Jarle Hváll Kvåle Reflects on The Windir ‘Sognametal Legacy’ Vinyl Box Set and Vreid’s Very Busy 2020 (INTERVIEW)

In June 2020, the Norwegian “Black‘n’Roll”/Metal band Vreid played a remarkable outdoor concert by livestream from their home in the mountains, capturing the landscape’s long connection to their music in their current band, and in previous band Windir. Featuring both an outstanding location and very impressive sound, the concert “In the Mountains of Sognametal” was streamed with a pay-what-you-want model for fans to watch, and later posted in full on Youtube, with an included introduction to the history of both Vried and Windir that’s a must for fans to watch. 

Vreid has been very busy throughout 2020, not just in setting up, streaming, and recording their worldwide concert, but in working on new material for an 9th studio album, and in bringing together the complete works of former band Windir as a vinyl box set for the first time to arrive in March 2021 via Season of Mist. The limited edition “Sognametal Legacy” wooden box set will include Soknardalr (1997), Arntor (1999), 1184 (2000), and Likferd (2003). Songwriter, bass and keyboard player Jarle Hváll Kvåle spoke to me before the holidays about the logistics behind their concert, his reflections on putting together the Windir Box Set, and about plans to play Windir’s complete seminal album 1184 live with Vreid in 2021. 

Hannah Means-Shannon: I’m looking forward to the Windir box set coming up, though it’s just one of several things you and the band have been up to since Vreid seems to have set an example of how to stay busy during 2020.

Jarle Hváll Kvåle: I can’t remember a year where we worked so much. I guess that’s what happens when you end up with too much time on your hands. For me, it’s been an energy boost to use this boring time at home to do something creative. We have been able to do things that we’ve been planning for two or three years.

HMS: So normally, this kind of activity would have taken several years?

JHK: Yes, I think so because in a normal year we would have been doing a lot more live stuff, and we would have been a lot more occupied with our normal work and this way it’s easier to combine it. Record companies like to have things more stretched out and now we’re just putting out everything at once. I think that’s good. There are things that have been waiting many years, and there is new stuff. I think it’s good when you’re having a creative period to just get it out there rather than having it sit around.

HMS: I feel like Vreid wins the internet right now, as a band, because you’ve kept the internet talking about your work in a very steady way. Was the release of the WINDIR box set in vinyl something that’s been on your minds and hearts for a while?

JHK: Yes, the Windir vinyl set has been on our minds for a while, that’s been in process for three or four years. It’s been about finding the right label and the right time to do it, so that’s been pretty much scheduled for a while. When we rereleased all the VREID vinyls last year, it was important to us to have the whole Vreid catalog permanently available on vinyl. 

HMS: I agree. It’s great to see vinyl coming back, but it’s often for very short runs, and making sure it’s continuing to come out is a great thing. What are your particular feelings about the vinyl format?

JHK: This is, first and foremost, about the fans and the listeners out there. As for myself, I’m not a huge collector, since I’m not a huge collector of anything in my life. But I can see this is something so important for people out there. This is what we get the most questions about, especially when we’re out on your, and it’s coming back more and more, as you say. I think it’s important to make these products and make them really good. It gives the fans something and it gives the bands and the labels a little more income. Streaming is incredibly important, and I won’t complain about that, since I use it so much myself, but it doesn’t really create an income. And you don’t get something unique, so it doesn’t create that relationship that you get with merch, whether vinyl or CDs.

HMS: Ordering a physical product from a band and receiving it seems to create a community in a different kind of way. 

JHK: Absolutely, and I think that’s something that has been growing. It’s become more and more important for us to take control over that, so we have our own webshop for the EU, and we have one for Norway. We are working to have more set up around the world so we can easily sell our own products and make it more personal. We’d love to put out strange versions of things, whether it’s new stuff, or old stuff we have lying around. It’s a more direct communication with listeners. We’ve been doing this for twenty years and this is our life work, so we like to be very much involved in all aspects of it.

HMS: How much of a personal project was the outdoor livestream concert, “In the Mountains of Sognametal” that Vreid did? Was that something that you all handled at home, or was it more commercial?

JHK: That was all done by ourselves. We started thinking about doing some streaming, since all the shows were closed down. For us, it felt like it didn’t make sense to just use a rehearsal space, so we decided to just bring it home. We’d always wanted to play a show on our own mountainside but it felt like, “How can we bring people up here?” But then, we thought, “Since the world is the way it is now, why not make this our playground?” So, we brought in our production guy who did all our videos, and otherwise it was just family and friends helping us out. We set up everything ourselves and set up where it was going to stream ourselves. 

The same production guy is doing all our upcoming videos, too. There will be music videos for our new album, one for each track. The whole album will be visualized. When you find someone who understands your vision and is able to work like a maniac, then you should embrace it. It’s led to something completely new for the new album. It’s going to be unique because fans can see the vision that we have in our heads for the songs. 

HMS: Wow, you’ve been even busier than I thought if you’ve been doing all the videos for a new album already! For the “In the Mountains of Sognametal”, there was the actual event that streamed world-wide. Then, there was a video for “Milorg” that was a live play video from that event. Then, the whole concert was put up on Youtube with an edited introduction, all for free, which was amazing.

JHK: Yes, we were thinking that if you charge ticket price for something, you reduce the number of people who are going to watch it. And I can relate to that myself. I do buy tickets to watch shows, but when you have to register and buy tickets, sometimes I think, “Maybe later”, and then I forget about it. The main thing for us was to reach as many people as possible with this show. Since it was a big financial risk, we told people, “If you want to pay, that’s fine. If you don’t want to, that’s fine.’ In the end, it paid off pretty well with just as much income, and maybe more, than if we’d had tickets. 

HMS: The whole idea of the concert, given the history of the band and the way that your music connects with that location, was a great idea. And also, the concert came off very well. It looks great and sounds great. 

JHK: I think it worked out very well in most aspects, and it was important to us not to overproduce it. We tracked it as a livestream, and we didn’t want to change the sound. There were mistakes. It was about five degrees out and we were freezing. It’s kind of hard to play a fast, intense guitar solo when you can barely feel your fingers and stuff like that! It’s not perfect in that sense, but in my head, that made it’s perfect, so I said to the guys, “Let’s keep it as it is.” The feedback that we’ve had from people is that it was like a real, live show because it had an authentic feeling to it. It’s something people appreciate.

HMS: The introduction to the video is great, too, telling people about the band’s history and why the location is so important to you and to Norway.

JHK: That’s the same production guy who came up with that, and he suggested we give people the context for what they would be seeing. I think that was a very good thing he did there.

HMS: Working on that video and also working on the Windir discography must be a very reflective time for you. I noticed an earlier quote from you about looking back at yourselves and the other band members, noticing that you had “naivete” and “pride”. Do you feel like you can see who you were then with some distance now?

JHK: Yes, I think so. It’s been a year with plenty of time sitting at home, and for the first time in many years, I’ve actually been listening to all our albums. That brings back a lot of memories. When I’ve been doing interviews and preparing for the video, it brought things back. More and more over the last six years or so, I’ve been able to embrace our past much, much more strongly than I was able to do before. After we had to end Windir and Terje [Valfar Bakken] died, for many years, it was about running from it. For me, it was all about making new stuff, being creative, getting drunk, going on the road and getting away from it. In the latter years, it’s been more about embracing how much Windir has been an important part of my development and celebrating all the great times that we had. 

HMS: I think a lot of people can relate to that. There are things that many people go through in their youth that they move on from in order to survive, but at some point they find they have to integrate those experiences. 

JHK: I think so. So many people have traumatic experiences in their lives or lose someone close to them. For me, I think it’s been important not to dwell too hard on your situation when you’re standing in it. You can’t just stay stuck in it, but it’s easier over time to cherish the good things.

HMS: That’s a great message. When you look at the music from the Windir albums from this distance in time, are you surprised by anything that you find? For me, I’m surprised by the blending of genre elements that you created at that time, when it was far less common to do so than it is now. Did it feel very different at the time?

JHK: I think it was a good thing that we didn’t have the capability of worrying about the fact that it was different at all. We were completely unafraid of everything. I don’t recall sitting down at all and discussing whether something was right, or whether we should do it. We were very much in our own little world, bringing in ideas and not really caring what anybody thought of it. The thing that surprises me when I listen to it, at least for some of the stuff, is how very well some of it was arranged by us at such an early age. When I think of ourselves at that time, we were not yet, mentally, at the same level as where we were at musically. We were teenagers and punks, and very much acting like kids. But when I listen to it now, the lyrics, but especially the music, is much more mature than I remember us being. 

HMS: How did you get the idea of bringing Folk elements into the music? Was that wild and strange, or did you think that made sense?

JHK: The whole Folk thing very much came from Terje when he started Windir because his whole background was there. He had started out playing the accordion. He found some of the old hymns, and songs, and Folk elements, and started incorporating it into our music. He started writing songs on the organ and on keyboards. We had all grown up with Folk music, and all the old Norwegian sagas and tales. That was very much a part of our fascination, but it was Terje who started bringing it in and blending it with Heavy Metal and Black Metal. He was the pioneer.

HMS: It was a good choice. More people are doing that now, but at the time, it was pretty radical. I know that 1184 is one of the albums in the Windir box set and that was the first album where you started writing music. What led to you writing songs with Terje and did you have any difficulty starting that up?

JHK: No, not really. Me and Terje had grown up in the same place, on the same farm, and had been hanging out since we were born, more or less. We had different bands. He started Windir and some of us were in another band, Urcus. But we were in the same area and used the same old farmhouse as a rehearsal space. We did local shows. When we came to the end of the 90s, me and Terje decided that we wanted to join forces as songwriters. The first idea was to drop Windir and drop Urcus and leave those bands behind to start a band together. But we felt that what he had pioneered with Windir had so much potential that we ought to continue with that, so that’s the way that we started version 2.0 of Windir and began writing 1184 together. 

We wrote four songs each, and then we sat down and worked on the arrangements of the songs together. It was a period of sitting and trying to make each other’s songs better, praising the other person and also saying how much the other person’s song sucked. There were a lot of arguments back and forth, but it was a great thing. We did that for several months, with only me and him, then we brought in the rest of the band when we were ready to go into the studio, more or less, and they worked on their parts. 

HMS: I heard that you’re going to play 1184 at The Karmøygeddon Festival next year. Are those songs that Vreid will have to rehearse a lot, or are you used to playing them live? 

JHK: Oh, no, we have to rehearse like hell! I can’t remember half of that stuff. It’s going to be a lot of work. Everyone has to go back to the songs and do a lot of sessions together. But I’m really looking forward to this, to do something special like a whole album again. I think it will bring back even more memories. To bring in all the guys together again to work on this is going to be great. Terje’s brother, Vegard Bakken, is going to be helping us on vocals.

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