Heri Joensen: “Everybody who does not die in battle goes to hell. It is not the hell of the Bible, but the hell of Nordic mythology and it is dark and cold and misty and gloomy. A very boring place actually.”
Wanneer we enkel de pagan/Viking/folk metal scène beschouwen, dan zelfs is in deze niche van ons metalen universum een grote verscheidenheid te bemerken in muziek. Týr bekleedt een apart plekje in onze harten en dat hebben ze niet alleen te danken aan hun cultureel erfgoed uit de Faeröer Eilanden, maar ook aan hun authentieke sound die men heavy metal met enige progressieve invloeden kan noemen, maar met dat etnische folk sausje uit eigen land. We waren dan ook verheugd te merken dat er eindelijk een opvolger klaar is voor het in 2013 uitgebrachte ’Valkyrja’ en boegbeeld Heri Joensen (zang, gitaar) ons spoedig te woord wilde staan om tekst en uitleg te geven over het nieuwe album ‘Hel’.
Door: Vera – 5 maart 2019
We are used to a proper work ethic with Týr, but this time there is a gap of six years between ‘Valkyrja’ and the upcoming record ‘Hel’. How come?
Our albums since ‘Ragnarok’ – which was released in 2006 – are always done in a very quick session, then we toured and made an album the other year and it was always a very stressful process and I decided when I was making the last album that I was not going to continue to do it that way. So we changed our recording procedures. Now we record vocals, guitars and bass at home in our own studio and then we take that to the Hansen studio where Jacob and Tadeusz record the drums. It takes more time, but it is a lot more relax process and we have more control over the creative process. And that is the main reason.
There has been more input of Gunnar Thomsen (bass) and Terji Skibenæs (guitars) during the writing process, isn’t it?
Yes, since we had more time we decided to include more of Gunnar’s and Terji’s songs. Terji made five songs for this album and Gunnar made two.
You even recorded stuff when being on tour in North America…
Yes, we were on tour and I had my recording equipment with me. You can record with your laptop nowadays and some small extra equipment, so it is not so demanding. Of course we had our guitars with us, so I recorded some solos and other stuff while I was on tour in North America. It is a much more relax way to do it, compared to doing it in the studio and you have a deadline. So we had no deadline. We said: we will be finished when it is finished.
Although there was a pause in recording new material, you did all kinds of selected gigs and tours. We saw Týr appearing on many bills during these last six years…
Oh yes, we toured and played gigs every year since ‘Valkyrja’. I think that is a good sign, that we can tour so long on one album. We went back to the US before this new album and we are going to go back now soon. These are successful tours, even five years after the album. It is not what I expected, but if it is the case, that’s good for us.
Was that tour the one together with Orphaned Land?
Yes. Kobi is a very interesting guy and it is very interesting talking to people who come from a completely different background than I do. One of the best things about touring is meeting people. I like different countries. Now I am living in the Netherlands, in Zwolle. I have been living there for half a year. There are several reasons why I moved to the Netherlands. I mainly went there because my girlfriend started to study there and I went with her and that is the main reason.
The new album is called ‘Hel’. Nobody will have a problem to understand that word, but in your mythology it means something different, isn’t it?
It is true, everybody who does not die in battle goes to hell. It is not the hell of the Bible, but the hell of Nordic mythology and it is dark and cold and misty and gloomy. A very boring place actually and it is also the name of the goddess who guards the same realm. She is the daughter of Loki. The whole concept, the whole backdrop for the album is a very dark and gloomy one, compared to the last album ‘Valkyrja’. It is not a concept album like the last one, it is more about a coherent atmosphere throughout the entire album. Some of the songs are very directly about things related to hell and the creators that live there, but most of the songs are not and sort of set in this environment still.
The last six years were not always lucrative for you, the info sheet says… it is harder than you expected…
Well, it is hard to make a living financially as musician. That is not what I expected when I started with music, but now I see the main reason why so many bands quit and so many musicians stop… just because there are bills to pay and if you have some common sense, you get a real job rather than doing this nonsense, but I have not done that. I kept doing this and I think I will keep doing it until I drop dead. It is no secret that it is very hard to make it, financially.
Terji had a bigger impact on the record and now it seems that he left the band after making ‘Hel’. What was the reason for his departure?
Yes, after we played on the festival of Graspop, he told us he was going to quit the band. The reason is because he does not like this kind of music anymore. He likes different kinds of music. He has suggested his own replacement: Atilla Vörös of Hungary. We parted on good and friendly terms. If he does not like it anymore, I guess it is the right decision. It is always sad for a band to change a long time member. But well, Atilla is a very competent guitar player. We played some shows with him and it is going very well. He is easy to work with. A very professional and talented guy.
Two songs, both of them traditional, slow and calm, are sung in Faroese language. Can you tell something more about them?
One of them is called ‘Ragnars Kvæði’ and the other one is called ‘Alvur Kongur’. Both songs are traditional Faroese ballads, but I have been working on them for a long time. The first one has a very interesting melody and also a fascinating chorus. The second song is about Alvur, which means elf. Not that he is an elf, but his name is ‘elf’. It is about a battle in Norway in which the losing side got help from Odin. I chose this song partly because it has a very interesting melody, especially in the chorus and it has numerous references to Odin.
You are involved in rowing, a national sport in your country…
Yes, since I was seventeen I was rowing in the Faroese Islands and I was very serious about it when I was younger. From when I was seventeen till twenty-five, twenty six. I have a collection of medallions somewhere that I won. And I have always been rowing on and off since then, not intensively anymore, but it is my main sport.
What was all that buzz going on about killing whales?
Yes, we kill whales to eat them in the Faroe Islands. I personally never killed a whale. I killed hundreds of sheep, also as slaughter, but I never killed a whale. I only helped cut the whale after it was dead. There was a picture of that. It went to Sea Sheperd and they used it for their money making propaganda. You know they use these pictures to make people press the donation button and that’s how Paul Watson makes his living. And then they tried to boycott some shows from us. Some people said they are doing good, while even if they cancelled all our shows, they are doing absolutely no good. Of course there are some whales defended, I agree with that. Some of the whale species are close to extinction and of course you cannot kill those, but the whales that we kill in the Faroe Islands are not even near threatened. There are millions of them and killing for food should not be any different than killing any other life.
On the other hand you support the new breed of Faroese horses. What about Anna Louisa Joensen who works with Faroese ponies? Is she your sister?
No, Joensen is the most common name in the Faroe Islands and as far as I know we are not related. I just saw in the news that she was doing some work with Faroese horses. I wrote to her and said she was doing an excellent job. I made a Facebook page for Faroese horses, called ‘Faroe Horse’. Now and then I put some news on it and I translate it into English. I just write her now and then when I see her doing something. The work she has done is extremely important I think, for the Faroe Islands and I can imagine it is hard. It takes a lot of work and you do not get so much for it. People like that should definitely be encouraged, because what they do is good for all of us.
That’s true. You do a lot of flying and recently you went to Budapest. What was going on?
Yes, we were in Hungary, making two videos for songs of the new album. They are coming out in February. We did one in a dripstone cave in Hungary and we did one in the mountains (Julian Alps) in Slovenia.
What about the artwork and its symbolism?
We have used the same artist now for quite a few albums. His name is Gyula Havancsák. He is from Budapest and has a company called Gyula’s illustrations & design. All we did was telling him what our concept for the album was and he made a first sketch. We thought it was fine. Then he added all the details and we had to change only a few details. Most of it is his ideas as they are. It is just the army of the death marching across the bridge out of hell and the hound that guards the gates of hell. In distance you can see the hole of hell and the dragon in the background. So it is just a representation of the situation in hell.
I think there are more instrumental parts on this album. Do you agree with that?
Yes I think that is correct. We had more time to work on the details of this album and especially more time to arrange the solos properly. That is something I had been missing for a few albums. In that way this album is probably the closest to ‘Ragnarok’, the album we did in 2006. I am very, very pleased with that. Maybe it makes it a little bit more demanding to listen to, especially if you are not into guitar music.
In the meantime you also did a lot of sidekicks. One of them was a speech on Ensiferum’s ‘One Man Army’. What about that experience?
Yes, Markus wrote to me and asked me if I wanted to be on the album, in the song ‘Heathen Horde’. I was studying Faroese linguistic and literature at the university in the Faroe Islands and at that time I was also studying old Norse. They had a phrase in old Norse and wanted me to say it in proper old Norse. So I did some research for the right pronunciation and tried to stay as close as possible to original old Norse.
It seems you speak a lot of languages…
I have always been interested in languages since I was very young.
How do you look back at the contribution to Wintersun’s ‘Time’ album, doing choirs. I know Jari works very slow and a perfectionist…
Yeah well, that was a very interesting thing. I was on two choirs. First on the ‘Time I’ album on the song ‘Sons Of Winter And Stars’ and now on ‘The Forest Seasons’ album in ‘The Forest That Weeps’. We had a huge studio, Sonic Pump Studios and there were ten guys, all singers singing this chorus. He had prepared us very well. He has sent us the lyrics and the details. I think he is one of the greatest genius in metal music today. I am very proud to have been part of these albums.
What about your work with Viktorie Surmøva?
We are making our first album. She decided to call the band Surma. On top of other commitments, we are just working on the lyrics and the music now. That will hopefully be the next album which I am part of.
Haha, that is on my list too, after Surma I hope to release my next Heljareyga album. I already have a lot of music ready, but it is all about finding the time to arrange and record it.
Anyways I hope that you can make a living of all these things…
I hope so too. It is hard. I would say I have my living from YouTube. Making videos for YouTube is my income.
That is something creative as well…
Yes, it is not a factory job at least.
Are there factories at the Faroe Islands?
Oh yes. Fish factories for all kinds of fish. Plenty of them.
You lived in Iceland for nine months in 1999, already long time ago…
Yes I did and I learned to speak Icelandic at least. It is a wonderful place with beautiful sceneries.
To occlude let us have a kind of overview. What are your expectations to go on tour in the near future?
In April we will tour in Europe and after that we will go to the US. Then we have the festival season, then another tour in Europe. In between all that we have to go to Japan and China, Israel and South Korea. It looks like a busy year we are having ahead of us.
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