One of the most beautiful surprises of 2014 is the release of a new Oberon album, and we did not expect that. When ’Dream Awakening’ appeared to be a gem of spiritual beauty on a bed of pure, healing sounds, our happiness was complete. Spontaneously some questions bubbled up in us and as you can see Bard Titlestad – that’s the name of the moving spirit of Oberon – has answered them with poetic eloquence. It is truly enchanting reading this, just as ‘Dream Awakening’ still fills us with admiration every time we listen to it.
Bard, what an amazing positive surprise that Oberon has raised from the ashes! And that’s promptly the concept of the new album ‘Dream Awakening’ isn’t it? Can you first tell a bit more about this concept or global idea behind the record?
Thank you, Vera! ‘Dream Awakening’ goes back a few years. I wanted to write an album with short, simple songs dedicated to the great themes of dream and awakening, and the quest for transformation, which has always been a part of human culture in form of legend, religion and myth. Each era and civilization have had stories and traditions about the transformation of man, and it is something I’ve pursued in my work for years. Perhaps our own civilization today has the dubious honor of being the first one that doesn’t seem to have this inner striving as a central part of its philosophical make-up. As a whole, the album covers a bit of ground, but everything connects to that general theme.
A general question to sparkle the interest of readers: Can you describe the music they will hear on “Dream Awakening”? What drives the man Bard Titlestad? What drives the musician Bard Oberon?
The perfect Oberon song should be magical, have depth, a bit romance, and a lot of force and power. I think this is true for the songs of ‘Dream Awakening’. There are no rules in my creative work. I don’t adhere to genres, belief systems or any cultural memes when creating my art, I just work with what I feel in my heart. For people who haven’t heard Oberon yet, I would say these songs are built up around quite meaningful lyrics and music that breaks down stylistic barriers, always with a sense of dream and transcendence at the core. As to your second question: Like you I am a person who has a tax identification number, buys groceries, pays bills and sits in traffic. But the fact of the matter is that no magic can exist without the “boring” side of life, because in essence every conscious moment is a chance to train and measure ourselves against the forces of this world.
But there is a long history to tell. I hope you do not mind answering some chronological questions
How did it all start in 1994? What were your musical influences? What made you decide to create music?
I was born into a family where music was very important. So I wasn’t very old when I started identifying myself as a musical being. Creating music was just very natural for me. My mom was an opera singer and we had music playing at our house all the time. That’s obviously where my classical influence comes from. But my introduction to “the dark side” of music came through some of my friends who had older brothers who were like rock and roll wizards to us – guardians of a world of dark, mysterious wonders. When they were out we’d go on forbidden treasure hunts in their vinyl collections. I obviously (and thankfully) never recovered from my first encounters with the covers of ‘Shout at the Devil’ by Mötley Crüe, ‘Born Again’ by Black Sabbath, ‘Unleashed in the East’ by Judas Priest, and later on the ‘I Wanna Be Somebody’ 7” by WASP. I was used to KISS but this was over the top crazy and totally put a spell on me. Years later one of these “big brothers”, Harald Halle, would become someone to whom I looked as a mentor and he would eventually play on both an early demo of mine, and more importantly on ‘L.I.T.L.O.T.W.’ from my first record.
Over the years I have been influenced by all kinds of music where certain albums and artists have defined every phase of my life. In 1986 I heard ‘Defenders of the Faith’ by Judas Priest and ‘Master of Puppets’ by Metallica. I was pretty young, but I had never heard anything since KISS that made me feel like that. There is a part towards the end of ‘Escape’ from ‘Dream Awakening’ that is absolutely a Metallica/Master of Puppets moment for me. And these days, working on new songs, I notice some Priest influence in my guitar work. Sometimes it’s subconscious and sometimes it’s not, but we are all torch bearers for the people and things that have helped uplift our lives.
Today I have listened to the MCD ‘Oberon’ (1997) again. And I have to say: The core of your personality in the music was there. It still sounds very good! How do you feel now about that record?
