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.



Fighting for the Earth to Survive: An Interview With Ionncaish

From deep in the cascadian scene, Ionncaish is a fascinating project that exemplifies how neofolk can draw directly from metal and a string of intersecting genres.  Ionncaish is a Scottish word for both “Learn” and “Teach” and it is well centered for a project that is about exploration, both of ourselves and of our connection to a planet that is on the brink.  We caught up with Ionncaish for a quick few questions, and to get into what drives them to do this iconoclastic project.

How did your project come together? Were you in any other bands before, or was this your first time recording?

I had been in a Doom/Folk band called “Black Mould”/”Skaldr” in Ashland, Oregon. When we broke up, I had a lot of material that wasn’t used. So I developed it and got in touch with my friend Ignat Frege and recorded it.

 

How does Scottish gaelic folk music and traditions inform your work?

My heritage is mainly Scottish. I had a huge fascination in the reclamation of the gaelic language and culture, that was eliminated by the colonizers. The word ionnsaich is Scottish gaelic for “Learn,” and in some contexts, “Teach.” Gaelic music had always got my blood running, kind of how a d-beats makes some people want to mosh.

 

What bands inspired you in doing the work?  Were you in touch with some of the Cascadian bands, like Nuwisha?

I was heavily influenced by the music coming out of Salem, Oregon and the Burial Grounds at the time. Artists on labels like Eternal Warfare and Woodsmoke would tour through southern Oregon a lot and one of my projects would always end up on the bill.

I had met Rowan once in a squat outside of Portland but was more friends with Icarus Valkyrie, who was featured on some recordings.

 

There are few bands that really come out with the fusion of soft neofolk and grinding black metal vocals, how did it come to you? How did you start to craft your sound?

I wanted to start a melodic black metal band. I had been messing around with open and drop tunings a lot. At the time I didn’t have the means to buy equipment. So I did without and just played my acoustic guitar.


Do you think the term “blackened neofolk” applies here?

It’s a way to put a label on it.  I think the blackened part has to do with the riffs and vocal style. I think the neofolk part comes from the lyrics and solo guitar playing.

 

Where does your lyrical inspiration come from?

At the time there were a lot of astrological movements happening that seemed to coincide with what was happening with my reality. That mixed with my childhood of being homeschooled and talking to animals and trees and having the innate sense that there was an actual exchange between me and them.  Then learning about studies that back my childhood experiences.

 

What drives your commitment to antifascism?  Have you experienced a lot of white supremacist attitudes in the pagan and neofolk scene?

A combination of things. Growing up listening to punk music and having a family that promoted equality. A current desire for equity. Striving to accept my problematic past, to then become a more humble and better person.

I have heard of people in the scene having fucked up ethics but have also seen people not look into the art of artists and define what they don’t understand as fascism. I have been fortunate enough to only make real life contact with fellow anarchist artists.

 

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

It immediately draws a line. Art, being subjective, can be taken by people and repurposed to fit their narrative if you aren’t completely transparent. It tells people as an artist, I’m trying to create space and will stand up against shitheads. It’s a good way to be.
It doesn’t directly come out in the lyrics for Ionnsaich, but anti-authoritarian/anti-agroforestry are sentiments are there.

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.

Will we heed” was a lament towards agriforestry and a question of whether we’ll fight for nature and all forms of sentient life.

But mostly, music is an outlet for my emotional process. It can be considered narcissistic or imposing of myself onto others, who have their own suffering, but I aim for it to be a bond of empathy and understanding between the audience and I about these larger problems that can feel overwhelming.

 

What’s coming next for you?

As I write this, my new band Exulansis is recording our first full length album. Half the album is acoustic while the other is Blackened Doom. We’re playing Lithia Cascadia in Washington on June 21st-23rd with a lot of amazing artists!

I’m also releasing a 7″ single for solo folk/indie album, followed by the album release on cassette on my label “Wretched Relics”.

Wretched Relics is also working on more releases.

 

What other bands do you recommend for antifascist neofolk fans?

I feel that a lot of artists are calling themselves as “experimental folk” these days, to distance themselves from the neofolk stigma.
But some of my favorites include:

Deafest and Uaithe’s 2014 Concept Album is a Lost Neofolk/Black Metal Classic

There is a tendency in “extreme” music, from black metal to neofolk to grindcore, to create a constant churn of creative partnering.  Dozens of musicians lead to hundreds of projects, chronicled in collaborations, limited edition split records, b-side and “bootlegged” live tracks.  One of the reasons why niche music like this has been able to succeed is in the massive amount of material, often turned into collectibles themselves, that is out there.  This move towards collaboration has led to some of the biggest antifascist black metal projects like the Worldwide Association of Metalheads Againsts Nazism (WOMAN) and the Black Metal Alliance Crushing Intolerance compilations.  These bring together leftist metal bands in an explicit statement of support, and with the Black Metal Alliance this has meant a particular focus on eradicating National Socialist Black Metal (NSBM) who try to create a metal to nationalist pipeline.

