Meet The Band: Völur

VolurWe’re spotlighting the Canadian folk/doom trio Völur in this week’s edition of Meet The Band. Instead of guitar, they use violin. Their sophomore full-length Ancestors was just released. All three members of the group: vocalist/violinist Laura Bates, bassist Lucas Gadke and drummer Jimmy P. Lightning introduce us to their band.

Give us a brief history of Völur.
Lucas Gadke: Laura (Bates, violin/vocals) and I met about 100 years ago at Humber College where we were studying jazz performance; she being the first violin student admitted to the program and myself a lowly double bass player. We were friends but not deeply connected. That changed a few years after graduation when we both started backing up Canadian folk musician Jay Aymar. He took us on these sometimes wonderful, sometimes terrifying trips through Ontario playing the most far flung places (like a campsite near the French River just short of the true north of Ontario).

And on those long rides, Laura and I really bonded over the music we would play to drive Jay crazy (doom metal, post rock, black metal). From there we started becoming very close friends. Eventually, around mid-2013, we got this idea to start a band together. Initially we wanted to be a two-piece improvised noise group. We even had this whole plan to make masks and act like shamans of some strange cult. But as we began jamming, more and more songs and compositions started to take form, and we started conceiving of parts with drums.

So Laura contacted her longtime friend James Payment (Jimmy P Lightning of DoMakeSayThink) and we brought him on. He is a perfect fit. After playing a couple local shows (one literally in a cage) we recorded our demo/EP/debut album Disir in one day with Ian Blurton. After this release, we changed up our writing style and recorded a two song demo (clocking in at 22 minutes) and sent them off to any label we cared about. Luckily, Prophecy offered to work with us and it’s been fantastic.

Was the songwriting process for Ancestors similar to your debut?
Lucas: Definitely there was a different approach on this record. With Disir, I was more interested in repetition and riffs and tons of space. I was listening to a lot of music like Brian Eno at that time and really digging the lack of action in much of his work, trying to make music hypnotic. A little bit after Disir was recorded, I went to see Shostakovich’s 7th Symphony performed by the Toronto Symphony and was blown away by the scope and the narrative that he (Shostakovich) was able to pull off with his writing.

I became a bit obsessed, read a biography of him and listened to all his early symphonies and all his string quartets. I got really into the idea of program music and music with a narrative. Simultaneously, I was going through my annual obsession with the Sagas of the Icelanders. And while there are narrative movements on our first record, I wanted to truly dig as deep as I could into the writing and pull off something that would carry the weight of storytelling, and also the emotional weight from these large, beautiful works.

Laura: Ancestors was far more “planned out” than Disir was. When we made that initial demo we were trying to get a grip on our sound and the potential of our guitar-less instrumentation. I’d only just started playing electric violin and that point and was figuring out how to handle my new 6 stringed beast. Ancestors was thoroughly preconceived: some parts of the album were even notated on manuscript paper! Lucas had also fleshed out the conceptual direction for the project which really informed the compositions in a narrative sense. I felt we were able to draw from a wider palette of our influences like folk music, late 20th century classical and angular jazz music. We worked them all in!

How has the band’s sound progressed from Disir?
Lucas: We’ve become more confident exploring different sounds and textures. We’ve also written a lot of lyrics for this record, which were pretty well absent on the first album. We’ve incorporated different kinds of vocals and different kinds of instruments. The writing is definitely more complex now and we bring in different genre elements to the compositions: sometimes it’s doom, sometimes it’s black metal, sometimes it’s weird folk or classical. We were also able to build a good sound and find our voice as a unit. Laura’s instrument and pedal board are real beasts; she plays a six string electric violin with at least three distortion pedals. Hopefully this album shows a band sounding assured and comfortable in its own skin.

Laura: Ancestors is undeniably darker and heavier than Disir. We were able to fully harness our “power trio” format (as I like to call it) and exercise our love of black and death metal. This album features a good dose of unclean singing, yet it does not stray from our commitment to featuring both dynamic and frail moments. We remain a doom band at heart, and by our own definition is that “doom is about slow contemplation and the transfixing power of heaviness.” What I mean is that a sparse vocal section influenced by Swiss Alpine folk singing (like the opening section of “Breaker of Silence”) is no less doom to us than our passages of blast beats and screaming.

What’s the lyrical concept this time around?
Lucas: Disir was based on female narratives and characters taken out of early Germanic myths and legends. This album focuses on more masculine oriented stories, two of which being drawn directly from the sagas of the Icelanders. While reading some early Icelandic work (I can’t recall which, unfortunately) I came upon the term “breaker of rings” which means a generous king, someone who shares the spoils of battle with his retinue (primarily the rings of gold that men would wear as decoration at that time).

And then after reading Gisli’s saga, Súrssonar, the term “breaker of oaths” came to me. From there, I imagined this world of epithets around the concept of being a breaker. Therefore, all the songs are centered around a character and titled according to a poetic nickname. There is a full piece called “Breaker of Rings” that due to time constraints, is not included on the album, but will hopefully surface in the near future.

What has early response to the album been like?
Lucas: So far it has been uniformly positive, which has been quite a relief as this album has been about three years in the making. There has not been a substantial amount of reviews yet, but everything we’ve seen has been positive. I just need to keep reminding myself to not read the comments. Apparently some people think our press photos are lame. Which, if I can be honest; image has never been my strong suit.

