Read Thurston Moore's In-Depth Interview with Black Metal Icon Necrobutcher
The Sonic Youth guitarist sat down with the Mayhem founder to discuss Venom, punk rock, and Necrobutcher's new book 'The Death Archives'
As Noisey first reported back in June 2016, Mayhem bassist Jørn "Necrobutcher" Stubberud will soon release his first book, The Death Archives, via Thurston Moore's Ecstatic Peace Library imprint. The book—a generously sized tome crammed with rare photos, diaries, and memorabilia documenting the rise of notorious Norwegian black metal icons Mayhem—is already looking to be an essential read for any fan of the genre, and an enticing prospect for anyone interested in learning more about the phenomenon beyond its sensational surface-level history of murder and church burnings.
In an interview with Noisey, Moore (the noise-loving Renaissance man and famed Sonic Youth guitarist who at first blush seems like an unlikely Mayhem collaborator) detailed both his love for black metal and the curious circumstances behind his introduction to the project. "I had heard that Jorn [Necrobutcher] had written his memoir using all of his very first photographs and all the stuff he has under his bed, so I was very curious about it. I couldn't find the book anywhere, but when I was in Norway, I found one copy at some CD store way up north; it was the only copy I saw in the entire country. I really wanted to read it, so my publishing partner and I were like, let's do this book," he explained. "We called the publisher up, she was this wonderful woman working in Norway, she was like, 'Yeah they'd love you to do this, and he would love nothing more than to have another musician put his book out besides him.' So we got the English translation rights and it read so well—it was unpretentious, down to earth, demythologizing the whole thing with the band, the suicides, the killings and the church burnings, which puts it kind of in this place that takes away the scandal of it. Basically, the story is about this band having this idea and going out and playing in front of nobody for two years until all this scandal started happening—then people were like, 'Who is this messed up band?' and then they kind of became figureheads of black metal."
Now, we're delighted to publish the following conversation between Moore and Necrobutcher, which took place in London during their first ever face-to-face meeting. In addition, Necrobutcher's book tour kicked off yesterday at LA's Family Books, and will be hitting multiple major US cities in the coming week—including a stop at Brooklyn's own Rough Trade for another chat with Moore. Dates below:
19-February-2017 in New York at Rough Trade
book/record signing and conversation between Necrobutcher & Thurston Moore
Thurston Moore: I thought that was interesting, in your book, that before Mayhem becomes Mayhem, you and Euronymous are pretty much the two original founders and to some lesser extent, Manheim?
Necrobutcher: Yep, we were growing up in the same county, but two different villages and had these separate lives. We didn't know about each other, so when I first met him in the summer of 1984, I was shocked to see and to hear that there was somebody else who liked that band from Newcastle, England: Venom. We hit it off immediately and decided to start a band together, even though he was actually meeting me on behalf of another band that were going to try me out as a bass player. On the way from the railway station to this band's rehearsal space we decided to start a band together.
How did you know about Venom? You're living in a small town in Norway in the mid-80s.
A Christian rock friend of mine called me one day and said, 'You know, I have an album here that you will love.' I went down to his place and he had bought Venom's Black Metal album. A very weird release for that time. And of course I just fell in love with the songs. I was a huge Motorhead fan, so for me it was kind of a natural progression to this music. Before that, I was into the Stones. I grew up in a house where The Rolling Stones were the biggest band. Then I was probably influenced by Motorhead. Venom took it one step further and it was more obviously image-conscious.
In America, we got into Venom because we associated it with what we liked about Hardcore music because we were into Black Flag and Minor Threat. For some reason, nobody was really listening to any Metal so much. They were put a way in '77, so all your Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple records were kind of hidden away, Judas Priest even. And all that came back when Hardcore bands started growing their hair out and they lost their virginity and they started getting into sort of more progressive ideas. So that's how we even got into Venom who sounded quite wild and trashy, putting on this image of being sadistic and wild and it was kind of fun.
Well, I wasn't paying too much attention to the lyrics; more the rest of it. The sound. I was a big punk rock fan. I think when I describe our first album, I describe it as punk rock, because we didn't know what to call it. We called our album Deathcrush. So we came from everything that was "wrong." Everything that was illegal. I was collecting switchblade knives and splatter movies just because everyone in Norway was afraid of that stuff. They didn't see the black humor in it. We used to go to Holland to weird video stores to buy our Dario Argento films. It was illegal in Norway. We got a foreign copy of Cannibal Holocaust, [and] it was taped over so many times on VHS so when we got it, it was so diffused and in black and white and we thought, 'Is it true, is it true?.' And that some way, we found out that this was just entertainment. I think I had an overdose on that stuff because today, I'm not a fan of any of these kind of these films anymore.
It was definitely a real Eighties thing, especially for people our age. In the Eighties there were magazines devoted to Horror Cinema and slasher films, such as Fangoria and Psychotronic. There was a real correlation between that and the new underground metal stuff—the blood, the gore, bestiality and Satanism. In a way, it was the same aesthetic going on in these films. It wasn't like these actors or these filmmakers were really Satanists, but they had this fascination with this dark side and bringing it into the art.
Our fascination with rock Satanism was because we were in a Christian country; we had a state religion, Christianity, and we would revolt against society and want to revolt against them, because we thought it was ludicrous. And a lot of people we were looking up to as intelligent people; my teacher in school for example, was a deeply Christian guy. And, I would ask, 'Do you really believe this nonsense?' But, as I grew older, I recognized that religion is about mass control and about 1,000 years ago, we were savages and we needed a guideline. So, these books came along, you know, The Bible. It was a good guideline probably, to keep people from bashing people's heads in. What I can see now is that there are some countries that need some guidance and, like...The Koran, it's a big book still in all the countries. Maybe they need it a couple more years, to straighten out stuff. Because everybody says [Islam] is a compassionate religion. I haven't seen any compassion.
So, you want to destroy all religions?
Absolutely. But you know, we can revolt against them because of all of our enemies, high up in higher places.
Do you have any belief system in this faith base, if that's not too personal?
No, of course not that's why I'm here. Because I'm here in person, so I can tell you right now, I'm a non-believer. I don't believe. I believe in what you do with your life.
You're not a Buddhist?
But that's one of the religions that, at least that doesn't want all the people to do the same thing because they are an exclusive club and if you don't get it, you're not welcome. It's not like a missionary thing. Where they tell you what to think. That's why I respect Buddhism, compared to Christianity or some other bullshit.
Were these things that, when you were in your twenties, you were conscientiously thinking about, or did you just really want to start a band?
I was very conscious about it. One of the first pictures in this book is my [Christian] confirmation—they did an alternative for people who just wanted the party and the gifts. They call it Borgerlig, a civil confirmation. So, I went for that. One of the first pictures from the book is of me lining up to get my diploma and I'm Stubberud so I'm 'S' in the alphabet so I'm kind of in the end—and so was Oystein Aarseth, he was AAR, so he was last in the line. So when you look at the photos, this is before I even know him, but we are in the same photo in the line picking up our diplomas from that thing. So it was a conscious move from my side and also my future fellow partner in crime or musician, whatever you like to call it, that he also shows that. At that time, it was twelve people in the whole region outside of Oslo. Today, it's more 50/50. So that was a strange thing, but in the same way, we were thinking the same already at that time. So even when we finally met up, I had noticed the guy. When I talked to some other people and he was in the room and I told him I'd met him at the Railway Station for the first time, he said, 'No, that's not right.. we had this Civil Confirmation together.' But he didn't dare talk to me because I was the bad guy with the leather jacket, drove a scooter without a license plate and was smoking cigarettes. He was more of an anonymous guy.
You obviously became very close.
Yeah, he was my soul brother. We were an odd couple.
You two being in the same town like that and knowing that the models for you were all these other things, be it Venom or whatever punk rock stuff, were there any other Norwegian metal bands at the time that you sort of looked to? I'm thinking like, Darkthrone when they cut their record? Were you aware of them doing something?
No, all these bands came later on and I remember the first time they sent us letters, you're almost treating these people as enemies. We would empty ashtrays, throw in some boogers and stuff, and put them in the envelope and send without any stamp so that the recipient would get a note from the post office that said, 'You have a letter but you have to pay five krones to get it out,' equal to 50 cents. And when you pick it up and open it, it was an ashtray. That was the answer to the tape they sent us. The point of the letter was, 'Forget about your band, you're hopeless, you're shit, just stop it.'
Who was doing this?
That was Euronymous
But why was he doing that?
I don't know [laughs] but when he finally met up with these guys, we became their best friends. It wasn't deeper than that, but that's how it started with the rest of the bands that came later on. Those that looked up to us, but we got their ashtray in our mail.
Your book is really interesting in respect to that it's based on this ephemera that you kept from the beginning—all the photographs, all the different flyers—and you use these to stir your memory of what was going on at these specific moments and they tell a story. And a lot of it has to do with all the different sort of people that come in. Certainly the big thing is when Dead comes in from Sweden; Dead, the singer from Mayhem, of note. You know he never really properly recorded his thoughts before he killed himself.
A bit like Joy Division. First we hit it off, and then you kill yourself.
But before that, you hear from the documents we have of that period, you guys sound savage. You're just like this really intensified chaotic sound. It's really unlike anything else I've ever heard from that time. And so, I was curious, how did you perceive yourselves? Did you think, 'We are fucking great and we are going to be this significant band'?
No, we thought we were going to be the biggest band in the world. We were going to be hugely successful. We knew that immediately. I remember from the first rehearsal. We tried five or six different guitarists for my band Musta, which was my punk band at the time. When we first auditioned Euronymus, I still remember the happy feeling that we had. I was so accelerated coming out of the rehearsal space that we were actually flying over the side walk, like we were so happy making big steps like 'Wowwww.' That feeling is still there. That's what kept the flame going. We had some troubled times over the years and some setbacks. I was amazed at when all the shit went down and we'd still grind our teeth together and still kept going, everybody was like, bringing us down instead of saying, 'I'm sorry that your friend was killed and killed themselves.' More like we were blamed for it, and how the fuck could we carry on with this shit? Instead of saying, fuck, you had a rough fucking time. You know, they should appreciate that we kept on, instead of keeping us down.
We wanted to fucking succeed despite all of these fuckers. Then, we had all of these massive newspaper campaigns, like hate campaigns. They hated us. And they never wrote anything about us and when they did, it was very negative. This had been going on for years and years and years. And then finally we got arrested in Holland for trashing a hotel room, then suddenly we were big news, finally again. Fucking anarchy! None o'clock news, 'Look at these fuckers, look what they did. We told you all the time you know, these guys are all totally out of control. We were right all the time to bring these people down.' Then, after some albums, some world tours, and people start to recognize from abroad what was going on, it forced the establishment in Norway to stop and say, wait a minute, people like this band... but then it was too late for them, in my eyes. And when they started to award us, the Emmy Awards and Grammy Awards, it was like, 'You come now with this type of shit? No!' You know, sucking up to us like that. We won't roll with that. But you know, I'm 48 now. Time flies and suddenly, we have the Norwegian Embassy on your ass.
Times have changed. And I think a lot of people in the Norwegian Embassy are about the same age. They probably grew up with you and it's probably an acceptance of something that was very important to their culture.
It's a new generation. I feel honored that the Norwegian Embassy wanted to do something here in London, with this book and stuff. I feel like, OK, this is cool because my ultimate dream is to be Ambassador for Costa Rica. I would be a hell of a fucking Ambassador.
I think you deserve that at least. What do you think that Euronymous would think of this accolade that Mayhem is receiving now from Norway?
Well, we were very much alike. He was my lost brother. He was my twin soul. Of course, I think that he would appreciate that as much as I do today, without being speculative, just because of the fact that we were the same. We were just amazed that we were twin brothers living 40 minutes apart and we didn't know each other. And that was a big happening when we finally found each other. So it was equally bad when he went away. It was very bad. But, I also, against all the shit, and in honor of these people, also most for myself, that's life, you have to go on. That's what I do, I'm a musician. I have to go on, with my band. I'll never forget these guys. It's still a big thing for a lot of people. It's a myth that's been built up over the years and of course, dead people are the heroes, always.
The perseverance of Mayhem is interesting because you've been a band longer than that period which people fetishize about with Dead being in the band and then taking his own life. Varg (Vikernes aka Burzum) and Euronymous and the killings and all of that sort of stuff. That was a short period of time. And, such an intense period of time, but you know, most of the music of Mayhem was made post that. And the fact that the band still even exists is great. I mean, you were out of the band for a while..
Yeah [sighs] well since you bring it up, you know I don't like to talk too much about it but actually what happened is, I called a double bluff. I told Oystein [Euronymous], you burn those photos or forget about me. Don't fucking call me, write me, or anything before you burn the photos, the suicide photos [of Dead]. But we actually fell together again the summer he was killed and decided to go on. So my double bluff hadn't worked because Euronymous had already sent out the photo to some people. One was some guy from Colombia, and he released that album Dawn of the Black Hearts, which is an album that I've been fighting to get rid of ever since and the picture of, the body, on the front cover and that's been disputed many times to many record chains. And I'm amazed, how can they not see that this is an illegal photo? How can they sell it? So I was in record stores. I was tearing down the albums from the shelves and screaming and yelling. A few days later they were back on the shelves again. So, it was a big problem. That was why I was out for two years. Because of all this, they all saw Dead, and he came to Norway and I felt like I had to take care of him like a little brother. So when you're little brother kills himself, it's not good. It's devastating to me.
I think the way you've written about this is great and I think it's really down to Earth and in a way, it demythologizes a lot of what we hear in the media around Black Metal, around Mayhem, because it's always this very sort of celebrated scandal like, murder, suicide, church burnings, etc. It's the first time somebody who's actually a founder of this band who was around and has a perspective of ir really puts it in its place and doesn't glorify anything. In a way, it's very personal, the way you talk about your relationship with Dead, your relationship with Euronymous and even your perspective on somebody like Varg. It comes at a great time and I think this music, Mayhem in particular, is in a continuum. It continues to go to all of these different places and it's never been a dead end music form, for me, at least. I just have to say thank you for that.
Thank you very much.
When we found this book, we couldn't read it, but this book is rife with images. It's wonderful, that alone, just looking at it. It works. And I'd have just been happy with this book with all of this visual data.
This is the time to reveal why this book came about. I am a lazy guy and if I have enough to survive, I don't do anything. I'm just at home sleeping. It's a sad truth. And then, all these people started cashing in on my band, my music, my image, my name, my pictures, telling my story in books and documentaries, in books, in films and magazines and so on and so on. That would be all good, if it weren't for the fact that it's all fucked up with the wrong things—a lot of people are cashing in and also make use of other people in the books that didn't necessarily tell the truth. They tell the truth in their own way. They want to glorify themselves in some way on our behalf. And the journalists start calling me every fucking time these books came out like, 'What do you think of that? Blah blah blah'—and I'm thinking, why the fuck should I give any credit or say anything at all? It was either just be in their books, or I should just write a book myself and tell how it was, to end all of this speculation and all of this bullshit. And now there's a movie coming out in Hollywood. So I made sure that all these photos are in the book so when they come out with this film they'll see this is not what it looked like, this is not what the story was about. So now they have changed their script. And now they're calling up sucking up to me because they need the music and I said 'Fuck you.' Like I told you, I'm a lazy guy. I don't want to sit down and write books. I thought it would be like poof! but it wasn't. It took over a year. It's a lot of work, unbelievable.
It only goes up to a certain point, too.
We had to make a conscious choice to do the first ten years, because it was just so much information. If we'd have done the whole thing it'd be over a thousand pages. 300 pages is enough. And then you can get all the details and get very, very hungry for the next one, because, that's the question I love the most, the first question pops out, it's like, when is the next book coming out? I love that.
Your connection to England is really interesting. There's a large section in the book where you talk about the only way you can actually see a band like Venom is to find a way to come to London to see them play, and that's a really amazing chapter.
Back in those days, you know, planes were for business people and they cost shitloads of money. It wasn't even in our mind to fly over. Everybody was going with a boat from Norway at that time. So, a friend of mine; his sister was working in a travel agency and they sold these packages, like a week trip in a hotel. So we bought that package, and came to London. I remember the first day, we went to Hammersmith Odeon, Casey and I were buying our tickets and it was so full, and we thought there was a record store on the corner so we decided to walk from Hammersmith all the way back to our hotel which was miles and miles away. So we found this record store called Shades, and that was the mecca of metal music in Europe. And we arrived before the store opened so we were sitting outside the store and this old-looking guy comes and unlocks the door. And it turns out to be Dave Constable, he used to write for a magazine called Metal Forces. I remember walking around and we finally saw some stuff that we never saw before and we were yelling to each other at the far end of the store, like 'Woooow'. We bought like fifty records that first day, and Dave Constable was like, 'I can get more of that shit for you guys, come back tomorrow.'
And we did, and we bought everything. We became friends with this guy and we sent him the first demo tape, they were reviewing it in Metal Forces and I won't tell you the whole thing but it said something like, 'There's no vocals on this album, there's a low farting noise that sounds like the bass.' That was actually the vocals. And next there was a review of another band's tape and it just said, 'zzzz,' you know, like sleeping. And we thought, 'Wow, we must be alright, they are kind of a big band so it seems we are getting a better review than them!' And another funny thing is that a year later we came with the Deathcrush vinyl, we had 125 copies and sold everything to Dave, and found out that the record sales from Shades Records were considered imports. So in the official charts of metal in England we were number 1 on the import chart because of the 125 copies. I was talking to some people here before and they told me that this shop is no longer here, it was located downtown in Soho. But now we have this beautiful store, Rough Trade, which is almost like a vinyl Mecca. It's unbelievable that I haven't been here before actually.
Do you go around buying records when you're on tour?
I already have too much dragging around, so, no, I don't do that.
Well, if you ever want to get rid of any of those Deathcrush records in your collection, let me know.
Well, you know, if I still have copies of that, it's worth shitloads. I love to read Record Collector and we now officially have the most expensive and rarest album from Norway. Ever. And it's now going for thousands and thousands of pounds. It's funny. We were record collectors and now our records are collectables...
You did it. You made it!
[Laughs]. I hit it!
I used to have this thing—I always used to take pride in going to second hand record stores and never seeing a Sonic Youth Record in the S section. Like, oh, nobody is trading in our records yet. And when I first saw one, I was like, 'Ohh nooo, somebody is done with it, why did they trade it in? It's all over now.'
Cover photo by Finn Håkon Rødland