If I have to characterize Myrkyr’s new release with one keyword, that would be “deeply personal”. Myrkur (Amalie Bruun)’s records are always different — it is hard for me to imagine another artist who, on the one hand, evolves their sound so much every time and, on the other, does not adhere to typical genre boundaries but intertwines different styles and textures in a complicated mix as she sees right. Having had my second interview with Myrkur over the years, I also see her as a very thoughtful person who transfers what happens in her personal life and in the world into her music, aiming to transmit not literal information but emotions and impressions. As Myrkur releases her album “Spine” on 20 October, 2023, Chaoszine met her for an interview. She prefers talking without video, so I am left to hear her answers, spelled with a rich, musical voice, diving into the details and feelings of working on the “Spine”.
You said in Metal Hammer’s Interview about Folkesange in early 2020 that you are “looking forward to another metal-style record with distorted guitars”. I assume that “Spine” is that record?
Myrkur: Back then, I obviously was just saying that I had a feeling about what I was gonna do. It’s not like I already wrote the album, but this is the next one.
Not to focus first on words or meanings of the symbols, but what feelings and emotions do you want “Spine” to convey?
Myrkur: For me, to be quite honest, it’s very important that it’s up to the listener. I purposely left the songs, the production, and everything else – even down to the album cover – quite open and vast. Because I never wanted to put a specific feeling over someone’s head – if that makes sense. Quite often, people write something, and you can hear that the writer was very specific, in a very specific mindset. And then you can enjoy it almost only when you’re in that mindset too. And this album is sort of the opposite.
Why the compositions on “Spine” are so different, why not write something more homogeneous, how do you arrive at this difference?
Myrkur: I just write, you know. I think that it’s pretty obvious by now that I’m not someone who is defined by or cares about genres at all. So I just sit down, and whatever I feel that day is what comes out [in compositions]. That’s the sound of that, me as a person.
I noted that you recorded this album in Iceland. The previous album, Folkesange, was recorded in Lava Studios Copenhagen. Why did you pick up the studio for this record?
There were a few different reasons for that. Once I decided on who was going to produce the record – which was Randall Dunn, with whom I worked before – we started talking about studios. He’s based in New York, and I’m based in Denmark, and we decided to kind of meet halfway — which is in Iceland. And then he knew of this fantastic studio, the Sigur Rós studio (Sundlaugin studio Reykjavik), which is actually an old pool that’s been converted into a recording studio. And I love Iceland. So it wasn’t a very tough choice for me to just go ahead with that one.
Did the surroundings in Iceland inspire you in some way, or were you just working in the “former pool”?
Myrkur: Absolutely. I brought the songs. I had obviously made demos and had production ideas and a vision for it, but the idea was to have the songs and then build a world around them with the sound. So it was very open to being influenced by the surroundings. And the nature of Iceland started to play a role in the sound, I think, because it’s so vast and it’s so big, like landing on the moon. There are so few people compared to how large the island is. And it’s a very magical nature there, of course.
I have a question about the visuals. What does the album’s logo mean? How was it created?
Myrkur: (jokingly) It doesn’t mean anything. It’s totally random. (In normal voice:) Yeah, of course, it does. I have a friend, a Latvian artist. She does sculptures, and I asked her to design a spine, that wasn’t quite human-looking She actually sculpted it [first digitally], different versions of it, and 3D printed it. And then, once we decided on what it should look like, she made it into cast iron. I told her to put it on the forest floor, on the moss, and take a photo of it. It represents a lot of what the album is dealing with. Almost the meeting of something alien, bionic, and the roots of Mother Nature.
In the press kit, it also says that the album is actually your reflection on, in particular, the “increasingly disconnected, alienating world, from pandemic restrictions and isolation to the rise of Artificial Intelligence.”
Myrkur: Yeah, exactly.
Is there a part of the album that talks especially about the detachment and the AI rise?
Myrkur: I think it’s a theme, it’s not so literal that I would sit and say, like — in this song on that verse, I talk about artificial intelligence. It’s from an artist’s perspective based on feelings, observations, and frequencies. Some of the things that took up my mind when I wrote the album were these subjects.Therefore, it has influenced almost everything on the album, but in different ways, because it also deals with becoming a mother and just being a human, what it means to be the human race, human nature, and all these things.
I also believe that art should not be literal. Every painting that you look at, every artwork, wakes up some emotions, and it’s not like “you should feel this particular thing”. I think that an artist attempts to put everything that’s in their mind into the artwork and tries to make a spectator feel it. The album I really like — how different it is how it’s not defined by genre, and how it is not even a conventional song structure. It would remind me of classical art, and academic music when they have this kind of “Through-Composed” feel.
Myrkur: Yeah. I love classical music, so that makes sense.
In a canonical rock song, to put it very roughly, one has to figure out the melody and just repeat it few times. How is it for you to write such complicated compositions?
Myrkur: When I wrote this album, in particular, out of all the music I’ve written, this one is a very personal record. It almost had a kind of healing effect, the process itself. I didn’t have, would you say, motivation or intentions of creating a specific song structure for anything. It was just like a stream of consciousness. My mind is pretty chaotic, so it needs to be stimulated. I write music like that too. And sometimes in the studio, you know, the producer will say — oh, we have to repeat this a couple of times, otherwise it’s just too sporadic, people would want to hear this [part] more. So I try to meet halfway, I guess, so [the result is] not just all over the place. But I think that worked out pretty well on this record. The combination of that [two approaches] is quite pleasant to listen to, compared to some of my other music. But it also deep dives into darkness and is a very personal expression.
Speaking again about visuals, you had a pretty unusual promo shoot with photographer Gobinder Jhitta. Can you tell me a little bit about those pictures? What do they mean? How did you arrive at that idea?
Myrkur: (energetically) Actually, I think this was one of the most extensively discussed photo shoots I’ve ever done before meeting up with him [for shooting]. We had a lot of phone calls. He’s a very nice, interesting guy. And he was very inspired when I told him my thoughts. He was very hard working, very motivated to go all the way as much as we could. I told him all my thoughts about the album cover and the different struggles I was having with becoming a mother, creating a new human life, and trying to connect to the human race. But then there is the rise of literally artificial life, intelligence, bionic aliens, everything that isn’t human, and more and more disconnection. And there was already talk of “why don’t we just create almost an AI album cover”, right? I could do it online right now, and it would probably look in a way amazing, but soulless. One of my references for him was the movie “Troll” from 1986, which is this ridiculous horror movie with Julia Louis-Dreyfus from [the cast of a comedy series] “Seinfeld”. But what I loved about it — it has all these nature sets, which are quite obviously not real, built inside a building. Because it’s [a physical set in] 3D, it’s not CGI, it’s not fake, it’s not a computer image just because it’s old. You feel so much more like when you watch the old Star Wars. Do you feel anything when you see those new superhero movies where it’s just one big computer fest? [In such case,] I don’t feel anything anymore, because nothing has been created by something with a soul. I know that seems like an “old person thing” to say, but I really mean that. So, I told him that I want to build a set with an artificial nature, but “for real” and I want to lay in that set. I don’t want to go out in the forest because I’ve, first of all, done that before, but also because it’s not what I’m doing with this album. I want to be in fake nature, but for real. So we found set builders, who actually brought… I don’t know; it looked insane when I arrived at the set, it was like walking into some insane botanical garden, where everything was plastic. I freaked out. And even the styling and everything was very important to tell a story. So I, I think that he and everyone involved did an amazing job.
Interesting and I totally understand.
Myrkur: I don’t think everyone understands [this concept] when looking at it, I’ve seen people who think that it looks like a fashion advertisement and some perfume ad, and that’s ok. I understand [their view], but there is a little more to the story. I’m telling this on the interview, but I don’t feel like over-explaining everything to everybody about this.
I understand you very well about AI; as a photographer, I see a lot of AI-generated “art” nowadays that looks too perfect. I always preferred something that can be created in reality.
Myrkur: Yeah. And I’m wondering, will there come a day when I see AI images or hear an AI-generated song, and I feel something? If I don’t know that it’s an AI, will I feel something? And then what do I do? That poses a question because then this is truly a different art. I mean, life form, this is not just some algorithms and some programming; this is truly a life form like aliens. And what does that mean for humans? Right? Because AI is so much smarter than us, and so much faster. Is that, then, are we the dinosaurs? (broken laugh) Like, is that the end? I’m just so interested in seeing where this is going.
