Friendly but strong encouragement: subscribe to Stitchdown’s free newsletter to ensure you never miss a single story. You won’t regret it!
Lars Jensen makes boots—whatever boots he wants, when he wants, exactly how he wants to. And then he sells those boots, to a very lucky person.
The lushly bearded Norwegian behind Østmo does things a little differently throughout his life—unless most bootmakers have one-man folk metal bands they haven’t told me about. A man who commits to his passions in a way that most of us only wish we could, Lars decided on bootmaking only about four years ago. Today, he deploys deeply interesting leathers in creating truly one-of-a-kind boots (and sometimes derby shoes, or Gibsons, as he prefers to call them)—in terms of his production, but also in their form. The boots are beautiful, just not exactly in the way we’re accustomed to boots being beautiful…which in turn is precisely part of what makes them so damn beautiful.
Every pair is crafted by only Lars’ hands, some simple tools, and a sewing machine. His design and construction inspiration arises from beksømsko boots, a very specific and unique type of footwear that once shod the feet of many Norwegians. Lars iterates endlessly, and makes whatever strikes him at any given moment, in a somewhat random size of his choosing. Once complete, the boots are put up for lottery on his Instagram (Lars being Lars, he doesn’t even have a website), and he chooses a winner randomly. It’s a bit of a…different model. But it’s one as unique as the boots, and their maker himself.
I chatted with Lars for, well, quite some time. He claims to be shy, but is also incredibly forthcoming with his thoughts and insight on how and why he does what he does. So we talked about that, and how he learned to make such an exceptional product in such a short period of time, and beksømsko boots that inspired him, and leathers and construction and designing new lasts, and that metal band, and plenty more—including, of course, his beard.
MORE STITCHDOWN CONVERSATIONS
• Pepe Albaladejo of Meermin Mallorca
• Mark Barbera of Mark Albert Boots
• Andrew Svisco of Parkhurst Boots
Stitchdown: So I’d love if you could take me through the beginnings of Østmo: I know it involves your great-grandfather and you getting totally engrossed in figuring out the art of making shoes, but I’d love to hear the whole story from you.
Lars: The story goes as such: I’ve always been interested in handcrafts. A few years before I started making boots and shoes I was completely engrossed in guitars—or more specifically, Gibson Les Paul replicas of the famous 1958, 1959 and personal favorite 1960 models. To be honest I’ve never been a very handy or crafty person. My talents have been of the more esoteric sorts in music composition and production and academics. However, when I’d been enrolled at Åbo Akademi University in Turku, Finland for a couple of years studying folklore and ethnology, I was literally becoming sick of doing nothing but writing. I needed something more hands-on. I’ve always had a soft spot for shoes and toyed around with the idea of making some shoes somewhere down the road.
The following summer I was back home in Norway on vacation, and found myself rummaging through my great-grandfather’s old workshop. His name was Karl-Johan Østmo, and I knew he’d been both a cobbler, shoemaker and musician as well as general handyman. I ended up finding a lot of his old shoemaking and cobbling tools as well as some shoes he’d worked on. That’s pretty much when I was sold, and I knew it was time to start making shoes. As a side-note, I still use some of his old tools. Literally walking in his footsteps, which is why I decided on the name Østmo bootmaker in the first place.
I didn’t have the opportunity or resources to attend any courses or get any formal training, so from the start I am completely self-taught, with the help of Youtube videos, shoemaker blogs and some scans of old pattern making books. Østmo is what it is today because of, and continues to evolve through, trial and error. And I still employ quite a few unconventional techniques compared to my shoemaker peers that probably aren’t totally kosher. If it ain’t broken, however…
To begin with I mostly tried to make some service boot variations, clearly very inspired by Viberg. After a while I figured it was time to combine my interests for local history with bootmaking, and this is when I started creating my own patterns based on vintage Norwegian boots. What I call the Type I pattern is an old Norwegian military design that remained popular among the general population through the 1960s, when cemented footwear started taking over the market. The same goes for the Type II pattern, but that is borrowed from old ski boot designs rather than the military. The stitchdown/naildown construction is also in line with Norwegian bootmaking tradition, so it was natural to continue using that method although I’d started creating my own patterns.
Stitchdown: How long did it take you to figure out how to do this really well?
