Singing The Winter Blues

Songs of personal tragedy set to a cold winter backdrop, Ayil discuss their second release.

If the Viking god Thor required a tad more thrust when dispatching his hammer to the southern regions from his stead up north, then he would be wise to call on relatively new four-piece band, Ayil to provide the perfect assist.

The rumblings stemming from one of Norway’s most northern towns is the sound of four angry young men reacting to issues associated with personal tragedy rather than rebelling against the generic injustices often associated with adolescence. By drumming up a beat that is the equivalent to the noises created by the natural elements colliding, as well as revealing various shades of light amongst the dark, Ayil has cut a four-track EP that sends an aggressive, hardcore hammer-wielding blow to the senses, but one that remains full of sensitivity such are the emotions on display.

The clues to opening the inner sanctum of Ayil can be found in their song titles. Without completely giving the game away, however, Ayil offer a glimpse of a world that is cut adrift from the rest of civilisation whether by choice or through circumstance, but it is one that fuels the very sentiments at the heart of each and every song gracing the band’s current EP.

It was the bleak and desperate shrills of opening number ‘All Lost’ which first alerted Famous Last Words (FLW) to the sounds of Ayil, who then proceeded to exert further greatness with a succession of bruised and battered offerings, with the finale ‘Unyielding’ leaving the largest imprint with its melodic and abrasive guitars rubbing together and dual vocals pogoing between Eivind Andre Strand Imingen and accomplice Benjamin Neirheim; the latter of whom sounds reminiscent of John Lydon circa PiL on occasions.

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Most remarkable of all, however, is the authority that Ayil command over their music and the direction that it is assuming, considering that their current EP, by the name of ‘Ayil’, is only the band’s second release. All of this, and with several of the band having to see out their final year at secondary school and first year at university respectively, sets up an intriguing future for Ayil.

“We’ve known each other for a long time,” reveals elected spokesman Eivind Andre Strand Imingen (guitar / vocal) regarding the initial foundations in terms of how Ayil got together. “The drummer [Markus Jacob Halvorsen] and I have known each other since the age of six. Then we met up with the guitarist, Benjamin Neirheim, when we were about eight or nine years old, so we’ve been at school together. We met the bassist Bjørn Trygve Skjerstad three years ago, and then we started the band about two years ago. In terms of where we find ourselves now, I’m actually living in Oslo due to studying for my Batchelor’s degree whereas the other band members still live in Bodø.”

For those less familiar with Norway’s geographical locations, Bodø, as hinted at earlier, lies to the north of the country with Ayil trying their hardest, via their hardcore sounds, to provide an image of their hometown as something of a desolate outpost filled with hopelessness and despair. The reality is far different of course.

“No, it’s not like that, as it’s actually quite a big town with much promise,” reassures Eivind on the subject of his hometown. “There are 50,000 people living there, so it’s grown pretty big. Having said that, the winter is really cold in Bodø and you just want to stay inside during this time of year.”

Do you feel that the harsh winters of Bodø have inspired Ayil’s music?

“Yeah, as it puts you in a certain mood because it’s really cold and dark in the winter and that’s when we tend to write most of our songs because we feel really inspired during the wintertime. It was also the bands that we started to listen to a lot, such as Norwegian hardcore bands Snöras and Kollwitz and therefore we felt inspired by those bands as it was the kind of music that we wanted to play. Therefore, it has been a combination of the bands which have inspired us and pushed Ayil in a certain direction, and then the environment [Bodø] helped us find our sound that we really like.”

Straight on the back of that answer, how would you describe your sound?

“I think it’s really hard to describe it,” says Eivind before continuing, “but I would say that it’s slow and really aggressive and kind of cold, as I get a cold feeling when I play it as it feels like home.”

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Considering the two different locations the band is living in, how does it work in terms of getting the band together to record new material?

“I moved to Oslo in August, but we’d been practicing a lot before that,” explains Eivind. “I have been back to Bodø a couple of times since then to practice with the rest of the band. The other guys are going to move to Oslo in August next year, so that should make things a lot easier in terms of the writing and recording.”

Is it difficult to promote the new EP ‘Ayil’ right now, considering the aforementioned distance between the band members, but also the fact that you all have busy schedules with your academic studies?

“I have quite a lot of school work right now, so I don’t have the time,” is the frustrating reply. “That’s been the negative aspect to all of this [studies], but we just wanted to get the EP out there as we’d been sitting on it for almost a year, so it has been a relief to see it released. Having said that, we’re thinking about our first gig in Oslo next January, with the intention of getting together to try to do a lot of stuff after that, but two of the band members are currently at videregående [secondary school] and the last member of Ayil is working at the moment to save money to move to Oslo, so it’s a bit difficult when it comes to promoting the EP.”

Surely there’s a positive to your predicament in terms of finding time for the band with that being that you have time to develop the band’s sound without rushing anything?

“Yes, I agree, as we’re working on ideas a lot by ourselves and then presenting these ideas to each other when meeting up which, in fact, I will be doing soon as I’m going to Bodø to have a lot of band practice and work on some new material.”

Do you have a record deal at the moment or is it something that you’re working on?

“We’re doing everything ourselves,” replies Eivind strongly. “In Bodø there’s a…I don’t really know how to put it [in English], but everyone who’s playing music in Bodø has a Do It Yourself [DIY] spirit as we like to do everything ourselves. So we’re not looking for a record deal because we like to be in control of our record releases and how it’s going to work.”

Is the music scene in Bodø really that independent?

“Yeah, that’s really how much it is in Bodø,” claims Eivind. “We have a festival in Bodø which has been running for fifteen years called the Bodø Hardcorefestival where the Do It Yourself spirit is really high and everything is carried out by the bands themselves. I think that’s also one of the things which have inspired us to start with this kind of music [hardcore] because we went to that festival for the first time and became really inspired. Also, everything around it [festival] is so cool and people want to do it.”

There appears to be a growing trend among a lot of bands the world over adopting a DIY approach in terms of self-financing or using crowdfunding when it comes to releasing music.

“Yeah, I really agree with that,” replies Eivind. “It’s so fun to be a part of the whole process from writing songs, going in to the studio and then making the press kits and releasing it all by ourselves. It also felt good to have the Diger [distribution] people behind us in terms of the ‘Ayil’ EP, as it really helped us to learn more. But it’s really easy to put music out now, as I think the record labels haven’t got as much power today as they did have [before].”

Can you elaborate a bit further in terms of what you mean when you mentioned that it’s easier to put a record out today?

“For example, there are these pages, as we released a single in January 2013, and we uploaded the song to a page called recordunion.com and then it became available on Spotify and iTunes, so it was that easy.”

What can you tell FLW about your latest EP ‘Ayil’?

“We recorded the EP at Store Studio in Bodø with a guy named Hallstein, who’s worked with a lot of other hardcore bands and is a great sound engineer and someone we admire. The EP took about four days to finish; we started on Thursday and finished on Sunday. We didn’t use much time [in the recording studio] because most of the songs were ready when we went to the studio. He [Hallstein] came up with a couple of inputs on some of the songs that made us sound better, which was good as he has a lot of experience, but it was a really fast process as we just went through the songs, played them live together in the studio and then just added the vocals afterwards.”

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What was the decision to go with four tracks rather than six tracks in terms of the EP?

“We had a couple more songs, but we felt that the four songs chosen for the EP were the best fit together, like in one piece, that’s the thing I like as when I listen to an album, I feel that the songs need to have a connection. Therefore, we felt that the other two songs were not a perfect fit for this particular EP.”

Who is responsible for the lyrics?

“I’ve written all of the lyrics and then we split up the parts which sit best with our voices in terms of our other vocalist [Benjamin Neirheim]. If I write some lyrics for Benjamin but he doesn’t feel that they work too well for him, then he will make some changes to them.”

While we are on the subject of lyrics, can you tell FLW what the song ‘All Lost’ is about?

