I'm very happy to give you the opportunity to read
a very good interview I made with Henryk Vogel, mastermind behind the German
neo-folk project Darkwood. After having heard his excellent debut album
"In the fields", I felt the necessity to know more about the person who
was responsible of such a good record. And we went through various ways,
talking about music influences, Germany, Tony Wakeford, Europe and a lot
more. Enter Darkwood's world and enjoy it !
- Can you present yourself in your artistic career and also your project Darkwood, and is Darkwood your first project?
Like most of the musicians I started playing the guitar in typical formations with bass, drums and vocals playing some kind of punk or independent guitar music. There were several own songs and due to my guitar playing they always had a melancholic touch. But I did not feel really comfortable with playing cords all the time. Since I learned to play the guitar I have always been writing songs for a project, this turned out to be Darkwood (a little tongue-in-cheek concerning my town of birth).
- Who are the two persons appearing on some tracks of the album, Heike Engelien (recorder) and Nadja Stahlbaum (voice and cello)? Are they permanent members or are you the only permanent member of Darkwood?
Darkwood is solely my project. There is nothing wrong with having a band that makes democratic decisions but for me it is the only way to do exactly what I want - at a particular moment, in a particular mood and without compromise. Darkwood gives me the opportunity to express my ideas and feelings and therefore only I am responsible. On the other hand I am happy about the fact that there are some friends who share many of the same ideas and who are willing to help me. For this recording Nadja and Heike helped with the music and Heike also did the Layout for the CD, which includes a lot of technical stuff that I am not too familiar with.
- Most of your songs are in English. As your songs in German also sound really good, could you imagine recording an album all in German?
I like the sound of both languages very much. The English lyrics I have written myself, both the German songs are poems of Schumann I really like. For the next (full-time) CD there are also some of my own German songs, but I will still have a mixture. In the future, who knows?
- When I listened to your album, which I found to be of a very high quality, a lot of influences came into my mind, like Sol Invictus, C93, DIJ and Fire+Ice (Frost, Moss, Hidden Stone), Blood Axis (Night, Black Wolves), and also ITN, Blink Twice (Auf dem Heimweg), Orplid and even Poesie Noire (sometimes your voice on "The Dusk Draws Near"). Do you agree with all these influences, (which do not change your own strong personality)?
There is no need to deny most of the influences you have mentioned. I have liked to listen to groups like Sol Invictus, Death In June, Fire+Ice and Blood Axis for a very long time. The minimalism or the dark sound and of course the acoustic guitar might remind you of some of those groups. But I think my main influence is still LIFE. Within the last year there have been a lot of changes in my life, at the moment I am travelling a lot, work in different countries. Furthermore I am interested in a variety of art and literature and these are a great inspiration. I like to read Hermann Hesse, Gustav Meyrink, Friedrich Nietzsche, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Edgar Allan Poe. Sometimes when I read a poem, I will read it again and then feel the need to write a song fitting to the picture that appears in my head.
- What do the pictures in the sleeve represent and where have they been taken?
Since there is to me this large relationship between visual impressions and songs, it was important to have an artwork that represented the general mood of the music as well as the title. The pictures within the booklet were taken on the island "Rügen". They show anti-tank obstacles as well as the ruins of the KdF (Strength Through Joy) complex. Those pictures shall stand for Ferocity and Decay.
- Your track "Deutsche Sonnwend" will appear on the CD coming with the Sol 3 Book+CD to be released soon on Tursa. How did this happen and how did you get in contact with Tursa/Tony Wakeford?
As an admirer of his work I once gave him a tape with early recordings on, not knowing about this sampler. I simply wanted to have his opinion and critique of my work. He did like it, apart from the electronic sounds, and asked me to provide one song for the Sol Issue 3 compilation. I like the idea of being involved in this musical compilation. Hopefully it will come out one day...
- As I bought the album directly from you, I discovered later that "In The Fields" was distributed via World Serpent. How did this collaboration happen?
The album "In the Fields" is a self-produced CD. I sent one promotion sample to World Serpent. They normally mainly distribute artists who are under contract (that includes production) but they like it and asked me to distribute that title. Since World Serpent Distribution is to me an address for outstanding good music, I appreciate being able to present my music to more people. The CD is also available via our Internet page.
- Do you have contacts with other German bands like Orplid, Dies Natalis, Forseti or Von Thronstahl?
