Interview by Susanne Sinmara
Just a few minutes before they were about to hit the stage of the Islington Academy, supporting Arkona and Eluveitie, Snæbjörn Ragnarsson, bass player of Icelandic folk/pagan metal band Skálmöld sat down with me backstage to talk about Iceland, their album and their influences.
From the very beginning of the band it was kind of a joke between us, that we were going to do this – that it would be a fun thing to do. The word somehow spread, and in the end it caught the ears of the symphony orchestra administration. They actually gave us a call in the end, and we said: “Oh yeah! Fuck it”. I don’t know – someone somewhere must have pulled some strings! We are very proud of that, that the initiative came from their side.
I visited Iceland in March, and I loved this country – where do you come from in Iceland, what area are you from?
At the moment, for the last couple of years, we all live in Reykjavik, but none of us actually come from Reykjavik. Our drummer is from the very remote west; me, my brother and the singer are from a town called Húsavík up north, and the other two are from the countryside around Húsavík.
What would you suggest, if someone visits Iceland, what to see and what to visit? It depends on the season of course, I guess.
Wow…. It depends what you are interested in. I always find it funny, when I have visitors over I just drive around the countryside, what I find is nothing, but apparently it’s very interesting. Iceland is slowly getting more a touristy place. My first advice would be to get your ass over there now – don’t wait for a few years. It depends on what you are really looking for – downtown Reykjavik for example on a Thursday night is just really really nice. Then of course all that nature bullshit and whale watching thing and all that bullshit. It’s nice, I like it of course. But then I would say it, I love being up north. But don’t spend all the time in Reykjavik. Try to get outside of the city. I met a few people that thought that you just go to Reykjavik, and go do some whale watching, get drunk and go home.
I guess you see a lot of Northern Lights?
I grew up with the Northern Lights – I didn’t realise until I was maybe 20 until I realised that they are actually something special.
You’re so lucky!! I went there in March so I can see them, and we didn’t see them. We even went into the countryside, to Laugarvatn, by bus, and were hoping to see them. Sadly we missed them.
Coming back to the music. What would you think is the main difference between your last album and your new one?
Born Loka was kind of a next chapter for us, after the first album we automatically made the next one. For the new album, we did the Symphony album we were talking about earlier in between, and we had been doing some theatre shows back home, we did a theatre show out of our first record. Then we decided just to sit down, the six of us, and go back to where we come from. I think it’s a little bit heavier – for me at least – just basic straightforward. I don’t know, you should never judge your own music. That’s the feeling I have. Make it straightforward, and punchy, and metal.
How do you go about with songwriting process in general?
All our albums are concept albums. Usually the concept comes first, what the story is about. I mainly come up with the stories. The songwriting itself, we usually bring some material from home. We sit down with the guitars, and bring some ideas in, and it evolves in the process. We always assemble the songs during practice. It can be very hectic at times, when we try to squeeze all the parts into the songs. After that we organise which song is going to be which chapter of the story, and in the end I write the lyrics.
Do you spend a lot of time researching the lyrics?
I do, yes, I’m a nerd.
Lots of books?
Yeah – books and internet. I try to dig into our past – I mean, we are brought up with those stories, and I always try to find something that I used to remember, but I always throw in a bit of fiction as well. It’s very nerdy!
When I went to the Icelandic National Museum, I loved the kids play area, which was full of trolls – the Icelandic culture and mind is just different to other European cultures.
Yes, it is the same with the Northern Lights – I didn’t realise this until my 20ies – it was just there, just lights in the sky. It’s very funny when people discuss the stories of our albums, they think they know so much about the heathen myths and everything, and the Northern religions, and more often than not you have to tell them they’re wrong – because it’s simply not there.
A lot of things were not written down in the past, so how are we to know how it was exactly!
My last question would be: What current music would you recommend? Or generally, what do you recommend?
Current music… wow. I listen to punk rock mostly. My roots are in punk rock – Bad Religion are my favourite band. They are still releasing fabulous albums. Last album I listened to was Solstafir’s new album. I have to admit they are great friends of mine. I’ve not always been a fan, but the new album is absolutely amazing.
But generally I’d say – stop listening and make your own music.
That’s what I do, I’m a drummer!
You are? Drummers are the best. (other band member quips in:) ‘You can hold a beat!’
Well, thank you very much for the interview!
Thank you for being so patient!
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