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Borknagar — Interview with Øystein G. Brun

Words: Ed

Founded in 1994, Borknagar has always been known for musical progression and innovation, combining black metal and folk elements to create a very unique style. Having released the 10th Borknagar album Urd in 2012, founding member Øystein G. Brun is focussing on his side project “Cronian” again. An album is scheduled for release later this year.

Øystein, you and Cubase have a long history together as you have been using it to create your music since Borknagar’s The Archaic Course release in 1998. What made you choose Cubase?
Cubase was the real deal back then — as of today. Pro Tools and likewise was not an option, because that system demanded far too expensive hardware. My very first encounter with Cubase was actually already back in 1995. At that time me and Erik (RIP) rehearsed in a dodgy old basement in Bergen and shared the space with another Clawfinger-type of band, called Fuzzuckers. Due to their style of music they had a computer with Cubase for MIDI/sample purposes and several of the dudes were IT engineers in terms of occupation. So they were much more technically advanced than us.

At that time I must admit that I didn’t really understand the brilliance and potential of Cubase and I was generally laid-back because Borknagar started out as a real old-school band and we recorded/rehearsed the old- fashioned way. Then I was quite happy with my analog 4 tracks Fostex recorder and the digital world was still something astray. The true revelation pretty much happened during our recording session for The Archaic Course in Woodhouse Studios in Germany. Back then we basically recorded everything in one take and along our own internal clock. Thereof we faced some drumming issues on some parts and Siggi “fired” up his computer to tighten up the kicks. Remember we were totally amazed that such a thing could be done on a computer. From that point in time the ball started to roll. Unfortunally I don’t remember what versions we used back then, but I assume it was some of the very early versions where Cubase mainly functioned as a MIDI tool. Remember Siggi had a black and white screen back then [laughs].

What kind of computer setup and which Cubase version did you use back then?
Oh man, compared with today’s technology I guess we pretty much used calculators back then. But the first dedicated computer I ever used for Cubase was a Compaq computer I got through my day job. At that time it was quite advanced and it was raging with the fierce power of 128 MB RAM memory, 15 GB harddrive and I guess one of the first Pentium processors. I actually used the integrated soundcard and the attached PC speakers. But hey, it worked — even though it didn’t run and sounded as smooth as nowadays. A milestone for me was when Cubase SX series came out. In my eyes this version pretty much opened up the whole musical field for exploration. Earlier versions had in my point of view some limitations and a few “bugs” that wasn’t necessarily too cooperative when I was recording my eight to ten layers of guitars plus drums and synth. Especially SX 2.0 proved to be a killer improvement and I actually used that version till I got Cubase 5 almost a decade later.

Over a decade and several albums later Cubase is still your main tool to create new music that continues to receive very positive responses from both media and fans worldwide. How does Cubase help you in your writing and recording process?
Yeah, ever since the The Archaic Course production in 1997 Cubase have been a crucial tool for us when writing songs and recording albums. I have no idea how our musical endeavour would have been without Cubase. First and foremost, I would say that Cubase is relatively easy to use and with a quite simple setup of hardware (equals not too expensive) you have a totally adequate and pro studio environment. My guitar is always plugged and ready to go anytime. The fact that I can just go upstairs in my studio and switch on my computer whenever I want is by far the best thing. There are no barriers, hassle or whatever. If I stumble upon a cool riff it takes me like three minutes to open a new project and record it, and on a good day I have a song ready in two to three hours. This might sound mundane, but to me as a musician it’s very important to be able to “capture the idea” and process the idea once it’s there. Plus, Cubase invites me to work with music, simply because it is fun. When I have a riff or two on “tape” it’s easy to do ads, lay down some synths, drums or whatever. This makes me able to “stress- test” ideas before presenting music to the other guys. And that brings me on the most important thing when it comes to our band situation: I can sit quietly and comfortably in my studio brewing ideas/songs and then easily send the files to the other guys. On our pre-productions we always make sure to consequently have the same starting point, so each member can do their additional recordings in their respective studios whenever and however  they want. This lays the ground for a really creative and dynamic musical fellowship. 

