Some time ago Alternative Matter’s very own Mat Davies was quite amazed by the latest A Forest Of Stars record, entitled Opportunistic Thieves Of Spring. Reason enough to have a friendly chat with these lads. On behalf of the band The Gentleman (TG) and Curse (C) answered some questions on their new album, their passion for the Victorian Age and their favorite beverages…
First off, thanks for taking the time to talk to Alternative Matter and many congratulations on the record- it’s a beguiling and thoroughly captivating piece. How has the response from fans and critics been?
TG: A tip of the hat to you sir, and thank you for the most flattering comments! The response on the whole has been rather more than positive, which is frankly astonishing. There’s not much more I can say really, without sounding like an absolute pompous arse, so I’ll stop there if you don’t mind?
C: Indeed, we have been fortunate to receive a fair amount of positive comment on this record. Also some not so positive, which is always enjoyable to read.
What were you trying to achieve with this record? How happy are you that you’ve achieved what you set out to?
TG: I think I’ve said elsewhere that musically, we were trying to marry the idea of the vastness of the cosmos – that feeling of being so tiny and insignificant in the grand scheme of the universe – to be awe of that magnitude, and cast adrift within it, wandering forever endlessly, and sort of fuse that with the complete opposite; that cold, suffocating feeling of being in a very tight space, cloying, dense, full of unsettling atmosphere, dirty-filthy, unpleasant. Essentially two complete extreme opposites. And of course, we came nowhere near to achieving that – we’d be stupid to think otherwise – but still very happy with what we came up with by way of a compromise, albeit one that fell substantially short of what we desired. But then, we are listless fools.
Your website and much of the band’s vision is a cornucopia of late Victoriana- what is it about the late Victorian period that resonates with you?
TG: Well, let me be brief, lest we should be here all day as I ramble on and on and on and… The thing is, it’s not one particular trait, or incident, or person, or event, or year that it can be pinned down to, it is the sum of the whole – the national consciousness, the spirit of the time more than anything. In particular, the sense of adventure and fair play that sat without apparent contradiction next to unspeakable suffering, oppression and ignorance. So you had a fantastic leap forward in terms of science and understanding, literary ideas, social reform, politics and socialism, but equally you had the majority of the country living in abject poverty and squaller, swept neatly under the carpet. They didn’t talk about it, despite it being there on their literal doorsteps everyday of their lives. It’s just so odd. You had a nation that firmly believed it was the greatest and knew best, and would happily go about the world, gobbling up other countries and annexing them for “their own good” – they actually believed (at least, on the surface) what they were doing was completely justified and helping to make the world a better place. And they’d rid themselves of as many “savages” as it took until the subjugated nation got the message and settled down. Of course, they’d never be viewed as equals by their conquerors, but they’d be better off than they were, naturally, now their quaint little culture had been eradicated. But then you had Faraday, or Jules Verne, or Sir Robert Peel or the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, or a million other fascinating souls, many of whom openly criticised the policies of the time; and more importantly, tried to enact change, to do something about it. I don’t know. I’ll spend my life reading, researching and learning about ‘37 – ‘01 and be no closer to understanding the attraction. It is a question without an answer. Excepting the one I just gave, obviously. Um…
There’s an almost literary aesthetic running through your work- how important are art and literature to you in what your trying to achieve with the band?
TG: I cannot speak for the lyrics, but art and literature play a large part in all our lives in general, and I firmly believe that influences the music and what we do, even if it is subconsciously. The mood and feeling of music can be inspired as much by wanting to recreate (for instance) the atmosphere evoked by a painting or a passage in a novel, as by other songs. For us, at least.
C: Lyrically speaking, they tend to touch on whatever is going through my mind at the time. Also, quite often, places and events observed in day to day life. Also, more often than not these days, simply products of my increasingly warped imagination.
Your work, whilst having a clear vision, feels highly collaborative: does everyone play a part in bringing the vision to life?
TG: Absolutely. Everyone contributes their equal share to the band and its music, in myriad ways. Without that it simply would not work – it needs multiple people to keep everything in check and on course.
C: The band has always been a highly collaborative beast. Everything is agreed upon before anything is finalised. This being said, if someone feels particularly strongly about a certain element, then we reconsider as a whole.
What bands and artists are influencing what you’re doing? Who would you like to collaborate with in the future?
TG: There are too many to list, really. The absolute crucial components would be bands like Swans, GSY!BE, Emperor, Arcturus, Steeleye Span, Ved Buens Ende, …In The Woods, Ulver, Devil Doll and so on. In terms of collaborating, if I’m being totally unrealistic, I’d say Kate Bush. She’s still as musically vibrant and interesting now as she was thirty odd years ago, though I’d very much doubt she’d be interested anything we’d do! Realistically, having our friends from other bands contributing (body?) parts would be fantastically flattering. We shall see!
C: I’d have to include Darkthrone and New Model Army here. Without them I wouldn’t be the same man, lyrically or spiritually.
What’s been the high points and low points of being in the band so far?
TG: High point – Just being able to meet and in some cases form friendships with a lot of great people, both in bands we’ve played with and in the audience who’ve come to see us. Low point – I’d say Ketttleburner having to leave was rather a sad moment for all of us, himself included.
C: Most definitely seconded.
What’s next on the horizon for the band?
TG: We’re settling in to write the new album, finally! We’ve been rather excited about this for a while now, but with all our live commitments finished for the moment, we’re locking ourselves away for the summer and then recording in the autumn – if all goes to plan, of course.
We’re swiftly heading into festival season? Who would be on your ultimate festival line up?
TG: It’d have to be varied; in my (unasked for) opinion, there’s nothing worse than a whole day of the same type of music, each band incrementally different from the last. So a little bit of everything. Roger Waters headlining, of course. Oh, and the classic line up of Fields of the Nephilim performing Elysium in its entirety. That would make my year, I think. And Carcass – Katheryne would quite literally kill me if I didn’t include them. Apart from that, I like to be surprised and discover new bands, so be my guest!
C: I’d like to see Swans perform something like a four hour set. That should just about finish off all present.
We’re getting a round in: what’s your poison?
TG: Why, thank you kindly! A bottle of Laudanum and a cup of tea, please.
C: Rum, Jagermeister and Real ale. Not necessarily in the same glass.