INTERVIEW WITH SKYFORGER
Questions answered by: Peter, Zirgs, Rihard, Mazais and Andy
Interview took place in Ljubljana on 25/10/2002
Latvian band Skyforger was playing in Slovenia on their first European tour, together with Bestial Mockery, Obtest and Grief of Emerald. Many Slovenian metalheads never heard about them before this concert because of the plain fact that many good metal bands FROM different parts of ex-Soviet Union never get recognized. And that is really a shame.
All the band members wanted to co-operate in this interview but we had some minor problems due to the fact that only two people involved in Skyforger speak English, Peter (vocals) and the bands manager Andy. The rest of the band members said that they don't speak English, but that turned out not to be completely true because they understood everything we were talking about and even took part in the conversation one way or the other.
Tell me about your beginning.
Andy: Peter started Skyforger in 1995. His first band was called Grindmaster Dead and they played Doom Metal. Brutal Doom but still very nice with folk touches. Later Peter found his roots in Pagan Metal and so he started to get more INTO this. He saw that he needs to change the name of the band so he chose the name of a sun cross... Skyforger is an old Pagan Latvian god.
Peter: And the sign we use has nothing to do with Nazis. It is an ancient Pagan sign of Thundergod Perkons.
Andy: So the band was started in 1995 and we released our first album in 1997.
Peter: The first demo.
Andy: Yes, the first demo, which was called "Semigalls' Warchant".
Peter: Semigall is an ancient Latvian tribe.
Andy: Demo includes seven songs. I think it is still available but we can also make some copies if people are interested. And there is still a demand for it. In Ablaze magazine or maybe somewhere else it was voted the best demo record of the year.
Peter: Then we signed a contract with...
Andy: Mascot Records. For three albums.
Peter: For two.
Andy: For three but we did only two. At that time guitar player Rihard joined us. Then we released our first CD "Kauja pie Saules", which means "Battle of Saule". It is about an ancient battle, which was fought in the 13th century. The German crusaders went to conquer Latvia and to fight the Pagans. Latvians together with Lithuanian tribes, the Semigalls, caught them in a trap. I think there were 50.000 Germans and maybe some less Latvians and Lithuanians.
Peter: And the Germans were crushed.
Andy: It was the biggest battle in all Eastern Europe.
Peter: And then came our second album "Latviešu Strelnieki", "Latvian Riflemen", which is about the World War I. It talks about Latvian riflemen battalions...
Andy: Eight battalions.
Peter: Eight battalions, who took part in the World War I and fought against the Germans - again. These eight battalions are a big legend in the Latvian history and our second album is dedicated to them.
Andy: Yes, this album is dedicated to the Latvian men because that was the start of Latvian independence. These men were volunteers, usual people aged FROM 16 to 60. Every kind of people.
Peter: But there's one thing I would like to say. Our albums are dedicated to one period only. The first album is dedicated to the 13th century, the second album to the World War I and then we went back to the ancient times...
To the gods.
Peter: Yes. And when we compose songs we always make sure that music and lyrics fit together.
Andy: The music has to have a feeling of the period the CD refers to.
Peter: Yes and then someone thinks: "Oh, this album is fast and the next one is slow." So he thinks: "Oh, maybe this band will be slow FROM now on." But that isn't so because the new topic can be something different and we come back to the fast music. A lot of people and labels don't understand this thing. They think that if a band is fast it always has to be fast.
So it really depends on the topic.
Andy: The third album will be called "Thunderforge" and will be probably released this year. I hope so.
If you find a label.
Andy: Yes. The new CD is about ancient Latvian gods and... (Peter interrupted him.)
Peter: Mythology. And this album is slower.
Andy: Slower, melodic, touching. It includes many folk stuff and instruments like bag pipes, organ... There were also some other instruments used but maybe it's not that important.
Was it hard for you to get a label, since you're coming FROM Latvia?
Peter: Yes, it is very hard to get a label. I think that we were very lucky that we got the contract with Mascot Records at that time.
Andy: That was easy.
Peter: Yes. It opened a road for us.
Andy: We thank Mascot for a great job they did but now... (He tries to find the right words.)
And you need something different.
Andy: Something else, yes.
Peter: We split that contract because Mascot Records started to sign bands that play Hard Rock and Heavy Metal and they lost interest in our band.
Andy: In extreme bands in general. Splitting the contract was in our interest too because they didn't do any promotion. Well, maybe a little but still not enough.
