Shining‘s Niklas Kvarforth does that half-smile, the one that makes you think he’s either toying with you or is, in fact, a complete fucking sociopath.
The question asked pertains to whether Niklas is, or is not, a misogynist. The smile also implies that I’m welcome to find out if I really want to. That’s what interviewing Niklas Kvarforth is like. Awkward, enlightening but not completely satisfying, as if you’re not getting completely under his skin. A bit like sex, then. It would be interesting to slip on the suit of a man to interview Niklas. Is the interview any different? Does he switch into serious mode when the questions are posed by someone he doesn’t want to fuck… then again his sexuality has always been ambiguous but also thrust, resolutely masculinely, into the limelight; his patter often dotted, or sometimes interrupted, by fantastical claims of sexual dexterity that would make the author of 50 Shades Of Grey run for the nearest nunnery.
“I know that for some reason, particularly young women, really really fancy me,” he sighs, as if bored by the revelation. “I don’t look particularly good.” His eyes twinkle as he tries to gage my reaction. “But I have this aura around me that they get attracted to, or maybe it’s the classic ‘oh, I can fix him’ concept, but anyway the point is that they are very easy targets and I like easy targets.”
There’s something about Niklas. As a female journalist I always approach my interviews with him as a maternal smothering or counselling session; I fall very definitely into the ‘I want to fix him’ category. But Niklas is always one step ahead. He sidesteps probing about catharsis and musical blood-letting and tries to pinpoint the moment I will lose it and admit defeat – that the deviant has finally corrupted the nice, politically-correct, frigid girl from England with his homosexual prostitution, corpse-fancying, cannibalistic, suicidal, Class A snorting, urophiliac oratories.
And no matter how much you delve into the world he’s created, Niklas leaves you always wondering how much of the truth is tainted by fantasy. He claims nothing is left to the imagination, that he’s laid himself bare a hundred times over for the press, that he’s in fact done with doing interviews precisely because he’s become personified in the music rags as character of fiction rather than fact.
Unless you’ve lived life to those extremes – of which there is no need to report here since it’s pretty much common knowledge that Niklas walks the fine line between madman and genius – it’s no wonder we find it hard to believe him. It’s almost like we’re not accusing him of lying, but lying to ourselves that his tales could possibly be true, for if they were the world would be a darker place than we could ever contemplate.
And so it is to his band, Shining’s, eighth album ‘Redefining Darkness’. Released on Spinefarm/Universal it’s been a long, arduous journey for our wandering raconteur, through not just experiences that would make Jeremy Kyle retire, but through countless labels and lineups. And as we sit, out of place, in the safe confines of the Kensington Hilton, I try and get the impossibly ADD frontman to focus and stop trying to make me blush.
The question as always is posed as to what was going through the singer’s mind as he wrote his latest opus, a delicious collision of early Finno/Swedish black metal filth (think Horna) and goth-pop morbidity.
“The last album [‘VII: Född Förlorare’] was written during my heroin days. And for many years I didn’t write anything,” he admits. “I had a lot of ideas but I knew I wanted to do something where the rough parts were going to be really black and the homo parts [I wince, he notices and smiles at his desired result] were going to be, not sad, but really make you think about stuff – blood in, blood out.
“I had a lot of material,” he continues. “But I threw it out when we got our new bassist [the outrageously young Christian Larsson]. I told him, let’s rent an apartment in Helsinki, do drugs, fuck whores [he scans me again for derision], drink and just write an album together, which for me is strange since I don’t like to work with people. You always hear from bigger bands that they needed new blood and that is what actually happened. He was only 19-years-old and completely understood how to write music and we wrote the album together. I’m so fucking satisfied.”
There’s something offbeat about Niklas, different from the other times we’ve spoken. Yes, the depraved jester is a constant, but something seems more confident and surprisingly, more together. Almost lucid, even. Could this eighth album have “saved” him? “After the album I was sober for three months,” Niklas reveals. “Both from alcohol and drugs, and I just went cold turkey. I said I can’t do this anymore. I was shitting myself and puking. See, the thing is I have these diseases, one is schizophrenia and I take medicine called Zyprexa for that and I just stopped that as well. People usually think that schizophrenia is about having a split personality, which I found out I had as well, add it to the list,” he laughs. “But schizophrenia is a condition where you get hallucinations and you can lose track of space and time. And the dangerous thing is, when I get one of those attacks, I black out. I don’t remember anything afterwards, which has resulted in, as you can understand, some pretty bad things for me.”
