Founded in 2006, the Finnish death metal act BRYMIR have come a long way since their promise-stirring debut "Breathe Fire to the Sun". The band is now finally ready to release their third studio effort "Wings of Fire" on 8 March 2019 through Ranka Kustannus.
Before their show at Nosturi in December, I caught up with vocalist Viktor Gullichsen to talk more in-depth about the process that goes behind "Wings of Fire". Watch the interview here, or read the complete text below.
Thank you for taking the time today before our show. How are you looking forward to it?
Very much! We were stuck in the studio for months and months and months. So, it's refreshing to come out and actually, see some results. Because when you're locked in the studio, you lose touch of what it actually is like to play to people and see what works live and what doesn't. We are also gonna play some new tracks, one unreleased song. It's interesting to see how it works because then there is still time to change some things around in the studio. I'm totally looking forward to this. It's also a good exercise because I've been sitting down for three months, six to seven days a week. (laughs)
You announced that you are releasing a new single next week. Is that the new song you're playing tonight?
We are playing that one as well. "Ride On, Spirit" comes out on December 5th, so next week already. There's another one, but I'm not gonna disclose any details about that one yes. (laughs)
Your new album is set somewhere in Spring. What can you tell us about the writing process?
Some of the tracks written for this album are much older. They were written before the last album "Slayer of Gods" came out. So, there are three or four songs that are really old. The song that we are playing today, is one of those. I wrote it five years ago, actually almost exactly five years ago. At least the first time we played it. We made several demos of it and did a dozen guitars for that song. It took five years to finish that one song, and for us to play it. The writing process is interesting because it's been a long time to make this record, four years or something. We've been collecting material for it. During this album, all the sources of inspiration came from different places. During the writing process for this record, I graduated from school, I founded companies, I started working, I broke up from a long-term relationship, I fell madly in love again, a friend died, all those kinds of things. All these things together make that there is not one specific source of inspiration. It changed during the process. The newest songs are just about one month old, they came just before we started recording them, and they got inspired by the latest things happening to me. I want to keep Brymir as some kind of a project, or platform where we can express ourselves and get inspired by what we are feeling at the time. It doesn't have to be that we are going to make folk metal, but we can also make for example a science fiction album. We can put them all together if that's what we want. That's music, you know. I hope that we can just do what comes honestly without trying to fit too much into concept albums. That's the interesting part about writing an album, the process is long, but your aesthetic preferences change so much on the way, that you never know what you are going to end up with. Maybe in 20 years, you will have a very specific vision, but I'm very impulsive. When I feel something, I wanna express it straight away. So, the record basically is a now going to be a compilation of emotional states I had during the writing.
You mentioned that you had some personal challenges on the way, but also good things happening. Is this something we can hear back in the sound? In order words, is there going to be a lot of variety in the album?
Yeah, there is going to be a lot of variety. There are songs which are much slower than what we have done before, there are songs that are much faster than what we have done before, songs with fewer keyboards than we have ever done before, and songs with much more keyboards and synthesizers, almost electronic sounds, psychedelic soundscapes. It's going to be really versatile, but still most of the songs are fucking fast and of course, it's Brymir.
Is the video that you are releasing next week going to have a music video?
For the new single not yet no. "Ride On, Spirit" is going to have a lyric video, that one is finished and it's going to come out next week.
The reason why I ask is that since you are working in film, I was wondering if you are also taking care of the music videos?
Just in the concept planning, that's something we all do together. Because I'm a bit more experience in the field, I can also communicate with the director and things like that: Now we have a guy who is going to direct a couple of music videos for us in Winter/Spring time. As much as possible I want him to do the production. There are so many things to do, it's such a busy time, if I have 2 minutes off I spend it with the purpose of recording the record. We are getting closer to the release, all the social media needs to be done before. We have to learn these things. Every single minute I use to arrange so many things, I would love to be more engaged in the video production side, but I don't think there is any time for that, but we have this awesome guy who is going to do a super job.
If you compare the whole process of this album, to the last one, did you have more challenges to record it?
Actually, this one has been very easy. We started recording "Slayer Of Gods" one year before I started to study sound engineering. I had been doing stuff for a couple of years, but I wasn't close to a professional. "Slayer of Gods" was kind of the product that taught me how to make a record, that combined with school is the reason why I'm able to produce albums myself. We did it the hard way. We did all the mistakes you can make, trial and error, we fucked up some things, some things went to shit, or wouldn't work. Now that we did this project, we just had so much less variables. You learn so much everyday, it's never been easy, but the songs have come together really smoothly. So far the recording has been very good, and we have had good results. At least for me, it's the best sound I ever made.
You only released one single so far, "Chasing The Skyline". How have the reactions been?
