DATE OF INTERVIEW:
14th December 2009
With Månegarm recently releasing new album 'Nattväsen', it is the Swedish folk-influenced Viking metallers' seventh full-length offering - seventh, that is, if you count the demo reissues that constituted 2004's 'Vargaresa - The Beginning'. Their first since signing to Regain Records, many claim it is the band's most accomplished work to date in terms of both songwriting and production. Combining a well balanced mix of both folk and extreme/traditional metal elements, the result is a rather stunning exercise in folk/metal fusion. I grabbed twenty minutes on the phone with violinist Janne Liljekvist to quiz him about the new release, Månegarm's Pagan aesthetic and future plans...
METAL DISCOVERY: Hi, how you doing?
JANNE LILJEKVIST: Hello, this is Janne from Månegarm.
(Janne Liljekvist on plans for the next Månegarm album)
“It’s gonna be the ‘Sgt. Pepper’ of Pagan metal!”
Månegarm promo photo (2008)
Interview by Mark Holmes
Nordstjärnans Tidsålder (1998)
Official Månegarm Website:
Official Månegarm MySpace:
JL: Yeah, I’m fine, and you?
JL: Yeah, this is the first day of snow. Winter is here!
MD: The new album sounds fantastic. Is there an English translation for the title?…which I won’t try to pronounce!
JL: It means ‘Night Creatures’.
MD: Is there a concept behind the album that links all the songs together?
JL: There is a concept but I don’t write the lyrics. I’m the fiddler. Pierre, who writes the lyrics, has a concept behind every album, and every song is linked together lyric-wise, and he really gets deep into it.
MD: I understand the album was recorded and mixed by the end of 2008 - what was the delay in getting it released?
JL: Well, I think the record company had some problems with money. We would have liked to release it last year actually, but due to economic reasons it was delayed.
MD: It must be quite frustrating having it recorded and just wanting to get it out there for people to hear.
JL: Yeah, we thought that it should be out before last summer so we could have a lot of gigs, but…
MD: The press blurb says it’s by far your best album to date - is that something you’d personally agree with and what would you say makes this album better than all your previous releases?
JL: Well, I think, personally, that all the albums are different. Myself, right now, I’m into ‘Havets Vargar’. That’s one of the first. That’s more black. But it changes from day to day! [laughs] It’s hard to say which one is best; I don’t know really. I know the other guys are more satisfied with this because the production is better and we got more time in the studio. Personally, I like the raw feeling of the old ones.
MD: How have the reviews been so far; have you had much feedback?
JL: Normally, it’s like eight, eight and a half, or nine maybe. We really have a lot of reviews if you compare to the albums before. It’s like Regain makes a lot of effort to promote the album. At Displeased, he’s a very nice guy, but he’s alone and makes it from a fan basis. He doesn’t have so much time and money to make promotion.
MD: And your first four albums were released on Displeased?
JL: Yeah. He’s a great guy but Regain is a bigger company.
MD: On the label front, you were only signed to Black Lodge for two years before you parted company with that label and hooked up with Regain - why the change of labels after such a short time and just one album?
JL: We had the contract for two albums but they didn’t do anything. We were a little bit disappointed with it; we expected more from them. Also very nice guys but I think they had some kind of problems also.
MD: You recorded the new album in Studio Underground with Pelle Säther again - what draws you back to that studio and working with him? Is it located near your hometown and it’s a convenience thing?
JL: No, it’s actually more than a 100km away, so we go there and we live there. We lived there for three weeks, and it’s really good to get away from your own town and just work hard in the studio. He’s really good to work with and he’s really interested in the music. Every time we go there he has new equipment and he puts a lot of himself into the process, so it’s really good to work with him.
MD: So does he also suggest improvements for the actual songs rather than just the production side of things?
JL: It’s like he says “no, no, that’s not Månegarm, let’s do it this way!”…“ah, yeah, you’re right, this is more Månegarm!” [laughs]
MD: So you have a good chemistry with him then.
JL: Yeah, it’s like he’s a member.
MD: The cover artwork seems very different from previous albums - what’s the story behind the cover artwork and what’s that supposed to represent?
JL: The previous records… we thought that has been very good, but we tried to make this a little more darker feeling about the cover. And, actually, we put it together ourselves. Not me, but some other guys in the band. We thought that we should emphasise the symbol.
MD: Are those runes on the cover?
JL: Yeah, it’s two runes and we put them together.
MD: It’s quite minimalist and simple, but a very striking image.
JL: Yeah, it’s Gifu and Madr, the two runes that we combined and the beast is from some old Norse carving.
MD: It certainly looks good. You had a release party for the new album last month with Thyrfing and Skyforger - how did that evening go?
JL: Oh, that was fantastic. We seldom play in Sweden actually. We played in Stockholm one or two times before, but this was the best because we made a good advertisement ourselves and sold tickets in advance which we hadn’t done before. We got a good crowd and, normally, the Swedish audience are normally standing and looking at the bands, but this time we had head banging from the first moment. And it was really good to play with Skyforger - we’ve been on tour with them a lot of times and it was their first time in Sweden. We are now trying to put together a package with Thyrfing and Skyforger for a tour.
MD: That would be a good bill! I read you’ve recorded a video for the track ‘Vetrarmegin’ in a Viking village at the end of October. How was the shoot and has the video been made available yet?
JL: Yes, I think we will release it soon on YouTube. It’s nearly finished. We tried to capture the feeling of the song ‘Vetrarmegin’. ‘Vetra’ is the winter and ‘megin’ is the force of the winter. Unfortunately, there was no snow around. We had a really good crowd from the Viking village and there were some actors in the video and, of course, ourselves were there playing. It was fun.
MD: What’s a ‘Viking village’ out of interest?
JL: Ah, yes, it’s like a museum. People interested in that era, they try to build halls and houses with the same technique.
MD: There are strong folk elements in your music - were, or are, any band members fans of Skyclad because they’re credited with starting the whole folk metal thing?
JL: Well, I’m not sure; I haven’t listened to them. I’m sure that Pierre, the bass player, I think he has listened to them but it’s nothing that we’ve talked about.
MD: It’s amazing how many contemporary folk metal bands I ask that question and they’re like “no”!
JL: I think that this style and this genre, maybe it’s coming from…it’s in the air. It’s not like everybody listens to all the bands.
MD: Not at all, no, it’s a very self-sufficient genre, I guess.
JL: I think there will be some kind of backlash on the folk metal in a couple of years.
MD: In terms of…how do you mean?
JL: Those instruments might go out of style and nobody will use them.
MD: You mean violin and so forth used on metal?
JL: Yeah, and back to earlier styles maybe; more simple. Well, I don’t know, maybe. There are a lot of styles going on at the moment at the same time.
MD: Folk metal seems to be booming more now than it ever has been with bands like Korpiklaani and Finntroll getting bigger the whole time. Månegarm seem to approach the genre very differently; a lot darker than bands like Korpiklaani.
JL: Yeah, they’re more Humppa. I don’t say anything about that, but it’s not what we like to do.
MD: Besides metal, are there any folk bands or folk musicians who influence you in the music you compose?
JL: Myself, I played in a folk punk band…Två Fisk Och En Fläsk…an acoustic band playing mediaeval ballads. I think you can find a link on my MySpace site.
MD: I’ll take a look. Is that band still going?
JL: No, we quit a couple of years ago.
MD: Folk punk did you say?
JL: The attitude was punk but the music was mediaeval ballads. That’s what I was playing when Månegarm asked me to join. The singer from that band sings on a lot of Månegarm records, and for the acoustic album that Månegarm made we had drummer of Två Fisk.
MD: Was it quite a new thing for you playing violin over metal when you joined Månegarm?
JL: It’s not so different; I think it’s the same attitude. I was a guitarist before and played in local bands in the eighties….more garage punk, so it’s the same attitude, I think.
MD: Månegarm is kind of described as a Pagan band - is that label just applicable to the music you play and the lyrics, or do band members hold Pagan beliefs as well?
JL: I think we’re not a Christian band, but I don’t think we’re a religious band at all. It’s more do what you like, but don’t hurt any other people. I don’t know how to explain it, but…Christians are like “you have to think like us or we’ll kill you.”…We don’t discuss religion that much. We are more like agnostics.
MD: So the Pagan thing is more of an artistic way of thinking for the music and lyrics then?
JL: It’s an underlying feeling maybe. The Norse mythologies are…I don’t know if you’ve read the books of Icelandic Sagas from the thirteenth century but they’re about two hundred years before, and they’re really, really great, and I personally go back to them and read them every year because it’s a really fantastic influence. I really love them. I know that Pierre, the lyric writer, he loves them as well.
MD: I understand you’ll be embarking on a European tour in 2010 - can we expect any UK dates?
JL: Well, actually, we’re working with a British promoter right now. I cannot give you any details but it’s in the planning for sure.
MD: Will this be part of the Thyrfing/Skyforger package you were talking about?
JL: I’m not sure about that but it could be. The only time we played in Britain before was in Glasgow…2003 I think.
MD: Was that supporting another band?
JL: No. It was in a church in Glasgow. We had to stop playing twenty minutes into the set because they had a disco afterwards.
MD: That’s not so good! Finally, apart from the tour, what other plans lie ahead in 2010 for the band?
JL: We are starting to record a new album…maybe not start to record it but start to plan it and rehearse new songs, and maybe try to record it in another way. We’re now getting our own recording equipment to have in the studio. It’s for making a demo but we can make more experiments and work more with the songs in pre-production before we go into the studio. It’s gonna be the ‘Sgt. Pepper’ of Pagan metal! [laughs] We’ll record a lot of songs and choose from them. Before, we’ve had ten songs and gone into the studio to record them but now I think we’re gonna make more experiments.
MD: Cool. That sounds great. Right, thank you very much for your time.
JL: Yes, sorry that my English is not the best.
MD: Your English is very good. I speak very little Swedish so I can’t criticise you! Thank you very much.
JL: Thank you, and maybe we might see you in London.
MD: Definitely, yeah. Cheers!
Havets Vargar (2000)
Vargaresa - The Beginning (demo reissues) (2004)
Vredens Tid (2005)
Urminnes Hävd -the forest sessions (EP) (2006)
Thanks to Karl Demata at Eleven PR for offering and arranging the interview
MD: Yeah, not so bad at the moment, thank you. What’s the weather like over in Sweden at the moment? I heard it’s been snowing.