Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Interview with Joris Boghtdrincker of Heidevolk, Part Two

Click here for Part One.

Joris Boghtdrincker of Heidevolk

KS – The songs that you wrote the lyrics for on the first record (De Strijdlust Is Geboren) are about Donar and Wodan and refer to Roman writings about the Germanic tribes (“Furor Teutonicus”). As a Netherlander, do you feel more of a connection to the continental sources for northern mythology than to the Icelandic ones?

JB – Yeah, I feel a lot more connected to what has been going on on the continent than Scandinavia. Which is not to say that I cannot draw inspiration from the northern regions. What I like to do is, especially, read about things like comparative mythology and see how different central concepts have local varieties, local ways of manifesting themselves.

The sad part is that a lot of our history – a lot of the pagan history – has been wiped away or changed at an earlier age than, let’s say, the Scandinavian stuff. It’s kind of tempting to hook onto the Scandinavian thing, but I feel much more connected to the local history and the local version of it. That does present us with the problem that there has been passed on a lot less, and a lot of it has been destroyed. It’s the hard way, I guess. It would be easier to just hook onto Odin and Thor and stuff.

KS – On Wallhalla Wacht, you personally wrote almost all the lyrics and liner notes yourself. This was the first metal or rock album I had ever seen with footnotes. Why did you decide to write these miniature historical essays instead of simply having English translations of the lyrics in the booklet?

JB – I don’t think that was a conscious decision to do either/or.

KS – But you don’t translate the lyrics.

JB – I think a lot of the meaning and a lot of the feeling will get lost if I do that. People just have to take the lyrics for what they are – at least take Dutch for what it is. I will go as far as to give the listener an idea of what we’re trying to say. I know of certain bands that have tried translating their lyrics. It becomes some sort of Frankenstein, if you ask me. The feeling, the metrum – it gets lost. So that’s why I didn’t do that.

The cover of Heidevolk's Walhalla Wacht

You’re familiar with a band called Skyforger? That is a band definitely worth checking out, because they have the whole Baltic thing going. They have been doing that for years before we did. It’s one of our sources of inspiration – not so much thematically, but musically and the way they go about their business. They always allowed listeners to understand what they were singing about. It’s not like bizarre, own little thing and we’re going to be very secretive about what it is.

What they also do is, during concerts, they talk a lot about, “This next song is…” Some people handle that better than other people. Some people, they start screaming, “SLAYER!” and “Next song! Next song!” It’s one of the things that I really like about that band. They tell a story. For us, that was important, too, because we had a story to tell. Maybe not everybody could understand the lyrics, but at least you can get an idea of what it’s about.

I always enjoy liner notes. Some people hate it, because it ruins their image of a song, or their interpretation. But then, just keep that page folded in the booklet, I suppose.

KS – When I’m teaching music history, I try to get the students to think about how instrumental music can have meaning – whether it can have meaning without lyrics. I think it’s interesting that you include essays for your instrumental pieces like “Dageraad” and “Veleda” that talk about what you’re expressing. This is something you don’t see very often in popular music.

JB – That’s an interesting point. I think a lot of instrumental classical music can tell a story, and sometimes it’s best not to know what the author was trying to say. It’s nicer to come up with your own interpretation, your own sensation of what those sounds mean to you.

Dageraad ("dawn") over Nijmegen in the Netherladnds

Since all of our music is rooted into certain themes, I guess that’s why we thought it was necessary also for the instrumental tracks. How does this piece of music fit in this story? What does it express? But if people just like it for other reasons, that’s perfectly fine, too.

KS – Heidevolk guitarist and founding member Sebas quit the band in 2011, saying:
When I founded the band in 2002 I have done this to, as an artist, bring a message to the world, the proud pagan message of Heidevolk. Now I have noticed the time has slowly come for me to look to other things, and there for I have decided to focus myself more on paganism and other musical projects I always wanted to work on but never had the time for.
Do you feel the band is still bringing a “proud pagan message” to the world?

JB – I don’t think that has lessened with his leaving. I know for a fact that he is very much into that sort of stuff. What we will never compromise on is the message. I’m sort of a hardliner within the band. That’s also again that level between the spiritual and the profane. I’m not going to name any names, but we have certain people that are more into it for other reasons than others. I really think it’s important that we have a message, that it shouldn’t become a shallow image or anything.

Heidevolk guitarist Sebas Bloeddorst in 2011
Photograph by Alessia Simoncini

It worries me, in general in this sort of music, that sometimes you see people using the image – abusing the image, I should say. Then again, I’m very postmodern on this whole thing. Who am I to say you should or should not abuse those themes in certain ways? People are going to draw from it what they want, anyway. If you bring a serious message presented in a serious way, I trust people will see that and people will know that. And if it’s just image or just fun, that’s fine, too.

Sometimes I get a bit annoyed by it. The subject means too much to me to become hollow, when it’s just a shell. To me, it’s about the core – and that core should always be in the music.

KS – The Walhalla Wacht liner notes very strongly speak of Saxons fighting Charlemagne to defend their pagan beliefs, of Radboud refusing to convert to Christianity, of honoring Wodan, of respecting dead ancestors, and of saluting Saxons who chose death over conversion. You write of “the strife for immortality on earth by obtaining a good name, and the realization of being part of an everlasting cycle that transcends a human life.” At the end of the booklet, you personally thank “Thunaer ende Uoden ende Saxnote ende alum them umholdum, the hira genotas sint” – a quote from the Abjuration of Lestines (742 CE) by which German pagans renounced their former faith on their conversion to Christianity.

Many bands in the pagan metal genre write songs with very pro-pagan lyrics, but then give interviews where they make fun of heathens, ridicule Ásatrú and declare themselves atheists. Where do you stand on this?

JB – That’s an interesting question. What I believe is not the same as what my ancestors believed. What I try to put into the music is the respect for the way they thought and the way they portrayed their values on certain gods, because that is my belief. What a god is, is an accumulation of values – of things that have been instrumental for survival portrayed on several characters who also interact.

Wodan is alive and well and living in the Netherlands.
He even has his own soccer team in Eindhoven.

To me, personally, what does it mean to believe? It is what you rely on. I don’t care if people would call me an atheist that is inspired by pagan themes. Fair enough. To me, a pagan is a person that is trying to cope with the world he lives in and is very conscious about the forces that motivate him. I find a lot of inspiration from the stories about Thor, Donar – whatever you call him – Wodan, Odin. And those are very strong forces in my life. I know for a fact that they are.

I can relate how they have influenced my forefathers – in a different way, probably. But when I read about these characters, I feel a very strong connection, and I can understand really well how those forces have… how planets are formed, certain elements are combined in certain places. They emanate forces and they stand for things. I realize this is getting maybe a bit out there. Ha!

KS – Not at all. I think that some of today’s heathens – especially if they come to this from a Christian background – think that it necessarily has to be a literal belief. They basically take a Christian belief system and move it over. In America, we tend to have a very literal approach to religion. However, in some of the Old Norse texts, the gods are thought of as powers and that which binds. Even back then, this was a way in which the gods could be conceived.

JB – Exactly. I think, if you know your history, you can see how the gods evolved. It’s not this top-down thing, not a revelation thing. It is not something that stands apart from this world. It is a part of this world, and it is shaped by this world. Sometimes you get these people who think there’s actually a guy in a cart with two he-goats, holding a hammer. Yeah. If you want to believe that – ha! That’s all fine, but…

Thor: just a guy in a cart with two he-goats, holding a hammer

I think what people should always be able to do is distinguish between the shape and between the meaning of things – and never take things too literally. They should be able to make out what the symbolism stands for and not take it for face value. I’m sure that many of the other religions that made it big, so to speak, started out like that. Then people just stopped thinking and just took it for what it was, or they gave very literal interpretations to those sources.

It can be a challenge, just digging for what the meaning of things is – because there is no one right interpretation. Again, that must sound very postmodern, but I do think that’s how it works.

KS – This is why I asked earlier about your statements on local focus. Some of what you’ve said about your music lines up with modern approaches to heathenry that focus on locality and worldview – as opposed to mystical belief.

