We had the pleasure of sitting down with Heilung for a chat about their new album and their experience at Midgardsblot!
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Welcome to a very special edition of the Nordic Mythology Podcast. And I guess I'm joined by Dr. Mathias Nordvig. Hello, everybody. We have with us Maria and Kai and Chris from Heilung! Welcome to the show, guys. Thank you. Once again. thank you for your hospitality. I guess I have to say first, you invited us into your camp, fed us. gave us cake, coffee and now we're recording in your... Your mom's tent. My mom's tent, yeah! I have to say Heilung cake. Was the you know, that was the pinnacle of my day today. We ate cake today because one of our singers turned 30. And so we're celebrating here. And sadly, you didn't hear the Heilung version of that congratulation song, which is we have ten different nationalities and you count to three and everyone sings their own song at the same time. It sounds epic! Epic, so chaotic! Yeah. That that does sound wonderful. Oh, yeah. Thank you. This is maybe my favorite interview we're ever going to do... sat in this cozy little tent. But yeah, let's talk about the... What shall we do first, the new album or Midgardsblot? Being back here. Well, it's a combination of both, isn't it? We're releasing a new album tomorrow at Midgardsblot. So yeah, Chris, you come directly out of your cave. With uhhh... and directly down from stage. Directly down from playing at... It's just casting a mainly the. Yeah, yeah. So you know this place, you know, it's, you know, it's something that really means something to us, right? This is a, this is the place where we actually met. It was somehow through doing the Viking reenactment and stuff like this. And then Maria is from here. So, so in many ways, it makes a lot of sense that we take the next step from here, you know, because it's kind of like home. And obviously these hills in the forest there back behind us. They mean a lot to all of us. And and it has a good energy. Right. And and it is, you know, when when you make a new album, you kind of say goodbye to what you did before, and then you say hello to what is to come. Right, right. And in many ways, for us, This is now going to be a turning point for us and moving forward. Right? And yeah. Yeah. So, so it makes sense to do it here. And tomorrow we're going to have like a listening session in the Kings Hall, which is one of my favorite buildings to be inside. I really love the acoustics in there and you know. And yeah. So I guess, well Midgardsblot their unofficial kind of motto is Welcome Home. Yeah, I guess it means more to you guys than than probably anybody here. It really is coming back to the place where it all started. Absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah, very literally. And then, yeah, it's exciting to come home and then, you know and then we were leaving very far out into the world on monday flying to Atlanta. But yeah, but first of all, we're releasing the album tomorrow and I'm very excited because it's such a varied piece of work that we're delivering. And now to birth it into the world and the first three songs people have been very enthusiastic and yeah, can't wait to show the rest! We can't wait to hear the rest I know that! Chris, I know you're the... from speaking with you in the past. I know you're kind of the the music nerd, like the real you get really into and I know, you're trying to do some special things with the the new album from what I've seen. Well you know the method of how we're working is the same. Right. And it will always be the same. It's the three of us locked into a room and Kai coming with some weird source materials that that I then have to figure out how to. Make sounds to, you know? And like one of my favorites for this one was that, you know, it's just started by just putting it there on the table first without saying anything. And I was just looking like, What is this what? You know? The Sator Square? That's what I wanted to ask you about. And I was like, and then we started like developing these weird coded systems to, to actually extrapolate notes out because we knew instantly that, okay, we were making a palindrome thing, right? So you need to be able to play this forward and backward, right? So but it also has to make sense. It also has to be music in any direction, literally. Right? So that is like, so we made like a number system based on different runic patterns and also but everything like deriving from the Sator square and, and that melody was then based on some known scales from the period, you know, based on instruments, you know, so we know like the notation and that became the first part. And that became the first part and then when we first made the first code. Then okay what happens then if we flip everything, you know, because like the Sator square is, of course not only going forward and backwards is us also vertically, right? So how do we do that musically? Right. How do we write music that is not only playing the same forward and backward, but also has a certain depth up to us and downwards, right? because we like, like making music in stereo, right? We don't we don't have like a at least not yet a sound surround version of it, but it was recorded in surround some of it. But anyway, how do we create this music, you know, musically, right? How do we make beats that works the same way, forward and backwards? Most drummers would tell you that, like, you should take a normal kick and the snare and you play that next to each other. If you play it the other way, the beat is not necessarily that cool you know, it is also music, right? It shouldn't be like, oh, that's fun that it plays backwards, right? It also like, but what is this? You know, it actually has to sound like something... It has to be good. And that was really that was really interesting. Also, the one we would use the most time. You know, sometimes when we really go into these deep mixes, you know, the same thing just goes on repeat. And I think like this that satellite able part. You know multiple times made. This poor bastard regret that he gave that to me you know. Just sitting for like a week. You know, with this just... Are you getting your own back on him for... It's like you know... brainwashing man. Like, yeah, when you talk to people who are into like military interrogations, of course, they also use sounds right and they use like very short sentences that are on repeat, very, very loud. Right. So that's what you were doing to eachother? And he is mixing it. It has to be loud because he has to hear everything. Right. You can't hear that in like, you know, talk talks out and then it's like... like this is hour three. Oh, my. God. What am I drawing here, man? Like I just , you know, like... We, everyone, when we're sitting, working, whether we're doing like artwork or something, you know, it's really like everyone is just sitting focused in the studio and doing their thing, you know? But once in a while like after a session, like ended, you know, I can just look behind. And those are just sitting like at one point, like. Well uhhh... The first, the oldest one I came across came from Herculaneum around like 50 before Christ. Something like that. And it just goes all the way up to Iceland and like Danish churches have it engraved and everything. And since the song is out, I have fans sending me like old engravings from "Hey, this is the church I grew up in.." But we have this like some old French thing, right? And like when you read about it, it is everything. It is. It has been used to summon the devil. It has been used for healing because it has distended cross in there. It was also used for Christian stuff. Right. But what is fascinating about it is that you actually have these like five words that make sense. However you read them make sense.'ish right? And I was not able to create something that was matching this. Yeah, so the thing is that Kai then had to try, right? To make... He really did. He really did. I love it. So I really I love that one. Amazing, it's so funny man. I see it a bit more humbly but yes, I don't remember the whole thing. Who is it again? What is it again? It's hanging in the studio. We'll send you a picture. Oh, please do. We really needto see it! Yeah, that's a modern iteration. I like that. Yeah, but it was, it was a fun process. Like the whole like the whole making it, making the whole album, you know, it... the intensity of the music can of course, also be found in all levels in ourselves right... So we go from like hysterical laughter to like really sad moments as well. Like, for example, when it came to Nesso, that was the very sad moment for Maria. And like when you listen to that song, for example, Nesso is old high German for worm and make sure to set is that people back then believe that pains were worms that were crawling crawling in the body and that there's multiple possibilities to extract it. Right. And we ask Maria to go in the state of mind where she... pictured, like meditative an animal that she loved a lot being dying and that she really tried to like. Oh, I would be. Yeah, no. Exactly, exactly. And like, she was like she had the tears running down her cheeks while she was singing it. And like that that is actually also on the album. So when you listen to Nesso on the album, and you think F*** is she about to cry? Oh, she was actually crying doing this. So you really give her a lot for the craft, you willing? Because I I'll cry if I think about Luna in that way She's beautiful, she came and sat on my knee earlier and we had to cuddle. You know you we when we were recording it you know like Maria standing in the and crying, right. And when Maria is crying, I instantly start crying. So it's like I was really crying, you know, and, you know, it was really a moment. And then I look behind at Kai, you know, what's this thing is weird. I'm sitting in crying, you know, look at Kai. And he was just completely wet. You know. We were all just like, Oh, my God, all hit rock bottom there man... Emotionally, yeah. And it was also a nerve wracking moment, to take the decision to actually release it like that, because we talked a lot about should we sing it again and actually make it sound like my real voice, like this is just my broken voice. But then we after a lot of talking back and forth, we decided that you know what? A voice doesn't always have to be pretty you it's okay to show emotion and it's okay to to show the honesty in the voice through and through crying. I think crying and singing is the hardest thing you can do, you don't have any control. And for a vocalist to not feel that you have control is is really, really hard on my heart and soul. And I know this personally from from many, many different situations and it's, it was a step for me to dare to, to go out with it aswell. Well, but I can hear the feedback we got from that label. That is the first people who heard it. They all cried as well. I know i'm going to cry... It feels like you guys can't make a song that's just a song like everything has such a... I really wish one day. Yeah, it's really easy listening... Everything has... Like a coreography, that has to happen. And you know, you have to do all these rituals extra to make it happen, you know? I'll say I appreciate it. I hope you never make a song, that's just a song. You really put everything into every song. Yeah, but we did make it... And you really feel it. We did make a cover song on this album though. Yes, that's true. Our first cover song ever. Oh Really?...Just a song. No, it's not just a song, but it's, it's our first cover song. I'm sure it's got more to it than just just being a cover. It's the first song from where it's been written down. And we kind of just read the notation and we add an extra voice to it though. But... Yeah! Heilungs Voice. So yeah, but yeah, that's the first one yeah. It's one of the Hurrian Hymns. They digged it out in Nineveh. It's uhh... cuneiform and it contains the lyrics but it also contains the, the notes and also instructions how to tune the harp or a lute or however the instrument at the time was called. And that's our first cover song. It's called Nikkal. It is yeah, Babylonian. Yeah wild. I like that. Yeah. That kind of like takes it a bit like, we are looking a little bit further than the north right? as you guys also know that that you know it's a bit limited also whether you have a source material, you know, and and therefore we I feel like at least that's my take on it that it is really nice to start to look at what may have influenced us. Right, and what radiates back and forward of the time. And like, with this Nikkal song, it's that we actually get a glimpse into how they actually sang at the time. Right, because we obviously don't have recordings of that. But, because we know the instruments it's written for and how it possibly was tuned, We can get fairly close to it to how it would have been. But, you know, people that know that song will also know that, the notes we are singing is probably the harp voice, right? So, so that's also one of the reasons why I feel really compelled to, to do Heilung's voice on top of it. So to, but, and make it like a three person song. Basically three, you know, harmonies singing. Right? And it's kind of interesting to, look at this because, you know, we know, for instance, like... this is a very long story, but I've tried to do a short read, but we know, for instance, that... that we were pitching lower in the past. Right? And you can kind of draw a steady line from modern day pitch, which was kind of decided in the forties by the Germans. And you can draw a direct line to to what we believe instruments were... that is optimal tuning in the medieval times and even go back further and it all traces back to natural natural harmonics really like, you can take a recording of a waterfall that is basically completely white noise to us. Right? But there's still resonating tones into that that is louder than others. Right. And easily coming out and you can draw a direct lines on that. So naturally we had to do that with Nikkal, obviously to put it at that sort of tuning. Right? And what is harmonies then right? Because if we go too far, people today would not understand it. That's one of the reasons why we call it amplified. Right. So so it's about interpreting but also making it relevant for today. Of course. Yeah. Yeah. One thing and one thing I absolutely love is that I don't understand music on a deep level, but when I hear you speak, I just can't help but get drawn into the way you talk about like the sounds of everything and the clear passion you have that just pulls me in. I'm just locked into all these different things in the way you seem to. Obviously look at things and pick things apart. And it's fascinating. I love it. And it clearly comes across with everything you do. It's a perfect mix of Kai bringing crazy things, crazy ideas, you making them. Music and Maria, your beautiful voice on the front and just making it all sound. Yeah, I love it when it's just the perfect mix of all three of you together. It really is really special. It's a very beautiful, creative way of working with sources and sound. And, you know, I really appreciate it. It's a way to create new meaning in the world in a very profound sense. If you ask me. I have to ask about Saturday. When you play, can we expect anything special, new? Look here, when we play here. Yeah, yeah. Is there anything like what? What can we expect? Is it just, you know, I've just got to fish for something, got to try. Yeah, we have, we finally, finally found volunteers for sacrifice. Oh yeah. That's always great. And Maria is going to come in on the on the white horse and I'm going to come on stage on a donkey, but I will sit the other way around. So. Okay... That's a better answer, than actually finding out. Running to the insurance company. Yeah, well, I. I'll give you a surprise. Yeah, of course. I had to ask though, just in case. I remember the last time we did one of you before. I think Maria you were going to say something and I think it was, I cant remember if it was Chris. Or Kai, you were like... Sshhhh.... and like you, I cant remember the words but you nearly slipped up on something once. And It must have been Kai. one of you is just like, I never slip... One of you just quickly grabbed him and was like... Sshhh... If you want a secret to stay a secret, just don't tell it to me. That's easy. Because then it's already two knowing it... Unfortunately, I'm going to miss it on Saturday because that's when I'm starting my journey back to the US. But I will be seeing you guys in Seattle. Yes, I'm very much looking forward to that. Yeah. And you're coming to the UK again soon, so I'm going to get to see you I guess on... Saturday will be the first time I've ever seen you guys live, so I can't wait for that. But also to see you in the UK as well is going to be special. Yeah, I know. It's been postponed a while. We haven't been there since the beginning of 2020. Was actually the last show before the big break. Yeah. In York. Yeah. Yeah. And then that was. That was and it was when the pandemic was just, like, biting our ass, like, really hard.*Chomping noises* Yeah, yeah. Well, I quit smoking. You quit smoking. Yeah? You also also quit smoking. Kai didn't quit smoking. He did for a little while. Then I started again. That's the same for me. I quit smoking before the pandemic. Then I started again. As soon as my feet were on Danish ground, I was like, I need a cigaret. Yeah, wonderful. I think. Yeah, we can wrap it up there. Yeah. Because we want to see Wardruna. We want to go see Wardruna. Yeah, yeah. I mean, thank you very much for doing this in this beautiful setting. Thank you, mama, for borrowing it. Yeah. And again, thank you for the hospitality. I don't think there's many bands that would invite us into their camp and feed us. Give us. Well how many bands have a Viking camp? Well that's it! Well, that's that's one last thing I want to actually ask you, is that I guess not everybody knows that you have like a full camp set up. We told Runa... That rather than living in the hotel 20 minutes away. We would love to just stay in some Viking tents. If she can get some, we will have some ourselves. And now we're hosting 47 people, which is Heilung. And I Heilung crew and our booking agency, our record label, our merch people. and some close family. So yeah, yeah. It's a tribe. Yeah, it is. But it's also like it's not really uncommon for us to do that here. We, we, we've done that, you know. Many times... Just to combine it with the music scene is pretty unique. Yeah. Because normally you would just have a crappy airport hotel somewhere, right? And here we can cook on the fire, we can make a communal dinner every day, we swim in the sea. We are sitting cozy here around the fireplace in the evenings. It couldn't be better. Yeah, that's it I mean. I was going to ask how important that is, you think, to what you guys do and the music you make and then the live performance you give effective, like at the end of it that you've lived as a whole little tribe for... Yeah, it ties us together. I can tell you that that that we did measures on it right? Because we have noticed that that the tribe goes sad if we are on the road and we don't have enough outdoor... experiences. Like a nature experience if you just keep it like this bunch of people inside a bus, you know, or concrete, you know, you know, we're not really going to live up to the healing idea. We have fun on stage, right? Because we are, you know. Yeah, you know, we need to be free range, you know, Shamanistic workers. Yeah. Not locked in. Free range Shamanistic workers? Fully ecological... We don't do caged shamans. So I think that's going to be my new company name..."Free Range Shamistic Workers" I mean... Like, like the organic eating, you know, of course, you know, we don't feed them, you know, you know, all these extra, you know. No, no. "FSW". Yeah. Organic beer for all of you. Organic beer for all the Shamanistic workers... we don't really need any canned Vikings. No. No canned Vikings... I, yeah. I that I think that's, it's when not many bands would live like this. I don't think... They want the hotel, they want the showers, they want all the mod-cons. They don't know what they're missing? No. Like you said when you do a disservice when you described earlier... you have like the whole hub in the middle with a big fire going and it's I haven't seen like a modern thing around here, like all the bowls are wood, And it's very much back to back to earth. And I love it. I completely understand as somebody who has done Viking re-enactments over the years. You know, this feels natural. The hotel I'm staying at right now, does not. It's a it's entirely different vibe. Yeah. And it's also we used to live like that for a month. I mean, like when I was, when I was still living in Germany I... started the tour in May and I was home in September, and that was... Viking tour that is... Viking tour from Viking market to Viking Market. Tattooing yeah? Tattooing yeah. That's just how it was... I remember it was always very difficult to come home, to have walls again, to have ceilings. To have shoes again... And really like all of this, it's really it's kind of weird, right? I mean, like in the beginning, you think like what the f*** am I doing bathing in the lake again. You know man... that's it, it feels like, that like you are, you live Heilung......Like it is you. you know, you come to the festival, you live like this and it's very it's not like you just go up on stage and become characters in a band, or you go up and and just perform. Your just up there being yourselves playing music is not a performance. It's very much who you are at the core, And it's what makes you all so... We amplify ourselves in a way... Yeah, yeah. It's a theater for the gods. Yeah, the ritual. Yeah. That's where we end on that. Thank you very much. Appreciate it. Thank you, guys. It was great to talk to you again. Skål! Skål!