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Vandor's Vide Bjerde: "Live stream-concerts are the new trend, and although I appreciate the initiative to keep live music alive, I personally think live streams are pretty dull… It’s not the same thing!"

Interview with Vide Bjerde from Vandor
by Lior "Steinmetal" Stein at 12 August 2021, 10:42 PM

Finding new imaginary horizons, new realms and lands that are plain figments of one's personal created universe. A challenge on its own is to breathe life into the daydream and produce it into a solid materialized song or a mere piece of music. Nonetheless, Metal music, at least part of it, is about creating something that isn't really before other people's eyes but deeply rooted in one's psyche. The Swedish Power Metal band Vandor's main man, Vide Bjerde, has been coming out of interesting of perceptions of the Fantasy world, and the band's new album, "On A Moonlit Night", maintains the expansion of that world. Steinmetal had to find out what was it all about.

Hello Vide, it is with a sheer pleasure that I have you for this conversation for Metal Temple online Magazine. How have you been doing? What is going on in Sweden?

Hello! A pleasure to speak with you! I’m doing fine, just came back from a week's vacation so I’m feeling well rested at the moment!

The Metal scene, especially the live one, saw better days ever since this pandemic struck hard at the pounding hearts of people wishing to see live shows other than merely sitting at home listening to music. Truth be told, there are folks with a whole lot of troubles due to this period of time, yet I would like to focus on the cultural element. What is your opinion about this whole situation? How has Sweden been taking it?

Well… I don’t think anyone thought that the pandemic would last this long when it first started. I remember most people were hoping it would be gone by fall 2020, at least in Sweden! We took a different approach than most of the world in terms of lockdowns (we never really had any), no requirements to wear masks etc. Instead we were aiming for herd immunity, and most people were positive that we wouldn’t get a 2nd wave. Well… now we’re entering the 4th wave. I’m not a scientist or politician so I can’t say what approach is the best when dealing with pandemics like this but I don’t think Sweden’s strategy turned out exactly as planned.

Although we never had any lockdowns we’ve still had a lot of restrictions, for example regarding crowds. Like the rest of the world, live concerts have been impossible. Our last concert was when we opened for Sonata Arctica in November 2019. Live stream-concerts are the new trend, and although I appreciate the initiative to keep live music alive, I personally think live streams are pretty dull… It’s not the same thing! On the bright side, a lot of people are getting vaccinated now, and Sweden is slowly lifting restrictions. I really hope we can return to playing and attending concerts as normal soon.

Venturing into the music of Vandor, the band made another step in its career by setting to release “On A Moonlit Night”, not moreover, for the first time, signed to a new label, Scarlet Records. I usually ask it in order to understand reasons, why in particular now to sign with a label after being more or less confident as independent earlier on? What factors led you to this decision to become a roster band?

When we made the debut, we discussed a lot whether we should search for labels or not. In the end I think we just decided to keep going, finish the record and see what would happen. We never dismissed the idea of signing to a label, we just weren’t in a place where we needed it. We got some offers, but never felt that we would benefit from it at that point.

When Scarlet Records contacted us, it just felt right, and we had come to a point where we felt we were ready for it.

Prior to setting our focus into the musical adventure of “On A Moonlit Night”, let’s talk about what is going on throughout the record lyrically, from what I could understand there is a mutual basis, yet perhaps you can shed some light on it please?

Just like on the debut, the stories of “On A Moonlit Night” take place in our fictional land Vandor. With that said, I personally think that we put much more effort to make the lyrics interesting on this album! It’s not a concept album, rather a collection of short stories. We try to write the lyrics in a way so that they are not 100% concrete, so that we can leave room for the listener to make one’s own interpretation of the songs. Even though some songs may have a clear storyline on the surface, you might find different layers if you do a little digging. :)

Is it possible that there is a continuance in “On A Moonlit Night” from what the debut started or the direction is totally different?

Yes, it’s actually kind of a sequel, at least some songs! The first song “Mountains of Avagale” on “OaMN” is actually a continuance of the last song on the debut! (even though some time has passed, and Vandor has essentially turned into a shithole…)

What can you tell about the two locations, possibly fictional, presented on the album such as Eltoria and Avagale?

On this album we wanted to expand the land of Vandor, by adding some more locations. The mountains of Avagale lie in the far north of Vandor and much is unknown about it. In the song, the protagonists need to flee from their war-torn home and the mountains of Avagale is the one place where they would be safe, at least they hope so.

Eltoria on the other hand… not quite as nice. It's a small, forgotten kingdom, dominated by evil and corruption, completely isolated from the rest of the world.

I believe that these times in particular demand a measure of escapism, as it has been quite hard for a lot of people to simply be one with their troubles. Do you believe that “On A Moonlit Night” shares that role as a means of escape from reality?

Absolutely! To me that’s one of the main purposes with music! Same goes with books, movies, TV-games, etc. I think that is why I’ve always been drawn to fantasy. As a kid I would draw a lot, write fantasy stories and play in the woods with swords and stuff! I was also a very active day dreamer! I would spend the majority of my school days in my own thoughts, making up stories in my head.

Well… Now I'm older, and I can't say that I’m still running around in the forest with plastic swords haha. But my love for fantasy never disappeared. And when there’s a lot of stuff in life going on, the best thing I know is closing my eyes and putting on a really good power metal record.

What can you tell about the album’s artwork? It is quite stunning, so accurate and mythical. Not that it is ultimately rare as these kinds of covers have been around, yet it is hard to escape the quality. Who made this cover?

The album cover is made by the amazing German artist Nele Diel. She did a marvelous job, couldn’t be happier with the cover!

Vandor’s Power Metal directive has been known and quite felt in its debut, and “On A Moonlit Night” is no exception. However, it is hard to ignore that there is a form of maturity in the music that is evident through elements of progression and even sweaty moments of 80s AOR. How would you say that you developed your music through “On A Moonlit Night”?

The songs usually take form pretty naturally, and on this album we have written much more as a group. Being brothers, me and Alve have a pretty similar musical background which is mostly formed by melodic power metal. Jack isn’t as much of a power metal-nerd as we are, he’s more into prog rock like Genesis, Neal Morse and that kind of stuff. The elements from other genres just happen naturally when we write together. We have also developed a very good and natural climate when we are writing together. We’re not afraid to say “That’s not good, let’s try this instead” to each other (or simply “that sucks”.)

I’m sure you’re referencing the album ballad “Future to Behold” when you say 80s AOR. There’s actually a funny story about that song. We were hanging out in the rehearsal space (this was actually before the first album was finished) and one of us suggested as a joke: “Hey guys, let’s write the cheesiest, cliché song we can come up with!” Well, that’s what we did for the rest of the day, and it actually turned out very good in my opinion!

Would you say that writing European Power Metal nowadays is a challenge since many bands wish to go beyond the conventional type of the late 90s and early 00s? However, do you believe that a working formula should not be replaced?

I don’t think the challenge lies in writing Euro Power itself, the challenge lies in making something new and unique out of it. All of my favorite PM records come from late 90s and early 00s, and while it’s - as you say - a working formula, it’s been done a thousand times. If you’re going to release a classic euro Power Metal album in 2021, you’ll also have to bring something new to the table.

I am sure that “On A Moonlit Night” was quite the learning curve for the band in its way to approach a song, write different arrangements and inadvertently, enhancing its abilities to craft ear piercing material. How were you developed as a songwriter through this album?

We all develop all the time when it comes to songwriting, and like I said before, I think it’s a lot thanks to the way we write songs together. First album was mainly written by me, and like on many debut albums, several songs were a few years old. We wrote some songs together on that album as well, but we didn’t have the same workflow as we do now. Even though many of the songs on this album were written by me as well, this time everyone has been more involved in the final composition. We have created this mentality that when you bring a song to the band, it’s not “your” song anymore, it’s the band’s.

One of the major elements of “On A Moonlit Night” is its range of drama. There are a lot of emotions involved and I might even add a level of romanticism that is amazing. What is your opinion on that? How did drama make the record the way it is?

Emotions are a super important part when it comes to songwriting, and that is usually the thing I try to emphasize the most when I’m writing! To me it’s more important to channel what the main character feels, rather than what he/she does. But of course it also depends on the song!

I think personal drama/emotions is something that always finds its way into whatever creative thing you’re doing, be it songs, stories, paintings etc. Although I know many songwriters write songs that correlate to their emotions/past, it’s not something I actively do. It’s more of a subconscious thing for me. Whether it is happiness, frustration with band members or just tiredness, I’m sure it has helped me compose the songs the way they are.

Along with Jason Carter and Tom Nunes, you guys were able to create a mixture of sound, between modern and old school driven power. What can you tell about the making of the album’s sound? How does the end result fit your initial vision of how “On A Moonlit Night” should sound?

We knew from the start that we wanted Jason Carter (Wavelength Studio) to mix the album! He had mixed Jack’s solo album (Jack L. Stroem, 2017) and that album sounds great as well! None of us are huge fans of the over compressed standard modern metal mixes, we wanted a more organic sound like the old school PM bands, but still with a modern touch. Jason managed to do this perfectly on the debut, so we knew for sure that we wanted him to mix the second album as well, there was no question about it.

On the debut we actually went to USA to be present during the mixing, unfortunately we couldn't do that this time because of the pandemic. That was kind of a bummer, because the mixing is such a huge part of the album. It also made the process longer, because for example one small change that would take 10 seconds if we were present, was now a whole mail conversation with different time zones etc.

The mixing turned out fantastic though, and I personally couldn't ask for a better sound!

What forms of challenges were in your way while working on “On A Moonlit Night”? How were you able to take on these obstacles and pass through them?

We certainly had some grudges from time to time but nothing overwhelming. We also parted ways with our keyboardist during the recording process, and our drummer needed to take some time off (this was before she left the band) so we had to rely on session musicians to fill their roles, though that was never really a big problem. For the most part it was pretty smooth sailing.

One of the most enchanting projects, and I dare call it as such, is the epic in its proportion song, “The Sword to End All Wars”. First of all, the title is quite interesting, what can you tell me about it?

The name was actually what we came up with first! It’s a play on the phrase “The War to End All Wars” (what WW1 was known as). It was the perfect title for a long epic song. We didn’t have a story or anything, we just knew we had to use the name! I think we started working on the actual song a half-year later.

The song itself, if you can compare it in a manner of sorts to such long epos storytellers such as Manowar’s “Achilles, Agony and Ecstasy in Eight Parts”, rallies up the abilities of Vandor in its new form. In your view, what are the key elements that made the song to become such an articulate form or Metal in progression?

To be honest I’m not a big Manowar fan, and haven’t heard that specific song. But when writing a long epic I think it’s important to always keep things interesting. Most people have a relatively short attention span, and in a long song you really have to make sure that there are no places where it could get boring or tedious for the listener. With that said, the song is 18 minutes long, and songs of that size are not for everybody I guess. I personally love long epics.

I’m also a fan of reusing themes in different takes, for example reintroducing the melody of the slow piano intro as a weird fast-paced fusion-metal thing. There’s not much room to write like that in a short song, and that makes writing longer songs a very fun thing to do!

From this point, since it is not as if you are about to release the next tomorrow, is Vandor employing this form of songwriting when it comes to the forging of such epics?

We’ll see! To be honest we don’t know yet. We have written quite a bit for the 3rd album actually, but we are still in the process of finding its direction. Right now there is no long epic planned, but there wasn't for “On a Moonlit Night'' either. We had a fair amount of songs and we were pretty confident that we wouldn’t have a long song on this album. Then it just happened.

When it comes to the rest of the tracklist, I could find additional gems, yet I would like to know your standpoint, which of the tracks would you care to elaborate about?

Well, we haven’t talked about the title track yet, which is (to many's surprise) not a classic power metal song, rather a quiet campfire ballad. Although it’s theoretically “Endless Sea” in an acoustic version, I think we managed to make much more of it than just an acoustic version. The lyrics are completely different, following a warrior’s thoughts the night before the big battle, accepting that he’ll probably be dead tomorrow. It’s a pretty naked, vulnerable song, which also forced me to change my vocal approach for it. It was a fun challenge, and I think the song turned out very good!

There are also 4 extra bonus tracks for those who bought the CD! A little extra for keeping physical music alive!

Since 2021, at least for most bands, is pretty much a goner, and the situation in Europe isn’t looking that bright, at least for now, how does it look for Vandor going forward to 2022 when it comes to the live scene?

We can’t wait to play live again; it feels like it’s been forever! Hopefully we can arrange a tour when the world opens up again!

Vide, thank you for your time and effort as we explored your new album, which sounds the next level of European Power Metal. All the best. Cheers

Big thanks to you!


 



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