The musical project of Norwegian artist and producer, Stian Vedøy, Firewoodisland are a five-piece band based in Bristol.
Securing a win at the Norwegian equivalent of Battle of the Bands in 2013, the band have released two EPs with their distinctive style, conjuring up stark soundscapes of wilderness and desolate sonic imagery not dissimilar to the likes of Sigur Ros and Midlake.
They’ve taken on the challenge of covering Sia’s ‘Chandelier’ to great success – putting their own stamp on the popular song, and have had their tunes mastered at none other than Abbey Road Studios by Frank Arkwrite. The band are definitely tipped for great things.
We spoke with Stian, of the band, who came to Cardiff to study Music Production, and now resides in Bristol where Firewoodisland formed and continue to grow and evolve.
How and when did you all meet and when writing your first song, did it become obvious that you had a spark and a chemistry that would be tough to replicate with another dynamic of people?
I met Abi on an Iron Bridge; we met Steve in a Vineyard; in turn we met Dylan when he moved into the basement of Abi´s home; and Rowan I deliberately sat next to each other in the office at an events company I used to work for, because I knew he played upright bass. There is something very solid and fun about playing with these four musicians. It’s an honour having people who want to play your songs. There is definitely a strong chemistry between us, we are basically extended family, and it is probably fair to say that there´s a spark of cheekiness that always roots us to the ground.
Who have been your musical influences growing up and was there a moment of realisation of wanting to pursue music for you, and has this remained with you since?
One of my biggest inspirations as a teenager was Norway’s Thomas Dybdahl. He grew up 40 minutes away from where I’m from, and made music that was outside of the typical pop or alt rock which were the most hip genres to listen to around that time in Norway. As a 13 year old, I bought his trilogy, ‘That Great October Sound’ at an autumn sale and it stuck with me. It was the first music I bought off my own back. The mellow and subtle vocal harmonies, brilliant acoustic guitar riffs and the clever dynamic use of small, quirky details has really inspired me since. I’m pretty sure it was around that time I started writing music, so it must have had a big impact on me.
You moved to Cardiff quite a few years ago to pursue music production – have you noticed major differences in styles of production and training in the UK compared to Norway?
It wasn’t until I went to university in Norway that my song writing started to take shape. I then mostly wrote in my mother tongue as I played in a Norwegian folk/pop duo called Flåga (The Fly). Moving to Britain really changed my song writing and production. The most obvious change was the language. I realised I needed an artist name that would be easy to pronounce so I translated my last name to English, Firewoodisland. The production mainly changed because I was growing up, listening to more music, went to see more live shows and learned a lot while studying.
Do you tend to listen to a wide range of music or stick to what you know and love – and would it be presumptuous to ask if you are a fan of Midlake, Noah and the Whale, Sigur Ros, and perhaps Belle & Sebastian?
I have to say both. I tend to listen to quite tranquil music as there is so much noise in this world, and when I listen to music it’s often to focus or to unfocus… if that’s a word. I love to ‘discover’ new music, but I have a good handful of artists that I keep coming back to and I am very excited when they release new music. Yes, I am a fan of Sigur Ros and Noah and the Whale, but now I obviously have to check out Midlake and Belle & Sebastian as well.
When composing a song, are you very much anchored in the emotional intent more so than the formalities of composition and maintaining a linear structure?
Emotion really effects my inspiration and what type of song I write, but every song I compose has its own journey. There is nothing that inspires me more or less. Some songs take months to write, some take minutes. I am as inspired by ‘pop song’ writers as I am ‘non-linear’ writers. There is a reason why pop songs are pop songs. And there is a reason why the majority of the world listen to them. Because they’re catchy. On the contrary, there is always space for non-linear compositions as long as it brings out the best in the song, tells the story, and leaves the listener feeling something.
Are you as inspired living in Bristol with its colourful urban fabric, or are you someone who needs introspection to write?
I have to say that it doesn’t make a huge difference living in Bristol from Norway when it comes to song writing. The songs rarely get inspired by beautiful surroundings. However, I love to write from someone else’s point of view, where I put myself in someone else’s shoes and try to imagine their experience or emotions. I have also come to the conclusion that I often write songs in times of big changes in my life or around events that have had an impact on me emotionally, either negatively or positively.
Have you played many venues in Bristol before and what do you love most about Bristol’s music scene and the people whom you have met along the way?
We’ve been really fortunate to have played a few lovely Bristol shows in the short amount of time we’ve lived here. On the list are awesome venues like The Grain Barge, The Louisiana, The Fleece, The Kitchen, The Tunnels and The (lovely, but sadly closed down) Bird Cage. A few things we love about the Bristol music scene is how eager people are to come to shows, the supportiveness, and how much creativity is encouraged in this city in general.
Being a producer and a musician must give you an edge to your performances, too – are you adept at listening to your intuition these days?
I start thinking about the production as early as when the first verse or chorus is written: I think about what kind of beat would fit and what instrumentation would give it the best sound. When the song is written and the production starts, we take into account how we can mirror the same sound while playing live. Although, it doesn’t hold back the creative production process.What was the last gig you went to and do you recall a gig you went to, that really left its mark on you to this day?
The last show I went to see was Newton Faulkner at Colston Hall. I was blown away by how his live sound and performance has grown since I saw him at O2 Academy Bristol in 2012. A gig that really left its mark must be the first time I saw Thomas Dybdahl in London, and he invited the front row to come up on stage and ‘Party like it’s 1929’. What a memory! I had been talking to him before the show, as we’re both from Norway. In the song mentioned above he was playing a guitar solo in the middle of the crowd while me and five others where dancing on stage. He shouted my name and asked me to stomp on his tremolo pedal, in Norwegian. I felt so proud at that moment…
You decided to cover Sia’s ‘Chandelier’ – why this song?
To be honest we just really loved the song. We heard it on the radio and were drawn to the story and the incredible song writing and thought it would be fun to give it a go. I’d love to tell you that there’s an epic reason, but we simply liked the song.
For more information on Firewoodisland: www.firewoodisland.com
All images and video: Copyright to Firewoodisland.