Storytelling through sound – interview with ’Torulf’

Hi Fredrik, I am really excited to do your interview and to hear the story behind your music (which I find very original)! How’s it going?

Hi Amanda, it is my pleasure. Thank you for setting this up and for your kind words. I am keeping well, thanks. I am enjoying the few sporadic days of sunshine here in Scotland where I am currently living. On this particular day there is clear skies and it is very beautiful, perfect weather for this interview.

How did you become interested in making nordic influenced folk music?

It was during my time at University in Sweden some years ago. I studied Sound and Music Production so I was already set on living a life intertwined with music, and my interest was mainly in knowing how to shape music from concept to a master, going through the entire production process by myself, so as an artist to freely convey my emotions and ideas. By then I had written and produced songs in many various genres, but there was a growing feeling that something was missing. At University I made mostly electronic songs of science-fiction, space-related concepts and genres. Almost every day I created new songs, one after the other. Gradually I felt more and more lost in my creative song-writing. In retrospect, I understand that in this moment in my life that I was up somewhere floating aimlessly in space just like my music was.

One day, one of my teachers was going to have a lecture. We were waiting for him in the lecture room. He arrived and he had this strange wooden instrument with him. Without saying anything, he began to play it. And immediately I was captured by its sound. Every note and every texture was so alive and honest. It made me feel so many emotions, some reawakening from the past. The waves of soundscape my teacher created with it was unlike anything I had heard before. It was ancient, proud, and mesmerising. I knew then that was missing in my own music – a sound that is a spirit, or soul so to speak. Afterwards he explained that the instrument was called a Hurdy-Gurdy and that he used to play in this band called Hedningarna, which since the 1980’s made Nordic folk music but with their own creative freedom. I had no idea something like this was possible, to be so inspired by the ancient and yet create something so free and new. Suddenly I had found exactly what I was looking for. Roots. I left that lecture feeling incredibly inspired, hopeful, and so happy to feel I had begun a creative path of my own back on Earth.

What kind of instruments can we hear in your music? Do you play them yourself?

You hear a mixture of instruments such as percussive and electronic drums, Tagelharpa, Hurdy-Gurdy and synthesisers. These are the main ones. I play the Tagelharpa and some percussion, and the others including percussion and soundscapes are recorded samples over the years and I made my own sound library out of them. Furthermore, I am fond of using synthesisers and exploring how to combine their sounds with traditional instruments.

What kind of things inspire you when you are writing new music?

My music is a story. My songs are chapters and an album is a journey. When I was a child my father told me and my brother his own fictional bedtime stories about a Viking explorer named Torulf that travelled the world. Each story was a different journey to some ancient part of the world. The sense of exploration and adventure undoubtedly left a mark in me. When I started making Nordic influenced music that’s what inspired me: to invoke Torulf from these childhood stories, memories and imagination. When I moved to Scotland a few years ago, I realised I was going in the footsteps of Torulf as he also went to Scotland. That’s when I made Västerled. I merged my father’s character with my own personal experiences as an adult, and thus channelling inspiration to my music. I am writing a story just as much as I am writing music.

Do you have a specific way of writing songs or does it vary?

The general way does not vary, as the songs should always fit into the overarching story and journey of the album. Each song is thus carefully conceptualised. I write down what a chapter will be about, where we are, and how it will feel like. Then I create the soundscapes, the ambience, the environment, and so on. Within this atmosphere I let the music grow somewhat organically. Anything specific about the song-writing is not planned ahead of time or thought-out. I set a frame for me to explore in. At this point, having the story is like having an anchor. It is something to always hold me in place, as it is easy to lose myself in these atmospheres.

What kind of a role does the nordic mythology have in your music and in your personal life?

As with most Scandinavians we grow up with the sagas, myths and folklore of our ancestors. These are a heritage and belong to us just as much they belonged to them, and will belong to our children. They might inspire, be channelled, awake emotions or ideas. I believe in some way they are manifesting in our lives, like myths tend to do to a people. I have this in mind in my personal relation to our mythology. It connects me to an ancestral heritage, a custom and tradition in a world I feel is exponentially heading in the other direction, whilst breaking off the roots. I feel there is wisdom in our mythology, often coded and filled with riddles. This inspires my music and the way I construct my own story, or saga. When I read a myth all my senses become active, and my mind makes it very visual. This also inspires my music, as I aim to make music that is also visual for the mind.

If you would have to describe Torulf’s music yourself how would you describe it?

I describe it as Nordic Tribal. My intention with this term is weaving together ancient Scandinavian heritage and spirituality with electronic and modern sounds. I seek novelty and experimental elements in everything I do. When I made Västerled I was inspired by other artists and bands in this emerging Nordic Folk genre, but afterwards I found it too saturated and too many artists sounding the same. It is important for me to create my own music, not to ride the wave I believe many do. By naming what I do Nordic Tribal, I have set myself free to explore what soundscapes and music I can create without feeling I am within someone else’s frame, which in turn hampers my creativity.

In some of your songs there are very strong ambient like atmospheres. How important it is to you as a songwriter to create those kind of atmospheres and how are they born?

Atmospheres are essential to my music. They are a part of the story by setting the tone for the song, or setting the scene so to speak. Sometimes they are the actual atmospheres and soundscapes that we hear in the story. It is the first and last thing the listener feels during a song. It is the bridge in between chapters in my albums, the wave that carries the listener onwards, further and deeper into the story. My hope is for the listener to feel immersed and at the same time go into their own mind and explore, to fill in some spaces themselves with their own experiences, memories and imagination.

Do you have a personal favourite Torulf song?

I will, soon.

Do you play live shows as Torulf or do you plan to do so in the future?

I have played live by making sets of my own Nordic Tribal Techno tracks. This project is not part of the multi-album story. I do sometimes mix in a couple of these songs into the set at appropriate times. I enjoy merging concepts and ideas in order to manifest something new. Nordic Tribal Techno is one of those projects by combining the Nordic pantheon with Techno. I have currently no shows lined up in the foreseeable future. When I do a live show, I aim for it to be different from the albums. I strive to make people experience something they could not by listening to one of my albums, making each and respective experience unique.

Have you done any collaborations? If not, would you like to do one and with whom?

I have done no collaborations, but I am slowly opening up for it. Writing music is always a personal journey, and the kind of music I make is also storytelling. Thus it is difficult to feel this can be worked with other people easily. Collaborations would work for me with someone I feel a strong comradery, as artists and as individuals, and that we create something together with our own finesse and experiences, to meet in the middle in creative balance.

Can we expect new music from Torulf in the future? Any specific releases in the making at the moment?

Absolutely. I am currently producing my next album, which will be the second volume of the Saga of Torulf. This album will be a bit different from what you have heard from me before, but nevertheless continuing the story that began with Västerled and Midsolsblot. With this next album, I am making the line between traditional instruments and electronic elements more illusive. Västerled was about the dawn of a new age, a journey and spiritual rebirth. The next album will be an inner journey rather than an outer, carrying the listener on a less stormy ocean into the depths. I have finished coming up with the story of the album and it continues where Midsolsblot ended. I am composing the last songs and what I currently have is very exciting to me. I very much look forward for people to experience this next release.

Any wisdoms you’d like to share with the world?

It doesn’t matter what you do as a creative project, whether that be an album, a novel or a painting, to me all of what you do is part of the ‘process’. The ups and downs, the side-tracks and even if you are going backwards at times, all will lead to a path and place that is natural and meaningful to you. It might not seem like it at many times, but in my experience I can account for every decision, mistake, and chance that make up who I am, what I do, and where I am today. In a creative project, all is eventually connected and intertwined. For example, when I make a mistake, I tend to say to myself “it’s all part of the process”, turning a specific momentarily negative thing into something part of a greater, and constructive, creative entity.

You will find Torulf’s music and more at:


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