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Forndom - Interview

We are living in a time where people remember their old traditions and values, sometimes romanticizing them although they refer back to much harder times than ours and music is definitely a big reflection of this yearning. Bands that use old instruments, shamanic drums and such create an almost rudimental, meditative sound are trendy these days. Some of these bands already existed decades ago, for instance Shaman (the former band of Korpiklaani's frontman Jonne) without being widely known although they were absolutely authentic and made great music. On the contrary, some bands gained well-deserved worldwide success such as Wardruna and now there are a lot of copycats. But afew bands still stand out and manage to surprise their listeners with their very own style and interpretation of spirituality such as FORNDOM. Thus we wanted main man Ludvig Swärd to be a part of ViaOmega to tell us more about it all.

Interview by Uta Arnold



ViaOmega: You have just returned from a little Scandinavian tour, what can you tell us about your experiences, especially now in these COVID times? What restrictions did you still have to face?

Ludvig: Well we were actually really lucky as the Swedish state decided to release all the restrictions on the same day as the tour started! However, I think the restrictions affected the tour very negatively, especially when it comes to the audience. It was also a great problem to reach out to everybody that restrictions were no longer anything that affected the tour. I also think that the fact that the restrictions went back and forth since the start made people very uncertain if events would even take place. For example the upcoming tour with Lili Refrain and The Devil’s Trade has been postponed for two years and I know that I’m far from alone when it comes to a postponement for this long. So for the first concerts there were actually very few members in the audience but when we got to Stockholm and Gothenburg the audience was not any different in size compared to before the pandemic. The fact that the pandemic was still going on did not affect anything about the performance itself and I would not say anyone among the crew were very worried about it but this was also in the time of Omicron that had proven to not be as lethal as the early variants.

The only place that had a seated audience in the end was Södra Teatern in Stockholm which has fixed chairs as part of the venue, being an old theatre. In all honesty I can also appreciate a seated audience. The mood becomes a bit different of course but also very suitable to the music itself.


VO: In the times of COVID many artists have done livestreams. Have you considered it too?

Ludvig: No, I have never even considered it. For me the reason to perform live at all is the contact between the artist and the audience; they both take part in what happens and even if a band plays the exact same concert it could be experienced vastly differently depending only on the audience itself. One can see it as going to a church – what is the point of a priest standing and talking if there is nobody there to listen? – in the end it is the engagement of the audience that makes concerts what they actually are. This contact for me is something that is just as important as what happens on stage. If this contact is lost I find no point in performing live at all. But I also think this depends on the fact that I also see my live performances as part of something larger – something religious and in the end that would be like dancing around the maypole alone – streaming it live to the world.


VO: Are you planning on visiting the rest of the world soon as well? Especially The US?

Ludvig: There have been plans for it but nothing serious up until now. I know that I have many American fans but have personally never been that very enthusiastic about The US or American culture at all in contrast to many others. I know there are many beautiful places in TheUS when it comes to nature though. But of course if I would receive a nice offer with good places to perform I wouldn’t say no. I have never played in southern Europe so that is something that I would greatly appreciate. My heart will always remain in Europe though.   VO: Actually it was Eivør, asinger from the Faroe Islands, who introduced me to your music. I have no idea why I didn't notice you sooner! Do you have an overview about how well received you are in certain countries of the world? Ludvig: Oh that truly surprised me! I love Eivør’s music and have been listening to her since she participated in the soundtrack for a Swedish documentary called “Stenristarna” in the mid 2000s. I’m a big fan of her music and often play her music at home or on the road. Silvitni is such a great song. I feel honored to have been introduced by her. Yes, more or less at least, I often use the application Spotify for Artists to get an overview of where my listeners come from and at times it can be quite interesting; for example when two neighboring countries listen to my music completely differently, even though their population is more or less the same.


VO: What were the biggest festivals that you have played so far? Which are the places that you want to return to?

