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.
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!