SVALBARD have just released their latest album It’s Hard To Have Hope and their album release show at the Black Heart, Camden went down a storm. I asked frontwoman Serena Cherry about the new record, bands she recommends and fans’ reactions to their hard-hitting song topics…
Q. You’ve just finished a UK tour and released your new album It’s Hard To Have Hope. How were the new songs received live?
Serena: I was genuinely astounded by the reactions to the new songs live, people already knew some of the words which was crazy! It’s really nerve-wracking, to be playing new material for the first time on a tour, so it’s a major relief to me that the crowd seemed to enjoy the new songs so much.
Q. The album seems to be getting some really good responses. With the hard hitting topics covered in the album, have you had any indication that fans have related to the themes?
Serena: A few people have reached out to share their stories with me, with regards to their own experiences of unpaid internships or sexual assault at gigs. I think there is a huge power within the bravery of people sharing their personal experiences, even if the experiences are often traumatic. When you discover that other people have been through similar experiences you feel less isolated by what you have suffered.
Q. I have to unfortunately admit I relate to the song Unpaid Intern. The work climate for our generation is a joke at times. What spurred you to write the song? Have you yourselves had bad experiences with jobs?
Serena: Sorry to hear that! The majority of my working life has been a string of exploitation and bad experiences. Such is the joy of needing a zero hours contract to enable you to get time off to tour. When it comes to Unpaid Internships, I’ve never had one as it’s something I could never afford to do. Being from a working class background means I am never financially comfortable enough to work for free. That’s what the song is about: how unpaid internships basically restrict the poor from access to certain job roles. Speaking personally, as a writer, I have had several companies offer me unpaid internships and I have to turn them down because…you know, I have to pay rent and bills and stuff. I can’t just go a few months without income. So I know too well that feeling of a door of opportunity slamming shut in your face, not because you don’t have the appropriate skills, but simply you are poor.
Q. I saw your album release show at the Black Heart, Camden, and your comment about the hard work ethic and amazing support of your label Holy Roar really stuck in my memory. Just how important is it to have a good relationship with your label?
Serena: You have to have a label that understands and supports your vision, otherwise the whole creative process becomes stifled and restricted by what “the big bosses” want you to make. We are very fortunate to be with Holy Roar as they aren’t afraid to take risks, they appreciate musical diversity and they support us for who we are, rather than for what they think they can make from us. In some ways, I’d hate to be on a bigger label and have to churn out the same safe, toned-down product just so the guys at the top can afford one more ivory backscratcher.
Q. What struck me about your live show is the positivity and sense of fun as a band you project, especially considering the difficult topics you cover. Do you find being yourselves and being positive help to get your messages across to the audience?
Serena: That’s interesting! I never think of us as particularly positive, but I guess we do have fun when we play together and we would never make an attempt to hide that enjoyment. I just assume it doesn’t come across! In the live setting, as I am actually quite a shy person, I have to really make a conscious effort and force myself to talk to the crowd. I find it quite daunting, but at the same time I think we have written the music with a message, so we should discuss these things onstage too. It just takes a lot of effort for me to come out of my shell when I have to actually talk instead of scream!
Q. We’re seeing a shift of strong women fronting metal bands who are not afraid of confronting issues relating to the objectification and disrespect of women, with the likes of VENOM PRISON and SVALBARD with yourself. I was especially moved by your passionate performance of your song Revenge Porn when I saw you live. Do you feel you are able to give a voice to women, not just in the metal community but in general?
Serena: I think it’s incredibly important for women to have a voice in metal, to be represented and respected as musicians, rather than dismissed or pushed out or othered. I am keen to address sexism within the music industry head on and to speak out about injustices, but I never want to assume I speak for others. I can only share my views and experiences and hope to generate a healthy discussion on how things can change for the better!
Q. Have you received any backlash to your feminist approach?
Serena: Yeah. From being called a Feminazi, to being dismissed as having “no hard evidence” when talking about sexual assault, to a reviewer saying we couldn’t “identify as a feminist band because we are not an all-female band.” You don’t have to be female to be feminist! Every member of SVALBARD is for equal rights, it doesn’t matter what gender they identify with, they can still acknowledge oppressive patriarchal systems. To say you can only be a feminist if you are a female is such a reductive way of thinking.
Q. Lastly, with my blog I focus on new and up and coming bands. Are there any bands on your radar people should check out?
They’re not exactly new, but COR SCORPII and SHYLMAGOGHNAR have been captivating my ears recently. There’s a band who practice in the same studio as us called DOWNARD who are also very good.
Stay tuned for my gig review of SVALBARD/MØL/GROUP OF MAN. In the meantime you can read my review of SVALBARD’s It’s Hard To Have Hope by following the link below: