December 12, 2016

I interviewed IRON SEAWOLF

I interviewed the Pirate metal band IRON SEAWOLF about Music, the band and of course,
their recent debut album out now.

Hi Owen and Nick! 

01. Owen : you and I aren’t foreign to each other since you were part of WOLFSWORD, one band with its page available here since the Sword Chant forum times. You have left that band that remains on hold now and so, you joined IRON SEAWOLF with Nick Wragg and the other bandmates at that time. I wonder how did you manage the whole and when did you join the current band ?

Owen : Actually, I was in IRON SEAWOLF before WOLFSWORD. Nick started IRON SEAWOLF back in 2009 and I joined in 2010, I think they only did one gig before I joined so I've been there from the very early days. Then later in 2010, I went off to university in London and met the WOLFSWORD guys there who asked me to be their rhythm guitarist, and I was with them for just a couple of years while I was living down there. I left the band at the same time I left London to move back home up north, so WOLFSWORD wasn't such a major thing for me, IRON SEAWOLF was and still remains my main band!

02. What about that “wolf” name in the band one ? I mean WOLFsword, Iron seaWOLF… And as the band is described as Pirate Metal, why that band name then ?

Owen : It's a complete coincidence actually! The bands have nothing to do with each other apart from me, and I didn't have any part in deciding either band's name – Nick had named IRON SEAWOLF before I joined them, and Ben (Weightman, WOLFSWORD founder) had named WOLFSWORD before I found them. I guess wolves are just popular in metal! I think as Nick was the one who picked the name, he should be able to answer this one better than me...

Nick : The name IRON SEAWOLF is intended to be akin to a ships name, suitable for a ship of metal musicians. “Sea wolf” is not an original phrase but already exists in maritime expressions, conjuring the idea of a powerful hunting ship. 

03. What do you guys think about Pirate Metal ?

Owen : I think pirate metal has a lot of untapped potential, and is perhaps treated rather unfairly by the rest of the metal community - It's seen as a joke genre, a gimmick, a childish concept, which I don't think is a fair judgement. I think this is mostly to do with ALESTORM being the best known pirate metal band, and while I do love them, they've never taken anything remotely seriously and even admit they don't really care about pirates. Everything they do is very silly and while I love a bit of silliness myself, ALESTORM are so well known and very much the "face" of pirate metal, so people are bound to base their entire idea of the subgenre on them. And due to their influence, many other pirate metal bands that came after them have taken the same route of not having any sincere interest in pirates but just doing something fun and silly, which unfortunately has meant pirate metal is ridiculed by the rest of the metal world and written off as a joke genre without any credibility. 

I think there are a lot of fantastic underground pirate metal bands popping up, but the view of the genre in the outside metal world seems to be a negative one. I dunno, maybe I shouldn't care so much what other people think, it's inherent of metalheads to take an “I don't care what other people think of my genre” attitude, and I love pirate metal myself so that should be good enough!

I just think it is a real shame though because, while I believe a genre such as pirate metal should always have a strong element of fun and fantasy and shouldn't take itself completely seriously, I also think the period of history during the golden age of piracy is a fascinating one, and the maritime tradition in general is one that is rich with folk tales and songs that still to this day provide an enormous influence to the folk/trad music world, especially in the UK as an island nation. I believe the maritime folk tradition is just as legitimate as any other folk tradition, and I think it's sad that many people are happy to accept folk metal when it's inspired by the Celtic tradition, or the Scandinavian tradition, but for some reason see the maritime tradition as a gimmick and a joke or think the pirate theme is just for kids and not a legitimate folk tradition that any self-respecting folk metal band would draw influence from. And this is what I mean by pirate metal having untapped potential - there's this whole world of the maritime folk tradition and history that's being kinda neglected by the one genre (pirate metal) that should be influenced by it the most.

With IRON SEAWOLF, we're certainly far from being completely serious at all and nor are we 100% authentic and historically accurate (there's a lot of fun and very deliberately cheesy or overly fantastical stuff – and I'm sure pirates didn't have symphony orchestras, that element is just there for the escapist “film score” feel!) but one thing we are trying to do is tap into a little of that authentic maritime tradition with the use of real traditional folk tunes, a variety of real folk instruments, and a strong influence from traditional sea songs and shanties as well as taking some influence not just from the usual Celtic music but from English folk music as well (which is an area of folk somewhat untapped by the folk metal world) just to lend a bit more credibility into the idea of pirate metal as a legitimate folk metal subgenre. We touch on this idea a tiny bit in our newly released debut (particularly in our version of the trad sea shanty Haul Away) but it's something we're looking into doing a lot more prominently in the future. 

One other folk metal band who influence us greatly in that respect are WILDERUN who, while not strictly pirate metal, do heavily incorporate the maritime folk tradition into their music, especially on their first album which contained many folk metal interpretations of traditional maritime songs, but gave them new life with imaginative arrangements and big orchestrations. What I try to do when I write for IRON SEAWOLF is to go for a balance between these traditional influences, the sillier fun cheesy stuff that pirate metal is known for, and the more epic bombastic fantasy elements as well. I think that's why I enjoy writing for IRON SEAWOLF so much, and the genre of pirate metal in general, as I can be as authentic as I want or go completely the other way and be as silly and over-the-top as I want, and it all works under the banner of pirate metal! 

