Expressway To Woven Skull
An interview for NARC magainze with Lee Fisher
Image by Colum O’Dwyer
This is the full version of an interview with Natalia Beylis from Woven Skull, conducted by email ahead of their Gateshead show in July. I first saw Woven Skull at Supersonic Festival in 2015 and they were a highlight in a weekend full of them, leaving me stunned and mumbling to anyone who’d listen about ‘if Godspeed were a folk band’ (not an accurate description, as we’ll see later). Since then, they’ve become regulars at all the right festivals, never failing to utterly captivate the audience, and released a barrage of essential releases through various sources. I must have seen them ten times in the intervening years and drunk with them a few times too. I kicked off the interview with Natalia by asking her to tell me a little about the band’s origins.
So firstly, can you tell me a bit about how Woven Skull came together. I know you and Willie met in the States, but how did a Ukrainian lass end up living in the middle of Ireland?
Soon after I was born my parents decided to hit the high road. We snaked through Europe, spent a few months living outside of Rome and eventually ended up in Baltimore which is where all of my memories begin. There must be a roamer’s strand on my DNA because I could never fully stay put. I met Willie [Stewart, drum and percussion] when I was living in Pittsburgh and he was on tour with his old band Bambi. A few months later, I followed him back to his hometown of Dublin. As the officer at Dublin Airport Passport Control said to me the other day “Whatever possessed you to shack up with an Irishman?” I have no real answer. Maybe he dosed me with a spell? Eventually we moved into a big warehouse space in the city. It attracted all sorts of everyone. Aonghus [McEvoy, guitar] lived with his parents up the road and used to come over with two of his friends nearly every day. They didn’t drink at the time and would just silently sit there on the couch. Sometimes they would play hackeysack. There’s a lot that drew the three of us together musically. We were all always at punk gigs. We all like Crass. We all like Smegma. Once Aonghus left the dry life behind we all found we had a common love of partying as well. Eventually the guy who owned the warehouse realized Willie and I were living there and it wasn’t just the artist studios we’d claimed it to be. We’d got so used to somewhere cheap with plenty of space that it was hard to adjust back to a cramped expensive city house. So we headed out to where there was no one to bother with all our noisemakings.”
Was there a set idea of what the band was going to be or was it much more informal than that?
The beginnings of what morphed into Woven Skull were sparse, with me writing monophonic tunes on a little bowlback mandolin, leaving expanses of space for whatever would eventually come to fill itself in. My friend Ivan Pawle was the first one I tried playing these lines of music with: Ivan on hurdy-gurdy and Willie accentuating the most skeletal of all rhythms on a frame drum. Ivan was soon called away to dig up bones so we brought Aonghus into the fold and that’s when the spaces began to swell. We were in no hurry to cement the sound of the band. We still aren’t. I reckon it will keep morphing alongside us as we go. The only thing that remains constant is that there are us three at the core. Beyond that we’re always getting stirred from playing and recording with a bunch of inspiring musicians.
There’s quite a contrast between Woven Skull live and many of the releases. I believe the idea with Lair Of The Glowing Bantling was to capture something like the live incarnation (or as it was at that time) but there’s a lot more field recordings, abstract collisions, concrète elements, soundscapes and things with the tapes. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
Since Willie and I live about two hours from Aonghus, we rarely have short band practices, preferring instead to get together over a few days. This gives us plenty of time to create sounds outside of those we set aside for our live gigs. We’ve played together for so long that I feel completely at ease trying any ideas out with Willie and Aonghus. Sometimes they look at me like I’ve grown arms out of my eyeballs but I never feel judged and without that rush of having a restricted time in a practice room, we can give any notion a try. Thankfully though, there’s enough honesty between us to admit when it’s going woefully wrong. When it’s going right, we record it. Our practice room is awash in noise making possibilities: bundles of seashells, a pump organ, disintegrating kids toys. They get added in, and a lot of what we end up with is delicate and abstract or calls for the kind of listening atmosphere that we aren’t trying to create with our live set. Live, I just wanna swaddle the space with everything we can push at it. The Bantling LP is the first one that we recorded with an engineer in a studio and it was an attempt to capture the songs and atmosphere of our stage performance. I think we nearly got there though it’s still got a delicacy over our live sound. Our other recordings give more of an insight into the space in which our sounds are created, into the sounds that are going on around us while we’re recording and into snippets of our writing process.
Thinking about the live band again, you’ve had various comparisons (including from me) of being like an acoustic / folk take on Velvet Underground or even Godspeed You! Black Emperor, that same sustained intensity. Do you think of the band as being at least partly rooted in folk, and what else comes into play in terms of the sound? You’re all clearly immersed in a wealth of experimental and esoteric music.
For me two things come to mind when I hear the term ‘folk music’; the first is the traditional music of a specific group of people from a specific place and the second is the music that’s evolved from the Irish, US & UK folk traditions. We fit neither of those definitions. Someone did once describe us as creating self-imagined folk music. I kinda like that idea; that we’ve invented our own country and written the traditional music for it. But we are not a folk band and we are not rooted in folk. People who come to us with that expectation with inevitably be in for an unexpected surprise; pleasant or disappointing. We’ve never played acoustically live. Even though I play an acoustic mandola and various members join us on violas, violins and cellos, everyone is amped up, often running through pedals and FXs. There’s a lot of pushing the limitations of what is conventionally done with the instruments and how loud and nasty acoustic instruments can go in a live setting.
Tell me a little bit about the scene / community at home – I know you’re fairly near David Colohan [Raising Holy Sparks / United Bible Studies] for example, but I have this mental image of a busy scene of drunken improvising and collaboration?
Willie and I live in the least populated county in Ireland. It’s generally very, very quiet and I often find myself communicating with the sounds of four legged & winged creatures more so than two legged ones. David is our closest musical pal living about 45 minutes away. The elusive Fuzzy Hell is about an hour away. In terms of musicians I collaborate with, those are the only ones around. There is however a fine group of general creative misfits (architects, poets, woodturners) that regularly come out to gigs at our house. Plus tons of visitors pass through. People are always up for getting out of the city to wreck some sound havoc for the weekend. That’s often when the drunken improvisation kicks in.
There’s a sense of the importance of place – and time – that comes through really strongly in your music both in Woven Skull and your own work [Natalia has recorded in various incarnations, often for her own Sofia label], of things being in the moment and the location being part of the experience. Can you tell me something about that?
I had a little black cat named Pussolini (Puss Puss) (RIP). He was always trying to get something across through his ceaseless meowing. It got to the point where I wouldn’t really notice it in the present. But I’d be editing back through recordings and there’d be the Puss Puss meow: at the end of a Woven Skull track, in the midst of a field recording of the gurgling of the bathtub sink, providing vocal accompaniment to piano tracks. I like when the place sneaks itself into recordings. Audibly sterile environments make me antsy.
Whilst I know you’re all a bunch of drunkards and tearaways, and I’m including David in this, there’s nonetheless a vibe I get around you that I would hesitate to refer to in terms of spirituality or anything – I have no idea if any of you have any religious impulse, although Aonghus probably has a GG Allin shrine – but there is something that feels ‘other’in some way. Maybe it’s just coming across a group of people who are working towards something so creative and powerful, I dunno. I now realise it would have been better to ask this question over a bottle of rum at Supersonic than by email but fuck it. Do you have ANY sense of what I’m getting at?!
This question made me realise that I don’t personally have a working definition of spirituality so I asked Willie how he would define it:
“Being able to put yourself in a atmosphere or headspace where you feel comfortable, confident and at ease. That could be falling into a trance while listening to music or walking through the woods.”
Through his definition, I can safely say that David spends a lot of time in the woods and Willie spends a lot of time walking the boreens around our house. Maybe that’s how they find this sense of ease?
I was at a Sufi gig recently and there was one Sufi fellow that was doing a particular dance, he was rocking back and forth and had one finger pointed up to the sky rhythmically ticking along to the beat. I realized it was, to a tee, the same dance a friend of mine used to do at punk gigs years back. There were two other Sufi lads grooving along in a way that were you to pull them out of the audience and drop them into the middle of a Sleep gig and they would have looked right at home. Would they have even noticed? It got me thinking of that film Rock My Religion by Dan Graham which intersplices footage of people dancing at 80s hardcore gigs with Shakers ecstatic trance dancing. Hmmm……where am I going with all this?… it’s all the one I guess. Whatever gets you to that place of ease without imposing yourself upon others along the way.
But you know, No Gods No Masters at the end of the day.
I know you and Willie have a BIG thing for Moroccan / North African music: how did that come about, what is it about that music that grabs you and do you think it feeds into the band?
Every time Willie and I visit Morocco there’s just always live music everywhere: in the squares, floating above the rooftops, creeping down the alleyways. We both initially got into Moroccan music through listening to the Master Musicians of Joujouka and it’s their sound that drew us to travel there. It’s a different experience to listen to music in the place where it is written. When we got to Morocco we were inundated with Berber, Gnoua, Sufi & Chaabi music. Tapes are super cheap down there so it was easy to start coming home with recordings from all across Morocco and North Africa and slowly sorting through the sounds back at home. With Willie being a drummer I guess there’s that draw for him to North and West African rhythms. But we’re both into music from all over the lands. Eventually we’ll start making our way down and across to other places too. [Willie has a fanzine looking at his love for Moroccan music available here]
We don’t consciously feed anything into the music we write. But all the sounds I’m hearing must be mixing in their somewhere. That’s just the way it works.
Back to a more mundane question: you’re touring England in July, are you doing it all with $un $keletons or just Gateshead? And do you have a release / releases coming out to accompany it? If so, what?
We’re doing four shows with $un $keletons: Gateshead, Middlesbrough, Todmorden plus we’re doing an afternoon generator gig about 15 minutes south of Gateshead. It’s in a very secret location. Can you guess where it is?! There will be more info closer to the time on all the usual channels.
Woven Skull have two releases coming out for this tour. A 10-inch on Lancashire & Somerset Records which is us playing with Jorge Boehringer and Eleanor Cully. It’s noisy and free form and we let Willie use a full drum kit for it. We’ve also got a tape coming out on Cruel Nature (His Cattle Are Pets And He Goes With The Moon) which has a photo of me, my brother and my granny on the cover. It’s a more delicate and possibly more formidable release.
The other new thing we’ll have with us on this tour is a viola player named Ailbhe! This is very exciting. She’s a shredder. Get ready.
And what next, after the tour? Any other releases or big plans we should know about?
We’re at the final mixes of a new LP. So after tour we’ll be looking for a label to take that on and we’ll be planning some big tours around it’s release. Also we’ve got a split 7 inch coming out onGod Unknown Records this autumn. It’s got Thor & Friends on the other side. Plus we’re all always working away on material from solo stuff and our other bands and there’s some of that stuff coming out soon.
An interview with Patrick Toal for Yoshiwara Zine No 1, Sept 2015
Since 2008 the core trio of Woven Skull have recorded in dark haunted woods, beside bottomless lakes, and in the attics of abandoned houses. Their latest LP, “Lair of the Glowing Bantling”, is their first studio album, and an enchanting journey where we meet delightful characters and a ship full of drummers. Yoshiwara interviewed one of the trio, Natalia Beylis to shed some moonlight on Woven Skull…
Greetings from Yoshiwara,
Please introduce the individuals at the core of Woven Skull. What brought you together in the first place?
We’re a trio at our core. There’s an allure for me to the number three: the three witches of Macbeth, the three heads of Cerberus, the dynamic tension which exists within triangular structures. The constant members of Woven Skull are Willie, Aonghus and myself. When we’re recording and experimenting with sounds, we might use anything at hand to create resonance but in a live setting our set up is fairly consistent: Willie mainly bashes a floor tom and cymbal. Aonghus mostly uses a guitar (both conventionally and atypically) to create his sounds and I play the Mandola. Beyond that constant three, we’ve been lucky enough to have dozens of people perform and record with us. Two fairly regular players who are part of our extended family are David Colohan from Raising Holy Sparks and Jorge Boehringer from Core of the Coalman who have both played in Woven Skull on various tours and appear on numerous recordings.
I can’t remember exactly what brought the three of us together in the first place. We were friends first anyway and playing together just stemmed from that friendship.
We also have an allure to the number three. Did you have any overall aims or ambitions when you first formed as Woven Skull? Why do you think your approaches to music were able to fit so well?
There was no grand vision for what the band would become when we first started. There was just an openness to experimenting and creating together. We don’t all live in the same place so practicing isn’t ever just a two hour stint in a rehearsal room; it’s always at least a few days of hanging out, cooking food, playing our current favourite records for each other, a bit of youtube roulette, a walk with the dog, a few beers, maybe a bonfire and, of course, dipping in and out music. Well, usually. Though there was once when we were meant to be making music but instead we spent the entire day finding different foods to put on the BBQ (sliced mangoes worked surprisingly well….Camembert still in the wood packaging, maybe not so well). All that time you spend together feeds in and out of everything you do together. When you’re cooking alongside someone, you become attune to the rhythm with which they chop vegetables and somehow you fall in line with it and when you’re walking together along the lane the pace of your footfalls quickly synch up. Maybe it’s these very patterns that creep into the songwriting and make it fit the way it does.
There still isn’t a grand vision for where we’re headed. We’ll just keep exploring the reaches of this band together while it remains an enriching and engaging process. Whatever gigs, tours, releases and opportunities to play with other musicians come along as a result are an added bonus. For me, it’s the same way as I engage with life. I know that the moment I saddle an expectation on anything it will burst apart.
This approach comes across in your music, especially the prominence of nature. I have the feeling your music taps into something quite ancient. How has your own background influenced the music you create?
I think the things we create come from an amalgamation of all the odds and ends that we encounter through life. I don’t have a conscious awareness of the specific different influences on the music I currently write. I don’t mean there’s no influence on it, rather that I try not to ponder it. I like the mysterious abyss from which ideas erupt and I guess I’ve got an almost superstitious fear of pinning those things down, as though in naming them, I’ll get stuck with those specific influences and close myself off to others.
Your new album “Lair of the Glowing Bantling” is out on Penske records. Tell me how you came about the title? When did you first begin to think about making the album and what was the initial inspiration?
Up until now all of our releases have been a mix of practice tapes, home and field recordings and snippets taken from gigs. So our live sets and our recordings were two completely different beasts. When Albert from Penske said “Let’s make some vinyl,” we figured we would use the chance to capture something more akin to the songs we perform live. We tried to record these ourselves at home, in our usual way, but just couldn’t catch the sound right so we ventured into the studio.
“Bantling” came first. I like the shape my mouth makes when I say it….Bantling. I read it somewhere months before and it kept creeping through my brain.
“Bantling” is starting to creep into my brain also, I can see its allure. I believe this is the first Woven Skull album on vinyl. The first of many I hope. What has been the initial response to the album so far?
It’s great to have an album out on vinyl! We had a lathe cut come out in early June that Supersonic put out for us which was technically our first vinyl but that was limited to 15 copies. We’ve got a few other recordings at the moment that will hopefully be destined for LPs in 2016. Albert who runs Penske says that sales are going well at the moment so that’s a good response! I haven’t heard too much feedback aside from that though a friend just described the album as “glorious” so that’s very nice!
The first track on the album is called Ludo after Ludo Mich. What is it about Ludo that resonated with you so much?
The first time we spent the night at Ludo’s we slept under the trance of his large glowing eye sculpture. There was no turning back from his spell after that. For me, both Ludo and his art are completely pure and real. No pretence nor boundaries, just honesty. I don’t know if everyone gets this feeling but sometimes in life I come across a situation where I feel like I’m supposed to be this or that or supposed to act in some sort of sanctioned way. But then I meet someone like Ludo who is always daringly himself and it helps me remember that you can only ever be who you are.
The second track on our LP is named Chantelle after his wife. Ludo and Chantelle are just really good people who embrace life. They’ve got a big round table in their living room and any night I’m there it’s filled with a great mix of mavericks, sitting around, sharing drinks and laughing like conspirators returned from some secret adventure.
Soon all of Ludo will be revealed for the world….our drummer Willie is making a documentary about him at the moment.
The third track ‘Blind Willy’ is a beautiful song written by Sonny Sharrock. It’s a fitting midway point for the album. How did you come to recording this song? Why is the song important to you?
Our guitar player Aonghus first picked this song as something to include on the LP. I have a feeling that he chose it because he wanted to work on a composition that was very different from our other material. It’s much more straightforward and gentle and pretty and it’s in an uplifting major key. We all three quite like Sonny Sharrock….he just gets such a nice and nasty guitar sound….. so it wasn’t hard to convince me or Willie to want to record this. I know that it can sometimes be hard to distinguish between the sound of Aonghus’s guitar and that of my mandola. I think this was especially true before Aonghus switched to using an electric guitar (it was during the process of recording this album that he decided to switch to an electric). It’s nice to have a track where you can distinctly hear the guitar with just a few little seashells and sprinkles of mandola and cymbals in the background.
‘Sea Graves’ is a pulsating track and the only recorded live track to feature on the album. I was completely gripped by the song whilst spinning the vinyl. It’s truly captivating, as is the album as a whole. What are the Sea Graves the songs title relate to?
Aonghus chose the title so I’m not sure what it originally relates to but it fit the inspiration for the track. When Willie was writing Sea Graves he had the vision of a ship coming towards land in preparation for battle. He imaged the ship to be full of drummers pounding out a steady rhythm that both propelled the ship on its course as well as announced its arrival to those on land. A battle cry, really. The drums get louder as the ship nears shore. I often ring bells at the beginning of that track which I picture to be the bells of the people in the village, who upon hearing the sound of the drums, have run up to the church tower to warn the villagers that the time has come to either grab your weapons or else pile up all the furniture against the doors.
The final track ‘Wild Jorge’ concludes a fantastic journey. Who is Wild Jorge? Can you shed some light on the matter?
One fellow who bought our album reckons “Wild Jorge” should become the new national anthem. I’m not sure of what nation but I full heartedly think that Jorge, after whom the song is named, is deserving of an anthem. Wild, wild Jorge Boehringer (who, if I’m not mistaken, has had songs written about him in the past) is the Wild Jorge of the title. We’re all big fans of his. He’s a phenomenal composer and viola player and all of his music and art have a consistent high quality precision. He just nails whatever he sets out to do. Aside from that he’s a wonderful person.
Is artwork also an important part of presentation? ‘Lair of the Glowing Bantling’ has quite a distinctive cover. Where did this image come from and what does it say about the Woven Skull trio?
The artwork is a huge part of the release. Though that old idiom warns to not judge a book by its cover, I know myself that when I’m flipping through record bins it’s the first thing that pulls my attention to one release over another. The image is by Karen Browett who was working on a series of drawings around the time that we were recording the album. As soon as I saw her drawings I knew it was the exact kind of thing I wanted to visually represent the music. She and I are friends for such a long time maybe there was some cosmic force between us swaying her to create this image at the same time that we were creating the sounds. Karen did the art for an LP I put out a few years ago by the band Sea Dog and I’ve never tired of looking at that cover so I had a good feeling that the cover for this would continue looking good well into the future.
In June this year you toured the UK with an appearance also at Supersonic festival. What kind of experience was this? How did the audience receive you?
We played first on Saturday afternoon. Cloudy weather daylight streamed down through the skylights of the warehouse space. Before our own set we’d waited through an hour of The Bug’s soundcheck. I usually love listening to The Bug but the music felt so displaced at those floor shaking volumes in an empty room. There was an army of techs milling around and at one point during soundcheck we got accidentally immersed in an eruption from a smoke machine. It was the last gig of our tour so it was bittersweet and I guess the whole thing had a lonesome ting. The audience seemed to enjoy it and said nice things afterwards. On the last night of the festival we got to have a few pints with some of the lovely Supersonic organizers which was a perfect ending….the end of a long festival weekend for them and the end of a tour for us.
At supersonic, did you get a change to check many of the bands? Was there a particular performance that stood out for you?
I didn’t catch much on the Saturday but Richard Dawson picked all the bands for the Sunday of Supersonic and I really got into everything that I saw on that day. It was all solo acts: Rhodri Davies, Angharad Davies, Jiří Wehle, Afework Nigussie, and Richard played as well. (Phil Tyler was on first and sadly, due to cans on the canal, I missed his set.)
More recently in August you played at Supernormal festival and Tor Ist Das! Festival. Supernormal as I understand is a communal festival encouraging artists and musicians to collaborate and experiment together. That sounds like great fun. I can imagine the music of Woven Skull entrancing and beckoning people to experience the live performance. How was your overall experience of the festival? What were your personal highlights of playing and experiencing the other performances?
