Shining’s Niklas Kvarforth on Ninth Album, Reputation, Accepting Love From Fans + More
Shining mastermind Niklas Kvarforth has conjured a grim reputation based on self-mutilation, extreme hatred towards humanity and black metal specifically designed to cause mental distress. Kvarforth's lore has been celebrated by extreme metal fans, but the man isn't simply a misanthropic lunatic. In this exclusive interview, you may find a side of Niklas Kvarforth completely alien to your perception of Shining's frontman.
Kvarforth recently provided us with an exclusive track-by-track breakdown of Shining's ninth full-length, IX: Everyone, Everything, Everywhere, Ends. It's a fascinating read and gave us the perfect platform to delve deep into Shining IX. Going beyond the new record and the countless scars that cover his body, we got some insight into Kvarforth and his offstage, off-camera personality.
Shining's central figure talks about yearning to break past his reputation, the positivity he takes from fan support, creating beauty amongst darkness and much more. Check out this must-read interview with Shining's Niklas Kvarforth!
You've said the driving force for this album was the compulsive need for retribution and revenge. Is this the first Shining album where that subject was your main inspiration?
My main inspiration, definitely, for the first time, but it's always been there lurking in the background. It's more apparent in some of the older songs, and in others, of course. This time around, the whole album was born from something very ugly. What happened to us during the last couple of years – most bands would have called it quits.
The song "Being Forced Into Twosomeness" (“Den Påtvingade Tvåsamheten”) -- you said this was an intro that you were trying to perfect for almost 15 years. Throughout those 15 years, was it a task that haunted you until you finally figured it out?
Definitely. The whole melody is something that was originally based on a soundtrack thing. Now of course, we have rearranged it and for 15 years, tried to get it into the sonic landscape of Shining. But honestly, yeah, it feels like a f---ing relief to have been able to do that. I think also that if it wasn’t for the current members of the band, it would have been a big impossibility to have done it too, because it's a very extremely difficult thing to arrange. It’s not just what you hear.
The last album [Redefining Darkness] -- when we recorded that album, it was a bit much of substances, some alcohol that was in the way of being able to sit down and just work on something.
With this record, did you put down the alcohol? Were you sober in a way that you hadn't been in previous years?
Yeah, I mean, more sober. I didn’t have an option because after the 2013 tour we did I hurt my back pretty badly. It was during the tour after like two shows. It ended up with me, like a f---ing idiot, doing, you know, 16 more shows and not even being able to speak properly. But you know, I'm really the kind of guy who wants to get s--t done and it was my downfall because basically, it f---ed me up so bad that we had to cancel shows for like, four months after that. I was not able to speak for two months after New Years Eve.
I use my back when I sing and it also affected my voice, and then doing a lot of shows while just drinking to be able to sing. It's not a very good thing, you know? Especially not when you're getting older.
The song "Future Prospects" (“Framtidsutsikter”) -- you said that you found this track almost unbearable to listen to and that you’re planning perform it live. Does the fact that it hits you so deeply make you to want to perform it live even more?
Yeah, definitely. Since we started playing live, I’ve always found I chose the songs that mean the most to me. Let’s say we do 10 songs a night, it would be like reliving 10 nightmares, which might not be good for me personally, but it's really good for Shining. I think for “Future Prospects,” it'll be a bit more complicated because, as you said, I can't even listen to it myself because it’s f---ing unbearable. I think that could be pretty interesting in a live setting. We'll see what happens. [Laughs]
That sounds like an intense experience to witness in person. Is it possible that you'll be coming to the U.S. soon?
We have had quite a few problems. Mostly because of rumors and stuff that have ended up with a lot of promoters not wanting to book us because they think half the band can't even enter the country. It's untrue, though. There's no visa issues except with our drummer at the moment, but I'm going to Canada tomorrow (April 1). I have a show over there in Montreal. I think there were no problems with the visas going there, except for the drummer. Luckily we have this guy who can step in for him if that happens. There's always a backup plan.
We're meaning to do some [U.S.] shows. I'm not really sure right now but it has to be the right thing, because we're not going to go there as a headliner playing small clubs and small bars. It makes no sense. Instead, do some festivals and support bigger bands.
You’ve talked about a maniacal outburst you had when you heard the opening riff to "Human Thoughts, A Room Without Walls” (“Människotankens Vägglösa Rum”). You also spoke about breaking a long period of writers block. Can you tell me about that outburst and how long that period of writers block lasted?
I think it was almost most two years. I think it was 2011 or 2012 when we recorded Redefining Darkness. Of course I had some adjustments in the studio, but before we entered the studio I hadn't written anything for like six months or something then it just completely stopped. After two years, you think, ‘Holy s--t. What am I going to do?’ It’s a vicious circle. What’s funny is that I always prompt the other members of the band to try to come up with something and contribute. The thing is most of them were never there to approach me with anything for some reason. That kind of sucks, but Euge [Valovirta, guitar], who is new in the band, all of a sudden came up with all these ideas. I was like, ‘Holy s—t.’ That riff, as I said, it kind of exploded and all of a sudden I started writing, which was really f---ing cool. I did that for about two weeks and the album was completed.
I think Shining is underrated when it comes to guitar work and very creative soloing. What can we expect from this album when it comes to those aspects?
