Another reason 2016 is the greatest year in folk metal EVER is the debut from international act Sojourner. “Empires Of Ash” combines numerous sub-genre styles into one killer debut album. We were lucky enough to have all band members (Emilio-Vocals, Mike L.-Guitar/Drums/Keys, Chloe-Guitar/Whistle/Vocals and Mike W.-Bass) answer some questions regarding the new album, how they make it all work and a few other things…. check it out….
Congratulations of your epic debut “Empires Of Ash” on Avantgarde Records… what has been the feedback so far regarding it?
Emilio: “Thanks so much! Well the feedback has been amazing so far. We are truly overwhelmed with all that’s being said and how well the pre-orders have gone.”
You are all in different geographic locations. Please give a brief description of where everyone is currently, where they are from originally and how you all formed Sojourner together.
Emilio: “Well I live in Malmö, Sweden but I grew up in the US (Florida) and lived in Spain for a few years as well. Sojourner actually started as an idea between Mike Lamb and I. I discovered his other band Lysithea, and loved it. We began talking and got really cool and we floated the idea of starting a fantasy/nature inspired black metal band. So, Sojourner was born.”
Mike L.: “Chloe and I are living in St. Andrews in Scotland at the moment, but I’m originally from Dunedin in New Zealand. So yeah, Sojourner began pretty much like Emilio said. I wrote and recorded the song that became ‘Heritage…’ over a couple of days early in 2015 and I asked Chloe to make the fairly basic tin whistle melodies I’d added into something a little more interesting…and it just sort of fell into place from there!”
Chloe: “I was born in England, but my dad is a New Zealander so my family moved to Dunedin when I was thirteen. I’m doing a PhD in Classics at the University of St Andrews the moment, so Mike and I are living in Scotland. I remember Mike mentioning a project he and Emilio were planning, that he might want me to do some vocals on. A while later her asked me to have a look at the tin whistle on “Heritage…”, and I got a little carried away and wrote what is there now. They asked me to join Sojourner permanently after that, so they must not have minded too much!”
Mike W.: “I’m from Dunedin, New Zealand and have recently relocated back there after a few years in the capital Wellington. I’ve known Mike L. for about a decade and we’ve made music off and on over that time, most recently our band Lysithea. Sojourner were in the recording stages of what became Empires of Ash and asked me to join the band on bass, and being a fan of the ‘Heritage…’ single, of course I accepted!”
‘… an album that was epic and that upon listening we could be proud of’
After the single “Heritage Of The Natural Realm” was released last year, did you have a basic direction of where the debut was headed? Were there discussions of what you hoped to accomplish?
Emilio: “We wanted to make an album that was epic and that upon listening we could be proud of… I believe we accomplished that.”
Mike L.: “We wanted to continue in the same sort of style we’d laid down on ‘Heritage…’, but I also didn’t want that to be all we did. We agreed that we’d try to keep the spirit of what we had going there but also make sure that the album was as varied and musically engaging as possible. I really wanted it to be driven by punchy / powerful drumming, plenty of riff and lead-oriented guitar work in a more traditional metal sense, a lot of piano, and also have the tin whistle feature as a main lead instrument. I didn’t really want to rely on any particularly extended periods of purely synth-based or reverb-drenched guitar atmospherics, not that there’s anything wrong with that style! It was just always clear that we wanted to songs to feel very clearly structured and driven.”
Chloe: “We all had a plan of how we wanted the album to be structured so that it felt like a story, with certain climactic epic moments and certain melancholy moments. Overall, we all agreed that we wanted to create something with an atmosphere of triumph but also sadness, since so much of the music, literature, and film we all enjoy is so moving because of those elements.”
‘We all had a plan of how we wanted the album to be structured so that it felt like a story, with certain climactic epic moments and certain melancholy moments.’
How does the writing/recording work with Sojourner? Is there a democracy as far as what works and what doesn’t? Do you basically know when it is a Sojourner style track or not?
Mike L.: “It’s definitely a democracy, we just never really had any reason to vote on anything I guess. I wrote ‘Heritage…’ early on, but beyond that Chloe and I just started writing everything together. I’d come up with the beginning of a track and progress it until I was at a job point, then I’d hand it off to Chloe and she’d add to what I had already done and progress it some more, then she’d hand it back my way until we had a basic structure complete. Of course that process worked both ways, where she’d start a song and pass it to me. In terms of it being a Sojourner-style song or not, what you hear is what came out basically. Chloe and I have been in a few bands together before, so naturally there’s a lot of overlap in our style and it all just came together. Once the songs were done we’d send them off to Mike W., and his bass work really brought the songs to life! Although Mike ended up joining us while we were already fairly far into the writing this album he’s one of my oldest and closest friends, and I’ve worked on more music with him than anybody else in my life, so next album I really want to weave even more of his intricate bass stuff in there. He’s a wizard on anything with strings.”
Chloe: “Yeah, it’s been quite an easy back and forward between me and Mike with the music writing. It’s never been something we’ve had to deliberately organize, but it’s ended up being a pretty even split across the album. I tend to have sudden bursts of inspiration where I’ll slam out a big chunk of song basically in its finished form, but then it’s good to be able to throw it at Mike as soon as my inspiration runs out and know he’ll continue it in a really cohesive way. “The Pale Host” was the only song that wasn’t particularly collaborative, since we knew it was going to be a shorter atmospheric track with mostly the instruments that I use. In terms of the style, it all came together accidentally; I think it’s just the combination of certain instruments and the way that Mike and I naturally write together.”
Was there a band or album that you find was a bigger inspiration than most when it comes to Sojourner sound and overall concept?
Emilio: “Here is where we are all divided a bit (in a positive way) haha! Personally, I am a huge fan of Summoning, Caladan Brood, Gallowbraid, Elderwind and such bands. So in terms of influences those would be mine. Especially the first two. “Echoes of Battle” by Caladan Brood and “Minas Morgul” by Summoning are two masterpieces and I spin them almost daily. I worship those two albums/bands.”
Mike L.: “Musically my biggest inspiration is Agalloch, particularly ‘Pale Folklore’ (though I absolutely love all of their albums), so they are always a huge driving force behind anything I write. Other bands like Borknagar, Moonsorrow, Enslaved, Primordial, Drudkh, Nechochwen, and Mgła played huge roles in influencing my writing in Sojourner even if it’s not always directly apparent. I listen to a fair amount of non-metal stuff as well so bands like Midas Fall, Raised by Swans, Alkaline Trio, and a bunch of cheesy 80s synth-pop and synth-rock all contribute to how I’m wired musically. I’m a quite a big fan of soundtracks as well, which comes through most in the piano sections I guess, and some of my most regularly listened to soundtrack stuff is Akira Yamaoka’s Silent Hill work, Joe Hisaishi’s Studio Ghibli work, Clint Mansell’s The Fountain soundtrack, Disasterpeace’s excellent It Follows soundtrack, and some of my personal favorite music of all time from any genre: Toshio Masuda’s Mushishi soundtrack. I feel like all of that ends up in a bit of a melting pot that influences how I write regardless of whether it’s metal or not.”
Chloe: “I was definitely inspired by Summoning, Borknagar, Alda, and Nechochwen. For the folk and atmospheric elements, I actually often had movie soundtracks in mind as much as other bands, particularly The Lord of the Rings!”
Mike W.: “Bands like Moonsorrow, Taake, and Windir have always been a huge inspiration to me when it comes to this style of music. The blend of atmosphere, aggression and melody has always been hugely influential.”
With you all being multi instrumentalists, do you switch from different instruments when it comes to writing and all? How does the entire writing process work… lyrics first then music, vice versa or everything concurrent?
Emilio: “I normally write the lyrics when the music is finished. Then I proceed to record vocals. But in some instances it wasn’t like that. Maybe I wrote lyrics that I felt had to be used and didn’t wait for a song to be finished before I wrote them. Only problem there is that maybe words need to be changed or added but it all works out in the end.”
Mike L.: “Chloe and I basically just write whatever we feel the song needs at that time. Generally, though both write and record all of the guitar parts pretty equally, but beyond that Chloe does the majority of the tin whistles and her vocals, and I do the drums, piano, and synth. We’re both capable of writing for any of those instruments though, so really it’s just a matter of whatever either of us feels the song needs at the time.”
Are the tracks we hear on “Empires…” all that were written or were there more that just didn’t work for one reason or another?
Emilio: “I’ll leave this one to Mike.”
Mike L.: “I started writing a song that I got perhaps 3 and a half minutes or so into, a very Moonsorrow-inspired track, so I sent what I had recorded off to Emilio and Chloe to see what they thought. It ended up in a back-and-forth of whether we wanted to use it or not, leading to a bit of an argument as to whether it was particularly ‘Sojourner’ or not. We all liked it (I think…) but it ultimately just didn’t sit quite right, maybe it was a little too riffy or jaunty or something? I don’t really know, but I still really like that track and maybe I’ll finish it for something else one day. That was the only thing written that didn’t make it onto the album though, everything else that was written was used. Oh, I do have a Dark Souls-soundtrack inspired song that I didn’t get finished in time, heavily inspired by the ‘Gwyn, Lord of Cinder’ theme from the game, but the album was getting a little bit long anyway so I’ll probably end up using it next time.”
‘I’ve always felt that we fit into a sort of blackened folk metal style as much as, if not more than, we do in atmospheric black metal.’
There seems to be numerous musical influences in your overall sound…. what style or genre do you think fits Sojourner the best or are genres too confining?
Emilio: “In my opinion, you need genres. Having 7 tags in your genre is ridiculous but saying you are atmospheric black metal isn’t bad since bands like Elderwind or Ashbringer sound nothing like Watain. With all the influences we stated earlier, we have drawn a bit from them all, yet retained our own touch or mark on the music. I believe that the term “atmospheric black metal” suits us perfectly.”
Mike L.: “I agree with Emilio about genres being important for the sake of categorization. However, I’ve always felt that we fit into a sort of blackened folk metal style as much as, if not more than, we do in atmospheric black metal. All I think that proves though is how subjective genres can be. At the end of the day, as long as you like it who cares what genre it technically fits into?”
Chloe: “I think that genres are useful to define the finished product, but we certainly didn’t let that drive our writing. There were times while writing when I wondered if a certain section sounded enough like it would fit the genre we loosely intended, but then I would shrug and write it anyway.”
With your busy professional and personal lives, how do you prioritize getting the music done? Is there a set schedule or is it more casual?
Emilio: “I did Sojourner work whenever I was off from work or when they presented a new song to me. The moment I had a day off I was all over it.”
Mike L.: “I work in Dundee, the closest city to St. Andrews, so it’s pretty tiring when you leave at 8:30am and get home at 7pm, have dinner and get settled, then only find you’ve got a few hours each evening to write and record an entire album. On top of some extra film soundtrack work I’ve been doing and general non-musical commitments it can get pretty tiring, but we all love the band and make it work even if it means going to bed at 2am on work nights fairly regularly.”
Chloe: “It has been occasionally frustrating trying to fit as much time as we’d like to spend writing and recording around work! Having said that, I’m quite lucky as a research student that I can organize my time fairly flexibly, and my work is quite inspiring for Sojourner’s themes. I wrote the lyrics to “The Pale Host” in the postgrad office after translating a description of a Greek warrior’s funeral.”
Mike W.: “Essentially I’ll just write and record when I have the time and inspiration to do so. Making music is my main passion in life so any time I have to play is always good. It can be frustrating when day to day life gets in the way but ultimately I’m just happy to be doing it and collaborating with good friends and talented musicians.”
What sort of obligations do you have from the label as far as promotion/touring etc? Is touring or playing live an option given your geographical circumstances?
Emilio: “There aren’t really obligations like that at all. Avantgarde Music is an amazing label that lets you do your thing and supports you all the way. We feel very lucky and proud to be working with them. In fact, since we started this band it was the only label we truly wanted. When it comes to playing live we will try all we can to play. I’m going to Scotland in September to meet up with Mike L. and Chloe and we will play live then most likely.”
How do feel the internet will help or hurt the album from a “sales” perspective with downloading being a huge thing these days? Do you feel a larger responsibility due to being on a label as opposed to being independent?
Emilio: “I hate piracy with a passion but you can’t stop it. Within a couple hours of releasing the digital version, Russian websites were flowing with the album. Even still, pre-orders have gone very well and plenty of support has been shown and we are happy about that. The label was also very happy. As to whether we feel a responsibility? Yes, we do. You kind of have to, you know? As much as the label wants to support you and help get you out there, if you don’t sell anything at all, they can’t keep pouring money into it either. Even though love and passion is the reason why you do it, it is still a business. So you do hope that it all goes well sales wise.”
