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Gavin Brown Takes On Svalbard – Interview With Serena Cherry | New Album “The Weight Of The Mask” Out Now via Nuclear Blast

October 16, 2023

Gavin Brown Chats To Svalbard

Interview With Serena Cherry

New Album “The Weight Of The Mask” Out Now Via Nuclear Blast

Svalbard has just released their brilliant new album The Weight Of The Mask and it shows the sheer power of the band in all their glory, with so many elements that are both supremely heavy and stunningly beautiful right through the nine tracks on the album. Gavin Brown caught up with Svalbard guitarist/vocalist Serena Cherry to talk about The Weight Of The Mask and it’s creation as well as discuss the sublime video for album track How To Swim Down and what Svalbard’s live plans are now that the album is out.

Your new album The Weight Of The Mask is out now. How excited have you been to be getting the album out for people to immerse themselves in?

I think it’s one of those things when you’re in a band and you spend so long writing an album and recording it, it always feels like finally being able to release it into the wild is a really almost like a cathartic process. I’m just so excited for people to hear it and to see people’s reactions really.

The songs on the album sound absolutely huge. Do you feel that this is the most epic-sounding album thus far for Svalbard?

I have not rated Svalbard in terms of epicness. I think it’s an interesting way to think about it. I definitely think this is the biggest sounding album we’ve made. We really loved the production that Lewis Johns did on it. So yes, It’s got all the classic ingredients of the epic melodic reverb drenched guitar leads and the melancholic chord progressions behind it. I think Mark really went to town with the drums on this one, so yeah, I guess it is pretty epic. , I normally save that word for power metal, it feels weird to say!

Do you also feel it’s your most musically diverse album to date?

Definitely. You know when you go into Photoshop and you up the contrast to full, I feel like The Weight Of The Mask is the musical equivalent of that. There’s a real high contrast on this album where we’ve got some of the heaviest songs we’ve ever written and some of the softest songs we’ve ever written. So yeah, it’s definitely very diverse and there are lots of different atmospheres and emotions captured on this one.

Was it an easy album to make at all?

This is the hardest album we’ve ever made, to be honest with you. It was a difficult one to write because it took us a really long time to get back in the groove after lockdown, and because we live in different cities, we spent a really long time apart from each other. How we write as a band is we’re all there in the room together jamming ideas and stuff. So it took us a little while just to find that synergy again. Then because we knew the album was going to be released on Nuclear Blast records, I think we put a lot of pressure on ourselves. We were very analytical of every idea, every single note and the structure of the songs. We really put the music under the microscope this time around. Sometimes when you’re constantly reevaluating what you’re creating, that can be quite a tough process, so it took us a really long time to write this album. But overall, I’m glad we spent the time on it, and  I’m glad we agonised a little bit because I’m happy with the overall result in the end.

Is that a way you’ve worked before, with all aspects of the music underneath the microscope?

I mean, we’ve always kind of been a bit meticulous with our writing process. We don’t just write a song, throw it together. and there it is. We always come back again and rethink things, or someone will have some thoughts about moving a bit around so we do tend to deconstruct quite a bit during the creative process. But with this album, it was definitely the most deconstruction, there was so many ideas left on the cutting room floor. It was a very intense filtering process of riffs.

On the album you’ve got songs like Defiance, which are really triumphant sounding I thought when listening to it. Was that an aspect you wanted to explore on this album?

Definitely. I think there’s a lot of fight in this album. Defiance is, if you can imagine a cheerleader song but metal! That’s what I think that song is. It’s like a little metal song but a cheerleader in your head telling you that you can do things, because the song is all about defying low expectations of yourself, defying low expectations that other people have and proving your brain wrong when it’s telling you you can’t do things. We wanted the album to have those soaring guitar leads and really pounding drums to encapsulate that emotion that’s in the lyrics

What were the biggest influences on the sound of The Weight Of The Mask?

