So, uh…we published a review a couple days about an album by a band named Moron Police. It was written by me – the guy that likes wacky and fun music – so no surprise there I’m sure. Ever since my ear caught their instrumentally bright and progressive brand of rock music, I was curious about the band, their decision to make an album like this, and what else went into the creation of it. Wouldn’t hurt to get some context behind the musicians themselves as well, right? Well, that’s just what our Weekly Featured Artist articles are for, so I reached out to vocalist and guitarist Sondre Skollevoll to talk about exactly those things!
Hailing from Norway, the quartet is made up of Skollevoll, Thore Pettersen (drums, percussion), Lars Bjørknes (keyboards), and Christian Steen (bass). ‘Moron Police sort of started as a spin-off of me and the drummer’s [Pettersen] first band,‘ Skollevoll said. ‘The music we were making at the time (we were about 15 years old) was not that different from our newest album, a bit more Iron Maiden-like, maybe. Anyways, I had started experimenting with different guitar tunings and the songs that were materializing from that were surprisingly heavy, so we started a little side project that soon grew to become Moron Police, and here we are now!‘
The original project of Skollevoll and Pettersen’s went on to become Boys of Battle, a power metal parody band that, coincidentally, released their debut album just last year. That Moron Police seemingly originated from this band is of no surprise after listening to literally one song – it’s like if an elementary school of kids became obsessed with Dungeons & Dragons and listened to a lot of Gloryhammer. As for formal training, the members of our band of focus are all self-taught musicians:
‘We’re all self-taught musicians with the occasional class here and there while growing up. I took some guitar classes, but after abandoning standard E-tuning, I’ve mostly forgotten what it was I learned. I did learn to read notes and how harmony works by a fantastic teacher in a smaller course that was available at our school. For me and the drummer, in our tiny towns way south in Norway (Farsund and Lyngdal… google Farsund, don’t bother with Lyngdal), there wasn’t any dedicated music schools.‘
The rest is history, I suppose; history that found its way into the current decade, where Moron Police set out on the wild frontier of the budding social media craze with their first couple releases, not knowing what the hell they were doing – but really, who did? 2012 saw the release of their debut album, The Propaganda Machine; 2014 brought the follow-up, Defenders of the Small Yard, which is anything but an example of the sophomore slump. Now, in the year of our lord 2019, we have A Boat on the Sea. I will refrain from talking too much about it, as you can read my review for my full thoughts on it. I did, however, want to touch on the direction it took relative to the band’s previous work.
Listening to their first two albums show a band that was young, imaginative, and embracing their inner Mike Patton to the fullest degree. They also showed a much heavier band, incorporating more distortion and weighty riffs to go with their absurdist take on progressive music. These exploits sounded not unlike Devin Townsend and his many projects, or Les Claypool if he wore edgy shirts from Hot Topic and his favorite video game was Earthworm Jim. If that wasn’t specific enough for you, then let’s go even deeper.
Comparatively, A Boat on the Sea is pretty much all razzle and dazzle, the instrumentation acting as the bright, shiny sun in the sky that greets you when you walk out your door like a cartoon. It’s not that their previous work was bleak by any means, but over the five years it took them to release Defenders of the Small Yard and their latest project, a lot must have happened…right? Why the stylistic shift? Sondre divulged:
‘The songs just came out that way, to be honest. The whole album seemed to fall from the sky, and for some reason it came out sounding much “lighter” than the previous ones. I think one reason might have been that I was starting to find my voice. On the two previous albums, I used to sing with a bit more aggression, and that bled into the music. At some point I abandoned the James Hetfield-like grunts and that might have been a factor.‘
Skollevoll admits his singing always came second to his skill with the guitar, but he’s grown more comfortable with (and aware of the limits of) his own voice. ‘I’ve always been a bit pissed off that I can’t sing in a soaring power metal-style, but I make do with what I have.’ Hey, sounds amazing from where I’m sitting, pal!
No matter where you visit on the Moron Police timeline, you’re going to have a good time. The music is always so chipper and inventive, the vocals contorting to whatever form Skollevoll can give them, guitars run the gamut of driving metallic riffing to rapid-fire video game-esque blasts of energy, bass is always thick and fluttering away in the foreground with the rest of the crew, and drums can only be described as anxiously multitasking, as they effortlessly fit any tone or trick the band pull out of their jagged little magician’s hat like a mutant rabbit. What also didn’t change throughout the band’s catalog is their willingness to tackle topics that aren’t exactly dinner table-appropriate for most, like war profiteering, drone strikes, and religion.
‘There’s a lot of that on all our albums, really,‘ Skollevoll said. ‘The music I make always seems to be upbeat, even when it’s really heavy, but I often write lyrics about things that are ‘dark’. I’ve never really thought much about why that is. I write about the things that interest me, make me angry, and makes me smile, so that coupled with the music makes for some juxtapositions.‘ As a card-carrying member of the Children of the Fence and longtime fan of Coheed and Cambria, this is a juxtaposition that I can’t help but love. I greatly enjoy the deception of fun or lovely instrumentation while serious lyrics invade your head, as if using the rest of the band as a trojan horse. Religion especially is one of those topics that hits really close to home for Sondre:
‘I grew up in a pretty religious place, and while my parents were not particularly religious, there was still a lot of that around. I remember pretty vividly being at a sermon as a kid and listening to this priest talk about the mercy of God after he’d just wiped out most of the earth in a flood. I couldn’t understand why these people would worship someone who’d so blatantly kill them while professing His love for them. He seemed like a real bastard to me. So, while I could try to conceptualize the usage of dark themes over upbeat music as a sort of conceptual criticism of society/religion, and how we live upbeat, mostly happy lives, while we’re all keenly aware of the horrors we’re all part of by proxy, I think I’ll leave that to smarter people.‘
Well, I can’t claim to be smarter people (because I’m not), but I can definitely see where Skollevoll was going with this approach. I know that if I would have found the political zaniness of “Grand Theft Bovine” or the punk-induced “Steve Jobs is Dead, But I’m Not” when they came out years ago, it would have spoken to my System of a Down-worshipping self with ease. Hell, I still really like the music now! Things happen for a reason, though, and it’s with no regret that I discover Moron Police a little late to the game. A Boat in the Sea is right where it needs to be – 2019, a year where everything is garbage, yet we still press on carried by whatever serotonin hits we’re afforded or can pry from the steely cold hands of reality.
This is where the genius of that album comes into play. It appears flippant with heavy topics, as if the vocals are sarcastically sung by a deity witnessing what humans have wrought on this planet, disappointed yet seemingly uncaring, as they know they’re safe above it all – literally. For a generation that doesn’t even bat an eye at depression jokes and memes, only to share it on their own timelines for their friends to see with the only additive being ‘big mood’, this album is perfect. Of course, it helps if you like chiptune-esque synth storms, flashy guitars by which to transform like a Sailor Scout to, and epic vocals that don’t treat you like you’re at a theatre production (though it wouldn’t be a bad thing if they did). Still, even when presenting some tough topics, Moron Police aren’t looking to preach:
‘I’m a big fan of self-interpretation, so I’d rather people make up their own minds. We had one review of the album where the writer was adamant that it was a concept album. I love that! And the album actually started out as one, but the idea was later abandoned. Many of these songs were written around the end of Bush’s last years as president, as well as Obama’s first term, those were turbulent years, and to my surprise the lyrics seem, sadly, even more relevant today. However, a dumb kid from one of the smallest towns in one of the smallest countries in the world is not going to have any answers for the rest of us, I’m afraid.‘
I feel that, immensely. A cursory glance at even the song titles for all of the band’s albums does show a bit of a change though. Although you could find songs with titles like “T-Bag Your Grandma”, “Steve Jobs is Dead, But I’m Not”, and “Go Home, Bitch!” on previous efforts, you’ll find the titles on A Boat on the Sea a bit more…talent show friendly. You can chalk that up to simply growing up some.
