The Growl of a Woman

Tiril Skardal is a woman of surprises. From the first time she opened her mouth onstage at Berlin’s Monster Karaoke, the huge karaoke bar catering to tourists and locals alike, she blew past any expectations.

Let the bodies hit the floor. Let the bodies hit the floor! Let the bodies hit the flo-ooo-ooor!

The force of the growl on the final floor broke through the shocked pause that the dozens of audience members shared in. Laughs and disbelieving cheers carried over her continuing growl vocals as she blasted through the rest of Drowning Pool’s Bodies. Yet, immediately after, you wouldn’t connect the chatty, smiling girl who cheerfully gave me her email address with the gravelly voice that filled the room moments before. And the sly grin on her face as she explains why she loves singing with growl vocals shows that she knows the effect she has.

For anyone in need of an example of growl vocals…

What I most love is to see people’s faces when I do it.

“I would love to do it again, it’s one thing being on stage, I love that, but what I most love is to see people’s faces when I do it. People see the song you choose, and if they know the song, most people will go, this is not right for you honey, why didn’t you pick Barbie Girl. The song starts off really slow, so people are still questioning like what is this, and then when the growl vocals come, the first time….then the screaming comes and you can just see people’s jaws dropping. Then…for the first ten seconds, there’s just this energy in the room which is so uncertain…I always say, okay, I will always try, if I’m at a karaoke bar, I will do a song with growl vocals, and either people are going to stay or they’re going to leave.”

There’s just this energy in the room which is so uncertain.

Skardal’s history with death metal isn’t limited to experimenting at karaoke, though. At just nineteen, she was part of a band in Italy, whilst still living in Norway herself. Flying out once a month, they then went on a five day tour amongst other metal bands. This was one of the first times where she was faced with judgement from heavy metal connoisseurs.

Skardal as part of metal band, The Way Of Purity

“It’s easier to do it at karaoke because people don’t expect it and it’s not as normal…I do it myself at a concert, I always judge the singer, because if you listen to a lot of metal music, and you know what kind of music you love to listen to, and if the band fits the music that you love, but you don’t like the singer, then it’s shit. I think it’s almost a little bit more scary to do it at a concert because people know what they like.”

Being a female amongst stereotypically male audience and performer demographics does have its challenges, despite offering the shock factor that Tiril revels in onstage.

“I think people are always surprised because I’m female…you’re nineteen, twenty, skinny, blonde…everyone’s like, oh how cute, sing a song for us. We were playing at a festival in Romania, and it was an open air festival. There was no sound check, you basically just got on stage and it was just check every instrument and go. So all the guys would check their instruments and it was all good, and the sound guy goes, okay go vocals. And I scream and I just hear like slam. Basically he just fell flat and laughed so bad and I looked at him like, why are you laughing? He just blushed… he was shocked. And that’s [why] I like it.”

But even the role of female death metal vocalist, unusual as it is, doesn’t sum up Skardal’s surprises. Her degree centred around making theatre mask, an art that she also taught to younger students after graduating. “That’s what I really love to do” she reminisces. “I’m trying to make stuff and just have the opportunity to make something or be a part of something. To collaborate with other people and work and make theatre or make a performance or even teach others.” The band she plays in now, based back in her native country’s Oslo, classes itself as punk rock, a genre quite separate to her metal past. Her introduction to the band started, as so many does, with a few beers and then an impromptu rehearsal the following day.

To collaborate with other people and work and make theatre or make a performance or even teach others.

“I was like: okay, what are we playing? We’re playing punk rock Tiril, you’re going to love it. Okay! Let’s try it, let’s see how this goes.

Performing with punk band, Rasfare

I had to think in a different way than what I would do with the death metal band that I was in earlier. Because then it was just get the biggest growls that you could do and then go for it.”

Switching between genres seems to suit this woman of many talents. Skardal has slid easily into life in Berlin from Oslo, and still sings with the punk rock band back home, singing across borders as she used to with the Italian metal band. The diversity and the freedom to take the best of both genres seems to suit her.

“I think they’re different in different ways.” she explains. “I would like to make some music that is more towards metal with the band I have now, just because I miss the growl parts, but the punk is rough and people get all excited. It’s not just head banging, people are jumping around and they’re excited about the music but in a different way. It’s also nice to figure out how my normal voice functions in a rough sound without the screaming.”

And behind the growling metalhead or confident punk rocker is a sentiment all too familiar to any artist finding a space as a minority amongst the majority.

“I always thought that I was supposed to be behind the scenes, or in the background of the play, and I didn’t necessarily have to be the main actor or anything, but now [I’m] in such a good environment that it’s not the one who screams the loudest who gets the most attention, it’s more like everyone is there to build you up.

“I like strong independent women that stand up for what they believe in and dare to follow their passion. It can be anything, like someone famous to someone in my class. It depends on the day. Sometimes I feel like I wanna be there too, I wanna be like you. But then you sit there and you’re like, am I doing what is right for me, am I following my passion, am I doing enough?…It took me quite a while to realise that playing in a band in Italy, and everyone [saying], wow that’s so exciting, that’s huge, how can you do it? Well, it just happened. It’s nothing big. It’s just my little tour. I’m having fun.” She laughs. “It’s nothing big.”

Am I doing what is right for me, am I following my passion, am I doing enough?

Nothing big to her, but a cacophony of talents to an outsider. Skardal’s blase disregard for her own accomplishments, ones that travelled her all across Europe, on tours and to festival performances, from student to teacher, and finally to student again in a country hours away from anyone she knew – perhaps it is a disregard we should all learn from. There is power in every action, and everyone has a story to tell. Seeing representation from women in an industry as male-dominated as metal, women who take their accomplishments in their stride, is exactly where femininity can thrive.

Guest performance by Skardal with Norwegian band, Claymores

For more people working to change the face of the industries they’re passionate about, check out our interview with upcoming DJ initiative, Shifting Spheres, seeking to foster more inclusivity for female, non-binary, and transgender DJs.

What’s your wavelength?

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