I live in Sweden and this is the first I’ve heard of Scythia. Have you not promoted the band that very well outside of Canada?
-That’s the reality of being an independent band that’s just getting started. We are looking to change this with more international publicist and an international tour in the works for early 2012. So far, we’ve been focused on touring Canada but our eyes are set upon new horizons.
Pagan, epic, folk metal is just a blur to me. All it makes me think of is Bathory. What is folk metal to you?
-To be honest, I didn’t even know about Folk metal when I started writing songs for Scythia back in 2007. I’ve heard Bathory and the plethora of other black metal, epic metal, etc. bands but this stuff really stands apart – almost as a different genre. In fact ‘Folk’ is not even the best word to describe it, but it’s what our listeners associate with our band so we let them ‘package our sound’ in order to give us a clear starting point for marketing and publicizing.
-But the real parallels that Scythia has with folk metal is the use of classical/folk instruments (cello, oboe, flute, trumpet, harpsichord and fiddle) throughout, melodies ranging from simple folk melodies to complex neoclassical arrangements, storytelling over the course of an entire album and the use of traditional metal elements (ie double kick, power chords, shredding, death vocals and clean vocals). The folk element gives depth and dynamics, the metal brings power and intensity.
From what I understand the whole folk metal sub-genre has exploded in the last couple of years, especially in Finland it seems. How do you go about differing from all the Turisas and Ensiferums of the World?
-Our first album, “…Of War” was a bit of a learning process with composition and layering. In the end, we just wanted to get our initial ideas down on record. So, I’ll be the first to admit that not all the content may have been groundbreaking or different from other folk metal bands.
-However, our upcoming album, “…Of Exile” stands apart from other folk/epic metal. First off, this record is more like a heavy version of Jethro Tull than it is like Ensiferum. There is a great deal of dynamic range in our music. We create a soundscape with a large palette of sounds ranging from ambient classical interludes, progressive rock grooves, to varying degrees of metal. The trick we employ is to use the metal elements sparingly and in good taste so that they really have a lot of impact when they kick in. Not to mention that there is a good deal of prog thrown in the mix to keep the listeners on their toes
-Another important aspect is achieving our sound was in the production. Our producer, Shaun Thingvold (Strapping Young Lad, Lamb of God, Darkest Hour) felt strongly about capturing a natural sound as opposed to a produced sound. Therefore, we didn’t edit all the instruments perfectly to a grid or use vocal tuning software. We avoided the temptation to get a perfect sound with fixing every little detail on the record and instead worked on making it sound great without killing the vibe. That’s why people listen to the record and are able to say “this part SOUNDS like a Scythia part!” because they are picking up on the subtleties in the groove, imperfect harmonies, etc. that define our band. And the album was made to preserve all these things as best as possible.
As a live band, how important is it to you that you don’t just go on stage in your street wear but in fact treat the crowd to a visual smorgasbord?
-Very! We just finished that transition not too long ago. For our type of music, we need to convince the listener. If we are singing and playing about ancient battles and magic we have to be convincing in our appearance or else we will ruin the novelty and come off as more of a jest.
-Our oboe player, Morgan, is good friends with Diggers Leather who hand makes leather armor for such bands as Behemoth, Tyr and Dimmu Borgir. We got him to forge some leather for Scythia that incorporates our band’s particular imagery. Though, not all the members of the band sport his leather, everyone dresses up and as a result, we look cohesive… We look like a band of ancient warriors and rogues when we get on stage and continue to play the role with our performance and banter as well.
Your band name is not just some random word you’ve picked. There’s a history to the name. Can you give us some insight into that history?
-There is… The entire concept of this band was inspired by an unnamed Russian painting of bearded warriors riding bears through a snowy forest. I tried to find a region, era or empire that these warriors could belong to and I realized that these were probably mythological warriors, they were probably of Slavic or Nordic descent and that because there was no supporting information I would probably have to write the story for them.
-Thus, the band gathered and brainstormed a name. We came up with a ton of medieval and metal sounding names but none really stuck. Terry, our bassist, suggested Scythia as we already had a song written about the bear riders of Scythia (from the painting). We ended up choosing Scythia as it was the best summary for our music. It described an empire that little is known about but could have housed these fierce bear riders, it described a part of the world where many of our music’s melodies come from (ie. gypsy, middle-eastern sounding) and on a personal note it is also the land of my ancestors so I feel a particular connection.
Given the history of the band name I was wondering if the fact that Canada don’t really have any great history to tell like Russia or Sweden, have it had any repercussions on the mentality of the Canadians in that they feel like third rate cousins to their European brethren?
-Canada does have a history. But the history doesn’t give me the inspiration to dedicate an entire music band towards. I’m much more intrigued with the ancient and medieval battles of Europe than I am about the colonization of Canada. Also, I think it would better suited for an indigenous Canadian to try an represent their history through musical expression.
Your first album was called “…Of War” and the new one will be called “…Of exile”. Do I detect a concept or a red line?
Yes. We are doing all of our albums like this. Because our take on folk metal is telling great tales. These tales need a great tome to contain them and thus in the spirit of venerable books we have decided to draw a connection between our records in that way.
Even though I’m a Swede I used to read The Rocket from Seattle. In it the Vancouver area featured frequently as a music town. Has the metal scene in Seattle had any impact on the Vancouver metal scene?
-Not since the 90’s. The grunge movement really had an effect on music here back then and there’s still a few bands kicking around that have that sound. From the late 90’s until a few years ago, the Vancouver metal scene was an exclusively thrash and grind metal scene. Now there’s a prevalence of really high-quality tech metal bands and a handful of bands that are exploring uncharted territory.
-I’d say if an American city were to influence Vancouver it would be San Francisco with the ‘Bay-Area’ Thrash.
As a metal band do you feel that you’re a part of a greater worldwide community of metalheads?
-Definitely. Metal is renowned for being a genre with a cult following. Therefore, we often get emails from people in Russia, Australia, Serbia, France, Romania, etc. expressing gratitude or fraternal love for the fact we are doing something metal. It’s a great feeling to know that with greater outreach and promotion, we can interact with more people around the globe. In turn, we know we have couches to crash on if we ever make it to tour in these places.
With a new album in the making how will you turn every metalhead in the world around to Scythia?
-Ha! That’s quite a feat. It definitely won’t be through being the most brutal metal band.
-Doing what we do isn’t a numbers game. We aren’t trying to win over every single metalhead because we know that our particular sound is refreshing to some and strange to others. We are a departure from the conventional two guitars, bass, drums setup and instead present an alternative with vocal harmonies, an oboe, filmscore-like keyboards, and compositions with great dynamic range.
-In the end, we plan on making our mark as a band worthy of a great following from around the globe. But it won’t necessarily be just metalheads and this is because we draw influences from progressive rock and classical music in addition to metal.