Amanda Votta & The Spectral Light – Interview

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The Spectral Light unites three uncompromising and visionary artists, Amanda Votta of the highly acclaimed experimental dark ambient project The Floating World, Grey Malkin of the enigmatic wyrd/ psych folk outfit The Hare And The Moon, and Neddal Ayad of The Desolation Singers and Great Attractor, also a collaborator of Madame B (Sophie Nadaud). Timothy Renner from the well-established wyrd folk act Stone Breath also makes an appearance in their debut album “Secrets To The Sea”. With the rare and often transitory occasion of a glimpse to the Otherside, I asked these artists and longtime companions in their musical travels, a bunch of weird questions about ghosts, the elements, witchery and the Devil. I asked them a bunch of normal questions as well. In any case the answers are, if nothing more, illuminating – but with a light perhaps a little different than the one you are used to. Be careful not to look too long upon the things that aren’t there.

[Interview questions by vitriol]

The three of you have often collaborated in the past in eachother’s projects. How did you first meet and how did you end up making music together?

Amanda Votta: Neddal and I met in 2005. I’d started talking to Timothy, from Stone Breath, and he and Neddal were friends. Then they ended up asking me to be part of the Folklore of the Moon series Hand/Eye was doing, and Neddal and I began collaborating sporadically on things. First was Secrets to the Sea, which had one release in 2006—a cassette on Gold Soundz. We recorded that while we were both living near Toronto. We had plans to do more and we did some songs here and there but kept changing direction. Then we just started collaborating in each other’s bands, he’d be on The Floating World’s albums and I was on his Great Attractor album. Of course, all this time he was constantly telling me he thought I needed to rock more, so inevitably The Spectral Light happened.

Grey and I began working together more recently. I believe in 2012 he asked if I’d contribute some flute to The Hare and the Moon and I enjoyed the music so much he ended up being a part of The Floating World. His music has that eerie, ghostly strangeness to it that I very much like to hear and very much want to be part of everything I do myself. He was also on Neddal’s Great Attractor album and has pretty much become a permanent fixture in everything we do now.

We all work so well together that we don’t really have to sit down and discuss what exactly we’re each trying to do in our individual and collective projects. We don’t argue about it, no one ever gets upset at what or how anyone else wants to contribute. It makes the entire process so much smoother and simpler. To not have to worry that your ideas are going to be completely dismissed when you’re dealing with something as personal as the art you create is a very liberating and welcome feeling. There’s a level of understanding between us, and with Timothy as well, with whom we’re all in Antler and Ivy with. We know what we’re all about and we like the things the others do.

Grey Malkin: Although we have never met face to face I absolutely consider Amanda and Neddal to be both friends and bandmates. There is a certain understanding you get when working with others on music that genuinely means something to you. Be it with The Hare And The Moon, The Floating World, Great Attractor, The Spectral Light or Antler And Ivy there is something of a strong symbiotic nature when we work together. They get me and I hope they feel I get them too.

Neddal Ayad: Amanda and I were introduced by Timothy Renner sometime around 2004. Tim and I were working on what would become The Folklore Of The Moon subscription series and I remember Tim sending me an email saying something like, “There’s this girl, Amanda, who plays flute. She’s very cute and very cool. You should drop her a line.” I dropped Amanda a line and we ended up getting along really well, to the point where I spent a summer almost as good as living with her and her family in Toronto. Tim and I got her to contribute to the FotM series and Amanda and I have been working together on and off ever since.

Grey Malkin…you know I can’t really say when exactly we met. The Malkin is a mysterious person. A couple of years ago both Amanda and another friend of mine were talking up The Hare And The Moon and had been in touch with The Malkin and put us in touch. I believe the first time we collaborated was on some of the music that became The Floating World’s “Two Hunters” album and shortly after that he was kind enough to play on my Great Attractor album.

Amanda Votta

Amanda Votta

Did the fact that you all live in different parts of the world make the recording process difficult? How did you go about completing the album, and who was responsible for which parts of it?

AV: The geographic distance always makes recording a bit difficult in the sense that we can’t just say, ok, this weekend let’s go off, hang out and get these songs done. We don’t have that kind of physical presence, we can’t literally sit together and write a song, we can’t directly and immediately feed off one another in the same way we could if we were all together. Even though it’s a band, it’s also still a solitary endeavor to write and record songs. That does have advantages, however. We don’t have to coordinate times when we can get together and record. With the way our schedules are, this actually works best for us. We each get to record when we find time to, when we’re in the right mood. In a way, the isolation kind of helps, at least for me. It’s easier for me to just kind of get done what needs doing, to be in the right frame of mind to make music, when I’m left alone. If I can sit by myself at night, by the window with some wine, I’m good. I kind of need a certain amount of isolation to make music, to be disconnected from the word, not to think or worry about anything else, be entirely involved in just that song. By nature, I’m a very quiet, introverted person, so it’s easier for me to do things on my own. Our distance serves the function of allowing me to be most comfortable when writing and recording songs. There’s a kind of freedom in that, too, that I like. I get to be alone, in an environment I choose, and can go about the whole process exactly how I want to.

With The Spectral Light, we all really contributed evenly and without any kind of restrictions. One song one of us may dominate more, may have done more work on musically or whatnot, but not because the rest of us had a problem with the song. Some songs just needed one of us the most, which is necessary if there’s going to be any kind of variety to keep things interesting, and one or the other song may have grabbed someone more than the rest. Mostly, they began as basic guitar tracks from Neddal. In the beginning, he’d send me the tracks, I’d write some words and sing, record some guitar, do a bit of minimal percussion. That was how we did “Feathers and Godbones,” which was I believe the first song we had. After we decided we needed to have Grey bring some weird wizardry the way we worked varied a bit more. Sometimes he’d add before I did, or percussion would be done first. Then, Neddal also wrote most of “I Am The Moon” on his own—including words—Grey added his parts, and I just sang. “The Shepherdess and The Witch” was my baby. I took a basic guitar track from Neddal, which was originally for the soundtrack to a book called PostApoc, cut it up, rearranged it. Then I played noisy baritone slide guitar all over it, added in some basic percussion, wrote words and sang. I was and am super happy with that one. It’s exactly the kind of song I always wanted to make but hadn’t. I was the librarian for this all, everyone sent their parts to me and I arranged, mixed and mastered—such as it was mastered—the whole mess.

GM: One of the best things about the world wide cobweb is the ability to be in touch with like-minded souls regardless of where we all live. In some ways it makes the process easier; mixes and individual parts can be sent back and forth and fitted in with our other projects. Amanda was the gatekeeper and collected all the various snippets of noise, screams and clanking chains for which she must be blessed with endless patience. Typically Amanda and Neddal came up with the songs themselves and I then added my spooky malarky to what they had sent me.

NA: Not at all. The Internet, man, the Internet.

