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Exclusive Interview: There Are No Safe Spaces for Niklas Kvarforth and Shining

All photos shot in Los Angeles by Levan TK
All photos shot in Los Angeles by Levan TK

Twenty years ago Sweden’s Niklas Kvarforth began writing music as Shining. Frequently as beautiful as it is disturbing, Kvarforth’s music combines the rudiments of black metal with a carousel of other sounds. At times, such as on Halmstad, his band captures the same metamorphosing and progressive dichotomy of sounds that made Opeth so compelling at the same time. Elsewhere, such as on “Förtvivlan, min arvedel”, the driving force of Motorhead and traces of 70s AOR rock weave in and out of the more typical modern Scandinavian sound. Some of Shining’s sonic versatility stems from the band’s frequently-shifting lineup. Metal Archives lists 18 former members in the band.

The constant, always, is Kvarforth, whose lyrical obsessions have likewise remained focused since taking over vocals in 2001. He sings about depression, negativity, and the contemplation of suicide. While Kvarforth can’t claim to be the originator of so-called “depressive suicidal black metal” (that honor goes to Strid), he is without question its great popularizer. North America’s glut of atmospheric sadsacks with pedal boards owe their sound to Alcest and their audiences to Deafheaven, but probably owe their lyrical focus to Kvarforth.

His shadow has stretched farther than his actual footprint: Shining only embarked on their first US tour this past summer, opening for Belphegor and Origin.

I interviewed Shining for over an hour in two sessions held on the tour bus the band shared with Belphegor while it was parked behind Studio Seven, a large all-ages venue in Seattle, Washington. The band gave no further interviews on this tour. Kvarforth has a history of giving confrontational interviews, and my experience was no different. His demeanor changed rapidly and seemingly at random. Kvarforth bought hard cider for myself and his bandmates. He gifted me a patch. Knowledgeable about film and pop culture, he happily discussed the Guns N’ Roses reunion, the upcoming reboot of the television series ‘Twin Peaks’, and the horror film ‘The Human Centipede’.

On the other hand, without warning Kvarforth made statements with threatening to myself, his tourmates, and his fans. He employed language most Americans would probably find offensive or at least off-putting liberally, almost to the point of comedic excess. One minute he seemed to, possibly in jest, make a homosexual overture and then speak with frank homophobia. While this interview made me uncomfortable at the onset, by the end Kvarforth seemed ridiculous instead of intimidating.

This isn’t to excuse or damn Kvarforth for anything he said. Rather, I want to illustrate a conviction I have about him: that he has few convictions grounded in what most people would call a social reality.

This is an astute man who takes great care to curate his presentation. Black metal fetishizes aesthetics, but Kvarforth understands marketing on a molecular level. He incorporates clips from the film ‘Prozac Nation’ on his album Halmstad and then calls his books of lyrics—published in multiple languages and always with his native Swedish on the opposing page of the translation—‘When Prozac No Longer Helps’. He takes a press photo while wearing a bridal veil and then sells a t-shirt that reads “I have a boyfriend at home but I think of Niklas Kvarforth when he fucks me”. It’s my guess that his beliefs, whatever they are or once were, don’t matter to him nearly as much as the effect he has on people: a hostility that leads to some sort of introspection.

That is to say, the way he behaves is calculated.

My first clue to that came when Kvarforth began the interview on the tour bus, with the tour manager present, by immediately discussing his own substance intake without being prompted.

. . .

Kvarforth: If I get drunk, or high, or whatever, the thing with me is, I always remember what I say and what I do. Kind of a handicap. People always lie. ‘Oh, I can’t remember what happened because I was so drunk.’ Justification of your bullshit. Same like with LaVey and The Church of Satan; justification for people to act like assholes. People can justify if they are a rapist, or a pedophile, they can justify it by saying, ‘Oh, I’m a Satanist.’ And it worked in the ‘60s, ‘70s maybe. Shining is a weapon.

When I interviewed Eric from Watain he said the same thing, the exact same quote about his band. Why where does this idea of the band as a weapon, where did you get that?

Kvarforth: I don’t know, I think he stole it from me.

You think so?

Kvarforth: Yeah, I went to math class with him.

Really?

Kvarforth: Black metal scene was really small in the ‘90s, I mean, what Eric did with Watain is the biggest thing to happen in black metal history. Actually I have to tell a funny story.

Yeah?

. . .

boyfriendgirlie5

. . .

Kvarforth: I was in Norway, and I was partying with Stian [“Shagrath” Tomt Thoresen] from Dimmu Borgir, and two days later, Watain is playing the first show in Oslo. So me and Stian are going down, and Stian goes like, ’Can you please introduce me?’ ‘Well, yeah. He’s an old friend of mine, blah blah, he played in Dissection, stuff like that. And then we went to party, took like six hours, and Eric is like, so you play music as well? ‘Yeah.’ ‘Do you have a band?’ ‘Yeah it’s called Dimmu Borgir.’ Awkward silence. But Dimmu Borgir, you know everyone complains about them because of two reasons. Number one, they think they’re faggots because they use synthesizers. Which we know is not faggoty. Because if you can use synthesizer in the way they do, there’s envy.

The other thing is that, he showed so much respect for Watain, you know? He said like, “I introduced black metal to the, to the common home.”

That’s probably about accurate.

Kvarforth: Yeah. And then they go further, and go into Watain, Funeral Mist, Shining, stuff like that, although we are not a black metal band, but. It was a small glimpse of people, I mean, this is our 20-year anniversary, you know. And I’ve seen people come, I’ve seen people go.

Out of the group.

Kvarforth: No, not just out of the group, I mean in general. It’s really hard to talk with a teenager about killing people, stabbing people, or whatever, until the day I actually do it. And then maybe it’s not so cool anymore. And that’s what Shining’s about, to manipulate people into doing it. We have a Norwegian drummer here [he gestures to Jarle “Uruz” Byberg, the drummer from Shining who had just entered the bus] he has a Dimmu Borgir t-shirt—

He does have a Dimmu Borgir t-shirt. Enthrone Darkness Triumphant.

Kvarforth: That’s a fuckin’ faggot album, but I want him to wear it on stage, because, that Dimmu Borgir thing—and I mean everything that happened in Norway with church burnings and everything—that was reason that Belphegor and Shining and all these faggot black metal bands are able to sell records. Anyway Watain they’re the only band that’s got a real Satanic vibe, in that way, in all senses.

. . .

Kvarforth doesn’t spare his tourmates and busmates from his scathing, though performative, critiques. During the interview, multiple members of Belphegor, including frontman Helmuth Lehner, walked through the bus. Kvarforth entreated them to join the interview, and none would participate.

. . .

Kvarforth: Joseph. Belphegor is a sickness.

Belphegor is a sickness. But not a weapon.

Kvarforth: No. They call him faggot because he’s smart. He laughs, because he’s getting older. Because he knows how to do business. Because whatever people say, I mean, people call themselves musicians. A musician is a person who lives out their music. He does, I do. Watain does. And that’s the difference with everything. The problem with musicians is that, you know, we’re young, we all wanna impress girls, something like that. I mean, I already fucked all the groupies I could, I got 2 to 5 girls every night, for 6 or 7 years. Then I got into hookers. And to make a hooker cry—that means more than a cumshot. Look at this guy [Gestures to Lehner], I mean he’s a Nazi. What do we do about that? He plays in Belphegor, that’s your band forever, Belphegor, because he’s a Nazi.

Lehner: Don’t talk shit about me.

Kvarforth: (laughs) Sit down. They’re all afraid to sit down because they know I will say something bad. Like you know, Belphegor, or as we say in Sweden, Belfaggot. Look into my eyes. Ask me the next question.

Why did it take you 20 years to come to the United States?

Kvarforth: I’m a criminal.

What have you been convicted of?

Kvarforth: I don’t know, ask your mother. No seriously, I’m not gonna talk about that. I never did anything bad, against anyone. That’s why I’m in the country now. Took us 20 years because of difficulties with lawyers, and all this bullshit, you know.

