|Country: United Kingdom
Genre: atmospheric black / post-metal
Hello! I would like to start the interview with some general questions about the band and also some questions about Fen’s history, if you don’t mind. First of all, I would like to ask you about the band’s name. I’ve read somewhere that you chose your name as a reference to a region in eastern England known as The Fens, or also Fenlands – is that right? I guess this area is somehow special for you since you named your band after it… could you briefly explain why did you choose it’s name? Anyway, as far as I know, the band is from London, but London isn’t a part of The Fens, so how is that possible? You lived there and then you moved to London?
The Fens are an area of desolate, reclaimed wetland based in the Eastern area of England. It encompasses parts of Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire and it is where myself and Grungyn spent our childhood & adolescence. For me, as a teenager, the bleakness of the landscape seemed in some way to encapsulate many of the negative emotions and sense of isolation that many experience at this time. This may sound rather ’emo’ to some but this did have a profound impact on my outlook that has stayed with me into adulthood.
When the band started, the stark, winding, bleak nature of the music we were creating seemed to speak of the fens and echoed themes of loss, sorrow, regret, emptiness and death. It therefore only seemed fitting to name the band after this area. I moved to London in 1997 to study and have remained here ever since but I frequently return to the fens to absorb the unique atmosphere of the area and seek further inspiration.
Still about the band’s name and The Fens – it was also written that you “find much of the inspiration for the music from the atmosphere of this area”. I know this is a little bit indefinite question but – how do you find an inspiration for writing music? Do you really see Fenlands as a source of your inspiration? If so, how should we understand that this region inspires you? Just walking around through the landscapes and thinking about music, then express the feelings with the instruments? When you live in London – how do you let The Fens inspire you?
My parents still live in the area so I visit fairly often and always try to fit in a walk amongst the flat, empty landscapes there. Wandering across the blackened peatfields as twilight gathers and the crows circle to roost is a stirring experience and often sets the flames of inspiration alight. This is certainly a key influence on the writing process but certainly not the only one – a notion can strike at any time, an idea bubbling up from the subconsciousness and demanding to be given voice.
Indeed, I am often at my most creative when sat alone in my room in the darkness with only a guitar and a glass of single malt whisky for company. Fen is a vessel to channel solitude and depression through the metaphors of landscape. Whatever it takes to aid in this channeling process is where inspiration can be found. In this, the fens can sometimes “speak” to you, the ghosts that once wandered the lands, the spirits in the soil reaching out to those of the present. It is not a conventionally beautiful rural landscape – instead, it is an area replete with mysteries and half-forgotten stories, lonely winding waterways and windswept peatfields. It nourishes the soul.
When we talked about inspiration in the previous question… when someone says that a landspace inspires him, I always imagine it as an instant expression of the feelings and atmosphere of the surrounding countryside, as I mentioned as well. However this “instant expression” would mean a need of improvisation (at least partial) to capture the honesty… and I have to say that Fen’s music appeals to me as an honest one. Do you like improvisation? Do you use it when you create music? Or do you prefer a gradual improving of certain pieces of the songs?
Improvisation is always valuable, however one must be careful as unfettered improvisation can lead to meandering and unfocussed results. From our perspective, we like to incorporate elements of improvisation/jamming into the writing/recording process – some songs are practically fully-formed when brought to the rehearsal room, others start life as mere sketches or a couple of loosely-linked ideas. In these cases, jamming through ideas with Grungyn and Derwydd can be a very fruitful experience and yield unexpected, results.
Indeed, “Wolf Sun” from the newest album is a case in point – this was actually written by Grungyn and his original intention was for it to be a slower song. Derwydd’s interpretation of the opening section however added a much more “rock”-like dynamism which was then reflected through the rest of the song which we all agreed enhanced the entire piece. So this is one example of where improvisation lead to positive, organic creativity. The same is true with the final few minutes of “Spectre”, again a section which evolved as a rehearsal room jam. Such moments are powerful, wordless, instantaneous and pure creativity – in many ways, the apex of the band experience.
Well, let’s change the topic a little bit. I really like Fen’s logo. Could you teel us who created it? Does the symbol above the letters have any special meaning? Or it is “just” a good-looking logo and nothing more?
The logo was created by Grungyn and I am afraid there isn’t any culturally-specific sybmolism behind the spiral that is incorporated into the logo. Nevertheless, the spiral is an ancient device laced with significance and it is very much for the observer to add their own interpretation to the logo. Much like the misty corners of the fens themselves, the logo can be seen as a mystery waiting to be uncovered.
