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By David John Smith

The European Capital of the Blues is Notodden, Norway, and this is where Bluestown Rising crossed paths with Svein Tråserud (a.k.a. Leo Troy), the official artist of the Notodden Blues Festival in 2018.

Leo T. has always been an artist as heart, first music, which led to years of international touring with the Industry Metal band Mortiis, which had spun-off from one of the most influential Black Metal bands ever – Emperor, also with its roots in Notodden.

By 2007, Leo T. decided it was time to put away the drum set for good. He then began to develop his own unique form of art expression, building upon his already decade-long collaboration with different established artists, as Steinar Klasbu among others.

But let us start at the beginning to learn more about Leo.

Leo T. has had exhibitions in Norway, New York and London – but his creative home and studio is in Notodden

Notodden – Industry & Music

As a boy, there was a scarcity of instruments or any cultural input out in the rural municipality of Heddal, but as soon as he could get his hands on his first drum set he threw himself into music that he loved, both rock and grunge.

Later, Leo T. started playing in local bands, and at the same time was pursuing his interests within art, encourage by his father who had long been a welder – art in its own right – working local industry in Notodden.

As Leo T. says,

“I have a generous muse, there are always three or four ideas in my head at any time. My father as a welder taught me to put my ideas into practical development – to see if they go anywhere. Having an idea is one thing, but making the idea into art, into action is the real test.”

Black Metal Influencers

At the same time in Notodden, there were a couple of teenage local musicians who had taken part in one of the first incarnations of what is now called the Little Stevens Blues School back in the early 1990’s.

Vegard Sverre Tveitan and Håvard Ellefsen later were the founding members of the band Emperor, widely regarded as greatly influential by critics and the emerging black metal rock movement.

Mortiis (Håvard Ellefsen) stayed with Emperor until the release of their first EP “Wrath Of The Tyrant” before he moved to Sweden to embark on a successful solo career. It was in 2000 Mortiis moved back to Notodden from Sweden and had moved to a different style (era).

What Mortiis saw as a solo project quickly became a band, and a few years later Mortiis chose Leo T. to join the band as drummer.

As a drummer with Mortiis, Leo T. toured Europe and the United States for years

On the Road

This music was different than the black metal of the Emperor days, and more to Leo T.´s nuanced taste in music. This was Industrial Metal, as Leo T. describes,

“One difference is that Industrial Metal uses synths and sampling. You can say it is Black Metal gone a bit classical. Industrial Metal has roots that come from 80´s Synth bands like Depeche Mode, or even Kraftwerk, Pink Floyd and David Bowie, and further back, Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelen.”

Taking on the role as drummer for Mortiis in 2001, Leo T. was suddenly flung from the relative backwoods of the mountains of Telemark and Notodden to the big stage, with his first two gigs in Manchester and London in sold out venues full of enthusiastic Mortiis fans.

Over the next six years, Leo T. toured with the band in both Europe and the United States, including gigs at Nokia Amphitheater (Times Square) and the legendary CBGB in New York City and at the Universal Amphitheatre and The Whiskey GoGo in LA, to name a few. Life on the road was full of adventures and stories, but by 2007 he was ready to go back to his life as artist in Notodden.

Leo T. sold his drum set and everything musical and said goodbye to the road for good.

Finding his Art

Back in Norway, he realigned with mentors, authors and creative friends that included the renowned author Hans Herbjørnsrud.

“Working with Hans, Steinar and Jens Jørgen Jensen (Kanalgalleriet) helped me channel my creativity. Art can really be whatever you want to do.”

Last year was a particularly busy year for Leo T., with several exhibitions including a extensive solo exhibition at Galleri Osebro and a concept exhibition at the University College of Southeastern Norway, just to name a few. The year 2018 also gave him the chance to contribute to Notodden and a festival that has long meant a great deal to the region and to Blues fans all over the world.

Over the years, there have been numerous art exhibitions featuring Leo T.'s work, both solo exhibitions as well as part of groups of artists in Norway as well as London and New York.

A creative soul, at any one point in time Leo T. has several projects in the pipeline.

2018 Official Artist

The Notodden Blues Festival print has been very well received, a true work of art that combines symbolism with a feel for what Blues has meant to the town over many years.

Although Leo T. had never been a major fan of the Blues, he has always seen the Notodden Blues Festival as a very important part of the town and the region, so when Festival Director Jostein Forsberg asked Leo to be the official 2018 artist, he immediately saw the potential for creating a piece of work that echoed the special relationship between the music and festival and the town of Notodden over the past thirty years.

Beginning with several ideas, Leo T. quickly narrowed it down to visually associating elements of the music with the industrial elements of the town, and of course the surrounding nature and the town of Notodden itself.

“I really did not have to do any research. I grew up with the Festival, it has been a part of me as it has been for so many others here.”

Growing up in the area, he also saw the importance of merging the industry heritage into the festival design.

“Both Tinfos and Hydro have been so important to the region for over a century, everyone knows someone who has worked in one – and often both – of these companies. These companies have had an important role for many people here over the years, and I felt it was important to have this represented in the print”.

As Official Artist for the Notodden Blues Festival in 2018, Leo T.'s print has been very well received, a true work of art that combines symbolism with a feel for what Blues has meant to the town over many years.

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