Of Shadowed Paths
Internation act Sojourner have returned with a follow up to their epic debut “Empires of Ash” with even more epicness. “The Shadowed Road” continues to see them hone their sound while adding more parts to their core style. Equally heavy and melodic, the new album sees them including a new member to the ranks which will propel them even further down the road. All of the members added some comments to the questions thrown their way which included the writing and recording the new album, the new member, playing live and a few other things…..check it out……
Congrats on your 2nd full length album “The Shadowed Path”…..what has the feedback been regarding it so far?
Mike L.: “Thank you! We really appreciate it. The reception so far has been extremely positive, which genuinely surprised us. We knew that with this album there was a bit of an expansion to the sound, and that we could potentially get a bit of flak for it from the elitists, so we kind of expected a bit of kickback…but to our surprise it’s been almost universally really positive so far! We’re all incredibly proud of this album, and we feel it’s 100% an expansion on what we were doing with ‘Empires’ rather than any drastic change, but the boost in production quality meant we could finally start doing more of what we always wanted to do with the sound.
Of course, there’s the odd person that doesn’t like one aspect or another, but that’s always going to be the case because you can’t please everybody. On the whole though, it’s just been so positive and we thank everybody for their support because it’s blown us away.”
When did songs start coming together for the album? Are any of these tracks that could have been on “Empires Of Ash” and didn’t make it for one reason or another?
Mike L.: ‘Empires’ was basically completely finished on our end at the start of 2016, January or so I think it was. So we took the better part of the year to chill out and just get on with the whole release process and any other projects we might have been working on, but in maybe November or December of 2016 I was playing around in Open B tuning and wrote the first riff of ‘Titan’, the second track on the new album, and that felt like the spark that kicked off the writing process for ‘The Shadowed Road’. Chloe and I then just spent most of 2017 writing and recording, until we had what you hear on the new album. The only piece of music on ‘The Shadowed Road’ that was left over from the ‘Empires’ days was the chorus of ‘Our Bones Among the Ruins’ (the bit at 1:07-1:49 or so), which was originally written for a track that was supposed to be included on ‘Empires’ but we felt it was too ‘metal’ sounding to be on that album and instead we wrote ‘Trails of the Earth’ as a replacement (which, in retrospect, seems a bit strange as the two songs aren’t hugely different in tone). I hadn’t wanted to scrap that song, so I kept it aside, and it turns out that the direction of that track was exactly where we wanted to go on the new album so we exhumed it and put it to use here. Everything else is 100% new material written entirely for this album.”
Dynamics and Flow
How has the songwriting process changed if at all for “The Shadowed Path” from “Empires….”? Was there emphasis on trying some new ideas or styles this time around? Does everyone contribute to the process?
Chloe: “We were really interested in refining our style this time around, and keeping the songs dynamic. There’s a tendency in a lot of the genres we border on to go as long as possible with songs, and while that can work well for heavily atmospheric bands I sometimes feel that these sections turn into background noise. We wanted to move away from that and make every song full of attention-grabbing riffs and transitions.”
Mike L.: “Yeah, we really wanted to work on the dynamics and flow of this album as well as keeping track lengths more manageable. ‘Empires’ was great for what it was, but I feel like we fell into the trap of too many long piano and tin whistle intros and middle sections, and ‘Empires’ feels a bit formulaic to me now. I think the album flows nicely and I’m still really proud of it, but I can see the glaring flaws in where we fell down in terms of being more creative and diverse with dynamics. Whereas on ‘The Shadowed Road’ we didn’t want any two songs to start too similarly, and we wanted a constantly morphing and shifting set of dynamics that doesn’t fall into the trap of becoming monotonous. I personally think we succeeded, and the album is exactly what I wanted it to be, which is probably the first time I’ve ever been able to genuinely say that. I also knew that on this album I wanted more of Chloe’s vocals, as she was underused last time and the band is, in my eyes, a dual vocal band rather than just having clean vocals as backup. In terms of contributions, when it comes to songwriting and the overall direction of the sound, Chloe and I do all of it. Right from the start the sound has been the natural outcome of both of our styles gelling together, and that’s what the core sound of Sojourner is I guess. On the new album however, Mike Wilson (our bassist) contributed a few riffs to the song ‘Our Bones Among the Ruins’, particularly in the intro and verses, which worked really well and helped bring that more aggressive feel that we were looking for on that track. Of course Mike writes all of his own bass parts to all of the songs, so he’s been contributing in that respect since ‘Empires’, and Riccardo really brought a lot to the table this album by expanding the drums massively from the demo ones that I had in there. A large part of what makes ‘The Shadowed Road’ work so well is having Riccardo playing on the album, the real drums have been invaluable.”
Since you are truly an international group, how does the recording process work? Is file sharing a big part of the track building?
Mike L.: Not as much as you would probably think. Basically all of the songs are written and recorded by Chloe and myself at my home studio, and once they’re ready to go we send the tracks out to Mike Wilson for bass, Riccardo for final drums, and Emilio for vocals. Everything aside from bass, drums, and Emilio’s vocals are done by Chloe and I in person so it keeps it fairly straightforward.
Prior to the album you released a cover of the epic track “South Away” by Summoning….. how did this come about and what about this track in particular made you decide on it for a cover?
Mike L.: “Wolfspell Records contacted us asking if we could contribute a bonus track to the vinyl and cassette versions of the ‘In Mordor Where the Shadows Are…’ compilation, so it seemed like a good opportunity to get in front of some potential new fans. It was also a good one-off song to give to Øystein to mix, as I had already made contact with him and we’d decided to use him for the next album by that stage. It was a fun cover to do! In the future I’d probably shy away from doing covers of other metal bands, but it was a good one-off opportunity to do something like that. We decided on ‘South Away’ because ‘Land of the Dead’ was already taken haha and I always liked ‘South Away’ as a song, I felt it would suit our more riffy approach.”
Mike W.: “This was the first Summoning song I ever heard and has remained a favourite since so it was very cool to do our own version of it!”
You have incorporated a new member in Riccardo on drums from Italian act Atlas Pain…. how did you arrive on him being your drummer? Was there an audition stage with other drummers being considered?
Riccardo: “I had the chance to get into Sojourner back in Summer 2016. During that time I was in studio recording Atlas Pain’s debut album “What the Oak Left”, when a close friend of mine gave me a DVD full of bands, in which Sojourner were there, and after some proper listening I really got to love the band, and I decided to gave my contribution by buying the album on Bandcamp. After that I added Mike on Facebook and started to talk with him; Then in March 2017 Atlas Pain’s album got out and Mike wrote me that he was impressed by the job we did and he asked me if I was interested in working at the drum tracks of the new album and after some weeks of working together and getting to know each other better, he offered me the opportunity to join on board as a full member!”
Mike L.: “We knew that one of the big weaknesses on ‘Empires’ was the lack of real drums and the fact that I’m not a drummer, so the drums I write aren’t always how a drummer would approach them. I always try to keep them realistic and tasteful, but I could never match a proper drummer’s approach. Riccardo is one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met, and his drumming is fantastic, so it all just fell into place really. Once we had spoken about it, it was as good as done. We’re honored to have Riccardo in the band!”
How did having a live drummer possibly change the songs for the album as opposed to having programmed drums on “Empires…..”?
Riccardo: “All of the drums tracks were originally written by Mike by the time I joined the band and I started co-working with him for the arrangements of the drum parts, we tried to focus more on developing a style of drumming that could perfectly fit a live performance; Mike has a prefect understanding of what he wanted to deliver with the drum, I basically adapt all of the song to be doable live. We also spent sometimes readapting some songs of the “Empire of Ash” album, there are going to be just a few changes, nothing that will adversely affect the overall experience of the previous record.”
“I guess whatever you listen to shapes how you write in one way or another”
When you write something whether lyrics or music, do you know that it is something that will work for being a Sojourner track? Even if not initially, is it something you try to make work?
Emilio: “I have certain themes that are for Sojourner only. I am open of course to expand upon the lyrical content with a broader umbrella but within the same themes. I actually did that for this album. It was definitely a bit more emotional storytelling on some of the tracks rather than your classic fantasy or nature themes. Due to this way of working I know exactly what I want to bring to the table and 95% of the time not much needs to be changed, maybe some words and stuff for tempo purposes. The rest of the band are confident in what I write and that’s awesome.”
Chloe: “With a second album there’s always a concern that you’ve done something too different, so there were some parts where we were concerned that a development of our sound went too far in some direction. But in the end we’ve always liked combining influences from all the genres we listen to, and if we write a part we love we’ll make it work into the wider sound.”
Mike L.: “When it comes to the music side of things, I don’t ever want to suffocate the growth of the band’s sound by self-censoring too much. We self-edit a lot of course, we throw out a LOT of stuff that we don’t deem to be up to the standard we expect of ourselves, but self-censoring is something I don’t see the point in doing. We decided that we weren’t worried about whether there is enough of X or Y influence, instead we wrote stuff that we enjoyed and just stayed true to what we want Sojourner to be. In the same way, the next album will expand up and move outward from ‘The Shadowed Road’, rather than move backwards towards the sound on ‘Empires’. I feel like there’s a core sound to the music we make as Sojourner which will always be there, and we just continually push forward with that.”
Are there some bands that you fashion yourselves after on some level? If not, what bands are your biggest influences?
Chloe: “We always struggle to clearly define ourselves in any one genre, so it’s hard to pick a particular band that we could fashion ourselves after. But for me in terms of influences, I wanted to introduce more Rotting Christ-style energy to this album, as well as dreamy Alcest vibes and cinematic elements in the vein of My Dying Bride’s ‘Evinta’.”
Mike L.: “I feel like this album we had the sound fairly well worked out from ‘Empires’, so we just used that as a springboard to move forward with the new stuff. We try to not to use other bands as comparison points too often, because every time you do that you sort of start to paint yourself into a corner and accidentally mimic stylistic points or even outright borrow ideas without realizing. We listen to a lot of black metal,¬ folk metal, doom metal, melodic death metal, atmospheric metal, progressive metal etc. so that all factors into it. Big influences on our writing style (even if they’re not directly what you might hear in our sound) are bands like Agalloch, Borknagar, Moonsorrow, Windir, Draconian, Saor, Mgła, Dissection, Rotting Christ, Primordial, Autumnblaze, Be’lakor, Insomnium, Equilibrium, Wintersun, Winterfylleth, Horn, Elvenking, Eluveitie, My Dying Bride, Alcest… I could keep listing stuff off, but it eventually just becomes an arbitrary list of our favorite bands. There a lot of non-metal influences as well, I guess whatever you listen to shapes how you write in one way or another.
Vocally, the juxtaposition of Chloe’s and Emilio’s vocals in the tracks creates tons of possibilities…..were there numerous ideas on how each of their vocal parts would fit into the tracks? Were vocal lines improvised or planned in advance?
Emilio: “Actually, there were lots of ideas. Chloe and I would discuss would could fit and what didn’t. Sometimes we had to redo entire parts because one idea turned out to be better than the other. That said, I do sometimes improvise. I just step in front of the mic and do some takes on the fly and I end up really liking them. It all depends, really.”
Chloe: “Generally Emilio will write the lyrics and record his parts, and we’ll talk on Skype about combining parts. I write my vocal lines and shift around the lyrics that Emilio sends if I need to fit them in a slightly different shape. For the song “The Shadowed Road“ we did this in reverse – I knew the song would start with my vocals and I had an idea of what it should be about lyrically while I was writing the song, so I wrote the lyrics and recorded my parts first and then Emilio and I talked about where the doubled parts would go. We’re both big fans of a lot of bands which incorporate clean and heavy vocals so it was fun to think about how we could utilize this more in Sojourner.”
How has your relationship with Avantgarde been to this point? Have they had a hands off policy to allow you to do what you want musically?
Emilio: “We have an amazing relationship with the label. Rob is a fantastic person that cares for his bands and gives full freedom. I have come across labels that wanted to alter artwork or have something to say about whatever but it isn’t the case with Avantgarde at all. When you begin to work with him it’s because he believes in the band and everything they will bring to the table. This is something we value tremendously. You can bet that the next album will also be released through Avantgarde. We work so well together that it doesn’t even cross our minds to shop around.”
Mike L.: “Yeah, Rob is very hands-off but very caring and supportive. We basically finished and delivered the album, no label meddling or telling us what we could or couldn’t do. He’s an absolutely top guy, and we couldn’t be happier!”
You had the talents of Øystein G Brun (Borknagar, Cronian) and Dan Swanö (Edge Of Sanity, Nightingale plus others) with mixing and mastering respectively. How was the experience working with them? Did they give you any advice or direction on how the album would or could sound?
Mike L.: “The experience of working with both Øystein and Dan was one of the best experiences ever. I was in constant contact with Øystein during the whole mixing process, and he went above and beyond in every respect. He’s the epitome of a professional and I could not possibly praise him highly enough. Dan was very professional, as you’d expect, and had a very fast and effective turnaround for the mastering process. Neither of them tried to influence or direct the sound at all other than just making it as polished as possible, Øystein and I were very much on the same page and just worked towards making the album sound huge. Anybody thinking of getting their future productions done should get in touch with Øystein at Crosound. This is the level of production we had always wanted, so we couldn’t be more thankful for Øystein and Dan’s time and effort.”
Mike W.: “Øystein and Dan have both been involved in so many albums that have been heavily influential to us, so to have their input has been a great experience and they truly lifted the album to the next level sonically.”
You have your first live show coming up in April at the epic North Of The Wall in Glasgow, Scotland with the mighty Saor and black metallers Uir. How did this come about and how have you been able to practice for this event?
Mike L.: “Practice for it is… interesting. Not ideal, but we make it work. Basically the three guitars, piano, and flute all practice together in Dundee to drum and vocal tracks. Emilio practices to the songs themselves in Sweden, as does Mike Wilson and Riccardo in New Zealand and Italy. We’re all converging in Dundee a week before the gig to put it all together, but luckily we’re all tight players and experienced with live playing so it won’t be an issue. We’re incredibly honored to be playing with Saor, who we’ve been long-time fans of, and we’re really thankful to Joe (one of the promoters) for giving us the opportunity to get this off the ground live finally.”
Mike W.: “All I can really do in preparation for the show is play bass! New Zealand is a long way from Glasgow but it is going to be truly rewarding once we’re all in the same place and can perform this music we’ve made together, it will be a very special occasion!”
Are there thoughts about any sort of tour to support the album? How difficult would it be to do and is it practical?
Mike L.: “It would definitely be doable, but nothing about our setup is practical haha though we could definitely make it work. We’ve actually already got a gig at Dark Troll Festival in Germany this May! So it’s definitely something we’re wanting to do more. Not an album support tour though, I think we’ll focus more on festivals and one-off shows where and when it’s possible for us to do so.”
Favorite music from 2017 and music most looking forward to in 2018?
Emilio: “Last year, Wolves in the Throne Room took the cake. This year it is Ison with their new EP “Andromeda Skyline”. That EP is just magic and I don’t even need to wait for other albums to release to know that that is a fact for me.”
Chloe: “If I could only pick two off the top of my head then Wormwood’s ‘Ghostlands: Wounds from a Bleeding Earth’ for 2017, and Amorphis’ ‘Queen of Time’ for 2018. There are far too many to list here, but it’s been a good few years for metal.”
Mike L.: “My favourite albums from 2017 were probably Xanthochroid’s ‘Of Erthe & Axen’ albums, Walpyrgus’ ‘Walpyrgus Nights’, Unleash the Archers’ ‘Apex’, Wormwood’s ‘Ghostlands’, Pillorian’s ‘Obsidian Arc’, Soen’s ‘Lykaia’, Horn’s ‘Turm am Hang’, Elvenking’s ‘Secrets of the Magick Grimoire’, The Black Dahlia Murder’s ‘Nightbringers’, Akercocke’s ‘Renaissance in Extremis’, Leprous’ ‘Malina’…but there were many more alongside those; and for 2018 we’ve already had new Tribulation, Visigoth, The Atlas Moth, Harakiri for the Sky, and ISON which have been a few of my favourites in a long time! All amazing albums. There are plenty of others coming up that I’m excited for as well, it’s going to be a good year.”
Mike W.: “Favourite music from 2017 – Ulver ‘The Assassination of Julius Caesar’, Varmia ‘Z Mar Twych’, Ironflame ‘Lightning Strikes the Crown’. Most Anticipated music 2018 – Primoridal ‘Exile Amongst the Ruins’, Aura Noir ‘Aura Noire’, Yob ‘Our Raw Heart’.”
Mike L.: “Thank you to everybody that has supported us along the way, and thank you to you guys for hosting this interview!”