The Deep Tranquil Magic Of The Sea

Story online since:  22.03.2011 / 22:08:07

You all know there exist artists whose bewitching multi-layered music shows no obvious traces in metal, and nevertheless we still feel obliged to present those specific wonder(wo)men to a curious readership like you. That is the case as well with PHAEDRA, the artistic alter ego of Ingvild Langgård, who just released her beautifully dark and spellbinding concept album on "The Sea". So we invite you to meet this mysterious lady who has to offer a lot under the surface of the now harmlessly small seeming waves which roll against you inner ear – they might soon turn bigger than you ever dared to dream!

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Hello! You recently released your wonderful, dreamlike debut album about "The Sea", and I guess you surprised quite a lot of people with that one. Did you even manage to surprise yourself or was it just the realization of a long-kept vision – or asking you the other way round: how the hell could you come up with such an intense and breathtaking album?

Hi! And thanks - I'm glad you like the album. It's been a major work for me, and it's taken quite a long time and a lot of efforts to make it, and also, it's the first time I've made an album, so yes, I guess I surprised myself a bit... But these songs have been working their way in my head for some years even before the album came out, so this is definitely a longterm vision made real. When I started out, I didn't know that it would become precisely "The Sea", but I knew it would turn out a cycle of songs that would belong together, both musically and lyrically.

The album was recorded at different locations, yet it sounds really intimate and homelike, just as if the recordings were quite relaxed. How long have you worked upon "The Sea” until you dared to start with the definite recordings for the album?

Some of the songs have stayed with me for a long time, and some were written just before we started the recording. My co-producer, Frode Jacobsen, a Norwegian musician and producer (Madrugada, Kitchie Kitchie Ki-Me-O), saw me playing a concert, and initiated a collaboration, about two years ago. By then I had home made demo versions of all the songs, and we spent some time figuring out how we wanted to do the recording session. In the end we decided the old fashioned way of a live recording would suit the songs the best - wanting to keep the nerve and presence from the demos. We tried our different acoustic rooms, and ended up with a warm sounding, wooden church room. Due to outside noise, we ended up recording mostly during nighttime, which I guess also added some atmosphere to the recordings... We spent four nights there, just me, Frode, and Thora who sings the backing vocals, recording all the songs except one. "Death Will Come" is built upon my initial demo recording, keeping some original takes. Whatever new recordings we tried, the original sounded more magical, so we kept it. Then the additonal arrangements has been recorded here and there over the past two years - there's no good reason why it took that long...

Listening to your album childhood memories turn up inside of me, remembering days at the sea when it was still just a great wordless mystery to me, fascinatingly beautiful and somehow eldritch at once. Do you live close to the shore and what associations and remembrances inspired the songs?

In fact I grew up by the sea and I still live close to the shore. I'm definitely drawn to the ocean in many ways, and I always feel trapped if I'm too long in inland areas... So the sea has always been important to me, like an old time friend, as well as a mystery, and a danger. In Norway a lot of people used to work as fishermen, and a lot died in sea storms, and that is called "to stay at sea", which sounds quite beautiful, despite the horror of it. Everybody knows someone who has drowned. There's also been times that I dreamed about water, oceans, drowning, diving and swimming, so much that I couldn't avoid it as a theme for my work. I looked it up in a book about dream interpretation and it's supposed to mean you're actually dealing with something subconcious... Which is not so bad, in fact, as an over all metaphor for this album that's quite on the spot. Other inspirations have been mythological stories and characters, such as Odysseus and the sirens, and the norse sea giant Ran, which means "robbery", lighting up the bottom of the ocean with pure gold, and her eight dauthers, the waves. And I'm still not quite done with the sea, there are more watery songs to come!

If I glance at your promo photo, I must notice that it captures exactly the aforementioned ambivalent mood: you look beautiful, yet scary, especially with that crow on your head – like a bewitching figure arisen from a gloomy tale. Do you enjoy playing with such motives and blurring your "normal” appearance?

Well, thanks! I wanted to encapture something else than just me in those pictures. I have a background in visual art, so working conceptionally with the character, as in the photos, comes quite natural. In a strange way I see Phaedra as sort of a character of her own, that is partly me, partly whatever musical constellation I'm working with, and partly something more, both the narrator of the songs, and a mythological creature, hundreds of years old... I see her as quite dark and gloomy, although the name translates to something as "to shine a light on". The raven headdress was perfect - beautiful and dark, and it relates to the songs, and the idea of turning into a bird. My favourite picture is a black double exposure, where the face is transformed so it looks almost like an animal. That's really Phaedra to me. And of course it's great fun to work like that! There will be more such sessions.

The press info says that "’The Sea’ is the first album in a trilogy that constitutes a lyrical and musical cycle, fragments of homegrown mythology, physical and spiritual metamorphosis, death, the other side and losing your soul”. Can you be so kind to explain that a bit deeper? What is for example your homegrown mythology?

Yes, after a while writing these songs, and quite a few more songs that could not fit into this first album, I realized they had a certain inner relation, they were different threads of stories, dealing with themes such as losing something; the heart or the soul, dying, the afterlife. And as I've always been quite into mythology, folk music and stories, and even studied it for some years, what fascinated me the most is the idea that the soul is, first of all, something that exists in its own way with or without the body, and even, that it can be traded, lost, forgotten or sold. I guess the "phaedric" homegrown mythology is based on bits and pieces from different traditions, such as the faustian black dog, the devil as the antagonist, shamanist views of turning into other physical shapes, like animals or birds, travelling through the earth or the sea, the dismemberment of the body, as with Osiris spread all over the land... all these images of course saying something of what it is to be a human being, to struggle, transform, and grow. And some themes turned out a bit different here than in their original form, like the black dog - although frightening I think he might actually come with something good. I must add that the full cycle of this homegrown mythology is not yet revealed, and I will explore it further on the next two albums.

You’ll probably agree that we live in a time of manifold dangers to loose our souls. Will the following parts of the Phaedra trilogy thus include the option of rescuing your / my / our soul(s) as well?

I think there's many ways to loose one's soul, yes... And well, I hope I can come up with some options by the end of the trilogy! But as the next album, as far as it's come now, will be entitled "The Night", there's no immediate answers yet... except the shadows of the woods, that is. All I can say is there will be a continued travel, some strange encounters, some nightly visions, and some different narrators will have their say.

It seems as if you’re quite busy these days: the album was released late January, you gave your first concerts a few days later and now you already work on music for a dance performance called "The Orchard Ballads” – you won’t die from boredom for sure?

That is true, the last six months have been extremely hectic - but in a good way! With "The Orchard Ballads" I've been working with Norwegian choreographer Ingri Fiksdal, scenographer Signe Becker, and light designer Tobias Leira, resulting in a strange, somewhat dark piece that in many ways mirrors what I do with Phaedra. It's like a mixture of concert, dance performance, and art installation, really. In fact the piece originated from one of my not yet released songs, called "The Orchard", which is almost a folk tale in itself. The piece presents some new songs that I hope to include on the next album, some more folky songs, based on vocal and folk harp, and beware, even some 80s pop inspired stuff... The piece has been really well received in Norway so far, and will continue touring this spring - we're hoping to present it in Germany and France later on. We're also working on a concert version of the show, so future Phaedra concerts might include quite a stage show...

I wouldn’t be surprised at all if quite some people from the more open-minded spectre of the metal scene would love your music since with its atmosphere, its depth and the mysterious / mythological background, it offers some attractive features for those listeners as well. What are your personal experiences concerning this topic and is it true that in Norway musicians easily help and respect each other regardless of styles as long the music is of a certain quality?

It would be great if my music would appeal to metal listeners too, and I believe it could, despite it being quite a different genre. Also I grew up with the emerging Norwegian black metal scene, I used to listen a lot to early records of for instance Mayhem, Darkthrone or Emperor, so that is back there in my musical history. To me a lot of metal music relates somehow to classical music, with intricate, layered compositions, and I guess metal listeners will appreciate music that delves beneath the surface, somehow. And yes, I do think Norwegian musicians are quite respectful and open to each other's work. At least I've met a lot of support from more established musicians, which has been really warming and helpful.

What plans do you have to spellbind people outside Norway with concert performances?

Well, the album was just released internationally, and the reviews so far have been great, which is a thrill! So I hope I will have the chance to play outside Norway some time soon. In the meantime there's a few Norwegian festivals this summer, and perhaps some touring with "The Orchard Ballads".

Thank you very much, Ingvild, for taking the time to answer my questions and for enriching my life with such a haunting interpretation of the sea! I wish you best of luck for your endeavours and always a rubber boat at hand! :-)

Well, thank you! It's been great fun answering your questions. Keep up the good work!

Thor Joakimsson

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