Gods and Sirens : an interview with Heri Joensen of Týr

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 The recent release of their seventh album shows that Týr is a band which continues to create dramatically enthralling confrontations bred from Faroese and Norwegian lore narratives merged with fiercely burning metal. Valkyrja is a strikingly riveting encounter cementing Týr as one of the most potent forerunners to folk and melodically aggressive metal. Fortunate and grateful to steal some of the free time of vocalist/guitarist Heri Joensen whilst the band is touring Europe with Finntroll, we get to the depths of their new album, Nordic folklore, songwriting and much more…

Hi Heri, good to meet you and thanks for talking with us.

My pleasure 🙂

Before we get to the focus of the interview, your excellent new album Valkyrja, can you give us some background to the origins of Týr, the inspiration and emergence of the band?

We’re a heavy metal band from the Faeroes. We draw inspiration from Nordic folklore and mythology for our music and lyrics. We’ve been around since 1998, first album in 2001. Valkyrja is our seventh album. Even though we’re usually labelled pagan folk Viking metal, we don’t think we fit that category very well, since we have no ethnic instruments and no extreme vocals

As you mentioned you fuse Faroese folklore and sounds with predacious heavy metal, when did this idea and venture take seed in your thoughts and did you sculpt the approach of the band in the delivery of the music or was that as organic as the songwriting and music?

I had the idea sometime in the mid-nineties. The idea seemed very basic and came naturally, but the execution of it took a lot of adjusting and trials and errors. It took hard work to get to where we are today and we still work hard to keep the standards up and to constantly improve our songwriting and image.

Can you give us some insight to the traditional sounds and mythology/history of the Faroe Islands and musically how it is distinct to say Norwegian or Icelandic traditional sounds for us uninformed souls?

The official mythology is fairly uniform when it comes to the Nordic countries. Almost all of it comes from Iceland. Some parts come from Denmark and some from the Faeroes, but the great bulk of it was written down in Iceland 900 years ago. As for folklore, some myths have been preserved to varying degrees in the rural areas of all the Nordic countries up to recent times; stories about elves, dwarves and other mythological creatures. My grandmother for example told me that the elves disappeared when electric light was introduced to the Faeroes.

As for the music I guess, without knowing that the Faeroes have preserved the most original medieval ballads; although there are quite a few on mainland Scandinavia. Iceland has ironically not preserved the ballads very well, since it was made illegal to perform them there some 300 years ago. The typical Faeroese ballad is very heavy and staccato, whereas the Danish ballads have very beautiful and haunting melodies and flow very easily. Norwegian music is extremely lively and bouncy. It may sound from this that there’s great variation, but the difference I’m talking about here may be negligible to the foreign ear.

Is it an easy and fluid merger between heavy and traditional sounds or do you have to craft and sculpt it intensely to make it flow so seamlessly?

It is very easy to merge and it immediately gives us a very distinct sound, but the better you want it to flow the more you need to sculpt it, and that’s what we’ve been doing more and more recently. For example The Lay Of Our Love on Valkyrja is based on a Faeroese/Danish traditional melody, but it had some odd timing in it, and that doesn’t flow very seamlessly in modern straight-forward metal, so I stretched a phrase in the melody to avoid the odd time and I think the result is ok.

Is there a potent reception and appetite in your homeland for not only your music but metal In general?tyr2

We sell a fair amount of albums, as do some other hard rock and metal bands in the Faeroes. Also traditionally there’s a relatively large proportion of the people who like metal, ever since the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal.

And any unrest from traditionalists?

Yes, every now and then, but nothing serious. Mostly people are positive about what we’ve done.

As mentioned you have just released your seventh album Valkyrja, which seems to have a more power metal energy and attack to its invention, how do you see it and how would you say your music has evolve over the releases and especially over the past couple of albums, By the Light of the Northern Star and The Lay of Thrym?

We’ve deliberately gone for a more accessible sound, shorter and more straight forward songs. But we still want to keep our signature sound and not sound like we’ve sold out. As for Valkyrja, I think we’ve re-introduced some progressive elements and still kept it accessible.

There seems to be a less aggressive snarl to some of the songs on the album but that is equalised by a greater intensity and passion to their impact, would that be fair to say?

Yes, that may be. I think the music is more varied, and generally more up-tempo. If you think it has more intensity and passion I take your word for it.

Tell us about the concept of Valkyrja , historically and in its interpretation to men and women today.

The concept is based on the Valkyries from Nordic mythology. The protagonist of the story is a nameless Viking who leaves his woman and his homeland to go off to die in battle, in the hope that a Valkyrie will come for him and bring him to Fólkvangr, the realm of Freyja, goddess of sex among other things. Anyone who has been in a romantic relationship knows that there are ups and downs, and any straight guy knows that once you’ve set your aims for a woman there isn’t much you wouldn’t do to make your dreams come true. Those things are the underlying themes of the album.

What sparks your ideas and themes, one at times imagines it is triggered from tales and mythology passed down through generations of your personal family lines or is that fantasising? 

I first learned about Nordic mythology in school around age 11, and I’ve been fascinated with it ever since, so I can’t say it comes from direct family tradition. It’s more of a national tradition.

I believe the album took a year to come to completion from the writing seeds, is that generally the kind of time you spend on a release or was this an unexpected timescape?

We have released albums now with two year intervals, the last four albums I think, so the timescale was the same as usual. Now we’ve already started the next project and we hope to put more work into that than our previous works, and still release it on the same timescale.

Drummer Kári Streymoy left the band before the album was recorded and you brought in the stick master George Kollias. How did you link up with George?

Our manager set us up with George. They know each other from working together in the past.

What did he bring to Valkyrja which exploited your ideas and sounds to the full, and did he exceed and surprise your hopes and expectations?

He brought a completely new drum approach to Valkyrja. He tried out all sorts of things that we hadn’t thought of, and he definitely improved our sound and the flow of the songs.

Tyr-ValkyrjaHow does the songwriting lyrically and musically come to fruition within the band?

I’ve written most of the material in the past, but we’re trying to change that now, as for the music at least. I’ll probably remain the only lyrics author in the future, but we will try to involve more musical ideas from Terji and Gunnar. Terji wrote two songs for Valkyrja, and I may have added some harmonies. And a third song, Blood Of Heroes is one song I based on a riff by Terji. The title track is based on a riff by Gunnar that I arranged into the song that became the title track.

It is an open process embracing ideas with a democratic intent for the main?

I wouldn’t call it an open process. I guess I rule most of the process, at least when it comes to my songs. I’d like to get all parties involved, but it’s not been so easy in the past especially getting used to working over the internet, and not in a rehearsal room.

It is fair to say that not all aspects of folk metal, and maybe it is down to certain bands, in the past was certainly taken as seriously as it deserved, do you think that has changed over recent years?

I don’t like to think of music in terms of genre. What about folk metal could make it deserve being taken seriously? I find that way of thinking completely pointless. Music will be taken seriously on its own merits, and the least of all merits is what genre it is put in by the labels and the press.

Though it seemed ok for the likes of Slipknot and Mushroomhead to dress up, folk metal bands garbed in Viking and warrior attire was almost a joke to the media for a while. Did you face that kind of thought when first emerging and has that become a thing of the past now do you think?

For us it is a thing of the past, definitely. But I see some bands still do it. It’s an image, nothing more, nothing less. The music is still what it is. Imagine if you were blind, the music would still be the same, no matter what the musicians wear on stage. This image thing is all in our heads; still we allow it to interpret the music for us, or to determine whether or not to take it seriously.

As we hold this interview you are amidst a European tour with Finntroll, how is that going and what has the reception to tracks from Valkyrja live been like?

The tour is going well, at the moment we’re enjoying a day off in Strasbourg, France. The new songs have been received particularly well, better than any of our previous releases. Turnout for the shows has been very good too, and we’re very glad we got to be on this tour.

Thanks you again for sharing time to chat with us, any last thoughts before diving back into the tempest of touring?

You’re welcome. Please buy our new album, Valkyrja, and please come to our shows when we play somewhere near you. We’ll put on a great show for you and we’ll all have a good time, how’s that 😉

Read the review of the Metal Blade Records released Valkyrja @ https://ringmasterreviewintroduces.wordpress.com/2013/09/17/tyr-valkyrja/

Pete RingMaster

The RingMaster Review 14/10/2013

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