Lars: Well, if you ask me, I still haven’t learned to do it really well. As far as I’m concerned, I’m still at a hobbyist level. It’s no secret that I am a thorough perfectionist by heart, however, so I probably won’t ever call myself a master shoemaker or anything like that no matter how many years I’ve been in this game. There’s a thing called the Jante Law in Scandinavia that basically says you’re not supposed to think you’re better than anyone else, and that’s pretty deeply ingrained in my general outlook on things.
Stitchdown: As a non-Scandinavian, am I allowed to think you’re pretty good at this? Because you seem pretty good at this.
Lars: Haha, you are definitely allowed to say that, and I highly appreciate it. To give a more proper and unbiased answer, I’d probably say things started looking a lot better around springtime 2017. I made my first pair the fall of 2015, so it definitely took some time before I’d honed the various (and inconceivably many) aspects of putting together a pair of consistently decent boots.
Stitchdown: What were the early days like? In what ways were things going wrong?
Lars: To explain this I have to start with the fact that pattern making is an art form of its own. I’ve never been very good at maths or geometry, which accounts for a lot of what making a good pattern actually is. Getting the proportions right is a huge deal, and when you have nothing more to work with than some scans of really old books that aren’t exactly up-to-date in terms of modern aesthetics and lasts, it was a huge challenge to know where even the most basic seams would go. The more practical parts like closing (stitching together the upper pieces), lasting, and bottoming just required a bit of practice, so I was most definitely further ahead with those aspects before my patterns started looking decent.
Stitchdown Needs Your Support to Keep These Stories Coming. Learn More About How You Can Help (And Get Some Fantastic Benefits) By Joining Stitchdown Premium Here
I also didn’t have the proper tools or machinery for a nicely finished end product before a couple of years had passed. The best investment I made was in an ancient Adler 68 post-bed industrial sewing machine, which made my upper stitching look about 100 times better and also made it easier to avoid making critical mistakes with various 3D shapes you have to sew together.
Stitchdown: Interesting. How’d you make the necessary jumps in pattern making then?
Lars: In the beginning I focused on making shoes only in my own size. So for every pair I made, there were slight changes and many iterations of the same pattern. Through following some set pattern rules and combining them with my own personal preferences, I finally had a pattern that was good enough to grade to other sizes. It should be mentioned, however, that since I hand-cut everything and don’t use any cutting dies, I still have the freedom to make minuscule changes to the patterns now and then, although they aren’t as noticeable. The basic proportions are alright at this point, I’m just constantly doing minor aesthetic touch-ups to the patterns in various sizes. It’s very rare that any two pairs of boots I make are identical. Usually there’s something under the hood that’s ever so slightly different.
Stitchdown: Got it. So basically how you work, as I understand it, is: you make boots or shoes, in whatever style and size you want, and then put them up into a random lottery for interested people. That’s…a little different than how most shoemakers work. How’d you land on that process and what do you like about it?
Lars: Ah yes, the heart and soul of my so-called business model. There are a lot of aspects as to why this is how I’ve ended up doing things, but it all boils down to the type of person that I am. Maybe this is uncomfortably honest for some people, but I have struggled with anxiety and depression for most of my life. I simply do not have the energy or resources to scale Østmo up further than where it is today, where I make one pair at the time and at my own pace without taking on custom orders. The knowledge that I could make a lot more out of Østmo than what it is today is rewarding enough in and of itself; that there’s a real demand. I can’t meet it, but it’s there. And that’s quite an honor, if you get where I’m coming from.
I’ve capitalized on a hobby in a previous life, in the folk metal music scene. To deal with the business end of it all left me with a really bad taste in my mouth and I lost all inspiration and interest in ever making music again. It was a hard-earned lesson, but at least now I know how to keep my current Østmo venture feeling fresh and interesting by knowing where to draw the line for how much I can do in how little time.
SUBSCRIBE TO THE STITCHDOWN NEWSLETTER. IT WILL MAKE YOU HAPPY.
I can’t say for sure that I’ll never scale the whole bootmaking thing up a notch, but at this point I’m quite content with how things work. For a long time I did put up the boots for sale under “first come, first serve” conditions, but as Østmo has gained more traction in the world of handcrafted shoes, I recently made it a little more fair by giving anyone interested in a specific pair an equal and fair chance at buying them.
