Peering Into The Magical World Of Heilung [INTERVIEW]
Heilung photo by: Andy Julia
Interview by: Dennis M. Kelly
Remember, that we all are brothers
All people, beasts, trees and stone and wind
We all descend from the one great being
That was always there
Before people lived and named it
Before the first seed sprouted
Having recently concluded the European leg of their tour in the Netherlands, Heilung sat down with us from their Lava Studios location in Copenhagen for a wonderful Zoom chat their upcoming U.S. tour and so much more!
Since their formation in 2015 and the YouTube release of their first-ever performance at Castelfest in 2017, Kai Uwe Faust, Christopher Juul, and Maria Franz of Heilung have literally transformed the lives of those who have experienced them. Slowed only by the pandemic, their impact continues to reach new parts of the world, most recently being Sydney, Melbourne, and Bangkok.
In June, it was announced through their social sites that they would return to North America for some fall dates (see below), and when asked, Franz responded, “We can’t wait to go back, its been wonderful the past two tours. We’re very excited to meet our U.S. audience again.”
There are no Chicago dates yet; the closest they’ll get this time will be St. Louis, Missouri, but they add dates often, and one can still hope, right?
Heilung has been working on a tree planting initiative, and this time, they are giving their brothers and sisters a chance to work with them on which organization they work with and where the greater needs might be here in the US. Since the post was shared on Facebook on June 25th, it has received 274 comments and 384 shares.
Juul stated, “We are changing it a little bit this time. Before we have been doing a lot with One Tree Planted, but in Europe, we have been working on re-wilding areas all over Europe that we will go and visit very soon. But this time in the U.S., we tried to involve people a little bit more into the decision on where to go in and plant.
For us, it’s not so much about that one tree; if you plant one tree per ticket or per person attending the rituals, it’s not guaranteed that the tree will survive into becoming an adult tree. I think a big part of it is also to find areas where there is a need for replanting.
Maybe there’s been a forest fire in a natural habitat, or maybe there has been a reservation for native people that needs to be re-established. We want to go into communities and help with this basically, and see what’s in there and hopefully come to places where we can visit ourselves.
Our mission is not so much to go in and mingle in the political side of things. Our mission is to give a little bit back to nature. The very concept of touring in general is at this point not possible without polluting the planet and it makes sense for us to try to balance it a little bit.“
Faust added, “Planting a tree is beyond all politics.” To which we whole-heartedly agree and look forward to seeing their progress with their initiative here in the states.
For those fortunate enough to have experienced Heilung’s ritual, you will be happy to know that Juul confirmed there will be new elements to look forward to, “It is a ritual we’re doing, but the framework of it is that some things will stay the same to be true to itself. But of course, yes, we will be adding to it, for sure.” “In Maidjan as the opening and Hamrer Hippyer as closing songs; the beginning and the end will not change in the foreseeable future, but everything in between can shift,” Franz added.
While Heilung as a band consists only of three people, one of their supporting singers, Emilie, was just blessed with the birth of a healthy son. On the birth of this little warrior, Juul stated, “In Heilung, we travel with quite a big group, and it’s becoming a family, and of course, the extended family, which is the children, wives, and husbands of the group and we are starting to seek places where we can actually meet and hang around the bonfire that is just so giving, right? Having a new member added to the fold like this is, of course, a wonderful happening for all of us.”
Being cooped up in two tour buses from city to city may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but Heilung are quite comfortable, with main drummer Nicolas providing some extra fun and positive energy along the way. “Nicolas has an energy level that you cannot ignore, you have to embrace it, and luckily everyone does because he is a beautiful personality with a lot of good sense of humor, and a lot of love for the people around him.
I always feel very blessed to work with people from all over the world, I think we counted fourteen nationalities now, and we all believe in a future where we take care of our surroundings, each other, and the spirituality binds us together. Love for nature and humans; it’s very easy to connect with these people,” Franz said.
Bella, who started working behind the scenes with Heilung in 2019, went on to become a warrior, fire artist and choreographer, and greatly enhanced the ritual as a result. One song where the choreography is most noteworthy is Asja, from their 2022 release, Drif. The opening song and first single from the album is a slow-paced, but hauntingly beautiful song about love.
Faust explained that the choreography that was orchestrated between himself, Bella, and the warriors was, (and is) quite demanding, “When we have a performance day, the warriors come together in the early afternoon or around noon, and we train it more or less, every time, several times, because it is so demanding. If you look at and start deciphering it, the carpet we have, its design is based on four and its multiples, but the dance that the warriors do is nine, so they coordinate their steps on the carpet.
It’s really something you need brains for, and you really need to practice for, and also, we have this rotating warrior system, so it’s not always the same nine people. Sometimes you have a new warrior coming in, or like two or three, and of course, they trained at home, but to incorporate them in the system of how to move on the stage is always a challenge, and there’s a lot of time being invested so that it runs smooth. The warriors always take pride because there’s always an evaluation after the show, and whenever the warrior group goes unnoticed, that is a good thing.”
Juul added, “And I have a little nerdy detail because you were talking about slow and tempo, and Asja has the same tempo as how In Maidjan begins, and when we measure that in musical terms, we measure it in milliseconds between every beat, and those milliseconds are six hundred and sixty-six.” This is just a small example of Heilung’s attention to every detail in their craft, from the ritual to their clothes and most especially, their sounds.
When creating Drif, Heilung was met with a challenge, and despite their best efforts, “It [wanted] to be like this, we tried to force it in another direction, but it just didn’t seem to work for us.” “Sometimes it’s healthy to let go and let your art live its own life,” Juul said.
For Drif’s album cover, Faust explains, “While the music is being created, it is basically me sitting beside all this and I’m exposed to the mastering process. That is how the artwork comes into this world, and when all this is done, Christopher works it in digitally, and it’s there. Every stroke is being created while the acoustic element of Heilung is coming into this world; they flow in parallel.“
Speaking of acoustic, Juul strongly stated that “You’ll hear no artificial sounds in Heilung, at all, it is really organic sounds harvested by us in nature, or in the studio by natural instruments, we don’t use plastic skins for instance, and stuff like that. All of this has its own thing that you can go on, then you can start to manipulate it with electronic machines or saturation devices and reverberation and all that to amplify its own thing. I like to call it electronic enhanced acoustic sounds or Amplified History because we’re trying to highlight elements of nature.“
Let’s not forget about the languages that Heilung sings in, where you’ll find very little in English, even Vapnatak which was initially written in English and was changed to Faust’s native dialect of German to better reflect the meaning and tone of the song. This is not a bad thing since music has the power to convey the tone and emotion of the song beyond words, and there are sites online that translate languages to help in that matter.
Lastly, the emotion of Heilung’s sound, in my opinion, is best demonstrated with Franz’s light vocals that contrast yet still compliment the throat singing of Faust and Juul. Her vocal range and power was forged over twenty years ago with her first band, Ehwaz, at Viking re-enactments, Songleikr, and then further refined with Euzene and Heilung.
In 2020, she participated in a masterclass for The True School Of Music with Natasha Pakhalenko (Nytt Land) discussing Shamanic Music & Nordic Vocal Techniques. More recently, she attended a lecture where she talked about her journey as a singer and the immense possibilities of learning about different vocal techniques throughout the various cultures which reaffirmed her passion for vocals even more. She plans on attending more of these in the future.
Normally, the question of, ‘What is Heilung’s secret to success’ would come up in an interview, but this is one time where their success is obvious. From their original and authentic look and sound to the high-quality albums they produce on the Season Of Mist label, to the ritual that started it all on YouTube and spread solely by word of mouth and social media shares. Heilung is a band like no other, they are family and they are your brothers and sisters.
The love they’ve felt back from the world has kept them so busy that they’ve not had the chance to complete their official website, however, I am told that it is now becoming a priority that they intend to complete soon. And while they announced in January a second LIFA video that was being filmed in London, Juul informed me that other locations may be included in this next incarnation of LIFA and we may get to see clips of it soon! There are a lot of exciting plans in the works with Heilung, so until their official site is complete, make sure you are following them on Facebook and Instagram at @amplifiedhistory.
One last note, while I wish I could highlight every singer and warrior that is part of the Heilung ‘tribe’, I could not publish this without mentioning Kilian, their light designer who has been with them since the beginning. This is the person who is primarily responsible for taking a stage and transforming it into the most magical and spiritual place on Earth. At some moments during the ritual, you can easily forget that you’re in a concert hall and we all have him to thank for it.
Make sure you catch them on this next leg of their tour for a life-changing experience!
Special thanks to Will for arranging this and to Kai, Christopher, and Maria for the generosity of their time and sharing their gifts with the world!
Check out more great interviews here!
US Tour dates
10/17: Greensboro, NC @ Steven Tanger Center for the Performing Arts
10/19: Baltimore, MD @ Hippodrome Theatre
10/21: Columbia, SC @ Township Auditorium
10/23: Clearwater, FL @ Ruth Eckerd Hall
10/25: Huntsville, AL @ VBC Mark C. Smith Concert Hall
10/27: New Orleans, LA @ Saenger Theatre
10/30: Austin, TX @ ACL Live at The Moody Theater
11/01: St. Louis, MO @ The Factory
11/03: Kansas City, MO @ The Midland Theatre
11/05: Denver, CO @ Mission Ballroom
Since its inception in 2015, the enigmatic ritual collective HEILUNG has been paving melodic paths to the past with their unique and mystifying sound. Evading all conventional genre tags and the confines of any specific labels, the group aptly self-describes their sound as “amplified history,” emphasizing their ability to connect modern society with the rudiments of humanity’s beginnings through music.
HEILUNG once again journeys back in time with its new chapter, ‘Drif;’ however, unlike previous offerings that centered around prehistoric northern Europe, album number three will explore other great rudimentary civilizations outside of Europe.
“All the songs on ‘Drif’ have their own stories,” adds HEILUNG throat singer and one of the band’s three composers, Kai Uwe Faust. Each has its place and sense of belonging, with inspiration not only from Northern Europe, but from the ancient great civilizations,” explains the band. “We took the ancient surrounding advanced civilizations in account, because our ancestral Nordic civilizations did not just pop up, exist and disappear in isolation. Already in the Bronze Age, we found silk on German land that was imported already from the far, far East 3000 years ago. From the Viking age, we found beads that were brought there from present-day Syria high up in the Northern mountains.
“Centrally important concepts, still in extensive use today, like the number Zero and all the mathematical universes deriving from it, the use of iron and the general concept of settling all originate from traditional high civilizations outside the north and still fundamentally changing our ancestor’s world.
“With singing these primordial songs we want to give tribute to these cultures, reconnect to the beginnings and remember that we all, from East to West, from past to present, are connected through the exchange of ideas and inspiring each other.” Meaning “gathering,” ‘Drif’ serves as more than merely a gateway that bridges history with modern day society, but is also a statement of the strength in unity and togetherness, which will come as no surprise to those who have experienced HEILUNG’s live ritual, in which every ceremony starts with a reminder that “we are all brothers.”
“‘Drif’ means ‘gathering,’’ explains HEILUNG. “A throng of people, a horde, a crowd, a pack. In symbiosis with the album title, ‘Drif’ consists of a flock, a collection, a gathering, a collage of songs, that much like little flames were seeking towards each other, to join, to bond, to create, and be greater together.”
While HEILUNG features authentic and archaic instrumentation that ranges from rattles and ritual bells to human bones and throat singing, their captivating brand of music is far from primitive. Producer and founding member Christopher Juul implements subtle electronic elements that elevates the musical atmosphere and provides a more in-depth and layered soundscape.
“This album has very clearly dictated its own path. Our attempts to tame it were repeatedly fruitless, and once we came to this realization, the creative flow surged forward with immense force. So much so that sometimes it felt like the songs wrote themselves,” the band adds.
HEILUNG’s success has been unprecedented, achieving milestones in its few short years of existence that many do not see in a lifetime. The collective already had rapidly been growing a buzz upon the self-release of their first full-length, ‘Ofnir,’ in 2015, but their dizzying upward trajectory really took off from the moment they set foot on the stage at Castlefest in 2017 for the now-legendary debut of their live ritual. Luckily for those who were not fortunate enough to bare witness to this magical event, the full ceremony was captured on film, having since been viewed by tens of millions of fans across the globe.
As HEILUNG trekked across Europe and brought their mystifying experience to new audiences, talk of this new band and their stunning ceremony made way to Season of Mist label owner Michael Berberian, who quickly offered the band a record contract after seeing their undeniable musical impact for himself.
By 2019, HEILUNG launched their second full-length record, ‘Futha,’ which contrasted the masculine and battle-heavy themes of their debut with a feminine counterpart that celebrated fertility and female energy. Upon the first week of the record’s release, it graced the Billboard charts with coveted numbers, debuting at #3 on the Heatseekers Charts and #4 on the Billboard World Music Chart, placing on a total of seven Billboard charts while meeting critical-acclaim from the press on a global scale.
Having already made its way around Europe, HEILUNG announced its first ever North American tour for the start of 2020, which sold out entirely within 72 hours of ticket on-sale. The band later returned to the United States and performed their live ritual for a sold out audience of 10,000 people at the historic Red Rocks Amphitheater in Denver, CO (USA), further solidifying their early legacy status.
By this time, the band’s music started to appear in places outside the confines of music venues, videos, and vinyl. From hit television series like ‘Game of Thrones’ and ‘Vikings’ to video game giants like ‘Conqueror’s Blade VII: “Wolves of Ragnarök’ and ‘Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II’ to the blockbuster Robert Eggers film ‘The Northman,’ HEILUNG’s music has risen far above the underground and has transcended into a greater world. Even a global pandemic couldn’t slow down HEILUNG’s success; it only strengthened them and gave them the gift of time to complete work on album number three, ‘Drif.’
According to Greek philosopher Pythagoras, three is a divine number, signifying harmony, wisdom, and understanding. He also believed it to be the number of time – past, present, future; birth, life, death; beginning, middle, end. Purposefully or not, ‘Drif’ embodies this philosophy, putting forth a divine work of art that ties together the beginning of civilization with the modern world today.
Make no mistake, HEILUNG still does not represent any modern political or religious ideology, but rather delivers a humbling reminder of where we came from. “Remember, we are all brothers. All people, beasts, tree and stone and wind, we all descend from the one great being that was always there, before people lived and named it, before the first seed sprouted.”
Kai Uwe Faust
Season of Mist: