If you know me, you know my respect for LIK: when my band comrade Rauta played Hate to Be Human to me years ago, that song slithered into my veins and infected my mind – it was so gentle, so intimate, so hateful. And when I got a chance to go through the whole Må Ljuset Aldrig Nå Oss Mer album (2003), I felt even colder. Stefan Sandström, alias Stoif, alias Graav, showed to be a man with a vision.
But LIK wasn’t the only display of power. Armagedda, Sandström’s now buried black metal juggernaut did the same thing as Må Ljuset… with their Only True Believers (2003) album, but with more force and aggression. Of course no one can’t argue that this album hadn’t stolen a riff or two from Darkthrone (like Må Ljuset… had pinched inspiration from Isengard), but Sandström’s works are miles away from cheap copies. There is something subconsciously striking and natural brilliance in his songs that you can’t just resist.
Then, Armagedda was gone. And some years after that, also LIK withered away (to come back with a reasonably good come-back album The Second Wind in 2011). But Sandström had still some aces in his wooly’s sleeve: Lönndom, a more folkier version of LIK, which wandered deeper into the realms of acoustic campfire music. Now, in the eve of the new release from Lönndom – an interesting EP called Till Trevaren – and a new album taking shape, I dug up this lengthy interview with Sandström. Light a candle, take a cup of coffee and read on.
Imagine that you are a man in the maelstrom of Black Metal, after an acclaimed album. You suddenly understand that everything has lost its meaning, and you start to take steps, walk away, abandoning all. Same time you gather new treasures, new stories, new points of view, and soon you notice that you have found another realm, which is maybe purer and more ”you” than everything else.
It’s not a surprise that also Stefan Sandström uses a journey as a metaphor to describe his musical progress after Armagedda, through LIK and to Lönndom’s more folkier atmosphere. Many things have changed indeed, but what has remained same, and what things are going evolve more? Here are some answers for you.
Hello, Stefan! Lönndom’s debut album Fälen från Norr was released about one year ago. Do you still listen to the album and has it grown and shown new sides to you somehow?
– Hello to you. Our debut album still has a special meaning to us since we haven’t found any appealing bands that have the same devotion as we to the region we are growing up on. The feelings I get when Lönndom is inside my ears are in periods changing forms. Nothing special with that but since there’s the freedom in looking into my most truly thoughts/emotions inside of me, I’m restraining myself so now one can reach and deform what’s been built up. That’s why my ideas regarding your question won’t be described with details so I’m jumping back a few lines. Surely there are musicians in other parts of the world with the same alignment as Lönndom if you search carefully, but today I don’t have the eagerness that I should have to reach those bands. We are expected to act globally today and find connections worldwide. It’s pretty amazing that this kind of equipment exists but the more we are focusing on what’s lying beyond the horizon the less we know about the place we’re standing on. In this case I like the thought by comparing mankind with trees. A tree with deep roots truly has a smaller range of the fast and shallow nourishment but with deep roots it surely has secured its needs for sustenance. Besides, the chances of surviving a storm increase if the roots are anchored deep.
You said in one interview that Lönndom is the highest peak of your musical career, that all the projects and bands before have been just footsteps to reach Lönndom. How about the progress after Fälen…, where do you want to lead Lönndom now, after the journey has officially started? You have already begun to write songs for your next full-length, right?
– The second album is getting its shape, likewise the third and even material we don’t yet know where to put it. The thought to create the second album as an acoustic recording increased even more as we realized the challenge behind it. When we are looking at the third album we see that the second release will be a sort of a pause between two more intense albums. During every recording with Lönndom new ideas are always popping up, and they’re pushing the music into directions we had been seeking but hadn’t discovered until then. Because of this, our aims and the goal we reach seldom go hand in hand.
Although this is a Lönndom interview and usually past is past, I have to mention one of your old bands, LIK, because that band and especially the debut with the classic Hate to Be Human has a big meaning to me. So, how do you see the connection points and differences between LIK and Lönndom? Would Lönndom exist without LIK?
– LIK was formed through another way of thinking compared to the way my thoughts were at the time Lönndom came up. Destructivity without the end, and no will of involving several views of reality whatsoever were the backpack LIK was carrying. As time went by an aperture for experiences outside the chamber of darkness developed my songwriting for LIK and ideas of what fits did change.
– You’re asking me a question which is hard to answer but the first thing that comes to my mind is that Lönndom should stand today even if LIK never had existed. In our view Lönndom is separated from our earlier projects and that’s how we’re trying to keep it. I guess that ears from outsiders could hear something else because my and my friend’s roots might have been caught so deep that our mind is still fed with the same nutritious as years ago. At the time the third album of LIK came I wanted to fill up the backpack with other aspects but the backpack was already full, so I left the bag… I’d gone too far away from home with too little “equipment”. So I found a new backpack that two can carry at the same time. The subject of LIK – Besvärtade Strofer and Lönndom are similar but not built upon each other.
– By the way, I would like to apologize on behalf of Agonia Records to all LIK fans who bought the tainted version of the third album. I don’t stand behind that version, and if it was possible, I would reprint it to those who already have the bootleg Agonia Records released. I’ll recur if a proper version will be released.
The interesting element in your music is the home-made feeling of it: you can hear every crack and hiss and therefore the music sounds very honest and intimate. I guess professional studios haven’t ever been your thing?
– The co-operation we had back then with professional studios worked out pretty well, but I have lifted my hat to that time and moved on from the thought of putting myself in such environments again. Gather the equipment you have and use it, that’s what I call an honest sound, precisely what you are talking about.
Of course your music is very much connected to Swedish cultural heritage and myths, but can you find any universal common ground in your songs and lyrics? Can a listener from South America for example get totally into your visions and world or does it need a more Scandinavian state of mind – if there even is that kind of thing?
– People all over the world are amazed by the beauty of nature. Where mountains are, nature probably live people there that promotes its creation. Where oceans are, nature probably live people there that promotes its being. I’m guessing that no matter where in the world it also exits myths and folklore at places where the mankind is spread. That’s why I can imagine there are people in South America who understand Lönndom in its simplicity, but I’m not expecting them to comprehend the heritage Lapland/Norrland has from its history.
One thing we Scandinavian people share is the mystic realm of Lapland. One can sense the atmosphere of fells in Lönndom’s music and I think that you have used some Lapland myths in your lyrics (correct me if I’m wrong)… So, what does make Lapland so interesting and fascinating to you?
– The myths of Västerbotten and Norrbotten, the land in Lapland that I know about, are based upon the Samic culture and beliefs, also based upon the history the settlers wrote. The same time as the history has been and is being written so close, yet it feels so far away that Lönndom feels the urge to bring it closer to us, to shed light on it. To make a long answer short, I’d say this is what makes Lapland interesting and fascinating.
By the way, it was a big surprise to find out that you used Samuli Paulaharju’s drawings in the cover sheet of Lik’s Besvärtade Strofer. Paulaharju is a great person and a collector of folklore for me, and I have even done studies in a lecture room named after him in Jyväskylä university, heh. So I guess folklore-influenced art, literature and also research inspires you and your creations?
– Well, he was an artist and a poet worthy to be illuminated. The knowledge and histories he gathered through his journeys are valuable in the sense that you probably won’t find the same stories in other books. If I’m wrong I would like to read them.
And back to music… Lönndom combines rock, metal and folk themes in its music, and it’s easy to understand the two first elements because of your musical past. But how about folk music, have you always been fascinated by it? Do you have any musical idols from this scene?
– There are relatively few musicians that can awake my soul through their finger skills and compositions but within folk music and in all music categories there’s nothing new under the sun so to speak. It’s often a rewritten melody with a new touch and label. It’s sometimes more interesting to seek what were the reasons some old songs was written. I know one man for example from this county worth of mentioning and his name is Thomas Andersson. He combines and performs stories he collected around our part of Norrland with such empathy that those who understand his accent seldom get bored. One talent he has is that he transforms the stories he talks about and wrote, or stories someone else already wrote, with violin parts. The fascination for this kind of music has grown parallel in me with the interest of the topics folk music often handles. Superstition is a subject that has been haunting me since I was three feet high and growing but the folk music came into the picture around the LIK era.
