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Complex Duality


Архив интервью | Русская версия

For me, personally, Bölzer was love at first sight and first sound (I hate to admit but I hadn’t seen them live before SteelChaos last year). So, the moment I learnt there will be a special show to mark Bölzer’s eleventh anniversary (“11 years of Lightning” which took place in Zurich on the 11th of May this year) and they will be joined by their good friends and the most powerful bands out there (Deströyer 666, Primordial, Ruins of Bevarest), I knew I gotta go to Zurich and, hopefully, have a chat with Okoi “KzR” Jones, the mastermind behind Bölzer. To a huge extent the whole event was organized by Okoi and Fabian Wyrsch, the drummer, themselves and they were extremely busy the whole day helping other bands with their gear. Yet, Okoi found time to sit down with me and do this interview. In my humble opinion, it is quite a nontrivial interview with a lot of unusual topics being touched upon. Rarely does one find references to different mythologies, Greek philosophers, contemporary French poststructuralists, old noire detective movies, Chinese curses and political theories in just one casual conversation. And it was indeed really casual as Okoi is a fascinatingly warm and open person. It’s such a shame we don’t do video interviews. Well, then you have to trust my word: Okoi is just as charismatic offstage as he is onstage with his 10-string guitar, and I do hope one Oleg or another will bring Bölzer to Russia as soon as possible.
Today we are celebrating your 11th anniversary and it takes place on the 11th of May. Your set ends at 11, too. I know you’re into numerology, so all the way down here I kept wondering — is there any philosophy behind this number?

Eleven is a nice number but it just happened to be. We kinda missed the call of having the 10th anniversary because we were very busy and it didn’t occur to us to organize that in time. So, we were left with little option and we thought it would be nicer to do eleven because it’s something different. It brings me to a very important point - a lot of things that happened in the band and just everything basically that we do comes down to having a chance. Things take on their own form and direction and it’s really nice when you get in tune with that and you allow it to lead you down certain paths. 11 is another example of that definitely and it just happened that one of the only free dates was the 11th of May, so it was a no-brainer. But I didn’t actually register that we finish playing at 11, which is pretty cool. (laughs)

You have a new album on the way and I don’t think the title was announced yet…

No. We do have a title but I probably won’t release it yet. It’s nicer to keep that for the time.

But if I remember correctly, you’re going on tour to promote the album in November…

Yes. It will be out before the tour but there are many things I’m planning at the moment, so I can’t really divulge too much information because a lot of it is business stuff, so we have to wait for it to finish and then we’ll make an announcement accordingly.

What about the concept behind the new album? Is this going to be a continuation of your previous work?

Well, I mean, thematically they will often be related to each other, of course but it’s a new era, it’s a new chapter. “Hero” (2016) was an end of one era, so we’re just focusing on something different and this is going to be a mini-album. But we are very happy with the new material, we’re waiting for the final mixes and masters.

So, I guess it’s a bit too early to ask you what this “something different” is all about?

It’s quite eclectic with thematics on it but it has to do with allowing your voice to be heard. It’s getting a little bit more related to nowadays. It’s very topical, there’s a lot of shit that annoys me (laughs) and annoys a lot of other people, so I think it’s important if you have a platform, to be able to express your opinion and find understanding in other people whose opinion is related to yours. There is no better place to do it than in art and in music. It’s not about preaching, it’s just about getting out what you have to say. It’s not as if it’s anything warlike, it’s not as if it’s call to arms or something like that. It’s also very personal and abstract like it usually is. I guess the general thematics of the album are less based on what I was speaking on “Hero” because “Hero” was conceptually based, it was more of a story and it’s just stuff I like to sing about, you know.  

When commenting on “Hero”, you once said that nowadays we desperately need the hero figure. Why do you think there are no heroes these days?

Our system doesn’t really allow for that kind of character to stand out and shine — only in certain forms, in accepted forms.

And it’s kinda paradoxical, isn’t it? There is this pushed identity politics and stuff which is supposed to encourage individuality, yet there are no even big iconic bands anymore, no Iron Maidens and such. And the same goes for other areas of life. Earlier people used to have role models but now there is nothing like that.

