Interview by Alessandra CognettaWhen I was asked if I wanted to interview Einar “Kvitrafn” Selvik from Wardruna I had to stop for a good five minutes to register the news. If you don’t know about Wardruna, you should immediately make up for that, for your own good. Wardruna is an ensemble of Norwegian musicians that combines runes, old and historical instruments, sounds produced by nature and a significant amount of talent to produce some of the most intense, primitive, magical (I could go on forever and I still wouldn’t be able to describe it accurately) pieces of music you will ever hear. Kvitrafn is one of the main pillars of this extraordinary gathering of artists, delivering lyrics, vocals and instrumental performances since the first album of the “Runaljod” trilogy of albums, which is still in progress. Their second work, “Yggdrasil”, has been released at the end of March and we took the chance to uncover some of the mysteries of their music. Read below for a nice conversation about music, shamanism, vikings, stereotypes and… well, just scroll down and see for yourself! Hello and welcome to the ‘zine, Kvitrafn! It’s really a honour to have you here with us and put the spotlight on Wardruna. So, how are you and how’s it going for Wardruna since the release of “Yggdrasil”?
All is good here and the pleasure is mine! It has been some very intense months now with finishing the album as well as all the work concerning its release, but I guess that is a good thing and the response has been overwhelmingly good!You and Gaahl have already given a lot of insight on the single songs in the preview videos published prior to the release of “Yggdrasil”, so I won’t ask about that to avoid annoying you with repetitions. One thing I’m interested in, though, is the progression from “Gap Var Ginnunga” which was, as you already stated in other interviews, about creating new seed, to “Yggdrasil”. What does this “second stage” consist of?
“Gap Var Ginnunga” is about creation and as you say also about sowing a seed. “Yggdrasil” is more about growth and about making the seed grow and strengthening its roots.You’re one of Wardruna’s main vocalists, along with Gaahl and Lindy-Fay Hella. The vocal lines on both “Yggdrasil” and “Gap Var Ginnunga” are really haunting and peculiar, definitely something pleasantly unexpected for someone who’s used to modern singing. Guttural singing is different from all the belt techniques and bel canto we’re used to, today. Plus, it’s strongly tied to shamanism and its rituals. What kind of studies and preparation did the three of you undergo to get the outcome we can hear in the records?
Both the music and the poetry is heavily influenced, inspired and also a result of the Nordic esoteric arts of seidr, galdr and runes (the word rune can by the way also mean magical song). There is also a huge amount of studying academically involved also. So my approach to these themes are built upon solid grounds but still I think that when working like we do with Wardruna I would say that having an intuitive approach is very important and becoming one with what you are expressing. In order to do that you first have to know what you want to express and so all of us who are working with these songs have to go into the process of knowing, feeling and becoming what we are singing about.Wardruna has played live on different occasions, from Oslo‘s Viking Ship Museum to big outdoor stages to TV studios. I’ve found some videos online and I pretty much literally drowned in emotions (in a good way), probably even more than I do when I listen to the albums. What has been the reaction from the audience during the performances?
The response has been overwhelming and I see that the music stirs up great emotions in the audience. I have to say that it is also quite emotional for me personally to perform these songs in a live setting. This is not only music for the ears it is music for the body, mind and spirit and the goal with our shows are always to create a sort of non physical dialogue with our audience.Are there any plans to bring Wardruna‘s music on stage on a bigger scale, say, on tour? And what is the perfect setting, in your opinion, to perform and listen to Wardruna?
I have always been very determined and selective when it comes to how and where Wardruna is presented and I believe in quality before quantity. If both the practical and aesthetical conditions are right the chances of creating something special for both the audience and us are much bigger.Wardruna’s music is part of the soundtrack for History Channel’s series “Vikings”. First of all, are you watching it? What do you think of how it is portraying Viking culture? Some (definitely not me) say it reminds them a bit of Game of Thrones in how it deals with action, politics, supernatural elements and character development…
First of all I have to say that I am very pleased to have my music in the series and find it important to be representing Norway in a foreign production about my own cultural roots. I have seen a few episodes but for a history-nerd like me it is a bit painful to watch with all the basic mistakes that I feel that such an expensive production like “Vikings” should have put a little more effort into.I could spot “Fehu” during (Spoiler alert!) the raid in the church, for example. How much were you involved in the choice of some tracks for particular moments of the show? What was your reaction when you saw the finished piece?
I was not involved in that process but I liked how they used “Fehu” in episode 4.
Speaking about Viking culture and Norwegian traditions in general, what do you think of how it is portrayed abroad? Being Italian, I’m often disappointed in seeing how much the tradition and history of my country are stereotyped when portrayed from the outside, does this happen with Norway, too?
