From a long and difficult start to an amazing album
Interview with Elvarhøi
Elvarhøi’s debut full length ‘Dansen låter fra graven åter’ was chosen the as the ‘Best Debut-album’ by the team of Folk-metal.nl.
Time to have a chat with these guys, about this album, the long period it took to get this album to see the light of day and more.
Congratulations with your album ‘Dansen låter fra graven åter’ which is Folk-metal.nl’s Debut Album of 2019! What are your feelings?
Chris: “Hello Michel! First of all, an enormous thanks for the honor of being picked as your number 1! We cannot overstate how happy we are that our album receives such high praise after having worked so long to make it. It has been a true labour of passion, and the fact that it is able to touch other people and give something to listeners worldwide is extremely heartwarming to us. We were fully prepared to release it without anyone at all batting an eyelash, so this definitely means a lot to us.”
The Long Early Years
It must have been quite a journey, 15 years with an early EP and after that only a handfull of singles. Can you talk us through those 15 years?
Chris: “Allright, but this will be a long one!”
Ah, we don’t care, we want to know it all!
Magnus: “It all started with me and my old classmate Ivar. We were big into fantasy and medieval shit and would trade folk metal music videos instead of paying attention in electronics-class, which were insanely boring. Ivar was an active drummer in some band and asked me to write some fantasy lyrics for one of his songs. I did and we discovered that we liked working together, so we started our own band, with friends we’ve met through the local Tolkien community. Ivar would write a melody and an arrangement, I would write lyrics for that, and then the band would be let loose to do whatever it wanted with that fundament. The first part was very ordered and very productive, where ideas would go from germ to band-ready song in a matter of weeks, sometimes days. I could get recordings of Ivar singing quietly in a boat trying not to wake the drunk crew and go on to write the lyrics on the bus to school the next morning. The second part was anarchic to the max, sometimes changing our ideas completely, but always adding a lot of life from the hearts and souls of the ever very diverse cast of characters that were mutilating our precious songs.
I’d say the core unwordable concept of Elvarhøi, “Greia” (The Thing), started to develop sometime in mid-2005. And as soon as we had enough tracks for something we could release, we did. Shitty demo 1, shitty demo 2 and then Fjellet Faller Aldri which was ready for release about a year later. We toured a bit and got a small cult following apparently. I thought I was on first-name terms with most of our listeners at the time, but I’m amazed at still, to this day, meeting new people who listened to our stuff back then. Spring 2008 we began working on a follow-up to Fjellet Faller Aldri. We already had all the material we needed, so we put another EP together that same summer. Unfortunately, there was something wrong with it. It had The Thing, but no life. It lacked that magical set of circumstances that could make it shine. We shelved it and decided that our next outing needed more work.”
Chris: “I joined the band later that year, as the rhythm guitarist. One of the first tracks I remember working on with Elvarhøi was what was then called “Der er et Vertshuus”, a track by founding member Ivar, which we later rewrote to become the track “Vertshuset Dovregubben” on the album, and even became the inspiration for the album title and artwork. A lot happened between 2008 and 2010. We had a stable live lineup, played a few shows, made a lot of music. In those times, the writing process was very democratic and everyone contributed to the songs. We had a classically trained female singer and keyboardist, and a very innovative bass player with a lot of creative ideas. I started doing backing vocals, and the guys liked my voice so I started doing more and more lead too. We experimented a lot, but in the end creative differences and different life goals split that lineup apart, and Ivar, the primary songwriter back then, left the band (to focus on jousting!).”
“In 2011-2012, we tried to find a good way to proceed without Ivar, and we went into some real avant garde territories, with me and the then bass player pushing the band in an ever weirder and darker direction. Eventually we even got to the point where we Elvarhøi morphed into a folk/black metal band under the name Jordskipstyrann, with the same lineup. It was a very intensely creative and dark time for us, and it eventually led to that lineup breaking apart too. After that it was really just me and Magnus left.
A crucial thing we discovered up to this point was that we wanted to go a lot deeper into the folk aspect of folk metal than what we thought the genre was doing at the time, and this led me to move to the mountain region of Telemark for 4 years to study traditional Norwegian folk music. I learned a lot about traditional vocal styles, fiddle music and folk dance, and was immensely inspired by the depth of this music. I was still very much pursuing the folk/black metal vision through my studies however, but to my surprise I discovered that even when I was working with darker music I still came up with a lot of ideas that would be more suitable for the “old” Elvarhøi. I remember calling Magnus one day to tell him about this, and we decided to revive the Elvarhøi name. We felt that there was something very pure, honest and beautiful that was captured on the FFA EP, which deserved a continuation.
From that moment on we started working on material that would remain true to the original spirit of the band, but would incorporate the eclectic approach to songwriting and genre-hopping we had developed over the years to create something fresh. We really believed, as we still do, that folk metal has become a bit uniform in its expression compared to the crazy early days before the genre was defined, and we want to reclaim that adventurous spirit as an integral part of the genre. We contacted Sean, who had played flute for us since 2010, and he was still eager to play with us. For a few years the three of us would meet now and then to jam, and I would tell them about stuff I learned though my studies and I think that was the beginning of the Elvarhøi we have today.
In 2014, we released the single “Trolljuvshallingen” which was the first Elvarhøi track written entirely by me, and I recorded most of it myself when still living in the mountains. We wanted to release something new, as it was the 10 year anniversary of the band.
In 2016, I finished my studies and moved slightly closer to civilization, and Sean, Magnus and I recorded the single “Langt fra len og leite” in my new home studio in Sweden. Through the following year we managed to get a stable lineup. Martin joined us on guitar, and Carl on drums. We had a new bass player for a while, but after he moved to a different part of the country, I decided to pick up the bass myself for our live lineup, and with that we completed what I believe is the strongest lineup the band has ever had. We recorded the single “Tolv mand i skove” in a studio in Oslo, and it was quite successful.
The following year we really stepped up the work on the album. After so many years we had a huge archive of songs to choose from, and we also wanted some fresh songs. We spent an enormous amount of man hours trying out different tracks to find something that would both fit the current members, and work with the musical vision we had. By the end of 2017, we felt we had enough material to enter the studio and record the drums. After that we spent even more time going through all the parts and refining everything to make a cohesive sound for the album. Some tracks were a decade old, and some were brand new, so this turned out to be quite a big task, and it took over a year before we were fully satisfied with the material and finalized the recording in my home studio in spring 2019.’
Do you feel this long period made it possible to create such an awesome debut-album?
Chris: “Absolutely! I don’t think it has to take 15 years to make a good album, but this album has a lot of history, and I think it makes it very rich. We never ever stopped trying to make an album, and have worked continuously to try to make something we could be proud of all these years. Because of that I think every note and beat is filled to the brim with passion, and the album in itself is a celebration of the fact that in the end we actually made it. You have to understand that we have never taken it lightly. We have put our soul into it every step of the way, but it’s just been so ridiculously hard to get where we wanted. I won’t say that we ever thought of giving up, but there are definitely plenty of reasons why the band could have died years ago.”
The band-members are all quite involved in all kind of other bands. Is this a pro or a con for the band?
Chris: “The best thing for the band would without a doubt be if everyone focused 100% on Elvarhøi, but playing in different bands also broadens your musical horizon and develops your skills and network, so there are some pros too.”
Magnus: “Even though it’s hard to let bandmembers use their creative energies in the service of other bands, I’d say it’s also essential for our continued existence. It’s easy to underestimate the value of this “infidelity”. If everyone in the band were as incapable of developing a network as I am, nobody would ever know we existed. We’d get no gigs, never play with anyone else, and our album would certainly have taken far longer to complete.”
How important is the current line-up for this debut-album?
Chris: “I think this lineup, and having regular rehearsals as a full band has been essential to the fact that we managed to complete the album now. Carl really pushed us to begin recording drums, and kickstarted the recording process, and Martin is extremely enthusiastic about the band and is always eager and prepared for rehearsal so they have given us a lot of motivation to keep working. On the other hand, as a composer I think any of them will tell you that I am a perfectionist, and I am extremely particular about how I want things, and I refuse to move forward before I am satisfied. Magnus is exactly the same way with his lyrics. In the end, Magnus and I have done most of the work of writing and producing this album, and I think it had to be that way because of the history of the band, and to show the other guys the vision we have been building all these years. It would have been impossible to do it without the others though, and they have all done amazing performances in the studio, and made the album sound better and more professional than we could have dreamed! The fact that they endure and support our efforts also make us very optimistic about the future of the band.”
What is and isn’t Elvarhøi
Only Magnus is left from the first line-up, since he’s playing all the authentic instruments, does this mean these instruments are the center of Elvarhøi’s music?
Chris: “Actually, I think the push towards more traditional Norwegian folk influences initially comes from me, but Magnus’ lyrics has been the heart of Elvarhøi since day one. In the last few years I think we have built more of a shared appreciation for the authentic music and instruments, and I’m looking forward to explore that on the next album. In general I’d say that the center of our music is the spirit of the band. It might sound a bit corny, but Magnus and I have a strong sensation of what is and isn’t Elvarhøi. We think it’s important to tell stories with the music that have real substance, and aren’t only entertaining, and anything that enhances this can have a place in the music. As the remaining founder, Magnus is the true keeper of Elvarhøi lore. He’s always has a veto on what goes into the music and what doesn’t, but I think he trusts me enough not to use it too often!”
How does the creative process in Elvarhoi work?
Chris: “In general, I make the music and melodies, and Magnus writes the lyrics. We also have some old songs written by Ivar, and in those cases I try to rework them to fit the current band. For the next album, we want to shake things up a bit and try new ways to write music. Magnus has developed a lot as a traditional fiddler, Sean has a great sense of melody, and the others have a lot of experience writing and arranging songs in different bands too.”
Elvarhoi is still unsigned. Quite a number of bands choose this way, how about you guys?
Chris: “It was an impossible thing for us to just give away the rights to this album after spending half our lives making it. For small bands these days the record deals you can get usually involve paying at 1000-3000 euros up front to the record label and also giving away the rights to the album master for a set amount of years. Basically, after having already paid for your instruments, recording equipment, studio time, mixing/mastering and artwork, you have to pay even more and give away the rights to you music. If the record label is good, care about the band and have a great network, it can certainly be worth it, but this is often not the case. For our part, we are not opposed to signing with a label in the future, but we would rather prove ourselves out on the stages of the world, and if the gods of metal see that we are good, perhaps they will align our fates with a label willing to invest in us.”
How do you feel about playing live? Can we see you elsewhere in Europe next year?
Chris: “We are without a doubt a live band, and this is why we make music! We have had some fantastic shows in Oslo, most recently our release party in October, which exceeded our expectations both in terms of our own performance and attendance. We have been in touch with some people about possible shows in Europe, but we haven’t confirmed anything yet. We are extremely eager to get out in the world and play, so anyone who wants to book us please get in touch! We also hope to do a tour for the album at some point.”
Do you feel we have to wait another 15 years for we can listen to the second album?
Magnus: “Most of the work that caused this album to take 15 years is fortunately work that we don’t have to repeat each time. If we cut that from the work spent creating this album, we’re left with a way shorter time span. I’m not gonna give you an estimated amount of years, but it’s definitely single digit! Hopefully single hand too! (No finger binary jokes, please!).”
Anything else you want to share with our readers?
Chris: “I’ve always believed you should never give up on your dreams, but after finishing this album I think a more realistic way to say it is this: If you don’t give up on your goal, and keep going even though it feels almost impossible, there is a chance that you can at the very least achieve SOMETHING in your life, even if the personal and economical cost was enormous and it leaves you feeling like a broken shadow of the man you were when you started out and you neglected every other aspect of your life in the process and almost even forgot your own name at one point and.. Oh, err.. The point is, the fact that someone cares about our creation at all means so much more to us than I think we can ever express! Thank you for the support, remember to support your local scene, and we hope to play for you all some day!”