An Afternoon Skype Chat with Heri Joensen
by Erika War
August 23, 2013
Heri Joensen is the lead singer and driving force behind the internationally successful metal band Tyr. Tyr, from the Faroe Islands, is named after the Norse God of war and justice. As well as being the lead singer, Joensen plays guitar and writes 90% of Tyr’s music. Terji Skibenæs is the lead guitarist and Gunnar Thomsen is the bassist. In April of this year, drummer Kári Streymoy reluctantly left the band due to a bad back injury sustained in 2008; constant touring had taken it’s toll out on him. George Kollias filled in for Kári on the seventh album, Valkyrja, set to be released this September on Metal Blade Records. As of today, Tyr has not officially chosen a drummer to replace Kári on their upcoming tour this fall with Finntroll, but have done one show with Amon Ellingsgaard filling in. Amon is the drummer for Heri’s side band, Heljarega, and the nephew of Kári. Tyr’s seventh album, Valkyrja is set to be released this September. I sat down to have a Skype chat with the incomparable Heri, whom I also have the extreme pleasure to call my friend.
H-Hey! How are you?
E-Good, good! (I drop my tape recorder) I’m doing something wrong here. Okay, now this is good. How are you?
H- I’m great. Nice to see you.
E- Yeah, good to see you too. This is my very first interview for my new job and I’m just so happy its with a friend, you know, get my feet wet, learn how to do this stuff!
H- So you just got this job?
E- Yeah, yeah I’m very excited about it; this is my little tape recorder, I hope it works (it did)
So yeah, things are going very well.
H- This is just the right job for you!
E- Yeah, exactly right. So, um, I’m just gonna try to make you louder too, hold on.
H- Yeah, ok, good….. one, two, testing can you hear me? (laughing)
E- Yeah, this is soo much better, ok.
H- Ok good.
E- Yeah, so I wrote some questions, but before we start, are there any questions where you’re like “I hope the interviewer asks about this” or is there anything you want to say?
H- No, it’s more always I hope they DON’T ask this and that! (laughing) No, no ask whatever you like. I’ll answer as if it’s the first time I heard that question. I promise.
E- Ok haha. Alright then, well , I’ve been talking to Kári and he said his back is better, so he obviously made the right choice for that…
(At this point Heri’s body language and expression changed. In that instant you could tell just how much Heri misses Kári)
E- So I’m happy for him in that he’s not in pain……but….
So how’s it going with the two new drummers?
H- It’s been going ok, (body language a little down). As always there’s always some complications working with a new guy, either drummer or a guitar player or whatever, but for the circumstances I think its been going quite well. I mean, they are technically very good drummers and there’s nothing wrong with their drumming. (hesitating) It’s just…… it’s not the same. And it takes some getting used to, working with a new guy every time.
E- Yeah, its not like being with your brother, Kári, whos been there for all those years.
E- Listening to the album, George’s drumming sounded really good. I was happy about that.
H- Yes, he’s really- if you compare that to what hes capable of, I mean its really tasteful drumming. You know, he can play 10x faster than anything he played on our album, but he kept it at a fitting level, I think.
E- Yes, it suited it; it didn’t overpower it.
H- Yeah, yeah.
E- What about the touring?
H- We didn’t decide yet for the drummer on the upcoming tour.
E- Oh, so when you had, how do you say his name? Amon
E- That was just for like a one-off?
H-Yeah, to begin with, but let’s see, I mean, we’re still discussing that and talking about drummers.
E-Ok, so ah, after this tour….United States?
H- Yes we are going back to the US, well not immediately after this tour, early next year. I think we’ll start in the middle of February.
H-More than a month tour, I’m not sure how much I’m allowed to tell you (laughing)
E – Alright. If you want to say anything off the record too, my lips are sealed.
H- Of course. If I told you when the tour starts and ends maybe you can guess what band it is. I’m not sure if they announced their dates yet, the band we’re going on tour with.
E- Well, honestly speaking I probably would not! But so, that’s cool, I can’t wait to see you guys again! Um, all right, I have a question, I don’t know if you’ve been asked this. As you know, I’ve bought dozens and dozens of Tyr albums and introduced all my friends and everyone loves you guys, any age, even people who usually only like other genres love you guys, The question they ask me a lot is “They have fan pages all over the world. What is this Tyr in Italy, England, all over?? I’ve never seen that before for other bands” How does that make you feel, that people make their own pages because they love you guys so much?
H- I love that! I mean it really helps our promotion, and of course it also helps our self esteem a lot.
H-And maybe our self-confidence. But I’m not sure if it’s that unique, I mean I see a lot of other bands that we compare ourselves with that have fan pages here and there, and it’s something they usually put on their Facebook page as well, ‘we have this fan page here, we have this fan page there’, so i think it’s not that uncommon. Of course I’m still very proud of it, and it makes me feel good, and I hope people – I hope they get something out of it as well. We try to treat those people especially nice. I wish I could do more for them but…..maybe we’ll…I don’t know, we should definitely come up with something to do for those people who do something like that. You’d be on top of that list.
E- No, haha.
Well you know, just showing everyone kindness and hanging out with them afterwards. I mean, even when I first saw you guys back in 2010 at a little dive bar called the Clash Bar in NJ, it was Jennifer’s birthday party-
E- and you still…and you had a reputation how you treated your fans. You know, with such kindness and respect, and even now as you’re getting bigger and bigger you’re still…you still treat your fans that way and that’s a good thing. That’s a really good thing.
H -Thank you. Thank you, I’m glad you think so.
E- And I’ve become friends with a lot of people from these pages bc we share such a passion. And it’s cute, some of them write to me “Do you think this one would be mad if I shared their status? Or their videos?” and I’m like ‘No, that’s what we’re all here for, you know, in our excitement, to promote everything!’
E- So its really good, and as I texted you, I’ve made some of my very best friends just through our mutual love of Tyr! It’s funny how you connect with people just over something like that. (Heri smiling and laughing)
Alright, I was up all night thinking of questions. Ever since you guys become more and more famous, has the tourism to the Faroe Islands….have they seen a big increase? I know so many people who are going there or have gone there just, you know…
H-Some of it at least, but the tourism here is massive- I think they have like a thousand people a day at the airport at least, plus the ferries. I’m not sure how many of those are tourists. But a fair number of those are tourists. And they were talking to the Chairman of the Faroe Tourist Board the other day, a woman, and they were talking about what attracts people to the Faroes and I think number one is the football team, because it’s very high profile. They get a lot of attention; football by itself has a massive following. And the attention just goes to the Faroes when they play some big country, like Faroes vs Germany. There’s, I don’t know, 80 million Germans watching the game and we don’t get to those numbers by any way. Not yet at least.
H-And secondly she mentioned various artists, there was us, Teitur [Lassen], maybe some other bands. We do a little bit of that. How much, it’s very hard to say. But of the bands and artists there are I think we are probably the farthest reaching, on the internet at least.
E -Absolutely. Well, I like you the best so of course I just assume everybody does.
( Heri laughing)
Alright, so listening to your album, I well, of course, well, Heri, you know how wonderful you are but I did find something you are absolutely incapable of doing. Believe it or not. You are absolutely incapable of writing a bad song.
(Heri laughing again)
You just can’t do it.
H -I’m glad you think so. (Points his finger at me) I’ll prove you wrong one day!
(*Don’t worry folks, he was just kidding!!)
E- Nah! Anyway, the duet, are you thinking of maybe doing more in the future?
H-It was planned to have more artists on the album, but it was difficult, everyone has a tight schedule; we were probably on the tightest schedule of all. So there was no time to wait for answers. There was no time to wait for anyone to, you know, sync their schedule with ours. We just took what we could get, it was just George and Kiv and that was it. On we go! I wish to do that more in the future, its a very cool thing that we’ve never done before.
E -Yeah, I know.
H- And I don’t understand why, its a great thing to do.
E- It is. And if you had one person you could pick, to do a duet with like….I don’t know, my guess is you would pick Bruce Dickinson.
H- No, Rob Halford!
E – Rob Halford! Oh wow! Nice! Did you ever hear of a group called Five Finger Death Punch?
H- Yes, I did.
E- They have Rob Halford as a guest star on one of their songs. I’m sure Tyr would be honored to do it with him.
H- Yes, I would love it.
E- Now what did I want to ask you? Oh, I saw your demonstration, I don’t even know how to say Grindavisan, with the 30 fret 7 string guitar.
E-How are the guitar lessons going?
(For those of you that don’t know, Heri gives guitar lessons and Faroese language lessons over Skype. Add him on Joensenguitar)
H-Ah its going okay, I have a few students. But ah, I had a lot of issues with payment, getting payments from around the world to the Faroes. Paypal doesn’t cover the faroes very well.
H- So I found some other way, now I can’t quite get it to work yet but I’m still waiting for some
approvals. Then that’ll all go well. I get a lot of transfers …in the bank..I don’t know what you would call it, the snail bank? (laughing)
E- Like snail mail.
H- It’s hideously expensive and very slow, but some very faithful fans decided to do that way still, but now I offer the pay pal also, so we’ll see how that goes. I’m very expensive.
E- Yeah, I noticed! (laughing)
H- I need to (laughter) to make a living from this and I don’t have all that much time. I just deal out a little time for a lot of money. (laughing)
E- No, but that’s a good idea. I mean, I had heard incorrectly that you didn’t have to have another job while you were pursuing your music but then somebody told me you were working, fishing…
H- We’re friends on facebook right?
H- So you should see my work there its fish farming.
E- I guess I didn’t notice (laughing) Sorry!
H- Thats ok nevermind (laughing) I quit today actually.
H – It was my last day at work-I’d been working there since I moved back to the Faroes about a year ago, and in the Faroes I haven’t been able to support my living with the music income. I was when I was living in germany.
E- Oh, okay.
H- So it’s expensive to live here, very very expensive and I applied to the university, and I’m going to study Faroe language and literature, thats why I’m quitting my job mainly.
E- I did see that, yeah. Thats great, and you’re going to study literature and the Faroese language!
H- Yeah, yeah.
E -Professor Joensen.
H-Haha, lets see.
E- ( me laughing, refraining from singing Van Halen’s song “Hot for Teacher”)
H- Get the bachelor first, then see how that goes.
E- Yeah, thats great.Ok, i have one other question…who does the lead guitar on “Where Eagles Dare”? Is it you or Terji?
H- The first half is Terji and the second half is me.
E- Cool. I don’t know, it just sounded sooo great. And is this a true story, when Terji first noticed Gunnar, Gunnar was wearing an Iron Maiden shirt and thats when he went over to say hi to him or is this just something I imagined reading? (laughing)
H- No, I don’t think..I think they met at a rehearsal, first time.
E- Oh, ok.
H- I don’t think Gunnar was wearing anything in specific.
E-He wasn’t wearing anything?!! (I crack myself up)
H- (laughing) Oh.. ah… I’m sure he was wearing something!! (laughing) I don’t think I remember Terji went to say hi to him because he was wearing an Iron Maiden shirt. I doubt that story
E- Oh ok, well speaking of Iron Maiden though, I know that they’re a big influence. How did you pick that song? Any special meaning or…
H – Yes! It’s Gunnar’s favorite song ever! Thats how we picked it.
E- I think mine is Sinklars Visa but I’m not positive. If somebody asked me I’d just say oh, all the Tyr albums ever, thats it.
E -And how happy are you with the way it turned out?
H- The album?
E- Oh yeah, the album.
H- I’m very happy. I’m just…I’m always worried that I could be happier if I had more time. But ah…
E- I think every artist feels that way.
H- It’s not a very nice feeling to think this, but given the circumstances, I’m very happy and I actually think this is our best album so far. The sound is better than ever, Jacob always makes progressions, and the songwriting is, well, I think we are on the right way, but maybe I’m not the right guy to say that.
E- I think it is.
H- Thanks, I’m very very satisfied with it.
E- It’s excellent, it sounded really good. I think my favorite song is, of course I’m going to say this wrong, Valkyrja, the title song.
H- Yeah, Valkyrja.
(I said it right)
E- It’s wonderful, and some of it is, well, inspirational; tell me if i got these words right
“and remember if you feel all hope is gone
that the darkest hour comes just before dawn”
The first time I heard that I was like that’s awesome!
(Heri has a poetic way of making things sound new)
H- Thanks, thanks.
E- You have such a way with the English language, much more so than 90% of Americans. Its amazing.
H- Im glad you think so. I do my best, I think my one talent is language, everything else is just being stubborn and hard work.
E- How many languages do you speak?
E- Wow. How old were you when you started learning English?
H- 5th grade here, that’s 13, 14.
E- Nice, they say you should really start younger to really learn a language, but you just proved that wrong.
H- Yeah. Yeah, well I did get some of it from tv before school, so you don’t come completely blank to school, you know some English, but no, no I guess the real learning starts…most of it is from school.
E- Right.. well, I think that’s a lot of what I had to ask, from now on, see, I learned, we’ve only been talking 20 minutes, so I needed two extra questions. I can shut my tape and you know we can just chat for a minute, we have like three minutes left anyway.
H- Sure, sure, no this is…I have two hours off now I think until my next interview, I just need to take a shower and just go see a friend, then I have one interview at 10:30 my time I think. So yeah, if you turn off your recorder I’ll tell you some things.
E- Alright, watch: