Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Interview with Luke from Blood and Sun

I grew up in a deeply religious Christian family that instilled me with a reverence for the Bible. In some ways, it was a Christian success story, as I read the Bible very frequently (and continue to do so). In another way, it ended with me perhaps concentrating on the wrong thing, as I pretty much was always reading the book of Revelation. Revelation is filled with a vivid mystique that is found only in parts of the Bible: it most canonically echoes the Hebrew Bible, which tend to focus on a badass brick and mortar God's conquest of Northern Africa and the Middle East. It's funny because Revelation is placed in traditional Bibles after the Epistles, which are didactic letters from Saints, and generally don't really hold my attention, though parts of Acts of the Apostles do. The reason that I bring all of this up is because Revelation ties in with a quote from Acts of the Apostles: "The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord." Having read Revelation, the Biblical scholar knows that "the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord" doesn't exactly consist of unicorns and happy feels. There's a lot of fire, brimstone, and broken seals. 

Not only does that passage include the words "blood" and "sun," but it also reflects an encroaching darkness as well as an end of days. Many of these themes, topics, and even words appear in Blood and Sun's seminal album White Storm Falls, which is the starkly beautiful pinnacle of American neofolk in my opinion. Blood and Sun reflects a cosmological turning of the planets and stars as the change of seasons becomes a recurring, welcome protagonist. But there's a tension between man and the forces greater, which doesn't mean that there isn't any hope at all, but that maybe it's good to know where we stand in the greater scheme of things.

White Storm Falls without a doubt will make an appearance on my year-end list and I cannot recommend the album enough. It can be purchased through the Pesanta Urfolk Website and streamed on the Blood and Sun Bandcamp. Luke has played in Brooklyn recently, though he has also said he will be playing Washington on the Solstice as well as a chance of having some dates in Minnesota in the summer. I have yet to see Blood and Sun, though I will definitely be making my way to Minnesota to catch them. The band also has a page on Facebook where you can keep track of them.

Jordan: When did you begin making music as Blood and Sun? How did you know that you wanted to make music?

Luke: I've been playing music since an early age, being involved in my first band probably around twelve years old. The stirring of emotions and imagery, cultivation and expulsion of energy has always attracted me to making music to perform.

L: I first started recording a few covers for my own enjoyment and writing chord progression for what would become Blood and Sun in 2008. I wanted to pursue something with it at the beginning but felt as if the time wasn't right yet. In ways, it seemed as if the seed needed the contemplation of winter before finding its germination in spring. In 2011, I began writing songs and reached out to a few good friends like Thomas Ashe on violin, and James Carolin on bass clarinet. Both of these individuals shared a similar calm dedication to their lives and heathen sensibilities. Within a month we began to perform. Over time, a rotating cast of members beside myself began to take form. Erik Wivinus, a long time friend and front man of Thunderbolt Pagoda joined to play percussion and Tanner Anderson who I had worked in the past on Maledicere joined playing hammered Dulcimer and more recently my good friend Angela joined to play cello on White Storms Fall.

J: Do you listen to much other neofolk? Are there any artists that you particularly like or find inspiring?

L: Yes most definitely. Of the Wand and the Moon, Changes, Sol Invictus, Death in June, Current 93, Forseti, and Darkwood come to mind fairly quickly. The list could continue for quite a while.

L: Both Changes and Death in June certainly have held sway as they share a particular masculine voicing. In the Case of Douglas, I appreciate his ability to create several possible narratives within one song, while not necessarily obfuscating meaning but leading the listener to question what is invoked by the often dichotomous pairing of concepts. Changes' sincerity shines through their almost memoir-like accounts in songs like Memorabilia or Sweet Eve, and the strong spiritual undercurrents found in Stranger in the Mirror, or Mahabharata of the Soul, reinforce a notion that the spirit side should not be divorced from the physical.

J: You had previously released a short run cassette. What was the process of writing and recording songs for that?

L: The Process of recording the Cassette was simple. For the Original songs I wrote chord progressions and lyrics, Tommy and James contributed their respective parts and we recorded them live on a Tascam four track with vocals being laid down on top. The covers on the B-side were mostly recorded around 2008.

J: Has your songwriting process changed at all since then?

L: Well one endeavor flowed into the next and so for the most part no. I would come to the group with Chords and Lyrics and the others would contribute parts and work with each other until we had an arrangement that worked. The recording process did change while working on White Storms Fall and I hope for a more collaborative writing process on the next album as both Tanner and Angela are incredibly accomplished musicians.

J: I'm more than blown away by your lyrics. What topics inspire your lyrics? How applicable are your lyrics to your everyday life?

