More people need to know about Völur.
When doom is done properly, and when it’s fully absolved of any cliché, it’s like a form of magic. When expert musical knowledge is fused with an inspired mythical concept and a carnal drive to make noise, you get a band like Völur. A three-piece from Canada, which by all rights could be considered a side project, they have a defining power and resonance all of their own. Vocalist and bass player for the band, Lucas Gadke, kindly took the time to talk to It Djents about Völur‘s backstory and influences both cultural and musical.
It’s a kind of miracle that Völur exists at all, as each of the three musicians involved have a packed resume of other bands and musical commitments. Among other things, Lucas Gadke is most famed for his work with Blood Ceremony, as well as the bluegrass country band The Rucksack Willies. Drummer James Payment is also known for the instrumental rock band Do Make Say Think, and violinist Laura C. Bates, well… just follow this link to her website and you’ll see. Extensive isn’t the word.
‘Laura and I met in college, but weren’t necessarily very close’, Lucas recalls when asked about Völur’s creation. ‘Later on we ended up working for a singer/songwriter and going on several trips into Northern Ontario together. The guy we played with was a real straight-up folkie, so we used to try to bug him by playing weird music. Laura and I ended up bonding over the post-rock she brought and the really heavy doom metal I was listening to’.
‘Around that time, Blood Ceremony was going in a different direction, now more based on songwriting and 70s elements. I was totally down with it, but I was really craving some of those really dark and heavy sounds. I bought this 70s acoustic guitar amp to play my bass through. It had a built in tremolo and reverb and I’d just been playing around, making weird and creepy sounds and then throwing on a massive fuzz pedal to make some noise. I showed Laura one day and we decided to start jamming. Originally we wanted to be an improvised noise duo, but we quickly started writing pieces and riffs and adding vocals. We invited Jimmy from Do Make Say Think, who was Laura’s friend, to get some of that post-rock vibe in alongside the avant-garde noise and doom riffs’.
And at that point, Lucas makes clear that the seemingly restrictive setup of just three separate instruments was designed, almost purposefully, to make the make the songwriting more of a challenge. ‘Without a guitar, and with the big distance between our ranges (even though Laura does have a 6-string electric violin), you have to be very intentional with your arrangements. It also opens us up to switch roles every once and a while. Laura gets to be a very integral and rhythmic player while I can do some more of the lead stuff at times. I think it works to our advantage because we can’t be lazy when we arrange something’.
But fortunately, their vast experience in stage performance means that live preparations are fairly routine, although one could be forgiven for thinking the process would be ten times more complex. ‘We’ve been playing professionally for something like 50 plus years combined, so we’ve got a pretty good system for getting on and off the stage when we have to. If we have some time to do a sound check or whatever, then we’ll take our time, but on a festival or quick gig, we have everything pretty streamlined and well memorized so we can get on and off really quickly’.
The technical side of Völur is, however, only part of the story. In terms of concept, the band draws influence from heathenism, paganism, and other ancient and mythical texts, which ultimately shapes the whole feel and sound of their music.
‘Our first record, Disir, was inspired by reading different Germanic myths and being inspired by the relative proliferation of strong female characters. It’s not there in a huge abundance, and you have to dig and infer a lot, but it’s there. So those pieces were inspired from those readings. After that, I extended the concept to cover a tetralogy focused on the different “worlds” of the old Germanic myths, men, women, gods and land spirits. So Ancestors is the second part of this series, looking at male characters, mostly from the Icelandic Sagas.
‘There are four songs on the record, and each is a sketch of a different character sketch or narrative plucked out of the sagas (or a composite person from my imagination). While I like to use specific language, and to structure the music in a slightly narrative fashion, I am also more interested in making emotions into sound. The old stories are so familiar and yet so foreign. They have these cultural and time-specific concerns, but also these broad human themes. So what I hope is that the album conveys the emotions that reading these ancient stories stirs up in me’.
Lucas also explains why he thinks doom marries so well with these themes:
‘The biggest thing is the idea of fate. So many of the old stories are tragedies. Life and the gods and the world conspire together towards this tragic outcome. Sometimes it’s a moral, or a curse, or sometimes it’s one event that condemns you to your doom. The slow creeping hand of fate… the hand of doom if you will! There’s also a great sense of mystery. There are a lot of texts out there about heathenism and paganism that claim authority, but we really don’t know that much about people’s practices and beliefs, especially since things were so local. One practice in one region may be completely absent in another. It’s this mystery, to me, that is so attractive. And it’s in those holes that you can insert your creativity. Even archaeologists do this. As a musician, you can take greater leaps of course. The murk and the flashes of the strange allow you to keep coming back’.
And in terms of bands, Völur are by no means short of influences:
‘Oh man, too many! Mournful Congregation, Corrupted, Fairport Convention, Muzsikas, A Forest of Stars, The Dirty Three, Sleep, Deathspell Omega, Eyehategod, Aluk Todolo, Alice Coltrane, Autopsy, Bolt Thrower, Earth, Rachel’s, Huun-Huur-Tu, Om, Bell Witch. And we’re also getting some stuff from classical composers like Webern, Shostakovich, Ravel, Ustad Amir Khan, Ravi Shankar. I’m also really into those old ‘ethnographic’ records from the 60s and 70s, from Ocora, Folkways or Nonesuch, specifically the Explorer Series. There’s a bunch of great weird sounds in the world, like Bulgarian chanting or Afghani rubab music.’
And as far as bringing it to the people goes, there seems only one contender for the band’s favorite live experience:
‘Hands down playing Prophecy Fest in Balve, Germany in 2016. Prophecy Production invited us to play their annual festival which is held inside the Balver Höhle, the largest natural cave in Western Europe in a remote part of Nordrein-Westfalen, the Sauerland. It was beautiful stage with a large attentive audience. We also played first so we got a really good chance to set up and check our sound and get a feel for the stage. And then after that we got to watch Bohren & der Club of Gore. We had the whole night off to just enjoy the bands! It was absolutely wonderful.’
One can also easily discover that Völur are extremely supportive of diverse communities and opposed to xenophobia in all of its forms. ‘We all feel this personally, but I can’t make the claim that the music is outwardly political. The lyrics and inspiration are mostly dealing with literary inspiration from texts written about 800 years ago, so those can’t be called political, since they bear no relevance on our current situation. I would hope that the music is inviting, even if it is quite harsh.’
‘Music is for all ears and we don’t want to discriminate against anyone. That message was more to say, if you feel unsafe at a show then you can come to us and know that we’re allies, and that we won’t tolerate any violence or discrimination at our shows. I was talking about this with a very intelligent friend recently. Reading ancient literature is part of the endeavor of understanding world literature and different perspectives. There is a tendency for reactionaries to attach themselves to old texts, but I think they miss the point. You have to change your perspective to understand the text, and if you want to apply any lessons to your own life, you have to change the context of the work. This is the same project as reading world literature and contextualizing works. So I think it’s actually a very enlightening endeavor. So perhaps there’s something in there as well. I won’t pretend to be an academic. I’m just a jazz school kid, but I believe in acceptance and I don’t believe in violence. I like metal and viking stories, and those things don’t have to be mutually exclusive.’
The inspiration may have been formed eight centuries ago, but this band itself is still extremely young, with a potentially bright future. So what next for Völur? ‘We just did a half run through the United States that was unfortunately cut short due to personal injury (don’t lean on a railing at any AirBnB). We are going to re-book some of those show and do another run through the States…
And we’ve got a few recordings in the can that will be getting released this year. Stay tuned!’
Oh, don’t worry. We shall.
Lucas Gadke – Electric and upright bass, vocals
Laura C. Bates – Violin, vocals, effects
James Payment – Drums
You can hear more of Völur on their Spotify and Bandcamp pages. For merch and more information on the band, visit their website, or keep up to date with their latest news on their official Facebook page.