I’ve listened to it a few times since we decided to reissue it and I think it’s a really cool record. It’s got a naïve energy about it and is very honest. Musically and it holds up really well! What we did with those old Oberon records was to create a sound that was totally unconnected to anything that was popular back in the mid nineties, so they still sound really fresh and untouched by the passing of time.
Studying the liner notes, it seems as if it was a family affair: you as moving spirit, Randi vocals on ‘The Nightingale’ and Torgrim as ‘co-photographer’. Can you tell me a bit more about the making of and recording of this MCD, being one of the first issues of Prophecy Productions?
I think family is important. When you have a good, open relationship with your family you can learn many things. When I started out with my first band, my dad would always drive us to rehearsal, and my mom would make me costumes and they have always been supportive of what I’ve done. Even when I started getting into some trouble as a teenager, their support never wavered. They got me a guitar and a Fostex 4 track portastudio as part of a deal to stay out of trouble, and this became instrumental in me getting the early Oberon material down on tape. My mom sang, so I asked her to do some backing vocals for ‘The Nightingale’, and my dad was a good photographer, so it was natural to ask him to do some of the promo shots back then. I also liked to work with my family because trust is important in Oberon. In the music business it’s always been a thing to not send a demo off to a label based on the notion that “mom loves it!” I get that but I still think that positive feedback from one’s family can only make the creative journey better. We still work together. Being close to my family has taught me how to be a better father as well, and provided guidance when I’ve gotten lost in my spiritual darkness.
As for the recording: getting a record deal was the biggest thing in my life at that point. Oberon was first released by Regress Records, initially an Italian label run by Enrico Leccese who also edited the magazine Baphomet. I recorded the album in five days with engineer/producer Terje Refsnes, who was crucial in lifting my songs to a new level by pushing me out of my comfort zone. I played almost everything myself, except for a guitar track and some drums. Obviously, being 1995, the album was recorded on analogue tape. We used an old 24 track deck that had previously been owned by the Police. I miss those days, even though recording is easier now. But back then going into the studio was like a true rite of passage. There was pressure and lots of stuff to be done – and done really well! – with no time to waste.
I think the song ‘L.I.T.L.O.T.W.’ can be considered a cult classic in certain circles, don’t you think so? How was the response at that time, on the record and on that particular song?
I think the response was pretty good, actually. Prophecy did some kind of poll in various clubs across Germany, and of all the songs on the album, that was the most played. But listening to it now, almost twenty years down the line, it stands out as a really great song. It’s simple, but it works. In some ways it’s the ultimate Oberon song: there’s a quietude to it, but the feelings that are being stirred are powerful and deep.
Unfortunately for many people – I have to admit for me as well – Oberon sank into oblivion. But you have created the album ‘Mysteries’ in 1998 and I think it was self released. Can you tell us a bit more about that album?
‘Mysteries’ has some good music on it, it’s very cinematic in scope. For me especially the piano pieces stand out as well as ‘The Garden of Flesh and Bones’, which I think is a really strong track. To me it never seemed strange to do a classical piano sonata and then follow it with a heavier track like that, or to blend all those elements together like on songs like ‘Mysteries’. It is basically a lullaby-like song where deep gongs, haunting clarinet and classical structure gives it a very cinematic feel and it sounds like nothing else, really. The album was definitely a reflection of nature. Whereas on ‘Dream Awakening’ the songs are quite lyric driven, the main focus on ‘Mysteries’ was on creating aural palettes to arouse certain atmospheres. I think all of this comes through really well on the new reissue as a whole, artwork and all.
Actually the same question about ‘Anthem’…
‘Anthem’ was a great turning point in my musical life. At the time I was learning a lot about the importance of allowing for intuition and impulsiveness to drive the creative process. I had also come across the amazing Magick Lantern Cycle by Kenneth Anger, and was deeply fascinated by the flow of imagery and music in his movies. I could recognize a part of myself in these films, they spoke the same language as my dreams. It’s a mighty piece of cinema, and ‘Anger’ was good at expressing feelings of civilizational transformation through his unique blending of film and music. So anyway, ‘Anthem’ was all about being able to express my vision without the use of clearly defined structures, such as songs, for instance. ‘Anthem’ helped liberate me. I improvised a lot of the ‘Anthem’ material, creating an album that is basically a stream of consciousness, a sonic meditation, dedicated to the things that inspired me deeply such as the desert, cosmos and ecstasy of the inner worlds. In life it is important to be able to let go. It is perhaps one of the most important things on the human journey.
However in 2000 there was a single “Big Brother” and I think this can be seen as a turning point in musical style or am I wrong?
In some ways yes. It came out before ‘Anthem’ but it was definitely not a return to the “classic” Oberon sound. When I put it out I wanted to make an album that looked and felt like a vintage seventies rock release. The album has now been reissued with ‘Anthem’ and ‘Mysteries’ in a beautiful 2CD package – in many ways the ultimate classic Oberon release and a great place to start for curious souls.
For some time your search for inner wisdom resulted in creations for Future Whirl, Why this different moniker? Did it create more artistic freedom? What about the kind of music?
Future Whirl represents formlessness and a sense of pregnant chaos. The symbol of Future Whirl was the Sun, the highest being in our world. So it meant that Future Whirl was a creative movement turned towards the spiritual sun. It is very meaningful when considering that the symbol of Oberon now is the crescent moon, symbolizing something hidden coming into view. The moon also being symbolic of the force of contraction and gravity, it is – in one way – the creative/spiritual counterpart of Future Whirl. It was a bit strange for me to rekindle the flame of Oberon until I realized that it allowed me to come full circle, activating both forces inside me, which now coexist in Oberon. Traditionally Oberon had a sweet darkness to it, which was missing in Future Whirl. As humans, no matter how brightly we shine, we also have to acknowledge our chthonic roots. As high above, so deep below. Full circle. Abracadabra. I think this symbiosis is nicely expressed in ‘Dream Awakening’.
Then Oberon and musical activities were banned out of your life. What happened? Can you shine a light on the spiritual needs that awoke in you?
I never stopped making music. But I was changing, and so were my musical sensibilities. In 2000–2001 I had written songs for an album I wanted to call Future Whirl. It was supposed to be an Oberon album. In a sense what happened was similar to when I started writing ‘Dream Awakening’. I wanted to make simple songs around a certain theme. In this case impermanence. I had a need to be empty, really empty, and start over on a new path in life. I had gone from reading Ayn Rand and stuff like that to books by Anagarika Govinda, Alan Watts, Krishnamurti and so on, and my young mind was starting to find out what filled me with more answers than questions.
What did you find and learn in the mystical traditions of the East? Did you also travel to the East or was it a state of mind just from the inside?
I never went to the East, but I studied under teachers who did. The goal of both eastern and western mysticism is basically the same, although the method might differ. To break free from the clutches of the ego and achieve enlightenment, oneness or godhead has always been at the core of the spiritual work of the ages, but what I learned in my years studying stuff like this is that lofty goals are less important than having perseverance and devoting oneself to training the basics.
When and how did you feel the need again to compose, to create, to have a kind of catharsis in music? If you remember, what was the first song you wrote after a long time?
I’ve been writing continuously since I did the Future Whirl album, so a lot of these tracks that are on the album have evolved over a period of time. I started ‘I Can Touch The Sun With My Heart’ back in 2000, but didn’t complete it until last year while we were recording ‘Dream Awakening’. Same with ‘Age Of The Moon’ which dates back to 2008 or so and took a while to get just right. Making music is a sacred art. As a piece progresses one starts to hold oneself accountable to a higher standard where each piece of the song needs to match all the others in order to create the right effect and not to break the flow. As an artist you are a servant of a higher magic.
Musically I think one can call you a singer songwriter, a poet and also influenced by Pink Floyd… do you agree on that? But maybe this is very incomplete?
