Winter is coming and I think this is the perfect moment of the year to listen to Tirill Mohn’s music. Many of you surely still remember this lady for her collaboration with the very first line-up of White Willow. But Tirill then had a brilliant solo career. She wrote romantic music full of proggy and folkish atmospheres. We talked about the beauty of Nature, music and many other topics, so… light the fireplace, turn on the music and good reading
If we were really given a whole new world to live, what would you take from the old one?
That’s a huge question, which is best answered over a bottle of wine a late evening, I think! :-) Or in a song, perhaps? Anyway, I will try to limit myself to one basic thought, concerning the modern human evolution: I’d wish for a society with broader understanding of nature, in all aspects. I think it is our basic need to be in touch with what sprouts and grows, what withers and decays naturally, to be reminded of the source of all living things, ourselves included. I believe nature can both heal and secure human happiness, and promote healthy choices for ourselves and the world around. We need to take better care of it and not detach ourselves from it.
What prompted you to crave a new world? Has it anything to do with the global crisis?
For my latest album, I used the idea of a world in its early creation as a palette to express my personal values. Like drawing on a blank piece of paper. I think this is what art is much about; to be able to create and recreate reality - in a transparent dimension that doesn’t necessarily manifest into reality of matter, but invites us into different mental spaces.
Global crisis can definitely be a catalyst for creative ideas, an expression of a wish to see the world in a different state. I think much art derives from that point of view.
We first met you years ago, with White Willow, in an album ("Ignis Fatuus") that is still much loved by Prog listeners. Why did your collaboration with White Willow end and why did you prefer to start a solo career? What do you have still with you from that experience?
Well, I guess I had always been the creative kind of musician. My years in WW were full of opportunities for me as a violinist, but I guess it came to a point where I recognized myself more as a song writer and arranger than an instrumentalist.
My most important experience from WW was the recording of “Ignis Fatuus”, an experience that introduced me to the many aspects of an album production. Playing with Jan and all his amazing instruments and sounds was also a great inspiration, as well as Jacob’s sensitive guitar playing and song writing.
Between your first album and the second one there is a gap of eight years. Why this long break?
After the release of “A Dance with the Shadows”, I gave priority to my other passion, Modern Greek. I read quite much, took some exams, gave classes and prepared teaching material. The recordings of “Nine and Fifty Swans” took place in my spare time. Simultaneously I developed the label Fairy Music – with all the practical matters connected to it. I also moved to an old house with a huge garden, with all that comes with it.
For me there was actually no break at all. :-)
Your previous album “Nine and Fifty Swans” is inspired by the poetry of W.B. Yeats. How did you get to meet this poet, and what impressed you so much of his poems to set them to music?
After my first album, I wanted to explore the writing of music to already existing lyrics. Yeats’ poetry sometimes has this distinct description within a very few lines. Although his poetry is versatile and of many different styles and topics, these were the ones that appealed the most to me. “Before the World was Made” is such a poem, and was the first one to inspire me. It actually turned out an early version of “It was Blue” (from “A Dance with the Shadows”), and you can easily recognize the chord progression in the two songs. Well, Yeats was actually first here - but he had to be saved for later. :-)
The lyrics of your songs are very poetic, they seem something very personal. Where do you get your inspiration?
I am inspired by nature, and by a constant longing for beauty. I am also inspired by changes in life, journeys, conversations and friends. Some songs are also personal experiences. In all cases, I need to be able to relate to what I write about.
Is it usually the music that comes first or is the music itself that is adapted to the rest?
It depends. The idea of the song content usually comes first, together with the idea of sound and chords. Then I develop the music around this idea. The lyrics are finalized more or less together with the arranging of the song. The process can also happen quite different from this. I usually compose on guitar, but sometimes it inspires me to change instrument, or just to tune the guitar differently!
For the new album you've chosen a title that comes from the Poetic Edda. Can you explain its meaning and why you picked it?
“Um himinjǫður” means “On the rim of the sky” or “the heavenly rim” and is a line from “Voluspå” , a part of the “Poetic Edda” of Norse Mythology that denotes the Genesis according to the prophecy of the Seeress (Volven).
The reason I chose it for a title, is because I wanted something to reflect an aspect of Norse mythology, and also to underline the context of the album. For me, “Um himinjǫður” became an opportunity to express some of my personal values, as mentioned earlier, inspired by the thought of a world recreated; a timeout from the established society and its beliefs and convictions.
“Um himinjǫður” is taken from the mythological moment of the sun and the moon put to orbit, and this album is an attempt to behold the world in such a moment, artistically. Perhaps with some thoughts on what could have been different if we listened more closely to the primal force of origin. The album cover reflects this in a series of photos of stones in different shapes from ancient times, one photo for each lyric, whereas the stone pretends the symbol of archaic force and wisdom.
In your album we find many references to folk and even the artwork has a traditional hint and apparently looks connected to nature. Do you think we should somehow recover the link with our traditions and with nature?
Definitely! I do think people experience the importance of nature very differently though, and I believe it often (not always!) has to do with childhood experiences. Some people don’t “like” nature - which I think is really sad. I think some people are even afraid of it; as it can make us feel vulnerable and remind us our own mortality. In some of my songs I wish to reconnect, as you say – though in a pleasant way. Nature is – despite of its dynamics - on your side. Nature is truth, and can heal what may be errant in our traditions. Nature is you, if you dare.
For your new album you have chosen a very delicate and mostly acoustic sound, limiting the use of Hammond organ and Mellotron, with arrangements, however, quite complex. Can you explain this choice?
Basically I think all my albums have an acoustic approach. Some instruments I keep in all my albums, some other I try out and experiment with from album to album. It is not a much planned choice; I simply try out what I feel will sound good for each song, and each totality. On this album, I allowed for more keyboard which I think worked well for this somewhat darker sound.
Several musicians have cooperated with you: how have you chosen the artists who collaborate with you and what was their personal contribution?
Most of my musicians are old friends from years back. Some have participated from the very beginning, others appear for the first time on “Um himinjǫður” . I involve musicians that I believe will fit with their expression or voice. They contribute with their eminent playing, usually with provided notes or arrangement structure, and sometimes with free improvisation in instrumental parts. I am very glad for and confident with my musicians.
Your name is known especially in the Prog World. Do you feel yourself linked to the concept of Progressive Rock? What characterizes your personal interpretation of this genre?
I just love progressive rock of the 70ties, and I daresay it is one of the main influences and reasons for my own desire to write music. However, there are only few elements in my music that are obviously linked to traditional progressive rock. What I write is crossover with different influences as a basis; such as folk, singer songwriter and even classic. Yet I certainly strive to keep a progressive air to it. I like my music to give the feeling of recognition and at the same time, to be something not quite like anything one has heard before. I recall some reviews, requesting more progressive elements, more keyboards, less cello, more this, less that… Then I think to myself; the point of what this album was meant to be has been missed out. With this perspective in mind, I believe the listeners can easily grasp the aspect of progressive atmosphere in my music.
Recently you have been committed in the role of producer for the second album of Autumn Whispers. Can you tell us about this collaboration?
Autumn Whispers is the band project of my friend Dino Steffens, who writes the songs, many of the lyrics and most of the arrangements as well. I started to contribute with the violin in the very beginning, and now I also participate with some arrangements and as a co-producer. The album series Cry of Dereliction is now upon its 3rd album, maybe to be released next year. It is a quite exciting musical journey to participate on: each album has a common line through the title song; Cry of Dereliction, which starts with the previous part and ends with the following one, with familiar elements. Yet, the thematic is different, and connected to the main message of that particular album.
Dino also write poems, and has a beautiful collection out these days, called “Drops of Poetry”.
Feel welcome to visit at autumnwhispers.com
Now you are managing a record label of your own, Fairy Music. What prompted you to start your own business? What are the advantages and difficulties of this choice? Do you plan other releases for your label?
Starting up my own label was a natural choice after the passing of Michael Piper, head of my previous label The Wild Places. I found that the advantages were several than signing a new deal. After all, there wouldn’t be another Michael Piper (I wish there was!).
Running your own label, you are mostly alone with the decisions, and no one but yourself to set a dead line. I think it is a quite individual matter, whether you find it advantageous or not. As for myself, I found it to suit my character quite well, to take the final decisions and take the administrative responsibility. And I would recommend it for those who are considering it.
For the moment I have no plans to expand the label, but there have been a few unknown albums I would have loved to make available for people. We will see what the future brings.
Are you already writing new material for the next album? Can you tell us something?
I have two new albums in mind - having started a little on both. The fourth album will be about journeys and crossroads of life. The fifth will probably be an instrumental album. There is not so much more to say for the moment
Do you plan to do live gigs or does your music remain essentially studio music?
I definitely thrive best in studio. I occasionally do live performances, but only when forced. :-)