On Armistice Day, while most people were enjoying a well deserved day off work, I was stressing out on my way to Zoetermeer in Holland to interview one of my favourite bands: Skálmöld. I managed to get to talk with singer Björgvin and bassist Snæbjörn at the bar of the venue and despite not getting served yet, it turned out to be a great chat!
Having toured many countries, this year you played 70 000 tons of metal. To my knowledge that was the first time you played America.
Snæbjörn: Exactly! Well, it wasn’t even really America.
Björgvin: It was in “International Waters”.
Snæbjörn: But yeah, that was the first time we went to America to play.
How was that experience for you?
Björgvin: It’s weird.. it’s fun, it’s a lot of fun. It was kind of surreal to be on this huge cruise ship. Kind of stuck there for four days.
Snæbjörn: The basic idea beyond this whole thing was kind of weird and awesome. Coming up with this idea to put a music festival on a cruise ship. You don’t know what to expect. You meet everyone ’cause you’re all on the same boat and everyone’s speaking to everyone.. It’s so far from any other festival experience I’ve ever had. It has its pluses and minuses but I’m glad not all festivals are on a boat. We really like meeting people who like our music.
Björgvin: And people in general of course.
Snæbjörn: Yeah, I like some people that hate our music, so it’s fine.
Are there any future plans to head to America?
Björgvin: We don’t have any solid plans but yeah, we’re aiming for it. It would be nice to do a North American tour for the release of our new album but we have to find the time and the right offer to be able to pull it off financially as well.
Snæbjörn: It’s definitely in the pipe lines, it’s something we really want to do. It will happen.. one day.
Has Skálmöld got any pre-gig rituals? Praying, drinking,…
Snæbjörn: Absolutely no praying. Drinking is not mandatory but most of the time we do it.
Björgvin: Most of the time I don’t drink before a show.
Snæbjörn: Oh, shut up. You already had a beer today!
Björgvin: Yeah, but that was today. It’s not like I’m throwing beer into my belly.
Snæbjörn: Ohhh, that was today. But to answer seriously, we all have a different way of preparing for a show. Not really a ritual but the last few minutes before a gig we always group together because we’re more than just a band. We’re a group of really close friends and we always tell each other that we’re going to be the best, that we’re going to make the other bands look bad and that it’s supposed to be fun.
Björgvin: And that this is going to be the best gig of our career.
Snæbjörn: And it doesn’t matter if we’re playing a festival for tens of thousands of people or we’re playing for a poorly turned out show with only thirty people and even then, when we are tired or slow or hungry or hungover or whatever, then we kick ourselves even more because sucking is not a option.
Björgvin: We have songs which are fan favourites that we play at almost every single show. To this day there is only one song that we are kind of fed up with. But, at the same time, when the show starts and you start playing that song, the fans love it so we get so much energy out of it.
Snæbjörn: We like what we do, we like playing but it’s also a mindset to put put your mind that way that you are going to have fun. We have just adjusted the band in a way that we really enjoy what we do and we challenge each other on stage. We scream at each other and make local jokes and funny faces and whatever because we are going to have fun. If it’s not going to happen by itself then we will make it happen.
How do you find your fans vary from country to country?
Snæbjörn: Iceland is weird.
Björgvin: It’s weird for us ’cause even though our music is melodic and accessible in some ways, it’s still kind of extreme for the mainstream. But still we have had some mainstream success.
Snæbjörn: And not only some.. we have had major mainstream succes which is really weird for the band.
Björgvin: We get people of all ages coming to our shows and really being into it. That’s probably the biggest difference between Iceland and Europe for example. But of course, when you play shows in Europe it’s mostly that typical metal fanbase and it’s different from country to country. Eastern and Southern Europe tend to be more aggressive. The crowd is really passionate while the fans in the Northern part of Europe are more relaxed.
Snæbjörn: They’re more spoiled as well, sad to say. Every night we play, all the people there could choose out of ten other gigs. So they come with the attitude of “entertain me.” While maybe in the Eastern part it’s more of a special thing when your band comes to town. But this is the fun part, that it’s not always the same and you know when you’re going to a certain country, you know kind of what to expect even though some things might surprise you. You take something good out of it’s national personality. I mean, of course the Austrians are stiff yet they’re really fun to play to because it’s good to see how they react. Friendly people to talk to too by the way.
Björgvin: It’s also very rewarding because you really, really have to work to get somewhere with them.
If the band lacks inspiration for a new album or a song for that album, is there anything you do to get inspired?
Björgvin: So far we have never been short of ideas.
Snæbjörn: It is a benefit that we all write riffs and melodies and have ideas. Of course we all have our strengths and weaknesses. When we write a new album we do it all in a relatively short time. We’re like “yeah, okay, we’re going to do a new album”. We may have some ideas, some riffs but we usually have a time barrier of 3-4 months and of course the rehearsals are going to be different. Sometimes you go home after a session and be like “oh god, this is shit” but I think part of why we never run out of ideas is because we always assemble the songs on the floor and if one is feeling slow, the other five are going to somehow just pump it up and tell you “this is a shitty riff, go home” or “we can change that and tweak that”. There can be an awful lot of discussion and sometimes fights, friendly fights, but I think this is the main thing why we don’t run into major walls because you always have five guys to bounce your stupidness on and get some feedback.
Björgvin: And we have very, very few songs that someone came to our rehearsal with which was pretty much finished. We always force ourselves to start with our basic idea and then work on it together.
Snæbjörn: And those are heated discussions. But, in a friendly way and the aim is always to benefit the song and the album.
You must have known each other a long time to be able to work so closely and honestly.
Björgvin: Yeah, we have been best friends for twenty six years. We actually started our first band in 1991. It was a small garage punk band.
Snæbjörn: We didn’t even know how to play anything. We just bought some instruments and started playing.
How do you feel the band has evolved since the release of “Baldur”?
Björgvin: I don’t know.. I like to feel that we are still the same band.
Snæbjörn: Morally, I would say it was easier in the beginning and then things started happening and it all got heavier and we really had to keep at it to just make things happen. There was a whole lot of new things for us and a little bit of a hustle and we got tired. But then everything eased up again. So for my part I would say it has never been easier to be in Skálmöld than what it is today. There’s a very relaxed atmosphere in the bus or around all things. That way I’ve never been happier in the band.
Björgvin: I agree.
Björgvin: You should never talk about your own music, you’re always wrong.
Snæbjörn: I don’t think we’ve ever really taken any U-turns.
Björgvin: Our third album is probably the heaviest album and our latest is probably the most accessible. But yeah, you should never talk about your own music, that’s how I feel. It’s more melodic than anything we’ve ever done and I could be wrong but most things have just come naturally.
Snæbjörn: Yeah, we’ve never forced anything. We never decide “yeah, we should make and album like that now.” We take whatever comes but we still always try to push the boundaries and do something new so we don’t keep doing the same thing.
Björgvin: I like to think our albums are quite diverse, the songs are not all the same and we want to keep it that way. For ourselves also, we want the songs to be diverse and the album to be diverse and you know.. interesting.
Snæbjörn: Somehow the band has gained this personality that even when you come up with this riff or whatever that you think is totally not Skálmöld, we just put it in the grinder on the floor and make a song out of it. It always turns out.. well, not always.. but most of the times it turns out to be a Skálmöld song. Which I think is a good thing. As long as we keep coming up with good ideas.
How would you describe your sound? I’ve tried to explain it to some friends but I just end up playing the song to them..
Björgvin: I somehow feel that the core of our music is just basic, traditional, metal. The biggest influences for our music are really just the bands that we grew up with like Iron Maiden, early Metallica, Slayer and then some Sepultura. Almost all the band members have gone through this process while growing up so I like to think that those are, still today, our biggest influences.
