Gazing into the darkness... [2007-09-15]Caïna are one of the darkest shining lights of recent post black metal scene with their mix of black metal, Folk, indie/shoegaze and post-rock, All with a very distinctive English edge. The whole project is played, sang and recorded by one person uk based Andrew Curtis-Brignell, in the last few years he’s released two albums; 2006 Some people fall 0n God is myth records and this years Mourner on Profound Lore Records (reviewed here). Andrew kindly agreed to give me an email interview.m[m] How did you first interested in making music? And was metal your first musical love?
Andrew I don’t think there was ever a time where I wasn’t interested in music in some form or another, even as a very small child I was always writing ‘songs’ on my 15 key casio keyboard, and when I got a little older was a boy soprano at my local church, believe it or not. However, it wasn’t really until I first heard metal that music really became something other than a ‘background activity’ – pleasant but essentially unimportant – for me. I remember I was about 11, and I had to bring a song into school that reminded me of ‘space’, and couldn’t really think of anything, so as a sort of joke my older brother played me Orion by Metallica, expecting me to be horrified, but in fact it was like a bomb going off in my head, and it sparked an obsession that has been raging with very little let-up ever since. After that first incident, I decided to learn the drums and formed some very embryonic metal/hardcore bands at school, but nothing significant happened before I came up with Caïna.
m[m] On both albums you play a range of different instruments - how many can you play in total? And are there any new ones you’d like to add to future albums?
Andrew It depends how you define ‘play’, really: the only instrument that I play that I’ve ever had any proper training is the drums – other than that, I had a short-lived and woeful spot of piano lessons as a child, so I can just about read sheet music. In Caïna I play several types of guitars, bass guitar, drums, piano and softsynths, as well as all the production, recording and engineering. I’m self-taught, and that’s by playing, not self-study, in all except the aforementioned – I have literally no idea what I’m playing when I play the guitar, but it seems to serve me reasonably well. Future recordings should see the 12 string harp and 2 octave Glockenspiel added to that number.
m[m] Mourner has a lot more of an English feel about it then your debut, with nods towards English folk music and the bizarre and emotional mix of instrumental and noise by the likes of Scott walker, and the emotional heart and lost air of Syd Barrett- did this happen organically or did you decided knowingly to make it more English?
Andrew I have a real distrust of artists who adopt another accent when singing – my favourite musical countrymen have always been those who sound very English when they sing, like Nick Drake, John Martyn, Robert Smith, people like that. I made a decision very early on to not disguise my voice too much when I sing – my singing voice is quite close to my speaking voice.
Andrew We’ve got such a strong tradition of narrative folk music in this country, which is manifested nowadays through artists like Death in June and Current 93 and in a more global context by people like Joanna Newsom, as well of course as many other artists with that quintessentially ‘English’ sound, so why would I want to abandon that? The album is definitely supposed to have something very ‘English’ about it, not just because of the use of my own accent – the lyrics frequently allude to specifically English things, like Wormwood Over Albion and the title of the song Morgawr, which is the name of a Cornish sea monster, which I use as a metaphor for something more personal. I’m personally fascinated with the idea of the ‘folk memory’, and that’s something I’m trying to tap into on the record. An aspect of the essence of the album is that it ‘mourns’ for the death of an imagined England. It’s not something that has happened suddenly, but I think we can all feel it, somewhere deep down. Something at the heart of our land has died – we do not live in a country of standing stones, fairy roads, ghosts and sea serpents anymore. The world’s gotten a lot harder recently, and that’s reflected in the record.
m[m] Mourner also has a lot more approachable moments going towards almost indie guitar/ post rock- is it ever your interest to put out singles commercially? Or are these just done to make Mourners audio fabric more varied?
Andrew I’ve not really explicitly set out to make more ‘commercial’ sounding songs; I’m totally aware that while there’s even a hint of black metal in the mix Caïna is never really going to storm the indie charts, but that said since I started the project there’s been a very deliberate indie/shoegaze/dreampop/whatever influence on the music. That whole Red House Painters/Slowdive/MBV/4AD sound is a source of constant fascination to me – it’s at once timeless sounding and yet nostalgic – one of the best compliments someone ever paid me in a review is to describe me as ‘4AD Black Metal’. It’s not terrible accurate, but I liked it a lot. I think that the real reason why those influences can be heard more clearly on the new record is simply because I think my core audience is more easily challenged by a smidgen of indie than it is by a whole load of the most furious black metal. You’ve got to keep people on their toes.
m[m] Your latest album also has a very impressive sound, managing to be soft and hard, as well as building and brutal. I was particular impressed with your guitarwall that bursts in on a few track, it brought to my mind the use of guitar on The Boo Radley's Giant Steps. Where was the album recorded and over what period of time?
Andrew Thanks a lot! I’m quite pleased by the production on the album, even though I’ve already gotten better since it was recorded, so the next album should sound even better. You learn so much with every release, mostly by trial and error. The album was recorded entirely in my home studio, entirely alone, over a period of about 7 or 8 months, with each song mixed as I went along then remixed when I felt I had the album in a more or less finished state. A couple of the songs (Morgawr and Constantine…) were written when I went to the Loire Valley (France), but the rest came together totally in the studio. It was a very lengthy process and one that was very physically and psychologically draining. I plan to use about half the time that Mourner took to make on the next album, simply because I don’t think I could go through the same stuff again and come out the other side. I think it’s definitely an album that bears the mark of considerable pain and frustration – I feel that there’s a kind of constant tension to the whole album that belies the fact that it took a long time to record, in total isolation.
m[m] Your debut album had a lot more mournful, dreamy and 'shrouded in mist' feeling as well as black metal woodland beating. In particular one of the standout moments was the very grim necro 'Norwegian black metal'-like spirit which is combined with the beautiful sad dark ambient prog guitar emotions of Satanik Ultra Pessimis. How again did you manage to get the contrast in the sound going from been so lo-fi and grim to clear, tuneful and mournful?
Andrew On the first album it was pretty much pure luck, I had no idea what the fuck I was doing, so I really couldn’t tell you exactly, haha! That whole record is one big stumble in the dark. I find it quite difficult to listen to now without wincing, with all the fuckups and false starts. I literally just wanted to juxtapose the most ghastly noises with what I then considered to be the ‘prettiest’ noises I could think of. Nowadays there’s a much clearer method, but I’m afraid it’s a trade secret, and I’d have to kill you if I told you.
m[m] Where does the band name originate from?
Andrew Hardly the most original source, but it’s from Dante’s Inferno. It’s a part of Cocytus, the ice-covered lake towards the bottom of the Inferno where you find the shades of traitors. Caïna is taken from the biblical Caïn, and is where those who betray their own kin are frozen for all eternity: “Both of them issued from one mothers belly/Nor shalt thou find, search all Caïna through/Two shades more fit to stand here fixt in jelly”. It is a name that has a strong personal resonance with me.
m[m] you released an e.p called I, Mountain, based on the H.P. Lovecraft story to The mountains of madness. I take it you’re a fan? Would you like to try and re-create his work into music again?
Andrew Yes and yes – I’ve been a huge admirer of his since my early teens. During the summer I often used to go into the woods near my parents house and spend the afternoon sitting under a tree with some of his work and a big bag of extremely strong marijuana – although I no longer take drugs, the first part is highly recommended. Lovecraft looms quite large in my inner life, for example, when I record almost every song I work on has a working title before it gets a lyrical/vocal identity (I do this aspect last, always), and that working title is always something from Lovecraft. I’d love to have another proper pop at a Lovecraft story, perhaps The Temple, Dreams in the Witch House or The Tomb, which are some of my favourites. There’s something simultaneously grand and personal about Lovecraft’s writing that seems (In my opinion) to lend itself extremely well to musical interpretation.
