By Max Holzberg
In the non-descript basement of a typical east-end semi is a couch, TV, coffee table, and a few musical instruments. It seems like a typical basement rec room, with the exception of recording gear tucked away in the corner.
Enter Roger Friesen: the unassuming, dark haired, quiet kid who is in grade 12. He quickly walks past a small opening squeezed between the coffee table and the couch on his way to a corner on the other side of the cramped room.
Roger reaches into the corner and grabs a silver microphone stand, pushes the coffee table to the wall, opens up a black box and meticulously uncoils the cord inside the container. He attaches it to a microphone, then to the stand, a converter and his laptop computer; he’s in business and ready to roll; it’s just another day for Roger.
This is his recording studio, tucked away inside the basement lair. At first glance one would not suspect Roger of starting a Viking metal project.
“I think music is a very pure form of expression. You can tell stories through melodies and arrangements that convey ideas too primal and complex for words to properly express,” said Friesen.
In the spring of 2013, Roger began working on demo tracks for an unnamed project with Peter Wright and Josh Dimakakos. Never coming to fruition, the project disbanded a few months after it began. That summer, he took a new approach to music making.
Roger abandoned the typical structure of a band, and took hold of this project, making it entirely his own. Throughout that summer, he began composing music and writing lyrics.
When he sat down to record the album he invited Alex Spears, Jake Brett-Turner, Josh Dimakakos, Greg Bateman, Peter Wright, Jack Vanden Broek, Sam Glady, Ford Laxdal and his cousin Phillip Garde to collaborate on various tracks.
Nearly a year after working on his first album, Roger released The Fantasy in May, 2014.
The Fantasy was inspired by the genre of Viking metal, yet it did not emulate the typical sound. A few songs were fused with textures of other genres. Roger describes The Fantasy as “dark, pop-y metal with epic soundscapes.”
He notes that two songs in particular deviate from the typical Viking metal sound: “Perpetual Motion,” a rap, featuring Jake Brett-Turner and a cover of Little Ghost’s “FNLE,” a pop song.
His newest album Ever After, released on March 31st, 2015, is a step away from the sounds of Viking metal. Rich with harsh power chords and screaming vocals, it also features lush tracks, backed by epic synths and spoken word.
“I like incorporating elements that aren’t always heard in the music I listen to. I use a lot of keyboards, weirdly catchy melodies, flamboyant string arrangements and rap. I like video game and movie soundtracks, and classical music, so I incorporate elements from that too.”
Jake Brett-Turner, who rapped and did vocals on both of his albums, described the first time he met Friesen: “from the moment I met Roger, I knew he was either going to be a serial killer, or incredibly and brilliantly creative.”
Friesen is indeed brilliantly creative. Not only does he write his own music, he records and mixes all of it on his own. He is entirely self-taught from Internet tutorials and pure intuition.
Perhaps it’s his physical appearance that hides this kind of unsuspected brilliance. Friesen’s outfit, as unassuming as the room we’re in, is his unofficial uniform of a grey t-shirt and blue jeans.
“People like Roger are bound to have talent. He just looks like that guy who makes Viking metal in his basement. If I was walking down the street, I would know immediately,” said Otis Moore, who played bass on Ever After.
Back in the basement-recording studio, Roger points out his gear. He has two Shure SM57 Microphones, a Mustang 2-v ii Amplifier, and a Roland Duo Capture Ex Preamp, which is the connection to his computer. The sound of his recordings is professional, yet authentic: it’s his do-it-yourself ethic that makes it so.
“Roger, as an artist, is about as pure as it comes. I respect him a lot as an artist. His music is unconventional, it’s against the norm. I’ve never heard any other Viking metal like it before,” said Otis.
The process of getting to the final product was an experience marring his triumph as an artist and a unique human being. Roger is fiercely independent, marching to his own drummer, yet he embraces collaboration, evidenced by the lengthy and diverse roster of session musicians featured on the albums.
Otis describes him as “really self deprecating, somebody who is the most critical of his own work”–so critical, he points out, that Roger would describe his own work as “absolute crap.”
Otis recalls it being difficult at first to understand what Roger really wanted, admitting that this caused him to be a little amused and scared by Roger. Ultimately Otis describes the whole experience as fun.
He reminisces nostalgically about a joke that the two had: “we had a running joke about a Swedish pop producer, who would say ‘Okai!’ every time he pressed the button.” Otis elaborates that the two would play out this persona every time they recorded a song, saying ‘Okai!’ the moment the recording began.
Roger’s inspiration for songwriting follows no particular formula. “When I write things, I don’t think of what the finished product is going to be.” To him, inspiration comes randomly, and anything from movies to poetry inspires him.
In a genre as unconventional as metal, Roger is still a standout; his qualities are seen beyond the music he makes. Perhaps it is how he holds himself. Although he’s serious about the project and the artists involved, he does not hold himself to the same standard.
When describing the promotion and reception of the albums, he’s embarrassed at the thought of the act: “I mean, I don’t really…” Sheepishly, he laughs at what he calls “shameless self promotion.” “Some people from the Internet have downloaded it and they don’t hate it… it’s really cool that a couple of people have it downloaded, but I’m not really doing it for fame and fortune, so I don’t care that much.”
Yet his purpose is beyond making music; it is to make high art, to push boundaries and make a statement. Roger is not concerned with conforming to any genre, or art form, or fitting into a mould, and he has no doubts that he won’t stop making music. Neither does Jake Brett Turner: “I think Roger will always be doing this. He may change styles, but this is what he does. He’s good at it, and he likes it. I can’t picture Roger NOT creating.”