Falconer – Raise the Final CurtainWednesday, 17th June 2020
After nine albums and retiring from the live stage five years ago, it shouldn’t be a shock that the folk/power metal veterans Falconer are officially ending with this last album From a Dying Ember. For guitarist/songwriter Stefan Weinerhall, it’s been an incredible run for a band that he admits made a surprisingly strong impression right away in 2001 with the self-titled debut. Originality is a hard entity to achieve in a long running genre like metal, but Falconer continually strived to be that beacon in the scene – especially given the one of a kind, baritone voice of Mathias Blad delivering those enduring melodies that matched up seamless with the music.
We reached out to Stefan who was happy to discuss his thoughts and development of this final record – memories surrounding the best albums and shows, the art of songwriting, and what the future may hold for him, plus a bit of discussion on his current day job as a cemetery director.
Dead Rhetoric: From a Dying Ember is the latest Falconer album – five years removed from your final stage performance at ProgPower USA in 2015. Did you need that time to decompress before focusing on the next studio effort – and how long did it take for you to finally feel comfortable that this set of material would measure up (or exceed) your previous output with the band?
Stefan Weinerhall: We usually take a few years off from the band before we continue – it just happened to take a longer time this time. I didn’t want to push the material and force myself into writing newer material. We had no reason to put out an album as soon as possible – it just had to take the time that it (did). It took six years, and during that time, I knew that I would like to do something really different in the future. I’ve been with Falconer for twenty years, so I want to try something new. I decided that this will be the last Falconer album – so I had to take the extra time as needed to be as good as possible.
Dead Rhetoric: You incorporated some new elements with keyed fiddle and bagpipes for the first time on a Falconer album – do you believe the extra time spent in the studio allowed you to expand your sonic horizons and take more bold chances to flesh out those medieval/folk textures?
Weinerhall: Yes, I think so. We knew from the beginning we would have a couple of extra days for these special instruments. It really took its time because when the guest musicians start to play in the studio you start to get new ideas, they throw the ideas around. The keyed fiddle and bagpipes actually sound good, they sound authentic. And if you use software samples and synths to make the same kind of music, it sounds too clean, too perfect, and not like the real thing. They really enhance those melodies to the right level – you can never do that with the fake instruments.
Dead Rhetoric: So you see the increased authenticity by adding the human element through that instrumentation on the album?
Weinerhall: Yes, and those kind of instruments are not really perfect, either. You will hear some squeaks, but they are supposed to sound like that. It’s the ambiance that we really wanted from the player that makes things authentic.
Dead Rhetoric: Were there any specific songs that were more of a challenge this time than others?
Weinerhall: Well, I would say the hardest song would have been “Fool’s Crusade” because all of the elements stuck into one song. It’s not really a red line going through the song, that was the hardest one to nail actually. It’s much easier to deliver a fast double bass song, straight through with sixteenth notes all the time, it’s no (big) deal to put that song down in the recording process. The more different elements you use, the more different kinds of emotions you have to work with.
Dead Rhetoric: What would you say you’ve enjoyed the most working with Mathias as a singer over the years, as his more theatrical style without coming from a metal background, did that give you more of an opening playbook when it came to your songwriting?
Weinerhall: Yes and no. If you have a metal kind of thing in your head, you knew that he could not make that kind of idea fly so to speak. On the other hand, that’s not Falconer. Falconer is about my kind of melodies and Mathias not being a metal guy, that’s a different kind of palate to work with. I knew he was so professional to work with. I don’t really know music theory that much, but the little I knew he also knew, and he was so much better off. He would know which harmonies to reach for and it’s done in an instant. For some albums, he didn’t rehearse with the band, he would just write down the music and go into the studio to nail things right away, a true professional.
Dead Rhetoric: Where do you see the greatest challenges when it comes to Falconer and the songwriting/performances – would you say you are your own harshest critic versus the expectations of the followers of the band over all these years?
Weinerhall: Yes, I would say so. I want to progress as a songwriter too. I would put up the sound boundaries of the band. I can be a bit too harsh on myself sometimes. The fans may have accepted me releasing more of the material that I scraped because I didn’t think it was good enough or I thought it sounded too similar to something else, or different. It’s easy when you sit down yourself, you get caught up in your own kind of bubble. You need time to have a wider perspective so to speak. Maybe my biggest issue as a songwriter is being too caught up in my own head.
Dead Rhetoric: Tell us about the concept and striking cover art – it definitely sets a specific mood right away before we even press play on the record? Do you believe cover art has always been an important element within heavy metal, even in these streaming/digital music times?
Weinerhall: Yeah, it was more important in the past. When you lie down on a sofa with the vinyl, the cover you can spend hours looking at that. Nowadays you press play on Spotify, scroll down on a homepage and you don’t spend the same amount of time gazing upon an album cover. The album cover is the wrapping of the album, I think it’s really important I think. The new album was very appropriate I think, the last album. You can almost imagine the guy from the first album cover sitting on the horse now lying on this funeral pyre. Maybe the new album is a bit too Viking-ish, because we don’t really sing about Vikings in this band. It’s a Viking ship funeral, I just told the cover artist what the album was about and the song titles, and he came up with this. It was perfect I think.
Dead Rhetoric: Now you knew right from the start Falconer wasn’t going to be an act that played live very often, so it probably didn’t come as a shock that you’ve retired the band at least on the live front. Were there specific reasons personally or professionally that fueled the decision to concentrate more on the studio versus the stage – as heavy metal tends to be a genre where the music takes on a new meaning and connection live versus on record?
Weinerhall: Yeah, but we have never really felt like a live act. Each time we stood on stage, the occasions were too few so we became like beginners at each show where we never felt like that we did a good show. I’ve never felt like a performer in any kind of way, I feel more like a producer and songwriter. Standing on stage is not really what I want to do – I would rather sit down and write music, instead of being a rock star or running from one side of the stage to the other. It feels so silly to do that. I didn’t really want to pretend to do that either. I wanted to concentrate on what the meaning of music for us was.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you consider some of the strongest memories or moments in the Falconer career – specific albums or shows that just will stay forever embedded in your head and boy forever? Also, can you think of a record that maybe didn’t get the credit it deserved that people need to delve back into a bit?
Weinerhall: My personal favorite amongst the albums, if we don’t speak about the new one, as you always love the new child the most in the beginning. Apart from that, the album that is the best for me is Northwind, and it succeeded another one Grime vs Grandeur where we had another vocalist. The music didn’t really sound like Falconer, but it got slammed a bit too much although it doesn’t really sound like us. The best moment was ProgPower USA in 2015 in Atlanta. One of the few shows that I actually thought were good and I really enjoyed every moment on the visit. It’s the highlight of the band. And of course, the response we got from the first album back in 2001. We did not really expect that overwhelming response- none of the members of the band really knew how to make this kind of music, and we have this strange kind of singer, and we released it and everyone loved it. We couldn’t prepare for this.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you think you’ve evolved as a songwriter from your beginnings to today? Because you often describe yourself more of a songwriter and less as a guitarist…
Weinerhall: I would say that I have grown more confident in my own qualities. I know what I can do and what I can’t do. Those kind of melodies for Falconer, I know how to master. When it comes to other music, I don’t know at this stage but I look forward to trying it out. After twenty years you learn this and that, of course.
Dead Rhetoric: What is the worst advice you see or hear being dispensed in the metal music industry?
Weinerhall: I don’t know if I’m the right guy to ask that. Personally, I would consider myself – and we as musicians – had a very original style, and that comes from the fact that I never played other people’s material. I have never played covers in my life, or even one Iron Maiden song. That’s why I don’t make music like they do, I ended up making my own. I know no other way. You learn more and more if you play other people’s music, but if you want to be original, you need to stick to your own head.
Dead Rhetoric: What would surprise people (if anything) to learn about Stefan the person when you are away from writing, composing and recording in Falconer?
Weinerhall: That as a daily job I work as a cemetery supervisor in Sweden. I manage the funerals around thirty-five cemeteries. Before that I worked as a pig butcher, that was quite a different kind of job! The first time when I started out as a normal cemetery worker, when you go to the morgue and see the dead bodies, it’s a really strange feeling. When you end up helping the mortuary move a body, it’s a very personal thing to do. You’ve never known the person you have to touch, and carry them over to the casket. That was a very strange feeling, but now it’s just a part of life.
Dead Rhetoric: Given the medieval elements to the band’s sound, if you ever had the opportunity to transport yourself to a specific period in history to immerse yourself and explore, where would you put yourself and why?
Weinerhall: I would not like to live in the past. Any time you pick is worse than today, life was harder and you were poorer. Probably the Roman Empire, about 150 A.D. Or back to the Americas before it got civilized, with the Mayans and the Aztecs, that would have been a dream. And the medieval times, for sure (laughs). The Tudors and the Lancasters, would have been a real blast- but I wonder how long I would have made it alive before I died due to sickness or beheading.
Dead Rhetoric: How did Metal Blade take the fact that this would be your final album?
Weinerhall: I felt that it really grew on me. As I started writing this set of songs, I liked them but I wanted to do something different. I didn’t want to use Falconer anymore as a safety net, or all my future songs in Falconer because I have a record deal. That’s not the right reason to make music. Metal Blade didn’t really respond that harshly. They’ve accepted the fact that I wanted to make this the best and final album I could do. We’ve done nine albums, and we’ve had a really good run.
Dead Rhetoric: What is in your future now that the band will retire – are you still going to be making records and exploring different avenues?
Weinerhall: If I’m going to release records, I don’t know. It depends if this will be good enough to land a record deal. I will be exploring other styles of music. Just playing around, having fun, with no real plan or agenda. Trying different stuff that will challenge me. How do you do this, how do you do that? And using these kind of instruments, and how do you write a song without a guitar for an example? That would be a new one for me. Let’s see where it’s all going to end up. Eventually I may end up in metal music somehow, I love metal but I want to try something different.
The other guys in the band – Mathias is going to continue with his theatrical work, Magnus has his band, Jimmy has done a couple of guest solos on some projects. The space is a sandbox for me – just going to grab my bucket and my sand and have a good time.