By: Niki van den Heever
Mountain-pop. ‘What on earth is mountain-pop?’ you might ask. But if you really think about it, when you bring two people together, both from countries rich with folklore and music; one being Stian Vedøy, who grew up on Karmøy, a west-coast island in Norway – and two being Abi Eleri, who grew up in the Northern Welsh Mountains, you might start to understand what happened when these two formed Firewoodisland.
Both Stian and Abi’s heritage find perfect harmony in their musical and artistic visions combined with their folky vocal stylings. All these things perfectly exhibited in their latest single ‘Storm’ out on 15 March. You cannot tell the Viking from the Celt in this hypnotic track. When asked about the single, they explained “The idea for ‘Storm’ and most of the song shot down like lightning in the autumn of 2018. The weather was behaving really strangely and our neighbourhood ended up being the centre of a storm. This ironically mirrored our personal lives in a stressful and chaotic season. ‘Storm’ is about being able to accept and abide in the turbulent circumstances that you’re in, and not to be consumed by them.”
And while the subject matter is very deep and thought-provoking, the pair themselves are lighthearted and provoke quite a few giggles when they took a few moments to talk to us about their musical process and the inner workings of Firewoodisland.
Set the tone for us. Why the arts?
It was either that or secret assassin, but Stian doesn’t really blend in well…with his long ginger hair and his Mum’s stolen flowery jackets. But in all seriousness, we were born to be creative. Nothing else makes sense to us.
Which comes first when you’re producing – the sound or the idea?
Definitely the idea every time. The sound usually develops around the idea and throughout the recording and production process.
Does your material feature any collaborations?
Not usually, but we work with some amazing musical friends and session musicians. We would not sound the same without them.
What’s on your current playlist?
We are loving Talos, Novo Amor, Dermot Kennedy and Olafur Arnalds. Different sounds for different moods.
Tell us about the chemistry you have with your fans on stage.
We try to keep the delicate balance of being professional and performing well, and at the same time being personal with the crowd, encouraging them to take ownership, be involved and contribute to a fabulous night to remember. We like to dedicate a song each gig to a special member of the crowd who usually makes themselves known at some point throughout our performance by answering our ridiculous questions or dancing wildly. This kind of behaviour is always to be encouraged.
What techniques do you experiment with to get your original sound?
We have labelled our sound Mountain Pop. Mountain = BIG, atmospheric, grand; Pop = Catchy, accessible, down to earth.
Our harmonies are a big part of our unique sound, and the fusion of organic instruments with synths, deep textured soundscapes, and sampled drums. We experiment by picking up new instruments, or by layering sounds on top of each other to create a richer sound with bigger impact.
Take us through a day in the recording studio.
Stian records and programs main vocals, instruments, drums and almost everything… Abi comes in 3 days before mastering and nails her vocals in one take… Stian disagrees and asks her to record the same line for the 15th time… Abi kicks Stian… Stian uses original vocals but doesn’t tell Abi… Abi kicks Stian again!
Was there a specific moment in your life where you thought, “this is what I want to do”?
The very start of Firewoodisland we were part of the Bandwagon competition in Norway. As students, we were flown to Norway twice and put up in nice hotels where they fed you smoked salmon. We played one song in front of 600 people and were runners up. Absolutely psyched we came back to Cardiff buzzing and got ourselves our first ‘real’ gig in a pub in front of 10 people. We have never looked back.
What do you keep close by while you’re playing a set?
Abi – Setlist
Stian – Lyrics
Both – Tea
Any emerging artists on your radar?
Stian is managing and producing an artist, Holly Abraham who has gorgeous vocals and “a proper mellow sound” *must be read in a South Wales accent.
We would also love to plug our great friends, Long for the Coast; a singer-songwriter duo living it up in Devon.
What gets your creative juices flowing?
Creativity is our way of clawing out of dark times; sometimes the hardest things produce the best inspiration.
Take us through your collection of gear, tech or software that accompanies your creative expression.
Production: Omnisphere and That Sound’s drum samples are our best friends. Most things go through either our Focusrite sound card and the Røde NT2 mic. There are tons of random instruments and objects laying around our home studio like marimbas, percussion, accordion and French horn to name a few.
Live: The new duo live arrangement is very complicated. Other than our normal guitars and the Nord Stage, we use Ableton live, samplers, electric kick and snare and a cymbal. We’re loving the challenge of continuing our Mountain Pop sound with a limited amount of hands, feet and mouths. Come down to a show to see the ultimate 2 man/woman band.
Any side projects you’re working on?
Stian is producing a mellow indie folk singer-songwriter (as mentioned above), and a death metal church band at the moment. He has also started a drone company with his brother (not based at Gatwick airport).
Abi is juggling wedding invites, exhibitions, art trails and her own personal illustrations and forcing Stian to do HIIT sessions with her.
And there is a whole house to renovate and decorate… thank God for Pinterest.
How have you refined your craft since you entered the industry?
It’s continuously growing, refining and re-defining. Ask us that again when we’re 80.
Breakdown the news for us: what can we expect from you this year?
New music, new shows, new live arrangement.
Famous last words?
Stupid small machines.