Monday, October 17, 2016

Band Interview: TRAGEDERIA

Interview with Natasa Nikolic of TRAGEDERIA

Describe your recent activities as the keyboardist and vocalist of Tragederia. Are you writing lyrics for their new material? Tell the readers about how their material spoke to you and made you want to become a member.
My work within the band varies very much. Apart from playing and singing, I write my own singing parts and some orchestrations, I also frequently modify the parts I’m given, whether it’s music or lyrics. I see the songs as a never-ending process and like to come up with new ideas and change different parts of a melody or score. I like to keep track of the process, make notes for the lyrics. I believe it is a good habit and I know that I easily forget the details, so it helps me to focus on what’s most important. There have been many instances during recordings where I was asked to change the way I play or sing, and I’ve become accustomed to it. That’s also why you have to be able to adapt. I’m not always good at it and I’m sure many musicians suffer from this, but as a team we all need to work to get through it.
Since the departure of our lyricist/guitarist, I have begun writing lyrics as well. It’s nice since I like to be updated with the process and to know what’s going on. I have been writing for myself for a longer period of time, and it’s very exciting to be able to do something more with the texts. I began writing for the band a couple of months ago, along with our lead singer, Rickard, and we haven’t used any of the new lyrics yet. I try to “throw” material out if I’m satisfied with it, and then it’s out of my hands, since I don’t write the music, apart from modifying.
I have been with the guys for five years now, I met them in 2010 at a music competition. They had done a handful of gigs and I was impressed with them. I remember particularly standing in the audience and listening to one of their songs and just feeling the energy of the music and the lyrics. They delivered a kind of raw emotion which came through to me. They had a chance to listen to me since I was competing in the solo section and I believe there was some mutual admiration. I had been looking for a band to sing in for a while, but nothing really good came up. Even though I’ve loved metal and have listened to it for seven years back then, I had never really heard much growling vocals, apart from some other competitions I was attending and competing in. What I liked about them and what made them accessible was that I could hear the words they were singing. I got to know them, attended a rehearsal, they needed someone on keys and had a song that fitted my voice. It was good to hear how they worked together. I saw them live again after a few months. It was the first band I sent around to spread word about. We got off to a good start and I became a member in the spring of 2011.

Who were the poets and lyric writers who influenced you in the beginning? In what ways did they inspire you?
When I started writing, years ago, I read poems by Victor Hugo and admired that lightness in the words, something which I’ve sometimes tried to emulate. In college I had the opportunity to read “Inferno” by Dante Alighieri in the original language. Some of his presentations of hell and the souls who are lost there are spectacular. I like the lyrics by Dani Filth; it’s like metal poetry. Musically I would say it's more important to have your own style but lyrically I would like to experiment more. I get inspiration from Loreena McKennitt’s lyrics, and poems she has made into lyrics, like “The Highwayman” by Alfred Noyes.

What about Dante Alighieri’s Inferno made a lasting impression? How many times did you reread it?
First, it’s the size, there is so much to read and the way it’s all portrayed, very vivid. In a way you have to respect the amount of work that it takes, and on such an epic level. Then there are parts and words that are vulgar, but again, you wouldn’t really be able to paint a good picture of Hell without using less sophisticated words. I remember especially that the professor would apologize in advance when translating some parts of Inferno. I still have it in print, with modern-day commentary and notes that I added, but haven’t read it for several years. The work being so old, can be difficult to read without explanation and background. Words can be explained through other connotations. It’s so much fun and a bit overwhelming to try to understand the fact how much time it takes just to get a picture of what’s literally going on in the songs and how the different sinners suffer.

In what ways have you sought to emulate Victor Hugo’s approach to writing poems?
Sometimes when I read, I get an image of the poet writing, based on the content or style. I admire the way that some of Victor Hugo’s poems come across; there is something effortless in them. Sometimes there is lightness and easiness. I would like to be able to write in that style, but I’m not sure if I would have the inspiration. Still, it’s interesting to try and expand your mind and try to interpret different parts, reading poems of others or when writing yourself. Another thing I think of is that it’s brave to be able to write about personal experiences, especially grief, like he wrote about his daughter. To acknowledge the feelings and create art from that. It makes me think about some things in a different way and change my mind.

