February 14, 2015

Interview - 'A Forest of Stars'

Back at the end of January, Trevor reviewed A Forest of Stars latest album, Beware the Sword You Cannot See, of which he bestowed a mighty 10 out of 10. Now, he's had the great honor of interviewing the band, and I can tell you that it's a mighty fine read!

Interview by Trevor Proctor

LoF: Greetings - first and foremost, thank you very, very much for agreeing to an interview with The Lair of Filth – it’s an honour that’s greatly appreciated as I’m sure you’ll all busy preparing for the launch of your latest album, “Beware the Sword You Cannot See.” 

The Gentleman: Well, more than anything, thank you for taking the time to interview us! We deeply appreciate anyone who takes any interest in our silly little band.

LoF: For those who may not be overly familiar with the band could you please tell us a little about A Forest of Stars and its current membership?

The Gentleman: Well, there's a question and no mistake! We are a band; we started as four, after two had mulled it about for a fair few years. Then, as needs must, more were added and sometimes subtracted until we come to the latest version which is currently running on seven people. We call ourselves “The Gentlemen's Club of...” because we are a collective, but also because that prefix allows us to include people who are not in the band and playing instruments on stage, but who are of equal importance to the group and without which we couldn't exist; for instance Ingram “The Projectionist” who creates our videos, photographs, lighting and projections, or Lord Grum, who works on our art/design, or Robert Hobson from Silent City, who we've worked with in some crucial capacity or other since the inception. There are many more, obviously, but they didn't pay me enough to get a mention. And so, we all hang out at the Club, messing about getting drunk and making fine cuisine, and maybe once every two years – given the odd hiccup – we actually manage to pull ourselves out of this continuos stupor and record an album. It's a social thing as much as an art thing, methinks. Oh, and we're Victorians, obviously. And there's something to do with Black Metal in there too, I seem to remember. Do try to keep up!

LoF: Your music is hard to define due to its many changing tempos, styles, etc. which I feel is one of many positives about your music - how would you classify the band’s sound to a potential new listener?

The Gentleman: Honestly, we wouldn't. The need to label a band's sound is very important when trying to describe how something sounds using only words (instead of the music as intended), so we fully appreciate that that is not an acceptable answer. We came up with the idea of psychedelic or progressive black metal as a catch-all term, but it doesn't really give the full picture. The only thing for sure is that it is black metal at the very heart, and everything else is bolted on depending what mood we are in. Ultimately, we'd invite the listener to, err, listen, and make their own mind up without us interfering in the process – music is a very personal thing.

Kettleburner: I always quite liked steam-driven black metal, or post-good.

Curse: How about ‘Dystopian Metal’? Nah, thought not. Necro Prog?  yeah that’s it.

LoF: I was fortunate enough to review “Beware the Sword You Cannot See” for The Lair of Filth and am extremely impressed – how happy are you with the finished recording?

The Gentleman: Definitely the best thing we have done so far, but that is about as cliched as you can get for a band when presenting their new album. We're very, very proud of it, both the work we put into it beforehand, and the result of that work once it was finished. We've always said, as long as we're happy with it, that's really all the matters; everyone else is free to make their own conclusions!

Curse: Personally, I couldn’t be happier with the album. Lyrically and thematically it is all I hoped it would be for my part. That’s not meant to sound at all arrogant, just satisfied with the results!

LoF: Your last album “A Shadowplay for Yesterdays” received wide-spread acclaim from media and fans alike – do you feel this latest album will be as well received?

The Gentleman: I have absolutely no idea and speculating is pure folly. If you try to predict these things – or worse, calculate how you write to incorporate these things – then that way madness lies. Of course, none of us hope it sinks without a trace, but who knows? Perhaps standards of taste have actually gotten better over time; in which case, we are stuffed.
Curse: Ha ha, I don’t know – we have always created for ourselves first and foremost. If others should find attraction of otherwise in our work, then that is simply a bonus.

LoF: A Shadowplay for Yesterdays transported the listener to the Opium dens of Victorian London – what’s the setting for the new album and what’s its overall theme?

Curse: Victorian Bradford, perhaps – though I was born in the South, I am a born again Yorkshireman and have lived here the majority of my life. I don’t think that it would be unfair to say that there is a very Northern feel to my lyrics and outpourings; I would be unhappy if it were any other way. As regards the new album, the overall theme is that of death and the fears and tribulations that may well go with it. Premature burial, suffocation. Deep, damp earth. Maggots, worms, grubs. Earwigs in your veins. There is no setting as such for lyrics, more of an overarching feeling of death, dread and disorientation. Oh, and a little incitement of religious hatred. Par for the course, then!

LoF: I’m aware the album was recorded, mixed and mastered at Silent City Studios in Leeds, is it a studio you’ve used before and who produced the album?

The Gentleman: It is indeed! The first two albums were done with the good ship Robert Hobson, with only the third almost entirely by ourselves. I feel I must add that this current album was actually recorded by HH Bronsdon, and a damn good job he did too – Silent City handled the mixing and mastering. Production was mainly HH Bronsdon, with input from Kettleburner and myself, but really, that is something that all the group have a large say in and so that is how we like to credit it.

Kettleburner: I love going to Silent City, it’s based in a quiet spot by the side of a farm a few miles from some of our homes and Rob’s a good friend who knows us well. It is quite interesting to read back on mix notes from the albums. To take a few excerpts:

The feedback, wailing synth crap, etc should definitely be allowed to hang around and gradually die over the start of the next part”
“actually, the 'coffin' bit is fine - think it was my ears.”

make it more symphonic”

Noisy high pitched space radio signal synth could be louder, please! “

“We need something to really punctuate the final chord (do you have a gong handy?)”

LoF: Alex CF is the creator of the albums extremely eye-catching artwork, how did he come to work with the band and has he previously worked with you?

The Gentleman: He actually came highly recommended by a friend of ours (hello Gerrit!) at the label; that was the first time we'd heard of him, much to our own remiss. And really, Alex has surpassed our wildest dreams with the result, it's an utterly magnificent landscape.
Curse: Alex’s work on our album was beyond what we expected – we gave him a fair number of pointers and chunks of lyrical concepts, and he came back with something that encapsulated it all in such a final and exact fashion that we were and remain amazed. Top class work!

LoF: Does having a membership of seven complicate or lengthen the recording process and does everyone play a part in writing new material?

The Gentleman: It is impossible to write a song with all seven people at once, and though I'm sure someone out there can, we've never even bothered to try. We usually start by writing individually or in pairs, then once the song is fleshed out as far as it can be it's offered up for the whole group to put the polish on and make it sound “whole”. Some songs are mostly finished by the time they come to the forum, others just the barest of ideas, but it's all good fodder in the end. We do have quite a punishing rate of rejection, though (mutually and democratically agreed upon!) which I suppose is our attempt at keeping up standards, though nowadays, we've honed the instincts enough to know quite early on when to stop flogging the dead horse. I hope...

Kettleburner: Indeed, some horses you can’t even lead to water…

Curse: I am left in control of the lyrics, though they are all passed on to the band before final use to make sure that no one hates any particular sections TOO much. As regards the music, I do stick my oar in now and again, but try to leave the vast majority of it to the musicians. I try to do my job, and I know they can do theirs, so my interference is minimal. However, if The Gent, Kettleburner and the others approached me with a brit-pop album, there would definitely be ‘trouble’ as Robocop would have it.

LoF: You’re currently signed to an excellent label in Lupus Lounge, (Prophecy Productions) I’m aware they also released your album “A Shadowplay for Yesterdays” – how did you come to be signed by them and can we expect future releases from the same label?

The Gentleman: Oddly, they've been badgering us to join them right from the first album. We were flattered, but as we were signed to another label at the time (the excellent Transcendental Creations), we felt it would be rude to simply just jump ship. By the third album, it was getting difficult to ignore, and with the good grace and kind permission of TC, we signed to Prophecy. Honestly, we love Prophecy intensely, we could not be happier with them and we shall be releasing many more albums with their cooperation and excellent help. We wouldn't have it any other way.

Curse: Seconded – Prophecy have been very good to us, and are very genuine, music loving people. It is a pleasure to have the opportunity for our music to be released by people that actually care about it – and not a crew of knot-necked drones drooling dollar bills. It is my sincere hope that we will continue to work with Prophecy for the unforeseeable future!

LoF: Picking a favourite track from the album is nigh on impossible for me as they’re all excellent tracks and each has a number of highlights and talking points – do you have a favourite track (s), and which will be selected to play in the live environment?

The Gentleman: Pawn on the Universal Chessboard is my favourite; I will let everyone else choose their own. I'm immensely proud of that song/s, and it's the culmination all those years of both the band and my own song writing abilities coming to some sort of fruition, I think, he says reflecting on it. For live? Well, we wouldn't want to spoil the surprise! I suppose the most subversive thing we could do is just to not to play any of it: that would annoy people (and make our job easier). On reflection, that would be a bad idea. Funny for about five minutes (to us). But ultimately, a very bad idea.

Curse: As I have said, I couldn’t be happier with the album; but if I had to pick a favourite, it would be Virtus Sola Invicta – those are some of my favourite lyrics and delivery in my entire career, hands down.

Kettleburner: I think that technically any of these tracks can be performed live, although I don’t expect us to ever attempt to play the whole bloody album in one go (performing an entire album in one go is much less fun than it sounds). It is all very fun material to perform however.

LoF: Beware the Sword You Cannot See starts very strongly with Drawing Down the Rain; why was this track picked to premiere and will it, or other tracks from the album be released as singles?

The Gentleman: It was picked because it seemed the best all rounder to represent the sound of the album. And it's not exactly concise, but compared to Pawn/Chessboard it's much more viable as a “single”.

Kettleburner: I doubt there will be any other singles from the album, from the point of the album being available I would like people to see it as a whole work.

LoF: The final six tracks combine under the title “Pawn on the Universal Chessboard” to create a stunningly good, progressive piece of music - what’s the idea behind this title and how do these six tracks fit into the overall story told during the album?

