Týr – Grounded in HonestySunday, 3rd March 2019
Putting the Faroe Islands on the map for metal, Týr has built a legion of followers for their mix of traditional/power metal influences with folk, pagan, and Viking textures. Jumping up to Napalm Records for their third album Ragnarok in 2006, the band has been a staple globally performing on stages far and wide – in club and theater tours as well as drawing power from the larger festival audiences. The latest album Hel is the band’s first in six years – continuing the knack for catchy riffs, harmonies, and injecting that epic atmosphere along with choirs and vocals that sing to the sky as you join in unison.
Reaching out via Skype with guitarist/vocalist Heri Joensen, we tackled the reasons behind the long delay between studio records, thoughts on crowdfunding, social media use, favorite memories – and of course his insight into the most recent protests of Týr tours far and wide.
Dead Rhetoric: Hel is the latest Týr album and first in six years from the band. Outside of the band member changes, have there been other circumstances or situations that took place for the long wait between records – and do you believe this gave the band a fresh perspective going into the songwriting/recording process?
Heri Joensen: The band member changes didn’t do anything different from the process of writing the album. It was more us changing our songwriting and recording process. And there was one other thing – we ended our cooperation with our former manager, shortly after the release of Valkyrja, and that put a lot of things on hold for us. A lot of things had to be cancelled for us. So those two things made this album take a long time. We’ve picked up a lot of technical know-how arranging our own recording sessions. It’s given us some insight that I hope we can continue to use for future albums.
Dead Rhetoric: Where do you see the major differences between this album and your previous discography?
Joensen: Ever since the album Ragnarok in 2006, we haven’t really had the circumstance to make an album that I’ve really been completely content with because of the long rush from Ragnarok until Valkyria, we’ve been on tour, record, tour, with a record coming out almost every second year. We never took the time to work through the album properly until this one. There are better arrangements and it’s more well thought-through compared to our previous albums. Apart from that, Valkyria was thematically a very uplifting album, written about a very positive subject, but this one is a dark and gloomy album, a hard and heavy album.
Dead Rhetoric: How important is the lyrical content to the songwriting process? Is this the most time-consuming aspect due to the research and accuracy you put into this area?
Joensen: Actually, I don’t do much research for the album – not this album, at least. We chose the theme for the album very early, maybe in 2013 or 2014, I don’t remember. I don’t write the lyrics until the last moment – I like to arrange all choirs and the melodies in detail before I start writing the lyrics. The lyrics are the very last detail we make. I know approximately what I am going to write about, the atmosphere and in which universe so to speak, but I don’t have the lyrics until the very last moment. It takes me three or four days decently with intensity to write the lyrics for one song. The writing of music takes years in comparison. The lyrics are a smaller part of the whole working process, even though they are important.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you consider the greatest challenges when it comes to making records for the band?
Joensen: It was actually a great challenge this time to make the technical circumstances be okay and that it’s good enough for an international release. Especially the vocals, the guitars and bass were not that hard, but recording vocals at the high-end, technical level is very, very difficult. It took us a long time to figure this out.
Dead Rhetoric: Your last North American tour in the spring of 2018 with Orphaned Land appeared to be an exciting evening celebrating the diversity within the international metal landscape. What are your thoughts now in reflection regarding those dates, and how do you feel the reception to the band is now that you’ve established yourselves over the years?
Joensen: We were very, very pleased with that tour, as was everyone who worked on it. It had been a long time since our last headliner tour, so that may have contributed to the response. We have built up a decent following and it still seems like it’s growing and I feel confident with this album that it will keep going the same way. Honestly, I think it’s all good in that department.
Dead Rhetoric: You’ve mentioned in other interviews the hope to tour with a diverse package beyond the folk/pagan scene now that you are well-established. Do you believe in today’s competitive live touring scene it’s important to offer the consumers a package of bands that offer as much entertainment for their money while showcasing different facets of metal?
Joensen: I think, well, maybe showcasing different facets of metal is less important as giving the fans bands that are good and are entertaining. It’s getting competitive – there are more and more bands, and in some ways, it’s even easier than ever to get into the metal scene. I have the feeling that a lot of possible fans are put off by the pagan/folk/Viking thing – we are never going to escape this, probably. We could try to make ourselves known outside of that community and I think that will be good for us. We will always for my part be a part of this – the thing is trying to get more noticed outside of it. As I said, I’m sure it’s more important that bands are entertaining and good and put on a great live show than what genre they belong to.
Dead Rhetoric: How important have government grants been to fund the global touring activities for Týr – as you are seen as ambassadors for the Faroe Islands, correct?
Joensen: In a way, maybe yes. We had some flight grants especially over the last few years where they paid for a part of the flights for each musician and a technician working for the band from the Faroes to Denmark. That was a very large expense at one point in our career, although it isn’t anymore. Also, I’ve been given two separate grants from the government to work on songwriting, and that has been incredibly important for me. I would have done it without that, but I would be just a bit poorer than I am now.
Dead Rhetoric: When looking at your career, what would you consider some highlights either in terms of albums, tours, festival appearances, where you knew Týr was moving up in the ranks and developing a stronger following that stand out still today?
Joensen: Getting the first international record deal with Napalm Records definitely felt like a big move, and everything that followed after that. Our first experience touring with a tour bus, for an example- I really feel that we had done something extraordinary that no other band from the Faroes had ever done. Since then – doing a headliner tour in the US for the first time in many years last year was a very good feeling, we have some more headliner tours coming up. Appearing on some charts as well in the US and Europe, sort of reminds you that you’ve done something right at least. It reminds you of what you are aiming for.
Dead Rhetoric: Protests seem to be commonplace due to your posting of a picture participating in the hunting of whale meat and you posted a personal video discussing your views and country’s laws regarding these activities. Does it seem surprising that people are so fervent in their beliefs regarding this issue to the point of wanting you banned from playing venues in their territories – even if they are not necessarily followers personally of the band’s music and lyrical content?
Joensen: I know how this goes. These people are not people who would not otherwise buy our albums or listen to our music. They pretend they would think they are making an impact, but they represent less than ten percent of the population. I actually counted the opinions and statistics through the independent media. They have been fooled by a money-making scheme that is a sea shepherd for Faroe whaling; there is an alleged resistance against this whaling. All they want to do is outrage people enough to press the donation button and make these people feel like they are doing something good by trying to boycott bands. Which even if they were honest environmentalists, they would know that’s not the right way to go about it if you want to make any changes I see things from a very different viewpoint than the way you described things. It doesn’t really worry me anymore.
Dead Rhetoric: Are you surprised by the power of social media today as far as influencing people in the world? How does Týr approach their own social media content?
Joensen: No, not really, I’m not surprised by it. Social media just gives everybody access to everybody else. Anybody can pretend to be a journalist or a news creator. My approach to it is to remain honest and grounded. I try to respond to everybody who asks us a question on any social media, be it Instagram, Facebook, YouTube or Twitter. I try to give honest and as plain of answers as possible. I hope people can sense that there’s no hype behind it – unless it comes from Metal Blade’s promotion department. I try to stay grounded and stay real about the whole thing. With all the bad things that come with it, I think social media is definitely more good than it’s bad and I appreciate the opportunities that it gives us.
Dead Rhetoric: What would surprise us to learn about Heri the person when he is able to step away from the music business and enjoy pursuing outside interests, passions or activities? How do you think you’ve changed as a person through the 21 years in this band?
Joensen: No, not really. I don’t feel like I have. I still have the same goals musically and I have the same interests. I’ve been pretty open about it, I’m an amateur linguist and I probably would have become a linguist if I hadn’t been a musician. At times I am sort of a fitness freak. I’m just a super-nerd disguised as a rock star, but I think that I’ve made that public a few times. I don’t think there is much that would shock many people… I love ABBA and a lot of Scandinavian pop music from the ’70s and ’80s. I know that’s probably not shocking – it takes a lot more to shock people in the metal industry these days. I don’t have any illusions about shocking anybody with my nerdy personality (laughs).
Dead Rhetoric: You also have a Patreon account personally. Can you discuss the crowdfunding medium and the engagement/support that you’ve been able to get directly from these followers? I love the Hozier cover “Take Me to Church” you did with Viktorie Surmøvá as an example…
Joensen: It’s hard to make it financially as a musician today. It’s not getting easier, it makes people work harder and there are more and more people in the music business. I’ve had some day jobs to help support my livelihood. Then I came across Patreon- I started doing some YouTube stuff but you have to get a ridiculous amount of views on YouTube to make any income from it. Then there’s Patreon- you post your videos and the people pledge their direct support in a selected amount of dollars per video. It started to be quite a decent income on the side. Videos are about guitar playing, songwriting, vocals, even whaling when it’s necessary. On my Patreon, people can get some content that is not public. It’s a very good thing, but honestly, I wouldn’t be doing this if I was doing better financially as a musician That video was on my girlfriend’s channel. She had the idea to do the cover, so I just recorded the guitar for her and we did the music together. It’s on my girlfriend’s Patreon channel – it’s a collaboration that way.
Dead Rhetoric: Are there younger musicians who come up to you and ask for advice either relating to music or the business side of things? If so, what do you have them think about and consider?
Joensen: Yes, every now and then. Especially on the internet, people ask for advice on songwriting and also about the business. When it comes to songwriting, technically I feel I’m very well equipped to give good advice. When it comes to the business side of it, there’s not much good advice to give. It’s just getting harder and harder to make it as a musician. With all the social media platforms, there’s less money it and the companies moving into a position to make most of the income, as it’s understandable. That leaves less and less money for the musicians. This just means you have to work harder and harder, you have to start earlier and you have to be more serious about it than the musicians were 20 or 30 years ago. I just tell people to work harder than they can really imagine they’ve had to work on things. To be a success at it, and even then, there’s a very good chance that you are not going to make it, unfortunately.
Dead Rhetoric: What worries you or concerns you about the world that we live in today?
Joensen: What concerns me…oh dear. There are quite a few things that concern me. I have a morbid interest in North Korea for example. Much as I dislike Donald Trump, I would love it if he were to diffuse that situation, and it looks like he may have the best shot at it, better than anyone else has had at it for decades. And then there’s the global warming issue. The really bad news about it worries me but I’m not entirely convinced that it’s as urgent and real as the media would have us believe. I can’t really say I’ve seen the really compelling evidence, but then again, what do I know? It worries me that when a subject is that complicated and that serious that I don’t think I’ve seen the bottom of it. It leaves you a bit confused about what to do and what to expect in the future. Those are my main concerns, there are others, but this could be a long conversation if I went into all that.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the agenda for Týr over the next twelve months to support the new record? And what’s left to achieve in your eyes?
Joensen: Immediately after the release of this album, we will be on tour in Europe, and then the U.S., the festival season in Europe for the summer and then we have a second tour in Europe. We also want to tour Japan, China, and South Korea as well, get back to Israel. So it looks like we will have a pretty busy touring year ahead of us. I still haven’t achieved my biggest goals, which is to have my bills paid purely as a musician. I’m confident that this album will take us to the next level and we’ll see if we can see a decent income to support the lifestyle as a musician. Honestly, we are still struggling.