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Interview with Einar Selvik & Ivar Bjørnson

Tbr 3082 Foto Thor Brødreskift

Revealing the story behind the Nordvegen project, Enslaved's Ivar Bjørnson and Wardruna's Einar Selvik share the origins of their collaboration, and the intentions behind their ambitious project.

Ivar Bjørnson is known for having played in the progressive metal band Enslaved for more than 25 years. And Einar Selvik was involved in several well-known metal bands before starting Wardruna, going on to contribute music to the hit TV series Vikings, which has occupied him for the last five years. So understandably, people are going to place them into a category they know - black-clad metal artists. But their commissioned work for Bergen International Festival, Nordvegen and the recent album Hugsjá, are far removed from people’s perceived notion of metal, as they explain.

"We want to encourage people to reflect on themselves as people, and Norway as a nation. It's about getting rid of some prejudices, stereotypical perceptions and shame related to our own story and identity," says Selvik.

Uncovering old treasures

The desire to take us to the past to understand the present, as well as ourselves, according to Selvik, is based on a long-term interest in Norse instruments from another era, which also seem to resonate with modern people."To me, it's about dusting off old treasures in the form of ideas and thoughts that I think are still relevant, and have a right to live. About 15 years ago, I realised that nobody grabbed these themes musically. I would interpret them on their own terms, with the instruments used, languages and sounds," he says. "I came across a ton of historical documentation of old instruments that I immediately realised I had to use in the Wardruna project," he explains.

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As we explored these locations, it became very clear to us that we had to harness the unique identity of each place
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Ivar Bjørnson
Playlist
A musical celebration of the Norse era, and the people and nature of Norway

As part of the 2017 Bergen International Festival, artists Ivar Bjørnson and Einar Selvik traveled the Norwegian fjords with Nordvegen, a musical celebration of the Norse era, and the people and nature of Norway. Re-live the journey with this playlist, curated by the creators...

Not romanticising the past

At the outset, there were few others interested in recreating or building these instruments, and even fewer who fully appreciated them. Some of the instruments Selvik had to build himself, while there were a handful of people who had the knowledge and expertise enough to help him build others.

For the last five years, Selvik has experienced an explosive international interest in the Norse and Scandinavian countries. Today, he travels around the world to festivals and universities, holding lectures and workshops, and continuing to contribute to the world-famous Vikings TV series.

"Interest in the Nordic region is something that metal music has benefited from for many years. I have never tried to make authentic Viking music, or bronze age music. I don’t approach these topics in an antiquarian or romantic way. To me, it’s important that the music and language are relevant today - that the old instruments are presented in an audio landscape that belongs to the present. This is precisely the reason why Wardruna has gained a wide range internationally,” Selvik states.

Back to nature

There are many misconceptions of and prejudices against the past and our story, according to Selvik.

Stereotypical representations of history are nothing new - so I try to do my part to nuance this story. ‘The Viking Age’ is a phrase I don’t really like, because most people look for a bunch of warrior pirates, as they know them from the sagas, and stories loosely based on facts. That perception reflects the activity of a small number of people in a short historical period. In reality, most of those who lived at that time were farmers - women, men and children. My desire is to shine a light on a page of history that many haven’t considered,” he says.

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To me, it’s important that the music and language are relevant today - that the old instruments are presented in an audio landscape that belongs to the present.
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Einar Selvik

A declaration of love to the coast

Skipsleia Nordvegen provided the origin of the name of Norway, and was the route that connected Norway to the world, and vice versa, for 3000 years. Bjørnson and Selvik take us on a journey along this path, and visit four western destinations in a musical declaration of love for Norwegian coastal culture and history. 

The Nordvegen concerts take place in Ullensvang, Os, Bekkjarvik and Moster, and the two musicians have spent a lot of time adapting both words and tones to the four cities' unique local history and identity, from the Stone Age to today. "As we explored these locations, it became very clear to us that we had to harness the unique identity of each place - it was incredibly exciting to work on," says Ivar Bjørnson.

The concerts will be atmospheric and intimate, combining ancient instruments such as ‘bukkehorn’, ‘kraviklyre’ and ‘tagelharpe’, linking Norse tradition to contemporary and modern instruments. "The hope is that people will leave with a new perception, and hopefully new knowledge of the history of their own home," says Selvik.

Bjørnson and Selvik first collaborated in connection with Norway’s Constitution Jubilee in 2014, when they created the album Skuggsjá, which was subsequently released as a record. A second record, Hugsjá, was released in 2018, ahead of Selvik and Bjørnson's 2018 performances of the Nordvegen project.

Interview: Kjersti Jåstad / Translation: Francine Gorman & Daniel Nordgård