Dreams and nightmares are absolutely integral to Myrkur, the project of Danish multi-instrumentalist Amalie Bruun. Not only are Bruun's folk-metal compositions dark and surreal in themselves, like disturbing images randomly snatched from a troubled sleep, but her 2017 album, Mareridt, was directly shaped and influenced by a series of terrifying nightmares that she'd experienced. Some of her nightmares drew on the real-life death threats she received online from black-metal purists who took umbrage at her experimentation with their chosen genre; others tapped into more timeless, elemental fears.
"Juniper," Myrkur's latest single, released late last year, is another gorgeously ominous missive from Bruun's imagination, and the Philippe de Grenade–directed video for the track only underlines its more unsettling aspects. Though the B-side, "Bonden og Kragen," is Bruun's reinterpretation of a traditional Danish folk song from the 1600s, its lyrics are based around the body parts of a dead crow — something which would certainly qualify as nightmare fuel for some.
It's not surprising, then, to learn that Bruun is intensely interested in Jungian dream analysis, a fascination that stems from having grown up with a mother who's a Jungian psychologist. "Maybe I think about dreams more than other people," she tells Revolver. "Although, I don't think you need some sort of degree to analyze your dreams. It should be based on intuition more than anything — and then maybe some ancient knowledge that, if you're lucky, has been passed down to you."
Shortly after Myrkur's high-profile stint opening for Smashing Pumpkins in Europe and Bruun's marriage to Artificial Brain drummer Keith Abrami, we spoke with her about these new tracks, as well as the folk album she's getting ready to record — and, of course, her dreams and nightmares.
LET'S START WITH YOUR NEW SINGLE, "JUNIPER." WHAT INSPIRED THE SONG?
AMALIE BRUUN I suppose it's from personal experience. It feels a bit like a song that's written from a very naïve and childish perspective, like my child self, about my family and family dynamics — trying to hold a family together that's falling apart, and the stepmother moving in who's much younger. These very archetypal situations that have shaped me, which made me feel like writing this Grimm Brothers fairy-tale-type song.
THE SONG'S VIDEO FEATURES A SMALL CHILD IN A SITUATION THAT SHE DOESN'T UNDERSTAND. IS THAT A REFLECTION OF YOUR OWN EXPERIENCE AT THE TIME?
Yes, yes — but also, in a way, you absolutely understand what is happening, as a nine-year-old girl, when a 25-year-old woman moves in. You no longer matter, you know? That's how it feels. And also, there's a bit of a warpath in that situation. It's hard to explain, but yes, definitely a feeling of not really understanding, but also absolutely understanding what's happening, and trying to fight the situation, but it's too late.
IT'S AN INTERESTING JUXTAPOSITION BETWEEN "JUNIPER" AND THE TRADITIONAL FOLK SONG ON THE B-SIDE. WHY DID YOU PAIR THOSE TWO SONGS TOGETHER?
Well, I suppose if you want to judge my music on the surface, people will say, "Oh, this is not that genre," or "She should do more of this genre" — they tend to get very fixated on the shallow things, when in fact I think a song like "Juniper" is folklore, but in my way, in my version. It absolutely holds a lot of elements that "Bonden og Kragen," this traditional, ancient folk song, does, and also, it's a narrative, it's storytelling. There's a lot of the theme of death in the old folk song, which I suppose I also felt a lot when writing "Juniper," and also when we created the video. The director of "Juniper," besides the stuff that he filmed with me, he was very much on his own in the woods, and also with this girl. I kind of gave him free hand. I wrote down in depth what I was thinking when I wrote "Juniper," and he also interpreted that. There's definitely a theme of death, and of endings.
WHAT IS THE STORY THAT "BONDEN OG KRAGEN" TELLS?
Well, you know, it's a classic Nordic folk song where they pick a subject and they sing it to death. [Laughs] "Bonden" means farmer, or peasant. He kills a crow, and the King's men contact him and ask him all these details about, "What did you do with the beak? What did you do with the feet? What did you do with the wings?" The peasant is explaining what he did with it, and why. There are a lot of different interpretations of it. Some people call it a nonsense song, but the crow also has symbolic and archetypal meanings, you know? So it really depends on how you see it. That's one of the reasons that I love folk music, and why it inspires me as a songwriter.
MARERIDT MEANS "NIGHTMARE" AND THE ALBUM WAS INSPIRED BY YOUR NIGHTMARES. DO EITHER OF THESE SONGS HAVE ANYTHING TO DO WITH YOUR DREAMS?
Yeah. My dreams heavily revolve around animal themes, and they always have. So I can definitely relate, as a writer, to writing about animals in both the physical level and the symbolic level. As for "Juniper," yeah, I felt I went back into the nightmare state when I wrote that song. It's not really from this world, you know? It's channeled through my childhood voice, but with a free imagination and nightmarish feelings, as well — which is maybe also how that part of my childhood felt, I suppose.
SO YOU WERE ACCESSING THAT FEELING, BUT NOT NECESSARILY INTENTIONALLY?
I guess it is intentional. At this point, I can control that access. And then, sometimes, it depends on if you'd like to move on in your life from traumas that continue to haunt you in different ways, such as patterns you repeat, things like that. I've been trying to go back to that girl that I was, you know? Maybe sometimes, as a grown-up, you can help the child heal. And, in this case, through a song. When I recorded it, I was feeling like, "Wow, this is a very childish voice" — not my tone of voice, but the narrative. But I guess I felt the need to do that. I was hoping again for a cathartic outcome.
WHAT WERE SOME OF THE SPECIFIC THINGS THAT KEPT COMING UP DURING THE NIGHTMARES THAT INSPIRED MARERIDT?
