Rost und Knochen from Cologne, Germany hit our radar with their inclusion on the last Left/Folk compilation project, which was raising money for the Kurdish Red Crescent in Rojava. Rost und Knochen is a brilliant mix of a nature-centric folk, combining natural tones with a minimalist combination of strings. The most recent EP, Virus, has a red spiral of violent far-right figures who propagate lies about supposed “white genocide,” setting the tone for what the real virus is and bringing them into the growing canon of antifascist neofolk.
We joined with Rost und Knochen members Chris and Marco to talk about how this project, which is still pretty new, evolved, where the inspirations came from, and how they became a clear voice of antifascism for the genre.
How did your project first come together?
Chris: I used to play in a postmetal band for 8, 9 years or so where I got more and more unhappy. Everything seemed to be complicated and full of childish arguments. In the last year of the band i had a breakdown for different reasons. I started writing songs on my acoustic guitar, using my voice for the first time. The band broke up and Marco, who had joined that band two years earlier took part in the project with his viola. It felt great to play just with our instruments in a small room, with less effects and amps and being able to drive by bus to our concerts. That`s Rost und Knochen.
What really inspired your project?
Lo Fi depressions and high end humour.
What kind of bands, or traditional music, influenced you?
Marco: Classical music like Beethoven, Brahms and Hindemith. Oh, and John Cale as well as Holger Czukay.
Chris: My parents used to listen to Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan and Cat Stevens. That certainly influenced me. Then came German punk like Razzia, Aufbruch and Slime. Subsequently electronic music, noise, experimental hip hop and Doom. Especially the repetitive stuff had an influence on my songwriting. But I also like rock stuff like Rio Reiser’s music (Ton, Steine, Scherben). He wrote some of the finest lyrics in German language in my opinion.
What about non-musical art?
Marco: I`m really into painting. I love post-impressionism like Van Gogh and expressionistic art.
Chris: I love poetry, i. e. Bertolt Brecht, Mascha Kaléko, Christian Morgenstern and Sarah Kirsch. Right now I am reading the poems of Semra Ertan.
Could you walk us through your songwriting process?
Chris usually writes the lyrics and harmonies and takes them to our rehearsal room. Then we work on it together, changing this and that, writing melodies, etc. Sometimes we break with our routine and just jam, or Marco brings some ideas into the band from where we start a song.
How does the recording take place?
Bedroom style. There we recorded the instruments. The vocals were recorded in our friend Andi`s studio, called Pulsar Studio in Brühl. Virus was the first thing we did during the (first) lockdown in Germany.
Where do your lyrics come from?
Chris: Most of them are very personal, I think they come straight out of my life. They come from my inward gaze. The political songs are a look at the world and how I see it. But from time to time, we talk about the lyrics, and sometimes some lines change because of this exchange.
Marco: I agree.
What’s the concept behind Virus?
The concept of the lyrics and the thoughts behind VIRUS are visualized on the front cover. You can see a virus built from the heads of right-wing “philosophers,” politicians and mass murderers. They have a glue which binds them together, i.e. the myth of the “great replacement,” an antisemitic conspiracy myth which is about “Christian Europe people” getting replaced by muslims. This replacement is funded and planned by Jewish “big money players” like George Soros. This myth was invented by Renaud Camus, who is also shown on the cover. The fear of “getting replaced” was spread by the people of the Identitarian movement for example, but by politicians as well who are sitting in the German Bundestag right now. They are in the picture, too – just like the assassinators of Christchurch, Utøya, Halle and Hanau. Together they build this Virus.
How do you think ancestral traditions can influence music today?
Well, people do what people do… Hopefully they are not just stealing culture and know where their stuff comes from, when they are doing it. The way we make our music is in the tradition of black music as it was invented by Robert Johnson.
One thing we tried was to use 432 Hz for our tuning. This frequency is described as a frequency for a “healthier world.” Just playing acoustically it worked out very well, but since we started using some electronic elements, from which some could not be tuned from 440 Hz to 432 Hz, this “healthier world” sucked a little in our work routine.
How does spirituality influence you project?
We would not do what we do, if we weren`t looking for a meaning in it.
How do you consider yourself politically?
We try to live our lives socially, ecologically, anti-racist, standing against antisemitism and sexism . That`s our aim in short, but to be honest, we are failing sometimes. We are white men in a white world which gives us privileges that other people do not have. But it`s easy to drop beautiful-sounding words like these, when you are not directly threatened by racism, for example. So, we try to listen and learn to grow over this discrepancy.
Why is antifascism important?
Because many places in this world are turning to a far right-wing side. For example, here in Germany we have a fascist party and its leader argued in 2016 that it was okay to shoot illegal migrants on Germany`s borders. Today there are shooting, and brutal, illegal pushbacks against migrants. The party leader`s words came true within just four years. What will happen in another four years? And don`t forget the EU-Turkey refugee agreement with the Turkish president Erdogan… Germany is also full of Nazism and the legacy of colonialism continues. Why should it not be important to fight against this fucked up „normal condition“?
How do you bring antifascism into your music?
We have a limited range, but we try to support antifascist projects and other anti-fascist artists. Last year we made a small sampler to raise some money for Médecins Sans Frontières. And of course, our lyrics and the way we interact with our audience are ways of incorporating anti-fascism into our music.
What’s next for you?
Hopefully a live concert, somewhere, sometime. Oh, and we are about to make a hardcopy of “Virus” on a tape together with Tito Bazilla. It will come out in the next few months via Zustandsaufnahmen a micro label for tapes and digital prints.
What other bands would you recommend for antifascist neofolk fans?
It is more Folkpunk but I highly appreciate TITO BAZILLAs music. Great lyrics, fantastic guy!
And BEETHOVEN. This dude was a rebel, against the establishment.
And if your are into neoclassical, experimental stuff – check out Marco`s old project DIE TOTEN MÄUSE
Two of our favorite new antifascist neofolk projects of the past few years, ol fòrester and Peace Through Decay have put together a new two-track that drives to the heart of the post-industrial sound that really emerged in neofolk’s nineties. This new offering is perfect for the cultural malaise has extended as Trump was replaced by a near perpetual state of fake news, climate apocalypse, and Tik Tok videos.
Musically what inspired my song on the split was my first attempt at recording it years ago in the first incarnation of this project. It wasn’t very good, but I felt I could achieve the mix of martial-neofolk sound much better now, and the song always felt important to me. I wanted to stay true to the idea I was originally exploring, while also adding and re-arranging the song to fit my current vision.
There is a really classic neofolk sound in Masters of Decay, what musical history inspired this? Where are the lyrics coming from?
Lyrically, this song has about three different meanings. One is to serve as a personal anthem to taking control of your own life. Two is a call to end the monotony of Capitalism and it’s greed driven ways. Three is an homage to those who fought against fascism, both in the past and the present. I also think ol fòrester’s rendition “Belle Ciao” compliments this song greatly and we really arrived to this theme independently but together!
How did 2020 influence the track? How are you coping as a musician during the off/on/off quarantine?
Honestly, 2020 did and didn’t influence this track. It wasn’t a driving force in creating it because it was, as I mentioned, a new version of a much older song. However, I think the themes in it are perhaps more poignant due to the last year we all experienced.
I’m coping by grinding away and recording more than ever, giving more thought to practicing for the possibility of taking the stage to perform these songs, whenever this plague has finally ceased. I hope that will be soon.
LEFT/FOLK II: Resilience As Praxis is an international effort towards building Left/Folk (antifascist neofolk) as an aesthetic movement and a means of collective action. Exploring themes of liberation, spirituality, struggle and resilience, this compilation comes from a multitude of ultra-personal experiences and features songs of vulnerability and indignation.
