Saturday, May 22, 2010

Interview: Sapfhier

Sapfhier are one of those bands that makes one appreciate all over again the strength and talent that constantly wells up into one's view from the depths of the underground. A devout traditionalist playing in a style that some would say is outmoded or obsolete, main composer Aganaroth succeeds in gathering inspiration and moving melodies among his Norwegian and Swedish influences, and then shapes this material with his capable hands to form an equally poignant vehicle for his own musical ambitions. Sapfhier is worth noticing.

Describe succinctly, if it's possible, what exactly your music is attempting to create in the mind of the listener, and what feelings you want the listener to take away from the experience of hearing your songs. What purpose does Sapfhier serve in your own life, what does it offer you that other forms of music or other forms of art would not? Why did you cause Sapfhier to come into being? How does it satisfy you?

Well, I have not thought anything about how to create any special feelings in the listeners, but I hope they get the same feelings and moods as I get when I listen to the same kind of music. When I started this project I felt that I wanted to create some music all alone, because during that period I played in another band where nothing ever happened and had done so for several years. And it gets quite boring after a while. Well, I feel a lot better when I have the chance to create music here at home when I'm alone. So Sapfhier means a lot for me, I don't know what I would have been doing without it...

So many once-stalwart bands have now turned away from the black metal tradition or scene in itself and have embraced new creative paths, why do you think this is so? What motivated them? What still attracts you to the genre? Do you think black metal is an ideal form of music for the solo musician?

Well, I really can't say why. I have/had a lot of friends that listened to black/death metal many years ago, and they said that they will always stay metal.. And now many of them listen to pop music and techno… I don't really think some of them were into this kind of music at all, and just listened to it to be cool and such things. But, I can understand that people want to explore some new musical paths as I have done also. But I hope I'll always be listening to metal, because I have been doing it for so many years now and I have never got tired of it! Well, for a solo musician black metal can be a good genre. I have heard a lot of new and interesting blackmetal solo projects coming out lately.

Do you think there is still room in black metal for evolution and new ideas, innovation, or is it a genre that should now be limited to tradition, to the tried and true, to what has been seen to "work" in the context of what, now, fans of the genre really expect from it? Should it be limited to the ideas that have come before - in some instances ideas from 1992 or '93? Do you think innovation and evolution of expressive capabilities "weakens" the impact black metal can have? Must it be "primal" to be effective? Must it be traditional to be successful? Do you ever feel limited by the genre, by the style?

Yes, there is always room for new ideas and evolution, but not too much because I think it can lose all of its meaning that way when black metal is being mixed with a lot of other styles. I think black metal should be very grim or atmospheric, and not mixed with techno or anything like that! When it comes to Sapfhier I don't feel limited to do anything new, but I really like the stuff I do right now, so I won't mix any new elements in my music. Maybe if I do another project in the future...

Have you noticed any abstract prejudice against you because of your solo musician status, or do you think people (fans and labels) are more eager to "support" so-called complete or "full" bands? If you have noticed any kinds of bias, why do you think they exist? Are they justified? Shouldn't solo musicians deserve more respect than groups because they do everything independently, and engage musical creation without outside help?

I have never noticed any problems or prejudice because I'm a solo musician. But I do think people, labels and distros are more into supporting full bands, because they get a lot more promotion and have the possibility to make publicity through live shows etc. But I do think we solo musicians deserves a lot more respect and support because it's hard to reach out to people when you're all alone promoting your project and making your own music…

What are the advantages of working as a solo musician, and what are the drawbacks or disadvantages? Would you recommend the experience of working by one's self to other musicians? Would you join another band at this point if given the chance? Do you think there are just certain musicians who work better by themselves?

Well, the good thing is that you can decide all by yourself how the result should be when it comes to music writing! When you're in a full band a lot more minds are into the creating part and that can really mess things up, and make conflicts within the band as I have learned myself during the years. I can really recommend others to start up their own solo project if they want to, because I really think it is a lot more fun to make something all by yourself. It can also inspire one a lot more to make new music if you're playing in a full band at the side of the project! I'm already playing live drums with a neo-folk band at this moment, and I really think it's fun to do that. We don't rehearse that often, so it suits me very fine. The thing I did not like when I played in a full band was to rehearse all the time, it gets too boring for me to do that three times every week. When I do this solo project I can rehearse when I want to! I'll probably join a old school death metal band later this year along with some old friends. But we will not rehearse that often, just playing for fun.

Tell us a little about your approach to composing. Do you write mainly on the guitar or on the keyboard? What part of your songs do you flesh out first, the basic guitar structure underlying the piece, or the overarching synth melodies? Do you feel that the keyboard allows you access to tones that are necessary to your self-expression - musical ideas that you could not reach any other way?

I mostly write music on the guitar, the composing often starts with the beginning or an intro on the song, then I start to build on the whole structure of the song. The keyboards helps me out to make the music sound more interesting, and sometimes to fill up the background in breaks with acoustic guitars, etc. I really think it sounds better that way! But on my next release I'll try to use less keyboards and try to do the guitarwork a lot more technical and interesting.

Can you explain the differences between the music on your first release, "Trollskogen", and your newest work, "Under Eternally Grey Skies"? How did your music evolve over this time period? The first edition of "Trollskogen" features a Theodor Kittelsen painting, I believe - why wasn't this reproduced on the second version? Did you use this painting to tie yourself to the Norwegian tradition in black metal, or Burzum in particular?

I think the arrangements are a lot better on the new CD. I wrote all the songs and lyrics for "Trollskogen" in just two weeks, and the new CD I took almost a whole year on to make the music. So it's a lot better arranged and the lyrics are a lot better as well. The guitar work is also a lot better on the new CD, because before I recorded "Trollskogen" I had not played on my guitar for a whole year before I started the recordings. But after the first release I started to play a little bit every week again, so my guitar playing developed a lot before I started the "Under Eternally Grey Skies" recordings. On the new cd I wanted to have a new cover idea, I really didn't think a "trollish" Theodor Kittelsen painting suited the sound and feelings on the new cd, so Todd from God Is Myth records did a new cover for me and I really think it turned out very well. I really like Theodor Kittelsen's works by the way, and really thought that painting suited the music on "Trollskogen" very well.

Can you tell us about your recording methods and equipment? What kinds of programs, devices, and methods would you recommend for other solo artists who are trying to achieve a "good sound" on their own recordings? Would you recommend home or personal recording for other artists at this point, or do you think professional studios should still be sought out? Do you think the overall sound of a work - an album or collection of songs or whatever - is something that must be "created", that it is something the artist brings into the recording session as a definite idea, or is it something that a musician will often find himself possessing at the end of a recording session without knowing its source? How important is it to you to keep in mind the overall production sound of a recording, its related timbre and tones, and what that sound can convey to the listener?

Well, I program all the drums in a program called Battery, which is an vst plugin for Cubase vst32. For the keyboards I use a virtual synth module called Absynth. That's the only equipment I use when I compose my music. When I record the stuff later on I uses a 8 track portable studio (digital). I record all the stuff at home except the vocals, which I record in my old rehersal place. If you just want to do a demo recording I really can recommend a home recording, using a portable studio. But if you're up to releasing an professional CD I really recommend doing it in a professionbal studio. But if you know your stuff you can record an professional CD at home too, today's home recording tools are amazing! The overall productions sound is very important to me, on the last recording I wanted to have a sharper and rawer sound. The overall sound on "Trollskogen" is very clean in my opinion, but I think that sound fits the songs very well, and I think the rawer sound fits to the newest CD very good as well.

What do you think are the main sources of inspiration for your music? Do you ever find yourself directly inspired by other bands? If so, would you ever try to "hide" this influence or inspiration, thinking that it casts a disparaging light upon your own creative potential? What do you think about the idea that composers in certain well-defined fields should avoid being "directly" influenced by other artists that play the same kind of music - that they should at times even avoid listening to music from the same genre? Do you feel originality in composition is even possible anymore within the close confines of the various metal genres?

The biggest sources of inspiration are the nature surrounding me around here, the deep forests and all the beautiful lakes. I also get a lot of musical ideas from horror movies and old Scandinavian folk music. I have never tried to hide my influences in my music. But I don't want to sound like a copy of those bands I really like. I got inspiration from all kinds of bands and even a lot from other genres far away from metal music. Well, I must say it's hard to reach originality within black metal today as it is for all other kinds of musical directions. Black metal has been mixed with almost every kind of musical genre at this point, so it's hard to come up with something new and fresh.

Please tell us what you have planned for the immediate future. How will your new music reflect on what has come before? In what direction are you steering Sapfhier? What can we expect? Thank you for answering this interview.

Well, I have taken a little break from the music composing because I have a lot of other things to do right now, but right after this summer I'll start with it again. I think the new material will be a little bit more folk music oriented as it was on "Trollskogen", but much more aggressive. I really think you're going to like the new stuff! Thanks a lot for the questions! Keep up with the good work of Erebus magazine!