Hey guys! Thank you so much for giving Waldhalla the chance making an interview with Sojourner! I know there are several reviews and interviews as well until this point, but I decided not to read them in order to ask my own individual questions. Anyway, I was very excited and looking straight forward to your full-length after listening to the first track „Heritage of the Natural Realm“ that was released in May last year. So, have you been working on „Empires of Ash“ long before or have you been locked into a room for a year, working it all out in its entirety?
Emilio: Hey man! Thanks for reaching out to us. Well, we were working on „Empires of Ash“ rigorously for the past year. Quite a few things scrapped or changed and sometimes it was a frustrating process (in a good way). You always want the best in your writing and I think we all achieved that in our areas. I’ll let Mike and Chloe discuss further on the music, but for me, vocal wise, it was actually smooth sailing. I immediately felt inspired upon listening to what Mike and Chloe would present to me and in maximum two days I’d have the track finished on my end. It was an amazing experience and I can’t wait to repeat it soon!
Mike: Thanks for taking the time to interview us! We finished „Heritage of the Natural Realm“ back in May 2015, then released it on Bandcamp. We started working on the album straight away and made some progress, however it was right around the time that Chloe and I were moving from New Zealand to Scotland. Since we’re the only two writing the music, the album basically had to go on hold while we travelled across Vietnam and China for three months, until we eventually reached Scotland in late September and recommenced writing at that stage. The trip through Vietnam and mainland China was incredibly inspirational for us though, and along with our trips through New Zealand’s amazing scenery, hugely inspired what you hear on the album. So basically from September onwards we were locked in our room every night making sure this album was perfect.
Chloe: We had quite a few ideas for the songs other than „Heritage…“ worked out when we left New Zealand, so it was quite frustrating to have to take such a long time off them! But as soon as we got set up in Scotland we spent every evening on the album until it was done. Usually when we weren’t working on it, we were talking about it or planning some aspect of it, even when we were travelling, so it does feel like we’ve been working on it consistently for the whole year!
The Lost Valley, Glen Coe, Scotland
Waiting for „Empires of Ash“ has definitely been worth it! I think when you’re travelling in such beautiful countries, especially New Zealand (we only have been to Scotland a few times), there has to be some kind of inspiration. Certainly you guys are Tolkien fans as well, aren’t you? Maybe that’s the reason for choosing this great ancient cover art, which fits quiet well with the music, isn’t it?
Emilio: We are glad you think that way. There was definitely some nerves when it came to how people would receive the album. We are really proud of it and wouldn’t change anything, but you always have that touch of nervousness before releasing something. The inspiration, because of nature is definitely something that is present in our music. For me personally, I rely heavily on Swedish nature for my inspiration. If I’m ever feeling a certain way that might be negative or if I’m at a wall with writing lyrics, nothing cures that better than being surrounded by nature. All of it vanishes and I feel restored and lyrics just flow. Well, when it comes to Tolkien, I’m ashamed to say that of the four of us I’m probably the one who knows the least about the series. Since it’s become so mainstream with Hollywood and people in general, I feel that it’ll always be there for me to discover. I’ve been more involved with the Malazan series, „The Kingkiller Chronicles“ (which is my favourite) and RPG’s. I’ll leave the art explanation to Mike.
Chloe: Travelling has been a huge inspiration for me, particularly around New Zealand. Dunedin is within a day’s drive some of the most epic scenery in New Zealand, and Mike and I would go on a lot of road trips and hikes. We did the Milford Track during the early stages of writing the album, and waking up at dawn in the mist in these tiny huts and then walking all day between the mountains with literally countless waterfalls and rivers. That was probably as close as you can come to feeling like you’re in some fantasy adventure. I’m a huge Tolkien fan, it’s sort of a lifetime obsession! I think my favourite thing about all things Middle-Earth is that there’s a mix of epic grandeur in the history behind every story, but also sadness, because so much of it is lost, and it’s that combination of emotions that I really wanted to capture in this album. As far as the cover art goes, we make a point of hunting down ruins wherever we travel, and the main inspiration for the ruins in the amazing art that Jordan Grimmer put together for us, is the ruins of St. Andrews Cathedral which is about 30 seconds walk from where we live at the moment. It’s probably my favourite thing about St. Andrews, maybe beside the castle ruins; it looms over the whole town.
Milford Track, New Zealand
Mike: I’m also a big Tolkien fan, though nowhere near as much as Chloe… I actually don’t know, if I’ve ever met a bigger Tolkien fan than her. I’ve always been much more of a Weird Fiction, Horror, and Sci-fi kind of guy though I do love good fantasy. Fantasy is a minefield of a genre when it comes to quality unfortunately. There’s a huge bulk of horribly generic stuff out there that turns me off really quickly, but great storytellers like Tolkien, Gene Wolfe, Steven Erikson, Robin Hobb, Roger Zelazny and writers along those lines are always brilliant. I’m a huge RPG fan though and I adore the likes of „Chrono Trigger“, „The Legend of Zelda“, „Dark Souls“ etc., and I’m a huge fan of old fantasy films from the 80’s like „Krull“, „Labyrinth“, „The Neverending Story“ and „The Dark Crystal“. So I wouldn’t say I’m nearly as big a fantasy fan as Chloe and Emilio, but I do enjoy it. I absolutely love exploring abandoned and forgotten places, whether places that have fallen to urban decay or more historic ruins, and the feeling that comes from that is something that hugely inspires me when making music. We commissioned the cover from a workmate of mine at the games company I was working at the time, and he’s an absolutely phenomenal artist. I gave him a couple of pictures of the St. Andrews Cathedral and a kind of description of what they’d be like, if they were forgotten in the Highlands somewhere, completely untouched, and he came back with that almost immediately. We couldn’t have asked for better! And as Chloe said, New Zealand’s breathtaking scenery is a huge inspiration to us, alongside the many of the places we’ve explored at various points in Cambodia, Vietnam, China, Thailand and here in Scotland.
Oh wow, that are truly epic answers! I’m also a lover of these „forgotten places“ and especially in Scotland or Wales you can find lots of this abandoned or ancient places like castles, ruins, stone circles and burial mounds. Great to hear that you’ve chosen St. Andrews Cathedral as base for this brilliant artwork – great job your workmate has done! Visually it’s very close to the cover artwork of Caladan Brood or even Summoning. Musically I have to say, it’s not just a „simple copy“ of their music. There’s definitely more black metal in it, enriched with this fantastic sound of the tin whistle, which is present on the whole album (Damn, I’m becoming addicted to this shit, haha!). Anyway, Emilio told me before that you are fans of Caladan Brood and Summoning. Are there any other bands which truly inspired you during your „creative process“?
Emilio: For me it would be Caladan Brood, Summoning, Draconian, Elderwind and Gallowbraid where I pull most of my influences from. But maybe sometimes I’m dry on inspiration and even putting on their music doesn’t spark it. In those cases I put on fantasy music by artists such as BrunuhVille or Adrian von Ziegler and of course film scores or soundtracks. That kind of stuff relaxes me to no end. I need to be in a certain mindset and if one doesn’t do it, the other will.
Mike: Thanks for the kind words! Personally my biggest influences are bands like Agalloch, Borknagar, Moonsorrow, Enslaved, Sólstafir, Dissection, Nechochwen, Windir, Drudkh and that sort of thing. I’m also a huge fan of power metal bands like Lost Horizon, Unleash the Archers, Persuader, Orden Ogan, Evergrey etc.; and doom metal bands like Mourning Beloveth, Draconian, Warning, The Fall of Every Season, My Dying Bride etc.; alongside quite a bit of non-metal stuff as well. Even then I’ve left a lot of stuff out! All of that sort of ends up in a big melting pot of influence when writing. Of course, there are plenty of places that you end up finding inspiration from that are not music too.
Chloe: I would say I’ve been influenced most directly by Moonsorrow, Borknagar, Alda and Nechochwen, but then there are probably a lot of other accidental influences at play that I haven’t even really noticed. Mike always jokes that I have a very characteristic choice in particular note intervals, and there are certain motifs and groups of notes that I find very satisfying to listen to, which I think are probably picked up from various classical composers. I played piano, trumpet and clarinet through school, and all my teachers were adamant that I listened to classical music. I don’t think I paid as much attention as I should have at the time, but I think it has leaked in subconsciously.
Heritage of the Natural Realm (Single)
Empires of Ash (Debut)
Yeah, absolutely. If you’re not one of the „hardcore“ black metal listeners, it’s a great pleasure listening also to other kind of styles. When I’m looking at the bands you have specified, there are lot of stylistic overlaps. Are you going to place Sojourner into this ranking, amongst bands like Moonsorrow, Borknagar and Agalloch? What are your plans for the future? (A little anecdote you should know if you’re a fan of Orden Ogan: They’re from my hometown and built up a fan page called „Ohne Hoden“ (www.ohnehoden.de). Meaning „without balls“, haha!)
Emilio: Well, I feel that it is all subjective in that sense. Sure, we have bands that we love and have inspired us, but to say that we will place ourselves within the ranks of these others? Hmmm… I wouldn’t say that, haha. We make music that is inspired by others, but at the same time we write with our own creative input and flavour to it. I’ll be honest and say that I listen to our music and I can’t say that we sound like a carbon copy of another band. We haven’t reinvented anything either but we do have our own distinct flavour to this vast and beautiful genre. As for the future, we have plans to do gigs and of course, write another album (But not too soon!). We hope to play in Scotland in September or a bit after. Everything needs to fall in place for that to happen, but it is going well so far!
Mike: I love Orden Ogan! One of my favourite power metal bands. But yeah, I definitely wouldn’t say we’d place ourselves beside those other bands you mentioned at all… We’re well below their level, haha. But we try to be the best we can and put out the best music we can with what we’ve got. Naturally we’re limited to some extent by the equipment we can afford and the position we’re in as a small band, but all we can do is make the music we want to hear and if people enjoy it then that’s great. Chloe and I never set out to be particularly like any other band when we were writing the music, we just knew what we wanted to hear and wrote it. There are always going to be influences, and we wear those influences proudly, but we kind of just write how we naturally write. I think it’s a dangerous path to go when you sit down and lay out guidelines of „I want to sound like this band and this band“ etc.; Summoning is a comparison that I’ve noticed comes up again and again, which is kind of funny because neither of us actually listen to them all that much, but obviously people hear something that’s similar in there and that’s totally cool. You’re always going to sound similar to other bands though, and whatever band or bands we sound like to people is fine by me – as long as they enjoy it! As for the future plans, Emilio basically summed it up. Next album will continue in the direction as „Empires of Ash“, but it definitely won’t be the same album by any means. There are a lot of new avenues we want to explore musically. We’ll push for better production values too, which is again limited by what we have access to at the time, but as long as it’s always an upward trajectory then we’re happy.
That sounds great! I’m looking straight forward to your upcoming material! I think the reactions regarding your debut have been very positive until today! So, can you imagine touring in Europe someday, maybe on larger stages?
Mike: Thanks! Yeah, we’ve been incredibly touched by the reception, so of course we’d love to do some proper big shows in the future. As it stands now we’ve never actually had the opportunity to play live, but we would love to play some of the larger (and smaller) stages in Europe at some point in the future. It’s just the matter of getting a live line-up together that we’re happy with to fill the drum, keyboard and tin whistle positions. One day we will definitely get there though, it’s something we absolutely want to do in the future.
Emilio: Well, we feel that the possibility is always there. We actually have received a couple offers but a few things need to fall into place for that to happen and they haven’t yet. Rest assured that they will though. We 100 % plan to play live, it just needs to be the right time.
Maybe you can tell something about the band’s history. How did you meet each other and what’s the story behind? I was also asking myself why do you named it „Sojourner“.
Emilio: I came up with the name „Sojourner“ since our lyrics are fantasy and nature inspired, it fit us perfectly. The definition of the word is very much what you hear about in fantasy stories (someone not staying in a certain place for too long). Nature is also ever changing so it felt like the right name for us.
Mike: Band history-wise, Emilio and I had been talking about doing a band together for quite a while after meeting online through our other bands Lysithea (my band) and Nangilima (Emilio’s band), so I eventually wrote „Heritage of the Natural Realm“. I got my wife and longtime bandmate Chloe in to help refine some of my tin whistle lines, and we just decided we’d write it all together since we share very similar writing styles and work amazingly together. So Chloe and I sat down with our guitars and we wrote and recorded the rest of the album together, then we got my other bandmate from Lysithea and old friend Mike Wilson on bass, and finally Emilio puts his vocals and lyrics down. It’s a good system and works perfectly for us, and that’s the basic history behind the band.
Thanks for the band-history Mike! So you all are „Sojourners“ in a specific way? As I’m listening again to „Empires of Ash“, it feels like that there’s an overwhelming yearning in it. Is it a yearning for travelling to long forgotten places and starting new (ancient) adventures again and again? Or should the listener decide?
Emilio: Maybe both, haha. I love to travel and I have a huge interest in history so it’s natural to me to have these ideas and lyrics to put to paper. The listener should also read my lyrics and let it take them to wherever they want and also interpret it as they wish. It isn’t limited to my view at all, even if my lyrics are about a certain subject. Someone can read that and it may hit them in a different way. My intention with „Homeward“ was to bring someone and their army on a journey back home (in an epic way, of course), but someone might take that and apply it to their feeling of being homesick. But the using the word „yearning“ was good, because there definitely is.
Tiger Leaping Gorge, Yunnan, China
Mike: All of the above really. Chloe is a classicist and I’ve got a degree in history and classics, though my main field ended up being space-related. So the elements of adventure inherent in all of those fields are definitely there in the inspiration for the music that we wrote for the album. However, I mostly think that the music grew out of Chloe and my travels. We travelled a lot around our home country, New Zealand, which is hugely inspiring for us, and we’ve travelled a lot around Scotland too. Those are probably the most obvious connections people make when they know we’re from New Zealand and currently live in Scotland, and they’re not wrong, but more than anything I think what catalysed the music you hear on the album were our extensive trips throughout Vietnam and China. China was where we spent the most time, and it was packed with the most breathtaking scenery and amazing people. We had so many deeply affecting experiences there that I’ll never forget, and I can’t wait to go back. We really fell in love with places like Kunming (one of my favorite cities in the world) and the entire Yunnan Province, Zhangjiajie, Wulingyuan, Xi’an and Beijing. We’ve got a huge place in our hearts for that country. Plus Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Australia all factory into the trips and experiences that inspire the music we make as well. Like you said, it’s just about the adventures you have and wanting to go on more of them, that’s where we get our main inspiration when it comes to making this… But we also realise that it’s going to mean different things to different people, and that’s one of the coolest things about it all. It’s nice thought that once you’ve created something and it’s out there, no matter what you put into it, it isn’t really yours anymore. If people are listening and forming their own associations with it, and drawing their own conclusions, then it’s one of the best things you can possibly hope for with any creation.
That sounds very exciting to my ears, want to go on a journey right now! Thanks so much for the time you spend for this interview and we love to hear from you soon!
Sojourner: We want to thank everyone for all the trust and support. It is highly appreciated by a small band like us! And also, thanks to you, „Waldhalla – Das grüne Metal Mag“, it was great to do this interview with you. Cheers!
(Pictures: © Sojourner)