Ludvig: It depends on what you mean by “biggest”. For me the greatest festival I’ve ever played was House of the Holy in Austria in 2017. It takes place up in the Austrian mountains surrounded by vast forests and nothing but respectful people that never leave a single piece of trash upon the ground. This is a very small festival that only allows a limited number of people though, usually no less than 400, so I would not consider it the biggest in numbers nor the best in sound but nevertheless one that will never leave my memory. Besides that I also played Menuo Juodaragis in Lithuania last year, which takes second place. This is one of Lithuania's largest festivals with a special direction towards folk and traditional music and a few metal exceptions. What I liked so much about it was once again the kind atmosphere and the people participating. In the end numbers do not matter for me when it comes to a good festival but rather (and once again) the atmosphere created by the people participating. 


VO: Which is the venue or place of your dreams to play a gig at one day?

Ludvig: To return to both places mentioned above. I’m not the kind of person who goes around with goals of where I want to perform. I’ve played at many other beautiful places, though. I really liked the atmosphere of performing at Södra Teatern during the last tour, and I hope that there will be more venues equal to this one in the days ahead. I also performed a small acoustic concert in Emanuel Vigeland’s Mausoleum in Oslo some years ago. I would gladly return there for a performance one day, even if the audience number is very, very limited.



VO: It is very unfortunate that the tour with Darkher cannot happen anymore. That would have been such a perfect match! Which brings me to the question - how much say do you actually have in choosing the support acts and headliners that you want to tour with (not sure if you or Darkher would be the headliner here!). And if you could choose freely what are the criteria for who you'd like to work with?

Ludvig: The tour is still happening, even though Jayn from Darkher decided to drop it for personal reasons. I think that her replacement, Lili Refrain, is equally as talented and a perfect match for it as well. The tour is a triple-headliner with a changing schedule so we are all headlining and don’t put anybody else before the other. I think that is nothing but fair. People put far too much weight into headlining as a concept overall. I sometimes have a say in whom I would like to travel with, but I also receive suggestions and offers from the live management. If I could choose freely I would love to travel with artists closer to the traditional folk scene – or for that matter, someone like Eivør. But also artists and bands with a similar idea of the music and atmosphere, although with a different approach.


VO: What made you choose Darkher for guest appearances on your album "FAÞIR"? What was it like to work with her? Did you actually meet, or did you just exchange recordings via the web?

Ludvig: Oh yes we met the first time in a Polish festival called Castle Party. If I remember it right we were staying at the same hostel and hung out quite a lot throughout the festival and spoke about different ideas and quickly understood that we had a similar idea behind our music, even if the sound was a bit different. I also fell in love with her pure voice, which was nothing like the pop-influenced voices you hear far too much of today – instead it was more towards the classical school, which I really appreciated, and thought would fit perfectly for my own music. I had already then finished writing my last album even if it was not completely recorded yet so I managed to have her voice in mind for the songwriting and on the album she often accompanies my vocals in the role of Death herself. She was recording the vocals in my studio here in Sweden and did it so impressively. As she did not know the language, she asked me to sing it at first and then wrote down imaginary words of how it sounded, and I think that worked perfectly, rather than trying to read from something that she wouldn’t know how to pronounce. I’m very happy with the result and I’m also very proud to have participated on her upcoming record.


VO: Any other dream bands you long to be on tour with?

Ludvig: All of them are dead. But one day, sure. I mostly listen to traditional Scandinavian folk music or classical composers though, and they seldomly have a habit of touring in an equal manner. But of course I would never decline an offer from any artist that I’ve heard of and know of as a talented person. But like I’ve mentioned, I’m not the person who goes around dreaming about these kinds of things – as I never had any intention for this project becoming anything else but a personal expression from the start.


VO: You like to use a Tagelharpa. Over here we know that instrument only from Wardruna. How common is the use of this instrument and others such as the shamanic drum over there in Scandinavia (maybe in private when families make music together, or the like )? Do you sometimes build your instruments yourself like howWardruna does? Apologies for mentioning them so often, but they really made an impact over here in the US, maybe just because of their participation in the soundtrack of Vikings.