What has been your most memorable Völur live show?
Lucas: We played in a goddamn cave in Germany! Martin from Prophecy invited us over to Balve in the Sauerland in 2016 to play Prophecy Fest and it was absolutely incredible. The Balver Höhle is perhaps the most magical venue I’ve ever been in. The acoustics were incredible, the crew was amazing, the other bands at the fest were outstanding, and we met some really fantastic and beautiful people. It was an absolutely amazing weekend to remember. Metal high point.

What are your upcoming show/tour plans?
Laura: We have booked our local album release show on August 3rd at The Bovine Sex Club here in Toronto. We do want to get out there and really tour and are awaiting the right opportunity.

With your style of music, does that allow you greater flexibility when it comes to booking shows? You could easily fit with metal, folk, prog, even classical artists.
Lucas: It definitely does. We’ve recently got into playing more quiet shows. We’ve recorded a new piece for eventual release that features local folk singer Ivy Mairi and debuted it at a small venue called Burdock which usually hosts indie and folk bands. So we’re fairly comfortable moving around the genre spectrum.

When we played the famous Music Gallery (a church) in Toronto, we had a fanatic modern music duo called Wapiti open for us. They played some 20th and 21st century weird atonal classical stuff. And it really worked, although it was strange to play for an audience seated on church pews! I personally like diverse bills, I like all sort of moods and music sharing the stage. To be honest, I’m sick of going to a “just death metal show” or an “all doom night.” Sometimes I’m asleep by the end of the night!

How did you get started in music?
Lucas: I started playing the guitar and bass around the age of 12 or 13. I have two older brothers who really influenced my musical development, showing me a lot great punk bands, but also things like The Band, John Coltrane, Schoenberg, Bob Dylan; the great pillars of western music. I kind of floundered around during high school playing in various bands that went nowhere. But then I decided to go to school for music, which as I have mentioned is where I met Laura.

I played in a couple of country rock and jazz bands, but my real love that had been growing over the years was metal. My moment came when I discovered Blood Ceremony, who became my favorite Toronto band. I got to know Sean Kennedy, the band leader, through my brother Noah (who had his bachelor party at Sean’s house). We bonded over Electric Wizard and Grief. Months later, after seeing Blood Ceremony a bunch of times, I ended up running into Sean at a bar and drunkenly told him that I wanted to be his bass player. Luckily that night they had decided to excuse their previous bassist and I was offered the spot about a week later!

Laura: My parents are music enthusiasts, and they were taking me to folk festivals before I could walk. I heard an Irish band called Tip Splinter when I was in a stroller and from that moment I was hell-bent to play the fiddle. My mum complied with my demand and found me a violin teacher when I was only three years old. Andrea Barstead taught me classical as well as folk and world music and was a huge influence on me. During my high school years my dad helped me source a pick up for my violin and I started messing around with effects pedals and playing with a couple local metal and post rock bands. These musical explorations came to a halt while I was suffering through my jazz degree, but now I’m back into heavy music with a vengeance.

Who were your early influences and inspirations?
Lucas: When I was young I listened to a lot of classic rock, folk, hardcore punk, jazz and 20th century classical. And of course the Beastie Boys have always been a big influence. I didn’t really get into metal until I was 16. I found a burned copy of Reign in Blood by Slayer and was immediately blown away. It sent me down this long path that I’m still following.

Early on I got really into things like Darkthrone, Corrupted and Eyehategod; just filthy, lo-fi music and of course a ton of doom metal and other sludge. But eventually I started to broaden my taste and got into death metal, especially stuff like Gorguts and later-era Death. But those early influences still live with me. The Band and Sloan remain big influences for me as a bass player.

Jimmy P. Lightning: Nicko McBrain (Iron Maiden), Lars Ulrich (Metallica up to … and Justice for All), Dave Lombardo (Slayer), Igor Cavalera (Sepultura), Chris Adler (Lamb Of God).

What was the first concert you attended as a fan?
Lucas: I went to see Bob Dylan at the big arena, The Air Canada Centre, in Toronto. I think I was 12. It was very exciting. I went with my childhood best friend and their parents. There were two young women in front of us who were smoking weed, which was also maybe the first time I smelled marijuana. They actually offered some to us, but my pal’s parents declined gracefully.

Jimmy: Iron Maiden at the Maple Leaf Gardens on the Somewhere In Time tour in 1987.

Laura: One concert that really stands out in my mind was seeing Loreena McKennitt when I was 5 or 6 years old in our mutual hometown Stratford Ontario. She performs a lot of British folk revival, medieval and Celtic music. I even got to meet her after the show and I’m still a huge fan of her to this day!

Was your family supportive when you wanted to embark on music as your career?
Lucas: My family has been nothing but supportive. While they don’t really understand or like the music that I make, they’ve always been proud of me. I used to play a lot more conventional music like folk and rock and they definitely liked that better. My dad is a painter so he’s very supportive of me having a career in the arts. My parents supported me all the way through music school as well. I can unequivocally say that I was very lucky.

Laura: 100 percent supportive, and although they may be a bit perplexed by Volur, they respect how much this project means to me.

What’s currently in your heavy musical rotation?

Lucas: Oh gosh! Heaviest of all has got to be Shan-E-Kudrat Ilham by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. That’s heaviest shit. Also I’ve been digging the Aluk Todolo rarities compilation they just released. The new album by Toronto’s Cares, called Coping Strategies is really good. I received an early preview of the new Droid album, which rules. The new Ash Borer and the new Full of Hell albums, too.

Anything else you’d like to mention or promote?
At the moment just our new album Ancestors, as well as the late Alice Coltrane, as we’re really digging her work these days. Many thanks!

(interview published June 3, 2017)

Listen To Volur – “Breaker Of Oaths”

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