You cooperate with Italian label Code666 Records since your debut album “The Malediction Fields”. They’re a label with quite good name within the underground scene. How did you manage to get in their roster in time when Fen was a new band?
Our debut EP was released by the respectable niche label Northern Silence – at this point, we didn’t have any profile or exposure really and this initial release started to capture the attention of a few people. It was as a result of this that Code666 approached us – Negură Bunget’s “Om” had recently been released to great acclaim and they clearly wanted to further explore the atmospheric, progressive side of black metal further. “Ancient Sorrow” clearly popped up on their radar so I guess it was just a case of being in the right place at the right time!
We had no issues with Northern Silence but Code666 were able to offer us a great deal with full distribution, tour support and the like. Not only this but they were able to demonstrate a real understanding of what we trying to achieve and from the outset, provided us with full commitment. None of this tentative “DIY-deal” stuff that some labels do, limiting their risk, playing it safe and waiting and seeing if a band is a “hit” before properly investing in them. Code666 have been 100% behind the band from the start.
I noticed that all your three albums were released in winter – “The Malediction Fields” and “Dustwalker” in January 2009 and 2013 respectively, “Epoch” in February 2011. Is it just a coincidence? Or is there a purpose in those winter release dates?
It’s just a coincidence I’m afraid! Unless you write/record in a superhumanly quick fashion, two years is about how long it takes to put a record together (particularly if you want to let the previous release ‘breathe’ so to speak). We do appear to have adopted a two-year “winter release” cycle though so I can understand why you might ask such a question!
We shall see how long it takes us to put the follow-up to “Dustwalker” together. We have a lot planned for the rest of 2013 in terms of supporting this album and whilst new material has already been worked on, it may be a little longer before album number four appears.
I’ve already mentioned your debut “The Malediction Fields” which was released back in 2009. From my point of view, this album is a little bit different compared to “Epoch” and “Dustwalker”, it’s more raw and more black metal. How do you see “The Malediction Fields” four years after it’s release?
I actually listened to it for the first time in a long while the other day and was surprised at how black metal it actually is. Given the restrictions of how it was recorded, I think it came out very well – we only had access to a fairly basic digital 16-track recording device so had to be quite creative with how we put the album together. I really enjoyed it though, the vocals are very harsh, the synths booming, it was like discovering a lost record from 1995-1996. The post/progressive elements were certainly present (particularly with “The Warren” and “Colossal Voids”) but overall, it is much more rooted in traditional melodic/atmospheric black metal as a whole.
It was only 5 years or so ago that we recorded it but I do think we have matured as a band considerably since then. “The Malediction Fields” was recorded in something of a blur, with “Epoch” and “Dustwalker” the approach was more planned, more meticulous. We also had the assistance of an old friend helping out with the last two records which really helped bring in some outside perspectives with some fresh ideas.
There were some lineup changes after “Epoch” album. What was the reason for Theutus’ [drums] and Æðelwalh’s [keyboards] departure in the same year?
Different reasons really. Æðelwalh had only been in the band for a year or so – his contributions to “Epoch” were excellent and we had toured with him in the middle of 2010 so despite his short tenure in the band, we achieved a lot with him. I just think he never felt fully settled if I’m honest – I think our way of working was quite different to what he was used to in the past. I’ll admit, I’m driven to the point of obsession at times and I think the relentless pace of work within the band was at odds to his approach. He prefers to take his time over things and ultimately, didn’t feel that he could fully express himself. I completely understand that – I’m not always the easiest to work with – so we bade farewell to him at the start of 2011.
Theutus’s departure was a long time coming. He is a man with a lot of commitments outside of the band – work and family taking up much of his time/energy – and it was clear in 2011 that he was reaching the limit of how much he could commit to Fen. By the summer of 2011 it had reached breaking point and it was with a heavy heart that he realised he had to bow out as he simply couldn’t dedicate the required time to the band. It was sad to see him go as he had been part of the band since the very beginning but I guess it was necessary to enable us to keep moving forward.
So yes, it was a tough year in terms of line-up changes/upheaval for sure but I believe we have bounced back stronger from this as a result.
After the above mentioned departures you dropped the keyboards. Why did you decide to continue without this instrument? Isn’t it more difficult to perform the older songs live without live keyboards?
We spent a bit of time once we got Derwydd on board thinking about how to develop the band’s sound. In the end, we all agreed that we needed to look forward, not back. As much as I like synth sounds, we found ourselves more and more drawn to the idea of experimenting with guitars & bass, using layered effects and textures to develop atmosphere.
