by RS Frost
By Norse Music is a project founded by Simon Füllemann (AISA – All Independent Service Alliance LLC, All Access Agency), Einar Selvik (Fimbuljod Productions, WARDRUNA) and Ivar Bjørnson (Peersen Production AS, ENSLAVED).
The idea behind this venture was to provide a platform to introduce Norwegian art, music, literature, film and culture across the globe, with the first major event under this banner happening in 2015 as the album launch for SKUGGSJA‘s ‘A Piece for Mind & Mirror’ paired with Enslaved’s 25 year anniversary concerts.
I caught up with Simon to gain some insight into the ever-growing success of the label, his work with AISA and a look into his past in the punk and hardcore scenes of the ‘80s and ‘90s.
- I grew up in Switzerland, outside Zürich, in a very rural area. I grew up in a middle-class environment. I got into music when I was very young, about eight years old, through my family. Then at the age of about 13 my cousin, who was then 15 I think, met Thomas who was very into tape-trading and totally into punk/HC/metal in the mid-80s as far as I can recall. Thomas later was part of OFF THE DISC RECORDS and the magazine Megawimp, together with Eric Keller. A great inspiration for me. I went to one of my first shows with my cousin and Thomas in Feb 1987. It was MESSIAH and POISON, the German thrash/death metal band. This event made a lasting impression on me. I owe those two a lot. I owe these guys, and especially my cousin, all the credit for what I do today.
I quickly was introduced to Swiss music like EXXOR and EXCRUCIATION, as well as HELLHAMMER/CELTIC FROST obviously. I started tape-trading as well and was very much into the UK scene around 86/87-ish. My dad supported me very much in my musical endeavors. Back then it was hard to be different in such a conservative country, or at least where I came from. I even got banned from classes for wearing my SLAYER ‘Show No Mercy’ back patch on my jeans vest.
Anyway, the clash of the society and the total underground rebellious approach of that music was fascinating to me. I could be a total rebel. A big problem for me was that society did not accept at all who I am and what I do. Except for my dad, he did. He drove me to shows all over the place, even to Germany to see bands like BAD RELIGION and NOFX. This shaped me in a big way, learning that your family is the only safe harbor, understanding that I am different. This conflict was one of the most crucial in my life that later on, in 2006, exploded with me just doing what I want and fuck the society I lived in. To this day, this was the best decision of my life.
Speaking of what shaped the music I wrote, that would for sure be the death of my dad following the disruption of my family with divorce and the nasty post-divorce life that I had after I turned 16. I built up so much anger and hate back then that needed to be channeled somewhere. I chose to form a band in 1989 for real. From 1987 to 1989 I was trying to learn to play, basically. It wasn’t until 1990 that I found the right people. But more on that later.
Back then, my cousin was travelling quite a bit compared to me, and all of us, and brought home demos and LPs from the United States that we could not get here. As I said earlier, I started tape-trading and writing tons of letters back and forth with bands and managers like LEGACY (now TESTAMENT) and POSSESSED. Around then I also got into all the other scenes, like Boston or DC when it came to HC/punk, or Germany with TORMENTOR (now KREATOR), DESTRUCTION, SODOM and LIVING DEATH for example. Then NAPALM DEATH put out ‘Scum’ and I was blown away. I started writing and tape-trading with the UK scene as mentioned above; RIPCORD, HERESY, CONCRETE SOX, CHAOS UK, ENT. So many great bands all over!
I was totally into it. The drive was the energy, the common ground; you could literally speak to your “heroes” by mail. It was fascinating to be so close and yet so far. It used up all my free time besides school. I even started travelling to London several times a year just to buy records at this totally fantastic, and legendary, record store off Oxford Street… I can’t remember the name… that’s also when I met the boys in ONSLAUGHT and joined their fan club. I still love ‘Power from Hell’ so much! So, yeah the capacity was… everything I could give. Suck it all up.
And then I got my first bass guitar. I wanted a band so bad in 1987 but unfortunately, I couldn’t find anyone able to play with me, and for sure no one who wanted to play what I wanted to play *laughs*.
At some stage, the proverbial stars would align and everything came together. Simon found other musicians who shared his tastes and passion and he would go on to play in multiple bands for almost two decades.
- I have been in projects without names from 1987 onwards. It started out for real when I met the best drummer I have ever worked with in 1990. We immediately clicked. I brought a bass player with me and one of our friends recommended a singer who he thought would fit – and he did. We started writing and practisingas DISOWN and played our first gig under that moniker on 21/12/1991 with QUICKSAND. Ok, not really, as Quicksand never showed up in the end, but we played and I will never forget that moment. We quickly switched the name to ARMICIDE and put out two demos. We played under that name until 1994 and toured Europe and even the US east coast with our friends in RORSCHACH. On 12/06/92 we did the most historic show I ever played. It’s on YouTube, look it up *laughs*.