Of course I know all these groups and also enjoyed some of their concerts. Personally I am in contact with Andreas of Forseti. Since we both lead very busy lives, like everybody I guess, the Internet is a helpful medium. We also exchange our recordings.
- Are you involved with esoteric themes and Northern mythology, runes...?
I am very interested in those themes and read everything I can get my hands on, but still, I am not a "specialist". That is why I do not use runes or related symbols in the artwork of the CD(s) too often. The Internet page is more related to Northern mythology as well as the lyrics but there is another strong influence - that of more recent history.
- The pictures on the album reveal your European cultural tendencies. Is European culture an important subject of interest for you?
European culture in general and German culture and history especially, are indeed an important subject of interest. I would even say it is the original idea for making this music. Of course there are some "love songs", as well, or songs about that what was left...
- You say you express your natural love for your homeland, in which you can identify. What do you think of the unification of West and East Germany? And do you think that unification is the only solution for Europe to "survive"?
My love for my homeland is meant more in a cultural than a political sense. In my songs I try to express the love that I feel for my homeland because of its nature, its long tradition and its people (well, most of them) untouched by its recent history. Nevertheless I have opinions about several things in the past and future, the systems and paths, which will certainly influence the main idea of the music.
The dividing of Germany was artificial and Germany was destined to become united again one day. Of course there is a great challenge in this reunification. On the other hand, the greater problem for the Germans is admitting to things like love for our homeland and our tradition. I am really not sure whether a unification of Europe would be good at this point, I am not that involved with economics. But we must definitely avoid Americanisation - a globalisation of the economy, a submission to the media and a total belief in advertisement and consumption. If the unification of Europe is the way, then we have to be careful to keep and support the diverse traditions of all the different peoples in Europe. (We have recently seen what happens in case of an artificial levelling in Yugoslavia.)
- I think that the study of History is very important to understand the way people act today and also think that History repeats itself in cycles. What is your opinion about this?
I do not really believe in the concept of evolution in history. Since the life of a human being is limited to a few years, every generation seems to step into the same traps again and again. Do we really make any progress? There may be scientific and technical progress, which is not a bad thing, we simply have to use it in a responsible way. But the more technical progress we make, the less we seem to care about the important things in life. Is art and culture any better these days? Do we live in a better world? Is our actual life style better than before even though we think that the "living standard" has increased? I am not sure whether history repeats in exact cycles but I am sure that there is a repetition of several periods. Old ideas, values and ideals arise and are forgotten or spurned, old mistakes are made, and hope and longing grows again. We might have different conditions and persistent systems but mankind and culture stay the same.
- Are you involved with the Wave-Gotik-Treffen in Leipzig and did you ever play there?
Neither, I am a spectator. This is a really nice event to meet people, friends and freaks. I am not living in Leipzig anymore but I normally go there every year. There is too much Gothic Metal for my taste but I like Industrial and a little bit further away from the centre there are normally the Neofolk groups playing (I used to live 300 metres away from this event).
- Is nature very important in your life? And why is your album entitled "In The Fields"?
Nature means two things to me. One is the nature outside, plants, trees etc. We should spent a lot more time out there, walking through old woods, fields... The other meaning is the laws of nature. Men have moved too far away from nature in a spiritual sense. Men seem to forget their roots; they do not obey nature but think they could rule it as they have the ability to destroy it.
Fields symbolize life to me - the growing of corn and the reaping - an eternal cycle like history mentioned before. So In the Fields has a constructive meaning. At the same time, In the Fields in English means In the Fighting Fields or On the Battlefield with a very destructive meaning but still part of the cycle of history.
- You have used a sampler in some songs. Do you appreciate it and will you use it more in future productions?
I think those sampled sounds, either drum patterns, some instruments or even battlefield noises emphasize the general intention. They can be a contrast to the fragile acoustic guitar theme to express coldness or danger or they can stand alone as a linkage between two songs, two moods. Acoustic guitar and melodies will stay the main motif in Darkwood songs but I also plan to record a few tracks with only electronic soundscapes.
- The first picture we see on the album is rather romantic, connected to European History, and when we open the sleeve the pictures are in a more industrial vein; does that represent both of your tendencies?