Curse: The lyrical thrust of ‘Pawn…’ is aimed towards an individual passing (pissing?) through life, lost, indefensible, horrified; It is intended to run a gamut of emotions; anger, loss, distrust, struggle, fight, fury, frustration and death. The protagonist is fighting for all his worth, although he starts out lost, finds himself disoriented, and then becomes lost again. Just like real life, to my mind…

LoF: I was fortunate to witness most of your set at Damnation last year – the venue was extremely packed and everyone seemed to enjoy the set. How pleased were you with your set and did you get to see many other bands during the festival?

The Gentleman: Personally, I got to see very little of what I really wanted, but still managed a few things. You never get to do as much as you want, just because well, there's lots to do being in a band both before and after... As to our own performance, I really enjoyed it, as a) we managed to all fit on the stage, b) people actually showed up to see us and c) it went so fast I barely recall it happening. There was a moment when the crowd starting enthusiastically chanting “YOU'RE SHIT! YOU'RE SHIT!” which really puzzled us until we worked they were actually saying “YORK-SHIRE! YORK-SHIRE!”. That said, the first may well have been more appropriate.

Curse: Aye, it was definitely ‘YOU’RE SHIT!’, ha ha.

LoF: English underground music is thriving at present, probably enjoying its most productive period in many years – does the standard of music being released by your fellow countrymen bring any pressure to A Forest of Stars and what albums are you most looking forward to hearing this year – both from UK bands and from others from farther afield?

Kettleburner: I don’t think there’s any real competitiveness between all the bands we have played with (aside from the standard drummer BPM drum wars!), everyone just gets along and does their own thing. I think it’s already out but I’m definitely looking forward to hearing Caina’s “Setter of Unseen Snares” when I pull my finger out.

Curse: I’m very much looking forward to receiving my copy of Ahamkara’s album and hoping that Wodensthrone will have another out soon, and completely unable to wait for Nhor’s next opus. It would be grand to hear more from Sleep and Pentagram; Skepticism have just recorded theirs, so that’ll be one to wait for! There’s so many it’s hard to say. I suppose there’s no chance of anyone resurrecting Peter Steele?

LoF: Just how hectic will the coming weeks be for A Forest of Stars as you prepare for the album’s release, and have you any touring plans for the coming year?

The Gentleman: For me, very hectic – building the 500 versions of the box set (with Lord Grum!), a constant stream of interviews, lots of sundry promotional duties, co-organising a tour and learning the new songs before getting back into rehearsals very soon. None of which is meant to be a complaint; I wouldn't have it any other way, and I cannot believe the amount of good will and interest this record is generating before it's even been released. We would never dare take sure a rare thing for granted and are exceedingly grateful, if not a little bewildered by how unexpected it all is.

Kettleburner: The reception has been great so far! Touring this year is looking likely (although with recent experience of this, merely saying so will doom it). If the forces of nature don’t stop this then this will happen in the second half of the year at some point.

LoF: Having seven members I’m sure there’s a vast range of influences brought to the creative table of A Forest of Stars – which influences and groups would you say have played the biggest part in the formation of your overall sound?

The Gentleman: There is not a document long enough to hold it all! We take from everywhere (Curse calls us Musical Magpies, which is a wonderful description) and anyone that isn't nailed down, really. Obvious influences have to be (aside from the usual Black Metal stuff): Pink Floyd, Tangerine Dream, Swans, GSY!BE, Steeleye Span, Kate Bush, Early John Carpenter, Fields of the Nephilim, etc, etc...

Curse: To add to the above, Type O Negative, Devil Doll, The Legendary Pink Dots, Current 93, Skyclad, Coil, Shockheaded Peters, Simon and Garfunkel, Autechre, New Model Army and on and on and on.

Kettleburner: I think between the types of music that we like between the seven of us you could compile pretty much the best mix-tape ever and also the worst. Aside from the 90s black metal sound (with honourable mention to Ved Buens Ende and Burzum), I’d say that for myself Neurosis, The Ruins of Beverast, Weakling, early Queen, Negura Bunget, Hexvessel, Master Musicians of Bukkake, Deathspell Omega, Gong etc  have all specifically inspired me to make music (through that strange filter we call a brain), as well as much of what the Gentleman has mentioned already! Curse, Lungbutter, Bishop, Katheryne and William would all give different answers to this question.

LoF: Which bands, past or present, would you most like to share a stage with?

The Gentleman: Impossible, but Pink Floyd for me. Though I doubt that would be something they'd agree to and I suspect we couldn't afford the buy on (two gold plated mansions is the going rate I heard?) even if we were to try and elbow our way in. Current bands: Anyone that will have and will put up with us is more than welcome, we're not fussy, just so long as they're interesting, good people!

Curse: Present: It’s always a pleasure to gig with Wodensthrone; I’d be honoured to share stages with Virus, Hexvessel, Ulver, Urfaust (again)… there’s so many… Past: it has to be Type O Negative. That band played such a part in my formative years that I can’t put anyone else in front here.

A Forest of Star's Beware the Sword You Cannot See is released by Lupus Lounge, and can be purchased here.

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