Red Skies, are cut live but there is
a lot of overdubs. On some tracks these overdubs really make a big
difference, on others they are there just to emphasize what the band
already is playing.
mwe3: The Trip is unusual sounding. Its pretty
much of a straight-ahead rock instrumental track marked by some excellent
band interplay and the bass work by Eirik Oien is great. How does
The Trip fit into the Destination Venus album?
Is The Trip among the heaviest tracks youve done
Steinar Karlsen: The Trip is the last part of the
travel, it is helping the listener to reach the target. I think it
has, with its upbeat semi funk groove, a positive energy telling us
were not far from the destination. I dont know if this
is the heaviest track I have done, but it is more like the funkiest,
At 1:46, is Red Skies the shortest track youve done
so far? Again it sounds perfect for an Ed Wood movie. What about that
Steinar Karlsen: It is one of the shortest I think. This is
a track I composed and recorded after the recording session, I needed
something to slow down after The Trip and connect with
landing on Venus. I recorded it in my home studio.
mwe3: Red Skies sounds like a set up for the title
track Venus. Is it the title track? The keyboards are
great on this track. Also is there a cowbell on that track? Is it
a title track?
Steinar Karlsen: I have not thought about it as a title track
for the album. But yes, if there is, this must be the one. Thanks
for liking the keyboards, it features transistor organs with a 1960s
vibe. I love these organ sounds. Hammond organ with Leslie are cool,
but transistor organs with built in vibrato and spring reverb is king!
I made a music video for this one. Its an animation video, you
can see it here
mwe3: A Billion Stars sounds like a space-blues
track. Theres billions of stars in the galaxies and a billion
galaxies in the visible universe. Is A Billion Stars the
most reflective track on the Destination Venus album? Its
surely the saddest sounding track.
Karlsen: Well I dont know. On the album, A Billion
Stars is a song for relaxing after a long travel. But yes, it
is also a song for reflection, looking at all the stars as possibilities
mwe3: Acid Rain closes out the Destination Venus
album with a track that Jimi Hendrix would have liked! Did you
want to close the album out with a bang? Its another short track,
yet its highly effective.
Steinar Karlsen: Could we really survive on Venus? As far as
I have read Venus got lots of bad weather. Rain. Acid rain
mwe3: Instrumental rock fans worldwide will love the Destination
Venus album. Would you say its the definitive Steinar Karlsen
album? Its certainly your most diverse sounding album. What
are you hoping music fans will take away from your new album? Do you
have plans for a video for a certain track or are you releasing a
single track from Destination Venus?
Steinar Karlsen: Well if it is not the definitive album,
I hope it is the most varied. It has a lot of the same style as my
previous albums, and in addition there is a bit Pink Floyd vibe and
Hendrix atmospheres added. And I hope listeners want to listen to
the album from start to end. Though each song has its own life, its
meant to be listened to collectively, as one piece of music, like
There is a video for Venus and I am planning
a new one, but I cant tell when yet. Meanwhile, I hope people
will check out Destination Venus and my other albums as well.
They are each available as streaming and CDs are available on