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.