I mean, we all have different musical influences, and they’re not exactly obvious. For me personally, a lot of my guitar leads are inspired by video game soundtracks like World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy, sometimes I write a guitar lead, and I’m like, Oh, shit, that’s actually from Final Fantasy 7 or the Skyrim soundtrack! Yeah. Then in terms of vocals, anything from Alissa White-Gluz to  Anneke van Giersbergen, even though I can’t sing half as well as her, she  definitely inspired some of the clean vocals on this record. The other guys, they listen to all kinds of stuff from post metal like Cult Of Luna and Russian Circles to Anathema, Alcest and grindcore, all kinds of things really. So yeah, loads loads of different influence.

As you mentioned, it’s your first album with Nuclear Blast. How does it feel to be releasing music on the label?

I still can’t believe it’s actually real! All my favourite bands signed to Nuclear Blast records, most of my favourite records came out on that label, so it’s going to be a real exciting moment for me when I can hold a copy of the record in my hands and see that Nuclear Blast logo on it. The working relationship has been absolutely fantastic. We feel that they really understand our artistic vision, and they’ve been so great at supporting us so it’s been a dream team so far.

You have done a stunning video for the album track How To Swim Down. Can you tell us a bit about the song and the video?

I think How To Swim Down is probably the most different song we’ve ever written. It’s got Liam playing six layers of violin on the song. It’s all clean vocals. There’s no screams. It’s basically our ballad. It’s our Nothing Else Matters. The song is about unrequited love but the lyrics are told from the perspective of playing as a healer in  World of Warcraft. In terms of the video, we always knew there was a couple of things with this song that just fell really neatly into place. We knew for a few years that we wanted to have violin on one of the Svalbard songs, but we wanted to make sure it fit the song we we didn’t want to just put it on there for the sake of it, and  when Liam and I were writing the guitar parts to How To Swim Down, we both clicked, this is the song for Liam to put violin on which was great. We also always wanted to do an animated video, and  because this song is a bit of a journey, it definitely has a strong narrative to it. We realised that this was the chance to do an animated video for a song as well because it fit the song so well and we’re really pleased with the video. I can’t watch it without crying.

Is the sound of How To Swim Down, something you’d like to explore again in the future?

Absolutely! We’re a band of contrasts, and we don’t want to just do one style of playing all the time. I think having written a song like How To Swim Down and seeing the positive response, because when you’re known for being a heavy band, it definitely feels a bit risky to release a song that’s all clean singing and a bit slower, but seeing the reaction that song got, I think it’s definitely lit a fire in us to write more ballads.

Will How To Swim Down be a song that you will play live?

At the moment, we’re trying to figure out how to do a different version of it live because we don’t play with any backing tracks, everything you hear at a Svalbard show is performed by the four of us live on stage, we don’t even use a click track. Proper old school. So creating a song like How To Swim Down live, where it’s got six layers of violin following a vocal harmony. Unless we have an orchestra and a choir, we can’t really do it justice. I think what we’re going to do during these rehearsals, is see if there’s like a way we could do an acoustic version, something a bit more stripped back, see how it sounds, but eventually, we’d love to work that song into the live set. It’s just a case of figuring out logistically how we do it.

You’ve got a few live dates coming up. Are you looking forward to those and playing the new songs live?

I absolutely cannot wait. There’s something really exciting about putting new songs in the set. It’s really invigorating for the band in general. I can’t wait for these dates. I can’t wait to get back to the Netherlands, one of my favourite countries, Germany as well and France. Then we’ve got Beyond The Redshift in the UK, which is has just got such an amazing lineup. Touring is the thing I live for. It’s one of the things I enjoy the most about being in a band, so I’m always eager to get back on the road. I can’t wait.

You mentioned Beyond The Redshift there, playing with the likes of Cult Of Luna and Napalm Death, must be exciting for you?

Yeah, absolutely. Beyond The Redshift has an incredible lineup. There’s so many bands that we listened to who have really inspired us musically, and we get to share the stage with them. I just think it’s gonna be a really awesome festival. We toured with Cult Of Luna in March, so it’ll be really lovely to see the guys again as well.

How did that tour go?

It was brilliant and we had an amazing time. Just getting to watch Cult Of Luna every night was such a treat. Russian Circles as well. The reaction of the crowd was really good as well. We couldn’t have asked for a better tour to be a part of.

Was that when you were still making the record?

We recorded the album in February, and we went on tour in March. Right up until before the tour, we were in writing mode and recording mode, and then we had to switch very quickly to go into tour mode.

Was that a difficult thing to do with all the new songs being fresh in your mind?

Yeah, I think it is a difficult task switching from writing mode to tour mode, and relearning how to play older songs in the set when you’ve got a brain full of a new album is definitely a balancing act. It’s one of those things where if you have more time, it’s okay but if it’s a very quick transition from studio touring, it can be a little bit stressful to be honest.

How did your show at ArcTangent go in the summer? Was that a highlight for you?

Oh, we absolutely love ArcTangent. That was our third time playing the festival and every single time it just feels like home. It’s really welcoming and has a really great atmosphere. The crowd at ArcTangent are just so hungry to check out new bands and to check stuff out which I really love, so it was absolutely fantastic to play there again.

Did you play any material from the new album at all?

For the last six months or so, we were playing Eternal Spirits and recently we’ve been playing Fakimg It in the set too. It’s been amazing to see the reactions to those songs and people already knowing the words which is just incredible.

Will you be playing more new songs on the dates with the album out?

Yeah, there’ll be plenty more new songs in the set in October.

What have been some of the most memorable live shows that Svalbard have played?

Hellfest this year was absolutely incredible. It was a real dream come true to play at that festival. It was just a privilege to be there. It was also the hottest show I’ve ever played! I don’t think I’ve ever sweated so much in my life but it was absolutely brilliant. Bloodstock 2021 too. I’ve been going to Bloodstock since I was a teenager, so being able to walk out onto that main stage and play for the Bloodstock fans was absolutely amazing. Pretty much every ArcTangent that we played has been a really great atmosphere too.

Have you got plans for a new solo record?

Yep, I’m writing it and recording it at the moment, so it’s going to be different from the first one. I’m really loving it.

Is it inspiring for you when you can take ideas that wouldn’t work for this latest Svalbard record that you can use on your own solo records?

On my first solo record, Wretched Abyss under the name Nocturnal, I did not take any ideas from Svalbard, I actually had used ideas that I’d had from way before I was in Svalbard and sort of resurrected them a little bit, but then the only idea I’ve taken was something I’d written for Svalbard that was really, really inspired by the latest Ghost album. They tie the album together really neatly by having this slow riff playing at the start and then it comes back at the end of the album but heavy and I just absolutely loved that. I wanted to do that on this Svalbard album, but people definitely felt like the riff,  it wasn’t really a Svalbard riff, I guess. Then the more I thought about it was like, it’s not a Svalbard riff but it’s a Serena riff. So onto the solo record it goes! Normally what I write for Svalbard is very different from what I write for Nocturnal.

What has been the sheer highlights from your time in Svalbard so far?

Some of my highlights being in Svalbard have just been really simple things,  like when we’re all having a laugh together in the van on one of the 10 hour drives, or we’re all listening to a great album together on the car stereo as we drive into a show, the really simple bonding things. I love that connection that you have and can build with your bandmates. It’s a connection that doesn’t really feel like anything else, being able to share that creative bond. I love writing together with the band, every time, we’re working on new riffs and the ideas just explode and unfold and form in front of you is great. There has been some crazy things happen, like when we got nominated for a Kerrang! award and I went to the Kerrang! awards and Ghost were there and I was too starstruck to even talk to them. That’s pretty much most of my highlights of being in the band, but in general, I just love being able to play my guitar loud with my friends. It really is that simple.

A huge thank you for your time! What a record.

Words: Gavin Brown

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