Thursday, March 24, 2016

Interview With Daemonskald of Sig:Ar:Tyr

CT: Daemonskald, please give a brief history of SIG:AR:TYR for those souls not familiar with your incredible music.

D: SIG:AR:TYR originally started out in 2003 as primarily an acoustic guitar/ambient project. After releasing the demo EP “The Stranger”, I started incorporating more traditional metal elements into my music. I’ve released 3 full length albums, Sailing the Seas of Fate in 2005, Beyond the North Winds in 2008, and Godsaga in 2010. Each release gets progressively heavier and more metal, while still retaining that acoustic/ambient core. I would describe the music as a hybrid of viking, folk, and pagan metal. The themes are primarily about the history and myths of Northern Europe, although I often branch out of that into other ancient civilizations.

CT: There was talk of a re-release of The Stranger demo. Did this ever happen? I also saw a box set is coming out? What is the story with these two items?

D: As it stands right now, there won’t be an official release of the demo. It is currently available in digital form on my Bandcamp page for anyone who wants it. I’m not entirely sure about a box set. I know when the new album Northen is out, the whole discography should be available as a set, but I don’t know yet in what form.

CT: Godsaga was centrally themed on sacrifice symbolically. What did you learn about sacrifice writing Godsaga, both in the context of the album, but also from a more personal perspective? Has any of this carried over to the new album, Northen?

D: Godsaga really took a lot out of me to write. I worked on it so very hard, and it’s difficult when you are just doing it yourself.  I really left a lot of myself on that album. Sacrifice takes something from you and it is transformed into something else, something higher. The theme of sacrifice on Godsaga was about two subjects, the saga of Egil Skallagrimsson and the loss of his sons tempered with the gifts that Odin had given him: poetry and prowess in battle. On a higher level, the second theme is about the story of Odin sacrificing himself on the world tree to win the gift of the runes and higher knowledge. I’m not sure if that theme carries over to Northen, I would say the Viking explorations of Canada  are about that human need to make a name for yourself, to put your personal comfort aside to explore something greater in the world, to live, create, and be remembered for your deeds. It is also about remembering where you are from, and not letting that spirit of the old gods, the collective spirit of a people, fade away.

CT: There was a big gap in time between Godsaga and Northen. What transpired in between the two albums with SIG:AR:TYR that caused such a length of time?

D: I was burnt out after Godsaga, so I wanted to take some time off from music before starting something new. About a year and a half after Godsaga was released, I had an offer to play a small festival in the US, and my friends in some other bands (Battlesoul and Vesperia) offered to help bring my music to the live stage. I had never played live before, so it took a good 3 months to practice and get myself into a confident enough state to play. After playing a few special shows in 2012 and 2013, I stopped to concentrate on writing the new album. Part of the wait is also that I really like a theme to be in place before I start writing and up to that time, nothing had come to me. But in late 2012 I had the idea about writing an album about the Viking explorations in my own country, Canada. Although there have been lots of songs in past about Vinland from many other bands, I don’t think anyone ever wrote about it beyond a superficial treatment of the subject. I found the theme of those explorations, the end of the Viking age, and also the the clash between their old ways and Christianity, specifically between Eric the Red and his sons, to be a perfect story to tell.

CT: Getting to Northen... judging by the updates on the SIG:AR:TYR website, there seemed to be some issues finding interested labels to put out Northen. There was also some label issues with the debut, if I remember correctly. What is your opinion of dealing with labels overall and your perspectives on that side of the music you create. How do you see the place of the music industry in relation to SIG:AR:TYR?

D: The problem is that originally my music was in a very niche genre, it’s not something any label would make money on let alone pay for itself. At the same time I really didn’t want to deal with the distribution and business side myself. I had originally signed on with Hammerheart Records back in 2004/5 for Sailing the Seas of Fate, but because of some business-related problems at the time, it didn’t happen. A friend had just started up his own underground label, Morbid Winter, and really enjoyed the music, so he offered to release it and ended up releasing my three full length albums. In terms of the genre, it worked out very well in terms of our goals. A few years after Godsaga, that label became less active, so I decided it would be best to look for a bigger label. I shopped around a demo for Northen around 2014, but nothing came of it. I was about to decide to release it on my own when I decided to contact Hammerheart to see if they were interested. Thankfully they were, and they also wanted to re-release my earlier albums, so in a strange way it completed a big circle. I’m not terribly interested in the business side of music, I just want to create and get my music heard. A label is there to make the rest happen for you, and when it is still an underground-type relationship, you are doing it together for the music and nothing else.

CT: You mentioned that you originally planned for Northen to be released in 2013. What was the reasoning for the delay in the release?

D: That’s not quite right, I didn’t start writing until late 2012/early 2013. There hasn’t really been a delay, it just took a long time to come together, and to be done right. I wanted each song to be as strong as I could make it, and be integral to the album as a whole. I was hoping it would be complete sooner, but from start to finish I would say it took about 3 years which isn’t bad really on the Guns N’ Roses scale of time.

CT: Ok, onto the music. Northen, like Godsaga, has a theme or a concept. Tell us about the theme and concept for Northen. Did Sailing The Seas of Fate and Beyond The North Winds also have specific concepts running through the album?

D: “Sailing the Seas of Fate” is definitely a concept album, it is about a band of Viking adventurers going on a quest to retrieve an object to help turn the tide against encroaching Christianity. It was a mythical “Jason and The Argonauts” or “Holy Grail” type of quest with a snow and ice theme. “Beyond the North Winds” didn’t really have an overall story theme, although the songs revolved around earth-based themes like mountains, soil, and stone. The songs are about a variety of subjects with only a few specifically about Norse myths. I wanted that album to have a more pan-European mood to it.

Northen is about the Viking’s adventures in Canada a thousand years ago. They came over from their settlements in Greenland, landing at various points along the coast, Baffin Island, Labrador, Newfoundland, and possibly even further. Their stay here was short-lived, however, possibly due to the great distances involved, the climate, or clashes with the local native inhabitants. We have only found one major settlement at L’Anse aux Meadows at the northern tip of Newfoundland, and even that seems to be like a temporary area for ship repairs, like a way-station to other places. It is possible that it was the base camp of Leif Erikson. There has also been evidence of possible habitation on Baffin Island, but the archeological evidence is still scarce. Beyond the basic history, the album also deals with the spiritual changes at the time with the coming of Christianity. In the sagas, the recorded expeditions included both pagans and Christians, and I wanted to explore that friction, especially with Erik the Red and his sons Leif and Thorvald Erikson. Erik stayed with his old ways, while his sons did not.

CT: You have a full band now, how did you put the band together? Did the additional members have an impact on the writing of Northen? The only song specifically noted as being written by yourself along with drummer Nicholas Ireland and rhythm guitarist Michael Grund is "Skraeling." Will there be more involvement songwriting wise from the rest of the band on future releases? What was it like working with some other people instead of doing everything yourself like you did on the past albums?

D: The other guys were friends from local bands, and they offered to help me bring my music to the live stage. I had a majority of the new album written, but I still had some room for new song ideas. Mike and Nich put together the song that became Skraeling, and after I took their ideas and added a few of my own little touches and some lyrics, we had the first SIG:AR:TYR song that wasn’t initially created by me. It was one of the first songs that was fully completed, and I think it set the tone for the rest of album. It was great to finally have proper drums on this album, as before I had just programmed them on my own. With Nich doing his own thing with the drums, Morgan doing his own bass parts, and Mike’s writing contributions, it really helped round out the album to make it what it is. When you do everything yourself for so long, you tend to become predictable with your song writing, so it really helped freshen the sound. I’d definitely like to keep moving forward with that and have more contributions and collaborations in the future with them.

CT: My favorite track on Northen so far is "Runarmal." My initial listen I was reminded of one of your biggest influences, Bathory, especially the transition from the initial acoustic guitar into the main verse riff. I think the track also has the best guitar solo on the album. As I looked at the lyrics to the track, I immediately thought of Godsaga and the story of Odin acquiring the knowledge of the runes. Here the lyrics accompany an excerpt about Erik The Red's wife converting to Christianity and refusing to live with Erik afterwards. Can you pull these separate strands together? I feel like I know what you're trying to point out but I'd love to hear it in your own words.

D: The song Runarmal is kind of the “odd man out” as it does not relate specifically to anything about the Vikings explorations in Canada, it is more a of general song about Norse paganism. I took the rune poem section from Hávamál, which recites 18 different runic spells or charms, and used that as the basis for the song. In terms of the excerpts and relationship with Erik the Red, I used it to reinforce that he remained pagan and true to his gods. Whether he actually knew how to write runes I do not know. The excerpt also added a bit of that dark saga humour that I love. “Thjodhild refused to live with Erik after she was converted, and this annoyed him greatly.”

Musically, that song is more based on the slower epic Yngwie Malmsteen songs… the drop-tuned, doomy, ancient sounding chords. A lot of people know my Bathory influences on my music for sure, but Yngwie Malmsteen and that neoclassical style is the other part of it.

CT: I also really like "Crownless." I think that track stuck out to me most on the first listen and it has a very Heavy Metal feel to it with the chorus being quite anthemic. The song is about Leif Erikson voyaging to Greenland, if I'm not mistaking. What happens on this voyage? What are you saying about Christianity in this song?

D: This song is primarily from the perspective of Erik the Red. I found some artwork from the late 1800’s that I included in the CD booklet. It is called “King Eric the Red Discovers Greenland”. He had been exiled from both Norway and Iceland due to some killings, and ended up founding Greenland and the settlements there lasted almost 500 years. Although he is rarely referred to as “King”, I would think that is what he felt like in his newly founded land, and also because he was distancing himself from the Christian conversions in Norway and Iceland. It is also about the Norse penchant for wanting to explore new lands and to “seek a name of high renown”. In the lyrics he also speaks of wanting to “carve my ancient runes on distant shores, where my sons shall gain their fame”. Sadly, Erik the Red never made it to the new world. In the saga, he was to join Leif on his expedition, but he falls off his horse injuring himself, and stays behind.

There is an old Robert E. Howard tale (the creator of Conan) called “By This Axe I Rule!” which was about Kull, one of his other characters. I took that defiant sentiment into the chorus of Crownless: “I am King!… where is my crown?”, and also the spoken word part where he states “Where my own sword guides my fate, where my hammer strikes the cross!”

CT: "Vinland" is a massive track that, to me, to me is maybe the climax of the album. How did you decide the placement of this track on the album and in the concept?

D: Vinland is definitely one of the more memorable tracks, and as you said it is like a climax that starts off the last third of the album. I craft the momentum of my albums very carefully. Every track has to be in the right place. It is the final “land” that the Vikings explored. We are still not sure what exactly encompasses Vinland. There is a lot of evidence from the descriptions in the sagas and the little scraps of archeological findings at L’Anse aux Meadows that they travelled much further south. The settlement at L’Anse aux Meadows seems to be a “gateway” to Vinland. Part of the lyrics are again from the perspective of Erik the Red who hopes that his sons will find their way back to their old ways in this new world. The other half of the lyrics is from the perspective of the those who made it to Vinland who were still pagan and wanted that to be the basis of their new world.

CT: "Last Ship Sails" is a perfect album closer. I don't think there is a question here, I just wanted to let you know I thought it was a superb ending to Northern.

D: Thank you, it’s definitely a ballad-like closer to the album, a bittersweet type of sentiment as I sought to imagine how they were feeling when they left the new world once and for all and sailed away back home to Greenland or Iceland, never to return. The most important sentiment I wanted to convey is that no matter the success or failure of these expeditions, their names and deeds lived on to us and still inspire us today. It goes back to the famous saying from Hávamál: “Cattle die, kinsmen die, and so one’s self must die. But there is one thing that never dies, the fame of a dead man’s deeds.”

