From an Imagined Past: An Interview With April of Her Prime

The quiet simplicity of April of Her Prime is what first stood out to me, a dark folk act born out of the solitary world of solo ambient music. Their distinct sound is born out of complex and conflicting philosophies, the instinct to destroy and to build up anew, and is always created from the instinct to experiment and challenge. Their four albums should be on every neofolk fan list, even if it pushes at the bounds of where dense, melodic ambient music hits the neofolk canon.

We interviewed Italian musician Michele Catapano of April of Her Prime about his musical process, where the inspiration comes from, and what drives the spirit of artistic rebellion.

 

How did April of Her Prime come together? How did you first conceive of the project.

Well, about 3 years ago some profound changes had a certain impact on my, so to speak, “self consciousness,” and this is how one day I ran into classic neofolk. I was truly captivated by the simplicity and yet the depth and intimacy that few acoustic guitar chords could express. Shortly after I realized that I couldn’t have found a more direct, genuine and at the same time “not – easy listening” way to express myself through a song. This is how April of Her Prime was born, picking the name of the project from a verse of Shakespeare’s Sonnet III, which says much more than anything else…

 

Is it an entirely solo project? How do you record it? What instruments are you using?

April of Her Prime is and always will be a solo project. In fact, it is born essentially because of my solo artistic experience, I didn’t find any musician to share the project with. Maybe it is way too personal and if someone else had come across, I would have been tyrannical, ahahah. 

There’s still place for a band, but not under the “April…” name. Plus, the project is almost no cost. I only use a handheld recorder, some (light) pc editing and just the right (or wrong, it depends on the point of view) mood. 

As April of Her Prime, I go entirely acoustic: guitar, drum, sometimes a flute and the singing of the birds, the music of the streams flowing under a dome of dancing leaves. 

My ambient works are a bit different, and though they are part of the same “Weltanschauung,” they still have a different nature, so I prefer to distinguish them from April of Her Prime, using simply the line “from April of Her Prime’s Michele Catapano.” On this, I go mostly with electric guitar (as in “Radio Hiraeth”) and heavily distorted and edited sounds and samples (as you can hear in “De Inferis”, for example), but I also made an entirely acoustic short play named “Haikustic.” Besides the instrumental and technical aspects, the real difference is “ontological”, in a way.  

 

The songs feel almost like an ambient collage. What is the inspiration behind it

The main inspiration for my music in general comes from a deeply, cosmic pessimistic view, very keen to the one expressed by poet Giacomo Leopardi, a man who has been truly significative to my life on many levels (despite the fact that he’s actually dead… or maybe exactly because of it). The entire life and work of Carmelo Bene have been really decisive, too. 

The point is: man is not the great thing he always thinks he is – or I’d better say “he had always thought,” because the COVID emergency seems, at least, to teach him a lesson. Of course this is a tragedy – lots of people are dying or even left to die in America because someone decided they’re no more useful than others or because they don’t have the money, and I myself cannot reach my beloved ones because of the quarantine, but what I say is: once for all, let man learn from his mistakes and misconceptions…

On a more personal level, I think nostalgia for a different time and a different life, one that may have never actually existed anyway, plays the most important part. And solitude surely does a lot, too… haha. 

Speaking of the style, I just love ambient music. I think Basinski, Hecker, and the whole work of David Tibet at first, just to name a few, or the more industrial Nocturnal Emissions and Coil, Cabaret Voltaire, Ulver, but also Boards of Canada and black metal acts, especially Agalloch, or the solo works of Steven Von Till and Scott Kelly, or even the Italian psychedelic and prog scene… It is a really wide wing of artists that I tend to define “ambient”, across the genres, that have an influence on me at any level. It’s hard to give you a more precise answer, haha. 

 

Why do you choose to mostly not do vocals?

First, I don’t like my voice very much, and second, I usually don’t have anything to say that’s not already been said by others before me – in movies, documentaries, poems and so on – or that you can’t reach just by listening to the music, in which case if you can’t, well, it’s just how the things go and it’s exactly what my music is about, after all.

 

 

Why is it important to be an antifascist artist?

The answer here is very simple (yet the implications are not): art can be too personal to be explicitly political, but it’s never entirely apolitical. 

But this doesn’t mean, as much as I can say, that a right wing person is also a right wing artist, I mean someone that produces right wing art or propaganda: it all depends on the social and cultural context in which the work of art is born. Art is made by the artist, but it always expresses the nuances of the “system” or “the actual state of things”, that can be left or right. 

In times like these, I think it’s better to avoid a great number of wannabe-rebels dressed in military code, fucking around with drumsticks and trumpets…

Anyway, generally speaking, as philosopher Antonio Gramsci understood and Carmelo Bene expressed, all art is always the art of the bourgeoisie, so it’s good to “fly away” from it, in a certain sense. 

That’s why, along with other reasons, I don’t see myself as an artist and, for what concerns me, that’s exactly where my antifascism takes place: a refusal of the state of things (or the State, with capital S), of violence even in its “soft” and “intellectual” form, from social life to political philosophy or theory (and so a refusal of, let’s say, the Anthropocene). I’m an anarchist. The triumph of weakness, that’s it. 

 

Why do you think it’s important to stand up to fascism in the music scene?

Fascism grows where ignorance lies, and pop culture is just the fertile soil for ignorance to put its seeds. Think about the right wing meme culture on the Internet… And the effect it had on elections, even here in Italy, where fake news ruled the country for a couple of years, recently. It’s important to fight fascism because it spreads so easily, and art is always the strongest (and… sneaky!) way to do so. But, speaking in the terms of antifascist philosopher Benedetto Croce, there’s no ideology in art and, if so, there’s no art at all, it’s just propaganda. And this is even more true in the case of fascist “art”. In my personal experience, I noticed that, luckly, fascist “art” often boycotts itself: it’s so kitch and ridiculous (like some modern “futurists” i saw around) that no one takes it seriously – not even right wing voters, most of the times…

Anyway, it is a good thing to express clearly one’s distance and repulsion from fascism or racism in art, especially in the neofolk scene (which we all know is problematic) like Einar Selvik from Wardruna, a very successful band, did.  Music in general, that is so easily and largely fruited by anyone, has the weakest skill of defense against fascism and yet grants it the strongest spread – all who have something to do with music, on any level, should defend it.

 

How do folk traditions play into your project?
I’m not a traditionalist, it’s a bunch of bullshit. Most of the so called “traditions” shouted out loud by the right are usually totally made up and fake: from the magical meaning of the runes in nazism, to the supposed “oratores – bellatores -laboratores” historical social system according to Dumézil. And anyway, that’s not true that what once was shall ever be or it is right for it to be (I mean… slavery or antisemitism should be pretty explicative). 

But folk culture, in particular the magic culture of the countryside in Lucania (my homeland), are, I would say, essential to my project. Speaking of which, the work of anthropologists like Ernesto De Martino or the film maker documentarist Luigi Di Gianni are almost vital, in that sense (if you’re interested in such pictures, I recommend you my YouTube channel Oktober Equus Industries where I put some of my songs’ music videos).

A long, forgotten story of deep respect for Mother Nature, that can evolve almost in a Lovecraftian sense of sublime reverence to Her in some cases, and of absence. Yes, I would summarize the whole Lucanian existence as an aesthetic of Absence. My work as a tribute to Absence. 

 

What’s Coming Next for You?

Something’s coming. I’m collecting some ideas and things I already recorded but that need something additional to them, I’m waiting for the right time to come… Anyway, stay tuned!

 

What other artists/bands would you recommend for antifascist neofolk bands?

Well, let’s start from a great classic, first of all: ROME, of course. Then I’d suggest DEAES, great band, and Nathan Gray for sure (“Nthn Gry” in particular, in my opinion, is pure gold, everybody should have it). A great post-punk band of the past, sadly almost unknown for what I can see, is And Also The Trees, which I think can fit pretty well the taste of neofolk fans in general. 

Last but not least, especially for the Italian readers, I strongly recommend the whole “Folk” series edited by the label Fonit Cetra in the 70s, a collection of traditional and rural Italian folk tunes (re)discovered and re-arranged by Italian folk musicians like Canzoniere Internazionale, Rosa Balistreri and expecially the singer and ethnomusicologist Caterina Bueno, a real heroine. 

The work of Matteo Salvatore is also a real treasure anyone interested in pure, sensitive music should discover, especially the fans of acoustic strums. His music was our own “blues”, in a certain way. Beautiful. 



The Dark Ambient Duo Outer Gods Redefining What Music Can Be [INTERVIEW]

If there was Seidr to be had on the mountaintop of an imagined future, Outer Gods would be sound that comes from inside your body after dosing.  For several years (and twelve albums and EPs) two solo musicians out of Atlanta, going by The Flail and The Wrathe, respectively, have brought together their two opposing dynamics to clash in beautiful and often violent soundscapes.  Emerging out of the world of ‘experiment'(they hate that word) dark ambient, Outer Gods exists on the sort of edges of musical genre that we hoped to capture perfectly.

Inspired by avant garde composers of the 19th and 20th century, Japanese noise music, the industrial iconoclassism of Throbbing Gristle, and a library of music that could overwhelm you, they have create a duality to their music that is simultaneously enraptured in a crushing drone and almost atonal confrontations.  What we mean is what they have come up with is something nobody could predict and constantly redefines itself, which is why we had to talk with them about what has been driving this project these years.

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How did Outer Gods come together?

:The Flail: We had been playing music off an on in several different projects, both together and in the same orbit. I cannot recall as to what was the initial impetus for Outer Gods to take shape, though we were not strangers to collaboration – we had begun working on soundscapes as a duo and things gradually began to take shape.

:The Wrathe: I had played in several bands that sounded nothing like Outer Gods with The Flail. Our recording collaborations had been going in a darker direction, but really it was the sessions that became our first demo (“The Mountains Den”) that crystalized a sound. The basic duality of The Flail and The Wrathe emerged during those sessions as well (strings vs electronics), though we both have played a lot of different instruments on Outer Gods recordings. The demo and the band co-created each other essentially.

 

There is a really overwhelming quality to your work, long songs that sort of consume the listener.  What drives this type of emotive experience for you?

:The Flail: There is, for my part, a compulsion to become lost into oblivion. It is a tightrope on creating pieces that grow and bloom organically but are tempered by the gardener’s thumb. Practitioners of Zen Buddhism know this well; to be conscious and intentional in the drive towards such a feeling is to have it remain forever on the horizon – if the vessel is already full, nothing more can be added. Conversely, John Cage made mention of his distaste for being described as “experimental” as experiments are what winds up being thrown out in the bin on the way towards a final product.

To return to the garden analogy, one must allow the roots to take hold and blossoms to sprout but not fear to take the hoe or shears where need be. Leo Shestov commented that our understanding of the world is akin to being lost in a dark forest, illumination coming only from flashes of lighting or sparks as one beats their head as they wander. In these moments one can see, albeit briefly, the landscape and shape of things. It is the experience of the blind gardener.

:The Wrathe: A lionshare of our material I see in a very “cinematic” context. The individual emotions I felt during the composition kind of felt almost ancillary to the overall cinematic mood each recording aspires to. To create something longform, you sometimes have to be willing to pack a lot of different emotions and experiences into a piece. Our live shows always aimed at bringing the listener into a collective moment, much of the time through sheer volume. But the records wanted to bring people into the sound in a different, more layered way. Our longer tracks are taxing to create, finding a balance in all the sounds is always difficult when trying to present an immersive listening experience.

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What bands inspired you in doing the work?

:The Flail: There is the compulsion to kill one’s idols but also to acknowledge that we do not operate in a vacuum. Even the action of moving against something or attempting to transgress is implicitly acknowledging the influence it holds. One of the worst things that an artist can do, and indeed even an individual, is to hold too much deference to inspirations otherwise they become merely a parrot or cheap imitator of something which will always maintain a form of superiority by virtue of its primacy. Though it would be churlish to say that there are not bands which heavily informed the work.

But this can be eclectic – case in point, I have always loved the low bass tones one finds in the kick drum from Southern Hip Hop or the atmospheric qualities of a band like Cocteau Twins but it would be ludicrous to say that there is an attempt to emulate these forms as such. We both have very eclectic tastes, not just in music, but all forms of art. To list a catalog of bands and artists that inspired the work would be legion. Some are apparent: SUNNO))), Boris, Lustmord, Tim Hecker, Edward Elgar, Arvo Part, Steve Reich, Belong, John Cage, Sleep, Tibetan Chanting, Merzbow, Darkthrone, John Fahey, Jack Rose, Current 93, Nurse with Wound…as you can see, the list could go on and on, each piece adding to the tapestry.

But where one thread ends and another begins would be to dismantle the entirety of the formation. Ascribing an etiological framework to the work only gets to a certain point and neglects the metaphysical dimension – as discussed in the works of Artur Schopenhauer – the pieces that go into constructing to the final work do not speak to the work as the thing in and of itself. This is not to say that the work is isolated, but rather, any great work of Art contains something which not only brings into itself all the inspirations, both conscious and unconscious but moves onto its own plateau.

:The Wrathe: At the end of 2005 I took a trip to NYC and ended up bringing home a backpack full of compact discs, the two most personally important being SUNN O)))’s album “Black One” and Hellhammer’s album  “Apocalyptic Raids.” I had already been listening to more academic drone (Tony Conrad and William Basinski) but SUNN O))) changed my mind as to just what “Drone” could be. Hellhammer is drastically important to me because I finally saw that Metal doesn’t have to be “perfect” sounding. “Apocalyptic Raids” is a raw, fuzzed-out record; it rocks just as much as the Stooges but in a defiant and ugly way.

In the early years of Outer Gods, I would play COIL’s “Time Machines” or Factrix’s “Scheintot” on one stereo and Death’s “Scream Bloody Gore” on another all simultaneously and just listen to the cacophony for hours. Throbbing Gristle and Black Sabbath were getting equal attention on the turntable, much to the dismay of my old roommates… one ended up having nightmares during my weeklong re-listen to TG’s “24 Hours of Gristle” box set. Gothic horror cinema is of course the other major element of influence. Many of our recording sessions went late into the night with images of Paul Naschy or Christopher Lee on the television behind us.

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How did you develop your sound, and how do you define it?

:The Flail: I would be hesitant to describe any method of development, at least one that is self-aware. As with a person, the experiences and interactions they have will invariably shape who they are at that moment. But this only ceases at the moment they become a corpse, devoid of subjectivity, an object amongst things. We do not experience our own decay as such, and likewise, we do not experience our development in real time. Only through self-reflection of our psychology are we able to come to terms with ourselves as a coherent form.

Most of our work has emerged from long-form jams, letting the music flow and taking us where it will. As whirling dervishes seek to commune with Allah, or Buddhist chants strive for enlightenment, at its core, there is an approach towards a Divine Nothingness. It is sometimes churlish for the artist to define themselves, this seems a role more appropriate for the critical eye. Whereas at the beginning of black metal there was a determined motivation to create something new and distinct the chains of post-modernity and the Hegelian-end of Art in the Western sense (i.e. the examination of the plastic arts in Arthur Danto) makes such self-definition a complicated matter.

Perhaps I am too personally averse to labels, which may be a byproduct of my own individual privilege in a certain sense. Definitions emerge out of the gaze of the Other, to determine what is of a kind and what is not of a kind. In truth, the sounds that have emerged and taken shape have done so organically, as with the garden. Seeds are planted and cared for and only when they have begun to stretch beyond the bounds of what we desire aesthetically are they tended to. Many a late night watching Hammer Horror films and manipulating sounds, not with a distinct purpose but for the sound itself, has provided us with a wealth of material to work with. To return to the idea of inspirations, perhaps it can be imagined that other bands and artists have served as vessels which are shattered against the wall – and amongst the disparate shards and pieces, we attempt to create a mosaic.

:The Wrathe: Experimenting with sound has been the one united approach amongst many in the writing of music for this project. There were countless moments where we said something like “what if this organ could sound more like a guitar?” In those moments of mutation, we found different ways to approach making songs. Genre has always been unforgiving for us, trying to label the band during releases leaves a lot to be desired. But I would say calling it “experimental drone” or even “experimental ambient industrial” are not too removed. I do think you see a defined arc of sound throughout the records. Our early recordings and first album are all harsher, more lo-fi. Anno Metuo II through Ascend Unto the Seventh Throne are all longform epic pieces.  And Inauguration of a Dying Sun, Dismal Rift and Severed Together have been more synthesizer-driven soundtrack leaning work.

 

Do you see this project as inherently tied to politics, or collective liberation?

:The Flail: Not inherently, no. That is to say that it is not a conscious intention to put forward a political message. But Aristotle described politics as the interaction of humans amongst humans within society. From this it must be said then that everything is political, even the espousal of an apolitical stance is a form of politics. Though the issues of politics in its most apparent and understood form, or that of liberation, may not be presently manifest or intended, I cannot say that it is not there. To speak personally it is more about being authentic to one’s self and creation and allowing the chips to fall where they might. In Oscar Wilde’s Man Under the Spirit of Socialism, he defended a socialist political stance out of the desire for the creation of art; the materiality of capitalist structures thwarts art. Firstly, that when one struggles merely for survival there is not the time for the creation of Art – we are estranged from our species-being, in the Marxist sense.

Secondly, and related to this, the creation of art becomes tied to its value as a commodity – the anathema of Art. Yet even these stances have within them a dangerous seed that can lead to elitism. Towards this, the idea of collective liberation is that which would allow art to form, exist, and thrive on its own terms, unbeholden to the market, gate-keepers, or dogmas.

:The Wrathe: I see the role of art as being about a type of liberation, namely a liberation of people’s generalized perceptions. Art can help the “other” express a point of view that might otherwise not be understood by larger cross sections of people. There are many cultures/perspectives I have gotten to know better through art, unique perspectives I would not have otherwise had any real exposure to.

 

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How did the Desolate Moon Phases project come together, and what was the thinking behind it?

:The Wrathe: DMP came together after I randomly met a couple musicians at a Minneapolis record store who had similar taste in Dungeon Synth, older Black Metal and Japanese horror comics. It is probably a little more inherently “dark ambient” than any of the Outer Gods recordings, and more tape-loop/music concrete leaning. Because of the number of different collaborators/instruments, it has an effect of walking through a large house with many different rooms. I went into DMP with the intent of making different tracks in different ways and trying to find overlap in hindsight, and the freewheeling approach yielded plenty of sonically interesting results.

 

What drives your commitment to antifascism in this music?  

:The Flail: I have never liked bullies, nor have I liked those who mistake their idiocy as a form of cleverness. Fascism is a reactionary movement, it is one of the herd, reaching towards some self-constructed mythic past that never existed. They are lambs who masquerade as eagles. We are fortunate to have never really encountered white supremacists personally. No one whom we have shared a stage with (at least to my knowledge), or conversed with, have held these views forward. I find the entire idea of white supremacy to be utterly laughable, especially in a pagan context.

Firstly, the idea of “whiteness” is one that emerges only in the expanse of European Colonialism under the auspices of Christendom. What does Odin have to do with Jove? What does the cultural history of the Alemani have to do with the Gaels? This process of a buffet style of paganistic thinking only occurs by virtue of the universalism that the Catholic Church brought with it by the hammer and sword of Charlemagne and Constantine. These so-called pagans who speak of an anachronistic idyll are merely reactionary phenomena whose existence is only allowed by that which they espouse to hate. Their whole reason for being is defined upon the construction of others that they can place themselves against. Whether it is anti-Semitism, anti-Christian, anti-Muslim, it is the revelation that they are too weak to have any meaning outside of an opposition. Nietzsche said that one can tell the greatness of a beast by how many parasites it can endure. If this is the case, then far from operating from a place of strength and power as they imagine themselves, they are merely admitting that their ideas are so weak, so void of any vibrancy or vitality, that they cannot stand on their own.

And to hear people who strum on the guitar, which developed in part from the Almohad Caliphate in Iberia, brought to the “New World,” and further developed by indigenous and enslaved populations to form the roots which even permit the very genres they wish to use as an ideology is a proof that far from being a threat, multiculturalism has allowed their very Existence.

The British comedian Stewart Lee has a bit about UKIP and other anti-immigration groups, and their sheer idiocy. The entirety of human civilization has been formed not in isolation but out of the interconnectedness of various peoples.

:The Wrathe: I have zero interest in entertaining doctrines based around ignorant racist or nationalist belief systems. Technology and progress can be made by cooperation. Global culture is now interconnected in a transparent open way (by the internet), but on many levels it always has been interconnected. People looking to the past for the “right way” to live are looking in the wrong direction, we need to be looking to the future.

 

Why do you think it is important to be a publicly antifascist band?  How does antifascism inform your music?

:The Flail: Much like the late 19th and early 20th century, fascism (or proto/crypto-fascism) emerges out of the failure of the dominant political system. It is an attempt to give meaning to the senseless. But it is a regression, one which can never be wholly actualized. It is the hallmark of individuals who cannot bear their own weakness, and rather than traverse and overcome the frailty, fallibility, and insecurity that all people feel – for we cannot be everything and we must die – seeks to make ruins of the world so that they may become kings of the ashes.

:The Wrathe: Our music exists as a vehicle to explore something outside one’s self. There is a great emptiness in that void, a space for the mind to offer a different type of perspective. Fascism as a personal philosophy offers one limited world-view. But art asks a viewer to perceive in another way, and in so is inherently dangerous to dogma like fascism. The obvious examples of how Fascism approaches art can be seen in the ways the Nazis and Italian fascists destroyed progressive art. You cannot be in favor of progressive art and a fascist at the same time, it is dissonant.

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What other social issues play into your music?  There is a strong sense of a need to a return to a cyclical, grounded way of life in communities.

:The Flail: As mentioned above, any social issues manifest more from the virtue of existing rather than conscious espousal of ideology. The great debate amongst philosophers of history has always been whether human civilization traverses through time in a linear or cyclical fashion. To this, I cannot answer one way or the other. We are but ghosts, condemned to bodies. To assume that one can fight against the great deluge of entropy, which will consume all in due course by clinging towards a false sense of superior identity is to either be ignorant of that which truly binds all peoples together – that we must die.

:The Wrathe: I do think people have (in sometimes wildly different ways) struck out looking for the idea of “community” in new definitions. How music plays into that is of course something that is very hard to have perspective on, but perhaps the search itself is part of humanity’s permanent identity. In our generations we have used culture like music to forge communities (at shows, in online forums, talking at record stores), even if those communities are based around a collective alienation. Drone does offer a certain collective and immersive experience, but it is very hard to define beyond that because of the ephemeral nature of listening.

 

What’s coming next for you?

:The Wrathe: The Desolate Moon Phases album Heathenstones is coming out on Atlanta’s Stickfigure Recordings in May. In the coming months, I am producing an album or EP for my friend Sole Servant’s dungeon synth/dark ambient project MELOK TYR (he plays synths on the DMP album). This summer I have a couple mixing/mastering projects for Minneapolis experimental metal bands Past Dawn and Azael, which I am definitely looking forward to. My long running solo project Sareth Den has a full length that’s been slowly gestating this past year, hopefully it will finally see the light of day.

 

What other bands do you recommend for antifascist neofolk fans?

:The Wrathe: If you have not stumbled across Popol Vuh in your musical travels, I can highly recommend their 1970s work. The discography spans all manner of sounds, from pastoral folk to cosmic synthesizers, mantra chanting to psychedelic jams. If you are unsure where to begin, try “Hosianna Mantra” from 1972 (or their debut if synthesizers are more your interest). Some people probably primarily know them for their impressive soundtrack work for Werner Herzog, but the album work is just as important and just as good. For something newer(ish), I would suggest the first Entrance album, “The Kingdom of Heaven Must be Taken By Storm.” Not all folk albums are created equally… this album offers a kind of raw, borderline anti-folk-in-moments sound, but taken together it is a supremely beautiful and oddly cosmic experience.

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We are putting several Outer Gods tracks below from their large discography, and we encourage you to check out their Bandcamp and really dive into their work.  We put a track from the side project Desolate Moon Phases about (we will cover their album when it is released), and check out Sarath Den (we will also cover that new album when it is released).  We have also added to Outer Gods tracks to our Antifascist Neofolk Playlist on Spotify!

The Quiet Consumes You: An Interview With Evergreen Refuge

There is a world of neofolk music so indebted to subtlety and emotion that it almost sounds as if someone tapped in to the slow hum of the forest.  Within this world there is the trend towards the single-vision solo project, often done with intense introspection and a nod towards its own meditative quality.  The solo project is an often under-rated mode inside of genres, often seen as a “side project,” but it has the ability of really exploring the extremes in its lack of group compromise.

This may be why the project Evergreen Refuge resonated so much with us, because it does not seek to placate its audience.  Instead, the long, nature inspired tracks force the listener on a journey, longer than most, and with a lot of unpredictable mountains to cross.

We interviewed Evergreen Refuge recently about what really drove this incredible musical diversion from the norm, and how their radical animism and antifascist is at the heart of this solo journey.

 

So can you tell me how this project started?  Is this your first musical project?

Evergreen Refuge was born initially out of a desire to express feelings and thoughts I’ve had while in the wild and as an outlet for spirituality regarding nature. As with all music projects I begin, I also wanted to make music that I wanted to hear. It is not really my first project, though it’s certainly the first “fleshed out” project. My first foray into music was actually in much more of the electronic and ambient music world.

 

How do you define your music?  It is incredibly varied, sometimes ambient, sometimes uses folk traditional music, sometimes descends into industrial noise.

You know, that’s funny actually. Like you mentioned, Evergreen Refuge albums vary quite a bit in their “genres”. Though there is definitely a base of “black metal” throughout a number of them, I feel very much on the outside of black metal. I feel more, at its core, that Evergreen Refuge is an ambient project that incorporates elements of folk music, black metal, and post-rock.

 

The first thing that will strike people is the long, paced, songs.  Why have you chosen to do these long orchestral tracks?

The long songs are an attempt to invite the listener to be immersed within the piece. When I listen to music, I oftentimes prefer to sit down and give an album my full attention, when possible. Each album is supposed to offer some introspection or reflection for the listener, just as it does for me as the creator, albeit in a very different way. I also write music in this manner. Evergreen Refuge pieces are conceived as one track that has been created over the course of up to several months.

 

How do you think your project relates to the larger neofolk scene?

In the beginning I was definitely inspired by a handful of neofolk or dark folk artists, especially the ones that expressed a deeper connection to the natural world. Being somebody who has always identified with the more “pagan”/animistic philosophies, I was initially drawn to neofolk that had these aspects as well. In addition, There are some elements to what I make that could possibly be labeled as “neofolk”. It is a genre I have felt part of but not really, similar to black metal, like I mentioned previously.

 

I loved the collaboration with Twilight Fauna, can you tell me a bit about how that came together and what the goal was?

Paul has been a dear friend–hell, he’s been family–for years now. We have had a deep connection and have collaborated on a few things, including our project Arête. We kind of decided pretty spontaneously to do that split together. I believe the label that put it out, The Fear and the Void, first reached out to Paul about it. They wanted it to be their first release. Paul had this idea of making pieces kind of based around the changing season and how it connects to us. I had been meditating on the ideas that became the basis of my piece, “Light Seeker, Dawn Bringer”, since the previous yule and decided to channel that into the music. I have had a pretty firm stance on only doing splits with people that are good friends. This is for a number of reasons, but one of those is just that to me a split is kind of intimate. It’s an interesting way to forge a bond between two or more people, which I think was certainly true with that split in particular. 

Do you feel like antifascist and revolutionary politics runs deep in the music, if a little hidden from its outward face?

I am a political person and my art is deeply political too, despite it being instrumental music. Although my music may not express political messages per se, it’s almost always informed by politics in a way. A lot of musicians tend to shy away from revealing their politics or taking a stand these days, and I find this bothersome. I am not necessarily interested in telling people what to think, however I am firmly against oppression and I’d rather be up front about it in a way. I am not interested in having fans who are complacent in the oppression of the ones I hold dearly. These days especially, I think people need to be standing up for what they believe in. I guess if you truly believe in what you say, you ought to actually stand up for it.

 

Why do you think it is important to be a public antifascist musician?

Art is a breeding ground for politics of all kinds, whether people want to believe that or not. There is a tendency within black metal (and neofolk) circles to talk about being “apolitical” and whatnot, yet it seems more and more nationalists are drawn to black metal and neofolk. I think there’s some correlation here. People don’t seem to realize that the “apolitical” claim draws people with sketchy politics in because they can use it to hide behind. In addition, it’s not “just politics”. Some of the political views I’ve witnessed people having in circles like these have very directly harmful implications to the people I love. So, of course I believe in taking a stand on that. Because I believe it’s a real problem. It’s not role playing. People seem to forget that. And, like I said, neofolk and black metal circles these days are quite volatile politically. I have grown pretty tired of artists not taking a stand. These days, I am more drawn to bands that make a stand and am more likely to listen to a band that is up front about being against oppression. I know I’m not the only one who feels that way.

 

How does pagan or folk spiritual practice inform the music?

I am very guided by my own spiritual practices, and Evergreen Refuge is part of as well as the result of those practices. My beliefs fall in line more with animism and buddhism, rather than anything traditionally “pagan”, though it does fall under that umbrella in a way. I guess I am not at all interested in any worship of “gods” or anything like that. Each piece I do is the result of my own personal spiritual experiences but I try to leave it open for interpretation, so that others may connect with it in ways that are more along their spiritual path. Like I said, I’m not really interested in telling people what to think, per se. However, each album has a central meditation and I hope people spend time to connect with it in a way that helps them along their own personal journey. The world is so horribly sick finding connection with the earth and each other is incredibly important now more than ever. I hope my music can bring some light into this world.

 

What’s next for you?

I am always working on something, be it with Evergreen Refuge or the many other projects I have. I will say that I somewhat recently completed the recording of a new full-length. It is quite a bit different, being entirely acoustic and pretty minimalistic. I am extremely proud of it though and it definitely represents a new chapter for Evergreen Refuge. It will be some time before this sees the light, due to the fact that I just released a full-length on the equinox. I also recently completed a piece that I am very excited to share, hopefully by winter. It will be part of a split, I am hoping. But I won’t say much more about it just yet. Despite recently releasing the tenth full-length for this project, it is still very active for now. The future beyond that, as always, is uncertain.

We are putting several tracks from the Evergreen Refuge Bandcamp below, and included their collaboration Twilight Fauna above.  We will be adding tracks from the Evergreen Refuge/Twilight Fauna collaboration to the Antifascist Neofolk Playlist on Spotify!  Please add the playlist anyway, there are great newly added tracks on there and we will be adding more regularly.



Chamber Music and Memory: An Interview with Deliverer

Modern music has lost the ability to play a tone to its logical conclusion, to allow extended sounds to drive a narrative structure that can draw out feelings like dread and drama.  The orchestral-neofolk solo project Deliverer rests entirely on competing tones, achieved by recentering the accordion into a drawn out baroque sound that feels equal part Hammer films soundtrack and Eyes Wide Shut house band, and we mean that as a huge compliment.

We were able to speak with Adam Matlock, the artist behind Deliverer, on what drives his sounds, the influence of Jewish cultural music and black spirituals, and how antifascism has to remain central to his work given his own identity.

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How did Deliverer first come together?  Did the project have an earlier incarnation?
I work a lot in the style of dungeon synth, which is often similarly in the orbit of black metal/extreme metal in the way that neofolk is. At some point I was practicing some riffs on the accordion, and the acoustic sound was very alluring, so I started recording and composing on the spot. It was something I’d wanted to do for awhile, and as I wrote it, a story came together that it felt like I needed to tell.
You can see where pagan folk traditions have such a heavy influence in how neofolk has developed, and what keeps drawing people to it.  Were you drawn to folk music traditions when forming Deliverer?
I have always felt a connection to old folk traditions, although I never had a ton of personal connection through them in my upbringing – so many of them I have admired from a distance. But it is also so easy for these things to get wrapped up in nationalism that has also kept me a bit removed from them. There are many Black American folk magic and pagan traditions that I don’t have as much connection to.
I’m especially a fan of Scandinavian and similarly influenced projects like most of what Einar Selvik is connected to, Ulver’s Kveldssanger and the like. But I’ve also looked to bands like Deveykus and Zeal and Ardor who have tried to incorporate Hasidic music and Black spirituals respectively into a metal sound, insisting on making space for themselves and their sounds in the larger umbrella of the scene.
How did you develop your sound, and how do you define it?  What instruments do you use?
I had always wanted to make Neo folk, but never did because I didn’t play guitar. But as I’ve gotten older I guess I’ve been able to get less attached to my specific expectations of a sound or a project, so, getting purely beyond the very limited Scandinavian or English folk influences that often show up in neofolk. Once I started writing, the story drove me more than my doubts about the sound I was developing. It was important for me to keep it mostly acoustic, so it would feel separate from my dungeon synth projects, so for the debut release I used only accordion, voice, recorder, and percussion. Limiting the sound palette helped to keep the ideas flowing. And I was thinking of this project as a sort of imaginary neofolk, compiled from various musical influences as well as a kind of chaotic collage of impressions of cultures showing their opposition to an oppressor.
There is a real feel of classical organ or chamber music in the album.  Was classical or romantic era orchestral music important when you were writing it?
The accordion definitely has a chamber organ sound for sure. I listen to some organ music, but if that shows up in this release it was unconscious. I play a lot of Klezmer and so there were some conscious Jewish music influences, particularly Nign, which is a style of wordless melody that when sung in a group feels like time is stretching. I grew up singing Black spirituals which were passed through my family, and there are elements of that music that shows up behind the surface in a lot of my projects – in this project especially having some kind of call and response relationship between the voice and the instruments. I’m definitely very moved by Scandinavian fiddle music (which only seems to slightly influence Scandi inspired neofolk), but the way the fiddlers in that style pass their tunes down and harmonize together is really inspiring to me.
What drives your commitment to antifascism?  Have you experienced a lot of white supremacist attitudes in the pagan and neofolk scene?
I am Black and mixed race. It’s hard to think of fascism as a benign thing for me, whether or not the attitudes are sincere or just aesthetic based. For those reasons I’ve often been removed from the metal scenes except on the internet, which is where people are the worst about that sort of thing. I’ve probably been to less than 10 black metal shows in 20 years of listening to the music for that reason, so I’ve encountered only minimal amounts of it in person. But the way we’ve seen conversations about this sort of thing become more meme-y and less about sincere connection, I’ve found that I’ve run out of patience with the jokey edgy humor, with the kind of intellectual shell-game that people play with weaponized ideology.
Why is it important to you to remain a public antifascist in a scene so known for its far-right or “apolitical” stance??  How does antifascism inform your music?
It’s important to me because to some, my presence in the scene is unacceptable. This is why it’s important to me to assert myself as an artist in neofolk, in black metal, in dungeon synth.  Besides that, I think the attitudes in neofolk, of looking to the past as an explicit transgression of social norms, have their logical opposite in the assimilation of fascism, and I am frequently astonished at how often people forget that. We are already, as modern people, given the chance to learn from history even as we look to the past and tradition for liberation, so it doesn’t serve anyone to blindly recreate that without some sifting through.
What really moves you through writing music like this, is it a sense of story or social commitment?  What really drives the work?
For me a lot of what moves me is narrative, storytelling. To me all the most compelling arguments involve storytelling in some way.  Through a combination of music and accompanying flavor text, I hope to convey some of what occupies a lot my thought processes: about growth, resilience, and resistance in a world that is deeply biased, somehow, against most of its inhabitants. But I feel like talking about these things through narrative is a good reminder to all of us that this kind of work is an ongoing thing, not a constant state of being that, once attained, needs no further attention or maintenance.
Also, the transportive element of music like neofolk is a nice balm for some of the harsher elements of modern society, which is sometimes necessary for anybody with an active awareness of the world.
What’s coming next for you?
I’ve been performing some pieces live from the Deliverer debut (Smother) with a crew of people that I do some other styles of trad folk with. At this point it’s just a part of our repertoire, mixed in alongside other trad pieces at our shows.  But I hope to write and record more for this project, including some material with lyrics, and get a consistent set together for live performance if the opportunity arises.
What bands would your recommend for an antifascist neofolk audience?
I’ve found it hard to vet things myself since so many on the internet seem to thrive on obfuscation, which is one of the reasons I’m so grateful for the work you’re doing with this blog. I will have my answer as you keep updating!
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We are putting Deliverer’s new album, Smother, below so you can listen to it from Bandcamp.  Unfortunately, they are not available yet on Spotify so you will have to wait to add them to the Antifascist Neofolk Spotify playlist.  We will be adding a couple of new bands to that list later this week, so stay tuned!

Fatal Nostalgia Brings Nightmarish Beauty to Ambient Neofolk

Neofolk is diverse in a way that few genres can be: a big tent that ranges from metal to traditional folk music to synthed-ambient to plucky singer-songwriters.  It is that point of fusion that gives neofolk a special edge, the ability to revisit something known and to breathe a contemporary life into it. If we take something like traditional music and reimagine it with today’s tools, can we take what was beautiful about it and inject it back into our lives?  

Fatal Nostalgia is one of the best examples of that eclectic nature, using the mechanisms of ambient soundscapes and building in a sound that wreaks of Euro-folk.  Fatal Nostalgia was another project we came across on the Red and Anarchist Black Metal blog and were immediately struck by its frenetic song structure, moving from nature sounds to driving drums and guitar and back to a certain campfire simplicity.  Since their founding they have released five albums: Halcyon Nostalgia (2012), Fatal Nostalgia (Self-Titled) (2012), Nocturnes (2013), Quietus (2014), and Hyacinthe (2016).  They have additionally put out two EPs, A Gathering of Ghosts (2013) and Woods of Somnolence (2012).  The newest track, the psychedelic “Ego Death,” came out in 2016.

The music has incredible range, so much so that it can feel like a label-wide compilation even on a single album.  Tracks like ‘Badger’ sound as though they could be the ten-minute track played in a rave coolout room to help quell bad trips, while ‘Without You’ has a distinctly melancholy vibe that feels like the backward facing nostalgia known to neofolk.  Fatal Nostalgia is an ambient project more than anything else at the end of the day, and does feel as though it is the singular vision of an artist and his computer.

The project has been heavily influenced by the cascadian sound of groups like Nuwisha, as well as are sympathetic with the green anarchist politics that drove it.  Like many of these projects, politics is not their primary purpose and are instead vocal about wanting to drive emotion and highlighting psychedelic concepts like “ego death.”  This drives to the heart of what neofolk is, about connecting reality with emotion and building on what things could be (or have been) rather than what they are.  Fatal Nostalgia then feels like a dangerous dream, haunting in the background.

We have added several Fatal Nostalgia songs to the Spotify Antifascist Neofolk playlist, and are including several tracks from their Bandcamp below.

 

Make sure to follow the Antifascist Neofolk playlist on Spotify, featuring Fatal Nostalgia!