MORTIIS: "Dawn of the Troll"

by Johnny Gremlin

Emerging from the shadows of the dark, mythical world that once threatened to eternally engulf him, Mortiis comes forth to deliver a new album, word of the beginning of a new era, and a changed Mortiis! (This is not your father's Mortiis!

Wormwood Chronicles: Well, I'll start with the new album. What was the inspiration for, or the meaning of the title The Smell of Rain?

Mortiis: It's sort of about trying or wanting to be somewhere else really bad. The desert footage [used in the album art] represented the way that I felt. I guess the title just sort of reflects the need or the wanting to be somewhere else. Basically it's about depression, but I just don't like to use the word. Everybody fucking talks about it, you know? It's like it's hip and chic now to be depressed.

WC: (laughs) That seems to be true.

M: When your reality's a fucked up thing, it's not a great place to be, you know?

WC: Yeah. This is, as I've heard you say elsewhere, the 2nd era of Mortiis. Why the change? You've gone from stuff with a somber and almost medieval type of tone, to stuff that's almost positively danceable.

M: (laughs) It's dance floor now?

WC: (laughs) Well, not quite, but danceable anyways, you could dance to it, I suppose.

M: You should hear some of the new stuff I'm working on. I'm going to be a millionaire. Well,. I wish I was!

WC: (laughs) One can always hope.

M: (laughs) Don't we all? I wouldn't be talking to you now, if I was, you know. Well, the reason was, I did like five albums like that, four or five...yeah, five actually. I can't even fucking count. That's scary. It was just losing its meaning, which was really scary for a while, but then I started experimenting with other things; actually opening up to more inspiration than ever before from other bands. There's actually a list of the bands that inspired me on the album. I'm sure if you've seen the...

WC: I've got the promo copy, so it doesn't...

M: You got the cheap one.

WC: (laughs) Yeah, so it doesn't say that on there, but what would you say is inspiration, then, for you, as far as that goes?

M: Stuff like Skinny Puppy and Enigma, even Nine Inch (Nails), even stuff like Aphex Twin, all good stuff, basically. You know, stuff like that: Rob Zombie, White Zombie, Ministry: all the cool bands. Because I've been into that for a long time before I started to change my own music, and for a couple years, I think, before it actually happened, I sort of felt that this wasn't quite what I wanted to do, but I wasn't sure if that was really what I felt. It just took a while to realize that, and I did, and it was like, "Oh my god," you know? I thought, "I don't like what I'm doing anymore." It's a pretty tough thing to handle, but I'm through that phase now, I guess, so I'm on to something better.

WC: Was it an emotional state that you were in, or something to do with an emotional relationship to the music that made you feel that you didn't want to do that anymore?

M: It was a lot of emotional relationships in there, all types: human ones and musical ones, and everything. It was turning into a big collage of me being unhappy with absolutely everything. It was just time to make, I guess, a total change. It just had to be done. It was either that or just fucking self-destruct, I guess. It would be hypocritical to keep doing something I didn't like and to pretend that I did. Towards the end of the Stargate period, I kind of did, because I didn't want to go out in the media telling people, "Well, I hate what I'm doing, but I'm doing it anyway."

WC: (laughs) Yeah. "I'm here to promote this thing that I don't like."

M: Yeah. That's when I had to put up a little bit of a charade. Which was depressing to say the least.

WC: Yeah. I'm just curious too, the music that you're doing now, that also could have been done in sort of a longer form or soundscape-type form like some of your other stuff is. Why did you choose to go with the more conventional song structure, so to speak?

M: Radio-friendly length! I think it was probably because I was into rock music, and it just felt really natural. It just came about that way. You know, you start a song a certain way, and then you build it up a certain way, and then you structure it up a certain way, building the framework of the song, and it ended after about five minutes, don't ask me why. It wasn't really planned. It wasn't like "Okay, this is going to work on the radio, this is going to work on fucking MTV," because we're never going to fucking get on there anyway.

WC: (laughs)

M: Well, actually, we have, but it's like MTV2.

WC: Oh, really? Yeah, I haven't seen MTV2, but I've heard that's much more interesting, quite frankly.

M: It was probably started because MTV, MTV1, whatever you want to call it, was so fucking commercial and not everybody likes that, you know? Some people don't actually follow the rules set up by the big fucking record labels. They just tell you what to do and what to buy and what to like. Not all of us fall into that trap. Maybe that's the reason; MTV2 is actually getting on some stuff that might be considered worthwhile.

WC: Yeah, I have to admit, I was pretty surprised when it got to the point where Britney Spears started appearing on MTV, I just thought, "Wow, we've come a long way haven't we?" Unfortunately, I think they came a long way to be much worse than what they started out as.

M: Yeah, well, they've come a long way in destroying music, and making product out of fucking everything and everybody, which is sad.

WC: Yeah it just turned into another marketing tool, basically.

M: Yeah. I try to avoid that myself. Even now, I notice sometimes that it can easily happen because you have this type of image, and if I sold more records, I could market that like hell. I could fucking make action figures and god knows what else... Play Station games!

WC: (laughs) On this album, did you write all the songs?

M: Yeah, I wrote all the music. Obviously I didn't play all the instruments, because I don't know how to play guitar and stuff like that, so we had other people do that.

WC: How many other participants, musicians, singers or otherwise, would you say you had on the album?

M: I think with me it's like, 13. It's a good amount of people. But it's 12 other people to keep track of, which was enough to fucking give me a nervous breakdown at one point.

WC: Well, big change from you doing pretty much everything yourself, certainly.

M: Big change for me! Before I walked around with one keyboard in a trash bag, and stood there for four days just doing instrumental keyboard music. Big change, but that was a long time ago, you know. We did the Stargate in between. It was me and 4 or 5 people.

WC: Would you say having that many more people involved in making your music influences the music in any way, like the direction of it, or changes in any way from maybe what your original vision of it is?

M: Well, it always turns out kind of a little different than you think. I can't just think up things and know exactly the way it's going to sound when it's actually done. I think the place that it had the most impact was probably during the mix, because that's when you have everything there, and all of the sudden you realize that it may be not quite the way you thought it was going to be, because all these vocals are doing something different, and it's like, "Okay, I guess we could lower this or lower that or just take that up, because otherwise it's going to be crap."

All of the sudden you're walking a slightly different direction than the one you thought you were going to, but that's the way it is with music. Especially when you're like me, because I do a lot of stuff that's at the spur of the moment. I'd imagine one thing, and it'll sound basically like 50% of that, and the rest just changed right then and there. So you just sort of go with the flow. You just build something, and you try to figure out where to focus: what's the way to go from here. That's sort of what I do. I don't have a completely clear vision before I start from scratch. It usually builds up and branches out into different things.

WC: I saw that you had referred to the album elsewhere as your "first honest album." How do you mean that?

M: I think what I mean by that is it's the first one where I've actually opened up to being myself, and not somebody that I would like to be. Which was really what the old Mortiis was all about. It was like me and my delirious fantasies about different worlds and all that, and I'm not going to knock that off, because it was a cool thing, but I stopped believing in it. I don't think I really ever did. You had to come back to reality anyway, which was something you had to face , and it's like a punch in the face. So when I started making the album, I decided I was going to use this as therapy, which is the same thing that a thousand other people have said before me-but, you know, assuming that they were also honest! If you mean it, it's good. So, I guess that's what I mean by "being honest".

WC: Do you think that, in any way, with the more honest or personal approach to this music, that the make-up and prosthetics contradict that at all for you?

M: I think a lot of people probably feel that, and I can see what they mean, and I think in a way they're right. It does contradict the humanity that I put into the music these days, because there's not a lot of humanity to that face. (Laughs) But I've done that for so long, it's become a part of me, and I really don't feel awkward using it still at all, and I like imagery, you know. I mean, it's like old horror movies: you may not really like the movies, the movies could be crap in themselves, but the imagery is brilliant.

