Folk music as responsibility: An interview with Aegri Somnia

In the beginning of 2017, Spanish duo Aegri Somnia released one of the most spectacular folk/metal combos heard for years. Rather than the more typical folk metal approach, with basic metal song writing using folk melody riffing, Ad Augusta Per Angusta infuses rather traditional folk music with extremely distorted guitars and other metal elements. Essentially, what they produce is “metallic folk” rather than the other way around, and the result is simply amazing. We sent off a row of questions for Nightmarer and Lady Carrot.

Hi! Let us begin with you briefly introducing yourselves and your backgrounds. What did you do before, and what do you do besides, Aegri Somnia?
Hi, we are Aegri Somnia, a Spanish folk music project. Cristina (aka Lady Carrot) comes from folk music and Oscar (aka Nightmarer) plays with many bands, such as Aversio Humanitatis, Autumnal and As Light Dies.

Your biography describes Aegri Somnia being born in a kitchen in northern Spain, as the two of you began playing a guitar and a Spanish tambourine. How did you proceed from there? How did you go about composing and arranging the songs?
It was the result of an atypical jam session, we really liked the result of mixing black metal chords with Iberian folk so we decided to record some songs. Then we published them and expectations started building among some people.

Did you finish all writing and arranging before going into the studio, or did you write and record the music in a parallel process?
As we own a recording studio, and also each song has different instruments, the recording period lasted several years. When we had everything finished, we recorded all the guitar and bass parts again.

The melodies and songs on Ad Augusta per Angusta are from traditional Iberian folk music, some of which is not very well known outside (or even inside) of Spain. Would you mind telling us about it?
These songs are part of Iberian oral tradition, and originally performed with mainly voice and percussion. Our musical arrangements are the new thing added to this traditional music. All these songs are not known because here in Spain it is associated with the old, boring period during Franco’s dictatorship. Also the music culture in Spain is going really downhill, and there is no interest in music in general.

You used many different traditional instruments on the album. Tell us about these – do you own many of them yourself, are they difficult to come by? Are there any special advantages or problems when preforming and recording with such instruments?
We had already played these instruments before beginning this recording. Maybe they are not as difficult to play as a piano, but they require practice just like other instruments, and preforming comes with an additional difficulty because you need to sing while you are playing. The main difficulty was to mix electric guitar with these traditional percussion instruments, because this sound was never done before. As you work with extreme distorted guitars you need to make the percussion sound powerful.

How would you describe your personal relationship to Spanish folk music?
(Lady Carrot) Since I was a child I’ve heard my mother and my grandfather sing, it was part of our life. Since a few years back I have come to understood that folk music is a responsibility, a legacy, a part of the identity of a country. I like to think that my voice is actually the voice of many people who have already died, but who contributed a bit to my life. So my relationship with folk music is a commitment, I owe it to those who were before and to those who will come.

It is quite common for metal bands to include folk melodies, but your work does things differently, and while there is both heaviness and aggression expressed through distorted guitars, the basic song structure and the percussive elements are far more folk than metal based. How did this particular marriage of styles, with metal as a subordinate though still important partner, come about?
This marriage was done just by mixing two very different worlds in a way which had never been done before when we decided to try it. Maybe all folk metal bands used to have their roots in heavy metal music, and we don’t. That is the main difference.

Do you think there is much interest in Spain today for folk music in general? How about the metal scene – do people normally into harder stuff get and appreciate what you’re doing?
Here in Spain many have a phobia for some folk music. Also the Iberian folk music scene is even more orthodox than metal people, which is the reason why we are more welcome among metal people than among Iberian folk followers, who are more purist.

What of the lyrical themes? My knowledge of the Spanish language is limited to “Una cerveza, per favor” and a few other tourist phrases. I assume the lyrics are traditional, but what subjects do they deal with? Do they differ from modern, common Spanish, with many archaic forms and such?
What kind of topics are you able to find in folk music? Any single one, and that is the reason why oral tradition exists. The need to communicate. The subjects are war, love, tragedies, misery, grief, crimes, traditions, cheating, nature, religion, death, work…

Will you be able to perform live with Aegri Somnia, and are there such plans already?
We did already play live, two years ago. We have written to some organizations and fests, and are waiting for people to call us. Soon we will do some shows in order to let Ad Augusta per Angusta be known.

Would you consider Aegri Somnia a full-fledged, permanent “band”, or more of a project? Do you see yourself beginning work with another album quite soon, or will you focus on other musical ventures for a while now?
We are already working on new songs for a new album of traditional folk songs from the Spanish civil war, but the better the results of this album the sooner we will have the new recording.

What other future plans do you have, for yourselves and for Aegri Somnia?
We are preparing ourselves to perform our music live. We expect to play live soon, so we get the chance to sell our album.

Thank you so much for this opportunity to ask you a few questions. Do you have any parting words? Anything we forgot to ask, perhaps?
One of the purposes of Aegri Somnia was to make people pay attention to folk music. Thanks for having listened to it.

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