It was this that moved us in the direction of jettisoning the synths as much as losing our second keyboard player in the space of 18 months. Whilst this had forced our hand somewhat, moving the sound forward was a key component and whilst it does present challenges to delivering the older material, it has also enabled us to reinterpret elements of these songs. Playing music live shouldn’t be a note-for-note carbon-copy replication of the recordings after all, there should be an element of delivery, of putting something out there ‘of the moment’ so to speak. Thus far, we have had no complaints.
Have you ever thought about possibility of adding fourth member with a second guitar to the lineup? Fen’s sound is quite wide and the another guitar could support this and also bring even more possibilities to the music, couldn’t it?
This is something we did consider – for a little while we rehearsed a few times with a friend of ours who had expressed interest in joining the band on second guitar. Unfortunately, this arrangement didn’t work out and we decided to abandon the idea. We didn’t want to simply bring on board an arbitrary guitar player – it needed to be someone we knew, someone we could relate to on a personal as well as a musical level. I’ve always tried to work with musicians who I know personally rather than take a risk on a complete unknown – Fen is too important to me to risk an outsider potentially disrupting the whole essence of the band.
So yes, it would open up more possibilities on the live front but we are happy with the line-up as it is. Grungyn’s bass sound has developed considerably over the last 12-18 months and fills in a lot of the sonic space. I have started to utilise stereo effects/amps and loops to bring into play more layers to the sound. It means that there is more pressure on myself and Grungyn to maintain the depth of the ambience but this works for us – at least in this way, control is not comprimised.
When we mentioned playing live, we can’t omit the fact you currently have two shows in our country confirmed. The first one will happen in Ostrava on 19th May as the last date of your tour with Agalloch. You’ve got 28 gigs ahead, how are you looking forward to the tour? Have you discussed the setlist yet?
We are all very much looking forward to the tour – we’ve played with Agalloch and hung out with them a few times so it should be a very relaxed, enjoyable experience. All three of us have often spoken of how good it would be to tour with those guys so it is an excellent opportunity for us and one will hopefully seize with both hands. We’ve already been chatting with the Agalloch guys about the tour and I think it’ll be an enteraining few weeks on the road – not only this, but the shows should be exceptional. They are planning two-hour sets each night which is a huge commitment to their fans.
As for us, I think we have around 45 minutes which gives us plenty of time to showcase our material and our live performances to a whole host of audiences who will never have seen us before. The set will be weighted towards the newest album with perhaps two tracks being aired alongside a selection of older songs. We’ll be mixing the set each night so there may well be some surprises in store.
Your second show in the Czech Republic was confirmed just a few days ago and will take it’s place in Pilsen at Phantoms of Pilsen Festival in October alongside with Aura Noir, Endstille or Koldbrann. This will be a part of an another European tour, or just a one-off show? Do you think there will be any changes in the setlist compared to the gig from May?
The Phantoms of Pilsen show is just a one-off for this specific festival. The line-up is killer so we’re quite excited about playing this one. It’s a little early to start speculating as to the set at this stage – we’re not even sure how long we are due to be playing for – but we would hope we can deliver something special for this show.
Last year you contributed on Enslaved tribute with a song “Resound of Gjallarhorn”, which is a pretty old one. I would expected you’ll choose a more recent one. Why did you pick up this song?
For precisely that reason, really – we wanted to do something unusual for this tribute and so decided that going right back to the very roots of Enslaved would be a more interesting approach for us. Given that the original is a simple keyboard instrumental, it gave us a platform to experiment with the song and develop it further down a more “Fen-like” path. I have no idea whether Enslaved approve of our version if I’m honest – I hope they do, I’m a huge fan of the band and have been following their development since about 1995. They’re one of the truly legendary bands – they’ve experimented, progressed and evolved whilst still maintaining absolute quality. For a band who started so young, who have just continued to create music whilst their peers split-up, reform, trade off old glories or simply disappear up their own backsides, it is truly impressive.
Well, finally something about your latest record “Dustwalker”. First of all, I would like to ask you who is supposed to be the “Dustwalker”? Does the title refer to anything/anyone?
I guess the concept of the “Dustwalker” is a self-referential to a degree. In essence, it anthropomorphises the concept of detachment and dissassociation. The idea was born from a period in the not-too-distant past when I felt somehow distanced from the world around me – the Dustwalker is therefore a figure who embodies that sense of distance, a figure who drifts in the cracks between realities. Belonging to nowhere, ghostly and ethereal, floating on the fringes of consciousness. It was a difficult time, personally speaking and it took a great deal of resolve to force myself to connect more readily with my surroundings.
I think this is an experience that most people can relate, particularly those who are swallowed up within the rapacious, ever-hungry maw of the metropolis. This overarching thread of disconnection runs throughout the whole album as a concept, thematically linking the songs. Some deal with more physical expressions such as “Hands of Dust” whilst “Walking the Crowpath” is more an exploration of temporal dislocation, of feeling trapped out of time.
It seems to me that the new album has most post-rock influences from all your efforts. The two previous albums were – in my opinion – atmospheric black metal albums with some post-rock flavours here and there, but “Dustwalker” is like those two aspects are equivalent. Do you agree? Is that the way which Fen will continue in in the future, melting more and more post-rock influences into your sound?
There has always been a touch of post-rock music within the Fen sound, I cannot dispute this. I think it has become more defined now because we are more comfortable with our own musicianship and the creative processes that drive the band. When we started making music, we didn’t REALLY know what post-rock was – instrumental, wistful atmospheric music was about as much as I knew – and to be honest, whilst we know a lot more about the genre now, it isn’t a conscious reference point when we compose.
Myself, I am more interested in the 80s new-wave/guitar-wave bands such as the Chameleons or Fields of the Nephilim as well as the early-90s shoegaze/indie scene (Slowdive, early Verve, Ride e.t.c) than most post-rock bands. It’s a tag I have no issue with as I do listen to post-rock but I guess those sections within our songs that fall into this category for most listeners are simply those sections where we turn off the distortion and explore more ambient soundscapes. My drive when composing is to forge further along the road of contrasting extremes – blending sheer aggression with sheer ambience is the ultimate goal, two opposing ideas united by their capacity to overwhelm the senses and envelop the listener. Post-rock music centres around build-ups, climaxes, loud/soft dynamics and as such, there are definitely elements of this that can be found within our music.
With this in mind, this is an avenue we will continue to explore, dragging in whichever influences we feel are necessary for us to push our sound further forwards.
I have to confess that some moments on “Dustwalker” reminds music of Agalloch or Enslaved, which is kind of a funny thing because both bands were mentioned above for different reasons. However, do you like those two bands as a listeners? Do you think they might have some influence on you as a musicians? Are there any other bands you would say they’ve had some influence on Fen? What music do you like to listen to in your free time?
It is of course a compliment to be compared to these bands – two icons of the extreme metal scene and forebearers of blending different influences in with an extreme metal template. I have already outlined my appreciation for Enslaved earlier but Agalloch’s ability to weave dusty neo-folk, chiming guitar-wave and progressive black metal into a coherent whole serves to produce a compelling concoction.
I explained two key areas of influence earlier – specifically alternative bands from the 80s/90s who deployed atmospherics and ambience – but there are numerous other wellsprings of inspiration also. Ulver’s “Bergtatt” remains a huge inspiration for all of us and personally speaking, Nick McCabe’s guitar work on Verve’s “A Storm in Heaven” and Neil Halstead’s sound in Slowdive are big influences for me. Elements of electronic music are also important – whilst we don’t utilise electronic elements per-se, achieving the involving atmosphere of projects like Black Dog, Boards of Canada and the like is a goal also.
I’ve been listening a lot to the ‘classics’ from the early-mid 90s black/death metal scene – Dissection’s “The Somberlain”, Emperor’s “In the Nightside Eclipse”, Morbid Angel, early Carcass, stuff like that. I’ve also been on a classic metal/thrash trip recently as well – lots of King Diamond, Manowar, Virgin Steele, Holy Terror, that sort of thing. And of course, there’s the obligatory “wimpy” stuff as well – a fair bit of Cocteau Twins, Engineers, The Cure e.t.c.
Well, there’s only the last question ahead. We usually ask not-so-serious questions at the end instead of ordinary “say something to the readers”, so… it is said that raining is the typical English weather. From your point of view, is that right? Personally I have to say that I really like when it rains because it has a specific atmosphere. What about you, do you like when it rains? Or do you prefer sunny weather? Thank you very much for the interview and for your time! We will be looking forward to your concerts in our country!
We had record-breaking levels of rain here in England last summer which certainly supports your point! Yes, it does rain here a lot, that is undeniable (although right now, it is very sunny and VERY cold). I’m not a big fan of the rain – I don’t mind it being grey, cold and bleak but getting wet is irritating. It soaks clothes, messes up hair (yes, I know that sounds ridiculous) and is generally a pain in the backside. Nevertheless, I do find adverse weather quite invigorating at times – a bracing walk in the gathering autumnal gloom with the winds gusting, the light fading and the smell of damp earth can be hugely satisfying – especially if followed by a pint of ale by the fire in a rustic pub. This is a quintessential English experience for sure. I just prefer it without the bloody rain.