-Hello Jannicke, thank you for your time, it’s a pleasure to have you. First of all, could you please introduce yourself a little bit to our readers?
Greetings Tania! It’s an honour to be interviewed, thank you! I am a 46 years old Norwegian mum, tattooist and an artist in lots of different expressions, I guess. Hard to describe. It started with BM logos in the early 90’s and ended up with designing coins for Isle of Man and the Queen of England. And all in between.
-How did that first logo and that first cover arise? I guess by then you didn’t have any official artistic training.
My first logo I think was the first Immortal logo… We were all friends hanging out back then, and Demonaz asked me to make a logo for their new band… I didn’t think I would know how, but he wanted me to try, so I did. Then followed the demo-logo for Burzum, his first two covers and then logos for Enslaved (thw two first ones), Ancient, the knot pattern inside the Ulver logo, the DSP No-Mosh logo, Inquinok (Seattle, WA, USA), Orcustus, Deathcult, Gaahls Wyrd and several more. Also the painting inside the first Immortal album 2nd ed., Satyricon’s first album cover, Deathcult’s album covers, Morks Eremittens Dal cover, the latest Immortal album etc. And no, I had no official artistic training then, and still don’t. I never got around to art school, to be honest. It was too much fun tattooing.
-And when did you start tattooing and why?
There was only one tattoo shop in town back then: Let’s Buzz, and the owner, Tomas Brudvik, had seen the Immortal logo, and asked me to design flash for him. I agreed to do so, having been exposed to, and loving, tattoos for a while, since I worked at Garage, the local rock pub back then. Later I became his apprentice and I owe him a lot 🙂 I worked at Let’s Buzz for over 20 years.
-You own Nidhogg Tattoo Studio in Bergen. How many resident artists work there and how do things work in your own studio? When did you open?
Annlaug Maria Tolo (a fellow tattoo artist from Let’s Buzz) and I opened Nidhogg in March, 2016. We are 50/50 owners and were only us two for some years, but having visits by awesome guest tattoo artists like Lior Cifer, Benjamin Moss, Kali, Xcjtattooer, Kirill Svart, Sean Parry and Ash Villkat Art… And often by Tor Old of Ihuda Tattoo. We just wanted the freedom of tattooing and being our own boss, and when Tor moved to Bergen and joined us, we didn’t employ him, he is his own boss but a part of our tattoo family now. With 3 artists we are the perfect small number for us, and we also have some room for guests. Nidhogg feels special, because our studio is located at Bryggen in Bergen, Norway. Our building is from 1705 and a part of the Unesco heritage site which is Bryggen. With our largely Norwegian and Norse expression, its location fits us perfectly! And yes, it is lovely, after all these years, to be my own boss 🙂
-You also organized the BlekkMetal festival, which was a Black Metal festival/tattoo convention. How did the idea arise?
In 2012 Annlaug, Tomas, his wife Sandy and I went to the London Tattoo Convention, and over a dinner we started talking about what convention would be fitting for me to organize in Bergen. Being both part of the Norwegian Black metal history through covers and friendships, and being a tattooist, it had to be a hybrid of everything… We decided on a one-time event, we used 3 years to plan it, and I had amazing people with me in the planning…. Me as the mother of it all, and Annlaug Tolo, Ivar Bjørnson (of Enslaved), Kirsti Rosseland (former pyro tech for Immortal etc), and Martin Kvam (Karisma & Dark Essence Records) on different tasks. It was amazing. 500 tickets sold (we wanted to keep it small), we didn’t want to earn anything on it, the bands played for free/in trade for tattoos – The tattoo artists tattooed the bands to pay for seeing their fave bands play in a small festival, we had original album art and such in an exhibition, also Gaahls debut exhibition, we had live interviews with Pytten and other important personalities from back when… We had a small film festival where we screened movies important to the scene of Bergen in the early 90s when we still lived at home: Jørg Buttgereit came up and had screenings of his films (Der Todesking and Nekromantik 1&2) etc. So much happened that weekend. Enslaved, Old Funeral, Gehenna, Helheim, Hades Almighty, Kampfar, Aeternus, Taake and the debut of Gaahls Wyrd. Also an amazing misc. musicians organized by Dirge Rep played Burzum and lots of other songs as tributes; The C.L.A.S.P. Ritual. We even had star chefs to prepare the backstage food like suckling Piglet for dinner. And the chefs did it also for free. A festival for the bands, for the tattooers, for 500 fans and not for money. What a weekend.
-It was a one off. Was the «concept» of the festival too tight for possible future editions? And how was the idea of the documentary born?
The idea of BlekkMetal (Ink is blekk in Norwegian) was to open up a window to the early 90s of the Norwegian BM scene. All the bands were Norwegian, they all had ties to the early scene, the tattoo artists were all connected to bm, and we didn’t want to save anything for more future festivals… We went all in. It was relaxing to know that it was gonna just happen once and we went for it hard 🙂 We were contacted by Grimposium, David Hall and Vivek Venkatesh form Canada, they wanted to film our concerts and events, and since we didn’t want that much press there, we said yes and would get some memories recorded by them. Then the Documentary was a natural next step. They did an amazing job with it and we have a dear friendship with the Canadians now. The film has been screened in several film festivals around the world, and the plan is to release it quite soon, 5 years after the festival.
-The festival took place in your hometown, your studio is also based in Bergen, and most of the bands you have worked with are Bergen-based too. What does Bergen have? Do you feel part of something there?
I definitely feel part of something…We were a few metalheads here in the late 80s/early 90s, but most of those were so creative! Maybe because Bergen is called the City of Rain, or the City between the 7 Mountains? We stay indoors a lot, or walk the mountains, the weather is wet and grey, and we have amazing nature and mountains all around us. Mayhaps this inspires us to find the darkness and moods inside us? Makes us more darkly creative than beaches, sun and parties?
-And how much of an influence does your geography have on your artistic creation? As it seems especially for tattoos Norse mythology is your main source of inspiration.
I do get influenced a lot by where I live, both historically and by the nature surrounding me. I lived in Wales for a while, in the Valleys near Cardiff, and I longed soooo much for mountains and dramatic nature that I started painting my nature by memory in watercolor. At Bryggen there are massive archaeological findings of old runes, and the Norse mythology, history and of course, art, is amazing and beautiful; also the Stave Churches of Norway with their wooden carved ornaments, I love all of this. It is natural to get inspired by it.
-Dwelling a little bit more in Metal-related things, we could say you and Christophe Szpajdel are pretty much originators in the way most Black Metal logos look like, that idea of creating a visual, not just a font, to be associated with the band. Something more visual than the average easy to decipher logo. How and by whom was that «concept» conceived by? Was it your idea, the band’s…?
Ah, I just met Christophe for the first time last year at Inferno. He is a sweetheart! I don’t know how he experienced it, although we did of course talk a lot about the times when we both started out. In my case, Demonaz and Immortal explained how they’d like the expression of the logos. We looked to both the Mayhem logo and the fabulous Unleashed logo… The concept was that the logo should not easily be read. It was meant to be conceived as a concept, easily recognizable for fans knowing the band, while outsiders would have to read it on the side of the album in plain letters. As the bands became larger it was natural for them to go for more readable logos,of course, but it is nice to have been part of the beginning. Here I also want to mention Tania Stene, who designed so much for several bands around Oslo: the Ulver original logo, Taakeferd painting for Darkthrone, several Burzum and Ulver album covers etc. She deserves her mention, cause she played a big role in the art back then.
-You have done logos and covers for BURZUM, IMMORTAL, ANCIENT… From a period and a place in Black Metal we all have read about. We all know who the actors of that part of the Black Metal history were, from musicians to journalists. Why aren’t you in all those documentaries, articles, etc.? Has the habit society has had throughout our history of making women in art invisible spread to underground Metal?
I honestly don’t know… I myself didn’t really tell people of early works until I was organizing the BlekkMetal festival. And then it was to just show bands and tattooists I didn’t know personally, that I had some weight, some saying in the scene of old… But from there it became more known, I guess. I still don’t have the habit of advertising it too much. I became a tattoo artist, and the logos and cover art just happens in between my main job. I recall meeting Herve of Osmose Prod. at the BlekkMetal festival and he was so surprised that he didn’t know about me, since he played such a big part of the early Norwegian BM scene. It was quite funny, his reaction. Both Tania and I liked it in the shadows back then. With the artwork. If it is a women’s thing or a personality thing, I don’t know. I feel these days that I am getting more recognition for my old work though. It feels nice, to be honest.
