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Ihsahn

ARTIST SPOTLIGHT: IHSAHN

Name: Ihsahn
Bands: Ihsahn/Emperor
Location: Telemark, Norway
Link(s): www.ihsahn.com

How and when was your interest in music sparked?
I guess I was always hammering away at any piano or acoustic guitar that might be around and started taking piano lessons when I was about six or seven. But it wasn’t until I was ten that I discovered Twisted Sister and Kiss, getting my own tapes and albums, and developed a more personal relationship to music.

Was playing guitar always your first and only choice or did it start with something else?
It started with the piano and we had this electric organ, the type with two keyboards, bass pedals and built-in rhythms, that I loved playing. I got my first electric guitar at ten or eleven and the piano playing went kind of downhill from there. For some reason I acquired a four-track Fostex recorder when I was 12, and the electric organ came in very handy for supplying drums, keys and bass for my early demos…guitars often recorded direct via a Boss HM2 pedal.

You were a longtime member of Emperor and also Thou Shalt Suffer but since 2006, you have mostly focused on a solo career in your own name. Are there challenges in being a lone captain on a ship or do you prefer handling everything yourself?
There’s of course a challenge when it comes to second opinions and a natural, creative push-pull of ideas, but fortunately I have my wife, Heidi, who is also my sparring partner in all things creative. Beyond that, I totally embrace the creative freedom of working solo and getting hands-on with all parts of the process of putting a record together. Where needed, I can pick whatever musicians best suited for that particular project. Most importantly, I’m free to choose any creative direction for each new project and put myself in a position where I’m as excited about the work as when I first started out.

Out of everything that comes with being an artist – writing, recording, jamming, touring, traveling (the list goes on)…what is your favorite part?
It’s always been the studio work! Writing, recording and producing. Over the years, I’ve come to enjoy playing shows more and more, but it is really within that “studio bubble” that I thrive.

You have had a long career, won awards, toured the world and played the biggest festivals. Looking back on this journey that started back in the early ‘90s, are there any specific moments or milestones that stand out for you personally?
In the perspective of my ten-year-old self, headlining Wacken Open Air in 2006 was a pretty big deal. I remember getting dressed backstage, hearing Whitesnake finishing their set with “Still of the Night” (one of my absolute favorite songs growing up). As we approached the back stairs of the main stage, David Coverdale came running off in his “signature” white shirt, and I thought, OK, we’re on… Biggest show of my career, I think close to 80 thousand people, and the atmosphere was pretty immense. I remember contemplating that I was now experiencing something that seemed totally unreachable when I watched my heroes in Iron Maiden and Judas Priest! Overall, what I am most proud of and grateful for is having a life in music where I’ve been creatively uncompromising, maintained control of my own career and been able to balance that with quiet family life in the Telemark countryside.

What does your personal writing spot or home studio look like in terms of gear?
I have a custom built desk with rack mounts on each side, pull-out drawer for my 88-note keyboard and desk space for a dual-screen setup and different controllers. The room is fairly well treated, yet improved by Sonarworks Reference 4, and monitoring is handled by Dynaudio BM15As and Adam A7s, plus a selection of Beyerdynamic headphones. I’ve been running Cubase since the early ‘90s so that’s at the heart of everything, with your usual suspects of plugins and sample libraries. To my left I keep an easy-access rack with my Aristides guitars and I have a Kemper ready to record both processed and Di signals at any time. We have a selection of mics at the house, Royer, AKG, Blue, Røde, Peluso, but currently I have a Shure SM7 and a Slate VMS ML1 hooked up for convenience. Outboard-wise, there’s an UA 6176, Drawmer 1968LE and an API lunchbox with 512s, 1081 and Lindell pre, EQ and comp. We have some analog synths at the house (Moog, DSI, Arturia) and also quite a lot of guitar amps and cabs (Marshall, Engl, Orange, Blackstar) as well as a couple of drum kits, acoustic guitars, keyboards, etc.

On that note, what’s your process like when composing for an upcoming record? Do you set aside dedicated “on the job” time to write or does it happen when it happens?
I usually start all new projects with a write-up of what kind of album I want to make. Everything from lyrical main objectives, instrumentation, production, visuals etc., just to have a vague goal in mind and not just random songs. I’ve generally been getting better at writing down or recording ideas on my phone when they appear outside the studio, so to speak. But in general, I keep very regular working hours, starting at eight in the morning.

You are an avid Superior Drummer 3 user. How do you use the program in your work and how does it help your creative process?
I use it primarily with the MIDI libraries and using the built-in customization options to adjust them to my needs. It’s also so convenient to be able to drag and drop MIDI to and from Cubase and the internal arrangement windows. It’s invaluable to have these performances and drum tones available from the very beginning of a project, as it is so inspiring and quick to get things moving forward. Also, I love the Orchestral Percussion SDX! The attention to detail, tweakability and sounds! I will often use a lot of orchestral sounds in my arrangements, but prefer samples recorded in more studio/scoring stage environments, as it blends better with typical rock/metal elements. The punch and directness of the Orchestral Percussion SDX is perfect for this.

What other Toontrack products do you use?
I was actually an early adopter of the original DFH kit and later got EZdrummer 2 and EZkeys. I also use the EZmix 2 plugin, especially when working on my laptop when traveling. Lately, I got the new EZbass too, which sounds amazing and fits right into my workflow, as I tend to program/tab all guitar and bass parts as I write. I’ve even appended some parts recently with EZbass, where the original bass DI needed changing.

Best studio moment ever?
All those moments in the studio, when you feel like you captured something magic! You don’t know how it got there, but suddenly it’s there…those are the seconds that make all the hours of trial and error make sense.

…and worst stage moment ever?
I played Graspop a few years back. The audience was great, sound, lights, everything…three big screens with visuals etc. Then, I think three songs into the set, my session guitarist’s rig started shutting out. We got it going after a short break, the audience were very supportive, cheering us forward…and then my rig went down, power coming and going… In the end we just had to give up. What a waste of an otherwise perfect setting. It’s only rock and roll, but at the moment I was pretty pissed off. I could possibly think of more situations, as life on the road is usually closer to Spinal Tap than we’d like to think, but this is what sprung to mind.

FIVE QUICK QUESTIONS.

If you could only keep/play one guitar moving forward…which one in your collection would you pick and why?
Tough one, as I have some very specific guitars for different purposes. I guess it would have to be my Aristides 080s, which is an 8-string, fanned fret guitar. It covers the entire range of what I do and is such an easy 8-string to play, so I could easily perform all my material with this one instrument.

You could only bring one record to listen to during a massively long tour, which one would it be and why?
Probably Scott Walker “Boy Child: The Best of Scott Walker 1967-1970.” Love all the songs and arrangements and it has such a smooth melancholy throughout that I never seem to tire from.

Big festival or club show?
Doesn’t matter, as long as the energy and vibe is present.

Name one piece of gear you can’t live without in your studio (and it can’t be the guitar or the computer!).
Then it’d have to be my main keyboard controller, an NI Komplete Kontrol S88 MKII.

Your all-time top five list of albums!

Varies, but could look something like this:
Iron Maiden “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son”
Jerry Goldsmith “The Omen”
Radiohead “Kid A”
Bathory “Blood Fire Death”
Massive Attack “Mezzanine”


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