Einar Selvik is a Norwegian composer and founder of Wardruna, a project renowned for its innovative and genre-creating renditions of old Nordic songs.
Selvik merges the scholarly with pop culture by integrating old Nordic instruments, poetry and poetic meters in a contemporary soundscape. He lectures about his work with historical music at universities, such as Oxford, Denver, Reykjavik and Bergen. Selvik’s work is used by top Old Norse scholars to exemplify how music might have sounded in early Scandinavia.
Selvik and Wardruna contributed on History Channel’s Vikings soundtrack, in which Selvik also appeared as a singer on two episodes of the television series. He was awarded the Egil Storbekken’s Music Prize, which is a national award given to those who have made extraordinary efforts in Norwegian folk music, especially with older folk instruments.
More recently, Selvik was tapped to work on the Assassin’s Creed Valhalla game soundtrack with co-composers, Sarah Schachner and Jesper Kyd. The game is set in 873 AD in warring Norway and follows the Viking invasion of Britain. The full album is out now on Lakeshore Records.
SSM: How did you get involved with the Assassin’s Creed Valhalla project?
ES: I was first approached by the musical team of Ubisoft through my publisher BMG in 2018. They were familiar with my work with Norse and Nordic music and had already been using a lot of my Wardruna compositions as temporary music in the game ad was interested in discussing a possible cooperation. I made an initial pitch with my musical ideas and we had some discussion over the phone before we decided to meet up in person.
A delegation from the AC music team came over to Bergen, Norway where I happen to be holding an acoustic “skaldic” concert in the royal medieval feasting hall “Håkonshallen”. This format of performance is in many ways very close to parts of the musical expression they wanted me to work on, so it was quite an appropriate occasion and backdrop to start planning our further collaboration on ACV!
SSM: The track ‘Vígahugr – Lust For Battle – Skaldic Version’ is awesome! Can you speak about your process with creating this track and the instruments you used?
ES: Thank you! It is in fact one of my favorite pieces from this whole material and also one of the songs I would consider as reflecting most authenticity in terms of the composition as a whole. The Norse culture was predominantly an oral society and so we clearly see that in the oldest song traditions we have here in the north, rhythms and melody are often guided by the (often) complex poetic structures.
The Vígahugr song gives good example of just that and also clearly reflect the tonality of ancient Scandinavian music. The lyrics is an excerpt of a poem composed by one of the most interesting Viking age skalds there was, Egill Skallagrimsson from the saga Egill´s Saga. They rather vividly express the rousing and build up before a battle, and if people think that Metal lyrics are brutal in nature, then they haven’t read much Viking age poetic battle descriptions, ha ha!
The backbone of the song is vocals and a seven stringed Lyre. Based on the historical sources we have; Lyres were the most common string instrument in Northern Europe in this time period and that is naturally also reflected in my work on the game. I also use bowed lyre (AKA Taglharpa, Haargigje, Jouhikko etc.) which is the earliest bowed instrument we have in the Nordic region.
The sources are conflicted on whether or not the instrument bow was used in the Viking age, but archelogy from both Ireland and Denmark suggest it was. Further, I have used bone flute as well as various percussion and animal-hide framedrum.
SSM: You have been involved with so many projects, from playing in the metal band Gorgoroth, fronting the Nordic folk project Wardruna to working on music for History Channel’s Vikings. What do you find is the most challenging part of the creative process for you?
ES: Yes, I´ve been very fortunate to get the chance to gain experience from many different types of musical formats and concepts. I guess one of the main challenges is to find the balance between being patient and working with deadlines. I like to let the songs take me where they want to take me rather than squeeze them into a predetermined shape or structure.
Not pushing it too much but still being pro-active. I generally like to take my time with my writing so when I started working the soundtrack on Vikings I really had to learn how to work faster without compromising the art itself. More instinctively and really tuning into my artistic impulses and intuition. I think that whole process helped me further develop my skills as a composer.
SSM: As someone who travels the world holding lectures and workshops about life in the Nordic region, what do you find is a common misconception about Vikings?
ES: Well, there are quite a few both positive and negative stereotypes and misconceptions out there. I guess the most common one is that the whole of ancient Scandinavian history has been named and defined by what a small number of people in the Nordic population did for a short amount of time. The word Viking is first and foremost a verb defining what some people did when they went off to sea, trading, raiding and warfare – which by the way wasn´t exclusive traits to the Norsemen.
They were, however, the best at it back then and dominated the period with their superior ships and fearless mentality – which again makes it very understandable why these Vikings have dominated the views on Norse history as a whole as well. Still, I would say that the old Norse culture has far more interesting things to offer than just warriors and warfare.
SSM: What’s coming up next for you?
ES: These days I am still doing musical work for AC Valhalla and also focusing on the new Wardruna album Kvitravn set for release in January 2021. The plan and hope are of course to start doing concerts again but with the current situation we have to plan for all sorts of scenarios depending on when the world goes back to some form of “normality”. If the concert restrictions are continued I will focus my time on writing music and studio work.
Follow Selvik on Instagram @einar_selvik!