After reviewing 2019’s excellent Gastwerso by SARKE, I got hold of Thomas Bergli, mastermind behind the act, and asked him as many questions as I could about the old days, the new days, and whether or not it’s just me getting cantankerous with age. We talk recording music of great awesomeness, being grumpy, and drinking coffee in the Norwegian countryside with Nocturno Culto.
Hi Thomas, for the benefit of those who don’t know, who are you?
In the world of metal music I go under the name Sarke. I come from Norway, just outside Oslo. Closer to the forest of course.
When did you first start playing music? Did you have lessons?
I started out with piano and keyboard in early 80s. But metal music I started to play in 1987. I played drums. But I have always also played guitar, but not in the band.
I wonder if we could start with TULUS and KHOLD, your first two bands? I only checked Tulus out for the first time properly recently – wow, it sounds great! Was your involvement mainly as a drummer? Are there any plans for the band to play again?
I started out with a band called Nuclear Asshole, then I played a while in Valhall. I also played a short periode in Minas Tirith and Opera. TULUS was formed in 1991. Yes, we are still active and a new album will be out early next year. Followed up by some concerts. The new album is allready recorded and sounds very cool, so check that out.
I can hear a touch of the avant-garde in TULUS, the female vocals and strings on Pure Black Energy for instance. But it has that punky, thrashy edge that comes from you perhaps?
Yes, I like to use different styles in black metal. This to make in more interesting and create atmosphere. I like the direct, in your face, no bullshit attitude of the punk/thrash music.
The drums remind me of the energy on Convicted by Cryptic Slaughter.
Cool thing with Pure Black Energy and the new TULUS album is that its recorded live in studio. Whole band recording at once and no click track. Just beating the hell out of the instruments and get in on tape.
KHOLD have that great mid paced sound with rhythmic guitar parts. Do you think groove is important – music is supposed to make people want to move after all?
Music is all about the groove. We like to get the groove going in our music.
Remembering how underground black metal was back then ( hardly anyone I knew liked it ), it seemed to me that nu-metal re-popularised ( or maybe saved ) metal (from total obscurity). Or maybe it was just the internet? Any theories?
I am not sure what you mean. Of course black metal was small in the beginning, but it grew up to be pretty big. I dont know if anything had to be saved. There will always be a scene for every style of music. And the popularity will vary from year to year.
I mean that metal and rock music was in decline everywhere in the 90s – I bought ‘Under A Funeral Moon’ in a record shop and the shop workers laughed at me! But maybe that explosion of grunge and nu-metal got young kids into mainstream rock, and then they started looking for the underground bands on the internet?
Black metal has never been big.Nu metal bands are way bigger in sales and streams. In Rock/metal music the old bands are still the most popular music compare to any style of music. Like Metallica, Ac/Dc, Red Hot. I think in the 90’s black metal was still growing, but it was not a hype anymore. But as you say, its true metal was overlooked in the 90’s by the grunge scene. But it will always be wave of trends coming.
When you started out in the late 80s, did you ever see yourself playing Wacken?
I did play at wacken in 1998 without knowing what Wacken was. It was a very small scene when I started. I did not know how big black metal was going to be. It became much bigger than I thought.
Khold covered Sepultura – which cover versions of songs have you done over the years, and which ones would you like to do in the future?
We have actually not done so many cover songs. Tulus has done David Bowie and Obituary. I’ve done Kiss and Megadeth. Now Tulus will do a Death cover from the Spiritual Healing album.
It seems that 80s is popular at the moment, but we all know that the 90s will be back soon. Are you ready for downtuned syncopated guitar chugging, wallet chains and baggy trousers?
Maybe thats a good idea. Throw in some heroine to and we are good to go. I dont see us doing grunge music.
Sarke was intitally a one man project, right – so everything on Vorunah is you? How did you arrange the following albums? Do you write / record everything yourself first and then get the others to play it?
Yes, the first album I did myself. It was supposed to be just one album. A solo album, were I made music based on my inspiration from the bands I like. The album did well and the record company wanted a new album and also concerts. Then I just made a band out of it to make it more easy. I mostly make all the music and we work on it together before recording the tracks in the studio.
There is a connection with SATYRICON through the members of SARKE, and it shows in the music such as ‘Heir’ on Bogeford. We associate it with SATYRICON but I guess it’s a classic Norwegian sound?
I guess its just becomes that way, when we come from the same place, time, genre and so on.
How has it been bringing other creative forces into the band? Ted for instance is a very good inventive guitarist, is he happy only doing vocals?
In SARKE he is very pleased to only do the vocal.
How have the SARKE live experiences been? Any plans to promote Gastwerso with some gigs?
We have always done some gigs now and then. It works out very well. I’m pleased to have so good musicians in the band. When the next gig will be I am not sure.
I think Gastwerso is your best work so far, the albums have become better and better. The other albums always had their fair share of black’n’roll songs, but it seems this time you have created a more epic release? Like ‘Burn’ from Bogeford, ‘In The Flames’ from Gastwerso is amazing.
I guess it is just a natural way in the song writing. Always take it a bit futher and explore new territories. In the flames is also one of the favorite tracks of our producer Lars Erik.
Did you use the same arrangement technique as the older albums – drums with a guide guitar, and then build up the layers?
Yes. I played the drums first playing along a guide guitar. Then we do, guitar and bass, keys and vocal. With the Phantom album by KHOLD. I did the drum recording with no guide at all, just drumming.
You used phasing effects, organs etc as far back as Vorunah, but I think that the subtle nuances you placed in the music this time – guitar effects, keyboards, organs have given you the perfect soundscape. It makes everything ‘gel’ better and makes the music more powerful and effective. Was that planned, or did it happen naturally during the recording process?
Very good to hear you notice that. This time I brought in Anders the keyboard player much earlier than before. Before I made the tracks and then he added keys. This time I work with him when I made the songs, so we could adjust and melt it together much more.
Are there any artists you admire for creativity? Kittelsen aside, there are some amazing Norwegian painters during the Romantic period and early twentieth century. Do you have an art background?
Kittelsen is my favorite. Of course also other paintings/drawings I like. I do not have an art background. But I do like to draw. I have thought about drawing the cover myself. But its very hard to make it good enough.
Classical musicians – Tveitt etc?
I have listen to classical music, but not much. Some is good, some is boring. I would not say my inspiration come from there. A lot of the music in movies are classical music and that is often very cool. In that case I listek to it.
How much do the words and music connect during the writing process?
It absolutly connect. The theme in the lyrics will influence the music. In SARKE I try to create an atmosphere both in the music and the lyrics.
‘Dawning’ on Bogeford, and ‘Jutul’ on Viige Uhr have female vocals – is that the first time you used them for SARKE? I don’t recall them on the earlier albums.
I think ‘Dawning’ was the first yes. Used it in TULUS from the first record in 1996. But with SARKE it took some albums.
Do you have a personal connection with the label Indie Recordings?
No, not really. But of course I know our main contact there after some many albums. But its only business.
Have you had any good reviews or criticism over the years? How has Gastwerso been received?
I feel we get a ton of good reviews. I feel we get very good feedback on our albums. And it seems like the more serious the reviewer is and the more time they put into our music, the better review we get. I like to read a review when they have understand our music.
You must be approaching middle age now I guess? How has it felt getting older? Do you own a harmonica and a banjo yet? ( Ted once said ‘I am 70 years old in my head’ – haha! )
I am not on the harmonica yet. Yes, 50 is closing in. For me its fine to be older. Getting more and more grumpy to get everything my way. Guess Ted is closer to 80 in his head. Give him a small knife out drive him out to the countryside and give him some coffee and he will be happy.
What would you say to the young Thomas? Would you have done anything differently?
Maybe not having so many bands.
Do you drink or smoke? Any drugs of choice? Favourites, if so?
Do you have any hobbies outside music?
Sure. I fish, mountain bike, running, work out, chess.
What is your greatest non-musical achievement?
I am not sure about that.
Do you have a family, children and so on? If so how has that affected your musical career?
Yes, I have two kids. I guess I would have played more on tour if I was totally alone. I can make music in the same way with or without kids.
In terms of energy in and rewards out, is being in a band worth it? Do you think you get the exposure you deserve?
The thing is that I create music because I like it. That someone is paying to get it recorded and released. And on top of that I get money for sales is just a bonus. I guess I get the attention I deserve. Thats how the interest is right now.
Do you end up neglecting everything else around you whilst you are creating? Or, are you very organised?
I like to create music alone in silence. A least the riffs and ideas. Best in the morning. To work with the song its no problem to be more people and more noisy.
Would you describe yourself as a bass player, guitarist, etc…or multi instrumentalist? Do you find playing in different roles gives you a better understanding of music?
I am first of all a drummer. I do play mostly guitar. Bass I play now and then. Piano sometimes. I feel I get a better overview of the tracks when I know all the instruments. I think about everything like, the melody, the beat, the atmosphere, the meaning of what the song wants to express.
I watched an interview with you and Ted recently – you should definitely have your own TV show. It’s like a comedy duo, but with both of you playing the straight guy. I don’t know if you were ‘straight’ in that interview though? 😉
Not sure what you mean about straight. I think both Ted and I are pretty straight. When we meet up we always have a good time.
I mean ‘straight’ as in normal and not over the top, or also not on drugs. Some people don’t need drugs at all to look like they are having a good time – is that you?
All my bands are very straight.
How is your music perceived in Norway? I would expect it to be popular there?
Yes. Its ok popular here. Most people know what this kind of music is. Rock music is of course huge. But the common man in the street do not listen to black/death/extreme music. Drumbeats from the computer added with bad norwegian vocal is much more popular.
Someone told me that in Norway the government will support your music if it contributes to the National heritage in some way – has Norway ever supported SARKE?
Yes, we can get support. That means money. But its the record label, that deals with that.
Many artist also get money directly to them. It can be everything from 1.000-20.000 euro.
I also remember the government bought a lot of KHOLD albums to have in all the library around in Norway.
Have you ever lived anywhere else? Anywhere you would like to move to?
Just lived near Oslo and thats fine by me.
A do travel a lot, but its always nice to get back home.
In the UK it is common to swear as a term of endearment – eg ‘pass me the shitting screwdriver, piss for brains’, or ‘I love you, you daft c**t’. Is it the same in Norway? What are your best swear words?
Normal here is. Faan, fuck, jævla og helvete.
In the UK we have just voted in a rightwing conservative government – nobody really knows why, but I think it is so we can go back to the ‘good old days’. Would you say Norway is a progressive country? Would you describe yourself as a traditionalist? Are people happy with how it is there?
I do follow politics. Its a bit special when it comes to Norway, since we have a lot of money and are few people here. Norway is a modern country. If it is the red side or the blue side running Norway the outcome is the same. Its just some minor details. A bit effort and everybody can have nice normal life here. Of course everybody can complain, but if you see a child from Africa or some other country that is dying from starving and lack of water. I dont think the gas price or get a bigger car space means so much.
What bands, composer etc would you recommend our readers check out?
Oh, I am very lazy with new albums and bands. Im still listening to old Slayer.
What are your plans for the future, both personally and musically? What should your fans expect?
There will be as I said a new TULUS album out soon.
Our deal with SARKE is now done with Indie. So lets see if we can agree for a new contract or what will happend.
I always make music, so something will happend soon.
Thanks so much Thomas, I shall leave the last words to you.
Thanks for the interview.