“It’s just about people feeling sorry for themselves and wanting to lock themselves away and not wanting to speak to anybody else,” Eivind explains regarding the first track from the ‘Ayil’ EP. “For example, that such people just want to lock themselves in a room and don’t want anyone else around them. Most of the lyrics are based around my own experiences. I wrote that song when I was…yeah… [sounds hesitant]…when I was sitting in my room and just wanting to be alone, that’s how those lyrics came out.”

Do you feel that there is a lot of anger coming from within the band?

“We’re not angry people every day,” chuckles Eivind, “but the music is our way to get the anger out. I think we keep it inside until we’re at band practice and then we just give everything. I think it’s just a great way to get out all of the anger that we have so that we can be nice people [laughing] when we’re off stage! When we’ve finished playing, we’re just really nice guys [laughing] who don’t hate anyone.”

Your songs seem to consist of a lot of sensitive and very personal subject matter, especially judging by the title given to ‘Lack of Sleep, Mind In Pain’?

“Hmm…yeah, that’s just…eh…perhaps the same theme as ‘All Lost’ as it was written around the same time,” says Eivind struggling with his words and giving the impression of trying to conceal something rather personal which he goes on to explain. “I recently lost my mother, so I wrote those lyrics and…yeah…I didn’t sleep much and stuff like that, and that’s how the lyrics of those songs [came about].”

Who came up with the idea for the artwork for the ‘Ayil’ EP?

“We released a single in 2013 and we had a really good friend of ours who made the cover for that single and this is just something more that we all considered,” begins Eivind. “For the first cover that we released, there were caterpillars sketched for the cover. We decided to continue with this theme by agreeing with the artist, who came up with the ideas, that we would have the cocoons hanging from a branch, with the inside of the EP cover displaying images of butterflies.”

When it comes to hardcore music, do you feel that the music press in Norway are interested in providing coverage?

“It feels that they’re not that interested, but some bands do receive some attention,” considers Eivind. “Those bands which receive attention, often go in a more mainstream way where they still have that hard edge, but the songs are made in a way that is meant for the mainstream market and that’s the kind of band that gets attention.”

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Is this something that bothers Ayil regarding the possibility of a lack of press coverage?

“There’s nothing that really bothers us that much, as we just make the music that we like,” is the honest confession. “If people pick that up, then we’re really happy. It’s not that we don’t care that much [for press attention]; we just want to make music that we like. The most important part is that everyone in the band is happy with the songs.”

With a busy year in store for Ayil in 2015 that begins with their first gig in Oslo before hitting the books in preparation for first, and final year exams, with the prospect of starting work on their debut album soon afterwards, the gang of four from Bodø have every reason to feel a sense of optimism at what lies ahead. In the meantime, the four songs gracing current release ‘Ayil’ are more than enough to maintain the levels of interest until next summer arrives.

(Live photography courtesy of Joakim Bredesen Borge)

FLW - From the Tapes

Eivind Andre Strand Imingen shares one of his likes with FLW regarding Ayil’s fans attending their gigs.

“We’ve had a lot of positive feedback, especially from younger people in Bodø and its music scene as they seem to really like our stuff, which means a lot to us,” says Eivind. “The most amusing thing was when we had our first mosh pit, which I thought was really great!”

Interesting that you mentioned the reaction you received with the mosh pit as some hardcore bands have mentioned to FLW that they have experienced fans standing with their arms folded, trying to be cool with a look of disinterest. Has Ayil experienced any similar reactions?

“We’ve actually had one guy who’s been standing with his arms crossed next to the stage and just nodding his head and looking really serious, which I have seen from some of the footage from our concerts. Most of the people look really happy [at our gigs] when they’re having a mosh pit; they’re doing it because they’re happy and think the music is really great to jump around to and hold around each other. So we haven’t experienced any people who look as if they don’t want to be there, except this one guy who stands there with his arms crossed, but I have heard that he likes our music, so it’s just his way of being when at one of our concerts,” he finishes with a sigh of relief.

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