by R.S. Frost
Today Norwegian folk music project FEDRESPOR releases its second album ‘Fra en Vugge i Fjellet’ – ‘From a Cradle in the Mountains’ – through NORDVIS PRODUKTION.
Recovering from great loss through the catharsis of creation and composition, FEDRESPOR unveils a new work of art. The solitary outdoorsman behind the band, Varg Torden Saastad, gives some insight into the intricacies of creating art driven by grief, the importance of isolating oneself from others in order to heal and to grow, and discusses the philosophical ties that bind the folk music rubric to black metal.
There is a great deal of potent and almost tangible sadness in your music which, given the genre and general human condition, is not so uncommon, but I understand that there is a far deeper well of emotion at work here, tied to the death of a sibling.
- In February 2014 I lost my little brother. This had such an impact on me that I don’t think I really understood the whole mental process that had been going on over the past few years. But what I do know is that time has been a big philosophical issue. Life and death. Human existence. Existence at all. These questions have been really hard to deal with. So the vacuum of loss is always pulling me back to my instruments and the urge to create. To leave something behind.
I sometimes define songs as "emotional photos". Emotions and sound to look back on. Living memories. Things like this are very important to me these days. So music is helping me fight anxiety of death and it also gives my life meaning again.
I would say that curiosity has defined me as a person all my life. I am curious about society, cultures, people, history and I am curious about the universe. How everything works. Why things are the way they are. So I tend to dig deep when I first go into something. Maybe too deep. At least when I was younger.
I’ve been trying to find some information regarding your geographical whereabouts and have had limited success, getting only as far as “Norway”. Where are you originally from?
- I was born in Fredrikstad hospital, but I was raised in Moss, about 40 minutes’ drive from Oslo. Most of my childhood summers were in Drangedal in Telemark. There I really learned to appreciate nature and the freedom of being outside with almost no people around me. I think this has had an important impact on my creativity from early on.
So the question "where are you originally from" doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with geography, but more about the life-history itself. At least when it comes to emotions and art.
Like many artists in the neofolk genre, Varg began his musical journey in the black metal world. How did you find yourself developing an interest in playing these styles of music?
- I first started to play music when I was 11 or 12. First a little bit of piano, and then I fell in love with the guitar. So I played back and forth until I got very serious back in 2006/2007. Then I started to compose music for my black metal band SEKT together with my cousin. But since there was, and are, more guitarists than drummers in the world, we struggled to find anyone who could play drums for us. So I took it upon myself to learn how to play drums.
What dragged me to black metal were my views on religion and authority back then. I was a young individualist by nature. So again I was curious and wanted to take things to the extreme. So we wrote some songs, played a lot of intimate concerts and only two live shows before things went wrong. We were even visited by Gaahl - from GORGOROTH back then - at our practice space. Who knows what kind of collaboration we could have had if we had continued.
I have no concrete answer to why I entered the music world other than it’s a pull. It’s something I need to do. It fills my deep well. Music to me is a way of universal communication. It needs no charged words, and the vibration speaks to our senses.
After Sekt disbanded Varg decided to endeavour upon a new project, focused on acoustic music using traditional folk instruments, without the involvement of other people in any capacity.
Why did you decide to break away from other musicians and embark on this solitary undertaking?
- It’s a lot of very personal things, but I have had some troubled relations with people throughout my life. These are things that really have had a deep impact on me. I guess that’s why I am so addicted to my lonely existence these days.
To me, it has been really important to have the instruments and studio equipment available. I am so lucky to live in a big house, so I have a whole living room with all my gear in it. I use the nights and solitude to dig within myself and find the right notes. Solitude is very important to me. My creative process is based on being away from people. People, news, jobs and all these things are very often just noise to me. So FEDRESPOR provides me with the personal space I need.
In April of 2018, Fedrespor released the debut album ‘Tid’ via NORDVIS PRODUKTION, which carried the self-appointed classification of “Funeral doom without the metal”.
The accompanying album bio reads as follows:
“Time (Tid) heals all wounds, so they say. If only it was so easy as to let the slow, relentless sands of time wash away the pain. The loss of a sibling is a razor sharp pain that time alone often fails to dull. And so we have Fedrespor…”
What was the writing and recording process for ‘Tid’ like for you?
- The recording process happened over a long period of time. Because I had to learn something on every new instrument, and as I learned, I put things together. That’s how the songs were born. Out of my first meeting with them. I had no experience with any studio before I started this project.
So this album is really written during a learning process, both with my studio equipment but also the instruments. I knew only drums, guitar and bass from before. I had not even sung before I wrote the ‘Tid’ album. So I try to see my voice as an instrument. And that is really a nature instrument!
Less than a year after the release of your first album, here we are with number two. It would seem that you have been using your time quite productively indeed.
How was writing and recording for ‘Fra en Vugge i Fjellet’? Did you notice any major differences in the emotions behind the songs themselves and the overall feel of the album?
- Now I also use the goat horn, tongue horn, neverlur, shaman drum, kravik lyre, tagelharpa and trossingen lyre to mix in with what I was already doing from before. Plus I use some other things to make my own form of a drumkit. On my next album, which is half written, my producing is better and my playing is also better. But I will assure you; no album will be the same. I try to keep it varied, but the listener will know it’s the same "band". All in all, I think ‘Fra en vugge i Fjellet’ is very different from ‘Tid’.
A lot of artists I speak with seem to have multiple projects in the works at any given time; I’m going to take a hunch and assume the same is true for yourself?
- I have only been seriously involved with Sekt and Fedrespor. I made an intro for a song called ‘Fossegrimens Pant’ by a new and quite interesting metal band called KALDVARD also. I do intend to be involved in more projects in the future. Time will show.
Is there anything in particular that motivates you to create this type of music, utilising this solidarity as a tool for expression?
- The aspect of creation. The cultural bloom and the personal growth. It’s a constant and long-term learning and creative process and it’s amazing to be a part of such growth. Both in the industry but also the personal growth. I feel I can be myself while doing the thing I love.
Are there any other artists or musicians that have had a hand in this inspiration to create?
- Well, to be honest, there is quite a wide spectrum of music that I enjoy. But when you are writing music it’s good to have some artists that you can look to as "mentors" in a way. I am very inspired by David Gilmour and PINK FLOYD. How they have created their own form of spectrum within their music. It’s such a strong expression that it’s somehow artistic and political at the same time. So to study their work has been important.
And I have of course studied black metal for some years - that is where the interest of ancient mythology and extreme expression comes from. It is very rooted in the same nerve that folk music has in me. It’s hard to explain, but I am sure the reader gets the point.
The outspring of black metal has now gone on to include "darkfolk", "shamanic folk", "neofolk" and so on, and then we come to Einar Selvik and WARDRUNA. He was the first who did this. He will be remembered as a pioneer of this musical outspring and he has been an important mentor for me over the last two or three years.
Not unlike Mr Selvik, Varg is responsible for the crafting of some of the instruments used in Fedrespor. From what I understand, he is quite skilled in the production of lyres in particular.
- The truth is that I have only built one Kravik lyre. And not to brag, but I am very happy with the result! But I live on a farm, and I plan to build many more instruments at home in the future. It will be an important part of the creative process.
Having spent the better part of a decade in Norwegian black metal and folk music circles, I’m curious if you have witnessed any local shifts within these artistic movements?
- Yes. The last 10 years has seen a big change. Since the late ‘80s and the early ‘90s the black metal scene has made many fantastic artists. This has contributed a lot to Norway’s cultural life. And also the export of music and culture. As I said, the folk genre has changed into a more "modern" and popular scene all over the world. In this technological era, people tend to appreciate more historical music and thoughts. Things of relevance. The world is changing fast, so we need something to hold on to as well. And that is something I find deeply in music.
This new “neofolk" genre is definitely an outspring of black metal musicians. Much of the old way of thinking was that we were in a cultural war with Christianity because we wanted to take back our freedom of thought, and to be more connected with our pagan ancestors and our pre-Christian past. This is a fact. So without the early black metal years, I don’t know if Fedrespor would have been born.
That is why I can describe the philosophy behind Fedrespor in one sentence; "Man is the impression of the past, and the steps along eternity".
With your new album out today, what are your plans or ambitions for the immediate future with Fedrespor?
- That depends on many things; how people react to my songs, my health, my work situation and so on. If there is an audience out there for me, I would be really happy to do more live shows at least. Even though I have just played solo shows thus far, I would love to gather a band to play live with me in the future. And if not, I will continue to create and hopefully leave something that others can enjoy when I am gone.
Personally, I think it’s important to work steadily with all my projects in life. And also have my eyes open for possibilities. I used to say, “It is who you are that will determine the outcome of a situation”. So from here, anything can happen.
Thank you for your time and insight into your work. I now invite you to offer any closing sentiments you may have.
- And thank you too! It is my pleasure.
Well, I have one note, and that is that Fedrespor was originally meant to be a metal project. So in the future, there might be a metal album as well. We will see. Time changes everything and the future is not set.
My best wishes.
This interview is featured in the print edition of Inner Missive #1, alongside discussions with PRECARIA, ULVESANG, MISERIST, VLADIMIR CHEBAKOV, CONVULSING, RÁN, TRUTH CORRODED and THE ORDER OF APOLLYON.