Interview with Bjorn Alexander Brem aka The Gothminister | By Eric May
Gothminister is back and with their largest concept album yet. Utopia is a massive outing for the band, which spans far beyond the studio album and continues into the livefilm DVD. The band sounds stronger and heavier than they ever have on this new release, which is why I thought it would be a great opportunity to interview the mastermind behind this powerfully delivered concept. I spoke with The Gothminister about the new album, the band’s roots and what he does when he’s not singing horror-laden hymns to foul things beyond. Strangely enough, that might include playing tennis and practicing law. But you’ll just have to read the interview to find out.
The new album is called Utopia and it’s based on a rather lengthy concept regarding a very disturbed young man who grows into an equally disturbed lawyer and artist known as the Gothminister. One might say that the concept could be based on your life. Can you talk a little more about the massive concept of this album?
I am often influenced by movies, books and things that I experience in real life. This regards both the music and the lyrics. Utopia is a concept album inspired from my own life but there is also a lot of fantasy in the concept as well. Below I will comment on each song on the album, and on the film part as well:
Utopia is Gothminister`s new concept album, consisting of both studio recorded and live-film recorded songs, and even a live-film intro and outro. The concept of Utopia is inspired by Bjørn Alexander Brem`s life and nightmares – the combination of being a lawyer in daytime and Gothminister at night drives him eventually insane – it becomes impossible for him to understand the difference between reality and imagination. Here are some comments to each song on the CD album and also some comments and explanation to the film itself:
The studio album kicks off with “Someone is after me”. It all starts when our main character is a little boy, living in a big old house. On certain sleepless nights he hears a faint bell in the wind and a harsh cough from some stranger walking across the street. The rumors said that this man was pure evil, and that he used to lure unaware children. In “Utopia”, we are given the description of the perfect world but still some questions are left unanswered: Maybe Hell only exists here on Earth? And therefore, Heaven, or “Utopia”, may also exist on Earth? And if so, is it the heavenly and good world that is our main character`s Utopia? Or maybe his idea of a perfect world is Hell and pure evilness…? “Horrorshow” takes our main character further into his fantasy where he finds himself trapped by sinister creatures.
“Afterlife” reminds us of our limited time here on earth, but it also asks the question whether there is something else after death. This brings us over to one of the most important songs on the album lyrically, “Nightmare”. Here we are explained how the main character as a grown-up has turned into theevilness he feared as a boy:
“When I was a child, I used to live across the street from here, on those sleepless nights a faint bell and a harsh cough filled the air
Nothing will remain
He will ease you from your pain
If you shall reign this world
Embrace your nightmare
They said he once
Rose from the earth
To help people die, to resurrect and join his
Army of walking undead
He will ease you from your pain
If you shall get your revenge in the end
He was a lunatic from my worst nightmares; they said he used to lure sleepless and unaware children and in his dark cellar he would end their lives, consume their brains, and thus reconquer the ability of being creative again, and to live happily as only a child can, in its pathetic fantasy world
On Sunday nights I often walk pass that old house, where I used to live as a child. Last night, when I passed the house, I heard a faint sound of a bell in the wind. I was wondering if others also could hear it, that bell, and my harsh, nagging cough that that I can’t get rid of
Is this my nightmare
Is this my nightmare
Who the hell am I
If this is my nightmare”
In “All alone” everyone is dead. And our main character realizes that his evil work can not be appreciated if everyone is gone. What is interesting is that the original, Greek meaning of „utopia“ is “nothing“ (this is before it was interpreted to “the perfect place or paradise by Thomas More…“)
And since everyone is gone, he wishes that they come back to life again, so, as he says; “I can scare you once again…”
“Eternal” describes the essence of what will happen; the resurrection of the dead. And maybe this is what our main character wants; an army of walking undead to serve him for eternity. But he also needs to join them, which means he has to end his own life.
“Boogeyman (Death is coming)” is the last song on the studio album, and it describes the last part of the journey for our main character. His double personality – like a Mr.Jekyll and Hyde, will end here, at least as a regular human being. And maybe that is for the best, “maybe this world is better off without the two of us”. Because at that point our main character does not know if he will manage to rise from the dead…but he still has his delusions of grandeur, like described in the main character`s last words; “I have had a dream since birth, that the dead will reign the earth…”
And where the studio album ends, the live-film DVD picks it up…
Utopia – the live-film
The livefilm starts with the following quote;
“And while I have hope in God, which they also do, they preach these things:
There is going to be a resurrection from the dead, of the righteous and of the evil.”
