Einar Selvik: “I think animism can apply, whether you are a spiritual person or not, because the core of it is the idea that nature is something sacred. Something that we are part of, but not the rulers of it.”
Met de ‘Runaljod’ trilogie en het beschouwende ‘Skald’ vestigde Wardruna – met als mastermind de Noor Einar Selvik – zijn naam in de metalwereld en ver daarbuiten. De etnische muziek van het Hoge Noorden resoneerde bij grote lagen van de Europese bevolking en dus waren de verwachtingen hoog gespannen voor het vijfde album ‘Kvitravn’. De integere muzikant volgt stug hetzelfde pad, een album dat tot de verbeelding spreekt en ook doet mijmeren over vervlogen tijden door een verregaande melancholie en heidens inzicht. Het was dan ook een verrijking om met Einar Selvik een gesprek te hebben over zijn leefwereld en het nieuwe album ‘Kvitravn’.
Vera Matthijssens Ι 04 februari 2021
Hi Einar, pleased to talk to you. How are you doing?
I am doing good. It’s of course hectic times now, closer to the release of the album and of course it is a strange time for all human beings on this planet I guess, but overall I am doing good.
Yes, In Norway, things are going better in comparison with Central Europe of course…
Yes we are in a better situation than many other countries thankfully, so I am not complaining if you look at the bigger context. I am definitely not complaining.
It has been a process of learning and growing for you since the beginning, coming to the personality you are now. Can we see some significant signs in your youth that create the path which led to this kind of direction, mentally and psychological?
Yes of course, my history is something I was exposed to in my childhood, the Nordic history I mean. Something I enjoyed and I guess when I found my own interest for it in my early youth and teenage times. I just found that these old stories where I grew up with, created very strong bonds and images. They were a place in time in a way and a connection to history and traditions that very much fascinated me. And still fascinates me. Even back then I remember having visions or ideas – or even dreams – of doing something like Wardruna at some point in time. It is difficult to point on one thing, but of course there are many significant things that has led me where I am today and to what happened when I decided to do it. It is a number of things.
You were born on a kind of island near Bergen. Was there a culture shock or a big difference when you entered city like environments like Bergen?
No, I grew up on a small inland island surrounded with fjords and it is only like 35 minutes by car from Bergen. Of course Bergen is fairly close and as far as cities go in Norway, they are quite small compared to many other places on this planet. Since it is a place at the sea and surrounded by mountains, it has a lot of soul I would say, as far as cities go. So I would say, even when you are living in Bergen, you feel very related to nature.
And then one of the things in your youth was entering the world of metal… there were many good things coming out of that, like your cooperation with Ivar Björnson of Enslaved. I remember you wrote a piece of music with him, performed at the celebration of 200 years Norway. What did this mean for you?
Of course it is an honour to be asked to represent the Norse part of the history and yes, it is kind of an acknowledgement that they see both mine and Ivar’s work as something serious. That we are doing it in a good way. So of course that was a great honour as well, but on the other hand integrity and those things are important, so after I was asked, I was also very sceptical, because it is the celebration of the Norwegian constitution that I don’t blindly support in a way. So my first question when they did ask me, was… I said: ‘Yes, I would like to do this, on one condition, that I am allowed to criticize the Norwegian constitution’. Thankfully they also wanted this, this part of arrangement was done with the connection of Freedom of Speech movement and so on. So, all in all I would say it was a great thing and of course it gave me a great opportunity to work with Ivar who I have known for many years and I have great respect for him. Which again has led us to do other projects as well after that. It is a collaboration of which I am very happy that it took place and it changed a lot in a positive sense.
Will you continue with this?
Well yeah, we both enjoy working with each other, but we are also both really busy persons with both Enslaved and Wardruna and other things, but at some point I am very certain that we will do some more music together. I am quite sure.
Let us focus on the new album ‘Kvitravn’ because that’s the reason why we are here. I was also fascinated by the last track ‘Andvevarljod’ for instance, because that seems to be the grand finale, a kind of apotheosis. Can you tell something more about that track?
For me it is a very central piece on the album and it was actually the starting point. When I started working on this album, that song was the beginning. It is special in many different ways. It sort of dives into the older ideas of the deities we know as the Norns – not only the mythology Norns that are most famous – but Norns is a much bigger thing than just that, a bigger part in the tradition, very much connected to birth, the life thread of a being when it comes to life. It is given life that you hope for, by the good Norns of course, not the mischief’s or an angry one. So it goes into that tradition, but also the tradition that one of the parts that define us as being, some call it soul or spirit and the song explores how that is connected to wind according to both myths and traditions. Both in old Norse and in Sami traditions. That is the backbone of the song and then of course on a musical level it is special to me as well, because we have some very prominent guests singing on it. We basically have four traditional Norwegian folk singers. They are kind of the tradition bearers of the oldest song traditions we have here in Norway. The reason why it is being continued today and why it is going to live on, for the next generation at least as well. These are important people to me and having them as part of this song and the Waldruna universe is something I am very happy to play part in.
What does the name of the album ‘Kvitravn’ mean and what is its significance for you?
The name is ‘Kvitravn’ or the white raven, and for those who know that kvitravn has been my own artist name, I can tell you that the album is definitely not named after me, but rather… well, I draw the inspiration from the same place that inspired me to take the name in the first place. The raven itself is a very central figure in the Norse and Nordic myth landscape and traditions. In a lot of these ancient, older traditions, it is a very centered creature. It represents a bridge between the world, both us and nature, but also to the other side, whether it is death or some mythic place. They kind of represent a messenger and then you have that combined with the sacred wild animals, which is also kind of a global phenomenon. You see it in many places and in any different cultures and traditions, whether it is lions or elephants or reindeer, serpents or ravens. They have this prophetic thing to them. Very often their legends were presented when these wild animals come, they represent a form of change, a drastic change. An enlightenment in some cases. I feel that combined to what the raven is, to my own culture. It becomes a very strong symbol, a message in a way or perhaps even a hope.
Where does the inspiration come from for the album, Why the decision to take ravens as a starting point again?
Well, in the beginning, after the finishing off the sixteen year project long that was the ‘Runaljod’ trilogy, I came out of that really intensive process and time period, creative wise and personally, there was a void I have to say. Coming out of a project like that, it is a combination of relief and depression (chuckles) I would say. A short one but nonetheless. In the first place it was about finding a new direction, finding out what it is I wanted to tell. The new album definitely wanders in the same landscape as the previous ones. It is the same kind of thematic, diving into these animist nature based traditions. I would say this album I zoom more into the details, I go more in depth. It is an album which is also dealing more with the human sphere, making it perhaps a little more personal. It can be taken that way and people can also relate to it in a slightly different way, because a lot of the subjects I am tackling is within the human sphere.
Can you tell us a bit more about the process of making this album. You mentioned the landscape, sitting out, tell us about that process…
The tradition to go actively out into a space, seeking a sound or seeking songs, and seeking inspiration in a way and some answers, that is a very old way of animist way of expanding your knowledge in a way and for me of course, wandering in nature and walking is sort of my main use. I create a lot of my music when I am out walking, of course I do find the lack of nature also an important part of that, because the absence of nature, there is a powerful element of longing in that. So although a lot of music is created here, in my surroundings, also when I am on the road, this feeling of home can be a very powerful tool in some ways, in some sense you get closer to home when you are far away, because of that longing friction. As you said my music is created over long periods, I cannot go into the studio and decide: yes, now I am going to spend two months and make a record. It is a much longer process. I try to be very patient, as patient as I can in that process to keep it organic and rather let the songs take me where they want to go, rather than me squeezing them into a shape.
The song ‘Ni’ – which means ‘nine’, is that about the nine worlds of Yggdrasil?
Well, it might be connected. Nine – just as three – is a number which is considered to be a sacred number and it is very much present in many traditions. In mythology of course, but also in the folklore and in later times also within the healing traditions, the folk medicines. You see the number nine is very much present. It is actually a medicine song, a healing song. It sort of travels through the many ways of using the word or the number nine in various health and healing terms. So it is a medicine song.
Here stands: ‘Skugge’ shows that answers to what is the truth may lie within. Can you go deeper into that?
Yes, it is basically a song that is the conversation between a man and his shadow, where the man is asking the shadow for questions silently and then at some point he starts verbalizing those questions and then of course the shadow replies in the echoes. It is a song about the balance between seeking knowledge or answers within or outside us. Internal or external. That is basically what this song is about, the balance between those things. Often we know the answers we are seeking outside of us. We already know them.
You brought some guests in. Tell us about who joined you on the journey?
Of course my long time partner in crime Lindy-Fay Hellais an important part of the album and also of the creative process. She is such a fortress of nature and has a very unique expression and a vey unique approach to music. So she is a part and also Eilif Gundersen who has been handling the wood wind instruments on stage and on several albums. Now he is also part of this album. Then we have some guests in the choirs, traditional Norwegian singers joining us on one of the songs, which is for me a very special thing, both personally and musically I think it is important as well, because these women who are singing on this song, they are really important in preserving that really ancient way of singing. They are the reason why it is still alive and why the next generation will be able to enjoy it as well. So it was kind of an important thing for me, also to take part in giving voice to that tradition.
In ancient times, astronomy and astrology were one. For instance now they say that we are leaving the age of Aquarius, entering the age of Pisces. Is this all superstition for you or can we find knowledge in there as well?
(thinks) It is definitely something I find fascinating, but at the same time something I know too little about to sort of having a very strong opinion about it. There are definitely things that are fascinating in regards to it and there seem to be… Well, I think the universe speaks to us potentially, our own beings speak to us and there are many layers of knowledge that is not necessarily very high in our conscious being, that you can tap into through many different channels and observing different parts of the world, different parts of the universe, is definitely part in how we can connect to certain parts of knowledge that is often hidden to us. This is something that mankind had always been seeking and being fascinated by. I do not disregard the fact or the idea that there might be something to that part of seeking answers.
Animism should be a modern form of paganism. What kind of influence does it have on your life and what can we – as innocent bystanders – exactly understand by it?
Well, I think animism is a thing that can be seen… I often say that if my music has a message, it would be softly promoting the idea that returning to a more animistic attitude towards the world or animistic world would be beneficial for us all. For many people animism is a form of spiritual belief. The idea that everything has a consciousness and a spirit or an energy. I think animism can apply whether you are a spiritual person or not, because the core of it is the idea that nature is something sacred. Something that we are part of, not the rulers of it. And that is something I think we forgot along the way in our desire to control everything. In order to survive in earlier times I guess, but things went too far and we forgot. We are claiming the attitude that nature is something sacred and that is something I definitely promote. It is very much reflected in our music as well in many different ways. Our music is very much about nature and our relation to it and how it speaks to us through myths and old stories from a time when people were more close to this, to these ideas.
Indeed, since the industrial revolution, people moved further away from nature…
Yes, I even think it happened much earlier. You can even see it in the Viking age, through the great change in which gods became more important than what gods and goddesses became less important. You see the popularity of the gods that are connected to the earth and to place, they become less and less important and the ones that you can bring along with you, the sort of mobile ones, they become more important. Changes in society as well. More and more this animist view sort of disappears. I think this change happened a long, long time ago, certainly, but of course the industrial revolution was a catalyst in many ways, because it removed our relation to nature itself.
How do you look back at your involvement in the ‘Vikings’ series from History Channel?
Of course, like any modern TV series, it is more a modern theatrical drama. It both plays on the historical facts and also on a layer of fiction and on top of that it plays on the modern – or contemporary – notion of what that time was like and that is not necessarily the correct vision of that time. I would say it does what it sets out to do. It is made to make people curious about this age and it does a good job of… at least nuanceing some of these wrong stereotypes and misconceptions about the time and at the same time it applauds some of these stereotypes, but on the other hand, if you are going to make an authentic Viking or fully time-right series of that time, it would be much more farming and spinning wool and cooking (chuckles). That is what most people were doing in that time. So this focus on the fighting and the conflict, that is not necessarily representative for the whole culture. But aside from that, I think it was a good thing to be part of. I think it is a good thing to create awareness and curiosity towards history and for that the series has done a great job. Also it allowed me to include and represent certain things from the culture that I find is worth remembering, like the poetic traditions and so on. Generally I am pleased to be part of that project.
You fit their very well, same as your music. It was an impressive series…
That is one of the reasons why they wanted to include our music in the first place as well. They were struggling a little bit in the first season in finding the right balance within the music and then they came across the music of Wardruna and of course licensed six or seven songs for the first season and then they saw the effect it had. Having these sounds part of the imaginary made it stronger and more authentic in a way. That’s why they also asked me to be part of writing the soundtrack with Trevor Morris to get these sounds more in the heart of the series as well.
How was it to work together with someone else on music?
My collaboration with Trevor was very good. We had a good work flow. When we started out, we did not know what to expect or if it would work, but we found a balance between things quite fast. It was a very good experience I would say all in all.
Another thing on the tip of the tongue of people, the brand new news around the soundtrack for Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. How did this come about and what was it like working in a different medium for that video game?
Well, that is something I came about almost two years ago now. I was basically contacted by them through my publisher BMG. I was approached and asked if I wanted to do a pitch. They had already been using quite a bit of my music as the temporary music in their work so far. I had some meetings and quickly understood that I liked their project and also that we had a similar idea about what they wanted me to do and what I wanted to do. The Format itself has been very interesting and I have learned a lot and of course in many ways it was kind on my home turf in terms of my task in the game, creating a lot of song-based material and giving voice to the skalds, the aural culture that was so much at the heart of the Northern tradition.
Working in another medium must be a new challenge…
Yes, it is a very ambitious project which is kind of what I like. Both in terms of all the details they wanted to work with on the musical side, but also the game itself. I think it is a mix between historical facts and fiction of course. I think they have created a very great balance between what is historical accuracy and also playing on fantasy and on the modern notion of what that time was.
You have always been very independent, but now you are signed by a big label: Sony Music/Columbia Germany. What is going to change you think?
Indeed, Wardruna has been pretty much a do it yourself kind of project. The last two albums have been on our own label of course, By Norse Music. But even this album By Norse Music is part of that release in certain territories. I don’t know. There has been many offers along the years to work with other labels, but for me one of the most important things is of course the musical integrity, that I have full control of how my art is conducted and presented and etcetera. That was of course really important in this process as well. But thankfully the team at Sony and Columbia, they saw the same thing, the value, one of the things that makes Wardruna special is the way we do things, that there is a high level of integrity and that the art is the main driver. Everything else has to be secondary. That was kind of the most important thing in that process too if I would ever work with another label, that we are on the same page when it comes to the integrity of the art. I do not compromise when it comes to those things. The team at Sony/Columbia are very much into that as well. By signing to a bigger label, it gives you other kinds of opportunities in a way, it is a positive thing if you are able to maintain your core and I think the core of Waldruna will never change.
You can have benefits from their experiences and you cannot keep on doing everything yourself if your fame grows…
At some point you need to have a good team around you with people you trust and who are implicating for you in this pretty hard industry that music in fact is. Having good people around you is a very important part of succeeding and surviving to say the least. And that allows me to focus on what I do best and that is music and art.
What are the things you hope to do or achieve in this year?
There are of course many concerts that are planned, in the spring, in the summer and in the fall. At this point we don’t know what is going to happen. We can only be prepared and hope for the best. And be ready, whenever… This kind of situation kind of demands that you have a plan A, a plan B and a C plan (chuckles). We are prepared for whatever comes and hopefully… It is of course a bit sad to release a record and not being able to support it with playing concerts and interacting with our audience. That is part of what we do. With one hand tied to the back is challenging, but I am keeping a constructive focus on things that I have control over. Not all the things that I don’t have control over. We will see… We just have to go with the flow. The world might never turn back to exactly how it was before. So we just have to go with the flow and make the best of it.
We round off with some words about the artwork…
Well, it kind of follows the same kind of idea that all these album covers had. I believe in these simple strong symbolic things with basically the rune in one texture and the background in another texture that reflects the content of the album and of course this is the album of the raven. I must say this is perhaps the artwork that I am most pleased with so far in the history of Wardruna. It is so simple, but yet so powerful and beautiful in my own eyes. I like these simple but strong ideas that communicate the content from the album in a simple and direct way and I think this cover does it very well.