How did Alvenrad come into being?
Mark: ‘We have started Alvenrad after Jasper and I had some side projects, folk-inspired projects, like Faelwa and Stormsterk, We released an EP and album with those projects and we presented it to Thor (Trollmusic) who was founding new label Trollmusic at that time. We told him that we had plans to do something with metal again. He presented us a contract for his label. This was the ultimate invitation to take it seriously and start working on new material. Faelwa used to be the Dutch reply on Empyrium. We were really inspired by that band.
Was there a kind of direction or approach with Alvenrad you wanted to follow?
Mark: ‘Not really. With Alvenrad we wanted to go beyond boundaries of any style and that’s what makes it unique. But, as I said, with Alvenrad we wanted to do something with metal. In the end it was just something we liked to create. It is a blend of all kinds of musical influences, whether it was folk, orchestral and cinematic layers and later we went in the direction of seventies rock. The kind of music we really love.’
Jasper: ‘We play whatever comes to our minds. There happens to be an ultimate enthusiasm and maybe in the beginning it lacked some focus, but I think we managed to keep that focus on the new record ‘Heer’ pretty well. We wanted to make clear that everything that came out of rock-‘n-roll has a common background.’
Not only the seventies, even the sixties are heard in the music. Those compact interludes and the general penchant of creating atmosphere even reminds me of Boudewijn De Groot. I am talking about the album ‘Nacht En Ontij’ more precisely…
Jasper: ‘Indeed. I am glad you mentioned that, because this happens to be one of our greatest influences. This record is ace.’
In between the former record ‘Habitat’ and ‘Heer’ the band was expanded into a four piece. Which influence did it have on the writing process of ‘Heer’ if it had an influence at all?
Jasper: ‘I think we mainly started to realize that the material we write must be able to be played by a band. The way of working was mostly the same in the sense that Mark and I write and arrange everything. Only late in the process we engage the other members. At the moment they are not full members of our clan. Actually they are still session musicians, but important ones. Maybe it will change, in future, but for now it works.’
Mark: ‘Don’t get us wrong. They really had their input. Ingmar, the drummer really came up with his own ideas for drumming, completely different from what we did with programming. Thijs, my brother on bass, also had a different approach of our ideas and we really liked that input. We are really open to any fine suggestion.’
Jasper: ‘Surely concerning the drums, that was really upgraded to a higher level. Only a real drummer can come up with such brilliant ideas and sounds. In the rehearsal room everything is upgraded.’
How do you look back at the first album ‘Habitat’ at this moment?
Mark: ‘Well, it sounds quite well-balanced, although a bit too polished for my taste. I really did not like my vocals. It is interesting to follow the development of the band. In vocals, in lyrics… what I have written for the first album was more basic. I still like our first album, but improvement was needed. It is all part of a kind of development.’
Jasper: ‘I think many things on ‘Habitat’ were born out of naivety. Vocal choices but maybe also musical tasks I did myself. At that moment I did a couple of safe choices, ones that I would do differently now. Maybe it was too sleek, not rough enough. The metal spirit was not prominent, with the new album we had a different approach. When I listen to ‘Habitat’ now, I think: ‘wow, these guys really want to put an opulence of ideas in just one song’. That might be typical for a debut album.’
Mark: ‘Not only musically, but also lyric-wise, this new album happens to be much more in balance.’
You seem to have a deal with Trollmusic for four albums! That’s an extended deal in these times…
Jasper: ‘I think this happens to be a kind of long term investigation seen from the view of the label. Actually we have a contract with Prophecy, where also the business skeleton of the label is situated and Trollmusic happens to be the umbrella about ideas and organization. As well as with Trollmusic as with Prophecy they had a clear view of handling our band to the max. So we can take the maximum profits of our double deal. This should also include live concerts, but at that very moment in time, we could not promise that, since we were a duo back then.’
Mark: ‘They did not liked the lack of concerts, but nevertheless they wanted to invest in us and that’s great! The most important thing is that they seem to have trust in our band. That’s a nice feeling. And we will play more gigs in the near future if occasions occur. I surely hope for that!’
There is quite a bunch of mythological themes in the lyrics, but also personal issues. Can you go a bit deeper into that?
Mark: ‘This mythological aspect is preserved in ‘Skímismál’, an Icelandic poem. We have used it as a kind of guidance on our personal journey. We both, Jasper and me, are now at the point of having a family with a young child and it is an extremely nice poem about that. It was really a kind of personal approach I could add to this poem. That is the main theme of ‘Heer’, seen from the masculine perspective of having a woman and a child. It is seen from a male point of view, but it should be nice if listeners recognize elements of their personal lives in it. I don’t know if they are familiar with it, but it deals with a male species in an ivory tower, coming down to the netherworld to meet with female species. It is an endless theme for having philosophic thoughts about. It is a bit of another world as well, because nowadays life is based on this society. We wanted to dig deeper into this theme while we are in the current phase of life, experiencing that ourselves.’
