Feature / Going It Alone: In Conversation with Hellripper

The new album draws heavily on folklore—what was the reason for this thematic focus?

I moved to the highlands just around the time of the writing process and it inspired me to look further into folklore and Scottish history, with a focus on the dark side. It’s the kind of stuff I’m interested in and it fits the Hellripper aesthetic. Just being surrounded by the landscapes in the Highlands made me look into it. I learned there was a lot of stuff that could fit with the Hellripper aesthetic. And it’s a bit different to a lot of other black/thrash black/speed bands. It’s a bit different lyrically, nd it was cool to do, lyrically, it was fun!

You recently moved to the Highlands, away from city life. Has that impacted your composition process? Were you more interested in drawing on more traditional instrumentation for this album anyway, or was it something that came about because you moved to the Highlands?

That came afterwards, I think. Everything influenced each other near the end. I always start with the music, and I don’t think the music was influenced by my environment. Though, near the end of the writing process I had it in my mind that I was going to do the Scottish lyrical themes, and that subconsciously gave me the idea to incorporate that kind of thing. Especially in the title track, the song’s a bit bouncier, a bit folk-sounding, so maybe the lyrics subconsciously influenced the music, or the themes influenced the music towards the end. With the last track, ‘Mester Stoor Worm’, that was mostly written, but once I had the idea for the lyrical theme of the story of the Stoor Worm I decided to try and make the music fit the story. So, the ups and downs and changing of the tempos and different atmospheres reflect what’s going on in the story. So, I think everything influenced each other.

So would it be fair to say you’re quite into folklore, a historian?

I wouldn’t say I’m an expert but I am interested in the darker side of stuff. Reading about it and learning about it, yes, but I’m by no means an expert!

It’s an interest of mine, but I’m not an expert at all. The editor-in-chief of Astral Noize is running a folklore-focussed zine called Hwaet! Zine, so there’s quite a lot of folklore going around at the moment. And folk horror is having a renaissance at the moment with films like Into the Earth and Midosmmar.

Of course! I never even thought about that. A lot of bands are presenting the aesthetic, bands like Green Lung. It’s a cool aesthetic, and a cool thing to dive into.

Other than the Nuckelavee, which creatures from folklore—Scottish, Orcadian, or otherwise, would you most and least like to meet in real life?

The couple I wrote about on the album, the Nuckelavee wouldn’t be a pleasant one. The Stoor Worm wouldn’t be pleasant unless its desires are met. It wants its feast of seven virgins every week—if that stops, you’d be in trouble!

Are there any that you would be more interested to meet on a happier occasion, or is it just “avoid the whole thing altogether?”

You get the friendlier ones, the spirits and creatures that are non-threatening. So, there’s a lot of them that are okay, but for Hellripper I like to focus on the evil side.

‘The Affair of the Poisons’ was also heavily inspired by historical events: what draws you to history and folklore in general, and indeed the darker side?

It fits the music. That’s the primary reason. But to me, it’s more interesting. Especially things like witchcraft and people’s beliefs that affected society and put people in danger. Of course, people still have some of these beliefs, like witchcraft. It’s strange to think that you would accuse people of being witches if you had a problem! It’s just more interesting, the dark side of things. Legends, a lot of the time, are warnings or stories to deter children from going near the water. The stories are usually quite cool, especially for Hellripper. It seems more interesting to me overall.

That’s fair—the black/speed black/thrash aesthetic you have, that B-movie Hammer Horror thing, works with a focus on horror and history. Was it the aesthetic first and then the interest, or was the interest always there and then the music came along?

Probably the music first, but being a metal fan you get exposed to that stuff anyway. I guess the music comes first. Just for example, Iron Maiden have things like ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’, so as a metal fan you end up looking into that stuff. So it’s always in the back of your mind. Maybe the interest came from that, that theme being present in the music I listen to. So then once I started writing for Hellripper, it’s evil-sounding music so it makes sense to bring in those themes.

Are you likely to involve politics in your music, or do you prefer to avoid that given the fraught political history of the black metal world?

Hellripper, lyrically, wouldn’t explore political stuff. It’s just not that kind of band. Though I myself have spoken out that I stand against fascism and sexism and homophobia and so on, so, I as a person have political views like that, but as a band I don’t think it would be right for Hellripper to explore those topics.

That makes sense. It’s a messy world!

There’s just too much to get angry about to mention, when basic human rights and basic human decency are being taken away, so it would just be an angry chat we’d be having right now, complaining about everything.

Sometimes it’s nice to set the world to rights, and you’ve got the angry music sorted, but there’s a time and a place for political discussions. So, I can see behind you you’ve got merch ready for the tour. How do you manage being a one-man band? Do you ever find yourself thinking “this is too much, I’ve got to do all the instruments and all the merch” or do you find that the level of control you get being just you is more manageable?

