Scotland is a country that speaks to the imagination. Apart from a lot of clichés that strangely involve many elements of the film Braveheart, it is a place of rugged nature that has inspired many artists over the years. Andy Marshall with his various projects is no difference at that.
Saor is his main output lately, a solo endeavour with which he has released three albums this far. The latest is titled Guardians and shows a new side to the nature inspired atmospheric black metal Andy produces. I decided I needed to learn a bit more about his work and got in touch.
Originally this interview was published on Echoes & Dust.
Hello, how are you doing?
Andy: I’m good thanks.
Can you tell a bit about yourself and how you got into metal music?
Andy: I started listening to metal in high school. I used to listen to a lot of rock and mainstream metal in the beginning, which then led me on to more extreme and underground bands. In my late teens/early 20’s I listened to a lot of black and folk metal. Nowadays I usually only listen to the classic albums from the 90’s/early 00’s and don’t listen to a lot of new bands.
What made you feel attracted to the combination of metal and folk elements? Though it’s a broad scope, you’ve clearly found your own combination of the two, where they complement each other.
Andy: I was inspired by other European bands who mixed their countries traditional folk sounds with metal. It always puzzled me as to why there were no Scottish bands doing this considering we have an interesting history, amazing nature/landscapes and lots of great traditional folk music. I grew up around Scottish folk music, so I guess it’s in my blood.
You’ve just released the third album under the Saor name, including Roots [which was released under the name Àrsaidh originally], what can you tell about the new album Guardians? What is its concept/story?
Andy: The poems I used on the album cover subjects such as fallen heroes and ancient battles and I thought Guardians was a good title. I never really have a concept or story when I start writing an album, I usually add lyrics or poetry after I’ve written the music.
You’ve done this record mostly on your own. How does the recording and writing process take place? How do you select the musicians to work with on your album?
Andy: I usually start off with a few basic demos with guitars, bass and drums. I then start adding folk instruments, strings, piano etc. Most of the guest musicians are friends of mines, but I asked Meri Tadic (fiddle) to play on Guardians because I am a fan of her work and Kevin Murphy (bagpipes) got in touch with me online.
You’ve briefly taken Saor to the stage, why did you abandon that avenue?
Andy: We’ve decided to play a few exclusive live shows this year to see how it goes. A lot of people really want to see Saor and the other guys convinced me to continue playing live. I don’t particularly enjoy it, I find it pretty stressful and I get quite anxious on stage. We had a run of poorly organized shows last year and I really couldn’t be bothered with it anymore. We will see how these shows go in 2017 and then I will decide from there if we will continue.
In the past you’ve been doing a lot of work by yourself. What is your philosophy behind doing things yourself, releasing music by yourself with Fortriu Productions and how is it to now release Guardians on a label?
Andy: I think the phrase “too many cooks spoil the broth” sums it up. I have always preferred writing music myself and managing things myself. All three of my albums have been physically released by Northern Silence Productions, but I released them all digitally under Fortriu Productions.
What does being Scottish mean to you? I ask this in the broadest sense, since it seems to pervade in all your musical endeavours.
Andy: It means that I probably will never see that big warm ball in the sky (I think they call it “the sun”) for as long as I live here. It means that I will never get to see my national team progress to a major football tournament again in my life time. It means that I will probably die young due to a bad diet and alcohol problems… But seriously, I am obviously inspired by my country’s history, its nature and landscapes, its traditions and art, but apart from that, as Renton said in Trainspotting: “It’s shite being Scottish!”.
Is it for you the nature or the culture that inspires you? For me it seems like Saor is akin to a number of bands in that appreciation for the land more than its culture. What do you think about this?
Andy: A lot of things inspire me. Nature, culture, art, good ale and life in general. But yeah, I agree that nature and landscapes play a bigger role in my themes than culture.
Which bands inspired and inspire you to make the music you do?
Andy: As I said in a previous answer, I grew up listening to a lot of the early traditional, black and folk metal bands, so there’s probably a few of them who inspired me to make this kind of music. Nowadays I tend to listen to non-metal genres and try and get inspiration elsewhere. I actually find that places, books and films inspire me more nowadays than any music.
Are there any other Scottish bands that you feel people should know about (and why)?
Andy: The Twilight Sad is a really good shoegaze/folk/indie band from Scotland. I think their sound is great and the vocalist is amazing. My friends Cnoc An Tursa are releasing a new album called The Forty Five soon, which I highly recommend for fans of power, black and folk metal. If you’re into traditional folk music then Julie Fowlis is an amazing singer you should check out. Another suggestion would be the mighty Runrig!
What other things inspire you to make the music you do?
Andy: Hillwalking, being outdoors, books, films, art, poetry, life.
So earlier in 2016 you’ve also released an album under the moniker ‘Fuath’. A completely different sound, stripped down and direct, what can you tell about Fuath and why did you form this project?
Andy: There’s not much to say really. I wanted to try something different and darker to Saor and I had a few ideas I couldn’t fit into Saor. I probably won’t do much more with it.
Though this is an assumption from my side (which I hope you’ll pardon me for), but it seems that there is a perhaps minor political element to Saor (the link to Saor Alba). Politics and folk metal don’t mix well it seems. So my question is, is there a political element and how do you feel about the politics in extreme metal?
Andy: I wouldn’t say there’s a political element in my music. I first seen the word “Saor” in the phrase “Saor Alba” (Free Scotland) and thought the meaning behind Saor (“free”, “unconstrained”) suited my music really well. I’m personally a supporter of Scottish independence and I have always been inspired by my nation’s fight for independence, but I’m not going to try and push a political agenda down people’s throats. My lyrics are mainly based on traditional poetry or love for nature/landscapes. My music is meant to be an escape from politics and all of that kind of stuff. I want people to put my music on and be transported somewhere else. If other bands want to push a political agenda in their music then that’s up to them.
Do you have any future projects on your mind or that you’re working on?
Andy: I’ll be focusing on Saor in the future. This year I am focusing on the live shows and I’ll probably look into making some new merchandise.
If your music was a dish, a type of food, which would it be?
Andy: Deep fried Mars Bar.