Týr – Prepare for the Next Battle

Sunday, 7th April 2024

Photo: Gaui H.

When it comes to a traditional brand of progressive folk metal, there’s nothing quite like the aural, out of body experience pouring through the discography of Týr. Active since 1998, they have achieved so much over the course of their career – bringing the Faroe Islands as a territory as well as Norse mythology, Paganism, and folklore for lyrical content to audiences on a global scale. Battle Ballads as the ninth studio record may be the most focused in their straight forward heavy metal approach, incorporating the folk and classical elements that have made them special since the start.

We reached out to vocalist/guitarist Heri Joensen who brought us up to speed to the many moving parts that took place behind the scenes for this new record, what the title means to him versus possible 80s glam metal reference thoughts, why videos are important to the band, the importance of Jacob Hansen in their career, how he became a musician by following his heart, North American tour hopes, fan interaction stories (including his own being starstruck for Iron Maiden) and future bucket list goals.

Dead Rhetoric: Battle Ballads is the latest studio album for Týr – the first in five years for the group. How did the songwriting and recording sessions go for this set of material – were there any surprises, obstacles, or challenges to overcome outside of COVID-19 during the process?

Heri Joensen: Oh man, let me tell you about it. We had some of the songs ready by the time we finished the recording sessions for the last album. I made a completely different project in between, I moved twice, and then there was COVID as you mentioned. So, there were a lot of challenges in getting this done. For the last part of this album, we all finally were living in the same country here in the Faroe Islands. That made work a lot easier and faster. They were all logistical challenges.

We are pretty pleased with this, because in the end in the final process we got to go through everything in fair detail. We had the time to make the songs as well-produced and streamlined as we like them. Plus the fact that we got to add some additional elements to the music that we’ve never done before. With this one, it’s something like Valkyrja our album from 2013 and something like By the Light of the Northern Star or The Lay of Thyrm. A bit shorter, maybe, easier to listen to songs than say Hel or Ragnarok.

Dead Rhetoric: How did you feel about the orchestration process for this album?

Joensen: That was incredible. When I write the music for Týr, I write it in a very classical way. I write the notes, so when the time comes to make the orchestrations, I send the audio and the notes to the guy who makes it, Lars Winther, so he can start. He doesn’t have to make notations as he would for other artists, I’m sure most bands don’t. I tend to incorporate the classical parts properly into our music, so it doesn’t sound like it’s standing next to it, or it’s added on top of it. It’s an integral part of the songs, and I think he did that beautifully. It adds some aesthetic, beauty, and a new dimension of authenticity to our music.

Dead Rhetoric: Where did the influence of recent addition Hans Hammer on second guitar help shape or change the chemistry of the current lineup? What do you enjoy most about his abilities and personality?

Joensen: To begin with, he was a fan, so he was nervous and very humble. That was nice! (laughs). He’s a great guitar player, he’s also a great singer, a good producer, and he’s good at mixing. He’s a great addition to the band and we get along splendidly.

Dead Rhetoric: Did you have any fears or apprehensions naming the record Battle Ballads – especially given the preconceived notions that may exist about the word ‘ballad’ and how it applies to your songs or outlook?

Joensen: I didn’t, no. The connection to the 80s and 90s hair bands and ballads didn’t even occur to me until someone else brought it up. That didn’t cross my mind at all. It will be a minor issue going forward, but most people do mention it. It’s fairly well understood that there is a different meaning of ballad in the medieval European sense, which is how it’s to be taken here.

Dead Rhetoric: Tell us about the video shoots for “Axes” and “Hammered” – were these obvious songs to premiere from the new record, and do you enjoy the visual medium as an additional promotional avenue to promote the efforts of the band beyond the records and live shows/touring?

Joensen: Yeah, we do enjoy making videos and having videos. They add a completely different element to the whole thing. Unfortunately, our budget for videos is not great – we spend months and years on the music, and we spend one day on the video. There is kind of mismatch there – the music is much more thought through, more highly produced than the videos. Although the videos are decent for the time and money we have for it.

