Some weeks after the first album by Sojourner, I had the huge opportunity to ask some questions to the band !
– Hi Sojourner ! The line-up of the band is quite particular and surprising since it consists of New Zealand and Swedish members. First of all, how did you meet ? And how did you proceed during the preparation of the album ? Do you consider this double-origin as an asset or a brake ?
Chloe: All of us being in different places wasn’t really too much of a problem while we were writing and recording the album. We were all in frequent contact over Skype and group messages, so it never felt that much like we were separated. Mike L. and I are usually in the same place, so we can always play through guitar parts together, which would have been the difficult part otherwise. I think the project being put together over the internet has been a huge asset; living in a fairly small place like New Zealand, or an even smaller Scottish town like the one Mike L. and I live in at the moment, its often difficult finding a really dedicated group of people nearby with the same musical vision, especially when you want to write in a niche genre like ours. Being able to put together bands internationally means that whatever you want to write, you can find people who are just as passionate as you are. Of course it’s going to create some obstacles if we want to play live, but we’re hoping we can make it happen anyway!
Mike L.: Luckily the music, everything except bass, was put together in the same place so that made it much easier than it would have been otherwise. The double-origin thing is maybe not an asset, since I’d love it if we all lived in the same place, but it definitely wasn’t a brake either! All the music being assembled in one place made that easy, then Mike W. added his bass and Emilio added his vocals, so that all happened really smoothly. Emilio and I met a few years back when he left a kind review of my (and Mike W.’s) melodic doom band Lysithea on his YouTube channel, we got talking after that and I ended up being a big fan of his death/doom band Nangilima and we decided we wanted to work together on a black metal influenced project. I wrote the song that became ‘Heritage of the Natural Realm’, we got Chloe in to add tin whistle, and then she joined the band permanently after that and we wrote the rest of the album together. Then we got Mike W., an old friend and bandmate of mine, in for bass and that was the Sojourner formed!
– Why did you choose « Sojourner » as a band name ? Can your music be considered as a call for journey ?
Emilio: I compiled a list of names and none of them really fit. One day the word Sojourner just popped in my head. I presented it to the others and they loved it, too. It really fits our music and lyrical themes. A sojourner is someone who doesn’t remain in the same place for too long a time.
Our music is definitely a journey! While writing lyrics I have stories or something like a story in my head and I put them into words. Chloe can speak for « The Pale Host » but I’m sure it is the same thing there.
Chloe: Emilio basically summed it up, but on “The Pale Host” I was going for a traditional Folk song feel. The lyrics were inspired by ancient Greek epic and tragedy, which is what I’m working on for my PhD. It fits into the trilogy of linked songs after « Aeons » as a post-battle reflection on what was lost and before the journey « Homeward ».
– Your first album Empires of Ash was released last week. I noticed a very strong enthusiasm, both from the press and the listeners. How do you live this situation ? For such a young band, it’s quite amazing !
Emilio: I can’t say this enough… but we are overwhelmed with the response. All the support from all over is just something we couldn’t have imagined. We started this with the mindset that we would release an album we were proud of and that’s basically it. We wanted to have a record label to release it and hopefully it did well, but we honestly didn’t expect it to do this well! There are no other words to say than thank you!
Mike: Exactly! When we started it we just figured it’d be a fairly small release, which obviously it still is technically, but we’ve received so much more support than we could have imagined. We couldn’t be more thankful to all the people that have bought the album so far, and to Roberto for his faith in the band. It’s really nice to see so many people actually buying the album, that kind of support, along with sharing it on social media and kind comments online, is something that you can’t really put a price on. So we’re really thankful for all of the support!
– And these « empires of ash », what are they ? Why did you call the album like this ?
Mike: We’re all fans of history. Chloe and I both have degrees in History and Classics, and Emilio is a huge fan of the classical periods and the history and mythology surrounding that. So I guess the title is a reflection on the nature of empires historically, the rise and inevitable fall of each. I guess it also loosely correlates to some of the themes throughout the album (especially the battle ‘story’ that loosely runs across ‘Aeons…’, ‘The Pale Host’, and ‘Homeward’). It’s also just a cool title!
– The artwork of the album is really beautiful. Jordan Grimmer made it, how did you get in touch with him ?
Mike: I actually worked with Jordan at my last job, a games company called Kobojo. Jordan was responsible for a lot of the art for the RPG we were making, and it was all phenomenal. So it made sense to approach him and see what he thought of doing some artwork for us. He was really keen, so I gave him some starting elements we wanted; ideas like using the St. Andrew cathedral ruins (just around the corner from where Chloe and I live at the moment) as the basis of the ruins in the art, and setting it in among a mixture of Scottish Highlands and New Zealand wilderness, with a sort of dreamy evening light. He got straight onto it, and within a matter of days we had our finished product! Unfortunately that company went under, but Jordan’s now down in England doing really well for himself. A fantastic artist and really great guy.
– And what about your collaboration with the label Avantgarde Music, how does it happen ?
Emilio: As soon as we founded the band we knew exactly which label we wanted to be our home. Shortly before we released « Heritage… », I contacted Avantgarde Music to inform them about what we were gonna do and that they would be the first to get any new music to decide whether or not we could join the roster. Our contact lasted months until close to the new year, Avantgarde said yes and we joined the label. We all feel that there is no other home for us so our work with the label will continue for years to come!
– Let’s talk about your music now. It’s quite particular and I think your band has its own identity. Indeed your music is extremely rich, there are black, folk, epic, atmospheric, and sometimes doom elements. What are your main influences ? I especially think of bands such as Summoning, Saor, do you agree ?
Emilio: I would but there are several more influences as well. I draw from many atmospheric black metal bands as well as doom metal (Draconian, Elderwind, Gallowbraid, etc) so it isn’t exclusive to one genre. I particularly love piano and strings music to listen to while writing lyrics more than I do metal. It just depends on what I’m in the mood for.
Chloe: Summoning and Saor are definitely both big influences and probably the most apparent listening to the album, but I was as much, if not more, influenced by Borknagar, Nechochwen, Alda, Wardruna, and Moonsorrow. Those were among the bands I would have been listening to most frequently while we were writing, anyway. It’s always hard to tell what made you write something.
Mike L.: Yeah, Summoning and Saor are definitely influences on us and they’re both brilliant bands. However, my main influences are things like Agalloch, Enslaved, Moonsorrow, Windir, Primordial, Borknagar, Dissection etc. as well as a lot of doom and melodic death. I also love a lot of non-metal stuff, so I think influences kind of seep in from everywhere and everything. A lot of my favorite books inspire me musically too; I’m a huge weird fiction, horror, and sci-fi fan and sometimes I’ll have something form in my head while reading…I think influence is hard to pin down, like Chloe said.
– Concerning the lyrics, what do they talk about, what are the themes that you tackle ?
Emilio: The lyrics deal with nature and fantasy. Sometimes the two could be combined. For the nature side we have lyrics pertaining to mother nature and landscapes in general. With the fantasy lyrics I drew inspiration from certain authors but created my own stories (battles, journeys, etc). It’s something that was clear to us that we would write about from the start, they are also subjects we are passionate about so they aren’t just for fun.
– One of the band’s particularities is the presence of a female voice, Chloe’s one which is really magnificent. Does it play a particular role in the album ? You mentioned the song « The Pale Host », which is very different from the other songs of the album, can you tell me precisely what its function is ?
Chloe: Thank you! We tried to keep the clean vocal parts for accentuation in climactic parts of songs, rather than putting them everywhere just because we could. We all love the interplay between clean female vocals and heavy vocals in bands like Draconian, so the back and forth part in Homeward and the layering in Empires of Ash were really fun. The Pale Host was written to be the middle part of a kind of trilogy, where Aeons of Valour is a battle, The Pale Host is the aftermath, and Homeward is the return home. I love folk songs that have some dark, haunting story behind them, so I tried to go for a melody and rhyming pattern in the lyrics which made it feel like an old song. We also wanted the whole album to have a dynamic structure with fast and slow parts and heavy and soft parts, so this song is a break in the middle that I think emphasises the atmospheres of the songs on either side.
– What is your favorite track of the album, and why ?
Mike L.: Oh that’s a hard one! I’m really proud of every song on the album! I think we gave every single one of them our all and we’re proud of what we created. If I had to pick one though I’d have to go with ‘Trails of the Earth’, simply because it’s got some of my favourites riffs and leads that I’ve ever written and I’m quite fond of the pace and atmosphere of that song in general.
Chloe: It’s so hard to choose, since they play such different parts in the album…but I’d probably have to say ‘Homeward’. As soon as I joined Sojourner I knew I wanted to write a huge, epic track which combined triumphant and melancholic elements, and ‘Homeward’ was the result. That said, I love the high-fantasy-wizard-battle atmosphere of ‘Aeons of Valor’ too…it depends what mood I’m in!
Emilio: I would also have to say ‘Homeward’. It is everything I love in this style of black metal. Same as Chloe said really…this song was the song I envisioned us creating when we first started as a band. All of our influences pooled together and writing this epic and grand track. I’m extremely proud of it.
– Concerning gigs, do you have any shows in preparation ? I’ve heard about two shows in Scotland, and you are looking for live musicians, isn’t it ?
Mike L.: Yeah! We’re planning on doing one or two in Scotland when Emilio is over in September. We’ve got a lineup slowly forming, including a member that may surprise quite a few people, but beyond that we’re looking at some stuff in Europe next year if we can. We’ll see how it plays out. We’re still looking for a drummer though! A drummer and a keyboardist are the final pieces of the puzzle, but we can live without a keyboardist as long as we find a good drummer!
– Ok, ‘hope it will work ! I ask you my last question, and I’ll let you conclude the interview as you like (besides, thanks a million for having taken time to answer my questions, it was a pleasure !). So, my last question is : Can you talk about metal in New Zealand ? Is there a strong culture around this musical genre or not ? I must admit that, except Jakob and Kerretta, which are more post-rock bands than metal, I absolutely don’t know metal bands in this country, except you …
Mike L.: Well, it’s a bit of a mixed bag in New Zealand. There isn’t an enormous metal scene, at least if you’re comparing it to the US or the UK or almost anywhere in Europe…but there definitely is a passionate metal scene, and that counts for a lot. The fact that it’s a really small country sort of limits it a bit in that respect. My go-to recommendation when it comes to New Zealand metal is Orphans of Dusk (https://orphansofdusk.bandcamp.com/), another band from Dunedin actually. Like Sojourner, their vocalist is from another country (in their case Australia), and they’re the nicest guys ever. I actually didn’t know any of them beforehand, I still haven’t met them in person, but they released their EP ‘Revenant’ around the same time my doom band Lysithea was releasing our first proper album in 2014. They absolutely blew me away, it’s some of the very best music I’ve heard come out of NZ. If you’re looking for some great NZ black metal, Vargafrost are well worth checking out (https://vargafrost.bandcamp.com/album/honour-blood-spirit-and-love). Abstract Survival is another Dunedin band with some killer music by a bunch of really great guys (https://abstractsurvival.bandcamp.com/), they’re well worth checking out if you want to sample some of the more death-influenced New Zealand metal. Beastwars is another fantastic band from Wellington on the doomier/sludgy side of things (https://beastwars.bandcamp.com/) and Into Orbit are a great band on the more post-rock/post-metal side of things you were talking about (https://intoorbit.bandcamp.com/album/caverns). But yeah, there’s a spread of New Zealand metal bands and of course I can’t mention them all, but it’s a scene that’s always growing and always becoming more exciting. A bit of shameless self-promotion too, my other two bands Lysithea (https://lysithea.bandcamp.com/) and Cailleach (https://cailleach.bandcamp.com/) are worth checking out if you enjoyed the music in Sojourner I guess. Cailleach is on semi-permanent hold for the foreseeable future, but we’re just starting on a new Lysithea album and that’s something that we’re going to be turning into a proper live (potentially touring) band down the line. Lysithea was my first recording project that I started back in 2008, so it’s a long-term investment for me and Mike Wilson (our bassist in Sojourner, but vocalist/co-guitarist and songwriter in Lysithea).
Anyway, thanks so much for the interview and thank you to everybody that has been supporting us! It’s truly humbling to receive all of this kind feedback. Cheers!