Maybe both? With the new album, things have grown considerably over the last month or two. It got a lot of exposure and more people started taking notice of the band, which is great. But the time management of sending out the merch, writing, recording, the press, the social media, the finance side of things, it does get quite time-consuming. But I enjoy it, so I’ve got no complaints, and I feel lucky that I’m able to do it. It’s not really a problem for me, it’s just time-consuming! Being just myself, I find it more manageable, though if there were more people involved you could divide tasks up, having one person doing social media and someone else doing whatever. But then you’ve got to all be on the same page, you’ve got to have the trust that everyone will do things right, which might be more stressful worrying about the other person doing things right! I’d rather use my own time and make sure that everything is OK. There’s ups and downs for both.

Do you find it hard just in terms of compositions, because you’ve got to do all the instruments, or do you prefer having that level of artistic control?

I think I prefer doing it myself because it’s a hobby. It’s what I would be doing anyway. I like writing and creating music and being able to come into my office and write a riff. Then I can put bass and drums to it. Again, there’s ups and downs. It’s valuable getting other people’s input, they might be able to offer something that I might not be able to offer. Then what they have to offer might not be what I agree with, and then you’ve got arguments. At least this way, I know I’m OK with the results.

Would you ever incorporate your live players into Hellripper on a compositional basis?

If it was to become a full band, probably, but I envisage it just as myself because it’s the way I prefer working. I’m happy with how everything is going and the music that’s being created, so I don’t feel the need to have other people involved like that. I’ve said in the past that if the music became stale or uninspired or I felt like I needed to change something, then I would get other people involved. But the last album is my favourite thing I’ve released, so I haven’t reached that stage yet! So as long as I’m continuing to write music that I’m happy with and I’m enjoying the process, it should remain as it is.

Being someone who can’t compose, I always find smaller bands that are three, two, or one-man bands seriously impressive.

Already, with getting live members you’ve got to try and accommodate everyone’s schedules, so it’s already a bit more complicated than just working by myself in a studio. So, if I were to get full-time members there’s more catering for availability and getting stuff done. So I definitely prefer being a solo act for the convenience of it all.

Was it you on the bagpipes on this album?

The bagpipes were played by a session musician. Unfortunately I can’t play bagpipes—or fortunately for my neighbours! I’d love to be able to play the bagpipes but I think everyone within a ten-mile radius might be annoyed!

You are in Scotland though. There’s leeway!

There’s a guy in my street, about six houses down, and I can hear him playing.

He could teach you!

I’ve toyed with the idea of learning more instruments, but I don’t have the time or patience. I could make better use of my time writing on guitar, and other instruments like piano or keyboard wouldn’t necessarily be useful. I have wanted to learn piano and keyboard for ages now, but they wouldn’t be useful to Hellripper outside of an atmospheric thing. Maybe a Hammond organ would be good if I can make it work. It’s got to work though, I don’t want to put stuff in for the sake of it.

There are flashes of acoustic/folk instrumentation—bagpipes on the title track, brief flashes of acoustic guitar as on ‘Mester Stoor Worm’, but they’re so short! Are we going to see more of that in future?

I write what comes naturally to me, so if bagpipes work again or if acoustic parts are necessary, then no problem. But I’m not going to make a thing of including bagpipes all the time just because I can, or people expect it. If it fits, then definitely because I think it’s cool, but it depends on how the songs come out. I’ve been trying new things—I’ve started writing for the next album—and there’s some different things there in terms of the overall vibe. I’m trying to keep it black/speed always, but bringing in more outside influences to complement that sound, trying to expand the sound while staying within the black/speed genre. Whatever happens, happens.

What prompted you to make a beer—which tastes good—and do you intend to make other kinds of alcohol other than an IPA? Would you ever go in for making something as involved as a whisky?

I haven’t thought that far ahead! I’ve just recently finished doing the bulk of the orders and the press and some launch shows, and so I’ve just got out of that extremely busy period. So I haven’t had time to think about what happens next, beyond focusing on the upcoming shows. In between all that I’m writing music, but I’ve got no idea. More beer would be great, whisky would be killer!

Making a whisky would be an involved process, but with beer there’s a lot of varieties of beer out there. What made you decide to make a beer this time round? Did you go with the idea or did someone approach you with it?

I’ve been friends with Black Iris Brewery for a few years now, had some of their beers before, and they were looking to collaborate with more bands for more limited batches of beer. They got in contact when they found out I had a new album coming out, and said they were looking to collaborate. It really all worked out perfectly in terms of timing.

So it was a coincidence, basically?

Basically, yeah. We’d spoken about it before, but with the new album there was a reason to do it. It’s good promotion for both parties, and the beer is great too, which is a plus!

Did you have any involvement on the brewing side? Did you get to say you specifically wanted an IPA?

I chose from the list of options. But all the brewing gets left to people that know what they’re doing. I’ve got no idea—I know what tastes good, so as long as it tastes good it’s fine by me. But I left the brewing to people who can do that.

You tend to wear your musical influences on your sleeve.  What five albums or songs give you chills every time you hear them?

I don’t know about chills, but I can give you a rough list of my favourites.

Red Hot Chili Peppers – ‘Psychosexy

Metallica – ‘Blackened

Opeth – ‘Serenity Painted Death

Midnight – ‘You Can’t Stop Steel

Type O Negative – -Prophet of Doom

Slayer – ‘Angel of Death

Hellripper’s new album Warlocks Grim & Withered Hags can be purchased here.

Words: Nick Dunn

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