Ludvig: Oh, in reality it existed in music here for decades before Wardruna spread it to the world. In Sweden we had a popular folk music band in the 90’s called Hedningarna which often performed with it in their songs. It was also performed in the motion picture of Astrid Lindgren’s “Ronia: The Robber’s Daughter” from The 80s but does of course have a long tradition going back with its roots in medieval times and perhaps beyond. It was close to dying out, but during The 1970s came a wave of a folk music movement in Sweden that encouraged the survival of these old and almost forgotten instruments. It also survived in tradition for a very long time in Southern Finland and Estonia.

Even if that might be a romantic picture that one would like to have as a foreigner, that we Scandinavians sit in our homes by the fire and play shamanic drums and Tagelharpa, there is no widespread tradition of such a thing. In fact there has not been a single archeological finding of a shamanic drum connected to the Germanic culture in Scandinavia – they all belong to the Sami culture – which makes perfect sense since the Germanic culture was agricultural which Shamanism is not a natural part of – even if traits of it can still remain within it, depending on how one defines Shamanism. Instead, I would say that regular singing is something that is much more commonly connected to the family and traditional activities,  either accompanied by an instrument or just by the voices alone.

Among the Sami people on the other hand, the drum played an important role and it was common for each family to have one of their own. But also among them, singing, or jojking, was the most common musical activity, equal to many other cultures in the world. But due to the Christianisation of the Sami territories of Scandinavia - both the drum and the jojking became something forbidden up until the mid 1900’s when it started to be practiced again. My father told me that his grandmother, a Sami woman who decided to leave the life in the north for the south often jojked in secret when she thought that nobody was listening.

I have built a drum on my own that has been used on both recordings and live. But my absolute favorite that I have in my possession was made by a Danish woman named Ing Borg.



VO: Speaking about the Vikings soundtrack, what other projects (like soundtracks, etc.) did you participate in or would like to one day and why?Ludvig: I have received inquiries to sell my music but I would never. For me the music is something religious, an expression of thought and philosophy. And I would never allow it to be put into a context where it does not belong or a story which does not serve anything except for using and diluting a foreign culture for economic gains.

VO: How did you learn all these instruments? As an autodidact? Or do you have a background of studying music and learning instruments in school? Same question for your singing abilities.Ludvig: I’m mostly self-taught for most of the instruments that I play. I do however come from a family where many instruments have been performed as well as singing was practiced, both among parents and grandparents. So music has been surrounding me for as long as I can remember. The first instrument I learned as a child was the trumpet, shortly after that the flute. But due to other interests I left that behind and I took up the classical guitar when I was around 12 and also took some lessons for it. But the great interest came when I was introduced to black metal some years after. I later went to a music high school where in contrast to the small village where I went to school at first I made friends with similar music tastes. I started a band with a classmate and some friends of his in a direction towards black/death/thrash metal but never felt like I could truly express myself freely, and especially not when it came to the music, due to the other members. I was a lot more active on stage back then though, being the vocalist. But as high school was over I abandoned the band, very much due to feeling limited and took up photography instead. Later I also started to combine photography with music and thus Forndom was created. Since then I’ve learned a lot of instruments and barely know how many I have in my studio but there are some. At the same time the logic of the instruments is something that you pick up over the years. The only thing you need to learn are the basics for the different kinds of instruments, how they are created, how the tone is produced and so forth. There are actually not that many families of instruments. Thus, if you can play one instrument in the family, you will also have it a lot easier for the others. For my part my father was a cellist and I had been practicing cello with him for some time. So, I knew the basics of string instruments and thus taking on a tagelharpa was not a problem and the same goes for the rest of the stringed instruments. When it came to horns and flutes these were things that I had knowledge of since childhood. Singing was also something I did since childhood and that has been with me back and forth since then.


VO: Your music often has a healing impulse on me when listening to it, maybe for the meditative aspect. Is this something you did with intention that you are aware of? Ludvig: I wouldn’t say that this is intentional - if the song is not actually about healing, that is, but I’ve heard it from many others before. It feels great to hear that people find something subconscious within it, and the fact that it might have a healing impulse on some people is something that I find astonishing. But of course with the religious and meditative aspects of the music it might also come naturally.


VO: You said in previous interviews with other magazines that you make the music mostly to please yourself, that your music is therapy for you, or even much more than therapy. Can you put in words what it does to you to express yourself that way and why it is so important?

Ludvig: I guess I can only say that it liberates me, binding my thoughts and fears; the weights of the mind and heart. The written word for the people in pre-Christian Scandinavia was something holy, fixed and unchanged. And I would say that my need to express myself both musically and lyrically works in the same manner – giving order and understanding to the chaos of the mind. Yet it is also within that very chaos of the mind that these ideas are taken. For chaos and fire is not only what destroys, but also what gives life.



VO: How do you think that your music differs from the other bands of the same genre? Does it upset you if people just call your music "Viking music"? Or, what do you tell people who would say you are just following the music trend that Wardruna has created?

Ludvig: I would personally say my own music shares a lot of similar traits with Wardruna that made it sound similar from the start – we both grew up in countries with the same traditional folk music culture and we both had a background in the black metal scene, where ambient music is widely popular also. For my own part the classical music in combination with the other traits makes my music different from the others. But then again I also know that there are a lot of bands that lack both the other traits and their sound is widely different as well. So I would be careful to even call it a genre at all, even if people tend to. In the end it is only a matter of perspective and the musical knowledge of the one that you ask.


VO: Speaking about influences, some of your lyrics in a very distinct way remind me a bit of Bathory's so-called Viking albums (only talking about the lyrics here). So I wonder if you are aware of that… Are you actually listening to Bathory often?

Ludvig: I am, it was basically the only thing I listened to throughout my teenage years after I discovered black metal – and of course the rest of his later discography. I don’t really know if this had a big impact on the lyrics though, but on some of the melodies, it certainly had.


VO: What are your influences indeed? What was it that awakened your aspiration to make exactly this kind of music?

Ludvig: Oh, except for a long list of classical composers that I grew up with, as well as traditional Scandinavian folk songs, I’m highly inspired by contemporary classical composers, such as Max Richter and Arvo Pärt. I’m also very inspired by choir music in general as well as ethnic music from different parts of the world. The idea was always to create music that carried the atmosphere of Scandinavian nature and old Norse culture, but yet carry the same religious feelings that we often find in the music of Arvo Pärt or other composers - the presence of something greater than ourselves.


VO: In a different interview with another magazine you talked about the meaning of the 9 candles that you have on stage. You said it's a symbolic meaning for the 9 worlds, probably referring to Norse mythology. Can you explain that to our readers and explain what it has to do with you, your lyrics, and why it is such a strong theme and influence for you? What are the gods that you believe in? How important is it to believe in something?

Ludvig: The number nine is an important number in the old Norse context. It is often connected with rites of passage, going from one stage in life to another. The funeral is an example of such a thing, marriage another. When I use it within my lyrics it often has the very same meaning. For me the gods are multifaceted and stand for many things in life, nature as well as within us. In old Norse times they originally also had a very close connection to the culture itself. The god I turn to usually depends on the purpose I want to achieve. But equally to the cultures of old, I worship a god closely connected to what I do in my daily life - Odin - a god closely connected to the mind, that can give you a lot, but also one that can be very deceiving and bring you nothing but darkness, but with every dark moment also comes a lesson to be learned. Every religion carries a philosophy, and for me personally this is something that has helped me to understand and find explanation throughout many hardships in life.


VO: I know that you are educated in culture (if in general or only in Norse culture, this I don't know), but I have a philosophical question as a little challenge for you:

We are living in a time when the whole world seems to be going insane in a bad way (poverty, wars, viruses, pollutionand destruction of the environment, people holding animals in slavery, etc.), and it seems that people have learned nothing from the past, or would you disagree here? What sense does it actually still make to keep education (especially about history or culture) alive? Where do you actually see the world in 10 years from now? Are you afraid of the future?

Ludvig: We certainly live in a special age, different from any time that has ever existed. Yet it is wrong to think that we humans have developed in our thinking. We still have the very same needs as people of the past but live in two very different worlds. Many old values important to humans to stay healthy and well have been abandoned, so in that sense, I’m not surprised at all that we very often find that the world is going in the wrong direction. But it is also important to state that in many ways the world is getting a better place. More people are getting educated and less people are suffering from poverty and hardship. But the greatest evil of this world is capitalism and as long as it exists we will keep on ruining the world we live in out of greed. It is important though to understand that every single person can make a difference though and not in the least for themselves. Keeping up education is a fundamental part in the development of this world and I would rather say that the greatest problem is that there is not enough of it. Even in education people can be in disagreement but I would say that one of the greatest problems today is that anyone can tell anything to anyone and reach thousands of people rather than listening to the ones who are actually educated in the subject. People throughout all ages have always been afraid of the future and the unknown and I think that there is no difference with us.



VO: You are an interesting photographer as well. What makes a good photo? When does a photo become art?

Ludvig: Art lies in the eyes and ears of the beholder and very often it is a matter of perspective and dependent on the receiver. For me a good photo is one that awakes and expresses feelings of different kinds - longing, nostalgia, fear - but also just the beauty of this world, its past and present, everything within it and beyond. One could also discuss if it becomes art only when it follows the golden ratio and everything is in harmony. But that is a discussion that is far too long for now, nevertheless it is certainly something that I always keep in mind whenever I capture a photo or compose a song.


VO: Are the additional photos in the booklet of "FAÞIR taken by yourself (I couldn't find credits for the photographer in the booklet)? Did you do them especially for the album, or did you choose from all your past photos, when additional art was needed?

Ludvig: Yes, all of the photos in all of the album booklets have always been taken by me. They were not taken for this album especially though but chosen for different reasons. My photography will also be even more included in the work of Forndom in the days ahead as I will soon start to produce more video content with the music present. But some videos will also go beyond the music and express things in a different way, more like short videos with a poetic and philosophical approach. I have a very specific mind about how I like things to look and to be portrayed and why I like to do things myself for the most part.


VO: The promo picture of your new album "FAÞIR" of course seems to be a gesture imitating Odin with one eye. Please tell us what brought you to this idea.

Ludvig: This can only be understood if one holds the physical album in their hand; the person in the front works as a reflection of the statue of Odin in the back. Many things I do on stage, for example, sprinkling the statue of Odin with blood while also drowning my head in it works as a form of unification, coming closer to the god and becoming one. In the past it was very common that one celebrated festivities in the very same manner. One drank a sip of ale for oneself, one for the dead, and one for the gods, creating the unification and thus sharing the energy. The cover also stands for the relationship between this world and the world beyond, which is a common theme in many of the songs of the album.


VO: But once being reminded of Odin and gaining wisdom, what would you say is a good goal in life to strive for yourself or in general?

Ludvig: I would say that the goal with life is to find peace and prosperity, with oneself and with others and get along with the hardships that will appear along the way. The world can always become better in different ways, but at the same time the world must go through winter and darkness, die and be reborn for the spring and light to arrive.

VO: Thank you for your time. Traditional ending question: If a higher power would grant you one wish, no matter what it is (for yourself or for the world) what would you wish for?

Ludvig: Thank you for the great questions! I’ll keep that special wish to myself, as I’m too superstitious to tell what the heart wishes the most. But perhaps that is an answer in itself!

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