Do you think that our software influenced and changed the way you work and produce new material?
Very much so! The most important thing for me is the fact that we over the years have got a much more firm grip on the whole chain of the production. We have always been sort of control freaks. We have evolved along with Cubase and, of course, over the years learned to use the possibilities and potential of Cubase better. On our first albums, before we had Cubase, we pretty much rehearsed the songs and then performed the material in the studio. The actual outcome was pretty much in the hands of the engineer/producer we used back then — and it was expensive. There was almost like a brick-wall between us as traditional musicians and the world of sound engineering. Now, we have increasingly more control of the production — from writing to the actual outcome. For me this represents a fundamental improvement of my musical autonomy, from solely being a musician to becoming a much more involved and producing musician. To me that is extremely satisfying, because Cubase offers me a working environment where musical visions are reachable for real — by my own hands, in my own house.

Borknagar has always been some kind of an all-star band consisting of some of the most important Norwegian (black) metal musicians like Vintersorg and ICS Vortex (ex-Dimmu Borgir). I guess it must be difficult to schedule recording sessions and rehearsals with everyone being involved in other side or main projects?
Yeah, you certainly have a point there [laughs]. I would actually go so far as to say that Cubase is one of the reasons why we are still around. I am located in Bergen, Andreas (the vocalist) lives in a small town in the northern part of Sweden and the rest of the guys live in Oslo. Due to the distance between us, Cubase is pretty much the musical tool that unites us when working with music on a daily basis. It’s easy to bounce out files and sent it over to the other guys, just for listening, testing out ideas or in order to create recordings for album purposes.

Have you had any time to work with Cubase 7 yet? Do you think that a feature like VST Connect SE can help you to collaborate with the other band members on new song ideas over the internet?
Yes, when I am in the middle of a production I usually never update or do any major changes in my studio system. I just don’t want to take the risk of delaying a project due to unexpected problems, mismatches or whatever. But we recently finished the new Cronian album, so I installed Cubase 7 just a few weeks ago. I haven’t been able to test out VST Connect SE properly yet, but I definitely love the idea. For our band this is an ideal concept. Actually I discussed “concept” over with Andreas (Vintersorg) the other day and we are really eager to test this out for real when starting up the production for the new Borknagar album.

Is there anything you specifically like about this new version of Cubase?
Well, generally I love the looks of the Cubase 7. Somehow it feels more intuitive and easy to work with — especially when it comes to more advanced functions. And there are some really nice additions in terms of shortcuts, so the whole thing feels more dynamic and accessible when working. But from my point of view one of the greatest improvements is the new mixing console, which is on the verge of perfectionism I would say. When mixing you have a perfect overview of all the channels. It’s easy to tweak EQ/volume etc., add inserts and route the channels when necessary in real time — without leaving the current screen. Just did a test mix and it was just brilliant to work with. You maintain the overall focus but are able to easily make adjustments when running through a song. Just brilliant!

 

At the moment, you are working on the third Cronian album together with Vintersorg. What can we expect from this album? Will it be very different from its predecessors and Urd?
Well, I must admit that I am really hyped on this album. In my opinion this album has grown to become the very best album I have had my fingers on. In my humblest presence [smiles] it pretty much feels like a leap up to another division in terms of music and production. For some it might remind slightly of Urd (as we are heading for no less in terms of production) and of course the Cronian predecessors — but the scale of flavour, diversity, groove, atmosphere and power is beyond everything that has come from this “camp” so far. Hard to describe the music more precisely, but I am pretty sure it will blow the socks off our fans and hopefully lift the eyebrows of others as well.

For the record, the album is recorded, mixed and mastered with Cubase software. So, this is a 100% “home-made” record, but it is still a 100% professional production. Hopefully it will prove that we have evolved to become skilled sound engineers — but also the fact that a killer production is available without huge studio budgets.

Are we able to see either Cronian or Borknagar live this year?
Cronian is not a live band, at least this far. I doubt there will be any live shows at all. But when it comes to Borknagar, we have already booked Brutal Assault this year and we are just now about to dig into the possibility for some more live shows and possibly touring. Offers are not the problem as we get offers to tour and do festivals all the time. But it’s somehow a logistical nightmare as everybody in the band already are far too busy with jobs, family commitments and other bands.

Thank you for your time!
Thanks for your support and just for being there. You guys ease and empower the career of many musicians and makes astray musical visions reachable. Cubase represents a musical revolution for thousands of musicians around the globe — including us. Thanks!

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