A Forest Of Stars - Interview
The year is 1891. The members of the Gentleman's Club of A FOREST OF STARS, an exclusive brotherhood of English Victorians, consider themselves to be exponents of their glorious and pompous, at times decadent era characterized by extreme opposites. Sounds interesting? So, cast your other stuff aside and enter their unusual world. We're talking to The Gentleman & Mr Curse. Enjoy!
"Opportunistic Thieves of Spring" should be the focus of this interview, but according to fresh news you've just started to work on your third record. Could you disclose any details? What kind of sounds can we expect there?
Curse: We are indeed hard at work producing a new set of recordings. I won't say too much on the subject except that we are very pleased with how things are progressing up to now.
Gentleman: We start work properly on it next week. And I think it's fair to say we're all extremely excited about it. But then, what band wouldn't claim that about their own material? In terms of sound, it is still very much "us", but as different from "Opportunistic Thieves" as that was from "Corpse", if you take my meaning? Or maybe not - it may sound just the same as always to someone outside the band!
How did you find a concept of Gentleman's Club of A Forest of Stars, and why your image refers to Victorian era? Why, in your world, year of 2011 is a counterpart for 1891?
Gentleman: That is, as I have gone on record stating many a time, entirely my fault. I am hopelessly obsessed with Victoriana. That said, I'm not entirely sure how we connected that with the band - we just did. And as soon as we started down that road, the two managed to complement each other surprisingly well. At least, to our collective mind. As for relative years, the answer is decidedly prosaic: When we started this band in 2007, if you subtract one hundred years, you end up in Edwardian Britain, so we just deducted another twenty and bingo, you had 1887. From then on, we've simply run concurrently with the present date. It's all meant to be a bit a fun.
Time of XIX century in Europe, and in Great Britain under the government of Queen Victoria, was a period of great rise of spiritualism and spiritualist associations. Why, in your opinion, did it happen at that time actually? Was it a result of huge technical progress made by humanity, I mean people surrounded by science began to turn toward more 'spiritual' direction?
Curse: I would say that the reason would most likely be due to the fact that people were seeing their world turning increasingly towards automation. Folk may have perceived that matters of the spirit were being overshadowed by matters of the laboratory, and felt a need to attempt a return to more fleshy endeavours.
Gentleman: Just to add, one of the more widely accepted theories around this subject talks about lack of faith in the old religions. Specifically Christianity as that was the dominant religion in late 19th Century Britain. As science became more and more powerful, it revealed an increasing amount of hitherto unknown "secrets" as bare, explainable facts, and it was expected that it would only be a matter of time before science finally revealed the true nature of god and his existence (obviously this was nothing new, Newton, Kepler, etc had all been trying to do that 2/300 years earlier, and indeed throughout recorded history). Of course, it didn't, and quite a few people began to question if there really was a god, or whether it could be found somewhere else. So, to that end, they started searching other avenues, one of which, of course, was Spiritualism. And thus a market to accommodate it grew - both for genuine and monetary (or indeed both) reasons.
Do you believe in communication with the nether world? Referring to the heroes of old times, would you put yourself by side of Arthur Conan Doyle or rather of Houdini, who exposed spiritualists with unconcealed pleasure?
Curse: I will say that I have been known to participate in such communication. As regards the second part of your question, I will stand firm against spiritual frauds, and proudly with those who would see through them. It tends to be easy to disperse the sorry smokescreens put in place by the former.
Gentleman: I don't think it's fair to simplify the question as such - Arthur Conan Doyle is an excellent example of someone who really, really wanted to believe. There was no sinister aspect, or fraud to what he was doing (although, there was of course fraud in some of the activities he supported, but if anything that was fraud against him.) So I would say I support both the wonderful search for knowledge, and for seeking out occult truths, or whatever it is that your heart desires - and if it turns out not to be true, fair enough, you still learn valuable lessons on the journey. And, in fairness, it is no less likely to be true than any other religious belief, merely that they are better established and ingrained in the hearts and minds of hundreds of generations of entire countries and continents. As for people who expose fraud, I applaud them vehemently. It is always important to puncture pomposity, denounce and ridicule those who would seek to mock and separate people from their money for such base reasons. But anyone who is doing what they do for the sheer love of it - however we may view it as wrong, or false - if they are causing no harm to anyone, why not leave them to it? What is there to be gained - truly - other than spoiling their enjoyment?
Your website is also linked to the old times. Actually, it reminds mi old PC adventure games. Who's behind this idea?
Gentleman: That would be a combination of myself and our talented contributer, Lord Grum. I came up with the idea, and he made it actually work. I just wanted something that reflected what we did musically. It was important not to have something half-arsed, or worse, generic.
UK seems to be a country deeply attached to its historical tradition, but at the same time the one the most adopted to the American way of living, in many areas of life. Do you notice any symptoms of this contradiction around yourselves? Is your image a specific form of reaction to the surrounding reality?
Curse: I have to say that I do my damnedest to actively distance myself from the trappings of the modern mass produced society. I feel most uncomfortable when surrounded by plastic and falsity. I do notice the symptoms you mention all around, and yes, perhaps part of our visualisation is prompted by an urge to turn away from this fickle, often thoughtless way of life.
Gentleman: I have a very schizophrenic love/hate relationship with the modern world. And, equally with Victorian times. For the most part, I tend to maintain a rather positive point of view on most things, much to the annoyance of, well, everyone else around me, but particularly the band. If anything, my sadness with the modern world is less what it is, and more me growing up, realising that it isn't what you hoped it would be: that humanity would stop making war, that we could all be happily integrated, that oppression would end. Of course, that will never happen, simply because war, segregation and subjugation are natural human traits. And that makes me very sad. In all honesty, it was pretty much the same in Victorian times, and not as much has changed as we would like to think (or hope). And so it will be in the future, long after we're all gone. So, there was no desire to return to some mythical earlier time when things were apparently better, because they weren't. We did it simply because it was fun, and it allowed us to explore different themes, and do something a little different. That is all!
Did you play anywhere else before joining A Forest of Stars?
Curse: Nothing more than a little busking and pub singing with a dearly departed friend. He has gone on to trouble the gods with his twisted wisdom and ringing chords, whilst I have ended up here amongst my fellow n'er do wells!
Gentleman: I have been playing in numerous bands (and as a session musician) for various styles of music, all with varying degrees of success (but mainly lack of it...) for about 22 years now.
A Forest of Stars is one of the most extraordinary moves on black metal scene at the moment, not only 'cause of the concept followed. What came first? the idea of music you're going to play or the image? What had a decisive impact on your band's current shape?
Curse: For me personally, the music always comes first. Any and all 'image' is secondary. However, each of us is rooted in the past in some way or other - which aptly contributes to our love of days long gone. Since we are quintessentially English, the Victorian aesthetic is not so far removed from everyday reality as some may allow themselves to think.
Gentleman: The music most definitely came first, long before the image. That said, they integrated themselves together so well (to our minds, at least), it's hard to remember how or when we did it! And that is not to say that image isn't important - we all really believe that the art, the website, the stage performances - we really believe that they should all be treated with as much import, due care and attention to detail as the songs. The band is not just music, it is all those things, and probably more. We try very hard not to disappear up our own arses, and I think I just failed spectacularly.
How does the composing process look like in the band? Who's responsible for music side and the lyrics?
Curse: All of the musicians in the band take care of the musical side of things proper, whilst I turn my hand to the lyrical aspect. I have little experience of instruments, and have only ever been a singer. Having said this, we all have a say in what makes the final cut, and maintain an open forum amongst ourselves during the writing process. All are welcome to contribute and criticise - and so far, we have come out of each recording with only superficial scars!
Gentleman: I couldn't have put it better. The music is a very democratic process. Usually, one or two of us will come forward with the basic idea for a song, and then we all work on it together. And we tend to be quite ruthless when it comes to getting rid of something that isn't quite working. You'd wouldn't think it, judging by the length of our tracks or indeed albums, but there you go...
Generally speaking, the violin or the flute are nothing extraordinary in metal music, but you use those instruments in a really specific way. The atmosphere created that way is pretty unusual. Does Katie Stone has a free hand here?
Curse: I think they are an utterly intrinsic part of our sound. Personally speaking, being somewhat addicted to Jethro Tull I'd like to think that we can conjure a little of that spirit into our meanderings. You would really have to ask Katheryne her opinion on such matters to get a proper answer, I'm just waxing lyrical!
Gentleman: Katheryne has an entirely free reign to do what she does best. Occasionally, someone will present her a melody that is intrinsic to the song, but most of the time, it's all her. Believe me, it's not worth arguing with her!
To Mr. Curse, you're the owner of very interesting and unique vocal, but you don't even try clear singing. As for me, that's cool, in particular taking into account that Katie takes over this role when necessary. Have you ever tried/checked any other vocal manners?
Curse: There do exist recordings of myself utilising a clean vocal approach, though these have not seen the light of day quite yet. The reason there is no clean singing from myself on our albums up to now, is simply because it hasn't seemed right at the time. In all truth I'm more atuned to so-called harsh singing, as it is what comes naturally in the live environment. Having said this, these things can vary from one day to the next. I will say that the new recording features some spoken / sung passages, but whether they would be considered 'clean' is perhaps another question! We also fairly recently recruited a few very good friends into our ranks who have contributed several styles of voice, amongst many other things, to our new recordings.
What did you use in "Delay's Progression" - vocoder or auto tune? Frankly, I don't like this stuff too much... Do you really think it fits to A Forest of Stars' music?
Curse: Vocoder! I completely agree with you as regards auto tune - there is absolutely no excuse in the world for it. Like polishing the proverbial turd. As for the vocoder - yes, I think it fits very well with our music. Perhaps because we have the tendency to veer into space rock territory here and there. I feel that use of a vocoder can be very effective when utilised at the right times. Complementary rather than destructive. Of course - to each his own! I don't see it as a masking instrument, more an accenting instrument.
Gentleman: Good gods, I absolutely LOVE the vocoder. It's one of my favourite instruments. It's one of those things you have to use sparingly (otherwise it loses its impact), but it gives me a shiver down my spine every time I hear one. Of course, as with everything, it's not everyone's cup of tea, and that's perfectly fine. Auto tune, (which I sincerely believe does have a place in certain styles of music) can suck my balls. It is over-used nowadays, and simply placed on anything without questioning whether it is actually required or not, merely for the sake of it.
This year German Prophecy Prod. re-released your debut "The Corpse of Rebirth" and "Opportunistic Thieves of Spring" originally released in 2010 via Transcendental Creations. How did you get under Prophecy wings? Are you fully satisfied with the job Germans do for the band?
Curse: Prophecy approached us at a mutually convenient time, and we thought it wise to sign to a European label who are most genuine in their approach. It must also be said that they are highly professional, very friendly and genuinely musically enthusiastic people. We are privileged to be on such a roster.
Gentleman: I do not think we could be any happier than we are with Prophecy. They do a superb job and DO NOT interfere with our band on any level. I remember quite recently, we sent them the final demos of the new album, just so they didn't think we'd be pissing their advance up against the wall, and as soon as I hit "send" I became incredibly nervous. The new record was too different from the last two, that we weren't AFOS any more but some other band instead, that they would ask us to start from scratch again after 18 months of work. Of course, they loved it, and when I confessed my fears, they simply said that the reason they signed us was to watch us grow, flourish and be creative - not just to churn out the same album endlessly. It's all very obvious, but nonetheless very much appreciated!
"Opportunistic Thieves of Spring" is one of the best about-black metal records of 2011. I really couldn't tear away from it. As it has been recorded some time ago, how do you judge this stuff from today's point of view?
Curse: Personally speaking, I don't tend to judge music upon the time frame in which it was recorded / released. I think that the best music will speak for itself regardless of what time it was produced. Having said this, I'm not suggesting that our last recording is worthy of such praise, just raising the point - but thank you for your kind words! On the subject of time, I don't really think it matters when a record was released -if- it is a good record, it will stand both the test of time, and its ravages.
Gentleman: From my point of view, I'm very, very proud of it, but it's not my album anymore, it belongs to all the people that bought and listen to it now. And therefore they should be the judges, not me!
"Opportunistic Thieves of Spring" also sounds way better than your debut. Both the unique atmosphere and the songs level. What's your opinion? Did you realize all your goals you were going to achieve with this album?
Curse: I have to say that I think both have their merits. The first recordings have more of a do-it-yourself approach, but I find this more endearing than derogatory. I had never recorded a metal album at the time when we first started thinking about recording The Corpse of Rebirth. I threw the kitchen sink at it, and I think that I like that approach best over all. Then, on the subject of '...Thieves...' it was for me lyrically, a very poisonous album, I had a lot of bile to try to get out of my system, and this may have made that recording seem more direct vocally, perhaps - and also maybe a little less diverse.
Gentleman: Indeed, the two main differences between the albums is firstly "Opportunistic Thieves" was much more organised and executed (because we actually had a budget that time!) and secondly, we weren't just doing this as a bit of fun between friends - there were people waiting for the album, and expecting something from us. When we did "Corpse" no one even knew we existed.
The opening track called "Sorrow's Impetus" clearly reminds me your first album. It's full of rapid black metal parts, but further you move away from this style, reaching for more doom metal elements. Do you still consider yourself as a black metal band? Does music labeling make any sense regarding this sort of sounds, in your opinion?
Curse: Good question. I don't think there has ever been any attempt by ourselves to write songs to sound like a certain style, or that we have intentionally sat down and written a 'doom' song. The music just tends to flow in whichever direction seems the most natural at the time. Of course, I would be lying if I tried to say that we didn't have very diverse influences! It's more that we don't have a pre-prescribed plan to our song writing - I think we follow our hearts.
"Raven's Eye View" video is quite piquant piece of art. And, of course, hold by proper convention. Who's behind this concept and how did you work on it?
Curse: As ever, it is the work of the band as a whole. The music was cunningly written, I slapped some irreligious bile and bodily fluid riddled lyrics on it. Our cohort The Projectionist then set about creating a most artistic video of one of our botched séances with help from a certain talented pianist!
What kind of drum gear has been used on the album? It's clearly audible in "Raven's Eye View".
Gentleman: I take you are referring to the percussion? That would be a quite a few things, actually, mostly Middle-Eastern/African/Asian stuff, like doumbeks, or djembes. I've spent a lot of time in belly dancing circles, playing at classes, haflas, festivals and so forth, and developed quite a taste for that style of music. I like how it's a completely different way of approaching music - totally different in many respects from the western world. It all gets watered down by my ineptitude and then deposited unceremoniously into the big melting pot that is our band!
How your music work playing live? What're your plans for the nearest future, any live shows schedule?
Curse: We are currently concentrating on recording our third album, however we will be playing a short set at this years Damnation Festival in Leeds, England on November 5th. Next year will certainly yield further gigs, with a little luck of the following wind. I am currently suffering with a damaged spine, and am hoping that there will be some possibility of finding some resolution to the problems in the near future. Here's hoping.
Gentleman: We've quite a bit of European touring shaping up for next year around the release of the new album. By hook or by crook we'll wheel Curse on to the stage!
Don't you afraid that need to follow your specific image will drive you in a blind corner someday? People may got used to it and one day it won't be intriguing anymore?
Curse: I can't say so, no. It is a natural intrinsic part of the music, and most likely isn't going to go away until we hit the 1960s and start cracking out the bad acid tabs and dubious infected mushrooms.
Gentleman: Absolutely not. The main point being that we are not singing about Victorian England "Here I am in my hansom cab, underneath a gas lamp, ooh yeah", type drivel. That'd just be boring. But we do take the whole (stupidly vast) period as a jumping off point to explore lots of things. And I really don't see how we can exhaust that; I am under no illusions that it will outlast us! In the end though, it is the music more than anything that matters, so as long as we can keep that fresh, everything else will probably fall into line. Of course, I'm speaking with without the benefit of hindsight, but for now, I genuinely believe that to be the case. Time, of course, shall be the judge!
Thanks guys, last word is yours!
Curse: Thank you for the interview, it is always a pleasure to answer interesting questions!
Gentleman: Indeed, it has been most engrossing. Thank you for taking the time to challenge us to actually think!
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