STEINAR KARLSEN
Destination Venus
(Orangutwang Records)

 

Norway’s 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. It’s 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 Steinar’s 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 that’s just one among many musical signposts. The album combines Steinar’s fascination with 1960s guitar instrumentals, yet there’s 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. There’s nothing alien sounding about Destination Venus and a good example of Steinar’s earthbound resilience is the album’s 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 album’s eclectic nature is the track “The Karman Line” which is a very Scandinavian meets neo-progressive rock track that combines Steinar’s 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 album’s 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
STEINAR KARLSEN


mwe3
: 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 don’t 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 your music?

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 haven’t changed much of my equipment for some years now. So I think it’s kind of the same setup as on my previous record Tur.

I practice guitar but I don’t 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.

mwe3: Is your 2020 album, Destination Venus a different kind of album for you in that it’s 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 2019.

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 there’s even some Spanish motifs combined with country twang so it’s a very even-tempered way to start the album. Is the title kind of sad in that it’s unusual to start an album with the words goodbye?

Steinar Karlsen: A goodbye is not always sad. Sometimes it’s the start of something new. In this case, it’s the point of departure for a new adventure.

mwe3: 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 don’t 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 it’s 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”. I’ll 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 I’m lucky I’ll see Norway somewhere down there… the Scandinavian sounding connection!

mwe3: “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 you’ve 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. It’s 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 it’s 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, we’ll see. As the word “Picnic”, the chords and the song has a kind of French vibe. Maybe it’s 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 don’t remember the name, but there was a Space Camel in one of the scenes. I guess that’s where I got the idea for the title. I did a lot of overdubs on this one. I guess I didn’t 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.

mwe3: “Monsters” is one of my personal favorites from the Destination Venus album. I was thinking it has such a driving beat but it’s 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. It’s 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 you’ve done to date?

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 we’re not far from the destination. I don’t know if this is the heaviest track I have done, but it is more like the funkiest, I think.

mwe3: At 1:46, is “Red Skies” the shortest track you’ve done so far? Again it sounds perfect for an Ed Wood movie. What about that track?

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. It’s an animation video, you can see it here

mwe3: “A Billion Stars” sounds like a space-blues track. There’s 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? It’s surely the saddest sounding track.

Steinar Karlsen: Well I don’t 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 in life.

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? It’s another short track, yet it’s 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 it’s the definitive Steinar Karlsen album? It’s 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, it’s meant to be listened to collectively, as one piece of music, like a journey… There is a video for “Venus” and I am planning a new one, but I can’t 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 CD’s are available on my web site.



 

 
   
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