One of the upsides to the pandemic of 2020 and 2021 was that some prolific artists used their downtime to write and record some great music. Case in point is Norwegian guitarist / composer Steinar Karlsen. Steinar released his pre-pandemic 2020 album Destination Venus to great acclaim with some writers comparing it to Pink Floyd and even Jimi Hendrix. Although Destination Venus was written in 2018 and recorded in 2019, it did feature Steinar recording with several other musicians. Now in 2022, Steinar has released his newly recorded album, strangely entitled Eld.
If Destination Venus was a pre-pandemic album, full of sci-fi surf sounds and completed and released before the shutdowns went global, then Eld is truly an album written and recorded during the Winter of 2021-2022. Steinar’s flair for writing deep and pensive instrumental guitar music rises to the surface on Eld and the remarkable thing is that he recorded and played all of the instruments on the album by himself. Instruments played by Steinar on Eld include: electric and acoustic guitars, baritone guitar, bass, banjo, accordion, harmonica, piano, synth and percussion. Returning from the Destination Venus album, though not playing, is Bård Ingebrigtsen who mixed Eld.
Musically, the 10-track, 32 minute Eld is pretty dark sounding; the darkness no doubt influenced by the despairing winter of 2021. While lacking the humor and group interplay, for example, of Destination Venus and his 2013 album, Hanens Død (Death of the Rooster), Eld rises to the occasion with a series of mostly solo electric guitar pieces that blend exquisite Norwegian-flavored melodies and inventive arrangements.
Speaking about the album title, Steinar says, “The album tittle is a bit hard to translate, but Eld means Flame/Fire. Explained: The album started as a creative project to manage the covid period. The title, Eld, is as a kind of a driving force to keep on with creativity and writing music during lockdown and canceled concerts.”
Highlights are numerous and in fact, each track on Eld has something to offer. The lead off track “Bluss” (Flare in English) sets the scene with its stark layout. “Skimmer” (Shimmer) is angelic and quite melodic despite its low-key nature. Steinar’s guitar, accompanied by his keyboard backdrop, is quite effective. “Streif” (“Sunbeam”) glistens with progressive rock drama and the apprehension is palpable; Steinar’s guitar equalized by his otherworldly organ / keyboard coloration and occasional banjo jingling. Steinar Karlsen leads guitar fans out of the darkness and into the light with the softly glowing sounds of Eld.
mwe3.com presents an interview with
mwe3: Last yearwe were talking about the pandemic and its after effects. You said your 2022 album Eld came out of that period. Contrast that album with your 2020 album Destination Venus. Are they from two distinct and different periods in your career and how do you think your fans will react to Eld? Also tell us about how you chose the album title and how would you translate it to English?
Steinar Karlsen: Though they are within a range of three years, Eld and Destination Venus are from two different periods. The Venus album was written and recorded before the pandemic and most of the melodies on Eld were written during the lockdown and also recorded during Covid. I think the situation in the world is possible to hear on my Eld album. The name Eld can be translated as fire or flame. I think of it as a driving force to keep on working creatively though the time and situation of the world was harder to manage. Though it is a bit different it is also not that different, it is still music with melodies in focus.
mwe3: The album starts off with the somber “Bluss” (Flare in English). Did you want to open the album with a stark musical statement? Is that the first time you added harmonica to a track?
Steinar Karlsen: I think this is the first track I played harmonica on. And yes, starting out slow, it was important for me to guide the listener into the right mood for the rest of the album. It starts out with a little meditational vibe and ends up with a slightly increased dynamic and then fades out, like a flare.
mwe3: “Skimmer” (Shimmer in English) follows with a very stark guitar solo. Is that one of the most pensive pieces on Eld? Is there a touch of Peter Green in that track?
Steinar Karlsen: I like the way Peter Green plays the blues guitar in a gentle way and I love his sound. Hopefully I have managed to picked up some of his playing style. His tone has inspired me a lot.
Skimmer is inspired by local nature. I remember writing this tune right after a walk in the woods, I could not see the sun, but I could see the shimmer of light coloring the tree tops.
mwe3: “Streif” (Sunbeam) is one of my favorites on Eld. What is the instrumentation on that? Did you use some keyboards and delay on that track?
