Interview with Eric Hazebroek (guitars)
Interview conducted by Mjölnir
Date online: December 29, 2021
Vetrar Draugurinn have quietly gone around being one of the better Gothic Metal acts working today. Their debut was an impressive example of the style, but their follow-up The Night Sky shows them expanding on it to make something arresting and meditative. I had the opportunity to speak with project leader Eric Hazebroek to discuss the band and its music.
Tell us a little about the history of the band and what inspired you to form it.
Eric: The earliest form of Vetrar Draugurinn sprung to life somewhere in 2014, when I was still part of Stream of Passion. My own music wasn’t really compatible with the music of Stream of Passion, so the idea arose to work on some sort of solo album. For this album, I wanted to ask some of my talented friends from other bands to help me out to make this something different and special. Besides their trades on a musical level, they were also friendly and easy to work with. Laid-back and ambitious. We all have a history with bands for many years, and we also know the downsides of being in a band. The drama that comes with it we wanted to avoid. Because that’s one of the main elements that can ruin the joy of creating and performing music.
In the two years that followed, I quietly worked on material. In the beginning of 2016 Stream of Passion unexpectedly decided to call it a day at the end of that year. On my way home from that meeting, I called my friends that were involved in my solo project to ask them if they were up for turning the project into a full band. Thankfully, the answer was yes.
It was a quick boost to the whole process, and soon after I was full-on writing songs that I really felt I wanted to do that were different from Stream of Passion; songs I could fully identify with. In some way, it was a switch back to the times before Stream of Passion, but now with the incorporation of things I had learned from the time with that band.
After the switch to a full band, we selected and recorded four songs to form an introductory EP, which was released in March 2017. The response was good, and we played some shows throughout the Netherlands.
In 2019, we released our full-length debut album through Painted Bass Records with the name Hinterlands, an album that contained some rather emotionally heavy tracks. The album was received rather well, and we were slowly becoming the band we are today.
We call our music Melancholic Metal, and these days we tend to put the word Doom in between. Though we do not fully fit the Doom genre, we do feel that our slow and sorrow-filled music could and would appeal to the fans of this genre.
I understand that the band’s name was decided due to a desire to stand out and your love for Iceland. What is it about the country, if anything, that inspires how you approach your music and lyrics?
Eric: In all the years I have been playing in bands I encountered the problem of choosing a band name that wasn’t taken yet several times. Finding a good band name is rather hard, as it has to portray the thought behind the music a bit. But besides that difficult choice you’ll have to come up with one that hasn’t been taken yet.
When I was looking for the right moniker, the band was still a solo project rather than an actual full-blown band. I thought up the name The Winter Ghost, which I thought would be painting the right picture for the music I was planning. But then I started looking for the translation into certain foreign languages to see if it would enhance the picture I wanted to paint. After several options, I came across the (poorly) translated version into the Icelandic language. I kicked it about on Social Media a bit and was contacted by an old friend who had moved to Iceland, and he hooked me up with the right translation. :) Hence the band name Vetrar Draugurinn.
Iceland is a unique place on this Earth. There is no other place that has such beautiful yet desolate landscapes. The Land of Fire & Ice is definitely the right description. It fits perfectly with the band I wanted to form.
While you are best known for your work in Streams of Passion, you have been in other gloomy acts like Daeonia and The Saturnine in the past. Did your experience in those projects influence the sound of Vetrar Draugurinn in any way?
Eric: Oh, definitely. Mostly because my contribution to the songwriting with Stream of Passion was minimal in comparison to Daeonia and The Saturnine, in which I was responsible for a large chunk, if not all, of the music. In Vetrar Draugurinn, I am (again) the sole songwriter, mostly because the band originates from what was my solo project besides Stream of Passion at the time. That doesn’t mean I am not open to other band member’s songs. On the new album, there’s actually a song written by our other guitar player (and multi-instrumentalist) Thomas Cochrane.
I, apparently, have quite a recognizable style of writing songs and playing guitar, which is also completely an unconscious matter. So, when you listen to Vetrar Draugurinn, there are large sections that sound like either Daeonia and/or The Saturnine. I think it’s a bit inevitable.
I also get inspired by other bands, but as soon as I try to write something in those styles it ends up sounding like one of the bands I played/play in. A blessing and a curse, I guess... :D
You’ve noted in the past that your influences are numerous and varied, ranging from acts like The Third and the Mortal to Crowbar. How do you feel all these influences come together to define your sound?
Eric: The last couple of years I noticed that listening to a large diversity of bands and musicians leaves a mark on me and my song writing, but maybe not as clear as you would think. I tend to hook onto a certain atmosphere, intensity, or arrangement approach, and incorporate it into the things I write for one of the three bands I play with at this time. Some riffs are more suitable to one band than the other. Naming bands when you communicate with the outside world in our case is more meant to give listeners more of a lead to what to expect. I mention all kinds of bands. But to be honest, there are mostly hints of their music to be really clearly discovered in the music of Vetrar Draugurinn.
