By: Metalist NY Magazine
With: Heri Joensen
In only a matter of weeks, the Pagan/Folk Metal scene will experience an apex. Started by one of two grandiose events, Ragnarok will be signaled by the coming of the mighty Tyr and the alcoholically mighty Korpiklaani.Though, anyone who went through listening to all of the oncoming bands knows, Tyr definitely is one of the more unusual ones. Much more Power Metal than most of what's coming, yet at the same time with a very distinctive Folk Metal feel. With 7 albums under their belt including the wonderful By The Light of the Northern Star and the newest offspring Valkyrja, this Faroese band has won the ears of people far and wide. I sat infront of my computer to record in two sessions about an hour about all things Tyr, all things Pagan before the vikings dock in the Reading 3 with non other than mastermind himself, Heri Joensen. Results incoming
B- Hello Heri! How are you?
H- I'm good, i'm good thanks and you?
B Where do I catch you?
H I'm just preparing some backtracks for our rehersal tonight, i'm sitting at home, i'm on my way out in 5 minutes but I have my headset on, so I can speak as we go along.
B Pshhh, Mobile aren't you... so Valkirija was just released around a month or two ago, how do you feel about the product?
H Reasonably content, there are only some issues, but that's akin to all of our albums so far where I feel I could've done better had I had more time. As far as all our albums go, it is definitely our best one so far.
B What was the working process for it like? How do you feel the process on it was different from previous albums ?
H The recording process is very similar every time we make an album, we make a demos and write notes down, then we use a program called Guitar Pro so everyone knows approximately what they have to do. We go into the studio, record drums first, bass second, rhythym guitar at the same time, and we work as fast as possible while we're at the studio to try to get things done sooner rather than later. We have 20 days at a time when we record, we rather finish most of the work soon so we can go over the details maticulosely, add some depth to it. We start recording solos, vocals, and we record them in layers only to put the icing on the cake in the end such as orchestras and what not. It's very typical work in the studio.
B And the product itself, how is it different from previous Tyr albums?
H From Land to By The Light of the Northern Star we made a big leap. We got rid of a lot of the progressive parts , and made it more rhythmic and user friendly. We added a drive forward and a compression that was not so present on Land. So there is not much changed, from By The Light to Lay of Thyrm or from Thyrm to Valkyrja. We found the path, I believe after By The Light of the Northern Star. What may happen now is that the progressive elements might make their way back into the music after Valkyrja, but what happens is that it's done in a way so that it's more listener friendly or a more seemless way so you don't necesairly think of it as progressive music. Maybe if I can use an example, Nation, the song, if you listen to the way the verse begins, it's very progressive and complex rhythmically but you probably don't notice it because the vocals are very simple actually. People who are not musicians listen usually to the vocals and don't listen much to what the rest of the instruments are doing. We put it together in a more listener friendly way this time.
B What made you want to take out the Prog elements in the first place?
H If you want to make a living as a band, you have to think about that when you write music, someone has to want to listen to this and pay to listen to this. You have to think about money also when you do this. I think to myself, I don't think we sold out or became a commercial band in anyway, because we retained the elements that make us a reconizeable and somewhat original band. What cuts us off many from the albums Ragnarok and Land is that they're very very progressive. It's what I at least wanted to take out. I like progressive music but it doesn't necesairly add much to the expression that we want to obtain with Tyr. That was the first thing to go, we made it simpler so more people will like it and in the future we can make a living from this.
B So, Valkyrja is a concept album about, no one would've ever guessed it, Valkeries. Care to take us deeper into the concept? What made you interested in the topic in the first place?
H It's nordic mythology, and it's about women, so it caught my attention very early. I'm not really sure why, it could be that I wanted to write something about the relations between men and women in general and it seemed like a nice approach to go through mythology. Valkeries, i'm not sure that's how I came to it, I don't remember how I got to it exactly when I was writing the lyrics
B Something I really like about the special edition of the new album is the second CD with the commentary, how did that idea come about?
H I think the label wanted it, so the manager asked us to do it , and set the whole thing up. We went into the studio not really knowing what it was going to be, or will it be used, so we sort of just did what we were told there and didn't take it so seriously as you know if you've heard it.
B Now to the question that has to be asked, most painfully, what is the story of the Tyr? How did you form?
H Well, we formed in Coppenhagen in 1988, I had moved to Denmark to get a music education which I got, and I left a band we had here behind. I had a plan to make a new band as soon as possible, I already by then had the general idea for Tyr. Then I met Kari (Streymoy, ex drummer), and we decided to start putting a band together which turned out to be Tyr.