CT: It  looks like a lot of time went into the sixteen page booklet. How did you choose the excerpts to accompany the lyrics to each track? How important to you are these excerpts in understanding the lyrics in your music?

D: I included the direct quotes from the sagas to go along with each song. I thought it was important to add some context to what inspired the songs and the lyrics, and hopefully lead one to go on and read these sagas themselves. Some were from the Vinland Sagas — the Saga of Erik the Red and the Saga of the Greenlanders. Others were from different sagas, or the writings of historians like Adam of Bremen or later writers who mentioned Vinland. It was clear that news of the Norse travels to these mysterious lands spread quickly in the old world among kings and clergy.

CT: Overall, how pleased are you with Northen? Did the final product match your vision from when you started putting together the album? What is your favorite moment on Northen?

D: There are so many times throughout the whole process when I never thought it would come together as I hoped. I’m glad I took my time to get it the way I wanted in terms of the sound and the mood. I wasn’t under any timelines, but I was constantly pushing myself to get it done sooner, but sometimes you just have to let an idea breathe and work its way into reality naturally. If I had a favorite moment, it was probably the guitar solo in Markland (The Hammer Fades). That song has a very deep meaning, like looking into the eye of a lost god who has disappeared because he has been forgotten, and then remembering and invoking him back to life. That was the feeling I was trying to channel.

CT: You visited L’Anse aux Meadows. The site is central to Northen's concept. What importance does this location have in relation to the album and what sort of personal emotions did you have while physically at the site?

D: I really wanted to see the site for myself, and try to get that sense of what the Vikings may have seen and felt when they landed there a thousand years ago. I had to fly from Toronto to Deer Lake in Newfoundland, then drive a car about 5 hours straight up the coast. It was so incredibly beautiful that drive, so many places to stop and just be in awe of nature, with the wild waves your constant companion. It is a very small site at the northern tip of Newfoundland. There are mounds there from the original excavations, and also a recreated village so you could envision what it looked like. It was really amazing to think that I might have standing where Leif Erikson or other Viking explorers had stood. The sagas come to life in front of your eyes. We don’t really know for sure who had settled there, but the carbon dating really points to the fact that it might have been Leif’s houses. Leif also let future expeditions use his same houses so it makes sense that this “way station” was this same place, the gateway to Vinland. It was a pilgrimage for me just to see for myself what I had been writing about for so many years. I had just finished the album when I travelled there, so it was great way to end the whole process.

CT: When you visited L’Anse aux Meadows you had a bunch of great pictures taken by a definite not-metalhead photographer. How did you come in contact with her? What was her reaction or interest like working with you and did she take an interest in what you were doing with SIG:AR:TYR?

D: I met the Wendy by chance at the inn I was staying at, just a few minutes from the site. I was kind of stuck in the area that day because I blew a tire on my rental vehicle. When I found out she was a photographer, I asked if she was interested in taking some photos for me as promo shots for my album. She had never done anything like that before, and was very interested and up for the challenge. She lives there and knew all the different places we could go to take pictures at the L’Anse aux Meadows site and also in the immediate vicinity. I think my favorite was the photo of me and the very large statue of Leif Erikson in the harbour there. I was very grateful for her kindness and expertise, and it’s just another one of those fateful things that happen on your journey that make your experience so much greater. Everyone I met in Newfoundland was so incredibly friendly and helpful and I look forward to going back there again.

CT: Is there any vinyl planned for Northen or any of your other releases?

D: It has been talked about but nothing finalized. I’m not really big on the whole vinyl resurgence, I don’t even have a working turntable at the moment. But I know there’s a huge market for it, and a lot of people have asked about, so it may eventually happen. Myself, I listen to most of my music digitally. I still buy CDs now and again of my favourite bands, but a majority is purchased digitally. It’s just the way I like to listen to it, whether it’s in my car, or at home, or traveling.

CT: What got you interested in Viking and Scandinavian history and folklore? Do you have viking blood in your own heritage and have you done any family research tracing back your roots to Norway, Sweden, or Denmark that helped pique your interest?

D: I’m British, so that’s where my family roots are. In England, they did not preserve their pagan past as well as did the Scandinavian countries. So that is why you find such a greater interest in the Norse sagas because their pagan worldview is very clearly preserved and explained. For example, England has Beowulf, but even that is based on Danish history and myths. But if you do a comparison of all the North European cultures, there are similarities there that you can reconstruct a type of proto-North European worldview and that is what I’m interested in.

CT: What related movies, books, or art would be of interest for those that also have an interest in SIG:AR:TYR? I watched one of the short documentaries you had shared on your Facebook page and it was very interesting (The Vinland Mystery documentary with Helge Ingstad and Anne Stine Ingstad, who discovered L’Anse aux Meadows).

D: A good movie to watch that influenced me during the making of Northen is “Valhalla Rising”. I won’t spoil the plot but it is a really good movie with a great black-metal-ish type of soundtrack as well. Otherwise, I would just suggest to read as many original myths as possible (not books about them, read the original stories). It doesn’t have to be just Norse or British, it can be any culture in the world. There is great wisdom there from times when our ancestors looked at the world and the realm of the spirit in a very different way than we do.

For the topic of the Norse in the New World, there’s a nice book called “Vikings: The North Atlantic Saga”, it was put together in conjunction with the Smithsonian during the millennium celebrations in the year 2000 commemorating a thousand years since their arrival of Leif Erikson. It has a variety of specialist authors and lots of photos, maps, and it was the best general book on the subject that I found. Even has a forward by Hillary Clinton!

If I had to pick some fiction that inspired me musically, my favourite fantasy authors are Michael Moorcock and Tolkien, but Moorcock especially. His work is very influenced by the northern myths, but he also adds to it a universal worldview of a cyclical universe that shifts between the forces of chaos, balance, and order. When I came up with the name SIG:AR:TYR, it is the names of three runes that I thought reflected what chaos, balance, and order represented. Hugely influential on me. My first album is named after one of his Elric stories, “The Sailor on the Seas of Fate”.

CT: Does SIG:AR:TYR have any specific political or philosophical leanings that you would like to get across to listeners?

D: I would say simply that there is lost wisdom in our distant past and it can be rediscovered or “remembered”. Always look to something higher in whatever you do and how you live your life. If your goals have a true spiritual base, you are reconnecting with not only your innermost self, but also with the collective inheritance of those that have come before you.

CT: What influence has your art had on your personal life in terms of your worldview and your perspective on life? What have you learned about yourself while creating your music with SIG:AR:TYR?

D: I think it always forces me to look not only inward, but upward and higher. Expressing yourself via music… it lets some very personal feelings outwards into the world, feelings that you hope others can share with you by listening to it. Either they will resonate with it or they won’t. But you can learn from that too as other people see different things in your own music than as you see it, and you learn more about the world, other people, and yourself.

CT: What do you enjoy doing in your spare time when not writing music and working on SIG:AR:TYR?

D: I have a pretty regular life with a full time career, wife, dog, house, etc, I’m not a full time musician or anything like that. I spend a lot of time with my dog out on trails and in the woods. Sometimes I do some writing, I have a few little projects, fantasy type, that I’ve had been working on before being side-tracked by music so I’d like to get back to that someday. But otherwise I enjoy my quiet family life at home.

CT: Do you have any plans going forward for your next album or will you take another break? Will you do any live shows to support Northen?

D: I have some ideas for a next album, I’m not sure what it will be like, but maybe a bit faster, black metal-ish, thrashy. I definitely want to move away from the Norse myths as a theme, I am done with that. It might be something more like the “Beyond the North Winds” album that had more general themes to it. I would like to play some shows for Northen, but with everyone physically far apart and busy with their own projects right now, it is hard to get all the guys together to practice and help me get the rust off, but I hope it can happen soon.

CT: Did I miss anything? Any specific things you'd like to mention? Thanks for your time, thoughts, and most importantly your music!

D: Thank you for the interview, and I hope everyone enjoys the new album and discovers their own journey within it!

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