Thursday, February 2, 2017

Interview: Ashenspire

The world is undergoing an upheaval. There's a Right Wing Populist movement raging its way across Europe.

Hydro prices in Southern Ontario are going through the roof.

There's very little going on in 2017 that is going according to plan. When this year was drawn up, we are in a tailspin.

The best part in times of unrest is that artists find all sorts of inspiration. Ashenspire speaks about the long standing British Empire...and more.

Glacially Musical: Thank you for taking some time out your schedule for me.

 Ashenspire: Not a problem at all. It’s a privilege!

GM: Well, your new album is a large undertaking. How did you come to write such a dense album? 

AS: It actually came very naturally.

I started writing music about four years ago and every song was put together instrument by instrument. We don’t really write music in the studio; if anything, we have always sat down to compose music, either myself alone, or with the others.

But for as to how dense it became, I suppose that’s party by design (it was always the intention to create something almost clamourous, with many layers, requiring relistening) and partly by accident – I’m quite self-indulgent with my compositions.

Does it sound good? Throw it in!

GM: Tell us about the laudanum quandary. I mean, I don't precisely know what laudanum is. Help educate some Americans about this period of history.

AS: Well, Laudanum is a 10% tincture of opium, used almost ubiquitously in medicine throughout the Victorian era in the British Empire and the United States.

It’s immensely addictive and a potent analgesic. The Laudanum Quandary is something of a self-made idiom, referring to the opium wars that Britain waged against China in the mid-19th century to force the legalisation of their opium trade (which had begun to cripple the Chinese workforce through rapidly increasing numbers of addicts).

It’s also worth bearing in mind that the opium Britain was selling was grown on plantations in India, a colonial state at the time. Further, the trade of opium was strictly prohibited IN Britain. There’s a huge moral discrepancy there, born out of avarice, arrogance, and pure exploitation. What we mean when we talk about the Laudanum Quandary is that this incident is not isolated in any way.

There are hundreds of similar stories on varying scales. Our quandary (or dilemma) today is whether or not to accept any responsibility for these atrocities. What generally happens instead is that such events are swept under the carpet, our history is sanitized, and we perpetuate the inequalities that we brought about, generally shifting the blame elsewhere or demonstrating wilful ignorance (“Speak Not”).

We prefer not to think about how we benefit from such horrors, but it’s vitally important for societal progress for people to consider where they stand in the modern world and how they got there.

GM: The use of strings and pianos is a wonderful touch. What brought it about?

AS: Again, very naturally! Mr Johnson (our violinist) has been a close friend of mine for years, and we used to play improvised music together on occasion.

When I was creating the band, I approached him immediately. With piano, I just love the way it sounds, and composing with it. Another close friend of the band, Scott McLean (Falloch) is extremely talented in that regard, and it came together perfectly.

We’re big fans of Jazz and Jazz Fusion in the band, so that also plays into our love for instruments outside of metal conventions.

GM: Did Brexit have anything to do with the inspiration behind this album?

AS: Strictly speaking, no; this subject has been close to our hearts for a long time.

Brexit is more a perfect exemplification of why this album needed to be made. It’s more relevant than ever because of the political movements of recent years – the rise of right-wing populism, bizarre and misplaced notions of “Great” Britain, hate crimes and widespread discrimination against refugees.

All these things reek of the arrogance of British imperialism.

GM: There's so much about the making of this album I'd love to know and I can't help but going back to the singular parts. When I listen to it, I see a person chained to a table confessing.

Where did this singing style come from?

AS: That’s a fantastic image, and not altogether outside the realms of possibility!

The style is called Sprechgesang, which is an operatic technique that translates literally to “speak-singing”. I came across it first as demonstrated by Mr Doctor of Devil Doll, a Slovenian experimental rock group from the late 80s/early 90s.

The man was a definitive genius – the levels of expression he could reach in amongst a maddening, demented monologue… there was nothing like it. I had no interest in performing conventional harsh vocals (I see them as useful, but quite limited in scope), and Sprechgesang offered a way of really conveying the subject matter in appropriately agonised (and equally absurd) way.

GM: Do you find it harder or easier to write these long songs?

AS: Honestly I don’t have anything to compare it to.

I’ve always written long songs. That might change, but certainly for this album it was important to have songs that could establish flow, and maintain a narrative.

GM: What are the five most important records of all time?

AS: A truly impossible question. “Most important to me” I can just about do though…

Devil Doll – The Girl Who Was… Death 
Miles Davis – Bitches Brew
A Forest of Stars – A Shadowplay for Yesterdays 
Altar of Plagues – Teethed Glory and Injury 
Paul Shapera – The New Albion Radio Hour, A Dieselpunk Opera

GM: How do you relax?

AS: A good ale, some Thelonious Monk. Alternatively I play the drums (my primary instrument, nothing clears the mind more) or do illustration.

GM: What didn't I ask that I need to know?

 AS: This album is only the beginning. Educate yourself, and bring justice to an unjust world. Onwards and Upwards!

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