B How do you feel about your 2000 demo and your first album, How Far To Asgaard? Are you proud of your first outings?
H I can't say that I am, I thought at the time I had some very basic ideas, I started thinking about making this band. I remember I had the ideas for the first songs on the debut album, i've never been to a studio before so I was shocked. I have to confess that the ideas that I had, and the results of what the album came to be are not nearly the same. So, from my part at least, the first album didn't turn out as I had intended, I had something completely different in mind. The second album though hit much closer to home, I think Eric The Red was the album that defined the band's sound, image and musical direction. At that point it became clear to me. Nothing we've done since has been radically different than Eric The Red, but everything we did since the first album has not sounded the same at all. It's a decent album I think sometimes, there are some ok ideas, it doesn't have a very high quality production because we couldn't afford it at the time. But it's the first album of a band, what can I say, i'm not always proud of it but we did it, what can I say?
B Did the path get easier as you progressed, or are the initial challanges the easiest?
H Well, I think it has to do with getting used to or inside the process of writing and recording songs. You have the initial idea, you record, you produce, you release, but how does your original idea relate to the final idea? That's something I needed to get very practical insight into before it became very transperent to me. I think now, I have much more direct influence in which I can work and think what is the final product, what am I aiming for, and how do I get towards that. I worked on the songs with the final ideas when I begin. That process has only gotten easier with time, and I think ive learned a lot about song writing. I love musical knowledge and to expand it, to work the music, it's what I love most about being in a band, but I just didn't have the necesary know how when we recorded How Far To Asgaard? So it only got easier with time.
B What music inspired you at the time? What guitarists/singers in particular made you want to pick up a guitar and later a microphone?
H I was 14 when I started to play guitar, and I remember, some of my friends and classmates played guitar and I was very impressed by that. Maybe, it sounds very cheesy, but i've always had the need and urge to stand out, to do something extraordinary (laughs.) I feel more convinient adressing a crowd rather than videos, I was very impressed seeing bands play live. How people look up to successful musicians, and of course there's being a young guy and seeing how women love musicians which more than anything makes you want to be one. Of course also the love of music, rock music and traditional music. What is there not to like in being a musician? The financial aspect hahahaha. You don't start a band to be rich!
B Lyrically, what inspires you so deeply about Viking times and religion? I guess it's pretty much a staple by now in Metal, but what's your connection to it like? Are there any topics you're more connected to than others?
H I want to start by saying i'm an atheist, I don't think any mythology should be taken seriously. But I have great respect for Nordic Tredition, and I consider myself culturally a Pagan. Well, it's a very well known subject here in Scandinavia or in the Faroes at least. I learned about mythology when I was 10 years old in public school, and I was fascinated with it every since. There are also traditional ballads that contain a lot of Nordic mythology. It fascinates me because there's oral tradition that comes to me directly from early Medieval times. It creates a very strong feeling that you're connected to your roots, that you have something delivered to you from so many years ago. My geography, and my culture are tied very strongly to vikings and Nordic mythology, but I do consider myself a very modern person, again i'm an atheist and very secular. Although I admire and respect these traditions, I do not partake in them in anyway. By todays gauge , you can see that many of their beliefs were entirely wrong, and are extremely silly. So at least that way we can see progress in term of Viking times.
B Now, on the album The Lay of Thyrm , Tyr wrote a song that very strongly conveyed your antiracist message with The Shadow of the Swastika, has anyone actually tried to kiss your Scandinavian ass?
H No, it hasn't happened, we haven't been contacted by anyone who tried to do that. Good question (laughs.) We probably had some Nazi sympethisers initially, but that song helped get rid of them, all of those who could read knew that we don't represent any racist values. It's been great, ever since we haven't heard a word from neither the right wing extremists or the left wing extremists about it since.
B Heri! You're already in the wrong, the demographic of Neo Nazis who can also read are few and far between...
H Hehe I hope some of them speak English at least !
B But more seriously, why do you feel so strongly about the subject? I mean, obviously you guys are pretty much the farthest away from Nazis as it gets, but you know most Pagan bands and even Metal bands in general akin to Slayer and Sabaton just suck it up and tell people to go fuck themselves, why did it hit such a strong note with you guys?
B Well, of course we felt very agitated, I hated such accusations, especially on the grounds of being pagans.I don't know, the guys who did this and put this into the media had so much passion in a way, and he clearly simply tried to damage our career in Germany especially. For years, it was the most asked question by journalists, about our nonexistant Nazi affiliations... I didn't want to even pretend to be evading the question, so I wanted to write a song that stated extremely clearly what our strain of mind is about this. What's a better way to do it than through our song lyrics?
B So Heri, why are you a Nazi?! No but seriously, what was their argument aganst you?
H- Well, what they actually said is that we used the T rune in our logo, which was used appearently by some Nazi clothing brand called Thor Steiner which were endorsed by the Nazis obviously. I knew nothing about this before the accusations, apparently it is true, there is a brand called Thor Steiner, and they do use the Norwegian flag and T runes, which is the same as the one in our logo, and this was enough for these people to connect us to the Nazis. Plus the S rune which Kari has on his lower arm abd aksi I have tattooed on my lower arm (both as part of bigger tattoes,) which of course because of the SS is banned in German. Everywhere they see that, they see nazis.
Did you know for example that KISS had to change their logo on their releases in Germany because they had the double S written in a way that seemed similar to the SS, so they went around it on all German releases instead of stepping on people's toes. They of course have the past they have,there's no taking that away, but they are so concerned about being politicaly correct that they overcompensate in the extreme. So that the overcompensation becomesmore of a problem than the Neo Nazi movement is. Of course I know there are Neo Nazis but most reasonable twelve and up year olds don't care what they say.
We have actually had much more problems with left wing extremists than we have had with any right wingers. The overcompensation in German is what made people think we're nazis. In Scadinavia, we don't see the runes as a harmful or racist thing but they do in Germany and we learned that the hard way. We hope we did our part to dinazify the runes hehe if there even is such thing....
H The obvious question is, how do you feel that your upbringing was different considering you grew up on an island of now 49,000 people and such wonderful wildlife? What do you feel it helped you bring to the plate?
B Well , of course what's obviouis is that we had access to the traditional music that we use here, and grew up with it in a way. That's the most obvious answer of course, and secondly maybe that I Found it easy in a way to be a band here, as long as it's not international. It's a very short way from the bottom to the top here as the community is so small, but then if you want to do something bigger , then you have to go international. There's no living off the home market here, so for bands who want to be serious, it made our lives a lot harder. But we made our best out of these circumstances, yet in all and all, I would definitely say it has helped more than it has harmed us.
B I bet that question gets so fucking old , you know they don't asks Metallica what it was like to grow up in California or Entombed about how hard it was to eat Knackerbrod every day.
H It maybe does, but I just have to accept not many bands in the international scene do come from the Faroe Islands and many people are curios about it, so they ask. You know, bands coming from mainland Europe, the US, the UK, SA, so it's not very interesting. I guess all questions that are repeated Ad Nauseam get boring but it is one of the fundamental and most interesting facts about our origins so here we are (laughs)
HWhat's the music scene there like? Are you guys the sole Metal exports? I'm guessing you're not the only band, especially because of the success you had, but can you name other bands from the Faroe Islands that you think should ge tmore spotlight?
H Yes, yes there are. Right now there's a band called Hamferð , they just released their first full length following their EP, and last year they won the Wacken Metal Battle international competition. I actually think they are one of the few bands from the Faroes who have an international future. They play a great style of Funeral Doom. Meanwhile, there are some more treditional Metal bands in the Faroes like Synarchy (Melodic Thrash) but I don't think they have any sounds that connect them to the Faroes or the nordic countries. Of course not that you have to have that, but I think it does give you a bigger chance to succeed worldwide, people enjoy infusion of local culture with Metal.
B- Allora, what's the connection in your eyes between the Faroe Folk Music and Heavy metal? What made you want to make the baby of the two?
B- Ah, i'm not sure, I started playing guitar at age 14, but I was listenning to Faroese music, Rock and Metal some time before that. I was just curios, I tried putting Folkloric cords and melodies together with Heavy Metal very simply because those were the things I liked. Really simple, I liked mythology, Folk Music and Metal Music so putting all three together was just very natural. There's no natural natural leap between them, perhaps because Faroe Folk music is very heavy,staccato and minor key, also both are a bit masculine in a way, so the two are quite well suited for each other. I thought it was very obvious what I did, I didn't see any stroke of genius to it, not that anyone has isinuated that, but I didn't think it out of the ordinary.
B- It was only on Eric the Red that you started doing vocals for the band, what made you change your mind? How did that substitution come about?
H- We were trying to find a vocalist desperately for around half a year or more, but we couldn't find one that we thought was feaseable, yet we had studio time booked already. We felt we needed to work very fast so studio time came and we haven't found a singer, so I decided to try it myself. I had some vocal training in music school, and I recorded the vocals for the demoes. I thought i'd give it a shot, because after all it was a good studio we were going into and they could do the production properly. I have to admit it was an emergency solution which ended up working out in the long run.
B- I know the lyrics for Rainbow Warrior are a bit controversial, could you please tell me a bit about the meaning behind it?
H- Yes, the song Rainbow Warriors on Eric The Red, and a few traditional ballads. Those are intended for the same audience. People who are members of Sea Shepherds or people who support such organization. In the Faroes, we kill whales, this tends to upset some enviornmentalist people who think it's better if anyone who eats meat buys it from a supermarket. It's very silly in my opinion. Either you're in favor of killing animals for meat or you're against it, but being against doing it directly as we do it, shows a mentally detached person, and it's rubbish I think. A person detached from nature at least.
B - I also read in your website you had some sort of argument with Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherds, who seem to be the new trent in Metal, what was that about? Something about brutal Whaling In The Faroe Islands I hear?
H- To me, Paul Watson seems like an obvious fraud. I don't believe he believes in half of the things that he does, I think he does it for fame and he does it for money. He has no interest in the perservation of wildlife, he's a sensationalist liar, and he's more interested in making good tv than saving marine wildlife. We had a discussion on animalplanet.com wherein he tries to get international condemnation of the Faroese Islands for their whale hunt. He's now an international fugitive and i'm a mediocare rock star, so I think i'm doing better than him! That's where it's at at the moment, the debate we had online was over a very poor connection though it's visible on youtube. It's on youtube, but it's of such a poor quality that you might not get half of what's going on. So what I did was write down all my best points and put it on our website (www.tyr.fo.) There's also a link to Paul Watson's article and links to more information if one wants to study it.
B- Also, considering the Pagan Themes, in every interview they ask you about you live it and lalala, and the answer is everywhere, but I want to do something different. Now, Tyr is not the only Pagan band, how does it make you feel to know there are many more who feel alike? Many more who see the reason in what you say?
B- I think that it works to our advantage! Interest in history and culture, there's nothing wrong with that! I think it's very good infact. I have to admit that we are too a part of it, though we didn't start out to be a part of a wave of anykind. When we made this band, I wasn't aware of this. We got caught up by accident or at least by our own will. I see nothing bad in any of it, I like when music sounds like where it comes from. Orphaned Land for example or a band like the Tunisian Myrath are bands that it sounds North African/Middle Eastern and I love it that way. I don't like internationalized pop culture where everything looks the same whereever you go. I very much support this new interest in culture and traditions.
B_ So, Israel! How do you feel about the show?
I'm very excited, always excited about going to new places. We had a few requests already from people to come play Israel so far , we also had some offers sent to us through our manager and of course it's difficult to get good offers, it's expensive to fly there , you have to sell all the tickets just to pay for the flight, so this is an offer that we had the right numbers so it could be done. We're very very pleased about that, I really don't know waht to expect, I read a bit about Tel Aviv, looked at pictures and read the wikipedia article, it looks to me like a very nice city, I hope I have the time to go look around.
B-You're lucky, you're coming when it's the weather is not skin scorchingly hot.., though i'd definitely still advise to keep the coats at home. Any special things planned for Israel?
H- Well we have a setlist already, we're gonna set it up as grand as we can. We can't bring much special equipment but we'll try to make it look good. We'll put on our best show as ever! We have technicians and a tour manager coming with us, so we'll have people making sure it'll be as good as we can. I wish we could bring more , but this'll be the best we can do!
B Will there be a signing session of any sort?
H Not that I know of, but if the promoter wants to make one I will gladly do it. I hope he does, but that's not really our decesion, that's the promoters or the one who arranges the show thing to set it up.
B Do you plan to catch a beer and stick around for Korpiklaani?
H Yes,yes I always do :)
B What else is in Tyr's near future?
H Israel is the last thing we have this year, then mid February we begin a tour in the US and Canada for 6 weeks. Then Russia and South America also, then there's more touring in Europe and the US in about a year also. We also have festivals coming up, so it's going to be a busy year.
B Any last words to the Israeli fans before we get to see you in person?!
H I hope to see as many people as possible at the show! I'm looking very much forward to playing with you all, so buy an album, buy a tee shirt also and you'll have a great time I promise.