The Metal Observer recently had the chance to speak with the legendary founder and driving force behind Falconer, Stefan Weinerhall. Returning with the band’s eighth studio album, Black Moon Rising, which recently dropped on Metal Blade Records, Weinerhall speaks about the intensity of the new album, his approach to songwriting and influences, among other things.
After some brief introductions, the interview began with a focus on the new album, Black Moon Rising, because, of course, where else would we start? Black Moon Rising is arguably the band’s heaviest album to date. I asked Stefan if he could shed some light on the inspirations that brought such a heavy and riff-based album.
He replied, “I wanted to riff out and do metal with speed and attitude. The things that Armod (the band’s last outing) lacked. For this album I had a stronger will or hunger, where Armod was more of a paus-album, an opportunity to step back and do more traditional songs. I knew that I wanted a more riff based and aggressive album with more metal elements and a more scaled production without many harmonies, keyboards and other bling bling. You could say that the new album was like a reaction towards the last one.”
In following with this theme, I asked about the band’s statements regarding the new material, where they’ve said they sound revitalized and intense. Just what do they attribute this new energy to? The band hinted that it was artistically rewarding and satisfying to release and album entirely in Swedish. I was convinced that it was the cause. Weinerhall responds, “Though I was satisfied with Armod and I think we achieved what the goal with it, I certainly didn’t want to do the same thing again. I had done it. The goal this time was to write of some aggression and frustration I had from a couple of tough years privately. More riffs, faster songs and a stronger hunger and intensity was what I felt I needed this time and I think the result personally is a deeper sense of satisfaction. I had quelled the fire so to speak, the therapy was a success.”
Something you all may have noticed is that Falconer’s cover isn’t an earthy hue of green or brown or gray, like every prior album. I asked Stefan about who came up with concept of such a bright and captivating album cover. “I had the main idea for the cover and I knew that it should be focused on the dark red colour. Then it was up to the artist to add his ideas too and I really think this cover is the best we’ve ever had. I’d like to have it enlarged on the wall!!” You and me both. That cover is my favorite so far this year.
I asked Stefan about the songwriting on Black Moon Rising. Is it a collaborative effort or are you the main songwriter? Basically, I asked him to take us through the life of a song, from concept to completion. Was his approach any different than how he wrote songs on the other albums? “I usually get some input from Jimmy (Hedlund – lead guitarist) at least and some help in the writing here and there but this time around I did everything myself since it was a more kind of theraputical withdrawn work. I’ll change that for the next time again. Usually songs start from a bunch of riffs I have lying around. I might start with one of the riffs and simply try to slide it over into a verse and build it onward. If I have something lying around, like a verse or bridge or something that fit the tempo and style I might just try to copy and paste them to see if they might fit together. I seldomly write a song from start to end but I mostly bring in pieces I already have and mix it up with riffs or rhythm things to tie them together. When the song is done I have the vocal melody on guitar. Just doing rhythm guitars without any melody is pointless. My bad humming or whistling always goes hand in hand with whatever chords I try out. Then it is basically about trying to write a lyric to it or try to adapt a lyric I have lying into the song. For a few times I have a lyric and then try to do music for it, both most often the music comes first.”
Of course, what interview with the founder of Mithotyn (Stefan Weinerhall also founded that group if you didn’t know) would be complete with stirring up some dust. While I know this is pretty much ancient history, what provoked the desire to switch from the harsher vocals on Mithotyn into the clean vocal style with Falconer?
“The main reason for the switch from Mithotyn to Falconer was that we were a bit done with Mithotyn at the time and when our label dissapeared it just felt like it was the right moment to move on. During that time I listened less and less to brutal music but had returned to my child hold heroes within Heavy Metal and Hard Rock. I had also discovered Jethro tull, Queen and Mike Oldfield. Things that opened up my mind and of course I wanted to play what I listened to. So we ended Mithotyn and I started writing for something new. The music was more in the Heavy Metal direction but still with the Nordic folksy feel to it, I certainly didn’t know what to call the end result since I didn’t think it sounded as normal Heavy Metal. Then when it came time to record a demo for the project I started looking for a vocalist who could record it just to see how the songs could turn out. I didn’t know of any Metal singers but I got a hold of Mathias and as he had done it I thought the result sounded great but it really didn’t sound more like Heavy Metal. Would people laugh at us? Well, most didn’t and we got a record deal which meant that Mathias became a member and I asked if the drummer from Mithotyn, Karsten Larsson, would like to join us so we didn’t would have to use my Dr. Rhythm drum machine for the CD too.”
I’m extremely impressive that he’s been able to retain a signature style of guitar playing across both bands, and it has worked incredibly well with both styles of metal (although I like the work with Falconer a lot more). So I asked if there were any guitar players or songwriters that were big influences on his development as a guitar player or songwriter, and if so, who are they?
“If I would have to think of my own style as writer and guitarist as original or in a trade mark style I would have to guess that the reason is my lack of knowledge of how others do it. No lessons and no covering other bands. I might have played a riff from Iron Maiden or Deep Purple but never any song so how they build their songs or guitar riffs I just don’t know. I guess that can result in an own style. The folksy style I tend to write most natural I have no answer to where it comes from it’s just my style. even if I love Iron Maiden, Kiss, Jethro Tull, Death, Bathory etc it’s hard for me to pinpoint any direct influence. I guess everything I listen to can influence me unconsciously.“
There has always been a medieval, folk flair to a lot of Falconer’s songs. So, I asked Stefan if it is natural incorporating these melodies into his writing or if it’s difficult to get the sounds to properly mesh. Are there any composers, songs or styles that you get the basis for your riffs and folk melodies? I feel like I hear a few nods towards Celtic folk music in tracks like “The Priory”. Was that intentional or just the way the melodies came out on the album?
“Sometimes I come up with ideas that just sound like medieval England as I say. Then I try to incorporate them into a fitting song in the right style. I pretty much have a formula to fill for each album. A bunch of fast galloping songs, one ballad, one rock song and one a bit more medieval song. It’s not often I feel I have to listen to something special to get into the right mood but it can happen. I think it’s more usual that I just happen to hear a passage or something somewhere and I just instantly burst into creativity. It might light something inside. But most often it pop up fragment when I riff that I work on.”
What interview is complete without finding out influences? So in keeping with the theme of influences, Falconer is often cited as a huge inspiration for the ever-growing folk metal scene. I asked Stefan how it feels to have his works regarded among the best in metal? Are there any other folk or power metal acts that have peaked your interest? In the same token, are there any bands that you listen to on a constant basis or wish to recommend as your favorites? What’s in your CD player right now?
“At the moment I have got stuck on many bands at Rise Above Rec. The 70’s sound. Of course I feel quite good if people think my writing has influenced or colored people or a style in any way, but I can’t say I have experienced it much. What always is rolling in my player is Kiss, Iron Maiden, Jethro Tull, the Dio years of Rainbow and Black Sabbath. Nothing is better than that!!!!
Gamma Ray, Running Wild, Nocturnal Rites and early Avantasia is according to me top notch Power Metal.”
With Falconer’s ever-growing discography, I wondered if there were any moments, albums or songs in their history that the band was disappointed with or would change. Stefan remarks, “Sceptre of Deception did’t have much quality in any way. All songs except the 3 last could be trashed, the sound sucked, Krisstoffer sounded misplaced in the folksy style, he sounded more in place on the next album Grime vs. Grandeur. The lyric for “Lord of the Blacksmiths” is embarrassing. A few of the later tracks from Armod do not hold the appropriate standard. Most of my guitar solos on the early albums are moments I fast forward. Apart from those things I am content to really proud of everything.” You should be proud, as Falconer has some of my favorite albums of all time.
Something that has really been bothering me… Falconer is one of my favorite metal bands and has been since the release of the debut. Their music (but not their likeness) was featured in a car commercial. They are signed to one of metal’s largest independent labels. They’re in the master class of metal. How does Falconer remain such an underground phenomenon?
Stefan’s answer is logical (but I still think they should be bigger), “It is because we don’t promote the band or the albums with tours and all kind of shows. If we would have gone all in from the beginning we would have be way bigger and sold at least 3-5 times more albums than we do now. In the beginning we were supposed to be a studio project and later on when we had done a few shows we were tied back by Mathias schedules at musicals and theatres. He just couldn’t take time of here and there to do shows since it’s not as easy to replace a performer and actor as it is to replace welder Tom at the factory. When he returned to the band we knew of that condition plus many of us had gotten families, houses, jobs, loans etc etc so we all prioritized differently and were set on keeping Falconer a hobby thing. Of course it feels disappointing to having to turn down a show in USA, India, a car commercial for Mini Cooper, tours here and there since all of us don’t have the time or possibility at that moment. Maybe not sad just because of the band but also out of personal experiences and possible memories. To keep the band up to date, ready for the stage all the time is not possible either. It just takes to much time and nothing in return to be ready to burst in to a show every 4th month, so we concentrate on the reason Falconer IS: writing and recording. We might do live shows if we can can get a bunch of interesting offers at the right occasions so we can rehearse a set and do it.”
I asked Stefan if there was there anything else he would like to mention about the new album or the band in general that hasn’t been covered? He answers, “Well we will make a music video for one of the songs on the new album. Apart from that I can say that we had plans to do a few summer festivals this summer but since I was to late to check with festivals most of them were full when I reached them. So I will make a new try for 2015. We haven’t played live at all since 2009 and that is maybe a bit too long for even Falconer!!”
I always have to get a little bit fanboy. So I thanked Stefan for his time and answers to my questions and basically told him how much I would be listening to Black Moon Rising. Stefan closes with, “Thank you very much. I usually don’t play our album as much after they’re done but this on is still spinning. This is easily one of my favorite albums I have ever recorded. Hope to be able to play you some of the songs next summer somewhere. Cheers!!!”
There you have it. The legendary Stefan Weinerhall of Falconer telling us why you probably haven’t seen them live and giving us all a little insight into their world. Thanks again for the time. If you haven’t picked up Black Moon Rising yet, go get it now.