As for “Secrets…”, I wrote most of the music and played that main guitar tracks. Amanda took the basic tracks and added vocals, baritone guitar, and percussion. When Amanda and I had finished our parts we’d send the tracks on to The Malkin for what I like to call “atmospherics.” Amanda did a lot of the production work, she collated the individual tracks and in a couple of cases, e.g “The Shepherdess and the Witch,” did the arrangements.

Amanda and Grey are very easy to work with and we seem to get what the others are looking for in a song on an intuitive level. I don’t think we’ve ever had to ask one another to redo a part.

Neddal Ayad

Neddal Ayad

What was the recording process like from a technical point of view? What instruments did you use for instance, and did you include any new elements in it, some things you’ve never tried before?

AV: I’d record either directly onto the computer, hook everything up, run it in through an audio interface, or else I’d use my little field recorder. The field recorder, depending on how I positioned it, would have this really nice sort of fuzzy thing going on. So I’d set it up and move it around until I got that, then use it to record vocals. It gave the recording a bit more warmth, a bit more of an analogue sound rather than sounding like it was recorded digitally. It was essentially the same process for recording guitar. I’d use different cords to get it to sound hazier, or if I wanted it to buzz more. Anything to combat that sort of excessively cold, clinical sound it’s easy to have when you’re recording this way. Not even just that digital sound, but that awful, over produced, overly clean sound. It’s not something I, or any of us, want to have. So I had to find ways to work around that, to make the songs sound more alive. Compression was basically my enemy as well. It doesn’t matter if Neddal would turn up too loud when recording—that worked in my favor for mixing and mastering this—I wouldn’t use compression to fix it, even when he’d say maybe I should, just to get it on the level. That almost blown-out sound is perfect for this, so it needed to stay. Then, at the end of mixing, I’d usually add in a recording of vinyl or tape hiss very low down in the mix, just to give the whole thing some foggy warmth. For this kind of music, it’s important to not clean it up, to not take out the noise and distortion. It needs to be noisy and distorted and foggy. There needs to be something that blurs the sound. The intention from the beginning was to make this as raw as possible. I was trying to do that with The Floating World’s “We Hunted” as well. Neddal was playing loud guitar, I didn’t clean up the flute tracks at all and Grey added in some of his eeriness which I also left raw. That was by far my favorite Floating World album to do and it was partly that which kind of pushed us the final bit to work on these songs.

This entire process was new to me. I’ve mixed and mastered my music all along, but I hadn’t played guitar like this, I hadn’t sung before. In order to do this, I had to learn how to record all over again, basically. There was actually a lot of moving mics and instruments around to get a particular sound, which I had done before, but not to this extent or to record these things specifically. I also had to learn how to play guitar for this, how to sing. It helped that Neddal was very encouraging and Grey as well once we asked him along. Now that I have a better grasp of it, I’m excited to get working on more.

GM: I dusted off my drones for this one and employed a bit of drums, keyboard, piano and wigged out on my guitar. It was quite liberating, The Spectral Light is swampier and noisier than some of my own projects and this meant volume and expression came more to the fore. I felt I was adding something to an existing palette so my task was to embellish and highlight, add something to the mood of each piece.

NA: Ah, I don’t want to give up any secrets! My process is very straightforward: Guitar to pedals to a mic’d amp to recorder or guitar to pedals to amp sim to recorder. Very simple, no magick involved. I’m very curious to see how Amanda and Grey Malkin answer this questions. We very rarely discuss process.

Photography by Grey Malkin for TSL

Photography by Grey Malkin for TSL

Given that TSL operates more or less in band format, are you planning any live appearances besides the release?

AV: Neddal and I have been talking about it. Unfortunately, Grey probably wouldn’t be involved since he’s in Scotland. Although, I’d love to have him with us if at all possible. But, playing live is something I’m certainly interested in doing. As horrifying as singing in front of people is to me, once I do it I won’t be bothered by it so much. It’s really just a matter of organizing a proper setup for it for me. Also, intoxication.

NA: Possibly? The logistics are complicated. When Amanda is back in the U.S. we may do some stripped down shows as a duo. I suppose we could always have Grey Malkin Skype in his parts. I’m joking, but I imagine someone, somewhere is on stage via Skype as I type this.

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The album is musically differentiated from your other projects’ releases. What drove you towards this musical direction? Are there any particular artists or bands that you feel may have influenced you?

AV: Since Neddal and I started making music together, he’s been trying to get me to rock more. First, I was going to sing with The Does, duet with Carol on a couple songs. Then, he and I were going to do a couple Mark Lanegan covers, “Borracho” and “Sleep With Me,” I think. Even with the early Secrets To The Sea songs we were making, it was kind of starting to move in this direction. We both listen to a lot of the same music—Lanegan, Rowland S. Howard, Swans, Misfits/Danzig/Samhain, and I love Rozz-era Christian Death—and we have always kind of wanted to do something that’s more in line with what we actually listen to. Plus, I’ve really wanted to do something that has that sort of an early Jesus and Mary Chain noisy, barely in tune sound and that wasn’t really going to happen with The Floating World. I think while we were working on this, by way of direction, we referenced Swans, Mary Chain and Rowland Howard the most to one another when explaining what we’d like to have happen with one or another song.

I also very much needed to do something different from what I had been doing for the past while. I started playing flute when I was about 8 and it’s been my main instrument since then. That’s a very long time to dedicate to essentially one mode of expression, one method of writing songs. There was music I needed to make that was impossible to make the way I had been going about it. It just took so long to get here because I had it in my head that I couldn’t make anything different from what I already knew how to do. But, talking with Neddal about what we planned to do next musically led to me buying a guitar and us deciding we needed a break from the more instrumental, drone/ambient/whatever it is we usually do. We both wanted to work on songs, but we wanted to work on songs that were not going to fit TFW. It came down to us both needing a change at the same time, but not wanting to stop working together. We’d also finished two albums for TFW in close succession, as well as his Great Attractor album, and it felt kind of like we’d really exhausted that mode of expression for a while. It had begun to feel like if we didn’t do something different, radically different, we’d end up parodying ourselves for an endless line of sub-par recordings. Part of TSL was, for me, borne of my frustration with what had become limitations on my ability to express myself, on what music means to me. If I had gone on to make another TFW album without doing this, it would have felt very mechanical to me and that wasn’t a road I wanted to go down. If you’re making art, being creative, the worst thing you can do is box yourself in. If you find that’s happened, you need to change or you wither.

GM: For myself, I found Rowland S. Howard’s work both illuminating and influential. I had also not long finished watching True Detective which very probably found it’s way in there. My main literary preoccupation at the moment is British folklore so that too. Perhaps musically some of the more drug-ravaged moments of Depeche Mode and also Earth – for the noise and the space in between the noise.

NA: We all like loud guitars and sad songs. It was only a matter of time before we combined them. There’s a fairly low key doom folk record hiding there under all the distortion and noise. Most of the songs had their genesis on either an acoustic guitar or an unplugged electric.

As for influences, the ghost of Rowland S. Howard is all over the album. “Teenage Snuff Film” and “Pop Crimes” are two of my all time favourite records and I love These Immortal Souls. Amanda actually has a Reuss RH-2 pedal  inspired by RSH. I borrowed it from her and used it on a couple of songs.

Iggy And The Stooges are another huge influence, particularly songs like “Johanna” and “Open Up And Bleed.” Mike Johnson’s work with Mark Lanegan always makes me happy, especially something like “No Easy Action.” X-TG’s album of Nico covers “Desertshore” was in constant rotation while I was writing as were Swans and Angels of Light. I should also mention Tim Renner, he’s on the album and Tim and I talk music and songwriting a lot.

Photography by Grey Malkin

Photography by Grey Malkin

The whole aura of “Secrets To The Sea” is very poetic and literary. If we set music aside for a bit, are there any inspirations for it that can be found in other disciplines?

AV: I read a lot, I always have. I was the kid who sat inside with their books and music and only went out when I was basically nagged into it. So, yes, there are a whole host of influences that acted on me during the making of this record, particularly literary ones. Christina Rossetti is one of my favorite poets and no doubt her writing was an influence on my lyric writing. I actually was reading some of her poems while writing for the album. The way she uses words is magical and I wanted that to be on my mind when writing my own. Her poem “The Convent Threshold” is one of the most incredible things, and the line “There’s blood between us, love, my love” is nearly always floating around in my head. Rilke is another poet that I love and admire greatly. In the past, I’ve borrowed lines of his as song titles, and he’s another I was reading when writing for TSL. Aside from his poetry, his “Letters to a Young Poet” is a fantastic reminder to focus on what really matters, to remember why it is you create art in the first place.

William Blake is another important literary influence, and important influence in general on me. “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell” is, probably quite obviously, another of my favorite things ever written. Not just because it’s so gorgeously written, and illuminated with his illustrations, but because of what he’s getting at with it, the ideas contained therein. Namely, that things, that life, cannot be divided into polar opposites. We can’t simply label some things good, others bad, and go about avoiding things perceived as bad and embracing only those thought good. His point is that we need all of the things in order to be whole, “Without Contraries is no progression,” and “The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.” His description of Hell as a place where those unfettered by reason, who have allowed themselves the fullness of experience, is an appealing one. It’s also an indictment against rigid categorization and polarization. While I understand that people need symbols to represent ideas in order to communicate, to express themselves, it is good to destroy those symbols and make way for some disorder. The way he turns the concept of Hell upside down and makes of it a Heaven for those few who have followed the path he lays out, does exactly that. This is one way that he tries to force you to confront your own notions and to question their validity.

Gothic fiction, dark fantasy, weird fiction are also major influnces. Authors like Poe, Shirley Jackson, Lovecraft and especially Thomas Ligotti have produced work that I read and reread regularly. Recently, I read Ligotti’s new book, “The Spectral Ink”, and all it took was the opening of the Preface for me to be completely thrilled. No one writes as well as he does, or says the things he says in the particular way he has. He can give voice to abject despair in a way that actually brings me some kind of joy to read. Not joy in the sense of feeling full of light and happiness, but in the sense of reading something that you feel a deep affinity for, a kind of recognition. The first work of his I read was one of the old editions of “Songs of a Dead Dreamer”, from 1989, I believe. That was truly an experience. Reading the stories was like being in some nightmarish dreamworld; the sense of creeping menace was overwhelming not just while reading, but for a long time after finishing. During the time I was reading that book I had some of the bleakest, strangest dreams. Later, when reading “Noctuary”, I had a similar experience—frankly, each time I’ve read Ligotti I’m nearly guaranteed dreadful dreams. Which I appreciate very much. It’s not every author, or artist, that can produce an effect on you, let alone the kind of effect you want art to produce on you. There’s also often in his stories descriptions of a city, never a kind place, that exudes this sense of doom, of inexorable horror. I can’t help but be reminded of growing up in Detroit, which is where he’s also from. Landscape can have a huge impact on your sense of things, on the way you and your worldview develops. So, when you live in a decaying city, one that has had a history of corruption and neglect, one that was once the site of the ever-elusive and constantly collapsing American Dream, a city that once a year on the day before Halloween, Devil’s Night, is ritually set ablaze by the inhabitants, you don’t exactly develop the view that everything is right with the world. You tend to see the decay, to recognize the flaws and to accept them as simply a natural part of the world, of people, of life. In a way, it made me fonder of flaws than of positive qualities, there needs to be grit and grime for something to be honest. Talk about the aesthetic principle of wabi sabi, flawed, incomplete beauty. Detroit’s motto is “Speramus Meliora; Resurget Cineribus,” which is Latin for “We Hope For Better Things; It Shall Rise From the Ashes.” Which is does seem to be doing to an extent right now. There are areas that are being redeveloped, though this has brought its own set of problems, as all things do, in the form of gentrification, of former residents being pushed or priced out of apartments they’ve lived in for years. And a good portion of the city is still in disrepair, streetlights still off all night because the city can’t afford to keep them on. Plus, a few blocks of gentrification isn’t going to solve the issues of poverty, violence, the marginalization of large portions of the population. Just look at how the water supply was cut off from a huge amount of the poorest residents recently. Is that civilization, the perks of living in a society, in a community? Not as I’d define it, certainly, and not as it should be defined at all. To return to Ligotti, the way he presents the world embraces these things, the struggle, the decay, the horrible bleakness, and is another reason his writing has had such an impact and made such an impression on me. “Conspiracy Against the Human Race” certainly is a handbook to living in this word.

More recently, I’ve read Uncivilisation, the manifesto of The Dark Mountain Project and was quite impressed by it and by what they’re doing and by the attitude that it’s artists who need to respond to the economic, social, ecological crises we as a species are facing at this point in time. One of the reasons it’s so appealing is that they believe it’s artists who should be playing a larger role in questioning the foundations of the world we now live in, question the pleasant stories we tell ourselves in order to avoid dealing with the encroaching and inevitable ecological collapse. Their Manifesto is one of the most sensible, honest and true things I’ve read on these issues in ages—perhaps ever. Here it is. Read it. http://dark-mountain.net/about/manifesto/

NA: The lyrics to “I Am The Moon” were originally written from a male point of view and were inspired by a line by Dante Rossetti’s “Jenny”. The title for “Feathers and Godbones” was lifted from a poem someone sent me. I can’t remember the name of the poem or even the poet but there was a line with that phrase and I couldn’t shake it. There’s something very evocative about it.

 

Photography by Grey Malkin for TSL

Photography by Grey Malkin for TSL

The Spectral Light is a very elegant and intriguing name. How did you come up with it and what does it mean with regard to the band’s concept?

NA: I’ll let Amanda take this one.

