Half Swedish. Half German. All metal. The Oath’s straight up no-nonsense 70s rock metal vibe is a bit of an anomaly held up against some of metal’s most vocal supporters and critics who, for all our demand for something new, sometimes a revisit to the past under a new light is just as beneficial. Enter: The Oath. Their full-length S/T debut was released just last week from Rise Above Records, the same label that gave us bands like Cathedral, Electric Wizard, Moss, Orange Goblin, and many, many other indelibly influential bands. It’s no surprise that Rise Above took their chances with The Oath as the label had run the same kind of risk with Ghost. Primary members Johanna Sadonis (vocals) and Linnéa Olsson (guitars) make quick work of proving their musicianship chops with melodic hooks and riffs for miles that speak far louder to intrinsic influence rather than aping. It’s a difficult trick to pull off in a music world seemingly obsessed by what’s new, but The Oath manage to tap into their undeniable influences and make those sounds wholly their own, and it works amazingly well. SfB reached out to Sadonis to discuss her own evolution as a musician and what’s changed and what still needs to change in heavy metal today.
What’s the story behind The Oath coming together, and how have you seen the band’s growth as well as your own since that initial beginning?
Well, I think the band hasn’t existed for a long time, but I think the growing was before the band even got started. The band was a result of us growing as musicians before that. Because of all the musical knowledge and background we compiled in our parallel universes, because we just met when we started playing together, but I think that’s what making The Oath special – that we both grew up in different countries but with pretty similar music tastes, but also a similar vision and goal for what we want to achieve as musicians. Then we met and it kind of clicked right away because we were so similar as musicians.
With that similarity in vision for you both, what was the creative process or thought process going into the full-length debut this year?
What we had in mind when I founded the band with the original drummer, an American guy named Vincent Wager, we thought we wanted to have a hard rock slash heavy metal band inspired by the very classic, old school heavy metal bands, new wave of British heavy metal bands, old black metal, old doom, just all the old classic stuff that we all grew up with. The writing process when Linnéa came into the game, and she had a very similar background, and once we started playing together we figured out the writing process that she brings riffs, and usually we know right away that ‘This is cool, and we wanna work with this,’ and I jam around with it.
I put my vocal melodies in there and lyrics, and then we arrange the songs together, and it was actually very fast. We clicked very well writing songs because we both kind of had the same understanding of music and what sounds good and what not to do, so that was very fast and easy to write the songs. When we went to the studio we already had everything together. The vision was there the moment I met Linnéa. We sat down in a bar. I was looking for a guitarist, and Henke from In Solitude had basically introduced us by email.
We met, and it took us about half an hour and some shots of vodka to realize in talking about music that we really should play together. From the get go we just had this kind of shared vision, so we started playing songs that fell really easily into place because we didn’t have to explain much to each other about how it should sound. So by the time we wrote all the stuff, and by the time we went to the studio, it was very clear how it was gonna be.
What worked as a kind of catalyst in your youth to push you in the creative direction of heavy metal?
It started very early, actually. I started over twenty years ago with my first bands when I was a teenage girl. I started to sing in black and death metal bands, and I was very much completely consumed by occultism and death in the metal scene. I always wanted to be one of the boys back then, and I was just very passionate about the music and everything around it. I had a very big universe of emotion towards it from an early age on. The urge was always there.
I think the same for Linnéa. She started very early in Sweden and started playing in bands at a very early age as well. It’s a lot of things when you are a person that is very hungry to live life to its fullest and to explore and love music so passionately and all kinds of genres. I grew up a metal kid then went through various stages of different stuff. I don’t only listen to metal. You soak up all these influences and all these images in your head. You read all these books, and I became very spiritual, too. You compile all this knowledge, and different influences, and associations, and now in the end after this long journey, The Oath is kind of the milestone right now for what we all compiled.
You mentioned being a metal kid growing up. Is being a metal kid in 2014 drastically different from when you or I were metal kids growing up, or has the social context been the only thing to change?
Yeah. I mean, I grew up in the metal scene in the early to mid-90s, so yeah, I think it is very different. And I’m glad that I grew up back then because I was very deep into the black metal scene then. Nowadays, if I may say this, there’s a lot of really bad taste metal around. I’m not very fond of metalcore or this pagan stuff that’s going on. I think that’s why we’re picking up a lot on the original classic kind of stuff – the rock and metal kind of stuff.
I guess I grew up a little bit closer to that, and also I guess it’s easier for girl nowadays because there’s more girls in the metal scene or at least so it seems now. Back then, I only had guy friends, and that’s why it was so surprising to run into Linnéa and discover this kind of sister. I was like ‘Wow! Finally! Where have you been?’ [Laughs] It’s cool. Another chick like me. But yeah, I think the music then, in general, was better I must say. There’s a lot of crap right now because everybody gets to put out their music. I
f you look at big festivals like Wacken, the whole aesthetic of everything, I’m not so fond of that stuff. I’m not saying everything is bad, obviously. The bands around nowadays are very good as well, but there was more of it back in the day, for sure. The quality survived and was easy to find, but now you just kind of have to sort through an ocean of shit bands to find some jams.
When you say that the metal scene or heavy music seems to be more inviting and welcoming to women, how have you seen that evolution and what’s changed? From your perspective, why do you think it changed?
There’s always been cool women in rock, but it was definitely tougher for them back then than it is now. But I think women in metal nowadays is a little bit odd for people still to this very day. With every interview people ask me, ‘Don’t you get reduced to being chicks in the band,’ and then I read all these reviews now where people write stuff like “Oh, so I saw the cover of The Oath, and I thought ‘Oh my god, this is just another chick band,’ but then I listened to them, and they were actually pretty cool.”
So that hasn’t really changed. You still get reduced. It’s still sexist in the metal scene, but then again, I always think eh, Linnéa and I really don’t give a fuck. We are friends with a lot of musicians, and we get a lot of respect from them, and I’ve been doing stuff in the metal scene for many years, so I know who I’m on eye level with. The ignorant people, if they are so limited in their imagination that they think a woman cannot be a woman and maybe dress up in leather suits with the blonde hair and then still be passionate about it, too, then it’s their own loss.
You do have the sexism still, though. I get approached with it all the time, especially now with things like Revolver magazine’s “Hottest Chicks in Metal” and so on. And with that Linnéa and I clearly draw the line and say we don’t want to be a part of that. We want to be seen as musicians first of all. Yeah, we dress up in these suits and so on, but we do that in the same way that KISS is dressing up or Venom used to dress up in spikes and leather half naked, and it’s just for the entertainment. Why should we not do this just because we’re girls? And then we get reduced for it? Just because you still have that mindset. I’m sure it’s the same way for the type of girls that play that game of trying to be the hottest chicks in metal. [Laughs]
It’s interesting that despite the fact that so many enormously talented women have made an indelible mark in heavy music’s history, the genre still bears the unfortunate reputation of being a Guys Only Club in many ways. One thing I find especially troubling with the discussion is that too often the gender itself is played up as part of the promotion of the band or music. It’s almost like a gimmick that labels, the press, and oftentimes even the bands will use to promote the music. Do you see that, and what are your thoughts on it if you do?
Oh yeah. Of course. They use it as tools, and they pick up on it. I think it’s a crying shame that it’s not equal in that way. I mean, boys use that too. They dress up and perform a show, and it’s definitely very hot. Guys show their fucking chest hair and whatnot like it’s the fucking seventies, but it’s a shame that women get judged for doing it. Either you have to look like a death metal vocalist and be all tough or you pull the babe thing, and I don’t know.
I think there should be a natural way of dealing with it. Just like the guys do. People are people, though, and people are how they got brought up. I was just speaking to another journalist, and he said for him it never made a difference. He grew up very liberal, but then again, some of these journalists ask super sexist questions that they aren’t even aware of it. Nobody ever taught them what that means. Like I said, it’s not that we care so much because we’re surrounded by people with brains, but it pops up.
It’s definitely encouraging to hopefully see the gender or essentially anything that’s not the music itself be a distant second to what’s actually being created.
Exactly! I think so to, and I think it’s most important that people are honest about the music. And if someone without seeing how we look thinks the music is shit, then cool, that’s fine. Everybody has their own opinion. But if the music is cool or not, it shouldn’t matter whether or not I look hot or not or whatever.
Going back to what we were talking about earlier with the heavy music scene, how have you seen the music itself evolve since you first began listening to it with regards to experimentation and also with regards to how the fanbase seems to be going through a sort of growth spurt. The opportunities seem greater and more numerous than ever for heavy music now. How have you seen that growth and do you see a specific reason for it from your perspective?
I perhaps seemed a bit negative earlier with saying that there were so many bands nowadays, but there’s always the flip side of the coin. You also get the chance to listen to and get to know some good bands that maybe back in the day wouldn’t have made it because of label politics or something. You have the positive effect, too, where you find those bands. If you look back at the whole history of music, the fifties when rock ‘n roll started, that’s not so long ago. That was already very rebellious, and then came the sixties and the seventies rock ‘n roll bands with all the drugs, and the punk rock.
It’s just that society has grown more and more tolerant towards music, so I think it’s a natural kind of evolution of society accepting extreme music. The room for extreme music is getting wider and wider, and especially so now with the internet. You can’t be held down anymore by conservatism. I think it was a natural growth along with the media growing and so on. But why metal is becoming so popular? I guess because we are the next generation, and our parents and grandparents could have already been rock ‘n rollers, so I think it’s just a part of that natural evolution.
Thanks to Johanna for her time.