The most memorable thing about the video shoot is that we were freezing our asses off all the time. It is unbelievably cold to stand outside, it wasn’t properly raining but there’s always a few drops in the air here in Norway. With the wind chill, you could catch your death in five minutes. While we were out there, acting, all we were thinking about was getting back inside in the cottage or wherever there was some heat. You have to stand half naked out there in this weather. Apart from that, it’s cool as you go to some places that are pretty nice. We got the permission to use the old houses that are preserved from centuries ago. There is a third video coming soon. It’s great, we are glad we have it, we hope we are not going to freeze our asses off again next time. (laughs). Maybe have a higher production, but we are very pleased with what we have.

Dead Rhetoric: Speaking of the production aspect, how important is Jacob Hansen in his role in finalizing the production for the band?

Joensen: It’s become an integral part of Týr by now. We did the album Eric the Red with Jacob Hansen before either of us had made our names internationally. That was in 2003. So, twenty years ago since we started with Jacob, how time flies. His sound and his expertise have accumulated over the years. All our albums sound something like he would have done, but they also don’t sound similar. We haven’t written music in a similar way always; our production method changes and his does too. It’s just within one lane all the way, more or less. He has been our go to guy for a while, he might remain this way for the foreseeable future as well. We love his work and he’s very easy to deal with, a very honest and laid-back guy.

Dead Rhetoric: The artwork for the new record is outstanding once again through the work of Gyula Havancsák who you’ve worked with for years. What do you enjoy most about his process and output – and do you believe these images are still very important in today’s metal landscape?

Joensen: Yeah. As someone who grew up with Iron Maiden, the imagery is very, very important. In connection with the music, it opens up some completely different doors in your mind. Most artists will ask you for some visual idea. As a musician, I’m not necessarily a visual artist – but the good thing about Gyula is, we can hand him the music, demos, and the lyrics, and he does the rest from there. We didn’t have a visual idea this time – in some cases in our past albums, we had some visual idea with it. For most of them, we just say here’s our music, here’s our lyrics, see what you make of it. And he comes up with amazing stuff, every time.

Dead Rhetoric: You’ll be returning to North America for a headlining tour soon with Trollfest, Aether Realm, and The Dread Crew of Oddwood. What are your expectations surrounding this tour, and how difficult is it at this point to pull together a set list with so many albums to choose from?

Joensen: Yeah… man I hope The Dread Crew of Oddwood lives up to their name! (laughs) I’m looking forward to meeting those guys. It gets easier and easier. As you accumulate albums, you have more and more songs that people want to hear. We’ve done something we should have done a long time ago – we made a Facebook group and asked people to vote. We put all our songs in one list, and we have 7,500 people there now. Please vote, which songs you would like to hear, and those are not the songs that we would want to play live ourselves. We think what people would like is not what they actually like. We really appreciate the input from our audience, and we want to play what most people want to hear. We play the odd deep cut, but mostly we have a limited amount of time, and we want to please the most amount of people. We will never please everyone, but if we do it by popular vote of our audience, I think we will have the strongest possible set list.

Dead Rhetoric: How do you feel with a couple of years under your belt about the special live CD/DVD A Night at the Nordic House release?

Joensen: That show happened two years before that in February 2020, just before the pandemic hit. Looking back at that, that’s one of the absolute highlights of our careers. The experience of having a symphonic orchestra behind you is immense power. Unbelievable, and it’s one of the reasons why we decided to add symphonic elements on this album as well. We had been thinking about it before – but now there’s no doubt that this is the direction that we are going to go in for the foreseeable future.

Dead Rhetoric: How did you handle the extended downtime away from live touring due to the pandemic? Do you believe you’ve been able to reset yourself mentally, physically, and emotionally to come back reenergized for your musical endeavors?

Joensen: Yeah. I made a completely different album in the meantime, and I moved twice. I had my hands full with a few things. We set up our own webstore when touring stopped, we started our own podcast. We’ve been doing our own things here and there. This left us a lot of time to think about and work on the music. I’m really eager to get back on the road and see some happy faces in front of me to play our music for them.

Dead Rhetoric: What are some of the choices that you’ve made in your life that make you who you are as a person and a musician?

Joensen: I became a musician, but it doesn’t feel like by choice. After I grew up and how I loved the music, heavy metal came and took me, and here I am. I suppose I could have done things differently. In my early twenties, I wanted to become a linguist, and I studied it for some time, but it just wasn’t making sense. I had to become a musician against my will. It was my second choice – but having lived it now since 1998, I don’t feel like there were ever any choices. I found myself deeply in love with first Nordic history and Faroes’ history, traditional music, then later in my mid-teens with heavy metal. Those meetings, I had no control over what was happening. You follow your heart over what you love, and here we are.

Dead Rhetoric: How do you feel about the band now appealing to a second and possibly third generation of metal fans?

Joensen: That’s unbelievable. If we appeal to a very young audience, that makes my day. I remember when I was young and started listening to metal, how much the music meant to me. Listening to Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Metallica, all those bands. How unbelievably life affirming and uplifting that was to have that music around. Although that isn’t what we set out to do, if our music is to have the same affect on young people today, I’d be very happy about that.

Dead Rhetoric: Where do you see your evolution as a guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter from your early days developing your craft to your approach today? Has it become easier or harder to gather ideas, process, and refine them over time?

Joensen: It’s definitely become easier. You build up some work routines. Of course, when you start, you have no idea about anything. You learn how to play your instrument and how to sing decently. But you need help from professionals with everything else. As you get more and more into the studio part of it, the technical part of recording, production, we’ve taken over more and more of that ourselves for the last two albums. We’ve recorded everything except the drums ourselves, and just having that control and know how plus freedom to work whenever you want, anyway you want. Everything I learned was under Jacob Hansen, and that’s a very good man to learn under. Accumulating more and more knowledge, studio procedures, has been immensely liberating and has helped me write and record better and better music. I only see that improving – I am by no means at the level of Jacob, but having that freedom more and more makes work go faster and provides for a better result.

Dead Rhetoric: What have been some of your favorite Týr fan interaction stories that have happened over the years?

Joensen: Ah… most people we meet are pretty down to earth and relaxed. We get to know a few people personally in Germany, in the US, people we’ve seen ten to fifteen times now. We know their faces, we know their names, we see them in the same places every time we go there. They become friends, and it’s unbelievable to go back and see them every time. But then there’s the odd person who gets so starstruck they can hardly stand. That happens to me – I met the Iron Maiden members once or twice, and I tried to talk to them, and I simply couldn’t make a sound. I was so starstruck. Being on the other side of that is really weird. I can’t get my head around it. When we meet people who need help to stand up in my presence, that’s strange and humbling and eye opening.

Dead Rhetoric: Do you have any plans to reignite your YouTube channel, as you had posted videos of some of the old stuff?

Joensen: I’d love to get back to that, teaching music and linguistics on YouTube. My first plan is to separate the two things and make a new channel only for the linguistic part. It’s not good for the algorithm to keep both things on the same platform. I’m getting more and more busy with the band, which will be main focus until we get on the road again. Maybe in half a year or a year, I’ll focus on the side stuff.

Dead Rhetoric: What’s left on the bucket list of things to accomplish for Týr or any other music-related activities? Do you continually set goals or ideals that you desire to achieve at this point in your career?

Joensen: Yeah, of course that depends on the circumstances at any given point. Right now, the main focus is just to get back on the road. With the pandemic, touring came to a complete halt for us – so getting back on the road, getting back to 100-150 shows per year is the main focus. After that, we’d like to go back to some of the places we’ve visited very rarely: Australia, Japan, and of course touring in the usual areas, Europe, North America, South America. We still haven’t played Africa, and that is on our bucket list. Making better and better music is a constant and ever-growing goal. Hopefully this album people will think it’s a bit better, and then the next one will be better again.

Týr official website

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