I hope that it will not be the end…
Myrkur: (Laugh) of course.
It’s very interesting, and I feel that the mindset behind the album and your creativity, in general, is partially about this kind of feeling about civilization and artificial stuff, and the second part is certainly feminine and connected to your motherhood.
Myrkur: Yeah, definitely.
I saw the music video for “Mothlike”, I think it’s currently one of the catchiest songs in the album. Can you tell me a little bit about the story in the clip? Who are those blindfolded people, and who is this lady who is flying and has red eyes?
It was a tough song to choose to do a video for because, in a sense, the lyrics don’t truly match up with what’s going on in the video. But for me, it was more about an expression, I suppose. And I think that’s even it’s me standing there, I kind of wanted to take myself out of it in a little bit. So I am playing a different part than who I am. That’s what I wanted for this one. Also, because the song is, again, very personal, and it almost felt too personal to do a literal video for it. So I wanted to move up to a different frequency and do a kind of more expressionist video.
It’s more about conveying emotion…
Yes, yes, a different type of storytelling.
So, a set of symbols that are similar to what you feel from the song.
The song has the lines: “You stay in line // Your freedom is how you pay for it // Just cover your face and stay in line”. What does it mean? And are we supposed to stay in line, or is it a protest?
Myrkur: (exclaims) It’s definitely a protest! That’s how it felt, it felt like someone was hammering over my head at the time or over the human race, just making everyone, demanding everyone to live completely detached from their own nature, the human nature. All of a sudden everyone saw that, you know, with the snap of a finger. You can just live in a prison, basically. That’s how it felt a little bit without much justification sometimes. I don’t want to get political, but I do know that I think it, those [recent] years have affected the current population of the world in ways that we have not seen yet. Like I said, it’s like “9/11 times a million” what it will do to societies. I think that it’s hard not to say something about if you write songs because it changed the whole world literally.
I think myself, and hopefully the readers are understand better what this work is about. As press kit says it’s like a “a hyper-sensitive barometer” tuned to what is going on.
Casual question – how Maria Franz from Heilung end up on the album?
Myrkur: She’s been involved in a lot of things I’ve done. She was with me just two days ago at the concert I did in Sweden too, because Chris [Christopher Juul, Maria’s partner] plays with me and my band sometimes. We’re very good friends and she is also literally one of the best singers on planet Earth. So I asked her if she wanted to do some backing vocals, and she did so or some choir, I should say (because backing vocal sounds like “uuu, aaa” but that’s not what this is).
I’d use the rest of the time to ask about the Ragnarok production that you did for the Danish Royal Theater. How did it happen that you were in that production?
Myrkur: I got approached a long time ago by the Royal Theater or particularly by the director that they had hired for this production. And he was quite set on having me be the composer for this. I was always interested, but I also had a kind of thought that maybe the job was too big for me. So I sort of tried to get out of it (smirks), but I ended up saying — OK, you know what, I’m gonna take this huge job, and I’m just gonna live up to it somehow. I ended up writing all the music and being in the show and everything, being very involved. And it was an amazing experience. Just obviously very different from writing just my own records, because there was a script and I had hundreds of people I needed to work with about this. The Royal Theater people were very kind: “just do what you wanna do. This is your music”. They had almost nothing to say about the direction of it, just that it had to work with the lines sometimes. So it was a lot of restrictions because you have to adhere to a script, but also a lot of freedom. That’s cool, definitely.
Does it surprise us that Royal Theater is turned to heavy metal music?
Myrkur: Yes! It’s never ever happened before. And that’s one of the reasons I wanted to do it. I thought this is just too, you know, too cool to say no to.
Are you planning a kind of live gigs with the new album?
Myrkur: Yes, I am, and I will announce some shows pretty soon.
Thank you very much! Nice chat and it’s great to hear your new music.
Myrkur: Thank you so much!
Chaoszine thanks Frank van Liempd, Petting Zoo Propaganda, for organizing this interview.