Wallachia

 •  Posted in: Kogaionon Interviews

Hi Lars. How is winter there? How does 2015 sound for you?

Hello Doru, we have just turned into the New Year and the tons of snow we had during Christmas now has more or less washed away by the rain as the temperatures rose again.

Winter in Norway, as with many other locations have a significant change as far as the climate and it is much more unpredictable and with drastic changes on daily or weekly basis. A couple of years ago it was freezing cold with close to -30 degrees Celsius and completely dry like spring outside, lasting almost all of January and February. But usually we have a lot of snow in Norway between December and March, so I expect another heavy snowfall to come pretty soon.

Well, 2015 looks to be an active year for me and Wallachia, as we first of all are doing a new album now during the winter and spring months, and at the same time we are preparing ourselves with the live line-up in our two camps here in Norway and Austria, so there’s a lot to organize and handle, logistically, economically, etc.

We start now in the winter with the drum recording in the first session, then in June me and Stefan are scheduled to have our full recording session in his Soundtempel Studio near the Austrian border.

It will for sure be a busy and exciting year for me and the other guys.

 

 

Well, you are a veteran on this Metal stage even if you have only released a few albums. Why so slow in releasing the albums? You have started WALLACHIA in ‘92.

Yes, I created Wallachia already in 1992 and had written the songs for our demo during ’92 – ’93, and I was trying to put together a band here in my town without much success in finding anyone capable of playing the drums the way I wanted. So the initial idea was to do Wallachia solely as a one-man band, and I was trying to practice on drums myself whenever I had the opportunity.

But one can say that the real beginning of Wallachia was in the summer of 1995 when I hooked up with Eystein Garberg, who was also a bit in the same situation as me, and with his help and contribution we managed to set up Wallachia as a duo and I showed him my songs and he did the 2nd guitar, keyboards and programmed the drums for our demo.

The demo was released in March 1996 by ourselves on cassette, then the following summer we signed with Velvet Music International, France, to have it released as the “Wallachia” MCD.

We also signed a contract for a full-length album with them, and me and Eystein were at the time trying to set up Wallachia as a four-piece band including a drummer and bassist, but we never really got ahead with this line-up, so I basically went on my own and hired two drummers to help me out, and I did all the guitars, bass, keyboards and vocals on my own for the 1st album.

Then after the first album comes this long dormant period of Wallachia, mainly rooted in the fact that our label at the time disbanded shortly after we had released our album. And I was completely on scratch with everything.

At that time I went into the army for one year and right after I went into an apprenticeship and took some exams and stuff in order to get the job that I have had for many years now, so I just had to slowly build up Wallachia and make sure that I did it “right” the 2nd time.

It wasn’t until 2006 that I managed to record an instrumental demo for the entire 2nd album, and I had posted a couple of these songs on my then Myspace page, which lead to the co-operation I have with Stefan Traunmüller (Golden Dawn) and with his offer of recording and producing my album at his studio. Also Stefan hooked us up with the drummer, Thomas Kocher, and everything went really smooth from that point.

The 2nd album “Ceremony of Ascension” was recorded in the summer of 2008, and after doing some promotion in the autumn, I ended up signing with the German label Twilight Vertrieb who released in the spring the following year. Then this label also disbanded because of not being able to keep up against the “digital market” unfortunately, so once again we found ourselves on scratch. Much thanks to my friend Roman Sayenko from Ukrainian bands Drudkh and Blood of Kingu, we got picked up by the French label Debemur Morti Productions, who already were into the music of Wallachia since many years, so for the 3rd album we had an advance contract with them and we recorded “Shunya” in the summer of 2012.

So yeah, there’s the big gap between the first two albums, and now we have been on this 3-year cycle since 2009, with also our 4th album “Path of Satya” coming out towards the fall this year. And I feel that now I have catched up musically and have a lot more experience both as a musician and person, and I have a solid team of musicians helping me out to realize what I do with Wallachia.

 

Well, I remember I was shocked  in 1996 when you sent me your first MCD… Why would a Norwegian musician decide to follow Vlat Tepes concept? At those times all BM fans were fascinated by runes, Thor, Odin…

I was always fascinated with the Dracula myths from the vampirical aspects since my childhood, and it was when I discovered the origin behind all this, the real stories about Vlad Tepes which made me base the concept of Wallachia around these histories, legends and myths.

I came across a Danish book that spoke about the morbid characters of European history, which included individual chapters about the Hungarian Countess Elizabeth Bathory, the French nobleman Gilles De Rais, and then there was the most extensive chapter about Vlad Tepes. And this was in the times before the internet and information was more scarce and difficult to find, which made it even more mysterious and interesting, as you kind of shape your own image of the sceneries, the majestic nature of the Carpathians, the castles and ruins.

I would say that it was exotic in a way for me as for someone from the Southern lands being intrigued by the runes, the fjords and the Viking sagas.

For me the story about Vlad is very much the one of a National Hero, pretty much just like the Scotsman William Wallace that the movie Braveheart is based upon.

So it was the perfect base for creating epic, dramatic and raw music, and to have a more somber and gothic atmosphere to the sound as well as the aesthetics.

I live in a region of Norway where the pagan ancestry is still much alive in terms of still today being made arheological discoveries of longboats, treasures belonging to Kings, etc. And at the north end of my town you can see many burial mounds and symbolic things that have endured the centuries. So it’s interesting to have this as a part of our heritage and to maintain our true nature as human beings in respect of our surroundings.

I was naturally drawn towards the Transylvanian subjects and the whole mystical feeling that goes along with it, so in that sense it felt more creative for me personally to have these themes as a base for my music.

Can you believe it’s been 20 years since then? What memories do you have from the’90s period? I know you showed a lot of respect to WINDIR music. And BATHORY, EMPEROR, SAMAEL, ROTTING CHRIST. Are you still listening to these bands today?

Yes, all these bands you mention are key inspiration sources to my own music, and especially the mid-era Bathory stuff (Under the Sign…, Blood Fire Death, Hammerheart) were big influential albums for the epic sound. And I got early on hooked on the Greek scene, and in particular Rotting Christ were a big source of inspiration, with Sakis’ unique way of composing good and catchy melodic riffs. And I think they are just as great as a band today as back two decades ago. So all my influences from the early ‘90’s still mean a lot to me, and at the same time I also have discovered new bands on this side of the millennium that have just as much impact on me, but you can say that most of my favorite artists come from the late ‘80’s – mid-‘90’s period of time. Some albums will stick with you forever.

Valfar (R.I.P.) and Windir is also an important influence and we came out almost at the same time with our music, and we used to write some old fashioned letters and exchange our demos.

You can find some “Windir guitars” here and there in a couple of my songs, as a little tribute to Valfar and how his style of composing have influenced me.

 

Let’s describe a bit each of your releases from WALLACHIA…

Demo 1996/Wallachia EP:

On our first recording we were a duo consisting of myself and Eystein Garberg, being two teenagers with basically little or no experience from playing in bands before. So the result of this recording lies very much in our inexperience as musicians, and at the same time that is also part of the charm. You know, the rather “strange” and different vocal approach where we messed around with effects. But what I love the most about our demo is the actual atmosphere of the music and sound, and I much rather prefer these slightly more primitive demo-versions of the songs rather than the re-recorded ones for the 1st album 3 years later.

The feedback was for the most part good and I think that the different, slightly more warm and atmospheric sound was appealing among all the more rough and lo-fi recordings out there. The critical point to whether people embraced the music or not was mostly based on the vocals. Some find them cool and different, and some seemed to find it a bit too over the top and strange, which of course I can understand and relate to myself. But for a debut by a young band, I think it’s good enough what we did.

“From Behind the Light” 1999:

Our first full-length and the major change since the demo was that now we had dropped the programmed drums in favor of having two drummers playing on 4 songs each.

Also I had to step up and do the keyboards myself after Eystein’s departure, so it was a more challenging recording in that aspect. I think the songs themselves are good on this album, and it’s mainly my own performance with the vocals that could have been improved. Other than this I think it’s a nice sounding album with the same atmosphere as on the demo, as both were recorded analog in a 24-track studio and directly onto a 2 inch tape machine. So it has that warmth and natural feeling you get from recording that way.

Due to the circumstances with the drummers and also time pressure, we made the compromise of re-recording the demo-songs now to have them with the real drums. But well, in my personal opinion I think that the original versions have much more soul and feeling, so it was a lesson to never re-record or try to “fix” something. You can never re-capture that first time magic again.

The reaction to this album was more or less the same as with the demo, and the audience seemed to like the atmosphere and rawness about it. Same thing with the sound of the vocals here, although I went for a more natural approach of doing the kind of demonic voice, it could have been done better had I the experience that I now have of how to use and control my voice.

“Ceremony of Ascension” 2009:

The 2nd album came out ten years after the debut, which of course is a long, long time to wait. But as I’ve said earlier, there were natural causes about our label disbanding, my time in the army and getting into the work-life, but in this period Wallachia was very much still alive and I wrote almost the entire 2nd album in the years between 1998 – 2001, and at the same time had started to compose what would become the third as well. I just needed to wait until the right moment when I had the funds, the musicians and so on.

This is definitely our most varied and experimental album up to date, as it carries some of the older more straight ahead songs that are slightly more brutal than our debut, and then on the other hand you have the sort of clean vocal based couple of songs, the addition of Stefan’s more avant-garde touch with the keyboards in both a space’ish and ethnic influenced way as one knows from his stuff in Golden Dawn. I think that most of the songs are really strong on their own and it’s an album that perhaps requires a bit more careful listening in order to sink into it and see it as a whole. After all it’s an album stretched over much longer period of time compared to the early stuff. So with me on this album I have Stefan from Golden Dawn on the keyboards and some backing vocals, and Thomas Kocher did the drums.

The artwork is done by the Romanian artist Laura Sava and she got much credit for the unique artwork, which is a mixed media technique of traditional and digital painting together with photo editing, so it’s a strikingly beautiful cover and booklet.

Over all we got a very good feedback for the album, and in many ways it felt like a new start for us.

“Shunya” 2012:

I had started to write some of the material before we recorded the previous album, so it’s a natural continuation of the sound, also with me, Stefan and Thomas being the core of the band like last time. The main difference with this album is that for the first time we had real orchestral strings included, performed by the two girls Caroline Oblasser from Austria on cello (she had already recorded with Stefan for Golden Dawn) and Anna Oklejewicz (Lord Wind, Graveland, Munruthel) from Poland doing violin and viola.

“Shunya” is a Sanskrit word that translates as “empty/void”, and it reflects a lot the emotional state I had in the period of writing the songs, and naturally it is also a bit more melancholic, allowing myself to be more personal and fragile, and I’m very happy with this album. I feel it sounds more connected as a whole than any of the past releases.

And it was our first release for Debemur Morti Prod. and we have had a good support from them in the making and promoting of the album, and it’s the most well-received one up to date, I think.

Also here we have the artwork done by Laura Sava who once again did a mixed technique of using a real home made sculpture, trees she had made out of paper, then everything assembled with a background photo she took some place near Sibiu, and it’s all put together and edited. Also a very nice cover and booklet for this album.

The first two albums and demo/EP can be downloaded for free from our bandcamp page. Just click “buy now” and don’t add any amount there and you will get the download link for the mp3’s:

https://wallachia.bandcamp.com/

“Shunya” can be streamed for free via our label’s bandcamp page:

https://dmp666.bandcamp.com/album/shunya

 

 

How and why have you signed with DEBEMUR? They are a great label with a lot of amazing bands: IN THE WOODS…, YEAR OF NO LIGHT, MANES… Are you satisfied with their promotion?

