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Tjolgtjar: Band Of The Day
There are hundreds of solo black metal bands out there, but few as inventive, uncompromising and just downright bizarre as Tjolgtjar (pronounced simply Toll-Tar). The brainchild of multi-instrumentalist J.R. Preston (though he insists that “Tjolgtjar the thing is a lot bigger than Tjolgtjar the music or Tjolgtjar the creation of J.R. Preston”), the project is ostensibly rooted in raw, primitive black metal, but also incorporates elements of psychedelic rock, punk, doom, bluegrass, NWOBHM, country and a fantastically warped and highly idiosyncratic vision that is more reminiscent of outsider artists like Syd Barret or Jandek than it is anything in the black metal canon. It’s kind of like peering into an alternate universe where Captain Beefheart recruited Von instead of the Magic Band to make ‘Trout Mask Replica’, or one where Roky Erickson ended up joining Darkthrone instead of Nocturno Culto.
As you can imagine, it’s the kind of the thing you’ll either love or hate – and given the bile spewing from certain corners of the internet, it seems a lot of black metal fans really hate it. Not that J.R. gives a shit, of course (“I think the timeline of black metal goes like this: Mercyful Fate – Tjolgtjar”), and for the more open-minded or adventurous listener, there’s a lot to love about his approach. His latest release is a good place to start, a split with UK mavericks The Meads Of Asphodel who, with their surreal, Python-esque slant on black metal, seem like a perfect counterpart to Tjolgtjar’s rustic, psychedelic Americana and icy blastbeat combo – although Preston “would bet money that Meads never heard of me.”
From there, how you chart his vast discography (which is mostly all available through Bandcamp) is up to you, but there’s gems to be unearthed wherever you look. From the abrasive, lo-fi filth of early albums like 2005’s ‘Voices From The Centre Of Earth’ or 2007’s ‘Holnijimnjok’ through to the more abstract, trance inducing material on offer on records like ‘The New Age’ or the forty minute long odyssey ‘Kjal Tjormejn’, it’s an impressive body of work indeed, forming what is arguably one of the most singular and imaginative voices in American black metal today. Our interests suitably piqued, we tracked down that voice to find out more…
WORDS: Kez Whelan
WHO ARE THEY: Tjolgtjar
WHERE ARE THEY FROM: Kenny, Illinois, U.S.A.
FOR FANS OF: Von, Darkthrone, Frank Zappa, The Meads Of Asphodel, Mercyful Fate, Blood Cult, Enbilulugugal
LATEST RELEASE: ‘Taste The Divine Wrath’ (Eternal Death, 2014)
WEBSITE: Facebook & Bandcamp
What kind of sound were you aiming for with Tjolgtjar when you first started the project? Would you say your intentions for the project have changed over time?
“Wasn’t aiming for anything. I just play what I play. Most Tjolgtjar songs are one-takes. My intentions have not changed. “Tjolgtjar” the thing is a lot bigger than “Tjolgtjar” the music or “Tjolgtjar” the “creation of J.R. Preston.””
Was Tjolgtjar always intended as a solo project? If so, why?
“Tjolgtjar came out of rituals and being visited by beings that are living right outside of our mind’s eye(s.) It’s solo because a lot of it was channelled. You have to understand that ten years of rituals and what most would term just “new agey” bullshit went into this project. Some have offered to play Tjolgtjar songs live and I have always shot the idea right down where it belongs. This is meant to be ritual listening and soul cleansing. It is NOT meant to be “Hey, let’s have fun playing together and being friends” and sullying the name of Tjolgtjar forever with something stupid. Tjolgtjar playing in some bar… that’s comedy.”
So you’d never consider expanding the lineup for the purpose of playing live?
“I’m pretty sure it’d be a clusterfuck if anyone tried to play my drum parts and guitar parts properly. The vocals wouldn’t be the same, they’d be un-layered junk. This project consumed my life for many long years in seriousness. I got really into the spirit and explored realms most don’t, and I understand why they don’t. They can’t because their minds aren’t developed enough. If you hear the call of Tjolgtjar you hear a totally different thing than the music of J.R. Preston channelling Tjolgtjar! A bunch of people that have no idea what Tjolgtjar is – or what it means to me personally – playing my Tjolgtjar songs! No thanks! Tjolgtjar in a small club playing “Nuun Raaguun Skuulkuun” in it’s entirety for 35 people! No thank you.”
You’re about to release a split with The Meads Of Asphodel entitled ‘Taste The Divine Wrath’ – what can you tell us about your contribution, and why you decided to team up with the Meads for this one?
“That came about through the label. I would bet money that Meads never heard of me. They’re quite the thing, you know? Very adventurous and wild. My creative soul inside admires them very much. The split vinyl ended up happening and it’s like a dream. Who wouldn’t want to be on a split with The Meads? This is something I thought about many moons ago. Something I really wanted to do, and it happened. My contribution is one eighteen minute piece consisting of four songs and meant to be listened to from start to finish.”
2012 was an insanely productive year for you (four full lengths!), but it’s been a bit quiet since then. Is the release of this split the beginning of another big creative burst?
“There’s stuff I never released. It just sits here doing nothing. I’m more selective, though. In the beginning if I wanted to do a non-Tjolgtjar related cover song, I’d slap it on a Tjolgtjar demo and forget about it. When people started to pay attention they had a real problem with me being me and not just posing for their benefit. On top of that, there are labels that took my creative works and just basically put them in a box. I’m gonna be honest and not try to pump myself up here: It’s actually been quite shitty since 2009. The days of a band being different and getting press were over and done! Money makes the world go ’round, especially in entertainment press. I didn’t have any of that, being an artist. So I got off-track with a different band (Blood Cult) that had a good label behind them and money coming to them and it really went nowhere fast. Spent a lot of time in and out of hospitals. Just bad things all around, I suppose, but I work through them. The (rather bad tasting) icing on the cake was working with local bands which did make money in a local setting but were not ready for prime time. We’re still trying…who knows what the future holds. I love a lot of kinds of music and play them. Tjolgtjar is a different thing that goes beyond music. I will publicly do a lot more Tjolgtjar stuff if there is a (good) label behind it. Otherwise, it can sit in my personal archives. I’m trying to climb back up into people’s minds. I just had to find a good label. I believe that Eternal Death is a good label.”
You’ve put out eleven full-lengths in the last fifteen years – and that’s just with Tjolgtjar, not to mention your other projects. Where do you get your inspiration from, and have you experienced writer’s block? If so, how have you managed to push past it?
“Writer’s block isn’t ever the problem – it’s unreliable musicians, bad labels, terrible business. Lack of money as well. It surrounds every aspect of outside-the-shitty-box metal. I give up on others and move on. I’ve been doing it at an alarming rate lately. If someone can’t work properly in an artistic setting, I’m finished with them for good. I also don’t have the cash to put out my own releases any more. I had a small distro / label in 2005-2007 and it went nowhere. People weren’t ready, perhaps.”
Your last full-length, ‘Kjal Tjormejn’ consisted of a single 40 minute song. What can you tell us about the release? What inspired you to attempt a more long-form piece of music?
“I rarely discuss this in public. I think it’s time, though. Ballal, a human being from Jupiter, who helped me through many trials in life “inspired” the song. It’s actually just a long hymn praising him. A Hymn…for Him. I do not have any idea if that album is even available any more on disc. The label closed down and I pretty much just gave up with labels until Eternal Death Records came along. I do have good news, though: a cassette version of ‘Kjal Tjormejn’ will be available at some point soon.”
Pretty much all of your back catalogue is available free of charge through your Bandcamp page too. Why did you decide to offer your music for free?
“You have die-hards that buy things and then you have people that feel like all art shouldn’t even be worth one dollar and they are entitled to it. They need their money to buy new weapons for whatever role playing game they’re into at the time. These people are using free wi-fi, their mom’s wi-fi. Obviously they can’t even come up with 40 bucks a month to cover that shit – how will they come up with five bucks for a CD?! Who cares??? I’m not gonna keep my music from them. They need music, too. And my music is better than most music so why keep it from them just because they’re unable to find five dollars? Some people do donate to me through Bandcamp. I am grateful to these people. Izedis from Enbilulugugal set up my Bandcamp, and I’m grateful for that because it’s the only place I made any cash from on the ‘net in the past few years besides selling paintings. I do not run my Bandcamp or Last.fm site.”
Your work seems to be pretty divisive amongst black metal fans. It’s always seemed weird to me that a genre that has always strived to push boundaries has gained such a conservative following, but that’s life I guess. How much do you relate to contemporary black metal? Would you still consider Tjolgtjar a black metal band?
“I do not relate to contemporary black metal. I am a black metal fan but I do not care or associate with other black metal fans solely because of B.M. I associate with people I like. I consider Tjolgtjar probably one of the only real black metal bands around as it is actually based in the soul of man and comes from that spirit’s rituals and experiments which were very, very successful. I even got a 200+ page book out of it but I’m hugely selective about who I share that with. Everyone in black metal today is a Christian. Everything in black metal is Bible based. They can yell at each other about how Satanic they are but at the end of the day, that’s the most Christian thing I’ve ever witnessed. I work outside of that shit. “Satan” is a character or an idea representing the cartoon christian bad buy. He’s like Bluto or Yosemite Sam. I think the timeline of black metal goes like this: Mercyful Fate – Tjolgtjar. Mercyful broke real ground within the confines of the Christian Bible context, I broke ground outside of it. Twenty thousand other bands doing the Christian gimmick? Whoopee! So there’s them, and there’s me. I say Fate because they didn’t try to sound evil in any fashion but those lyrics were insanely anti-organized religion. Most other bands aren’t thinking of that. They’re thinking of leather tough guy apparel. It’s a personal opinion but you’re pretty much asking for those in an interview, right?”
What does the future have in store for Tjolgtjar?
“More music, more rituals. I’m going to be doing other music as well. If Tjolgtjar can keep a good label, Tjolgtjar will release material. If Tjolgtjar can not, it won’t. Some of it will be offered for free and other stuff like usual, will be hoarded on various CDs, tapes and hard drives.”
‘Taste The Divine Wrath’ is out now on Eternal Death