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Iotunn's Jesper Gräs: "…there is the thought of the relationship between everything and nothing, and the spark of everything in the mixture of those constantly intertwining"

Interview with Jesper Gräs from Iotunn
by Lior "Steinmetal" Stein at 08 February 2021, 11:20 PM

Out in the cosmic, perhaps that stars above have the answers to life's troubles or the constant journey that each man and woman faces throughout their lives. There is something calming about just looking, it may be a brain inspiration or simple yet another method for soul-searching while not being bounded by anything other than a focus. What matters is to have a reach into the vastness, into bright or darkened areas of the mind, to understand, comprehend what yourself is trying to tell you. The Danish Iotunn took such a journey, mystifying and open for every listener. With the debut album, "Access All Worlds, crossing the finish line and landing into Metal Blade Records, there is a lot to hear from Jesper Gräs, who talked to Steinmetal about the fall and rise of the band and its spirituality.

Hello Jesper, it is amazing to have you for this interview for Metal Temple online Magazine, how have things been on your end?

Hi Lior, we are glad that you are reaching out! Things are intense in the best of ways at the moment. We are enjoying to be in the times of releasing more and more from our album, and the interest and response from people and interviewers have been so warm!

We are facing troubled times, a period that has great effects on our personalities and of course our way of living. Some already stated that is no less than a nightmare, the seclusion being unbearable. How has this pandemic going on touched your mentality? How have you been dealing with it?

It sure is troubled times. Right from the beginning when the pandemic hit us we talked about it and wanted to make sure that our minds stayed positive and that we just kept up the good and hard work regarding everything IOTUNN wise. We had just finished Access All Worlds when Corona happened and so there was a lot of work regarding us reaching out to labels etc. that were done online afterwards so in that way we could still keep on working on everything. But it surely has been hard at times, and we would have loved to see each other more and to be able to present our album live right away. But in the bigger picture these are small things, so we are just grateful for our situation really.

I guess that even within such a sort of chaotic state, there is a measure of fortune to some along the way. Iotunn became front center, and has been capturing attention, and if not that much now, I trust that it will be very soon. So I believe that your initial vision of the band got twisted a bit along the way, shaping up to the creative being of the present right? Looking back, which isn’t that long ago, can you believe what you have accomplished so far?

We feel absolutely fortunate in so many ways. It has been a long way already but with so many aspects turning out in the best of ways for us at the moment we really enjoy every day going forward these days. We have so many ideas and dreams for the future but at the same time we try to be present and enjoy all those good things that are happening and to make sure that we put everything into all things IOTUNN along the way.

There was a time back in the day where you thought with your mates about closing up shop for good, what led you to that crossroads to choose whether this venture should live or die? What made you choose the former eventually?
We had been playing for years when Bjørn, Jens Nicolai and I had to make that choice after splitting up with our former singer. It really was about us sitting down and talking all things through, and the choice from there wasn't hard at all. We love to be together and to make music together, and we wanted that to continue.

Onwards into the recent years, and you found yourself your crown jewel, a voice in the dark to take the music of the band forward, as if it was its shepherd, in the image of Hamferd’s Jón Aldará. How did that relationship with that amazing talented vocalist begin? Were you locked on him to become the voice of the band right from the start or were there others as well?

We had met Jón a couple of times at Hamferd and Iotunn concerts, so he was in the back of our minds I think. When I saw Hamferd the first time back in 2016 I was completely blown away. It was one of those experiences where you enter a completely other world! During 2017 we tried different things out but we always came back to Jón. So in March 2018 I wrote to him, and he showed interest and wanted to hear some of the demos we were working on that would end up on the Access All Worlds album. Fortunately, Jón really liked the music, and so we talked everything through and the rest is history, haha.

Together, along with the new bass player, Sunless Dawn’s Eskil Rask, you created the heavenly creature titled “Access All Worlds”, and more to it, you signed with the giant American label, Metal Blade Records. No doubt the label knew what it was signing. How do you feel about this major step for the band? I guess jaws were kept open when the call came in right or was it set in stone from your end?

Thank you! We feel absolutely good about it. When we had finished Access All Worlds we had dreams about this happening but it was in many ways out of our hands. We were very happy when Metal Blade Records replied with great interest. Metal Blade has been a dream label for us, so to suddenly be in negotiations with them was quite overwhelming. But I will say that the feeling of this actually being true and part of our life has evolved during the time after we made the deal. To be part of the everyday life with Metal Blade is such a ride and makes the days so much richer for all of us.

 “Access All Worlds” is a journey, not just musically, which on its own is a challenging piece, but also on the metaphysical end. I can call it cosmic, I can call it a trip within one’s thoughts, countless wonders over so many things in life, twisting into different forms. Can you perhaps make some sense in all this? Where are we throughout this release?

It is important for us that the experience with Access All Worlds is out there with the listeners and supporters of IOTUNN. But I think you are just right. To me it is a combination of aspects that is the essence of this album. It is a story of cosmos, humanity and of every single one of us. And in all of this the connection to a way of being. To me personally this is about having an openness towards everything that is not rooted in yourself so that enclosure is replaced with connectedness.

It appeared to me that there is also a lot of room for personal feelings throughout the album, where you made room to project emotions that were probably contained only to be unleashed through the album. Would you say that this album is more or less a kind of personal journey for you or at least parts of it?

I think you are right. As mentioned above this is one of the central aspects of the album. It is essential that the many layers of the album is something that can speak within the listener. We hope that the album can be a voyage of exploration in this matter.

With the album being mystic and outright enigmatic, I am wondering, what do you believe in, with a relation to this album’s spirituality?

Oh, that is a huge question. I can only speak on my own behalf here. To me there are many energies and reflections that have been put into the creation of Access All Worlds. One of the most important things has been the opening up towards the many feelings and energies coming from nature and cosmos. I think that the world “outside” is connected with us in a borderless totality, and in this it is important to choose a way of thinking and believing that opens up to all of this. The title of the album reflects this for me personally and this is something that defines my life personally both spiritually and creatively.

Since I read it on the dossier, you opened up quite a question right there, is this album a universe created in slumber? Is this a dream after all?

Those are so important questions that I don't think anyone can really answer in a complete way. I will let those stand as totally open but for sure there is the thought of the relationship between everything and nothing, and the spark of everything in the mixture of those constantly intertwining.

If there is one thing that is easy to state about this album is that it virtually turned every stone within the spectrum of Metal music, and I would dare to say a few lonesome rocks within Rock music. What would you say were your main influences while the songwriting process took place?

I agree. Access All Worlds both represent a point in our career and the ongoing process and evolvement in IOTUNN. All of us have been listening a lot to metal music since childhood but also to a lot of other music, and I think that all these inspirations have influenced us in infinite ways along the years and helped us define some of the essences of our sound. It is a cornerstone in our creativity to go against borders and to explore what is around the corner and a result of that is that our music includes many aspects of music I think.

One of the chief elements of the album, which I hold as dear, are the melodies. The melodies created a heavenly atmosphere, while the solos stung like bees. How do you find the integral roles of these melodies on the record in your view?

I think melodies are so important in music, and Jón is a melodic maestro. The process of writing the vocals were very enriching to all of us. We did it during approximately ten weekends in our former studio in Copenhagen and this process was so much fun. Most often Jón would come up with an idea and nine out of ten times it was just perfect. Besides that, we would experiment with the melodies together and it really just turned out right all along the way. I think the melodies are essential to Access All Worlds. They are the most important thing in completing the totality of our music and to lead the listener on the voyage. Who doesn't like a strong melody, haha?

Another aspect of the release that made it larger than life is the intensity of the music against both vocal variations and the lyrical concepts. How were you able to create those intense feelings, which echoed with loads of drama and theatrical aspects, with the integration with the music?

I think that it comes quite naturally to us. When my brother and I work with the fundamental guitar ideas and compositions it is important to us that the feelings, energies and intensity is present at that stage of the song writing process. If this is the case, I think everything will just complete the music going on from there. Everyone in the band is capable of putting these energies into the songs, and Jón completes it all with the countless aspects of his musicality I think.