Nowadays folk themes are quite popular in metal: here in Finland bands like Turisas and Korpiklaani make big waves, and of course we can’t forget the pagan/Viking side of metal music. Some say that these bands use tin whistles, violins, accordions and other gimmicks just for fun and it’s just an empty shell without a bigger meaning, but what do you think about this recent trend?
– ”Some say that these bands use…it just for fun”? How about finding out the reason to their sound by talking to the bands you mentioned above? Could it be that they create music they like and not necessarily care about the opinion from dissident people? What do I know really, you’re talking about bands I’ve never heard about before and a recent trend I’m not certain of which one you mean. Trends ARE the latest trend and it only gives me headache by paying too much attention to them.
I could imagine that Lönndom could find fans and listeners from other circles than the metal scene, but do you have any idea what kind of people listen to your music? Is it still the same audience that followed Armagedda and LIK, or do you get mail from a brand new group of listeners?
– It seems by the little I’ve seen from our MySpace page that all kind of people find something they have in common with Lönndom. I’m not the type of person that regularly keeps contacts over the internet so every mail goes to A. Pettersson. Because of this answer it only fizzles out into speculations. My guessing is that we seldom get fan mail because I hardly ever hear, or for that matter infrequently ask about them.
How about your connection to Black Metal – is there any interest left? You left the scene with the strong statement after releasing the splendid Ond Spiritism opus, but do you hold that same opinion about Black Metal that you held four years ago?
– Today Black Metal is something that is annoying my ears I think, so that’s why I’m hoping that all my BM and metal records are burnt to ashes in some incinerator… since I throw them among trashes.
– Nowadays I walk the earth to live before I’ll die, not to strangle my soul slowly before the final moment. What I mean with the word “live” is that I strive for insight about the range within life and what the birth into death means. It’s not a peculiar state of mind just approaching the thought of contemplate instead of being contemplated, to put light on what’s important. The energy the trash I call BM wolfed out of me is being planted today to the circling thoughts around the firm foundation I stand on and am surrounded by. The questions regarding the existential foundation such as spirit, soul and body, also instincts and urges, are things that really matter when you come to think about them. Some parts of what have reached clarity will remain in silence here within.
– Some parts aren’t ripe to be spoken since time on earth can’t be forced, that’s why I choose my words. Knowledge through spiritual guidance shines best through action, so there are several reasons why my words might stay blurry to some.
Here in Scandinavia we are privileged to enjoy the full circle of seasons, from snowy winters to warm summers. But does the change of seasons affect you and your art? At least in Black Metal in general winter and autumn have always been important topics, but I guess in Lönndom’s case there’s room for summer also?
– It’s true; we have the privilege to enjoy a variety of seasons. Why not withdraw it and make benefits of it? Nowadays inspiration isn’t dependent on which season I’m in, as it was for me back in time.
– The life I lived then was structured more with activities bounded to autumn and winter. Spring and even more summer give me allergic reactions, which I saw as an excuse to not enjoy those particularly seasons. I’m guessing that autumn and winter fits a music genre that contains the word “black” better than bright sunny days and a resurrected nature. Too bad true Black Metal dudes can’t enjoy summertime the same way as I do now. There is such a gap between them and the music they are representing that the image they hide behind would fall.
It’s obvious that nature plays a big part in your music and in your life also. The usual confrontation is a nature/countryside vs. a city, but how do you see these sides? Has a civilization become a rotten cauldron of filth and lowlife, and it would be better if people lived in small circles and villages?
– The vultures gather where the corpses are lying. People entice to cities and get stuck there when society is offering artificial jobs we don’t necessarily need. Entices that facilitate our egoism, an easy-going living demand by some who think they’ve earned it – an easy-going life also later on to be known as health diseases like obesity are some of the content of city life. It’s nothing wrong with an honest work but jobs that temporarily satisfy the customer or bind people to hi-tech stuff and economy are created for consumption only, and that’s wrong. People don’t realize how little it takes to form a meaningful existence but instead we’re yelling “It’s a free world and I do whatever I want, I eat fast-food, get fat even though it ends in a hospital bed, I devote myself to porn because my healthy view of sex is perverted and bound to another extra burden, I drown myself in alcohol and drugs because now I’m trapped in that shit which I never thought before could happen to me”…There’s no end to examples of how we think today that has separated us from our main task; to manage the soil and our animals.
– If you are bored in reading this why don’t you for example go and join those who are desperately seeking to improve from others, which is the first priority to those who wants succeed with who they are?
– If the focus is on getting people to pay attention, and it has got so far that you are willing to expose your soul to strangers, you should remember that what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his life? The best thing to do is to avoid cities and regroup into smaller villages. It’s impossible to illegalize all sorts of unhealthy activities and put laws around it because in such countries where inhabitants are strictly held by laws there is no free will which there should be if the proverb ”Everything is allowed but what isn’t good for us” is standard.
The (negative) side of this is total isolation and a so-called cabin fever, which can also be a very creative state of mind, for example Kim of Hypothermia has told me that he usually writes and records his albums in an isolated cottage – like you seem to do. But does a human being need social connections or could he live by him/herself?
– Some say that they don’t need human contact, perhaps it’s true but what kind of a man says such a thing? All kinds of dreads can stand in the way and by letting the dreads grow you shrink and you’ll end up in a mental wheelchair. It’s easier said than done, I know because I’ve been controlled by fears of people. Perhaps you’ll never overcome your fear, perhaps you’ll never feel comfortable in situations you’ll have to face, but you must prove to yourself that you are in charge of things. I don’t see that one antithesis excludes the other because they are antitheses. It takes a balance of isolation to be able to function as a social human being and vice versa. People who have different opinions than me regarding human psychology probably also have a correct answer. I’m starting to doubt that there is one true reality for all of us, more likely several apprehensions.
And although I’m not so keen to talk about politics, I have to ask your opinion about the climate change. Do you think that the mankind has gone too far and there’s nothing left than an agonizing end for this world, or do you think that the change can be made and people might start to understand and respect nature more?
– I don’t know whether I should call myself pessimistic or realistic, but I can’t see how the story of Earth will end well. It’s not the end that’s the issue here, because the end is already written but we just can’t figure it out until it strikes us. The issue is the way we are thinking and the dependency of material consumption we gladly built our environments upon. I can’t see how we can stop the wheel when there is too much urge after money, power, volitions and greed that accelerate it. There’s a possibility to make a difference, but sleeping as you probably are, you’re most likely indifferent to what I’m saying. Quitters in this matter should be ashamed of themselves. Where are all the good examples of people that do make a difference, even though they know it’s a temporary change? Such labors are condemned by many, but it’s that way of thinking we should attempt to receive.
– Put up your cottage and plant new trees even though it will all be ruined tomorrow.
I guess one way to this understanding is to understand first your roots and heritage – to see how people have lived before us, usually in a harmony with their environment. I guess that’s why some bands sing about old myths and stories, to get people apart from the plastic and modern way of life and see things from a wider perspective. But how about Lönndom, do you want to say something to or somehow affect your listeners? Can you (or do you even want to) change the world by playing the guitar?
– It happens that I come on myself trying to serve as a guideline to people with wisdom I haven’t fully understood and not put to action in my own life. The effect of it is weak because it’s empty talk. We need to remind us that we are very good at rebuking each other, but bad at confronting our own problems. Unconsciously we’re often processing our own problems by highlighting them in others. That’s why I rather keep my mouth shut and let my ears listen, after all, we are born with two ears and one mouth so that we can hear twice as much as we speak. In a way Lönndom are illuminating that you should have your eyes opened wide, but since our eyes from time to time get blocked, we’re keeping a low profile.
– Thank you for letting me share my words.