We had a great opportunity to speak with Wardruna’s Einar Selvik about his solo act, Vikings Age and connection with nature. Check out also video from this interview made in cooperation with Metalurgia.
Michał Smoll: Today we have a pleasure to speak with Einar Selvik. Welcome!
Einar Selvik: Thank you very much.
MS: I’d like to start with some questions bout Wardruna. Last year you’ve released your last installment of trilogy Ragnarok, „Runaljod”. What now, after Ragnarok?
No, no, we are finished… (chuckles)
Piotr Kleszewski: What’s after the End of Times, right?
In circular way of thinking such as Norse, Ragnarok is also very much about the beggining. In many ways I feel that us, Wardruna, we have only just begun. It’s only a starter, there are still so many things I want to explore and do with Wardruna, so they will definitely be more music coming. Of course I have already things I am working with, but it’s still a little bit too early to publicly speak about it. Maybe soon.
MS: Now you’re working on the new project with Ivar Bjornsson, Huggsja. What’s the exact difference between Huggsja and Skuggsja?
Well, Skuggsja was also a comission piece like this, we were asked to write a piece. We could say that Skuggsja had a specific framework. When we were asked to do it, it was supposed to be Wardruna and Enslaved together. Now we are more, in a sense, free about what we want to do. We can think differently, we don’t have to think about making music that will fit the both acts. We can basically start with blank sheets. And that is what we plan to do, to explore it and try something new. It’s a very extensive project for the owners of music festival in Bergen, in Norway (Bergen International Festival will have place between 24 may – 7 june 2017). That’s where the main premiere of Huggsja will be. But also, some of the thematics of the project is very much about the ancient history along the coast, which was, of course, very important for our country. That is the main thematic and so piece will be performed in four other, different locations with local variations, basically. Each, that is specific to their ancient history. We are doing a lot of research about these specific places, what was here 2,000 years ago, what we can say about the culture thath lived here, how did it developed, etc. So it’s a very extensive project, not only because of the music, but also because of the concept and the research we are doing. It’s very exciting and I like to do different things, to challenge myself and the limits of art – that’s what we’re doing here. Skuggsja was also a combination of both modern and ancient instrumentation, and we’re doing this here as well. Perhaps it won’t be as much metal, perhaps it will be more acoustic-based. We’ll see, we’re not done yet.
MS: Are there any plans for the record or is it just a live project?
For now it’s a live project, but you never know… It depends on how we’re gonna do it and also on the response. After we did that show with Skuggsja, we definitely wanted to show that music for broader audience, so we decided to record it. I don’t know, for now we’ll focus on these concert, and then we’ll see what happens next. It’s too early to say.
PK: You’ve talked a little bit about the research. If I am right, you’re building the instruments that you use by yourself?
Not all of them, some of them I had people to build them for me. Especially in the beggining, when I started Wardruna. Now, for these past 5-7 years there is this huge revival going on, a lot o reenactments, there is a lot of interest in these things. More people building these instruments, perhaps Wardruna is part of that. At the beggining there weren’t many people who knew these instruments and knew how to build them, only few. So I either had to have somebody build it for me or I had to do it myself. I couldn’t go to a store and buy it. (chuckles) A little bit of both, I guess.
PK: So when it comes to building these ancient instruments are you relaying more on the academic, scientific approach, or you are looking for people who know the traditional ways to do it?
With some of these instruments, you have to remember, they don’t have a tradition anymore. It disappeared from use. For instance, the kravik lyre I’m using a lot is an example of broken tradition. But still, the good thing there is that we have the original in quite good shape. There is one very good builder left and he builds them like a replica of the original. But some of these instruments are tradition, that is still alive. For instance, the goathorn, and the use of tagelharpa – it’s a tradition we had a lot in the northern region, Finland, Sweden, even Estonia, Norway. Finland was the last place where this tradition survived and it basically died in the early 1900s. That’s quite recent. Then it disappeared for about 60 years, then people started to pick it up again. But like I do with all my work with Wardruna, whether it’s building instruments or researching runes or old musical traditions, I always start with what we already know and dig into the sources in the academic fashion. Also, you have to remember that music is a lot about the performance and in that sense sources will only take you this far. Then you have to go into the more practical approach and try out what works and what doesn’t. That is in may way timeless thing. So I am bit of both, intuitive and practical and also the academic approach.
PK: In the Wardruna music is somehow always in the center but all of it has, at least feel about it this way, a strong spiritual vibe. You’re also making the runes, you’re building the instruments, crafting jewelery. Is there a spiritual factor in all of this or is it just utility?