Snæbjörn: It’s just basic heavy metal. That’s my feeling. In the end, all those labels.. we can just go back and forth but I feel it’s just basic heavy metal. Alright.. it’s just Iron Maiden with keyboards, double bass drums and a harsh vocal.
Snæbjörn: You know, just starting from Iron Maiden and ending up with Sepultura.
For your newest album, Vögguvísur Yggdrasils (read our review here), you chose to sing about the nine worlds connected by the world tree. Are these stories that you got brought up with as children?
Björgvin; I did not grow up reading about the Norse Mythology. That interest came later. But since he does all the lyrics, I’m going to give the mic to him.
Snæbjörn: It’s based on something that I feel I’ve always known. I dunno, when I think about it, I never felt like someone was telling me those stories or handing me books or always brainwashing me. But somehow I’ve always just known about this. I think Norse mythology is really cool and somehow it’s just in my blood. I dunno what it is. I just take those stories that I know and I just rephrase them or look into books and throw in some fiction of my own. Those are nine micro stories on how to fall asleep in each of the worlds and that’s just something that happens in my brain. I just try to stick to what I’ve been taught.
You also covered Alestorm and Thor on this album and sang in English. How did that feel?
Björgvin: It felt weird and we should probably not do it again.
So we can’t expect hearing Drink at the show tonight?
Björgvin: We will not play the covers live. It was just for fun.
Snæbjörn: Those guys are great friends and someone came up and since we’re on the same label we were like “why not”.
Björgvin: We decided to throw in a Finntroll cover because they are also really good friends.
Snæbjörn: And we did the Thor cover because that was a bus joke we always have. The bus driver always puts it on on max volume when the mood is down for some reason.
Björgvin: Yeah, he’s responsible for the Thor cover. But we’ve only been doing these bonus track covers for a bit of fun and it was fun to do something different
Snæbjörn: We would do it again but this was more of a side project for the band. It would feel very weird to do a Skálmöld song in English. That would be so wrong.. we might as well just hire a trumpet player.
A second Trollfest
Snæbjörn: Ah.. one Trollfest is enough. They’re good friends and they’re awesome guys but I’m really, really happy we only have one of those.
What did you think of Alestorm’s version of Kvadnig?
Björgvin: It’s just awesome. Nothing more to say, it’s great!
Snæbjörn: Really fun story about that one.. When we actually decided to release the physical copy, we made a pact that we were not allowed to listen to the other version until we had the physical copy in your hand. So most of the fans had already heard it a month before we had.
Björgvin: We were literally thrilled when we had it in our hands.
Snæbjörn: And you’re reading all the comments and you’re thinking to yourself “how does it sound?!?! I have no clue what they’re talking about.”
Björgvin: We also got messages from Alestorm on how they very much liked our version of theirs.
Snæbjörn: I actually thought it was going to be more silly. Because it’s so good. Of course Chris was going to do it in Icelandic but he bailed out, so he just used google translate. That is a fact. He’s just singing to google translate and that’s absolute bullshit.
Although having only recently released the new album, have you got an idea as to what your next one could be about?
Snæbjörn: Nope. I mean, I’m throwing around some ideas in my head but I’m always doing that. We don’t really have a master plan for the next ten years. When we feel it’s right we’re going into making the next album and that’s when we decide what the plan will be on that one.
Björgvin: The first three albums were all stories and this album is just connected with the world tree and the lullaby thing which was kind of refreshing. I have no idea what we’re going to do next though.
Snæbjörn: I just want to keep us fresh. I don’t want to do the same thing over and over again. Short answer: no.
Is there anything you would like to add?
Snæbjörn: If you’re ever feeling down in life, join a band. it’s the best thing in life. Releasing albums or not, touring or not. It’s simply amazing.
After the 36 minutes of interview time I decided to put an end to it. Especially after them being told twice their food had been served. Feel free to check out the official Skálmöld facebook page and website!