Vintersorg, the man, the vocalist and multi-instrumentalist, has contributed to more than 25 albums since 1994, encompassing many different styles of Metal. His past and present bands include Otyg, Fission, Waterclime, Havayoth and Cronian, but is probably best known for fronting Borknagar since the turn of the Century and for 10 boundary-blurring Vintersorg releases. Vintersorg, the band, have been a duo since 1999 (Comprising of Mattias Marklund on guitars and Vintersorg himself handling everything else…plus some guitars too) and have just released their Ninth full-length studio album (reviewed http://tinyurl.com/oal25f5), so what better time for a quick chat with the man himself – Mr Vintersorg.
AN: Firstly, I’d like to congratulate you on the excellent new Vintersorg album, personally I think it’s your best yet. It has great power and intensity, yet also some of the most “Melodic Metal” touches I’ve heard you and Mattias create so far. Was there a different approach to the recording and writing of Naturbål in comparison to previous/recent releases?
Mr V: Thanks! The process of creating this piece was about the same as always but I guess we attack it from a slightly different angle every time. What I wanted to do when writing the songs was to have more of the Scandinavian folk music that was so present at the beginning of Vintersorg, I was just in that kind of mood. I also had a focus to do the songs a bit more straight ahead and not as many time signature changes and so on. Have a strong focus on the melodies but also a bit more of the harsh elements that are a good portion of our sound.
AN: Do you have a personal favourite track on Naturbål? And do you actually have a favourite Vintersorg track from any album?
Mr V: I don’t know really…it changes from day to day…I like the album as a whole and I think it’s a real album and not just songs put together in that format. It’s a concept piece and I feel it also sounds like that. I like everything we’ve done in the past and the present but of course when I look back I find stuff that we could have done differently, still it’s our heritage and we’re proud of that.
AN: Vintersorg albums have a tendency to be some of your most experimental works, with all sorts of styles in the mix. There’s still a good sprinkling of Folk in there, though I’ve noticed a steady shift away from jazz/prog and back towards Metal. Do you agree, and if so is this because Waterclime kind of has that area covered?
Mr V: In a way you could probably say that, but I guess it’s more about evolving within the band and Vintersorg has always been about passion and open mindedness…so now we’re exploring the more melodic side of the band from a metal angles in a way. Waterclime is a totally other way of thinking and writing, but I get my good dose of the super progressive and symphonic rock when I’m in the Waterclime mood.
AN: Being English, I feel it can be a little tiresome when stereotypical English rhymes and lyrics are used (the worst protagonists usually speak English as their first language!). I really enjoy hearing songs sung in a band’s native tongue and therefor really like the fact that recent Vintersorg albums have been in Swedish. I’m sure you’ve been asked before (so I apologize if so), but why this decision when your grasp of English is so fluent?
Mr V: It’s about “eating the cake and having the cake”. I write and sing in English in the other bands I’m involved with and when we did Vintersorg in English I was starting the miss expressing myself through my mother tongue. So, I just wrote some Swedish lyrics again and then it was so obvious that I need to have that lyrical output as well. Now I can explore the English language through my other bands and the Swedish through Vintersorg. It’s actually that simple…or complex depending on how you look at it.
AN: Is there a song with a particular message that you have sung in Swedish that you wish a wider audience could immediately grasp, but maybe that it would lose some of its passion or meaning if it was not sung in Swedish?
Mr V: Hard to tell objectively. For me the lyric are as important as the music and from that perspective it can seem a bit odd to then write in a language spoken by few, in the comparison with English. But artistry is for me about emotions and passion and I need to have that “natural” drive to really feel satisfied, and when I write Vintersorg lyrics in Swedish I totally get that natural flow.
AN: ‘Elddraken’ and ‘Urdarmåne’ on Naturbål don’t have an English translation as far as I can tell, could you outline what those two songs are about?
Mr V: “Elddraken” would translated be something like “The Fire Dragon”. The song is based on the concept of volcanoes. The dragon is the volcano itself, that spews out smoke, ash and fire…for the landscape to “cope” with. The meaning it’s not that deep, just a nice way of writing a volcano lyric but not being too scientific. It’s food for our imagination. The other one I can’t really translate the title in any good way It’s folklore….when the moon’s crescent is horizontal it usually meant bad news in the old days…people believed that it was a sign of bad luck, bad harvest, bad agricultural season…just simply very bad news. The world got spellbound and everything was on the verge of falling apart in one way or another. In some regions they also thought that the moon itself could shoot fireballs down to us all on this planet.
AN: Where do you take your lyrical inspirations from? Does it vary depending on which project you are writing for?
Mr V: I take a lot of the inspiration of my own experiences on the particular topic or subject and the of course I also do research. But as I said earlier it’s about passion and emotions so I need to have some form of connection to it myself I guess. I like to ponder about things in nature and the world so the lyrics many times have some strokes of philosophy. Inspiration is also coming from the actual writing of lyrics, I mean just writing words and processing linguistic settings is a great source of writing for me.
AN: How have your influences changed (if they have) in the last 10-15 years? How different are your influences and inspirations from those you had when you were both in Otyg the first time around?
Mr V: I guess it’s the same now as then. I write out of joy and inspiration is something that I don’t think of that much. I live a very busy life with full time job as a teacher, two kids, two dogs… so my time is very much consumed by all that…so I think in my mind I have found this type of “switch on/switch off” inspiration…when I have an hour “free” I just plunge into song-writing and I mostly come out on the other side of those 60 minutes with new material.
AN: Is Naturbål instead of a new Otyg? If a new Otyg album is planned, how will it differ from the songs you and Mattias create in Vintersorg?
Mr V: It’s not a substitute in that sense. It’s a very different angle and take on folk music. I’ve written a new Otyg album but we haven’t had the time to record it yet.
AN: Are you musically influenced or inspired by different things instrumentally as opposed to vocally? What bands have influenced you in the past?
Mr V: I try to be inspired by my own work and not take that much inspiration from the other musical outputs. But as a kid I listen to metal, rock, symphonic and progressive rock and folk music parallel…so I guess back then I learnt this mix between the styles and to have contrasts in music. But I don’t have one specific vocal guru or guitar guru that I worship and have in mind while writing my own art.
AN: Do you tailor your musical writing style to whichever project you are writing for at a specific time? For instance, do you write a song and think “I’ll save that, it will be perfect for Cronian/Vintersorg/Borknagar etc” or do you just write what comes naturally and it gets used for the project you are working on at that time?
Mr V: I write with a specific goal in my head and don’t just write music randomly and see where it gets me. For me wholeness in art is something that I cherish and then I need to get in that particular mood that the different bands have incorporated.
AN: It’s rare to hear a vocalist capture harsh vocals just as expertly as you do your clean vocals, which vocal style do you prefer doing – does one give you more satisfaction than the other?
Mr V: I love to do both. I started out as a harsh guy but during all the years I also sang in some rock oriented bands with a clear voice and later on I was comfortable doing it in the bands I write music for. I love doing the clear vocals but when I record an album it’s so many of those vocals as of all the over dubs and harmonies and stuff…so many times I just long to do the harsh vocals.
AN: You are a multi-instrumentalist, as you have proved to great effect many times. Is there an instrument you enjoy or favour the most? What instrument do you mostly write on and have you considered ‘completing the set’ and playing the real drums yourself too? Is there an instrument you’d really love to master but never got around to learning?
Mr V: I love to play different instruments and it’s a nice way of exploring notes and musical atmospheres. About the drums..for me it’s not that I couldn’t learn doing them…but I like to have everything “open” until the last day of the mastering regarding the drums.
AN: You are, and have been involved in a lot of projects, is there a musical style you have yet to explore and if so do you have plans to do this?
Mr V: I always find new sides of music that I like to explore but as for now I’m so occupied with the bands I’m involved with, so I have to leave that aside.
AN: Can you think of any band or project, past or present that you wish you had the opportunity to front, or at least be a part of?
Mr V: I don’t know really…I focus on THE “here and now” and don’t try to “lose” myself in those kind of ponderings…I have so much musical exploration to do.
AN: A question I always like to ask, is if you have any amusing stories associated with playing live (you’d be surprised at how many people say “Split my trousers on stage”…though maybe not…), just wondered if you wanted to give Ave Noctum an exclusive, or just share a particular memory?
Mr V: I’ve seen all the “normal” stuff with body surfing, stage diving, flashing…and all that stuff and while on stage I rather focus on the job I’m there for I still like to have that connection with the audience but we’re not this type of gimmick band with a ton of props and hilarious live shows..so…
AN: And finally, would you mind answering three less serious questions for me personally that arose when discussing your music in the pub with mates (your answers may or may not make it into the final transcript, which can certainly be your decision too!);
In my review of Cronian’s excellent ‘Erathems’ album, I mentioned that it felt like a natural follow-on to Borknagar’s ‘Empiricism’ (One of my fave Borknagar albums). Was this a conscious decision to revisit that era by you and Øystein, or was it a happy accident…or did I totally misread it and was I talking bollocks?
Mr V: I haven’t thought about it until recently as some other guy also mentioned it, so just accidently in that case.
AN: As a drummer, I used to get guitarists trying to “sing” to me the drum-lines they were wanting when song-writing (to varying degrees of success) and I heard that you used to do this to Vargher so that he could program the drums on early Vintersorg releases. Is this true and if so did you use the vocal “dum-dum-dit” method or bash it out on a table? Or is there another way…?!
Mr V: I can hardly remember that. As for the first releases I didn’t have my own studio and I went to his place and sat down with him doing all this programming. I guess we used a bit of that.
AN: A friend of mine is convinced that you are referred to as “Vinty” by your closest band-mates, can you please confirm or deny this so that we can finally shut him up? There is an entire round of drinks resting on your answer, so this one matters!
Mr V: As we speak Swedish to each other, or in Borknagar I speak Swedish and they Norwegian they don’t call me that. I think that “Vinty” could be and English shortening or nickname though. But no they don’t. Hope you get you’re drinks.
Thank you very much in advance for your time in answering as many of the above questions as you have, I hope they weren’t too obvious or unimaginative. Also, I just wanted to personally reiterate that I think the new album is excellent, Cronian was also the best yet, and I can’t wait to hear what musical masterpieces you conjure up next. Your song-writing and performances are going from strength to strength and long may it continue.
All the very best for the future.
Interview by Andy Barker