I have to admit that I am not as familiar with VISIGOTH as I would like to be. So this interview is a way to get to know a bit more. Answers from Leeland Anders Ekdahl ©2018
When the band came into creation what was the main purpose for it?
-Visigoth was started as a project between Jake Rogers and me when we were both still in college in 2009. Jake and I had some history already playing and creating music together in previous bands. Visigoth was different in the sense that when Jake called me up on the phone with the idea of forming a traditional style heavy metal band we both agreed that what we wanted most was to take it as seriously as we could and make the main focus of the band be all about writing the best most memorable songs we were capable of. I would say the main purpose from the very beginning was to hone our songwriting skills and make heavy metal music in the style that we both loved and experiment in finding our own sound in that process. We ended up writing and recording the Vengeance demo and Final Spell EP then the live band and lineup we have today slowly started to form afterwards and we started playing shows locally. If someone were to have asked us at the time we started Visigoth that it would have gone as far as it has we would be completely baffled. We all feel extremely fortunate and grateful to have the opportunity to play for a wider audience than we could have ever hoped for when we were just starting.
How hard is it to come up with a sound that is all yours what bits and pieces from other stuff make it into your sound?
-I think it can be very difficult for a band to find a unique sound that you can call your own, especially when you are first starting out. Part of that difficulty is that there is just so much music being made today, it is incredibly difficult to stand out from so many other bands that are also writing and recording similar music at the same time, especially in heavy metal. When Visigoth first started writing our own songs Jake and I would try to analyze what we like best about other traditional metal and heavy metal bands and incorporate those ideas into the songs we were forming. One of the mainstays we’ve used till now is making sure to write a memorable and catchy chorus that is the centerpiece of the song in every song we are working on. Something that helped us develop a sound that we can call our own is actually to not worry too much about whether an idea or style has already been done before. Of course I am not saying we tried to completely rip off other bands, but rather we tried to be as objective as possible about if what we were writing was actually good or not, instead of whether it sounded unique. In that process we started to find strengths in how Visigoth songs should be written, and utilized them as much as possible till bit by bit our sound came into its own. Finally, i have to say the bits and pieces we pick up from our influences that make it into Visigoth songs is literally endless and it would be futile to try and list them haha. I will address though since I think it lends well to this question, that when we first started Visigoth one of the bands that was inspiring us the most was Grand Magus specifically for me the album Iron Will. This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that we modeled a lot of how Visigoth sounds after them, “low tuned guitars, clean singing, epic feel, mostly mid tempo ect. ect.” we liked all of these elements and incorporated them into our sound as a baseline to start from but we don’t feel like we have to stay restricted to the elements that Grand Magus is known for specifically but we felt that there were elements they had (great guitar riffs, amazing choruses) that we had a good shot at emulating. It was a place for us to start creatively and as time has gone on we’ve let more and more influences and inspirations from other great heavy metal bands come into our songwriting process as well, we don’t bother denying that at all but we also take a lot of care and pride in trying to make good songs first before analyzing too much which influences are being expressed and referenced.
I have no idea what kind of creative process you guys go through but how hard is it to record and release new songs?
-Haha writing and recording new songs is always hard, starting from nothing and ending with a finished recording. The creative process along the way is something that I absolutely relish and love doing though. The songwriting dynamic of the band mostly lies between me coming up with instrumentation and arranging guitars and jake writing vocal lines and lyrics then we take these ideas to band practice where we learn them as a band and adjustments continue to develop from there on. At this point when I am sitting down with my guitar to write new songs for Visigoth (which I already am doing now even before our second album is released) I have all of our past work in my memory so i already know what ideas we’ve done that fans loved (or didn’t love so much) and things that we haven’t tried yet musically that could work, so its easier than when we were starting from the very beginning. Something I never forget though is that our main strength in my opinion is how the vocals carry the songs and make them memorable and exciting to listen to. So when i am coming up with a riff for the verse or intro or chorus I am trying to keep in mind how well they will support the vocals if thats where they should be happening and how fancy guitar work can embellish around the vocal parts kind of like icing on a cake. To be honest sometimes it is grueling work to find an idea or flow that I am excited about or to get out of a rut where everything sounds the same, but persistence can be a great ally in making a breakthrough. Frustration is always better than settling for something mediocre in trying to come up with new songs. My favorite way to write is when Jake and I can sit across from each other in front of the computer and actively bounce ideas off each other and record them to be filled out later. We have a rule that has served us well…when Jake and I are writing in the same room if a riff, or chorus, or song idea isn’t sticking and doesn’t come together in about 10 min its time to move on to something completely new and we’ve found in doing that sometimes a song that we never expected to come out suddenly can come together for us, almost as if we sometimes have to “find” the song that needs to be written next in wherever that etherial realm unwritten songs reside in is.
Today technology allows you to record at home and release your music digitally. But in doing so is there a risk that you release only single songs because that is what is demanded to stay atop and therefore you end up killing the album for example?
