Interview with Lars Stavdal of Wallachia
Wallachia is a one man band first and foremost, yet having always been helped out by various musicians to complete the recording sessions. In 1995 Wallachia emerged as a duo consisting of Lars Stavdal as composer and handling lead guitar, bass & vocals, while Eystein Garberg (now guitarist in Lumsk) took care of the programming, keys & rhythm guitar. ‘Demo 1996’ was self-released on tape format and caught the attention of French label Velvet Music International who put out the recording as the ‘Wallachia’ mcd in 1997. Wallachia signed a deal with VMI also for a full-length album, and in 1999 ‘From Behind The Light’ was released in a limited pressing only, as the label disbanded shortly after its release. On the 1st album Lars was joined by two drummers, Lars Erik Vesterdal & Mikael Duna, who played on 4 songs each on this recording. After a long hiatus Wallachia re-released ‘From Behind The Light’ + demo as bonus in 2005 on cd format via US label Dark Horizon Records and also as tape format via Ukrainian label Nightbirds Rex, run by Roman Sayenko from the band Drudkh. In 2006 an instrumental pre-production was made for the 2nd album with good help from Polly from the Norwegian death metal band No Dawn. This lead further to getting in touch with Stefan Traunmüller from the Austrian bands Golden Dawn & Sternenstaub, who offered to record and produce the album at his own Soundtempel Studio. In the fall of 2007 the drumtracks were nailed by Austrian drummer Thomas Kocher, and finally in the summer of 2008 the full recording session took place. Stefan did not only engineer, produce, mix and master the album, but also contributed with doing all the orchestrations on the album. In Spring 2009 ‘Ceremony Of Ascension’ was released on German label Twilight Vertrieb. The album comes with a 16-page booklet with artwork and full design by Romanian artist Laura Sava.
And three years later, in the summer of 2012 Wallachia headed back into Soundtempel Studios to record the 3rd opus “Shunya”. Once again engineered and produced by Stefan Traunmüller and with Thomas Kocher behind the drums. This time Wallachia expanded the line-up and sound by having real orchestra elements incorporated, with cello performance by the Austrian girl Caroline Oblasser and violin & viola done by the Polish girl Anna Oklejewicz. “Shunya” is the most ambitious, personal and deep album from Wallachia so far, and sonically it dwells somewhere in between the early material and the more expansive sound that was developed on Ceremony Of Ascension, it’s an album that comes full circle with all the trademarks in Wallachia’s sound. Artwork and design were done by Laura Sava this time as well, and the lovely and autumnal cover art captures the melancholic vibes of Wallachia in a good way. “Shunya” is now released via Debemur Morti Productions and comes in a jewelcase packaging including a 16-page booklet.
HMA: Welcome to Heavy Music Artwork. The only site that promotes Heavy Metal as art & culture.
Wallachia: Thank you Alex, and it’s a pleasure to be featured on your site.
HMAW: How did the recording process for “Shunya” progressed. What was it like, how much time did it take, and what was the most difficult part of that process?
Wallachia: The recording process for “Shunya” was done in 3 steps, the same way as we worked on the previous album as well. It starts off with me recording an instrumental pre-production for all the songs, and the next step is that Thomas Kocher records the drums separately by using these pre-production songs as a guiding track. And in the end I go down to Germany and record all my parts together with Stefan, the engineer and producer. It’s a nice and efficient way of working since Wallachia has never been a full band in the first place. This time I booked myself in the studio for two weeks total as we also included cello and violin recordings on this album. So it’s basically a week of actual recording altogether, then a couple of days break in the middle of the process before doing the sound mix and post production stuff. The most difficult part for me personally was to keep the energy going, since doing all the guitar and bass work first, and with the intense heat and moist of July month in the Bavarian mountains, you’re pretty exhausted already by the time you start doing the vocal parts.
HMA: What does “Shunya” means to you, what message and experience are listeners set up against?
Wallachia: “Shunya”, the word itself translates as “empty” or “void” and it has a two-sided meaning. It’s mostly about feeling an emotional and spiritual emptiness, as some of the songs speak of personal experiences of loss, betrayal and a turbulent childhood that shaped a lot of the person I am today. And then it’s also a statement towards the busy and superficial modern world with the strong focus on materialism, where mankind gradually has lost its reverence for spirit and nature. It’s becoming more and more evident how the rapid growth of population has an effect on the planet as much as on mankind itself.
HMA: Would you say that it holds a ritualistic sound and concept?
Wallachia: Not really. There’s a thread throughout the album that fits with the album title, but I consider each and every song as an individual musical journey.
HMA: Paganism and nature are at the focal points in “Wallachia”, why are these topics so important?
Wallachia: I think that in order to move ahead and evolve as a being, it’s just as important to look backwards and to know your roots. I’ve always appreciated the beauty and purity of nature ever since I was a child, and I was in particular fond of the countless trip we made across the mountains to the Norway/Sweden border, with the snowy mountains even in early summer, the giant waterfalls, lakes and open fields. Just the peaceful feeling of being away from crowds and traffic. And paganism in that sense; feeling a spiritual connection to mother nature, that will always be a part of me. And not in any religious/ritualistic meaning.
HMA: You are the sole force and prime mover in “Wallachia”, is it always easy to find and recruit the right talents for your recordings?
Wallachia: Now with the two latest recording the process of gathering a line-up has been rather smooth, as we’re the same team behind both these albums. But in the past it was not easy at all to find suitable musicians, and in particular drummers for the more extreme style has always been hard to find. In fact that has been the main reason why Wallachia was on hiatus for many years. It wasn’t until I hooked up with my friend Paal and made the pre-production for the 2nd album that things started rolling, and I got in touch with Stefan who offered his assistance to produce and record the album, and also via Stefan we found Thomas, the drummer. And now after doing one more album this way, I feel confident about working on new material and plans ahead.
HMA: What kind of music and art inspires you?
Wallachia: The music that influences me I feel an emotional and personal connection with, that the songs somehow are a mirror of my personality and the way I feel. I’ve always been drawn towards music and movies that carries a melancholic, sad and beautiful feeling, as much as also the raw and savage expression appeals to me. I come from the late ‘80’s and early ‘90’s death and black metal stuff for the most part, and a lot of my fave releases still to this day remain within the ’89 – ’95 era, I would say. The early Hellenic scene with bands like Rotting Christ, Necromantia and Varathron, Bathory, Celtic Frost, Samael, Alastis, Ancient Rites, Monumentum, Mayhemic Truth, Deicide, Morbid Angel, Immolation, Emperor, Burzum, Windir, Tiamat, Woods of Ypres, Nachtmystium, Blut Aus Nord, My Dying Bride, etc. And I can also draw musical inspiration from other forms of art, be it paintings, photos, books or movies that leaves me inspired about a subject.
HMA: “Ceremony Of Ascension” and “Shunya” share the same look and feel, who is the artist and how have these amazing covers have been conceived?
Wallachia: Both these covers have been done by the Romanian artist Laura Sava. The “Ceremony…” cover was a fully digital painting whereas “Shunya” has a more mixed media technique putting it all together. The “Shunya” cover consists of 3 different elements and textures. Firstly you have the veiled person in front which is made from boxes and clothing to become this kind of statue figure, and then there’s the white tree and the falling leaves that are cut out from paper and the leaves are then spray-painted. Then these elements are photographed and blended in with the background forest photo that Laura shot herself on a trip in Transylvania. And it’s all edited together with some extra effects to smoothen the elements in harmony. So it’s actually a lot of handcraft and creative skill behind what she does. Check out her gallery here: www.facebook.com/LauraSavaArt
HMA: Do you get often involved in the creative process of the visuals in terms of direction and ideas?
Wallachia: I have a basic idea and feeling of what I want to achieve, and it’s just as much Laura’s interpretation of the musical and lyrical direction that in the end creates the result. With both of the latest albums there were done some sketches and ideas at first, and it’s important that both me and the artist herself feels that there’s a harmony between the music and the artwork. And I think that both the albums have a distinctive style and color palette that expresses the musical feeling. And it’s nice to have something exclusively and created from scratch as artwork.
HMA: Lastly, plans on taking “Shunya” on the road?
Wallachia: We have a loose plan of trying something for the summer/fall 2013 if we manage to put a full line-up together, so we’ll see. It would be interesting to do something live for sure.
HMA: Thanks for joining Heavy Music Artwork any final words?
Wallachia: Thanks to you, Alex, for the interview. And also to the readers at Heavy Music Artwork, thanks for taking your time to read and check out “Shunya” that now is out via Debemur Morti Productions.
Copyright 2012 © Alex Milazzo, Heavy Music Artwork. All rights reserved.