Einar Selvik from Wardruna talks about working for Vikings and new album Skald

The Norwegian musician is behind a lot of tracks heard on the popular series Vikings
Einar Selvik      Pic by Tuukka Koski
Einar Selvik Pic by Tuukka Koski

The popular historical drama series, Vikings, is currently airing Part B of their fifth season. The minds of early fans of the show, however, still linger on the finale of Season 4 when one of the show’s protagonists met his end. The haunting quality of the scene is etched in memory by the hair-raising track, Snake Pit Poetry, written by Norwegian musician Einar Selvik.

In fact, the mood for some of the most striking instances from the programme is created by compositions from his outfit Wardruna—the track, Heimta Thurs, that accompanies the notorious ‘Blood Eagle’ execution, for instance. 

“They contacted me a few months before airing the first season in 2013 as they were looking for music that imparted a sense of Nordic spirituality. They licensed seven songs for that season, after which I was contacted again to team up with Trevor Morris, the chief composer of the show,” says Einar, who was also commissioned by the Norwegian government to create the piece Skuggsjá to commemorate the

200th anniversary of their Constitution in 2014.

His television popularity further fueled a resurrection of Nordic folk traditions that he had undertaken as a personal project. We engage Einar in a Skype conversation as Wardruna recently released a fourth studio album, Skald, which features an acoustic environment rather than his usual style of employing a looming sonicscape with choral arrangements and massive deer-skin drum rhythms.

Setting out 
The basic philosophy which drives Wardruna’s music is also old, Einar asserts. “I wanted to do something more with Wardruna which is missing from other genres that dig into the idea of ‘world music’—what lies behind the music is as important as the tune itself”.

Having been part of a popular black metal band, Gorgoroth, in the early 2000s, he says that the genre in its early days possessed this spirit. “It was very much about what you put it into the music over your guitar tone. At some point, everything started to turn into a technique study...,” he trails off, expressing his interest in diverse music ranging from classical to folk music of various cultures.

Diving deep
You know for sure that a band has struggled when you learn that their debut album was released seven years after initial recordings. In the case of this neo-folk act—whose only other permanent member is vocalist Lindy-Fay Hella—there was a lot more to be done before diving into laying out the melodies. One particular difficulty Einar faced was getting his hands on the instruments, some of which (like the Kravik lyre which he now often uses in his solo shows) belong to dead traditions.

“Only a few people knew anything about these instruments let alone how to make them. I visited museums and institutions and talked to archaeologists and academics to revive some of them,” informs the 39-year-old, who uses ancient equipment like bukkehorn and talharpa, continuing, “I even made some of them myself. I was very decisive on not wanting to hear any music played on them before I myself learned how to play.” Being a DIY project, Wardruna also demanded that he learn techniques of recording including in outdoor locations. 

Einar with  Lindy-Fay Hella
Einar with  Lindy-Fay Hella

Finding a connect
The earlier albums of the project, named Runaljod trilogy, interprets the runes of Elder Futhark (one of the oldest forms of letters from Europe), espousing a spiritual visualisation of nature. “I use the ancient alphabets as images of various aspects of the old tradition and it’s very much about our relation to nature,” he reveals. These explorations even involve recording on unconventional surfaces like trees and water, and also in settings such as mountains and caves.

“The concept of Wardruna is about getting as close to the rune as possible, which means that I try to use relevant instrumentation. It can be anything from the state of mind when recording to the season or specific dates or places. For example, if I’m interpreting the rune for the birch tree, I go into the forest and play on the trees. It’s not just about getting the sound right, but more about capturing the essence.”

Thinking ahead
The latest release, Skald, features acoustic versions of songs, some of which were composed exclusively for Vikings (like Fehu and Völuspá). “It was scary and challenging because it’s easy to get self-critical when the expression is so naked. But, we decided to make it energetic instead of achieving perfection and so everything has been done live in the studio,” says the multi-instrumentalist, touting this LP as his tribute to the old skalds (poets).

<em>Skald </em>album cover
Skald album cover

Expanding his potential for work on the telly, Einar has been composing songs for on-screen moments in Vikings, and many of Wardruna songs from earlier albums are also featured in the latest season. Currently in the studio laying the groundwork for an album which will “bring back the familiar sound the project is famous for,” he plans to work with an acoustic setting as well as a setup that uses more instrumentation.

Questioned about touring plans to India—or even Asia, for that matter—he has a sensible but disappointing answer, “Wardruna’s music is quite dependent on the setting it’s performed in, so I don’t want to rush into a new scene. I’d rather wait for the 
right invitations.”    

Skald is available on wardruna.com

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