Peter: Thanks to Mascot, when we came to Germany some days ago, we saw that many people know our band. And that is great.
Andy: They know our first album and the second one, but that one maybe a little less.
Peter: For us is a big problem to get a contract because we live far FROM the center of Europe. This tour is a very big inspiration so we thank the organizers.
Tell me a little bit about the metal scene in Latvia.
Peter: Metal scene in Latvia is very small because our land is small and there are only a few bands. But these bands are on a high level. They play really good music and they do it very professional.
Andy: We have a Death Metal band called Sanctimony. This band is real good and they also cannot get a record deal. They send stuff around and it's totally great stuff but... One time one of the guys said to me: "I'm sending the stuff but when the labels release some bands, I see that they are much shittier than our band." So far they have only one album.
Peter: About the gigs. We have maybe one gig a month.
Andy: Maybe one gig a month, maybe one in two months.
Peter: We're the only band in Latvia who has 300 people at a gig.
Andy: Actually it depends. If the gig is not promoted there are always at least 200 people but when the gig is very good, there are 300 or 400 people. Recently we had a Pagan Metal festival. We had bands FROM Lithuania, Estonia as well... and there were 700 people.
Peter: Many metalheads in Latvia and Lithuania like both, metal and folk music so they come to the metal shows and to folk shows. Some time back there were only people who listened to metal, Cannibal Corpse and stuff like that.
Andy: We don't have Nazi bands at all. Everybody in Russia and maybe in Germany think that we Latvians are Nazis.
In what does your forthcoming CD "Thunderforge" differ FROM your previous releases?
Andy: We talked about some of that before.
Yes but I don't mean only about the topic.
Peter: Music has become slower with more folk elements and folk instruments. And that's all the difference.
Andy: Bands have to change, you know. We don't like to make the same record as the previous one.
Peter: And that means that we don't always stay in the same music style. I think that our next album will be faster than this one.
All your lyrics are in Latvian language. Do you plan to write them in English sometime in the future?
Peter: We always sing in Latvian but inside our booklets we always include a translation.
I was actually referring to the singing.
Peter: I think you know our problem. I'm a Latvian and not an Englishman. I write lyrics better in my own language and I like to sing in my beloved language. On shows we see that people like our music. Maybe they don't know our language but they can feel our melody and they sing with us. We sing in Latvian "tra la la la la" and they sing the melody. And that's great. I think that the language is not a problem. All languages are great, not only English.
Andy: Yeah, because we enjoy Norwegian bands and the Swedish ones who sing in their own language. It's not about the language, it's about the music, you know. There is one more thing I would like to say about this topic. On our previous albums we did just a translation but on the third one we have done a lot of work, so the lyrics in English will be more like poetry. We tried to do good lyrics in Latvian and in English. We hope that people will like the new album. I can tell you my personal opinion on it, because I'm not in the band (he's the bands manager). I have listened to it, I like it and I think it's really great. I think it's even better than the previous albums.
What kind of response did you get on this tour so far?
Andy: I think that the response has been really great.
Peter: Well, I think the reactions were different because this is our first tour. In the first town we've played, in Germany, there were not may people and we had to play first... So it depends.
You had a great response here in Slovenia.
Peter: Yes but when we played in Berlin...
Andy: It was even better.
Peter: Yes, it was our greatest show. We were playing last and a lot of Germans know are music. That was a great show! Many people who know our songs. They don't know the words but they sang with us anyway. The hall was full of people shouting "Skyforger". That really meant a lot to us.
Andy: In Bitterfield (Germany) was very nice. They also had a bigger amount of beer, ha ha ha.
Yeah, these Swedes really drink a lot. (Before doing the interview I overheard them complaining about the drinking capacity of the Swedish guys. And I think we all know how much they can drink.)
Andy: The Swedes... yeah.
Peter: We have something like professional attitude. When we're on tour and we know that the next day we have a show, we don't drink.
You just drink a couple of beers and that's it?
Peter: When we're on tour me and Zirgs don't want to lose our voices so it's better for us to drink tea, coffee and not beer. But vodka is good for your throat, you know. But we're not for total drinking. Like I said we have an attitude.
Andy: We can drink at home. We like drinking and we drink a lot there.
This is your first European tour...
Peter: Of course.
Andy: And we can tell you why: because we live so far. This guy (the organizer) has done a great job. We don't have to pay for the road, the food and drinks are for free so we're satisfied. Before him there were always some guys who wanted to do a gig but they didn't want to pay. We cannot afford that because we're normal people.
Peter: (He starts to fool around.) We're poor, yes. We have no money. No, we only need the payment for the road, something to eat and drink and nothing more.
Andy: We work in everyday jobs.
Do all of you work or...
Peter: Yes, of course.
No, I mean if somebody studies or anything. I don't know how old you are so...
Peter: We're all about 30 years old.
Andy: I'm 29, Peter is 29, bass player is 30, Rihard is 29 and the drummer is 24. (He points to each of them while talking.)
Peter: ...but about the shows: we have many more shows in the Baltic states and in our own land. I think that if I had to count them then we had maybe a 100 shows before this tour.
Andy: We have also Folk shows at home.
Peter: As well, yeah. We play Heavy Metal music and Folk music as well.
That's actually one of my questions later on. You were too fast.
Andy: Well, then let's go to the next question.
Are you currently talking to some label about a new deal?
Andy: I started to look for a new label in May/June and I did contact many labels but they always wanted to sign the band without paying money. Many of them answered and we talked to a couple of serious ones but there's nothing so far. We hope that will change after this tour.
Do you have any side-projects besides Skyforger?
Peter: As we already said, now we have some Folk stuff that we play and... Our drummer plays in another Latvian Black band.
Andy: Not Black. Melodic Pagan Metal.
Peter: Ok, ok. But we have a lot of work with our own band so we don't have time for side-projects.
Andy: The bass player Horse - his name is Zirgs and that means horse. (Everyone starts laughing.) He wants to do it seriously and professionally, that is why he doesn't have any side-projects. There is a lot of work to do. We still have many ideas. Second guitarist Rihard also has a side-project but it is more for the future.
Rihard: I like industrial music, Hard Rock, Heavy Metal... I like many styles of music but Skyforger is the main thing.
Andy: He wants to join Industrial and Black Metal.
Rihard: But this is nothing serious.
Andy: And it will be the greatest band in Latvia so... (We all start laughing again.)
Can you tell me something about your future plans?
Peter: Our biggest plan is to get a label.
Andy: And then we'll immediately start working on a new record. Because it takes time. It takes approximately one or two years and it takes time to find new sound and new ideas.
Peter: That is our main thing. Not staying at one place. We're always looking for something new.
Andy: (Translates for Zirgs.) For listeners and for ourselves.
As you already said before you have also played some Folk concerts.
Peter: Yes. These concerts are something different FROM metal shows, you know. Other people come there, older audience.
Andy: If we have a Folk concert in the National Geographic Museum in Riga then we have maybe a 1000 people and there are 10-15 Folk bands playing.
Peter: But Folk music is not our priority. We are based on metal music.
Andy: Our priority is metal because we're Heavy Metal guys.
But when you play Folk music, how do the people see it because of the fact that you're metalheads?
Peter: One thing is that people want to sing with the band and that is great. They hear: "Oh, this is an ancient song," and they sing. They feel good because they can sing it.
Andy: There is also another thing. There are a lot of metal guys who go to Folk concerts and they are slowly starting to get INTO that. This is a great job that we have done. And there is a lot of them, maybe 100 or 200 and they are starting to find out about Folk bands and starting to buy records. I think that's great.
Peter: As I said before many people who like metal music like folk music as well.
You already said before that many people confuse the sign in your logo with swastika even though you have nothing to do with Nazism. But there are supposed to be a lot of Nazi bands (especially) in Slavic parts of ex-Russia. Can you tell me your opinion on that?
Andy: (Translates for Rihard) We're about creation and not about destruction. We're interested in other cultures of different lands and nations.
Did you like it here in Slovenia?
Peter: Yes, of course. This was one of our best shows and one of the best concerts on this tour.
Andy: (Rihard starts to talk in their own language and all I was able to understand out of it was Zlatko Zahovič. Then Andy translates what he said.) Rihard wants to know why the Slovenian metalheads... He said a couple of jokes about Zlatko Zlatkovič... (We all start laughing but Andy doesn't seem to get what we're laughing at. Then Rihard starts shouting Zlatko Zahovič.) ...and he plays very good football. Somebody even said, "fuck you"!
Rihard: Why people don't like him?
Probably because of what happened on the World cup...
Andy: Ah, because he did fuckin' mistakes. He was sent back home. Yeah, yeah, I remember. Fuck you Zlatko Zahovič! (Everyone starts laughing again.)
Any last thoughts?
Peter: We're very glad to be here and to see Slovenian metalheads. We have enjoyed it a lot.