Dissecting the craft of a black n' roll western that puts you face to face with death.
In the true spirit of Sognametal, Norway's VREID have experienced an upward trajectory on their own terms, evolving one release after the next while remaining true to themselves. Sognametal, which was coined decades ago by the great Windir, is at the heart of today's subjects being that it serves as a driving state of mind. No matter the label and no matter the release, VREID's musical output has remained honest and genuine, a characteristic that is often challenged with changes in the music industry. On April 30th, Season of Mist will give warm welcome to the next chapter in VREID's discography, one that looks to immerse listeners in a way that temporarily makes up for the absence of live shows.
This next chapter, titled Wild North West, comes equipped with a caliber of visuals by Remi Juliebø, who goes beyond the traditional album cover illustration with additional artwork for each track. If the vibrant, sunset colored visuals aren't enough to win you over, VREID have partnered with Håvard Nesbø for an accompanying film that will bring to life each track on Wild North West across 8 chapters. It's an ambitious approach to the band's thrilling fusion of black metal and rock n' roll, but one that excels at immersing audiences into the concepts that Jarle and co. have composed for all to experience.
We go Behind the Cover of Wild North West with VREID frontman Jarle Hváll Kvåle and multifaceted artist Remi Juliebø (@deformat.no) to learn about the inner workings of the ambitious visual endeavor associated with the record:
‘Wild North West’ is well on its way and audiences can expect your most ambitious work yet. Visually, you partnered yet again with Remi Juliebø for the cover. You actually transitioned from Kim Holm to Remi Juliebø for ‘Lifehunger’ (2018), which was wondrous on all ends. What inspired the move to Remi?
Kvåle: Kim did amazing work on two albums for us. I loved it because he understood where we were going. I actually work with a festival, “Tons of Rock” where Remi did the designs, so I got to know him well. We shared an office for a while and I could see us working together on something for Vreid. We had a connection and wanted to try out an album. He immediately caught on to where we were going.
The good thing with Remi is that he has so many different techniques. First and foremost, he’s a painter. He loves to do paintings and drawings, authentically. He’s also very good with digital skills. He can combine the two traits and it makes it easier in the process. He has an old school pride in doing things unique and from scratch. I’ve known how great he was from the festival, so it was just great to get him on board.
Definitely. Seeing how well he portrayed your storytelling on ‘Lifehunger’, was there ever any doubt that he would return for the next album?
Kvåle: Not at all. I didn’t even consider it. I knew immediately that for this next album, we’d be working with Remi once more. He’s easy to work with and he’s accessible. He also has a very good input with things and doesn’t just try to draw what I tell him. He comes up with neat ideas and puts his own work into it, which makes it much more lively I think.
Touching on that point, some artists prefer lots of detail and direction when taking on a new project. They want to know specifically what the band is looking for while others prefer vagueness with the opportunity to elaborate on their creative interpretation. Seeing how well your minds have come together ever since ‘Lifehunger’, how would you characterize your partnership?
Kvåle: We are very much a part of the process with him. It all starts when I send over some music and some lyrics to him to see where we were going. I talked to him about the concepts and then we created a mood board, which had a lot of pictures, drawings, posters, and just things that I liked and wanted to incorporate into the cover. Based on that, we had a new meeting again and chatted out some ideas, which then became early sketches. There was a lot of pre-work to get the right settings and feeling for everything.
Juliebø: Well, we’ve known each other for a while. As far back as my first starting years, I’ve gotten various design projects handed my way by of this man called Jarle. It wasn’t before 2015-2016 when I really got to know him. When I quit being a freelancer and started my company, Deformat, we shared an office with the booking company Jarle works for. Joint lunches were a thing then.
I’ve done the visual profile for Tons of Rock since it started and as both Mads (Martinsen) and Jarle got to know what I was capable of, the ideas grew bigger and the visuals played a greater role in the equation. So when it came time for 'Lifehunger', Jarle asked me. I was a bit on the fence to be honest, since I’ve done covers for a while but never for such a prominent band in the black metal world, not to mention black metal covers in general. But Jarle dared to think outside the box and together I feel like we hit a wavelength that just works when talking about cover art. Most of all, he listened to my suggestions. Take note, musicians! ;)
I rarely see Jarle in my free time, but our working relationship is great overall. Even though I can really feel the toll of last minute changes and tweaks, this kind of relationship that Jarle and I have comes with the time we’ve spent working together, especially with getting to know each other. When it comes to Vreid things, I would characterize our roles more in the vein of Jarle is the idea-man and I’m the tool to make it look cool, hehe.
Jarle, what were you looking for when you approached him for ‘Wild North West’? Sometimes, bands have an immediate idea of what they’re envisioning and other times, that idea evolves as discussions take place. What was the case here?
Kvåle: As you know, we’re doing music videos for all the songs, which will end up being a movie. We had a very clear approach this time. We have this character that is in front of the album, which is the main character in the story, and he’s in front of the farm. These elements were clear and ready, but the challenge was figuring out how to put this all together.
In the mood board, I started out with some old western movies. That was kind of the aesthetic of it all. I also had a lot of 60’s and 70’s images of sunny California. I like that kind of vintage, early 70’s California type of look. I wanted a dark, ambient, Norwegian folklore world to meet with the western California kind of style. That was really the blend of styles we were going for.
Lets go a little bit into the mood board you’ve mentioned. From ‘Hellboy In Hell: The Death Card’ (2014) to Metallica’s ‘Master of Puppets’ (1986) and classic western movie posters, the amount of reference material was plentiful. Where did you and Jarle find common ground when compiling said references and centralizing the approach to the cover?
Juliebø: The Hellboy image was the only image I added to the mood board that Jarle initially started with because it would bridge the gap between the other styles in the mood board, specifically the hard lines of simplified western-posters and Saul bass type stuff. It added more black to the palette. Mignola's high contrast stuff has been an inspiration ever since I started to develop my style of illustration. 'Master of Puppets' were a reference to the perspective and scope of the direction. I think I helped Jarle define why he had added the images to the mood board as well as understanding where he came from as well as where we wanted to go.
A huge draw for the cover, at least personally, is the beautiful use of colors to highlight that “wild west” feel. The red and orange hues certainly complement each other amidst the somber forest where the protagonist, “E”, faces death. How significant a part do you feel that atmosphere plays in the context of the record?
Kvåle: Oh yes. That’s very much what we were going for. We started out with some different colors, but it never matched for me. If you look at the old Les Paul sunburst finish, those were the kind of tones I was after. I wanted that classic feeling to it. Very often when you go for a more somber and atmospheric Nordic nature, it’s done in black and white or it’s in very dark colors. I think there can be quite a darkness in other colors and it was important for us to bring this contrast with life and death in a picture that utilizes these different tones. The colors we have now really capture the ambience that I wanted.
Juliebø: For me, I just want to make a cool cover that underscores and intensifies the idea behind the record. The "Wild West" feel was something I was excited about because it feels so far off from the traditional black and white metal covers. So when Jarle presented me with the name of the record and the mood board, I knew I was on board. I love playing against cliches and challenging the perceptions of genres. The limited palette developed naturally and we ended up using the same colours for every art piece in the cover.
Atmosphere is important, but I feel there has to be a moment where you discover a cover and if it messes with your previous conceptions of something, you’ll remember it, maybe even be compelled to check something out that you normally wouldn’t.
Color use may appear insignificant at times, but they play a huge role here, as evident here. Maybe I’m reaching here, but it appears the reaper from ‘Lifehunger’ makes a return, going face to face with our protagonist gunman, “E”. Is this simply a recurring symbol for death or are the two full-lengths connected in some way?
Juliebø: In the very first sketch, we had the same rider with the goat-beast and all. As the movie-idea progressed and we wanted to be more close to that, we changed it to a traditional reaper. I think the main reason was because it would be a hassle to find such a big goat and have the actor portraying the reaper in the movie ride on that. hehe. But personally, I feel it’s the same reaper. Death takes many shapes after all. When it comes to the narrative connection, Jarle can elaborate on that. I can just surmise that it connects in the way that it’s a new story from the same guys.
Kvåle: You’re quite onto something here, but I think a bit of both. In many ways, it’s a continuation of the character you see on ‘Lifehunger’. In this album, the character meets death in a more direct way than what we’ve seen in the past. Death is a symbol that has always been a part of the wider universe, but in this album and in this movie, there’s a more direct confrontation with the reaper. It’s very reminiscent of that “wild west” standoff kind of feel. I’ve always liked that face to face feel.
It’s always amazing to see a concept go from a basic, half-sheet sized sketch to a full-blown painting. Once the layout was agreed upon, about how long did the painting take to complete?
Juliebø: First of all, I like to switch up my approaches when starting a new project. I ask myself, “How can I do this in a way that differs from the last thing I did?” I just did a cover with collages, paints, and glue and it was a really messy, fun project. So when Jarle came with his mood board, I instantly knew I wanted to do this all digital. It’s not a painting per se. The style lends itself to the hard edges and corners of vector graphics, and I haven’t done that style in a good while.
While the idea and sketches were ready pretty early, I really started working on it a bit too close to the deadline (typical). The front cover was the greatest challenge. Well, really it ended up being the second greatest challenge. What happened was that in the run-up towards the deadline, I had a cascade of unfortunate things happen that, long story short, made me have to re-do a lot of the art. Due to a fatal machine crash, I was left with only the front cover and some screenshots of most of the cover art. We had a deadline to keep and I worked day and night for it to be finished in time. The first sketch was in September and most of the work was during Late November - December, finishing just before Christmas.
Got it, took a few months then. Thanks for sharing the video of it coming together! As we briefly touched on, the album itself comes accompanied by a film that expands on the world that you’re creating with the music. Conceptually, how did you look to approach the eight-part, eight music video component of the release?
Kvåle: I’ve always liked music videos and their format, but for the last 10 or 15 years, I feel that bands have opted for lyric videos. There are not that many bands who put out the resources to visualize their stories. When I grew up in the 80’s, this was part of the whole thing with MTV's Headbangers Ball and all the cool music videos going on. You had bands like Pink Floyd putting in a lot of effort into visualizing their music like with ‘The Wall’ (1979). That has been kind of fading away for quite a while.
We came in touch with a local producer, Håvard Nesbø, in our home region. He had been helping us out with pictures and stuff like that. He just jumped aboard with this project. He’s worked on normal movies and other stuff, but nothing like this. When you find someone mad enough to put all the effort into a project like this that requires long hours for several months, you just jump onboard and don’t look back.
He did the videos for ‘Lifehunger’, correct?
Kvåle: Yes, the lyric videos for ‘Lifehunger’ started off as an easy way to test things out. He immediately caught on with where we wanted to go. Then, we did the livestream this past summer from the mountain farm. You can totally see that he understands what we’re all about.
Over a few beers, we decided that we were going to try and take things further. What I really like about him is that he’s not the kind of guy to over-evaluate things and question himself. He just jumps into it and lets the story take control. We had a script for this movie, but a lot of the things were changed and improvised as we went. We let the atmosphere control the whole process. It was really rewarding to see it all come together, especially as we saw how it impacted the music and the lyrics. After three or four months of shooting, we left him one hell of an editing job to do.
How important was it for you to have like minded creatives, like Remi and Håvard, for accomplishing such an ambitious project for ‘Wild North West’?
Kvåle: Without having people like that, I wouldn’t have been able to start a project like this. It’s that easy. I could’ve had the will to do it, but you need to find people who are willing to share your wishes and put in that extraordinary kind of work. Everyone needs to be able to see beyond just being an album cover or a music video. They need to have that specific kind of spirit.
It’s clear that you were all on common ground here. For as much investment in the visual aspect you placed here, there’s an important dynamic I’d like to touch on. Though vinyl is seeing a resurgence, streaming is obviously the dominant form of music consumption, which of course leaves behind the greatness of a gatefold, liner notes, and any accompanying booklets and whatnot. Despite this being the case, it’s great to see bands like yourselves continue to put resources into the physical package. From the film to the killer vinyl package, how important was it for you to have this expansive visual component accompany the music you crafted for ‘Wild North West’?
Kvåle: First of all, it made an enormous creative impact on me, adding this new dimension to our work with the movie. It gives us this youthful spirit. It feels fresh and uncertain. You’re entering territory where you don’t really know how it’ll turn out. This whole process has impacted the music, the lyrics, and everything overall. If we hadn’t done the movie, the album would’ve ended up differently. The movie essentially altered our creative process and gave us that childish excitement in a way.
As you mention, this visual component makes you communicate with your audience in new ways. Since the world is at a standstill and there are no shows, which we usually do following a release, the movie invites listeners into our world. Whether they like it or not, I think people will appreciate the effort we’ve made in inviting them to our world.
They definitely will. With audiences working from home and going to school virtually now, I believe music is being appreciated a tad more. When we live a fast paced lifestyle where we’re constantly working or commuting, music sometimes serves as merely background noise and its significance gets lost in the clutter.
Kvåle: Yeah, and hopefully, that’s one of the few benefits that comes out of this pandemic. There’s more people reflecting on their art forms and appreciating it deeper. This kind of home prison environment for the past year or so has changed a lot of people’s mentality towards this, but who knows. Maybe in a year or two, we’ll see if we come back to the fast lives again and we forget about it all.
Let’s hope not. Instead of assigning tasks over to Håvard, you had a large part in the filming, editing, and storytelling process of the film, in addition to all of the other musical duties that come with putting together a record. What an accomplishment! How does it feel to see the fruits of your labor now that you’re seeing it from a third person perspective?
Kvåle: People often say, “I’m so tired of this project and I just want to see it released.” For me, I’m extremely excited still, like I have been throughout the entire process. First of all, we’re musicians and we made an album that we’re extremely satisfied with. With the 20-page booklet for the vinyl release and the movie and everything, I’m extremely proud and I can’t wait to get this out to people. I love doing interviews to discuss this because I start to get a feel of how people are going to react. The most important thing to me is that this record evokes some feelings. This past year has been a great journey for me, working with amazing people to make it all happen. Now it’s all about getting it out there.
It’s one of the more unique metal releases, for sure. Did Remi illustrate the additional artwork on the booklet?
Kvåle: Yes, Remi did it all. We changed a lot of bits throughout the sketches and each song ended up getting their own illustration. My drawing is hopeless. I’m worse than a 4 year old when it comes to this, so it’s good to work with people like Remi who can visualize what you want.
There’s more than just the front cover painting. There are 8 different paintings included here, one for each of the songs. It was crazy to be able to do this. He himself as an artist also loves this process of not just having one cover illustration, but 8 separate ones.
Amazing! Happy to have a few of those illustrations here for audiences to see. Remi, how is the partnership with Jarle and Vreid distinct to that of your other works with Deformat, which of course includes festival flyers, cocktail bar designs, beer can art, and so much more? Your portfolio is quite varied so it’s interesting to see how this was different, if at all.
Juliebø: When it comes down to it, it's not that different from other stuff I do. Sure, I play more with the typical metal-tropes when working with Vreid and Tons of Rock, but hopefully with a twist. Every time I get a new project, I try to do something a bit different, not only to the expectations of the project, but to myself as well. It’s all about having fun while challenging yourself and growing as an artist. The latter hopefully happens gradually in the background. However, while working within this deeply rooted genre Vreid operates in, there are some limits that can’t or maybe shouldn’t be stretched.
By looking through your various works, it’s clear that you are versatile, never really working in a particular style as you adapt based on each project. ‘Wild North West’ is yet another example of your varied talents. Aside from meeting the client’s artistic needs, what do you look to achieve upon approaching a new design, whether that be a t-shirt illustration, album cover, flyer, etc.?
Juliebø: I touched on this a bit on the last question. Being so lucky to do what I do for a living, I have grown more interested in the process and what you can learn from the clients. You get to meet so many different people from different backgrounds and fields, and most of the time, they have an insight or knowledge that you have no clue about. We can all learn from each other and a big part of me understanding your project enough to deliver something we both can be happy with also has to do with the education of the client into my world of design and the possibilities within. I explain which tropes to watch out for and why things are such and such. It’s a give and take.
Musically and visually, the DIY way that ‘Wild North West’ was put together is an extension of the Sognametal legacy you so proudly embrace. Seeing as the term was coined by Windir decades ago, can you elaborate on what Sognametal is to you and how it has evolved for you, if at all?
Kvåle: As you mention, the phrase was coined by Windir back in the day. Black metal is one of the most important components of our music, but it’s so much more than that and it’s never just been about Satan or whatever. The whole state of mind when the term was created was that when we started writing music together, it was us against the world. We were from a small remote place and there were no other bands we were connected to. It was just us sitting there and writing music. For me, it’s always been that kind of state of mind, that kind of spirit to work in. That’s the essence of Sognametal. It’s a state of mind of how you feel and how you’re connected to writing music as a connection to the region from where we are from.
Thank you for elaborating on that. With ‘Wild North West’ arriving soon, it is sure to entrance audiences that are both familiar with Vreid’s work and those who are new. That said, what album, book, or even movie cover has had the impact of making you pick it up without even having prior knowledge of it?
Juliebø: A lot, that’s for sure. What first comes to mind here are the 'Annihilation' (2014) book by Jeff VanderMeer and The Matches - 'Decomposer' (2006) album.
The furthest back I can remember was the first Norwegian issue of the 'Spawn' comic by Todd McFarlane and the 'Against the Grain' (1990) album by Bad Religion. Most recently, the amazing graphic novel/art book 'SKIP' (2019) by Molly Mendoza. When it happens that I’m really gripped by something, I usually end up buying it.
Kvåle: Oh yes, there were several. There are so many actually! I remember Alice Cooper’s ‘Killer’ (1971) with the red cover and the snake. I saw this album cover and it was something that still sticks to me as one of my absolute favorite albums ever.