Photos by Inma Varandela
Wynjo Photos Courtesy of Dan DeVero
You remember Gaahl. He’s that skinny, long-haired Norseman we’ve featured on and off for a while now, particularly in the VICE documentary True Norwegian Black Metal. He was the singer of Gorgoroth, once the scariest band in at least all of Scandinavia.
He went to prison a couple of times for violence and cases of ritualistic torture and was condemned by no less than the pope in Rome. (These things should be ringing some bells.) He’s the one who, amid impaled sheep heads and crucified models, would bellow, scream, and gargle to massive crowds as hundreds of gallons of sheep’s blood spilled all over the place. And then, in Bergen, Norway, he was crowned Gay Person of the Year in 2010. Riiiiight, that guy.
Today Gaahl is reserved, bordering on refined. A while back he was found admiring a runway show for a fashion line he co-owns, sitting front row, sipping expensive Italian red wine, and staring affectionately as his then 19-year-old boyfriend, Robin Jakobsen, skipped down the catwalk in colorful androgynous creations with funky Ibiza house music blasting from all sides. This side of Gaahl sounded interesting to us, but when we asked to reinterview him about clothes for this issue, we weren’t at all sure how interesting it might be to him. We were worried we might annoy him. But what we discovered was the earthly personification of Balder, the golden Norse god of happiness and perfection. Over three bottles of very fine wine we had the following conversation.
Vice: You seem very much at ease, happy even. In what ways do you channel the more intense side of your personality now that Gorgoroth is done?
Gaahl: I’ve got my method. Ninety percent of my artistic expression is not perceptible to the world.
What’s the vision behind Wynjo, the fashion label you started with your ex-boyfriend, Dan DeVero?
Really, I’m not a designer. It was Dan’s idea, Dan’s vision. I’ve pitched in, given a friend a hand, but only financially. I function more as a channel for others. Dan and I haven’t spoken about this for some time. It’s not the planet I’ve been on lately. It’s been a long time since I’ve been to a fashion show.
Do you have faith in the project?
Absolutely. It will turn into something, Dan’s a resourceful character. He is very creative—sometimes maybe even too creative.
Where does the name Wynjo come from?
It’s Norse for “the road to happiness and perfection,” but it can’t be properly translated into today’s language. In Norse, happiness and perfection denotes the same concept.
Does that make sense to you?
Perfection gives one joy.
You’ve said before that “clothes make people.”
Seeing ugly people puts me in a terrible mood. I’m grumpy that way. Aesthetics are important to me.
Do you mean people in ugly clothes?
The worst thing I see are people walking around in sweatpants. If you’re going to be part of society, you can at least dress properly.
Have you seen people wearing OnePieces, those all-in-one jumpsuits?
I’m convinced that the creator is laughing his ass off as we speak.
I take it you have a preference for simplicity.
By stripping things down to the bare essentials, the expression gets stronger, more vivid. Camouflaging anything by using too many details is a sign that it’s not good enough. Simplicity makes everything intrinsically cleaner and more beautiful.
Are we still talking about fashion?
I’ve always dressed in plain-colored clothes, keeping a strict style. Ever since I was a kid I never wore anything but mono-colored sweaters.
Could you ever imagine creating your own fashion label?
No—at least not now. I’ve got my “uniform.” But you never know what ideas one will get.
Is that a mjöllnir [Thor’s hammer] pendant around your neck?
It’s an Icelandic wolf-cross. [a one-minute staring contest ensues] Next question.
OK. What is the relationship between your musical projects and aesthetic?
In Gorgoroth we had a lot of chaotic ideas. It all depended on what was practically doable. During the final years we were able to do much more of what we wanted. At the concert in Cracow, for example, we were able to outline a consistent use of symbols. Most of the symbols we’d used earlier, on a smaller scale, but we hadn’t gotten around to assembling the models on the crosses. In addition to the sheep’s heads on poles, it was beautiful—aesthetically brilliant.
Do you think the black-metal scene as a whole has bad style?
Most have poor style.
There’s too little seriousness. Those I see with the most heart are those who actually don’t bother releasing their stuff. Too many cling to a distinct style. It becomes a hang-up. Like a train from Bergen to Oslo they’re forcing themselves to keep on a track, instead of exploring new terrain. As people grow older it becomes harder to unlearn old habits.
Why did you choose to leave black metal behind?
Gorgoroth had to die. I had to crush it. I had nothing more to offer. You’re onstage, not moving, just regurgitating the same thing again and again. The growth had ended. The way I work demands isolation. When things become business, with large amounts of interviews and attention, there’s no time for content. It destroyed the art. It also makes people take advantage of their positions. I can’t work under those conditions.
How do people take advantage of their positions?
By exploiting the fact that people worship you. You can have everything. It’s easy to lose oneself when you’re in a position of power, so I had to plot a devious plan to break up Gorgoroth. I could have just stopped, but I was facing a dilemma: Gorgoroth was mine. It was my stance, my face. I loved it, but still it couldn’t go on. You can’t lay down your sword and leave it to imitators. I had to be a backstabber. It’s not a nice way to be, but it was a necessary thing to do.
How do you relate to your position as the face of black metal?
I’ve never related to it whatsoever. I’m me.
The tabloid headlines have never affected you?
Why should they? The world does as it wants. I’m not responsible for what every stupid person believes.
Do you still condone church arson?
Yes, of course. [pours us both more wine]
We’ve heard that the Norwegian state liquor monopoly is the only monopoly you’re supportive of.
It makes sure that not only CEOs of low-priced supermarkets get to dictate what’s on the shelves. That would have made for a poor selection. It’s nice to have a buffer zone of sorts, for quality. When you pass a certain price, wine is actually cheaper in Norway than in France. I know people who buy wine here and bring it back with them.
What are you drinking these days?
Natural wine. Wine that ferments itself—without added yeast, sulfites, or sulfur. Living wine. They smell of one thing—rarely pleasant, more like a barn—and taste of another. They are as moody as I am. Schizophrenic wines. There are days when you’re unable to drink them at all. They can be a bit funky, if you can even say that about wine.
How about music? What are you listening to?
Would you like to listen to something now?
Play some Klaus Nomi—let’s make this a tribute to Dan. Amazing voice. Klaus sang backing vocals for Bowie before his own career took off. [we look up videos on YouTube] This song is from 1982, the year before he died.
We have some questions Dan sent us.
I always answer any question.
What kind of being are you?
That’s a question that really occupies Dan, because I don’t think he understands my being. I don’t think anyone does. If I had to dig to the very core of my person, and put it in Norse, I would say that I see myself the most as a rimturs.
The element out of which everything springs. The forces of nature; a creature of perpetual unrest. That’s where my antistatism comes from, my aversion toward the very concept of having power over others, of forcing people into a system. It’s the most perverted thing I can think of.
What’s your plan for 2011?
To go into hiding and work in secrecy.
Would you want to go hiking with us in the mountains, dressed in a purple Wynjo dress?
[laughs] As long as someone else is wearing it.
What is the biggest betrayal of mankind?
To relieve oneself of the responsibility for one’s actions.
How many times have you been on this earth?
I come stomping back every 1,200 years.
Are you as sexy as they say?
I’m not sure if sexy is the first word that springs to mind when I think about myself, but some people might think so.
OK, no more Dan questions. When it comes to boys you’ve been quoted as saying that you’re more interested in the aesthetics than the physical parts.
I guess I’m somewhat of an ephebophile. I don’t really understand the physical contact. It’s an element that’s foreign to me.
You’re saying you prefer boys in their mid- to late teens, aka ephebes.
When it comes to the ephebe as a symbol, I’m more into the aesthetics of it all. Also, there’s something about the gaze and the will. The will to discover the individual, to become something unique, that I think is very strongly present in the young man, prior to being colored by his surroundings—when you’ve exited the fantastic universe of childhood and are in the finishing stages of the hardest and most chaotic transitional period. I can’t explain why, but I know that this is something I’m deeply captivated by. I love it: the unlimited will to be.
What’s your relationship to women?
I am very fond of proud women. But I don’t like girls. They’re disgusting. It’s a form of submissiveness that I strongly dislike. I could never be physical with a female being. I dislike their curves, and I never understood breasts. I think it has something to do with their excessively lowered center of gravity. I like masculine lines much more.
You were presented with an award for Gay Person of the Year in Bergen last year. What did it mean to you?
Absolutely nothing. Thanks, being Straight Person of the Year is great! Real nice to be Pakistani of the Year! I think that handing out awards on the grounds of sexual orientation or race is silly. Still, it might mean a lot to others, so I accepted it.
It seems like you’ve never thought of the whole gay thing as a big deal.
To me it doesn’t mean anything more than any other aspect of my personality.
What’s the reaction been in the black-metal scene?
The metal universe is probably pretty liberal. I don’t know anyone who thinks it’s gruesome that I’m gay. They might be saying so to one another, but no one has said it to me, anyway. Still, in more than 30 years it’s only Rob Halford and I who have been open about it in this genre.
You suddenly fell in love with your now ex-boyfriend.
It was coincidental, really, that I met a being who made me go, Wow. I’ve always preferred the aesthetics of men, but I’d never met a being that could put me out of balance with the universe like this. The question is, however, did I bring this on myself? Six months earlier, I told my friend Erlend Ericksen [former drummer of Gorgoroth], half-jokingly, that I had come to a point where I had to either find a fetish or fall in love. I was in a vacuum, in which I had everything I could ever want, but nothing gave me sustenance. And then I met a person who... I’m really a pretty grounded person, but I remember that the ground became a very strange place to stand. That’s the reason why I can’t say I won’t ever start my own clothing brand. There’s no way for me to know what might happen, what I might suddenly feel an urge to do.
Does that feel like freedom to you?
I am terribly comfortable with myself. I don’t know what I could do differently to be someplace better.
Let’s drink to that. Skål.
Skål to happiness and perfection. Skål to becoming oneself, in the best possible way.