My country makes it difficult for people to come here.

Kvarforth: Your country? Shit, but, we have so much potential for future serial killers, future mass murderers, future rapists, that we can build out of Shining. Next question. Look into my eyes when you ask the question.

Why is your book of lyrics, published in English and your native language?

Kvarforth: I wrote some lyrics in Swedish and people misinterpret them, so I want to give them an insight into the world that will make them want to kill their whole families and rape their grandmas. I mean, simply, if you read the book. I also published it in Turkish, and German, and this is really funny, you know. You like Tupac?

No.

Kvarforth: You have bad musical taste, in other words.

I like hip hop, but I don’t like Tupac.

Kvarforth: You wanna get beaten?

No.

Kvarforth: You will, if you say you like hip hop and don’t like Tupac.

I never took you for a Tupac fan.

Kvarforth: I never took you for hip hop. Do you like 50?

50 Cent? Not really.

Kvarforth: You don’t like the commercial stuff because you’re a big avant garde, and special.

Alright, you’ve got my number.

I don’t have your number, that’s really faggoty, like. There’s always two niggers in the front, two niggers in the back. Which means four niggers strapped in Grandpa’s Cadillac. You know, hip hop should be introduced to the metal scene. Not just painting your faces, but go out with fucking weapons, and have fucking Bloods and Crips fight each other instead of mosh pit.

I think that’d be a very American idea.

No, not really, because America—America, you’re all gonna die. Because of one simple fact: you have two options what you’re gonna do with your life. It’s Donald Trump, or it’s Hillary.

I don’t particularly like either of them.

Yeah. Do you think they like you?

No, not at all.

Exactly. Then what’s the point?

Well, I didn’t invent the political system, here.

Well, obviously you did, because you’re a reporter. If the media, who what people call—because they’re racist—a Jewish machine, because people can always connect Judaism to media, because people are ignorant. So before I continue with what I’m saying this, are you Jewish?

I’m not.

I thought it, from the nose. [Gestures to a member of Belphegor who has entered the bus] this guy is from the Czech Republic, he doesn’t know anything about America, he just knows about communist repression in the 90s. Have you ever been in a communist country?

No. I’ve been in a socialist country. I’m half Brazilian.

Oh, Brazilian. I feel sorry for you. Next question.

Do you see yourself coming back to America after this tour? Has the country disgusted you enough that you don’t want to be a part of—

Actually, this country is more apologizing and more good than Europe. I mean, the guards here are fucking fantastic compared to you-know. I have to have a personal security guard wherever we go in Europe, because of all the bomb threats and murder threats. America is good. And we have this guy [He gestures to the tour manager], who works with Belphegor, but he does some extra job on the side just making sure that I’m okay as well, and that is something that would never happen in Europe.

What do you mean by apologizing? You said America is more apologizing.

No, I mean, you threaten a lot of people, but if I beat someone up in America—and as a professional you do it around the corner of the club, then go back to the club, right?—you beat someone up, and everyone is fine with it. Americans have the solution to solve things by suing people. In Scandinavia, we stab people. It’s a very simple difference, but it makes a lot of sense.

But you didn’t actually answer the question. Do you see yourself coming back, or not?

We’re coming back as a headline tour in April, yes. what’s the point of the discussion? You ask me a question, I answer it. You think I’m weird for the sake of being weird. This guy’s seen me [Gestures a second time to the tour manager]—he’s helped me so much on this tour. People hate him. You know why?

No.

You do.

I do not.

So you’re not a reporter, you’re an idiot. The reason people hate him is because he’s an asshole. But if you work as a record company guy or a tour manager, you have to be an asshole. And that is the problem with the whole world, because everyone wants to be nice, we can only threaten each other through our monitors. This guy’s good, because the first time I met him, I just wanted to stab him.

Do you want to stab him now?