There are guests on the album, musicians we could hear on ‘Habitat’ as well. Can you tell a bit more about that? Let us start with Erik Sprooten, the guitarist of Ancient Rites…
Mark: ‘He is a very nice guy, a pleasure to work with and an icon for diehard heavy metal fans. He is always enthusiastic and has his own style of playing which suits our kind of music. Thus a very agreeable cooperation. He has played with a bottleneck on one of the tracks. He really loved that, because it does not fit in the music he usually plays. You can hear that on the bonus track ‘Foreest In Tweelicht’. We have rerecorded that song with Markus Stock now. It is the same song, but arranged the way we did the rest of ‘Heer’. It is a nice extra. He also added a solo in another song, ‘Dagen Gaans Heen’, and that sounds amazingly vintage too. It really adds a lot to the vibe of the song.’
What about the contribution of Hanna De Wijs – van Gorcum?
Jasper: ‘Hanna plays nyckelharpa on this album. It happens to be a Swedish violin with buttons. It is a very typical folkloristic instrument, in Dutch it is called ‘sleutelviool’ I think. She is super talented and plays a lot of string instruments. Violin is her main instrument, but several other instruments of that ilk she manages to play as well. We were instantly fond of the sound of that instrument, a typical Scandinavian sound. Obviously it suited perfectly with the theme of this album. She plays on three of the songs, for instance in the intro and it appears to be a huge addition of grand atmosphere.’
Last but not least, we have Arjan Hoekstra on euphonium…
Jasper: ‘Euphonium is a kind of tuba. A small one. We have known the guy for a long time, especially Mark has been friends with him for a long time, so we were glad to have him on board again.’
This time the album was recorded at your own Luidheim studio, but mix and mastering was done by Markus Stock, Schwadorf of Empyrium and The Vision Bleak fame. Please tell us about this experience?
Jasper: ‘We did the rough mix by email, but then we went down to his Studio E. He always likes to work together in the studio, face to face, at least one day in order to listen to the music together and work on it. So we travelled to his place. It has been a very important choice and decision to give the mix in the hands of Markus. For me it was a big threshold, a big step I had to take, because it was the first time that I gave my music out of hands into the hands of another person. In the past I always mixed every record I was involved with. Consequently my first reaction was giving a lot of feedback on the first mixes (laughs). I really had to learn the discipline of letting go and concentrate on the complete result. It took a while before I managed to do that. When we were at his studio, with Markus on our side, that happened. All the pieces of the puzzle fell into place. It was also a very nice trip to Germany we ultimately enjoyed.’
And he understands the link with vintage and progressive music, just look at his former project Noekk…
Jasper: ‘That’s true. I am glad you know that as well. An amazing project! I am really glad that he is into that kind of seventies stuff too, just like us. You really hear his sound in our production this time.’
But you both have also a side project now, called :Nodfyr. They just released their first EP ‘In Een Andere Tjd’. Can you tell a bit more about that?
Mark: ‘Indeed, we just released an EP and this is a cooperation with the former singer of Heidevolk, now in Wederganger, more precisely Joris van Gelre We have worked on it for a long time, but in recent months things gained momentum. Now it is in the shops and that is amazing!’
Jasper: ‘Both songs can be checked out on the internet at the moment. Actually it was meant as a kind of demo, but at some point we decided to give it a try with labels and see what happens. Sven of Ván Records appeared to be very interested. Then we decided to expand it to an EP as a first sign of life and we have upgraded the material.’
Mark: ‘We have reworked the songs intensively and I think the result is great now.’
Returning to the Alvenrad topic. Can you tell something about the artwork for ‘Heer’?
Mark: ‘It is done by the French artist David Thiérrée, formerly recommended by Thor of Trollmusic. We contacted him and I sent him the lyrical concept. We talked about it thoroughly to see what we could get out of it. He worked on it and came up with of a sort of vision. He came up with something amazing. The cover is a journey apart, so to speak. As a matter of fact, the cover artwork was finished, before I had written the last words for the lyrics. Actually, the cover art itself inspired me to come up with the final words of the album lyrics.’
Jasper: ‘Eventually the album was improved to the next level with these kinds of additions. It made us decide to go for a certain format for the CD release itself. It will be out in a special box, with a poster. The wild boar is drawn once more by the guy who developed our logo in just another approach.’
It reflects the atmosphere of the Veluwe, the region you are coming from. We should mention this as an important source of inspiration…
Jasper: ‘Indeed, it is our habitat.’
Mark: ‘The Veluwe has many typical characteristics. I am pretty sure you will see them up in the North or in other places in Europe as well, but these are the things we are born and raised with and you will meet them on the cover art again. We have quite some species of wild animals and vegetation which is worth focusing on. It is nice to be aware of nature when you are walking through it. It is an ongoing source of inspiration when creating our music.’
What are the plans for the near future?
Mark: ‘We will focus on the music now and on gigs. Our release party in Apeldoorn at the tenth of December is our first priority now, later we hope to bring our music to the people by doing as much shows as possible. There are plans in the making, but not confirmed yet.’
Jasper: ‘Anyways, we hope to play some gigs in the Netherlands and abroad for this album. We really do.’