For Norwegian songwriter and performer, Einar Selvik, making music is as much about excavation, construction and refinement as it as about melody and rhythm. A composer of epic, culturally rooted songs (some of which earn millions of streams in a matter of months on YouTube), Selvik cares very much about the details. In a way, it’s easy to understand why. If you were to close your eyes and think about the Scandinavian region, what might come to mind? Whatever does, the vision, in all likelihood, won’t offer the historical clarity and precision that it could or maybe should. As an artist, Selvik cares about unearthing the stories history actually told, not their blurry Xeroxes. This concerted, almost academic effort shows up in the affecting music Selvik makes in his popular group, Wardruna, and in the stories the band tells on its new 2021 LP, Kvitravn.
“I felt there are so many misconceptions about our past,” Selvik says. “So many stereotypes have been allowed to live for too long. When I learned about a lot of these things in school, they were put forward in a way that was impossible to take serious. When I [later] discovered this interest on my own, I discovered how complex it is, how many treasures from the past there is that still carry the same relevance, that are truly worth remembering.”
On the face of it, it’s easy to see the cold, wintry, dark influence that the Scandinavian region has on Wardruna’s music. After a few measures, it’s easy to imagine the animal-skin drums made under the Northern Lights. But what Selvik also noticed about the music he studied is that it’s also timeless. It’s rooted in aspects of humanity as much as any specific region. In the same way Nigerian drums move the body to sway, so can and do Norwegian.
“If you go far back enough in time,” he says, “whether looking at mythologies or nature-based traditions or the tonalities and musicology of it all, you see how universal it is. Even though my music has a Norse wrapping around it, the core mechanisms, these traditions, they are global.”
One might not think that music rooted in traditional Nordic mythology and culture would resonate with a large audience, but Wardruna has a large following. Along with streams and YouTube views, Selvik composed the score for the popular television drama, Vikings. There is a large group of people who, in fact, want a connection to an older time, even a more natural feeling. In an age when finance and entertainment seem paramount, Wardruna’s music returns listeners to an era when music wasn’t about commodity. Instead, it was connective tissue.
“I guess my music serves as sort of a bridge for people into that world,” Selvik says. “To feel that connectedness to nature. I think globally what we’re seeing now is that there are so many people longing for some form of connection to our surroundings because we are so removed from it, especially in western society.”
Selvik, who says he’s been around music since he was a small child, began his quest in the art form with drums. He was “obsessed” with them very early and got his first kit around seven years old. His family was at least somewhat musical, so he was encouraged to continue his pursuit. He didn’t find himself interested in playing “other people’s” music and he wanted to write his own, which led him to playing a multitude of instruments as he got older. Selvik loves process. He likes best to paint the picture, so to speak. Once it’s painted, it’s often on to the next endeavor. There is more music to make, much to discover. Selvik started Wardruna in the early 2000s after playing in metal bands and losing his passion for the sound. Wardruna put out its debut record seven years later, in 2009. Now, Kvitravn, the band’s fifth album, leans even more into humanity’s relationship with nature than any other of the band’s prior releases.
“The themes, themselves,” Selvik says, “defined the instruments I used, where I recorded, in what state I was in – cold or hot when I recorded them. It was about anything I could do to get as close as possible to a given theme I’m working with.”
For Selvik, the creative process boiled down to its essence, is about taking something old and creating something new from it. In this same vein, that’s what Wardruna will look to achieve on March 26th when the band performs its official Kvitravn virtual digital release show. The gig will not simply showcase the band standing on stage. Without giving it away, Selvik says there will be a different format. He’s excited for the opportunity to push some boundaries. In the end, it’s yet another chance to make something unique, to paint a fresh picture using the influences and tools borne from the past. What could be better?
“Where I get my kicks,” Selvik says, “is that whole creative process. That’s where I get my biggest rush and what’s most important for me.”
Photo by Kim Ohrling