TARTAREAN DESIRE WEBZINE
This interview with Peter & Edgar "Mazais" of Skyforger was done face to face by Andrej Van Berlo on March 4th, 2006.
This interview with the band Skyforger was done face to face by Andrej Van Berlo at their show @ Biebob, Vosselaar in Belgium on the 4th of March 2006.
Hailing from Latvia, one of the three Baltic states, Skyforger are one of the most unique and diverse acts of the Ďtrue folk/paganí metal genre. Besides having a heathen warriors attitude these proud men, whom have been inspired by the god of Thunder ĎPerkonsí, are far from being your average newcomer to the trendy ĎViking metalí scene. Having been around for more than a decade and releasing five masterpieces with musical influences varying from old-school black metal to the more traditional metal styles (with a constant presence of folk music played on traditional instruments) the band was on tour again in March of this year with Swedenís Manegarm and Hollandís Goddess Of Desire. After the show I spoke with the whole band while mainly front man Peter (vocals, guitars) and Edgar "Mazais"(drums) were doing the talking. They spoke about their home country, their opinions on todayís folk metal scene and the future of the band. Enjoy!
First of all I want to congratulate you with the show; I think it was great in every sense of the word.
-Peter: Yeah, of course. Thank you!
The tour just started, are you getting into the habit of it?
-Peter: Well, this is our third concert so far for us and we are touring again now soÖ
Can we see these shows as a promotional tour for the re-release of your old demo ĎSemigallsī Warchantí?
-Peter: No, maybe a little because itís just like an EP (with only four new songs) and the rest is an old album. So we are just touring in between.
Could you then tell us something maybe about new material, if there is anything new in the make?
-Peter: Yes I can tell you a little bit but because lately we are just lazy, a little bit too lazy so we have only three new songs ready. Itís always hard to say how the new material is going to sound because we always mix various styles and we never know before. We donít have a certain mind-point to go, we just make the riffs and songs and whatever happens will happen. We have some ideas about what the lyrics will be about.
This brings me to my next question. Will you be dealing with a certain concept or theme on the new album?
-Peter: At this point we are thinking about doing lyrics about the ancient Prussians. Itís a long forgotten annihilated nation. It was the third nation consisting of Baltic people: Lithuanians, Latvians and ancient Prussians. These Prussian lands were once occupied by Germans and this nation was totally annihilated so nobody knows about them anymore. So this is the main topic for Latvian and Baltic people to remember their ancestors.
That sounds interesting.
-Peter: Well, maybe. (laughs)
Concerning your debut full-length album ĎThe Battle Of Sauleí, which has been out of stock for some time (although you still find a few copies of the LP version), is there a chance of it being re-released soon?
-Peter: Itís also still on LP?
-Edgar "Mazais": Yeah but our old label Mascot Records has all the rights so we canít do anything actually. Maybe in about five yearís time.
I read in a previous interview that you were glad that all your albums were also released on Vinyl.
-Peter: Yes, off course.
Are any of you guys LP collectors yourselves?
-Peter: No! In our country itís very rare to have an LP player. Nobody buys LPís so we never cared about them before. So when we did our first tour we saw a lot of people buying LPís. Then Joerg from Folter Records came up with the idea to also release our albums we said sure, we can do this. We have some old LP players at home.
Like an old gramophone?
-Peter: Yeah, but we never heard music coming out of it. It just stands there as decoration.
I believe the heathen/pagan metal genre inspired by old Scandinavian (Viking) mythology, or in your case Baltic Folklore, has been experiencing a boost in popularity lately but is still to often misunderstood in a negative way (like the metal genre in general) by certain groups or media. Nevertheless, Skyforger and a few other bands are in a way preserving an almost forgotten and ignored culture which is dated before the Christian religious period. Do you agree or how do you feel about that statement?
-Peter: I am not sure that there is so much negativity concerning the genre. Ok, if this is the case then the main reason for this is because itís not mainstream music. Not many people are into that style or are interested in history and folk material. Personally we never really see this negative attitude except for our logo because we use a Swastika.
[An ancient and holy symbol dated back 6000 years; name originated from Sanskrit and used in Hinduism and other religions. Also found in pre-Christian European cultures. In Latvia it is know as Cross Of Thunder or Cross Of Fire meaning fire, wind, energy, thunderÖ]
-Peter: But we donít think too much about it. We know that we will never become the greatest or biggest band because the scene is very small. So we are still satisfied.
Nonetheless you have received somewhat of a larger following lately. Are you enjoying the extra attention?
-Peter: Of course but we are happy whatever happens now.
-Edgar "Mazais": But otherwise when pagan music will become like a mainstream music, we would not play that music anymore. (laughs)
But when I see how certain relatively newer acts hailing from Finland like Turisas and Ensiferum are gaining such a large following, I am sometimes astonished and even annoyed about the large number of young fans who are jumping onto a Ďnew trendí. I am afraid that due to certain bands from this genre the scene will become almost mainstream. Any comments?
-Peter: I think it is a little bit different. Certain bands are making a show out of it and when you see them than you know itís not from the heart. Everyone feels it differently, I donít know how younger people feel or think about it but actually I personally donít see that pagan music is going in a mainstream way. But I donít see the whole picture you see.
Do you have any other ways, besides your band Skyforger, to express or canalize your interests for ancient traditions and culture?
-Peter: This is definitely not our job, so this is like a big hobby for us. Also one other of my biggest hobbies is history, not only our national history but all the history I love, so thatís especially for me. The other guys donít have so many other things here and there and for sure we donít do any rituals. We know that this thing is not this time but what was! If we do something extra like this then it feels false because for example those other people who grow up with these harvesting festivals have more ideas about it but we just live in a city. If we do some festivals then we just drink beer and hail to the gods but there is nothing deeper. We just try to tell about history like youíre reading a book and tell the people about our nation and our history.
Same with your live shows, before each song you explain what itís about and give some background info.
-Peter: Yeah, but there is no deeper meaning or message behind it. These are just stories told through history.
But in a way you are still educating certain people about things they wouldnít normally come in contact with.
-Peter: Yeah, maybe (laughs).
About the ĎSword Songí album (local folklore songs), I am interested in how the cooperation between the band and the ĎCulture Capital Foundation of Latviaí got arranged. Whoís idea was it in the first place?
-Peter: Well, this foundation is a group of people who are connected with culture and folk music and everything else. We have a friend who knew someone from these people and we showed them our project. Actually every year everyone can show them their project and they decide whether this project is good enough and if so they give some money. So we were lucky, they gave us some money, but not so much because we also put some of our own in it but they accepted our material and OK, it worked.
The reason I am asking about it is because I believe in certain parts of Western-Europe and more precise in Belgium, it wouldnít be possible for a metal band to get support from a cultural foundation or subsidization from the government. Also because here nationalistic pride and cultural heritage is too often linked with far right political parties with wrong intentions.
-Peter: But you know Latvia is a small country.
-Edgar "Mazais": The main problem is that everyone, or at least many people, knows where Belgium is and Holland, Germany or Italy but nobody knows where Latvia is. Our government just needs to give someone money who can spread about our country all over the world. Thatís maybe another reason why this wouldnít be possible in Germany or Belgium.
-Peter: Itís like for example when we told in some interviews that we get show reviews in the biggest Latvian newspapers then they look so surprised and say: ĎOooh!í, but it means nothing because we donít have any special magazines for metal/rock music or whatever. Itís just main journals and papers and there are only a few people who read about music. Also there arenít many bands either in our country so itís very easy. When you play a show you maybe ask a friend to come to the show and read or write something about it.
-Edgar "Mazais": There arenít any critics. If some journalist likes the album then he is making a good review, if he doesnít like then itís bad but nobody cares.
-Peter: There is only one manís opinion that counts. There was no luck in getting into any metal magazines.
-Edgar "Mazais": For example in America, if the album will bee seen as shit then you get a bad review and nobody will buy it. That would be bad but in Latvia we only have 2,3 million people so thatís nothing.
Iíve heard that Skyforger suffers at times because some people simply judge you on the fact that you use a certain symbol or logo? Because of this ignorance and unawareness you are forced to defend yourselves by using ĎNo Nazi stuff hereí on your CD. How do you feel when dealing with this nonsense?
-Edgar "Mazais": It sucks! The thing is that people donít want to know anything about our background.
-Kaspars : They just donít want to know ANYTHING in general what happens around them! There is the problem.
-Peter: The main problem is that the remembrance of the WWII is still very much alive. When the times go on nobody will care what signs were used by Napoleon or Hitler.
Plus all those Hollywood movies and TV-series coming from the US keep pumping these images from WWII in our heads and also showing the Swastika signs over and over but nobody bothers to also teach about itís original usage and meaning.
-Peter: Thatís why I think we are finally forced to remove the sign from our logo because we lose to many possibilities to play shows.
-Edgar "Mazais": A few days ago we saw a book about Satanist and Nazi bands and there was our picture in it. Somebody is spreading that shit about us.
But if they would just visit your website they could see and read about all these signs and symbols together with their meaning and historical use.
