An interview with Geir Vasseng of System Liliputt

Originally recorded and self-released in 1984, “Harpa” by System Liliputt stands in a class of its own in the cannon of Norwegian post-punk. Dark Entries recently asked Geir Vasseng, the mastermind behind this one-man project, some questions and here are the results:

DE: What part of Norway are you from? What was it like growing up there and what music inspired your teenage years?
GV: I’m from Stavanger, a big (by Norwegian standards, small by any other) city on the west coast of Norway. It’s a harbour city with the North Sea as it’s closest neighbor, so there were plenty of rainy days, or opportunities to hang around indoors fiddling with music as I liked to say. During my teen years, I got completely hooked on Jimi Hendrix’s amazing guitar play, and bands such as The Sparks, Jethro Tull, Renaissance and Frank Zappa to name a few. Progressive and evolving music and what I like to think of as meaningful lyrics inspired me greatly, and continues to do so.

DE: How did you choose the name “System Liliputt”?
GV: “Liliputt” is a very casual term meaning “little” or “tiny”, and can also mean a lone wolf so to speak, and since I was playing around by myself, it seemed like a fitting name. I added “System” in front of it because I thought it had a nice ring to it.

DE: When did you start writing music for the “Harpa” cassette?
GV: I started working on the songs that would eventually become “Harpa” in mid-1983.

DE: How did the evolution of the synthesizer in the 1980s have an effect on your sound?
GV: Polyphonic synthesizers became cheap (or “cheaper”), making them affordable and more available, and with their ability to produce such a magnitude of diverse sounds, they became an important tool in my music. So I guess they had an effect in both the sense that I was actually able to get one, and because the soundscapes in my tunes became more and more dependent on them. Often I would find myself tweaking sounds for hours, until they fit just perfect.

DE: What were some inspirations for your lyrics on this album?
GV:I was very caught up with themes dealing with death and loneliness, and I also tried to describe brief, fragile moments. I don’t know what I was most inspired by when it comes to other music, mostly I was just writing about stuff that concerned and occupied me at the time. Also, nature played a huge part, not only in the lyrics but in the melodies and general mood of everything as well.
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DE: The “Harpa” cassette was sung entirely in Norwegian yet some of the demos are sung in English, was there a reason for this?
GV: There’s no reason per. say why a couple of the songs where in English. I preferred writing in Norwegian, because that’s obviously what I felt most comfortable with, but I had the two songs laying around and decided to record them to see how they worked. The conclusion was that Norwegian was the way to go for me, so those two were the first and last.

DE: Who were your musical contemporaries at the time in Norway or around the world?
GV: I listened to so many different things, everything from The Cure to This heat, to Norwegian De Press and Quadromachetas, it’s hard to mention just a few.

DE: So much creative and diverse music came out of Norway in the 1980s, what do you think caused this rich and talented culture?
GV: It’s hard to pinpoint a single reason, it’s probably a culmination of several different things. The population here in Norway is spread really really thin, especially back then, and I guess this created very small tight-knit crowds of people in the many 2000-inhabitant villages, all of them trying to find something to do. I think this has led to a culture where people have had a general desire to be creative. Also, small labels focusing on cassettes gained a whole lot of popularity at that time, making it easy for people to get their music “out there”.

DE: I first heard your song “Harpa” on youtube last year and your vocals and intricate guitar work got stuck in my head for days! How did you create your unique “sound”?
GV: That’s a tough one. I guess all musicians strive to find their own unique sound, something that “theirs”. I found mine using my Fender Lead-1 guitar, and flanger/delay pedals after much experimentation.

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DE: The demos from this period sound quite different than the album tracks, what do you attribute this to?
GV:I never intended to release the demos, I made them separate from the whole Harpa theme, based on lyrics I had previously written. They were recorded mostly for my own enjoyment, and up until now, I suppose I can count on one hand how many people I’ve played them to. So I guess they sound different because they are not part of that general theme of “Harpa”, they can be classified kind of like sketches, experiments.

DE: Did System Liliputt ever tour? If so, describe your mostmemorable/favorite live gig?
GV: It was hard to preform live, since I played all the instruments, so I never really even considered the possibility of doing so. I guess it’s more common for one-man-bands to tour nowadays, with the advancements in the computer department.

DE: How do you feel about the renewed interest in your music?
GV: It’s completely amazing. It’s hard to describe what I’m feeling regarding this, it’s simply amazing and awesome that people in 2011 can appreciate and enjoy something that I made all those years ago, in a completely different time. It’s almost unreal. More so, having “Harpa” on vinyl is a dream come true, and I’m immensely grateful for having been given this opportunity. It also shows that the opportunities for musicians these days are vastly greater than back then, the world is becoming an increasingly smaller place to live, and I could never have imagined my music reaching this kind of audience back then. It’s simply unbelievable.

DE: What have you been up to since the 80s and what are your future plans?
GV: When it comes to music, not much has happened for me since then. I’ve written some lyrics and melodies, but I haven’t recorded anything since the 80’s. My future plans would have to be to realize myself more.

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