Heathen Harvest: Can you begin by explaining who the founding members and current members of Sonne Hagal are?
Sonne Hagal: Two of today’s members (singer/guitarist and the synthesizer player) “founded” SONNE HAGAL. That means, they created the band together musically and in a spiritual way. This was more than 10 years ago in the early nineties. Today SONNE HAGAL consists of these two musicians, joined by a bass player and a singer. From time to time we are aided by good friends that contribute instruments or abilities that we aren’t able to offer – but mainly SONNE HAGAL consists of these four persons.
HH: What musical training or experience did each member have before becoming a part of Sonne Hagal?
SH: Each member has varied experiences in musical things before joining SONNE HAGAL, though none of us ever learned his instrument in music school. We resurrected our instruments on our own having no idea about notes not even down to the present day. Some of us made / make music in punk rock bands or explore electronic avant-garde sounds or make grindcore music. None of us is limited to the activities with SONNE HAGAL though we ignite a special energy here… And none of us started our musical “career” with SONNE HAGAL. We discovered lots of different music before coming together as one band.
HH: What art forms are the band members engaged in beyond music?
SH: If you mean, what other art forms we are doing ourselves: none. But of course we are interested in literature, poetry, painting and old craftsmanship. Unfortunately none of us seems to have the talent to create with his hands other things but music…
HH: Can you explain the name of the band “Sonne Hagal” for English speakers and explain what significance it has for the band?
SH: The name combines two different and antithetic concepts that you could even find in early European mythology: “SONNE” (“sun”) stands for life itself. We used this word as a symbol to embrace in our name ancient, non-Christian gods, nature, shamanic ideas of fertility, the primal “Good” in this world, light, fire… To balance this mighty force and to foreshadow one of our main themes we needed a dark antagonist. One that means chaos, destruction, or in a widened meaning death and an end and not at least one that had to do with Northern Mysteries and the Runes. “HAGAL” (“hail”; the rune “hagalasz”) was perfect to epitomize all those aspects.
The name became really important for us. After having created it more or less intellectual or theoretical substantiated we realized through the years that our band name holds together all our different ideas and characters. The name offered us all possibilities to deal with whatever or whomsoever we wanted. Everything has its two sides – a light and shiny and pure side and one of lies and shadows… So, everything fits to our bilateral concept: We can set to music poems full of love as well as lyrics that tell of pain and fear. We could sing about runes as well as using clerical melodies. And we can use traditional instruments as well as modern electronic equipment. “SONNE” and “HAGAL” are offering endless possibilities and not limits or borders!
HH: What was the bands original intention in forming a band? What did you hope to achieve or create when you first began making music as Sonne Hagal?
SH: What we really did when we formed SONNE HAGAL was to re-name another band of the same two members to demonstrate a dramatic changing of our intention. The first band was radical, harsh and expressed mainly thoughts of sinister origin. We used that band ruthlessly to terrify people with our thoughts and sounds. When we re-named as SONNE HAGAL we distanced ourselves from this single-track way of seeing the world and opened our hearts and minds to a world of evil and good spirits. If we really want to speak about “intentions” with SONNE HAGAL we would describe them as giving our view on this world a tone. We have no complete ideology to propagate amongst our listeners. We spread moods, grains of ideas and hope to encourage people to back-pedal for a moment, to suppress modern things and try to eavesdrop on their inmost voice to regain the spirituality of nature and man. We love to use catchy melodies to strike a long lost chord in our listeners…
HH: How has Sonne Hagal developed or evolved since the bands conception?
SH: On a pure technical level we improved the use of our instruments including the voices. Songs became more complex. Textual we departed a bit from runic themes and turned to literature, poetry and traditional music. All this happened without loosing our “style”. From the first recordings to the present releases we combined acoustic and electronic instruments; we used samples, self-written lyrics as well as external sources. And we love to invite guest musicians. It is always exciting to see how ideas or complete arrangements change if another artist plays a part in developing a song. From the first 10” until today we have loved leaving a song rather raw and not sophisticated just like an inchoate sketch. We believe that the “perfect” song doesn’t include anything that could fit but leaves space for the “inner ear” of the listener to fill that space with emotion and their own melodies.
HH: Can you explain any bands or other musicians who have inspired or influenced the music of Sonne Hagal?
SH: It’s really hard to pick out single bands or musicians. We do feel influenced by traditional German and European music as well as by recent artists from Classic to Punk Rock and from avant-garde to Neofolk. We always feel very inspired by bands like those we have played on stage with like Forseti, Of the Wand and the Moon, Fire + Ice, Orplid, In Gowan Ring, Sieben, Sol Invictus and so on. They all make wonderful music: inspiring and stirring. How much their music really changed our music style is absolutely insecure.