The mix of decadence whilst writing and control in its aftermath seems to have penetrated ‘Redefining Darkness’; the purification is less frenetic as songs like the melodic black metal howling of ‘Han Som Hatar Människan’ segue flawlessly into intoxicating hymns like ‘Hail Darkness Hail’. If anything it’s controlled madness, and there is something, always, more macabre about the calculating psychopath than the raving lunatic. Niklas has a sense of calm around him now, most importantly manifesting itself in a complete acceptance of his latest piece of art. “I think this is our ‘Filosofem’ or our ‘De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas’,” he claims wildly, but he could be onto something. It’s taken him eight albums and 13 years, while those masterpieces were written relatively early in the careers of their makers, but it’s a long path well-travelled for Niklas and his ever-changing band of troubadours. “It’s,” he pauses, “I don’t like to use the word, but evil. It’s a fucking evil album. It feels strange but I’ve been listening to it and thought ‘Did I do that?’. It’s a pretty cool feeling.”
The hedonism that erupted when Niklas took his young bass player to Helsinki for a bout of not-suitable-even-for-the-tabloids antics and the polar opposite of the “cold turkey” experience that followed leads to a frank discussion about how great art is a result of back alley aides. Imagine Pink Floyd, Janis Joplin, Black Sabbath, William Burroughs, John Coltrane, Edgar Allan Poe without the drugs. “Great art can be created sober,” Niklas, ever shocking, disagrees. “But there’s a great cliché that says that all great art comes from suffering and I totally agree with that. If you’re an artist you have to suffer to be able to create, otherwise you just get mediocrity, like the other 500 albums being released this month.
“I’m a fucking idiot,” he continues, almost sounding regretful. “In the past I’ve done some really bad things, like cutting family ties just to write a song. If I feel too good, or in the past if I felt too good, I need to destroy it. In every lover relationship I’ve ever had I’ve always cheated, not because I necessarily need to fuck some other woman but because if I have something I love I want to destroy it or hurt it in some way. But I’m getting old now and I know I need to get a balance or I won’t survive.”
Survive? Could this possibly mean Niklas Kvarforth, advocate of self-harm and suicide, who “died” himself in 2006 before a messianic rebirthing went down in history as one of the biggest pranks in metal lore, has a will to live? I stopped being shocked at the things Niklas has said a long time ago, but this nugget has well and truly floored me.
“Of course I have a will to live,” he smiles before pondering his next lines, as if wondering whether to admit to his own shades of grey. “There are two persons inside of me. One has to destroy everything in his path; friendships, lovers, everything. Whilst the other has started to… this might sound fucked up, but I was in Helsinki and there was this alcoholic standing there in the street screaming at a 12-year old nigger [this time he looks at me almost apologetically] on a bicycle. I just started screaming at this Finnish guy, saying he’s fucking 12 year’s old, that’s not right what you’re doing, don’t call him ‘nigger’ and stuff like that, and I’d been thinking about it when I went to therapy and I told them about this incident and he said that’s empathy. So shocking news, Niklas Kvarforth has developed empathy. It’s pretty disturbing but it’s interesting as well. I’m experimenting with it.”
Do you see it as a weakness?
Niklas is quick to insist that he doesn’t do therapy anymore, but it’s enlightening to hear that it’s something he has undertaken, especially in the aftermath of ‘Redefining Darkness’. Every album in Shining’s arsenal seems to have come from a cathartic outpouring that runs the gamut of shadowy emotions. The music of Shining embodies the rollercoaster lows and deeper lows that Niklas has experienced but while, for example, the previous album ‘VII: Född Förlorare’, was an outward reaction, or embracing, of his time on heroin, ‘Redefining Darkness’ has none of that sensationalist drama and seems to be a genuine piece of art, for art’s sake – as if he has no more demons to shed other than the demons that he walks with daily. There is no extra-curricular mess that needs to be cleaned up, this is Niklas, bare, naked, stripped of all the bullshit and this is the real deal. The darkness is there, it is, as the title suggests, redefined. And that redefinition is in its honesty. So, how much of his music is therapy – Niklas may admit to seeking professional help but it’s easy to presume that his work in Shining helps along that path towards the balance he so desperately seeks.