Anyway, that turned into a much longer answer than I was expecting… Nick ?

Nick : Adding to that, for me the theme of piracy was never just a gimmick, not that I’m saying Iron SeaWolf’s songs are serious… but as well as the obvious themes, piracy involves principles of disillusion, liberty, and anarchy. Romanticised stories about pirates, such as ours, are for me a form of fantasy escapism, and a fantasy with tonnes of adventure and partying. 

Sailors song is as important as other trad. folk song for me, Owen.

04. So, in the last recent years, this band project became serious more, with the current line-up but maybe earlier once Owen joined and lately, you released your first full-length. So, how ideas making a more professional band - if I may say - came in, Nick ?  

Nick : As soon as I joined forces with Owen I treated IRON SEAWOLF as a serious endeavour to become a professional band, being blown away by his composing and song writing, particularly at the age we were back then. However, I was still in school back then and inexperienced and was very aware we had a long road ahead, which is still true now! 
The issue we had, being in North Cumbria, was finding the rest of the band… Logistics of getting all the band together remain to this day our most common challenge, with the two of us still in North Cumbria, Sam our guitarist in Manchester, Alec the bassist and Giorge our drummer both study in Lancaster but are respectively from Birmingham and Cyprus. Everyone in the band puts a lot of energy into making this a successful project, while working jobs and doing university courses. It has been amazing to see the tangible progress with going on a tour and releasing the album, with years of hard work paying off.

05. Your debut album "Hoist the Black Flag" was released in this Halloween. Is it one scary record for listeners, where is one frightening journey told there ? As scary as probably was the production process for the band, wasn’t it ? :) 

Owen : The Halloween release was just because of the timing of our recent tour with SKILTRON and RED RUM really, more so than the content of the album. We originally were going to release it before the tour, but later decided to release it publicly straight after and sell exclusive pre-release copies on the tour instead. That said, songs like “Wrath of the SeaWolf” and “Death from the Deep” are very Halloween-friendly tracks with a lot of darker sounding stuff! 

As for the production process, Nick and I had been writing material since before we even started the band, and we made some demos early on but nothing professional. Then Sam Morley joined us (on drums originally, though he plays guitar for us now) and he went off to university to do a music production course. As part of this course he got free use of the university's fantastic studio equipment, so throughout 2014 Nick and I stayed with Sam for a few weeks and the three of us recorded and produced the album there. We were really lucky to have that opportunity as it meant we could make a professional quality record on a very low budget! Even though the recordings were completed in 2014, it took a couple of years to actually release the album as I was mostly in charge of doing all the final bits – Mastering, artwork etc, and due to having a full-time job and other commitments made it hard to find time to do all this! But when the tour was confirmed it gave me a real incentive to push to get it all sorted before the tour so that we could have the album ready to sell on tour, and that's why it released when it did!

06. 12 tracks cover the album. Can you shortly tell us the story for each track ?

Owen : The album opens with To Adventure, an orchestral intro which leads into the first proper song The Eternal Quest, a very bombastic symphonic song about setting off on an unspecified grand adventure. 
The title track Hoist the Black Flag is just one big rousing anthem for the pirate brethren, and the first song I ever wrote for the band (before I was even in the band!) Similarly, 
Wrath of the SeaWolf was the first song Nick wrote before the band existed and is a much darker heavier track about a very fearsome crew. 
Skull 'n' Bones Tavern is the only purely folk metal track on the album (i.e. no orchestral elements at all) and is a high-energy party drinking song. 
The Curse of Blood Island is the centrepiece of the album and is a huge adventure story and in contrast to “Tavern” is the most richly orchestrated song on the album. 
Captain Wolfgang's Jig is an instrumental track made up of a few folk tunes, some traditional and some original, 
then Haul Away is our interpretation of the traditional sea shanty of the same name. 
One Last Voyage is the acoustic ballad of the album and is in the style of an old maritime folk song. 
Wherever the Wind May Take Us is an original song but written in the style of a traditional shanty with the call-and-response verses, with a story inspired loosely by the historical mutiny on the Bounty, the leader of which came from the same town as me! 
An Unearthly Fog Descends is a short atmospheric orchestral interlude leading into the final track Death From the Deep, a tour-de-force ranging from wacky bouncy folk tunes to dark symphonic metal.

07. When I look at the artwork, it reminds me "Black Sails At Midnight" album by ALESTORM. What did you want to show with that artwork ?

Owen : At first I wasn't sure what you meant as the artworks don't look anything alike, but then I had a look at the limited edition version of Black Sails and I see that's what you're talking about as opposed to the standard edition! The idea is to make it look like a leather-bound book with fancy gold fixings, and a mysterious blue jewel embedded in a golden frame in the centre, from which the image of a pirate ship seems to be emerging... I suppose the idea of making it look like an old book was in reference to how a lot of the songs tell stories, so it's as if the album is a collection of these stories. I wanted to give it some steampunk appeal with the leather and gold too, as steampunk is a bit of an influence for us as well.

08. You guys are Pirates enjoying Folk Music too, isn’t it ? I notice that you play many and nice instruments such as violin, viola, accordion, whistles, banjo… Are you inspired by Celtic Music and Traditional Folk as you do with Folk Metal ?

Nick : I was a folk musician long before I was into metal, and before that trained classically with the Viola and piano. I play in traditional folk sessions whenever I can where everyone turns up, someone starts a tune, and you all pick it up by ear and join in. For me that is what pure folk music is about, being able to turn up in a pub and just start playing and enjoying music with everyone there. The folk elements I write and play in IRON SEAWOLF are absolutely influenced by that before other folk metal bands. 

Owen : Very much so! Like I said when I was talking about pirate metal as a genre, I take a lot of influence from the traditional world. I'm as much into folk music as as I am into folk metal – I play in a contemporary folk band called D'BLEEDIN' BLAGGARDS, and often play for ceilidhs as well as accompanying Morris dancers, so I'm as immersed in the folk world as I am in the metal world.  As a Morris musician, I play a lot of English folk music and that influence comes through a lot in IRON SEAWOLF. Although unlike Nick, I was into metal first, then got into folk through folk metal. On the other side of things I also compose orchestral music (I've written music for radio dramas and stage productions, and would like to eventually compose for films etc.) and I bring a lot of that into the band too – most folk metal bands tend to be either 100% authentic and traditional with only real folk instruments, or completely symphonic with everything done on keyboards or programmed orchestrations – but we're going for a bit of both!

09. What are your favourites Folk music bands and artists ? Why ?

Nick : Seth Lakeman is a big one for me, he is almost a one man band on the violin. However many of his songs are very somber and I enjoy high energy music, a band I like for that are GAELIC STORM. Branching into folk punk there is also FIDDLERS GREEN, THE RUMJACKS, and obviously FLOGGING MOLLY.

Owen : I love BELLOWHEAD with all their wacky arrangements of traditional material, but often I'm more in the mood for Spiers and Boden (two guys from Bellowhead performing as a duo) as it's just English folk music in its purest and best form. I do like a bit of Irish folk too and I certainly got into that first, but these days in terms of the Celtic stuff I find myself enjoying the Scottish side of things a lot more – I particularly love the bands BREABACH and MÀNRAN. Like Nick, I love some folk rock and folk punk too.

10. How long do you play all your instruments ? And how did that will to play them came to you, folks ?

Owen : As I mentioned before I actually got into folk metal before getting properly into folk, and it was folk metal that inspired me to pick up all these folk instruments, but from there I later got into traditional folk music. The tin whistle came first I think, I'd played recorder at school (as so many do) so those skills were easily transferred. Then I got the urge to learn accordion, gave it a go (I'd already played piano from age 5 so it wasn't too hard to pick up) and really took off with it so that's my main instrument these days - I've been playing it for 7 years now. As I already played guitar I found it quite easy to then apply those skills to banjo, mandolin etc. I just have this problem of wanting to own and have a go at every type of folk instrument I see! I most recently bought a hurdy gurdy... who knows, that might feature on the next SeaWolf record...

Nick : I started as a classical Viola player over 10 years ago, with on and off periods of playing during school and university, and quite early on also started playing folk. I learnt bass playing jazz as a teenager, then when I started listening to metal I used the musical skills I already had to teach myself guitar. Now, live I play on an electric 5-string viola which includes the pitch range of a violin.

11. How happened your recent UK tour with SKILTRON and RED RUM ?

Owen : We'd played with RED RUM a few times before and as we're two of only a handful of English pirate metal bands, they've become great friends of ours. They'd been invited to join SKILTRON as the main support for the UK leg of their tour, and they invited us along as second support. It was our first ever tour and was a fantastic experience that we'd love to repeat in the future! SKILTRON were great guys to work with as well and I even guested on accordion for their cover of Shipping Up To Boston (by Dropkick Murphys) on some dates.

12. Have you got positive feedbacks regarding your shows and your debut album ?

Owen : The feedback has been great so far! Even at the smaller shows on the tour such as the tiny cramped pub we played at in London, the crowds were fantastic. And early opinions on the album so far have all been very positive!
Nick : We’ve had messages from people as far as the Czech Republic and Australia telling us how much they’re enjoying our album. 

13. Can you remind us where can "Hoist the Black Flag" album be ordered ?

Owen : You can get it as a digital copy or CD digipak through our bandcamp page. It's also available digitally through iTunes, Amazon MP3, Google Play, Spotify and most other digital platforms you might think of. Just search for us!

14. What are your future plans for IRON SEAWOLF ?

Owen : Having a nice rest after the tour and album release! But we've already got a lot of new material in the works – more eclectic than ever really, ranging from our heaviest stuff yet to our happiest folkiest stuff yet – I think that's down to the fact that more of the band members are starting to give their creative input now rather than just me writing most of the stuff and Nick doing bits here and there as on the debut album. We've got new material written by Nick, a couple of songs in the works from Sam, alongside stuff from me. We'll also hopefully be touring again next year!

Thanks to you two for the interview!

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