Stitchdown: Makes a lot of sense. What drives your decisions about what to make? It can’t be totally random, right?
Lars: That’s a question that’s almost equal to “what inspires you?” being asked of a musician. And I’m going to give the same answer as I did with all my band interviews: I really don’t know where it comes from. It all depends on mood, what materials I have available and how much trouble I want to get myself into. Different leathers are obviously very different to work with. If I’m feeling confident, I’ll make a boot in horse rump leather with a cap toe, for example. If I just want to have a more relaxed workweek, I’ll simply make a plain toe derby shoe in a cowhide or calf leather. It’s all a result of my whimsical curiosity.
Stitchdown: Well you definitely don’t seem un-curious. How many pairs have you made total?
Lars: I’m working on pair number 83 right now. My first pair was completed in September 2015, so I haven’t all that many boot in total really.
Stitchdown: Still more than me. How long does each pair take, in terms of hours?
Lars: Gonna have to do some math here (which I’ve already established I’m awful at). If I start clicking a pair on a Monday, the boots are usually done by Saturday. I have no idea how many hours I actually work each day since it’s a lot of downtime where you wait for glue to dry or sole leather that’s been soaked to become dry enough to attach and such. Maybe 45-50 hours in total? The reason I haven’t properly kept track of it is that I don’t charge for labor hours. My boots are priced based on material cost, which is multiplied by two to get the final cost of a pair. If I’d start charging for work hours, a pair of Østmos would start at $1,300 instead of the current $700ish.
Stitchdown: It’s pretty incredible that you don’t charge for labor hours, of which there are a lot—obviously that’s extremely rare.
Lars: Let’s just call it Scandinavian Humility, haha. There are a few methods I employ where I don’t exactly follow the rules. For example how I do my linings for a fully lined boot. In those cases you’re “supposed” to make the lining a separate piece that’s stitched together before it’s attached to the upper leather, and it’s also lasted separately. I do something a little different that I simply call “cheat lining”, where I just skive (cutting a taper to edges of leather) overlapping seams wider and thinner than you would normally do in order to not add too much bulk, before stitching everything together as one unit, and then lasting the whole heel and waist portion at the same time as well.
Specifically, this happens at the seam where the quarters meet the vamp. The downside is that I can’t make what is called long stiffeners, but those aren’t traditionally used in my type of boot anyway. All I really need the lining for is to sandwich a nice thick veg tan leather heel stiffener between that and the upper.
Anyway, I digress. It’s just one of those things that screams hobbyist and makes me uncomfortable charging more, even if all the materials I use are very high quality and it doesn’t affect structural integrity or outward aesthetics at all.
Stitchdown: Got it. On the materials, how do you manage to source such limited quantities of such interesting leathers? Or do you just have giant piles of the stuff waiting to be used when inspiration strikes in the future?
Lars: Haha, I definitely don’t keep a huge stock of anything. I usually never have more than one hide of each type of leather to be used for uppers or linings, since I simply can’t afford to buy larger quantities. To be perfectly honest, I’ve been granted a lot of grace by fellow shoe enthusiasts. Jesse from Guarded Goods has sent me a few hides out of the kindness of his heart, as have a few others. So whenever I have something from Horween or another American tannery, chances are I’ve been hooked up by a buddy. I’m incredibly grateful for that.
Other than that, I live 10 minutes away from the largest leather distributor in Norway, Skinnlåven. That’s where I get all my leather for insoles, midsoles, stiffeners and other basic components like hardware. They also have a very decent selection of veg-tan calf leathers that I have started keeping on stock consistently. Only recently I started using the same lining in all my boots and shoes, which is a full-grain Italian calf that I order from Italy. Stuff like horse rump from Maryam tannery I also get directly from the tannery in small quantities. Tanneries and distributors in continental Europe are usually pretty happy to supply just one or two hides at the time, which unfortunately can’t be said for the few remaining ones we have in Scandinavia.
There’s also the matter that Norway isn’t a part of the EU. This means that there’s a hefty 25% import duty on anything I buy from ANY other country than Norway. I’d do a lot more American oil tanned leathers and such if it wasn’t for the fact shipping and import duties completely kill the deal. As such it’s easier to just try and source as much as I can locally. Which isn’t to say it’s easy at all, since there are like two other shoemakers in the entirety of Norway, haha. Not enough demand for shoe-specific leather.
