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Interview conducted February 16 2008
Interview published February 18 2008

When the album Kom I Min Kittel by the russian band Svartby arrived on my desk, I was quite stunned, to say the least. A russian band singing entirely in Swedish!? After the initial small chuckle, I realised there is way more to the band then just the odd lyrics. I decided to find out a bit more about them by asking the members Giftsvamp, Torhall, Lindwurm, Hök and Somna some well chosen questions regarding their past, present and future. The following is what they share with us.

Tommy: Let me first say that it is exciting for me personally to, for the first time, be able to interview a band in this genre that comes from Russia. Clearly you are inspired by Ensiferum, Finntroll, Korpiklaani and such bands, and are following their footsteps very well. What ever made you start up a band of this kind in 2003?

  • Lindwurm: Well, I wouldn't say we are inspired by those bands. At first - yes. But now the situation changed. We find inspiration in different styles of music, even not metal, in movies, cartoons, life situations and many other things. And the idea of making this kind of a band is very simple. We liked this music and no one played it in our city and in Russia. So we decided to fill this empty niche. (Giftsvamp:) I've always thought of creating some dance stuff. You see, we played brutal-death when an idea of creating Svartby came to me, and I gradually got tired of it. I thought "Hell, people must have real fun at gigs!" So I composed melodies and wrote stories just for myself, and when I and Lindwurm left that brutal-death band Nordlicht, we decided to start a new band based on melodies and concept which I already had. Considering our Scandinavian music "ancestors"? Well, yes. I wanted something like this: merry, brutal and mysterious. But still, these bands are mad with battles, mythology and Finntroll cares much about trolls-killing-Christians and true-nordic-troll stuff. That's too serious. No, we thought to make a scary fairy-tale, outside any religion and myths. To be closer to Hauf, Tove Janssen and Hoffman than to Thor, runes and mountain trolls, if you get my point. In music - more symphony, more magic, more light and fun. (Somna:) The band started without me at first. I saw an ad in a rock-music store and there were mentioned bands in clue of which Svartby will play. At that time I discovered Finntroll for myself and I decided to try. I was very happy to join professional musicians - for I had no music experience except an accordion class in music school, and little drummer experience in newbie-bands.

Tommy: Is it mainly the Scandinavian scene and style of folk music you are inspired by, or eastern European or your own Russian heritage, or perhaps equally much of them all?

  • Giftsvamp: There are lots of Russian pagan bands who devote themselves to solely Russian folklore and myths in lyrics and music. Scandinavian bands like Bathory and Moonsorrow developed viking and northern gods' themes. And they all do pretty good! But, as I said, we do a fairy-tale - so the music must be mysterious, with a strong scent of witchery. As for inspiration - we are inspired by any music that is dear to us. From space ambient to Pantera, from humppa to true black metal. (Torhall:) I can't say we are inspired by what you have mentioned. We are inspired by any music, can it be metal or folk or whatever. I can hear a song of Shakira on the radio and think "Wow, vocals here are done great! We should try the same thing". So we don't have any limits. (Lindwurm:) Considering folk-music, you can hear Scandinavian, Russian, Ukrainian and sometimes even Jewish tunes. (Somna:) Let me confess that I don't listen to folk-music except Finntroll and Moonsorrow. I'm inspired by death-metal, modern melodic death-metal, hardcore and our gigs. I listen to much different music - you can't meet me in the street without my mp3-player.

Tommy: What genre would you like to place yourselves in? I find traces of death, - black, -folk- as well as ordinary heavy metal in you, but it is hard for me to put my finger on what it should be called. As you say yourself on your MySpace site: "Merry songs that can't keep a single person from dancing and brutal enough for crazy headbanging…"

  • Giftsvamp: I wouldn't say we play in some sole genre. If we want to write a thrash song - we will do it. If we want to compose a metal ballad - here you are! Each song determines what riffs are to be used in it. We have certain limits though: a song should sound organic, and it should be covered with a layer of symphonic sound and melodies of keyboards to sound like forest and magic music. We like to call our style "svartcore". "Svart" is for "Svartby", the magic and folk part; "core" is for brutal guitars, drums and vocals. But it's close to folk-metal anyways. The gigs we play in Russia we play most commonly with folk-metal, viking and pagan bands. (Lindwurm:) It's hard even for us to name our own style. We are all different and each of us brings something from himself. So you could really hear death, and black, and metalcore at our album, anything you like. (Somna:) Folk-core.

