Heidevolk is a Dutch folk metal band that is currently getting ready to release its excellent fifth full-length album Velua (our review of which can be read here). We caught up with bassist Rowan for an amusing, insightful and in-depth interview. Find out about the recording process of Velua, live shows, and adventures in Vinland below!
Thanks for the interview! Can you introduce yourself and tell me a little about the band?
Hi Natalie, I am Rowan Roodbaert. I am the bass player of the Dutch folk metal band Heidevolk. A lot of people think of jumpy drinking music when they hear “folk metal”. Don’t let it fool you! Our roots lie in brutal “in your face” metal which we combine with heavy folk hymns and some rock and roll elements. Heidevolk was founded back in 2002, since then we have created our very own brand of folk metal with trademark dual clean male vocals, thundering drums and no compromise guitar riffs.
You’re getting ready to release your fifth full-length album, Velua. How would you describe the writing and recording process for it?
Well, that is quite a story. After the release of our previous album Batavi, followed by a tour through Europe and North America, we had to regroup and refocus as a band. Our line-up had changed during the years as did our songwriting and band rehearsals. We had to rethink what Heidevolk was about and what music direction we wanted to go. We took some time to focus on rehearsing as a band. Instead of creating new songs we played cover songs.
After playing cover songs for a while, I remember asking if we were ready for new songs. An immediate YES was the answer. Everyone had been working and thinking about new songs. So next rehearsal we spent some time listening to new ideas for songs. We came to the conclusion that we had music for about 15 new songs (!!!). Musically theseSsongs took after Batavi as well as the previous albums. The music direction was set. This was spring 2014, after that we were unstoppable. The songs took shape rapidly, lyrics almost wrote themselves and we booked a studio to record it all. The result: VELUA!
Did you do anything different, as opposed to past releases?
For the last few albums we had always found ourselves in the studio while songs weren’t finished, which resulted in products we think are good but could do with a bit more. Not this time. For Velua we made a preproduction for all songs. Our goal was to create a piece of music that sounds organic yet would stick but not bore, something you can listen to over and over again. This involved a lot of layering of instruments and vocals, rewriting music and (very important) leaving things out (because sometimes the raw idea is the right idea). It was quite a bit of work with hammer and chisels or sometimes hammer and anvil (or just straight through chainsaw sculpting) but the result is satisfying.
Then there was the absolute creative freedom; basically there were no rules when it came to the music. While the style is still classic Heidevolk (although we’ve added a bit more of the Rock ‘n Roll vibe), the music gained so much by adding guitar solos, various string parts (no keyboards, a real string ensemble), acoustic guitars, vocal choirs that give you the chills and the occasional brutal grunts.
For the lyrics, we did not take just one story to write about as we did for Batavi. We chose to write about the myths and legends of a region in the Netherlands (De Veluwe). The wide variety of stories gave us the chance to fit each song to a story that had the same atmosphere. The music and lyrics support each other more then before. So, if your Dutch sucks the music will tell the story. The CD booklet also has liner-notes with a short summary of every story featured on the album.
Was there any songs that were more of a challenge to complete?
Our time management skills have been put to the test, to say the least. We went to the studio to record 15 songs (12 new songs, 3 cover songs). We had already dropped a few new songs in the rehearsal room because we couldn’t finish them before the recordings. We had our pre-productions, with some songs more finished then others, and we booked a lot of studio days. But let me tell you, 15 songs is a lot of recording! Especially when there are so many layers to record and when there are still adjustments to be made in the studio. So there was a bit of studio stress at the end of the recordings. We had to book more studio days and postpone the album release one month. But it was worth it.
Production wise the songs that involved a string quartet and/or several layers of vocals and guitars were the most complicated to record. It is a tight fit and everything has got to be perfect, even when it is only on the background as an ambient sound. This is where Jochem and Bouke came in as producers. They have been both the whip and support throughout the process; they made sure we recorded the best we could.
One of my personal favourites on the album was Vinland – I particularly loved how triumphant the chorus sounded! Could you tell me a little more about that one?
We came up with Vinland after our first North American tour (North America = Vinland obviously) with Ensiferum, Tyr, TrollfesT and Helsótt. We had such a good time on this tour and we were really surprised to see how many fans supported us – a lot of funny and weird stuff happened during this tour. We wanted to catch these experiences in a song so we wrote the tribute song Vinland. It is our first English song and we think it worked out pretty well.
Do you have any interesting tales from the studio?
Mark, Lars and Bouke had this thing where they would put something weird in every song when they were recording vocals. This ranged from heavy shouting to backwards singing. So when we got the vocal demos we would hear weird noises and we were left clueless on whether they recorded this as a serious idea or just for fun. In the last song they mixed an “erotic” radio commercial during a “sensitive” part in the music. We had a good laugh about it but the bad thing is: even though these jokes didn’t make it to the master recording, I still hear them in my head when I listen to the songs aaaaaaaaaahhhhhhh!!!!!!!
You’re going to be playing an album launch show for Velua on May 2 in the Netherlands – what can fans expect from the show?
Veterans of our album release shows know that there is always more to expect then just music. Of course we will play a lot of new and old songs but there is more. The venue will be made Heidevolk-ready and the live show will bigger and better then before with visual effects and other spectacles. These evenings usually give a buzz that our fans and ourselves will remember for a long time.
When it comes to live shows, what would you say the best show you’ve played has been?
Difficult question, I couldn’t point out just one show. Summer Breeze 2012 (Germany) was a great show! We played around 6pm in a tent that was packed with about 8.000 – 10.000 people, everyone screamed, jumped and shouted along. That gave me the chills. The same thing happened at Graspop 2012 even though it was very early. There are so many intense shows that are worth mentioning. When the connection with our fans is there the show will be great.
What about the strangest or weirdest?
O, there are also many weird shows but that is okay. I think the shows in a little club in Belgium were the most “weird” shows. Although they we’re absolute fun, the malfunctioning equipment and suffocating temperatures made it a challenge. It is good to have shows like this as well.
If you could play a show anywhere, on any lineup, what would it be?
On top of the Mount Everest. With Katy Perry, AC/DC and the London Philharmonic Orchestra. That would make a great festival!
If you could choose an animal to represent Heidevolk, what would it be?
Hahaha, now I could choose a lot of different graceful creatures but today I say: a wild boar! Not (only) because we like to roll in the mud but because of its strength and its rough, unyielding nature. We keep on going, whatever happens!
And if Heidevolk could put their name to a product, what would you choose?
Spoons, definitely. Everyone can think of us when they are eating their soup!