A Story on the Wind: An Interview With Anna Vo

There is a magickal experimentation in Anna Vo’s twelve-string guitar, a mix of chimes and voices and echo and wind. The tapestry they brings together is a form of circular and rythmic narrative, part of personal inspiration and the influences of the Vietnamese diaspora, Buddhist prayer traditions, and a well of energy from around the world. There is often a high-concept at play in their work, such as the cycles of grief and mourning, but it never strays from the deep emotional fountain that feeds it.

We spoke with Anna Vo about their work and the antifascist label they has started developing to create an intentional counter-culture for marginalized artists to emerge in.

How did you first begin as a musician, how did your creative space come together?

I was bed-bound with a spinal injury for many months, which gave me the perspective of finally doing something that mattered to me that I had previously stifled.

Due to how I was socialized, I had centered my work and output around other people (like my record label) and deferring to their creative control (playing in anarcho-crust bands with white dudes) and it took this injury for me to take steps towards centering my own voice and creative desire. For example, I borrowed my housemate’s janky laptop and ordered two pedals online and when they arrived I started writing music horizontal, playing guitar from bed.

 

How did your current musical project come together?  Is it mainly just you as a solo performer, or do you work with collaborators?

It is a solo project that I have been tinkering with for several years, each person I’ve invited as a collaborator, usually about a week before the recording dates, and usually without any pre-writing or rehearsal. My work is largely improvisation-based, and I field record things that interest me in my environment for textures.

 

What bands inspired you in doing the work?

The only band or person that I had heard of that plays guitar in a similar fashion is John Fahey. I only play 12 string guitar, and he is definitely my primary role model in that regard. He also writes pretty far out, honest, cool short stories. I’m self-taught, I have no musical schooling, and I purposely sing “kind of badly”/discordantly. I was not permitted to play music growing up as a teenager, so my time bed-bound was the most formative in my music practice.

 

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

I would say I’m accidentally influenced by the circular, meditative structures of Buddhist prayer that I was exposed to by my grandmother taking me to temple, and the Vietnamese pop music my parents listened to, which was predominantly formulated after US troops exposed Vietnamese people to 60s rock and folk. There are parallels between artists like Simon and Garfunkel, and Vietnamese popular music. Sadness was and is a common tone for the Viet diaspora, whether we are talking about “post-war” music, or other inter-generational Viet art.

 

You live in the Pacific Northwest now, does that region influence your music, or is it pulled together from international spaces?

I’m from New Zealand, and my albums were mainly in places outside of the PNW. I’ve only lived in the States a few years, and actually found it more difficult to find places to play given that my music doesn’t clearly fit into the “noise” scene, or the neofolk scene. Being from Aoteoroa (NZ) has aesthetic relations with living in the PNW (and its associated localized patriotism): namely majestic landscapes and lush woodland.

 

What does the album The Condition come from, what’s the overarching theme?

It is made of of 9 songs, 3 x 3 songs, 3 parts or movements with afore-mentioned circular structure. The first refers to a mourning period, reflection and scrutiny. The second part is a zooming out of time and space, looking at the scale of a lifetime; and the third continues to zoom out and considers intergenerational ramifications beyond smaller incidents of trauma. The last track is designed to play into the first track again, aesthetically and thematically, and the record works as a 9 track prayer or meditation on the nature of the human condition.

 

There is a strong sense of anti-patriarchal spirit in the work, what issues and forces inspire the music?

I’m not sure how that spirit is evident, but I appreciate the observation. I’m non-binary, and like most categorizations I believe gender is restrictive in our we conceptualize our experiences and knowledge. Perhaps inherent in the work is *my* spirit, which is outwardly not patriarchal?

 

How has your music changed over the years?  What instruments do you regularly use?

I mainly use 12-string guitar, and a collection of field recordings I have made in different spaces – the ocean, the city, on volcanoes. I play in bands, which is separate from this project- where I use my body/voice/presence, and also electric guitar, drums and several instruments I have built.

 

Your lyrics and singing border on spoken word poetry at times, what themes draw you together and how do you write your songs?

I think of music as collage, and I don’t know much about songwriting or classically structured musical works, so I would say that my approach typically looks like layers being placed adjacent and over one another until there is a narrative of some sore. Each layer or piece can be the chirping of a cricket, the chatter of children, or my mumbling something about whatever is on my mind at the time.

 

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

I started my label as a black metal and doom label in Australia over 10 years ago because the metal scene there defaults to white supremacy, which culturally invisibilizes the conversation. I wanted to visibilize the dichotomy, whilst creating visible space for people with similar tastes in music, who did not want to actively participate in what was an automatic state of white supremacy. That’s the cultural answer to your question. The personal answer is that through my lived experience, through myself and my parents/family being targeted daily, and through us being immigrants and refugees, we are not given a choice in being anti-racist and anti-fascist. To not make that choice, to default to dominant culture, and shrug my shoulders and promote hipster apathy is antithesis to my existence, and betrays my being.

The answer to the second question is yes. In various continents, and in ways that include and extend beyond militarized fascism. The obvious is that there are people present at shows and in music scenes who are parts of organized groups of people who work to intentionally and violently vicitimize people of color and queer people. The less obvious is when those same people go under the radar. Specifically I would like to call to attention the scenes I have been a part of where the very existence of punk or metal are politically suppressed – and going to a show and playing in a band means staring down the barrel of a rifle held my military government officials. My point is that fascism is a broad term that defines many states (as you know) including racism and including dictatorship, and I want to be clear that I am referring to a broad range of types of fascism, and its presence and relationship to music (and art).

 

Why is it not enough to be “not racist” or “not fascist?”

I believe you already know the answer to this question. Mainly that it is not a choice for me to not be anti-fascist.

 

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

See above re: the formation of the label. As a person I was silenced through my formative years when in punk and metal scenes attempting to address racism and casual fascism in music communities. So instead of trying to be heard or validated by others, I made clear and public my stance, in order to attract like-minded people to me. Which worked.

 

What’s coming next for you?

I’m releasing an anti-fascist Swedish band called Lands Sorg in August, and I hope to record a new solo album this coming winter: if grad school and my visual art career allows.

I also am in a duo as drummer and co-vocalist with Marit on viola. Marit also plays in Sangre De Muerdago, Cinderwell, Ekstasis and a billion other bands. We haven’t named the project yet.

 

What other bands do you recommend for antifascist neofolk fans?

Good question! I enjoy Cinderwell and Sangre De Muerdago.

 

What kind of bands are on the label and how are they strung together?

There are 33 releases on the label, and they are from 5 continents, and anti-fascist. They comprise of some established and well-known bands, and include lesser-known bands as a platform for them. The label highlights and seeks to include anti-fascist queer and trans people, people of color, women internationally.

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Anna Vo’s label is An Our Recordings, and hosts many antifascist doom/black metal/neofolk bands like Ragana, Thou, and Nightwitches. We are putting some of their releases below, Vo has been incredibly prolific and has ten releases on their Bandcamp. Anna is unfortunately not on Spotify yet so we cannot add them to the Antifascist Neofolk Playlist on Spotify, but we are adding several other great tracks (and have added some recent ones, like Elk), so you should check it out!

 

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.



‘Out of the Shadows’ is a Queer-Trans Inclusive Darkwave Festival Happening in Portland

Out of the Shadows popped onto our radar this last week out of nowhere with a fantastic line-up all backed up an incredible mission.  Focusing on bringing darkwave and similar music to Portland, the festival is now in its fifth year and will be taking place over three days (April 4th-6th at the Tonic Lounge) and is a fundraiser for the progressive X-Ray.fm radio station and Trans Lifeline, a support center for providing critical resources to the trans community.

Making darkwave a way to help mobilize support for a transgender community under siege by the far-right in the U.S. does more than just raise money: it creates a physical space that declares right up front that it is queer and trans inclusive.  We caught up with the organizer Dave Cantrell to ask about the festival and why it is important to build open LGBT support in the darkwave and post-punk scene.

 

So first, what got you started doing the festival, and how has it grown since you started?

Out From The Shadows (OFTS) began in 2015 as on outgrowth of Songs From Under the Floorboard, the post-punk/darkwave radio show I host on XRAY fm here in Portland. The local scene was blossoming so dynamically that it seemed a good idea, and the right time, for an event bringing everyone together to both give exposure to the bands and to, in a way, celebrate what was happening. That first event was just a one-night affair with seven local bands, one from Olympia and one from Vancouver B.C., but the reception was enthusiastic enough to propel it into becoming a yearly event. Word kind of got out and I started getting requests from bands from out-of-state, which, in turn, made me realize this could work on a bigger scale so I began inviting bands from around the country and beyond, at which point year two became a 2-nighter and in 2017 it became the 3-night festival it is now.

 

How did you get connected with Trans Lifeline, and why is it important to you?

OFTS has been a benefit since the beginning. All proceeds beyond paying the artists, the venue, and whatever other ancillary costs, go to the beneficiary, which for the first three years was XRAY, a progressive, non-profit, listener-supported community radio station. Beginning last year, however, I decided to incorporate a co-beneficiary from the local or local-impacting community of LGBQTIA organizations, due primarily to the fraught political environment we all now find ourselves in, but as well because both my daughters are gay and much of the darkwave community itself, both here and pretty much everywhere, locates themselves somewhere along that spectrum. As for how I got connected to Trans Lifeline, there was an article about their efforts in the local alt.weekly (Willamette Week) and, y’know, the light bulb went off.

 

Why is it important to create an inclusive space in the darkwave scene?

Well, for one because all spaces should be, by definition, inclusive, but since that is not always the case, it’s of course important to provide safe environments for those that, simply by identifying as ‘other’ in some way, continue to feel imperiled in the broader society. And the fact that there’s been a notable regression in this regard since the 2016 election makes it all the more crucial. But anyway, for the most part, punk and its off-shoots have always been a place for self-identified outsiders to find safe harbor. One of the aspects of OFTS that’s most rewarding, actually, is the atmosphere that permeates the festival. It’s not unusual to tangibly feel a kind of electric joy in the room. That alone is reason to keep it going.

 

‘Out of the Shadows V” is hosted by XRAY’s Songs From Under the Floorboard radio show and Soundcontrol PDX and will be held on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night at the Tonic Lounge (3100 NE Sandy, Portland)

Check out a few of this year’s bands on Bandcamp!

 

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!