Debemur Morti Productions owner Phil has been into Wallachia since our early days and was already familiar with us since a long time when we signed with them. And it’s much thanks to my friend Roman Sayenko from Ukrainian bands Drudkh and Blood of Kingu that we got hooked up for the deal with them. Roman have been signed with them too and had only positive words to say and thought it would be the perfect label for Wallachia. And I’m very grateful for the co-operation I have with them. They already had an impressive back-catalogue of bands and releases and as you mention, in recent years they have expanded their label to embrace the more avant-garde, bleak, experimental bands as well, such as Manes, Year of No Light and with the recent signing of In the Woods… It’s an honor to be in company of these great acts, and to also be in the same family as Blut Aus Nord once again, like we were on our first label too.

They do a good promotion and have distribution via Season of Mist, so it’s a solid label to be on, and I look much forward to putting out the new album via them later this year.

Let’s discuss about your actual members. One is Romanian, others are from Austria and another from Norway. Why? You can’t find Norwegian skilled guys?

I have with me my friend Paal from my town, who’s been helping me with Wallachia and the pre-production recordings for the past couple of albums, other than this we chose to base the live line-up around the studio-family, so to speak. Naturally having Stefan as a part of it, and recruiting Grolig (born in Satu Mare, but lives in Germany) and (“the other Thomas”) Thomas Leitner on drums.

I happen to live in a region of Norway where there are not so many musicians and bands within this genre, and especially finding a drummer has always been the challenge. So it almost makes no difference to have an international based band rather than if I were to work with Norwegian musicians from far away towns.

There are of course some really good musicians in the Trondheim area, which is two hours away from where I live, but most them are already occupied in their own bands and other projects.

In August you will come again in Romania, this time for your premiere on stage. What surprises are you preparing for us at DBE?

Yes, and what a perfect opportunity to do our debut show in such a location and at this great festival! When I said yes to perform there, we didn’t have fully decided about the line-up in our band, and now as we are focused in a five-piece located in both Norway and Austria, we of course have some challenges ahead of us, first to rehearse individually in two camps, then we’ll meet up in the summer for the full band rehearsals. And luckily it’s easier to communicate and exchange files and ideas via email and such, so I have full confidence in our co-operation, as all the other musicians have far more experience than me, and certainly when it comes to doing live shows.

Some of the surprises for DBE will be that we will do newly arranged versions of old songs and also that we will perform some new material from our at that time soon to come new album.

And we will perform material from all the releases dating back to Demo 1996 and all 3 albums. So right now we are close to ready with having picked our set-list. And we will do our best to recreate the full symphonic sound from the albums.

 

The new album will have a lot of photos from Romania. Can you offer more details?

In July 2014 I went on a one-week journey through most parts of Transylvania, having crossed into Romania in Oradea, then going to Cluj –Napoca for two days, then further to stay in Hunedoara near Déva for the rest of the days, each day going on road trips as far as to Fagaras and Sighisoara on our last day there, which was really amazing. We arrived in Sighisoara at the start of the Medieval Festival in the town, so it was a special atmosphere there and really beautiful weather.

On our demo and 1st album we used photographs taken by the Hungarian Tamás Vámosi, which were mostly photos from Transylvania, but as you know also a couple of shots from Hungary on the 1st album. And it was him that suggested about this trip together and to see Transylvania and shoot photos to use for the album cover design. So we have close to 600 high resolution photos to pick from, so I imagine to have an extensive booklet with many nice images from our visit in your beautiful land.

It seems Romania is a very attractive country for you. What have you visited till now and what do you intend to visit someday?

Crossing into Romania from Budapest, our journey took us to Cluj-Napoca where we stayed at the apartment of my friend-couple Vasile and Juliana, so we were taken good care of at their place and shown around in the beautiful town of Cluj. Then me, Tamás and Vasile went on a roadtrip the second day to the Turda Saltmines, deep under the ground, which was a really cool experience, and after that back into the schorching sun and our journey to the Cetatea Trascăului, which is known by some as the ruins featured in the cover of Emperor’s legendary debut “In the Nightside Eclipse” – the photo taken by none other than Tamás himself! So it was nice for him to come back there, and also I found it an amazing location with such a nice 360 degree view.

From that on we vent to Hunedoara the next morning, and our first visit was the Déva castle, which was a striking view from far, far away even. The castle was under re-construction so it was hard to get any good photos from there unfortunately, but still an amazing place and also there the view was spectacular. And of course, the Corvin/Hunyadi Castle that already have a deep link to Wallachia and our demo and EP covers. Wow, it was such a special feeling to finally see that place first hand and to be inside of the castle itself. We went there two times, and it was the most iconic moment of the trip for me.

Also I loved the Cetatea Colț, with it’s dramatic location, almost like if it was taken out of Bram Stoker’s Dracula movie. We went there on a day with heavy rain and it was a real challenge to walk the long and steep forest path with all the rain and mud, but wow, it was really worth it when we arrived at the top. What a view, and with the thick mist laying at the bottom of the valley and the Carpathian woods on all sides, really amazing!

And we’ve visited many other ruins and fortified churches on our journey, and the last day was our biggest adventure, with going to Fagaras at first, then to the Rupea castle and in the end to Sighisoara. That was a 12-hour expedition and a really nice one too. So for my next visit I will of course want to go further south and cross the Transfagarasan road and into the Wallachia region itself, and there’s of course Arges, Snagov, Targoviste, Poenari castle. Many of these places that are linked to the life and times of Vlad Tepes. So I would like to come back for this trip shortly after the DBE visit.

What kind of music are you listening to today? Only Metal?

I don’t only listen to metal music, though of course that’s where  I come from, what I grew up with since being a kid, and also where my natural passion and feeling lies. But I think it’s natural to want some other impulses and feelings as well. Most of the stuff I like tend to be on the melancholic side, the thoughtful, reflective and emotional kind of music. There has to be something beyond just the music and the riffs itself that drives the feeling of the songs, and nothing feels better than music and art that fully represents who you are and how you feel.

Like said before, I still listen to all the classic stuff I grew up with and my heart lies in the late ‘80’s – mid ‘90’s era as it was such a fruitful time period for the extreme metal underground. And since 4 years ago when I discovered the Canadian band Woods of Ypres, that one has become very dear to me, as David’s lyrics are so deep and full of real emotions. I managed to stay a bit in touch with him until his fatal accident and death in December 2011. Other stuff I listen apart from metal would for instance be the Norwegian female artist Susanne Sundfør, whom I recently went to see two concerts with in Oslo. A very unique artist with a distinct voice and also her music is based around melancholy, though in a more ambient/electronic/piano/acoustic way. And I have been deeply into the music of VAST since the late ‘90’s, as it’s also very much based around melancholy and hits a special place in my heart. And I like a lot of what Porcupine Tree did around the turn of the millennium and upwards, as they have some really good albums in that era. Dead Can Dance, Arcana, Aythis and those ambient, orchestral artists appeal to me as well.

OK, Lars. What expectations do you have from DBE and the audience?

First of all DBE is a festival I have always looked at with interest of visiting, based upon the amazing line-up’s you have had in previous editions, as well as much due to the location and it would of course be an excellent reason for anyone to visit Transylvania.

I hope that the audience will embrace our show and our way of paying tribute to Romania, as we will do some of our Transylvania-based songs, which of some with lyrical translations and in new versions. It’s a big honor for us, and also humbling, to come there and do our very first concert. I hope it will be a good experience for those attending and that people will see we have come a far way from the strange vocals and drum machine times of our demo, hehe. And I look much forward to be there as a part of the audience and witness bands like Shape of Despair and more jewels from the underground. It’s a festival that manages to book some rare artists that normally don’t tour too much or in distant locations, so it’s a unique ability to see some bands that you will normally have to travel far to see. We look much forward to come there and to present old and new material, and to meet the people there.

Thank you for your time. So, Vlad The Impaler or Ragnar?

Thank you, Doru. To this final question I can only say that I’m all in for Vlad The Impaler!