With Einar Kvitrafn Selvik [Founder and Composer]
Kvitrafn (Einar Selvik):
Founder of Wardruna, who writes all music and lyrics, sings and plays most of the instruments
Lindy Fay Hella- Vocals
Gaahl – Vocals. Conceptual contributions
Erlend Gjerde – Drums and percussion
Interview by Joffie Lovett
For those that aren’t familiar with Wardruna, please tell us where the name comes from and the ethos behind it, in terms of the runes and shamanistic studies that you’ve been carrying out?
The word Wardruna translates ‘warden/guardian of runes. Now, the word ‘rune’ can mean a number of things. Apart from being a graphic symbol or letter it can mean secret, knowledge, to whisper and magical song. The sound of Wardruna is not easy to put into any specific genre. I would say that Wardruna is music that seeks to convey something very old in a new way. The sound is ambient, visual and solemn and blends into a cultic folk music with a heavy Norse twist. With Wardruna we search in the scattered ruins of our Norse history and the ongoing Runaljod trilogy uses the proto-Norse runes aka the elder futhark as a tool to explore, understand and shed light on cultural, musical and cultic aspects of our Nordic past.
My approach to the runes are both of an academic as well as a mystic nature and so my starting point is always based on factual knowledge and then I go more into the intuitive bit. The creative concept for the trilogy is to interpret each of the runes on their own premises. I use words, instruments, sounds and even record in places or under conditions that are relevant to the given rune´s symbolic value. As an example that means that if I am working with the rune for birch-trees I go out in to the forest and record playing on birch-trees and the implement the sounds into the music.
When do you think was the earliest, you can remember that you started being interested in the folk music side of things, and also studying the traditional Norse/Pagan/Shaman history that is so prevalent in Wardruna’s music?
It is difficult to pinpoint exactly when, but ever since I was a child I have had a great interest in my roots and the Norse mythology and history, especially the esoteric parts and the nature-beliefs of the Norse tradition.
Wardruna is a very interesting project in that you created a lot of the instruments yourself and directly in the style that they would have been used during the Norse/Pagan eras in history. Tell us how much research and construction time went into creating these amazing instruments and recreating some of the unique and mesmerizing sounds? And does it become somewhat of a logistical nightmare to transport these very fragile and rare pieces around for live shows?
When I started to work with Wardruna and also studied the Nordic musical history I came across a lot of instruments that I wanted for the project. The problem was that there were not many people who could handle them or even make them. So then the only thing to do was to ether purchase them or build them myself.
The study and research is an on-going process and I am constantly thinking and planning on how to get the instrument to contain both the old feeling as well as being adjusted to contemporary needs. Traveling with the instruments is very stressful and the level of anxiety is high in the baggage-claim area on every airport.
Given that both Einar and Gaahl both have previous dealings with Black Metal music in a variety of different bands in both of your careers, when did the point come for both of you to consider doing a project such as Wardruna that has in a way, very similar dark ambient themes towards it but is in fact a very different style or genre of music?
When I came to know Gaahl we soon found that we had a strong common ground in our passion for the old esoteric Norse culture as well as both being practicing pagans. I increasingly felt the need to work with something that was more in line with my own personal beliefs and interest, so in 2002 I started to work with the whole concept of Wardruna and started to record some songs. In that process Gaahl was the person I tried out my ideas on and he was a part of shaping the ideas.
Do you think with your involvement with Wardruna that Black Metal for you personally is taking a back seat to more creative and exploratory works? And do you think this is also the case for Black Metal in general that the genre itself is needing something more to keep it going amongst the quagmire of carbon copy bands that are all beginning to try to reinvent the same thing?
As a composer I think one should always let the inspiration decide what music is to be made. Music or art that comes from within is potentially more interesting in my opinion. I would say that I have brought with me two things from my metal past into what I do with Wardruna now. Two of the things that made the old Black Metal interesting are that the meaning and purpose you put into the music is just as important as the music itself and also that atmosphere is more important than how well it is played or how good the sound is. Today Black Metal is more technique based – how fast you can play or how good the sound is, ultimately making the whole thing less interesting.
Given that Wardruna’s music focuses a lot around music, folklore, history and culture of a specific geographical location, what has the reception been thus far to the 2 albums that you have done in different parts of the world? Does it translate in different ways to different cultures and do you want Wardruna’s music to reach a global audience?
The response worldwide has been overwhelmingly good. Although the music works within the Norse tradition I would say that both musically and thematically, the music is quite universal and deal with themes that most people can relate to. It is basically about man’s relationship to nature, to each other and to something bigger than us.
You’ve said in previously that you want to expand the live shows more and more with each tour that you do, is there anything you can reveal about the upcoming European shows and if there are any surprises in store?
I do plan to both expand and to make smaller the live setup but the upcoming tour will be with our most regular line-up.
Wardruna seems to have crossed over with a lot of the Metal fans now as well, despite the music being of a very different style and genre. Was that ever intentional to bring those fans into the fold with the music of Wardruna and attract a following that way? And have you started to also attract fans to your work from other areas that might not even consider the Black Metal side of your other work or even know of it perhaps?
When I started Wardruna I did not think that it would be so well received in the world of metal, but on the other hand the type of atmosphere and thematic that we work with is something that the metal-scene is very familiar with. The music crosses over many different genres and has definitely attracted people who don’t have any background in the metal-scene.
Wardruna was lucky enough to be featured on the recent hit Television Drama Series Vikings, which has now attracted a massive audience. How did that initially come about and are there talks to have your music featured in the second series of the show? And would you ever write music specifically for the television series as opposed to them using music which you have already created in the case of the first series?
Early 2013 I was contacted by the producers of the series and they asked me if they could licence some of my music for the series. I do not know what they are thinking with the second season, but I can say that I generally find that composing for film is a format that I find very interesting and hope to work with in the future.
Coming back to the theme of your live shows, watching live footage of your previous shows, I can’t help but see similarities to other well-known ambient/folk music acts such as Dead Can Dance. Were they any influences when starting out and if in the future you were asked to play live shows with Dead Can Dance, would it be something you would be interested in…hypothetically speaking?
Although I like some of DCD´s music I wouldn’t say that they have been a source of inspiration. I think that Wardruna and DCD could work very well together as a concert line-up!
You’ve now released your second album Yggdrasil which seems to have a more upbeat feel to it and less of the cold desolate themes and sounds of the first album Runaljod – Gap Var Ginnunga. Is there a theme of seasons going on between the albums? As the first seems to be quite focused around winter and the cold and dark elements of that, whereas the second album seems almost like it’s focused more around spring and the energy of new life and rejuvenation. Perhaps I’m getting the wrong idea, but that was my interpretation of it? So is the theme of differing seasons continuing with the next album to come from Wardruna?
No the albums do not have seasonal themes, but I understand what you mean.
The first album is about creation and about sowing a seed, which is a violent process full of opposites. ‘Yggdrasil’ is much more rhythm-based and energetic and is about making the seed grow and to strengthen its roots. The next and last album in the trilogy is ‘Ragnarok’ and will be about the great transformation.
Final Question, what is next now for Wardruna in 2013? Aside from touring Europe, do you think there would ever be a time when Wardruna would tour with your other projects such as God Seed and perform as a support or co-headline act? Or do you definitely want to keep those two elements of work separate?
There are a lot of things going on, but the focus for the rest of the year will be playing live. I do not think that I will ever do any long tours with Wardruna, but I don’t think that it would feel right to tour with a black metal band.
Thanks so much for your time!