Absolutely not. I wanna see you try so I can put you down on the floor and the interview will be the best interview in the whole world. He’s a good guy. But he’s an asshole, and that’s the reason he’s a good tour manager. Just the same as Season of Mist, or Season of Piss as we call them. I mean, we got so many record deal offers after Universal and Spinefarm, I signed only to Season of Mist because, I mean, the guy’s an asshole. Look—what do you think when you look at him? I’ve met a lot of tour managers. I’ve actually stabbed a lot of tour managers. Well, this guy I like.

You like him because he’s an asshole.

No. I like him because he’s an asshole professionally but he has a good heart. Point is, you understand what I mean. First time, he was trying to be like, tough with me. It didn’t work.

I can see that.

And I mean, we don’t look like a metal band, it’s not a black metal band.

When you say black metal what does it mean to you?

Black metal is a faggot thing. Nothing wrong about faggots, but black metal should be about criminality, violence. It should bring in the hip hop scene into black metal. Poor guys like this [Gestures at Schafer] go from 50 Cent to Shining.

. . .

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At that point my time with Kvarforth expired so that he could make his sound check. Before leaving, he invited me to return to the bus after their set to interview the entire band.

Shining is a dynamic live unit. They played a 35 minute set, including cuts from most of their recent records and one Siegman cover. They stood out completely from the remaining bands from the bill, as well as from most touring black metal groups in the United States. Whereas many contemporary bands focus on establishing and maintaining an atmosphere, thus providing a space for introspection and meditation, Shining glory in shifting sounds and moods. Whatever anyone says about Kvarforth as a person, he’s without question the leader of a great live unit.

Kvarforth is a self-assured performer, even though his tall, lanky figure doesn’t read as intimidating. He performed with self-inflicted superficial wounds on his forearms. Multiple times during the set, he took cell phones from audience members, snapped selfies and handed them back to their respective owners. At one point, he took a fan’s knit cap from his head, spat in it, and then returned that to its owner.

Kvarforth welcomed me back onto the bus with his band, who shared none of his eccentricities or extroversion. Particularly friendly was newest member Marcus Hammarström who, conscious that he was playing in Seattle, wore a Mike Howe-era Metal Church tee shirt. Kvarforth himself seemed in better spirits after his set, though no less confrontational.

My favorite Shining record’s probably Halmstad.

Kvarforth: That’s because it’s the best record we ever did.

You think so? Why do you think it’s the best one?

Kvarforth: But then we turn a bit soft.

I don’t think so.

Kvarforth: No, I am telling you. We turn a bit soft. But now, we have this fucking guy from Sunset Strip [He gestures to Peter Huss, Shining’s lead guitar player].

So I was expecting something a bit more melancholy from your live performance.

Kvarforth: Me crying?

No, I guess I was sort of expecting something like Alcest? Where everyone’s standing, not moving. And that’s—like I loved Alcest before I saw them, and they were completely stationary.

Kvarforth: I mean, we all come from a rock and roll background, right? If you see a band, you wanna see a rock band, a show. You don’t wanna hear the record onstage. You wanna see something that’s alive. We’re always touring with black metal bands, but we’re ten times better than them.

Because you’re a rock band.

Kvarforth: No, because we go from the heart. I mean you see this guy [He gestures again to Huss], he’s getting old, he has no more options in life. Remember when we went on tour the first time? We had stage clothes that was like, we assembled a black metal version of Danzig. We all wore black pants, black wife beaters and wristbands. Danzig is the best band in the world except for Guns N Roses. What I’m trying to say is that, in this world, this contemporary world we live in, considering the whole band now, I think you’ll all agree with me, the Shining is different from all—we don’t have to put on makeup to hide our faces or who we are. We just go up and fucking show rock and roll. And that’s more black metal than any black metal band can be.

Why is it with you and cellphones? Because the thing that I noticed at the show over and over again is when someone is trying to take a picture of you,you take the phone, and you take the photo for them.

Kvarforth: You know what I hate? And I think all of us hate? Fill me in? Is that people go to shows and use their cellphones to show ‘I was there.’ They could perfectly experience the show with their eyes, and their ears.

Huss: There were people actually taping for several minutes, and that absolutely sucks. And if you’re watching live performance through the screen of your iPhone, there’s something pretty fucked up about it. Why do you go to a show to film it? That’s like—that’s like going to a whorehouse, and fucking them, but not cumming.

Kvarforth: It’s the same thing. How old are you?

I’m 28.

Kvarforth: 28. Okay. So, you’re rape-able. The point is, when you go to a show, you wanna experience a show. That’s why I take the phones, because they’re fucking idiots.

Why did you spit in that guy’s hat?

Kvarforth: Because it was an ugly hat. It’s like you’re asking me why am I an idiot standing on stage and spitting in his hat. Obviously I saw a point, because it looks like shit. If people dress like that—I mean, we went over to, where was it, this hipster town, Portland. I saw this guy with red tight jeans. And brown cowboy boots. I had to sit down, because I couldn’t breathe.

That sounds like Portland.

Kvarforth: Yeah but I mean, it’s not okay, you know? It’s weird for the sake of being weird.

Which does make it dumb. There’s people I grew up with—normal people who went to college—

Kvarforth: You went to college?

I did go to college.

Kvarforth: So you’re proud of earning three percent more than the average American citizen?

I don’t, because I’m a journalist.

Kvarforth: How much did you pay to go to college? How much did your parents pay?

Well, fortunately for me, I got the government to pay for all my college.

Kvarforth: Why, because you’re a criminal, or—

No, because—

Kvarforth: —retarded, or—

No, because I did well on tests and I’m half Latin American.

Kvarforth: You have HIV plus?

No I don’t have a disease.

Kvarforth: Next question.

I suppose the next question is—

Kvarforth: The thing is that, what people don’t understand, I’m the biggest idiot in the world. You know why? Because I share everything with my band. If we get a fee, I share it completely with the band. Do you think Axl will share his uh, fifty percent fee of a Guns and Roses show with the rest of the guys?

No, I don’t.

Kvarforth: How much did you pay for college?

I didn’t pay.

Kvarforth: Like you owe the state? For college?

Nope.

Kvarforth: So you’re home free.

I’m free.

Kvarforth: When was the first time you got raped?

I’m not answering that question.

Kvarforth: Seven? Eight? Your uncle?

Let me tell you what. Fuck that.

Kvarforth: I hit a sour spot. I like that. So if you do an interview, when, you usually do an interview and talk with these black metal faggots—I have nothing against their sexuality, but—why do you do it? Don’t you feel tired?

No, I do. I do feel tired. When I started, it was because I wanted—

Kvarforth: You wanted to make a difference.

Well, yeah, I wanted to feel special.

Kvarforth: How do you feel now?

Not special. When it started, that’s what I wanted. And then I got bored of it, and then what I really wanted to do is like get to know—

Kvarforth: Next question.

Why next question?

Kvarforth: Because what you’re saying is not interesting.

Not interesting to you.

Kvarforth: No, it would be if you were telling the truth, but you’re—

I’m telling you the truth.

Kvarforth: No, you’re lying.

What question do you want me to ask?

Kvarforth: Well, take it from your heart and ask something that really provokes. Ask something that you really wanna know. Just ask a real question, instead of what you read in the paper.

. . .

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. . .

When I started listening to Shining—

Kvarforth: Shining, finally.

People said this is the band that’s about people who kill themselves. What would you say if like, someone’s parent emailed you, and said ‘My kid listened to Shining and blew their brains out.’ What would any of you say? Anyone answer. Not Niklas, because I don’t think he’d tell the—

Kvarforth: I write the lyrics.

Huss: Eh, I mean, that has happened. Not exactly ‘my kid blew their brains out,’ but I remember a guy in Germany came up after a show and said that his girlfriend hung herself to our music.

Kvarforth: That’s the best compliment.

Huss: And it happened two times. Not the exact same thing, but related.

In Germany? Both?

Huss: Well I can’t remember the other one, actually. The other one I remember because I met him a couple more times. We ended up talking on a couple more tours. But so. That has happened. She picked the music because she liked it, you know, it wasn’t the music made her kill herself. She would’ve done that anyway. She just chose that to be the last thing she heard.

