Mike Seidel (bass), Bram Trommelen (drums), Zino van Leerdam (vox / orchestrations) and Michael van Eck (guitars) are the four spellbinders behind the Dutch Pagan Folk Metal band VANAHEIM.
Formed in 2015, the quartet has already released “The House Spirit” (2017), a self produced narrative EP and presently, with a new and stable line-up, a vibrant approach on raw and melodic pagan rhythms, VANAHEIM are working on their first full album, scheduled for this year.
As usual, a huge *Thank You* to the band for their time, openness and interest! Enjoy a relaxed, laid back chat with VANAHEIM the musicians and the actual people behind the onstage persona.
MAtW – Greetings and welcome on Metal Around the World. How is everything in
Hey Cristina! Thank you! Everything is going fine! We are working very hard on our upcoming debut album, and we have some great shows ahead of us!
MAtW – You are currently working on your first full album. At what stage are
you right now?
Yes that’s right. Right now we have the songs almost finished, and we are working them out. Writing the song is part one for us, but orchestrating them is another part I have to spend a lot of time to. We want to make something epic, and big. We have spent a lot of time in this record already, and we want it to be on a much higher level then our EP. With our EP we had less resources, and a lot less time. Right now we have more time to work out details, originality and authenticity of the songs. Th album is in a pre-production phase right now, which means that we will finish the instrumental parts, I will finish the orchestral parts, and we will introduce the lyrics.
MAtW – What is the creative process like? Do you compose together or separately?
Most songs start of with an orchestral- or instrumental folk part, or with a killer riff which sets an immediate atmosphere of a song. This might become the chorus, or the verse, or whatever. Then we decide which part works, which parts we throw away, and which parts are a good combination. We do this all at home, and we send each other material through Facebook. We meet on Skype to talk about difficulties.
Then we try to bring some structure in the parts we have, and soon after that Michael comes to my house to write some guitar parts. The days Michael visited me have been very effective, because within one or two days we write almost all guitar parts, which make the weak points in a song clearer. When Michael goes home I spend some time in writing a basic orchestral track, which I work out later. I also might extend or edit some parts.
Mike often helps with writing choirs, riffs, and decisions about what to do with the orchestrals. Eventually in a later phase he writes his bass parts. Bram is very busy with his day job, but plays a very, very important role. Because he hears the songs often a bit later in the process, which causes that he can listen to the songs with a “fresh
ear”. He points out some structural problems, or parts which could improve. He also re-writes the impossible drum parts which sometimes occur during the writing process.
MAtW – You guys said that this album will be different than “The House Spirit”. What will make this difference?
There are a couple of differences. First of all, we have a different line-up. This will be the first time Michael appears on the record, and I’m very happy when I hear the guitar work he adds to the songs. For the EP I also wrote some guitar parts with Midi notes, and this is not very effective, nor nice. Another big difference is that now we take our
time, we can spend time to make it how we really want. I am trying my best to write big orchestrations, and we also spend some time in making something unique.
So, shortly: epic new guitar work, epic orchestral parts, more unique. I also want to try to bring my accordion to the live shows. To be able to do that I have to write more accordion lines. If I only write one accordion line, Michael won’t allow me to take it with me in the car haha.
The songs will also be more melodic, because we enjoy seeing people sing with us. We also want to experiment more with our own vocals! And the overall production of the album will be a lot better then the EP. The pre-production of the album sounds already bigger then the EP haha.
MAtW – As said before, each song could be a visual, film like standalone piece. Could you share with us what the lyrics will be focused on the new album?
Yes that is right. The visual part for me personally takes place in the writing process. When I write some bombastic horn parts, I want to imagine a kind of movie scene in my head. Then I can change the feel, or the atmosphere to the movie I have in my head. See it as painting a big monster. Before you start painting, you will imagine what it might look like. Only by imagining the creature, you can already imagine which colours you should buy. Only in my case the colours are the orchestral instruments. We will keep the lyrical themes secret for a little longer. We want to surprise people with what is coming.
MAtW – Will you guys handle the overall recording process like the last time?