Are there other books that were similarly influential to you, for example Paradise Lost or anything by HP Lovecraft?
I recently began listening to some of Lovecraft’s stories, via LibriVox, which is a very good source of classics. It is free and has many books and novels which are in the public domain. We also have Necronomicon in the home library and I want to read it, because there is something very special about holding a book in your hands. I often have problems with keeping focus and reading is very soothing.
Wuthering Heights has been a favourite for quite some time, I don’t want to spoil it but I am very fascinated by that kind of story, while at the same time the surroundings and nature are also influential. It begs the question of what role our vicinity plays in our lives. Where we live can change our behaviour and the choices we think we have and how things might have played out. For me the contrafactual way of thinking is scary, just the words “What if…?”

What made you interested in the Necromicon mythos?
I went to a seminar featuring a writer that has written books partly inspired by Lovecraft, so I heard about some of the elements that make up his stories, the supernatural element etc. That was my first encounter. It has also been referenced in some movies and shows I have seen and watch now, and I think it’s fun to track down reference points. In a way it makes you realize some stories or authors are not as original as you may have thought, and others are actually more grounded in history.

What movies have you seen that reference the Necronomicon? How well do said movies represent it?
The Evil Dead and also the series Ash vs. Evil Dead. From what I’ve read the role of the book seem to be elaborated in the movies and series, maybe some of the mystery gets lost. But the basic traits are there. I don’t know if it’s possible to spin a concept like that further without changing it partially.

I’ve heard interviewees mention Wuthering Heights once or twice. What about this novel most appeal to you?
The fact that it is a positive story in some ways, that you can find friendship in unexpected places. Strong emotions, unswayed by time, they make a very powerful story. Many times it seems like main characters are balancing on a thin line, and in many ways that is appealing, not just because it makes me think about the potential people have to do whatever they want, change course of events and reach out. In other ways, it is a reminder that one single event can have drastic consequences, and I think about that a lot. In many ways humans wouldn’t function without feelings.

How do you liken Dani Filth’s writing to metal poetry? Name some songs you would cite as examples of this.
Well, there are many different themes in the songs, just like in all of metal. Many times the lyrics are elegant, romantic, but many wouldn’t notice them because of the style of singing, which is too bad. And the music makes the words come alive. Also that kind of lyric writing challenges my view (and maybe the view others have) of what makes good lyrics. It’s not only dramatic, but eloquent, you can almost taste it. Just like Dante’s work, you have some beautifully written, ethereal parts… and then the vulgarism. It’s appealing. Maybe it has to do with expectations as well, what other people would say looks or sounds good when music is added. I recall one of my friends from the U.S., Christine Scott, writing on Facebook and conveying the remarks of a “critic” who stated that poetry is dead and doesn’t serve a purpose anymore. How sad. I would say it’s alive and kicking as ever. But I think that you get so much more when working with music and adding all the different parts. Maybe that person just had a narrow view of poetry.

Which songs by Cradle Of Filth particularly showcase that balance you mentioned between poetics and vulgarism?
I come to think of three songs in particular, “Absinthe with Faust”, “Dusk and her embrace” and “Lovesick for Mina”. The songs as a whole remain elegant. I think that you get so much more when working with music and adding all the different parts, it becomes a new experience.

How much of Loreena McKennitt’s material do you personally own? Which other songs of hers speak to you?
I have individual songs, but mostly I like to listen to stream music, share and read comments for example. I don’t remember how I found her songs. “All Souls’ Night” and “Mummer’s Dance” are two favourites. She is a true artist. I like that she uses classical poems and puts them to music and gets inspiration from travelling. I have heard some live performances and it’s amazing music that makes me motivated to write, both music and lyrics, and there can never be enough inspiration, especially regarding music.

Have you also gotten inspiration from painters such as Hieronymus Bosch or HR Giger?
I am very much into classical art and paintings especially. I visited the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam this year. I don’t think that I get that much inspiration from painters, or I just don’t think that much about it when writing. It’s nice to study classic symbolism, especially the profane pieces and read about the lives of the artists. One painting that I love is “Monastery Graveyard in the Snow” by Caspar David Friedrich which I noticed in the Facebook group for Endemoniada Zine had been used by the band Mythic. That painting, which was apparently destroyed in WWII, raises again the part of nature in human experience or maybe just human activity and the consequences.

I remember Endemoniada Zine. I corresponded with their staff in the 90s. How did you hear about it?
As with many other good things, through Facebook. After a while, I started looking at the pictures of the different bands. I think it’s especially laudable that they despite having focused on female musicians and their talents, they still balanced and interviewed male musicians. I don’t think it’s a good thing when you exclude a part of the community.

What led to the departure of the band’s former guitarist/lyricist? In the time you have been a member of Tragederia, how much has your lyric writing improved?
During the last couple of months it became clear to us that some things didn’t work and could not be bettered despite that we tried and had to come terms with it together. We have learned a lot from the experience, one thing being that we had to make difficult decisions and part ways in order to keep going and not strain the bonds of friendship. Our album had been in the making for quite a long time and I think that some things became obvious when we finally got going with the recordings for real. But all the time it took was still worth it.
I’m not sure if I can say that I have learned to write lyrics in the true sense of the word. I try to challenge the shape of the texts and think about the stories and what is being portrayed more frequently, since I am not accustomed to writing songs at all. The ideas (and style, as I’ve been told) are there, it’s more a matter of form. It can be difficult since the lyrics usually come first. I am now aware of the need to be able to scribble down a few lines, and the time that has to be put into the lyrics. My hope is to develop further, and my hunger for good stories and lust for reading will, I hope, enrich the lyric writing as we go along.

How long had you been writing before joining Tragederia? How do you usually approach writing song lyrics for the band?
I had written for a couple of years. Back then it was more of a way to see what I could come up with and shake off some feelings rather than creating a story.
The beginning of the writing process varies a lot. It has happened that I just had to start writing very fast because everything was already in my head. Those moments are very exciting. When it’s not “all there” it usually begins with a single line, and I go from there. Songs can sometimes take on a life of their own. At the same time I don’t want to underestimate just sitting and plowing through everything and working in a moderate tempo. I rarely leave things completely unaltered.
What I’ve noticed is that writing lyrics can take me out of the comfort zone and force a different way of creating. Unless you have a specific melody, chances are you probably will write in a certain way. That doesn’t have to be a bad thing though. Now there tend to be thoughts along the line of “this can be a bridge”, or “this can be great for an outro”. Something that hasn’t changed is the awareness of how the words will sound when sung. But now, as there is no knowledge if the words will be sung in a growl type of singing or half-growl the way our bass-player Robin does or my more classical sound. For me personally, the choice of words and the way they sound can really make a difference. The vowels and the length can decide how much I can play around with it when I practice later on. It feels good to know that I can create my own style.

What sort of feelings were you trying to work out of your system in your first two years of writing? What sort of impressions do you get when you look back on those lyrics today?
When I first started, I dealt with anger and despair on paper, it was very personal but not the greatest thing poetically. I was writing what I couldn’t say. When I look back, I know that what I wrote was real emotion but lacked in depth, it wasn’t that eloquent either. I hope that some depth and other nuances can be conveyed more easily today. At some point I came to terms and acknowledged my emotions. It’s important for people to understand that everything is legitimate to express, be it euphoria, melancholy or anything in between.

Describe what the other members of Tragederia thought of your lyrics when first reading them.
I have heard what I think are mostly positive remarks. As I have not been writing lyrics very long, they have said that what I write looks rather more like poems and that I use more words that Rickard, our other lyricist (this still makes me laugh and I am not sure how to interpret it). Also, it has been said that some parts look like black metal-lyrics, which is nice. I welcome constructive criticism.

How were your earliest poems like a starting point to develop? How did you work on channeling emotions through verse?
In the beginning it was mostly about being able to describe explicitly what was happening with me and what I was feeling. For example, when I got upset over something, I have sometimes felt like something was obstructing my breathing and a feeling of panic. At that time I had to focus and make myself breathe normally. Or if there is something I am afraid of, I would try to write about those kinds of things. For me it’s important to try and describe an emotion, but also to tell a story. Nowadays I have more and more images in my head that I can write about and ideas flow all the time. Otherwise to me it looks empty. I try to do new things and wouldn’t want to go back to writing like I did before. I like to explore new emotions and consider it good verse if it makes the reader feel what I intended. It may be conflicting emotions, something gory or erotic, or both at the same time.

