Hailing from Oslo, Spirits of the Dead ignited an incense-scented dookie stick firestorm of praise and wonder with their 2011 second album, The Great God Pan (their debut was self-titled and from two years earlier). Best pegged as a effusive mixture of psychedelic, folk and stoner rock, said album had critics and fans from the world of the "enhanced listening experience" spilling bong water all over their bell bottoms and Nehru jackets in jittery excitement. If positive, glowing reviews were bags of weed, Spirits of the Dead would be high for the rest of their lives. After securing a US deal with The End, they've recently released album number three, Rumours of a Presence, a continuation of their stylised combination of hazy 60s and blitzed out 70s as filtered through modern eyes. Below, an interview with vocalist Ragnar Vikse.
Your bio is quoted as saying “Spirits of the Dead – a psychedelic-stoner-folk-rock with one foot in the electric magic of the seventies and the other in the modern electric rock sound of 2012.” When you were writing your first initial batch of songs, how difficult did you find it to find and maintain that balance of 70s and modernity? Is it easier to pull it off now? When we wrote that back in 2008, 2013 seemed so far away. We did not want to be in the retro bag and whether it's 2012 or 2034 I hope we are able to stand the test of time both sound-wise and musically. A part of Spirits of the Dead, as the name indicates, is that we honor our influences but try to give it our own twist, signature or what you will call it. I hope we can push the modern sound together with the vintage in front of us from release to release so that we are sounding as fresh as the fruit can be. It seems to get easier as we go.
Is there a healthy history of psychedelic music in Norway? No, not much. At least not that I'm aware of. We don't have many influences coming from Norway other then our native heritage, harsh and grandiose nature and the ever changing seasons. Motorpsycho might be an inspiration, but maybe more in the way they've grown up strictly in their own terms which I find very respectable in this business. We nod to the British music scene from the 60s and early 70s a lot I presume, although we never ever set out to sound like anything. What ever happens just happens. I think there are many good bands from Norway these days, although not many psychedelic ones.
Does your band name hold any specific meaning or significance? Yes, it has a deeper personal meaning which I won't dig in to here. But it is also inspired by the Edgar Allan Poe's poem of the same name. Poe is a big inspiration for us. Several of the songs on all albums find inspiration in his work.
How would you say the new album differs from The Great God Pan? What were you trying to accomplish or do differently on Rumours of a Presence? We do not to try to accomplish anything other than writing good songs. But TGGP turned out to be a trip deep into the forest and had more of a pagan-freak-folk-ish vibe around it. There is a song here and there that gets excluded in the sense of not overdoing a concept that arrives or maybe to make it clearer. We like short albums. I believe we wanted to get back on track where we ended the first album, I think that was our only plan.
How did the positive response to The Great God Pan impact how you approached the new one? Or did it? We are overwhelmed by the great response on both our albums. And we are very grateful for that. At the same time, we try not to be affected by it any more than to take it as a sign that we are on the right path. But we are explorers and we need to continue to widen our horizons. We told early on that by our tenth album people would finally get the picture of what kinda band we are. I really hope to be able to follow up on that [laughs]. We also have a tendency to make the songs for the next album before the last one is released. It’s like that now too. The songs for the fourth album are almost finished.
What does the album’s title refer to? It just popped up while reading a book in Lamu, on the coast of Kenya, actually. Then, we had a song “Rumours of New Presence” and we changed the album title to ‘A Presence.’ I think it is a fitting title for the album. Gets your attention and leaves you wondering. I like that. You might find a link or two more if you dig!
I understand you shuttled off to a remote part of Norway to record the album. Why? What was the setting like and how do you feel it helped the recording? We loved to get out of our day-to-day settings and fully focus on the music and recording and at the same time swallow in the salty taste of the ocean, sounds of the waves, the wind and the seabirds. The studio is placed at the very utter peak of the northwest coast by the ocean; amazing surroundings. It had a major impact on the overall feeling on the album.
How much touring did you do off the last album? Did playing live have you seeing those songs in a new light at any point? We did not do too much touring on TGGP as we did not feel it was an album that would be a part of our live set up, us being four people in the band with a three piece instrumentation and all. But we did a tour of Europe and Norway and played our first US shows in NY and SXSW. But we added new songs from this album and only played “Pure As The Lotus” from TGGP. We need at least two more musicians to perform the rest of the songs. We have done “Leaves of Last Year's Fall” and “The Great God Pan!” with guest musicians a few times. I love those songs.
How did you come to the attention of The End? Was any other label interested in signing you? They approached us actually, so we worked out a marriage. So far, it’s been a happy one - knock on wood.
What plans do you have once the album starts getting out there and making the rounds? We are continuing making new music. Our relationship in the band is as much us being friends as we are band mates, so we try to make the most out of our rehearsals to enjoy ourselves doing what we love, but at the same time not play the same old song over and over again and loose the passion for it. We need to keep it rolling. And rocking. We’ve already done a tour with Kadavar in Europe. We will do some more with them we hope. We have a tour with Graveyard coming up this fall and maybe a US tour soon we hope.
Check 'em out: www.thespiritsofthedead.com