‘I think it’s definitely part of a maturing process, maybe not as an individual, but as a band. A song like “T-Bag Your Grandma” is about the advent of porn streaming and how the easy access to whatever you want desensitizes us into needing more and more. So, while the song title definitely has some shock-value, there’s supposed to be meaning behind that shock. I’m a big fan of metaphors and I would use them so heavily that I realized after a while that I was the only one who had any idea what was going on with these lyrics. So, on this album I wanted to scale that down a bit, as well as when the songs presented themselves, they just didn’t seem to fit any pre-pubertal jokes.‘
I can always appreciate a band that shows some introspection throughout their years! Skollevoll reveals he’s 30 now, but doesn’t rule out any potential future songs similar to “T-Bag Your Grandma”. Although he’s keen to note that ‘I don’t really want to be an old man playing that song in a random pub to the shock and horror of the locals. Or maybe that would be fun?‘ Only one way to find out…
I was immensely curious to know what (or who) could possibly influence music like this. I can hear many things snaking their way through all of Moron Police‘s music, but there was some others that I couldn’t even hazard a guess at. Of course, the avant-garde and king of weird Frank Zappa is name dropped by Skollevoll, as are prog stalwarts like Spock’s Beard, Genesis, and Rush. It’s the wild cards, however, that are tantilizing:
‘Well, I have to mention Hiroki Kikuta. The music he made for Secret of Mana for the Super Nintendo is just phenomenal (it’s really, really proggy). I heard that OST when I was about 8 years old and I really think it laid the groundwork for me falling in love with prog in later years…I really think the main reason my songs sound like they do is because I was exposed to all the insanely weird and beautiful music made for the Super Nintendo back in the 90s. It was like the Wild West back then – you could do anything!’
See, I wasn’t just being a nerd when I thought that one part of “Isn’t It Easy” sounded like a Kirby game! Regarding A Boat on the Sea, Skollevoll notes that he and the band are very pleased with how it turned out. As they should be! The only thing he notes was potentially missing was a full orchestra – I can only imagine how that would’ve sounded. Dreaming big, Skollevoll gushes about wishing to sing a duet with Shiina Ringo, another big influence: ‘I would do anything to sing a duet with Shiina Ringo. That would be it for me, I would retire immediately. People talk about Beyonce being the ‘Queen’, but Shiina is the Queen of Those Who Know.‘ I, uh…hope the Beyhive didn’t hear that!
So, what’s in the future for Moron Police? Live shows? A tour? More music? How about all of the above?
‘More of everything, hopefully. We’re absolutely floored by the response of the album so far, it really caught us by surprise! We thought we were throwing this album out into obscurity, but instead we’re doing interviews with esteemed people like yourself! We’re working hard on the next album right now, and we refuse to wait five more years for the release! We’re looking into doing a crowdfunder for a physical release and then we want to tour as much as possible. We’ve mainly played in Norway so far, but after this release it’s looking increasingly possible to do something abroad!‘
As an extra tidbit, in my review for A Boat on the Sea, I asked the hypothetical question, ‘Are Moron Police a group that polices morons, or are they police who are morons themselves?‘ My cheeky self couldn’t help but try to get an actual answer for this, and the result may surprise you: ‘Well, as you point out that the word ‘Moron’ has its etymological origin from Goddard, perhaps we could see our name as a dystopian Inquisition-like creation based on Goddard’s systematic repression and classification of the ‘weak’ masses, and in so doing, and as we would not like to be associated with that kind of thought, we shall henceforth be known as ‘Beware the Moron Police’!‘ You heard it here first, folks! Beware the Moron Police coming at you soon…maybe.
To be serious for a quick second, and also offer a tiny peek behind the Everything Is Noise curtain, I want to pass on a big thanks to Skollevoll for his participation in this feature. I e-mailed him on such short notice to help out with this, and he was receptive beyond my wildest wishes. We wish him and the rest of the band the absolute best in their future endeavors. As per usual, I will close with the last word being the band’s, and he has chosen to shout out some awesome projects adjacent to the Moron Police precinct: ‘We all play in other bands, so if you’re feeling adventurous you could check out: Major Parkinson (with me and the keyboard guy, Lars), Sassy Kraimspree (with our drummer Thore), Canvas Black (with our bassist, Christian) and Boys of Battle (me and the singer from Gold Celeste, Simen).‘
Moron Police is…
Sondre Skollevoll – vocals, guitar
Thore Pettersen – drums, percussion
Lars Bjørknes – keyboards
Christian Steen – bass