When it comes to a genre so overexploited as Atmospheric Black Metal, it’s not that easy to show up with a debut album so good as Sojourner have done with “Empires Of Ash”. Being always looking for new promising bands, Hypnos Webzine has taken the chance to know something more about them.
Hi guys and welcome to Hypnos Webzine. First of all I wanna ask you to introduce yourself to our readers and to tell us how the band came to life since you live in different countries.
Mike L.: Hey, thanks for taking the time to interview us! We’re Sojourner, an Atmospheric Black Metal band with folk influences based musically in Dunedin, New Zealand with our vocalist Emilio based in Malmö, Sweden. The band consists of myself and Chloe Bray writing and recording everything except bass (Chloe also does the female vocals), Mike Wilson on bass, and Emilio Crespo on vocals. The band came about when Emilio and I got to know each other after I released one of the albums by my Doom band Lysithea, and we thought we’d like to give Atmospheric Black Metal a shot since we both really love the genre and black metal in general. I wrote the song that eventually became “Heritage Of The Natural Realm” (our first single), but I felt my tin whistle parts were a bit lacking. So I approached my long-time bandmate, and wife, Chloe to see what she could do with it. She came back with what you hear on the album, and from there she became a full member and we wrote the rest of the album together pretty much 50/50 (we both shared all of the guitar work, Chloe mostly did the tin whistle stuff, while I mostly did the pianos/synth and wrote the drums). We got my other long-time friend and bandmate Mike Wilson from Lysithea in on bass and that solidified the band as it is now. Writing despite being in different countries is easy, since Chloe and I write and record all of the music together in person at our mini-home studio, then we send the files to Mike W. who writes and lays down his bass, then finally we send it to Emilio to put down his vocal parts. In the end it all comes back to me and I mix it together and do the production side of things, at least for the demo stages since the final mix was done by an acquantaince from another band on Avantgarde. So I think the multi-national part of the band confuses people a bit, it’s really only Emilio living apart from us and that’s a very simple hurdle to overcome considering we’re not currently a live band. Chloe and I are currently living in Scotland for a couple of years or so, but that changes nothing about the process, it’s the same wherever we are and we’re eventually going back to Dunedin anyway.
Why did you choose Sojourner as monicker? Is it a word that you feel somehow related to your lives?
Emilio: Being that we are a nature and fantasy inspired band, I wanted to search for something that fit the essence of what we are perfectly. One day ”Sojourner” popped into my head and I knew that that would be our name. A sojourner is a person who doesn’t stay in one place for long periods of time and continues to travel throughout various lands. From a nature and fantasy perspective, this interested us and we felt it nailed what our music and lyrics are about.
Mike L.: We spent a lot of time looking for a name that we thought really captured the atmosphere of what we wanted, like any band does, but once Emilio suggested it we knew it was perfect.
“Empires Of Ash” has been widely hailed. Did you expect such a good and positive feedback? What were your ambitions and expectations when you started the band?
Mike L.: We definitely never expected such positive feedback! It’s incredibly humbling to hear these really kind comments. It means a lot when something you’ve made seems to resonate with people in one way or another, so that’s very cool. It’s very melodic for the most part, which I honestly expected would turn a lot of people off, and though you can’t please everyone I feel like people have generally been really kind to us and it seems to have found an audience which is fantastic. So yeah, it really means a lot to us.
Emilio: It definitely was surprising since fans can be pretty picky about what they listen to (I should know since I’m kind of the same) and with bands within our genre that are so highly revered and loved, it was not gonna be easy to make a space in their for ourselves. We started the band for ourselves but once you record music and get it out there, you do want people to listen to it and gain some level of “attention”. Anyone who says differently is lying to theirself. Having all that in mind, we would have NEVER expected this level of feedback. To be able to sell out an entire first press and have a second one coming and also to be having a fucking vinyl pressing is amazing. We really feel lucky to have a record label that really is there for us and wants to see us thrive and get our music out there.
As I’ve written in the review, “Empires Of Ash” has something that remind me of Summoning, Caladan Brood, Falkenback and even Godkiller and The Lord Of The Rings’ soundtrack. Am I right or are there other bands that actually have been essential for the evolution of your music? Moreover, how would you describe it?
Mike L.: The Lord Of The Rings’ soundtrack is dead on since the books, films, and the soundtrack itself are something that Chloe and I are huge fans of and have been for a long time. Obviously we’ve made a very conscious decision to not actually reference anything related to LOTR in our music or lyrics though, it’s a far too common theme nowadays and Summoning already do it so well anyway. So that will always inherently play a part in our underlying influences. Summoning and Caladan Brood are both great, though we were much more directly influenced by bands such as Agalloch, Borknagar, Moonsorrow, Enslaved, Dissection, and Windir alongside a whole slew of others. As for Falkenbach and Godkiller, I’ve never actually listened to either of them! I’m kind of ashamed about that actually, haha. I should really get onto it, I have always been meaning to check out Falkenbach for the longest time.
Even though you’ve started playing so recently, your sound has already a very personal touch. Which song do you think can resume the album better? My preference goes to “Bound By Blood” and “Heritage Of The Natural Realm”, that maybe not by chance was the first track you’ve ever released.
Mike L.: Thank you! “Heritage Of The Natural Realm” was only released first because it was the first track we wrote. Personally my favourite songs on the album are “Homeward” and “Trails Of The Earth”, though I’m very happy with the album as a whole. There are a few minor mixing and mastering things that bother me, but overall I’m absolutely happy with the final product. Chloe and I spent a long time refining the songs, so it’s nice to hear that you think there’s a personal touch there!
Emilio: We are glad that people can actually hear and feel our own personal touch to this genre, especially when so many bands are doing it as well. My favourite tracks have to be “Homeward”, “The Pale Host” and “Empires Of Ash”. I love everything about the album but those tracks stick out for me (gun to head).
When you started working on “Empires Of Ash”, did you have an idea of how you wanted it to sound or did each of the tracks and the whole album take shape as it was being developed? Can you tell us something more about how songs come to life?
Mike L.: We talked about the general ”landscape” of the album, where the peaks and valleys would be and how the pacing should sit. Beyond that though, we wrote the music fairly freely, the focus was simply on coming up with good songs. There’s a sort of implied ‘trilogy’ with “Aeons Of Valor”, “The Pale Host”, and “Homeward” but that’s never explicitly stated on the album unless you are following along and made the connection between the lyrics. The track placement was very purposeful though for the most part, at least in terms of pacing and flow. The songwriting process usually begins with Chloe and I sitting down with our guitars and keyboard and working on ideas over a few sessions, then we start building the songs up into full pieces layer by layer. Once they’re done and we’ve polished things on our end, the song goes off to Emilio to work on vocals and to Mike W. to work on his bass parts. Chloe and I have always worked really efficiently together when it comes to writing stuff or working on creative projects, and Mike W. is one of my oldest friends and bandmates so he knows exactly what to do with his bass parts. He’s actually the other half of my band Lysithea, so we work really well together. As for Emilio, he comes back with fully realised vocals without needing any guidance, so he’s very efficient and knows what he’s doing which is nice. It’s a very smooth process overall. The only exception to that was “The Pale Host” which Chloe wrote all of the music, vocals, and lyrics to by herself.
At first, the artwork and the title of the album made me think you were more a Power/Folk band. Why did you choose this layout and how is it related to the lyrics? Where does their inspiraton come from and is there a theme, a concept, or a philosophy that underpins the album?
Mike L.: I’ll leave the concept and philosophy part to Emilio since he handles the lyrics, but in terms of the art it was a very conscious decision to have this sort of artwork and one that I feel worked out really well. We did not want to just throw another Albert Bierstadt painting on the cover of our album, it’s something that’s has been done to death in the genre, and while we absolutely adore his work and many of the bands who have used his stuff, it just wasn’t really something we wanted to do. I approached a work colleague of mine, Jordan Grimmer, about it at the games company where I was working at the time. He’s an insanely talented artist, and he’s got an incredible body of work. I gave him some reference pictures of the St. Andrews Cathedral, which was just around the corner from where Chloe and I were living last year, and said “incorporate this into some ruins in a mix of the Scottish Highlands and New Zealand’s epic wilderness” and within a couple of days he had done just that. I personally think it captures the nature of what we’re doing perfectly, but I can totally see why you thought that too! Besides, Chloe and I love power metal and folk metal so it’s a compliment to us haha. It’s an aesthetic that we’re definitely wanting to keep up in the future, and I’d absolutely recommend Jordan without hesitation to anybody thinking of getting some art commissioned.
Emilio: Well, I’ll take the Power/Folk comment as a compliment haha. It was clear to us what kind of art we wanted. My lyrics pertain to two main subjects; Fantasy and nature. The art had to portray the lyrics perfectly so it needed to have the entire fantasy feeling with the landscape or mountain-y feel and then, of course, the nature subject. The title was also the only title we could have had this time around since it could relate to the fantasy battle aspect very well. Most importantly, it is related to the decline of our planet. I do not want to ever get political with my lyrics but the song ‘Empires of Ash’ actually explain very well how I feel about humanity’s involvement in destroying this place that does not belong to us at all. While the ruins on the front cover make a beautiful image for an epic battle that has past and left evidence of a past culture (fantasy side of our lyrics), it also has the message that humans are not a necessity for the planet. We are expendable and when we do expire, nature will take back everything and erase all our creations and restore it’s true form.
Speaking about your future proposals, have you already started planning or writing anything new? What shall we expect from your next album? Where do you see the band heading?
Mike L.: We’ve begun the very earliest stages of some new material, but it’s going to be something that we will take our time with and only release when we are ready. There is absolutely no timeline, but don’t take that to mean we’re not working on things. In terms of what to expect, there’ll be more of the same sort of thing but a bigger, better version of it. We’ll expand out in a few different directions, but the heart of the band won’t change much. We’d like to perhaps include some different instrumentation, as well as maybe make our songs a little more concise in certain areas. Another addition, as far as things are looking at the moment, is getting a proper drummer/fourth full member. That’s something we will announce down the line once it’s finalised, but it’s something we’re all quite excited about. In terms of where we’re heading, we’re at home on Avantgarde Music and we’ll be staying there for as long as they’ll have us. Roberto’s been really fantastic and very supportive, he really does run one of the best labels out there. So just more music, more progress, and maybe some live shows down the track a bit.
Emilio: As Mike said we have begun a bit of work for the next release but nothing concrete or set in stone yet. Lyrics wise, I will continue with the fantasy and nature aspect. I have started to think about some ideas for lyrics and written some down, as well as having thought about vocal ideas and new things that could show up. We will bring forth more and more music. We aren’t going anywhere. That’s our future.
Since you live in different countries, have you ever had the opportunity to play or rehearse like an actual band? Do you think there’ll be a true chance to see Sojourner in concert?
Mike L.: It’s definitely something we’ve discussed a lot, and we’ve actually had a few offers for tours and festivals, but unfortunately it just hasn’t been possible yet. We can’t really practice as a band until we’ve got a drummer, keyboardist, and tin whistle player sorted at a releastic distance from us since Chloe and I can’t handle all of those things between the two of us for obvious reasons haha. Chloe and I will be the guitarists when we play live, meaning we’re going to have to pad out the rest of the lineup for live shows. It’s not really a matter of “if” but “when”, at some point in the future we’ll play somewhere. At least that’s the plan. I’m firmly of the belief that there’s no point doing any shows that we don’t give 100% though, so we’d have to be able to do it well.
Emilio: You will definitely have Sojourner on stage at some point. As Mike said, it’s more a matter of ‘when’. Some places are more realistic than others but we will make it happen.
That was the last question. Do you have any closing words for our readers?
Mike L.: Just thank you so much for all of the support that we’ve been receiving; we’re a tiny, unknown band and it’s really amazing to have people who are so vocal about how much they enjoy what we’ve been doing. Thanks for this interview, cheers!
Emilio: Thank you all for every emotion, compliment, and praise that you have directed towards us. You have no idea how much we appreciate and are proud of all of this. Rest assured you will have more of Sojourner for years to come! Hails!