Stitchdown: What is your absolute favorite leather you’ve worked with?
Lars: That’s a tough one. Some leathers that look amazing as a finished shoe are really hard to work with, like veg tan horse rump. This is because it isn’t just rump leather, but also includes the shell membrane. So obviously it will be of very different tempers and structures depending on where on the hide you make your cut. It’s a bit like working with mixed materials really, just that it all comes from the same hide and can vary within one small piece of the pattern. Because of these variances, it comes with challenges like stitching together the various upper pieces neatly, to being careful not to pull too hard and create tears. The shell cordovan membrane tears easily, so when you’re working with a material like that you gotta take some precautions.
I might be inclined to say that the Horween Russian Hatchgrain has been the most fun so far though. It’s brutally tough and perfect for boots, but also very easy to work with. You can use almost any part of the hide and it will all crease and age beautifully. The same can be said for Horween Latigo, which is way underrated and far too seldom used as a boot leather – when it’s actually perfect for just that. Super tight grain and stuffed with oils and waxes so it’ll last a lifetime.
Stitchdown: Is there a leather that you wish, looking back, you didn’t work with?
Lars: Perhaps the few Mongolian Yak leather boots I sold to a couple of folks. While it has four times the tensile strength of regular cowhide, the particular hides I got didn’t crease very nicely. If you owners are out there and reading this—I’m sorry! It was an amazing leather to work with otherwise and pretty unique, but it wasn’t the best choice for boots from an aesthetic point of view.
I also wish I didn’t try working with shell cordovan as early on as I did. I wasted quite a bit of money on what turned out to be very suboptimal final results. In fact I think I’m going to get some Italian shell cordovan again soon and see how it works out now that I have a few more years of experience under my belt.
Stitchdown: Where did the idea for the little circular metal rivet on the front quarter of a lot of your boots come from? Does it have any specific significance?
VERY GOOD IDEA: FOLLOWING STITCHDOWN ON INSTAGRAM RIGHT NOW
Lars: The rivet has unintentionally become sort of an Østmo trademark. It’s one of those things that were used on many of the OG vintage pairs of Scandinavian boots I’ve inspected, so I chose to incorporate it in my own designs. The rivet is also placed at a spot where you absolutely do not want any seams to fail. And so, even if a few threads and seams unravel or break, that rivet will hold the quarter facings attached to the vamp no matter what happens.
Stitchdown: What’s been the most rewarding thing for you about making shoes?
Lars: Definitely making something that will look good and be serviceable for years to come out of a whole lot of nothing. The way the different materials and details combine and interact is such an interesting aspect of bootmaking, and I could wax poetic about it for several paragraphs. I’ll try not to, though.
As I mentioned before, I was becoming more and more tired with academia and longed to make something with my hands. To see something gradually take shape and being able to control each step of that happening is very rewarding to me, since I don’t come from a crafty background at all. In some ways it’s similar to making music, in that you put several parts together to make a whole, but having an actual physical end product makes it a very different feeling of having mastered something.
Stitchdown: Do you know what kind of shoes your great-grandfather used to make?
Lars: I’ve seen a few odd pairs that he worked on, and it was generally the same as what I’m doing today. I don’t have the largest sample size, but there were a couple of pairs of derby shoes, a balmoral boot on a bulky last and something similar to the Type I pattern I make today. Since he was the only shoemaker and cobbler in the village, he did spend more time repairing shoes and making them. But those two crafts were more intertwined here in Scandinavia in the past.
The constructions being used varied from hand-welted to Norwegian stitched (where 3/4 of the front part of the upper is stitched directly to the insole) and stitchdown. All three techniques and more have been used locally, so I will probably branch out with Norwegian stitched boots myself in the not too distant future.
I actually have a bad cell phone picture of some of the stuff he worked on that I found in his old shop. Can’t say for sure which of them he made and which were in for repairs, but it’s awesome that they still exist anyway.
Stitchdown: I’d love to hear about some of those tools of his that you still use
Lars: Yes indeed! Some of his old awls were still in good shape, and there are at least two knives I’ve given some TLC that are back in my regular tool rotation. There’s a bunch of more cobbler-focused tools that it seems he made specifically for some tasks I haven’t identified yet, but that really just makes that much more cool to have them stored away safe in my shop. I try to carry on the legacy although I never met him myself, and having things he both made himself and used nearby feels like a nice sentiment and natural choice.
Oh, and I also use a waxed hardwood sole edge slicker with an edge guide for where to rough cut sole width, that he made, every now and then. Not a lot of shoemakers make their own tools anymore, because they simply don’t need to. I probably improvise a lot more than your average bootmaker does these days, so at least in that manner I’m carrying on tradition, haha.
Stitchdown Needs Your Support to Keep These Stories Coming. Learn More About How You Can Help (And Get Some Fantastic Benefits) By Joining Stitchdown Premium Here
Stitchdown: I’d love for you to tell me what you know about the history of “beksømsko” boots.
Lars: It’s difficult to get very specific on this subject, since the written sources are few and far between. What we can rely on, however, is that there are still millions of people alive today that have worn proper beksømsko at some point in their early life. The memories are sometimes not that great, haha. Being forced to squeeze into ill-fitting unlined leather boots you probably inherited from your older sibling, in -20C, while going skiing for miles with the family. That would make anyone miserable, regardless of how it’s easy to romanticize. Picture it. In the mighty Norwegian snow-clad mountains, man mastering the wild, wearing hand-made all-leather boots. But then in reality you’re probably closer to frostbitten toes than any mountain top.
Anyway, I’m rambling. Beksøm(sko) is both a shoe construction term as well as a few different types and patterns of boots. It literally translates to “pitch seam shoe”, which obviously doesn’t describe much on its own other than that the thread used to stitch the sole on is waxed with pitch. What all beksømsko have in common is that the upper leather is folded out over a midsole and stitched down to that, and a second row stitches the upper, midsole and outsole together. Some of them are Norwegian/Norvegese stitched, where the folded out portion of the upper is stitched directly to the insole, before there is a second row of stitching going through the folded out upper, midsole and outsole. While these two variations are actually quite significantly different, they share the same terminology. It’s probably because none of them utilize a welt. Also very difficult to describe in words only, but I’m sure ol’ Google has some fine comparative shoe construction diagrams on hand.
Just like how it goes with a lot of things we take for granted today, beksømsko were first issued and widely used by the military, and then trickled down to the general population. Generally they were worn for light work or casually, but also as ski boots. There are generally variations of two patterns that make up all beksømsko, except for the ski specific boots that came later on. The version I call Type I is a country derby boot, which is basically a derby shoe with a boot shaft—as a separate piece of the pattern. The other model, which in my library is the Type II, the top of the boot shaft as well as the facings is a separate piece of the pattern. Recently, fellow Norwegian shoe brand Dagestad & Co. released few boots utilizing the second type of pattern, and it made me super happy to see someone else bringing back some Norwegian shoe heritage!
Stitchdown: The only ones I’ve found have a big strap across them, and like you mentioned, some seem to be early ski boots. Is that accurate? Or is Google Images just feeding me lies?
Lars: That is definitely accurate, since the beksøm construction was used also on ski boots! It still is actually, it’s completely possible to buy a pair of brand spanking new and factory made ski boots that needs to have the folded out and stitched down upper around the toe of the shoe to work in a very specific type of ski binding.
Stitchdown: What specific design decisions and construction methods do you feel are required to make a “beksømsko” boot?
Lars: At the very least I think it’s important the shoe or boot has the forward 3/4 of the upper folded out onto a midsole, while the heel and waist sections of the upper is lasted and nailed to and through the insole. Whether the boot is Norwegian/Norvegese stitched or straight stitchdown doesn’t matter that much, as long as there’s two rows of (functional) sole stitching. While I would be hesitant to call a pattern like Viberg’s Service Boot with the separate heel counter a beksømsko, it technically is I suppose. It’s just that most people who hear the word “beksømstøvel/beksømsko” immediately think of either the Type I, Type II or ski boot patterns. Those were simply the most widely used designs while the original boots were still being made, worn and seen.
Stitchdown: You developed a new last in 2018. What was that process like?
Lars: It was probably less interesting than it sounds, haha. The lastmaker I use is Spenlé, they are based out of Germany. The new last, Kampen, combines aspects from three different lasts. First of all I sent them two lasts. One was a last from an unknown lastmaker that had a lovely almond toe shape. The other was a Springline last from the UK which I had made some alterations to, such as adding and removing material at certain spots. Lastly, it shares certain aspects with the current Moe last.
Spenlé 3D scanned both of the lasts I shipped them and created digital models of them.
Then Nancy Bockelmann, their amazingly helpful customer service agent, and I discussed which aspects from which lasts would be used to create the new last. They made one prototype that I received and made a test shoe on, before we made some further changes. And that was that. Kudos and salutations to the lastmakers still around, as the last comes first, after all. Although novel technological innovations have made it easy to design a cool looking last, to make a good last that supports the foot at the right places while being aesthetically pleasing, now that’s a whole other art form.
Stitchdown: What are the major differences between that last and the current one?
Lars: As mentioned earlier, the new last combines aspects from three different lasts. First, it has the curved bottom shape of the current Moe last, which adds a little arch support and makes sure the bottom of the foot feels cupped to the insole. The toe is a lovely almond shape that’s neither too sleek nor too bulky, and looks especially good when done with an unstructured toe. The Moe last is sleeker in the toe profile, and unstructured toes on that last can be a bit too much for those that aren’t into that particular aesthetic. A good example of a pair of well-worn unstructured Østmos on the Moe last is @shibooee’s pair of Type I boots in Horween Russian hatchgrain. Them be sleek.
On the Kampen last, the instep is higher and somewhat in line with English tradition—as it was taken from the Springline last. As is the heel curvature, less bulbous than some American makers yet not skinny as for example Italian designs.
Overall, it’s a pretty safe design for anyone who likes a boot last that isn’t too bulky and bulbous, while also avoiding it looking too dressy.
Stitchdown: Is everything being made on the new last now? Or are you still using both?
Lars: I actually haven’t had the time or resources to get the new Kampen last in any other size than my own. Minor kinks are still being worked out with the Type I pattern on the Moe last, which is currently being used for 99% of the boots and shoes. I like being done with one thing before I start on another, so it’ll probably be a while before anything will be made on the Kampen or any other new last. Which I don’t mind. Almost everyone I’ve heard from who owns a boot or shoe on the Moe last tells me it’s very comfortable, so for the moment I am content.
Stitchdown: How would you say those lasts fit? I imagine this will be very helpful for people interested in your boots.
Lars: You’d think by now that I’d have this down, right? Honestly, the more I learn about lasts and foot shapes, the more confused I get trying to make sense of sizing and fit. I’m gonna try though. Let’s focus on the Moe last, since that’s one that’s currently in use.
First of all, Østmo boots fit true to size according to your US Brannock size—or half a size up from your boot size in Viberg, Alden, Red Wing, White’s etc. They come in full and half sizes, which is where it starts to get confusing. An EU full size is the rough equivalent of a US half size. So, for example, a size EU42 is a US8.5, while EU42,5=US9 and so on and so forth. In terms of width, it’s a so-called combination last. It’s a fitted D width in the heel and waist, while being a wider E up front.
Something else that’s a little different about the Moe last is that it curves inward a bit, which is commonly called a banana shaped last. Most American lasts are very straight in comparison. Generally, feet curve inwards a little though. This is how I get away with the extremely sleek toe shape, since there is actually more space for the toes when the last follows the curvature of the foot. You might think of it as similar to Alden Modified, but with less volume through the instep and toe.
Stitchdown: What shoes and boots do you love, that you didn’t personally make?
Lars: It might not come as a surprise that I like Viberg a lot, haha. While they inspired me tons in the humble beginnings of my bootmaking adventure with their sleek silhouette, I am now very much into their chunkier designs for my own personal collection. Think 310 last and tough oil tanned leathers. Big fan of White’s—just did an MTO Semi-Dress boot through Baker’s a month ago, can’t wait for them to arrive! Replicas of WWII military boots are always fun. Japanese makers that I fail to remember the names of make some seriously inspiring stuff. Faith co. work shoes has a special place in my heart. Mark Albert seems like a great up-and-coming company with a good concept. Those are of course just a few, and I’m embarrassingly not well-versed in the contemporary shoe game.
READ: THE STITCHDOWN CONVERSATION WITH MARK BARBERA OF MARK ALBERT BOOTS
Stitchdown: Who do you think is making the best boots out there that are, let’s call them, more commercially available?
