(Norway-based Karina Cifuentes returns to NCS with this interview of Andy Marshall, the man behind Scotland’s Saor, whose new album Guardians will be released on November 11. Photos by Land of Light Photography.)
When it comes to composition of both music and lyrics, do you need to have a particular mindset or do you need to be at a particular place to compose?
I don’t need to be in any particular place but I like to take my acoustic guitar with me when I’m visiting my family’s cottage in the Isle of Skye. It’s really remote and the landscape from the garden is stunning. I also get a lot of inspiration from hill walking or when I’ve been out exploring in the wild. Sometimes it just takes a film, book, or soundtrack to trigger my creative side. I usually start out with a guitar riff or melody then start adding other instruments. As for mindset, I definitely have a place in my head I go to when I’m writing Saor material. It’s total escapism.
Saor’s music makes you want to jump right in the album and enjoy the atmosphere. To me it is pretty connected to nature. What kind of arrangements does this new album have in order to create that awesome deep and authentic feeling?
That’s a hard question to answer. I like my music to sound atmospheric and I use a lot of reverb and delay effects, I like a mix of aggression, heaviness, and ethereal sounds. I suppose the nature side of things comes from the traditional instruments I use, like tin whistle, acoustic guitars, and fiddle.
The colors in the cover remind me of the blue shades I have seen in glaciers here in Norway. It’s a beautiful association, but what about you, what inspired the cover artwork?
The cover was painted by Sebastian Wagner, I found his stuff online and I was really impressed with his work. He painted something similar for a video game/animation and I liked the bright blue colours. When I was writing Guardians I always had the image of the mountains at each side and a river running through the middle for some reason. I told Sebastian my ideas and that’s what he came up with.
I spend a considerable amount of time looking for atmospheric/space/ambient bands and I find lots of synthetic music (not that I’m against it), but the more the digital instruments develop the more metal moves towards it, and at times it gets generic and shallow. It has come to a point when I get kinda impressed when I notice there has been a conscious effort in creating music with tangible instruments. What are your thoughts on this trend? Why is it important for you to make your music sound more organic, more real?
I try and stay away from digital sounds as much as possible. Sometimes it’s unavoidable but I prefer to use real instruments. I think you can get away with it when you are recording piano and synth sounds, but it’s pretty noticeable when you start using fake strings and amp simulators. This is why I prefer listening to older metal records, because it has a kind of rawness to it. Although, I quite enjoy all of the crappy ’80s/’90s synth strings — it creates a really strange and unique atmosphere. Modern metal production really bugs me because there’s no dynamics, it’s far too loud and compressed and sounds almost robotic.
Is it difficult to adapt traditional instruments, like the bagpipe, to metal? How do you do it?
Sometimes. I record demos with the basic guitars and drums first and then add all of the folk instruments. Sometimes I need to mess around with tunings and edit stuff, but it usually ends up working in the end. I don’t really know if it’s difficult for the session musicians, you’d have to ask them.
Tell us about the lyrical themes, what do you want to express with the album.
The lyrics on the new album are taken from traditional poems. They are quite sorrowful and focus on fallen heroes, battles, and a love for the Scottish landscape.
I loved Aura and I think you have outdone yourself with Guardians — we could say that Saor is a success. What would you like to say to underground bands still struggling to get somewhere? What does it take in your opinion?
Thanks! I think Aura is a complete mess in terms of production and playing but I think that “Aura” and “Pillars of the Earth” are great tracks. That album never turned out the way I wanted it to, maybe I’ll re-record it all one day. For me, Guardians is the album I always wanted to create.
I’d advise struggling bands to try new stuff, think outside the box. I think one of the unique things about Saor is that I have the Celtic/Scottish music along with the metal. I sometimes have bands/artists sending me their stuff and while it is performed well, I’ve heard it a million times before. A lot of them stick to the generic “metal” sound. I’d say, listen to some other genres, start experimenting with your sound.
I’d also advise them not to sign to a “big” label. Work with small, established indie labels and sign a deal which suits you. Stay as independent as possible, make your own merch, organise your own gigs.
I dare to guess you get inspiration from other kinds of non-metal music, if you do can you tell us about it…
Yeah, I love lots of different music. Where do I start? I still love all the old rock classics I grew up listening to. Obviously I like some metal, but not a lot. There’s a couple of classic black and folk metal bands I love but I don’t listen to a lot of new stuff. I’m also a fan of post-rock, shoegaze, classical, folk and weird shit like Gregorian chants. I don’t listen to stuff like rap and shit pirate/drinking/party metal.
Anything else you would like to say?
Thanks for the interview. Guardians is out Nov 11th and is available for pre-order at: