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,
and Somna some well chosen questions regarding
their past, present and future. The following is what they share with
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.
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
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:)
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
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
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!
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.
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!
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!