Monday, January 27, 2014

Interview with Tobias Strahl of Dies Natalis

Dies Natalis is a German folk band that has been making music since 1998. They had been on hiatus since their last recording 2008. Recently, however, the band has been writing and recording with a new album in mind as the ultimate goal. To me, as a fairly new neofolk listener, Dies Natalis is a somewhat enigmatic, mysterious band. Until recently, they had very minimal online presence, outside of a dated Myspace page and a profile on Discogs. But I was entranced by their album Tristan, a full-length recording from 2003. Until the band created a page on FACEBOOK, I had no idea on how to learn more about them.

My friend Jeffrey Cornille gave me Tristan as part of an impressive grab-bag - it was sort of a baptismal group of recordings that helped introduce me to a lot of groups with whom I was unfamiliar. He gave me my first Der Blutharsch recording, my first Ordo Rosarius Equilibrio recording, my first Ain Soph recording, and a bunch of other fantastic goodies. Tristan has been the one that I listen to with the most regularity. I pop it in after I shower before falling asleep. It's soothing to me and has been a constant companion on the nightly path to the land of nod.

I got in touch with them kind of on a whim and Tobias was really friendly. He made sure first that there were no fascist, racist, or otherwise dodgy tendencies in my blog. Being a verifiable racial mutt, I told him that I was just an apolitical fan of music and figured it would be a great fit for the blog. He explained that he had had "special" encounters with other blogs and just wanted to make sure. I appreciated his honesty and candidness.

This is going to be a big year for neofolk with Sol Invictus and Current 93 releasing albums. Dies Natalis, for me, is right up there with those big guns in terms of output and it's my absolute pleasure to feature them on the blog.

Jordan: Who all is in Dies Natalis? When did you guys form a band?

Tobias: The first formation of Dies Natalis had four members. Norbert Strahl (my cousin), Alexander Meier, Mario Krieg an me, Tobias Strahl. As time went by, we had some differences. I think that was quite a normal process. One album just Alex and me recorded (The bright and the pure), on another one Alex was not taking part. As I moved house to another region of Germany, Sylvia Schmidt (she is now a jazz singer in Great Britain) joined for "The Phoenix Contradiction". Alex and me now have started again recoding together the new album which will be called "Men of War". I never took that question very seriously. We are not professionals, we have to work, we move house, we have good and bad days. Meanwhile we all are on an average standard in making music. Who has capacities in time, a sound level of creativity and a minimal ability to play an instrument, is invited to join Dies Natalis. So far, I was the only consistent member of Dies Natalis. At the moment I am enjoying to work with Alexander a lot. He has an enormous creative potential, he is much more professional than I am and he is great in producing and in the studio.

J: Have you guys played in other bands before?

T: Alexander played in a lot of different bands. He has a great spectrum of music he likes and he plays a variety of instruments. I am the more simple-minded one in the band. I play my guitar, a Bodhran (a celtic/britain drum). I only played in an Irish Folk formation called "Auld Mills Inn" with some friends and for some friends at campfires in my vacations.

J: What all have you guys released as a group?

T: We started with a tape back in 1998. It was called as far as I can remember "Ein Wanderer also am Ende seiner Reise". In 1999 we released the first vinyl "Raunen". In 2001 came the first full time album, a cd by the name "Vom Gedanken und der Einnerung". 2003 we released another cd "Tristan". In 2005 came another vinyl by the name of "The bright and the pure". In 2008 we released "The Phoenix Contradiction", another full time cd. Beside that we contributed to a couple of compilations.

J: How would you describe the sound of your music? Does anything in particular inspire your music?

T: I would describe the music we play as folk with a bit of rock and some experimental parts. It is quite simple. We are looking for melodies. No big deal. I come from folk music, definitely. Alexander has, due to his personal preferences, a variety of influences in his ideas reaching from hardcore, punk and metal to movie soundtracks. He listens a lot and he knows much more than he would tell.

J: What sorts of topics and ideas are part of your lyrics? How important are lyrics?

T: Lyrics are most important for us. It is the old question in arts: form and content. If you do not find an appropriate form, content barely matters. If you do not find a controversial content, the beautiful but naked form will get boring soon. Put a nice dinner in a mixer and try to serve the results the women/man you adore on your first evening and you will know how important formalities are. Try to sell a pot of hot water as a soup and you on the other hand will know how important content is. That is the simple philosophy behind our songs. They deal, due to personal experiences, with the topic of war, death, time. But also with the beauty of the world, which lies in the details, in certain moments. The contrast makes the image. But there are in no way invented (in respect to the content). You would feel the lack of credibility very soon.

J: You guys have been on a hiatus for a while but it looks like you're recording again. Why did you guys stop recording for a bit? What made you guys decide to record now?

T: As I said, we are no professionals. We make our living with other things. Alexander is a sound-engineer, I am art historian. He has to produce a lot of different bands and music, I have to research, write and publish. Our own music makes for us a kind of a lifetime project. Our technical skills improve or get worse, our personalities transform, music to us is like a certain diary in some way. For me it was always important to have the people I know and admire in the records. Some artist we know and like made our artworks for the former releases. For the "Phoenix Contradiction" I travelled constantly between Germany and Portugal to record with different friends here and there. If we had a break for a couple of times, it was because everybody needed it. We argued with each other, we were unsatisfied with each other and/or with ourselves, I had deployments to Kosovo and Afghanistan, Alex was touring with some bands, we did something else. In the end, all we did was music in the result as we understand music as a center of gravity in our lives.

J: Did you all play music at all during the hiatus?

T: More or less. That means: Alex more and me less. As i said before, Alex is a musician through and through. I am more of the travelling kind playing sometimes rough-and-ready songs.

J: How do you guys write a song? Are there specific songwriting roles?

T: No, not really. At the moment Alexander is very proactive. He found some lovely tunes on their basis I wrote some lyrics. Sometimes it is the other way round. We have no fixed roles.

J: Are there any plans for you guys to tour?

T: Not yet, no. There is always an obstacle which consists in the complicated relation of time and money. But maybe you can solve that problem

J: When you're recording now, are you doing so with the idea of an album in mind?

T: Of course. Every record of Dies Natalis has a concept. You can dig a while and find something new.

J: Are there any bands or artists that you particularly like right now? Or anything that you guys have been listening to much lately?

T: Yes. From Punk to classic, everything. I adore Calexico, especially "Algiers" which is an incredible album. I relatively late discovered PJ Harvey as a kind of a personal goddess. "Let England shake" is a marvelous album. Johnny Cash is like a constant murmur in the back of my head. A bit Eddie Vedder, a pinch of Manu Chao, to je to, that's it pretty much.

J: What sorts of literature do you guys like?

T: Oh, we don't read too much. Paragraphs don't do well for the brain.
J: What all are your plans for the future?
T: Proceeding with "discovering ourselves" because We've been told repeatedly that there is nothing new for us to discover in men; but it has certainly not been discovered everything what is in men." (André Gide, European Considerations).
J: Anything else you'd like to say?
T: Thank you for your interest in our music and our personal views. Many greetings to you, your readers and all of our friends.

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