Interview with Heidevolk

With the release of their fourth album Batavi and touring with Paganfest, Heidevolk is steadily climbing the ladder to international success. At Paganfest we sat down with singer Joris den Boghtdrincker and bass player Rowan Roodbaert, and talked about the concept of the new album, the ideology behind Paganfest and singing in Dutch.

18-03-2012 – By Ingrid & Laetitia
“We were uninspired,” jokes Rowan. “We couldn’t come up with anything else, therefore we made a concept about the Batavian tribe.” Then he continues more seriously: “No, we had a song about the Batavian Revolt [Opstand der Bataven] on Walhalla Wacht. The idea of making a concept album about the Batavians was something we had in our minds for some time.” The bass player also says that making a concept album isn’t effortless: all songs have to be written in a certain way, there has to be a connection between the songs. “We didn’t feel like doing that for quite some time. But at some point we said: the story is so great, we have to do something with it.”

In search of more information about the Batavians, the band visited the Valkhof Museum in Nijmegen (NL). “We talked with the curator of the museum. He told us stories and helped us out with his knowledge,” tells Rowan. The band also used some written historical sources: the Roman senator and historian Tacitus (AD 56 – approx. AD 120) “He is pretty much the only source that describes the Batavians. There also a lot of archaeological finds but you don’t want to write songs about beads and shards.” Joris: “We’ve said from the beginning that we wouldn’t give a history class and sum up all the little facts. We will not write pure fiction either. It’s our interpretation of the story.”

The Batavians are part of the Dutch history, but they are incorrectly seen as our ancestors. Joris: “Indeed. It isn’t known what happened to the Batavian tribe. They might have moved away or mingled into the Franks.” Rowan intervenes: “Undoubtedly a big group of Batavians mingled with the Franks.” Joris continues: The Franks are eventually one of the three big tribes that people say the Dutch folk are descendants of.”

Vikings vs Batavians
So you guys didn’t think: those Scandinavians have the Vikings, we have the Batavians? Joris laughs: “No, no.” Rowan: “Well, the Vikings wanted to conquer, the Batavians wanted to conquer too at first. They came from somewhere in the east with a: ‘let’s see where we can settle down’ attitude. It is an inspirational story. They had to learn to live with someone (The Romans) they couldn’t fight against. At the same time they couldn’t deny their own identity, so at a certain point it ended in a revolt.”
Joris: “I think it’s interesting when you say: if the Scandinavians have the Vikings, we have the Batavians. If you look at history, there are a lot of artists and politicians who use the Batavian background. For example the ‘Bataafse Republiek’ (the name for an era in the Dutch history)or Batavia: the capital of former Indonesia.”

Since Heidevolk is now on tour with ‘Paganfest’, we wondered what ‘heathen/pagan’ aspect actually means in their eyes. Rowan: “It’s a title. A group of metalbands distinguished themselves by singing about pre-Christian times. That is the ‘heathen’ aspect of this tour.” Joris: “The title of Paganfest indicates what this evening could be about. This is not an ideological tour, there are no rituals. It’s entertainment. Looking at the bands that play here tonight, I see Alestorm. A name that is hardly ideologically motivated. ”

Rowan: “There are lots of people who visit these shows who don’t know what pagan means. They see seven completely different bands, all with a message (well, Alestorm..). It is a big happening and experience, even the people who aren’t interested in the pagan stuff learn something about it.”
Joris: “Alan (Primordial) formulated it like this: there are seven bands from all the corners of Europe who are telling something about their cultural background. I like that. There is the risk that Paganfest turns into a drinking fest without content. I think it’s important that there is kind of message. If you take that message seriously or not is up to you.”

Continuing on the topic of messages: we have translated a few lyrics of Uit Oude Grond to English because there seems to be a demand for it. Since Heidevolk sings in Dutch, you’d think the message and the lyrics hardly come across to an international crowd. Rowan: “The people who want to know more about the lyrics will try to translate the lyrics themselves. We’ve heard from Americans who started learning Dutch so that they can sing along with us, that is really cool.” But the bass player also thinks it’s a barrier. “Not everybody can sing along and thus ‘feel’ the entire experience.” “But we are not preaching,” adds Joris. “Getting the message across is great if it happens. The most important thing is to tell what’s inside of us. The purest way for us to do that is in Dutch. I don’t see myself singing about these kind of topics with the same conviction in English.”