For me personally, there is definitely the spiritual side to it. Of course, a lot of subjects have many levels. But on the other hand, it is a music where I’m not preaching any truth or saying it’s either this or that, that you’re supposed to feel in certain way, I’m not trying to colour it too much with my own perception of things. But rather leave the room for the listeners to include also their experinece into it. But except the spiritual side, there is also a philosophical side to it. Wardruna’s music is very much about nature, our relationship with nature and to each other. And about something bigger than yourself, wheteher or not it’s the spiritual thing, nature itself or how you choose to view it. That’s an open question and one that you can sort of determine yourself.
PK: You said earlier that these things, the reconstruction of history, are returning to old ways are now becoming huge thing. Do you think it is some sort of fashion, or is it because the world we live in is so full of noise, struggles both political, social and religious and this is somehow reaction, that people tend to seek more primal, ancient ways?
I think for some people it might be a fashion. It’s a hip thing to be into a viking age and ancient stuff. But seriously, I think that very often you can see in society throughout time that whenever things get extreme in one direction, there is a counteraction, countermovement. I do believe that for many people that live today, in western society especially, they have this longing for something else. For connectiveness and perhaps for religion or some path where you can determine your own fate or your reality. Religion in many ways, especially universal religions such as christianity, judaism or islam, is found on thought that one belief is superior above others. And that’s not a very healthy thing in my opinion. I think people are looking for more including, more individual ways to percieve our world, ways that are more connected to nature. I also have to say, that that is a modern thing. Because even though ancient beliefs were natre-based religions, these people fought nature. Living in nature was not a romantic idea at all, it was a fight to survive. That is why all these circular myths are around cycles of nature. But today it’s different. For us, it is a romantic idea about nature. We long to feel that connectiveness to something and someone.
MS: You’ve been playing some shows in the US. How was reception of your music in american, non-european culture?
I think Americans do feel european in many ways. Most of them were immigrants that came from Europe. Perhaps they need to relte to something, some older history than more recent american history, perhaps there is a strong driving force, sense of searching for one’s roots and identity. I understand that very well. I see that there are movements that have a very christian approach to paganism, a very non-including version of it. Which is, to be honest, very unpagan. These movements are present in US, but in Europe as well, when you mix politics and these things that are in many ways more personal. That’s no a healthy thing. But my impression after the performances in US, both with Wardruna, solo and I also did classes… There is a lot of great people, we were very much welcomed.
MS: Why do you think so many metalheads are interested in your music, that is of course played on the acoustic, ethnic instruments, not with the electric guitars and instrumetarium usual for metal?
I don’t know, I don’t think there is one simple answer to that. But I do think, there are in some ways similarities, both musially and conceptually. Conceptually, because Wardruna is very much about what lies behind in music. It’s not only about the music, but also the thoughts, the meanings and layers behind it. And I think that, especially in the terms of black metal, in the early days of the genre, it was also primary thing: what’s behind the music, atmosphere. Techniqe? That was secondary. Sound was secondary. It was more pure expression. And then it became ultimately more about the techniqe and less about the spirit and emotion. It became more about how good your guitar sounded or how fast you could do the blast beats. It ultimately removed nourishment in that genre in my personal opinion. I think this is where people see similarities. But ont he other hand, it’s my impression that a lot of metalheads like folk music, very often they like classical music as well. It’s denifitely understandable.
MS: Are you listening to black metal or any metal at all recently?
No, not really. But that being said, I almost never listen to music at all. I have periods when I need to do it and I do so when I’m trying to explore new things. But most of the time, because I work so much with the music every day, when the work day is over I don’t feel like cranking up to music. (laugh)
MS: Do you think that shows such as „Vikings” help to maintain scandinavian legacy or maybe they are just purely entertainment?
It’s both. I do believe, even though show is not always historically correct, I have to say it’s stepping into the right direction in terms of portraying the culture in more nuanced way, they show it’s not barbarian or they’re not at least upholding all these myths. That is, I believe, a good thing. But we also have to remember it’s the entertainment show, made to entertain the masses, not meant to please historic nerds like me or viking reenactors. But there is a positive in this huge interest for the old nordic history, it’s even making people in Norway able to dare and aaproach our own history. After World War II there has been a lot of shame connected to all of these symbols because of nazi and rightwing mis-use of them, even in the later period, even to this day there is a lot of these – in my opinion – unhealthy things going on. The good thing now is we are more than them. The movement of healthy interest and proudness of the culture on many levels,, not only the warrior thingy is a very good thing. So overall, I think it has very positive effect on the history and how we approach it.
MS: Have you ever been interested in maybe some slavic pagan cultures, maybe some of that region?
I’m generally interested in culture, whether it’s slavic, siberian or african. What’s fascinating, if you go back in time far enough, you’re going to see all these similarities, how we are connected. Of course, in my work, in early work with Wardruna, because the history is very fragmented, it’s only natural to look into other neighbouring cultures for inspiration and also clues.
MS: Thank you for your time.
Foto above made by Aleksandra Kucia.