The collection ranges from a more traditional neofolk sound to the farthest reaches of post-industrial experimentation, encompassing the harmonious and the dissonant at simultaneously. The album is a show of evolution and growth for the music and the artistic possibilities within the trajectory of Left/Folk music, and draws upon the tradition of post-industrial music.
As we collectively face harsher and harsher worldly conditions, a result of climate change, weaponized mismanagement and endless capitalist greed, we must uplift one another and celebrate the resilience found in our experiences and the experiences of our communities. Resilience, to predators and the state of the world, is praxis and serves as a source of strength for all who are wrapped up in the daily struggle of life. Whether we face individual or wider societal hardships, we can draw upon the longevity of our passion and desire for existence as a means of strength and inspiration. Another world is possible, another world must be possible, never give up on that.
Proceeds of this compilation will be donated to The Kurdish Red Crescent (Heyva Sor A Kurd) to assist in their efforts against the global pandemic (give them access to the damn vaccine!) and those who are caught in the whirlwind of violence being propagated by the surrounding State powers like Turkey and their surrogate militias. We stand in solidarity with the Kurdish people in their struggle for autonomy and recognition, and believe in the Rojava project as a beacon of hope and possibility for a better world.
LEFT/FOLK II: Resilience As Praxis becomes available at midnight, officially, March 5th via leftfolk.bandcamp.com for #bandcampfriday.
In advance of Left/Folk’s upcoming antifascist compilation, which will be released on March 5th, we wanted to highlight one of our favorite tracks from the last compilation, IN SOLIDARITY: Songs of Struggle and Liberation. Our friends at Autumn Brigade wrote this track for their last release, but keep an eye out for their upcoming album The Gates of Heaven. Autumn Brigade brings in some classic neofolk style into an evolving synthesis that we are coming to expect from antifascist neofolk bands, and they are helping to bridge the musical communities together.
As the antifascist neofolk community continues to grow, we are seeing an intersecting web of artists and projects form, the hallmark of artistic subculture. With this we have been chasing new projects from what are now old friends. That is true of the neofolk project I Sing to Barbelo, the new endeavor from Abigail Maven Goren who we have interviewed before for their bands Poppet and Lodge of Research. Goren dove more fully into the world of neofolk for I Sing to Barbelo, and developed a hauntingly beautiful collage with her first album Cathartic Rebirth, which meditates on the subjective experiences of gender and the totality of love.
We talked with Goren about what experiences drove this album, how present the idea of love is in the work, and how this amazing step forward plays into the larger world of revolutionary neofolk.
How did this project first come together?
I Sing to Barbelo was thought of in the summer of 2020, when I fell back in love with neofolk as a genre. I really wanted to create more in that style, especially neofolk that captures progressve themes. Around the same time I was grappling with the COVID pandemic, and moved to Western Washington from NYC for a change of scenery after college. During all of this I was dealing with a lot of gender dysphoria and confusion with my identity. I Sing to Barbelo was made to reconcile the queer side of myself with the side of myself that loves extreme and uncompromising music. A cover of the at-the-time recent Dorian Electra song “Give Great Thanks” (about BDSM as a metaphor for social inequities) was the first track I worked on knowing it was for a neofolk project, right before I moved to Tacoma.
How does gender experiences influence this project?
I don’t think any trans person truly experiences transness in the same way, although there are often similarities. A major part of my experience was reconciling the me who loves bizarre metal, occultism, asceticism and gothic imagery with the me who is a bisexual trans woman. Back in 2016, I became incredibly hyperfixated on the concept of asceticism and being a monk. When I realized that I wasn’t male in 2019, I realized that these dreams of wanting to do and consume everything I had to give up. Ironically I had to renunciate being a monk. This is the meaning of “so too must I give up being a monk as I continue on the road to gnosis.” Barbelo, the “Triple Androgynous Name” and an explicitly gender non-conforming female principle in gnosticism was a major figure embodying this sort of grand contradiction. Building a deeply mystical and mythical transness instead of assimilating into the LGBTQ community was important for me.
How does the concept of romance play into this album? What is the love in the work?
The love is in two parts:love for one’s self and embracing yourself as a total person, as well as love and support between trans people. 2020 was a good year to no one, and I was not the same. The ways of getting myself through this pandemic often focused on me connecting with other trans people online and sharing, agreeing, and disagreeing with our experiences. Compassion is a virtue we all need to learn, not only for others going through struggles of identity, faith, and gender; but also for ourselves, even if we think we’re doing fine. How do you understand the concept of romanticism in your music?
Romanticism was a major selling point for getting into neofolk – In I Sing To Barbelo, I’m trying to create a deeply loving, emotional and romantic aesthetic, continued in projects such as Jouissance. It is not only a 19th century aesthetic and cultural movement, but at the time was an important gathering place for anarchists. Percy Blythe Shelly and his poem “The Masque of Anarchy” shows how this imagery can be used for liberation rather than continuing hegemonic oppression. I see a lot of aspects of wild and free Romanticism in the art of Osamu Tezuka, whose art I loved as a child. Anime iconography is an important part of the trans milleu online, and I think Tezuka’s art helps bridge the gap.
Talk a bit about your production process, what does it look like? How does it work on the technical side? How do you plan on doing live performances?
The acoustic sections (and some martial segments) were made from me sampling acoustic guitar loops on Logic Pro X. Every sound you hear besides my heavily reverbed vocals were created on Logic without any external instruments. All of the vocals were done in one shot, as well as the performance of synths and strings, giving it a raw and unpolished flavor. I can’t play acoustic guitar well at all, so as such I decided to sample and loop presets and reinterpret them in a way that is uniquely me. Likewise all of the covers were done in one take. If I did live performances I would rely heavily on loops of guitar riffs while I play synth lines and sing.
How does this stray from your earlier work?
I’d like to think that I Sing To Barbelo is an important marker in my development as a musician. My early dungeon synth as Poppet was made without a knowledge of dungeon synth (or even black metal) as genres. With this project I am trying to come in as a music enthusiast, not only for neofolk and martial industrial, but also hyperpop, which I was listening to a lot of at the time.
How did you select the covers you did? What themes were significant to you?
During the summer of 2020, I got heavily back into the experimental maximalist pop of 100 Gecs and Dorian Electra. It felt almost utopian in the time of a vast and deadly global pandemic, as well as it having a very tight-knit community who loved and held experimental, genre-blending music in high regard. While I have seen a lot of lo-fi indie folk covers of these songs, it was hard to find covers and reinterpretations in genres that truly mattered to me, so I decided to take my own irreverent spin.
How did the shared experience of 2020 affect your process?
As referenced before, no one had a good time in 2020, and even though it was an incredibly significant year for almost every aspect of me, it’s important to recognize that even though we may be going through intensely deep and personal struggles, we are not alone, we have each others backs. In the word of Martin Prince from the Simpsons “Individually, we are small twigs, but together, we form a mighty faggot.” If queer people work together against oppression, we are unstoppable.
What track is going to be in the new Left Folk compilation? How did you select it?
“Our True Love is Revolutionary,” which is a love song made for my girlfriend Jenny. This spoken word track is focused around the sheer power of trans relationships, If we learn to love each other and ourselves, we shall prevail. A trans lesbian relationship, at least in my experience holds no dynamic you see in a traditional straight relationships, rather it is rhizomatic, as opposed to being arborescent .It’s always fun to do stuff for people you love, especially in your own unique way.
What do you think the impact of building this explicitly antifascist neofolk community has been?
I have been much more involved in the antifascist dungeon synth community, but these circles have major overlap. I hope eventually we can see a project prolific enough it can properly replace harmful yet admittedly stirring works. As of now antifascist neofolk seems to be more rooted in dark and nordic aesthetics rather than the strange lysergic industrial of Current 93 I so love. Neofolk, like any genre, can be used to express any emotion and through any lens. We shouldn’t let nazis have a genre so rich in imagery and emotion.
What’s coming next?
I have some dark, atmospheric tracks with Poppet I am working on putting out, but my computers are in a state of disrepair, and as such it may take a while for the new Barbelo. Expect something soon for certain though! Creating unique music is my life.
When one thinks of devotional music there are specific images that come to mind. For me the full immersion Baptism scene from O Brother Where Art Thou comes to mind instantly – the music beckoning the listener to join the prayer. Finnish artist Joonatan Aaltonen has a different vision, as he looks inside himself and to the world of nature towards the future. There is a sacredness to his work superseding creed and tradition and engaging with cosmopolitan influences. A multifaceted artist, his evolving discography from Aura Shining Green to Kiiltomatolyhty at present captures the changes in outlook from youth to adult, a longing to communicate universal themes, and evolution from the personal introspection of singer-songwriter to a multidisciplinary performance engaging the audience.
When did you start playing music and how did you decide to become a musician?
I believe my first influence in the world of music was my elder brother, who educated me in the world of good music at the ripe age of 5 or so. I remember listening to some of the more ambient sections of early Pink Floyd albums on c-cassettes, rewinding back to the parts with interesting synthesizer parts and effects, completely transfixed by the hypnotic quality. My uncle is also a well-known and loved musician in Finland, and I remember that in my early days I was intrigued by this, too, that one can actually make a living by playing music, although my own story seems to be quite a different one. I also remember the old songs I heard in my youth. Due to family reasons, I spent a lot of time in Yorkshire when growing up, and I believe it was during those extended stays that I became completely infatuated with some of the songs my mother played to me – I believe there was a lot of war-time music, light and easy listening, jazz, Shirley Collins singing rural ballads etcetera. Leonard Cohen came soon after, and he was probably the biggest influence on the songs I would write decades later.
These would not immediately make me pick up an instrument, but later would have a lasting impact. The instrument, however, was picked up for me by my parents, I started learning piano at the age of 6, I believe – and stuck with it for many years. I think it was around age 9 or 10, so that would be around the fall of the Soviet Union, after listening to music obsessively for some years already, when I started to discover interesting music on my own – Commodore Amiga tracker music, and I remember loving the “80s sound” – 80s movie soundtracks, Tangerine Dream soundtracks, Pet Shop Boys etc, anything with big reverbs and pompous production. It was also around this time I realized that I enjoyed playing the guitar more…so out went the piano.
At around age 15, I was listening and collecting mostly “darker music” – at this time the second wave of black metal had hit Finland, and of course I loved that stuff back then. However, that was a brief dalliance, which soon was replaced by love of krautrock and 60s and 70s music, and a lot of goth and post-punk bands too, which were easily available by using the brilliant library system in Finland (remember, I was mainly brought up in a culturally limiting rural environment in the north of Finland). Around this time, I also played in some local bands which shall remain unnamed. I went through a really intense Goa Trance phase at the same time, and spent more time having fun than sulking around. I am a total hippy at heart, and always will be.
Personally, I consider that my path as a “musician” started when I was 17. Through my library explorations and early internet, I had discovered music such as The Incredible String Band, Clive Palmer, Hamza El Din, John Dowland, Bill Fay, Pekka Streng, Haikara, Wigwam, Cluster, Amon Düül II, Ash Ra Tempel, The Wicker Man OST, Exuma, William Lawes, Red House Painters, Donovan, Vashti Bunyan, Nick Drake, Sandy Denny, Pearls Before Swine, The Zombies, Love, Popol Vuh, Klaus Schulze, Harold Budd, The Moody Blues, Gene Clark, Townes Van Zandt, The Green Pajamas, Trees, Fairport Convention, Mahavishnu Orchestra, John Renbourn, Roy Harper, John Martyn, Bert Jansch, The Pentangle, and so many more… At around this time I started writing some songs, which I still have on tapes somewhere.
It was not until 2002, when I had the first tape & cd-r releases of Aura Shining Green ready – these have probably been lost to time, since there were only tens of copies handed out to the audience wherever I played a set. I was deep in the lo-fi rabbit hole by that time, and was mostly interested in creating these impromptu session recordings, some of which are documented on the “East of the Sun & West of the Moon” 2cd compilation released by Anima Arctica years later.
During 2003-2008 I was working on my master’s thesis in the university in Finland and Scotland, and I had no time to actually work on recorded music, other than live sessions and busking. During these years I was mostly interested in ethnic music of different regions – and playing live. It was around 2005 I think when the “free folk” scene in Finland happened – I wasn’t living in Finland at the time, I was in Glasgow, studying philosophy for my degree. Later on, I can really appreciate Paavoharju’s “Yhä Hämärää” – but did not listen to it back then. I also met some like-minded musicians during these years, some of which I still consider friends. I was never active in any “scene” or genre, it’s just not who I am.
I was traveling a lot between 2007-2010, and during an extended stay in India – and when eventually settling down in Portugal, I wrote most of the material which turned up on the first 3 proper albums of songs I made under my own name – although rather unpolished, the songs were carefully written. It was also during these years that we played the first “proper shows” with Mossycoat (who was also my life partner during most of the early years). I think it was around this time I realized that I might be able to call myself a “musician” – yet I feel a bit uneasy with the label even nowadays. I never had the ambition to become one, but some people think that I am one. Personally, I’m still on the fence.
And in terms of exposure as a musician, I think the audience for my own projects has always been smaller than for example, Oulu Space Jam Collective – the krautrock cosmic-improv band I’m a founding member of – I actually prefer to just have my own music as a sort of “hobby” which I am funding through participating in society in more concrete ways. Not sure if I ever wanted to be a musician, rather an artist in the wider sense of the word. I love painting, poetry, photography, film, theatre and dance, perhaps more than music.
You currently record as a member Kiiltomatolyhty, but I first became aware of your music through the Aura Shining Green project which concluded in 2018. How did these projects come to be?
Aura Shining Green probably started as a loose collective of sorts in 2002, recording half-improvised songs with a circle of friends who had similar interests. Most of the early recordings of ASG were never intended as “albums”, but just something which can be handed out to the audience. I consider “Mushroom Heart” to be the first proper album I made, and that came out in 2008 (it was ready by 2006, but we had some label issues) and even that is heavily improvised on spot, as is the rest of the ASG catalogue. Although there have been many people involved in ASG, the writing has primarily been my work – and slowly the writing became more and more personal, shifting from the naive imagery of the early years into this extremely personal project. I think I was mostly influenced by Christina Rossetti’s poetry, Leonard Cohen’s first four albums, Red House Painters, and The Green Pajamas’ Jeff Kelly’s solo albums by then, but, to be honest, ASG has always been influenced more by everyday encounters than anything else. I have no interest in making music which has been done before.
By 2013, I had moved to Amsterdam & was working on “The Tower & The Hanged Man” while my personal life was gradually unraveling due to various reasons – and this was to be reflected in the music. The collections of songs which are also available in Bandcamp from years 2013-2016 document the unraveling. The biggest shift in my musical output probably after I met my future wife in Amsterdam, spring of 2014. I was living in a commune of artists, and had over time developed a taste in contemporary dance and performance art.
Matilda, whom I later married, is an academy-trained dancer and choreographer, and through her influence I realized that the audience-artist relationship I had been searching for can probably not be found in the “music scene” format alone. To be brutally honest, I have never liked the image building and cheap mystical qualities of bands and the scene in general – it was probably cool when you’re 14, but not so later. In the end it all boils down to the audience-artist relationship.
The live recordings as Aura Shining Green after 2014 were combined with performance art & contemporary dance, and I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed making music more than during those sets. I moved back to Finland and decided to pull the plug on Aura Shining Green for good after two carefully constructed albums, sung mostly in Finnish. At the same time, a Russian label put out “The Green Man & The White Witch” (which is probably the reason why the music of ASG has been thought to be “Neofolk”, which it is not, and never has been). The Green Man was based around a long poem, “Refuge in the Triple Gem”, which I wrote when I became a student in Buddhism under a Tibetan teacher a couple of years back, and rest of the songs were old texts recited around a campfire long time ago. I think that album is undercooked and was supposed to be a mere addendum to the more fleshed-out The White Witch, but the label turned the order around. The White Witch was a drill for the two final albums, and a good album in its own right too, I think.
Suomenlahden Aarteet & Kuumusiikkia (and the accompanying EP, Keväänsäde) are the final works as ASG, and to me, they represent all the romantic and spiritual qualities which were present in the music during all the formative and later years.
The path that I had been on with ASG had led to the formation of Kiiltomatolyhty. The name translates as “a glow-worm lantern”, and for me it represents a guiding beacon of light in Maya, the darkness of pretense and deceit. The project started with 4 album-length recitations collated from my dream journals, which were not intended for any sort of release, just personal trinkets. At the same time, I had gone completely synthesizer-mad – I have slowly built a mostly-analogue synth arsenal which I have been using in my artistic work as a sound worker and in contemporary dance.
The first release as Kiiltomatolyhty is Kalastajakuningas (The Fisher King) which we performed live at an animal rights conference. The first “album” is Kultasarvi (Gold-antler).
So, what is the difference between ASG and Kiiltomatolyhty? ASG was a project which was mostly concerned in delving deep into the personal, while Kiiltomatolyhty exists as a polar opposite: the journey into the universal. Also, Kiiltomatolyhty will probably never perform live in a purely musical context. ASG was probably also the playful and youthful romantic-idealist project, and Kiiltomatolyhty is the more thoughtful. I’m 40 now, so I really can’t be fucking about anymore. The time is running out!
You have an album of covers from busking in Amsterdam and clearly have been influenced by a variety of songwriters. Are there any that you feel particularly influenced your work?
Yes, definitely. I need to check who I covered there…yeah, there’s a Cohen song there, his 4 first albums are definitely an inspiration for much of the later work as ASG. And it seems I also covered Tom Rapp of Pearls Before Swine – one of my all-time favourite groups. There’s also a Jeff Kelly tune there, he’s one of my big influences – a criminally underrated artist. To me, he is bigger than all of the Beatles combined. There’s also “Jerusalem” by Simon Finn, a song which I hold very dear. That first Finn album has a magical quality – I really love how rough it is yet filled with vision and fire. There’s some bluesy stuff there too, I think around that time I was really into Lightning Hopkins.
But most of all, I think Townes Van Zandt’s ghost hovers over that era…as I mentioned earlier, I was in a downward spiral sound-tracked by Townes’ songs. I am unable to listen to those recordings nowadays, except A Secret History, which is a great album – I wish some label would put that out. Thinking back now, those years in The Netherlands seem like a youthful golden dream. It didn’t seem like it at the time.
Another big influence has always been Pekka Streng, a Finnish artist who died young – shortly after releasing one of my favourite albums, “Kesämaa”. I’ve never had the guts to try to touch any of his songs. I need to add that I have always loved the 60s-70s Finnish bands, progressive rock and folk mostly – not namedropping that bunch here – but if anyone wants to go digging around, it is a treasure trove. Try Wigwam’s “Being” for starters, or Haikara’s first album. The first two Hector albums, “Nostalgia” and “Herra Mirandos” have always been a huge influence. He is kind of the Finnish Donovan.
I first encountered Aura Shining Green on an acid folk sampler, but on Bandcamp the one tag that is consistent for your breadth of work is devotional. How would you describe your music? Is there a spiritualism that informs your work?
Yes, definitely. I think it is impossible to separate what we are from the art which we create, so there’s always parts of you seeping into the work even though you do not intend the work to be spiritual per se. However, I have no intention of creating art which requires a spiritual outlook from the listener – and my personal spirituality is not of the religious kind, as I don’t follow any specific creed.
When describing my music, I need to draw a line between ASG and Kiiltomatolyhty, as the initial spark for creating music for the two projects is fundamentally different. ASG was highly personal music which was distilled from my diary entries and life experiences, sometimes veiled behind clever use of images and language – but in the end it was very down-to-earth and reality-based. So, I would perhaps describe ASG as highly personal songwriting-based project. A reality show of sorts, haha.
Kiiltomatolyhty on the other hand operates on a highly symbolic level, and is much more composition-based music, which has a meditative quality. The lyrics are more evocative and universal – the lines on Kultasarvi touch animal rights, ecological and eschatological themes, space travel, and animistic, almost Shinto-like reincarnation and regeneration as a part of the cycle of life.
The composition process for both projects relies heavily on meditative improvisation and “first take is the best take”-philosophy. The process for me is a 50% improvisatory thing. I might have an idea what the track should sound like, but then as I’m adding elements, the goal tends to shift away from the original idea. I might have an idea imprinted in my mind, and throughout the creation process I’m just picking up the pieces and “channelings” in order to come up with the finished song. During my years working as ASG, I never had the gear or the room to actually polish the recordings in any way, so they are very barebones and lo-fi in parts – but that was the intention all along, to keep things spontaneous. Kiiltomatolyhty is a much more curated and controlled affair, but there’s way less songwriting involved. It is more evocative and spacious, with less focus on the songs. This kind of approach makes it even more important for me as an artist to just add elements which manifest spontaneously.
So…excuse me for rambling…what I tried to describe is the fact that the creation process is in a way informed by a “spiritual” approach – the spontaneous channeling of music has a quality to it which can be experienced as something resembling spiritual practises, such as meditation, where initially you let the ideas flow – if they need to, in order to clear the mind. Only now you are recording the ideas on tape, and afterwards you deem whether the idea was good enough to form the basis of a song.
To me, devotional music is the purest form of music – I have an unending passion for field recordings of communal devotional music and such, and as an artist I can respect the power one can tap into by just opening yourself up for improvisation and acting as a conduit for all your material which exists in your head, yet to be recorded.
There bits in some of your English songs that feel like echoes of traditional ballads, but you’re also not afraid to add synthetic and natural sounds or delve into the electronic. What role does folk tradition, Finnish or other, play in your songwriting and what inspired you to incorporate these diverse elements?
Musically speaking, I think I have always been intrigued by traditional ballads – and as I stated earlier, the English ballad form is probably one of my earliest musical influences. I can also appreciate the cultural aspect of Finnish traditional song. I have Roma blood, and at some point, I was really into Romani music, but have no idea about the traditions. However, I don’t consider the music of ASG or Kiiltomatolyhty to be “folk” in any sense – it is music composed and performed mostly by people who have little connection to any tradition. Myself, I’m a thoroughly urban IT professional from a non-working-class background with an university degree, born with a silver spoon in my mouth – never had to even endure manual labour – completely out of touch with any kind of authentic folk tradition. Also, I don’t really have any interest in reviving any traditions – or to claim to be a representative of one. I tend to prefer the future, not the past. The disconnect from any sort of tradition is a natural process for someone with a background like my own – I have no interest of trying to reclaim something which was not there in the first place.
Hence, I find it interesting to mix up a lot of the elements I love in the world of music – the electronic and the acoustic, the compositional and lyrical, the traditional and the avant-garde, the melodic and droning, the popular and the experimental.
With Kiiltomatolyhty, the intent to incorporate the more droning, experimental elements was there in the beginning. I have learned from working within the performative arts scene that the subdued and non-defining elements usually are the elements which are more easy to work with, for they do not define the mood so strongly – yet they can “tie” an album or an performance together more effectively. There was a time when I could listen to or play a show with only guitar + vocals, but gradually I fell out of love with such a straightforward approach. I don’t mean I disown the music I did in the past, but I really can’t see myself playing a “singer-songwriter” show in the near future.
Kiiltomatolyhty also performed live in support of the Finnish Animal Rights Party (EOP), how did this come to be?
I have been an animal rights advocate/activist since the 90s, and a proponent of a vegan way of life from an early age. We were invited to perform at the event because when representing the Kiiltomatolyhty project, I have been openly discussing and promoting these values in public – and also promoted the new political party which we certainly need in this country. We are one of the last countries to allow the exploitation of animals in the fur trade, and a country where the meat-industry corporations have a firm grip on public propaganda channels. The public image of Finnish factory farming has been effectively whitewashed to appeal to the masses as more “ethical” than factory farming abroad. This is the greatest lie, which has been echoed for decades, and people are still buying it.
As an art project, Kiiltomatolyhty is unapologetically in opposition of the murder and exploitation of sentient beings and will not stay silent about this stance. Matilda, who is also a member of Kiiltomatolyhty, now serves as the vice-chairperson of EOP. Since then, I have also composed background music for the party’s campaign video.
How does antifascism inform you politically and as a musician?
I think it is absurd that in the modern world one needs to specify that they are antifascist – fascism reared its ugly head not so long ago, and where did it lead to? It is a failed ideology. A thing of the past – and if you feel the need to dig it up from its grave, something has gone wrong at some point – not with the world, but with you. If there is anything good in it, it is poisoned by the inherent rot at the heart of it. I think we should learn from the past and discard the things which did not work. I don’t want to go about declaring that I am an antifascist, but the sad state of affairs leads to situations where I actually have to do that – and that is really fucked up. I don’t want to use my music as a vessel to state this – however, I am unable to separate the music from my person, so the stance is there in music, stealthily.
Politically, I think that animal rights and antifascism go hand in hand. Add equal rights and intersectional feminism on top of that, and zoooom, you have just become enlightened, a real thinking human being. From there on, you are able to concentrate on the ultimate goal – to end speciesism for good, and usher in an eco-conscious golden age of rationalism, re-vitalized ambition and purpose.
Kiiltomatolyhty just released an album, Kultasarvi, in November. Would you like to say something about the album and what’s coming up next for you?
Kultasarvi the idea and Kultasarvi the album had a very different sorts of genesis. The idea was to record the album at Viitala, our cabin in the woods of southern Finland – where I also wrote the lyrics for the album. However, it was originally coined as a sparse, acoustic album, but I just wasn’t happy with the recordings. There are hours and hours of the acoustic versions of the songs stashed away on tapes somewhere. Once I started adding in more and more of the electronics, and Iina joined the project (on this album I was mostly working alone before that), the proper end result was starting to materialize. I also didn’t want the first release as Kiiltomatolyhty to sound like ASG, so I had to be careful about that.
Personally, I think it is my favourite album, and since I was so harsh with the cutting of the final tracks, there is absolutely no filler on the album. I don’t think it has any songs which pop out of the context, but as a whole it is the best I’ve done so far. Of course, compared to Suomenlahden Aarteet, which has some of the best songs I have written, the competition is unfair.
The album itself is a sort of prayer or meditation on the preciousness of the ecosphere, the life of sentient beings, guided by our totem animal, the badger, and the hundreds of birds who sing in the orchard of Viitala. It is a spiritual album, completely devoid of any sort of religion, a scientific-pantheist devotional album for the new age.
Kultasarvi was ready in early spring 2020. Then COVID-19 hit. It was supposed to come out on vinyl this year, but the plans fell through. It is currently available from kiiltomatolyhty.bandcamp.com, and from the UK label Reverb Worship as a limited physical edition. I am now slowly working on Valonkajo (“a faint shimmer of light”, hard to translate…) exploring and expanding the sound of Kultasarvi further.
COVID-19 has pretty much decimated my creative output – and as an artist I am “out of work” right now. I am able to work on my own music, but I have been paralyzed creatively of late, since I draw a lot of inspiration from being out there. And I can’t really be out there. Also, my work with synthesizers in performance arts is on hold, as is the work with the krautrock collective. Let’s hope 2021 will be slightly better.
Are there any metal, folk, or other bands you could recommend to Antifascist Neofolk fans and fans of your work?
At the moment I’m thoroughly in love with Alice Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders, but I could also recommend something like Ali Farka Toure’s “Niafunké”, Harold Budd’s “Avalon Sutra”, Georges Moustaki, Mark Fry’s “Dreaming with Alice”, Perry Leopold’s “Christian Lucifer”, Fela Kuti, Fall of Efrafa’s trilogy of albums (Owsla, Elil, Inle), Luzmila Carpio’s “The Song of the Earth and Stars”, anything by Popol Vuh, Pearls Before Swine, United Bible Studies, David Colohan’s solo work, Bob Theil’s first LP, Clive Palmer’s COB (Moyshe McStiff & The Tartan Lancers of the Sacred Heart + Spirit of Love), Hamza El Din, Jackson C. Frank, Pekka Streng, Renaissance’s “Scheherazade and Other Stories”, first four Red House Painters albums, Jeff Kelly’s “Coffee in Nepal” and “Portugal”, Hildegard von Bingen, Yndi Halda’s “Enjoy Eternal Bliss”, Marja Mattlar, Townes van Zandt, John Dowland, Vashti Bunyan’s first album, William Lawes, Henry Purcell’s “Music for a While”, Roxy Music’s “Avalon”, and of course The Incredible String Band, Coil’s lunar phase albums, Bill Fay, and Gene Clark’s “No Other”.
It’s perfectly fitting for us to announce Nøkken + The Grim’s new album “Black Sparrow Sessions” on Yule, the Winter Solstice, where the light is at it’s shortest and the desparate cold of the arctic forest feels more relatable than ever. Nøkken + The Grim’s has been one of the defining bands of antifasicst neofolk, bringing together a romantic anti-modernism and pagan sensibility with a biting anti-racist, anti-capitalist, and liberatory energy. Don’t let the slow pace of the tracks on “Black Sparrow Sessions” full you: this is a full scale ecstatic revolt.
We are happy to bring a quick interview with Nøkken + The Grim and share both the new album and the video for the incredible leading track, “The Legend of Coyote, First Angry.” The aggressively unsettling strings draw you into a fable, the caustic metaphor that drives all of Nøkken + The Grim’s releases. We have embedded both their music video and the album on Spotify, and have added new tracks to the Antifascist Neofolk Playlist on Spotify.
What’s the concept behind the new album? A lot of our previous albums dealt with themes of desecration of Life, Peoples and Land, both the violence and exploitation and the apocalyptic consequences of such actions. With this album, I feel it is a lot more personal and introspective, focused on the healing that needs to happen in each of us and the fact that healing is painful. It is also more of a celebration of more-than-human life. We had been recording live concerts at Black Sparrow which have been deeply meaningful experiences for us. And the last concert we had there was days before the Covid-19 lockdown. A lot of tracks came from that concert.
What role does the Coyote play in this? I don’t want to say too much about the meaning, and it is really not my place to speak much about Coyote, but I really wanted to honor them with this. They are important in many Native American spiritualities. The act of honoring Coyote is honoring coyotes who are treated horribly as pests by colonizers. It is also respecting the relationship that Native Peoples of this Land have with the spirits and life of it and how they too are subjugated. Coyotes only live in North America and nowhere else, and no matter what violence people do, they keep surviving and refuse to be tamed or erased. They deserve respect in and of themselves, while colonialism only offers them disrespect.
There is a sort of mystery and anxiety in the record. What is the tension that underlies the tracks? I think part of the anxiousness at least comes from who my partner Stephen and I are. We deal with a lot of anxiety ourselves, and there’s also the intensity of these being all live performances. Stephen expressed to me that he thinks that art is a way we process emotions and experiences, and there is a tremendous collective experience of anxiety right now which we might be unconsciously touching upon. For me, the mysteriousness is part of the spiritual subjects at hand. These are other-than-human beings and life, ways of life beyond ourselves who refuse to be tamed by our understanding, just as I feel we can’t and shouldn’t reduce any person in this way.
Where does the horse come from?
That would be telling, haha. I will, however, say that I might be the horse, or rather, I am a horse.
How did 2020 act as an inspiration to the music? What role did organizing and resistance play? Most of this music was written prior to 2020, and we’ve had a number of live recordings we’ve been sitting on already from years ago. But it just felt like it needed to happen now. In any case, all of this didn’t just start in 2020. It was a long time coming. We had stopped making music throughout the beginning of the protests and the pandemic, focusing instead upon what needed to be done. There has been great pain throughout this, and my friends in the BIPOC communities have been suffering. I maybe can’t know the relations that all of this has as we are all a part of it happening still right now. But I think there’s a sense that resistance is part of the process of healing, or at least the first steps towards being able to heal. I have the deepest respect for the movement Black and Indigenous communities have created. It is so much to be able to stand up against brutality after suffering so much of it. I think that a part of resistance is actions towards removing the disease of brutality and subjugation and then healing the wounds it leaves.
In just a matter of months really, Ashera has become one of the defining bands of a new wave of explicitly antifascist neofolk. It is hard to call this a genre since what binds it together is largely not based in the actual sound of music, it is more in a type of negative space. If neofolk has so often been ceded to the far-right, assumed to be a romantic nationalist artform created by and for racists, the very existence of an antifascist neofolk that rejects that world had the effect of being a novelty. Ashera was one of the bands that helped move the concept from a curiosity to a new operative principle. We are now entering an era where hundreds of bands are taking on this mantle, bringing in a massively diverse wave of neofolk, black metal, and intersecting types of music all brought into a kind of (dis)harmony by its disallowal for fascist politics.
Instead, Ashera’s romanticism can be said to be grounded in a type of anticapitalism. Deborah and Justin Norton-Kerston, the two members of Ashera, are both organizers, grounded in the world of labor strikes and eviction defense, so this energy pervades everything they have produced, which has been a lot.
In a lot of ways their new album Rob the Rich shows that neofolk was really just a starting point as they push their way into everything from psych and prog rock to Appalachian hill folk. Genres have a utility, they give us starting points and can spark creativity by allowing a common musical language, but they can also create boundaries that are best when broken. The new 10-song release is a wonderful extension past the limits of antifascist neofolk, which has the effect of both expanding what we could expect from the band and the genre itself. One of the featured tracks, “The Battle of Portland,” is a seamless mix of the noise of the protest confrontations that converged on Portland in the summer of 2020 and the fluid, synthesis driven sound that was the foundation of their first EP, Antifascist Lullabies. Other tracks, such as “All Cops Are Bastards,” feels more like the acoustic “singer-songwriter” melodies that mark the soundtrack for summer hippie festivals and jam-band revivals. Antifascist neofolk is starting to stake its claim not just on a particular lyrical or ideological frame, but also its own distinct relationship with folk music and how it wants to create a 21st century synthesis. Rob the Rich is a vital part of that process.
We interviewed the band about this new release and are happy to embed it here for the first time so that those who have made A Blaze Ansuz something special are able to hear it first. We have also added several tracks to the Antifascist Neofolk Playlist on Spotify, which we will continue to update to allow it to remain an ever-growing space for building the space. Ashera has never shied away from a “contested space,” to be open about who they are in a genre that was not immediately welcoming. That principle-first approach helps to drive the space open for all of us, and we need more bands that will follow Ashera’s example.
What was your thinking going into this new album? How did it evolve from your earlier work?
In terms of thematic concepts, Rob the Rich shares a focus on antifascism with our first EP. The idea here though was to explore some aspects of fascism such as white supremacy, privilege and patriarchy more closely, whereas the Antifascist Lullabies EP was kind of more just revolt and burn it down. I mean that stuff is still there in Rob the Rich too, but that ‘fight the war’ aspect takes a little bit more of a backseat on this album to exploring different aspects of fascism, how they are used, how they affect society, and how we can fight back against them aside from, and in addition to, going out and punching Nazis.
You seem to be branching out past the narrow focus on neofolk. How do you think about genre in the project, and do you feel held back by it?
I don’t think I’ve ever really thought about it as being held back by genre. I love neofolk music and our roots as music collaborators goes back to the first band we were in together, The Cloverfields, which was a pagan neofolk band that played the pagan festival circuit in Southern California. But it has always been hard for me to stick to any particular genre, and I went into writing Rob the Rich with the idea that I wasn’t trying to force it to be a strictly neofolk album. So I just went with it when other stuff like blues, shoegaze, psychedelic, and classical influences started weaving their way in.
There are still some strong elements of neofolk throughout the album that are meant to help keep it in the family, so to speak. The vocals have a lot of reverb on them, for example, and the whole album has a dark folk kind of atmosphere. “Eat Your Landlord” is a good example of a song on the album that has a lot more of a traditional neofolk sound than some of the other tracks. So I guess if I think about it in those terms. I do feel like genre is a bit confining in terms of the art of creating music, at least that’s true for my creative process and direction. It may be helpful for other people and their creative process and that is totally fair and valid too.
How does the year (2020) play a role in the album? It seems like it is a major character in the story.
This album wouldn’t be the same if it hadn’t been composed and recorded in 2020. I started composing the album in late April 2020. Breonna Taylor had been murdered by police in Kentucky the month before, and it was only a few weeks later that police in Minneapolis killed George Floyd, the Black Lives Matter movement erupted again, and the Portland uprising began. All of that played a big role in the album as we explored themes like white supremacy, institutional racism and police brutality, the revolt against capitalism, the growth of anarchism and socialism, and the disturbing spread of neo-fascism. Musically, a lot of the harmonic dissonance in the album is designed to convey the tension and anxiety that I think we’ve all felt this year as a result of the pandemic and all of the socio-political stress around the protests and the election season. Walk us through your production process.
How do you write music and what does recording look like?
A song usually starts as an idea for lyrics, whether it’s a line of verse or just a general theme. Then I’ll sit down with an acoustic guitar and start toying around melodies. Every once in a while a composition will start musically with some sort of hook that I have running through my head.
The title track on Rob the Rich is a good example of that where I had the idea for the guitar hook before the lyrics. Most often though, some of the lyrics come first, and then I sit around humming a line of lyrics while noodling around on the guitar trying to find the right melody and chord progression for the ideas and feelings I want the lyrics and the song to convey.
Once a song is written, the recording process always starts with the ritual of laying down a kick drum beat that I use as a metronome when recording the other instruments. That happens even if the song isn’t going to have any percussion in it. From there I’ll build the song by recording the rhythm section: acoustic guitar, bass, maybe piano. After that I record at least a scratch vocal track of the lyrics and basic vocal melody, and then I build other instruments like lead guitar, banjo, mandolin or baglamas on top of that. If there is any percussion other than the kick drum it usually gets created toward the end, and then once all of that is there we record vocals over it.
Recording vocals always starts with getting a good take for the main melody vocal. Then we play around with different ideas for harmony vocals. We generally record quite a few different harmonies for each song and then decide what we like and want to use later on during mixing. For this album we had a good friend and old bass player of ours at Unit-42 do the mix. So that process was a lot of fun sending tracks back and forth, talking about the songs and shaping them together. And there is a lot of clean up that takes place during the mixing process too. They come back and say hey I want more of this, or you should re-record that, or you know you can do it better. I really enjoy the collaborative aspect of creating music.
How does anticapitalism inform your creative mission? An anticapitalist vision has always been central to Ashera’s music and the kind of culture that we’re trying to foster through the music. It’s the soil that project germinates in. Anticapitalism was certainly a theme of our first EP, and on this new album songs like “Eat Your Landlord” and Rob the Rich are steeped in everyday folk resistance to the forces of capitalism. Even other songs like “Consequences,” “Betray Whiteness,” or “All Cops Are Bastards” explore things like patriarchy, white supremacy, and police violence that are all used, shaped, and in some cases even created by capitalism as tools of oppression that serve to maintain the status quo and ensure its continuance. So in a lot of ways anticapitalism has a strong influence on our creative mission.
Check out the full album here, and their music video for “All Cops Are Bastards” above.
Peace Through Decay’s debut album “Grey Skies Loom” is like a punch in the gut, a stirring and intense piece of auditory propaganda. It has notes of post punk and industrial alongside folk elements and musically could be described as martial industrial and dark apocalyptic folk. With themes of both nihilistic pessimism and hope, PTD stands firm that we won’t “experience peace until the descent into decay, both in physical death and socially and politically, a descent into anarchy…. the overthrowing of tyrants…” namely by taking a stand against fascism. This is militant folk at its most confrontational. Naturally, we wanted to talk to Adam Norvell about PTD, the state of politics, and the possibilities of apocalypse…
Jay Nada: First, can we get a little background on your band? Is this a solo endeavor or do you have collaborators? When did this band begin, and what drove you towards making music?
Adam Norvell: Peace Through Decay came into proper existence this year, although, it technically has been around since 2014 under a different name. I say “proper existence” because its previous incarnation was me experimenting and still learning (and it’s all quite unlistenable!). Names are important to me and I had to pick something that truly resonated with me. I chose Peace Through Decay because I spent a large part of this last year (When I was living back home in Illinois) traveling the countryside in search of abandoned houses and properties and photographing them. Being inside these places conjures so much emotion in me and its peaceful in its absence but can sometimes be terrifying and cruel, but altogether beautiful. My name for this project reflects that, becoming one with nature. Even if twisted and bent out of shape, it’s inevitable and moving.
This is a solo endeavor at the moment but I’m always open to collaborations and adding members if I met people who were interested in joining me. As for what drove me towards making music, in general, I’ve always been artistically inclined and have been drawing since a very young age so the next step for me was music and I started with learning to play the bass when I was fourteen. Then I moved to acoustic guitar and so on until now where I can play most instruments that require plucking, strumming or hitting. I moved towards making neofolk because it has been one of my favorite genres since I was 16 and when I hear something I love, I always want to try creating something in a similar vein but under my lens. I started with making deathrock (and still do make it), but I quickly found I needed to start different projects under different names because trying to fit all the musical ideas and sounds I had under one name just seemed like an awful choice to me and as such, eventually made Feline Decay which turned into Peace Through Decay. I wanted to make this project sound clearly like neofolk but also bring in influences of post-punk, deathrock, goth and anarcho-punk while having a more raw sound with a clear message.
JN: The lyrics evoke a sense of hopelessness and impending collapse of society… can you elaborate on this theme and how does it play into your message?
AN: The lyrics definitely are meant to invoke that, that impending sense of apocalypse, apocalyptic folk as it were. I think thematically it is a mirror of my mind viewing the world as I am witnessing it and my thoughts that correspond with it. There’s many emotions I feel because at one moment I long for this collapse as a catharsis for our dying planet, something we’ve tried to mold and break to our fitting that is going to come back and bury us but I also hope (naively so, perhaps) that we will actually have a mind of realization as people and come together to throw off our chains put on us by capitalism and the affluent rulers who are driving us further and further apart from each other, from our happiness and also nature. I tend to switch back and forth between hope and despair and it depends on the day, really. Nihilism plays a big influence on my music although rather than it stating “nothing matters, so do what you wish” I like the idea of “nothing matters so create more good”. I also want to be clear and say I do not mourn the collapse like other bands in the scene do because I think the whole concept of “the West” is ignorant and it is built on the back of imperialism and privilege. How can the fall of something that divides us be bad?
JN: Your current release is a cacophony of folk, martial and experimental sound. You use a variety of textures and layers. Do you plan (hypothetically of course, in a fantasy world where Covid-19 is no longer a factor) to bring your music to a live setting? If so, how do you hope to do this, and what would be your ideal concert?
AN: I would love to play live one day and have given this a bit of thought but am unsure of how I would proceed since I’ve always focused more on the recording and production aspect of music since I first started writing. Ideally, I’d like at least one other person with me on stage but the dilemma is finding someone who is interested in the genre and would want to join me on stage. I’ve often thought of just using noisescapes and samples while I batter the Tom and yell at people, but I’ve not committed to that idea just yet! We will see, but one day, I’d very much like to. I will add that in lieu of live performances, I am very active in writing and have started recording this first album and also have a split with Autumn Brigade in the works as well.
JN: What is your creative process? Does the music come first, or the lyrics?
AN: My creative process is not something that is concrete but it is different for each of my projects. With Oeace Through Decay I have years of lyrics written down and more still come, but I typically write the music seperate and eventually find what works together the best. There are exceptions to this however as I wrote “Fall Down”, “Bitter Sunlight” and “Arrow In Heart” on the spot with both lyrics and guitar. I find the songs that write themselves to be my favorite because they feel so natural, though, it is a rare occasion that I find that happens.
JN: Do you have any particular influences, or even recommendations, to paint a broader picture of your music? If you were to recommend a piece of art or literature for your listeners to get a better grasp of your music, what would that be?
AN: A great majority of my influence comes from bands like Cult of Youth, Lakes, Rome, Et Nihil/Luftwaffe, Ordo Rosarius Equilibrio and early Death In June. I’m a fan of the sound of toms so martial drumming really hits that spot with me as does deathrock and post-punk and learning more and more about production. I have a great appreciation for good sounding production, especially big sounds like on Flowers From Exile, but also love raw and lofi sounding stuff and sampling. So basically I’m trying to mold all of that together in my own head and on the first release, I kept it simple I think and stayed more in line with the neofolk/martial sound, with acoustic guitars and noise escapes with distorted backgrounds and martial drumming, and I’ll probably keep that for the first album, but I’d like to eventually expand my sound and bring more elements in if I can. Some more not so obvious influences on my work in this project are No Sir I Won’t and Seeming, two projects I admire for their music and their lyrical content and themes. I’m a bit of a music nerd. I must also add the huge influence people close to me have had on me, while not on the sound itself but the making of it, those being my love and fiancè who supports every creative endeavor I seek to complete, my best friend Chase Brockunier who makes his own music here, my sweet artist and dear friend Karl McKnaught who makes very stylized and wonderful art on his Instagram here and lastly my very good and dear friend Matthew Randall who runs Juice Of Mango records and makes great Noise in Crustgirls. They all are the reason I’ve been making so much art and music lately, so I had to include them.
If i were to recommend art or literature to help convey my sound, I’d recommend reading the poetry of Oliver Sheppard as it’s very apocalyptic and downright gothic and both books of his prose are excellent, though I think one is out of print now. If I were to recommend art, I’d recommend any pictures of burning police buildings and looking at physical guillotines (I could recommend a lot of art but I don’t think anything matches my music more than those mentioned).
JN: Can you elaborate on reconciling having projects like Death In June as an influence while not supporting their work or message?
AN: Having started out enjoying their music and then having that realization that they aren’t doing this just as shock tactics, I wanted to be clear in what sort of vein of influence has worked it’s way into my sound. Not outright copying but I wanted to offer something similar to their sound without the guilt of supporting fascism like I eventually felt. I don’t listen to DIJ anymore but I wanted to be honest and show that it’s okay to have started there and realized what you were supporting so that other people might not feel that guilt. I also think it would be great if Douglas or someone saw like “Oh I influenced… wait a minute… antifascists?!”
JN: So, on that notion… A vast majority of the music in this genre purports an apolitical and counter-ideological stance, what do you think of this and why do you think this is? Do you have any particular political tendency, and if so, how does it play a role in your work?
AN: I think it’s honestly ignorant, this whole “apolitical” excuse bands put out as an excuse to make their musics message interesting. It’s no secret that there are fascist leanings in the scene, whether the bands want to admit it or not. I believe in “say what you mean and mean what you say”. I understand keeping a mystery to art, I studied it, but I believe in that with visual art. With music you are communicating something, yes visually, but verbally and musically as well. If you’re going to be provocative, then you must be forward about it, like Throbbing Gristle was. They complain about concerts getting shut down but skirt the issue in their explanations. Just be forward. I don’t know, it’s gotten on my nerves. In the beginning, I had no idea of any connotations because I had dial-up (I lived and grew up in the sticks) and would buy CDs based on little bits I’d hear of it online.
As time went on, I dismissed it because “Well, I’m not fascist and doesn’t make me want to be, so it doesn’t matter” and now I’ve realized that kind of imagery makes an impression on the wrong people, whether it means to or not, so any excuse that doesn’t dismiss it is problematic, especially in these times. One need only to look at the comment sections of their music videos to see the kind of people it attracts. I wanted to be clear from the get go: I’m anti-fascist, anti-racist and anarchist. On my best days, I lean towards socialist ideals like most people my age do but unlike them I don’t think the system is fixable so I lean more towards Collective Anarchism. People cannot be trusted when they are put above you and insanity is repeating the same thing expecting a different outcome. It’s like we forget why we revolt. Basically, I just want people to take care of each other because we have the means to, but it won’t happen, not yet anyway. I’ve always felt I was an outsider and I knew by bringing this message to neofolk, I would be one even more so, but I must say that I was ecstatic to learn about a growing scene with anti-fascist views and messages.
JN: Are you familiar with other openly left wing/antifascist neofolk artists, and if so, do you have any recommendations or favorites?
AN: I am familiar with a few of them and have recently been enjoying Autumn Brigade, Anxiety Of Abraham, Woundresser, April Of Her Prime, Lust Syndicate and DEAES the most, though I still know there are others I have yet to hear and enjoy. I will add that Ordo Rosarius Equilibrio would be a great choice as well, being that Tomas has openly stated they are against racism and fascism, which is always nice to see. I know there are other bigger bands I’m forgetting but that’s what came to my mind immediately.
JN: We are almost at the end of our interview. So, in the spirit of speaking of the end… What is your vision of the future? Not only for this incarnation of the neofolk scene, but the general state of affairs, and do you think music like this has a stake in the culture of tomorrow?
AN: That’s a tough one. I think no matter what, we all have a dark road ahead for the future and that eventually, there will be a light and we will either find that in our destruction and death, or together as people. I guess no matter which way you look at it, we will pass and so will our time and civilization. I take a sort of comfort in accepting that. Take every opportunity to live in the current moment, especially if it’s a happy one. As for this neofolk scene, it’s probably too early to say, but it seems to be growing and I hope it continues on this trajectory. I’d love to see festivals and more collaborations in this scene and it will wax and wane, but I think it’s made it’s place and will always be here now. I definitely believe this music has a stake in the culture of tomorrow and I think that’s been made clear by people who decided to take the step to create music that is antifascist and this style. It’s there for people to take part in both now and for the coming future and this spirit is something that I don’t think will go away.
JN: Thank you for your honest and thoughtful answers. Any last words you want to say to whoever is reading this right this second?
AN: “The future will be borderless, and red and queer and bold, for I was born to make my kind extinct” – S. Alexander Reed
You can check out Peace Through Decay’s album “Grey Skies Loom” below from Bandcamp. They are not on Spotify yet, but still remember to subscribe to the Antifascist Neofolk Playlist on Spotify for other great projects.
We are happy to collaborate for a project from the Left/Folk collective, pulling together antiracist and radical neofolk musicians in a project to raise money for the Black Lives Matter National Bail Fund. You can buy the album directly on Bandcamp or you can send over your receipt for a donation directly to the National Bail Fund.
IN SOLIDARITY: Songs of Struggle and Liberation puts together a motley crew of Left/Folk (antifascist neofolk) artists from across the Americas and across the ocean for a great cause. This compilation of songs, curated by the Left/Folk collective in collaboration with A Blaze Ansuz, is a showcase of artists working within the post-industrial/neofolk aural tradition without compromise to apolitical and far-right influences within the neofolk scene. The music on this compilation ranges from lyrically driven folk to mythic and cinematic instrumental pieces, always bridging the gap between these forms of music and a wide range of leftist political traditions. The artists on this compilation are uncompromising in their political ideals and their creative integrity. These are folk songs for the struggles we face in 2020, a logical evolution of protest folk music merging with post-industrial music culture. With artwork featuring images of abolitionist John Brown and symbols of militant international cooperation, this compilation is a signal to those who are navigating the complicated musical landscape of this era that another world is possible… a world that is willing to face injustice and push back against the sociopolitical corruption that is coagulating into fascist movements across the planet.
The time is now, not later, as the social clock marches toward midnight… the light of liberty grows ever dimmer. Left/Folk is a call to action and an establishment of an alternative future, through contextualizing the past and identifying the present. If you are reading this, it is likely that you are aware that neofolk has a long and sordid history of far-right implication, complacency, and infiltration. Left/Folk seeks to change this paradigm, to shift both perception and intention in a direction devoid of such elements. Left/Folk is in many ways, a logical synonym to antifascist neofolk. It is a pointed identifier, that divorces the pursuit of neofolk from the baggage of neofolk, without ignoring the cultural history or purging the music of its own aural character or revolutionary potential.
The Left/Folk collective recognizes this in the context of what we are seeing as a growing chaos in the streets, and an amplified show of force by the State that feeds off this polarization. As society in the US is in freefall, as protesters and press are beaten and arrested in the streets, as the people cry out for justice, it is becoming clearer and clearer that to be inactive is to be complacent. Folk music has long been a vehicle for political ideas, for change, for affirmation, for action. In 2020, we are faced with the necessity to act, in any capacity, even if many people are relegated to distanced, quarantined measures of mutual aid. Violence in the streets, repression in our communities, and continuous acts of protest are all part of the political atmosphere. Art must reflect this brutal reality; it is no longer time for pretending it is not there. Until we exist in an equitable society, until it is truly established that Black Lives Matter, and that we refuse to live in a police state.
Proceeds of this compilation will go towards The National Bail Fund Network in support of Black Lives Matter and ongoing protests in the struggle against systemic racism and State repression. When members of the press and citizens practicing their rights are targeted by the police, beaten and arrested in droves, we cannot stand by in silence. The National Bail Fund Network is a national project that works with organizers, advocates, and legal providers across the country that are using, or contemplating using, community bail funds as part of efforts to radically change local bail systems and reduce incarceration.
IN SOLIDARITY: Songs of Struggle and Liberation becomes available at midnight, officially, October 2nd via leftfolk.bandcamp.com for #bandcampfriday