Stereotyped is the keyword! Sadly this is not only the case from abroad but also most people in Norway don’t have a clue when it comes to our own pagan history and roots. Schools portray these things in a way that makes it impossible to take serious with an over-simplified, demonized and cartoonish portrait of the old culture. This is partly what gives me this huge motivation to do what I do with Wardruna.Here comes the obvious question: what would you do if you and Wardruna were asked to write an original soundtrack from scratch?
Working with the TV or film format is something I find very interesting and wish to do more of. I am currently in the process of co-composing a film score together with Icelandic composer Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson so hopefully you will be able to see more than one movie with Wardruna music in the future.If I’m not mistaken, I heard a mouth harp (or something very similar, in which case I’d like to know more about it from you) used in “Bjarkan”, one of my favourite songs from “Gap Var Ginnunga”. It reminded me a bit of Ennio Morricone’s music and, from what I found through my research, it’s not really a Scandinavian instrument either. So, how did it end up in Wardruna’s songs and why?
The mouth-harp is basically an instrument that is found all over the world. Perhaps the instrument does not have its original roots in Scandinavia but it still has a very long and strong history in our culture that even dates back to early Viking age. It has also a very prominent place in the Norwegian traditional music and a natural selection for Wardruna as well.Did you encounter any particular difficulties while gathering and searching for the historical instruments for your recordings?
The challenges have been many. When I started out on this musical journey in came across more and more of the grand old instruments that I instantly knew that I needed in Wardruna. The problem was of course that there where little or nobody making nor handling them (but luckily still a few) so then I had to build some of them myself or have them built and also learn how to play them. This of course too a lot of time and effort and still does so I would say that the long period it took to make the first album was much about finding the right tools and recipe for the job.Another important part of Wardruna‘s music is, from what I could understand, shamanism. I’ve been studying Asian shamanism for academic purposes and I must say it’s a really fascinating world. Shamanism came to Asia (along with many other cultural elements) from Siberia, so I wanted to know if the shamanism Wardruna references to is related to that or if it’s something different.
What is often referred to as the shamanic belt starts in Norway and goes though Siberia – Asia and even over to North and South America, so yes there are relation and similarities between all these nature-traditions. The society or public cult in the Viking period itself was not an animistic one but the esoteric/magical part was – with close similarities to the Sami shamanism and magic. Also the periods before the Viking era was more animistic. In the later folklore and magical tradition you find a lot of traces from these very old traditions as well.What kind of studies and research did you make for the Wardruna project? Was it hard to find information about the runes? Is there any particular source you’d recommend to someone who’s interested in delving deeper on the subject?
It is important for me to build my interpretations upon solid ground so in order to do that it is essential to find out how we know what we think we know about the runes. The “Runaljod” trilogy utilizes what is often referred to as the elder futhark, which is in fact the set of runes that we know the least about and by far the most difficult one to work with. Even the rune-names are based upon reconstructions and educated guessing’s of runologists in the 1800´s so it is then a great paradox to me that almost all modern rune lore are about the elder futhark. This of course gives the authors of rune books a great space for personal interpretations and they shamelessly mix runes with tarot, astrology, kabbalah and numerology – listing up page up and down with what colors, trees gemstones that relates to each of the runes. This is of course pure rubbish and has nothing to with anything else than the authors own personal interpretation of the runes and if it originates from any tradition it is likely that it does not go further back than the 70´s and 80´s when the “new age” rune traditions where blooming. So my advice to anyone who wants to learn about runes is to stay away from these above-mentioned types of books, of which there are sadly too many of today. Go to more academic books as a start and build your knowledge on facts before you go into the more intuitive and esoteric part of it. Start with learning the younger futhark first. I can recommend the book on runes that I sell in my own web shop called “The History Of Runic Lore”.I wanted to ask if you had any plans for the third piece of the “Runaljod” trilogy already, but a quick research told me the last album is going to be called “Ragnarok” and that kinda explains itself. Can we expect the sounds to go darker, or…? Most importantly (from an extremely-worried-fan point of view), how long will we have to wait?
One has to remember that “Ragnarok” is not the same as the Christian Armageddon and would be a very Christian way of interpreting it. “Ragnarok” is the great transformation and represents just as much a beginning as an end so it will not necessarily become any darker because of that at least. But that being said, the way I create makes it impossible to plan this ahead. I personally did not expect “Yggdrasil” to become as dark as it did so I guess this is a bit out of my hands. Well I have made a promise to myself never to rush anything when it comes to this trilogy so it’s hard to say but the first album took me 7 years to finish and the second one 3-4 years so I am at least moving in the right direction in regards to the “worried-fan” perspective. I think we can agree that the most important thing is to make something extraordinary!Unfortunately we reached the end of this interview, Kvitrafn. I hope you enjoyed your time with us and thank you for taking the time to answer our questions (and sorry for writing so many!). I wish you and Wardruna all the best because, really, it’s much deserved. If you want to leave a message or anything that comes to your mind to fans and readers, this is the place.
Thank you all for your time and hope you will check out our music!