(Acts 24:15, the Aramaic Bible)
It is quite clear what we might experience….in the name of life and death.
The story starts in front of Oslo county court, showing our main character as a lawyer, greeting his client, living his “normal” daily life in a regular city.
But our main character has a hard life, switching between his job as a lawyer in daytime and the artist and alter ego Gothminister at night, and this combination slowly drives him mad. Soon he can`t see what is reality and what is imagination.
When the pictures he sees in his head slowly disappear, the whole world has changed. It seems like there is “nothing” left (Remember the original version of Utopia? (winks)
The city seems empty, and everyone is dead. Our main character needs to find out of this, and in his search for any survivors, he suddenly sees a little girl running away. So he follows her. And she leads him into a big, dark venue where he meets military guards and where can see some creepy shadows without knowing what it is all about. Suddenly, pale arms pull him into the shadows, and out comes… Gothminister. The band goes on stage, and the concert show starts
The audience consists of living undead, zombies, call them what you want. The fact is that this is a quite different and much more dangerous audience than what we normally can see on a rock/metal show. (smiles)
Slowly the audience infects the whole band so each one of them turns into the living dead. The concert ends when the lead singer ( Gothminister himself) is overpowered by the crowd and he disappears underneath them.
I won’t reveal the ending of the movie, but it is basically a movie about what would happen if the lawyer and the Minister because of the lethal combination went straight to Hell…
Who exactly is the Gothminister in regards to your band’s name? Who came up with the name for the band and how does it represent your act?
It is quite a funny story. I grew up with metal, but in 1999 we split up our previous industrial metal band Disco Judas (performed around two-hundred shows in Norway; I played drums there for more than ten years). The reason for the split up was two band members going one direction and two others going another. While the keyboard player and the bass player seemed to be more into noise-pop and punk, me and the guitar player were more into metal. So I took some of the songs that were skipped and used the ideas for a new concept, a concept that was invented by me while I was going to this Goth club with a friend of mine. The club`s DJs played many types of music from the dark scene, and also some quite cool dark metal; but the people therelooked a bit unfortunate and lost. So my friend told me, “This scene needs a leader.” And I said, “What about a 30 meter tall guy called “Gothminister?” [laughs]
It was all just a joke. And then the whole thing started, just like that. What was not as funny was that my friend left home earlier than me with my coat in his car, so I had to walk home in 17 minus degrees Celsius temperature and got terribly ill. That was when I had some time to write the first demos for Gothminister, and this is probably also where the “goth-curse” originated from. It all started by accident. [smiles]
Let’s talk about the recording process for the studio album portion of Utopia. What was the process like and long did it take to record? Did everything go as smoothly as you would’ve liked?
It was a long process. It always starts in my own studio, recording demo guitars, drums, programming etc. Then when I have written all the songs for an album, we rehearse; go into the studio and record guitars and drums. Bass guitar is recorded somewhere else by Eirik Øien, who is just a session musician. Vocal recordings were done partly by me and partly in the studio where we recorded drums and guitars (Dub Studio in Oslo, Norway). When everything is recorded, I produce and prepare all the tracks for mix. The mix was done by Neil Kernon in the USA and mastered by Alan Douches. We are always very picky in the mixing and master situation. We normally do eight to ten mixing versions before we are happy. After the mastering was done I actually had a second to go on the production and remix the separate tracks from the first mixing session again, this time we added some plugins to get more punch in the bass and the drums, and then finally remixed the separate tracks again in the mastering studio in Oslo with Morten Lund. So, it was a long process, but I am really happy with the final result.
Now let’s talk about the live-film version of Utopia. Where was this filmed and what was the experience like during the show?
The Utopia live-film was filmed in Oslo. First we filmed two days at Rockefeller Music Hall, a venue with a capacity of 1,350 along with a gallery and lots of space for our props (up to the ceiling I believe it’s ten to twelve meters from the stage). This allowed us to install lots of cool effects and props. We invited people to dress as zombies. We had most of the Oslo zombie walk crowd and lots of fans. More than a hundred zombies attended to be a part of the audience. I believe this is something that has never been done before, at least not to my knowledge. So instead of a filmed concert with a regular audience, the whole audience is a part of the show and “actors” (fans). Their goal is to conquer the stage and make the whole band turn into zombies as well. So they are quite aggressive and entertaining, especially when Gothminister himself (that is me) [laughs] is throwing some raw meat now and then into the crowd. Then they go absolutely bonkers.
How are your shows different from the shows of other bands? What do you guys do that makes them unique?
I think our new live shows are different from many other bands because of all the theatrical entertainment. We have actors on stage, with their own small stories to tell, in the middle of the show. Chris the drummer is abducted by the executioner zombies to be thrown into a pit in front of the stage, and then a huge animatronic demon goes up in front of the crowd; holding Chris upside down by his legs seven meters up in the air, giving him a good shake up there. And when the demon takes him back down into the pit, there is silence…and smoke…until Chris climbs back up on stage, bloody but victorious. It is not a coincidence that we at that moment kick in with the song “Liar”, one of the more catchy tunes. We also have an animatronic goblin climbing down from the ceiling with a bag, and inside that bag is a werewolf baby that the Minister takes. And then of course there has to be a fight with the werewolf daddy who wants his puppy back.
We are sawing the heads off zombies, so blood splatters out on stage and we have remote controlled bats flying over the audience`s heads and we have huge monsters (4.5 meters tall) walking out on stage. So there’s a little bit for everyone, I would say. With a sense of humor and self-irony to it of course. [smiles]
Can you tell me about the history of the band? I know that you didn’t start out playing metal in the beginning, so could you please explain the band’s evolution from electronic music into your current state?
I started out as a one man project with a laptop. That was natural since our old band, Disco Judas (industrial metal where I played the drums, we were inspired by bands like Neurosis, Ministry, Nine Inch Nails) split up in the late nineties after more than two-hundred live shows and two releases. The third one was in the making, but it was never released.
Since I was alone, it was natural to start electronically, but after a while Gothminister developed into the full live band it is today, with two guitars, vocals and live drums.
What bands would you consider influences or inspirations to Gothminister? What bands first got you into this genre of music?
Hmmm…First of all I am not sure what this genre of music is, so it’s probably difficult to define Gothminister`s music and I will definitely not try. But to make it simple, I’d have to say the metal genre. It was a friend of mine who got me into it, that and horror movies. I was ten or eleven years old and listened to Helloween, Manowar, Iron Maiden, Metallica, Queensryche, Death, Equinox, Coroner, and Slayer just to mention a few. And some of the movies that I watched frequently were Halloween, Evil Dead, and Prince of Darkness. Hmmm… maybe this also influenced our Halloween-like image when I think about it. And comics, of course. Batman was a big favorite.
Are you still listening to them these days?
Yes, I am still listening to some of these today. I remember my mother complaining about all the vinyl records I bought when I was young; and she claimed that I would never listen to them when I grew older. She was wrong.
And in December we’re gonna experience Coroner (I am an old fan you know) live, and not only as an audience, since they actually play earlier on the same stage and on the same night as Gothminister during the Eindhoven Metal Meeting in the Netherlands on December 14th. That’s a dream come true! BIG respect to Coroner, especially the album No More Color. They were so ahead of their time and they still sound modern today. Can’t wait to see them live!
Lawyer by day, undead metal musician by night. That’s quite a contrast. How did you get involved in law and how long have you been practicing? Which do you think is more exciting? The field of law or metal music?
My mother studied law, and my father, which in itself should be a good reason NOT to do it yourself. And I didn’t want to in a way, but I gave it a try. And then after a year of it, I wanted to take a break to write a book, etc. But then a good friend of mine convinced me to complete the studies. And I am so glad for that. It is a really interesting job, especially when you can work in the music, film and TV industry like I do, and help the weak (the musicians, composers, movie and TV workers) against the big vultures and labels and producers. [winks]
It gives me a good night’s sleep, every night. That and horror movies. You know, the visual monsters aren’t what people should be afraid of. They represent the everyday life. Life isn’t only roses. But those who are afraid of being ugly, afraid of the darkness and their dark sides – people who only want pretty pink and nicepretty music and nice looking people – those are the true creepy individuals.
I can’t forget what a journalist in Norway wrote after Gothminister lost in the voting of Eurovision to a very commercial pop song, sung by a 16 year old girl (she now has a contract with the world`s biggest manager, so she had potential, but still.) He said, “She can’t sing in tune, but Gothminister delivered a great performance, so why do we want her instead of them? Because we want beauty, not ugliness.” This is a creepy way of thinking. I wouldn’t like it when he finally comes out of his cellar. It really gives me the creeps. This is the only thing I am scared of. People who pretend the world is all rosy and people who don t want to take a look behind the mirror because “it’s wrong”.
Let’s talk about the instruments that you used to recordUtopia. What kinds of guitars, drums, bass and programs did you use to write and record the album?
Our drummer uses a Tama starclassic drum set, and I always record the demos on an old Ibanez electric guitar and my Gretsch Barython guitar. As for amplifiers, we normally use Marshall stacks and Mesa Boogie. As far as programs are concerned, we use Cubase and Pro Tools. We use Milennia preamp for vocals and Røde NTK microphones.
What are your actual views on the concepts described on this album? Do you really believe that Heaven and Hell could actually exist right here on earth, or is this just a fool’s dream? Do you believe in life after death and a possible final judgment?
I believe that Heaven and Hell ONLY exist here on earth, just like the lyrics say. This means that I probably don’t believe in a life after death and that’s why we have to make the zombies come alive NOW!!! [smiles] But maybe I believe that some individuals can come back as something else. For example, one of my dogs has to have been a guinea pig in his previous life. A proper MØRSVIN. [laughs]
What do you do when you’re not playing music or practicing law? Are there any books or films that you might consider influential to your art in Gothminister?
I play tennis. Is it a coincidence? Alice Cooper plays golf, I play tennis. [laughs] I used to be a decent player and was ranked one of the top five in Norway when I was between twelve and eighteen years of age. But around twenty I started focusing on the studies and the music instead. Lots of films of course, and my favorite TV series at the moment is The Walking Dead. Absolutely brilliant! And in winter I do some snowboarding. I am not a guy who hates sports and sits in my cellar every night, drinking absinthe all the time and listening to Diamanda Galas` Plague Mass. But hey, that’s a very good album too!
Out of all the shows you’ve done, what’s been the most memorable experience you’ve had while on the road? Have you ever gotten to meet any of your influences? What was that like?
One time Max Cavalera from Sepultura/Soulfly called me from the tour bus (they started their European tour right after us with the same bus driver and they can be great promoters of your music!!!) and said he’d become a fan of our music so he invited the whole band to come backstage with Soulfly and Black Sabbath when they played in Oslo. That was like…a dream!
What is the worst thing you’ve had happen while on tour and what is one of the more comical things that you’ve had happen?
The worst thing that happened, I think, must have been when we played in Oberhausen 2009 on tour and the management of Sisters of Mercy really wanted to work with us because they loved the albums, the image and just everything, but they just wanted to make sure we also were good live. We had lost one guitar player so we only had one on stage, we only had a session drummer and our car broke down. We also had no light tech and arrived too late for soundcheck. The management left in the middle of the show very disappointed. I asked them if they wanted to come to another show (Castle Rock later that year) but they said no. When we met the fans at Castle Rock they told us Oberhausen was really shit but Castle Rock was great, it was with the full band again and with lights and everything. Too bad the management didn’t want to see us how we normally are. But we only got that one chance. It was one of the biggest managements in Germany. I wish they had seen us at Castle Rock instead.
But then again, who wants to work with someone who can only give you one chance and then wants to sit back with the worst impression possible? (We never did such a bad show ever again. After that, we always did full productions. NO time for savings!) [winks]
Our funniest moment was when the support band in the UK got the night liner toilet flushed on their car (by accident) so it went through their aircon and everyone puked inside. Also the drummer had to shit in a bag inside their car in the cue into London. Poor guys! Sorry! [laughs]
Would you ever tour the States? What is your impression of American society?
We have toured the States. Our last time was in 2007, from Portland in the Northwest to New Haven in the east. Then we played in Philadelphia for the Dracula’s Ball (I think it was 2008?) but we haven’t been back since. We’d love to come back.
I think America is diverse. The east coast is the most similar to Europe in general I think, but also Portland was not so different. Texas, Hollywood and California are quite different of course! But we loved it everywhere, except the Detroit airport, your chicken quesadilla food poisoned me! [screams and laughs]
Finally, what do you think about the future of mankind? Are we nearing impending Armageddon, or is there a chance we may reach utopia?
The end is always near. The question is rather, when it will come. Not in our lifetime I guess. Unless they ban metal music and shock rock. [laughs]