Like I said, animal themes: predators, scorpions, things like that. Pregnancy, being hunted, deep dark waters — every page of the Jungian book. [Laughs]
DID YOU DO A LOT OF ANALYSIS INTO THE SYMBOLISM OF THESE DREAMS AT THE TIME?
No, I didn't, actually. I just wanted to keep the state of flow. That's what's so beautiful about being able to write from dreams — you actually don't have to analyze them. But it's very, very beneficial to do it, if you can. I do have a Jungian therapist that I see just to discuss dreams, because I've realized that I'm somebody who can truly get a lot out of speaking with my dreams. But when I write, that part of my brain, the analytic brain, has no part in that process! [Laughs]
DO YOU THINK DANISH PEOPLE VIEW THEIR DREAMS AND NIGHTMARES DIFFERENTLY THAN PEOPLE IN OTHER CULTURES DO?
That's hard to say. I don't know how they view them in other cultures. But I think in pagan cultures, dreams have always been used as a way of navigating through real life — warning signs and blessings, things like that.
DO YOUR DREAMS EFFECT YOUR MUSIC DIFFERENTLY THAN THEY ONCE DID?
Like with anything, I think you have to become better. And I think I'm becoming better at that, meaning that I now understand the process. When I did Mareridt, it was very much blindfolded. Again, it was all intuition-based, and that's how it would stay, but now I understand that, "OK, this is something I have a need to write about." And I feel more capable of doing so, because I've had practice. And that's really all it is — practice.
IN THE PAST, YOU'VE BEEN CRITICIZED FOR NOT CONFORMING TO A SPECIFIC MUSICAL GENRE. HAVE YOUR DREAMS HELPED YOU NAVIGATE THROUGH ALL THAT, AND STAY TRUE TO YOURSELF MUSICALLY?
No. I mean, that was really never a care of mine. Especially not the ideology people, and what they were saying about genres. That doesn't affect me at all, because I don't understand that. It's not even that I don't want to. It's just that I'm not capable of understanding such a limited way of thinking about music. But obviously, the more angry response to me, and the personal attacks, that must have affected my dreams.
THEY GOT INTO YOUR SUBCONSCIOUS A BIT?
Yeah, and mainly because it's something that no one is equipped to deal with, because it's very unnatural. How many hundreds of thousands of years has the human race existed before the internet? The concept of that kind of outreach is new to us. It doesn't work with our lizard brain, at all. Because a threat is a threat, and our brain is supposed to take that seriously, but now when I'm threatened, I'm supposed to be like, "Oh, that's the internet!" But I'm an animal, I don't work that way. So the only way to stop that is staying away from the place where that happens. But that was a couple of years ago. I don't really see that happening any more, to be honest. I don't think they really want to waste time on me anymore. [Laughs]
WHAT'S YOUR BIGGEST DREAM FOR YOUR MUSIC?
Well, musically, I feel like I'm already living my dream, because I'm doing exactly what I want. OK, maybe a dream would be having more options and more financial freedom to visualize even bigger dreams. For example, I'm going to be recording a folk record early next year, and that's something that I have dreamt about for years. It's going to be with a lot of ancient instruments, and choirs. And then of course I would like to take it outside, and arrange concerts in caves, or by a lake. And then, career-wise, I suppose my dream is to just keep doing what I do, and reach out to people. I don't know. [Laughs]
SO IS "BONDEN OG KRAGEN" KIND OF A PREVIEW OF WHAT WE CAN EXPECT FROM YOUR UPCOMING FOLK ALBUM?
Yeah, yeah, it is. I felt like I had to get "Juniper" out of the way before I moved on. I'm leaving behind that sound. I just want to do a folk record, and see how that feels. But I felt very good about putting a traditional folk song together with a new original composition that had, to me, a very new sound.
IS THE PLAN WITH THE NEW RECORD TO TAKE OLD TRADITIONAL SONGS AND MAKE THEM NEW?
Actually, no. I want to take these old traditional folk songs — and yeah, I'm going to make them my own — but I don't really want to make them "new." [Laughs] Because with folk music, I am actually a bit of a purist, and I don't love it when people want to invent something new for that. I mean, of course, you should be innovative, but I like staying a bit true with the instrumentation, and things like that. And then, also, I will have original compositions on there, that will be my more folk-oriented music.
WHO WOULD BE YOUR DREAM THREE PEOPLE TO SEE IN THE FRONT ROW AT ONE OF YOUR SHOWS?
I have to say, I don't really have any. I have thoughts about who I'd love to play music with, but in terms of seeing my show, I couldn't really tell you.
WELL, I KNOW YOU'RE A BIG KING DIAMOND FAN. HOW WOULD YOU FEEL IF YOU SPOTTED HIM IN THE AUDIENCE?
I think I would be too worried about if he's judging me. I think I would overthink it, and not enjoy that he's at the concert. [Laughs]
LAST QUESTION — WHAT'S THE MOST RECENT DREAM THAT YOU'VE HAD?
Let me think ... Well, this is going to be a bit weird, but I dreamt that my mother had my body, and she was very pregnant, and she was walking around the house kind of silent like an animal, being weird. And the rest of the family had to sit down, and then we had to see her give birth in a tub of ice cubes — and it was still my body, by the way, but her head. And then, after that, she just kind of got up and found a corner of the house to be alone in, and said she was tired. This is a dream where I can't really understand it, except for the surface-level stuff. I can't really see the bigger picture. So I actually told my friend who helps me analyze my dreams sometimes about it. I wrote him, and he just wrote back to say, "I have thoughts about this dream ... but you're not gonna like it." [Laughs] So we'll see what his thoughts are.