HH: When and how did the members of Sonne Hagal first become aware of the neofolk music genre?
SH: The first neofolk releases we got to hear were records from SOL INVICTUS and Death in June, though we didn’t like them at that time. A friend of ours was at that time a great fan of these bands and introduced us to the new records he had bought. Even though we liked the themes that they were singing about we found the sound not powerful enough as we were doing completely different sounds at that time. It took some time until we realized that power of any kind can also be inherent in calmer sounds and melodies. We were really fascinated how much atmosphere, emotion and spirit can be created by some simple guitar chords.
HH: The music of Sonne Hagal hosts references to runes and ancient European mythology. Can you explain your interest in Germanic runes and European mythology?
SH: Every nation and continent has its own history, cultural background, mythology, legends or religion. Europe’s history was dominated by Christianity for a long time. …for too long. Pre-Christian gods and beliefs were almost forgotten, dispossessed, forbidden and almost eradicated. We think it very important to remember and revitalize our own cultural roots that were violated for so long. We live in a world that had lost all its spirituality. How many people didn’t touch a tree for years? How many people didn’t feel soil under their naked feet for years? In times when runes were really used and widespread in Europe man was consistent with nature and lived out his natural spirituality respecting mythological ideas. We want to remind this solidarity between man and nature. The runes perfectly combine all these things: man, nature, spirit, mythology.
HH: When and how did the bands interest in runes develop or emerge?
SH: We were born in a land that had no intention of letting its citizens explore spiritual and mythological things. After the fall of the Berlin Wall we used different possibilities to fill this lack of spirituality. One way was to invoke runes and to deal with Germanic mythology. The power we felt and the things that happened while doing this deepened our interest even more. Nowadays we have already established an international network of people that live and fight for the Runes and our ancient gods.
HH: Sonne Hagal uses a signature bind rune on albums and in art associated with the band. Can you explain the meaning and significance of the bind rune and how you developed this sigil?
SH: It’s not the nature of sigils and bind runes to explain them. They denote a certain combination of wishes, energies and incantations to protect and to advantage the writer. If one has a closer look to this rune he will surely find out the main aspects that live within this rune. We have ever acted from a position of strength given to us by the mighty power of the runes. Though we don’t present you the runes strikingly on each cover we preserve them in our hearts and take them with us wherever we go.
HH: Is the music of Sonne Hagal intentionally Eurocentric?
SH: In a certain way: yes.
HH: Do you or other members of Sonne Hagal identify personally with “Heathen” spirituality or the ancient Teutonic spiritual tradition that the runes emerged from?
SH: Surely we can identify personally with “Heathen” spirituality even though we live in a modern world. We don’t like all aspects of our today’s world. But this world is fleeting. And the power of runes and our gods will prevail at least. This modern world has already come to its end. Destroying his environment, having money as his god man will one day awake and realize that he rather should have followed older spirits and his own nature. “Heathen” people in former times fought for their beliefs if necessary with shield and spear. We fight with words and music.
HH: Is Sonne Hagal attempting to communicate a spiritual message or share a personal sacred or spiritual perspective with the listener?
SH: Oh yes!
And it is not a one-way-communication! We try to quicken our listeners’ mind to experience regions of their mind and inner life that they didn’t realize before. It is amazing to get mail from our listeners wherein they describe what they thought and felt during the listening of our music. This in turn inspires us to follow up this way. A live show is a special thing. We can see and read in the eyes of our audience that they really understand. That’s why we love to play in small clubs rather than on huge festival stages. Sometimes the message of our German songs even reaches our listeners if they don’t speak German…
HH: Are the members of Sonne Hagal involved in organized religions such as Asatru or are your spiritual beliefs more of a personal experience?
SH: We are organized, but not in an official religion or something. Many years ago the two founding members of SONNE HAGAL constituted an own fraternity “Orden der kalten Heimat” (“fraternity of cold home”). The aim was to teach each other runic knowledge, to exchange opinions or experiences. It is still a very small and intimate society of good old friends. Besides this we like to keep our spiritual experiences on a very personal level.
HH: What is your opinion of the Asatru community? Do you think that the ancient ways of our forefathers were ever meant to be organized into such a hierarchical religion?
SH: Basically we like the fact that there are people who care about pagan beliefs. Runes are living beings. They want to be nurtured, want to be dared and want to be respected as well as the pagan gods. The Asatruars care for all this and we think Asatru should be a legal religion everywhere to give the possibility to the people to practice pagan beliefs. Those who like it can join this community. Our forefathers had their way to live out their religion; nowadays Asatruars have their own way as well. What is important is that the old traditions and the ancient knowledge stay alive with or without structures. It’s not quite our cup of tea to be organized this way, that’s why we didn’t join an Asatru community. In opposition to the Asatruars we don’t want to follow Odin’s path – we want to find our own!
HH: Is the music of Sonne Hagal ever inspired by ancient history? If so can you share with us some events or dramas from the ancient past that have inspired Sonne Hagal?
SH: Our music is definitively influenced by the greatest ancient drama ever: (human) incarnation itself. Besides this we are more than influenced by history as there were so many “Ifs” and “COULDs”…
HH: The music of Sonne Hagal is distinct within the neofolk genre. One aspect of Sonne Hagal that distinguishes the bands is the wide range of music and sound that has been explored throughout your career as a band. Was it always the intention of the band to keep the music of Sonne Hagal diverse and open to change?
SH: Yes. We loved from the beginning to experiment with different music styles and instruments. In our opinion it would be really shortsighted to limit our musical possibilities while committing ourselves to a special music style. Not all of our listeners like this variability. They prefer a permanent folk style. But we feel that some songs almost inherit an electronic or ambient treatment.
HH: The music of Sonne Hagal often reaches beyond the parameters of standard neofolk music. One example of this is the bands use of electric base guitar and synthesizers. Can you explain what musical influences the band draws upon outside the neofolk genre?
SH: We listen to a lot of different music from electronic music (such as The Residents, Coil, Aphex Twin) to Punk rock and Classic Music. We do not hesitate to adapt parts of this music to combine it with our own ideas and create something complete new of it.
HH: Some of Sonne Hagal’s earliest songs explore what could be described as ritualistic music. The use of unconventional sounds from bones to metal was used to create the music. Has the band ever intentionally explored ritualistic music?
SH: In our first period we did indeed do a kind of ritualistic music. We used rituals as a way to create music. The result was that we couldn’t remember what we had played after ending the session. We still treasure some recordings from these early days. Later we decided to separate music and ritualistic things as we got the impression that we could develop both things better when doing them apart.
HH: Do you ever incorporate ritual or spiritual practices when recording, rehearsing or playing live?
SH: Playing in front of an audience is really too exciting so we could not expect to concentrate on ritual formulas. Also the work in a recording studio is much harder than most people think – not the right place for rituals. Our rehearsal room is full of amulets and runes but we don’t hold rituals there.
HH: What role does ritual or spirituality hold in the band members personal lives?
SH: We love to celebrate solstices or equinox, carving runes in different wooden elements, creating powerful bind runes, testing invocations amidst our home landscape… We don’t have the time to do that daily but try to be as often as possible together in the woods around to catch the earth spirits or find inspiration for new music.
HH: Sonne Hagal’s discography is notably short on full length albums while the emphasis seems to be upon releasing vinyl releases such as 7” and 10” albums. Can you explain the bands decision to release these shorter releases as opposed to full length albums?
SH: People often think that it is the easiest way just to release a little 7” record. The truth is: It’s a hard fight with the labels to release these single records as they are not very profitable for them. We feel these little records are somehow self-contained. Often it does not seem necessary to add more songs to make the release whole.
HH: Does Sonne Hagal approach each release with the intention of capturing a specific vision, feeling or narrative?
SH: Yes, normally title and cover photo together give a clear impression of what the record is mainly about.
HH: Can you explain the general theme or concept behind each or any of your existing albums?
SH: Our first release was the 10” SINNREGER published on Eis & Licht from Germany. SINNREGER is a German word for the “odhroerir” a mead mentioned in the Edda. This mead inspires people to write poems and to speak wise words. It was our first record and we chose this title as a kind of motto for our future work.
“Starkadr” 7” was completely concentrated on Germanic themes. One song deals with the sowulo rune, the other one is about the mythological figure of Starkadr. The split album with “Aurum Nostrum” was focused on female energy, at least what concerns our own songs on side B.
Cd/Lp “Helfahrt” bases on the idea of “wandering through different worlds” and also returning from there and bringing back stories from far away. The volcano on the cover clearly combines different worlds: underground things, our world and the world above, whatever it might be.
12” split record with the German artist Nerthus is about chaos in a magic and a “profane” way. “Tarja” 7” is dedicated to a wonderful person of the same name. The sounds are inspired by runic meditations. On 7” “dygel” is the dark end of all things the central point. MCD “nidar” is clearly devoted to traditional poetry.
HH: Being that Sonne Hagal is a German band did the members of Sonne Hagal grow up in eastern or western Germany?
SH: Eastern Germany.
HH: How has the experience of being born and raised in a country divided between communist and non communist politics and powers influenced the band member’s lives and perspective?
SH: As we already wrote we hadn’t many possibilities to deal with Heathen themes in the former GDR. We suppose that this is the reason why most German neofolk bands nowadays come from Eastern Germany. There seems to be a kind of an accumulated need referring to spirituality and religion.
HH: What is you opinion or perspective of post communist Germany vs. communist Germany?
SH: No comment.
HH: Do you feel there is more artistic freedom in the new Germany?
HH: The music of Sonne Hagal and the art work and photography that accompany it is often themed around nature. What is your relationship to nature and the wild places of the Earth? Do you find inspiration or spiritual renewal in nature as individuals or as a group?
SH: To experience nature and its spirits as a group is a truly exciting thing. We see ourselves as a part of nature, not as its ruler. Our whole planet lives and has its own spirit. This natural power is sacred. We live through this power and from this power. And nature is unmoral. Nature teaches us that life is given to us and will end up some day. And there’s nothing we can do. It is true freedom to sit amidst the living nature around you, listen to the sound that is created by animals and by the elementary power. It is indeed a kind of spiritual regeneration when we melt with the nature around us. We need this magic experience to refresh ourselves from the hecticness of the cities. We surely use civilization, the possibilities that cities offer to realize our music, but none of our projects would have been possible without the spiritual influence of untouched nature.
HH: Can you explain who Peter Bengtsen is and how his art has influenced Sonne Hagal and what his relationship with the band is?
SH: We know Peter for some years now. He’s one of the most talented photographers we know. He has a special feeling for aesthetics and beauty. Peter lives in Denmark and had worked for other bands, too.
HH: It seems as if Sonne Hagal and Forseti are close musical allies. What is your artistic and personal relationship to Forseti and Andreas Ritter?
SH: We are not only musical collaborators but very good friends. We got to know each other through several live shows here in Germany. We loved what the other one did and decided to work together, firstly on stage, later in recording sessions in the studio. We met regularly though we lived some hundred kilometers away. In a musical way we are honest but hard critics of our music. We love and respect each others work. That’s why we adapted some songs into our own live set. Besides these public musical collaboration we have done alot “behind the scenes”.
HH: Recently members of Sonne Hagal formed their own label titled Grunwald. Can you discuss how these members came about forming this label and what motivated this action?
SH: The label wasn’t formed by our band members and none of us is participated in this label. It’s the label of Andreas Ritter from FORSETI. After the departure from Eis & Licht Andreas gave us the possibility to release “nidar” on his label.
HH: Can you explain what significance the name Grunwald has for the label owners and what relation the name has to the historic Grunwald conflict?
SH: No, probably only the owner has an answer this question.
HH: For many neofolk fans Helfart was the first dose of Sonne Hagal many of us experienced. Do you feel as if releasing this album helped better introduce the band?
SH: No. “Helfahrt” shows some important aspects of our musical work, indeed, but it can’t reflect the whole idea of our art
HH: Have you received positive responses concerning the album and do you feel as if it has expanded your audience?
SH: Yes, surely “Helfahrt” has expanded our audience. But this definitely did not happen through the fact that it was released as a full length album but through the number of copies that were made. In its different versions “Helfahrt” was sold more than 2000 copies whereas our other records were released in 500 copies editions. We got an overwhelming response concerning the album and are still getting responses!
HH: Do you feel as if your music and intentions are being understood by your audience?
SH: Mostly, yes. Apart from some clouded people that interpret our music politically.
HH: Does Sonne Hagal have fans and listeners outside of Europe or do you find that your main audience is European?
SH: We have fans outside Europe. We were contacted from South America, the United States as well as from China. But you are right. It seems that our music is mainly received within Europe.
HH: Sonne Hagal declines discussing the lyrical content of your songs. Can you explain why you decline answering questions about your lyrics and their meaning?
SH: Explaining the meaning of our lyrics would be like painting a picture and the giving instructions on how to understand it. We believe that there should be enough space to bring in your own ideas into the interpretation of our music.
HH: Some of Sonne Hagal’s songs seem to be inspired by traditional verse. Can you comment on this?
SH: Traditional music and poetry is a value that most modern people have almost forgotten. We try to catch the fascination of these old verses and ignite their spirit again for our listeners.
HH: Sonne Hagal has worked and collaborated with numerous artists such as Kim Larsen (Of the Wand and the Moon), Matt Howden (Sieben, Sol Invictus, Matt Howden, Hawthorn), Ian Reed (Fire + Ice). How do you go about forming these collaborations and what benefit do you feel they bring to the music of Sonne Hagal?
SH: Most collaboration happens “naturally” when we meet other artists at festivals and live shows and decide to work together as friends. It’s an amazing thing to see how our songs become really different under the influence of other musicians. Each artist is unique and gives some of his personality, his thoughts, abilities and love into our songs and ennobles our music.
HH: Are there other artists who you would like to collaborate with?
SH: We would love to start a project with “The Residents”.
HH: When the band embarks upon the creative process of song writing is music composition a shared task or does one person primarily compose the songs?
SH: Impulses for the songs are coming from all members. Our music is ours through the work, ideas and creativity of each of us. Surely we haven’t the same music taste and it’s sometimes really difficult to find a way to satisfy all of us, but this is a special kind of energy we don’t want to miss.
HH: When you are creating lyrical content for your songs is this a shared process or a singular task?
SH: The poems we set to music by other artists are chosen by all members. Each of us has different books, different sources to find long lost poetry. The self written parts of our songs are completely written by the singer/guitarist.
HH: Do you begin each song with a set of lyrics or does the music come first?
SH: It differs from song to song. Sometimes there’s just a single word, a certain mood that inspires to set it to music. Then sometimes we practice in our rehearsal room and create melodies without any lyrics. We record them and search for the proper lyrics later.
HH: The lyrics of Sonne Hagal manifest in both English and German. What influenced your decision to compose music bilingually?
SH: Two simple facts are responsible for this decision: We are Germans. That’s why we have of course a very special feeling towards our mother-tongue which is truly beautiful! Many famous writers, poets, philosophers and beasts came from Germany. That’s why we love to compose and sing in German. On the other hand English has wonderful expressions; it has its own melody that we love.
HH: How does the music of Sonne Hagal translate in live performances? Do you compose the music of Sonne Hagal with performing live in mind?
SH: We give only one or two live shows each year. So, we don’t create the music keeping in mind how to play it live. Most of our songs become “whole” in the recording studio. When we prepare for a live show we try to keep the original spirit of a song with the restricted possibilities we have on stage. To get the best result we try to win some guest musicians for a live performance.
HH: Can you name some of the philosophies or writers that have influenced the band and its members?
SH: If one has a closer look to the poems we set to music he will easily find out the writers that inspired us.
HH: The music of Sonne Hagal remains free of the political influences and nuances that cause controversy for many artists in the industrial music genre. Has it been the bands intention to refrain from using your music for political commentary?
SH: We are political people – of course. We are not even interested in daily political life but in global concepts or ideas. See, this world sickens every day a bit more. Day by day there are born hundreds and hundreds of people that are as sick as two short planks. What our world really needs is a new intelligence, people who know and people who understand. But we don’t make political music! None of the tracks we have made is of political nature – neither left nor right, neither progressive nor conservative. At least it wasn’t planned to have them interpreted them that way. It isn’t our responsibility if anyone sees his ideology represented in our songs.
HH: Has Sonne Hagal ever come under attack from left wing extremists as other bands within the genre have?
SH: Well, there were some difficulties with left wing activists. But it’s annoying to talk about fatuous people and describe their machinations. It would only raise their reputation. Btw. You could have asked for attacks through right wing people, too, and you would have got exactly the same answer.
HH: Sonne Hagal seems less heavily promoted than similar bands within the same genre. Has the band chosen to pursue a less commercial means of marketing the band?
SH: Yes. We want to get through to our listeners with our music and lyrics. Our listenership grows from year to year without huge amounts for merchandise and PR. And we have really honest and true listeners and fans. They don’t come to our live shows and buy our albums because of big placards but for our music!
HH: The Sonne Hagal website is a bit sparse. There is a notable lack of a biography, photos of the band members etc. Does Sonne Hagal intentionally keep its activities and its members shrouded in secrecy?
SH: It really seems to be of some interest for the listeners of our music to find out who and what we are as we get this question in almost every interview. Is it pure curiosity? Do they hope to find scandals? Shall it help to understand? We don’t know. And it doesn’t matter. The simple truth is that we totally dislike revealing personal things. We do not want to hide, and we do not aim to appear arcane.
But we can’t see the advantage that one could have while knowing more about us than we divulge in the lyrics we write or set to music. We didn’t start to make music just to present ourselves as single persons, we don’t like to post our faces or read our names in magazines and reviews. We make music – that’s all.
HH: And lastly, is there anything you would like to share with the Heathen Harvest readers?
SH: We hope to encourage some advertent readers of your magazine to try to see our world from above, to look down on this earth with the view of the knowing, then get in contact with each other through runic knowledge and the power of runes and change this world. Where there’s a will, there’s a way!