INTERVIEW with GARMARNA – “Pure, dark, Nordic folk”

INTERVIEW with GARMARNA – “Pure, dark, Nordic folk”
Credit: Severus Tenenbaum

A few months ago, Swedish folk-rock outfit Garmarna released the music video for “Dagen Flyr,” translated ‘the day flies,’ a track from their latest LP, Förbundet, via Season of Mist. Förbundet comprises marvellous interpretations of Swedish folk songs, as well as two original tracks by Garmarna.

Talking about “Dagen Flyr,” Garmarna shares, “This song goes way back. We’ve played it live for nearly twenty years or so, and to finally release it feels less like a reveal and more as if we are putting something right. Being a choral from the Swedish speaking parts of Estonia, the lyrics concern old age, a goodbye to life, and a welcome of the inevitable death. Obviously, we didn’t really treat it as something as sombre. Rather, Stefan came up with a very catchy violin-tune, and once we paired the vocal part with the instrumental, everything else pretty much played out by itself. Arranging a GARMARNA tune can often be a painful and stretched out process, but not in this instance. Bass riff, drums, some acoustic guitars – done and dusted!”

Blending definite folk instrumentation and folk savours with hard-rock and metal elements, resulting in a wickedly alluring sound, towing listeners along with the irresistible pull of gravity. The highlight of “Dagen Flyr” is the entrancing voice of Emma Härdelin, skirting the line between bewitching and sumptuous symphonic chanting.

At once ghostly and haunting, the video is dark, yet the death motif, rather than being horrific, observes death from the viewpoint of anticipation and confidence.

XS Noize spoke with Garmarna, delving into the meaning of their name – Garmarna – their songwriting process and the inspiration for “Dagen Flyr.”

How did you get started in music? What’s the backstory there?

We all had some level of musical training before starting the band, but we came from different angles: Gotte and Rickard are both classically trained guitarists, and Jens played in various metal bands as well as orchestral percussion. Emma is from a fiddler’s and folk singing tradition with her family, and I was both classically trained as a violinist as well as growing up in a fiddler’s family. We all listened to many Pixies, Bowie, Smiths, Tom Waits, Depeche Mode, Nick Cave etc. We were also involved with other bands, and it all informed the ingredients of Garmarna. The foundation of alternative rock, ’60s psychedelia, garage rock, electronica, industrial, folk-rock and country, as well as classical influences, was very important for our ”stew.” When we fell in love with the old Swedish folk music style, we brought a lot to it. In all fairness, we were very young. It was chaotic, but even then, we made some sense of it all.

Who is in the band, and which instrument do they play?

Emma Härdelin: Lead singer. Plays violin and various instruments needed in live versions of our songs.

Stefan Brisland-Ferner: Main composer and producer. Plays violin, viola, bowed harp and the hurdy-gurdy live. In the studio: Whatever is needed and mostly responsible for the synths and programming.

Gotte Ringqvist: Guitar, violin, bowed harp and moraharpa.

Rickard Westman: Various electric guitars and basses, often electronically treated.

Jens Höglin: Drums and electronics.

What’s the story behind the name GARMARNA?

”Garm” is the mythological beast guarding the gates of Hel in northern mythology. ”Garmarna” is simply the plural form; Garm is now five!

What is your songwriting process?

It varies a lot! I’m constantly writing, and most of the music I make follows a certain melodic style. It might not be intended for Garmarna, but it can all be used in Garmarna because it is this certain melodic and harmonic style I write that is not rooted in any blues or rock tradition. Abba wrote pop out of Swedish folk music a lot of the time. It’s that melodic sensibility. Then it kind of bubbles underneath the surface until it’s ready to match with something Emma brings to the table. That might be a medieval story that already has a strong historic melody. We try to match everything up to reach a certain emotional quality that we’re after, depending on the subject matter or whatever associations a certain piece brings. A lot of the songs we’ve made have been happy accidents. The last two albums have been pure, hard work, but certainly, there have been many happy accidents on this last one! Overall, the songs really go back and forth a lot. We’re not afraid to throw everything away and start fresh. It’s like a puzzle….

Your sound blends folk, classical, and metal elements. How would you describe your sound?

At the moment, we’re doing pure dark, nordic folk. I honestly find it hard to describe the sound; it’s both earthy and ethereal. We care a lot for the groove. However airy it can get, it needs to really move the more primal instincts.

What inspired your new song/music video, “Dagen Flyr?”

The song is an Estonian chorale, contemplating on a life lived and a yearning for it to end. It has a desperate quality to it. We focused on that pulse moving forward, like life itself. It’s a celebration of life, really, although from the perspective that ”now, it’s done. Let’s move on”. The video is a very simple one: We filmed Emma and myself singing the song, with the others spinning at various speeds. We liked the look. It’s a homage to Kraftwerk, who used that imagery in a couple of videos. The images used in the video is part of the artwork for the new album, ”Förbundet.” It is made by Swedish artist Axel Torvenius.

What do you hope your fans/listeners take away with them from the video?

That ”Dagen Flyr” is a great track! And also, get a feel for how Garmarna looks approaching 50.

Well, all jokes aside, we hope it brings a sense of urgency and that that urgency is brought through the performance. We like the images of the coffin levitating over the lake, with blood-red roots penetrating the underworld. We want it to feel rooted.

Do you have guilty music and/or entertainment pleasure?

Many. Many. I don’t think there is bad music per se…but sure. I can’t think of any….or maybe I don’t want to…but thinking about it, I think one of the absolute best strengths is to be extremely open if you want to have something to do in music. That extends to life itself, of course. Not caring about norms. At all. Be strong and be open.

Why do you make music?

Because I would not survive otherwise, I need to play music. Music is my life. It’s a direct instinct, as strong and primitive as when I was a child. It’s a way to live; it’s a way to think and to communicate.

How are you handling the coronavirus situation?

Quite well. Obviously, it’s a disastrous time for everyone. We have all suffered losses. It is now a time to reflect on what is important in life, which might be the most positive thing about this. But being quite an introspective personality at times, having worked in studios all my life, the actual new order isn’t that different.

Looking ahead, what’s next for GARMARNA?

Something new and very exciting! We have ideas that we hope to start realizing soon. But there are no real plans at the moment, just exciting new music. Very exciting. It’s amazing, we’ve been around for 30 years, and we are reaching a very satisfying all-time high at the moment. There is some new, very strong music coming up…both familiar and expected but also completely surprising, I think. Let’s drink to that!

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Xsnoize Author
Randall Radic 180 Articles
Randy Radic lives in Northern California where he smokes cigars, keeps snakes as pets, and writes about music and pop culture. Fav artists/bands: SpaceAcre, Buddy Miller, Post Malone, Tool, Smashing Pumpkins, Korn, and he’s a sucker for female-fronted dream-pop bands.

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