Nyckelharpa says it all
Sweden’s Utmarken are set to release their debut self-titled album this coming spring and we were lucky enough not only to review it already but also snag an interview. Blending classic rock and metal with Swedish folk has made for an impressive debut, sure to garner many a listener. Lead vocalist/nyckelharpist and Utmarken founder Mathias Gyllengahm reveals some details behind the formation, writing and recording of the album along with a few other topics…… check it out…..
First of all congratulations on your debut self-titled album…. how has the feedback been regarding it (if any) so far?
“Thanks! It’s not released yet and has only been prelistened by a select few, but so far the feedback has been very positive.”
How did this project come about? Was it originally meant to be tracks for your other project (Norrsinnt) and then morphed into Utmarken?
“I moved out from the city some years ago and it must have been something with the “new” environment. I got a lot of music in my head that was new to me. I understood I needed a real, acoustic, old instrument to it to give it credibility and my wife stumbled upon a nyckelharpa. The guy I bought it from, Lasse, introduced me to playing it, taught me songs and … I was completely fascinated. It was a new world to me. So I started recording my ideas, and got a lot of new ones while experimenting. The original ideas were more “Utmarken” in style; the rawer nyckelharpa based tracks were more “Norrsinnt”. I didn’t really know which direction to take. By mere chance this early material got noticed by some well-known names in the Swedish metal scene. It was the “Utmarken” songs that got the attention, so I began working seriously in that direction. I was already collaborating with Benny (Hägglund-drums) and Jörgen (Wikberg-guitar), and we just took it from there.”
Would you possibly say that Utmarken is like a different side to what Norrsinnt is in terms of it being possibly more accessible or they are two distinct and unrelated projects altogether? When writing, do you know what would be Norrsinnt or Utmarken or neither?
“That is a very accurate description. I don’t know which category they will fit in at start.”
What is the songwriting process like with Utmarken? Is there a democratic approach with regards to riffs/lyrics with the other members or do you have ultimate say in what works and what doesn’t?
“Since things just started rolling by themselves the songs on this album are all written by me. It was simply the fastest way to move forward. However, both Benny and Micke (Andersson-bass) are talented songwriters, and Jörgen is the guy behind the guitar solos, so the guys have had an influence on the material. If they haven’t liked a certain part or a song it hasn’t made it to album. That’s how things have worked this far. I hope we can do more collaboration on the next album.”
How was the actual recording process for the album? Was it a long painful process or did things go smoothly?
“Haha, perhaps not very long, but certainly painful! It has been one of the most intense years in my life. If I had known things beforehand it could have been made less painful, but I didn’t know where things would end so it wasn’t possible to plan ahead. It resulted in lots of extra work instead.”
Utmarken seems to me to be hard rock/heavy metal with folk touches…… Are you truly a “folk metal” band or just a band with folk influences? What genre works best in describing what Utmarken is?
“I hate when bands say that “oh, we’re SO original and don’t sound like anyone else”. I don’t claim Utmarken to be original, but I find it difficult to find one specific genre it falls under. Folk music is most definitely a cornerstone, old school “heavy metal” another, but when I listen to what generally falls in the “Folk metal” category I think Utmarken is a bit different. Hard rock/heavy metal with folk touches… maybe that is better. It seems the material appeals to people far outside the metal scene as well, so… Anyway, I just try to put down what I get into my head, whatever it might be called. I’m no genre expert.”
Based on what the debut album is now, do you have an idea of where a potential 2nd album would go direction wise? Are there tracks that didn’t make the debut that could be the start of the next album?
“You made an interesting observation in your review – will it work to do the same thing all over again for the next album? I have already made a list of song embryos that easily make up another album of the same quality as this one. This first album points in a variety of directions, and it is possible to put the emphasis on any of them. Or all. Or a new direction. I’m not sure. We’re finally a band now that will change things as well. One thing I’m currently thinking of is to take advantage of having a real keyboard player. There are lots of beautiful psalms from our neck of the woods that carry that feeling of melancholy that I think is present in my songs, and those psalms and that melancholy is definitely based on folk music, that’s one thing for sure! I hope to explore that a bit. I’m also envisioning some real choral parts, with a choir. We’ll see…”
You are known for your talents as a Nyckelharpist (keyed fiddle). What is it that makes this instrument so alluring as well as being distinctively Swedish (besides it being invented there)? Do you write on the Nyckelharpa and then translate it to other instruments or vice versa?
