Thursday, December 2, 2010

Ironwood Interview

1. Can you introduce the band to my readers, give us a brief history and how you started and what you are doing nowadays?

Henry Lauer: Ironwood was founded circa early 2006. We worked for about a year rehearsing material and released an EP in early 2007. Then followed an intense year of endless performing in the Australian metal scene. After some truly epic struggles we released our debut full length, :Fire:Water:Ash:, in 2009. By that point, however, we already had a second album well on the way to being written, and late last year we recorded Storm Over Sea. Of course the Ironwood recording curse struck again, and we were delayed in our release by almost a year! The consolation being that along the way we ended up with the incredible privilege of getting Dan Swanö as our mixing and mastering engineer, which really served to bring Storm Over Sea to a high polish.

Now, with the new album finally out, we are undergoing a period of evolution within the band. I am excited to see what will come next.
 
2. How would you describe the musical sound of the new album, and how do you feel that you have progressed from the previous releases, with the new one?

HL: It’s a lot heavier than :Fire:Water:Ash:, and more compact. We wanted to go for the throat this time around, but with a concern not to abandon our use of atmosphere and acoustic instrumentation either! And our progressive influences have come to the fore a lot more too.

This album is the best representation we can create of the ocean in all its mystery, terror, glory, and changeability. Storm Over Sea is a really dynamic, dramatic, trance-inducing, gut-wrenching, soothing album. Not an easy thing to draw together such disparate moods but somehow I think we managed!

Matthew Raymond: The new album also had far more attention given to arrangements and layers within each track. Similar to the previous album it is bound by a focused theme and is richly dense in material, however, we feel this release is far more accessible to listeners while still challenging them.
 
3. What are some of the lyrical topics and concepts the new album covers, and how does it differ from the past releases?
 
HL: Well this is definitely a concept album about the ocean, so naturally there is a much tighter thematic focus to the lyrics than we’ve had previously. That said, we wanted explore the ocean symbolically. For example, the first words on the release are “I am but a ship on the infinite sea…and the name of the sea is Woden!” This is a reflection about just how puny the human ego is compared to the archetypal forces on which we haphazardly sail! And it’s also incredibly personal for me, though trying to explain it succinctly would be…a little too much to ask, really!

One recurring motif in the lyrics is that of journeying, voyaging, transforming, submitting to the challenges of wyrd or fate and finding a way to work with the ocean’s whim to survive, rather than breaking on it out of hubris. Most of the band went through our Saturn Returns in the process of making this album…it definitely shows in the lyrics!

But underlying all of that is sheer, naked reverence for the ocean. Ironwood has always made nature worship a central theme for our music and for this release we really wanted to draw peoples’ attention to the ocean. If we influence a few folks to become more proactively “green” as a result – well, so much the better, the oceans of this planet need all the help they can get.

MR: Oceans show such power and chaos often juxtaposed paradoxically with reflection and calm. It is in that which we were inspired to develop this album. Lyrics touch on life turmoil, friendship, overcoming trials, inner strength, responsibility and awe and respect of nature to name a few.

4. What is the meaning and inspiration behind the band's name Ironwood?
 
HL: The Ironwood is a forest from Norse mythology. It’s a dark place where wolves and various giants and beasts arose and make their lair. It’s also a route from Midgard to the Underworld (and from there…to Asgard).

We take the Ironwood as a symbol, submitting to the unconscious, to darkness and mystery, so that we may descend deeply – and then rise into a transformed spirit. This is an idea that celebrates all extremes of emotion and experience, and as such it is perfect for the music that we write.

5. What are some of the best shows that the band has played so far and how would you describe your stage performance?
 
HL: My favourite show would have to have been our album launch in Sydney for :Fire:Water:Ash: last year. Wow! That was an awesome night. Very precious and special.

Our stage performances are extremely intense. We tend to go – utterly nuts and out of our minds. People think that we’re possessed, my eyes roll back into my head, weird stuff goes down! And yet at the same time we happily pull out acoustic guitars and the like here and there, and somehow we manage to seduce even the really grumpy metal heads to the idea that vocal harmonies and neofolk atmospheres are a good thing.

I suppose you could say that, like everything else about this band, our live shows are a wild mix of extremes. Sadly…for the immediate future a live band we can no longer be due to personnel metamorphoses…but eventually we’ll be ready to call down the gods of inspired lunacy once more!

MR: On the road as outsiders to the town we play in, there is even a more heightened state of energy that always directly transfers to our shows. Performances are often described by listeners as not simply a band that plays music, but a collection of souls that are seen performing a ritual invoking forces of old. The dynamism of the album's music is represented live... tenfold.

6. Currently you are unsigned, are you looking for a label and if so what kind of record label do you think that would promote Ironwood's music to the fullest?
 
HL: We’re certainly open to label interest, particular the more maverick labels such as The End, Profound Lore, Bindrune, etc. But at this point we don’t expect to ever be anything but an independent band, so we aren’t holding our breath. We’ve become a pretty effective little self-sufficient unit, although of course a big promotion budget and proper distribution would be lovely!

MR: In the past there has been smaller label interest, although the terms were not acceptable at the time so we have continued to progress independently until the right circumstances present themselves. As Henry said, additional promotion and distribution support for what we do can only be a good thing.

