Wise, Beautiful, Strong, and Haunting
Metal is a male-dominated scene and has been since the first embryonic power chords belched forth from the gaping maw of hell. But in recent years the number of women metal musicians seems to be on a healthy incline, and despite the efforts of the misguided (and sometimes well-intentioned) to lump Nightwish and Lacuna Coil into the same category, female-fronted metal actually displays a wide range of influences and inflections.
Norway’s Octavia Sperati isn’t just female-fronted – the band started out as an all-girl project, and only recently did any Y-chromosomes enter into the mix – but vocalist Silje Wergeland doesn’t concern herself with labelling or who she’s lumped in with. “I think that comparing bands is a very common thing in the entire music scene, but that’s how the human brain works. It can be boring sometimes, but it doesn’t hold me back. I just sing with my voice and if somebody thinks that sounds like anybody else, I just let them think so.”
The idea for forming Octavia sprang from a little alcohol and a common desire to get on stage instead of always being in front of it, Wergeland explains. “The four of us [Wergeland, guitarists Gyri Losnegaard and Bodil Myklebust, and bassist Trine Johansen] were already friends. We had a common interest in metal music and had all been thinking of playing in a band ourselves without telling anybody. It came out that we all had the same secret dream, so we decided to form a band. Soon we had a drummer too. I did the keyboards in the beginning, but discovered quickly that it wasn’t very metal to sing and play at the same time on stage. I wanted my hands free and we found this excellent classical trained piano player, Tone [Midtgaard], that wanted to join us, and suddenly we were six girls.”
Named for the “wise, beautiful, and strong” beloved sister of Emperor Augustus – the Sperati, from a late Italian actress said to haunt her local theatre, added to avoid confusion with another Octavia – the band is now on its third drummer, the first male member of the band. “Our first drummer, Silje Røyseth, left because she got pregnant,” says keyboardist Midtgaard. “Our second drummer Hege Larsen left because she never really was into the metal scene, and wanted to have more time to play ‘her kind of music.’ When we had to find a new drummer yet again, the gender was not a big issue. As most bands, we started up as a group of friends who wanted to play together, and that it was all female was more coincidental. Of course, it would be nice to stay all female, but to be honest, there are not many female drummers out there. The most important thing for us was to have a drummer who was skilled and eager to play, and lived near by so we could rehearse a lot. When we found Kikken, it was not a difficult choice. He is a great drummer and a really nice guy, so everything has worked out great!”
In addition to the informal background that comes from being into the “black/trash/death/doom metal scene,” including bands like Black Sabbath, Slayer, Metallica, Bathory, Red Harvest, Neurosis and Enslaved, the members of Octavia have had some formal training as well, at a place called AKKS. “AKKS is a music organisation which has offices in 5 cities in Norway,” Midtgaard explains. “Its main function is to arrange instrument lessons for young people, as well as giving lessons in how to play together as a band. The organisation also runs a number of rehearsal rooms which local bands can let, and arranges concerts and festivals. I was working for AKKS for three years, and it was in this period Silje and the other girls decided they wanted to start a band. Because none of them had ever played in a band before they came to AKKS to take a course and that is how I met them.”
Octavia’s time with AKKS also helped with the more mundane (financial) business of music, Midtgaard adds. “The local government has put up different cultural funds for the various artists to apply to. We have received very good help from them, not only in covering studio costs, but to arrange concerts and tours as well. Many bands are not even aware about the possibility to get support, but because of our involvement with AKKS, and now Silje’s work at an other music organisation, BRAK, we got information about the funds.”
Octavia’s first full-length album, Winter Enclosure, reveals a band unchanged in musical direction – “hard or doomy metal,” as Wergeland describes it – from the self-financed 2002 demo, but the women have evolved as musicians and attained a more professional sound. “The album is recorded in Earshot Studio in Bergen, with producers Herbrand Larsen and Arve Isdal (Enslaved, Audrey Horne),” says Midtgaard. “Additionally, I got to record all the piano parts on a grand piano in Grieghallen (a studio which should be well known to any fan of Norwegian metal) with producer Pytten. I think we have got a much better sound on this recording – the dark, deep sound we wanted.”
Dark and deep they wanted and achieved, investing Winter Enclosure with a richness that belies Octavia’s relative youth on the metal scene and with a promise of what is yet to come.
This interview was originally published in UNRESTRAINED! in 2005.