m[m] What made you decide to come up with your unusual mix of sounds? And are there any other genres you’d like to weave into latter works? Andrew It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly why I do what I do, but it’s probably got a lot to do with the fact that a lot of my favourite artists (e.g. Swans, David Bowie, Rush etc) adapt and switch between genres almost interchangeably. I listen to a vast amount of different music. I wouldn’t ever put something totally incongruous or ‘wacky’ into my music (like techno or reggae, for example), but if something unusual fits into my idea for the song that I’m writing, I’m not going to needlessly exercise self-censorship just because it might piss a few people off. I don’t mix the styles that I do because I’m trying to be ‘out there’, but because I genuinely think that unless music is at least a little bit challenging it shouldn’t really exist. I mean, how many fucking Darkthrone clones do we really need? How ‘difficult’ is to be a straight death or black metal band nowadays? Music shouldn’t be ‘easy’, for the musician or the listener, but it should be ‘natural’. I fundamentally believe that music should not be a passive medium.
m[m] As you play everything is there any possibility of you playing live and would you like to?
Andrew I have played live twice, and enjoyed it immensely. Live music is at the very heart of music itself, and I have no time for anyone who thinks that black metal shouldn’t be experienced in that setting. The first time I played in public with Caïna was with other musicians and was very much a straight ‘show’, whilst the second was solo and far more experimental. However, in this country (UK) the general apathy towards both new music and gig-going means there’s very little point expending a great deal of my time and effort organising something with such a limited audience. However, I’m hoping to make it abroad next year. Watch this space!
m[m] What are you working on at the moment?
Andrew I’m currently finishing off material for a limited, very special vinyl-only release due out before the end of this year. I am also already engaged in pre-production for the next album, which I hope to start properly writing and recording next month. It’s going to be a conceptalbum, and I’m doing a lot of reading before I start work on the lyrics, but that’s all I’ll say for now…
m[m] Name the top ten albums that have been a major influence on your life and work and why?
Andrew Well, I could probably do a whole interview on that single topic, but I’ll do my best.
1. Emperor – In the Nightside Eclipse: Simply (in my opinion) the most majestic album ever recorded – if anyone can listen to the closing double punch of I am the Black Wizards and Inno a Satana and not be subtly altered in some way has something seriously wrong with them.
2. Bjork – Vespertine : If there’s a word in existence that simultaneously means ‘fragile, domestic, sexual and utterly alien’, then it is Vespertine.
3. The Red House Painters – Untitled I (‘Rollercoaster’):This album fucking kills me.
4. Swans – The Great Annihilator:The perfect mix of aggression and beauty. Even though they never made a record that was less than incredible, this is my favourite. The album that inspired Caïna’s existence.
5. Jeff Wayne- The War of The Worlds:The first album I ever heard, when I was about 6 years old, that made me realise that music told stories. Without this, I, Mountain could never have happened.
6. Rush – 2112: “The world could use this music, just think what it might do.”
7. Bruce Springsteen – Nebraska: The scariest, most bruised and ghostly album ever made without an amplifier. I defy anyone to listen to the Boss howling on State Trooper and not feel their spine flood with ice. Every acoustic song Caïna ever produces owes this album a considerable debt, and will never even come close to it. A terrifying achievement
8. Sigur Rós – Ágætis Byrjun :The first time I heard this album, it sounded like something from another planet. For me, this is the quintessential ‘post-rock’ record.
9. Burzum – Filosofem: The triumph of minimalism, and possibly the finest and most moving example of ‘musical restraint’ I know of, other than the same artists own song Det Som Engang Var (from Hvis Lyset Tar Oss) – however, this is a finer album that the one that appeared on, so it makes the list.
10. Death In June – Nada!: This record makes me see things, and I wanted to make people see things too.
Andrew for his time and efforts with the interview and supplying the pictures for the interview. To find out more about Caïna go to hereRoger Batty