7. Are there any side projects besides the band, or is this a full time group?
 
HL: There are various side projects, but nothing with the magnitude and seriousness that Ironwood represents. Most active of the various side projects at the moment would have to be Greed & Rapacity, a very inventive, twisted black metal outfit ( HYPERLINK "http://www.myspace.com/greedrapacity" http://www.myspace.com/greedrapacity for more info).

8. How has your music been received worldwide by folk/progressive metal fans worldwide?

HL: Well to be honest it hasn’t been out long enough to really say! We’ve gotten some fantastic, fantastic reviews early on, though, so I’m hoping that is a good indication of what the verdict will be.

MR: Going off the previous release, really positively. At a local level, we have a very loyal fan contingency, turning up to every gig we play, purchasing all the merchandise. Some have followed us for some time and become close friends highlighting how likeminded some of our fans really are. We also receive comments and orders from many countries over the world and often wonder how word travelled there!!! At the end of the day, the following we have is growing. I'm digging the response from some of the recent reviews of Storm Over Sea!
 
9. What kind of musical direction can we expect from future releases, what direction would you like to take the band into?
 
HL: We’re working on a third album, again with a concept, at the moment. I think at this point gathering back in some of our more atmospheric influences, which were played down somehow on Storm Over Sea, is the intention, although now that we’ve set ourselves such a high bar for complex, technical material I’m sure we’ll have to retain at least some of that to keep the tech-heads smiling!

The general themes of spiritual transformation, nature worship, and journeying will continue to be the guiding impulses for our musical output. Album number three will be a kind of non-linear exploration of archaic Heathen cosmology, but naturally using this as a metaphor to reflect on all manner of things.

Beyond that…we’d like to do an all acoustic, atmospheric album…a totally furious, distilled black metal release, and there are ideas beyond these too! Essentially we feel that Ironwood can travel into any kind of musical territory that we feel we need to explore.

MR: For the next release as Henry said, more use of atmospheric ambience...

10. What are some bands or musical styles that have influenced your music, and also what are you listening to nowadays?
 
HL: Early on the influences were black metal, neofolk, even ambient and progressive groups. We’re talking Ulver, Emperor, Agalloch, Enslaved, Storm, but also Tool, Isis, and Pink Floyd. Over time that’s evolved to introduce 1970’s progressive and folk bands like Jethro Tull, Steeleye Span, and Gentle Giant into the mix. So at this point we have this black metal / neofolk basis, with richly layered clean vocals, a variety of instrumentation, heavy use of naturalistic samples, and lots of really progressive touches. Some reviewers have heard a death metal element to the new album too, which we didn’t intend, but we’re big fans of Death and Dissection so it isn’t so surprising from that point of view!

I’ve been listening to the new Stargazer album (genius!), the new Enslaved, the new Agalloch, Sig Ar Tyr, Voluspaa, as well as neofolk releases by Awen and Art Abscons. I have also been dipping back into Bathory and Pavor of late. Oh, and an old favourite, Depeche Mode!

MR: Sculptured (other band by Don Anderson of Agalloch), Dengue Fever (Contemporary 60's influenced Cambodian psychadelic rock) and Magma (70's French Jazz and progressive rock fusion band), Secret Chiefs 3's Xaphan and Ulver's Blood Inside.

11. What role does Paganism play in the music, and which form of paganism does the band follow?
 
HL: For me personally as a Heathen – someone working from the pre-Christian Germanic traditions – well, my spirituality is integral to my creativity. In the larger sense the band would not call itself “pagan” as such, although our lyrics and musical concepts with their emphasis on nature, trance, and spiritual exploration would all appeal to someone of “pagan” leanings. I guess on the whole we’re less interested in labels and categories than in expressing something meaningful.

Germanic imagery and symbols do tend to slip into our lyrics – hence “Infinite Sea” which touches on the impact of Woden in my life, or “Will to Live” which has plenty of runes coded into its verses!

Wearing another hat I edit Hex Magazine (http://www.hexmagazine.com), which is probably the foremost Heathen periodical in the world today (at least in my humble but biased opinion).

MR: It is about a connection to two things...the land/ nature and an ancestral bloodline. These things inspire and strengthen all that I do in life and music. There is a spiritual connection to these things and they are absolutely central to what we have created.

12. Outside of music what are some of your interests?
 
HL: Obviously nature is a big one! My work with Hex also stands out, of course, and that in turn leads to my literary pretensions as well! Words and music, especially coined in the wilderness, that’s the meat and drink of my creative expression.

MR: Given my connection to the land I spend most of my time re-connecting, through hiking, rock climbing, kayaking and simple meditation in Australian bushland. I recently came back from a mountaineering expedition in Nepal climbing well over 5,000 metres.

13. Any final words or thoughts before we close this interview?

HL: We decided to make Storm Over Sea available for free download from our website at http:// HYPERLINK "http://www.ironwoodsound.com.au" www.ironwoodsound.com.au . Why? Because last time the pirates had :Fire:Water:Ash: on their little boards about two breaths after we released it. Since we can’t beat them, we figure we should at least steal their thunder and let them waste their time. That said, we’re trusting you all to check it out, decide if you like it…and if you do, please buy a copy! It is worth it just for the very lush booklet and packaging that we’ve put together…and to know that you’ve supported a band that is truly dedicated to its art.

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