Like all these old posters of the Phantom of the Opera and all that? It looked great! I haven't seen the movies, so I'm probably being a little prejudiced here, but it's probably crap. Like a lot of these Dracula movies: they always look cool, but you watch them and you fall asleep. It's kind of the same thing. I love imagery, I think that the fact that music and imagery can actually be put into one package is great, and a lot of people seem to have a problem with that, and I have a problem with them having a problem with that. You know, I think it's bullshit that you'd just drop that. It's a great opportunity. It's like live shows: you want to try to do something special. If you have the money for it, fucking do it!

WC: Exactly. It's just another way of putting on even more of a show, so to speak.

M: Yeah, put your music in an environment that's interesting, not only musically, but also visually. That's the best of both worlds, and a lot of people don't seem to understand that, but that's their own fucking funeral, you know?

WC: Well, especially when you're doing something that has a certain atmosphere to it and then you're stuck playing in some club that is completely contrary to that atmosphere. One more question about that: do you ever see yourself not doing the make-up anymore, or is that something you think you'll probably always do?

M: It's hard to say. I have certainly seen myself taking it off. There was a while here that I was really disillusioned with everything, even that, and I sort of played with the idea of unmasking myself, and just going very, very make-up-less, (laughs) but thankfully, I sort of snapped out of it, and as it stands right now, I don't really have any current plans of taking it off. I can't really just say that I'll never take it off. I could say I'll use it for a hundred years, and next year I take it off.

WC: Yeah that makes sense. It's like so many of the bands. For instance, The Who says, "We'll never tour again." ...and so they toured again.

M: Because somebody gave them like ten billion dollars.

WC: (laughs) Exactly. You mentioned the horror films a minute ago, and that reminds me of something. Some of your past music's been described as kind of soundtrack like. Are you a film buff, or into film at all?

M: I think sometimes I am and sometimes I'm not. I like movies and all that, but there's just really not a lot of time to watch them, and I get bored really easily, as well. Like I just said, I really like the imagery of the old black-and-white horror movies and all that, but I've tried to watch some, and I don't really get into it. Usually, the special effects are really bad, considering that it's like fifty years ago. It's kind of hard to look beyond that. I think you need to be a huge fan, like Rob Zombie or something, who seems to be genuinely into that, to really appreciate it. I seem to have a hard time not comparing it with the new technology, which is not necessarily better, because digital technology sometimes looks really digital, so it almost looks even more fake. You know this is going on in a computer.

WC: Right. You recognize it as a computer effect.

M: Yeah, and it's like it's a bunch of fucking digits, you know? There's just no heart and soul into it, so, in that sense, I can totally appreciate the old movies. I don't actually spend 5 hours a day watching them. That's what a fan is, and I'm probably not.

WC: I was just curious too, because of the people saying that your other music is kind of soundtrack-like, if film imagery had any inspiration for you musically, at all.

M: I don't think so, because when I made those records, I never thought about them being soundtracks, or anything. It was just me being extremely naive musically, and just coming up with really simple pieces, and adding other simple pieces on top of it. Gluing it all together until everything lasted for about 25 minutes.

WC: I know this is a pretty typical question, but what would you say, musically, are big influences of yours or what did you listen to as a kid growing up? What were your favorites?

M: What do you think? KISS, of course. (Laughs) It was always fucking KISS. From the day I could fucking think, I was into KISS, like everybody else. It doesn't make me special; it makes me very, very typical.

WC: Would you say the make-up and prosthetics and stuff that you do, was, in any way, inspired by KISS; by them doing that kind of thing, or was that something you just thought of independently, and didn't really ever make that kind of connection?

M: Well, I think consciously that connection was made a lot. KISS was such a big thing for me. Then, later on, I got into all this Tolkien stuff. Obviously, by then I'd been sort of in and out of the black metal thing, as well, and so (it) was just a result of those things sort of put together. The fantasy imagery from Tolkien could be added to the approach of black metal and the whole live thing from KISS, the whole show. The whole ambitious "I'm going to be the biggest thing in the world" thing came from KISS. Obviously that didn't work out.

WC: You mentioned Tolkien. Have you seen the Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring film?

M: Yeah, we went and saw that.

WC: What did you think of that?

M: I thought it was good. I thought the soundtrack was sort of boring. There weren't many themes. I mean, you'd think for a thing like that there would be some major cool fucking themes: stuff that'll stick with you for a couple weeks, but there really wasn't any. Like, every time another ghoul came riding along... a lot of brass and that's it. Big orchestra, and then it's gone, you've forgotten it by now. I thought the quality of the picture was fucking brilliant, although some of the effects, I thought, were clearly digital. All in all it's a great fucking film. There's no doubt about that. I'm a huge fan, so there's no way I can knock it, but the thing was hyped so much before it came out, it couldn't possibly live up to that. It was, like, a 6 out of 5 everywhere. It was like, "This is fucking perfect!" and if you go to the movies, and you expect something perfect, it's not. It's never going to be perfect; we can't make it perfect.

WC: Not as long as we're human. (Laughs)

M: But I thought it was cool. I liked it a lot. Not enough blood, though. Very household. It's made for everybody to watch. That's the thing. Very, very, very American like that

WC: On the new album, having as many lyrics as you do, obviously, that's something fairly new too, for you. Is there any message to it or any themes that are pretty prevalent for you on there?

M: Well, I think the sort of keyword to the album is "desperation." Like I told you when I explained the cover artwork and the title, it was really all about trying to get away from one place to... god knows what, but at least something that's not there. (Laughs) I think I, at least, for the time being, managed that. I feel a lot better. It's another human thing. It's really nothing new. It was like I wanted to just get that out, and it was the only way I could. It was either that or just freak out, you know? Which is not a good thing.

WC: No.

M: (That's) not creative at all. So, it's just all about different sorts of emotions, that basically all trace back to the same roots, which are desperation and frustration...all those nice things.

WC: (laughs) You are going to be touring with this album, is that right?

M: Well, we have some offers, and we want to do it. It's just always down to budgets and all that. We don't sell shit in the States. I'm not really going to get into why, but there's been one thing that's come up as far as the tour goes for the States and that's basically all I can say, and I really hope we can pull it off, and I'll do everything I can to make it happen.

WC: As far as a band goes, will it be a lot of people that worked on the album, or do you have people in mind for the tour?

M: Well, I have a band now. Yeah, the guitar player is actually masturbating in the other room right now.

WC: Oh, okay. (Laughs)

M: (laughs) No, we actually forgot that I was going to do an interview, so we were going out. We get this phone call and it's Curran [Mortiis' rep. at Earache] and I'm like "Oh my God!" A few minutes later, I would have been out of there. That was me. I was being absent-minded. I always forget. I'm being told a week in advance, so I'm like, "Okay, sure, yeah, I'll be around that day," and you know, you forget it. It's not a problem (though).

WC: I just have one more question actually, about the touring. Do you think you will play any of your older stuff, now that it's the 2nd era, so to speak?

M: Well, we've been contemplating that, and what we did in London, I think, was that we used at least one of the songs as intro, but I'm not sure if I like that idea, because people expect you to come onstage during your songs. The thing is, incorporating one or more songs from the Stargate really isn't going to work that well, because the whole audio is just so different, you know? There's no real rhythm or beat or anything to anything in the Stargate. You never really work up a climax as far as it's related to the crowd. It's a very sort of "distance yourself from the crowd" type of music. It's just atmospheric music. So imagine this scenario, right? I mean, you play four songs off of The Smell of Rain, and we open up with "Mental Maelstrom," then we get into "Marshland," and we added a lot of guitars, it's a lot heavier now, and usually it sort of reaches a certain climax if it's a good crowd, and all of a sudden, you just break the whole thing down with "The Gate of Stars." I'm not sure if you know that song. That was the one we usually opened with when we did the shows for the Stargate. You can just see this fucking climax getting its wings and flying out of the place, and you're going to spend the rest of the show just trying to work it back up to that level. It doesn't mean that that music is crap; it means that it's so different it's going to put people off,I think.

WC: Well, that was pretty much all I had for you. I don't know if there was anything that you wanted to add personally, or anything I didn't ask about that you wanted to talk about or anything.

M: Well, I always say that women should be topless at my shows.

WC: Oh, okay. (Laughs) We'll make sure we get that in there. Spread that word. (Laughs)

Johnny Gremlin is not a woman, but having lost his head years ago, nonetheless attends all Mortiis concerts "topless."

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