Pink Floyd was never an influence on Oberon, although it is the single most applied comparison ever since ‘Through Time And Space’ came out. But maybe I do share some of the same sensibilities that Pink Floyd represented!
In addition to the music, the lyrics are really ultimate beauty! I even do not ask any more questions about them, because people just need to listen and enjoy the pureness… but of course if you want to tell something about them, feel free.
Thank you! I agree with you, people need to listen and read for themselves. But the lyrics are just as important as the music on ‘Dream Awakening’. I write about living, because it’s something shared by all, and sometimes we find what’s missing in our own lives by learning from the experience of others.
One theme in the past was the futility of wars… the cycle of self destruction of mankind… more actual than ever (although it is from all times). Any thoughts on that you want to share?
In our world, the focus of life seems to be to work to keep the machine going, while rarely or never – as a civilization – asking the question why. I am sure it has been like this since the “invention” of fire, but when studying the ancient world, as it appears in legend and myth, great civilizations and beings once existed when the “why” itself was the motivation and the wellspring of culture, and all work was directed at building a world that had the fully realized man and woman as its highest goal. In our time you are supposed to keep your feet on the ground, keep your mouth shut – especially if your opinions might be construed as slightly controversial – and be a keg in the machine until you excuse yourself for living and die like a good worker ant. Oberon’s message is screw all of that! Find your inner radiant sun and live in its name as a magical being!
As for war… It’s hard to be “against” war unequivocally. War is a force of nature. Sometimes there’s war inside, and sometimes this force finds an expression in the external world. Sometimes war is for the common good, like the allied war effort during WW2. But most of all war is always an expression of Man’s inability to exist in harmony with himself and his environment. It is also often an expression of Man’s ruthless ambition to make himself great at the expense of others. During war it seems it’s always the people the war is supposed to be fought for that ends up paying the bloody price. I think the struggle against war as a civilized pastime must clearly begin with the ability to control our own hearts.
Nature and the universe have an important role in your art. You live (or come from) Hafrsfjord. Did this environment have any influence on the creation of your music? Can you tell anything about that place in Norway?
Hafrsfjord is the name of a small fjord that hooks into the Western shore of Norway from the North Sea. It’s name carries with it a certain historical gravity due to events here that were important in our country’s history (The battle of Hafrsfjord). Generally, we like to say that this is the wellspring of the Sagas. Geographically it is a very beautiful location, and we have everything here from vast open spaces to mountains and ocean. In some places the landscape is rather untamed and feels very ancient, like there are still some of nature’s spirits living there. When you look at some of the old sagas, you can see how a special class of beings deeply connected to this land were made to move underground during the advent of Christianity. Because their era was over and their human counterparts were moving on, getting disconnected from the land as their new gods were living in the heavens and not the earth. But this force is still here and sometimes you can feel it if you are quiet on the inside. According to ancient myth, Norway came into being by the mixing of Jotun and human blood. So those dual forces of nature have always been important to our history, and while most of us don’t believe in gods and devils anymore, there is unmistakably a feeling out there that transcends any opinion on what nature is or isn’t.
Since the lyrics are of poetic beauty: were certain writers or poets an influence for you? Some you admire?
I love my wife’s poetry. I published some of it some years ago in an online publication I made called Solar Angels. She also wrote the lyrics for ‘Secret Flyer’ on ‘Dream Awakening’. Other than that I am not a big poetry buff, but I like to read. I have great admiration for the Norse sagas, literature of unsurpassed in scope and beauty. But I’ll read anything as long as it moves me from Bukowski to Camus, Henry Corbin, Karl von Eckartshausen, John Fowles, Franz Kafka, Aldous Huxley… it’s all a part of the Oberon inspirational universe. The last book I read that truly impressed me, by the way, was ‘The Forbidden Book’ by Joscelyn Godwin and Guido Mina di Sospiro.
We see on your Facebook two other musicians in addition to you now. Please tell us about your buddies and their role in Oberon? Did they play on the record as well?