We're lucky to have Peter [Huss, guitar] to begin with. He's been in the band for 10 years and when I met him he didn't even know what Darkthrone was -- probably still doesn't [Laughs]. But I always liked that idea of having these people that are outside of what Shining was then and just have them bring in something new. We have to have this because it's such a unique thing and it's f---ing amazing to have something like that when you play with 10 other so-called black metal bands who stand there and try their best and at the same time you have these guitarists who come out and just f---ing destroy everything. I'm lucky to be working with Peter and now Euge as well.
Thank you for saying it. Maybe it's something people could appreciate if they can speak to a larger amount of people and if they could surpass this reputation.
Speaking of the infamous reputation that you have and that Shining has, do you feel like the lore that's been created and circulated around the metal community has sometimes overshadowed your music itself?
Definitely. It's starting to become quite a problem. It's always been a problem, especially today with the contemporary internet age we live in where everyone can spread their disgusting opinions just by clicking on a mouse. It's a problem because one person complaining easily turns into 100. The promoters get scared, media as well. It has been a problem for us for some time to even get distribution or been able to play in certain countries because of these rumors. Some of them are obviously true, but a lot of them are just hocus pocus.
For instance, we did this show in Halmstad in 2007, which ended up in the 7 o'clock news. It created a lot of problems for us. This is probably the first time we've been able to play in Sweden, and I live here. [Laughs]
A lot of people circulate the photos of you cutting yourself up. And I remember the Redefining Darkness promo with you in the bath…
[Laughs] Can I just tell you something? It's really funny. People started to complain, ‘Shining is not black metal anymore!’ and all this stuff. But I play a game with people and I have this guy that I play chess with -- very old guy. I asked him to film me in his bathtub, covered in blood and with the sex toys, basically. All of a sudden, people would start to complain like, ‘Holy s--t! This has been done so many times, he's a f---ing idiot.’ But the first Shining pictures from ‘96, I’m drenched in blood, naked in a f---ing shower. That didn't get people saying, ‘They’re back!’ So I was laughing at that. I was basically copying myself. Then we did a second one with my cat instead. Then, obviously, they complained about that. [Laughs]
Is it possibly time to end the circulation of that stuff so people can focus on the music?
I don't know. I'd really love to, but it's impossible. These things will never go away. People will talk no matter what. The controversy that they say we cause onstage, it’s something that was never premeditated. If I would consciously say that these things like violence, blood, burning or whatever can not happen on stage, I would have to be fully conscious onstage. I always put myself in trance before I go up onstage. It would be, basically, not doing that and basically lying to myself. But in a way, yes, we are trying to find ways to… don't let any sharp objects on stage. [Laughs] It’s a precaution, but there's always a bottle and if you're drinking something it can always break. But yes, we try. I really try because right now we're in a situation where we can't get bigger in the extreme metal genre. We have step up -- to be able to do that, we have to try to not start wars everywhere.
There's a lot of stuff with your personality -- the whole Shining lore of trying to mentally injure people through music. But of course, you still have your admirers. Do you find it difficult to accept love and admiration from your fans?
Absolutely not. Yes, of course, Shining’s intent is to hurt, but at the same time appreciation can come from everywhere. If it's shown by someone blowing their brains out or someone just giving you a hug, it’s the same kind of thing. It can be a bit difficult when you're touring or playing a festival and you’re being confronted by lots of people who say that they love you. Obviously they don't, they love what you do. Of course, anyone who's an artist has to find some kind of appreciation in that or they wouldn't continue doing things like having a signing session for example.
I think that's what people don't really expect from us, usually, but of course we appreciate when people are into our music. Our goal has always been, like every band, to grow. Me, personally, and one other member of the band are living off Shining as well. You can’t s—t in your own front yard, even though we have done it on occasion. [Laughs] We try to not do it. I think it's a weird thing, this connection with fans or whatever. But yes, of course, I appreciate that people love it.
For me, personally, my experience with Shining's music is very up and down. I personally find it difficult to listen to some of the Halmstad album because it conjures a lot of feelings of depression and anxiety within me.
But then, especially on Född Förlorare and Redefining Darkness, Shining has written some of the most beautiful music that I've ever heard and I listen to it constantly because it makes me feel great. With those two different statements, which makes you the most proud of your accomplishments?
It all depends on the day, the hour and the person. Everything is relative and everything is depending on the individual. It's hard to say -- there's two extremes there. If you're feeling some of the material touches you in a way that basically gets you depressed and some of the stuff makes you stronger, that’s the best of two worlds. That's one of the biggest compliments you can give, so thank you for that. It's really hard to say which one makes me proudest, because they both do in different ways.
I think most fans would assume that the harmful stuff would make you happier, so that's interesting that both can affect you in a positive way.
Happiness is also relative. One day I can be happy seeing a f---ing plane crash and then another day I can be happy seeing that my cat is happy. That is also the main problem people have with Shining, especially younger people. They don't appreciate the different sides of life, the fact that you have to remain true in all this bulls--t. I always follow my heart and that's probably why my music turns out that way. People might have a hard time grasping it because of that fact, because it's not black and white.
Thanks to Niklas Kvarforth for speaking with us. Shining's IX: Everyone, Everything, Everywhere, Ends will become available April 20. To pre-order the album and various IX bundles, click here.