FROM THE VASTLAND – Sina
I remember a few years ago at Inferno festival hearing everybody talking about the act called ‘From the Vastland’ and everyone I knew planned to watch them. If my memory serves me right, they played at John Dee and I don’t think I actually got to see any inch of the stage since it was too crowded. And then I tried to find out why were people talking so much about it and so I found out the inspiring story of a musician who followed his love for black metal and moved away from his homeland, Iran, where his passion is bothering to some people who unfortunately can decide your fate. I saw the band performing later at Trondheim Metal Fest and then I found out even more details of the story via the brilliant Blackhearts documentary (which uses music composed by Sina).
So I was more than happy to get the chance for an interview with Sina and try to find some answers to questions that I haven’t found in the band’s presentation nor in the material from the documentary. Below is the transcription of the chat, in which we got to talk about the band’s latest release, Chamrosh, the album cover, Persian mythology, what Norway has to offer when it comes to recording music, why touring possibilities are limited or how it is to be a black metal band at an open music day event in Harstad.
(Photo: Andrea Chirulescu)
Me: How’s life in Norway treating you until now? How do you feel after the years you’ve spent here?
Sina: It was great to get this chance to get to Norway, as I had this dream for many many years. You know when you are a black metal musician, but also a fan of this type of music, you have this dream to come to Norway, to at least just visit this land, you know. I got this change to come here and play a show but also work with Norwegian musicians so it’s been great ever since I came here. And I can say it is still exciting.
Me: But besides the musical part of things, you have started a life here, having a daily job, with daily activities and so on…
Sina: Yea, all these just feel good. It doesn’t feel boring at all. It surely is completely different from what you find in Iran. But even if I want to detach things from my artistic life, there is still a connection. The main reason that makes me to love living in Norway and enjoy the culture here is also because I am a black metal musician and so far everything here has been exactly what I like.
Me: Hopefully we can have the same chat in maybe 10 years from now to see how things evolve.
Sina: Sure, but right now it’s like living in a paradise of some sort.
Me: A frozen paradise I guess
Sina: Yea, not Hell, the Norwegian place, but close by.
Me: You got to meet some of the legends of the local stage. Do you get to keep in touch with them, still exchange opinions and so on?
Sina: Well, I was involved with the Blackhearts documentary and part of this film was meeting some of these legends for example. I met artists like Nocturno Culto and Ghaal but I also got the chance to work with some of them like Thor Anders from Myrkskog and Morbid Angel or Vyl from Keep of Kalessin or Tjalve from Den Saakaldte. I met a lot of famous Norwegian musicians and I think I was actually lucky.
Me: Let’s talk about this CD that you just gave me, your latest release. It looks so simple, the name of the album is so discreetly written in small letters and all the focus is on the cover picture. So the first impression is that you want the image to stand out. Who is the author?
Sina: Actually I made all the artwork for this album.
Me: So you also do drawing?
Sina: It’s a digital image, made by using Photoshop, but I did it from scratch. This cover represents the story that is behind the title of the album, Chamrosh. Chamrosh is this kind of bird, that we actually call Griffin. It has the head of like a monster and usually has wings. So Chamrosh is the name of the picture, but the image represents actually the story in the title song of the album. I tried to design something that is representative for the name.
Me: I remember Chamrosh spreading some stuff from a tree all around the world, but I am not sure if the stuff was good or bad
Sina: Before I explain you, I have to mention that all of my lyrics are based on Persian mythology. Same with this one. The story says that there are a group of, let’s call them demons, and every three years they get together in a place like the one I drew, close to the mountain called Alborz and there is a tree in which another creature lives. The demons try to attack the land and Chamrosh is trying to protect the land fighting with the demons.
Me: Why did you pick Chamrosh? What do you like about this myth?
Sina: I always liked history and mythology. I read a lot of books, not only about Persian mythology, but also Egyptian, Viking, histories from South America. And I later thought that these stories are really fit for black metal since they have a lot of stories of fights and battles between gods and demons, good and evil. And I noticed that a lot of other bands did already something like this with the mythology from their own country. So I got this idea to start writing lyrics based on Persian mythology. For this album I found the Chamrosh story very interesting, but it is actually a very long story. So I only used a part of it now but I will probably write more lyrics later. Like I said, this is something happening every three years, but a lot of other stuff is happening connected to this event. And when I write I try to stay true to the real story and only adapt it to make it proper for black metal music. And so far I got really positive feedback from the friends who have read the lyrics.
Me: It must be great to have had inspired some people to learn something new. What is actually your favorite Persian myth?
