Dark Forest – as many of you may know, I am a big fan of this band since their inception, recently they dropped a new studio album ‘Oak, Ash & Thorn’, which I found most pleasing. I had another chat with founder and main songwriter Christian Horton. It’s also clear, that you should never judge anything by its cover, in terms of interpreting the song writer’s inspiration and reviewers interpretation!
AN: ‘Oak, Ash & Thorn’ is another in depth statement and story, over the last couple of months since its release, has the response been different? I just wondered if the release felt different in the current state of the world?
DF: It has been doing really well, there have already been multiple re-pressings and overall we have had wonderfully positive feedback. It has probably been the best reception as far as reviews go and people have generally been very supportive and enthusiastic. I’d say that the current times have helped if anything rather than hindered. People have been bored and felt trapped and I think they’ve needed things like music more than ever. Maybe in that respect, the album came out at just the right time.
AN: You had some recordings in the bag, then you read ‘Puck of Pooks Hill’ (by Rudyard Kipling), did any of that initial material make it to the eventual release?
DF: Yes, at that point we’d already wrote a lot of the album, I had most of the song’s structures, main melodies and lyrics. The book was mainly leaned on for the album title because the subject matters within the story were similar to what I was already writing, so it suited in that way and sounded better on the ear to the working title we had, which was also taken from a book on folklore, “A Sheaf of Gleanings”.
AN: You always have an interest in history and folklore, what was so powerful in the novel that made you re-address things? Having read the book myself following your album release, what in particular stood out? The flow of the novel is pretty much, to my mind, flows through the album starting with ‘Wayfarer’s Eve’ and all that follows thereafter.
DF: Well after reading various reviews, the book’s influence on the album has been slightly taken out of proportion I have to admit. As I say, the main thing was borrowing the album title from one of the poems in the book and we made use of the book’s themes more so for the album artwork. It’s not a concept album based on the book, it just has similar themes in both. I was writing lyrics that dealt with a sense of connection to the past, to heritage and to landscape and people and also about the loss of purer, simpler ways of living amongst other things. The book is a journey through the country’s past through the eyes of various spirits from different eras. There was a resonance there, which I thought I could work with.
AN: How did Josh get to grips with the lyrical content? The emotive nature of his voice transcribes to the songs and their subject matter; was it simply by direction or by personal knowledge? i.e. did he also read the book?
DF: Josh is very good at taking away the lyrics and really getting to know them and understand the message within. I think that’s partly how he gets that emotive sound and delivery, but it’s also down to a hell of a lot of solid practice.
AN: The artwork depicts Hollow Hill, three eras of England’s history and the three sacred trees, how did you re-create your vision to Duncan Storr (artwork creator)? It looks better than fairies!
DF: It was built up between the two of us really over a year or two, discussing the concepts and flowing with the ideas as they changed and developed. Originally the concept was centred around a hollow hill, the underground dwelling place of the fairies or sometimes, ancestral spirits of the dead. We kept that in there and the fairies are still on the cover feasting inside the hill, but after reading the book and deciding on the album name, that’s when we developed the idea further and had different eras of history represented as ghosts of the past and put the three trees on the hilltop. The idea was to try to capture a sense of both heritage and magic.
AN: You used Hellfire studios near Burton Upon Trent, why Hellfire? (there’s some pretty decent breweries in the area)
DF: We’ve worked with Ajeet Gill, the engineer and creator of Hellfire for years now, every record has been done there except for ‘Dawn of Infinity’ so we know each other really well and are very comfortable there. It’s a really important thing to be able to feel that, if there’s an awkward or uncomfortable atmosphere it will affect your performance. He’s also a very experienced and great at what he does, so there wasn’t really any question of going anywhere else. We did enjoy a few nights out in the pubs too but although Burton is the historic capital of brewing, you’ll never beat the Black Country for ale.
AN: Musically, you follow your own path, have you had any inspirational encounters that you feel are emulated on ‘Oak, Ash & Thorn’?
DF: There’s the obvious ones like the influence Maiden have had on us, but I don’t tend to think in terms of comparing ourselves to other existing music out there. I have a huge appreciation for the bands I grew up listening to and always will, but when I’m writing don’t listen to much at all, maybe folk or classical more than anything. I think I like our music to be as pure and honest as possible without having other influences creeping in. What I mean is, I know you will always have the subconscious influences coming out, but as much as possible I like our music to come only from ourselves if we can help it, to be a true expression of ourselves.
AN: Is there any particular literature you would recommend your fans have a read of?
DF: Colin Wilson, especially The Occult and Mysteries. Geoffrey Ashe for the historical Arthur, Gareth Knight for the mystical Arthur. Dion Fortune. T.C. Lethbridge. For high weirdness, the works of Paul Weston, Andrew Collins, Ken Webster – The Vertical Plane, Matthew Manning – The Strangers, Stephan Schwartz – The Secret Vaults of Time. For paranormal classics Catherine Crowe – The Night-Side of Nature, William Denton – The Soul of Things, Henry Olcott – People from Otherworlds. Elliott ‘O Donnell for ghosts. For folklore I’d go to Evans-Wentz, W.B. Yeats, Katherine Briggs, Crofton Croker, Rev. Robert Kirk, Thomas Keightley, Eddie Lenihan, E.M. Leather, Elizabeth Mary Wright, M.C. Balfour and Charlotte S. Burne.
AN: What do you think would be your day job in times of old!?
DF: Either a Forester a brewer or a Beekeeper.
AN: Cruz Del Sur seem encouragingly supportive, what’s it like to work with them?
DF: It works well yeah, they know we like to be left to our own devices and basically let us get on with things until a release time comes around. We appreciate the faith they’ve shown in us since the early days and I think it’s paying off for them now too.
AN: Are you going to do a run of t-shirts? They are always quite hard to get a hold of!
DF: Yes we’re currently working on a new run of merch, both t shirts and patches and they’ll be available very soon.
AN: I am not even going to bother asking about a tour, its tough out there at the moment, but I hope our paths will cross again.
DF: Yes I’m sure they will, we’ll be back on stage as soon as we get the opportunity!
AN: In the modern world, I think many have lost touch with our charm and history, by constructing work like this it brings out the heritage and a sense of warmth and mysticism of simpler times. Therefore, I thank you for that. I wish you all the best and when things return to a sense of normality, I look forward to some live shows and the opportunity to raise a glass/tankard!
DF: Thank you for those kind words and for the interview!
“Trackway and Camp and City lost,
Salt Marsh where now is corn ;
Old Wars, old Peace, old Arts that cease,
And so was England born!”
“She is not any common Earth,
Water or wood or air,
But Merlin’s Isle of Gramarye,
Where you and I shall fare.”
Many thanks, best wishes
AN: “Oak, Ash & Thorn” is available now on Cruz Del Sur Records…buy it, it’s awesome!
Interviewed by Paul Maddison