by R.S. Frost
Norwegian folk music project BYRDI intermingles Nordic spirituals with serene and emotive sounds in a bid to empower the listener and propel them into an appreciation of nature and the ways of the old world.
I got in contact with singer and one of the founding members Nash Rothanburg to gain some insight into Byrdi and queried him on his own origins and how his past has shaped his current musical output.
- I was born in the States in 1982 but moved to Norway in early 1984. My mum (Norwegian) and dad (American) decided to move back to where mum came from. In my early childhood music was something my mum and dad listened to; artists like Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, HIGHWAYMEN, THE EAGLES and many more. I still love a lot of those artists today and Johnny Cash is an artist I still look up to.
But it was old folk and Norse tales about our old gods that caught my attention when I was around 12-13 years old. At that stage, GUNS N’ ROSES came and showed me my passion for music. I could not get enough of music, and still can’t, but the attraction to the old tales and Norse mythology never wavered in me and still receives unprecedented focus from me. I think my, and the rest of the Byrdi’s, eagerness to pursue understandings of the old ways of thinking have been a huge factor in shaping what the band is. I hope the music flowing through us expresses some of that. Andreas Paulsen (ENDEZZMA), Jørn Øyhus (VARDE, NORDEIN, FATAL IMPACT) and I have a lot of the same values and mindset when we try to express our perspectives, originating from our own paths. I think that this is one of the key factors as to why Byrdi sounds as it does – a common interest in our Norse cultural heritage.
When did you begin to make music based on your spiritual and philosophical outlook?
- I entered the musical stage as a performing artist very late. I wrote for the Norwegian Scream Magazine for many years, but I think it was around 2009-2010 when I wanted to try being active, so Andreas and I formed an extreme folk metal project called BLAANER. My friendship with Andreas goes back 19 years, and it felt natural to start something together. We travelled to the most necro places you can imagine, carrying a generator in three feet of snow for a kilometre. We spent hours in an abandoned trailer, with that generator humming 100 yards away, the extension cords alone weighed 30 pounds. If the generator stood any closer one could hear it in the recordings.
We wrote some epic metal songs and I hope one day it will be released for the people to hear. Andreas wrote the music, and he is one talented motherfucker! We rehearsed a bit with Jørn as the drummer, and we started recording the album. At that time I only growled. My musical insight at that time was very limited, but Andreas thought I had a great voice and he pushed me along and I took the challenge. I was eager, and I wanted to learn.
Andreas and I also have a Norse raw black metal project called SJAA YGGDRASIL. Both Blaaner and Sjaa Yggdrasil have enough songs to release debut albums. The artwork is finished too. So, it is all about finding the right feeling at the right time to make it happen.
It was in late 2012, after departing Blaaner, I asked Jørn if he would help me form a musical idea I had nurtured for some time, and thus Byrdi was born.
Where did this motivation come from to begin a new project and what is it about music that inspires you to persevere with your creative path?
- My lifestyle is a two-sided axe *laughs*. At the moment, I enjoy the privilege to study at one of the universities here in Norway. I sold my house last year and went back to school. Anyway, at the moment my lifestyle is very free. Due to the studying, I have spare time to let days roll by, and I enjoy that, but I also enjoy not sitting still. My body has the constant urge to be outside hiking, skiing, riding my bike or readying next year’s firewood.
That is where the two-sided axe appears – I have time to relax and slow down, but I still run around like a jackrabbit doing all this stuff. No, I like being in motion. It helps me process life so my motivations come naturally from being in nature and reflecting on life. This is the biggest source of motivation I can find. It helps me be a better human, it helps me to evolve into a better Nash, in all conceivable ways.
For me, music resonates with something primordial inside of me. Something old that lingers in each and every one of us. I need my quiet from time to time, but music feeds my mind every day. There is no genre that is better or worse than the other, and as long as I like what I hear I do not care what the person next to me thinks of it. Of course, there are genres and bands I prefer. Old ‘70s prog rock like GENESIS, CAMEL, Anthony Phillips etc. is probably what I listen to most often. As a matter of fact, another very firm piece of common ground Andreas, Jørn and I have is progressive rock.
Byrdi has released two albums to date; 2014’s ‘Eventyr’ and 2017’s ‘Ansur: Urkraft’. Both albums showcase ethereal acoustic movements creating the foundation upon which multi-layered and delicately harmonised vocal arrangements soar.
I am pleasantly reminded of Kveldssanger era ULVER whilst listening to Byrdi’s music and quizzed Nash on any influence or conscious intentions present whilst this music is being made.
- ULVER is something we enjoy, but for us, we never said “let’s make a new Kveldssanger” album. Nor was it intentional that we ended up with the expression that we have – we followed our hearts. For us, the spur of the moment is our best friend and our motivation. We find our inspiration in the nature we have around where we live – deep forests and mountains. I think that is the link between Ulver and Byrdi; both live in a country with scenery so intensely beautiful that it is hard to escape the musically-expressed similarities when both have nurtured from the same source. We appreciate the comparisons with Ulver and WARDRUNA, but again I must say that there has never been an intention to create a certain sound. When you listen to the new album you might get another impression of our inspirational sources.
What have been some of the more memorable experiences along your path so far?
- You know the answer to this question could be the length of a long book, right? I have a lot of memories, and to pick any memorable life event other than the birth of my daughter would be a lie. They say a father-daughter relationship is something special, and it really is. She is the most fantastic, stubborn, clever and caring person I know of.
But I would like to mention the experience of recording the first Byrdi album, ‘Eventyr’ too. It was a profoundly soul-setting path. What Jørn and I experienced, saw and felt during those magical séances awoke me. I was shown myself by myself during those sessions. It planted a seed of change in me. For good and for worse.
2017-2018 was the year the old Nash perished into history, and Nash was re-born. It was one of the toughest struggles I have encountered in my life. It drove me to the brink of self-destruction. It was my rite of passage. I rid myself of who I was and started rebuilding me, step by step. Stone upon stone. I knew that it would be a trial, but it had been manifesting inside of me for a long time so there was no escaping it. This was my judgement over myself. I needed to face it. To let the old die so I could start over. And it was harder than I could ever have anticipated. It dragged me down to the deepest pits of myself, showing me the dark, oozing Nash festering down there.
In the end, I slayed the dragon. The next Byrdi album ‘Byrjing’ bears not only the feelings of hopelessness, but also hope and light. Something new. The title of the album, translated into English, is “beginning”. For something new to live, something old must vanish. Ragnarok is not the end, it is the beginning. For me, 2017 signifies a major transformation in my life. What was, is left behind - only the experience lingers. Hopefully, that experience will guide me in the future to be a better father, lover and friend.
What has enabled or encouraged you to maintain creative and artistic activity throughout all of this?
- The person that has encouraged me to pursue my voice, that is, the “What?” in your question, is Andreas. He has been the one behind me with a pitchfork, making me move forward. Without his belief in me, I would not be where I am now. Without his standards placed upon me, I would not be where I am now. Jørn too has been a major force in my creative activities. His equality and balance are priceless. Jørn and I have a deep bond. It is hard to explain, but being around him soothes my soul so to say.
In December of 2018, Byrdi released the single ‘Solsnu’, which featured guest musician Kjell Braaten. Is this a sneak peek of what we can expect from ‘Byrjing’?
- Giulia (harp) knew Kjell from the past and the rest is history. His percussion skills will be found throughout the whole album. His take on the music gave the album a bit more texture, making it more dynamic and fluent, so to speak.
‘Solsnu’ is a powerful transcendental song that is deeply rooted inside of my being. I think the song represents the clash of gods inside of me. With reference to Ragnarok, it signals a new beginning. The past had to die in order for me to sprout anew. A lot of people think of Ragnarok as the end of the world, but it is, in fact, a beginning of something new and that is what the song represents. The bombastic sound of the song came because one does not go away without a fight.
‘Byrjing’ is as close to a concept album one can get without it being one. It is the story of an end that is also a beginning. The lyrics are very personal this time around, but I think we all have our hours of despair. Some of us understand that change is the only possible way to escape despair, but one must build stone upon stone to get out. This is my story about the journey from a new seed to a healthy tree with roots deep in the soil. So, to answer your question; is ‘Solsnu’ an adequate representation of the album - yes, it is very much a big part of the narrative. It is the first song on the album and each song represents a certain moment in my experience. Musically I must keep the cards close to my chest, but I can reveal that it is a dynamic album that covers songs high and low in tempo.
What have you got planned for Byrdi, and otherwise, for the future?
- I like to walk the path I walk now. Planning to force oneself into a new direction might not go as planned… There is always something you cannot take into heed when planning. There are always factors you cannot, or are not, able to control. You cannot control Loki, that is why Odin tries to befriend him, to make him his blood-brother. Odin has always desired to hold the oldest knowledge, and he even uses his own blood to try and bind it to him.
Byrdi is having an amazing year so far. In mid-January, we did a support gig for TrollFest’s release party. It was a fucking blast. We also did a mini-concert in Gildehallen in Horten (Midgard Viking Fest) early January, in front of 200 Viking-dressed people. We will be playing a very special show at a local festival in the area we live in, Garasjefestival. It is one of the best and most relaxed new festivals to pop up. Then we will head down to Midgardsblot Metal Festival 2019 and have two performances there. With HEILUNG, ENSLAVED and HUGSJÁ, this year’s festival will be one epic happening. Last, but not least, we will release our third album ‘Byrjing’ soon.
Thank you for your time and insight into your work. I now invite you to offer any closing sentiments you may have.
- I would take this opportunity to thank everyone that has supported us so far. We are eternally grateful for every word and gesture. We hope to see you soon. Last but not least I would like to thank Jørn, Andreas and Giulia for their friendship and skills. Byrdi would not have been here without you guys!
This interview is featured in the print edition of Inner Missive #2, alongside discussions with THY DARKENED SHADE, WOLCENSMEN, THE ANTICHRIST IMPERIUM, ART AS CATHARSIS, ALTARS, GRIFT, ALTARAGE, ADRIAN BAXTER, PRIMITIVE MAN, COSMIC PUTREFACTION, EMYN MUIL, GIGAN, SLUDGE, ULCERATE and ÖXXÖ XÖÖX.