Oberon is primarily what they call a “one man band”. But I am a very family oriented person, and I get very close to those I am close with. So even if Oberon is a solitary journey, anyone who touches my art, is a part of this extended family. I feel that with the people I play with and even the people who come back and “like” my posts at my Facebook page. The people who played on or contributed something to the album will forever be connected to me. More than most people Arnt Helge Solheim – who plays drums on the album – has played a special role in my life. It was with him I started my first band back in 1990. When you are that young and doing that kind of journey together, a very special bond is formed. However, as with so many things, things broke apart, but when I called him up to ask if he could drum on my new album, I hadn’t played with him for nineteen years. Hopefully he will also play on my next record. He’s never said that yes he is in Oberon, but I will always consider him “my drummer”.
Trond Arild Tjøstheim, with whom I co-wrote ‘Age Of The Moon’, came into my life in 1993 and we’ve grown very close over the years. I played on his ‘Eridu Arcane’ album (released on Cynfeirdd in 2001), and he engineered my Future Whirl album. During the Future Whirl recordings we would sometimes take breaks where we’d go for long walks exchanging ideas and discussing the lyrics and themes we were working with in the studio. We kind of started something of a tradition that continues here at “the House of Oberon”. I recently set up a new home studio, which also contains my library so that when you are there you are surrounded by things of inspiration. It becomes a place that has a special atmosphere that makes you want to tune your mind to non- trivial matters and just let the creative spirit flow. Printed books are important to me, and go hand in hand with music, because a book is almost like a looking glass into another world. Thinking about the internet age, a book takes you to a place that is thankfully not interconnected with everything else. It has a silence about it, this silence is like the breath of the soul. It allows you to move in unexpected ways – just like a good teacher would.
Are there guests on the album, if so, can you tell me about them?
Nik from Dark Side Cowboys sings backing vocals on ‘I Can Touch The Sun With My Heart’. I consider him a friend and one of my long time contacts in the scene. He also does vocals for Chaos All Stars, both worthy bands you should check out. I really like having other people contribute to my recordings because it ads a different flavor and feeling to the music. Davide Borghi from Albireon is not on the album but was a very good sparring partner during the whole process, encouraging me to keep going when it looked like the project would never happen.
What about the artwork? Who did it and some reflections on what we see would be nice…
This is an unusually beautiful painting by Stavanger-artist, Olaf Lange who lived from 1875-1965. It’s called Urvasi after a Hindu myth, where the gods sent two spirits to distract the sage from attaining divine power through his meditation. However, he created Urvashi, a being so beautiful she caused the spirits’ mission to fail. Although he is from Stavanger, Lange is hardly known today. When I acquired the rights to use it for the album, I told the museum that I was probably the only person who had asked about him, and she said yes. His painting sums up the essence of ‘Dream Awakening’. It is a romantic portrayal of the mystic’s path and the struggle for liberation.
Now a new deal is made with quality label Prophecy Productions. How did you get in contact with them again and how did it evolve in signing a deal?
They contacted me because they wanted to use some old Oberon material. Eventually we started talking about reissues and then new albums and here we are.
How is your attitude on playing live? Is there a chance you would do that?
There’s always a chance, and I would love to do it under the right circumstances. I have been telling people I will put together a group for that purpose, so now let’s see if it comes to pass.
I hope that making Dream Awakening has sparkled your creativity and that we do not have to wait for another decade for a successor, hehe. Any plans or ideas for new songs?
Absolutely. Working on ‘Dream Awakening’ had a very stimulating effect on me and I am already very active in writing my next three albums.
What are the plans for the near future?
Just to keep working on this, and keeping a roof over my head while doing it!
Is there anything you like to add?
Thanks so much for your support, Vera! It humbles me when someone like yourself takes the time to look deeper at what I do, especially these days. I want to make a shout out to all those people who support Oberon and make it exciting to be alive in an age where the world is in a deep crisis and so many things are empty. - See more at: http://www.lordsofmetal.nl/en/interviews/view/id/5185#sthash.AulM0LQb.dpuf