– I don’t think there were (if there were at all) many women artists creating for extreme Metal bands when you started, so near you you didn’t have many women to look at for inspiration. Did you have any (female) role models or women artists that motivated you to pursue your career?
As mentioned above, Tania Stene was doing her amazing art at the same time, and we were good friends. Still does, although geography and life separates us more these days. In tattooing there were also very few women, but there were a few, like Kari Barba, who fascinated me and made me want to make it as a tattoo artist. It is odd though, the woman thing never worried me too much…I am 182 cm tall, been large all my life, weightlifter, worked many years as a bouncer in a rock pub, local crew for bands, and finally a tattoo artist… All of these things are not very girly, I guess. But I just went for what I wanted to do, not really stopping to think if women should 😉
-It is surprising for me that someone with your legacy and background isn’t known by pretty much everyone into underground Metal. Do you have to work harder in art to reach a position a man would reach more easily?
It might be in my nature not to make too much of my presence and my artistic deeds known too much. To be honest, the first Burzum album cover art became so huge and so iconic so quickly that it felt like braggin owning up to it. Also of course my history with him and all that happened complicated it. And it just stayed like that. Recently I met the guys of Gost (US) and I introduced myself as a tattooist and that I’ve made some covers and logos, but didn’t feel like mentioning who… It didn’t fit the conversation… It wasn’t until later when my good friend Eld in Gaahls Wyrd asked them if they had met me, the creator of Burzum covers and the logos and bla bla… They looked at me funny saying “You forgot to mention that»…. Well, I guess I should get better at a personal level in mentioning my past. Again, I don’t know if it is a gender thing or a personality thing. But in general the men do get more recognition and respect. I know this first hand from the tattooing world. And I should think it goes for the metal world as well.
-Of course we all know what happened in Bergen during the 90’s. How do you recall all that sensationalism from the press and how did that turn Bergen’s Metal scene into something more «mainstream»? When you read all the things being published, did you ever feel represented in that?
It was odd how things went from us few odd metalheads, to famous bands and a whole worldwide scene. Every day there were front pages about black metal, church fires and satanism in all the newspapers, etc. People were yelling at us in the streets, where before we just walked by them. The scene in different countries was there from before of course, with good bands like Sigh, Rotting Christ, Necromantia etc…But it was a small scene in each country. Now it exploded. I can sit at bus stops these days, listening to heated discussions between youngsters about who was best, Varg or Øystein…. It’s nuts how things have become… Truth be told, I haven’t read a lot of what has been published…Not even «Lords of Chaos2. I have the book, just haven’t gotten around to it yet. But a lot of what it is published and discussed is wrong. Only people who were around back then know and understand what went on…The rest is their say, wishful thinking, dramatized and in many cases, lies that have been allowed to grow. And no, I don’t feel represented much 😉
-How do you remember and what are your memories of those years before the «chaos» was unleashed, when Bergen was and pretty much breathed Black Metal? How was the life of that group of teenagers that enjoyed the same music?
Life here was really good… We hung out at each other’s houses (a lot of us still lived at home) watching neat movies like «Faces of Death» and «Eraserhead». We partied, we played role playing games ala MERP and Ravenloft, we went exploring caves, ruins and bunkers at night…. Read a lot … and traveled to each other for concerts, artwork and social events. I still lived at my mum’s place, and was asked sometimes to house musicians from Eastern Norway like Hellhammer or Frost when they were in Bergen for recording purposes and such. I didn’t know them from before, but we all tried to do our best and step up. I slept in Helvete when in Oslo. We were ofc too young for hotel life at that time. I worked at Garage as a bouncer and the metal shows were mostly located there, we all hung out there, pretty much. It was nice indeed.
-With the arsons and so on, how much of it was just a bunch of teenagers taking a music style too seriously and to what extent, as some have claimed, was a political action?
Hmmm…. This is a hard question to answer. I was never involved with the arsons. We all knew who had done them of course, but I honestly didn’t condone. I really liked our stave church. I love them even more today. Of course not the Christian aspect of them, but for the ornaments and the art. But, political? In a fight against the very strong christianity in Norway then, yes. It was a war on that. But when Vikernes burned the Stave church, he said he wanted to do that exact church because it wouldn’t just bring sorrow to the christians, but also to non-christians who just loved the history and beauty of it. So it was more than a fight for de-christianization of Norway. Our minds at the time were in dark places, in the shadows. Death was intriguing and fascinating and beautiful. And some minds were darker than others, I guess. It was also about being coolest in class, in my personal opinion.
