5 minutes alone - Ihsahn: “Thinking smart can often brush off the edges of what might make you unique”

Norwegian metal visionary Ihsahn on making it and why Jonny Greenwood is a genius…

Got my first real six string

“It was a Fender Strat copy made by a company called Boogie, which even had the Mesa/Boogie logo. It could have been an early incarnation of the company, or someone just ripped it off.

“I’d say it’s probably why I’ve always ended up preferring that Strat feel - I’ve never been into the baseball bat-style Les Pauls. It was a cheap guitar, but my father took me to a local luthier who put some original Strat parts and pickups in there. I actually got it back from my dad a few years ago and I ended up recording with it!”

Can I play with madness

“I had the tab book for Iron Maiden’s Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son and I learned a lot from playing along - that was my musical education!

“Even though I usually play atonal extreme music, I always try to find some melody in there. Even in the early days of Emperor, back when [other guitarist] Samoth would come up with riffs that were minor chords moving in chromatic intervals, I would still try to find that common ground and create melodies on top.

“That probably frustrated him from time to time, but that whole idea of minor riffs harmonised with major thirds comes from Iron Maiden.”

It’s a long way to the top…

“If you want to make it, never have a plan B! There are always people that want to start bands and also study because that’s probably the smartest thing to do - though be careful… if you have a plan B, you might not put everything into plan A!

“Coming from rural Norway, the only reason I had a career was because there was no backup plan. But then we never started a black-metal band in 1991 in order to make it… there was nothing to be made! Those albums were born purely from artistic ambition.

“Thinking smart can often brush off the edges of what might make you unique. Don’t worry about the scene, you might end up in a jam of everyone’s thoughts and sounds. Make something unique that will make people react. Rock music, unlike a lot of chart music, is about the integrity of something solid and heartfelt. Lose that and you might not create excitement for people.”

Born to lose, live to win

As much as I love gear, all these things are just tools to create

“I’m not really that nostalgic. I don’t have a huge vinyl collection and there’s no equipment that I’ve sold or had stolen or lost over the years that I miss. As much as I love gear, all these things are just tools to create.

“I try not to be that physically attached to things, that way there’s nothing that limits me in the work I do… This also means I don’t have any excuses; I can’t blame my tools! To be honest, I find ‘gear lust’ almost a bit boring even though I’m sure for many it’s incredibly exciting.”

Anyone can play guitar

“If I could have a lesson from anyone, it would be Jonny Greenwood - because his approach to guitar playing and music in general is similar to mine, although I think he’s a lot more exotic with it. The way he uses the guitar to channel different sounds like those scratches before the chorus in Creep… things like that are beyond the instrument.

“I prefer the approach to writing music and forming sounds over the sportsmanship of shredding. When you make an immensely successful experimental rock album like OK Computer and follow it up with an electronica record like Kid A, that shows incredible integrity. And yet it still sounded like Radiohead.”

Ihsahn's new solo album Ámr is out now via Candlelight.

Amit Sharma

Amit has been writing for titles like Total GuitarMusicRadar and Guitar World for over a decade and counts Richie Kotzen, Guthrie Govan and Jeff Beck among his primary influences. He's interviewed everyone from Ozzy Osbourne and Lemmy to Slash and Jimmy Page, and once even traded solos with a member of Slayer on a track released internationally. As a session guitarist, he's played alongside members of Judas Priest and Uriah Heep in London ensemble Metalworks, as well as handling lead guitars for legends like Glen Matlock (Sex Pistols, The Faces) and Stu Hamm (Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, G3).

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