By Jimmy Ness
This is the extended version of my first feature for Noisey/Vice. You can check it out here.
While you, dear reader, might have enjoyed black metal for the corpse paint, lavish leather outfits and Satan worship, if you were weird like me you listened to it for the educational value. Andreas Hedlund, also known as Vintersorg after the band he founded in 1996, sings about his passion for science, astronomy, philosophy and nature. Long before I peeled off my metal spikes and put away the impaled bovine heads, I spent hours absorbing his thought-provoking brand of metal.
The 39 year-old plays multiple instruments and leads about half a dozen other projects including Borknagar, Fission, Havayoth, Cronian and Otyg. Despite having cult status among fans, he rarely performs live and instead focuses on his job as a primary school teacher.
His music incorporates folk and progressive elements, and has been labeled everything from space metal to avant garde. But one thing is for certain, if you have never heard someone scream about Christopher Columbus over blast beat drumming, you're in for a treat.
Vintersorg recently called me from Sweden and while my 13 year-old self wept tears of joy, we chatted about being a black metal school teacher, his favourite scientific theories and man’s relationship with nature.
When did you become interested in space, science and the earth?
I guess my interest in these subjects came along with the fact that I was born, in a way. Of course I didn’t really investigate it from the very beginning. When you are a newborn, you don’t have the ability to understand who you are and what you are in this kind of world. But as soon as my mind woke up, I was very interested in all of the subjects that refer to man and nature. I live quite remotely from big cities. I live very far north in Sweden quite near the Polar Circle actually, so I’ve always had these elements around me, the elements of nature. For me I didn’t actually think of it as an interest because it was just my ordinary life. Then of course when I grew up I understood that you could choose a life from another perspective - if you are living in a big city or if you’re living out in the desert or whatever. My mind was just open from the beginning from where I was standing. As a child, you just relate to what you see around you.
Why did you start to write about this stuff in your lyrics?
I don’t know really. For me it was very natural to write about this stuff because that was the world I was growing up in. Of course when you spend so many years with these kind of surroundings you start to get more interested in them. I was learning more about nature so when you are learning more about nature, you are learning more about science. From the beginning of course I was looking at nature from a visual point of view, but after a while you start learning about the other stuff behind the obvious visual kind of things. I always felt a very strong connection with science, nature and folklore. I don’t see that they are opposites. Folklore is of course a kind of pagan belief, but they saw nature from a different perspective they didn’t know about science. I don’t blame them. I think folklore still has a place in life. Of course from our historical perspective, but also from looking at nature with a romantic perspective.
Do you have a favourite scientific theory that you think one day might be proven to be true?
Some years ago I kind of soaked my mind with that stuff for 24 hours a day. I follow the progress in science but not as frequently as I did five, six, seven years ago. I believe Stephen Hawking’s theory called T.O.E (Theory Of Everything). I think somehow you can find out the theory that connects all of the other theories together, but that one is of course very obscure and hard to translate into our way of thinking. I think there is one great theory that will connect all the other theories. I see wholeness in everything actually.
You are a primary school teacher. What grade and what subject do you teach?
I teach children everything from when they are six years old. I teach several subjects right now. I teach scientific stuff, I also have done some social stuff. I work all my days with children and I think that’s the best way you can have a relationship with humanity because children are so new into this world. They have all this curiosity, they are so open minded. Many adults are also open minded, but when you are a child you don’t have this baggage of cultural stuff, this baggage of religious stuff, you don’t even know what they are. I really like to work with kids because they are so curious about stuff. They want to learn. In seventh grade your mind is filled with other things, your testosterone increases [laughs].
Do any of the students, parents or teachers know that you are a progressive black metal singer?
Yup. I’m 39 years old, so I have parents that are at my age. I live in a small town so they know me perfectly. They know me as a musician and also some of them are my friends and that’s no problem. I’m a very open minded person. I’m very open with who I am and what I do. So everybody knows what I do and everybody’s cool with that. Everybody actually thinks it’s really cool to have a teacher that’s kind of a… well they think of me as a rock star, but I don’t think of me as a rock star. You know the drill.
Are you ever tempted to yell at the students in your black metal voice?
Actually I don’t really do that. Of course kids push your buttons, your invisible buttons at times. But there’s a thing that I do when I go into the school building, I remind myself that the first rule of working with kids is don’t let them push your buttons and when they try to do to it I remind myself that he or she is just trying to do that. But I’m not getting offended by it, so I stay very cool and it’s whatever. I don’t really yell at the children at school with my black metal voice but if you ask my kids at home, they may have another theory about that.
What made you choose a steady occupation over touring full time?
