Interview: Skaldir (Ash of Ashes) – Part II

Today I am pleased to present the second part of my Zoom interview with Skaldir from Ash of Ashes. If you haven’t read the first part yet, you can find it here.

André: A defining element in your sound are the very melodic, dreamy guitars. Which musicians have inspired you the most in this respect?

Skaldir: That’s a really nice question, André. I have to think about that first, though… When you asked me the question, I immediately thought of one guitarist: Daniel Cavanagh from Anathema. I liked him enormously in the past and he influenced me. I especially appreciate the long standing notes that he plays – very soulful, so not a shred-fest. I’m not really a guitarist by origin, but a pianist – the piano is my main instrument, on which I also write most of the songs. I often read in reviews that our guitar work is fine – and I get this impostor syndrome, you think you’re an impostor and nobody notices. I then think to myself: “Hey, how can anyone find my guitar playing good?“ I’m honestly not very good and I haven’t practised very much. However – and I don’t want to deny this – I have good timing, and that is very important. But I certainly couldn’t play Dream Theater songs. Daniel Cavanagh was perhaps close to me because that wasn’t so complicated either – although he’s a much better guitarist than I am. Dan Swanö has influenced me very strongly as a musician in general. He is not primarily a guitarist, but a drummer – he plays everything. I always liked his guitar style, for example when he played a solo – the song “C’est La Vie“, released on A Black Mark Tribute II, in the original by Emerson, Lake & Palmer, is fantastic in this regard. Swanö’s solos are more of a melody, but totally coherent. Those are the things that are close to me, that’s also my kind of style. But I also enjoy listening to something like Yngwie Malmsteen from time to time, but here I would never even think of composing something like that myself. A guitarist from the “new era“ who I find absolutely amazing is Roine Stolt from The Flower Kings and Transatlantic. He also has such a great way of playing the guitar – it’s a very vocal way, meaning that the guitar expresses a lot, almost as much as a voice.

Yes, I like that kind of thing very much too. That’s why my guitar heroes are musicians like Mark Knopfler and David Gilmour…

If I had answered longer now, those two names would have come up too. I really love The Division Bell. There’s also one of the most monumental guitar solos on “High Hopes“, although people who are really into that kind of thing often say that’s not even a real guitar solo – that’s more of a melody. It’s definitely something that fits perfectly exactly at that point in the song and also on the album, at the very end. By the way, that brings us back to the topic from before, that albums should have a beginning and an end. I also find Mark Knopfler incredibly good, also his solo stuff, so not only the Dire Straits albums. His first solo album from 1996, Golden Heart, is beautiful – I can only recommend everyone to listen to it once. It’s completely timeless music – it doesn’t matter if you heard it 20 years ago or listen to it 100 years from now. It will always be great, no matter what the fashion is at the moment. Dire Straits, by the way, I listened to in the mid-90s, but it didn’t appeal to me then – I just wasn’t ready for it. I didn’t feel the need to listen to it because I wanted to listen to much more energetic stuff back then. A few years ago that changed and I gave it another chance. After that I bought several CDs by Knopfler. What I also really like about him is that he is such a nice man who has so little narcissism in him. You have to imagine that: He stopped Dire Straits because the success was too much for him. Playing in stadiums, that’s not for everyone who isn’t so self-loving. When you hear the guitar solos on his albums, it’s not at all what you imagine when a guitar god makes an album. Knopfler writes songs and plays the guitar. So he can stay completely in the background and doesn’t have to play himself to the limelight: “Hey, look how great I am!“ And that’s what I love about the man! Whenever I see any video interviews with him, my heart really swells.

I have the impression that Traces is very well received by many reviewers. Do you see any difference between this and its predecessor Down the White Waters? Were there so many high scores there too?

We haven’t actually held back any reviews yet. The scores are all high – but that was already the case with the last album. I’m very happy about that, of course, and it’s also something very special for us – whereby my impostor syndrome comes into play again. I have to say, a lot of work goes into the albums, which some people might not imagine. I have Morten, but I am as well a lone fighter. I also do the recordings, the mixing and the mastering – I am a sound engineer. I have huge demands on myself, and that’s why it always takes a long time. When I think, “OK, I think it’s ready now“, it’s even more ready for others, or presentable in their eyes.

Is there a realistic chance to see Ash of Ashes live in the foreseeable future?

Two days ago I met with Stryx and Sethras, who played drums and guitar on Traces and are also in my live band. We talked about the topic: We want to get back into shape and rehearse now. During the whole Corona period we didn’t really do anything, also because of all the uncertainty that was connected with it. But now it really seems like everything is getting back on track. It would also be a real shame if Traces didn’t come on stage.

Would you actually play Hel songs live?

We did that at our concert in Lichtenfels at Ragnarök 2019. We played “Wo die Tannen thronen“, there’s also a YouTube video of that. But I don’t think that will happen more often now. You tend to do that at the beginning, when you don’t have enough of your own songs yet. In this particular scenario, at Ragnarök, we really wanted to do it, because nothing of Das Atmen der Erde had ever been played live before. There was only one Hel concert anyway, this album wasn’t out at that point. We thought, “Wo die Tannen thronen“ has become a bit of a hit, a song that many people think is great. But, as I said, now with the second album we probably won’t play anything by Hel. I wasn’t the only one in the band at that time, Andreas was part of it and later my brother, who played on Tristheim and Das Atmen der Erde, he also wrote a few numbers.

On our blog, we focus on music with epic elements. How do you define the term epic in the context of music?

A very difficult question! In any case, the sound has to be right and there has to be a certain atmosphere. On Hammerheart, the sound is not really good from a technical point of view, but it works because it creates a very authentic atmosphere. The composition has to be appropriate, of course – I don’t consider bands like Epica or After Forever to be epic. Of course it’s symphonic and has a wall of sound, there are lots of choirs – but for me it’s not epic.

The lyrical concept also plays a role, of course. A song about motorbikes is not that epic…

Quorthon sings a song about ice hockey – that’s epic too (laughs).

A completely different topic: You have been working with Markus Eck from Metal Message for many years. It’s hard to find a more passionate person in our scene, isn’t it?

Absolutely! Usually promo is a thing with very little heart. I also wrote reviews for an online magazine for a while, but I don’t do that any more. When I think about the texts you get from the bigger promo agencies… You notice that it’s pure mass production. That’s totally different with Markus Eck. He puts his heart and soul into it. He doesn’t accept every band, it has to appeal to him – it doesn’t necessarily have to be metal, think of his current collaboration with Ravenfield, who do Gothic, but are really good. It’s absolutely fantastic to work with him – I can’t praise him enough for that! That’s why Markus was the first promoter in the world to have a song written by Celtic Hills – it’s about him. So Markus is a great guy!

Let’s get to a standard question: Which five albums would you take with you to the infamous desert island with electricity?

Okay, in no particular order: MoonsorrowKivenkantaja, The Flower KingsStardust We Are, it’s also a double album, there’s a lot of material. And Judas PriestPainkiller: This album is just awesome from front to back. There is no song on the album that is not 10/10 for me. By the way, to come back to it, Painkiller also has a beginning and an end. And what a beginning! Otherwise, I definitely have to pick up HelloweenKeeper of the Seven Keys Part I or Part II… I’m sure there’s a double CD version there too. Otherwise, if I’m not in the mood for metal: Moon SafariBlomljud, a Swedish prog band that I absolutely love, hyper melodic music. The guys are so great and they also sing so fantastically! By the way, Blomljud is also a double album again – that’s truly an insider’s tip.

Is there a song that you would call an all-time favourite? A song that is particularly important to you…

On the albums that I just mentioned, there are also individual songs that I could name here. From Moon Safari I think “The Ghost of Flowers Past“ is very, very great. But it’s difficult for me to pick out one particular track that stands out from all the others. I don’t think I have such an all-time favourite, it’s somehow “too little“ for me.

Last question: What do you think about streaming services?

You really have the most brutal questions here! That’s another double-edged sword. I’ve made my peace with streaming services – especially after I got on one of those playlists with the last Ash of Ashes album and got so many plays. It was really so many that I was able to finance the vinyl edition of the album with it. So you can already earn money with streaming. The good thing about it is that it has crushed all the piracy. Who still has to illegally download an album from the Pirate Bay or wherever? I’ll put it this way: 0.3 cents is more than 0 cents per play – although it’s also super little and it only adds up in the masses. In my opinion, it’s best if you combine everything, meaning you stream and buy the things you particularly like.

Skaldir, thank you very much for this great, very interesting interview. A review by my friend and colleague Aidan will also appear on our blog soon. I wish you all the best for the future!

Ash of Ashes on Bandcamp.

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