Interview: Vreid’s Jarle “Hváll” Kvåle
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Vreid is a band that's long deserved more attention. Their 2009 album Milorg - which dealt with the Norwegian resistance to the Nazis during World War II - should have made many more best-of lists. Their latest album, V, which continues to blend black metal with classic rock touches, might even be more powerful. Vreid recently finished their first headlining tour of the United States. We talked to bassist Jarle "Hváll" Kvåle early in the journey about American landmarks and European history.
What are your impressions of America?
It's interesting to see things now, because we've heard so much about the recession and all the problems. There have been decent turnouts at the shows, and people have been buying lots of CDs and shirts. It seems like people are really dedicated over here, even more than in Europe. They know so much about the band and our lyrics. They can sing along and want to talk to us. In 2009, we were part of Heathenfest with Belphegor. A positive aspect of headlining is now we can do a longer set, and we can do the right sound checks. The hard part is, you don't attract as many people as when you go out with three bigger bands. We didn't know what to expect doing a headlining tour. But actually, we've done better merchandise-wise on our own than with three bigger bands.
It's interesting to hear that, because many say the European metal scene is much better with all of the events and festivals.
The festivals are amazing. But say you have a club show in Germany with 80 people, and a club show in the U.S. with 80 people. There's a lot more energy in the U.S. You can't even compare [them]. When we were in Montreal, there were hundreds of people there singing along to every song. Sometimes that happens in Europe, but the fans there are more spoiled.
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When you meet fans of Vreid in the States, what do they say?
All kinds of things. They are really into our lyrics. They seem to know a lot about World War II and what happened in Europe. They might have grandfathers or great grandfathers that fought in the war. So it's an interesting topic for them. They know a lot about our band, and we really appreciate it.
Is there anything you try to do or visit in the States?
In each city, we try to hit the tourist attractions or a local diner. In Chicago, we went to the Sears Tower (now Willis Tower) and walked around town. We try to get an impression of each city. There's so much to see here. When we go to New York, we feel like we've been there a lot before, because we've seen so much of it on television [laughs].
Did the interest in World War II here surprise you, considering that (with the exception of Pearl Harbor) there was no fighting in the States?
Well, the U.S. was so heavily involved during the final period of the war. So you had a great investment in it. And many Americans are actually European if you look back. Their forefathers came from Ireland, Germany, Norway, or Sweden. So it's natural for them to have an interest.
Your take on World War II is very different to what you often hear in black metal. Do you think other bands are guilty of glamorizing a Nazi perspective?
It's certainly an easy approach if you want to get attention. If you are a more extreme black metal band, you might do that. Maybe they want to have an "evil feeling", so they decide to write about the Nazi side of things. I'm pretty comfortable with people writing whatever angle they want. It's an interesting subject, whether it's music or books or movies.
What if bands cross into advocacy like National Socialist black metal?
Taking any sort of political stand isn't for us. We try to approach things from a historical perspective. It's important to tell all the sides, and shed light on things. When you try to take a 100 percent stand on something, and say "this is what happened", then I lose interest.
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When some people think of World War II and Norway, they think about Quisling (a famous Nazi collaborator) but Milorg approaches the subject from the perspective of Norwegian freedom fighters.
It's something I've had a genuine interest in since I was a child. I read a lot of books about it, and it's something I wanted to write about. Lyrics are better when you have that genuine interest. I wanted to continue following some of the same topics on V. The key word for the album is 'liberation'. I tried to look at liberation through different angles. I looked at early Norse mythology, through the building of the Roman Empire, and then looked at modern thinkers like Nietzsche.
Do you start with stories first, or music?
It varies, and goes back and forth between musical and lyrical ideas. On some songs I might finish something musically and add lyrics, and others I'll do the opposite.
How did you get into metal?
I had a friend, and both of our brothers were into this music. We grew up with Metallica and became more and more extreme.
Where were you when the first wave of Norwegian black metal started?
In the late '80s and early '90s I was a teenager, and hadn't even played in a band much. I was more into Death, Slayer, and Sepultura. But when I first heard the early Darkthrone in like 1991, it blew me away. Then I heard Burzum, and Emperor, and just became fascinated. In 1992, I formed a band. There were a lot of the old thrash elements in our music but we adopted a lot of stuff from the first wave. There were a lot of shocking things that went on then, all of the criminal acts. It brought a lot of attention to the scene, but for me it's always been about the music. Honestly, it's never been my goal to be the most extreme. I never wanted to be the most evil or brutal band, or any of that bullshit. Creating music should be about joy. I don't care if it's classical music or black metal. For us, the music is the key.
A lot of black metal has that negative vibe, but Vreid seems imbued with certain positivity, like the will to endure.
I don't play this music because it's destructive. The band is a very positive thing in my life. Of course, we write about a lot of depressing and heavier subjects. But the music is an outlet for the negative. So for me, it's extremely positive. Some of our music is about surviving, the next steps, going forward. It's about marching on and making the best choices.
When Windir broke up was there every any thought of quitting?
We just kept going. It was my intention to continue. It was the same for the whole band. We all wanted to go on with music. It was such an important part of our lives, and we couldn't do something else. I'm pretty much hooked. It is my life, in many ways. I have a second job as a history teacher. If we ever retire from touring, that might be something I would do.
Did you study history at a university?
Yes, at a university in Norway. I specialized in something called philosophical history. Basically, we looked at all the classical ideas dating back to before Christ to early Greek and Norse mythologies all the way to the modern day. We also studied political science, and how political systems developed in Asia, Europe, and the United States.
If you ever have a question about something in a song, do you ever call an old professor?
(Laughs) No, not really. That's a good one.
Vreid offers much more than the genre tag black metal.
I would agree. I'd never tagged us as black metal, and I don't really think we're a black metal band. There are some [black metal] elements, but there's much more. Black metal is also associated with Satanic bands, and that's not us at all. It's a limited tag, but at the same time I understand it. It's easy. A lot of listeners and press just want to tag something. It's been that way since the 1960s – people just want to tag things. I don't think this is correct, but it doesn't bother me much. Straight rock and roll is very important to us. We are very inspired by 1970s music like Kiss, Black Sabbath, Iggy Pop, David Bowie. It's as important to us as black metal. I listen to a lot of classic rock. I love a lot of the extreme stuff, but musically the classic stuff is more important.
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Vreid - "Pitch Black"
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Vreid - "Fire on the Mountain"
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