-Edgar "Mazais": They donít care! They just see the Swastika sign and freak out!
What about fans of the pagan/heathen genre? Did you spot any neo-Nazi idiots at your shows?
-Peter: Not really. We donít get any negative attitude from fans. Fans mainly enjoy the music because when they see us on stage we would never go like put our hand up and say hail. It never happens.
How is the religious situation in Latvia at the moment?
-Peter: Itís quite OK, there are many religions but the main is Christianity.
-Edgar "Mazais": Itís not an official religion so you can do whatever you want.
-Peter: Lately there was a new movement to teach Christianity in schools for small children but itís not like youíre forced to go to church by law. We have a democracy now.
Since Latvia gained itís independency in 1991, how did those changes have an affect on you personally?
-Peter: Yeah of course. You have no idea and cannot imagine how it was to live in the old Soviet Union. You had nothing. There was no rock music or anything. You could not wear these T-shirt and there was almost nothing except for the one party who rules everything. Everyone was afraid to go to the army cause it was like going to jail so everything sucked back then. Now we are free but also this freedom is not like we first expected it to be. It takes time but when you come to Latvia now it is almost like in any other European country. When we come here itís almost the same for us. We have many tourists and itís not like Russia now that still has many problems.
Do you feel like a certain connection with other bands coming from the same region and having a similar historical background? Also East-European bands and other former Soviet countries that are now Ďre-discoveringí their heritage and expressing it through metal music? For example have you heard of the band DARKESTRAH from Kyrgyzstan?
-Peter: I donít know them but we have many friends near our area from the Baltic states from Estonia, Belarusian, Finland, Sweden and Germany. We are happy that we know many people who play the same music and spread the same ideas. We feel lucky to tour with bands that play the same style and have the same way of thinking.
-Edgar "Mazais": Bands like Manegarm, Moonsorrow and others.
-Peter: Menhir from Germany also.
Yes, a very good band! Besides playing all those folk instruments on your albums, you also perform them at live shows. I think thatís very unique because most other bands just use keyboards and I donít know many other bands who succeed at it like you guys do.
-Peter: Well, there are some other bands who also do this. There is a band from Switzerland called ĎELUVEITIEí and they play lots of those instruments live because there were more than ten people on stage. With us itís all thanks to Kaspars who plays all the instruments but he has his own folk band who only plays regular folk music so he has experience. We also know how to play these instruments to but when we do it itís almost impossible to play guitars and then play flute for example. When we just started out we did it this way but it was too hard to do so we asked for another man to come and play in our band.
And it really works besides the few technical difficulties.
-Peter: Yeah, we are happy but in the beginning it did not work so clear because guitars and drums are very loud and all these instruments are very silent and it is a problem to make an audible sound out of them.
To connect the old Ďorganicí instruments with new electronics and amplifiers is always a bit tricky.
-Edgar "Mazais": Thatís why many people just use keyboards
Also the traditional costumes and decorated leather wristlets you all wear on stage makes the show even more worth watching.
-Peter: We want to do something special and bring items from our culture when we play live. We know a traditional leather craftsman who puts these specific symbols we want on them and it just fits to the whole concept.
Considering your lyrics deal mainly about historical facts, a few other black/pagan bands tend to spread thoughts of destroying Christianity through killing or whatever. What do you think about these messages? I believe itís sometimes better to outsmart your Ďenemyí by not making the same mistakes they made. Also without using violence you can still defeat them and achieve the same goal although I must admit that it does sound cool when you hear about the heathens taking revenge upon the Christians.
-Peter: Those stories we tell really happened but they are just lyrics. We never really said that you should take a sword and do this. We just use words and write down what the old pagan people have done and have fought but we just play this music. Other folk bands also play this music and this is our way to fight back in the same way you said it. Peacefully with no real aggression.
Maybe this is the best way?
-Peter: Yes, but this is just what really happened. We have no preachers who say: ĎNow you believe this God and come to our organisation and give us your moneyí. Itís free will, if you like it thatís great, if you donít who cares. For the new generations, because people new to the scene start to listen and maybe start to care. A lot of people like the themes in films like ĎBraveheartí and ĎKing Arthurí and so when they see us, they start to listen to our music.
Letís leave it at that for now. Thank you very much for the interview!
-Peter: Thank you!
I left the friendly guys of Skyforger so they could catch up on some drinking while I rushed to the stage to see the Swedish band Manegarm, who also delivered a great show that evening. I want to thank our Editor Vincent and Joerg from Folter Records for making the contacts on such short notice and also to Andy for a great encounter.
Links of interest:
Information on Swastika