UTMARKEN interview

Swedish folk metal band Utmarken from Västerbotten made a quite impressive entrance in the folk metal scene, with its amazing self-titled debut album. Coming out of nowhere, with almost no info about them before this album, Utmarken has been a very pleasant surprise for me. So, this was the perfect time to interview the band and ask Mathias Gyllengahm (vocals, nyckelharpa) everything about their music.

Utmarken - logo

- Hello from Greece. Thank you very much for your time to make this interview. Utmarken is a relatively new band. If I am not wrong, you were formed only in 2015. Would you like to describe how it all begun?      

Hej Greece! Norrland calling, Gyllengahm here.

2015 is correct. It began with me moving out to the countryside here. I ran around in the woods out here, got a lot of music into my head, and then I stumbled upon a nyckelharpa that I felt would fit the material. I began recording some early demos (everything went under the name Norrsinnt at the time), and I got attention from some quite notable people in the business. At that time I was wondering whether to focus on the more broader material or the more esoteric. Utmarken became the overarching name for the broader, exoteric material.

- Could you introduce your band to our readers? Is the current line-up the same since your beginning, or were there any changes? Did you play in other bands before Utmarken?

The current lineup consists of me, Mathias Gyllengahm (Lead vocals, Nyckelharpa) and Benny Hägglund (drums) bumped into each other some years ago and did some collaboration. Jörgen Wikberg (lead guitar) was part of that as well. Then there is Janne Asplund (rhythm guitar), Micke Andersson on bass guitar, and Robert Lindqvist on keyboards.
When everything started though, it was only me, Benny and Jörgen, and we’re the only guys playing on the album. Things were very hectic, I had to produce something quickly, so I took things as they came along the way. Thus, on the first video, there’s a guy playing bass guitar, David Wikberg, who was only there on the video. The plan was for him to join, but he had other things to attend. He’s still a good friend.

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- Would you like to reveal us your inspirations and influences? Folk metal is a quite overcrowded genre. What are your ambitions? What do you believe is the special characteristic of Utmarken that will attract the fans of the genre?

I never tried to do “folk metal”. I didn’t even know what “folk metal” was. I don’t have a history in folk music either. It was this environment change, from city to nature, that started everything. When I turned off the constant bombardment of impressions and information the material just came to me. When you turn away from the broad, pre-planned path that is laid out ahead of you, and get on the narrow, winding paths, or just completely out there, you often get lost, but you also find these hidden places and views, and most importantly – you found them on your own merits – because you wanted to go there, yourself. That is where the material comes from. For example, I grew up here but I never understood what a fantastic nature we had around here. When I found something I thought was beautiful and empowering I wanted to share it with people I believed would understand. That was and is the ambition. And, whether I like it or not, I seem to be born with a gift (or curse) to be able to write music, thus this was my task to do, whether I wanted to or not. Honestly, I would have preferred to have been a builder or a carpenter or something. You can make more use of practical skills.
But… if we translate this into not-so-goofy talk… I’ve always liked heavy metal. I believe it is the folk music of today. I happened to stumble upon “real” folk music. I wanted to combine the strengths in both.

- You debut album “Utmarken” was released a few months ago. What is the feedback you got so far from fans and press?

The reviews have been really good. I didn’t believe in my wildest dreams that they would be as good as they have been. Fans…. well, I have the feeling that we haven’t reached that many yet. Those that have listened to it seem to have taken it to their hearts, and that is what is important, that the message comes through. There seems to be a division though, between “true” folk metal fans and … others. I don’t think Utmarken fits the “true” folk metal narrative that well, and some people dislike that while others think that is what makes it special. All reviews though, except for one, have stressed it is a good thing that Utmarken is something different.

- How would you describe your music in your own words? Does the result of the album satisfy you, or do you believe you could have done things differently?

I would describe it as some kind of heavy metal, hard rock with folk influences. Easily accessible, but with multiple layers that can be found upon inspection. When it comes to the album creation process… it couldn’t have been done differently, considering the circumstances. The circumstances however consisted of lots of stress and pressure, limited time, knowledge and resources. There was a lot of turmoil which made it impossible to plan, I had to solve problems along the way, leading to unnecessary work. I had to mix and master the album myself, and I’m not happy with the final sound, but considering the circumstances and how well it has been received, things went extremely well, since it was a monstrous task to take on.

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- All your lyrics are in Swedish. Is there any concept in the album? What are your lyrics about? Is there any message you’d like to share through your music in general?

When it comes to the message I think I explained it as well as I can do earlier. The lyrics are about this region, nature, people who lived here back in the days, but also about going your own way. Finding strength, the will to survive, enduring hardships in a harsh and dark corner of the world. I also try to capture the mentality around here. There’s a lot of melancholy. And some grim humour.

- Could you give us any info about the traditional acoustic instruments you use in your music? Except for the wonderful “nyckelharpa” are there any other folk instruments used?

I have only used the nyckelharpa.

- Your music is clearly influenced by traditional Swedish music. Do you use existing folk melodies in your songs, or do you compose new melodies based on traditional music rules and scales?

Scandinavian folk music is actually something quite new to me. There are no existing folk melodies in the songs for all I know (unless by mistake). I have learned a bit from the guy who sold the nyckelharpa to me, but only very little. I try to capture the essence of what I hear in Scandinavian folk music. I believe that there is a typical Scandinavian “sound”. Typical harmonies. Melancholic and epic at the same time. You can hear it in ABBA songs for example. Church music has incorporated these folk harmonies, they are present in many old psalms. There is also a lot that comes naturally from within the nyckelharpa itself – how it is built and how it sounds. Some melodies just come naturally. I can just sit and play it and “listen” to what it says to me. This goes back to what I was on to earlier, these harmonies and this music is something that I have had in front of me in my whole life, but never seen.

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- Are there any recording facts concerning your debut album that you’d like to share? Were there any guest appearances?

Well, a local farmer, Anders, is there on some spoken words in one of the tracks. His father, Berndt-Ove, has actually built one of the nyckelharpa’s that I play on. The local connection is important to me. Other than that… well, everything except for drums and guitar solos has been made by me, on old equipment, in a little corner out here. Tractors and trailers have passed by outside during recordings all those late nights, ruining some takes. Haha, I guess it defies every rule on how to create an album. It was made in the perfect setting though. It could not have been made in a bunker in the city during a busy week or two when the songs are about nature, freedom and land in the outskirts. It wouldn’t have been right.

- Your album is released by Einheit Produktionen, a quite respected German label of the genre. How did this cooperation begin?

It started by the introduction of a man named Thor Joakimsson, who runs the label Trollmusic. We had been in contact, and he introduced me to Einheit.

- How do you plan to promote your music? Are there any gigs or tours planned? Could you give us some details? How can someone be informed about your upcoming live appearances?

It was bad timing to release the album in late spring. All festivals were booked for the summer when the reviews came in, so we have only made one gig yet. We’re discussing future gigs, I cannot give any details right now, but keep an eye out on our Facebook page.

- How would you describe an Utmarken live show? What should your fans expect from you on stage?

We got really nice feedback from our first gig, many said we were better live than on the album. I think the material becomes more heavy and dynamic live. More raw power. I want people that come to our shows to have fun, view a great show, but also leave with something that lasts through their everyday life afterwards. Something empowering, something that lifts them up.

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- You have already released 3 videos, something unusual especially for a debut album. Of course I suppose “Till Skogs” is the most “official” of them. Would you like to give us some info about these videos? Should we expect more videos from this album? Do you see the videos as an efficient way to promote your music, or are they mostly for fan?

Well, a lot of things have just happened, without a good plan, map or long-term strategy. It was very busy, we needed a video, and the first one we did, last year, merely as a fun thing and a kick-off was “Välkommen till Norrland”. It got re-released when the album came out, probably just because there wasn’t anything else. We wanted to fill out the picture a bit, that there’s more to Utmarken than just having a party with your friends (although that’s certainly not a bad thing) so I threw together the video for “Strömkarlens son”, just using some old footage I had. Then we got in contact with Owe Lingvall (Dreamday Media, Nocturnal Rites) and felt that it would be nice with a real video. Which became “Till Skogs”. Hindsight, it would have been best with only that one, but we needed something at the time of the release, and tried to make the best of what we had. When looking at Utmarken a lot appears as the work of someone reading the manual backwards, haha!

- Maybe it’s a little too early, but how do you see the future of the band? Are there any specific plans? Do you prepare anything new?

The next album is already in progress and has come a long way already. I hope we can get some suitable gigs next year, and it takes time to rehearse so better to start working on studio material as soon as possible.

- Is any of Utmarken members in other bands too? If yes, would you like to give us any info about them?

Benny has played drums for Vintersorg throughout their entire career. He has also released albums with Andreas Hedlund under the name “Fission”. Vintersorg are doing their first live show in a long time next year. He is also a member of TME (death metal), together with Janne Asplund. Robert Lindqvist also plays keyboard in Vaihn. Micke Andersson is creative in his home studio, but doesn’t have a specific “band” for his creations.

- Thank you very much for this interview. Wish you all the best. Last words are yours.

Thanks are all mine/ours. Hope to be able to see you soon, in the flesh.

Utmarken @ Facebook

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