Bokassa / Jørn Kaarstad On New Album, Tour Memories And Salmon

Mondays are never the most exciting day of the week, writes Paul Hutchings, unless you are some kind of masochist. Still, this week, my Monday was brightened considerably by the opportunity to catch 30 minutes with Jørn Kaarstad, singer and guitarist with Norwegian Punk Metallers Bokassa, whose latest album, All Out Of Dreams, is due for release on 16th February. 

Our last interview with Bokassa took place as their third album, Molotov Rocktail was due to arrive, and the band were heading out on a headline tour with a little-known Welsh band, Florence Black

I tell Jørn that Florence Black have dropped Bed Of Nails and will embark on a UK tour with a headline tour of several 1000+ capacity venues. I wondered what Jørn remembers of their support band for that tour. “I remember them being nice,” he says. “They had some crew that we just couldn’t understand what they were saying. They were extremely Welsh! I think they were also three-piece, but more rock ‘n’ roll kind of thing than what we are”.

Jørn Kaarstad, Bokassa. The Underworld. Photo: Steve Ritchie/MetalTalk
Jørn Kaarstad, Bokassa. The Underworld. Photo: Steve Ritchie/MetalTalk

Interestingly, Florence Black has a sound that isn’t even close to some of Bokassa’s music, but they did complement each other. “I think the thing with our band is since we are very eclectic and have a lot of different genres melted into one, we can kind of play with a lot of different bands. You can always find things that can align with them. 

“So, I thought it went down well. From what I remember of that tour, we had to do those Covid kits all the time and send them in to, I don’t know, the British government and stuff like that. There was a lot of restrictions and stuff like that.”

Since that tour, Bokassa has played many shows, and amongst the list that they have done, I spy some huge festivals, including Download, Hellfest, and Wacken. I wonder what Jørn sees as the main differences between a festival appearance and their more usual gig. 

“I guess the festival setlist is more the heavy hitters,” Jørn says. “The things that people who know us want to hear and songs that we know give a good idea of what the band is about. It’s also much shorter. I love playing festivals just because everything is in one place. You get a good rider, you’re playing 50 minutes to a lot of people, and there are all the cool bands there. You don’t have to stress about ticket sales all that. So yeah, I love festivals. That’s why we do a lot of them.”

Bokassa, Underworld, 22 October 2021
Bokassa, Underworld, 22 October 2021. Photo: Steve Ritchie/MetalTalk

Of course, festivals vary in size and quality. I ask, perhaps a bit meanly, if Jørn has been to any which have been quite as organised. “Yeah, we have,” he smiles. “For the most part, German festivals are on point and very good. But there are exceptions. We played a festival in this very, very, very small town inside the woods. And it was a scary town. It looked like one of those from horror movies. 

“It had a kind of charm, but we got stuck in the airport for three or four days with cancelled flights. So, we’re never going back there! I remember because Hellfest and Wacken they’re both festivals that are good with the accommodation, the catering, and your own room. We played Download, and we got a parking lot, I think, 20 minutes from the festival site, and they had bolted the toilets and stuff.”

Bokassa - All Out Of Dreams album cover
Bokassa – All Out Of Dreams is a pleasure from start to finish.

After that diversion, we move on to talk about the new Bokassa album All Out Of Dreams. To me, there’s a darker feel to the album, with the subject matter a little more negative. I wonder if it’s a reflection of the times we live in. 

Jørn is happy to put me right. “I think we kind of always done it, from our EP War On Everything to the debut album, Divide And Conquer. There’s always been kind of no happy-go-lucky. But what I like to do is have these wordplay titles. So, it’s kind of all hidden in the lyrics. But this time, it’s much more upfront, between loads of layers of irony and tongue-in-cheek humour. 

“But it’s always been there. I guess the difference this time is it’s more like our first album, where there’s a lot of hopelessness going on. Resignation. There’s a lot of giving up, I guess, and it wasn’t planned like that. I was just looking at the lyrics, and with a couple notwithstanding, this is a lot of songs about failures in different forms, be it your own personal, be it the system, etcetera. So, I just thought that was a fitting title.”

With so many songs that have an air of the end to them, where does Jørn draw his lyrical content from? I laugh as I refer to the track Let’s Storm The Capitol, which doesn’t need much of a deep dive to work out, but does he draw on inspiration from personal issues?

“Well, the title track is often how I feel, so it’s kind of what we are influenced by. And you also have songs like No More Good Days, which is the result of me reading an article about mass shootings in the USA. I read that in 2022, there were more days in the calendar year with mass shootings than there were not. So that’s kind of inspired those lyrics. 

“Bradford Death Squadron may be the exception to the resignation and all sorts because that is inspired by me and our old bass player and our sound guy. We play Xbox together, and I was just thinking about how it would be cool to write a song that at first glance seems like it’s a war song, but then gradually you’d be like, oh, this is some song about gaming online. 

“But then that kind of evolved to me just making this fake gamer gang. I Googled the worst cities in England, and it was Bradford, and then we played in Bradford with Therapy?. A full circle moment.”

I’m glad that Jørn mentioned that, for it was the one song title that I really wanted to know more about. We moved on to the tour with Therapy?, which ended with a bump due to the sudden postponement of the last two dates of the tour. Had Jørn ever experienced that before? 

“I don’t remember if that has happened before,” he says. “I don’t think we ever put on a show with that short notice.” Kudos to Fuel in Cardiff, as they arranged for a Bokassa show at very short notice. “We put it out on our socials the night before,” Jørn says, “and then did the show on the Sunday. We’ve experienced cancelled shows because we were on the tour during the pandemic when they closed the country. But I don’t think we have ever put on an extra show that fast. 

“We did one in Norway, but that was not because of cancellation. That was just because we had this show on the other side of the country, and we wanted to make sure the drive wasn’t like 20 hours we had put on a show.”

In many respects, Bokassa are an ideal fit for Therapy?. Two power trios, both with a punk-edged sound. Jørn is keen to explain that they received a good response from the Therapy? audience. “We wanted to do this because we’ve been teamed with different bands over the years, and I felt Therapy? has a mix of genres. So I think the idea was that their fans would be open to our band. 

“Therapy? has a lot of hooks, which we do. So, I think my idea was their fans appreciate the good melody and the mixture of punk and Metal and stuff. It went exactly as hoped. We sold a lot of merch, and we won over a lot of fans. Most of the shows were packed when we went on. 

“Sometimes you must work hard to win over fans and it doesn’t really work out. But in this case, I think when we come back, we will have a lot of new fans that we gained from those shows.” 

Amongst the highlights on the new album are two tracks which feature a couple of legends from the world of Metal. Aaron Beam [Red Fang] and Lou Loller [Sick Of It All] guest on Bradford Death Squadron and Garden Of Heathen. How did this come about? 

“I didn’t have them in mind when I wrote songs,” Jørn says, “but we recorded it with Tue Madsen, who has worked with Sick Of It All on a lot of their records in Denmark. I had that bridge part, and I knew Tue and Lou were close, so I just said, don’t you think that would be cool with Lou?”

Tue sent a text to Lou who liked the song, so it happened. “With Aaron,” Jørn says, “we just sent emails to a lot of people trying to reach him. His people came back and said he would do it for a Norwegian salmon. We were like, oh, shit. We spent ages trying to work out how we could mail a salmon to the US. We were Googling it, and it wasn’t going to work. 

“Then we realised that he was just joking! So, if you ever see a salmon thrown onstage at a Red Fang gig in Norway, you’ll have an idea where it came from.”

Bokassa, Underworld, 22 October 2021. Photo: Steve Ritchie/MetalTalk
Bokassa, Underworld, 22 October 2021. Photo: Steve Ritchie/MetalTalk

One of the changes to All Out Of Dreams is the absence of the final long song, which was part of the Immortal trilogy on the first three albums. Were Jørn and the band conscious that of this, and were they tempted to start another trilogy? 

“Actually, except for Molotov Rocktail, which I think is 40 minutes, the other albums are also 30 minutes, so no longer than the new one. But no, I kind of felt finished with the Immortal thing. The same with the intro because we used to like an instrumental intro, and I was kind of a bit sick of it. 

“We have done it, and it worked. But now I want to start the record. Boom! The last song, Crush (All Heretics), is five minutes, which is still long compared to what we usually do. The whole thing with Immortal was that I purposely wrote long songs to have these epic closers.”

Bokassa, Underworld, 22 October 2021
Bokassa. Photo: Steve Ritchie

As is usual in recording and writing terms, All Out Of Dreams was recorded in 2022. “Yeah, I think between two festivals, a week in July 2022,” Jørn confirms. By the time the record is released, these are not new songs to the band. Is it a challenge to go out and play these songs? 

“Yeah, actually,” Jørn says, “because especially on this one we haven’t rehearsed it since we recorded it in 2022. Then, when it’s time for the singles, you must go back. You have to listen to it, and you have to map out the guitar again. How the hell did this go? We’re doing that right now. We’re going to play a Norwegian festival soon, and we’re going to play a lot of new songs, so, the rehearsals are just starting.

“The other day, I couldn’t remember any of the riffs. So, to go back, it’s kind of fresh since we’ve forgotten it. I would like it if the album had come out sooner. It would have been more in the muscle memory.”

Jørn tells me that he has resisted the temptation to continue writing loads of new Bokassa music, content for now to gather riffs as they come to him. He says that the length of time it has taken for All Out Of Dreams to be released has slowed him down a bit, exercising a bit more caution. 

Former Bokassa bassist Bård Linga, The Underworld. Photo: Steve Ritchie/MetalTalk
Former Bokassa bassist Bård Linga, The Underworld. Photo: Steve Ritchie/MetalTalk

But he also reminds me that the band are also inducting a new bass player after Bård Linga decided to leave the band at the end of December. This will allow time for the songs to bed in and then involve the new guy in the song writing process.

Finally, we talk about plans for the album and beyond. “The festival kickstarts our Norwegian tour, and then we’re doing Norwegian dates until May. Then, it’s festival summer and we will be heading back to Wacken, Summer Breeze and Resurrection Fest in Spain for the first time. Then it’s a European Tour. 

“We haven’t booked it all yet, but we have planned it, and the same with some UK shows, probably October, November, I would say.”

We should see Bokassa with a new bassist back on these shores in the Autumn. With four albums, including the excellent new release to draw from, these will be shows not to miss.

Bokassa – All Out Of Dreams – Is out on Indie Recordings on 16 February 2024. 

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