“I’m not sure why it caught me. I initially thought of a violin, but I stumbled on this nyckelharpa by chance and it was just it. It sounds older, more epic, and it has more melancholy than the violin. Most songs have been written with the nyckelharpa as the central instrument even if it might not have been given much room in the final production.”
Your vocals are soaring and unique and seem more power metal/hard rock based than say black metal based…..how did you develop you voice? Who do you site as your biggest influences vocals wise? What bands also inspire the Utmarken sound?
“I have had the opportunity to develop my vocal skills in a cover band, trying a lot of different vocal styles. These vocals are a bit different from anything I’ve done before. It is less trying to just hit high notes, sometimes it moves towards opera. I wanted to bring more drama and something “older” into it, something less modern.
Favourite vocalists… Bruce Dickinson, Dio, Ian Gillan, Michael Kiske, Rob Halford… Amongst others. And let’s throw in Andrew Eldritch while we’re at it!
Influencing bands… besides those related to the above vocalists and except local folk music… Black Sabbath, Candlemass, Garmarna, Raubtier are some.
Jeff (folk-metal.nl): You also contributed to the latest epic album from Draugul (“Chronicles Untold”) (originally from Malta and now calling Sweden home) How did you connect with Vargblod and become involved with working with him on the album? What part(s) did you play in the process?
“I think I contacted him since I thought it was cool that he had moved all the way up here and was into these things. I saw that he was a man capable of producing interesting material as well as envisioning concepts. We had some interesting discussions and he invited me to work with him. I had planned to be much more involved but then all of a sudden I had insane offers for my own material, touring the world etc under big labels; it was insane… so, I had to switch focus to my own material. In the end it became some nyckelharpa and vocal parts with Draugûl. We’re still in contact and I consider him a brother.”
We are all familiar with bands such as Amon Amarth, Månegarm, Grimner amongst many others……how is the metal scene in Sweden overall? Do you have any personal favs maybe not as well known….metal or otherwise?
“From what I can tell the metal scene in Sweden is quite diverse. There are bands of all different styles and there are some extraordinary acts in many of the subgenres. Yet, I’m not sure where it is going right now. I think metal overall is in one of its redefining states. One act that is not very well know that I can recommend to your audience is Apocalypse Orchestra.”
What are future live/touring plans for Utmarken if any? Is it a task to play live but a necessity at some point or nothing that you are interested in?
“We’re planning to do our first live performance at our release party in April. After that, nothing booked but we certainly plan to do some spectacular gigs. Without even a debut album out it’s difficult to get gigs though, so we can’t wait to get that album out!”
How do you feel about the state of the music “business” as a whole? Is Bandcamp or sites like it the best option for independent musicians? Are you resigned to not necessarily getting paid for your music?
“I understand it is extremely difficult to make a living as a musician and that the music business is in crisis, but on the other hand there is more music out there than ever. On a third hand, when it comes to physical items people buy more old music than new for the first time ever, so I’m skeptical to the quality of what comes now… These are indeed strange times. But for me I just have to do these things anyway, so… I haven’t thought that much about it. I wish I didn’t have this urge and all this music in my head – it would make my life easier, but I have accepted that this is just the way I am, and I try to do something with it. I need to do this even if it doesn’t go anywhere.”
Favorite albums from 2015?
“I didn’t have much time to listen to music in 2015, but I enjoyed Ereb Altor’s “Nattramn”, and local death metal colleagues Feral – “Where Dead Dreams Dwell”.
“Perhaps an old saying from our neck of the woods. “It’s never too late to give up”. Which means you should just continue in your struggle. You can always give up later! That’s how the people up here survived I guess, despite the odds. I find a lot of inspiration in that. Thanks a lot for the opportunity!”