No definitely not (laughs). I must say that I am still proud on everyone, that we got the EP to sound how it sounds. This was home recording to the max, and Mike’s mixing and mastering skills. We recorded the drums in a rehearsal room in Germany; the guitars were recorded by James Chancé in Paris and re-amped at a friend of Mike in Germany. The orchestrals were all made at my house and Mike and I recorded our vocals at home.
We did make a pre-production like we do now, only this time we will take it to the next level by going to a studio, and asking help of an engineer.
MAtW – What about the artwork?
We will decide this later, when the songs are in a more finished phase.We don’t know this yet!
MAtW – Looking back at your last material, what does each of you feel has
matured and become more complex? (with regards to creating music, improvising,
organizing skills etc.)
Zino: I am definitely proud of how the orchestrals are turning out for this record. Something else I’m really excited about is that it sounds like something new, something I haven’t heard before, and I can’t wait to bring this live. I also feel like the whole band is more together for this record, and everyone leaves a very personal mark on it. Working
with these guys is fantastic.
Mike: I also like that the new songs had a different approach in the writing process. To me they feel more complex but with a good thought behind it. It really sounds like the next level of Vanaheim. Speaking for myself, I can say that I have much more freedom in creating the bass lines. The songs offer a wider space for me which I can fill out with a creative bass playing.
Bram: Since the EP we really grew as a band in many ways. We organized ourselves and formed a very close team, especially for playing live since the EP came out. We have changed our setup and gear, both technical and cosmetic, to elevate the quality of our live performance. It felt that the responses to our show significantly changed in a very
positive way. Now we are focusing on achieving the same result with the upcoming album that we are working on, which is a great challenge for us all, in different ways.
Michael: I was not in the band when the EP got recorded so of course I had no influence on the writing process but now I do. I try to keep everything logical, groovy and simple. The music is much more complex and diverse than the EP. We’re trying to really tell a story and the music is made especially to bring this story to life. It’s more bombastic/epic and heavy than the EP. I write all the guitars together with Zino so we can imagine the story in our heads. I feel that this album is more mature and will bring Vanaheim to a whole new level.
MAtW – Tell me one Pagan thing about yourselves 🙂
Zino: I look like a caveman when I wake up.
Mike: I am and I think we all are very interested in folklore and stories behind mythical creatures or events.
MAtW – How do you perceive the Dutch metal scene from the inside?
I think the Netherlands can be proud of its metal scene. We have a lot nice venues, a lot of people who still attend to concerts, people still buy merchandise, and we are obviously proud of some big metal names from our country. Within Temptation, Gorefest, Epica, Heidevolk, and don’t forget our friends of Baldrs Draumar, who are also about to drop a promising album. Besides the Dutch metal scene, we also play a lot in Belgium, and we always feel very close to the bands we have played with there so far as well. For example Lemuria and Ithilien have been super awesome bands to play with.
MAtW – How much do you “control” a musical idea? Do you let inspiration guide
you or direct it towards something specific?
It differs per song. It’s also important to sometimes say “NO” to an idea. If you would work out every spontaneous idea in your head, well, you might as well start looking where you want to be buried (laughs). It’s all about making decisions, and selecting what works. Sometimes you might make a walk in the forest, or you go to a party (could be
anything) and something you do, see or hear turns into an idea. I used to make small recordings, but nowadays I’m more like, I know it’s worth to work it out when I still remember it when I get home. That immediately cancels 70% of the bad ideas (laughs).
I stopped counting how many times I worked out some stupid ideas, and after working on it all day, I look myself in the eyes, headshaking in the mirror, while it is playing in the background. I think that is also one of the reasons why the next album is so much catchier then the EP.
MAtW – I know most of you have or have been in side projects as well as have other online content available. As musicians, you are technical and seem disciplined. What is your rehearsal and practice regime?
The writing process of the album keeps my writing, singing and keyboard skills where it is supposed to be. I don’t know how that works for the others. We do rehearsal before every show. Because we live far away from each other we don’t have the luxury to rehearse every week. When the album is done, we will rehearse a bit more than usual of course, to make sure it gets in our system, and that we can bring the album tight, and powerful!
MAtW – Is there another common hobby you guys have and share – outside of music, of course!
Zino: I think we all share the passion for smelly cheese, and just making some fun, either at home, on the road or at a gig.