This is absolutely right. The artwork could represent the contrast between romantic traditional songs and industrial tendencies. The pictures on the outside could also represent pain and grief; the ones on the inside could stand for struggle and destruction. Obviously there is a connection between both.
- Most of your song titles have a dark and cold connotation in their meaning, so are the colours chosen for the illustration of the album. Did you want to express a special feeling, a winter atmosphere, or did it come naturally to you?
I think this comes naturally to me. But sadness, darkness, loneliness - themes dominating most of the songs - should not be confused with pessimism. Hermann Hesse wrote in "Mittagsrast": "Die Lieder sind voll Wehmut, aber die Wehmut ist nur eine Sommerwolke, dahinter steht Sonne und Vertrauen." This literally translated means "The songs are full of melancholy, but melancholy is only a summer cloud, behind there is sun and belief." This is what I would say for my songs as well. The songs also contain a slight touch of ferocity and a longing for changes.
- What are your musical tastes?
My tastes are really widespread. I do not like generalizations too much, but it helps answering this question in a proper way. I like, and this list is without any rating, Neofolk, Industrial, EBM, many kinds of independent guitar music, classics, the music of the Middle Ages etc. This means, I like to listen to this music from time to time!
- How did you get your musical culture?
At the beginning there is a lot of listening. Then one day you feel the need to do something yourself, only partially influenced by the music you are listening to, but more influenced by the things you experienced in your life. This is why the music I make is so totally different from the music I am listening to from time to time, as an example - EBM. Additionally you get deeper and deeper into several further aspects like mythology or esoteric. And then there is reading! There are so many great books in this world worth scorning TV forever...
- Are you interested in architecture and sculpture?
I am interested in architecture and sculpture though I am not very well informed. I still think that you can find the most interesting sculptures in old European graveyards, mostly by unknown artists. One Example is the so-called "Südfriedhof" in Leipzig.
I am more into paintings. My favourite painters are René Magritte, Paul Delvaux, Dominique Appia, Salvadore Dali, Max Ernst, Edvard Munch, William Blake and Marc Chagall.
- Have you got new projects, releases to come out in the future, or other tracks appearing on compilations other than Sol?
Concerning the releases I have some ideas, but things can change from one day to the other. I have plans for an EP more dedicated to soundscapes, there is a record planned as I am addicted to vinyl, and I am working on the next full-time CD. And then there is a little surprise, but I still have no idea myself when this will turn out to be reality. This might not be a sufficient answer, but we will try keeping the Internet site updated all the time.
- Your lyrics talk about love, war, the hope of greater times, and all of them in a sad, melancholic, desperate and dramatic way. Where do you get your inspiration?
I do not feel comfortable with "desperate". Even if I am in the mood of despair, I always end up with a glimmer of light or hope. The inspiration for the sadness, melancholy or tragedy expressed in the lyrics is in most cases due to the situation I experience right before writing the lyrics. And this could be all the things you mentioned, a lost or failed personal love, a broken friendship, a discussion or a book about war or the longing for greater times, either due to a certain circumstance or to drunken thoughts.
- Are you personally involved in the creation of your Internet site?
The main technical stuff and the design I leave to Heike. Since she is involved in the music I do not have to expect a highly coloured page telling you nothing at all. I especially like it if somebody else brings another visual dimension or aspect into the whole concept. But I am still the one mainly responsible for the contents.
- What are your favourite albums and which are the last albums you bought?
All time favourites are: Fire & Ice "Seasons of Ice", Der Blutharsch "Der Sieg des Lichtes ist des Lebens Heil", Sol Invictus "Sol Veritas Lux", Blood Axis "The Gospel of Inhumanity", Death In June "Oh How We Laughed", Wumpscut "Born Again".
The last CDs I bought: Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds "Murder
Ballads", Backworld "Isles of the Blest", Synapscape "So What.", The Moon
Lay Hidden Beneath a Cloud "Rest on Your Arms Reversed", Sol Invictus "In
a Garden Green".
At this point I want to thank Stéphane Fivaz for
this Interview and for giving me the opportunity to reach some interested
people, especially in the French speaking areas.
e-mail : firstname.lastname@example.org
Web page : http://www.darkwood.de
The album "In the Fields" is available via World Serpent
Distribution or directly through Darkwood's mail order.
© The copyright of this interview is owned by
Heimdallr webzine and by Darkwood.
Heimdallr, 23 December 1999.