Kvarforth: The only thing that people put together with Shining is suicide. In the black metal genre, the musicians look like pandas. With their fucking spikes and, ‘I believe in war.’ Then go on to Iraq, see war. The whole point is that, we had a lot of suicides—he’s seen these things that, I haven’t seen, but I was taken by the Swedish authorities, as well, because a guy killed himself. Because for me, if these people would not have killed themselves because of Shining, that means that I have failed. And I know that this is not connected to the other members, this is my passion. But this happened all through the 80s, like, I went to do this documentary about Goethe. You know Goethe?

The writer? Yes.

Kvarforth: One of the books he wrote. It caused a mass suicide effect in Europe. So I was interviewed for that, and was like, ‘you know, when I was really young. I tried to provoke, yeah. But any artist who has someone who kills themselves because of your music, that is the biggest compliment an artist can get. Because that means a song spoke. His music spoke to the heart.’ If you paint a painting, someone sees it and go home and shoot their brains out, because they saw the painting and it made such a big impression on them, and then the artist says, ‘oh, I’m so sad, because these people kill themselves because of my painting’ it’s the biggest lie ever, because it’s the biggest compliment there is for an artist. Someone that takes your art so fucking seriously and so hard that it ends up that they fucking destroy themselves. But that’s the point. Shining, people think that we’re always like these guys who are gonna come out and cry and like you said, put on a melancholic show but we don’t. We fucking bring rock and roll into the lights. They’re afraid of saying ‘oh man, I love Appetite for Destruction.’ They can’t say that. The point I’m trying to make is that, people always talk shit because they want to make their band look good.

That’s true.

Kvarforth: I know that in business and in music you have to make your band look ten times bigger than you are, that’s the only way you survive as a musician.

Have you done that?

Kvarforth: How do you think I pay my bills?

I’ll take that as a yes.

Kvarforth: Yes. Music has turned into fast food culture. Yesterday I met this singer who I thought was fucking fantastic. And he apologized for everything, ‘oh this is a bad song I made’. If you start to apologize for the stuff you do, that means that you’re a fucking idiot. I hope he dies. Are you finished with the interview?

Yes.

Kvarforth: Three more questions. You wanna do some coke?

Three more questions?

Kvarforth: Yes. [He offers Schafer a line of cocaine]

I don’t do coke.

Kvarforth: I hate you.

I’m sure that was true before I said no.

Kvarforth: I like you, that’s big of you. You have to ask three good questions.

. . .

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. . .

Three good questions.

Kvarforth: First one is to him [Gestures to Byberg] He’s from Norway.

So, thought experiment: Let’s say hell is real. And you die and you go to hell, what does hell look like to you? What’s the worst thing forever?

Jarle “Utuz” Byberg: I’ve never thought about that. I don’t have an answer.

Kvarforth: I will help so that you can answer. Listen. Think about the children. Think about your children dying. Tell me what you think about that. Your impression of Hell.

Byberg: Um, I hope to die again so I don’t have to experience that. That would be the worst thing that could ever happen.

Kvarforth: So, he answered the question. You’ve got two more questions, but I’m gonna ask you questions between your questions. Have you ever sucked a cock?

No.

Kvarforth: Next question.

[to Huss] I asked him what hell is, what’s heaven, then?

Huss: That’s a fucking stupid question.

No, it’s not. Because here’s the thing the easy answer is for everyone to talk about sex, but sex doesn’t bring people pleasure, actually. Most of the time.

Byberg: Yeah, let’s imagine that best shit you ever took, like that goes on forever, like the longest fucking turd that just goes on and on, and.

That’s a really good answer!

Kvarforth: Okay, now it’s my turn. Who among us do you want to beat up first?

You.

Kvarforth: I like that. Now ask the last question.

Why are you such an asshole?

Kvarforth: Well because I look at you and I want to be you.

That’s a coward’s answer.

Huss: Because you need to have something easy to write about in your magazine.

That’s a good answer!

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