But again he surprises. “Not at all”, he shakes his head at the notion that music is therapy. “Which is a problem!
“I created a lot of songs, like I said, by cutting off family ties or fucking my girlfriend’s best friend just to make her feel really bad so she breaks up with me, just to get in the mood, y’know. I’ve always absorbed negativity. And of course I find it amusing, which is my biggest enemy, but when I go onstage and play ten songs it’s like re-living ten bad memories that I have created for myself and that’s as easy as people might think. I would like it to be therapy, but it’s not. It’s horrible. That’s why I turn into a fucking idiot sometimes and lose myself.”
“Losing himself” needs no further explanation. Go to a Shining concert and witness a man in his most violent frenzy – he kicks his audience members, punches them, puts out cigarettes on their arms, says things that he painfully regrets the next day. A Shining show for its voyeurs is theatre macabre, but for its key player it is a void that is erased from memory, every review or online lambasting a cold reminder of what “another” man did. But if it’s so “horrible” why put himself though it? Niklas has already admitted to this interview being one of his last, that after this freak show parade around the London press mob he’ll retire from the limelight and concentrate only on writing music. But this is a man who faked his own suicide, who openly discussed his sexual and drug-taking exploits, who turned his back on his black metal roots, recorded an EP of pop songs and invited a well-known Norwegian singer to collaborate him on his last album. These are not the escapades of someone who wants to remain anonymous. Niklas Kvarforth, we put it to you, that you, sir, crave the spotlight.
“Every artist does,” he answers. “I hear that people think I’m at attention whore. You might think it’s all lies, but it all happened. I’ve lived a very extreme life and for people that’s so fucking alien. They think it’s strange if I tell them what I’ve done, so if I tell them that when my mother died I visited her corpse, took her panties from the laundry basket and smelled them while I jerked my cock off… now when I look back it was a pretty extreme thing to do, now I’m tired of shocking, because what really bothers me is that people think they know me, they’ve read this or that about me but a lot of is lies. So, I’ve been thinking, I should make a book, but I think that people would probably get so fucking upset to read it. That would be good in a way but I don’t think people could believe it, it’s too fucked up. Not for me, but I’ve been through so much strange stuff that it doesn’t make sense.
“I’ve come to the point where I can’t care what people think. I want to be remembered for being a musician, but one that dared doing stuff in a time where you can’t do anything.”
At this point in the interview that empathy Niklas talked about discovering is starting to resonate across the table. Here is an editor’s dream; a rent-a-quote idol, the last bastion of rock ‘n’ roll excess that will vomit forth unprintable stories that get people talking about your magazine. The press loves Niklas Kvarforth, he plays the victim of mental and urban decay, which makes for a sordid story and in a world of safe, stock bands that play the same chords, wear the same clothes and sing the same songs he’s a “shining” example of a true pervert. His eulogy will be peppered with anecdotes of awe, not epitaphs of musical greatness – his canon of work will be forgotten while his legacy of metal’s most disgusting baddie will live on. If he thinks he’ll be remembered in the press for being a musician, he’s sorely mistaken and that is tragic. I start to feel bad for Niklas. Is he a victim of his own making though?
We change the subject to talk about his fans, the ones that seem to revel in his onstage antics, who want him to hurt them. Of the girls who have read the interviews about his fetishes, but still line up outside his dressing room. “It’s great if they do that,” he says coldly. “Because that means they’re mentally challenged and if they’re that then they can probably go further, rape their own father and mother and put the dog in the oven, not to sound extreme but they have potential. I just hope from the depths of my heart that I can contribute towards making the world a bit worse.” Maybe that then will be his legacy.
“I’m here to hurt,” he says when asked what his manifesto is. “Shining can become the biggest extreme metal band, it’s gonna take a few more years but I know how we’re going to do it and we’re going to do it the ugliest way possible and I want to be the guy on the poster in the schoolgirl’s room. Not because of my ego but because I want them to be steeped in decadence before they’ve even graduated.
“The only thing that is genuine about me is my complete and utter fucking contempt for the human race and for life in general. I’m a sex addict, I’m a drug addict and I’m an alcoholic. I have nothing good going for me, except for my cats and being a fucking mastermind musician. My devotion to evil goes far beyond everything else and whatever I do I always turn to the dark side, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But apart from that I’m nothing.”
Now, that’s definitely not true.
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