The Spanish neofolk scene is producing some of the most engaging bands of the last decades, creating massive ensembles with an orchestral feel that is constantly looking to reinvent their sounds. This is how we found the band Vael, a collection of seven musicians who create a rich sound that alternates between ecstatic frenzy and quiet meditation, all while drawing on a range of traditional instruments and international inspirations.
We interviewed Vael about the band’s history, how they draw on folk traditions, and how they took a stand in the neofolk scene.
How did Vael come together? Were you involved in any other projects before?
We were just a group of friends that wanted to play together and have fun. The band was born that way, and over the months we recruited some more friends to complete the formation. In the beginning we just wanted to have a good time and play covers from our favourite bands. We decided to make our first song together, “The Hunt”, which we started being five people but finished as seven. That was the moment when Vael was born as it is today. Most of us had been previously involved in other bands from the folk or folk metal scene, such as Ocelon or Cuélebre. Some of us are involved in other projects from different scenes, like our guitarist José, who plays in Abÿfs and some other Spanish metal bands, and Teresa, who collaborates with the project Bear, the Storyteller.
What bands were an inspiration to you in Vael?
Each member of Vael has very different influences and inspirations, which come together in our creative process. Some bands that we have in common and we really love are, for example, Sangre de Muérdago, Percival or Faun, but we think that we are more inspired by sounds, rhythms and cadences from folk music all around the world in general than by bands in particular. We listen to a lot of world music, ethnic and neofolk, but we also like to listen to rock, metal, electronic, punk, soundtracks, classical and much more. Putting it in that way, we can say that Vael is a mix of everything we like, to honour everything we respect and value as humans. We really have some very actual references in terms of music, instead of tying us too much to the past (which is very normal with folk music), making our music also for today’s ears.
How do natural rhythms and cycles inform your music? How has Vael channeled this natural energy?
We are not very aware of those things in our daily lives, to be honest. We live mostly in the big city and so we are affected by very prosaic things like workdays or public transport and that kind of “urban” things. But we are affected by seasons, for example. We get more productive at certain seasons, sad songs born usually in autumn and winter mostly. Also we believe in natural cycles, which play an important part in human life so we talk about those movements inherent in nature, its forces and how humanity is part of it in our songs. For doing that, we use rhythms that imitate waves like in our song “Nana” or “Nimue,” percussion that reminds us of heartbeats and things like that.
The concept of cycles is deeply rooted in our album “Kairós” since its very conception, and we have manifested it with the first and last song in the album. Those pieces are built upon the same harmony, but phrygian dominant in “Caravanserai”, which is about beginnings and travels, and minor at the end in “Vesna,” which talks about farewells.
So, maybe yes, we are more influenced by those rhythms than we think, hahaha.
There is a strong mythic sense in your work, what myths and folk traditions inform Vael’s creative vision?
One of the aims of the project is to find topics present in different cultures and try to bring them together. We create music inspired by myths from western and Mediterranean Europe to Nordic and Slavic culture, but we also look for inspiration in cultures from other parts of the world, such as the Middle East or East Asia. We are also starting to explore American sounds. This, all together with our own tradition as the crossroad of cultures that is the Iberian Peninsula, tries to address certain topics from a “human” point of view focusing on the beauty that lies in diversity. After all, we are all human beings with our own myths and our own cultural memory, which in many cases share much in common.
Specifically, we have explored several myths in our songs: the myth of Prometheus, the legend of the Wild Hunt and also the abstract image of those old deities from nature (which are still present but forgotten) in our song “Mil ecos” (Thousand echoes). In our future work we’d like to explore myths from other parts of the world. Regarding traditions, the essential folk tradition behind Vael is the primitive and universal act of joining all together and making music for feeling good and being connected. That’s the “folkiest” thing that you can find in our music and in music in general.
How does the songwriting and recording process work? What instruments are you using?
Actually, we don’t have a regular pattern for composing. Sometimes one of us brings a melody or a chord progression and we start adding and changing things, but we also like to songwrite when we are all together in our rehearsals. We start jamming and music flows from us. Both methods work for us.
We try to use every instrument that falls in our hands. Sometimes that’s a problem because we are seven members plus our instruments. We look like the philharmonic orchestra of an anthropological museum, so we need big stages to play (and also big cars to travel). In summary, the instruments that we use most are davul, cajón, darbuka, bodhran, some small percussion, spanish guitars, baglama, hurdy gurdy, nyckelharpa, guzheng, violin, different flutes, bagpipes… and also our voices.
You aren’t afraid of the quiet moments, or moving slowly, how does this space of simplicity play into your vision?
Being seven people in the project, sometimes is complicated to achieve balance and things get a little bit messy, because we all want to contribute to the creative process. We like to get intense and powerful in some of our songs, but we like introspection too and some of the themes we address such as death, melancholy or loss are particularly delicate. So there are these moments when we become more careful, or conscious maybe, and we try to slow down and just make something that simply works well and is not as full of melodies and rhythms, kind of more quiet. Silence is an important part in music too and in this kind of songs we try to give more space for simple melodies and silences also.
Why do you think it’s important to stand up against racism in the music scene?
Entering the music scene is very much like giving someone a speaker. It could be a bigger or smaller one, but is up to us choosing what we say through it. So if we have that responsibility, we should use it to try to make the world a better place.
Starting from our statement and the concept of our band, Vael stands for the defense of every cultural manifestation from every part of the world and every culture, no matter the skin colour, gender or age. We want to break the barriers that separates us and search for what brings us together. So, according to this, we don’t tolerate racism, fascism, or whatever demonstration of discrimination based on the ethnicity, nationality, religion or identity.
Sadly, in the neofolk scene there’s a bunch of examples of overt racism and white supremacism. We believe that bands like us have to create a scene where everyone is welcomed and united by music, not for other irrelevant reasons which excludes the others.
How do you define “community” and how does that play into your creative vision
We think of community as a gathering of people that supports each other and works together. Each member has his/her own weaknesses and strengths that shape the way the community faces day-to-day challenges. We are, indeed, a little community and what we do is a reflection of how we care for each other and how we have held on together when we have been through difficult situations. This is why our music talks about caring for the others and the world we live in, and the global community we are as living beings experiencing the same things even if those experiences appear in different forms, colours or cultural concepts for each one of us.
There is also another important dimension of community, and it’s the one that we form with the other fellow artists, fans and folks who share our passion for music. The European folk scene is very rich and full of endearing people. Friendly mates willing to give everything to help, collaborative artists and a very supportive public. We had experiences in other musical scenes, and when we met the beautiful people who make up this community we felt very happy and surprised. We cannot conceive our work and our context today without thinking about all of them.
What’s coming next for Vael?
Our plans are to continue exploring the musical possibilities that can be developed, mixing new harmonies and sounds, researching other musical traditions from across the world… just let flow the way we feel and think through the music and keep open minded. We are forced to have a “gap year” due to the unfortunate events of the Covid-19 pandemic that has also changed some of our plans, but we are looking forward to playing in Portugal this fall, and maybe recording a EP with songs that we have recently composed.
What other bands would you recommend to antifascist neofolk bands?
Here in Spain we have some bands such as Ignitia, an emerging pagan folk band with influences from Wardruna, and Aegri Somnia who mixes traditional work songs and chants from iberian villages —and spanish Civil War songs too— with some metal. Not from Spain but in Spanish we have Emerson Dracon, an Argentinian artist who creates industrial martial neofolk with an antifascist background.
In the global scene, we recommend Rome, since some of us are very fond of Jerome Reuter’s work. Matt Howden with his project Sieben is a very interesting artist too, very talented and full of great ideas and very provocative. We had the opportunity to be part of a Q&A at Castlefest with Waldkauz, Rastaban and La Horde, three bands that one shouldn’t miss, and we were talking about some of the inclusive values that folk music should carry. SeeD is another project formed by very lovely people with a great spirit of union and friendship through nature and tales. We also have Cinder Well, a dark folk band which you have already interviewed, and some other projects where Amelia Baker has been involved, such as Gembrokers and Blackbird Raum, and similar to those ones, we have Mama’s Broke, two women from Canada making “dark” americana music. Lankum is another interesting project, making their own doomy version of irish music.
Finally, we will always recommend Sangre de Muérdago, ‘cause we love their music and all the magic that they create. We had the chance of being together at La Noche de los Candiles in 2018, a really cool festival in southern Spain. They are such wonderful people and one of our most important references in the scene.