by R.S. Frost
Kati Rán is a vocalist and multi-instrumentalist from the Netherlands whose musical output primarily focuses on Nordic spiritualism and a primal connection with nature. Alongside composing all of the music and lyrical content for RÁN, Kati also has a hand in the production of her work and performs utilising a variety of historical folk instruments including the Swedish nyckelharpa, hammered dulcimer, Norwegian kraviklyra, overtone & bone flutes, Finnish kantele, percussion, and skin drums.
How did you come to be proficient in such a variety of less-than-common instruments and what was the drive behind taking this musical direction?
- I had been inspired by a historic theatre group in the '90s, they also performed music on ancient Celtic instruments and drums. Something struck a nerve in me and I have dived into the musical instruments since. During my search for players and instruments, I have been lucky to gather some good pointers and music lessons by friends - amongst them are musicians from both OMNIA and FAUN.
In 2010 Kati founded the Nordic folk band L.E.A.F and released a single titled ‘Nymånen’. What was behind the forming of this group and how did you find creating, and then releasing, your first offering?
- I wanted to make Scandinavian folkmusic with both Swedish and Nordic lyrics. To be able to do so in the early years, I searched for musicians who wanted to join in on this idea. Fieke van den Hurk was the first band-companion and she is both a skilled musician and music producer. Together we made a band website, recorded the first single ‘Nymånen’ and a few other songs and booked our first live shows. After some years the project L.E.A.F dissolved, but each musician of this original formation is still active in folkmusic in some form. Fieke van den Hurk is actually now involved with music performances with the legendary Faroeise-Nordic singer EIVØR and I am now writing and producing my own work.
The following year Kati co-founded the darkfolkproject FOLK NOIR alongside Oliver S. Tyr of FAUN. They went on to release the fittingly titled ‘Songs from Home’ EP, as the entire release was recorded in Kati’s living room.
How did you come to work with Oliver? And how was the experience of recording this EP in your home, why did you choose to do this?
- Since we were, at that time, life-partners for many years it felt natural to also have one music project together. The songs on the first EP were written at home, so why not also record them at my home? It gave it a very personal touch.
In 2012, L.E.A.F released their debut self-titled EP, followed by the full-length album ‘LYS’ in 2015. The album was recorded at LAVA Studios in Denmark and produced by Christopher Juul of HEILUNG.
How was the writing process for these releases for you, where did your inspiration and influence come from at this time and how did you come to work with Christopher?
- LYS was a development of the repertoire we played live in the years prior, as well as additional new pieces that I had worked on alone. LYS means ‘light’ and it was an album that very much served as the last little glowing light while you find yourself in a dark period in life. Christopher at this time came in as a trusted friend and true helper and offered to produce, together with me, the full LYS album. It helped me to let go of misplaced expectations of others while trusting more in myself, my ability and my vision in music.
I will never forget the 24/7 studio days and nights that went on for two weeks, where us two really worked on the catharsis of the old into the new, that became the album LYS. It celebrates the duality of life; both in love and in loss. My ‘work mantra’ at the time was “Sjalfr sjalfum mer; Yourself given yourself”.
Kati opened for WARDRUNA at the legendary ROADBURN FESTIVAL’s ‘House of the Spinning Seer’ concert in 2015.
Roadburn is one of those legendary festivals; I’m interested to hear of your experience, and wonder how it is you came to be involved with Wardruna, having now performed with them on several occasions?
- Roadburn is indeed one of the most visionary curated festivals I know and each edition feels unique and special. Their hospitality and professionalism is just next level. In 2015 we performed “House of the Spinning Seer” with Wardruna. For this Einar (Selvik) and I worked on extra musicians and an additional live choir for this piece.
I met the good people of Wardruna in Norway in 2010 during the VikingRock festival. Since then we stayed a little in contact and they performed more often in the Netherlands. In 2013 Einar asked me to open for their show with my own band and I initiated to do a guest performance, which involved adding live nyckelharpa to ‘Helvegen’. The occasional guesting on ‘Helvegen’ led to performing the full show for Roadburn 2015, which was a nice and meaningful experience.
L.E.A.F was disbanded around this time and Kati decided to continue her work under the new moniker RÁN. In February 2016 ‘Vinda’, the first single under this name, was released.
What led to the break up of L.E.A.F and how did you know that you wanted to continue with this style of music?
- L.E.A.F has always been a project that somehow struggled to keep their fixed live formation for various reasons. After some years it was time to do something else and work solo. It sometimes can be the safest bet to go at it alone.
Kati also contributes to a large number of projects in various capacities outside of her own artistic endeavours. In 2016 Kati provided nyckelharpa recordings for MYRKUR’s ‘Mareridt’ album. Christopher Juul once again engineered these recordings.
How did you come to work with Amalie Bruun and how has that relationship progressed since these recordings?
- Amalie contacted me after I had played some nyckelharpa pieces in the backstage area of the MIDGARDSBLOT festival in Norway. She was quite fascinated by this instrument and also the other folk elements that I use in my music and on my album LYS. We talked a lot on her new songs and album concept and we met up in Denmark so I could show her more folk instruments and how they worked. I introduced her to the local Danish folkmusic scene and we thought it was nice to add the nyckelharpa to her new album ‘Mareridt’, so these compositions I recorded for her in Christopher Juul‘s studio. We also recorded a video performing an acoustic version of ‘Himlen Blev Sort’. Christopher knew of a nyckelharpa for sale in Copenhagen, so Amalie’s dream to have her own came true.
I believe it is only natural then to learn to play it yourself and to use it for your own work. I heard later that my recordings for ‘Mareridt’ were not taken to the final album, which is a pity, but it can happen when you develop an album. I have not been very much in contact since, other than the guest invitation for two Dutch shows during the ‘Folkesange’ tour in January 2018. I believe the folk set of Myrkur has really taken flight and she delivers a good performance. She is currently recording a folk album with Christopher Juul. I wish her all the best in this and believe he is one of the finest producers for this genre.
Following this Kati was asked to perform as a Völva, a Norse term signifying a powerful female shaman and seer in mythology, for the opening act for Icelandic fashion label MYRKA during 2017’s Reykjavík Fashion Festival.
I can imagine that performing at a fashion festival was very different from what you had been used to.
- The experience was truly unique; as this is a whole other scene to perform for. Opening the festival in the concert hall HARPA with just one spotlight in the dark, strong vocals and a custom made backing track was a powerful moment. The runway show for MYRKA was fully timed to the custom track we had developed in the days leading up to the show.
It was a very nice job to portray mythological sounds of Álfar and Jotunn and other reflections of the Icelandic landscape. It felt as if we became the voice of the land, thundering onto the somewhat baffled audience. It gave me new found friends in Iceland and living the experience was much like a little Icelandic “gift” from the elemental spirits that still reside there.
The same year saw Kati performing as part of Myrkur’s ‘Folkesange’ tour and then go on to appear as a special guest for GAAHLS WYRD.
How did you come to work with the predominantly black metal vocalist Gaahl, being from a considerably different genre to your own music?
- Working with Gaahl is somewhat an extension of the time prior spent together, when he was still performing with Wardruna. Gaahl has a unique and truly artistic approach to his performances; he becomes something else, and steps fully into the ‘now’ moment. I find this approach inspiring and even a mind opener. I know I can fully trust him to do his thing and do it brilliantly. When recording or sharing the stage, I need not worry for a second; I can just step in and add a little vocal contrast or melodic tune. In my opinion, Gaahl knows how to fetch his audience’s mind and attention with his ‘presence’ until the very last note is played. It demands something from the audience. I enjoy it a lot.
Even with all these projects in the works, in 2017 you performed at CASTLE FEST and were part of the management team behind HEILUNG’s much revered ‘LIFA’ album recording.
You had worked with Christopher previously, was this concert essentially an extension of your friendship? One would imagine working on a production of this scale would have been considerably more stressful than previous projects.
- I had already taken part in the management & bookings for their other groups EUZEN and SONGLEIKR; to get their projects playing in the U.S and have some tours. Helping Christopher for the first live debut with HEILUNG was just a very natural next step. We started preparing long before the actual live show, a year or so, with all the production aspects; like finding the right technicians, film team, band members and a live ‘warrior’ group. Because we started good in time, I never experienced it as stressful, only time-consuming. Christopher, Kai Uwe Faust and Maria Franz developed and delivered the musical performance, while I took on the ‘office’. It has been a very successful debut and since then they have signed with SEASONS OF MIST. This makes my time fully available again for RÁN.
More recently Kati was involved in the 2018 Cinema Viking film ‘Redbad’, contributing vocals, nyckelharpa and percussion for the film’s soundtrack. This film was directed by Roel Reine, with composer Trevor Morris (Vikings) handling the audio production.
Coming from touring with mostly folk music, then into black metal, and now into cinema music, I enquired if there were any notable differences in what people expected from Kati for this project?
- Each production has its own needs, some require a lot of preparation or a row of recordings being made very timely and others are a matter of learning a song or two as a guest performer. I think delivering good recordings in a relatively small timeframe for a cinematic score has definitely been the most challenging. It’s an ‘all or nothing’ kind of moment and you have to see what ends up in the film.
How did you become involved with this film and with Trevor Morris, and what was it like to work with the man behind the audio side of Vikings?
- Trevor Morris contacted me asking if I wanted to give it a go. Of course, I said yes. He has been very warm-hearted and professional at every point and I even got a U.S. based production assistant that I could contact at any moment for ‘troubleshooting’, as Trevor well understood this was a whole new endeavour for me. I also recorded additionally in Fieke’s studio for some challenging vocal takes. It is good to learn you are never quite alone when you require a little assistance.
RÁN’s latest single ‘Blodbylgje’ was released in December 2018 and features none other than Gaahl as guest vocalist. This song was recorded with the aid of Christopher Juul once more, and this time the addition of former ENSLAVED keyboard player and vocalist Herbrand Larsen.
The song bio speaks of “the metaphor-rich environs of the ocean as both its thematic and sonic guide. Restless yet meditative, finding its bearings in glacial yet ceaseless flow and flux, it’s bound to both the rhythms of the ancient Nordic Eddas, and the enigmatic essence of its spiritual guide, Blóðughadda – one of the nine, sea-personifying daughters of Ægir and Rán, said to represent the ‘bloody hair’ red crest of the waves”.
Your music has always carried deep and profound connection with the natural world through the filter of Norse mythology. I’m interested to know what your personal beliefs and practices are, how they relate to the Eddas, and how you made this spiritual connection in the first place.
- When you look at the natural world and our relationship to it, each person experiences another personal reality. Culture, the time period and location you live in and our Western Christianised conditioning play a huge part in our everyday perception. For me, I do not like to give definitive names and a (religious) fixed narrative to the free and timeless aspects of nature.
The Nordic mythological heritage is metaphor-rich and something I myself can very much relate to, but it is not a definitive worldview. Some folks seem to replace the name of God to Odinn or Frigg and still live within a very Christian frame of mind; I try to stay very much aware of this initial conditioning and aim to form my own perceptions. That practice opens the mind, more free of linear thinking (time is a circle) and the good vs. evil narrative. That said, I do believe in something larger than ourselves, and the divine in myself and others.
Having recorded multiple albums with various projects, touring with someof the biggest names in the neofolk community, and providing multi-instrumental services to a cornucopia of live bands, Kati is also a mother.
How do you manage all of these considerable and time-consuming activities?
- My daughter is already reaching adolescence and we have always found a good way to balance family life with the music. It is part of who I am. It never caused big time issues, though sometimes it has been night work on top of a day job. In any case, I prioritise the wellbeing of my child, like I think any mother would, and on top, I just enjoy creating so much. That makes it all worthwhile.
Has there been anything in particular that has enabled or encouraged you to persevere with your creative activities?
- I do it because it is something I highly enjoy. I have a natural drive to want to create something feeling ‘larger than myself’, no matter in which way precisely, whether it is helping a fitting project or recording of my own. Also, a good dose of stubbornness helps to pick up the pieces after something falls away.
What looms on the horizon for you musically and personally?
- I am working further on my full-length album for RÁN and a growing desire to bring it live on stage again has matured into gathering a new line up. I also like to be surprised by what the future still will hold personally, I am sure it is going to be something special.
This interview is featured in the print edition of Inner Missive #1, alongside discussions with PRECARIA, ULVESANG, MISERIST, VLADIMIR CHEBAKOV, CONVULSING, TRUTH CORRODED, FEDRESPOR and THE ORDER OF APOLLYON.