-It’s obvious you have an important legacy but when you look back at it, how do you feel about for example having crafted art for BURZUM? Mixed feelings? In case some people don’t know, you testified at his court case, as a lot of other people involved in Bergen’s Metal scene did.
Well, when I did those covers, we were all friends. It was fun making them, and we were hanging out every day doing role playing and such. We always knew about our different stands politically, and with me to the left and him to the right, we could have hours of discussions. But we did so much other stuff together that sometimes we just ignored each other’s views and life went on. I was very anti-racist, so that was hard in the beginning. Needless to say, we fell out at some point, then he killed our mutual friend Øystein and we’ve never talked since…. So yes, very mixed feelings about the covers. Having said that, now it is nice to have been a part of the start of it all. I have no mixed feelings about the other work I did, so I guess I am OK with having done the art for those two albums. I am done hating him.
-In any city in the world the Metal scene is small and tight, even tighter in a city like Bergen and prior to the Internet, etc. I guess all of you there were friends and everybody knows each other. Euronymous was also among your friends and I read he offered you working with SIGH. What happened with that?
Distance happened…. It was too difficult for me to communicate with them since phone calls costed a fortune, letters took forever to reach Japan, and fax I didn’t have… When I work for a band, I really like, and need, to communicate with them along the way, so that we agree on the path forward and can brainstorm along the way. That proved too difficult for me with SIGH…. Unfortunately. I’ve met them later and we’ve laughed about how that never happened. It was good having dinner with some of them about 25 years after communicating by a few letters.
-You have also worked with bands from outside of Bergen. How and in what moment does your work expand outside of your hometown’s limits? How do you get to that point where people outside of your circle of friends want to have your art?
Enslaved was a part of the Bergen scene, although living in a town some hours away, and that was the first artwork I did for anyone outside Bergen. But I had befriended them already when they were called Phobia, so I still find it natural that they asked for artwork when they formed Enslaved. Enslaved are still dear, dear friends of mine and I do lots of work for them, from t-shirts, tattoos and posters to jewelry design, painting a rune on Ivars guitar and beer can designs. It’s truly a blast. I met Øystein when in Oslo and as that friendship developed, he asked me for the DSP no mosh logo and such. My contact to people and commissions outside of Bergen was still through friends. My commision in doing the logo for Inquinok in Seattle, USA, was also through a mutual friend we had, so I guess I always somehow have a bond with the band personally or through someone.
-Your first covers were very distinctive, with a very dark halo, all of them in black and white. Where did you take inspiration from back then? Or was it a way of giving an image, almost an embodiment to what the music conveyed you?
I have always worked closely with the bands that commissioned me, so the expression of my early covers was a combination of what they pictured and of my style of drawing. The feeling of the artwork was to reflect the raw soundscape of those days… It was supposed to be dark, primitive, simple and nekro. Not fancy and sparkling and beautiful. We were very inspired by RPGs and the mood of dark roleplaying, of medieval times and the un-beautiful things. The sounds of those albums were raw and thin on purpose, not because of lack of funds, as some besserwissers claim these days. I was asked by Mork to design an album cover for them some years ago (Eremittens Dal) and they wanted me to draw it in the same style/mood as the Burzum covers. It was difficult to find back to that primitive style that I did 25-30 years ago, but I somehow pulled through. My drawing style and skills have of course (and luckily) developed through the years, so it was interesting to try turn back time to eraser fog and pencil mist. For the Burzum artwork, he gave me an RPG book (AD&Ds Temple of Elemental Evil) to get the inspiration from. He wanted parts of the image for his cover, but done in a more primitive, dark and raw style, using pencils. With the Satyricon artwork, I drew it for 20 hours straight, sitting with Satyr the whole time.
-That’s everything from our side Jannicke, thank you again for taking the time to answer our questions, if there’s something else you’d like to add, it’s your turn.
Thank you for letting me use my time on this 😉 Many good questions that deserved proper answers! I hope we will meet up somewhere at a festival some time…. When they start up again. Best regards from Jannicke W-H