Interview with Baldur Ragnarsson and Þráinn Árni Baldvinsson
The World’s End, London, UK – October 27, 2017
Interview by Torbjørn ‘Toby’ Jørstad
Icelandic folk metal act SKÁLMÖLD recently embarked on their European co-headlining tour together with Omnium Gatherum. As the Arctic Circle Alliance hit London, Metal-Rules sat down in the ever-so-cozy World’s End in Camden for a chat with guitarists Baldur Ragnarsson and Þráinn Árni Baldvinsson.
You’ve played a couple of shows now on the Arctic Circle Alliance Tour, how has it been so far?
Þráinn: Very good, very good.
Baldur: It’s been lovely. This is our first co-headlining tour, so this is our first time doing a long tour playing a full set – and I love it [laughs]! I absolutely love it, a lot of energy goes into it so you have to remember to drink a lot of water and get some hours of proper sleep. It’s just fantastic. We’re playing 75-minute long sets.
So is this the first time you play together with Omnium Gatherum and Stam1na?
Baldur: Yes, first time we met Stam1na was two days ago. A lovely bunch of people, and a really great band. We met Omnium this summer in Austria, at a festival, and they are an amazing band as well. Both bands are so fucking good live-bands, it’s ridiculous. So it’s great to be touring with them both.
Do you have any standout moments from the first couple of shows on this tour, something that has stood out?
Þráinn: Well, I mean since it’s our first headlining tour we were kind of nervous if anyone would show up at all, but the turnout has been good and we’ve been very happy. The excitement is a bit different, it’s like “this is your responsibility now”, we are not just supporting another band. For the past few years, we’ve been touring since 2011, always supporting another band and each year we’ve seen a few more Skálmöld t-shirts in the crowd, but now its like “okay, these people are here for us” [laughs].
The bands on this tour play very different styles of metal, you guys with your folk metal, Omnium Gatherum playing melodeath and Stam1na doing their progressive, thrashy heavy metal. How was the Arctic Circle Alliance formed?
Baldur: Well, basically our agent knows every band on this tour. She just said “those guys are great, you guys are great, and these guys are also great… we should do a tour”, and then she just made it happen.
Þráinn: Our manager basically decided that she wanted to tour with these bands, so she just kind of made it happen. So far, so good.
Baldur: It’s fantastic to have her on this tour, and she really knows her people. So that’s how it happened, we didn’t know each other. And we’ve already made an album with them, the split single with Omnium Gatherum. That’s a good start.
You also did a Scandinavian tour with Epica earlier this year. How did that go, how do you think Epica’s fans took Skálmöld’s music?
Baldur: Really well.
Þráinn: Yeah, surprisingly well honestly. We thought the Epica fans would just be standing there, waiting for us to finish, because we play totally different music.
Baldur: I think we’ve been really lucky, it doesn’t really matter who we’re touring with, people all have the same interests. Even if one is coming to the show for something else, people are quite open. If we deliver, they will react to it. We’ve been really lucky, I loved touring with Epica. Lovely bunch of people.
Þráinn: Really nice people.
What would be your own personal dream-lineup for a tour?
Þráinn: Well, we have to support Iron Maiden at some point.
Baldur: For me, I would just pick the band’s we’ve been touring with already, and make one big tour with all bands on the same bill.
Þráinn: Yeah, just everyone plays for 50 minutes [laughs].
Baldur: Yup, 50 minutes of us, Alestorm, Finntroll, Eluveitie, Arkona, uh and Trollfest – we need to do something with those guys again. That would be fantastic, I just want to do this with friends.
Þráinn: For a few years we were like, “okay, we’re supporting Finntroll”, and then all of a sudden we were supporting Eluveitie for two years, and each time there were these changes and we started supporting someone else. We started supporting Korpiklaani for instance… I mean, you’re always nervous because you don’t know what the other bands are like. But after the tour, we become really good friends with everybody. And it’s probably the Guinness [laughs].
Baldur: It helps a lot [laughs, takes a sip of his Guinness].
Do all three of the bands tour together in the same bus?
So, any funny stories from the road so far?
Baldur: I think the funniest thing for me was the first evening. Everyone was absolutely exhausted, but all wanted to have a good time and then nobody could stay awake, it was the funniest. Everybody had to wake up in the middle of night in their hometown, get over, play the gig, and everybody was exhausted and didn’t really know each other, it was funny. But we made up for it yesterday.
Þráinn: You made up for it yesterday [laughs].
Baldur: I made up for it yesterday, that’s true. I did good [laughs].
What do you guys do to blow off steam and relax between the shows?
Þráinn: I like to walk around and find record stores.
Baldur: And I like to do it with you sometimes, when I’m not asleep.
Þráinn: Yeah, you sleep a lot because you drink a lot. I found a record store close by here but my friends told me “no, go to the Camden Market, there’s lots of record stores there”, but I couldn’t find shit. I was scared in this bloody market, you know – glimmer and all the neon colors and too many people and I’m just like “shit” [laughs]. So after this interview and food I’ll probably walk to that record store I found earlier.
It’s been a while since you played in the UK, do you reckon you have a large following over here?
Baldur: I’m not sure. Every time we’ve played here there’s always been a good amount of people, but then we’ve been supporting someone big. But like you said, we see more and more [Skálmöld] shirts but I don’t have a feeling of how many are coming out for us now.
Þráinn: There is a good turnout tonight though.
Baldur: There is.
You’ve got four full-length albums out now, how do you go about choosing a setlist?
Þráinn: The singer [Björgvin Sigurðsson] decides [laughs].
Baldur: We have to just tell him “you do this”, and then we pitch in if we want to change something, but usually we agree on the setlist anyways. It’s just best to give him the authority, and then we can’t argue about it.
Þráinn: I mean, it’s fine and especially now that we are playing 12 songs, which is the longest we have done. Obviously sometimes someone in the band wants to change something, but I think it’s a good set.
Baldur: It’s best to just let him do it, he’s good at it.
Þráinn: Otherwise we would be fighting a lot.
Baldur: Yeah, and we would play songs nobody wants to hear. The shitty songs.
You mentioned the split you did with Omnium Gatherum earlier. Can you briefly give us the story behind your new song “Höndin sem veggina klórar”?
Þráinn: It’s basically a story on its own. Everybody who reads the lyrics back home in Iceland can all relate to famous stories and sagas from the 11-12th century. That’s what cowards did, they burnt their enemies alive.
Baldur: Yeah, so the song is about a guy and his family is being burnt alive in his farm. They are locked inside, and that’s what happened.
Þráinn: We have famous stories about this back home in Iceland, and everybody relates to that, but it’s not depicting a specific historical event, it’s just a song.
Baldur: It’s from the perspective of a father losing his family as they burn inside his barn. Pretty morbid.
Þráinn: The title basically says “the hand that scratches walls”. A lot of drama. So the basis and idea for the song comes from Icelandic folklore.
Baldur: I love the song. Our bassist comes up with the lyrics, and he just makes this story by himself. He’s really good at that. He’s very good at using the Icelandic language in interesting ways.
Are you playing that song live now?
How has it been received by the fans?
Baldur: Really well, I think so. I love playing it. It’s fucking hard to play though, a lot of stuff going on. But yeah, I’m really happy with it.
The music video features a lot of beautiful landscape shots from what I am guessing is Iceland, how did that come along?
Þráinn: He did it.
Baldur: Yeah, I did it myself. It was all shot in a 500-kilometer radius of where I live. I wanted to do something a little more than just having a picture, so I just borrowed this camera and went around for 2-3 days and made all these time lapses. It was very fun for me, I love travelling around our island, it’s very beautiful. To have nothing else to do than finding a beautiful frame, putting up the camera, record and then listen to a podcast for 35 minutes and just enjoy the view is great.
Þráinn: It’s not very difficult to enjoy.
Is the song going to be featured on an upcoming album, or is it just a stand-alone song?
Þráinn: It’s probably a stand-alone.
Baldur: Yeah, I thought it was going to be on the next album, but then they told me it’s not. Now that we’ve released it, you know… it has already been released.
Þráinn: It would be a bonus song, like a special edition-thingy.
Baldur: We write a lot of music, so don’t need to use it on an upcoming album. We can easily make a whole album on its own, and we definitely want to make a whole lot of more music.
Þráinn: So people have to buy the 7” vinyl, you can get it from us on tour or from the website.
You’ve hinted to some writing for an upcoming album, how is that going?
Baldur: I would say we’re halfway through.
Þráinn: Yeah, it’s so funny, today we had a look at this schedule showing we have to deliver a new album by a certain month next year, so it’s just planning, planning, planning a few years ahead.
Baldur: And for us it’s quite easy to write when we all get together. We spend the time together and things happen quite fast. We’ve all been very good friends for a long time, so we are beyond the usual social pattern, so if someone doesn’t like something one just says “I think this is shit”, and nobody cares. We’re all aiming to make an album as good as we can make it, so we save a lot of time by just skipping the whole social bullshit and going straight after the material we want.
So the whole band contributes in the writing process?
Baldur: Yeah, we bring ideas to rehearsal, and then the band together just tears it apart and builds it up again. Some of us write more than others, but everybody has their own role in the process. Everyone is involved in every single song.
Is it too early to say anything about how the new album will sound compared to previous ones?
Baldur: It’s probably too early, I’m not sure.
Þráinn: It could all take a right or left turn, but this new song is a lot darker than what we have done before.
Baldur: A little blackened.
Þráinn: So maybe that indicates that the next album will be pop. We’ll be going Pink [laughs].
Baldur: Or disco [laughs]. The “New Wave of Heavy Disco”.
Þráinn: I really like the fact that when we go in to the studio we’re never like “we have to have this or this sound”, we just go in and the outcome just is what it is. And with this new song it was very acceptable.
Baldur: We recorded the whole thing in 13 hours and we didn’t really plan anything specific, we just knew the elements we wanted to bring in. It just all came together.
A few years back you did some shows with a full orchestra in Iceland. Is that something you can see yourself bringing back?
Þráinn: That has been discussed.
Baldur: That would be fantastic. But orchestras tend to be a little busy, and it might be a little hard to find some Icelandic-speaking choirs, but we’ll see what happens. We don’t know, but we would love to.
What are your plans after this tour?
Baldur: Finishing an album. Writing and recording it. We’re playing a couple of gigs in Iceland, but yeah, writing the album is on top.
Anything you would like to add in the end?
Baldur: I really want to thank everyone for showing up on our first co-headlining tour, that’s awesome. We are definitely doing our best to play as many places as we can, so we are coming your way definitely.
Þráinn: Oh yeah.
Thank you very much for your time, and good luck with the show!