120 Days of SodomDe Sade is just one of the influences on this Norwegian band
By Scott Wood
As I board the tour van outside Richard’s On Richards, the guys from 120 Days would rather keep playing poker than chat. It has been a long day of traveling and interviews and they only have a few hours to themselves before the show. However, Jonas Dahl (bass), Arne Kvalvik (drums), Kjetil Ovesen (synthesizer) and Ådne Meisfjord (vocals/synthesizer/sometimes guitar) begrudgingly let me in on the game.
120 Days were the first Norwegian band to be signed directly to a US label—instead of through a licensing deal. Not only that,
Originally known as Beautiful People, Vice made them change their name—since another band had already laid claim to that nom-de-guerre. Sexbeat—aug!—was briefly entertained before 120 Days was chosen. And yes, the name was inspired by the Marquis de Sade’s infamous story.
To jolt the guys from their poker game, I ask them about their favorite part of 120 Days of Sodom. Now for those of you who don’t know, the book details the story of four wealthy men who enslave 24 mostly teenage victims and sexually torture them while listening to tales told by old prostitutes.
“Uuuuh…” Ådne Meisfjord struggles for words as the other guys chuckle. “That’s a very hard question. I mean …” He decides to answer diplomatically. “In a way it’s a really horrible book. You can appreciate it, I guess, more for what it is than for a certain part of it. It starts off pretty bad and just gets worse, and worse, and worse. Some of us have read it and some of us have just tried to read it.”
“It is a very extreme book and it has no compromise whatsoever and I think that is an ideal in art. So in that way, it is inspiring. It is in my opinion not the best Marquis de Sade book. I think that Philosophy in the Boudoir is better and if you haven’t read any of them, I would start with Justine and then maybe Philosophy of the Boudoir. If you can take it, then you can try to read 120 Days.”
The Marquis de Sade wrote 120 Days of Sodom while he was in prison and 120 Days got their start in Kristiansund, an isolated town on the northwest coast of Norway. Kristiansund is best known for exporting bacaloa, a food made of salted and dried codfish. The guys knew that the thriving cover band scene in Kristiansund wouldn’t allow them to make the music they wanted to make, so they took off for Oslo.
The Norwegian capital is one of the most expensive cities in the world to live in. Thus in Oslo, the band was so poor that they lived in a camper van just to focus on music. But eventually the sacrifice paid off.
Going from worrying about where the next meal is coming from to touring the world makes for a sweet rock music success story. And the band is thankful to leave that part of their life behind them. Meisfjord speaks for them in between bets, “All of us really appreciate that we have more decent places to live right now. It was crazy times.”
Scott Wood: “Now that you are not in the camper van anymore, what luxury do you appreciate the most?”
Kjetil Ovesen: “Just not being there.”
Arne Kvalvik: “The smell wasn’t there anymore.
“I thought that smell was you?” Ådne Meisfjord jokes but then gets more serious. “Taking girls home is a lot easier.”
Jonas Dahl: “Not any junkies around.”
Living in the camper van also meant regular encounters with Oslo street life. Meisfjord remembers returning to the van one night. It was dark, since the van had no electricity, but he realized that he was not alone. Two strange guys were already inside. “Of course they said that they were passing through and needed a place to stay or whatever, but they were junkies. I knew that these people… they didn’t want to kill me or anything. They just needed somewhere to shoot up. So I just feel asleep on the other end of the room.”
“When I woke up they were gone. One guy had left before the other guy. And left a note, ‘Went off to buy heroine. See you.’”
After the laughter from the absurd note subsides, the attention goes back to the game. So I ask each guy how he knows if his bandmate is bluffing.
it has no compromise whatsoever and I think that is an ideal in art Kjetil Ovesen: “Jonas just starts smiling a lot and bets way too much.”
Arne Kvalvik: “Kjetil starts shaking his foot.”
Kjetil Ovesen throws down his cards in disgust. “Why did you say that?” Everyone laughs. His foot was shaking.
Ådne Meisfjord will try to compensate with humor. “I dunno I just have this gift. I always win. I don’t know what it is.
Now out of the round, Kjetil Ovesen is quick to clarify: “He did [win, only] twice on this tour.”
Jonas Dahl decides to keep his cards close to his chest: “I can’t tell. Because if I tell them then they know. I am a poker player. I can’t tell.”
The only other topic that will jar the group from their poker is U2. For some strange reason, the band is quite often likened to the now classic rock Irish super group. I don’t see the similarity myself. I suppose the music from both bands contains an epic feel. However, if a comparison is needed, I would just call 120 Days the Norwegian Bloc Party. All this said, being lumped in with U2 certainly incenses the band.
“The first time I heard that I was like, ‘What the—?!?!’” Meisfjord explodes, “Between the four of us I don’t think we have one single U2 album.” It clearly baffles him. “Actually we hate U2!”
Kvalvik dismisses the matter. “It’s only the Americans. We never hear that much in Europe.”
“I think maybe its because U2 is the only rock band they’ve heard.” Dalh has given it some thought. “They just haven’t heard 70s Krautrock and 80s Manchester…”
Meisfjord continues his tirade while placing another bet. “So come on! Come up with something better than that!”
Tune in to the interview show with host Scott Wood, every Monday @4:30pm on CJSF 90.1FM for more interviews with your favorite indie artists. You can also listen online at www.cjsf.ca.