Permafrost Revisit Pre-Pandemic Songs and a Depeche Mode Tour on “Restore Us”

Permafrost (Photo: Sofie Amalie Klougart)

On December 9, 1987, Daryl Bamonte was on the road with Depeche Mode and decided to capture a moment in time during the U.S. leg of the band’s Music for the Masses tour. Referred to as the fifth member of the band, Bamonte, who had played many roles for Depeche Mode throughout the years, and later became their tour manager, archived the footage he shot for nearly 35 years before digitizing it in 2019. By 2021, Bamonte revisited the film to help visualize Permafrost’s new single “Restore Us.”

Addressing the division and need for a hard reset after a prolonged life in lockdown, “Restore Us,” which was recently released with two remixes—mixed and mastered by Paul Corkett—is one of three new songs from the Norwegian post-punk rockers. 

Originally formed in 1982 in Molde, Norway by vocalist Kåre Steinsbu and guitarist Frode Heggdal Larsen, the band released their debut EP Godtment in 1983, and later added keyboardist Bamonte, along with bassist Robert Heggdal and drummer Trond Tornes to round out Permafrost.

Now, nearly 40 years in, Permafrost, who recently released their 2019 self titled EP, remains relevant in these new times, while embracing some more enlightening elements of the past. The band recently chatted with American Songwriter about life and making music in Norway, recording remotely in 2020, and how a past Depeche Mode tour made its way back into their music.

How did “Restore Us” and your two other tracks, “Closed Eyes” and “Femme Fatale” start coming together. Were these older songs fleshed out over time, or mostly new?

Robert Heggdal: All three singles have been brewing for some years. We used to meet up in Oslo for rehearsals and song creation three to four times a year before the pandemic. These meet-ups were highly creative and a lot of songs were created, but not really finished. Come the pandemic, we started meeting online once a week and with this new situation, we suddenly became a lot more productive. We started concentrating on songs that had been created years earlier and found a way to work on them from each member’s home studio.

AS: I love the older footage for the “Restore Us” video. It captures unseen moments. Tell me more about the story behind it and Depeche Mode’s Music for the Masses tour, and why you wanted to use it for this particular track?

Daryl Bamonte: I bought Alan Wilder’s old video camera from him, to capture some moments from the Music for the Masses tour. We played the USA twice on that tour and as the first leg in 1987 was less than three weeks, the distances were too long to travel by tour bus so we flew everywhere. That warm evening [on Dec. 9, 1987], I sat up front with the very cool van driver to try to capture a bit of a document of America at the time, on the journey from DFW Airport into downtown Dallas. The tapes from that tour sat in a bag until I finally digitized them in 2019. In early 2021, we were looking for video ideas for our single releases and this footage seemed to be a perfect fit for “Restore Us.” The idea behind the song came about before COVID hit the world. It was a message to consider a hard reset for humanity, then COVID and other factors just gave it even more relevance, and the footage seems to tell that story.

AS: When have you been recording the new songs. If during the pandemic, were there any challenges working remotely?

Trond Tornes: After creating a system where we could go online and listen to songs together once a week, we set up a Google account where we can share Logic Pro project files. Kåre cleaned out a closet and put in all his extra pillows and his duvet for the acoustics, bought his own mic stand and a ribbon mic and voilà, a vocal booth was born. Frodo had already set up at home, as well as Robert who’s got a man cave studio in the basement. Trond set up a drum kit and offered the neighbors a bottle of wine every time he had to lay drums. Daryl is our omnipotent guiding light and melody tastemaker. So now, each one of the members is recording their parts from their home studios and uploading them to Google. We go through songs in our weekly meetings and discuss structure and production. All parts were collected by Robert in Trondheim [Norway] where a pre-production mix was made. After some discussions, we decide on a version we can send to Paul Corkett for the final mix. When we got things back from Paul, we [went] ‘Wow, this is so cool,’ a very childish kind of joy.

RH: The hard part is maybe not being together in the mixing process. When in a studio, you can cut short discussions that can take a couple of weeks to settle when being online only. The good part is that we do not have to be together in a studio to record the different instruments. Each one of us does recordings whenever possible. And hey, we’re already far more effective than we used to be before “C19.”

AS: An album isn’t necessarily about a theme or a concept, but is there a particular thread between these new songs?

TT: The field of melancholic clairvoyance with a spark of hope is for some reason a common landing strip for our songs. The album we are working towards 2022 will not have a concept as such, but “Restore Us” does act as a benchmark of our overall philosophy as a band. Many of our songs are about being able to hold on despite being subjected to the brutalities of life. Life can be, and often is, dark, but we still have hope for humanity.

AS: Did the events of 2020 impact these songs or shift the meaning of them at all?

RH: “Restore Us” did get additional meaning when the pandemic struck. It was first and foremost a reaction to the sad condition America turned into in the hands of Donald Trump. With the pandemic and the horrendous alt-right movement, this song is our humble attempt to spur hope for a restoration of the world. It surely needs some fixing.

Permafrost (Photo: Sofie Amalie Klougart)

AS: Do songs come together in the same way as they always have since the earlier days, or did this “process” evolve over time? Tell me how songs come together now.

RH: Usually, Frodo and Kåre come up with new riffs and suggestions for new songs. The rest of the band then tries to put the pieces together to form new songs. Earlier, we used to fight out our differences at the rehearsal studios. Now, meeting once a week means we have pretty short cycles before we agree to move forward with it or do structural changes, which represents less primitive energy, but we also learn a bit from behaving ourselves online. 

AS: How does living in Norway influence the music at all? Do you feel like there’s something extracted from your surrounding environment in the music?

TT: Everything you’ve probably heard is true: Norway is windy, snowy, and dark during wintertime. This spurs a melancholic state of mind which comes to most Norwegians pretty easily. Apart from that, Permafrost has always been inspired by British bands since the start in 1982. Even the band name itself is taken from a Magazine song {“Permafrost,” 1979]. It might actually be that Norwegians are closely tied to the mountains and fjords and the possibility to be all alone in the vast wilderness, which you could argue materializes in Norwegian black metal and jazz. There probably are traces of this in our music as well, even though our first love and inspiration have been with the British music scene.

AS: Nearly 40 years into Permafrost now, tell me how you all think back on this time, and where you are now as a band.

Frodo Heggdal Larsen: We are just the same dudes as we ever were. However, now we have better sound equipment.

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