The black folk metal band Deafest has been behind the Black Metal Alliance’s efforts and has been releasing stacks of collaborations, including a fantastic 2017 split with Kageraw and Rampancy.  Over epic tracks, ranging fifteen minutes plus, there is a musical progression with its own storytelling beats, crushing solos matched by moments of sheer silence, just the story of black metal on the neofolk ledge.  

We aren’t here to talk about Deafest’s long career though (we will definitely dig more deeply into them and the Black Metal Alliance in the future), but instead to highlight a particular collaboration they had with the one-person instrumentalist project Uaithe out of Los Angeles.  Originally named In The Sea of Trees, which was highlighted by antifascist black metal blogs, they joined up with Deafest for a collaborative album in 2014 called Of Moss and Stone.  Deafest’s tracks are what you would expect, ear splitting but grounded in the kind of nature gazing that has made them an anchor for the revolutionary green revival that is happening in metal along with bands like Wolves in the Throne Room.  

The three tracks by Uaithe offer a different angle, sparse strings and light drums rebound the sound to something traditional, something that could have existed for centuries.  There is a minimalism to this approach while calling to ancestral music that feels even more centered in the forests they hope to save. The same fusion that made In The Sea of Trees stand out, mixing in Japanese, Romani, and other folk traditions.  Like much of the cascadian scene, there is a strong green anarchist relationship to the sound, which is why the pairing with Deafest is symbiotic.

Of Moss and Stone is a concept album with Deafest and Uaithe alternating tracks, which are numbered and meant to tell a unified story.  This works in the kind of harmony you would least expect, alternating the vicious clashes of metal war and the kind storytelling of the hearth.  It is this kind of collaboration that keeps these genres vital, and why we wanted to raise up a record that is five years old and has made few rounds.  

We are embedding the album below from Bandcamp, but it is unfortunately not available on Spotify so it cannot be added to the Antifascist Neofolk playlist.  Because of that, we will be adding a few stray tracks, including an old classic by Rome, and ‘Rite Against the Right’ by Sieben (who will be profiling in the coming weeks).

Check out the Spotify Antifascist Neofolk playlist!

Nuwisha, Portland’s Eco-Neofolk Band Bringing DIY Back to the Scene

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The wooded strip of land that runs along the coast West of the Cascade Mountains seems to draw its own sound, meted out of the deep woods and the terror of deforestation and ecological collapse.  Nuwisha makes perfect sense as it is part and parcel of this environmental inspiration that comes from “cascadia,” the western region of Oregon and Washington that stands out as a unique bioregion.  Like other cascadian bands, particularly black metal projects like Wolves in the Throne Room, there is a “cascadia scene” of bands coming out of the woods, with their music tied deeply to what the natural world inspires and the fierce rage that is sparked in its defense.

We first came across Nuwisha on Red and Anarchist Black Metal (RABM), which noted that it really is a blackened neofolk project because of the black metal elements like a grinding guitar that appears as a layer under some songs or the screeching vocals.  These are really intermittent, and it feels more like Current 93 in the vocal style than Empyrium. You get the sense when listening to their debut demo and their 2013 album Solitary are the Winter Woods that this is a DIY project, driven people getting together and performing and recording it themselves.  

While it is a diverse and eclectic sound, there is a conscious effort to appeal to the neofolk scene, even including a musical interlude halfway through called “Winter Interlude (A Song of Ice and Fire).”  The lyrics are classic neofolk fare, focusing on the cycles of natures, the celebrations of the equinox and Ostara, and calling back to an earth-centered view of what creates vibrance in a community. The stifled cold of winter plays its own character in the album, which is the kind of mournful cry that often gives neofolk that bitter call, the kind of thing that is perfect for your Yule sunset playlist.

The band launched its first demo, Laughter on the Wind, 2012 in Portland, Oregon by Rowan WalkingWolf, who is noted by RABM to be one of their readers and how they were keyed into the band even though it may be a little past their scope.  The eco-anarchist perspective was highlighted there, saying that it was the “profound experiences in and deep ecological connections with the Cascadian landbase and by dreams of the inevitable annihilation of civilization and the aftermath thereof.”  This is reminiscent of many of the hardcore projects that lingered around Earth First! In the 1990s, like Earth Crisis. Rowan has a second neofolk project, Sparrowhawk, which we will profile in the future, which also has members of the Portland synth-folk ensemble Plantrae (we will probably get to them too).

Nuwisha seems to be on hold right now since they have not had a major release since 2013, which likely owes to the fact that Rowan is running around starting up new projects around cascadia.  This is common in this sort of scene, constantly reinventing the sound, starting new bands and solo projects, and finding any way of making something unique in a flurry of Bandcamp releases.

Nuwisha is not on Spotify, so we will just put the Bandcamp embedding here to check out.  We may start doing an alternative playlist function so we can keep bringing in bands not found on Spotify.