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INTERVIEW: Nachtlieder | Susanne Hansson talks about her new album and inspirations

Black metal and Sweden are irrevocably entwined. The country has always been, and continues to be, a fertile soil for the genre. Among the newer crop of genre bands from the country is Nachtlieder, the studio project of Dagny Susanne, otherwise known as Susanne Hansson. Recently Nachtlieder released its second album ‘The Female Of the Species’, a record inspired by the book of the same from Joyce Carol Oates and Satanic feminism, through Italian label imprint I, Voidhanger Records. Transcending Obscurity recently caught up with the force behind Nachtlieder, Susanne Hansson (who plays lead/rhythm – and bass guitar next to doing vocals and writing all the lyrics) to talk about the literary inspirations behind ‘The Female Of the Species’, its philosophical meaning, how it relates to her view on feminism and individuality and her experiences with bigotry, prejudice and sexism in the underground metal scene.

Transcending Obscurity (Wouter): For this album you choose the Biblical character of Eve, the female of the species, as the central character in the album’s narrative. Eve is associated with the Fall of Man and original Sin in most Abrahamic religions, Christianity in particular. What specifically about the parable/character of Eve was so appealing, would you say?

Susanne Hansson: What started everything in late 2013 actually had nothing to do with the stories in the Old Testament at all. I had recently read the book “The Female of the Species” by Joyce Carol Oates. It is a collection of novellas about women committing different acts of violence for various reasons. I really liked this book and I felt there was a connection to my own lyrical themes in it. Already back then I decided that I would choose this title for the album, but at that time it was as a reference and tribute to Oates’ work.

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When I continued to work with the lyrics I was pretty influenced by the phenomenon of “Satanic feminism” where Satan as a symbol for liberation also is used as a feminist icon. This can also include a different interpretation of the story of the Fall of Man, where Eve instead of being accused for being responsible for original Sin is regarded as the heroine that brought knowledge to mankind. It was very suitable to my intended album title and I continued building on that. But honestly everything was not tied together until the very night before I, Voidhanger posted the album news on their website. I was asked to write a few words about the album and I had to think, what is this really about? What story am I trying to tell? I figured the whole thing was a story about Eve, in which she symbolizes the general complexity of human nature and the yearning for true freedom. At the end of the album she even abandons her former companion Lucifer, the liberator. I guess this is an expression of my own belief in individualism, liberation from liberation in the words of Emma Goldman… I wonder what happened next. Considering the last riff on the album I guess Eve went on to go all Kali on the universe or something, haha.

This theme grew very gradually over a long time and has roots in several different things. Even though the end result might look so, this was not intended to be a concept album. But I like that so many people already have embraced it, reflect over it and have interpreted it in their own ways. You can’t get better praise as an artist!

TO (Wouter): For ‘The Female Of the Species’ you signed with Italian label imprint I, Voidhanger Records, whereas your self-titled debut (2013) was released through an American label. Was this because of better conditions, or just that dealing with a European label is easier in terms of logistics and communication?

Hansson: I never really cared about those things since Nachtlieder is not a business to me. I was approached by I, Voidhanger about a year ago, I think, and I decided to collaborate with them solely because of their concept. They see all music as an art form and just like me they appreciate a fuller concept to every release. Just as much thought as I spend on writing and recording the music, they spend on the physical final product. Considering that I just could not say no to that offer, it is a perfect place for this project.

Changing label has led to some convenience also. Unmerciful Death Productions was a good place to release my debut, but as an unestablished label they struggled with finance and everything took a lot of time. Things have run a lot smoother now and I immediately noticed that I, Voidhanger can reach out to a lot more people a lot faster. Which of course is nice.

TO (Wouter): Sweden has always been a fertile soil for various forms of black metal. Every metal fan worth his/her salt is familiar with the likes of The Abyss, Bathory, Dark Funeral, Dissection, Marduk, Mutant, Naglfar, Setherial, and the likes. In my opinion some of your riffing is reminiscent of Morgan (Marduk) with the melodic sensibility of David Parland (ex-Dark Funeral). Were there ever any of the classic Swedish bands that you particularly looked up to?

Hansson: Oh yeah, in my teens when I discovered Black all of the Swedish bands that were big at the time spun in my CD-player for hours and hours. I have not actively listened to them for years though. Dissection was the biggest one for me. Their first gig after Jon got out of prison was the first big concert I ever went to. I revisited Dissection again a couple of years ago and my taste in music has radically changed. I just thought “damn this is bland, how could I once think this was good?”. He was a fantastic songwriter, you can’t argue on that, but that musically correct melodic sound… No. Obviously all of these bands have affected my sound anyway since so many people think it’s so typically Swedish!

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Interestingly enough I have never listened to Marduk at all though. I have heard them of course, but never listened. Still this is the single band I have constantly been compared to for this album. That’s the main reason to why I read reviews, it gives an insight to how others see my music. You kind of live inside of your own little bubble otherwise, especially when you don’t collaborate with anyone else when writing. Reviews can give me hints to new bands I should listen to and give me new musical ideas that I never thought of myself. I’m gonna need to listen more to Marduk. You are not the only one to mention Dark Funeral either, so maybe I’ll be able to find some appreciation to their music now.

TO (Wouter): Nachtlieder is obviously a creative vessel for youself exclusively. However, for both albums thus far you have been working with studio drummer Martrum. Can you tell us a bit more about him – what other bands he plays/ed in, if any. Were you friends before deciding to work together under the Nachtlieder banner?

Hansson: Yes, we’ve been playing together since I first moved to Gothenburg ten years ago. He was the drummer of Wicked and before that we were also in another band together. Naturally I asked him for assistance when I decided that I didn’t want to use programmed drums for Nachtlieder, which I did on my first two demos. Even though my debut is the first full-length he has participated on, unlike me he has been quite active in the Black Metal scene in the south of Sweden previously and played in bands for I don’t know how long. He solely does it for his own pleasure and he shines the most as a drummer when we are in the rehearsal place, just jamming. He is interested in complicated jazz and progressive music and prone to improvisation. I’m sort of thinking about secretly recording him some time, haha. It’s pretty unfortunate not to be able to capture his true brilliance in the studio, even though I think he does a great job as it is.

TO (Wouter): Prior to formulating Nachtlieder you were involved with Göteborg death/thrash metal act Wicked where you played bass guitar. In what ways has your experience with Wicked helped shape and improve the vision/music you had for Nachtlieder?

Hansson: I learned a lot, about a bunch of things. They were my first extreme metal band and just that was of course a useful experience. As a bass player I also got to think a lot about song arrangements and the role of the bass, without that Nachtlieder would probably not be the same. Also, without Wicked, Nachtlieder would maybe not exist at all. During our time I realized I didn’t want to settle for playing bass and also that I needed a project of my own to get an outlet for all of my nerdy ideas. I love music theory and such, but it certainly is not popular among all musicians. Most of all we had fun though. Wicked disbanded when the singer moved out of town with his family. The three of us still try to meet when ever he is visiting Gothenburg and even though we rarely see each other now things are still the same. We drink coffee, talk shit about stupid things and laugh our asses off. People like that are rare.

TO (Wouter): Rudyard Kipling writes in his The Female Of the Species poem that women face much more adversity and tribulation compared to men, in what he describes as a preparation for motherhood. Have you experienced much, if any, bigotry, prejudice and/or archaic perceptions of gender roles being a woman in what is by all accounts a male-dominated industry?

Hansson: Oh man, I hate that poem. “Beware of women, for they are illogical and controlled by their emotions”. But oh, well, this old stereotype is still alive and kicking today. Luckily I’m not around the people that keep embracing it at all, but I see it in social media all the time. The best thing about Kipling’s work is that Oates was probably inspired by it, haha.

I recognize that gender isn’t the only thing that matters. How people see me is a result of many different things: how old I am, what profession I have, where I grew up, where I currently live, what ethnicity I have, etc. When I was younger I encountered sexist attitudes very, very regularly. Now as I’m older it’s getting less frequent, could be because older people tend to get more respect, or because I don’t spend time out among strangers like I used to back then, or simply because I’ve released two albums by now.

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These attitudes took many different forms but like all sexism, at least from my experience, it was mostly subtle – even though I have heard things like “chicks can’t play” being said basically to my face. I was often ignored by guys when I was out in a group. People got surprised when I picked up my bass playing live in Wicked and still today I feel like some conversations would look completely different if I was a man with a big intimidating beard, more respectful. It’s the feeling of not being worth taking up space, like you wouldn’t contribute with anything anyway. A lot of dudes would probably say that that’s not the case and blame it on something else than gender, but when you’re the only woman present it’s really difficult to see some other reason for it. My own purpose with feminism is not to blame the trouble in the world on a specific group of people, but to raise the questions. Make people think about how they treat others and why. It’s all about recognizing human value, in the metal scene, but most of all outside of it. I’m certainly responsible too and no one is without flaws. We’re all products of the societies we live in. Of course, I also know about many girls and women who have never experienced things like this at all. Or they have, but just don’t care.

TO (Wouter): A good deal of reviews that your ‘The Female Of the Species’ album received went to great lengths to point that you in fact a woman. The comparison of convenience being made with Danish-Norwegian act Myrkur. Would you say a good portion of metal’s fanbase is still completely oblivious to the fact that women fronting bands is hardly a new phenomenon, dating all the way to the 1980s (at the very least)?

Hansson: Oh yeah, otherwise that wouldn’t happen. I noticed how the Myrkur comparisons became fewer after the release date, but it still seems to be an interesting fact for some to point out that Nachtlieder is nothing like Myrkur, haha. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with pointing out when a female has a leading role in a band. Sexism in the metal scene can only be killed by normalizing female musicians, so I would say it’s even necessary as it is now. You know, you can do it in a more relaxed way… Just to be clear, I don’t find this offensive, but the awkward way many writers deal with non-male musicians is a symptom of how the gender distribution in the scene is. Also, there is a lack of interest among both fans and writers in changing it. As it is now you need to actively find female dominated bands and this seem to be down-prioritized by most, both professional journalists, bloggers and bookers at festivals.

I fucking hate the argument that “we only write about/book good bands, we don’t look at gender”. Like all of the dudes in the metal scene are some fucking musical geniuses, bullshit. Personally, I’d much rather see a mediocre band with female members on stage at a festival than yet another mediocre all-male one…

TO (Wouter): Nachtlieder was somewhat of a minor hit on FaceBook community Death Metal Girls a while ago. From what you previously alluded to it stirred up a bit of interest in your past/current work with the band. How much would you say do bands like yourself depend on fan initiatives helping spread awareness around bands in general, and niche music, in specific?

Hansson: A lot, of course. I’ve said before that the whole scene is run by fans. It doesn’t matter how great music you make and how much your label spends on marketing if the fans don’t care. Back before internet, I guess, tape trading and zines was the equivalent of forums and blogs. I certainly wish I had more time to get involved as a fan myself. I buy quite a lot of albums from independent labels now, but I never listen to the bands before I make a purchase, haha. It’s kind of fun, even though you certainly get a lot of shit home that way, some times you get pure gems in the mailbox. Like American band Obsidian Tongue, for example. Maybe it’s my way of trying to experience the excitement it must have been to be a metal fan when music wasn’t as accessible as it is now. More music comes out, but there are also more channels to be visible in. The key is just to find the right ones in order to reach your audience, and I think the fans are excellent in doing that job! You already know I’m a DMG fan. To broaden my knowledge of females in the metal scene I also follow the YouTube series The Female Vocalists of Extreme Music. But DMG is more to my taste since it’s about the musicians, plus there is more quality control as to what gets posted in that community.

Nachtlieder Official Facebook Page | Nachtlieder Bandcamp

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