Mike L.: “While piracy definitely isn’t good as such, but I feel like you see a lot of people who say that they downloaded an album and then bought it because they loved it. I definitely don’t support piracy, but I feel like there’s a sea of really average or terrible music out there, and if someone downloads the album because they think the cover looks cool or they’re curious and they end up purchasing it on Bandcamp because the dig it then I’m fine with that. Likewise, if they download it and hate it then they were never going to buy it anyway, right? So I personally think the internet is invaluable in helping small bands get music out to people who would never have heard it otherwise. There’s always going to be a bit of collateral, but it does more good than harm.”
IIt can be frustrating when day to day life gets in the way but ultimately I’m just happy to be doing it and collaborating with good friends and talented musicians.’
How comfortable are you all on social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc)?
Mike L.: “I don’t mind it; I try not to over-post on Facebook because I don’t want to be ‘that guy’. At the same time though I like to try to reply to anyone that leaves a comment on our page or a post about the album or on YouTube, because they’ve taken the time to listen to our album and express their support so I feel like the least we can do is show them our gratitude for that. Plus, I’ve met a bunch of really cool people that way, which is always nice.”
Chloe: “I’m terrible on social media, there are a lot of elements of it that I really hate. I’m trying to be a little more sociable when it comes to music though, since it is a great way to keep up with bands I like and with anyone interested in Sojourner.”
Mike W.: “We’ve met some awesome people through social media after releasing music. For connecting with friends, family and fans in other parts of the world it has been a very useful tool, even for us as a band it has helped us all chat to each other across countries and hemispheres. I don’t really get too involved using social media on a personal level though, aside from some more organizational stuff and keeping in touch with friends.”
Any favorite albums from 2016 so far?
Emilio: “Off the top of my head; Ashbringer’s “Yūgen”, Sorrow Plagues self-titled album, Eldamar’s “The Force of the Ancient Land”, Mesarthim’s “Pillars”, Katatonia’s “The Fall of Hearts” and quite a few more. I buy tons of albums and it’s hard to remember them all on the fly haha.”
Mike L.: “It’s been a fantastic year for metal so far! Our labelmates Ashbringer released their brilliant new album ‘Yūgen’. A few of my favorite bands have released some of their best work this year: Borknagar’s ‘Winter Thrice’, Moonsorrow’s ‘Jumalten Aika’, Novembre’s ‘Ursa’, The Morningside’s ‘Yellow’, and Mourning Beloveth’s ‘Rust & Bone’. There have been so many other brilliant releases as well like Dance with the Dead’s ‘The Shape’, In Mourning’s ‘Afterglow’, Ihsahn’s ‘Arktis.’, Thränenkind’s ‘King Apathy’, Suidakra’s ‘Realms of Odoric’, Omnium Gatherum’s ‘Grey Heavens’, Oak Pantheon’s ‘In Pieces’, Cantique Lépreux’s ‘Cendres Célestes’. Also new Katatonia, The Foreshadowing, Amon Amarth…I’m going to stop because I’ll just keep going on. But yeah, this year has been amazing and it’s not even half over.”
Chloe: “Definitely Moonsorrow’s “Jumalten Aika”, Ivar Bjørnson & Einar Selvik’s “Skuggsjá”, and Borknagar’s “Winter Thrice”.
Mike W.: Moonsorrow – Jumalten Aika and Destroyer 666 – Wildfire would be my favourites so far. I don’t think anything is gonna dethrone that Moonsorrow record this year!”
Emilio: “Thanks so much for the interview. It was nice to talk to you and I would like to say thank you to everyone who has supported us by buying a digital or physical copy.”
Mike L.: “Thanks so much for the interview and the really nice review! and thank you to everybody that has supported us, you’re all awesome. Also, and perhaps most importantly, Icehouse’s ‘Electric Blue’ is the greatest song ever written.”
Chloe: “Thank you for taking the time to interview us! Thanks also to everyone who has helped us get here – we’re incredibly lucky to have so many fans who don’t just support us themselves but make huge efforts to get our music out to other people, and we are massively grateful.”
Mike W.: “Cheers to you and to everyone else around the world who have shown their support to this band in any shape or form. Thanks a lot!”