-Being able to record your music at home has never been as easy or as prolific as it is today and I think it is both a blessing and a curse for musicians. It is a blessing because with enough drive and willpower you can hone your craft as a musician and record yourself without paying the incredible cost it used to require to make recordings before accessible digital software existed. The curse is what I feel you allude to in this question; that there is now just such a sheer staggering amount of music being put up online on places like band camp and youtube it can be very overwhelming and desensitizing. It seems more difficult than ever to establish any sort of credibility as a band or musician when starting in this environment. I understand what you are talking about that to stay on top of everything that is being released it seems a path that is commonly taken by artists is to constantly release singles in order to stay relevant in the midst of the ocean of other bands and music that are constantly being released but I would argue that the format of releasing albums is not actually being killed and in fact albums are more important a format, especially heavy metal than say an album’s worth of singles over a couple years. I think that being able to write and release a full-length album that does not have too many nor too few songs but can be presented from start to finish as a completed work that can stand on its own is paramount in being noticed and establishing credibility. We kind of get to a point where its the old saying “quality over quantity” sometimes it can beneficial to focus on the latter to get your name out there and visible but at some point if you don’t put in the work to try and reach your highest potential of quality the impact your project or band has on listeners will be significantly less even though demand for more releases and material is increasing.
I for one feel that the change in how people listen to music today, by downloading it and expecting to get it for free, will kill music as we know it. What kind of future is there for music?
-Streaming and downloading of music has definitely changed the way the industry works and in general people’s opinion I think of the value to music. Because of ease of access to anything they want via youtube or spotify people do expect to get music for free and the money that artists and labels made in the past selling recordings basically does not exist anymore. I think where the future of music is these days for bands is absolutely in playing live. The experience of seeing and playing music at a concert or music festival and the sense of immersion and community those bring, is something that a streaming service or digital downloading is inherently unable to replicate and therefore still in as high of a demand as ever. There may be new ways music will be consumed in the future that we have not encountered yet but while the current culture of streaming and instant access exists most musicians cannot expect to make a living simply by releasing recordings alone.
What kind of responses do you get to your music? What has been the thing that has gotten the most attention?
-The thing that has gotten Visigoth the most attention in my opinion was our release of the Revenant King full length album in 2015. Generally we get fairly positive reactions to our music both live and when people listen to the recordings for the first time. I think the reason for this is cause of our focus on honing our songwriting makes listening to our songs more memorable in general. Friends and fans have told us that they either have shown people not necessarily into heavy metal Visigoth and they liked it or that we were their first metal band. We recently had the great privilege to perform last year at Keep It True in 2017 and that alone has probably gotten us more recognition than any other one festival we have had the opportunity to play so far.
We live in a world where there are no real distances between people communicating anymore. What has been the most surprising contact so far?
-There have been many surprising contacts that we’ve made over the past ten years we have been a band, but I can think of a specific example just before we were signed to metal blade that was one of the first. After we released our Final Spell EP and Cruz Del Sur got in contact with us to release a vinyl, one of those copies made its way to ireland and into the hands of Alan Avarill from Primordial who listened to it and reached out to us and metal blade about getting us signed. We were all fans of Primordial long before he contacted us and that feeling of the world of music shrinking and becoming smaller as surreal as it is has only continued for us.
Does playing in a band make you feel like you are a part of a greater community? What has music brought with it that you would have otherwise missed out on?
-The main thing that playing music has brought us is exactly that sense of community and peers with other bands that we have met from touring and playing festivals. Meeting and getting to know the members of other bands like Manilla Road, Ashbury and Eternal Champion has been something that I would never have expected to happen. As well as there to be such a sense of camaraderie especially since Visigoth has been fortunate enough to become a band that plays festivals where the feelings of a greater community of people that love heavy metal is fostered and supported the most.
What is the live scene like for you? Do you feel that playing live helps building a bigger following?
-I feel that playing live and touring do help build a larger following, especially when there is an opportunity to play for large amounts of people that may not have heard Visigoth before. The best setting I think for this are the festivals like Frost and Fire, Keep It True, Pounding Metal, Legions of Metal (previously Ragnarokkr) because Ive found that the bands and fans that attend those events are the same that form the greatest sense of community and that spreads out from there. Touring in and of itself can also be good for promoting Visigoth in the sense that there are fans that cannot always travel out to festivals like Frost and Fire, but there is always a point where playing a multitude of shows could be exchanged for playing 1 or 2 larger metal festivals and the increase in our following would be more or less the same.
What plans do you have for the future?
-My plans for the future of Visigoth are very clear cut and simple. We are going to continue to write and record the best songs we can and not lower our musical integrity in any way. Its my goal personally to promote and perform the new album The Conquerers Oath when it comes out early this next year but also to begin working on a third album as promptly as possible. I would like there to be less of a gap between album releases for Visigoth as we proceed. We can only hope we will continue to have the same opportunities to keep making and performing the music that we are passionate about and we have so much gratitude for the fans and everyone that has supported us to this point, none of this would have been possible otherwise. Thank You!