In general, they've been very good. It's a bit of a different song because there are a lot of synthesizer sounds, and it's a bit more slow than we usually do, okay of course, there are still blast beasts, but it's still a special and interesting song. I've been happy about the reception. I don't think I've been getting many negative comments, at all actually. Well, I don't know... You tell me! (laughs)
Well, I loved it, It's an epic song. I don't know if you're gonna play it live today, but if so I'm looking forward.
Yes, yes, it's coming up!
In general, when we talk about reactions, is that something you take into account, for example what journalists write about songs or records?
I don't think so, not really. The thing is that the process of making "Slayer of Gods" was so painful and so long. The songs from that album were so old, so when it came out we had been working on it for four to five years. We just managed to learn how to do this, so you can't compare these two albums basically. I couldn't listen to "Slayer of Gods" for months, and we had a good reception for that basically. But I don't know. I've never been that much into listening to the audience. I didn't know how to get into it either, now it's easy because you have access to all data and statistics from your new iPhone, Spotify. I don't manipulate the crowd through the music I write. I make songs that I like and I hope that you guys would like them as well. I'm doing my best and that's all I can do. So we only take our own kind of reactions into account, for example what techniques we should use for a more aggressive sound. In that sense, we analyse it ourselves, to see how we can make it easier to express ourselves.
Now that you finished your degree, and you have working experience. how do you look back to the previous album?
It was a fucking mess (laughs). We didn't know how to mic drums properly, or actually we kind of did, it was okay, but we could have done things easier. The way we used to write songs when we were younger is totally different. We used different softwares, different techniques, and the way you write songs is also different. For example, drum fills and riffs. You then made decisions which are not based on the real world, they are based on options available in your software. That's the way we learnt it. I now learnt how to play guitar. I mean I can't play guitar, but I learnt how to use a guitar by playing one note at a time to actually make riffs and melodies. I can make a very final real sounding guitar myself now. I went through this process so that I can write it like metal or rock song, write it guitar first, guitar and drums, and then make arrangements which are actually playable. Because when arrangements are smart, it's going to be a better result. In retrospect, "Slayer of Gods" had too much complex arrangements for our own good, and now the songs are also more complex sounding, but the arrangements are much easier to deal with on a production point of view.
Talking about writing the songs, how do you guys usually work? You are the main composer, right?
For the last few years it's been me alone. It usually starts with the computer, I use some synths or keyboards to write a melody. Usually I build some kind of an intro, and then I add guitar. Then I start milking it from there. That's usually how the snowball goes. After that I have some kind of a draft, which I send to Joona, our guitar player. He gives some feedback, if his reactions is good, I wrote something good, if it's like meh, then it's crap. I trust his judgement, if it's good we decide to work on it together. He comes and plays guitar. Usually it brings a lot more when you get a real guitarist to play the guitar parts instead of everything at once all the time. Then the lyrics either come the same time as the songs, or we do them later. Usually I work with Jarkko on them, or then alone. This next album the lyrics are going to be mostly from me from my life in the past few years. Usually I have to go back to the lyrics so make sure that they match the songs, even if it's lyrics that I wrote for a song like a year ago, I was going through really hard shit, and I had to go back to that, the space I had there. That's why we postponed it for many months, because I knew I had to write this or that song, you don't want to go back to that place, feel that emotion. So, I was just like fuck it, I should have done this straight away. So, usually it goes like that. I program something, by the time I'm programming I don't know what it is going to turn out to be, is it going to be a Brymir song, or is it going to be material for my portfolio in my audio work? Usually, it's heavy metal if I have a good melody, with blast beats. Then I just add lyrics whenever I get inspiration, or if there is something pressing which inspires me to write that particular melody.
Is writing the lyrics of the songs equally as important to you as writing the music?
They're both equally important. I usually get more excited from the music part, that's fun. Lyrics is not as much fun because if you want meaningful lyrics, they usually have very heavy subjects, like talking about a friend's death, or a really painful breakup, guilty feelings, you don't want to go to that place. It takes high motivation to go there, so you could say I enjoy writing the music more. But, when I get into the zone with the lyrics, it's very pleasant to do, especially when you see them both working together perfectly, and they are making the vibe of the songs. That makes you happy.
Do you already have plans for after the album release in March?
We are now gathering allies around us. We've been very lonely for a long time in the music business. We've been doing everything ourselves. Now, finally, we got some really good allies who help out with booking gigs. We just have to see where it goes, hopefully it goes forward. I want to make a next album already. I'm fighting with my own brain because I have so many ideas for new songs. I'm the kind of person who if I write new songs, I can't do anything else. I was mixing the new songs and already thinking about new songs all the time. That's why I forbid myself to write any new music. So, perhaps we can even expect a new album in a couple of years, and hopefully a couple of tours in between. That's the plan.
Joona is nowadays playing guitar in Battle Beast. Is it really tricky for you to schedule around that?
It's tricky. It's really tricky. The last couple of years we had to play with a stand-in guitarist, our friend Antti. He's a great guy and he can do the job very well. That's no problem for either, for Joona nor for Antti. It's just life you know, practical things, rock 'n' roll adult problems, so the speak. But it has been working out so far.
You guys have a label, but you've been doing things independently mostly. Are there any challenges related to that?
Everything is a challenge. You have to learn so much things, all the different areas of the business. You have to manage all the visual content, all the graphics, all the pictures, you need to get those online, you need to learn how to optimise things, how to use social media, how to do marketing, booking gigs, how it works. You have to get to know all the people in the country in all the cities, all the venue managers, you need to get in touch with them, they need to know who you are, just by networking. It's very time-consuming and it's very hard, you just have to study a million different things, and you're still not going to be really good at it, because you're only scratching the surface but you survive just enough to scrape by. It's very demanding, even now, we have a label, we have a guy who helps out with gigs, and we are going to have a social media consultant, we're going to have a friend who is a brand designer, who is going to hep out with the website and album covers, but coordinating all this together to work, that's already like a full-time job. But it doesn't generate any income. Now that we have those pieces together, we need a manager. (laughs)
That all sounds very challenging! When you think about the next five years, what is your goal for this band?
Being financially self-sufficient. I don't necessarily need to make money from it because that's difficult. It's also an interesting time in the music industry with the streaming and new companies rising. There's this kind of indie movement. I don't know how this is going to affect us because if everything becomes a bit easier and better, and especially if you manage to get cultural grants and such, then you can do all those kinds of things. Being self-sufficient, and being able to tour once or twice a year. Continuing with records with the music we love, basically doing this on a bigger scale, but not having to pay yourself sick to reach that state. This is the first time in our history, even though we had a label during the first record, that we actually have support, people who support us and we also get some advantages from the label. Even though we can barely manage to record the album, it's good for my credit card. I can pay my rent. (laughs) It's hardcore, though, it's really hard work and this music is still very extreme, it's very hard to make this into a job, but we'll see how it goes. We're working and we're going to continue working, and in five years we are gonna have a lot more music online, and we probably have toured everywhere.
Talking about touring everywhere. I would say that you guys are already quite big in Finland. How about the rest of the world?
Actually, I'm clueless. I got this Spotify for Artist app now, which gives us statistics. The biggest amount of streams are from Finland, you know. But there are also streams in the US, Sweden, that's all I know. At some point we had a lot of South American Facebook profiles liking our posts, so there must be a fan base there. I don't know. I'm just getting into this system of looking at data and analysing our success. So, maybe I can answer your question better in three months, when I figured everything out. I don't really have a clue at the moment, because we haven't played abroad, we have played only one gig in Slovenia, and then there has been a Japanese tour. The Japanese tour was crazy because there were more people there who knew us than we expected. That was a very nice surprise. Otherwise, I don't know, we have to get on tour and see it for ourselves.
Are there any plans in the making for an international tour?
We really hope to get a tour for the autumn, so a bit less than a year from now. The festival season is coming, and spring time is coming very soon. So, I don't think we have the possibility to scrape together a tour for the Spring, but if we get offered a good support slot for a tour after the festival season, we will go for sure. I think it's going to be possible to arrange a European tour, even if we don't get a support slot. Then at least we can arrange some sort of short version of a tour in Europe as a headline tour, in smaller venues, and it of course will be an experience to see if people will show up.
Talking about smaller venues... You have played on quite many stages within Finland. What is your ideal venue to play at?
Well, this one is pretty nice. Nosturi. Of course, we could never headline here, it's too big. But it doesn't really matter what the place is like, the stage, I don't give a shit basically, as long as we have fun together, we just come to rock, no matter what kind of stage, we'll rock the fuck out of it anyway. That's all I can say. (laughs)
Alright, our time is running out here! We've been talking for about half an hour now. Briefly for next year, what are your plans the upcoming album cycle?
So, the plans that are set... The album is finished, we will make a couple of music videos, release the album, release the music videos, play our Finnish tour. Hopefully, we get some festival slots, and then we are going to tour for the autumn. That's the plan basically, around May we are going on a Finnish tour, up until there everything is happening for sure. So the album is going to be finished, the album is going to be out, we are going to make a couple of music videos, a tour in Finland, and some festival shows. That's all we know for sure. The rest is just fingers crossed.
Thank you so much for your time! Any last comments for the readers?
Stay metal, support the bands you like, get some T-shirts, come to gigs, stay engaged, show support, thank you!