In 1994 we changed our name to MINE and released a 7-inch on COMMON CAUSE. It got great recognition and we played quite a lot of shows and a tour with DYSTOPIA, ABC DIABOLO and quite a lot of weekend shows with our friends in DAWNBREED that we would go on to release a split 7-inch with. In 1996 we released our first and last album ‘Tetanus’ which was extremely well received. It just took off. It was unreal. In 1997, unfortunately we broke up. Ricki, the drummer, and I went on to form DAMAGE ID; a CRO-MAGS influenced band that lasted for about a year. We did a demo and that was it. Then we formed CATARACT with a friend, Greg. I was in the band until late December 2006, when I dropped out to fully focus on my work behind the scenes. Cataract was probably commercially seen as the most successful and well-known band, but Mine was the band I was into the most. I always tried to push boundaries and fuse many music styles, mainly metal and hardcore, as I grew up with both.
I went on doing some minor projects like FEAR FROM FALLING TOWERS, ENGELMAKER and ARMA GATHAS during my time in Norway. I stopped using my guitar for good in 2013 and never looked back.
Before we move on to your more recent activities, I’m curious if there are any standout moments that come to mind from your time within the industry?
- The show on 12/06/1992 for sure. That show with Rorschach was the most insane show I have ever played. Other fond memories are touring with AMON AMARTH, or WACKEN or SUMMER BREEZE for the first time. I can also remember our first headline tour with MAROON. That was fantastic overall. Such good memories!
As a businessman, it would be founding my first company in 1997, which failed miserably. Even though, or maybe because of that, I learned how to survive in this industry. I also remember the moment All Access Agency became AISAmusic. That was an epic moment as well as founding By Norse. Those ventures are what I am today.
When it comes to general life, my most memorable moments are mostly “now”. I like and try to live in the now, always, and focus on that. Everything springs out of that. Your now is your past in a second. Fromthe now, your past will look the way you want it to, and the future will be bright.
I’m sure you’ve been privy to a generous dose of not so pleasant experiences also?
- Hmm, maybe walking off stage during a show because I hated the violence that sprung out of our music onto the audience.
In work life, it was probably having to save a client’s ass because of ripping somebody off while being a spoiled brat. That could have easily exploded into a mass media slaughter and their career could have been over.
During your time within the industry, both in performance and business roles, what are some of the changes that have stood out for you?
- That is quite a wide question. The obvious is the shift from shipping out vinyl and waiting for the paycheck to now, where it's diversification all over and you have to monitor digital sales, CD, different vinyl formats, merchandise, publishing, etc. Back then ,it was much simpler. That is generally spoken of when it comes to the business side of things.
The music scene itself just got bigger. I mean back then there were not many bands, but heaps of fans. Today it feels like there are so many bands out there. I think it wasn’t much different in its essence, even the advanced tape culture back then was similar to albums leaking today. The shift towards the digital that is happening to our music over the past months and years is the most imminent right now. We have seen slight changes, but now it’s becoming pop-world level. So the coming two years especially will be interesting. That’s just basic stuff though, as this question could lead into a full book.
Since 2015, By Norse Music has released a multitude of records, across all formats and spanning many genres, by artists such as WARDRUNA, ENSLAVED, BARDSPEC, KAUNAN, EIVØR, SKUGGSJA and HUGSJA.
Can you talk about how and why this project came to be, how you met Einar and Ivar, and what your goals are for By Norse moving forward?
- By Norse sprung out of an idea of doing our own showcases and releases. Originally, the simple idea was to present our own bands on showcases all around the globe the way we want them to be presented. Keep it all in our hands. We had the vision to start out in London first. And so we did a three-day event that was super successful, followed by NY and Oslo. At the same time, Ivar wanted to release ‘Vikingligr Veldi’ on vinyl by himself and Einar and I discussed doing the next Wardruna album ourselves. Having led and worked for many labels in my life, it was a no-brainer to start doing that with the right distro and PR partners on board. We just went for it – and here we are.
We connected and bonded deeper after I moved to Norway in 2011. I started working with Wardruna closely from a label side first and also got insight into Enslaved and their releases on INDIE RECORDINGS. I was a huge fan of both bands before, so to me, this was just so fantastic to have this opportunity. One of the reasons behind moving to Norway was doing exactly this. We somehow just clicked. You know when you meet people and it just works? Ideas, visions, aims, on a personal level and values. It all just fell into place. It was magic basically. We are a good team.
I understand that the By Norse banner also covers a handcrafted Norwegian farmhouse ale, called ALU?
- Yes, but this is Einar and Ivar`s baby. They got the idea and wanted to do it. Since I am not drinking at all, I couldn’t be really helpful except on the marketing and branding side of things a bit, which I did as well as I could. Both did a great job on this, including the design and all. Super proud that this was happening under our brand, which funnily enough also happened basically the same time as our first showcase in London. Back then everything aligned perfectly to start the By Norse adventure. It was just a matter of piecing it all together. It was all there. We want to grow naturally and put out great artists that fit our values and our roster, like Eivør or Kaunan. More artists will be welcomed to By Norse in the future for sure. We are also thinking about different new showcases and further ideas we are discussing and working on. More to come!
Simon is also the founder of All Independent Service Alliance (AISA) which handles management, distribution, merchandising and webstore services as well as label management, branding development and event management. AISA currently has offices in Norway, Switzerland and the USA.
I’m very interested in how AISA came about and your thoughts and feelings about the constant growth of the company.
- I had my own company in Norway that was called All Access Agency and one before called Image-In. Those were consulting companies basically. I was very focused on helping intellectual property owners to keep it in their hands. I was screwed myself several times in life so I wanted to help others to not make the same mistake. I mean really, who are we to put a price on someone’s creation of mind, soul and heart? Especially starting around the beginning of 2014, I saw how the digital world impacts PR, distribution, sales, etc. Not only for labels. Especially in the US. I could see that what was happening is that the bigger players will get the bigger pieces and smaller companies will be left with crumbs. Look at how it went over the past four to five years…
At the same time I worked at Indie Recordings and we hired Luis Alvarenga to run the US office. So when he left and I left, it was natural to expand All Access Agency under a new name into the US. Based on my studies and findings over the two previous years, it was natural to me to put the intellectual property thinking into a new costume, so to say, and widen out the services to distribution, management, D2C etc. I wanted to give people I liked and respected a lot, a partner that is totally DIY, see-through and does NOT want to own intellectual property but to help them prosper, so the value is growing and the bottom-line for our partners are growing bigger.
I feel very good about AISAmusic and its growth. The main thing is to be able to deliver the services we offer the best we can. Quality before quantity. I’d rather say no nine times and yes once. Everyone has to focus on the project, the now, the one thing you do in this moment, to do the best with what you have in your hands to work with right now. AISAmusic is solely here to do the best every day for our clients. We are fortunate to have great clients and having been successful in our work with those clients, so there is growth, which in this day and age is not easy to do, especially not when you are thinking 180-degrees differently than all others when it comes to owning content. So I feel very thankful and very blessed.
As someone who is clearly and beyond measure dedicated to music, entertainment and the arts as a whole, I’m curious as to what it all means to you. Why music, where does your constant motivation come from?
- Music is my life. It’s what I do and who I am. I breathe it 24 hours a day. I am a nerd listening to all different kinds of music all the time. Challenging myself every day to see what I like and what I don’t, or what I didn’t like but do now, or vice versa.
The artists that have had a huge impact on me musically are Slayer, up until ‘Seasons in the Abyss’ mainly, Rorschach, BORN AGAINST, METALLICA, DEPECHE MODE and Cro-Mags, just to name a few. There are many more but those are the top six bands that shaped my taste the most.
When it comes to music and the management business, Wardruna was my epiphany. My favourite band for over ten years now. I am lucky that I can choose to work with bands I truly love like Wardruna, Enslaved, EXHORDER and UNE MISERE for example. Even if I didn’t work with those bands, they would be in my top ten for the past ten years.
When it comes to distribution and D2C I love when I see our clients grow. Patience and quality are key, and they all have it. I should name them all but, for example, MAYHEM, Wardruna and ZEAL & ARDOR make me happy to see that you can actually make a difference. I also am very proud to work with labels like PROFOUND LORE, BLOOD MUSIC, ODYSSEY/APOCALYPTICA and KARISMA RECORDS for example. It’s so good to see growth and people being happy. It’s the ultimate feeling.
The most motivating thing for me is to see people smile and be happy. I want to change, drive and push forward the interest for the intellectual property owner. Basically, the opposite from most in this business *laughs*. Money is not the focus; I focus on the project. By doing good now, everything unfolds upon that. So, I enjoy the philosophy of what I live by also in business. The freedom that comes with this is immense. I am an entrepreneur and this drives me.
What has enabled or encouraged you to constantly push forward with your many ventures?
- That would be the joy I find in what I do. I found the one thing that is me. I am one of the lucky ones that have made it possible to live my dream. I worked hard to build what I have and every day I work hard to preserve and build upon that. Also, I am incredibly lucky to work with, and be surrounded by, people that are so inspirational. They are business partners and friends.
Can you share any plans or goals you have for yourself, or your work, moving forward?
- As far as playing music myself, I am done. I still help our bands to find their way and do some songwriting and producing. I help create music and artwork, lay down strategies and do networking. That is what I love to do. There are many dreams I want to make reality. Like the next By Norse event, or the next records for my friends and clients.
Personally, I want to be healthy and smart in my decisions. Without my body, brain and soul I can’t do what I do. A balance is needed. So in 2019 I will focus on that balance and see that I can visit people I haven’t seen, meet people more regularly and also work on my boxing skills so I can go through a full fight of 12 three-minute rounds by the end of the year.
Thank you for your time and insight into your work. I now invite you to offer any closing sentiments you may have.
- Thank you for doing this interview with me! I am very humbled and thankful to get this opportunity. Keep up the good work. Believe in what you do and do it with full conviction.