Supernormal was great! Well worth the trip over the sea to the UK if you can make it. You can follow trails into the woods and find people performing in all sorts of nooks and crannies and weirdos stuck up trees with drum kits and hardcore bands playing in clearings and people sitting in the dirt messing with tiny synths and pedals who might or might not be a part of the program at all. There was no shortage of madness. Asparagus Piss Raindrop ran a highly entertaining “pub quiz” during which some guy sitting beside me got up, yelled “You’re not making any sense!” and stormed off. There was a collaboration between some of the Gnod musicians, Charles Hayward and a few others that I really enjoyed called Anonymous Bash. I was transported to another time and place by a gentle and melancholy performance by two women, Rie Nakajima and Keiko Yamamoto, who play under the name O YAMA O. The Bonnacons of Doom ripped it up out in the middle of the woods on one of the sunny afternoons. I could probably go on and on about all the good stuff. Though there was one overall highlight for me. Jennifer Walshe’s performance topped anything I’ve seen in a long time. I won’t tarnish it by even trying to describe it.
We had a good time performing. We got to take part in three sets through the weekend. We played a kids gig that was organized by Supersonic. The kids went feral. We’d made them all shakers to play along to the music but the shakers just got them all hyped up out of control. They were throwing them on the ground and bodying slamming the shakers. Then went we started properly playing this one little girl just went around punching all the little boys. It was like a Lord of the Flies mosh pit. I’m not proud. Well……maybe I’m a little proud. We were also part of Neil Campbell’s Astral Choir during his performance where three stages were all overlapping/going at once over a three hour period. We added about ten minutes of vocals along with 10 or so other choir members. And we played just a regular old Woven Skull gig at the end of the Sunday.
As for Tor Ist Das!, how did playing here compare? What made it special?
Tor Ist Das! was very different. While Supernormal mainly takes place in a field with camping over three days and has an audience of about 800 or so, Tor Ist Das! happens in the town of Todmorden and is split between the Church there and a traditional Thai/English pub called the Golden Lion. I think they have an audience of about 200 or so. It’s much more intimate. There’s mainly three people that run the whole festival (and do a damn fine job at it!). The line-up was deadly and it was easy to catch all of the acts since nothing overlapped. A lot of the music blew me away. Guttersnipe was an especially welcome new find. A lot of people stayed for the whole weekend so there was a good chance to get to know new people from all around the place. There was a whole lot of harmoniums kicking around the festival. Someone told me recently that Todmorden is the “Valley of the Harmonium.” I’ll have to find out more about that! Our gig was a Woven Skull/Core of the Coalman collaboration and David Colohan and out friend Henry Davies both played with us. (Though Henry only played for the first 20 minutes or so because he had to run then to catch his train home to Nottingham half way through our set.) I ate the best chips of my life in Todmorden and drank very nice ale. It’s a magic wonderful place full of really talented weirdo creative types and UFO spotters. The Death Festival also takes place in Todmorden during which they have workshops on making your own burial shroud and other such Death-related interests. Todmorden’s got its own thing going on for sure.
You also started your own label Sofia Records and released the wonderful “Calendar of Moons” cassette where you asked friends to write a track each inspired by a particular full moon name. I particularly like Julys ‘Hungry Ghost Moon’. How did you manage to gather such an impressive array of artists? Was it difficult to incorporate all their input into your vision for the release?
I picked friends who I knew would be attune to lunar inspiration. There were only two musicians who I didn’t know personally and both came as recommendations specific to this project. I let people choose their own month and their own corresponding moon (from those that hadn’t already been picked). It meant that the order of the tracks was out of my hands after that and the final vision was left to chance. I spent a lot of time with the tracks together before sitting down and creating the packaging allowing the music to inspire the physical outcome.
The cassette and the packaging is also a thing of beauty and a fitting tribute to the moon. You describe Sofia Records as”A tiny label with tiny editions of recordings made by the people around me”. What’s next? Have you another release in the pipeline?
I have a few things bubbling in the pot but they’ll trickle out slow and steady. Years ago I used to run a label that was quite active. Though it was enjoyable in many ways, I was never very good at the business end of having to move lots of units and then try and chase up money from the sales so that I could afford the next release. I like the idea of having gradual releases that take longer but where each one has more that goes into the finished idea.
Next up, I’m doing a tape for “Fuzzy Hell.” That should be out by early winter. I’ve also got a stash of recordings that I’ve done of people singing and playing music in unusual locations. I’ve got one where my friend Conor O’Kane and I are standing up to our knees in the ocean in Donegal and he’s singing a song about a strange shoreline. I’m hoping this will make it out on vinyl in one guise or another.
“The moon is a friend for the lonesome to talk to”
Looking at Ireland right now, there is some incredible music being created, across all sorts of genres. Are there other current groups or scenes or whatever that you feel a particular connection with?
There’s so much good music around the country these days!! It’s really exciting. Directly around here there’s not too much of a scene..there’s me and Willie…David Colohan from Raising Holy Sparks lives near as does Yasmin who plays under Fuzzy Hell and that’s kind of it for the weirder side of things musically. Well, as far as I know! I constantly dream of stumbling across other people creeping around these woods and recording albums. If there was one thing I feel a particular musical connection to it would be the Fort Evil Fruit roster of musicians. Their releases include a lot of people whom I would feel are in my wider musical family (both in Ireland and abroad). It’s a great label, well worth checking out!
We are also big fans of Fort Evil Fruit at Yoshiwara HQ. Staying in Ireland. You had previously helped organise the Hunters Moon Festival which was held in Carrick-on-Shannon. Are there any plans in the pipeline for further Hunters Moon events/festival?
I’m always coming up with ludicrous Hunters Moon related suggestions. You know that movie, Festival Express? I’d love to do a Hunters Moon version of that. Get Iarnród Éireann to give us the use of a carriage for a week or two and fill it full of musicians, film makers, artists, a thumping sound system and cocktails and see what happens. I generally run these kind of ideas by Willie and he reminds me that we aren’t actually independently wealthy millionaires that could make this kind of thing a reality. But we’ll probably do something a bit more realistic in 2016. It won’t have the same format as the previous festivals but it’ll have the same general feel to it anyway.
Apart from stumbling through dark woods and entrancing festival goers, what can we expect from Woven Skull in the near future?
We’ve got two tapes coming out in the next month, one on Eiderdown Records and one on Makrame Records. The release on Makrame is a split with Hellvete. We’re heading over to Europe and back to the UK in late October and traveling around with Paul Lebrecque. A side from that we’re going to be doing a lot of recording over the winter which means a lot of new winter recipes to try out, a lot of firewood to chop and hopefully some dance parties in the living room between recording sessions.
Make sure to keep us informed if you find any more interesting food to cook with a BBQ. Thank you Natalia for answering my questions and please use this space for any parting words…
I’ll borrow some parting words of wisdom from my friend Dave, “Practice freedom people, practice freedom.”
Interview for Electric Whipcrack with Daniel Harrison, October 2012
First off, could you tell us a little about who the core members of the band are and how you came to meet/form the band? How long have you been based in Leitrim?
There are three of us that form the core of Woven Skull. In our live set, that is made up of guitar (Aonghus), floor tom (Willie) and mandola (me), with other musical and not so musical objects banged around. Willie and I met half a lifetime ago playing seven inches on a jukebox in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Aonghus I've known for long enough that I can't remember how or where from anymore. We were all friends first and then the band came after. I wanted to start a band that was in my mind like a repetitive, droney, dark medieval rock band. I had this idea where I'd play the same riff for as long as possible and get other people to create sounds around that. It started there anyway. Willie and I moved to Leitrim about six years ago, and that's mostly where Woven Skull has had its music base for the three or so years of its existence.
Is there an overarching theme or aesthetic with your records or a common thread that ties them together?
Our aesthetic has no planning and no plan. We just get together and record and see what happens. The aesthetic that comes out in the music and recordings is just how the three of us mix together in whatever space we’re inhabiting at the time. We do have a collection of unusual junk in our music room which might sometimes influence us unbeknownst to ourselves; like cheap-o Halloween and Mardi Gras masks, pictures cut out of old National Geographics, abandoned art projects and discarded kids toys.
Field recordings are a prominent element of your sound. Do you find your surroundings have inspired your music/sound significantly? Would you say that the recordings are uniquely of- their-place?
We spend a lot of time in the music room in our house and since our house is set in the middle of woods it means there's no isolation from nature. We might be in the middle of a track and then next thing I know one of the goats has escaped out of her field and has gotten into the house, and is in the living room munching away on some papers. Or I'll listen back to something we've recorded and in the background you can hear the cats having a scrap outside the window. Sometimes I'll go a few days and realize that aside from Willie's voice, the only other live sounds I've heard are the cows in the next field kicking off with something akin to an Albert Ayler horn section, or the drone of the cats purring as they sleep on top of my head, or the buzz of the wasps in the nest in the driveway.
The nature sounds and field recordings weren't a planned or intentional part of the band but they fit well for the moment. I just like the idea of whoever is listening to the music and sounds to be able to hear as much of the place in which they were created as possible. I'd love to travel around and record music in places as I go along. If I could do that then I'd able to look back and know for sure whether our current recordings are uniquely of their current place or if there's something else that connects them to us.
How do you generally approach recording? Improvisation and background ambience are obviously important. Is their much editing involved?
This is forever different. We’ve recorded in the woods and in churches, by rivers and in abandoned houses. Some of the recordings have been pre-pIanned and written specifically with a release in mind. That’s the way Moods of the Hill People was done. This meant a minimal amount of time editing (which is the most boring part of it for me). Some of our recordings are improvised and then edited and mixed with other sounds I’ve recorded at different times. This is what I did with One Of Three; I mixed music we’d recorded with nature sounds and other sounds I added to it along the way.
Most often someone will have an idea and then we’ll start playing with the basic structure of the idea in mind and see where it takes us. We’ll often end up recording for several hours straight without ever coming back to the same idea. I just record everything we do and then try and get back through it all eventually. I really like playing with Woven Skull and want to keep doing it for a long time. Always mixing things up keeps the music we’re making interesting to play.
There’s a healthy number of experimental musicians based in Ireland who emphasise imperfection, a sense of place and physicality, unique, outside-the-box venues for gigs and performances; in many ways it’s a notable contrast to ‘clean’ digital music, or to the traditional gig circuit. Do you think that there’s a good community here in terms of musicians or acts along those lines? Do you collaborate with other musicians, or draw inspiration or influence from any?
I'm not originally from here and one of the things I like most of all in Ireland is the weirdness of the people I spend my time around. So much of the art, writing and music is infused with a surreal darkness twisted with humor. I love it. In terms of experimental musicians in the country, it seems to me that in Ireland, like in the States (and other places for all I know), there are different groups of experimental people. There are those that get recognized by grant-giving bodies and given well-paid gigs in museums and Arts Centres and then there's the others who congregate illegally in underground car parks and under canal bridges. I like canal bridges.
Woven Skull collaborates with everyone. If we're having band practice and you happen to call by, you'll find yourself playing a bowl of chimes into a microphone before you've even had time to pop open a beer. We want everyone in our musical family, whether they’ve ever played music before or it’s their first time. Lately we take Dave Colohan with us on all our outings. Woven Skull and Raising Holy Sparks meld really well. We’ve been really lucky to get some awesome people playing live with us over the years.
With Woven Skull there’s a compelling mixture of traditional influences and more experimental tendencies. What would be your own background musically? Any particular influences that led you to your current path?
My family is Ukrainian which means my earliest music influences are the 60s Russian synth-pop of my parents’ youth and Soviet children's folk songs that my parents sang with off-key nostalgia. I don't know if there's any of that in Woven Skull but since moving to Ireland I have gotten into playing and listening to a lot of trad, and in terms of rhythms, structures and harmonies, that's in there for sure. Aonghus used to hang out in my kitchen when he was 17 or so and sometimes I'd come home to him making a shit ton of noise with pedals by the sink, so I guess he's always had those tendencies.
More than by music, it seems a lot of our influences are the sounds around us mixed with bargains to be had at charity shops and car boot sales. The majority of Willie's non-floor-tom set up has all been found and bought at the local junk market affectionately referred to by locals as “The Apocalypto Market” because it’s like a market you’d come across in that book The Road : broken junk that can’t seem to have much purpose. For me, I like the things that cross my path. My neighbor - who is a blacksmith - brought me over a sheet of metal recently and that's my main inspiration at the moment.
What’s next on the agenda, is there a new record on the way?
We made a video recently which was really fun so I think we’ll probably make a few more of those before the year is out. The second two albums in the ‘One of Three’ set are almost done and we’ve got a tape coming out in the UK soon which is quite exciting! Also, we were really lucky to get to spend a few days with Jorge from Core of the Coalman and get a lot of stuff recorded with him which will eventually get waded through. We’ve also all got other musical projects on the go all the time so it means that we don’t always have all the time in the world for Woven Skull.