JB – Oh, yes. What I am looking for – and what I was looking for back then – is the purest form. But, at the same time, it is not like I want to recreate the purest form and then bring it to this day and age. It’s like putting an old vase together, and there you go.

I think, like everybody, I have evolved in my thinking on that subject. I think it’s important. When I started getting interested in these matters, I was looking for one right interpretation of things. What does this rune stand for? I had a hard time coping with different information, or when you have different sources that are contradictory. How do you deal with that? Do you say, “I choose that as the right interpretation?” Or do you put yourself above that material and say, “Okay, so there’s different ways of looking at it,” and you make up your personal mind about this.

This is clearly the right interpretation.

I’ve become a bit more laid back when it comes to that. It’s not like I’m digging for the one truth, because I know it’s not out there.

KS – Many northern metal bands focus almost exclusively on the violence of Ragnarök and Viking raids. Heidevolk has some nice macho music, but you also have several beautiful songs focusing on goddesses and female leaders like Nehalennia, Ostara and Veleda. What attracts you to these untypical metal subjects?

JB – I think that represents the spectrum of things that inspire us. Of course, there’s the macho and the warlike things of that history that inspire us, but we have a bigger scope. We’re not afraid to express the softer side. It’s not about being only macho.

We do adjust our set to the audiences. When we play at a festival like this, we know most of the people are here just to have a good time. We’re not here to preach or anything, so we play the uptempo songs with just the occasional slower moments. When we do headliner shows at home, we come up with a representation of what we play. That means softer songs, faster songs, profane and spiritual. We’re not afraid to go into the sort of softer and more emotional areas of things that inspire us – and musically, also.

Can you guess where this Heidevolk photo was taken?

It can be a challenge, because we have different forces in the band, too. Some people are more into the loud stuff. The other day, we wrote a doom riff – and I know for a fact that our drummer is not a very big fan of doom. We wrote it, and he was [saying], “I want to go faster! I want to go faster!” But then he got the feeling, you know?

KS – Ha! His heart slowed down.

JB – “Ah, okay. If this is doom, then we can write another couple more doom songs.” Because he got the inspiration.

KS – That’s interesting, because I was surprised hearing parts of your new album. It seemed like the spirits of Iron Maiden and Motörhead were pushing out the folk music elements. Are those bands that influence either you or the guitarists in the band?

JB – Yes. Yes, absolutely. Yeah. If you speak about archetypes in metal, I think the names you just mentioned are prime candidates.

Traditional Viking banner

We never wanted to add like 30% folk and 50% metal. It doesn’t work like that. It’s just more the moment, you know? What inspires us. We had the lineup change then, so we had to do some soul-searching. What are we about? What is the music that we want to make? We had some aggression in us. It’s difficult, you know. It’s never a conscious decision, sort of “Let’s put a bit more of this into the mix.”

I think the type of music they made is very timeless. What we do try to achieve is to create a sort of timeless sound. That may sound pretentious, but I think it’s good – if you sing about timeless themes and cyclic themes – that you also use music that is timeless. I will never go as far as to say that “we created this timeless masterpiece inspired by...”

But it is the philosophy we had behind this CD. We need to come up with some very strong, deep-rooted musical styles. I’m not putting it into the right words. Ha!

KS – No, it’s good.

To be concluded in Part Three.


Anonymous said...

According to Wikipedia (not the best source, of course), the quote “Thunaer ende Uoden ende Saxnote ende alum them umholdum, the hira genotas sint” comes not from the Council of Lestines, but from a ninth-century Old Saxon Baptismal Vow.

Dr. Karl E. H. Seigfried said...

Dear Anonymous,

In the early 740s, Saint Boniface (the same fellow who cut down Thor's Oak) led the Council of Lestines. This is where the renunciation formula was adopted. The Council decided that this text would be spoken by Saxon converts to Christianity, who were required to renounce their old gods. The text is sometimes called the abjuration, sometimes the baptismal vow. You can read more about it in "The Clash with Christianity, Part 3."

Anonymous said...

Okay, I see, that makes sense. So it's the same vow, but it's actually from the eight century rather than the ninth.

Next Post Previous Post Home