L: Thank you! I really do appreciate that. The lyrics are largely ruminations on autobiographical topics. Songs like Keen directly deal with the untimely death of many friends over the years fell to accidents and murder. It’s a song about Ørlög or the web of fate so powerful that we and even the gods are subject to its force, which we in turn fight against or work with. Dead men do no deeds but it’s the one certainty we are all faced with.

L: Other songs are less didactic. The Veiled Lady deals with heartbreak, deceptions, and the thick air of disavowal but also concerns I was facing in the narratives of my paintings. One noticeable trait of all of the lyrics on the album is their settings in the seasons and currents in nature something that can be quite palpable in Minnesota’s environs. In terms of everyday life, it’s the currents that run through the course of life rather than the banalities of passing time.

L: The oak, dagger and Balder’s brow, which has become a symbol employed by blood and sun, speak of steadfastness, decisive action and continual becoming in a life filled with many counter currents.

J: Where did the title White Storms Fall come from?

L: Trudging through thick snow while the skin on your cheeks freezes and your lips crack when you attempt to smile.

You worked with Robert Ferbrache on this album, who's worked with some amazing artists. What was that like?

L: Working with bob was an absolutely wonderful experience. Adam of Pesanta and I stayed with Bob at Absinthe Studio for three days while mixing down. A good portion of the time was just sharing stories over absinthe, listening to 5-point surround mixes Bob does on his own time of Blood Axis, Woven hand and other amazing artists he’s worked with. Then when the work began he worked hard and understood what I wanted from the mix and how to get it there.

L: Bob is directly responsible for the Denver sound as well as many of the sounds we know as Neofolk.

L: During the trip Petras of Velnias decided to test our mettle by driving Adam and I up the shadow side of sugar loaf on an old mining road covered in snow no wider than the wheels of his truck to a stunning view of boulder from the fire swept peak.

L: I should also mention the countless hours the engineer Paul we worked with in Minnesota at Sunless Houses put in as we sculpted the final tracks to be mixed by Bob. As I understand it this was the last recording project he planned to take on.

J: How did you decide to release the new album on Pesanta Urfolk? They're a label that consistently wows me to be honest with their artistry and packaging. Did you have much say in the layout, design, and release of the album?

L: Adam and I met in Minneapolis through mutual friends and I was able to attend Stella Natura due to a change in jobs and the friendship with Velnias. We discussed working together and simple as a handshake we started working. Despite the delays of working with a one-man outfit that splits his time between several locations, bands, and numerous releases, Adam is sparing no expense with the album. It will be coming as a vinyl release (with CD included) housed in a red faux-fabric-gatefold with gold-debossed images and text and 12” booklet featuring the paintings of my good friend Luke Hillestad. Adam did the layout from my preliminary directions and I have to say it looks quite impressive.

J: You've recently moved from Minnesota to New York. Can you tell me a little bit about the move? Has it affected Blood and Sun?

L: I can’t say it hasn't, but from the inception a move was expected. I was finishing up a painting program in Minnesota and only because of a grant I received from the state of Minnesota to work on a body of paintings, postponing my move, did I even have the opportunity to work on White Storms Fall as it has materialized. In a sense, it has put me in closer proximity to people like Michael and Annabel of Knotwork/Blood Axis, and Jane of Tesco and I was able to work with them, Scout Paré Phillips, and the Lindbergh Baby on a show in December. It does pose interesting questions as to how lyrics may be affected by the change in scenery. It also provides opportunities to work with new people, which is an important part of what Blood and Sun has been about from the beginning.

J: You recently played a show in Brooklyn with two of my friends, Sean and Erik. How did you get in contact with them? How was the show?

L: The show was great. I've been a friend of Sean’s Fiancé for nearly a decade and Erik Proft and I have had many mutual friends over the years. They both took time out of their busy schedules to help me with the show and I feel it went quite well - there was bit a of a Brown Book [editor's note: Brown Book is a Death in June album with much electronic influence] feel with the electronic percussion. It was an honor to work with such dedicated men and I can’t say enough good things about Heaven Street records.

J: Do you have any plans to tour after the album is released?

L: Angela and I will be playing Thirst for Light in Washington this summer solstice and opening for Agalloch on their Minneapolis date a few days previous. I’m currently in a grad program for painting in New York so extensive touring won’t be feasible quite yet but there is talk of doing several shows in a Heathen brew hall in Minnesota over summer if anyone cares to make a trip.

L: We’ll see what opportunities unfold as I would love the opportunity to take it on the road.

J: Anything else you'd like to say?

L: Thanks for the interest and questions! And thanks to all the listeners of the album so far! Your support is appreciated.

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