Formed in Plaistow, New Hampshire in 2010, Vattnet Viskar (Swedish for “the water is whispering”) had no idea they would travel as far as they have today. In 2012, they signed a worldwide deal with Century Media on the strength of a self-titled EP. Shortly thereafter the New Hampshirites embarked on their first headlining tour of the United States, with websites such as Stereogum labeling Vattnet Viskar one of the “40 Best New Bands of 2012”. In 2013, the group released their debut album, Sky Swallower, to critical acclaim the world over. Inspired by New Hampshire’s vibrant seasonal contrasts, Sky Swallower was an album at home with color bursts of autumn and the vibrancy of spring. Tracks “Apex” and “Breath of the Almighty”, for which Vattnet Viskar filmed a video, could also be attributed to the spells of summer and winter. Throughout 2013 and 2014, they toured incessantly in support of their debut, sharing stages with Pallbearer, Tombs, Dillinger Escape Plan and many more.
Never a band to rest of the successes of the past, Vattnet Viskar set forth to craft an album above and beyond Sky Swallower. Whereas Vattnet Viskar’s debut was written over the course of two productive weeks, Settler, the group’s new album, was written as a collective over months. “To me, this record was written in three separate time frames,” says bassist Casey Aylward. “Typically, Chris (Alfieri, guitars) or Nick (Thornbury, vocals and guitars) come with shells—or complete songs—and we shed them out during practice. Some songs were finished when they were brought in and some were definitely a labor of love. Either way we deconstructed the songs and made sure that everything made sense. Not going to lie, there was a lot of second guessing as were diving into different territories on a lot of this record.”
“Because we had more time and a much clearer head, Settler was a lot more relaxed and we were able to really hone in every part in every song,” Alfieri adds. “Seamus (Menihane, drums) put his personality into his parts much more on this record, and the addition of Casey on bass proved to be a huge advantage in the writing phase. They both bring ideas to the table—that I would’ve never thought of— that end up ruling.”
With Sky Swallower recorded close to home with friend, Brett Boland, Vattnet Viskar decided they wanted a change in scenery and a fresh set of ears to the new album. They searched out Sanford Parker (Twilight, Yob) and Earth Analog Studios (owned by Hum’s Matt Talbot) in Champaign, Illinois to record Settler. “Sanford’s a talented guy and added so many new dimensions to our music,” says Alfieri. “Stuff I heard in my head but could never actually translate into music, he would effortlessly come up with and add into the mix. Synths, pedals, we used whatever. No limits.”
“Sanford was so great,” Thornbury exclaims. “At no point did we even have to have a discussion about the sound we wanted for the record. He just got it. The man is a master. The whole recording experience for this album was one of the highlights of my life, for sure.”
With Parker at the production helm encouraging Vattnet Viskar to reach for the proverbial stars, they crafted an expansive, introspective, yet revealing album in Settler. Vattnet Viskar were encouraged to step out of comfort zones (such as the solo on “Cold War” and the now-cut clean vocals on “Dawnlands”) and into new territory. The group welcomed the boundless atmosphere with open arms and the result was compelling tracks like opener “Dawnlands”, the morose “Yearn”, the mountainous “Heirs”, and the gritty title track.
“I am still very proud of Sky Swallower,” admits Thornbury. “But I’ve said from day one that I know we have more in us. This whole process was very natural and unforced. Thankfully, we were much more on top of everything, and had plenty of time to sit with ideas and build on them this time around. Opening ourselves up to branch out a little further brought a whole new wave of material with it. We felt very good about everything when we went into the studio.”
“Conceptually speaking, we knew that this record was going to have a lot of emotional weight behind it,” Aylward continues. “We all had a lot of strange and life-altering things going on around the time of writing and working out the songs. Naturally, I think those circumstances have really permeated through in what is heard on Settler. Aside from that, we had a good amount of time to analyze and rehearse the songs so they were at a point where we were very confident going in to record. As a result, I think we had a lot of time in the studio to mess around with details and textures.”
When it came time for album art direction, Vattnet Viskar tapped visual artist, Josh Graham (Neurosis and Soundgarden) whom had previously directed the aforementioned “Breath of the Almighty” video. “Nick found this Christa McAuliffe photo that ended up being the basis for the entire album musically and visually,” says Alfieri. “I literally stared at that photo for months playing guitar. It’s a photo of her in a zero gravity chamber and she looks so alive and glowing. It’s one of the most conflicted things I’ve ever seen: to be so happy, at the peak of life, only to have it all gone right after. The cover is an interpretation of that photo. I take from it that being meant to do something meaningful in your life isn’t always going to go the way it’s planned. Being on a path that you cannot stray from, even though you know that the end of the path is your destruction and the destruction of everything you know, you must do it, and you would choose no other way to live. Christa was from Concord, New Hampshire, the town that I live in. One of my first memories is the Challenger mission’s demise, so it’s a personal thing for me. But the album isn’t about the explosion, it’s about everything else. Pushing to become something else, something better, a transformation and touching the divine.”
Graham hired a model and recreated the photo and after much debate, the band chose the image for the cover. At first glance, the astronaut’s smile and weightlessness convey delight, a fearless look into the beyond. The points of light add to its overall joy, but there’s darkness behind it and sadness so profound, we, as Americans, have willfully placed it in the darkest corners of our collective conscience.
There a few albums as anticipated as Vattnet Viskar’s Settler this summer. From the moment opener “Dawnlands” crashes into our vulnerable selves to the closing minutes “Cold War” forces us to reflect on the inevitability of life—that it’s remarkably precious yet profoundly fragile—Settler is an experience like no other. “Everything about this record is more personal,” says Thornbury. “The lyrics speak for themselves, but it’s always our goal to create a feeling with the music itself, the lyrics are just there to complement that.”
“I want them to hear the record and get that feeling that they need to experience this in person,” reckons Alfieri. “I’ve always clung to records that would overtake me, and thus, I’d have to go see if the band can have the same effect live. Fans have to see us live. ASAP!”