Thursday, August 24, 2017

an interview with VÖLUR

I can't think of another band like Toronto's Völur. Though multiple bands through the years incorporated strings with metal, the Toronto-based trio distinguish themselves by eschewing guitars entirely. Their latest album Ancestors shows just how very heavy their violin-centric vision of doom can be. Since there's nothing this blog likes more than risk-taking iconoclasts, I reached out to the band to find out more. Vocalist/bassist Lucas Gadke (also in Blood Ceremony) was kind enough to answer my questions.

Dreams of Consciousness: Please introduce Völur for those who aren't familiar with you - where are you from, and how would you describe the music you make?

Hello, we are Völur from Toronto, Ontario. We are a three-piece experimental doom band that featuring Laura C Bates on violin and vocals, myself on bass and vocals and James Payment on drums. We try to bring together the disparate worlds of our musical influences, doom, black metal, avant-garde and folk.

DoC: For those not familiar with you, please give a brief history of your band - what led to you forming? What were your goals at the time, and how close are you to accomplishing those goals now?

Laura and I met while we were in jazz school in Toronto, mostly playing in folk and jazz bands. We started working together musically when I invited her to play with us on some of the things we recorded with Blood Ceremony. Also around that time, we began working with a folk singer from northern Ontario. We did a number of short tours through Ontario and started showing each other music. I showed her a lot of doom and she showed me a lot of post-rock stuff. From there we started jamming around the idea of being an improvised noise band. And I still have some recordings of those weird sessions. But eventually we started writing material that was more formally composed. Jimmy had been wanting to work with Laura for a long time after they left their previous project. After we abandoned the idea of being a weird noise band (we even tried making scary masks!) the idea quickly became to write and record and play some ambitious music. As far as that goes, I think we've done it. And we're going to do more of it. And tour.

DoC: Making heavy music with violins isn't unheard of, but Völur is the first band I've heard that uses it as the primary instrument, and in the absence of any guitars. How did this decision come about? In your opinion, what sonic quality does the violin embody that a guitar can not?

Well, Laura and I wanted to play music and she plays guitar and I play bass, so it was natural in that sense. After some exploration we realized it presented some rather unique compositional challenges. You have to be very conscientious of each others' parts and ranges, and you can also get creative and do some complex, Duke Ellington style arranging by using instruments outside of their comfortable ranges. So from there we made the decision not to add a guitar player and make the music work from a point of restraint. Without guitar, you aren't as free, but with modern pedals and equipment you can achieve some pretty heavy sounds.

DoC: I really enjoyed your latest album Ancestors. What were the recording sessions like? How would you compare it to your first album musically, and how are the two thematically linked?

Well thank you very much. The sessions were spread out chronologically. We knew that we wouldn't be able to afford to record the album the way we wanted to so we recorded two songs, "Breaker of Oaths" and "Breaker of Silence" in a studio in the far east end of the city as working demos and submitted them to a bunch of different labels. When we got an offer from Prophecy we were able to go and record the rest of the album, in a more professional studio. There was a lot of work to be done in a not luxurious amount of time. But all the bass tracks were recorded live off the floor, which is my preferred method of working. I definitely had a blast doing it, working with John Dinsmore who is a very talented producer in Toronto, sort of working outside of his comfort zone (he mostly does folk and country bands). And though I say it was not a luxurious amount of time, we did record the first album in one single session, which was very rushed. This was definitely more leisurely than that.

In terms of themes, both records are concept records that focus on different figures and archetypes from Norse Mythology. The first album, Disir, was based around female characters and Ancestors focuses on male ones.

DoC: Please explain the 4 characters of Ancestors - The Breaker of Silence, The Breaker of Skulls, The Breaker of Oaths, and The Breaker of Famine.

It's very impressive that you recognized these as character sketches. They run the gamut from "probably a real person" to kind of "Psychedelic archetype" (and I'll describe them in that order). "Breaker of Skulls" is inspired by the saga of Egil Skallagrimsson, who was probably a real figure in settlement-age Iceland. A fierce warrior and ruthless viking as well as a sensitive and talented poet. "Breaker of Oaths" is inspired by the saga of Gísli Súrsson, who is a tragic character, bound by fate to meet his doom after a tangled web of oaths collapses. He spends his life on the run from death and yearning for his wife that he can rarely see. The song drew heavily form the 80's film Utlaginn, which is an atmospheric period masterpiece, in my opinion.

The "Breaker of Famine" is not based on a specific character, but is an imagined archetype of the man who experiences a terrible famine after an environmental catastrophe. He prays to whoever will listen to save his family and laments the death of his kinsmen. And finally "Breaker of Silence" is about a cosmic wizard who descends from a mountain. I don't know where that image really came from, but it was rolling around in my head for a long time!

DoC: What's your gear set up in the studio and live? How difficult is it to set up the violin for a concert setting, in terms of gear/mixing?

Laura actually has a beautiful six string electric violin that was custom made for her. So feedback and other considerations are not much of a problem. We have some pretty big amps and just try to get as much power out of the two of us as we can. In the studio we just tried to work with a few amps and sounds as we played, There's lots of overdubbing and doubling on the record, as well as some organ and synthesizer. Live it's a little more stripped down, but I use two bass amps - two vintage Peaveys run through a 6x12 and a 1x15 cabinet - where one is clean and one distorted to fill out the mid range.

DoC: Ancestors was released by the German label Prophecy, who also released your debut. How did you get involved with them? How would you say you relate to the artists on their label?

Well, it's been a real pleasure working with Prophecy for the past couple of years. As I said we recorded two of the tracks as a demo (and actually release an early mix of "Breaker of Oaths" as a very limited acetate). So we sent these tracks off to a bunch of labels and Prophecy was the only one who got back to us. They were excited to see what we could do as a whole record and gave us artistic control and some cash to record. I think we're a good fit for Prophecy, because most of their artists have a more dark and particular aesthetic. I think we may be a bit harder than some of the stuff on the label, but it's a been a great fit overall.

DoC: You were recently profiled on Bandcamp Daily. How do you feel Bandcamp compares to other streaming platforms? What do you think can be improved upon?

I love Bandcamp for their downloading service. And I like that people can hear our music in a legitimate way that we control (not terrible blogspot uploads or bad Youtube versions) So in that sense it's great. Obviously they've become a dominant force in indie music these days, and it's a simple to use platform. The fact that the money goes directly to the artist unlike something like Spotify where it's directed into the big pool that people get almost nothing for is good.

DoC: I know very little about Toronto except a few of the bands that come from there (and Kids in the Hall). How would you describe the scene there? Who do you see as your peers? How does your location influence your sound, if at all?

Kids in the Hall are the original masters of Canadian comedy and I respect you sir for mentioning them! Too bad I have to CRUSH YOUR HEAD!

Toronto has a really vibrant and diverse scene, in heavy music and everything else. It's one of the most multicultural cities in the world and here you have access to any food, any music or any art you could possibly want. So in that way I love it because I can go see a cool grindcore band one night, and then maybe a Tajik oud player the next. There's a bunch of great bands right now, like IRN and Droid or Andy Nolan's new project Intensive Care. I find there is a great community which is supportive and accepting. Of course not every place is perfect and there are some elements that I find unseemly like everywhere (maybe some far right wing nutters or other things that I want nothing to do with), but it's been a lovely place for me to grow up and see the world without really having to leave home.

And of course, the close proximity to beautiful nature doesn't hurt anything. Not too far from us is the green rolling hills of southern Ontario, or the rocky slender of Muskoka. You couldn't really ask for anything more. DoC: What's next for Völur?

We are playing an intimate acoustic show at the Jam Factory in Toronto on the 1st of September and then we are direct support for King Woman on the 13th of September at Coalition! Come and revel in the doom!

Thanks again!

Völur on Facebook

Völur on Bandcamp

Völur on Prophecy Records' online shop

Völur on Twitter