Could a song with poetic license be gory and erotic simultaneously? Many death metal bands explore topics of sex and death; do you think this dual concept could be taken further?
I would say it’s worth exploring the things you wouldn’t necessarily bundle up together. Many probably find gory themes erotic in a way and I can understand that. Somehow those two boil down to those things that are necessary in life. I would get if some think that those themes alone are a cheap shot, but you would have to ask yourself why they are popular. It’s very easy to assume that they are often exploited just for shock value. But my guess would be that many recreate what they themselves like. For my part, it is important to also write about some things that would normally be scary, to get out of the comfort zone. It doesn’t really work for every subject, but I believe it can be therapeutic. As far as topics of sex and death, I think that depends a bit on what you as the writer would want the audience to take away from the song. When you add music you can get new meanings and that could be the next step. It depends on the style, but it’s definitely worth looking into.

In what ways does writing lyrics of melancholy help to break the mold of lyric writing in metal? How difficult has it been to set your style of writing apart from other bands’ lyricists?
I see it as a good counter-balance to all the other kind of lyrics. I haven’t always been listening to metal but began with pop and rock. Those lyrics that mostly have a positive undertone nowadays seem boring to me. There is nothing wrong with that kind of lyric, but I think there needs to be a little of everything out there and other forms of expression need to be acknowledged. I like that there are singers who write more cheerful lyrics and also express sadness in songs. With the nature of the sound of my band and metal in general, it seems natural to be able to write something that isn’t too comfortable, for example stories of horror and set them to music. That’s what it’s about in a way, it shouldn’t sound nice. The actual sound should be good, but the songs shouldn’t be cozy. You should be able to take something away, to get something to think about.
I don’t feel like I need to force anything or make something up when writing, rather I seek to convey feelings and stories. It can be difficult to express some things in English. I try to read as much as I can and try to notice influences in songs I listen to, a phrase here and there, maybe figure out is it’s borrowed. There is beauty in writing while influenced by classical literature and mythology and that’s something that we have done. Now, with shifting of writers, I don’t think it will be difficult, when that time comes, for fans to notice a different style. But it won’t be forced from our side. And I think it would be awesome to actually do a song in Swedish. Listening to Swedish folk songs I realized that the language sounds really good when sung, which I’ve never thought about before. Another thing I’ve noticed is that a story doesn’t have to be very elaborate to make a good song.

Type O Negative perfected melancholy to an art form and were one of the more unique bands to break into the mainstream. Would you say that band has been influential to you?
To some extent, maybe, I admire the musical style and in some ways, the lyrics. But there are other bands that probably inspire me more that I can maybe compare to Type O Negative, and that are closer to my heart, like Sentenced.

What about Sentenced has spoken to you musically, in terms of personifying melancholy?
It’s music that allows you to feel sadness, but it can also make you wake up and feel motivated, especially when people try to get in your way or annoy you, because you get the feeling that you can take control of the situation, no matter what you may really feel. There is something that is disarming about the music. Death is also a big theme, in several ways. I think people shouldn’t be afraid to talk about death, but in a serious way. When people die, even though you move on, you won’t stop missing them. I know I would like things to go down in a certain way when I die. I think about that a lot (even though there is not much to think about per se), so it’s natural to listen to music that deal with those themes. They often write about death in terms of suicide, but for them it’s not really about wanting to end your life, it’s more of an outlet. A lot of the time there is a romantic thread mixed in, and the idea of mourning, which when I think about it, is really like a combination of love and despair. We can feel helpless when someone we love dies. It’s natural to die, so the best thing you can do in a way is writing about in a way that’s not scary. If you choose to die, some might say you’re crazy, but if you’ve made that decision in order to save someone else’s life, it becomes noble. But it is still sad, those different effects it can have are cool to disseminate.
Another thing is the way they quit playing. They finished it all in a really classy way. No tricks, just going out for the last time. It is something that many could learn from, because sometimes there is a tendency to gnaw at some things as long as it can be lucrative, instead of coming up with fresh ideas. A band should be able to change with time, but if the passion is not there, people need to be ok with that.

