Interview: Mike Olsen, The Man Behind DANHEIM
Words/Interview by Will Oakeshott
In 1935 a song by the name of The Continental written by Con Conrad and Herb Magison was awarded the very first Academy Award for Best Song which appeared in the film “The Gay Divorcee”; this historical achievement was a benchmark for the fusion of music and film. For around a century the use of music in television and cinema has been almost paramount, with incredible triumphs and exceptional progression with all of these artistic mediums. The manner in which the emotion of a scene is enhanced by the music involved whether dramatic, saddening or even humorous is mystifying and on the other hand, the way the story of a song can be told through visual cinema is just as remarkable. On a lesser note, but still as vital, are the methods that this relationship can promote one another and boost discovery to a new audience demographic.
Mike Olsen could be identified as a rather underground musician and producer in relation to his popularity throughout the world; however, his Nordic folk / Viking inspired project and musical identity entitled Danheim is certainly recognised on a much grander scale. This is mostly due to his authentic and extraordinary musical output utilising traditional instruments, storytelling and his Neofolk formula; but more-so and more recently, Danheim’s compositions were used in season six of one of the most adored television series running today “Vikings”. An accomplishment which Mike Olsen reveals was a rather problematic yet very rewarding accomplishment when it finally came together:
“I was in contact with my publishing company, who manages my sync's (TV and commercial placements) and asked them if they could try and pitch my music for the show since my own direct attempt had failed a year before.” He admits but with an unmistakable positivity - “Well, they came through and ‘Vikings’ decided to use a good amount of my music for the mid-season finale. It was a great feeling to see my music getting some recognition in a big show like this.”
A “big show” is an understatement of sorts, “Vikings” was at one point the most popular show on television worldwide - the series has provoked an appreciation and adoration for these historical travellers as well as multiple artists and bands who perform music inspired by the Norse culture on a global scale. One other artist Einar Selvik, the mastermind behind Wardruna has also been featured on “Vikings’” for both his music and has appeared on the show. Then, on the heavier end of the musical spectrum, there are numerous outfits that incorporate the Norse culture with their message including Amon Amarth and numerous Black Metal bands such as Bathory, Enslaved and Ragnarok amongst many others. Understandably, it plagued this scribe to ask Mike Olsen whether he had contact with these musicians and his thoughts on their music and message?
“I don't know Einar (Selvik, Wardruna) personally, but we have written a few times and he seems like a genuine, kind and passionate guy.” He continues - “Ultimately, Nordic mythology and Viking culture seems to fit well into metal music, probably because there's a lot of epic and brutal legends to draw inspiration from and tell stories about. I was never that much into any metal or rock genres but recently started exploring the genre and have enjoyed Amon Amarth quite a lot for the past year or so.”
Officially Danheim only began in 2016 as Mike originally created and produced electronic music; in that short period of time Danheim has released three full-length albums and a multitude of other releases that is impressive and perplexing to try and comprehend his work ethic. This aforementioned confusion with both his transformation from modern to classical eras of sound and then his incredible commitment to his work; it seemed more than necessary to unmask Mike Olsen metaphorically and understand his brilliance and personality, firstly with how he evolved into Danheim?
“I slowly transitioned to Nordic Folk around 2015; before that I did a few different kinds of electronic styles. But it was mostly as a hobby, for my own entertainment and to experiment and learn more about music production.” He explains further - “I did some soundtrack style songs in what would fit best for something like ‘Lord of the Rings’, but it was not something I released publicly. I don't remember any single inspiration, but my friends and artists like Ulf Söderberg, Heilung and Wardruna were definitely a part of my initial inspiration.”
And your inconceivably impressive rapid musical output?
“I’ve noticed that some of my followers seem surprised as well.” He laughs - “I think the reason why I can't seem to stop producing new music is because I always get ideas when reading something new about the Viking age. It might be a new discovery of an interesting Viking-age object or simply a story I didn’t stumble upon before. When that happens my mind is always racing and I start to imagine how that could translate to sound and mood. The other thing is when starting a new song I have a pretty hard time putting it away again, so I usually have to finish it before laying it to rest.”
Having just released ‘Skapanir’, the third official LP in March, the momentum has far from wavered for this astonishing artist. Arguably this is Danheim at its finest; a more poised, intrinsic and harmonious adventure but by no means a departure from his ancestral roots and identity - this is an uplifting and unforgettable collection of songs in a difficult time for the world. As Mike elaborates:
“‘Skapanir’ is a bit different from the past albums. This is the first album where I recorded my own vocals exclusively and stepped it up a notch in regards to the mastering of the album. In the past, I’ve always done the mastering myself, which in some cases might not be the best idea, so I am now trying to let go of some areas that I know other people have more experience in and are better at, which also helps me focus more on the creation part of the process.”
He further details: “The message and story behind it, is about beginnings or the creation of new things in the early Viking period. It's sort of like an ancient and newer feeling blended together. The lyrics on my records are often connected to runes, inscriptions from excavated artefacts and Nordic mythology or old stories. It usually happens that I stumble upon something I find interesting like the skull fragment artefact found in Ribe inscribed with a Runic spell for protection against Dvergar and disease. From there I work out the lyrics either by researching it myself or in collaboration with someone really talented like Sigurboði Grétarsson (Icelandic musician); we collaborated on the rune-trilogy songs for my ‘Runagaldr’ album back in 2018.”
Unbelievably Danheim has never performed in a live-setting. This is not because there hasn’t been the opportunity or invitation; it is simply due to the workload and availability. Though this absence magnifies the intrigue to Danheim, it is not as intentional as his devotees may think.
“Yes, to this date I still haven't performed live; even though having been invited to a lot of festivals and events around the world. It is something my fans and listeners ask me about almost daily and there are a few reasons why.” He unveils intently: “Firstly I was never really much into live bands (be it rock bands, or other live acts) and secondly it's not something I planned on doing when I first started the Danheim project, mostly because I do everything myself, sampling drums, percussion and playing different instruments. I would have to hire a lot of people and plan extensively to do a full-on live show. If I were to do a live show, a different kind of album would need to be produced, something mostly focused on live instruments with fewer elements overall. Maybe someday I will find the time and drive to do something like that. I would like to perform live soon since that is something my fans have been asking for extensively.”
As aforementioned, Mike Olsen is a native of Denmark and the music he creates is that of his ancestors. There is nothing novel or fabricated with Danheim however; spiritually and historically his performance is beyond accurate, it is sincere to the culture’s traditions and the instrumentation they used.
“The two main instruments I use would is frame drums and Tagelharpa, but recently I’ve really enjoyed digging deeper into percussion and recently bought some authentic Viking artefacts on auction (small bells, rings, beads and horseshoe's) which I have begun sampling and experimenting within my music as well, especially for ‘Skapanir’.” He continues - “On the ‘Hringrás’ record I used human bones which were real, but since I am not in possession of any human bones, they were sampled by a friend of mine for that specific album.”
There is an admired Viking proverb which states: “A tale is but half told when only one person tells it”. To a degree, a tale has been told here, but there is much more to discover.
Danheim Website: https://danheimmusic.com/
Skapanir is available now on all streaming services including Bandcamp.