For those who haven´t heard the name MYRKGRAV, this one-man folk metal project founded in 2003 by Lars Jensen in Norway. The band is heavily concept-based, with lyrical and visual themes rooted in folklore and local history from Lars’ homelands, Ringerike and its surroundings. Myrkgrav relies strongly on Norwegian folk music (including the use of traditional instruments) in its sound, while retaining a distinct extreme metal basis, such as to aspire towards bringing folk and metal together like it’s the most natural thing in the world.
After reviewing Myrkgrav´s latest single “Vonde auer”, I had to conduct an interview about it.All in all, there was a lot to be discussed regarding the project´s sound, the album and the mainman behind the project, Lars Jensen.
So, here it is! The fun and interesting e-mail interview with Mr. Jensen! Enjoy!
Firstly, thanks for taking time for this interview and congratulations on the release of the new single. How has the reaction been so far?
No, thank you! The feedback so far has been very positive, although fans and critics alike are getting antsy for a full-length record instead of these small, independent releases Myrkgrav has put out over the course of the last few years – which I can certainly understand. What makes me very happy is that many zines that don’t normally do reviews of singles have made an exception and reviewed Vonde auer despite normal practice. I’ll take that as a huge compliment!
Oh and funny story, for the first time in Myrkgrav history I got a truly horrible review, by a person who had absolutely nothing positive to say about the new release and only compared it to the debut album. 2/10 score, fuck yeah!
How did you come up with the idea of a single and what was the idea behind Vonde auer? Especially when I compare this single to “Sjuguttmyra” (2013), this single has more of a natural approach. Was this intentional?
As the years go by, it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to bridge the gap between the sound of Myrkgrav on the debut album Trollskau, Skrømt og Kølabrenning and what the project sounds like today, especially with no full-length releases after the debut. The Sjuguttmyra EP was definitely one step on the way towards incorporating more folk music in Myrkgrav, and Vonde auer is simply an extension of that idea.
There is also the discourse on whether releasing music in album format fits into the cultural mindset of people today, as our attention spans are getting shorter and most people prefer to get into a little at the time instead of sitting down for 45 minutes and listening to a full-length release. Don’t get me wrong, there will definitely be a second Myrkgrav album, but I have to admit it’s much more enjoyable to focus entirely on shorter releases when making them as well. You can put more work into the details because the workload isn’t as immense, which in my opinion makes for a higher standard in terms of overall quality of the whole “package”, so to say.
Not to mention, it’s common practice to release a single shortly before a new full-length album, right? 😉
What does “Vonde auer” mean and what does the song tell?
As with most Myrkgrav lyrics, titles and content rarely translate well without having the cultural context explained. “Vonde auer” literally means “evil eyes”, which is what some sorcerers and conjurers were said to be in possession of in Nordic folklore. Basically what this meant was that the person with the evil eye had the power to inflict harm upon those who wronged them, and that is exactly what happens in the lyric of Vonde auer. A poor farmer quarrels with a Finnish woman who has the evil eye, and thus falls ill. The situation isn’t resolved before the farmer’s wife visits a (good) conjurer who tells her what to do to lift the Finnish woman’s spell and how to avoid it happening again. Basic Nordic folklore!
What is the story behind the album cover? It looks simple yet really interesting and beautiful.
The idea was to make a cover with a contemporary layout and design, while drawing on the traditional roots that is the core of everything Myrkgrav. One of Norway’s most famous late illustrators was Kjell Aukrust, and the illustrations on and in the cover is in a similar style as Aukrust’s many renderings of Norwegian agricultural life. I stumbled upon Erich Frey Illustration “by accident” a couple of years ago, when Frey had done a sketch of a picture of me he saw on reddit. Best advertisement he could’ve done for himself, keeping in mind that I was looking for exactly his style of artistry for cover art illustrations. The drawing on the front cover itself is a scene from the Vonde auer lyrics, which I have to say is impressive for being done by an American in the 21st century with little concept of what clothing and architecture in nineteenth century Norway is supposed to look like. Nailed it.
In the song, a very special instrument called the ‘Hardanger fiddle’ is played by Olav Mjelva, which is really captivating! How did you collaborate with Olav and can you tell me a bit more about this instrument?
The Hardanger fiddle or Hardingfele is Norway’s national instrument, which is a highly decorated fiddle with 5-10 sympathetic understrings that ring together with the 4 strings being played by the bow; which creates a very unique tone that makes Norwegian folk songs stand out in regards to sound. Olav is a renowned professional musician who is very active with his own solo project and other bands, and is often featured on TV and such back in Norway, but I somehow managed to snag him before his career took off a few years back – seeing the potential in combining metal with more genuine folk music than many other folk metal bands were doing at the time. We’ve been working together ever since, and he already recorded all the Hardanger fiddle parts for the upcoming album in 2010. I can’t think of a more professional musician really, all I had to do was give him the instrumental songs and lay down some ideas as to what I wanted things to sound like, and he mostly came up with perfect phrasings on the first try for every damn song. He wrote the Vonde auer traditional version in about one hour the day after he came back from a tour in Scotland with his other band!
Speaking of folk instruments; I have an interesting question. What is your favorite folk instrument; which folk instrument captivates you musically?
It’s got to be the willow flute. It’s such a simple design, and keeping in mind that you can make one for yourself in early spring that will only last a week or two before it dries out, it resembles the sound of spring itself for me. It’s got this uniquely airy, wooden tone to it that brings me back to simpler days – both in terms of it being an instrument I heard a lot of when I was younger, and because it’s featured in traditional Norwegian music. Listen to Fejd’s Vid Jore Å at the 03:20 mark and you’ll see what I mean.
You are also studying besides music. How do you keep the balance between studies and the project?
My studies and Myrkgrav pretty much fall in line perfectly, in the sense that I study folkloristics at Åbo Akademi University in Turku, Finland. From my own personal prior research in the area combined with the new knowledge I gather from studying the field at the university, both give something to each other instead of cancel each other out. I know from firsthand experience that combining work and time-consuming hobbies such as music can be the worst inspiration killer ever, but I must admit that I find my studies only contribute positively to everything that is Myrkgrav. Besides, I don’t really work with Myrkgrav all that often anyway – although I certainly spend way more time with the project now than when I had a full-time job that sucked the very essence and life out of me, haha.
As a folk metal project, what do you think about today’s folk metal genre? Are there any folk metal bands or projects that you find interesting?
To be honest, I haven’t kept track of what’s new in the scene. There are a few bands that I listen to, such as Fejd, Dunderbeist (hardly folk metal) and Glittertind (now more like Mumford & Sons), but I have to admit that the genre doesn’t hold that much appeal for me personally. That was also one of the reasons why I founded Myrkgrav; in order to make the music that I wanted to hear – as it is with most musicians. One thing I will absolutely never understand the appeal of, is all the party folk metal. It’s hardly any folk in it at all, and a lot of bands seem to spend more time singing about partying and actually partying than composing decent music. Maybe I’m just getting old, but what the hell.
Myrkgrav has been formed initally as a ‘black metal’ project but with the previous and also with the latest single, we see a different style. How did this ‘change of style’ evolve?
I’ve gotta be honest, and the reason why Myrkgrav started as a black metal band is because I didn’t yet have the knowledge and musical ability to write more melodically complex music with folk music incorporated in it. I’ve always strived to evolve the project’s sound towards the latter, and that happened only after the debut album was released really. Trollskau was written by a 17 year-old idealist, and it definitely sounds as such too. Not to criticize the past, but personally I think I’ve come a long way since then in terms of musicianship and such.
Myrkgrav was formed in 2003 and you are still active all these years with a good fanbase. Do you have any wish/wishes for the project that you want to fulfill in the upcoming years?
Mostly I just want to finish the sophomore full-length album, after working on it on and off for almost eight years. As my musical preferences have shifted significantly, it would be a great to be able to get some closure and move on from the past in order to open doors to new soundscapes and musical realms. Whether or not that will be anything in line with Myrkgrav that will be easy to get into for old fans, I guess time will tell. Either way it always sounds peculiarly Lars-y, where I begin and where the music ends has turned out to be quite the conundrum!
Any last words to say to your fans?
I would simply like to say thank you to all the fans for the continued support throughout the years! Without a record label backing you up it’s pretty difficult getting the word out in terms of new releases and such, so I would simply encourage fans to help me do the dirty work and spread the message of Myrkgrav still being alive and well! Also, the second album is coming – I promise!
Special thanks to : Lars Jensen and Markus Eck!