After the latest album’s release by the English band A Forest of Stars, Beware the Sword You Cannot see two months ago, we had the opportunity to ask some questions to the singer Mr Curse and the keyboardist The Gentleman.
First and foremost, thanks a million for the honour you do for agreeing to an interview.
The Gentleman: The honour is all ours, many thanks for taking the time to reach out to us in the first place!
You introduce yourselves as “the Gentlemen Club”. What does appeal to you so much in the Victorian era ?
The Gentleman: Oh boy, this is my fault, so I will take the blame by answering the question. Deep breath… I can’t really say what started me down the path of being a Victorian freak, there’s always been this fascination of that long gone (yet still deeply resonant) era. The best way to describe it is in terms of how we let it influence the band, I suppose. Originally, we loved the idea of the later period, when seances, table rappers, spiritualists, occult orders, psychics and others associated with that side of life all came to the fore, all as a result of people’s need and yearning to satiate a spiritual hunger that the new era of science had created by failing to reveal the true face of god. It’s a great subject to bolt our own bastardised version of black metal onto. Plus, we love the idea of playing secret societies and dressing up and taking silly photographs and all that sort of thing too.
Once again, you called on Alex CF to create the artwork. It differs entirely from the first two albums, why ?
Curse: In actual fact, this is the first time Alex CF has created artworks for us; the first two LPs were sleeved by Lord Grum and The Gentleman; our third album by Karolina Szymkiewicz (http://www.karolfulillustration.com/). The artwork is intended to reflect the content of the album as a whole – we always strive to form as complete an impression of each album’s content as it comes along. For this reason, the artwork differs significantly each time. We feel that the albums should each have their own unique feel and identity.
It depicts an Ouroboros, do you broach the idea of vicious circle in your album, and if so, how ? Or do you give another meaning to it ?
Curse: The idea of a vicious circle is very much a part of the albums lyrics, so in that respect, yes – the serpent represents endless cycles. It also represents death, rebirth and that which goes between. My perception of life at the time of writing the lyrics for Beware the Sword You Cannot See was very much one of spiritual journeys, spiritual roadblocks, briars, thorns, bone strewn highways and ultimately belief in nothing. Trust in no gods, no men, no nothing. Crawling around in darkness, the only lights to be found belonging to oncoming traffic.
The track “Pawn on the Universal Chessboard” is divided into six different parts. Why didn’t you make a one and only track if these six parts can’t be listened to separately ?
Curse: On the contrary, it can be listened to in any way the listener should please. We divided the CD version into sections so as we could differentiate the chapters. That is the only reason to my mind. The song is one song, just like a book is one book. We chose to chapter it simply because we liked the idea. In fairness, if you were to listen to the vinyl you would find one long track with transitions, after all…
The Gentleman: When I wrote the song(s), it was originally intended that they could all stand as individual tracks by themselves, or it could be taken as a whole. Of course, things never quite work out that way for reasons as prosaic as artistic… But it’s interesting as people seem to be fairly split on the subject (forgive the pun). As it’s seamless, I’d argue that the divisions don’t matter if you want to listen to it from start to finish, and that both worlds (split/un-split) get their cake and eat it? Or something?
- What were your inspirations for the album ? Are they different from your previous albums ?
Curse: There are always new things playing on my mind lyrically, though the same old inspirations are always there – death, madness, spiritual cramp, religious hatred, base misanthropy. The words for this particular album were written during a time when I was coming to terms with a lot of un-fixable changes in my physical being. I have had to re-program myself in order to process the situation I find myself in. This has been a large part of the thinking behind the lyrics. Also, I have been in various fugue states, whether they be medication, paranoia or dream induced. I have dreamt lucidly of being buried alive, and it has been quite the influence upon me. This has given way to obsessions with worms and maggots and damp earth. There is quite a fixation with creeping crawling things and rotting minds on this album.
You draw on numerous music styles, what are your main musical influences, whether metal or not ?
Curse: The early nineties Black Metal second wave, especially Darkthrone, Burzum and Emperor’s earlier recordings. As the decade progressed, the more avant-garde works by Ved Buens Ende, Arcturus, Ulver, Dodheimsgard and the likes. Other bands would be Devil Doll, Tom Waits, The Legendary Pink Dots, Current 93, Jethro Tull, Saint Vitus, Pentagram… the list is pretty much endless for me – I try only to classify music as good or bad – I have little time for differentiating genres.
The Gentleman: To that little lot I would personally add: Pink Floyd, Tangerine Dream, GSY!BE, Swans, John Carpenter, Nick Cave, Kate Bush and Peter Gabriel.
What were your work method to compose and to record the songs of the album ?
The Gentleman: We started off, either as individuals or in pairs (or whatever combination), wrote the songs as far as they would go with their initial ideas, and then when we reached that point, they were opened up to the rest of the group to finish off and give them a good polish. It’s a great way to work with seven members, as we can’t all be trying to write in the same room at the same time, otherwise it’d just be chaos. In this way, it makes for a great collaborative project that allows the original songwriter(s) to have their voice heard, but there is still plenty of room to have everyone else add their own unique stamp and in our case, as the sum is greater than the parts, it really makes a difference and is in essence what makes us “A Forest of Stars”.
I felt a strong theatrical side in your album, especially at the level of the voices which could remind of the ones you could heat in a horror film. Is cinema an inspiration for you as well ?
Curse: Personally, no – though you are not the only person who has stated a feeling of theatricality in the vocals, I honestly did not intend that to be the case. They simply come out as they come out. I try to be as frank and honest in my outpourings as possible – I suppose it just sounds the way it sounds. I regurgitate the words in almost a form of conversation, or perhaps accusation, or both. It is my rant against myself and anything else in my sights at the time.
And do you believe in paranormal ?
Curse: Unreservedly Yes. It would be impossible for me not to.
The Gentleman: No I don’t. Just to be contrary!
Most of your members are or were in other bands (The Water Witch, Electric Mud Generator, My Dying Bride …). Can we find some influences or similarities, or did you try to do something completely different ?
Curse: We just create what we want to hear at the time; we are always influenced by the music we love. Personally, I write from the heart and am definitely influenced by different things at different times, though I like to think that what I write and eventually spit out on to record is as individual and genuine as possible. It is very important to me that my performance is as close to the bone as it can be. I have no time for posturing; this has to be real.
The black metal that you offer is very eccentric. Do you think it is compatible ?
Curse: I’m not quite sure that I understand the question, though if you mean compatible with other Black Metal bands, then I honestly don’t know – we are simply making the music we feel we have to make. If people like it and find something from it, then all the better, though we don’t set out with the intention of pleasing anyone except for ourselves as far as the direction of the music is concerned.
After the release of the album, there are concerts. Will your versions be different during your performances on stage ?
The Gentleman: It is always inevitably so for several reasons: We write backwards (demo and record first, then learn the songs as a band afterwards), and that leads to us not being able to recreate everything exactly as on record without filling the stage with even more musicians. But this is how we want it – it would be boring if we just played the songs exactly the same live, you might as well just stick the record on and have us mime. Then there’s the issue that we like to change things around, add bits in, extend sections we love, retract those that don’t quite work on reflection, and so on. It’s not exactly equal, though – some songs stay relatively the same, some change quite wildly in parts and that sort of thing. The idea is to have fun with them, and turn the live show into something quite different from the record – a more tangible atmosphere, and a lot of chaos/raw energy. Or a complete failure; who knows?
What are your plans for the months to come ?
Curse: I intend to try to overcome the writers block that is troubling me at present, and start writing for the next album. I have a few other projects in mind also, though not necessarily musical. These phases of writers block happen quite frequently to me, and are bloody frustrating!
The Gentleman: Practice, rehearse and practice – learning all the new songs for our tour in the autumn. And as we’re out of synch, we’re back in the writing phase so I’m hoping to get a few songs under my belt by summer too.
Thanks for all, do you want to add something to conclude this interview ?
Curse: Thank you for your questions!
The Gentleman: Thank you indeed!