How did you get into folk metal and what bands influenced you?
Draug: One of the first more extreme metal bands I got into was Amon Amarth when I was in high school. Before that I was put off by a lot of the more extreme music, but the Viking/mythological elements, which I've had an interest in since I was a kid, gave the music a whole new light and pulled me in. Then through searching I came across folk metal and got into bands like Finntroll, Turisas, Korpiklaani, Heidevolk, etc. Obviously bands like that were big influences from the beginning. A lot of my friends saw it as a novelty thing or a gimmick but to me it made perfect sense. Folk metal then ended up being my gateway drug to other avenues, and myself and the others have a wide array of other big influences, but the big European folk metal bands were certainly the biggest of the influences from the start and spurred us to create Winterhymn.
How did Winterhymn come together?
Draug: I was a freshman in college and during the first semester I met my friend Austin, later Ulfr. After one of our classes we both agreed that something we'd wanted to do was to start a folk metal band, though neither of us had been in real bands before. Taking advantage of the good luck of finding another folk metal enthusiast in northern Kentucky, we began gathering other members, both new and old friends and friends of friends, which proved more of a challenge than it does for your average metal band of course. Finding a violinist was easier than finding a bassist, surprisingly! We took a solid year to write and gather ourselves before playing a show, and the response was immediately overwhelming.
I imagine it would be difficult to recruit for a folk metal band. Was it a matter of finding people who played the right instruments versus people who were already into folk metal?
Draug: It was certainly hard. Only three of the 6 of the initial lineup had heard of folk metal before, so having a preexisting knowledge of folk metal was not a requirement from the beginning. It would have been unrealistic at the time. However, we did seek to find people who were as likeminded as possible in other respects, and who were similarly ambitious and didn't just want to "play in a band" but do something worthwhile. Regardless of who was already a folk metal fan, we all saw it as an adventure. It was something completely different from anything we'd done before. Umbriel, our violinist, played in the NKU symphony beforehand, for example. We were also excited to do something that no one else was doing in the area.
When did you decide on the dual vocalist approach?
Draug: Immediately. We couldn't bring ourselves to have just clean vocals or just extreme vocals, and as we were writing, both styles ended up being represented naturally. Folk metal inherently has an interesting duality between the traditional metal instruments and strings/woodwinds/etc, and I think furthering that in the vocals is only natural.
At what point did you decide to commence work on Songs for the Slain?
Draug: The writing for Songs for the Slain began back in late 2009-early 2010 when we formed and continued through early 2011, with the album being released in November, 2011. Because the writing spanned across our earliest days, there are a lot of things represented and I think you can hear a lot of growth in those 45-or-so minutes.
Yes, "Songs for the Slain" definitely covers all of the bases. What was the recording process like? Was it difficult to get the right guitar/violin mix?
Draug: Early on we had won recording time through a battle of the bands type event, so the location and duration of the sessions was easily decided. We booked all of our days consecutively at Moonlight Studios in Fairfield, OH. For most of us it was our first time recording, which made for an exciting week. However, we had no recording experience, which made communicating our sound very difficult. It's not a conventional tracking or mixing setup, and looking back it's safe to say that we've learned a lot from Songs for the Slain and are attempting to utilize those lessons on our new recordings, and fans seem to recognize that.
Has the size of the band limited your venue options locally or regionally? Some of the coolest venues in town don't exactly have the biggest stages, you know?
Draug: We certainly know! Hahaha. I suppose in a sense it has limited us. Some of us have other bands that can play dive bars when needed, whereas with Winterhymn that isn't always the case. The size of the stage is a big factor when we're booking, and our stage attire, especially mine, only adds to that. In addition to small stages, with many smaller bar-first, music-second type venues you take a gamble with the sound. And, since we have so many moving parts, that is a big factor for us. These are things we figured out very early and very quickly. But that being said, we've still squeezed into basements and arcades the size of a closet. You just have to be prepared!
On a similar note, have you considered adding any additional folk instruments to the mix?
Draug: We've never really toyed with the idea of adding additional full-time members, no. That's not to say we've completely ruled it out, but it's not something we're actively seeking. We're always looking to try new things, such as utilizing our keys to feature different sounds and instruments, while still not adding too many layers. Rather than advancing our arsenal, we've always been more interested in advancing our writing, and working within the realms of violin and keys has always been challenging but rewarding in the end.
You guys mentioned your stage attire earlier. Do you have a go-to source for that stuff, or do you just kind of piece it together as you go?
Varrik: I wouldn't say we have a 'go-to' Pagan-attire guy, but there are a few sites that sell a lot of generic costume pieces we use for our outfits. Alvadar, our bass player, got his entire outfit custom made for him by a friend but most of us pick up what we can as we see it in stores or track down smaller manufacturers on sites like Etsy. Most of us are constantly making adjustments and improvements on what we wear on stage, so we all keep a close eye on what tried and tested manufacturers are doing as well as discovering new makers.
What are you most looking forward to on the Paganfest America tour later this year?
Varrik: I think I can speak for everyone when I say one of the most exciting things is getting to branch out to completely fresh audiences in cities we've never played before, particularly the western states and Canada. There will also be a lot of new material that is making its live debut on this tour so it's very exciting to see how the new material and our progressing sound translates to fans and people who are hearing Winterhymn for the first time. From a personal standpoint, I am very interested to see how the crowds in the U.S. and touring in the U.S. differ from my experiences touring with old bands back in England.
Do you have any other tour plans this year, or are you ready to get back in the studio after Paganfest?
Varrik: After Paganfest is all wrapped up, the ongoing plan is to keep writing in preparation for our next full-length record, which should hopefully begin production towards the end of the year. We do plan on recording some new material before the tour so that everyone has a chance to hear new material and get a feel for the band in its present form. There are no plans to remain silent on the live front either, so there should definitely be some more shows being confirmed in the near future.