Part of breaking out of the singular narratives that have been available around neofolk has been expanding what the genre can be, the branches it reaches out and touches a whole range of traditional music. Part of this is a turn towards neo-classical and chamber music, reviving these orchestral sounds, integrating a nature-focused romanticism, and combining it with the same post-industrial feel that gives neofolk its dark edge.
Forêt Endormie came to us via Falls of Rauros, and shows the interesting crossover that black metal has. Jordan Guerette, who founded Forêt Endormie in 2016, was a classically trained guitar singer and did what neofolk does so effortlessly: bring the traditional music aesthetic into a modern pop cultural modality.
We interviewed Jordan about the ideas underlying Forêt Endormie as a chamber music neofolk project, how the instrumentation and songwriting works, what it means to revive a style so often thought as antiquated, and what it means to have a revolutionary antifascist approach in such a seemingly uncommon space.
How did Forêt Endormie first come together? What was the founding ideas behind it?
Forêt Endormie first came together in late 2016. I was working toward a graduate degree in composition, and I put together a group to perform the “String and Hammer Quintet” suite at my final recital as a student. The initial lineup of Forêt Endormie consisted of these very same folks. Since 2010 or so, I had been toying with the idea of forming a group that could perform both in concert halls and venues that are intended for “bands.” Soundwise, I wanted the group to draw heavily from various “classical” traditions as well as neofolk and various American folk-inspired guitar styles. I am very interested in the music that emerges where “folk” and “classical” traditions come together.
What instruments are involved? How do you write your songs?
On both of our releases so far, 2017’s Étire dans le ciel vide and this year’s Split with Quercus Alba, the instrumentation is essentially the same. Most of the pieces are written for piano, violin, cello, vibraphone, electric guitar, and voices, and some of the pieces include unpitched percussion. Recently we have replaced cello with double bass, and I am loving the results. I think the extended range really complements the other instruments in the ensemble.
I write all of the music in my home studio, using notation software, a keyboard, and/or a guitar. I am primarily a guitarist, and though I often use guitar as an orchestral color, I am also really interested in using the instrument in an idiomatic way. When I am putting together pieces or sections of pieces that are anchored by a fingerpicking pattern, for example, I will write that on guitar first rather than in the notation program. The style that I’m drawing from tends to determine how I begin writing.
The music is really confrontational, it refuses to stick to a pace. What kind of emotions are you trying to convey here?
Confrontational is an interesting word to describe our music, I think I like it! Generally, I tend to ruminate on some of the contradictions that most of us encounter in this modern world – comfort and anxiety, freedom and rigidness, godlessness and spirituality. The average person in the United States is more physically comfortable than ever and it seems to me that this somehow leads to even more anxiety and depression.
I’ve written a lot of music that often has musicians working through musical ideas more or less on their own, with only fleeting moments of playing in unison or harmony with another part. This can maybe be heard as both hyper-organized and a bit wild and free – more contradictions to ponder.
We’re currently working on our second full-length and I’ve found myself really trying to conjure a sense of place with music and words. These places tend to be hostile to humans – dusty, neglected farmlands; gathering storm clouds; the open ocean with the sun blazing down. Maybe listeners will find themselves transported to these places as well, or maybe not.
Obviously this is a chamber project, which might feel antiquated to people. Why did you decide to look to an older ensemble style?
I grew up playing in rock bands, so to me, having a more varied tonal palette to work from still feels novel. Many people do associate strings and piano with bygone eras. I’ve definitely tried to use this sense of another time and place to my advantage. The new music we’ve been working on has synthesizers and will incorporate more effects and layering. I’m curious to know if folks will continue to have the impression of looking backward in time when they hear our next album.
Where is your inspiration coming from? Who are you listening to as you are writing this?
The project was begun out of love for composers Claude Debussy, Erik Satie, and Olivier Messiaen as well as classically-influenced bands A Silver Mount Zion, Clogs, and Amber Asylum. I also was digging into Leoš Janáček’s string quartets, Rebecca Clarke’s
Piano Trio and Sonata for Viola and Piano and Maurice Ravel’s Piano Trio in A Minor.
My favorite composer is Joanna Newsom, and I continue to return to her music regularly for inspiration and guidance. We actually have been covering her 2006 song “Only Skin” at some of our shows, which has been really fun! Transcribing the arrangement for that was a total marathon and I learned a great deal from it.
For the new batch of music I’ve been working on, I’ve been listening to Toby Driver’s last two solo albums, James Blackshaw’s Love is the Plan, the Plan is Death, Fiona Apple’s The Idler Wheel…., Preterite’s From the Wells, Menace Ruine’s Venus Armata, N Nao’s À Jamais pour toujours, and Austin Wintory’s score for Banner Saga. I also always return to various Blut Aus Nord, Tenhi, Jason Molina, Mount Eerie, and Six Organs of Admittance records.
How do you define your music? Is there a community of musicians you feel centered in here?
Recently a local publication described us as Franco-gothic chamber-pop, which I actually really appreciate, though I’m confused by the “pop” qualifier. I have tried to come up with a snappy genre tag for our music: chamber folk? neoclassical folk? It’s tough for me to figure out what people are hearing.
I will say that my community has always been the metal community, the corner of which I occupy continues to be incredibly supportive and open-minded. Though Forêt Endormie has branched out and plays shows for other audiences at non-metal venues, the overwhelming majority of album sales and support has been from folks that I believe would identify as part of the metal community. Underground metal has proven to be special and unique in its support and close-knitted nature. Being a part of it and the friends it has introduced me to is perhaps the greatest gift that playing music has given me.
What are you singing about mostly?
I’ll focus on the Split with Quercus Alba here because it’s the It’s the first release with original lyrics in French, and it’s sung exclusively in French, which I intend to be the norm for future releases. I am interested in the tension between comfort and anxiety, the rigid organization of human society, and acknowledging the uncaring truth of the natural world. Societal contradictions and what we give up for comfort are subjects that are endlessly interesting to me. “Entouré” and “Une étincelle que je veux avaler” helped me process feelings of anxiety and isolation, while “Cette Lanterne” is about how throughout history, we have invented gods to bury those feelings. Lyrics for me are tougher to write than music, but I’m gradually becoming more comfortable with putting my thoughts out into the world.
The music feels operatic, almost like theater. Is there a staged, storytelling component to it? What are live shows like?
I’m glad that the music can bring images to mind, as I do intend to conjure visuals with what I write. Thus far, live shows have been relatively straightforward performances. We play from sheet music and I suppose it feels a bit like watching a more traditional chamber group in that way.
I’m absolutely open to working with artists from other disciplines and would especially love to have Forêt Endormie collaborate on new theater works. Music is perhaps the most abstract of all art forms and I really appreciate when it is used well to enhance film, theater, and video games. Hopefully that opportunity will present itself at some point for us, that would be great fun!
Why is antifascism important in these music scenes?
There is a serious lack of diversity in the voices that we hear from in black metal, neofolk, and related styles. This seems to be improving as time goes on, though simultaneously the far-right is getting louder and appears in the mainstream much more frequently than it seemed to 10 years ago. Given this increased visibility of right-wing fascism in the US and across the world, it is crucial that our humble music scene at the very least ensures that our community a hate-free place that embraces all folks regardless of where they were born or their genetic makeup. We also need to make sure that those who buy into far-right ideology know that they are not welcome and that they can fuck off.
Do you draw on any older folk traditions or spiritualities?
I can’t really say that I consciously draw on older folk traditions. I am interested in many styles of folk music, and I think that certain groups – the work of Ivar Bjørnson & Einar Selvik comes to mind – do an amazing job of working with traditional folk styles and making folk music accessible to modern audiences. There are many music traditions that I love and am interested in – Gamelan being an example – but I don’t consciously pull them into my music for fear of treating the music too shallowly. Maybe I will feel differently in the future. As far as newer folk styles, I have been spending some time learning some of John Fahey’s music.
I am godless, so for me, spirituality comes in feeling connected while marveling at the cosmos or art, or in having a good conversation.
Have you experienced any far-right influence in the music scene?
I have been lucky enough in my tiny corner of music-making to experience almost no direct far-right influence. In my world, it seems to be a thing that exists only on the Internet. I’m grateful for this, as the far-right is having very real consequences for other folks in all sorts of communities across the globe.
What bands do you recommend for antifascist neofolk fans?
You’ve already interviewed so many wonderful artists. I’d like to recommend a few that I love, though some of them are not neofolk at all: Preterite, Menace Ruine, Nighttime, N Nao, Circuit des Yeux, Quercus Alba, and Falcon’s Eye.
What is coming next for you?
We’re finishing our second full-length with Colin Marston in the next few months, and hopefully following the release we’ll play some dates outside of our beautiful hometown to promote the record. Aside from that, I’m going to keep writing and playing music with these wonderful friends as long as I can.