AV: Timothy had a band called Spectral Light & Moonshine Firefly Snakeoil Jamboree Band, a name under which he did a couple of albums, Scarecrow Stuffing and Burning Mills, and an EP called The Gravedigger’s Lament And The Unquiet Dead. We all love the music he made under this name, dark, haunted folk, ghost songs, graveyard songs, murder ballads, and we knew we wanted to make music in the same vein. Though, ours is less folk and more rock. So we asked Timothy if it would be ok with him if we borrowed The Spectral Light for this band and put my name in front of it to mark it as my version. He was more than happy to agree, so that’s what we did. We all talked about it and have decided that when any of us do a more solo type record, we’ll just use The Spectral Light and put our own name in front of it to indicate whose spectral light it is that time. It’s like the Dark Holler family band name now. Tim also contributed some ghostly vocals to “This Is How They’ll Find You,” which I am very happy about. I love what he does, I love working with him. We have a lot of the same ideas about art and things in general. We’ve started working on some songs for a band of our own recently, which we’re calling Wodelich—I just need to get recording some more—and it is already something I am extremely pleased about. Haxanarchy at its finest, we hope.

The Spectral Light as descriptive of a concept is, to me, tied in with apparitions, strange appearances, those weird, inexplicable glowing lights and shapes that flit down hallways or through graveyards. Hauntings. A glow from another world. I like it, too, because we’re basically using it to describe the band members. It’s just me and a few ghosts making an album.

Bertram Park, Fay Compton as Mary Rose, 1920

Bertram Park, Fay Compton as Mary Rose, 1920

Ghosts are sometimes treated as a topic of ridicule, but have also been the source of some of the most beautiful works of art, be it in painting and cinema, or poetry and literature. Do you believe in them? What do you think they are?

AV: Ghosts. I don’t think I’d have ever written a song, let alone an album, without them. Humans have been preoccupied with death, the dead, with ghosts for a very long time. The first thing that comes to mind is the Neolithic site Çatalhöyük, located in modern Turkey. This was a village that was in use from around 7500BCE to 5700BCE. It’s completely and utterly fascinating for a number of reasons: the incorporation of animal parts, skulls of wild bull, ram and goat for example, into the architecture, objects placed in the walls of homes and plastered over, figurines carved from animal horn incorporated into the construction of ovens. Most relevant here, though, is that the dead were interred not just within the precinct of the village, but under the floors of the homes. Arranged in the fetal position, they were buried right in the home, sometimes beneath a raised platform which was believed to have been covered over with a reed mat and used as a bed. Other burials were often located beneath the hearth. The homes, as the project director Ian Hoddor has said, were also tombs. The inhabitants spent all their days and nights with their dead ancestors, quite literally. While this may seem morbid according to modern sensibilities, it can also be thought of in terms of memory, of connectedness, of wanting to remain close to those who had died. Perhaps it kept them alive in a sense, always in the minds of their families and still part of their daily life. In that way, these were some of our early ghosts. Then, a lot of the symbolism found at Çatalhöyük is very likely connected to the earlier Göbekli Tepe, a temple built around 12,000 years ago, with some of the oldest portions possibly as old as 14,000-15,000 years old. While the exact purpose of this structure is, of course, a source of ongoing investigation, some believe it was connected to the underworld. Perhaps to early deities, perhaps to ancestors. The large stone pillars are anthropomorphic human figures—partly human, partly animal. There is more emphasis on the human than there was in preceding art, like cave paintings. So we were thinking about the human figure as something other than human, something that had function and meaning beyond the mundane, as well as something increasingly important. The proliferation of headless human figures could indicate that actual human skulls were ritually excavated from graves and placed atop the human figures. The dead, assuming this is the correct interpretation, would have held a special place and would have played an active role to the living. This may not be the figure of a ghost as we recognize it now, but it has a decided connection with this concept—the dead have power, still live in some way, there is a world beyond ours. They could also have served as intermediaries, perhaps, between our world and the world beyond. So, in this interpretation of the temple’s function and meaning, the dead and the underworld were integral aspects in some of our earliest belief systems.

We also know that ghosts existed in ancient Greece and Rome—everywhere, really, that we have records from at all.. There are ghosts in Ovid, Pliny the Younger, Homer, The Epic of Gilgamesh to name just a few. There are artists who have created works that are ghostly more recently that I greatly admire. Gustave Moreau’s painting of Salome having a vision of the severed head of Jokanaan is one I love very much and which I even named an album for, The Apparition. And, everyone I’ve collaborated with has also made an abundant amount of ghost songs. That’s probably one of the main reasons I’m fond of the songs made by the people I’ve done music with. It is definitely a huge source of inspiration for me. There’s even a special project in the works that The Floating World is a part of that’s entirely dedicated to the theme of ghosts, strange occurrences, apparitions, unusual experiences. We’ve been referring to it as the Spectrophilia album, spectrophilia being the attraction to ghosts, to images in mirrors. To the incorporeal.

André Kertész, At the Bobino, Paris, 1932

André Kertész, At the Bobino, Paris, 1932

Broadly, we’re also focusing on hauntings, on being haunted, which is another aspect of The Spectral Light as well and played a very large role in writing the album, for me. I don’t think there’s a song I wrote the words for that was not inspired by these sorts of ideas. Haunting not only in the sense of, say, a haunted house like in the film Burnt Offerings. Haunting also in the sense of memories, of places, of people and events that have stayed with you, which may have plagued you. Something that won’t let you rest, but lurks there waiting for its next chance to surface.

So, yes, I do believe in ghosts in the sense that ghosts can be a memory of something, of someone, of somewhere, that haunts you. Sometimes I think I collect things that’ll haunt me. I also do believe in the actual phenomenon of apparitions, specters, spirits. Of the appearance of the departed. Ghosts are a very real phenomenon, both in the sense of the spirit of the departed as well as those things which may as well be. That’s a much lovelier and inspiring notion than to dismiss and ridicule. That there are things beyond the normal ken of human perception, walls or veils between worlds, that there are worlds beyond ours, has always felt a truer thing to me than the alternative.

GM: I have no doubt that ghosts exist. Be they on a slightly different wavelength or a step out of time with the rest of the world they are here/there and they are watching us. I find this strangely reassuring. One day we will all be ghosts.

NA: I’m very much an agnostic and that extends to ghosts, etc… The universe is strange, so I never rule anything out. My approach to the supernatural in general is that if ghosts, for example, were proved to exist then they’d be part of nature. So… If I were to speculate on what ghosts might be… There’s a process by which over time an image can imprint on say a window, so if someone sits in front of a window long enough an image will form in the glass. I don’t know the physics involved in that but I would imagine there could be a similar process where people can leave a strong emotional imprint on a place. Incidentally, H.P. Lovecraft used the glass/image thing in his story, “The Unnameable.”

Gustave Moreau, The Apparition, 1876

Gustave Moreau, The Apparition, 1876

Some of the songs in the recording, like “This Is How They’ll Find You”, are actually addressed to the dead in a rather intimate, at times even erotic tone. What do you find appealing about this idea, and why?