MAtW – Can each of you describe yourselves with a good and a bad feature? :p
Zino: Something I could improve is working more organized, which will improve the writing process, definitely in speed. A good feature is that I know how to bring all the material together, and make something epic out of it.
Mike: A good feature would be that I can almost find a continuative part if we are missing something in a song. I take my bassg uitar and within a short time I come up with a few options. (Doesn’t have to say that we also take these parts, but they might be an inspiration for something else). A bad feature of me is that I am very picky about my bass playing. I often get bad feelings about one or two mistakes I did during the show. Sometimes it is better to take it easy and be happier in the end. 😉
Bram: My negative is definitely that I don’t have enough time to spend on the band. My positive is that I can still play the song, when I do not practice (XD)
Michael: Something I could improve is the contact I have with fans, I tend to not do that very well and I am pretty shy when it comes to contact with strangers after a gig. A good feature? I can cut through the bullshit really good. The band sometimes tend to go into the smallest details and that’s not really necessary and takes a lot of time. If it happens I come in and put an end to the bullshit =D
MAtW – Any expectations for the live fests ahead?
We will play at the Warhorns Festival in the UK in the end of August and we expect that it will be a great party!
MAtW- What are some good memories you will always remember from recording
this album or since you formed?
Zino: For me there are so many good memories. Every gig and every journey spend with the guys of Vanaheim has an own story. For example meeting all the band members for the first time, and playing our first gigs together! Also the tour together with Grimner in 2018 was fantastic. We played at the Ragnarok festival in Lichtenfels, and at the Durbuy Rock Festival in Belgium. That was just great, and it went by way to fast! Also playing the Dutch tour with Grimner for the first time was really cool! But of course other great gigs with for example Skiltron, Heidevolk and Equilibrium are things I am super proud of, and which I will never forget! Things I will always remember about this album is that I have spend so much time in it. I am really happy that we took our time this time, and see how far we can take it! I learned a lot new orchestration skills thanks to orchestrating this album! I think the biggest memories are still to come! I am looking forward to the release, our new look, and of course, the new shows which will come!
Michael: Every second I work on the album with the guys is a blessing to me. My old band Purest of Pain really took all the fun out of music for me for the last 2 years and I was afraid I would not enjoy making music anymore. Since I joined Vanaheim music has been one big party for me.
Mike: Basically everything I experience with Vanaheim is amazing. I hope that I will still remember everything we have done so far when I am old and doddery haha. With these guys I have so much fun every time we see each other. Without Vanaheim I maybe would have never had the chance to play at amazing Festivals or in small clubs all around Europe. So that basically means that I will always remember the tours we have done together. Whether they are very small weekend tours or for a couple of more days.
MAtW – Will the lyrics be in English? Why so?
Zino: Chicken soup is the best, definitely when my grandmother made it. She uses only the finest ingredients. She always gets nervous when I ask her about the secret ingredient, after which she changes the subject to something more important then chicken soup.
MAtW – Are you guys multi instrumentalists?
Zino: Key instruments like piano, keyboard and accordion are my main instruments. Besides that I play didgeridoo, I can get sound out of a balalaika, but I think that is where I reach the point I can’t say I really “play” more instruments.
Michael: I’m not really a multi-instrumentalist in that I master every instrument but when I know how to get sound out of a instrument I can probably make music with it. Especially stringed instruments. For the new album we will be using a lot of strange and medieval/old instruments. =)
Mike: No, I wouldn’t describe myself as a multi instrumentalist. I only play bass guitar. Recently I also started playing Kantele and Dulcimer because I really love how they sound.
MAtW – How would you describe a live Vanaheim show for someone that has not
seen you yet?
Zino: A Vanaheim show is energetic, powerful, and there is a lot of place to dance and mosh. The pounding drums, the heavy guitar and bass are supported by orchestral epicness. Everything combined with folk elements from tales of yore, and the vocals which differ from high to low grunts, will make you move whether you want it or not! The new album promises a lot new interesting stuff though. New stage decorations, more “singing along”, and I think the overall experience will be a lot better!
Michael: A bunch of energetic painted idiots that want to party and bring the folk.
MAtW – What was your first contact with an instrument and first steps towards
Zino: My grandfather, my father’s father, played accordion and keyboard/organ from a very young age as well. When I was still a very young kid he spent time with me together behind his instruments. He played me songs, and he also let me try to play on his keyboard. I remember that I got one of the old keyboards of my grandfather one day, and when I was a few years older my grandparents bought me a small accordion. Everything after that is black hahah.
Mike: After I discovered Marco Hietala and Nightwish for me, I wanted to start playing bass guitar. Some months later I finally got my first bass guitar as a Christmas present. From there on I played in four different bands before I joined Vanaheim.
Michael: I started playing the guitar because a classmate told me he wanted to start a band and he needed a guitar player. So I offered to learn and play the guitar. (It was a Glam Metal band with spandex, leather jackets and big hair). I joined Vanaheim because I heard they were looking for a guitar player and my previous band Purest of Pain was not doing a lot.
MAtW – If each of you could play/sing with a musician who would that be?
Zino: Devin Townsend
Michael: Very difficult question but I would probably play guitar with either Michael Romeo of Symphony X or Michael Keene of The Faceless. And sing a song? No I sound like a dying giraffe.
Mike: That would definitely be Marco Hietala. He is the reason that I started playing bass guitar and making music in general.
MAtW – Are you nervous before live shows?
Zino: Depends. The size of a show matters of course. Then there is more pressure on the fact that everything HAS to go well! Since Michael joined the band I am a lot less nervous because he helps a lot with the technical stuff behind the scenes for a live show. We definitely stepped up our games concerning some important gear a band like us really needs. And because we play a little longer now we get more confident. I know I can completely trust my band members, so there is not a lot to worry about!
Michael: It may sound stupid but no, I never get nervous and that’s because I trust my band. Everyone in Vanaheim is super skilled and I can trust them with everything I have. I never have to worry something will go wrong or that when something goes wrong we will just make a small joke about it and continue with the set.
Mike: No not really nervous but when our intro kicks in and we walk on stage, I get really excited. I think it is a sign for my body to get ready and to fully concentrate on the show.
MAtW – Do you have any individual pre-show habits?
Zino: I do warming-up exercises. For my body, and for my vocal chords. I need a warming up to give the full 100%, and still feel great for 10 other gigs after the show.
Michael: Nope not really.
Mike: I always try to drink and eat enough before the show to stay hydrated and full of energy. Like Zino I also try to warm up a bit with some stretches or to exercise my fingers. Then I don’t have to go from 0% to 100% when the show starts.
MAtW – When playing a fest do you just have fun while the other bands are playing or do you tend to listen and ‘study’?
Zino: When we play at a festival we have some things we have to do of course. We have a whole schedule to follow, so it is a little different then when you just go to a festival as a visitor. But most of the time we have a lot of time in between and we enjoy all the bands there. We love to talk and have fun with the people we meet around where we play!
Mike: I always try to see the other bands because nothing is better then a good live show. First of all it is interesting to discover new bands and I always learn from watching or hearing other musicians on stage. A live show is so much more than only playing your instrument.
Michael: I try to just relax a bit if I’m tired or just sit in the back of the venue and listen to the band.
MAtW – Time for the last question, the RANDOM question: If you (all) could dis-invent one thing, what would that be? (if not obvious, why)
Michael: CONDOMS why?! Those things are made by Satan. We all know nobody likes
them but that they are mandatory and you really need them in most situations, but that doesn’t mean they don’t suck.
Zino: Nuclear weapons.
Mike: Article 13
MAtW – Thank you so much for taking the time to do this fun, friendly and elaborate interview. Cannot wait for the album to be out! If there is anything else that you would like to say to your fans, please do!
Zino: Absolutely no problem, we enjoyed the interview, and you made us think about a couple of things which we don’t get asked often! We hope many people will read it and get to know us in a more personal way. Thanks a lot for that as well!
What I would like to tell our fans is that they should really keep an eye on our page for new announcements in the coming months. The album will be unique in a couple of ways, and we cannot wait to hit the stages. We hope to get aboard of some bigger festivals in Europe this and next year, and we will need the new album for that!