The lyrics of Vetrar Draugurinn seem to mainly deal with themes of loss, loneliness, alienation, the inevitability of death, and the need and desire to withstand and come to terms with all these things. Would you say this is inspired by any specific personal experiences, or simply general dark feelings you sometimes have?
Eric: Well, my music and lyrics have almost always had the tendency to deal with those subjects, and I sometimes joke about that. I don’t like "happy music" and can’t write any "happy music." Though on our previous album, Hinterlands, there were a few songs, if not all, that were quite autobiographical and connected to some personal experiences at the time, the most clear and most important ones being the sudden death of my father in 2016 followed by the equally sudden death of my mother-in-law. The whole here-now-gone-next-moment was a severe blow to the system.
The Night Sky is more about thoughts that came after. Things like mortality, the loneliness of the ones left behind, and feeling alone despite being surrounded by people, came to mind. The music also changed in comparison to our debut album. It got darker and slower. But despite all this, I do have the urge to incorporate a call for strength and a "light at the end of the tunnel" feel to the lyrics. Because leading the listener down into a pit and leaving them there is too easy and too disrespectful, I think.
Who does the artwork for your albums? If there are any, what are the general guidelines for how the art comes out?
Eric: The artwork for both Hinterlands and The Night Sky was done by my dear friend and incredible singer of Aeonian Sorrow, Gogo Melone. We’ve known each other for a long time already, and when I was in need of some excellent and gloomy artwork for the albums, I first ended up asking her. She is also responsible for our logo. :)
About guidelines, of course it needed to be gloomy and somewhat desolate. And we thought it would be cool to sort of have a link to Iceland (Hinterlands has Kirkjefell prominently on the front) or its general feel. I think it worked out quite well so far. Striking images. Plus, we also wanted to stay away from the whole "Put your female vocalist on the front to generate more sales" trend. ;) We’re not that kind of band.
What is the process for writing a Vetrar Draugurinn song, and how has it developed over time?
Eric: The process is rather an unconscious one. I always say that I just do stuff, which sort of "angers" our vocalist. She really wants to know the process as well, but it is something that is rather hard to explain. Mostly because I really don’t think about it. The positive side, in my opinion, to this is that I am not restricted to expectations or genre boundaries. It’s a form of total musical freedom. I write music that I like to hear or that excites me personally. Does make it a rather awkward thing when the end result has to be pushed onto the real world, with all its opinions and in some cases stern rules.
But if I try to describe the process... I fiddle around on a guitar for quite a bit and sometimes I come across a solid idea that I think I should keep a hold on to. That idea, most of the time, inspires a couple of other ideas for riffs that answer/complement the first idea. Most of the time it pushes me to finish a song right there and then. I quickly make a demo recording and leave it for a day or two. Listen to it again and adjust details and arrangements. Make it have a start and a finish and a natural flow. Then it will have to age a bit.
Meanwhile I’ll send it to the rest of the band for their first-listen reactions. It rarely happens that we rehearse and play a new song before we record it for an album. When the demo is sort-of finished and I have some lyrics, I travel to our singer’s home on the other side of the country to get some vocal lines sorted out (and adjust lyrics). After that the song is "done" and put on the list for the official recording.
About the development of the process, I think the songs that ended up on Hinterlands were written during a longer period and were slightly more a search for the right path. The collection of tracks is quite diverse, which I like, of course, but with the writing and recording of The Night Sky it became quite clear that the new album was more connected, more coherent. Progress, if you ask me. I might write the main part of the songs, but the rest of the band can put their own interpretation on it, which makes it more a band effort. We are constantly learning. :)
The Night Sky appears to lean much more on the moody, atmospheric aspect of your sound when compared to Hinterlands. Was this an intentional change, or did it just occur naturally?
Eric: I think it was not as much of a conscious decision as we might want it to be. It’s a product of the music I listened to at the time and some of the music I discovered after the release of Hinterlands. Also, some old favourites re-entered my playlist and made me rediscover certain approaches. Gloomy has been my thing for a long time, even when I was part of Stream of Passion. They even called me the Prince of Darkness when I joined back in 2007. :)
Like I mentioned earlier, The Night Sky is a sort of continuation and response to the subjects dealt with on Hinterlands. I guess this time around the music suited the lyrics even more, giving it more depth.
The song "Landsdown Hill" contain guest vocals from Mark Kelson of The Eternal. How did this collaboration occur? Do you plan to do more with him or others in the future?
Eric: Ah yes, Mark... :) I have known Mark for quite some years now, and on a few levels we are quite the same. To refer to something he said a couple of years ago, we both are the type of musicians that will continue on and on, despite anything thrown at us by the music business, until we physically cannot anymore.
A few years back, The Eternal travelled to Europe to play a handful of shows, and we ended up playing two shows sharing the stage. Their music and ours do complement each other quite nicely, plus all the band members got along really well. When we were thinking of adding a male clean voice to "Lansdown Hill," we contacted Mark and he immediately said yes. We think it worked out really well.
What do you feel is most different about how you write and perform music for Vetrar Draugurinn as opposed to when you first started?
Eric: That’s hard to pinpoint, I think. I think we are more at ease with each other on stage because we know what to expect from each other. We also trust each other more. We started off with the goal to leave any band drama from any of our previous projects behind and be kind and honest to each other. The band is fortunately a collection of people that are exactly that. Less stress makes me, as the main songwriter, more relaxed and more focussed on progress on my work, as it allows me to try and push further and experiment more with new ideas.
The band’s website claims the label Dark Skies Coming Records was founded due to the current difficulties of the music industry, and that it currently hosts your projects along with those run by friends. Do you think you will ever expand the scope of the label and sign other bands in the future?
Eric: I have first-hand experience how hard it is to deal and communicate with the music business. It’s all about who you know. We ended up with releasing the album through the moniker Dark Skies Coming purely because we don’t have the inside connections to bypass the general communication channels to get noticed by record labels, which results in our effort to get the attention of the record label to our music getting drowned in the amount of other musicians/bands trying to get that same attention.
When we were looking for a label to cooperate with for The Night Sky, we sent out nearly 100 messages and got maybe two responses (which were rejections). Still, we believed in the album we made, so we decided to do everything ourselves. It’s quite a financial task to complete, and the pandemic is definitely not helping. Now we released it with hardly any distribution, but that’s how it has to be. I learned a lot the last year when it comes to releasing music on a certain level.
Which also answers your question about other bands someday. Right now, the answer would be no, simply because I don’t have the funds, distribution, or time to research a solution to this. It does give me a lot of respect for all the small record labels that are doing it out there getting swamped with bands wanting their attention, putting all their money and time into releasing music out into the world, and hoping someone would pick it up.
In the past, you’ve held Indiegogo campaigns to help fund the physical release of your work, both from Vetrar Draugurinn and other projects. Do you plan on starting more campaigns for the band or other bands on your label, or does your current business model make such campaigns unnecessary?
Eric: When I was part of Stream of Passion, we did a really successful IndieGogo campaign to fund our final album, but that was excellent timing. In the years after, I noticed a slight decline in attention when it came to funding a release of music, which is partly because many bands jumped onto this bandwagon, and for a period the IndieGogo platform (and a few others like it) got swamped as any other part of the music business since. Earlier in 2021, when researching possibilities for the release of The Night Sky, I discovered that technology has moved on to the point that in some way you can do pre-orders all on your own without the help of crowdfunding platforms. It saves quite some money on fees and such. Money you want to invest in the band’s release instead.
Do you plan to play any live shows in the future? If so, what precautions do you plan to take based on the current pandemic?
Eric: Of course we want to play live again. It’s a very important part of being in a band, in my opinion. Spreading your music to those that already like it and those that have never heard it before. But the same as with trying to get through to record labels, the venues are getting swamped with bands that want to play. We are trying our best to get through and play shows in 2022.
About precautions, I think that’s mostly in the hands of the venues. We have no say in it. We will try to comply with any requests by the venue when it comes to the band themselves and our crew, but we try to keep away from the politics that comes with covid passes, masks, and distancing. I did play a show this year with my other band, Pilgrimage, which was under covid restrictions. The audience was seated and distanced. It makes playing a blistering and heavy show so much more difficult. And afterwards we were a bit confused. It really has an effect on our experience on stage, and I don’t even want to think how much it affects the experience of the audience. Still, we have to try our hardest and push to keep this industry going.
What lies in store for the future of Vetrar Draugurinn?
Eric: The future, at the time of this interview, is definitely uncertain. Not when it comes to the band’s existence. More about the possibilities. We are all longing to play live as much as possible, both in the Netherlands and abroad. We hope to reach more people that would be open to give The Night Sky a chance. It’s different to a lot that’s hot in the scenes we are leaning against, plus it definitely needs and deserves several listens before fully comprehending the music we represent.
At the moment, mostly because there is time, I’m subtly thinking about starting to look at new ideas for album #3. Vetrar Draugurinn is rather personal to me, which also means I will continue for as long as possible with it. ;) Despite the pandemic, the future still looks bright, open and wide.
Thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule to talk. Do you have any parting thoughts for our readers?
Eric: First of all, thank you for the opportunity to explain some of the facets of this band. Vetrar Draugurinn never was meant to hook onto trends or popular styles and bands. We tend to write, perform and record honest melancholic music that aims to be diverse, intense, dynamic and gloomy. In the few reviews that have come by in the weeks since its release, we’ve noticed that The Night Sky is an album with many layers and apparently not one that you can put on as background music or for a quick listen. I personally see that as a compliment. ;)
Furthermore, we’ve become quite the DIY band, and not so much voluntarily. This means that releasing an album was quite the task and weighs heavy at times. It also means that we really appreciate all the support we are getting or got along the way. Support your local/independent musicians. There are always gems to be discovered, and to those independent bands support in the form of buying their CD/vinyl or shirt means a lot. Making music is a calling to a lot of us. We don’t know any better.
Until we see each other again at a venue somewhere, stay safe, help each other, and let’s try to get back to enjoying music.
|Other information about Vetrar Draugurinn on this site|
|Review: The Night Sky|
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