HJELVIK – “I’m Making The Music That I Want To Sing Myself”
November 20, 2020, 8 months ago
From frantic heavy rock ‘n’ roll frontman of Norway’s Kvelertak to creative force behind an inventive and daring new solo project, aptly titled Hjelvik, BraveWords was pleased to catch up with the incomparable Erlend Hjelvik.
Debuting his first solo album today (November 20) through Nuclear Blast, and with a sound described as blackened Viking heavy metal, Hjelvik’s Welcome To Hel is a fierce and punishing heavy metal hybrid sure to land on more than one year-end best of list.
Hjelvik sat down with BraveWords for a deep dive into the new project and album, his earliest influences in heavy metal and much more!
BraveWords: Debuting a new project during a worldwide pandemic is surely no one’s idea of “according to plan,” but I’m sure your longtime fans are eager for the distraction. What’s your take on how this year has churned out so far, particularity this being launch year for the Hjelvik group?
Hjelvik: “Yeah, actually, it’s been kind of working out well for me. I’m not saying I’m happy about the situation in terms of Corona or whatever. I’m actually thankful to have lots of time to work on the release and do it properly, whereas before I would probably have been distracted having to prepare for a lot of shows and stuff at the same time. It’s nice to just be able to totally focus on putting out the release. But I do look forward to things opening up and being able to tour.
“We have a lot of time to plan now, so that’s good. I’m gonna build a practice space in our house and just practice and really plan the live show out well before we go on tour. So, yeah, it’s gonna be a lot of fun.
BraveWords: How important is it for you to have a clean slate for your career, with no preconceived expectations of what this album and project has to be, with total creative freedom to do whatever it is you’re interested in?
Hjelvik: “The best part about starting a new band – and I don’t like to call it a project because it sounds like I’m only going to put out one album and sounds a little temporary in a way. I like to call it a solo band – is to just have a clean slate like you said, and just do exactly what I want to do. Now I’ve been doing all the songwriting myself. It’s just been cool to totally decide everything and not have to compromise, you know? I’m making the music that I want to sing myself.”
BraveWords: I’ve seen Welcome To Hel described as blackened Viking heavy metal, which is tremendous. How did you land on that sub-genre for Hjelvik and how difficult was it to pinpoint exactly what you wanted this to sound like?
Hjelvik: “The album turned out to be pretty varied, drawing on lots of different styles of metal. So for me that was the description that made the most sense was blackened Viking heavy metal. But I think everything’s kind of rooted in heavy metal. One song might lean towards black metal and one song might be more classic rock leaning. But yeah, I think heavy metal pretty much covers the whole base and then it’s blackened because of my vocals and some black metal influences. And I call it Viking because I sing about Norse mythology and there’s some Bathory Viking era influences too.”
BraveWords: Norse mythology seems to pair hand-in-hand with heavy metal, with the rich characters and stories. Take us through your love of the mythologies that helped shape this record and why exactly you think it lent itself to your sound.
Hjelvik: “Yeah, like Norse mythology in general and also Norwegian history is to me like a really deep well. There’s so much in it that you can draw influences from. There’s so many good stories that make for good metal lyrics.
“Obviously that’s like a main theme that goes in Norse mythology is death and rebirth. And I think just that whole thing kind of appealed to me especially and I think part of that has to do with me leaving my old band and then starting this new band. So I feel like it’s appropriate to draw on those kinds of themes as well. It’s easy for me to put some personal things into the lyrics, even if it’s about Norse mythology.”
BraveWords: You chose “North Tsar” as the leadoff single for Welcome to Hel, accompanied by a fantastic cinematic video. Take us through the process of using that track as your first impression to fans and everything that went into that release?
Hjelvik: “I just kind of felt like that was the best song to start with because I think that’s the one that lives most up to the term blackened Viking heavy metal for me. And it just kind of felt like one of the more anthemy types of songs. It has a good chorus, in my opinion, and has some hooks. So that was important for me for introducing the first single.
“When it comes to the video we chose a great production company group GRUPA 13, which I’m sure you’re familiar with. They recently just did a crazy live filming of Behemoth and made a bunch of videos for them and other bands. But they make really cool videos, and they were just the obvious choice. They were pretty much on top of the list when it came to choosing people to make a video for the song.”
BraveWords: You filmed the video in an actual Viking village of Jomsborg. How was that experience?
Hjelvik: “That’s true. That’s like a place where they had like the most elite Viking force that were kind of like mercenaries and they were kind living there, kind of like socialist’s or something like that. They weren’t allowed to have girlfriends or whatever. They just had to train all day and then they would go out and fight for whoever pays the most. It’s a really cool village. Lots of rune stones and things like that, all these historical types of buildings that they rebuilt.”
BraveWords: And speaking on first impressions again, you had famed artist Joe Petagno handle album art duties. His list of clients in music and the heavy metal world are legendary. Why was he the obvious choice for this record?
Hjelvik: “Oh, yeah, I couldn’t be more happy. He was the perfect guy for the job. He’s around 70 or something like that now. He’s from America and lives in Denmark and he’s really into Norse mythology. So he was just the perfect guy to work with. Like he was totally on board with the lyrics and was really inspired. I only gave him some simple sketches for what I think the logo should look like and that was like a sword and a snake or something. But then he came back and said that everything came to him in the dream and then he showed me the sketch for the cover art. And it was just amazing and exactly the type of thing I wanted for the album.”
BraveWords: There are some fantastic special guests on this record in Matt Pike from High On Fire/Sleep and Mike Scalzi from Slough Feg. How did those collaborations come together?
Hjelvik: “I’m really happy they came on-board to do some appearances. Matt Pike is a friend from before. I’ve been on tour with him with my old band. We toured with High on Fire, so that’s how I know him. And we recorded in Portland and once we booked the studio and knew we were going to record there then it just made sense to me to hit him up and ask if he would be willing to come play a guitar solo and do some vocals. So he was totally down for that. He just came into the studio one day and just belted out and improvised the guitar solo on the spot, which was amazing to watch. He did like fifteen in a row and they were all really cool and good. Then we ended up with the last one, so it was just cool to watch his process. I just thought that it was amazing that he can improvise like that, because I work totally the other way.
“As for Mike Scalzi, the guy who engineered the album Justin Phelps, he used to be in Slough Feg. He played the bass in the first album and he’s recorded a bunch of their albums before. So that was his idea to reach out to Mike Scalzi. And I just had a song that I thought would be a perfect fit for him. So it’s really fun to have him come in and put down guitar solo and vocals, too. And he had a different approach from Matt. It was really cool to watch him work. He would just layer solos on-top of each other and they could work together. So yeah, that’s a really cool experience.”
BraveWords: Take me back to your early days breaking into heavy music. What were some of your earliest influences and maybe gateway bands into metal?
Hjelvik: “Yeah, I think what kind of turned me on to listening to hard music was actually The Prodigy when I was like nine, 10 years old or something like that. I thought that was like really heavy music when I was listening to it. I think it was their first album or something like that. From there I kind of went into listening to Metallica and that kind of stuff because that’s like what everyone in my class listened to, or most of the guys. From there I kind of found my way into nu-metal for a while. I started listening to bands like Dimmu Borgir and Cradle Of Filth, Immortal and Darkthrone and pretty much stuck to black metal ever since. As I get older obviously I start listening to other things like classic rock bands or doom metal and even prog rock, that kind of stuff.”
BraveWords: If you were to lock down a favourite metal album, what would it be?
Hjelvik: “It’s hard to choose a favorite metal album. But now that you’re asking, it’s probably Mercyful Fate, Melissa. It’s my favourite cover too, incidentally.”
BraveWords: Obviously we can’t predict what will happen in the coming weeks and months, but is there a rough game plan for how you’d like to approach potential touring routes?
Hjelvik: “Yeah, there’s some careful planning being done. Right now in Norway there’s a possibility to play for 50 people, but that works for like singer-songwriter type artists, you know? But hopefully they’ll open it up more next year or beginning of next year. I hope we can start touring before the summer, but maybe that’s not going to happen. I hope we can do a festival then at least. Everything is just up in the air. It’s kind of hard to plan.”
BraveWords: For fans who have followed you for years, what do you think they can expect from Welcome To Hel?
Hjelvik: “I think fans that have followed me for a long time will like my new band. I’m still bringing the same thing to the table I tried to bring to the table in my old band, but then I had to work with other guys. So obviously there’s different influences coming together so it ended up sounding different. I hope they liked my input before and they’ll enjoy this output, which is like a hundred percent me this time.”
(Top photo by: Tom Lund)