Steinar Karlsen: Thank you, I’m so glad you like this tune. This is the one with the most overdubs on the album. I started out recording the electric guitar and then adding lots of overdubs like mellotron, banjo, acoustic slide guitar, bass, percussion and more for this one.
Steinar Karlsen: It is inspired by the way Hendrix used to lay the major chords in a very moody way. On “Dis” it is an E major in second inversion, but with the root one octave down. I guess Stevie Ray Vaughan used to do that on some of his ballads also. It is a very moody way to layer the chord. The tune is almost an improvisation based on that chord and style.
mwe3: Does “Klammeri” ('Trouble' in English) have a very Norwegian kind of melody? It's short but effective.
Steinar Karlsen: Not very typical Norwegian, though a little bit folk music inspired. The folk sound comes out of the D harmonic minor scale. Harmonic minor is one of my favorite scales – a mystic and dramatic scale, but no too sad. This track is a short improvisation with overdubs like acoustic guitar and accordion.
mwe3: Is “Nova” one of the more upbeat tracks on Eld? The title is the same in English. Do you feel “Nova” and some of the other tracks could work in a group setting if you chose to do so? Sounds like a mellotron on “Nova”.
Steinar Karlsen: The melody in “Nova” starts out inspired by Norwegian folk music, well maybe it would work with a band, I have never thought of it before. It is one of the tracks with a more major tonality.
mwe3: “Mørketid” (Dark Season) sounds kind of influenced by the pandemic and there’s even some drums and percussion of the track. How would you describe the sound of that track? One of my favorite tracks on the album.
Steinar Karlsen: It is the most dark sounding track on the album, it is about the time of the year when there is no sun above the horizon. During this period there are in some parts of Norway with no daylight at all. And unfortunately, the title also could describe the situation in the world today.
mwe3: What about “Lumsk” with its unexpected chord changes and banjo fills. Tell us about your banjo and why you decided to use that sound in contrast to the dynamic electric guitar. How would you describe your banjo playing or do you just keep it for added coloration?
Steinar Karlsen: Well I am not a banjo player; I use the instrument most for coloration. When I use the banjo, I play it more like a guitar. I like the sound… it is a dramatic sounding instrument. Together with the chord change the banjo completes the drama I wanted on this track.
Steinar Karlsen: “Nattsong” is a melody I wrote a long time ago. I have recorded it in many different versions, but never released it until now. Yes, it has some kind of a nocturnal aura. It is about the peace at night at the end of a long day. I use the Gretsch baritone guitar on this and also I play the electric piano.
mwe3: How about “Tellus”? What does that mean? Does it really mean “Tell Us” as in asking what is really happening? It’s a remarkable track. What is the instrumentation on “Tellus”? It has a kind of other-worldly sound and there are some Norwegian melodies floating on that track. Is it more dynamic than some of the other tracks?
Steinar Karlsen: “Tellus” is the Latin word often used for Earth. It is a track based on a guitar piece written in love for mother earth. I play several guitars on this one and also some synthesizer tracks, orchestral percussion and I have also done some programming and modulated some of the guitar tracks. The track starts with a major sounding melody and ends up in a more minor sounding melody and era at the end.
mwe3: Let us know what guitars you play on ELD. What was involved in the recording, mixing and mastering and how influential was Bård Ingebrigtsen in the mixing process? Did you use less effects on Eld compared to your other albums?
I also use a Ludwig drumkit, percussion and several soft instruments like emulated synthesizers, electric pianos, organ and mellotron.
Bård was very important during mixdown, as long as gently mixing, he also worked creatively adding vintage outboard effects like chorus, reverb, delay and eventide harmonizer. The mastering by George Tanderø is done very dynamic and musically.
mwe3: Now that you’ve gotten Eld out do you foresee a time that you’ll make another band related album? I think you’ve captured the discontent and dismay we’ve gone through this past year.
Steinar Karlsen: I think it is important to believe in better times. ELD was recorded at home mostly because it was the easiest way to work with music during lockdown and it has been a good way to make music this time. It is also important for me to work together with other musicians like I have done on most of my albums. So, yes I think I would like to go back and work with a band and a producer in the studio again. Maybe I will do both, recording in a studio and working at home. There are benefits with both methods.