This is a written, slightly abbreviated phone interview I had with Heri Joensen of Týr on May 15th 2011 to speak about the band and more specifically their upcoming album The Lay of Thrym. He was super polite, intelligent, and interesting to interview, and I feel privileged that I got the opportunity to speak with him.
I’m speaking with Heri from the band Týr, lead guitarist and lead vocalist. How are you?
I’m good, thanks for asking.
So you have a new album coming out… can you tell us anything about it?
Yeah, it’s an album in the same line as the last one. We tried to make music more accessible without becoming too commercialize and without losing our national and music integrity. The lyrical concept of the album is mythological, The Lay of Thrym from Nordic mythology. It’s used to represent a more contemporary issue. What I really wrote about is the popular uprising in North Africa and the Middle East against tyranny and dicatorship, and I felt the myth about Thrym and Thor would represent that well because one is the tyrant and one is the protector of the people. So what really inspired my lyrics for this one was international news from December and onwards.
Wow, that’s amazing. So you’re tying in political issues today with historical stories.
That’s great. So I know a lot of your past work you mix up the languages of English and Faroese. Is that what you did for this album as well?
Yes, there is one Faroese song, one Danish and the rest English. We usually have I don’t know, at least 80-85% of our lyrics in English, and the rest in Scandinavian. So this is on standard.
So I’ve been hearing you talking about how “religion is bullshit” quote end quote, and I wanted to ask you more about that. Like does it relate to how Christianity spread through Scandinavia and kind of wiped out the Norse culture, or any further than that?
Yeah, there is that. But that is not the most important thing I think. Because if Christianity had not come to Scandinavia we would have uh… (laughs) fundamentalist pagans instead, I mean that would be just as bad. So I don’t want to put Christianity up against Norse mythology in that way, I want to put Christianity or religion as a whole up against reason and rationality. So, from that album I have a problem with Christianity and religion in general. There’s loads of people, I hate to tell you but especially in North America, who are literal pagans who take the Norse mythology literally. And in my mind they’re just as diluted as the worst Christians you can find. So I wouldn’t want to go back to the original paganism. I wouldn’t want people to think that was true, instead of Christianity. I’d much rather see reason and rationality prevail, than any religion.
Absolutely. I have to say I consider myself an Agnostic, meaning I don’t deny anything. But I relate to Atheism as well, which I hear you are, an Atheist?
Yeah, I’m an Atheist definitely. Or more like an anti-theist. I’m not just convinced there is no God, I’m thrilled there is no evidence. I’m practically glad.
(laughs) I see. Well that’s great that you can bring out stories of norse mythology and that into your music. I hear you read a lot of the old sagas, and use that as inspiration for your work?
Yes, it is. Particularly for the lyrical side. The way they put their poetry together in viking times. Their choice of words and the way the put the stories together also. I mean the stories are exceptionally well written. And I find that very inspiring. They have a very epic and high-flying feel to them, and so does our music from time to time, and I find that really inspiring.
I’ve been impressed with your album artwork in the past. Can you tell us anything about what you chose for this one?
Well we used the same artist for the last one, a hungarian guy named (gibberish) or something, not sure how to pronounce it. And we just sent him a few lyrics and a few demos once we had them ready for the album and he looked up The Lay of Thrym, the story, and just worked worked out the artwork from there. He sent us some sketches and we had comments for that, and so we ended up with what we have now. So it’s mostly to his credit, the whole artwork concept.
One thing I’ve noticed – starting with “How Far to Asgaard,” over time you’ve kind of leaned a little bit further away from progressive metal, you agree with me?
Yeah, we have… since “Ragnarok” probably we’ve tried to steer away from the progression and go more for melodies and big choruses, and simple song structures. It’s really a challenge to keep it catchy, simple, and original at the same time. And that’s what we’ve been aiming for now, with the last 3 albums including this one. I mean, let’s not kid ourselves, we’re trying to make a good living… or at least a decent living from our music careers. And while you write the music you have to keep in mind that someone has to listen to it and someone has to like it, or it’s not going to work.
So doing that while keeping your musical and national integrity is a challenge, and that’s what we’ve been aiming at lately. To hit a global audience, but keep the bands sound and trademark… only without the progressive stuff. That uh, that had to go.
Do you have any bands in particular that you were influenced by?
Yeah, I’ve been influenced by many bands over the years. But lately, well, I don’t listen to so much new music, I listen to the same old stuff. I’m not one to go looking for a new band. So I mean, Amon Amarth has been a great inspiration. To me, they make really good music I think, a very high quality of song writing. And I’m always inspired by Wintersun for example. And then there’s classical music that inspires me. The thing about classical music is how it’s put together and how the harmonies are put together, and that’s something I love to use as well – put things together in a very classical way. After that, there’s of course Scandanavian traditional music. All the melodies that I get from there, which is also great inspiration.
So you do you guys plan on touring the United States for your next album?
Yes we do. First we have a few festivals in Europe, and then we’ll probably go to South America and after that North America.
Oh, wow. That sounds like a nice vacation, South America.
(laughs) Well, I’m sure it’ll be hard work. The thing is when you go to South America you have to fly to all the gigs. Where as in Europe and North America you can drive. And flying every day is just hell.
Oh, in those little airplanes… I can only imagine. So can you explain any part of your process in song writing? I know you said a lot about getting inspiration from Scandinavian culture.
Well, once I have an idea I will record it and put it on notes and send it to the other guys, and get their comments. Yeah, we live in 3 different countries, we’ve been doing that ever since 2001 so we’re used to being spread out – it’s all long distance. And the guys send me their ideas also every now and then, I work on it and arrange it then and I record a demo of it and send it, and we make comments about it back and forth.
Is this all through the Internet?
Yeah. So that’s how that process goes. But to get to the technical side of it I may take a traditional melody for example, and put some heavy metal quirks to that and maybe even write English lyrics, change the melody, or make variations of it. Take for example, the new album 9th track “Nine Words of Lore” where I had a very traditional melody, made a variation over it, and made several variations to get out of that one, and having a whole new song. So it’s very often a process of working on traditional melodies, just putting layers and layers of music over it, and then sort of honing in on one of the layers, and using that for the verse, and another one for the chorus. Whatever works the best. So it’s a fascinating process, one I like very much. Probably the best part of working here in a band, I think, is writing the music.
Wow, I feel like if I was in a band that would be the worst part. I would feel so much pressure.
(laughs) Playing live is fun too, absolutely.
You like traveling?
Yeah, I do when it’s relaxing at least. As I said before when flying every day, it’s absolutely grueling. That’s not fun. But on a tour bus, flying through Europe or the U.S. it’s great, I love it.
Do you have any city or country in particular that you really love?
I have to say Iceland. It’s probably the best place to go, we get such a great reception every time. Take Germany for example, it’s not always the best reception because people aren’t very used to us international bands being on tour here, so they’re hard to impress sometimes. But the facilities in the venues are extremely good, you get good catering, big back stages. Whereas in the U.S, people are usually more enthusiastic, and that makes it very great to tour the U.S. But backstage facilities in the venues are usually far below European standards.So there are upsides and downsides to everywhere.
That’s actually not surprising – that United States has smaller and lesser facilities for you guys.
Yeah maybe we’re just not big enough in the U.S… but on the otherhand, people are very nice and the audience is usually more enthusiastic. Not to spoil the U.S touring.
Of course not (laughs) I hate to end this, but did you have any last things to say to your fans?
Hmm, I hope the people in the U.S will come to our shows and buy our album. And yeah, I hope to see as many of them as possible when we come there.
[Note: that first picture of Heri was mercilessly lifted from http://www.tyr.fo ~Ed.]