Bristol, UK’s SVALBARD harness the aggression of heavy music and the urgency of the current political climate in the form of their sophomore full length release and Translation Loss debut entitled It’s Hard To Have Hope. Steeped in the world of hardcore and metal, and combining the strengths of both genres, SVALBARD deliver eight tracks of raw honesty, while simultaneously being politically and socially vibrant. Their fearless second release presents an unyielding and truly unique experience throughout the album. It’s Hard To Have Hope was engineered and mixed by Lewis Johns at The Ranch Production House, Mastered by Brad Boatright at Audiosiege (Converge, Integrity, Nails) and features stunning artwork by Steven Kingscote.
What kind of music did you identify with first as a kid?
Well, my mum used to listen a lot of rock and indie so that was always on in the background from very young age. I remember trotting alongside her to the local record shop so she could pick up a copy of Dookie by Green Day when it was released! Rock music was always in my life, however as with most pre-teens, I adored pop music. I was obsessed with the Spice Girls…I still think they’re fantastic. They had so much charisma and weren’t obsessed with looking perfect all the time. I also loved TLC – their Fanmail album was the first album with swear words on that I owned.
What got you started playing music and how old were you?
I started learning the piano when I was four years old. My older sister had just started learning piano and I was so jealous that I relentlessly pestered my mum to allow me to start playing too. I was always trying to do whatever my older sister was doing!
What was the first heavy record you owned?
It was Obsolete by Fear Factory. I saved up all the money from my papergirl job to buy it on cd in the summer of 1999. I remember thinking it was the heaviest thing I’d ever heard!
How did the band form and how did the band name come about?
Liam, Mark and I knew each other from gigging with our respective previous bands. After chatting about jamming for a while, one day we decided to wheel our gear into the same practice room and see what happened. And thus Svalbard was born! The band name comes from a place in the His Dark Materials trilogy of books by Phillip Pullman, which both Liam and I were reading at the same time as we formed the band.
What was your local scene like in the beginning, was there a particular band you aspired to be like, favorite local bands back then, favorite local bands now?
Meh, the local scene was alright. Very fragmented and cliquey, full of ambivalent attitudes. We have never particularly identified as a ‘Bristol band’ to be honest. We do, however, love this local prog band called ANTA. They write the coolest riffs and are great live. There’s lots of great music from Bristol, but we don’t feel a particular sense of belonging to a scene there.
How did you become a vocalist? Are you proficient in any other instruments?
Reluctantly hahaha. That’s how I became a vocalist. Reluctantly. We used to have another singer, but he left, so Liam and I decided to split the vocal duties ourselves. But we do find doing vocals quite painful. I used to do vocals in my old black metal band back in 2005, that was where I learned the control and projection methods. But in an ideal world, I would just get to riff it up on guitar and not worry about singing.
Yeah, obviously I play guitar. I can also play drums, and Liam is one of the best violinists I have ever heard. He plays violin in a band called Morrow.
What makes a good Svalbard song?
Reverb. Blast beats. Chords that get you right in the feels. We basically write music to be as emotive as possible. We also like the element of unpredictability, where you never know what style is going to come next in a song. Lyrics as raw, honest and direct as possible.
The new album “It’s Hard To Have Hope” comes out on Translation Loss Records in June, can you describe the album title, the relationship with Translation Loss Records and their input into Svalbard music and product? Were any bonus track recorded for other markets?
It’s Hard To Have Hope is actually a lyric from the final track on the album ‘Try Not To Die Until You’re Dead’ – which is a song about incapacitating illness. It’s the only personal song on the album, I wrote it when I had fallen seriously ill last year. I really struggled to record the vocals on that song as singing the lyrics made me break down in tears. It’s hard to have hope when you can no longer eat or sleep and your body can’t function properly anymore. That’s the original context of the album title.
However outside of that specific song, we all felt that the phrase surmised both the personal and the political outlook of the band. It’s hard to have hope under a Tory government. It’s hard to have hope when you’re poor. It’s hard to have hope when you are treated unfairly due your gender. It’s a title that encapsulates both our frustration and our fighting spirit – we are essentially acknowledging how difficult life’s challenges can be, but refusing to give up the fight for change.
Translation Loss Records are incredibly supportive of us, they just let us do our thing and then they press it onto sexy-looking vinyl records. It’s a great relationship of encouragement. We didn’t record any bonus tracks, we didn’t have time!
What is the writing process like and the putting of songs in order?
Well, first Liam usually comes to practice with some new riffs / ideas. Then I write lead parts over them, and Adam and Mark jam out the rhythm section. It’s a collaborative approach. Then we argue amongst ourselves for a small eternity about how we want the song to go, until we finally all agree on something we’re happy with. We do take a rather slow and meticulous approach, as we don’t like to rush the creative process. Once the music is done I write the lyrics. Putting the songs in order is simply a result of juggling a playlist around until you find a flow where the songs complement each other best.
How excited are you for the final implementation of Brexit?
Brexit can fuck off. We voted against that fucking bullshit. We do not want to leave the EU. It’s an incredibly frustrating situation, to have a government so opposed to your beliefs. We feel pretty helpless at the moment because there’s nothing we can do, whilst the UK makes these terrible political decisions. I think we are still desperately praying that somehow the final implementation will not go ahead and we can remain in the EU.
What other bands are you in?
Liam plays in Morrow, and recently I resurrected my old solo project – which is mostly just daft acoustic songs about cats. But that’s it. We don’t have time to play in other bands.
What artists with a message have made you change in any particular way and what was that change?
The writing of Caitlin Moran inspired me to be much more open and direct about being a feminist. Her writing gave me the confidence to speak out about issues of gender inequality. Through reading her work, I felt encouraged not to hold back my thoughts and feelings, and to put them into songs.
Who are some of your influences? Who can we hear in your music?
Mono, the post rock band from Japan are one of my biggest influences. I find their music so evocative, and I adore the reverb drenched guitar sound they create. I am also inspired by the dynamics of Alcest, the visceral heaviness of bands like Tragedy and the atmospheres of soundtrack music – particularly soundtracks for games like Final Fantasy, they are just so beautiful.
In our music we have an eclectic mix of influences, and they aren’t necessarily directly obvious. We all like different things, from grindcore to dream pop. We don’t try to emulate the sounds of bands we love, we just try to write whatever style of music we want with passion and feeling. Other people have described us as crust / blackened hardcore / post metal though.
What ACDC riffs or songs can you play?
None, I don’t really like ACDC! It’s not my cup of tea.
What was the first music you bought and what have you bought more than once?
The first music I ever bought was N-Trance ‘Only Love Can Set You Free’ on cassette tape single in the early nineties. What a tune! I still love that song, it’s such a classic euphoric dance track. I own Century Child by Nightwish on CD and the deluxe purple vinyl edition, that’s one of my favourite albums ever. I also have a few copies of Meliora by Ghost – CD for the van, and red vinyl for home listening. What an album!
Bands you would love to tour with and musician or artist you would like to meet and interrogate?
Selfishly speaking, I want to tour with Nightwish because I love them and they are so inspirational. But I don’t think we would be a good fit musically hahaha! Tragedy are pretty elusive in the live stakes, so it would be really cool to tour with them; or maybe a more progressive band like Solstafir for a bit of variation.
I’ve worked for years as a music journalist (for Terrorizer / Iron Fist / Atom Smasher) so there’s not many bands I haven’t met and interrogated already. A real highlight was interviewing Mono and finding out that they use exactly the same setting on the Boss RV5 reverb pedal as me! He’s not a musician, but I would love to meet the YouTuber ‘Super EyePatch Wolf.’ His videos are so intelligent and passionate, I would love to have the chance to sit down and talk about anime with him.
Are you surprised to see bands like Taake & Marduk taken to task for their bad behavior?
Funny you should ask this, I just wrote an article on the Taake situation. The article expresses my thoughts on the matter, so I’ll just link that here.
What can we expect from a live Svalbard show?
Four passionate, sweaty people, getting lost in the music and giving it their all.
How would you like to be remembered?
An awkward nerd who became empowered through metal.
Who have been some of your favorite bands you’ve hung out with and shared the stage with?
Oathbreaker, Enslaved, Cult of Luna, Fuck the Facts, Tribulation, Torche, Abbath, Meek is Murder, The Tidal Sleep…there really are too many to mention. It’s amazing when you get to play festivals on the same stage as your heroes. Enslaved were especially cool as they let us borrow their lighting tech and she did all these crazy strobe lights for our set.
Do you still buy cds and records or mostly use streaming sites? Which sites do you use?
I am a dinosaur, I don’t even know how to download music and I don’t own a Spotify account. I like walking into a record shop and buying an album. Call me old fashioned, but there’s something really nice about holding the artwork and lyrics in your hand whilst you listen to a new record. It’s the complete, immersive experience.
Top 5 albums or songs released in the last 12 months and all time?
Ooh, tough question! Okay, off the top of my head, from the last 12 months (ish)
1. Tribulation – Down Below
2. Dimmu Borgir – Eonian (technically not released yet, I just finished reviewing it)
3. Night Flight Orchestra – Amber Galactic
4. Immolation – Atonement
5. Mutoid Man – War Moans
Top 5 All Time:
1. Nightwish – Endless Forms Most Beautiful
2. Mono – For My Parents
3. The Cure – Disintegration
4. Gloryhammer – Space 1992: Rise of The Chaos Wizards
5. Final Fantasy 7: Piano Collections
You’re on a desert island and only have three albums to listen to for the rest of your life, what are they and why?
Hmm. Well, the aforementioned Gloryhammer: Space 1992 album, just because that record makes me so happy. Whatever my mood, those songs never fail to lift my spirits. And every track on it is pure gold, there’s no filler whatsoever.
Secondly, there is a theme park in The Netherlands called de Efteling. They have the most amazing music for their rides and attractions. It makes my hair stand on end. I have a double CD that you can buy in the park of all their ride soundtracks. That would come with me as it’s so atmospheric and lovely.
Thirdly, Iron and Wine ‘Essential Songs’ – I think I would find being on a desert extremely stressful so the soft tone of Iron and Wine would come in handy to calm me down.
What does metal mean to you?
Freedom and empowerment. A creative zone where you can be truly expressive without fear of judgement. A music genre that truly unites people and makes me feel less alone.
Final thoughts, shout outs, dirty jokes?
Thanks for the interview!