Coming all the way from Norway with a brand-new album just in time for Autumn 2021 are Bokassa, boasting a catalogue of exciting tracks that are sure to keep us warm and moshing all winter. In conversation with Dom, lead vocalist Jørn Kaarstad talked about ‘Molotov Rocktail,’ what he’s been up to outside of music, and what he personally defines as successful.
When we set the release date [for the new record], we were like 90% positive that the pandemic would be over, but I don’t know!’ he laughs. Like many other bands, Bokassa have tried to navigate the uncertain waters still roiling with the effects of Covid-19, and have just released their newest album under the record label Napalm Records, which Jørn is understandably elated about.
‘I’m really happy with the response to the album – it’s been really cool to see that people love it. I remember just saying to the rest of the guys that like, I wasn’t really necessarily sure that people would ‘get’ the album, that maybe people would be like ‘ah, they took it too far’ or ‘nah, did they mix those heavy riffs with those punk-rock things too much?’ So yeah, I was thinking that people wouldn’t ‘get’ it, but it seems they do! So, I’m really excited about that; I wasn’t really expecting that. It’s funny because you think about the album all the time before it’s out, and when it’s out it’s kind of, ‘okay, now it’s there. It’s the people’s album now, it’s not ours.
When thinking about the growth over the course of Bokassa – in terms of personal as well as musical – what does Jørn consider to be the most significant for himself and for his bandmates, Olav Dowkes and Bård Linga?
‘As musicians, I think we get better each time because I always try to write a little bit better every time, and also maybe write something we haven’t done before, so we have to step up our game! I also think the fact that in 2019 we had an opportunity to tour a lot, that made us much better musicians. And over everything that’s happened to our band and the pandemic I think we’ve grown wiser and reflected… I think a lot of people think, ‘oh, you tour with a big band now,’ you know, ‘and now you’re gonna be a big band.’ The kind of rock music we do, or punk, whatever you want to call it, sometimes goes to the mainstream with some bands but it’s never been in the public eye that much, so I was never really worried about that; I’m just happy with where we’re at.
‘We never dreamed about stadiums or arenas at all – that was kind of just a surreal bonus – so we’re kind of really happy where we’re at, that people know us, that we have the possibility of playing outside of Norway. It’s not a lack of ambition – we’re just fine!
In terms of what he views as successful, Jørn likes to focus on how fans connect with the music and respond to it, rather than keeping tabs on numbers surrounding record and ticket sales, for example.
‘For me, it’s not how many records you sell, or how many big tours you do… I think we are a successful band not because we have sold anything substantial, but because we are lucky that people around the world like our music, you know? We never dreamed about that when we started the band in 2013. We kind of hoped we’d get some gigs, and that was our thing. I guess people look at it in different ways. For me, the bands that I grew up liking, were never like – they were big to me and big to other people who were into punk-rock and metal – but they were never in the mainstream.’
‘So, if someone has a playlist with us in it and we’re next to like, The Bronx or Cancer Bats, that’s success to me. I’m proud that people who like those bands sometimes also listen to us. I guess it’s all about how you look at it, and to me in these days when rock and metal aren’t at the top of the charts and people listen to it and go to your show, you’re successful.’
There are also some special moments that Jørn looks back on when he’s having a rough day:
‘If I think of a show… It’s a strange thing, but I like it when we’re at a show and there is no one we know. Because at the beginning, it was ONLY people we knew at our show! That always makes me happy, because that means we’ve reached people that are not our friends. I kind of like when people sometimes send us guitar covers or a drum cover on social media, I think that is always really cool. Like, someone actually tabbed my guitar parts and put it on YouTube? That always puts a smile on my face, because to me, that is what you do with big bands! So, it’s cool that someone out there does it for us! It always puts me in a good mood when I see that.’
And outside of music, he makes sure to delve into other interests that keep him motivated and inspired – though of course still looping back into his love of music and punk-rock.
‘[Before the pandemic] I had never listened to podcasts, but I started to listen to podcasts about bands – there’s one called ‘As You Were’ about Alkaline Trio, and then I found, like, Road to the Skeleton Coast with Brendan Kelly from The Lawrence Arms, and then Chris Hannah from Propagandhi’s podcast – and all they do is either talk about songs or stories behind recording, and I’m just completely obsessed with those podcasts! I just love hearing about that, and especially the ones about the bands and the artists themselves. That puts me in a really good mood and motivates me. I also read biographies – during the pandemic I read everything about the Ramones, and all the Guns n’ Roses bios – I’m really nerdy when it comes to punk and rock music!’
Speaking of the legacies of other great bands, what kind of a legacy would he like Bokassa to have – how would he like people to listen to them, and what would he want them to get out of the music
‘Back in 2019, Dinosaur Pile-Up released Celebrity Mansions, and Angel Dust released one, and both of those were really fun rock albums. They were kind of those records that you just put on, and it puts you in a good mood. I thought to myself, ‘I also want to make one of those records.’ That year, there were a lot of good records out and I always found myself going to those two ones. I wanted us to have a record like that – just fun and entertaining from start to finish. I hope that people get that from it when they listen to it, because that was my intention for that one.
Now that shows are back in full-force, what is Jørn most looking forward to about travelling to perform live? Bokassa have some shows here in the UK which he is particularly excited about, and the country’s notorious meal deals have something to do with that, along with our pub culture
‘I’m really excited to come to the UK! Especially because I kind of love British pop culture. I think it’s so fascinating going to a British pub and just hanging around there… Because you also have carpets in your bars, which is very fascinating to me! And it’s really cosy! I can’t speak for the others on that one, but I really enjoy talking to Brits because you have that sense of banter and joking, and I find that really entertaining – same when we played in Scotland and Ireland. They were really fun people to talk to. The first time we played London in 2018, we got obsessed with your meal deals. We literally only ate meal deals!’
Most importantly, what does he want to say to fans of Bokassa – old and new?
‘First off, thanks to everybody that still listens to us – that’s awesome! If you’re going to come and see us this October, which we’re really looking forward to, I would advise people to listen to ‘Molotov Rocktail,’ because we’re gonna play almost all the record, ‘cause we’re so excited about it! So, if you haven’t heard it, I’d listen to it if I were you or it’s gonna be a show with a lot of new stuff for you!’‘
‘Molotov Rocktail’ is out now on all streaming services and the band are set to tour all over the UK this October.