Sina: I am not sure how to call it, but maybe Dragon Slayer is the correct term. In Persian mythology is called Keresaspa (Garshāsp). It’s a famous hero, I can maybe compare it to Thor in the Norse mythology. It’s that kind of powerful personality. I have already written three songs about him.
Me:I had a look at your webpage where it says that it took you more than a year to be satisfied with the arrangements on this album. What did you actually struggle with?
Sina: When I released my second album, Kamarikan, here in Norway, it was released via Indie Recordings and it got an extremely positive feedback. Not only from the fans, but magazines, websites and reviewers. That was great inspiration for me. So I went on and released two more albums. But on these two things became a bit different when it comes to sound and production because we recorded them in studio here in Norway and the studio guy took care of everything, sound and basically the whole production. The feedback was really good but in my mind I wanted to have another album that sounds like Kamarikan because it was so bright, so wide. So I thought that this time I want to try and produce this album by myself and do everything, mixing, mastering, everything from A to Z. That is why it took a long time. And the truth is I can’t stop writing music. We have just released this album like a month ago, and now I already have seven more songs ready.
Me: You’re fast!
Sina: But then I use my time to make the songs better and better, I go through them, try to make new riffs, new arrangements, modify how the song starts and how it ends. This is why I used so much time on this album.
Me: Who helped you the most? Or did you just google how to do things?
Sina: I actually already had the experience from when I was back in Iran. There was no chance to record your album in a studio, there are no labels or record shops. So I had to learn a lot of stuff about how to record your music, how to get a good sound and how to mix and master it. But of course, it was not at professional level. I only had a computer and two monitor speakers, but that’s what I had to learn with. But now I think I know enough so that I can actually make a good product at the end and after all the effort I am really satisfied with the album, with the sound, with the production and songs arrangements.
(Photo: Andrea Chirulescu)
Me: In your opinion, how has your song writing changed after the experiences in the past few years?
Sina: It has surely changed. First of all, I learned a lot by working with these musicians. I remember the first time when I went to the studio for ‘The Temple of Daevas’ album. It was in 2014 when I went to the studio with Vyl and Tjalve and back then I had no idea what to expect. It was for the first time that I was in a real studio. So I was quite stressed, I didn’t know how it’s supposed to go. But then I learned a lot, not only for recording but also how to improve the sound of your songs. They had already listened to the songs before but they also had a lot of new ideas during the recording process, suggested to maybe put a new piece in, modify the arrangements, add some backing guitar or so. Then I actually saw how a song can become better. Afterwards, the same thing happened for the ‘Blackhearts’ EP.
Back in Iran, I was all alone, doing all the recording and everything needed, but here I have access to the scene and that gives me the chance to talk to a lot of other musicians and learn from them. And I think all these actually helped me to improve my music. So even I can see the differences when I compare this album with the first album by ‘From the Vastland’
Me: Do you have people asking you for advice now?
Sina: Actually yes. Sometimes I get messages from young musicians, even from here in Norway. And they ask for some technical stuff and that’s really interesting because I am not that professional, but maybe this shows I really did something good. If I see that there is something I can help with, I would gladly do it. I have passed the moment when I really had no idea how things work so now I’m more than happy to share my experience if I am asked about technical stuff or song writing. Even if all this is new to me.
Me: Inside the album it says that more or less everything is done by you. But it still says different names for guitar, bass and drums. So they played on the recording?
Sina: I play guitar and vocals, right, but I gave them the freedom for bass and drums.
Me: Does it mean you compose it or?
Sina: I make like a demo tape with a drum machine, and I play bass or I use a program for it. And when the demo tape is ready, I send it to the guys. But I always tell them that they are free to decide what works better, since that is actually their instrument. And I always ask them if they have any suggestions for my guitar parts. So we work together in the end.
Me: So it’s not a one man army and the rest just follows
Sina: No no. I make everything at the beginning, that’s true, but for recording the final songs, I consider all the suggestions. This works because we enjoy working like this.
Me: Do you practice together?
Sina: Not too often. We live all over the place. One of us is in Oslo, one close to Trondheim, one in Kristiansand. I sometimes meet Vyl and discuss, but he’s so busy with Keep of Kalessin. So it’s not easy to get together for practice, but when we have a gig we meet a couple of days before and we just practice together.
Me: In your practices today, do you spend more time trying to figure out what other artists are doing in a song or do you use your time trying to compose something new?
Sina: I remember when I started to play guitar, together with some friends of mine and back then the easiest way to learn was to play some cover songs. Back then I was into death metal and thrash metal but after playing like two three songs by Death, maybe Carcass, Morbid Angel, it felt like I needed something more. It was no longer interesting to just cover the songs. It was better for me to start writing my own songs and practice by myself. But it is always important to listen to other’s music because you always get inspiration from them. Even if you don’t want your music to sound like that, you get inspired by music that you have listened to for many years. So I try to do my best to write my songs and not make my songs sound like any other bands. But having the background of the music I have listened to, it can happen that after I write a song I realize ‘Oh, this riff is so close to this or that’, so I go back and change it.
Me: Do you watch any guitar tutorials?
Sina: Not too much. But I still like to learn something new. But not only for playing, but for example on how to get a good sound while recording. How to choose the right amount of distortion, or like the best way to play a riff to make it sound one way or another and I am glad to learn new stuff. But to be honest most of the time I am concentrated on writing new music, yet I never refuse the chance of new knowledge.
(Photo: Andrea Chirulescu)
Me: You don’t seem to have had a chance to play much outside of Norway. Is it because of visa issues?
Sina: Yes, that’s the problem. After releasing Blackhearts EP, I got contacted by a manager in Spain and by a Dutch band with offers for touring or playing in South America. But I had to refuse because of the visa issues. So this is a lost chance, because it is important to play all over the place to spread the word. I do actually have fans in many places. I know I have fans in England, Germany, I do have such hard core fans in Belgium and they always ask me when do I come to play there. Even in the United States. I always have to tell them to wait but as soon as I have my situation sorted out I have to play some shows abroad.
Me: Do you get contacted by people in Iran who want to make black metal music?
Sina: Yea, quite recently. I didn’t expect that since the black metal scene is small there. But of course we have black metal fans in Iran, even if it’s not a big thing. And it’s illegal to play it, yet people manage to do it in their own caves (you know how black metal people live). Recently I got messages on facebook or instagram or even by email and they see someone who three years ago was exactly like them, sitting in my room back in Iran, and now I am in Norway in a completely different situation. And they see it like a success and they ask how it was possible.
Me: This must also feel very inspiring. What keeps your interest alive for writing black metal music?
Sina: This is more than just music. It is a passion. For so many years I had this dream to play my own music. I grew up in a family where my parents listened to rock music, my older sister was into rock and metal. When I was a teenager, a friend of mine who lived in Austria brought some tapes with Black Sabbath and Metallica and it was the first time when I listened to metal music. I loved it, I loved the distortion and the sound of guitar. I believe it is not something you decide, that you become a musician. You need to find it inside, and it just becomes a passion. I remember when I listened to the first black metal album, Filosofem by Burzum, it was completely different and unknown compared to everything else. It was so dark and mystic and atmospheric and I remember I listened to that album five times in a row just to understand how it is, what kind of music that is. It attached to me after such a short time, this is something hard to explain so I will only use the word passion to answer this. It’s not something I have decided to do.
Me: Has your equipment changed since you moved here?
Sina: From Iran, I took my guitar, sound card, laptop and the basics needed to make music. Then I got some monitor speaker, midi keyboards, the simple things needed. But the difference here is that you have the chance to go to the studio and record the music, so you don’t need to own everything yourself. You only need the basics.
Me: But for the live shows?
Sina: For the live shows, I still use my guitar. It’s been seven years or so since I had this guitar and it’s a good Jackson guitar. I’m happy with it and the EMG pickups, it is very comfortable and I have a lot of memories with it.
Me: It’s probably the same with a lot of other hobbies. You can invest millions in expensive equipment, but if you lack passion, nothing good comes out of it. And people with passion can make amazing art with the cheapest of devices.
Sina: Yea, you drool when you see these brand new guitars but I still prefer to keep my old guitar.
Me: I was thinking to ask you about the Norwegian concert audience, but then again, I don’t think I can ask you to compare it…
Sina: Yea, because I haven’t seen any other crowd, so I can only say the Norwegian crowd is great. Some might think they are boring because people have seen everything live, but the good thing about it is that they actually get your music. Since they have seen so much, they can actually compare and judge if your music is good. But at Trondheim Metal Fest for example, the first three rows were banging their head and being intense, so you get this feeling back from them and you enjoy what you do on stage and it reflects in your show.
Me: Did you attend any concerts that are not metal?
Sina: Actually yes. I got here with the help of this organization called Safemuse and they have a yearly event called the music free day or something like that. And there are all kind of genres. They invited me to play a show in Harstad two years ago, in a Kulturhuset. There were only five or six metalheads. And the rest were quite surprised to hear our music, but overall it was a really fun experience.