“I took jobs in kindergartens for a few years before I decided to pursue a career in film music” – exclusive interview with Roy Westad, alias “ILLT”

Get ready for some raw and mind-blowing extreme metal illustrating the ugliness of this world in the masterpiece “Urhat” (due 2021), made by the talented Roy WestadILLT is the alter ego of Norwegian composer and guitarist Roy Westad. It’s an uncompromising sandbox and a culmination of decades of passion and love for extreme metal as an art form. His debut album “Urhat” features session musicians from MegadethSoilworkChrome Division, and Nile. The album was mixed by Kurt Ballou @ Godcity and mastered by Grammy-winning engineer Alan Douches.

Roy started out as a guitarist before establishing himself as a film composer back in 2008. Since then, he has been involved in countless film and TV projects and received the Norwegian Emmy for Best Original Score in 2014. But he always held extreme metal close to his heart. In some ways, things are now coming full circle. His background as a guitarist helped form his style as a film composer, and his film scoring career has helped in developing the form of ILLT

Now he’s ready to unleash his debut “Urhat” (meaning something like “ancient hate” in Norwegian) on the world! With him on the album are some well-known names in metalDirk Verbeuren on drums (Megadeth), Speed Strid on vocals (Soilwork), as well as lead guitarists Karl Sanders (Nile) and Mr.Damage from Chrome Division. The album is set for release in early fall 2021 and is an eclectic yet seamless blend of groovy and blackened death/thrash/ doom/rock. Brutal yet melodic, modern yet raw. 

The beginnings:

Well, I started playing guitar in high school back in ’98. I was really into riffs at that point, trying to learn the whole Kill ‘Em All album by ear and so on. Most of my friends had already played for years and had bands and stuff going on, so there wasn’t really an opening for me anywhere. I ended up shredding away to Pantera songs in my bedroom for years to come. I grew up in a house/cabin in the woods, so I and my buddy even moved my full Marshall stack up on the roof, cranked it up, and pretended we were on the Wacken main stage or something. (laughs)

Scared the shit out of every living thing out there. The poor animals are probably still running.

Anyways, I recorded hundreds of riffs onto tapes but never had the patience or know-how to combine them into song arrangements. After high school, I took jobs in kindergartens for a few years before I decided to pursue a career in film music. I loved working with children, but with time I started to feel I was supposed to be somewhere else. It was better for everybody that I moved on. I was always really into both movies and music in many genres all my life, so it was kind of a natural choice to combine the two. Being self-taught, it took me a couple of years to get to a level where I could handle paid gigs, but I’ve been working full-time as a composer for films and TV since 2008, so I must’ve done something right I guess. But I always held metal close to my heart. The dream of writing killer riffs and songs and potentially get them out there for people to listen to was dormant, but never dead.

When I had my first kid back in 2018, it really shifted my perspective on time and life, and I thought to myself: you’re 36. Life is short, get your finger out of your ass and do something about it.

For me, it was about overcoming low self-esteem and fear of not finishing anything. I had to believe I could finish a song. You would think that having a kid occupies all your time, and in many ways it does and it should. But I became a master of exploiting small windows like naps. If my son was sleeping for ten minutes, it was enough time to fix the pre-chorus riff on a song or whatever. My laptop and guitar were always hooked up and ready to go. The secret for me was to break down every goal into tiny tasks, and not think that I can finish a song in one go and then beat myself up when it doesn’t work out. (smiles) I am the reigning champion of beating myself up, by the way.

My parents supported me in everything. They still do. They gave me the freedom to explore different stuff, and I think they noticed early on that I had something cool going on with my music.

What if…?

Ah, difficult one. If I was to quit my film music career, I would probably be working with troubled youngsters or something, using music as my main tool.

The working process behind a soundtrack:

I am usually brought on early on most of my projects, and start the creative process even before shooting. Most often the director has a vision of the music’s role in the film, and we will discuss it, listen to references, go through the screenplay and make notes, etc. It’s crucial that we are on the same page, and share a common vision of how we want to tell the story with music. Before the actual scoring process, I already have a fairly good idea of what I want to do, and some themes and ideas are already sketched out. As soon as I have a cut of the film at hand, I will start putting music to the picture, and grind it until the music fits with the cut and key moments in the scenes, as well as the overall structure of the film. The characters develop throughout the film, so naturally, the music needs to follow. (smiles) As for inspiration, the film itself should really be all the inspiration I need. If I’m not inspired by the film, I’m not the man for the job.

I’m very self-conscious and overly hard on myself when it comes to my own work. But I think the score I wrote for the feature film drama “Hunting Flies” back in 2016 worked out pretty good, and I had a blast writing a Balkan-inspired score and performing most of the instruments myself.

The story behind the alter-ego, ILLT:

You know, film music’s my day job, and I separate it from ILLT to avoid any confusion. If you call a plumber, you don’t want to hear about their awesome knitting skills. (smiles) That said, my film music career and ILLT are both two different but genuine sides of me as an individual. I am an outgoing, for the most part, happy man in my daily life with two kids running around the house and a wonderful girlfriend, but I also have that darker and extreme side to me. And ILLT is about embracing, harnessing, and letting that dark side out and have it function as an outlet for my negative feelings towards humanity and all the harrowing shit that is going on. As for the name ILLT; I am a big fan of four-letter band names, and it means something like “bad” or “painful” from the part of Norway where I’m from.

Have you always been a metalhead…?

Honestly? No. You wouldn’t believe the shit I had my record collection when I was 12. It was a few years later when a class-mate of mine introduced me to Metallica and Faith No More, that I got into the heavier side of music. I was probably around 15. We did tape trading and listened to records in between classes. I still remember borrowing Machine Head’s “Burn My Eyes” album. I couldn’t believe how heavy this shit was. I returned the record the next day and had to tell my class-mate that this was just too heavy for me. (laughs) Still one of my favs.

Humanity, past and present. How did we get here, and where do we go from here? Music-wise it’s a melting pot of everything I love about heavy music.

Inspiration behind “Urhat”

The biggest challenge:

Trusting my gut feeling, and go by my own taste no matter what. These are the first songs I’ve ever written, so it’s easy to become insecure and start second-guessing when you’re stuck. Before you know it you’re listening too much to what others are doing, and it quickly goes from inspiration to becoming pure distortion that gets in the way of your writing.

Expect the unexpected. (smiles) It’s an intense ride for sure. It’s hard to label, but – hopefully – easy to like. Brutal yet melodic. Fast yet groovy. I wish I had some juicy stories up my sleeve. (laughs) “This brutal album was written in-between diapers, laundry, baby food, and strolls!”

The working process behind “Urhat”:

I had already written the songs on my laptop at home and the demos had programmed drums and me whispering the dummy vocals through a distortion pedal. It sounded like shit but served its function as a roadmap for the session musicians through all this madness. (smiles) It was all laid out for them, so it was a matter of them finding the balance between giving me what I thought I wanted and what the songs actually needed in terms of variation, groove, or vocal rhythm. After listening to your own demos 5000 times, you get kind of blind or deaf, so bringing in a fresh couple of ears is never wrong. Dirk and Speed really brought the songs to life, and I can’t thank them enough for that. You know, when you get guys like these on board, the first takes you get are already 95% there. The rest is just fine-tuning and detail work.

My favorite moment? Probably listening to the songs with live drums for the first time, after listening to the demos with copy/pasted and robotic plastic drums for several months.

Tracklist:

1. Millennial Judas

2. Sons Of The Northern Lights

3. Scythian King

4. Blood Of The Unbeliever

5. Every Tree A Gallow

6. The End Of All Things

Interview: Afrodite Szeleczky
Photos: Jørn Veberg

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"I associate heavy metal with fantasy because of the tremendous power that the music delivers." - Christopher Lee

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