With that said, I bet that this kind of Metal in progression so to speak lured itself with quite a bit of challenges along the way. If there were, how did you deal with those difficulties while the album was in creation or recording?

I think that the process of writing music is inspiring to us. Of course there are times where we have to dig deeper to find our way but in general there is this flow of inspiration that just keeps on coming. It is hard to put words on really. But it is something that we are truly grateful about. The recording process is something quite different to the process of creating the music. It is a bit more straightforward hard work in some aspects but at the same time it is about so many aspects that connect with the creation process. The consciousness about feeling, groove and so on and really thinking about how to tell the music. Besides that, I think every band knows the struggle with technical problems regarding equipment, software etc. I wouldn't mind getting rid of those, haha.

How would you say that “Access All Worlds” developed you both as a songwriter and a musician? Would you say that you pushed yourself to your utmost abilities, finished the record barely with breath?

It is a huge thing to make an album and in all this there is a big development going on so many levels. This includes the songwriting aspect as well as the musicianship aspect. So yes, I think that there is always development but when you experience those more intensive periods the speed of everything is increasing I think.

The album’s lead single, “Voyage of the Garganey I”, paved the road to the rest of the album, as it was one of the first songs with the new lineup, how do you find its contribution to the record’s impact? Was the album’s musical direction based on this tune?

The song is very important to us because it was the very first song we worked on with Jón and the chorus was the very last thing we wrote and recorded before going to Göteborg to do the mix and master with Fredrik Nordström. So I think this personal story meant a lot when we had to choose the first single of the album. Besides that, it was also important to us to present the opener of the album and because the song presents something very essential to our sound which is the symbiosis of hard hitting metal and atmospheric spheres.

“The Weaver System” is a pictorial of magical atmosphere, such great melodies, crosses vocal styles with finesse. It was hard not to be captured by Aldará’s enchanting singing. What can you tell about the creation of this track?

The process of creating the song began with the intro guitar piece. This was a song that really just came to us. I´m glad that you think it has a magical atmosphere because that was very important to us when writing the song. We wanted to make a song that had a magical feel of nature to it and a song that would stand out on the album.

The album’s sound quality and production didn’t go unnoticed, Fredrik Nordström it quite a treat. I have always been a fan of his works but this one here is by far one of his best. What can you tell about the newly created sound of Iotunn through this record?

Thank you! We spent a lot of time thinking about who we would like to mix and master the album and we listened to a lot of different albums by different producers. It was important for us to make a sound that would underline both the metal aspect and the atmospheric aspect and we found Fredrik to be able to do just that. We had a blast making the album with Fredrik in Göteborg and I think he managed to put a very atmospheric touch to the metal which ended up sounding just right.

A lot of artists tend to shelter when this question hits but let’s do it. Which of the tracks on the album do you find as that one impactful that can’t stop thinking about? A kind of song that changed your perception?

I think every song is strong and presents a complete world in itself. In that way they have all been very impactful to me. We do everything we can to make each song as good as possible and in this process we also constantly think about the overall album. So it is a process of reflections about the whole and each song. So it really changes for me personally, but at the moment I really enjoy the energy of "Laihem´s Golden Pits"
.
If there is one thing that is tough nowadays is to promote the album properly, what are your plans in relation to that?

This is one of the aspects where we are enjoying life together with Metal Blade Records. Promotion is a tough thing and they are doing an amazing job in this aspect. The main wish for us is that the album gets out there.

Where do you see Iotunn heading in 2021?

2021 will be a year where we will be working intensely on creating our next album. This is something that we are enjoying at the moment and will dig deeper into throughout the year. Besides that we will do our very best regarding getting to play live. It is really about taking it day by day and to put in the best of effort possible. Also, we are looking forward to sharing the further voyage of Access All Worlds with everyone.

Jesper, massive thanks for your time and effort on this interview, I know I didn’t make it easy on you but this record demanded a lot of questioning. Simply amazing outcome mate. Cheers.

It is us who say thank you Lior! We really appreciate you reaching out and that you enjoy our music. Cheers!


 



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