NA: Yes, Amanda, please elaborate.

AV: Addressing a work of art to the dead in this way is something people have long been doing. Oscar Wilde’s Salome, obsessed with Jokanaan in life, finds him beautiful still in death and when his severed head is brought to her, she kisses him. Again, Moreau’s painting, “The Apparition,” depicts Salome’s vision of Jokanaan’s severed head, and revulsion isn’t the emotion she conveys. More often, especially in our relatively recent history, this way of thinking about death has focused primarily on the death of women. Poe’s statement that “the death of a beautiful woman, is unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world” really sums that up completely. This has been a huge current in art for quite some time now, to present death in this particular form in order to convey its beauty as well as to eroticize it. The proliferation of depictions of the drowned Ophelia attests to that. And, Millais’ “Ophelia” is another of my favorite paintings. This may not be a theme that as commonly uses male figures as the focus, but there are plenty of depictions of the martyred St. Sebastian, for one. There was also the increasing appeal of what came to be called the Byronic hero, as seen in his poems “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage,” “The Corsair,” among others, which became a common character type in proceeding literature, notably and probably most recognizably Emily Brönte’s Heathcliff. Though not the dead, these weren’t characters who shied from it, that in their own way embodied death. This eroticization and beautification of death is something that was especially prevalent in the Victorian era. Though it was a time when rigid notions about propriety were deeply ingrained, it was also a time during which death and melancholy were frequently aestheticized and viewed with a certain amount of eroticism in art. No doubt this was in part a reaction to the rigidity of Victorian society, but this was also a time during which people had their dearly departed posed and photographed in a manner we’d find incredibly disturbing today. Yet, all of this was simply part of the social fabric of the era. Our attitudes about death or melancholy have changed as surely as our attitudes about drugs and child labor have—the former for the worse, the latter for the better. However, this is still a valid theme, a valid subject to explore. Just as it was then, it’s a way of dealing with loss, with the potential of loss, to deal with your own fears concerning your death and the death of those you care for. There aren’t too many women making art depicting and addressing a beautified male corpse, though, which is something of a shame.

This is also a way of expressing how dreadfully beautiful those who are lost to you for some reason become. What better metaphor for that than death? Perfect, idealized, preserved and as ephemeral and insubstantial as any apparition. As well, it can be a way of talking about that kind of burned out from the inside, ragged, hollowed beauty, beauty laid low and so more beautiful, full of melancholy, seemingly damned—the allure of the fallen. Humanity does have an undeniable fascination with the forbidden or taboo. We love things we aren’t supposed to do, aren’t supposed to want. We admire those who break these taboos and embrace the more destructive, subversive side of life. To me, this song was a way of bringing all of these things together. I actually wrote the words back in 2005 for what was at the time a Secrets To The Sea song, and that was at a point when all of this was very much occupying my mind. The dead, the lost. Which isn’t to say it doesn’t still. This is something that’s played a large role in everything I’ve done musically, but it’s been especially potent once we began working on this album. I think there are a few other songs on here that kind of follow this theme, “Black Doom” for one. While that was Neddal’s song title, it’s a pretty accurate description of the ideas I had while writing. What’s a worse doom than to love the dead? It’s no wonder there are so many traditional songs that focus on this; it is an incredibly bleak prospect, which makes it a very inspiring one. “The Unquiet Grave” springs immediately to mind as a traditional song that “Black Doom” has a lot in common with. Mine is from the perspective of the dead, however, and the words were written as a reply.

Sir John Everett Millais, Ophelia, 1851-52

Sir John Everett Millais, Ophelia, 1851-52

Have you had any personal experiences related to this topic, that you’d like to share with the readers?

AV: Well, I remember being about 8 or 9 years old and I was sitting on the floor when I saw what looked like a figure made of shadow walk out of the wall, across the room and into the opposite wall. That was probably one of the earlier odd experiences I had that I fully recall. We lived for a while in an apartment building that had been a hotel in the 1920’s, and there were bootlegger tunnels beneath it. They were these long, barely lit corridors that my mother was always telling us to stay out of but which we were always wandering around in. They were quite unsettling, and half the fun of being down there was because of the strange, underworld quality they had. In the front of the building was what had been a ballroom of sorts, and there was a piano in it still. Sometimes, you’d hear it playing but as soon as you got to the room it stopped and no one was there. People were always talking about that. It was either a ghost, or an incredibly private person. Forced to choose, ghost always wins.

There have been much stranger and less rationally explicable things that have happened over the years. The main one being the repeated appearance of one figure in particular which usually occurs during or right before events that are unpleasant for me. It’s almost difficult to discuss because finding the right words is so hard. I’ve been through different phases concerning this. Whatever I call it, it is. Perhaps because there is so much of the irrational involved it’s never easy to explain or describe it. I’ve come to think of it as an appearance that heralds an initiatory experience, usually a difficult one.

And, I think in a way that whenever writing songs at all, or recording, or even playing, there’s a summoning that goes on. An attempt to conjure the ghosts up, bring them back. It can’t take place without them there around me.

NA: Other than being creeped out by a place and finding out later that it was was actually a grave site, not really.

'Death and the Lady' vaudeville performance, 1906 - Photograph by Joseph Hall

‘Death and the Lady’ vaudeville performance, 1906 – Photograph by Joseph Hall

As soon as the very first notes are struck an intense metaphysical vibe grasps the listener, evident both in music and lyrics. Which inevitably leads to the following question: what is your personal relationship with magick and the occult? To what extent is the album inspired by your practices?

AV: It’s not a thing I can put a specific name on, point to a system of belief which I adhere to, but yes, this is and always has been an integral part of making music for me. Every album I’ve made, every song I’ve recorded, has been and is suffused with some form of what I just call witchery. By that I don’t mean that I’m a Wiccan—not that I have a problem with those who are at all—but the word witchcraft comes far closer to conveying a better sense of it. My own path has incorporated practices from a variety of others, from shamanism, animism, what I always think of as real witchcraft, the modern, romanticized image of Lucifer, archaic paganism. It was said by Heraclitus that “Hades and Dionysus, for whom they go mad and rage, are one and the same,” which is a sentiment that plays a rather large role in my own personal path and has for a long time. It’s really a blend of all of these things, and in that respect it’s probably a bit akin to Chaos. Take what works for you, leave the rest, follow the things that sing and leave behind those that don’t.

The fact that I make music has had an undeniable impact on the way I view this subject, just as this subject has had an undeniable impact on the music I make, on what I express with music. To me, writing and recording really is ritual. I don’t mean a formal type of affair, but I mean ritual in the sense of, say, maenads hunting down their prey. It’s an act of deliberate irrationality. The less an active role the rational brain plays in it, the better. At times, all I’m doing is trying to express that state of mind musically. It is important to me, when making music, to tear down reason, disorder the senses, as much as possible in order to get at something rawer, truer, bare and closer to the bone. This has also been true of the words I wrote for the album. Of course, as with sound, you do need to pay attention to rhythm, tone, cadence, to have a sense of what you’re doing in some way. But at the best of times, that’s nearly automatic and the irrational part of the brain can take over. You can operate as though you are in a trance. When writing the words, I’d have an image in my mind, something I wanted to convey, and then I’d just write. And yes, the things I was writing about did at least in part come from my own path, my own system of belief and symbol. My aesthetic sensibilities are heavily informed by this, even—especially—my view of and relationship to the darker aspects of what I create. It, too, has played a large role in why I find the doomed, the damned, the fallen to be the most beautiful, the most possessed of perfection. The ragged ghosts make the most beguiling and enticing songs. “The Shepherdess and The Witch” was about the closest I’ve been able to get to expressing this the way I want to yet.

NA: I’m an observer. The occult is fascinating, but as far as practice goes, the writer Robert Irwin sums up how I feel, ‘Trouble is, if you want a spell to achieve spectacular results, you have to do things like getting the skin of a gazelle taken from its mother when it’s eight months old, and steeped in turmeric and ground-up lapis lazuli.”‘

Photography by Neddal Ayad

Photography by Neddal Ayad

The image of a dark male figure who is both seducer and guide looms behind the lyrics of most of the songs. Is that the Devil, an ancient deity or perhaps something else entirely?

AV: I think the image of the Devil, the Fallen Angel, is a fantastic figure, and in precisely those roles. As I said, the modern image of Lucifer as the romantic hero who defied the unjust and forged instead his own path is one I find inspiring and does form a part of my own belief system. I don’t mean this to say that I’m a Satanist, though, again, I don’t have any problems with any belief system, but that I, like a great many other artists past and contemporary, have sympathy for the Devil. One of my favorite pairs of sculptures are of Lucifer, and were done by two brothers, Joseph and Guillaume Geefs in the 1840’s. The sculptures were called L’ange du mal and Le génie du mal. Both depicted the Fallen Angel in a way that made him far too appealing by emphasizing less any kind of overt evil, but instead a certain brooding evil, a tormented melancholy. Again, that raggedness that I love so much. The first, L’ange du mal, was taken down from the cathedral it had been commissioned for as it didn’t suitably convey the Christian idea of Lucifer. In other words, it made the Devil too appealing. While Le genie du mal replaced it and is supposedly more representative of Lucifer as evil, and he is there attended by symbols more appropriate to such a depiction, he is still cast in an extremely attractive light. Blake similarly focuses on this image of the Devil in “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.” Throughout, Satan is referenced not as a destroyer necessarily, but as a liberator, as a kind of archetype to be followed, to emulate. It may not be an easy path, and it is surely one that will set you apart, but it has its rewards.

Of course, it is also a seductive image. It is the taboo, an embodiment of what you’re supposed to turn away from, to reject, and therefore it’s undeniably appealing. This is why Dionysus is equally appealing to me as a name for this figure. He, too, is an embodiment of that which is forbidden and carries within him a very deep darkness, a madness. His female followers, the maenads, were women who raged, hunted, tore apart their quarry with their bare hands—whether that quarry was animal or, in some stories, human. They rejected their proscribed social roles in favor of what would be considered even today utter deviancy. These are the figures that I find most attractive, who to me represent a kind of ideal, in art and in people as well. Things that don’t fit properly—or that won’t—are always more inspiring, more attractive and more powerful than things that do. This is part of the reason I collaborate with who I do. Going at it alone is fine with me, it’s something we all have to do sometimes. But, when your path converges with someone else who you feel shares some important ideals with you, who defies in some way what your particular culture wants you to be, there really is nothing better.

Photography by Grey Malkin

Photography by Grey Malkin

How do you personally relate to this dark archetype, and how do you incorporate it in your artistic expression?

AV: This isn’t just an ideal for me in the sense that it’s something I find inspiring or that I seek out, it’s an ideal in that it is something I also aspire to be. This archetype, whether I call it Lucifer or Dionysus or any other name I could give, is one that demands you destroy boundaries, borders, the things that hold you back. It demands that you strip your identity of the useless, frivolous, socially and culturally assigned aspects that you’ve absorbed and taken on as a result of your upbringing or your experience. It demands you refuse to play the role you’ve been assigned and instead create your own, follow your own path, be whatever it is you are. That can be terrifying at times. It’s easy to fall into routine, to take the path of least resistance, to not strive beyond a certain point. But it’s much more satisfying to be who you are and do what you do, to set aside the nagging fear that you can’t, you shouldn’t, you will fail. There are plenty of times I worry about failing or coming up short, when things are more a trial than they rightly should be, but it has to be done anyways. There’s nothing wrong with comfort or security at all, we all need those things in order to survive. It’s just that if there are things that you feel you need to do, it’s better to do them than not. Remain defiant, remember your ideals. So, it serves as a kind of guiding force for me. Spiritually, in my personal and creative life.

This has most recently meant recording this album, learning new ways of making music. It’s something I’m very pleased to have done, regardless of the result, and something that’s already led me, and us, further down this particular musical path. With TFW, I started wanting to do things differently and to bring in new people, new instruments and new ways of working in part to avoid having a stagnant identity and sound. Then, when I knew I needed a more drastic change, when I wasn’t able to express what I need to in the way I wanted to, this, again, kind of showed the way. What is TFW? Quieter, softer, less chaotic? Then surely what I needed to do was something that went in a different direction. Which isn’t to say that TSL is completely devoid of those elements, but it is done in a wildly different way, and came out more chaotic and noisy that TFW does. The whole reason I even wanted to play guitar was because I wanted to do something completely different myself, not just be part of a band who does. The alternative was to just sing, be the chick who stands there while the guys play the instruments and write the songs. So, I got a baritone guitar, some distortion pedals and figured while I’m at it, why not play with a slide, too, just to make it even buzzier. That was about as far from playing nice sounding flute as I could get while going in this direction, and it helped make it feel like I really did enough work to put my name on it.

Picking up the thread of male entities, you often refer to the sun as a destructive, but also transformative and regenerative force. In “Dream At Daybreak” I even have the impression that you are referring to the fall of Lucifer. What is your point of view with regard to the conflictual dynamics of good and evil in religion, metaphysics, as well as in society nowadays?

AV: This may seem a strange way to look at the sun, as a destroyer, but it’s something that has come to be more and more a central part of its symbolism to me right now. The idea that Autumn and Winter are death is a perfectly valid and sensible view to have. It’s the dark half of the year, the time when thing die, go back underground, migrate to warmer regions. But Spring is itself like an apocalypse. All the sudden greenery, the buzzing insects, the rush of warmth, the rains after which you see vegetation pushing its way up out of the earth where it hid for months, and suddenly full blown blooms appear. It breaks the calm, the peace, the stillness. It’s riotous and disruptive. Since this is the time of the year that the sun reappears, it’s come to represent the destruction of stillness, of silence, to me. This is also why it’s a transformative and regenerative force as well, but to me there’s always something of the destroyer in the sun. Every transformation is borne from the destruction of something else just as in order for there to be a need for regeneration there must have been degeneration. But, all things do need to decay, to die, to pass away. Spring gives way to Summer, Summer to Autumn, Autumn to Winter and back to Spring. All life needs this cycle, just like any good needs evil, any evil needs good. You cannot have one without the other, it’s not possible. Blake really did make this plain, as I’d said.

The current state of society is something of another matter. It’s based largely on a collective fantasy that the way things are is the best way, the only way, a way that will never change. Indeed, it seems as though changes are nearly impossible to implement, even if they would greatly benefit humanity. Perhaps especially then. We’ve convinced ourselves, collectively, that it’s ok for things to be as they are because this is our only bulwark against chaos and destruction, when it’s really the exact opposite. This current state of affairs is untenable, unstable, collapsing even now. Socially, economically, environmentally. If we kill the planet we live on, what do we suppose will happen to us? Life has become disposable, it has become a matter of course to accept that our goods are often manufactured under horrible conditions for the laborers, that it is ok to marginalize and abuse large groups of our fellow humans, when it isn’t, at all. Many, many things need to change, or many, many more people need to basically opt out of this system. Create their own, through voluntary association, mutual aid, something like what Utah Philips has discussed in relation to anarchy. Or David Graeber, who was one of the leading figures of the Occupy movement.

The fall of Lucifer is certainly a very valid way to interpret that song, and was certainly part of the inspiration behind it. There are some things that compel you, that you can’t and don’t want to get away from so all you can do is make songs about them and hope that’s somehow a good enough way to say something you can’t say otherwise. Something that gives away some small bit of a greater truth that can’t be expressed any other way.

Joseph Geefs, L'ange du mal, 1842

Joseph Geefs, L’ange du mal, 1842

Furthermore, there are frequent references to traditionally feminine elements like water, the sea or the moon. How do you reconcile these opposing solar and lunar currents in your art and in your life in general?

AV: Those elements, the sea, the moon, water, have always formed a great part of my frame of reference, my way of communicating symbolically something there isn’t an adequate word for. They are feminine elements to me, yes, and it is important to me on some level that I make a point of that, just as it’s important to me to point out the maenads, or to use the word witchcraft. In part, it’s because I have some kind of need to challenge commonly accepted views of what femininity is and what it means to me. It is, of course, whatever any woman wants it to be to her personally. This is more a personal attempt to explore what that means to me than it is to universally answer that question for all women—there is never one answer to any question, let alone one that has to take into account nearly half the world’s population. The only wrong answer is the one you’re told is right, in this case.

The main thing for me is to not reconcile what may appear to be opposing elements. Things always are more than we may think they are, other than we may think they are. To reconcile means you’ve come to some definite conclusion. To me, that’s nearly impossible to do. In fact, it’s almost imperative to not do that. To allow for fluidity, for change. Sometimes, we have to accept there is no answer. In my view, the idea of reconciling what we commonly call masculine and feminine means we have to reject some things as being disallowed, to agree that each has a particular role to play culturally, socially, metaphysically. Gender has never been a concrete concept to me in either life or art—definitely not spiritually. Countless cultures the world over and throughout history have had different and much more fluid ideas on what constitutes male and female—let alone the idea that there are more than two genders. Yes, since I identify myself as female, that means that I, as an individual, have certain ideas about what that means for me. But these aren’t ideas I’d ever impose on another, nor do I think it’s acceptable to do so. At the same time, for me personally, it’s a defining characteristic. I do think it is extremely important, regardless of what gender someone may identify as, that everyone is treated as a human being first and foremost, given respect and accorded decency. However, that clearly isn’t the way society currently works, which is another of its disturbing aspects, and something that needs to change.

Photography by Grey Malkin

Photography by Grey Malkin

This symbolic ‘corruption of the light’ makes me think about the Sanskrit term of Maya. Do you feel that, in a way, the effort to bring these metaphysical elements into the light, to help make heard the voice of ghosts and spirits, is a rupture of our perception of reality?

AV: I certainly believe it is, and I sincerely hope I’m doing everything I can to rupture commonly held perceptions of reality. Reality needs to be ruptured, perception needs to be changed. We seem collectively bent on destroying ourselves, our world. Obsessed with this current incarnation of society, convinced we are the best we’ve ever been. It’s difficult to look around and agree with that sentiment. Every age has its difficulties, it fault. One major fault that is in no way specific to our time is the inability to see these faults, to address them adequately, to realize that this is transitory, ephemeral, will not last. There’s this near desperation to adhere to what’s increasingly becoming an abusive and unconscionable mode of being, system of values, call it what you will. All it’s doing is dragging us down. Sometimes we need to hear the ghosts, to listen to what they say, to remember what’s gone before us and that there will be a future after us, too. This used to be a very large part of our reality—and it still is in many places. But by and large, the Western world is mired in electronic devices, occupied by consuming more pointless, disposable goods than anything else. That does not define the world, it does not define a person. It’s almost as though we use this excess of nonsense to distract ourselves from anything that has meaning or beauty in it. It deadens the senses, fills the mind with an endless stream of trivialities. There is magic in the world, there are ghosts, spirits in the rivers. Stop and listen. Hear and see and feel what’s there instead of isolating yourself from the world. That won’t save you, however much you think it might. All it’ll do is distract you until it’s too late for you to do anything meaningful, to see anything magical.

GM: If so then it needs to be ruptured. We have lost the ability to tune in to our own nature, our world is too noisy and cluttered with baubles and trivia. Our ancestors knew there was magic in the woods, the sun and the dark. Now money and media are the new religions and they are are devoid of any soul or substance.

Weeping Girl by Grey Malkin

Weeping Girl by Grey Malkin

Throughout history there have been prophets, magicians and hierophants who have brought us word from the Otherside. While in the ancient times they enjoyed respect and social acceptance, they are now considered outcasts and lunatics, or at best seen as exotic attractions. Why do you think that we have stopped listening to them?

AV: Probably because they don’t sell shoes or cell phones or computers or cleaning products. They don’t bring in the almighty dollar, which we now worship with a single minded obsessiveness. Value is determined more now by marketing executives than it is by what intrinsic worth something has to you personally. We have as a species stopped listening to the world around us. It’s as though we think we can sever ourselves from nature, exist outside and, of course, position ourselves hierarchically above it. That can’t possibly work. We’re tied to the ecological system because we are living organisms. There’s no amount of youtube that’ll change that. Death will come for us all. Spending all my time engaged in pointless, trivial activities is not what I want my life to have been when I’m taking that last step.