Precisely. That’s exactly one of the most important factors involved in the situation, I think. As you were saying, if your head is above the herd, there is this tall poppy syndrome. Everything that stands out, gets silenced quite often because that’s a danger to a lot of the powers that be achieving their goal. It just disrupts their plan, which is — to have things running like clockwork, to make everyone basically shut their mouth and work and consume and all those things. It’s the age-long problem but it’s becoming more and more of an issue and gaining more relevance nowadays. We live in a technocratic age and we are all enslaved to the machination, to everything that’s not human, that we’re becoming reliant upon. I think things are vastly different to what was earlier, even in the 80s, like you were saying — there is none of these big bands anymore. And I think it also has to do with the fact that maybe there are fewer ideas to pull from the pool, a lot of things have been done. There are very entrepreneurial artists out there, for sure, but I think it’s harder to really achieve something unique.

Well, I think it has more to do with general people’s mindset. Like, they all have a platform and while they claim they promote tolerance and stuff whereas in reality they are new Nazis and they use these platforms to silence others. And they only follow and support those who represent the ideas these people already have, so they are probably incapable of complete devotion.

Yeah. Well, I mean everything goes in cycles and humans are doomed to repeat themselves. All of those examples of hypocritical preaching that we see every day — that’s just gonna continue happening, it’s a human condition. I don’t think things will ever change — not completely. That’s just the way of the world, I guess. We can only learn from it each time, if we choose to.

And it can also mean hope.

Oh yeah, absolutely. Of course, in my opinion and maybe yours as well, there is always hope. I think this is necessary. If you give up, then….. what’s the point of staying alive? You may as well end it because you’ll be in a much comfortable place. But it’s not about that — it’s about battling to overcome, the constant battle, I guess. Therein, within the battle itself there is pleasure and happiness to be found. That’s my opinion.

Funny that you referred to the concept of battle. It reminded me of an interesting quote from the film “The Third Man” (1949) and it reads as follows: “In Italy, for 30 years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace – and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock”. (Okoi laughs) Even though it’s not quite accurate from the factual point of view — because the cuckoo clock is actually a German thing — the main idea is that when there is no turmoil, it leads to…

Yes, absolutely, totally. I think we live in a stagnant society because it’s too comfortable and all of the post-Communist states and regions in Europe in my opinion are becoming some of the most interesting. What was left behind has brought them to become entrepreneurial and to strive to build something new for themselves. And all of the countries that haven’t had that hardship — there is just a lot of stagnation and people have no vision, they just consume, it’s all about earning money. But true creativity… I don’t know, there isn’t much of it in Switzerland, not comparing to lots of other countries. I think it’s really sad. So, I agree with idea.

Well, I think many people are critical about their fatherland…

Yes, yeah, I guess, which is a good thing.

We should always question ourselves and what and who we believe in…

Yeah, precisely. Where you come from, where you’re going. Everything should remain a question mark, I think. There is nothing that is constant.

I think it’s a very European way to see things because, for example, in China there is something like a curse which sounds like “May you live in interesting times”.

Which is also a form of enslavement if you give in to that idea. I guess if you’re gonna talk about tyrannical systems of ruling like totalitarianism or communism, those extreme forms — there is a struggle there too, right? It’s not easy for people to live in systems like that but that’s a different kind of struggle, it’s forced upon them. And I think struggle in general is not something you’re willingly undertake but there is a form of discomfort you can generate for yourself remaining in flax emotion and not being deeply rooted in and just shutting off to the outside world, staying open. For a lot of people I think, this is discomfort.  

Since I come from a country we can kinda call a country with a tyrannical system — well, I think, it’s just the opposite. There’s nothing spiritually beneficial about that. People are just so passive and ignorant and they’re quite happy about that. Even though our freedoms are being restricted so severely. I don’t know if you’ve heard about that but they’re going to isolate the Internet like in North Korea, I guess…

Like they’ve done in China.

Yes, precisely, and in China too. And it’s just so ridiculous and quite frightening, I gotta say. And again, I think, the reason why nothing changes and Putin remains in his position is that we actually lack that charismatic figure whom people could follow.

Exactly. But I think Putin maintaining his post has obviously to do with corruption, as well.

Yeah, but there is no one to even try and fight that, you know…

It’s all so networked with all of the wrong people. It must be essentially quite disheartening, I think, for a lot of people and it’s quite a bleak future. I mean, what can you hope for? But there is awareness – never underestimate what people can do. I guess there were a lot of situations in the past where people allowed themselves to endure decades and centuries of unnecessary hardship, torment and tyrannical rule. Again, warfare, misery.  But then quite often it came to a halt, where everyone decided to change that and take their fate into their own hands.

Sometimes it’s not really a good thing. I can’t help but think about the Russian history and about the 1917 revolution, in particular. I think it was terrible, all the intellectuals were either killed or excommunicated…

Yeah, that’s another side of that. Because that brings us back to the mob, the mass. That’s another form of exactly what was in place before, right? And as soon as a large amount of people are given power to control their own direction, the same cycle happens, this human predicament. There is always one person or persons that wants to be at the top.

Is that why you believe the humankind is “plague on earth”?

(laughs) You know, there is a bit of black humor involved in it. I’m supporting that column obviously.

I mean it was you who reposted that article (“Humans are Plague on Earth” by David Attenborough published on telegraph.co.uk – ed.).

Oh yeah, the link. David Attenborough — I think he’s an amazing human being, he’s done so much for the things that I cherish and a lot of other people do too. And he’s a ray of hope in a lot of aspects. But he’s also a human, you know. A lot of the comments around him are concerning certain articles of clothing which are not environmentally friendly and whatnot. But you know, every human has flaws and… man, you have to weigh it up to what’s most important, and what this person has done which is important, I think, by far outweighs wearing a jacket.

Do you think it’s possible to actually regulate human population so that we don’t destroy ourselves? Is it really that bad to destroy ourselves, anyway?

No, exactly. These are all valid questions. It brings us back to the point before. I think humanity can only learn through real doses of death and hardship and misery. That’s usually the bringer of change — when there’s warfare. When everyone’s living in a utopia and has everything the way they want, things usually go downhill pretty fast. This bubble gum world — it’s the other side of the coin. So, I guess, nature always decides at the end. Plague and pestilence are long overdue and that will happen most definitely. The pharmaceutical industry will probably instigate half of that in the interest of earning money. You know, they are the biggest earners on the planet. Being involved in the production of food, getting the patents of genes of every natural organism — that’s one of their goals. So, everything is owned and privatized even in eco, a grain of wheat. And they will make sure there are cures available for all of the diseases — and there probably are, for most of them. They’re just holding them back until it’s time to really earn. Never underestimate how disgusting human beings can be — especially towards each other. So, I think that comes back to that big question mark.

Oh, I never forget about that. My favorite director is Lars von Trier, after all.

(laughs) Yeah, he has a touch with that. It’s unfortunate, isn’t it? That you have to be so mistrustful. But I think it’s necessary. An animal in its natural environment is usually very defensive too. I think we’ve probably lost a bit of that in today’s age and we used to be much more critical, on-guard and aware of things.

Well, skepticism can often create that necessary distance between us and the world which enables us to see and evaluate things better. I remember in one of my natural history classes we once discussed a study according to which one has to be an outcast to tell hypocrisy from sincerity and see through the existing social and cultural conventions. So, it’s actually scientifically proven that we need some kind of alienation like skepticism to recognize the truth. So, I think having this outcast mentality, having the abject* within ourselves is a really good thing.

*Drawing on the French tradition of interest in the monstrous (e.g., novelist Louis-Ferdinand Céline), and of the subject as grounded in "filth" (e.g., psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan), Julia Kristeva developed the idea of the abject as that which is rejected by/disturbs social reason – the communal consensus that underpins a social order. The "abject" exists accordingly somewhere between the concept of an object and the concept of the subject, representing taboo elements of the self barely separated off in a liminal space. Kristeva claims that within the boundaries of what one defines as subject – a part of oneself – and object – something that exists independently of oneself – there resides pieces that were once categorized as a part of oneself or one's identity that has since been rejected – the abject. Keith Khan-Harris, a modern sociologist, lecturer, and music critic, argues that abjection is a topical concept for extreme metal [Kahn-Harris, Keith. Extreme Metal: Music and Culture on the Edge. — Oxford: Berg, 2007].  

Yeah, certainly. Once again, through motion, struggle and being constantly confronted with things or preparing yourself for things you haven’t experienced before, willingly experiencing things you have not before — that allows you to find a different source of enjoyment, learning and feeling alive. That can be quite a nice thing instead of dullness and numbness, going with the flow, which can become very monotonous. But some people don’t see it this way. It will change, usually it does change. People’s lives are disrupted all the time and they quite often take a different perspective.

May I now ask you a few questions about your first EPs, “Aura” (2013) and “Soma” (2014)? In your interviews, you often say that “Soma” is all about female energy whereas “Aura” deals with male energy but it’s much more complicated than just that. “Aura” has also to do with spiritual rebirth, while “Soma” deals with the matters of flesh and at the same time it’s very warlike, it’s about death. I don’t think that’s what immediately comes to mind when one thinks of male/female duality. Could you please say a few words about that?

You’re right, it’s complicated because there’s always constant duality there. I wanted to mix things up. I find Celtic mythology really interesting, because it’s so complex and involving genders as well as neuters, asexual forces, so it was really fascinating to put a play on. “Aura”, as we were saying, takes a male perspective from the first person. A conversation with the metaphysical death. And “Soma” is focused on female forces of Fate, kismet, and I put it in the martial environment of the First World War because that’s the imagery I found really fitting. At the time I was reading some stuff and it’s…. it’s really miserable. I wanted to focus on matters of the heart but in that context. It’s quite visceral as well, you know - death in a female form, and “Aura”, as we said, is more of this first-person projection; “Coronal Mass Ejaculation”’s idea was Sun worship, basically. And the aspect of “Soma” is dark in nature, kinda lunar as well, so the female of me.        

When I was thinking about these two EPs, they also reminded me of Plato’s “The Feast” because he kinda uses the same opposition.

Oh yeah, nice. I’m very chaotic with my lyrics and my writing and I’d rather leave them open to interpretation because that’s what I’m doing myself with everything that I read and put down on paper and usually the ideas about anything I write change all the time. Every time I have a stimulating interview — like this one —  than it brings me some new ideas, like ‘oh, ok, yeah, I guess maybe I was speaking about that as well’. It’s kinda cool. I don’t like to make things finite. I’d rather leave them open and leave out something.

Have you ever looked at your older lyrics and found something new for yourself?

Yeah, once in a while. Usually while I’m singing them I have a moment when I just really focus on that lyric or that sentence, and it means something else to me. I don’t really go back and re-read my lyrics much but yeah, there are always moments, I guess.

Have you ever considered collaborating with a female artist, by the way?

Yeah. It depends on what the context will be. I’ve considered vocals and instrumentation. But I’ve never quite found the moment for it yet, so…

Or the person?

Yeah, it has to be the right person. I’m completely open to that kind of thing, yeah. You know, my girlfriend’s very active musically, too. She played tonight with her band. I think it’s fascinating for me to see the other perspective from a different gender, making a footstep in the scene that I’m active as well. I think, that’s an interesting thing to observe. And one can learn a lot from that as a man because you are offered different opportunities and you take different kinds of chances, you express yourself differently and they have to do it in a different way.

It may sound as a weird question but I read your tattoos also reflect the idea of male/female duality. Like, on your left arm you have male symbols and there are female ones on the right hand…  

Again there is a crossover of genders going on as well. This (Okoi’s right arm and hand) is my dark side, you can call it the night side, so, for me it has more to do with shadows, instantaneous change which is all of the meaning behind the lightning as well as Bölzer.  

But isn’t there a contradiction? Male symbology — and yet it’s dark whereas earlier you connected it with Sun…

Oh yeah, I know. The sun is actually a female figure in the German speaking world. I mean, if you go to the Celtic, it’s different again and in many different cultures it’s the reverse, but this total interchanging idea’s going on, and for me it makes absolute sense. And it usually comes to moments of, “ok, yep, that’s going there”, just like that. It comes to me. and I know I’m gonna do it, and I do it. It’s like putting a piece in a puzzle for me. Yeah, this (Okoi’s left arm and hand) is my solar side, it has more to do with female intricateness and constant…how shall I call it… it’s the chaos maelstrom as well, so it’s uninterrupted, the constant cycle and the instantaneous change. There is a lot of things…

And what about your chest? It’s all solid black…

It’s one of my first tattoos. When I was like 21 and I had some stuff under it, just horrible tribal things that I drew myself. Not like traditional tribal that was existing in the 90s but more like this experimental stuff which I was drawing. I got that when I was 16, I think, and later on I decided to get something more meaningful.

You did it yourself?!

I drew it myself, yes, and then got it tattooed. I did this whole thing inspired by Celtic design. So, it’s a dog… I love dogs. I think they are beautiful creatures and…

A dog?! For me, it was just some mysterious black mass…

No, no, it’s zoomorphic, it’s in motion and I adapted it to my body. It has some movement. (chuckles) It’s also a nice source of pain you can learn a lot from, I think.

And it times it can feel quite euphoric…

I think dealing with the neck and palm and stuff was really kinda heavy but you learn to zone into it and treat it as something else and let it take you somewhere else.

Black metal usually helps…

Yeah! Music is really important. If there’s music playing that I can’t really get into, it intensifies the pain in a negative way.

I’m afraid we should get back to the interview. Sooo, Bölzer has always stayed away from the mainstream…

Well, not completely

Yeah, but I mean, the fact that you’re not signed to a big label. But now the line between mainstream and underground is quite shady, I think, it’s not as it used to be.

I wouldn’t necessarily agree that we make an effort not to be mainstream — we just do what we do and…

You’re just staying away from being too commercial…

Yes. For me, any negative connotations involved with commercialism usually come with people agreeing to a method of business which molds their art or forces their art into a mold, a consumable form, a commodity. There are examples of commercial products that are completely free in expression and I think it’s great. I think it’s great when pop artists are able to have a huge commercial audience although they’re doing what they did from the onset. And I think it’s just decided by producers and whatnot. It’s not made by a mediocre artist which is being platformed to represent a product which is also being created and manipulated by other people. Once in a while it happens and I think that’s fascinating. I mean, there are examples of that throughout the music industry.

Which reminds me of a book I once read (“Adventure, Mystery, and Romance: Formula Stories as Art and Popular Culture” by John G. Cawelti — ed.). The author argued that, even though traditionally popular culture has always been looked down on, only popular culture can create something original and truly unique as “high” art is all about lasting images and concepts.

Exactly! I can agree with that. Whereas relying on purist traditions often results in stagnation of the art form which, I think, you can see a lot in traditional metal. Once one chooses to break out there, they get labeled as commercial because they are not actually fulfilling… I think there’s a contradiction in terms. If someone is doing something different, within a genre which has become stagnant, then I would not agree with that argument at all. And for me, they’re actually fulfilling what those genres originally intended to do. But everyone decides for themselves, you know. I mean, we’re just going to be taken on quite a few new things this year and that’s exciting, it’s not going to be easy but I look forward to announcing that as well. I think a lot of people will support us.

As for going commercial — I think some bands actually do that willingly, they make their music easier to perceive, like Behemoth. Oh, maybe Nergal is your friend and I shouldn’t…

Yeah but it doesn’t matter. I mean, absolutely! But Nergal has a vision and his vision is to be popular, to present a…

Well, I think we shouldn’t judge him according to black metal standards but rather see him as a pop artist. I mean, in that respect he’s doing some really spectacular things and there’s so many people who can get interested in metal through him.

Yes, absolutely. In that sense, I absolutely have to laud Nergal’s efforts. He’s a good friend and I really admire his imagery and everything, the time and passion he invests in what he does. That’s just wow. I mean, it might not be exactly what I want to be but that doesn’t matter as long as…

Well, I guess, you wouldn’t have your own band otherwise.

Precisely. But at the same time I think he is being very courageous doing things that no one else would do. And bringing that form and his vision from an underground demo, advancing to that level of success, although it’s a still an absolutely socially unacceptable form or voice of opinion in his own country and many others — I think that’s a great achievement.

And now a stupid fangirl question: do you have any plans of coming to Russia?

Oh yeah. As you know, we’ve been already, right? Two times and we absolutely loved it. Actually, there was some word of doing something this year but I haven’t heard anything more. So, we’re waiting on our promoter over there. He’s great but we’re yet to see. We definitely want to come back. So, absolutely, I look forward to it. Yeah, give him a notch! But I’m sure we’ll be making further efforts as well.

Bölzer on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/erosatarms  

Interview and drawing by Lena Pashko
Photos by:
1-2 - Ester Segarra (courtesy of Okoi Jones)
3-4 - Lena Pashko
5- David Fitt
May 11, 2019
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