Interview by Sage.
HH: Hello Marcel, and thank you for accepting this interview! Can you start out by telling us how the name “Miel Noir” came about?
MN: The first time Dimo’s fascination with the topic “honey” appeared on a release was the Svarrogh MCD Temple of the sun. The song “Der Honig der grauen Stadt” translates to “the honey of the grey city”. And when wanted to start a new and – with regards to the musical elements – antagonistic project he chose the name with the two opposing sides/poles. The name Miel Noir perfectly incorporates those different poles between which the tension of the projects builds up. There are two elements, black and sweet.
The black/noir element has multiple connotations, like darkness, the void, the waste land (T. S. Eliot), desolation and loss. The sweet/honey element also has a lot of different connotations, although these can vary from person to person. Think of the Promised Land, where milk and honey flow, the sweetness of love and the presence of bees and honey in the various religious traditions: The bees were the living tears of Ra, Ah Mucen Cab was the Mayan god of bees and honey. And honey is also mentioned in the Bible (and the Qur’an) as having (miraculous) healing properties. The list goes on and on.
Combining forces of the two elements was mirrored in the combination of the early Miel Noir material. The first incarnation of the project combined heavy drone and industrial sounds with the piano, the latter being a more fragile instrument, rarely found in drone and (noise-) industrial. Another interpretation would be the absolute freedom to move (artistically) between those two extreme ends, without being limited or held back. At any stage of the development of the project the name symbolized authenticity: This is it, without any regard for anybody’s expectations.
HH: This last interpretation is interesting. In addition to honey representing one end of the spectrum for you (“sweet”), would it also be fair to say that it represents a certain sense of purity in the project? That is, it represents a kind of pure aesthetic release of art or creativity, or as you put it, “freedom”?
MN: The idea of “purity” is in there as well. The process of writing the Miel Noir – material was very different from working on other projects. It was a return to the purest form of creativity: “Let’s come up with something that aesthetically pleases us, with whatever instrument or style.”
HH: It’s also interesting that you would specifically mention T.S. Eliot here. How much of an impact did he directly have on the music of Miel Noir or on you or Dimo personally?
MN: I discovered T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” by proxy, so to speak, via Stephen King’s “The Waste Lands”, the 3rd book in the series “The Dark Tower”. Both of these were on my mind when we worked on the track “The burning season”. Dimo had written the lyrics from the perspective of a “vengeful god, demanding a sacrifice”, but I felt I had to do something else with it. So I kept the title and the general subject, but changed the perspective to the (partly conflicted) views of the person about to become a burned offering. I even thought about using the quote “I will show you fear in a handful of dust”, but then decided against it, because it would have been a bit “obvious”. However there may be a couple of quotes from the other one of the aforementioned titles on the next Fahl album. “All is forgotten in the stone halls of the dead. Behold the stairways which stand in darkness; behold the rooms of ruin…”
HH: From what I understand, the project’s roots lie in drone ambient. Why has the music moved into a neoclassical direction with some rhythmic influences?
MN: The development that took place happened gradually. At first, the material took shape during live performances, long before I was involved in the studio-recordings of Miel Noir. At a certain point we were both aware that the material we had gathered and worked on, was very “diverse”, to say the least. And after that point we started to fully embrace that “diversity” and even egged each other on in that regard.
HH: So is there a conscious effort now to make the music more diverse or does it still all come pretty naturally?
MN: To me it seemed to come naturally. At a certain point we talked about it (I think that was after people pointed that “diversity” out to us) and made a conscious decision to embrace it, but that was “after the fact”.
HH: As mentioned, the current sound of the project takes neofolk and neoclassical elements and mixes them with aggro rhythms and even subtle noise influences. What do you hope people will take from your music when they listen to it?
MN: First of all, I think it’s hard to find actual “neofolk” on the album. There certainly are influences, given our work with other projects (“The leopard can’t change its spots.”), but these can be found in the moods and arrangements and not so much in the instrumentation (note: There are no acoustic guitars on the album). It seems that the album encompasses elements from every part of both our backgrounds and mixes them according to the mood and theme of each song. As far as I am concerned, this is by far the most “personal” album I’ve ever done and I hope that people will be able to feel the effort and energy, as well as the emotions that went into the material. This album has a lot of content.
HH: Indeed, it wasn’t my intention to imply that Neofolk was a primary element of the album, but surely there are aesthetic similarities on the martial end as you’ve mentioned from your influences. As personal as this album is to you, are there any specific points that you’ve hidden in the music that you’re disappointed no one has picked up on thus far?
MN: First of all I wouldn’t use the term “disappointment”, and the feedback is still coming in, so there’s ample time for people to discover stuff. There are a number of “hidden” elements in the songs, for example the use of the folklore instrument “Waldteufel” and a couple of interesting voice samples on the album as well as on the bonus-cd. I’d say there’s a lot to discover on the album and, well, we are just going to let people discover.
HH: The rawness of the production in itself plays a big part in the music’s atmosphere. Was this intended, and if so, what is the reasoning behind this?
MN: That rawness is a byproduct of the recording situation, which we had to deal with. If you have to use different studios and sometimes can’t use individual recording tracks, you end up with a certain kind of rawness, no matter how much mixing and mastering follows. We found that out during the session for “Wabenheim” and, as with the diversity, simply embraced it afterwards and put it to use to carry the atmosphere.
HH: The latest album specifically seemed to deal with the Greek theme of Meliai. Can you tell us a bit about this and how it influenced the album? Were there other Greek inspirations for “Honey & Ash”?
MN: There are a lot of different spiritual and religious traditions involving bees and honey, Meliai being one of them. The “honey-goddess” in the song “Honiggöttin” actually is a composite character. The original inspiration came to me in a dream (or rather, in a nightmare). The lyrics went through several changes and the song was first intended to be a duet between two vocalists (male and female).
Some of the original lyrics went into a different song; the idea of the duet was used for “Sonnenmann”. In the final analysis, the character consists of the ash tree – nymphs (Meliai), the Green Fairy (Absinth), as well as a real person of whom I was reminded in the dream. However the topic shouldn’t be misconstrued, it’s not a song about “pining for a lost love”. The figure in the song is identified as an image from a feverish dream, it’s not real, only a mirage and after realizing this, madness seems like a way out.
Regarding Greek influences on the album, the cover-image was inspired by Demeter’s Cornucopia, but there’s actually more of a “Greek undercurrent”: As strange as it may seem, when I think of “gods” and “goddesses”, the first stories and myths I can remember were Greek, because my parents read them to me as a very young child from a German book about Greek myths, gods, heroes and sagas. And still to this day, even after getting to know many other religious traditions, the mere words “gods” and “goddesses” bring up those associations with Zeus, Athena and Poseidon. Plus I grew up with a big statue on Hermes in my parent’s living room. But it was put there for decorative purposes; after all it was an atheistic household and we have no Greek roots whatsoever. Still the image just stuck with me.
HH: Having grown up in an atheistic household and having studied religious tradition and mythology (which is evident by its academic presence in your music), how would you say you identify yourself spiritually at this point in your life?
MN: There are many spiritual traditions that have inspired (and continue to inspire) artists of all kinds, which is their main positive factor in my view. Also, many people take comfort from these traditions, which also may be beneficial and account for something.
I just draw the line at the point of “reality”: Gods are great for visualizing and identifying with ideals, but they are not “real”. I may deal with many aspects of mythology as an artist, but that doesn’t make me less of an atheist. But that goes for many pagans I’ve met, who may take their tradition and mythology seriously (with regards to ideals and everything), but who certainly don’t believe in a couple of actual gods hanging around in the sky. The latter is to be left to believers of a different sort (maybe some of the readers remember the section “Star-Crossed & Moonstruck” in Vor-Tru magazine, which kept us in the loop about all the nonsense the members of the Abrahamic faiths come up with).
I respect practicing pagans who are firmly based in reality, but I would consider myself a “practicing atheist” (i.e. someone who recommends books by Richard Dawkins to his friends).
HH: What was Gerhard Hallstatt’s role in “Honey & Ash”?
MN: Gerhard was the one who made it all possible! It started out with him bringing Dimo into Allerseelen, then letting him bring Svarrogh along as a support act (where I joined Dimo as a co- musician first), later letting Dimo add Miel Noir as an Allerseelen support act (where I joined him as well) and finally agreeing to perform and record with us under the moniker Miel Noir. He has been a central figure to the development of the project. Without Gerhard, there would be no Miel Noir as it stands today. The same goes for Fahl of course, and for Svarrogh, to some extent. On the album Gerhard appears as guest-vocalist on 3 songs.
HH: Is there a spiritual side to Miel Noir?
MN: Unlike Svarrogh’s paganism and Fahl’s occultism, there is no overt spirituality in Miel Noir. We do have our motivations for writing in a certain way and for picking lyrical sources, but with regards to this project, there are no rules, restrictions or boundaries. Miel Noir is a strange mixture of two people’s emotions and inspirations. It’s just as spiritual as we are sometimes, but this time there’s no overall topic, no specific content of one or another religious/spiritual sort. It’s just the two of us, more or less without any filter.
HH: Can you tell us a bit about the idea behind the track “Der Feind”? Do the lyrics for this song have any metaphorical meanings?
MN: “Der Feind” is the German translation of the Charles Baudelaire poem “L’Ennemi” (taken from the first part of “Les Fleurs du mal”). The poem was translated by Stefan George. Gerhard did a great job with the vocals and it’s simply a great piece of poetry. I suppose it would be too much to delve into the depths of “Les Fleurs du mal”, so I’ll just recommend it to those, who do not know yet.
HH: You personally didn’t join Miel Noir until later, specifically after the release of Der Honigflügel. How did you personally come to work with Dimo on Miel Noir?
MN: When Dimo joined Allerseelen as a live-drummer we got along well from the start and it just evolved from there. My first performance as a live-drummer for Svarrogh (in Lithuania) was a spontaneous idea; there was no rehearsal, I didn’t even know the material for more than half a day. But it worked out and developed further into a sort of “membership” in Svarrogh, both live and in the studio. And when we (both Allerseelen and Svarrogh) were scheduled to perform in Madrid, there was a late cancellation (I think Naevus couldn’t make it to the festival) and Dimo offered Miel Noir as a replacement… which resulted in the usual “would-you-join me-on-stage” – question. Both of us prepared our parts and wanted to “rehearse” a bit during the sound check, but in the end there was no sound check for us due to technical problems during the Ostara sound check. So we had to make the best out of the situation and it turned out so well, that we both felt that this project could “become something”. For me, Miel Noir was – at first – a live-project. The two of us, as members of Allerseelen, would be our own “opening act”, just like before with Svarrogh, but minus one additional musician. And Gerhard would join in for 1 or 2 songs. Before the recording of “Wabenheim”, I didn’t really think that it would develop in such a way as it did.
HH: How has the project’s sound changed since your influence has been brought into the fold?
MN: With the first note being played on stage at the first (non-rehearsed!) gig it was clear for both of us that there was something new and totally unplanned going on around us. The sound before was just Dimo by himself and if you create something with no outside influences you can (more or less) guess the outcome. But when you combine two guys with this sort of creative output, you can’t really control the outcome. Anything is possible. The only actual parameter I was given before the aforementioned performance was: “Do something with drone.” And I responded “okay, what’s drone?” Then Dimo explained a bit, I did some research on the web, but the special preparation for the concert mostly consisted of a purchase of a new multi-effects pedal for new and diverse bass-sounds. In the end Dimo basically told me to “go nuts” and “make it sound cool”.
If you know your partner and his abilities well enough, you can be vague and trusting like that, I suppose.
HH: Why was there a departure from The Eastern Front in favor of Steinklang Industries?
MN: I wouldn’t even call it a “departure”, because we stayed on The Eastern Front with our project Fahl. One of the reasons for releasing the Fahl-album via The Eastern Front was the good work they had done for the two Miel Noir releases, the other one was the personal relationship that had evolved between us and the couple that runs the label. Actually, releasing an album on Steinklang was an older plan of mine. Between the release of “Der Honigflügel” on The Eastern Front and the release of “Honey & Ash” on Steinklang Industries, there was the “Wabenheim” EP, done by Beverina & W.A.R. Productions. And as far as our experiences with the labels go, I’d say that we would work with all three labels again.
HH: In a previous interview with Dimo, a concert had been mentioned for early 2009 in Tel Aviv with Refuse to Die. Did this concert come to fruition and how did it go? Has Miel Noir been active live since then? Is there anything upcoming live?
MN: Unfortunately, the concert in Tel Aviv had to be cancelled due to time and budget constraints. Only a t-shirt design and a flyer survived. But Svarrogh did actually perform in Israel. As for Miel Noir concerts, thus far there were four: Madrid, Spain (2008), Zagreb, Croatia (2009), Rotterdam, Netherlands (2009) and Copenhagen, Denmark (2010). All the gigs were well received and the material for the album “grew” during those concerts. After the gigs, we concentrated on the studio work and haven’t played live since. Currently there are no live plans with Miel Noir, because we’ve been too busy with other projects. And given the number of different projects we’re involved in (Sagittarius and Svarrogh, to name only 2), it can get really busy. However there are a couple of new songs in the making for Miel Noir.
HH: Speaking of Sagittarius, Miel Noir belongs to a circle of projects that includes both of these projects and Fahl. Can you tell us a bit about this circle and what its goals are, or what it represents?
MN: “Die Neue Runde” (= the new round/circle) is something Cornelius came up with. It is a name for a circle of friends with different projects and a platform for cross-promotion, as well as a small label. The whole thing is modeled after the circle of friends around the poet Stefan George, which you would nowadays call a think-tank. They had their own publications and a lot of influence on many people (including Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg). Cornelius is our expert when it comes to George. And Sagittarius has drawn extensively from George and members of his circle (like Karl Wolfskehl). One track on the Fahl album contains a George poem as well.
Thus far there’s no Miel Noir song with George lyrics, but I did come across the poem by Max Dauthendey (used in “Honig-Traum”) after reading that Stefan George had recommended Dauthendey’s work. In any case, Die Neue Runde is going to continue. There will be another Sagittarius EP (“Fragmente III”), which will be released on “Die Neue Runde” (like the MCD “To Aoide” was).
HH: How did you come to work with Claudia Summerer for the intriguing illustrations in the booklet? Did she create them from her understanding of the lyrics or did you give her art direction?
MN: The collaboration with Claudia Summerer developed out of a personal relationship, in which we simply showed each other “unfinished works”. First I came to admire her visual skills (of which I have none at all!), then I gave her the (yet unfinished) album material and, without being given any incentive, she returned with a visualization of the song “Honiggöttin”. It wasn’t even meant as a booklet illustration at first, it was simply “this is how I envision the honey-goddess”. And at that point I spontaneously decided to ask her to illustrate the whole thing. It was one of those moments where you just know that “this will work”! And we’re all truly happy with the outcome.
HH: Why was the decision made to only give excerpts of the lyrics in the booklet?
MN: As stated above, we were both taken with the artwork coming in from Claudia that we’ve decided to make the drawings the centerpieces of the booklet-pages. We’ve posted most of the lyrics on our website but some of the material is hidden deliberately.
HH: You seem to alternate between German and English a bit – was this a conscious decision, and if so why do you do so?
MN: Both of us have used different languages in our projects, we’ve either used them ourselves or had guest-speakers or –vocalists use them. It was just another one of these organic processes to incorporate both English in and German in the project Miel Noir. The song “Sonnemann” is a special case, in which the male voice and the female voice go against one another in German and English, respectively. This is due to the fact that the song developed over time and the female vocal lines were my addition to a song by Dimo, but they were originally intended for a non-German vocalist. But this collaboration didn’t come to fruition, so Lisa, whom some of the readers may already know from her guest-appearance on Allerseelen’s new rendition of “Kamerad” on the album Rauhe Schale, just took over the part. It was another one of those “experiments”.
HH: Has Miel Noir grown to be as important as your other projects?
MN: Every projects brings something unique into the life of a musician and, for that matter, songwriter. I suppose the fact that this time there was only one other person involved, gave me more creative space and the aforementioned fact that we intentionally made a very diverse album, led to a strong identification with the album. Therefore I would say that Miel Noir has become very important to me. Maybe more important than some other projects I have been involved in before. In any case I would like to see the material as widely spread as some of the other music I’ve been involved in.
HH: Thank you for this interview Marcel, please, feel free to use this last space to say anything that you feel needs not be left unsaid.
MN: We would like to thank all those who have supported us over the years! There is more to come…