Lars: White’s will give you the most bang for your buck out of the American makers in my opinion. I also recently discovered an Indonesian maker called Onderhound Handmade, which seems to be leaps and bounds above their fellow countrymen in terms of designs, patterning and finishing. Most definitely worth checking out although I have no experience with ordering from them.
Stitchdown: You mentioned you studied folklore—what did you love about it? And what were some interesting things you learned?
Lars: The first thing you learn when you begin studying folklore, is that it isn’t necessarily about old folk tales and fairy tales. It’s the study of what people do when they are grouped together, whether it be by nationality, region or personal interest. One of my teachers, for example, wrote his doctorate thesis about the fandom around Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, and how the fans gather once a year in Wincanton for something called Hogswatch. So it’s a pretty wild and free field of study.
What I got the most out of studying folklore and ethnology was a more nuanced world-view and better understanding of my own pre-existing prejudices. Once you understand the fact that you and everyone else will inevitably view all kinds of cultural phenomena from a point that is rooted in one’s own cultural context, you get the chance to see things a different way. Folklore is a deeply self-reflective field of study if you want to understand a culture that is different from your own. So when you apply cultural relativism to how you approach the unknown and try to see things from an independent perspective rather than your own, you will be able to appreciate and learn a lot more about any given field.
Stitchdown: Ok let’s talk about the metal. How would you describe your one-man band Myrkgrav, which I’ve read being described as “blackened folk metal”?
Lars: Blackened folk metal is definitely pretty accurate. Its roots lie in Norwegian black metal from the 1990s, but there is a serious amount of Scandinavian folk music embedded in the songwriting and melody lines. I’ve also incorporated the use of traditional folk music instruments into the soundscape, such as the Norwegian national instrument – Hardanger fiddle. As with everything I do, I’ve incorporated local history and folklore into Myrkgrav as well.
All the lyrics deal with tales from peasants and forest workers from the 1600s into the late 1800s. There’s a lot of morbid humor in that field, which I think fits the concept really well. The music is at times aggressive, but there is a red thread of Scandinavian melancholy that pierces through it all if you just listen carefully. For anyone interested in such things, I’d recommend starting with the newest album, called Takk og farvel, tida er blitt ei annen. It’s on all the major streaming services, although I’d also recommend buying the digital download from Bandcamp (https://myrkgrav.bandcamp.com), since it comes with the booklet where all the lyrics are both translated as well as illustrated by hand.
Stitchdown: Are you still making music?
Lars: Unfortunately not. I wish I still could, but unfortunate mental health-related events in my life during the period where I was the most musically active have left me with uncomfortable associations in terms of being a musician and artist. I can’t for the life of me write a new riff or melody now, ten years after I finished composing the last Myrkgrav song. I do hope to get started again at some point in my life though, since I know my own limits better now.
I’m actually fiddling around with re-recording and remixing the first Myrkgrav album these days, which is a comfortable and not so serious past-time activity. There’s no pressure and I’m just improving old things rather than pushing myself to create something new, so hopefully that can be a tiny gateway into enjoying working with music again.
Stitchdown: What other presumably very interesting things do you do with your free time?
Lars: Østmo actually takes up the majority of my time, so on my time off I just try to live the slow life. I go skateboarding when I feel like it, which is something I’ve stuck with since I was 13 years old. Gardening is becoming a wonderful pastime venture as well. I’ve also recently become very interested in lager and pilsner beers, so I’m currently on a journey to try out every single one of those that I can find. I know people like their IPAs these days, but I’ve never been able to stomach the abhorrently excessive use of hops, if you’d forgive me for that sentiment.
Stitchdown: I’m largely one of those IPA guys, but I’ll let you off the hook, as I love and appreciate all beers. Very important question: when was the last time you cut your beard?
Lars: That was about two years ago, after wearing a full beard for three years prior to shaving it off, and of course I immediately regretted it, haha. I do wish I could rock stubble or just a moustache, but cursed be my weak chin! Now the big red beard has just become part of who I am, even if it’s not that much in style anymore. In general I’m probably stuck in fashion and grooming habits that peaked around 2015. Denim, boots and beards. No shame.
Stitchdown: New question: why do you ever cut your beard, for the love of god?
Lars: It was obviously in a moment of sheer stupidity that I cut my beard the last time. Much regret was felt. It won’t happen again. I semi-promise.