Carl-Michael Eide is known by many names and many guises. As Aggressor, he is the sound of savagery in Aura Noir but to most, he is Czral, guitarist, drummer and silver-throated vocalist who exemplified the wild creative spirit of the Norwegian underground throughout much of the ‘90s. For the last decade, his mainstay has been a much different beast from the creatures of yore, the unclassifiable Virus. A chimera with the body of Voivod, the head of John Coltrane and the soul of Georges Bataille, their sound has reached a fevered eruption on their fourth full-length Memento Collider. With it ringing freshly in our ears, we cornered Czral to discuss inspiration, past glories and Norwegian delicacies. Prepare yourselves.
Thanks for taking the time to chat. I just realised that the first time I saw you live would have been your very first show, back in London with Ulver and Zweizz. What are your memories of that?
It’s a blur. I remember we were crazy nervous about that one. Just a couple of months earlier we didn’t even dream we’d ever play live and then suddenly Ulver managed to talk us out of that, or rather talk us into it. We were crazy nervous and very, very drunk afterwards.
It came off really smoothly. Did the fact that you now had another facet of yourselves, as a live band, change things much?
We’ve gone back to the core trio now. When we play live it’s just a trio; it’s a very stripped-down version of the music but when it works, it really works. It’s a bit of a masochistic thing to do because you’re really putting yourself on the spot when it’s just three people and you’re going to make this happen live, so we’re still nervous. There seems to be no way out of that.
What about writing? Do you find yourselves keeping in mind how the material is going to be represented live as you are working on new music?
Yeah, actually, we tried out at least half the album – maybe four out of the six songs were played live and played for quite a while. I think we write our songs quite differently now from how we used to. We write them and we start working on the vocals straight away. Earlier, we just rehearsed only instrumentally and then when we went into the studio, that’s when we started thinking about the vocals. Now, we have the vocals in the mix from the get-go and I think that’s one of the things that you can sort of tell on the album – that we are tighter in a way and the vocals are not on top of the music, it’s with the music all the time.
How much has the dynamic changed from having Plenum (Petter Berntsen, bass) back in the band compared to the situation four years ago?
It’s changed in a way that we’re more of a unit now, especially compared to when we were playing live with session musicians and all that. Nowadays, when we are together we feel more of a unit and also, Petter is a hard worker and he brings work ethics into the band, which is also a very positive thing. Me and Einar (Sjursø, drums) are slackers and he says, “No guys, let’s do the set once more.” It certainly helps for the band.
So did the album come together quickly, now that you have Petter to crack the whip?
No it didn’t. We really took our time on this one. It took us nearly five years to write the album. We didn’t start rehearsing properly with Plenum until late 2013 and then already a few of the songs were finished. The songs are actually quite slow-burners when it comes to the writing process. I think we’re more judgemental about our material now, especially compared to when we were writing The Agent That Shapes The Desert. I think this album is more solid that way, dismissing certain stuff and knowing what to keep and what not to keep.
Your lyrics have always taken a strange tilt, moving between the abstract and the personal. Where does the balance sit with Memento Collider?
I’m not alone with the lyrics, I’ve had co-writers along with me. It’s a woman called Johannah Henderson from Brighton, who has been co-writing a lot of stuff with me on this album. I think the lyrics are sort of touching upon moods; yes, it’s quite abstract, but it’s touching upon themes like the human condition and the mood of the world these days.
Is it quite difficult to keep from heading too far towards darkness when you’re writing about subjects like these? You seem to have that tongue-in-cheek humour to balance it out, though.
There’s a lot of room to play in the dark and it’s very easy to go over the top but I think we’re very conscious about writing lyrics that go hand in hand with the music somehow. One of the most important aspects is to keep a sense of humour and actually, a lot of our material is born out of our sense of humour, I guess. We love absurdities.
It is reflected quite strongly. There’s a playfulness there, but there’s also this sense of three very distinctive musical voices coming through. Are you conscious of trying to push your own musical identities through along with the voice of the band?
We’re bound to do that, we can’t restrain ourselves. I remember when we started playing together, I immediately saw that we had something very special going on, because we are very distinct musicians and we are not holding back any of us. I think the one that maybe is thinking of the music in a larger sense all the time is the drummer Einar who keeps it quite open and accessible with his drumming.
What do you feel about your own development as a guitarist and as a vocalist?
I don’t think I’ve developed that much. I think I’ve been working, or aiming, at perfecting what I’m doing. I found quite early on what I wanted to do and I’ve just been working on getting better at it, really.
What was the original aim when Virus was formed? A lot of people seemed to view the band as a continuation of Ved Buens Ende.
First of all, I wanted to play with Einar and Peter and I think the whole reason we’ve been seen as a continuation of Ved Buens Ende is because I brought my voice into the band and the weird chords and that, but other than that I never saw it as a continuation of Ved Buens Ende. I’ve seen it as its own band.
When you released The Agent…, you also included a Walker Brothers cover (Shutout) as a bonus. Do you have anything similar planned for this time around?
Yeah, we’ve been talking about doing covers – we talk about that all the time, often with a sense of comedy underneath. Just a few days ago we talked about doing a Grace Jones cover; actually, that would be a kind of neat thing to do, doing Private Life or Nightclubbing, something like that. Why not? I think with the Walker Brothers one, I heard that song quite late – I only heard it a year or so before we did the cover – but I thought “Wow, this is a song we can play.” I haven’t had that feeling with Grace Jones but maybe something will come up.
How do you feel looking back on your time as a drummer? Is it still something that you have an itch to return to?
Yeah, in some ways I do. I’m always thinking about the drums when I’m listening to music. I can also think about music from a drummer’s perspective. For example, when I’m bored and having Slayer or something in my head, I am sitting in the drum stool. It’s not an itch anymore, it’s a heavy-duty job to be a drummer. It’s really physical and I don’t miss that too much. As I said, I’m a slacker.
“I think we’re more judgemental about our material now, especially compared to when we were writing The Agent That Shapes The Desert. I think this album is more solid that way, dismissing certain stuff and knowing what to keep and what not to keep.”
Given that, is playing live worth the amount of effort that you have to put in to get it all running smoothly?
Yeah, it’s definitely worth the work. There’s nothing that can compare to doing a good gig, nothing can beat that. It’s really something I love doing and it’s the same for the others in the band. I feel for Einar, who has to do the drumming, but I know he feels the same way, that when we’re doing a good gig I know her really enjoys it. We’re really stoked about playing live these days because I think it’s the most honest way to present our music, it’s to be that trio live. Good stuff. I love it.
What other projects are you working on these days? How are things with Aura Noir?
We’re working on a new album. Hopefully, we’ll start recording the new album this autumn or early winter. We’ve been working on the album sporadically when we get together because our guitar player, Blasphemer, lives in Portugal, so it’s hard to get together. But when we do, we make sure to make something and over the last few years we’ve been making quite a few numbers so I guess we have almost a full album now.
You were over in Glasgow with them recently. How was that?
Very good experience. I had haggis, just an hour before we went on stage so not a good idea but I just had to have haggis. When in Rome… haggis and whisky!
Does Norway have its own haggis equivalent?
Yeah, but it’s a lot more grotesque – basically, a sheep’s head that’s been sawn in half vertically. So you have half a sheep’s head on a plate with mashed potatoes and rutabaga.
Yeah, that’s an interesting one! Back to Virus, what is the source of the inspiration for your lyrics? Is it mostly personal or do you take much from nature, literature, and so on?
It’s a bit from all over the place. Sometimes, by chance, I can see a sentence and I read it differently from what is there because my eyesight is a bit fucked. I can read the sentence differently from what it really says so I can see it, say “That’s really cool” and note it down. I have this notebook that’s full of stuff I see all over the place, by mistake and by chance, but I’m not a writer, per se. I’m not the kind of guy who can sit down and write a lyric, it has to be fragments that I’m picking from various places.
You worked with Kim Sølve again for the visuals this time.
Yeah, we wanted to go back to them. They’re old friends of ours and they’re very professional, very good at what they’re doing. They take it very seriously and we just knew when we handed the whole cover artwork over to them, along with the music, and said “Please make the cover,” we just knew it would be good. It’s come out really good. We’re on the same page when it comes to taste, which is a good and necessary thing.
Was there much of a brief from your side?
It was completely left up to them.
Going back to Ved Buens Ende, last year was the 20th anniversary of Written In Waters. Was there any temptation to revisit it live?
No, there wasn’t. It wouldn’t be right, Ved Buens Ende is very much of its time and it’s a product of who we were at the time. I’m now 42 years old – I was 21 when we recorded the album. It just wouldn’t feel right to do that. Why would we do that? Is it to please the audience? Is to earn money, or is it a combination of the two?
What are your thoughts on that album nowadays? Is there a lot of pride for what you achieved?
I revisited the album a couple of years ago and I hadn’t listened to it for maybe ten, twelve years, and I found it to be very good. I sort of, in a weird way, might have downplayed it a little bit but when I picked it up again I could see why we get generations of new fans. I see the value in the music, so yes, I’m very proud of it.
I’d spoken to Yusef and Kris about this but what were your memories of that period and that little enclave that you guys seemed to have formed?
We were a weird bunch of people. A lot of the mechanism in the group was based on humour, I think – a lot of absurd humour going on. Also, we were quite different people so we had our clashes but we had this creative bond going, but of course you jeopardise a thing like that when you start working in other bands as well. I think that might be the cause of us not continuing. It’s that we started playing in more than one band, and I think that’s because we were almost manic about creating something. We were in a very creative state of mind.
Do you still see much of that weird guy in yourself these days?
Yeah, I think I’ve come back to that guy a little bit in the past few years and it feels good. You’re sort of drawn to all these different norms when you’re growing up – you’re supposed to do this, you’re supposed to do that – and as a creative soul you have to ignore that a little bit. I’ve sort of come back… I don’t give a shit what people think anymore.
What do you have planned next for Virus?
We have a release party on the 24th of June, we have a gig in Oslo, one in Transylvania, Romania and we have plans to go back to New York. We were in New York in 2014 and did two gigs in a row at St Vitus Club, which was amazing, and we’d like to revisit. Other than that, it’s too little. I want a booking agent again who can get us some gigs. We don’t have one at present so it’s a bit thin on the ground right now.