Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Interview with Tony Wakeford of Sol Invictus

During this interview, Tony Wakeford shies a bit away from the "neofolk" label of his music. He describes it as a starting point, rather than an umbrella term, and I think that's interesting. I like to think of neofolk as pop music done with acoustic guitars, in a minor key, sung an octave lower than typical, though I suppose it's a bit more than that when its history and spread is taken into account. But that's kind of the pitfall in genre, isn't it? You can't possibly encapsulate everything by a categorical term. It's like meeting a person and thinking you automatically know where they come from based on their appearance or seeing a calzone but not knowing the ingredients inside. Calzones are great.

I remember the first time I really listened to Sol Invictus as clear as day. It was with my friend Jeffrey as we were driving across the country lugging merch for Death in June in September 2013. He played "Death of the West" for me - the whole album - because that was what Douglas was calling his North American tour. And by the end of the record, I was nearly in tears. My grandmother had recently passed away and it was a bit of a rough time for me and my family, but Tony Wakeford seemed to be dealing with something equally substantial on this record. He had taken primordial, archetypal dust of sadness and crushed it into a seemingly tangible effigy. Just thinking about it makes me emotional. It did something to me. Hell, it still does every time I listen. I can't really listen to that album before I see people just because it makes me so melancholy, especially the song "On and On,"which still makes me think of my grandmother.

But there are so many good Sol Invictus songs and albums. I was talking to Luke from Blood and Sun a couple months back when he played Chicago about Sol Invictus because he did a really great cover of "The Blade" on his demo. I'm not going to go totally overboard here, but Luke was telling me how he thought there was a lot to Tony's lyrics, especially in regards to historical allusions and themes. Anyone who talks to Luke knows that he is an incredibly well-spoken, intelligent dude. Hearing him speak with such knowledge and reverence for Sol Invictus was a real treat for me. If you're reading this, thanks Luke!

In my mind, Sol Invictus is one of the "big three" of "neofolk," the other two being the middle era of Current 93 and Death in June. Like these other two artists, Sol Invictus has released a ton of music. Tony Wakeford as Sol Invictus began releasing music in the late 80s and unlike other projects, has continued to release music through the current era, and is even going to release a new album on the 26th through Prophecy!

Jordan Reyes: Sol Invictus is a name with a lot of history attached to it. Some of the immediate connections I make are with Greco-Roman mythology, the Roman empire, and mystery religion at large. As your project gains history too, do you find that the name attaches more or different meanings? How?Tony Wakeford: Well it started as an alternative to using runes as this had becoming a bit of a cliche. Now it is just a name. Despite my musicians demanding to play in toga's.

JR: Similarly, there's a running interest in the act of archiving and learning in your lyrics, often concerning history. Obviously the documentation/analyzing process interests you. Has this always been the case in your life?

TW: Actually I try not to analyse what I do. The lyrics come and that is good enough. I know my mind enough to know to keep some doors closed and not look a gift horse in the mouth. 

JR: I read John Cage's 10 rules for writing and one of the rules is "Don’t try to create and analyze at the same time. They’re different processes."  I personally disagree with him, but what do you think?-

TW: I totally agree with him. A few  songs have come fully formed on waking up. Angels Fall being one. I see them as strange gifts I dread to think what they might mean, and I’m not sure if it matters.

JR: What sorts of things do you find yourself interested in learning these days?

TW: Very shallow as normal. Conspiracy theory's, twitter feuds and history, especially regarding London, at the moment.

JR: You've released a ton of music as Sol Invictus. This is a bit of a loaded question, but do you think that any of your releases are better than any others?
TW: Oh, yes. Certain tracks on In The Rain I’m very pleased with. My voice and guitar particularly on the earlier releases leave a lot to be desired.

JR: Many artists seem to drop off and others disappear from relevancy. As a musician who has managed to make music for a long time, what do you think is the key to longevity?
TW: It's what I do. While the ideas continue to come I'll continue to mold them into ear wax. I just play what spews out of my man brains.

JR: What do you think makes a song "good?" What role should authorial intent have in relation to how ultimately “good" a song is?
TW: My taste are very broad, from Matt Monroe to Faust and Shostakovitch so it is difficult to say. I remember hearing “Wichita line man” as a kid and knew it was a work of wonder. You just know.

JR: When you write a song, do you write the parts for all the instruments before they are recorded or do people get to put a little bit of their own spin on things?
TW: Normally, I have a few ideas but I’m open to other peoples. I bake the cake and they put the icing on.

JR: I know you recently released a 7" on Prophecy, but I've also heard that you are writing and recording a new album. Do you have most of it finished? How would you characterize the songs?
TW: “Once Upon A Time” will be out  at the end of September. It is a kind of homage to my prog youth. You have been warned.

JR: You've also been reissuing your old records on vinyl (something that makes record junkies like me happy). Many of them were only released on CD. Why did you choose CD only releases? Why reissue them now on vinyl?
TW: Not my choice. After an initial honey moon period I really got to hate CD’s. Shitty plastic jewel cases etc. At the time it simply wasn't  possible for economic reasons to release it on both formats. Now with brutal power of the Prophecy cabal it is, and with high production values, which makes me happy.

JR: I know you play often in Europe, but you don't seem to get over here Stateside that often. Do you think you will play in the US at all in the future?

TW: I would love to as there is interest. The trouble is to do things legally makes it very tricky with visas etc. 

JR: It seems to me that there is a bit of a growing enthusiasm in the United States for neofolk music with big events like Stella Natura and others becoming possible. Granted, I have had somewhat limited exposure to the history of neofolk just because of my age, but do you think anything is accountable for the fact that the majority of noteworthy neofolk music comes out of Europe?

TW: Although we are bracketed as neofolk I see it very much as a starting point and not a destination. A lot of it is a discovery of or a re-discovery of myth, history symbolism. Because of its age and its homicidal proclivities we have a lot to work with

JR: What all is in the future for yourself and Sol Invictus?

TW: I’m working on a new album, provisionally entitled Necropolis and have a number of solo and band concert coming up. Just staying alive at the age is a full time job. ; - )

JR: Is there anything else you'd like to say?
TW: Thank you!!

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