There are a lot of things we’ve decided are wrong, not worth the time, unacceptable, that were once a part of our lives. Yes, we’ve made great advances in medicine, physics, and fantastic discoveries about our own evolution. But we’ve also lost a lot. The attitude that seems to have gained prevalence—whether due to our attempts to reject our connectedness to the environment or for which we owe this rejection to, since it’s a bit difficult to say with certainly which came first—is that we don’t need, should reject and set aside any sense of the otherworldly, that there is no mystery and therefore no beauty in the world. Whether you adhere to a strictly science-based worldview or you do believe in something other, there should always be room for that sense of awe and wonder. The very fact that any of us, any life at all, exists is kind of incredible.

To me, it also seems foolish to decide that we know all there is to know now and can thus reject everything that came before. There are things that are beautiful, that have a kind of magic, that give a sense of something beyond normal experience. Ignoring them also means we are ignoring a portion of what makes us human. Ignoring that very ability to experience something transcendent, something that comes from some other world and connects us to it. I also think it’s at our own peril that we ignore this aspect of ourselves and try to subdue it, to hide it away the way it seems there’s a desire to hide away this kind of thinking or experience.

There’s a fantastic interview with Jim Morrison where he talks about an accident on the highway he witnessed when he was young. He describes seeing the aftermath of an accident involving a truck full of Indians, who were scattered, dead, over the highway, and how he feels like the souls of some of them leapt into his soul. It’s an experience like that, which is both beautiful and terrible, that will have a tremendous impact. The experience of something beyond mundane reality. To me, just listening to him describe it is an experience—the sound of his voice like it’s coming to you from some other realm, a ghost talking about ghosts.

GM: The world has stopped listening in general to anything of a magical bent. Everything we do is to ward off an encroaching fear of death so the last thing people want is to remind themselves of the inevitable. They have forgotten that there is meaning in things other than distraction. Most people are too involved getting angry or shouting about something on Facebook or twitter.

Photography by Neddal Ayad

Photography by Neddal Ayad

The number of female musicians in the underground scene who are tackling similar subjects has significantly increased lately – names such as Chelsea Wolfe and Lamia Vox come to my mind. Do you have any favourites among them?

AV: I am fond of both of them—I think they both make some fantastic, dark music. And it is nice to see other women doing this, exploring these kinds of themes. One reason I wanted to do this was precisely because it can feel sometimes like you’re starved for female artists who are going down this road, being the Byronic hero themselves in a sense. There is, admittedly, some kind of difference in the way women write about these things than the way men do, and sometimes you want to hear someone doing it from your perspective. You want to hear it done in a way that feels not like you’re just appreciating the sentiment, not just admiring it, but that it could speak for you more personally. The recent surge in popularity of women making darker music is a nice thing to see, for me. I like it that there are others out there dealing with somewhat similar topics, things that might be considered taboo—especially when it’s coming from a female artist. I’d love it if we were well and truly past that sort of thing, but when you see people getting down on someone in pop music who is at least incorporating some kind of related themes into their music precisely for that, you know that we aren’t. Men can sing about being fucked up, having unusual relationships, behaving in ways not in accordance with acceptable standards of behavior, but when women do it’s somehow a cause for violent internet craziness. Look at the general reaction to Lana Del Rey. She’s probably the bleakest of the current crop of female pop singers, and she is certainly among the ones who seem to be getting the most negative attention for exactly that reason.

The prevalence of women making dark music is another of those things that goes in cycles. Before they were there, other women were. Jarboe was one of the most influential on me early on—in Swans and on her own. Eva O also had a very large impact on me in a formative way, both her work with Rozz Williams and Christian Death and her own music. They’re both musicians that I respect and admire. Further back, Billie Holiday certainly never shied away from darker subjects. Her rendition of “Gloomy Sunday” is one of the most haunting and beautiful things I’ve ever heard, and “Deep Song” is gorgeous, among a host of others. Then there’s Ida Cox and her “Graveyard Dream Blues” and “Coffin Blues.” A lot of the old female blues and jazz singers covered unhappy topics.

GM: I do enjoy Chelsea Wolfe. I think this direction is perhaps not new amongst female musicians – Jarboe springs to mind and Kate Bush, whilst hardly underground, channels a deep well of particularly English otherworldliness. But we need more!

Amanda Votta

Amanda Votta

Do you think that female underground musicians could serve as role models for female practitioners, and women in general? If so, in what way, and where do you see yourself in this ‘witchcraft revival’?

AV: When I was younger, especially in my teens, I really did admire female musicians as role models. I loved seeing women in bands, making music, writing songs. It made me feel like this was something I could do. There were others out there doing it, and doing it well, who made songs that I thought were fantastic. They were also people I had admiration for not only because they were female musicians who, by their existence, proved to me that I could be one, too, but because they did represent the darker, witchier face of women. They made me feel that it was not only acceptable to be a woman and be in bands, but to be who you are, even if who you are isn’t what’s commonly accepted. So, yes, I do think it is possible for women in underground music to serve as role models for women in a variety of ways. It’s not even something restricted to the teenage years. There have been times when I’ve considered doing something different musically and I’ve thought about what other women in the field are doing. It’s not really something that I sit down and search out and ponder deeply, but it is a thought that crosses my mind. When we started working on TSL, I did spend a lot of time listening to a lot of the aforementioned female musician’s work, as well as some others like Siouxsie Sioux or Katie Jane Garside, to kind of motivate me. There was some sense of reassurance to be had from listening to music made or sung by women. As to being a role model for female practitioners, I do think that is also valid. If you’re at all out there, if people can hear, see, experience what you do, the art you make, you have the potential to do something for them. Sometimes all you need is to see someone else doing or saying something similar to what you’re thinking for you to feel more secure in yourself.

If there’s any kind of witchcraft revival going on, I want in. That’s where the good things will happen. To be more serious, I think it should be completely acceptable for anyone to hold whatever beliefs they please. Mine fall much more under this heading than they don’t. If what I’m doing or saying at all helps to bring such a thing about, then I’m happy. If it in any small way makes this more acceptable, or makes anyone feel that it’s fine for them to follow a similar path, then I’ll have done my good deed. There’s also something to be said for witchcraft as a form of social revolt, as a resistance to the status quo, to the things I’ve mentioned as negative aspects of current society. Haxanarchy. That’s something which will be more and more part of my music very soon.

Photography by Neddal Ayad

Photography by Neddal Ayad

I enjoyed the album immensely and therefore have to ask, is this a one-time thing or do you guys intend to put out more albums as TSL?

AV: We will make lots more albums. It was far too much fun to do this to have it be a one-time thing! We’ve just started making noisy, eerie music. No doubt we can come up with several more album’s worth.

NA: I imagine we’ll do another eventually. All of us have a lot on our respective plates right now. You will definitely see more music where we collaborate in various configurations sooner than later though.

And last but not least, a message for our readers.

AV: Roky was right, if you have ghosts, you have everything.

GM: Don’t look under the bed.

NA: http://youtu.be/WZUkhvTzLL0

Photography by Grey Malkin

Photography by Grey Malkin

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