Tommy: As a Swede myself, I find it extra special that you are singing entirely in Swedish. Please tell us the background and the reason to why you are doing this. We all know that Germans have a soft spot for Swedish, but coming from a Russian band, it is quite unusual… Are any members of the band studying Swedish or having any connection to Sweden, or are the lyrics just a result of a big interest in general for the country and the language?

  • Giftsvamp: Well, yes. As far as I know, there's no a single Russian band except us that sings in Swedish. The roots are - that very Finntroll :) I wanted to understand what they sing of and I studied Swedish by myself. So it became the second foreign language I knew. And then we thought to use it in Svartby lyrics. Swedish sounds pretty powerful and ancient, much more brutal and mysterious than English. Besides, our magical creatures live in northern forests - so why not use it? Maybe we would have sung in Norwegian or Danish if I learnt them. Anyways I'd choose a Scandinavian language for Svartby. (Torhall:) In fact Swedish is not the most exotic in our underground though unusual. If you dig our underground you could find lyrics in Finnish, Norwegian and German. Our metal bands sing rare in Russian, it is considered that you would hardly get European acknowledgement if you sing only in Russian. But alternative bands like Amatory and Origami proved that songs in Russian are quite popular among native listeners. That's why many of our metal bands began to record two versions of their albums, for example, in English and in Russian. Often when I talk to musicians I hear "Yesterday we've finished with Russian vocals, we'll start English in a week".

Tommy: Are the lyrics and stories purely made up by yourselves or are they coming from actual old books, sagas or fairytales?

  • Giftsvamp: The only song that is inspired by a myth is "Tomte". The others are taken from inside my head - we created our own fairy-tale and our own world. I said "we"? Yes, though I'm writing lyrics, I take an advice from all members of Svartby sometimes. We tell a big tale of the magic Black Village where different magic creatures live. Thematically divided for albums, each song is a single story - but the whole "book" is called Svartby.

Tommy: All the individual words in the lyrics are correct, but many times the whole context can to me tend to be a bit strange. Did you have any help from someone outside the band writing the lyrics, or have you written them all by yourselves?

  • Giftsvamp: I like to use unusual words for usual phrases even when I speak Russian. Doing it just for fun. Well, maybe it sounds not quite correct sometimes in Swedish as I'm not a native speaker. But when we recorded the "Tomte" EP in September, a Swedish guy wrote us a mail where he offered his help with the lyrics. It was just in time - we were to record vocals the next week. So he corrected few grammar mistakes and told what words sounded strange. Some words I haven't changed - it was just the case I wanted to speak strange :) Mats, thank you! I think we would use the help of native speakers further. Anyways I hope "Kom I Min Kittel" doesn't sound for Swedes like Russian lyrics from Therion's "Khlysti Evangelist" sound for Russians - it wasn't Russian language at all there. New Finnish band KYPCK is nice in Russian lyrics though a bit primitive. If we knew we reached the same level in Swedish - it's ok.

Tommy: Your strong debut album Kom I Min Kittel, which has just been released, is fast and heavy with strong and melodic harmonies and good vocals. I can spot a good deal of Ensiferum as well as even Children Of Bodom in it. Tell us a bit about the work behind making the debut come to life.

  • Torhall: Thank you; I don't hear compliments for my vocals very often. We started rehearsing the songs for Kom I Min Kittel just when we started Svartby that's why it's very important for us - they are the very beginning! We changed the structure of songs - first they were just verse, chorus, riff, repeated. And lyrics were very large, they reminded hip-hop lyrics by their size : But as we started playing the songs we decided to change them, to make them more various. (Lindwurm:) The first melodies were created by Giftsvamp long ago. When the band was formed all these pieces were used in our songs. Each of us brought his ideas, changed something. Often our songs were changed so much that they are almost different if compared to the first ideas. (Somna:) I didn't take part in composing except "Stjärnfull Natt" (outro) and surely all the drum parts. Little experience didn't let me to do everything I planned when I recorded drums. But I'll improve on the second record!

Tommy: In October 2007, you released a 5 song EP entitled Tomte, which according to you "tells the story about a tomte (or a brownie) who didn't get his porridge on X-mas Eve, so he leaves no things unspoiled in the house he cared of and walks to the Black Village, to live with dwarves and take part in their furious raids against humans". This dwarf theme is said to be developed on the second album. Have you already got any concrete plans for how that album will sound and what we can expect?

  • Hök: Our new album as you mentioned will be devoted to the dwarf theme because the dwarves have a rich lifetime in our Black Village. They are very naughty and have a good and thrashing time. We'd like it sound more mature than our firstling. You can expect the alike merry and light songs, a great lyrical part and an unusual view at folk-metal. (Lindwurm:) The musical line that appeared in "Tomte" EP will be developed on our second album. We will try to make its sound more clean and natural. (Somna:) I suppose it'll be heavier, faster and more brutal. But I'd like not to lose our folk component and work out our own style. (Torhall:) The album will be tougher considering guitars. On Kom I Min Kittel they were too much suppressed by keyboards. There will be more elements of modern nu-metal by all means. It's interesting to hear those riffs with folk keyboards. It's like Finntroll and Ektomorf met in one band.

Tommy: Tell us a bit about the musical climate in Russia today, and especially in the metal scene. I know there are quite some metal heads there, but are they attending gigs? Is it hard to make your own name heard and known?

  • Torhall: Yes, you're right. We have lots of metalheads here in Russia. Each weekend you can visit different metal-acts from gothic and heavy metal to death-metal and black metal. But they don't gather much people. Despite the fact that metal is popular enough, people don't visit many gigs. And the audience differs in different cities. In Saint-Petersburg most of people just listen to the band they came for, with their hands crossed, and then they drink in a bar. But there are also those who have great fun during all the show. And there's a real hurricane in Moscow! There you can meet headbanging, and slam, and folk circle-dancing. (Giftsvamp:) Speaking about metal - thematic gigs, devoted to single style, for example, a black metal festival, or a folk metal festival, gather from 200 to 500 people for a night. Mixed styled gigs are also good. But there must be several strong and known native bands. You can count very few bands in Russia that will gather the same or more people, playing solo. Mostly they are hard-rock and heavy metal old bands like Aria or pagan bands like Butterfly Temple and Arkona. (Lindwurm:) Everything in our country is choked by a cheap pop-music. So metal scene is not developed well. Considering metal bands - there are some very good and interesting bands that can compose music and perform it on stage very well. And there are many boring and alike bands - that's very sad. A metal band in Russia has little chance to become known. (Hök:) Despite the rise of metal scene it's still in a deep underground. As it's happening worldwide, nu-metal, metalcore, emocore and all other "cores" are extremely popular now, but they all mean nothing being compared to pop-music and dance-beats. I don't know why but young people prefer to have some cheap drugs and meet their morning without any thoughts and with spew on their clothes after a night at a disco. Guys, you could better take a pair of good friends with you and go listen to a good live music! (Somna:) Metal climate is changed to good little by little. Just two years ago all the metal was in underground. Just light rock and pop musicians gathered stadiums. Now metal is advanced, but not all styles. Melodic death metal and metalcore are very popular. And folk is still in underground. It's very sad that often people like the sole style of music. For example, the same fan of melodic-death doesn't like other styles of heavy music and considers it a bad form to listen to those styles. You should have a broad mind!

Tommy: How does the nearest future look for Svartby? Any tours or gigs during 2008? There are more and more festivals across Europe bringing on folk metal bands nowadays, and I am sure you would fit perfect in such a bill.

  • Torhall: We have a strict schedule for 2008, there will be less shows than we played the last year. And we hope to visit Europe with gigs, the fact our album is issued at Trollzorn gives us a nice chance. (Lindwurm:) We are concentrated on the material for the second album and hope to enter a record studio in the beginning of autumn, so we won't make stress on gigs. Considering tours we can't say anything definite. We hope to go somewhere by all means. (Hök:) New songs, rehearsals, gigs, work in a studio, our band in whole - it's our life. We'll do our best to show ourselves great in Russia and abroad. (Somna:) I hope to play more gigs and gain more gig experience. And if we get an invitation to some European festival I think we'd come for sure! Just contact us!

Tommy: That was all we had for now, Svartby. We wish you all the best for the future and hope to see you soon. Feel free to use the last space here to express anything you like to your Swedish and worldwide fans.

  • Torhall: Thanks a lot for the interesting questions! Support metal, bring positive to life and stay yourself! You Rock! (Somna:) Thank you! (Lindwurm:) Great thanks for your interest and support!!! Stay forever METAL!!!!! Hope to see you soon! (Giftsvamp:) Thanks a lot for the great questions and for interest to our band! We will try not to disappoint you ever! (Hök:) Svartcore till death! Let's rock, brothers!

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