Sojourner – On PremonitionsWednesday, 6th May 2020
Conjurers of grandiose yet occasionally somber extreme metal, Sojourner has released two triumphant pieces of atmospheric black metal meets melodic death meets doom to date. Their third album, Premonitions, comes out this week on Napalm Records (Pre-order HERE), and continues to up the ante for the act. We spoke with multi-instrumentalist Mike Lamb and vocalist Emilio Crespo to dig into their latest effort, along with discussing artwork, vocal contrasts, and how they’ve evolved since the beginning.
Dead Rhetoric: How does Premonitions compare to your previous efforts?
Mike Lamb: I think it’s our best so far. I mean, I know everyone says that but I do think we have improved in a lot of aspects.
Emilio Crespo: I think on this one, it feels like we poured absolutely everything into this one, not that we didn’t on the other ones, but it was so much more focused. Overall, the evolution and everything just really clicked.
Dead Rhetoric: The band is pretty spread out internationally, what does your songwriting process look like?
Lamb: Chloe [Bray] and I basically write all of the music. We just sort of share stuff back and forth. We’ve been writing together for like 15 years now, so it’s just sort of how we work. It works pretty well. We just go back and forth until we are happy, and then we record the bits – then we send it to Riccardo [Floridia], our drummer, and he makes the records the drums. Then it goes over to Emilio.
Crespo: Yeah, pretty much. It’s a simple process with file sharing and all that. We make sure everyone is happy with what it is. Even though we aren’t in the same place, it’s a pretty simple process. I actually think that benefits us in a way. We all get to focus on just our parts. If there are changes to be made, we go back to the drawing board. But yeah, it allows for complete focus.
Dead Rhetoric: So it seems that you’ve got a good routine in to make sure the songs are what you want.
Crespo: Yeah, I think in general, it really comes down to the members themselves and who’s in the band, and what their style is. Mike and Chloe pretty much have pretty much the same style of doing things. For the rest of us, it’s pretty much the same. Of course, you have the bands that want to be together and jam to bring up ideas. But yeah, this works for us.
Lamb: Chloe and I have always written in a very similar style. The songs you hear are really how our sound naturally gels together. Musically, what you are hearing is the natural sound of how we write.
Dead Rhetoric: How did the jump to Napalm Records come about?
Crespo: We were on Avantgarde Music, which is owned by our really good friend Roberto in Milan. We were quite happy there. Roberto did everything he possibly could for us, and was already ready to help with anything. But when we got the slot for the Draconian and Harikari for the Sky tour, Napalm saw our logo on the tour and decided to check us out. They really dug us, and got in touch with us. It’s as simple as that.
Dead Rhetoric: There’s always some incredible artwork on the covers – how important of a piece is that for Sojourner?
Lamb: Definitely. While we are writing, we usually have visuals in mind. With Empires of Ash, I work at a game company and one of the guys that did the artwork for a game, I really liked his style so we approached him about Empires. For the next album, we decided to change it up, so we hit up this guy called Bast, who had done this video on YouTube where he went into the mountains and painted this entire artwork. We really liked it so we approached him. We got along really well, but he couldn’t do this album. The artwork doesn’t inform the sound, but we do it last so that it’s a reflection of the sound. First impressions count, so I feel like the first thing people see is going to be the cover.
Dead Rhetoric: So was there anything with the art for Premonitions that you were looking to emphasize?
Lamb: It was definitely a darker album, musically. We were all having a pretty rough year. So the music was darker, so we wanted to change up the color scheme and the look of it. To be honest, the whole castle thing was a bit done and dusted. It was a bit played out so we thought we should do something a bit different.
Crespo: Definitely. I think if we had a third castle on the cover, it’d be like “Ah, dude – again?” [laughs]
Dead Rhetoric: That’s funny – I was actually wondering why there wasn’t a castle on this one.
Lamb: [Laughs] I do think it comes down to the fact, that in the simplest way, it would have been too much with another castle.
Dead Rhetoric: Is there a certain emphasis on atmosphere within the band’s music?
Crespo: 100%. Mike can attest to the musical side, but we all just have this love for epic and grand atmosphere, whether it be on the melancholic side or the cheesy side – you know, Sojourner does have some cheese. But it’s an all-encompassing atmosphere. There are different aspects that we really enjoy as fans.
Lamb: It’s definitely important to maintain the atmosphere. But at the same time, we like really polished things. We try to strike a balance between maintaining atmosphere and doing a good, polished production. We love bands with more atmospheric production, but we strive for something that’s a bit more polished [in sound].
Dead Rhetoric: How important is the vocal contrast between yourself and Chloe?
Crespo: We don’t really strive to have it be male harsh and female vocals. It’s just pretty much what we have. Whatever the song demands, we will put it in. if the song is shorter and doesn’t have so many riffing guitars, maybe only Chloe will sing, as in the case of “Talas.” But you have other songs where it’s just me. We aren’t trying to mold into that beauty and the beast thing, it’s just kind of what it is.
Lamb: We are very much not a female-fronted kind of band. Chloe is a songwriter. She’s one of the members – we are all friends, and she very involved with the writing, moreso than just a frontwoman. So we try to go with the idea of friends making music, instead of a female-fronted thing, which can be more contrived sometimes. We just do what comes naturally, and if it’s female vocals, then cool. If it’s male vocals, sweet.
Crespo: The importance of having that duality really depends on what the song is asking for. When they write it, the feeling that it is asking for can have more of her or me – it’s just what the song needs.
Dead Rhetoric: Yeah, and when you keep it to that, there’s a lot less griping in the direction of, as you were saying, the female-fronted thing. When you weave it in naturally, there’s a lot less of that complaining going on.
Crespo: We definitely don’t want to be looking at something and saying we have to do it a certain way, because stylistically, that’s how it goes for gothic or doom bands. We don’t adhere to established norms.
Dead Rhetoric: Where do you take lyrical inspirations from?
Crespo: It could come from anything. I could be a movie that I saw, it could be a forest of lake that I was walking by, or it could also just be driving home or whatever. It can come from anything. This album was very personal. As we have mentioned, we had a bit of a rough year. We all were going through tumultuous times, and the lyrical themes were more melancholic, sad, and angry. It was a culmination of negative feelings.
Dead Rhetoric: What defines Sojourner at this point?
Lamb: I feel like we have evolved quite a lot. There’s a lot more melodic death and doom in this album. In the way, the album almost ends on a breakdown, so we don’t really think too much about what we are doing. But I guess we do, always have three stylistic elements that I can think of. We have need to have piano somewhere. We need a good dose of piano – but at the same time, after Empires came out, we kind of fell into the trap of having a piano intro or outro. We’ve tried to weave it more into the music, along with the tin whistle. The music is really riff driven. We try to have the guitars be a driving force in the music, rather than an atmospheric black metal texture.
Crespo: I have to add that the breakdown he is referring to is one of my favorite parts on the album.
Lamb: [Laughs] I was so hesitant about that! What are people going to think about a breakdown? I tuned to F sharp and I said, “Nah, fuck it. We are going to do whatever we want!”
Crespo: When you sent that to me, I was like, “I am going solo on the vocals here! Let’s do it!”
Dead Rhetoric: I actually really liked it as well. I think it goes back to what we were saying before. When it is put in naturally, it fits. I don’t imagine it having a negative response, except for maybe those one or two people online.
Lamb: I’m sure there will be a few people that don’t like those elements. But at the end of the day, it’s like you said, it fits into the song.
Crespo: On a personal note, the way I see it – I’m not trying to bash anyone here, but you have a lot of bands that just go into what the genre expects of them. They don’t think so much about what they actually want to write. I think that is where it has actually gone really well for us. First and foremost, we write music so that we can be proud of it. Everything else, is a bonus and a very gratifying one for us, but we want to write something that we can be proud of.
Dead Rhetoric: Given that this is your third release, when you looked back on your other two albums, was there anything that you said that you wanted to make sure that you put in or really nailed?
Lamb: Musically, there were a few things definitely. Like I said, I use a piano, and on Empires and to some extent, The Shadowed Road, we used it a lot with intros and outros. We still do them and I love them, but this time we paid attention to having more unique intro and outros and not following the same formula. Not that there is a real formula, but just in how the songs came together. The other thing is long songs. I definitely feel like the songs that are like 9 or 10 minutes – they wear a bit thin so we tried to keep it down a bit.
Crespo: For me, vocally, if you listen to Empires, I have pretty much the exact same rasp for the entire album. When The Shadowed Road came around, I wanted to put in some growls and all that. For this album, not that I was limiting myself before, but I just didn’t put it in. I did lows, mids, and the usual rasps, and some highs as well. I just wanted to have a wide range to convey all of these different feelings into the music. I wanted it to be one cohesive thing.
Dead Rhetoric: You don’t do a ton of touring but has there been impacts from COVID-19?
Crespo: Unfortunately, we actually had a tour planned in Europe that was cancelled but we are looking it with our agency to try to postpone it instead.
Dead Rhetoric: You just mentioned the cancelled tour, but are there any other plans going on outside of the album release?
Crespo: We have a festival next month, hopefully. Darktroll festival is one of our favorite memories playing live there in 2018. [ed note – festival has since been cancelled] We have something else for later in the year, but it’s not announced yet. But there is something on the horizon.
Lamb: In terms of non-live stuff, we are actually using the lockdown to start writing the fourth album as well. Premonitions has been done for six months or so, so it’s a good time to lock ourselves in and write music.