10 November 2013

Interview: Hamferð

Read the Italian version of the interview here

Today we have as guests Jón Aldará and Theodor Kapnas, frontman and guitarist of the Faroese doom metal band Hamferð. Welcome!
First of all, let’s start talking about your latest album, Evst, which is about to be released worldwide via TUTL Records. Evst focuses on a story of sadness and loss, which develops itself during the entire length of your album. Is it what you were planning to create from the very beginning? What inspired you? And would you define it as a concept album?

Jón I would certainly define it as a concept album, since the lyrics tell a chronological story with a beginning and an end and the music is intended to give a feeling of progression throughout the album. It was always the idea to design an isolated story for the album that is also connected to the Vilst er síðsta fet EP in concept. The intention is to maintain a fictional world where the stories and characters are interrelated and can be developed unattached to trends or actual events and wherein we can feed a more emotionally and poetically based version of Faroese culture. So of course, we are highly inspired by the Faroe Islands in general; nature, weather, history, society, culture and especially the harsher and darker aspects of these.

Like in your first EP Vilst er síðsta fet, also in Evst you have taken the unusual decision of performing all your lyrics in your mother tongue, Faroese language. What do you think are the strengths of such choice? And how would you describe Evst lyrics to a non-Faroese speaking public?

Jón The strengths are many, especially the fact that we can attain a stronger concept this way. Also, it is no lie that a singer has an emotive advantage when singing in his first language. The flow is more natural and the possibilities for expression are more abundant. To me, it a beautiful language as well, and it can be both harsh and punishing in some cases, while in other cases it can be gentle and frail. The lyrics of Evst are actually more like a large, multi-part poem. They are not bluntly descriptive of every physical ocurrences in the story but rather they express the experiences of the main character in a completely subjective manner, revealing his imperfections, miscalculations and emotions in each situation in which he finds himself.

Just as your lyrics, so can Evst be defined as an almost 100% Faroese album. It’s been recorded on the Islands and your label, artwork artist and guest musicians are all Faroese. What are the reasons behind these peculiar choices?

Theodor It just came naturally. We've been working with TUTL for a few years and I work in Studio Bloch where the album was recorded.  Regarding the guest musicians, it'd be impossible to ask an artist from abroad to sound Faroese. We are heavily inspired by our surroundings and by the special atmosphere which is present in the Faroe Islands so it feels completely natural to use other artists who understand those feelings. There is also the simple fact that we know most of the artists that we work with which makes it easier to get a collaboration to work. And when we get to work with people such as Eivør, ORKA and Jón Sonni Jensen here in the Faroe Islands we have no reason to go looking any further.

Talking about the other artists taking part in your latest release: how would you describe the experience of having one of the most popular Faroese singers, Eivør Pálsdóttir, as a guest in Sinnisloysi and, above all, of sharing your stage with her?

Jón Eivør is a wonderfully creative and lovely person who is hard-working and still has a very relaxed attitude, so it’s always a delight meeting her and working with her. The parts she did on Sinnisloysi turned out amazing, so it was a purely positive experience. Sharing the stage with her was just the icing on the cake, as she has a very strong stage-presence and lights up anything she’s involved in. But the fact that she is one of the best known Faroese musicians didn’t really play any role. Both parties were interested in doing something together, and it ended up being more or less a perfect match.

You have also included to your album some fragments recorded by the Faroese band ORKA for their FØROYAR 5.2 project, which allow your fans to listen to some of the sounds coming from the Faroese underground, while being immersed into a doom metal atmosphere. How would you describe this unique final result?

Theodor I'm very pleased with the result. For those who haven't heard about the project, ORKA's Føroyar 5.2 is a combination of seismology and audio, any readers who haven't heard of it should check it out! They tapped into a few seismographs around the Faroe Islands and converted the seismic signals to audio. Therefore it's literally the sound of the Faroese underground. They've based a project around the collected audio, both background noise and the seismic signals from when they hit the mountains with sledgehammers, explosions etc.  I was at the first exhibition of the project and was completely blown away by it. By that time we had already decided upon the concept of Evst where the protagonist ends up living inside a mountain where he slowly goes crazy. And what better way to describe that feeling than the actual rumbling of the Faroese mountains? ORKA were kind enough to allow us to use a few samples for it, we sat down one evening and edited a few parts which then ended up on the album. I think it turned out great and it's one of the things on the album which I'm personally very proud of.

Evst is about to be released almost three years after your Vilst er síðsta fet. Do you think that your music, as well as the band itself, has changed or, in a way, matured meanwhile?

Jón Yes, in a way. I’m not sure if that change can be heard directly on the album, since the writing for Evst was not the same as for Vilst er síðsta fet, which means that the two albums will automatically contain noticeable differences. But in terms of taste, musicianship and confidence we’ve all grown – together as well as individually – and I think our idea of Hamferð as a band has become far more lucid. We’re learning more and more about what we want for the band and what we need to make it feel whole but still expanding.

Theodor When we started recording Vilst er síðsta fet I still hadn't played a proper show for Hamferð and Jón had only performed our very first shows in 2008 so we were a very new band. Some of the material had existed for some time while some of the material was brand new so it was a pretty varied album. I'm still proud of the EP, especially considering the circumstances, but we've played much more together since then and the band has come on leaps and bounds. We spent more time on this album, knew each other better and knew from the onset what we were going for. Recording the album in a world-class studio instead of my bedroom also helped. I personally feel that all those things have made Evst a huge improvement on Vilst er síðsta fet on all levels which is only natural. We already have a list of things we want to do differently on the next album so hopefully we can continue progressing.

Have you worked for a long time, to arrange and record this full-length? Did you have to change something throughout the recording business, or has everything gone as planned?

Theodor We've worked a very, very long time on this album. Especially me since I was both very involved in the songwriting and I produced and mixed the album as well. The first riffs were ready two years ago, but the album was probably written throughout most of 2012 and a bit into 2013.  The recordings went pretty smooth since we were really well prepared. We did end up spending an extra weekend on the vocals and some of the overdubs and solos were done quite late in the process, but that's just because we're perfectionists and are never quite happy haha. But everything turned out really well if you ask me.
For me personally the biggest issue during the whole process was mixing the album. When you've written and recorded an album it's really easy to lose perspective of what it really sounds like and focus on small, unnecessary details instead. I started mixing it in June and got stuck, it sounded terrible. I got Gregory Tomao from The Tomato Farm Studio in New York to reamp the guitars to get some fresh perspective and I took a break from the project for a few weeks. And when I came back to it I had a fresh state of mind and finished it quite quickly.

During your live performances, you never lose your grim, elegant, gloomy on-stage attitude. What kind of feelings are you trying to instill to your audience?

Jón In essence, we are trying to tell stories containing strong emotional content. But of course, it’s not necessary to know exactly what we sing about to enjoy our performance, since we try to write according to what kind of story or story-piece we want to convey. The emotions we express on stage are typically ones of sorrow, loss, despair, bewilderment and such, but what we wish for the audience is to consider this expression as a type of psychological release that we hope they can relate to, and if they exit the venue afterwards feeling uplifted and satisfied, then we’ve achieved our goal.

Hamferð is also about to start touring central Europe, promoting your music throughout several different countries. What are you expecting from this new experience?

Theodor I don't really know what to expect to be perfectly honest. But we're looking forward to it! We've had a really good PR campaign going, we're getting features in some of the bigger metal magazines in Germany and I hope that makes a difference. Playing outside the Faroe Islands is obviously a different experience, most people out there have never heard of Hamferð so it's definitely a challenge. But we strongly believe in what we're doing and we have a really strong setup around the band so I'm feeling cautiously optimistic. Let's see what happens!

How is it going with your label, Faroese TUTL Records, especially after turning down a gained international label contract? Have you managed to continue your work without any unwanted influences?

Theodor We feel really priviliged to work with a label like TUTL. They supported us from day one and gave us a platform to write and release music even though nobody had ever heard of us before. We've been lucky enough that while the band has grown TUTL's capacity has also grown. That means we can actually release an album internationally with a proper PR campaign, release tour etc. while still being signed to TUTL. They have been extremely supportive throughout the years and they definitely help inspire us to do our best.

Which other metal bands have inspired Hamferð, from its foundation onwards?

Jón I would imagine that John would be the most qualified person to answer that, since he founded the band and wrote most of the earlier material. As far as I can recall, he was inspired by bands like My Dying Bride and Katatonia, for example. Otherwise, each member is very different in regards to musical taste. Myself, I’ve never listened that much to doom metal and still only do to a limited degree, so my inspirations come from pretty much all over and nowhere. I’m never aware of any specific musical influence when I do vocals for Hamferð, though, so it’s difficult for me to mention bands. Gun to my head, I’d say Maiden, ELO, Bal-Sagoth, Nevermore, Moonsorrow and Rotting Christ, but that’s just the very tip of the mountain.

Theodor As Jón says we all have very different tastes. I don't think there's any particular band or type of music which inspires me to write Hamferð material nowadays. This last year the closest bet would probably be Tchaikovsky's Sixth Symphony or something like that(doomier than most doom metal!). And before that I've been very inspired by Swallow The Sun. But it's slowly getting to a point where we are getting a clear vision of what we want Hamferð to sound like which is independent from any direct outside influences.

Our interview is now coming to its end. Thanks to both of you for the time you’ve spent answering our questions. Would you like to say something more to our Italian readers?

Jón Thank you very much yourself. We didn’t make it back to Italy in 2013, but we’re very hopeful for 2014. Can’t hurt to get the album, just in case we come to Italy unexpectedly and you want to be able to sing along!

Hamferð discography
Vilst er Síðsta Fet  (EP, 2010)
Evst (2013)

Go listen to Evst on Spotify and buy the album on TUTL official webpageiTunes and EMP

More about Hamferð on their Facebook and YouTube pages

For all the pictures in this article, credits to: Bjartur Vest PhotographyEija Mäkivuoti Photography