Because of kids again actually. I became a father 9 years ago and before that I was kind of having that debate with myself. Like am I going to become a professional musician all year long? So then I had a son and then it was not a debate for me anymore. It was very clear. It was about the time I was pursuing my teacher degree so it was very natural for me to stay at home, have my daytime job and be with my kids. Then two years later I had a daughter, so for me it’s been a very easy choice to stay at home and be with my children. But I like to do some gigs now and then. So now we are doing some festivals and stuff. With Borknagar, everybody in the band except the drummer has kids so everybody is kind of in the same position.
One of my favourite songs of yours is “The Explorer.” Can you tell us about the concept behind this song?
First of all, that album [Visions from the Spiral Generator] was kind of a leap in another direction. I wanted to make it very clear that this how I feel about life and everything. The song “The Explorer” for me is kind of a statement - that is a little bit who I am. I refer to other explorers in the lyrics a little bit, but for me I see myself as an explorer as well. I don’t know everything, I’ve never been the kind of guy that thinks “Oh, I’m the best in the world, I know everything, I have the authority to that or do this.” For me, I’m totally the opposite. I’m a little bit of a curious guy. I’m a little bit of a shy guy. I think “how is this going to work? What is this all about?” Some would see this as a kind of insecurity, but I know who I am. I always try to be a better person. I want to see how I can benefit things in the world and also that will mean I will be a better person. But also I’m totally a nature freak. I’m not a Greenpeace freak, personally I think they are using the wrong means to do their thing. I don’t quite know how to put it so let me use an example: you see a bulldozer going to put down a rainforest. They drill a hole in the bulldozer’s gas tank, so alright the bulldozer isn’t going to devastate the rainforest, but the fire will.
Your two most recent albums Jordpuls and Orkan are part of a series of four albums, one dedicated to each element of the planet.
Why did you decide to move from space back down to earth?
For me, I couldn’t really let this kind of stuff go away. The four elements have been my guiding star since I was kid, you know. Of course the four elements in the classical theatrical way isn’t really how we see the world now days cause that’s from the old Greek stuff, but I still like the four elements as kind of a symbolic theme as to how life is built up, how we can feel it, how we can see it, hear it, everything.
You’re not the cliché black metal musician. You don’t wear corpse paint or just sing about negative themes. You’re an open-minded family man. Does that seem strange to you?
Well I haven’t really thought about it that much. Someone would probably think that I’m not the right one for the job at some times, but on the other hand I like black metal for all of its aspects. I like death metal. I like progressive rock from the 60s and 70s. I like heavy metal from the 80s. I like so many different kinds of music, so I have never tried to adapt myself. I try to express something and I try to express it out of passion. I really feel like I have a kind of addiction to music.
Your folk band OTYG has recently reformed. Can you tell us about the line-up and if you plan to do any shows?
No shows planned at the moment, but we are doing a new album with totally brand new songs. It’s going to be something really special actually. All the members that have been in the band are going to be on the album. So the drummer from the first album is going to do like half of the album and the drummer from the second album is going to do the other half. It’s going to be a big happy family thing.
You are constantly creating new music. How do you stay inspired?
I would say you are asking the wrong guy, cause I don’t really know! I’ve been addicted to music since I was like four to six years old. I’ve done a lot of stuff in my life. I’ve been a caretaker. I’ve been a car mechanic. I’ve done so much different stuff work wise and now I’m a teacher, but music has been my best and most comforting friend since I was very young. I can’t really imagine my life without music. Some people really don’t care about music at all, but for me it’s like a drug. It’s a very friendly drug because it makes you really think and it makes you feel. I can’t explain it more than that.
Musicians from Scandinavia always seem to have a strong connection to nature. Why do you think this is?
I don’t know really. For me, I’m so bred into it that I don’t really know how to answer. I think everybody is interested in nature, it just depends on where you are living. Here in Scandinavia there are not that much people per square mile so everybody has a relationship with nature in one form or another. But also in terms of the definition, what is nature? A city, isn’t that nature? Well from my point of view its not really, from my point of view nature is a thing that man hasn’t made, but it’s a tricky kind of question. Nature has so many elements that appeal to man. For example, you have a black forest. It appeals to a lot of emotions, so it could appeal to like fear or it could appeal to excitement. It’s totally different depending how you see it. Nature has so many things that man is dependant on and also has so many feelings wound up in it. I think it’s very natural to use that kind of force as an inspiration source.
I heard you’ve actually gone and lived in the wild before?
Yeah, between 96 and 99 I lived in a cabin in the woods. But of course I had some connection with the outside, I cut back into my small town from time to time to get some stuff but for three years I lived in an old cabin and it was actually one of the best things I could do with my life at the time.
Yeah, and it just fulfilled my vision of how life could be. When you wake up in that old cabin, it’s 2 minus degrees indoors and you know you have to get up and make a f**king fire. [laughs] You know in the winter I had to go to the lake, and make a really big hole in the ice with an axe to get water. You know that you’re alive when you do that kind of stuff.