Name a few Swedish folk singers you have been listening to and what you like about them.
Emma Härdelin of the group Garmarna is an inspiring singer. I had not really listened to Swedish folk music before I heard them. They do a lot of medieval songs, and that is of course special, partly because their system for writing down notes was not as accurate at that time, so the interpretation becomes more important. The archaic phrasing and dialectical singing are nice as well. Someone I have been listening to for a longer time is Biljana Krstic, she interprets traditional songs from the Balkan region, which often have a very energetic sound. The lyrics in folk music can be very amusing to listen to, sometimes hard to decipher, depending on how you perceive the story. It can be an opportunity to learn new words and maybe gain some insights into the way people lived, customs, history. I also like Lena Willmark, who incorporates herding calls into her music, and fuses different genres. Her voice seems very powerful, free and her music creates a special listening experience. I try to bring some of that capricious singing style into our music.

How many albums do you have from Garmarna, Biljana Krstic and Lena Willmark? Which of them would you recommend?
From Garmarna, I have “Guds spelemän” and “6”, then the album “Zapisi” by Biljana Krstic, it’s some of the first folk music I listened to. It contains traditional songs from several regions and songs in different languages. I don’t have any albums from Lena Willemark, I stream some music, but I would encourage the readers to listen to “Windogur”, it’s really cool because it’s jazzy.

Do your listeners notice how your writing is unique? Do some words chosen convey your meaning more effectively than others?
We haven’t made any of the texts into lyrics yet. So far I’ve had positive reactions from the band and also from two friends who have had the opportunity to read some poems. As for the rest, I’ll let the other readers judge them, and later listeners. I also try to think about punctuation and such.

Quote songs you have written for Tragederia and explain how the lyrics fit the musicianship they are penned to. How often do the musical arrangements have an effect on your lyrics?
“In her cabinet of entertainment
Hanging flesh, in wild amazement
Pools of blood had me aghast
Ropes and silent screams at last”

“Try to hit adamant cliffs
Another mindless trait
Revenge lies not within the knife
Tell me, have you learned to hate?”

Neither of the songs has a real name yet. When I write, and that goes for the others as well, it’s mostly working titles. The first one is a tale of horror, which I think goes well with our sound and something that is worth exploring. The second one is a song about looking inside and realizing the strife within but also about observing the vicinity and people in general. I like the last line because it breaks the wall and allows the writer to turn outwards. Live it can be a good opportunity for the singer to interact with the audience. The music help to shape the lyrics, partially, some words can be added or removed to make a better fit or to make it sound better once sung. But mostly they aren’t affected much. Our composers sometimes get an idea what the music is about and pick the lyrics that fits best.

How do you intend to develop your lyric writing for Tragederia in the future? What new ideas have you been devising?
I would like to get feedback from the bandmates (and it would be awesome to get some input from readers and friends). I’ve been reading a book that instructs writers which we got from our study circle. There are things that deal with the practical approach of writing and among other things it says that it is important to just be able to sit down with the lyrics and work on it for a certain amount of time. You should incorporate a sort of work ethic and I would say that it is not the way I think about it. To me it’s not work, although I work at it. So basically, I will try to develop new writing habits. I am also thinking about trying to write a novel. It would be something with a historical background. Maybe doing some research, reading up on different themes and visit a museum. I have a huge pet peeve when it comes to writing and that is when writers completely ignore the background of their stories and don’t adapt the language at all. For example, the word “erotic” doesn’t fit in a novel set in the Middle Ages. So I would try to write something that is more “correct”, if you know what I mean, even you should be granted some artistic freedom (I have a word that I seem to have made up in one of my poems) the basic point is that the reader shouldn’t stop in mid-sentence, look up and think “What the heck was that?” I got a lot of encouragement from a friend to spread my texts and I started thinking about setting a theme that would allow me to deal with some phobias that I struggle with. It would definitely be a challenge.


-Dave Wolff

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