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The Tower of Babylondon; an Interview with Twa Corbies

Twa Corbies

Twa Corbies | Credit: Virginie Lilith

.:.THE TOWER OF BABYLONDON.:.

An Interview with Twa Corbies

by Malachy O’brien

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The Clamouring—the debut release from Tony Wakeford and Gernot Musch under the moniker of ‘Twa Corbies’—captivated me more than I thought it would. I insisted on reviewing it, as I had recently covered Tony Wakeford’s most current Sol Invictus release, Once Upon a Time, and felt that I had a solid understanding of Wakeford’s headspace to complete it relatively quickly. After only a few listens, I was totally captivated by what I had listened to. The headspace that I thought I was familiar with had been compromised by this record. Not knowing much about Gernot Musch, I decided that there is no better way to cover the album than to sit down and speak with the musicians behind the project directly.

For the lovers of history, culture, sarcasm, and neofolk, read on! Whatever you do, have a good listen to this record. It’s a strong contender for the album of the year, especially here within our circle.

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Heathen Harvest: Thank you for taking a moment to speak with us, gentlemen. When and how did the project come about?

Tony Wakeford: It was about sexual services, but due to language confusion, we are stuck with this music project.

Gernot Musch: Tony was invited by a German friend of both of us to give a private gig four years ago. Some weeks before he asked if I would like to join him, which I found very flattering as I have always been a fan of his music and would have been on the party anyway. While rehearsing in a hotel room he asked how much I would take. I prayed it was not about sexual services but playing shows together, and so one thing led to another … musically!

HH: Was there a particular theme you were looking for in the music when you joined forces?

TW: I wanted to keep it as simple as possible. Two voices, two guitars. This would make it easy for us and less formidable for smaller promoters who simply could not afford a five-piece band with a drinking problem. For live performance we have decided to add a loop pedal, just for more ambient sounds and to make it sound a little less like a pauper’s Simon & Garfunkel.

GM: Right, the main idea was to restrict it to two guitars and two voices. So whilst recording we had to make a decision after the first session, if to expand it with bass and drums, etc., which would have technically been possible. But as much as we felt like doing it, we decided to keep it simple. Actually I recorded many keyboard tracks to the songs, but kept them as inconspicuous as possible so that they do not dominate the sound, but also prevent the album from sounding like MTV Unplugged.

HH: You both have other projects in addition to Twa Corbies. How do you separate your creative instincts without any clashes? For instance: Tony, the opening song sounds very reminiscent to something released by Sol Invictus, and you have released an album recently. Did you have specific songs for each?

TW: It can be a bit tricky as my songs form like mutant babies, but usually they make their future homes known. A new song I wrote, which I thought would go on the next Sol Invictus album, was just obviously meant for Twa Corbies.

GM: For me it was quite easy. The music I have been working on for the last three years is planned for an album which will be more like a soundtrack and far off from what I did before. The guitar-based songs that I wrote over the last couple of years perfectly fit into the idea of Twa Corbies. I am not sure if I would have been able to release these songs if Tony did not come up with the proposal to record an album, so blame him if you do not like them! [laughs]

HH: Gernot, Germany has boasted some amazing post-industrial artists in modern/recent times. One peculiar thing about these artists—Sonne Hagal for instance—is that they rarely sing in their native language. Do you prefer English and is there a reason for this?

GM: Using the English language is a reflex that I cannot totally control as many other German musicians can’t. Part of it is, as a German you’re used to the fact that 80%-90% of the music you hear is sung in English. So it appears to you easier to find words or phrases because you have permanently been exposed to them since your first breath. The older I get and the better my understanding for the English language gets, the more I understand most English lyrics by Germans are not very… let’s say, sophisticated. Although I noticed back in Pilori it makes them more accessible to other people, if you have something to say that goes beyond ‘Get on the floor!’

The second part of the story is that writing German lyrics are a challenge. I have always been listening to bands with German lyrics and I am fascinated by those who really manage to find the right balance between meaningfulness and a good sound. This is what makes it quite difficult sometimes, that you cannot have both. It is very easy to sound terribly corny. For me, Sonne Hagal—and especially their song “Das Letzte Lied” on Jordansfrost—or the album Nächtliche Jünger by Orplid are very fine examples of great German lyrics within the genre. But I also like German post-punk bands like Die Fehlfarben or Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft a lot, who also have a very good understanding of using German—the first more in regards to the depth of the lyrics and sarcasm, the latter rather for their echoism/slogans. Interestingly enough, Tony encouraged me recently to write German lyrics for the next album, which I will do. I think he did that because my Shakespearean masterworks might have made his words look plain on the album. I have written German lyrics back then in Pilori a few times, so it should be possible. Maybe it is also a good motivation to involve Tony in the singing later on! [laughs]

TW: I prefer bands to sing in their own language. I thought Gernot should have sung his songs on the album in Hun, but he just ignores my view on things as I’m old and fat.

Twa Corbies

Twa Corbies | Credit: Steven Silence

HH: The band Rammstein always comes to mind when I think of music sung in German. To me it was my and many others’ first taste of music in the language and it’s fascinating to hear that it’s hard to get the lyrical balance that we are unaware of.

GM: Rammstein’s way to make use of the German language is obviously pretty much influenced by Laibach—who, again, I simply adore for their artistic opus! But their approach is to sound very harsh or theatrical, and it is often less meaningful than it might sound to your ears. As far as I know, it is their version of English rock music lyrics, so it all makes sense again. I guess lyrics from AC/DC or Metallica don’t quite compete with Wordsworth, do they?

HH: It’s quite ironic that English is in fact a Germanic language, yet the structures are so dissimilar.

GM: I am generally very interested in languages, especially in their historic context, so I agree that it is very fascinating how connected we are by a common lingual history. I love to explore the similarities in Danish, Dutch, and English, and especially their early forms because they tell you a lot about the history and how much we shared and still do. Compared to other languages the structures are not too far away from each other, but the influence of other languages on English had been much more intensive than on German, for example. English has a lot more words than those which it borrows from the German language, and this again is the reason for those word-compositions that English people always laugh about: Donaudampfschiffahrtskapitän, etc.

HH: Gernot, in regards to the song ‘The Tower of Babylondon’, I assume the theme is about the ravens kept within the Tower of London and the superstition that surrounds the requirement of the continuity of their presence and safety. What inspired this song and was there any thought collusion with the band name?

GM: The initial idea came while (finally) visiting the Tower of London five years ago. I found it quite strange they tell you this legend during the tour and in the same sentence it is mentioned they need clip the wings, so the ravens simply have to stay. ‘British humor’ was my first thought, but thinking about it longer, many things came to my mind. Like that it is more or less an official confession the ravens would not wait a second before they flew off, so the kingdom forced its luck to stay, if the legend was true. That went well with my pessimism about a more and more hollow world today. And the Shard as a new tower by the Thames River—presenting an inhumane modern economy with all the megalomania, perverted capitalism, and power games, causing poverty on the other side, etc. And finally how little the world has changed since Henry VIII! So when we decided to record something, the idea instantly came back into my mind. I admit that at some point I had hoped we could write all the lyrics for the album around a pair of ravens sitting on a gallows pole telling each other stories about the rotten world they have travelled, but as interesting as this idea was, the concept was too narrow. So ‘The Tower of Babylondon’ was kept, but the concept was skipped. I think the basic idea still lurks out of it a bit anyway.

TW: I hate the Shard. I can see it from my studio window. It is as ugly and pointless as the form of capitalism that vomited it up. If only we could have a version of 9/11 without the loss of life and cheer it on…

HH: Capitalism as in the tourists obsessing over it, or the songs written about it?

TW: What it represents as a building. The fact they try and charge you for the bloody view is just the icing on the cake.

HH: Two guitars and voices sound very simple, almost ‘Pub Style’, and many neofolk listeners have attempted this simplicity. Many fail and few succeed. In my opinion as a critic, this record has been a success. What do you think makes it work?

GM: Mainly Tony’s beautiful voice! Apart from that I think if we had kept it strictly like two guys with guitars sitting round a fire or in a pub’s corner also for the album, it would have been a bit too stripped down. You can do that for gigs, but to record in such a way always bears the risk that you cannot reproduce the magic of the moment a live gig might have for the 10th time someone hears the songs. And as you said, other have done that before. So adding some bits and pieces in the background makes a difference and some people seem to especially like this aspect. Not everybody likes that, though. One review said that The Clamouring sounds very similar to pop music. So what? No one ever said we play straight-edge eco-folk without the use of electricity, modern technique, and clothes on!

TW: I think in terms of keeping it simple both live and on record. We will just use simple loops to work as an atmosphere or as another instrument, but never as a track to play to. I find it soul-destroying—basically karaoke, but without the fun. As for pop, well… it takes real talent to write a good pop song certainly more then it does a bog-standard martial-industrial nazi-shite-fest anyway. People toiling in the fields didn’t have acoustic guitars or wind chimes, so frankly authenticity—unless you are singing traditional songs unaccompanied—is a mutt without a leg to stand on.

Twa Corbies

Twa Corbies

HH: I think the group has the resources and potential to stray from your planned musical/member limitations. Will you ever succumb to such temptation or is it the simplicity and two members that will keep it alive?

GM: Well, we might be expanding the sound a bit, but not in the sense that we will have dozens of tracks and instruments involved. Maybe loops, samples, and distortion may add to the sound. At least the difference between what we do at the studio and what we can do live should be on a scale that it is close to each other, and we do not need a backing for twenty-three additional recorded tracks on stage.

TW: I think the attraction is the simplicity, not just musically but logistics. Also, times are hard for everybody, so two people is a lot more manageable for promoters to take a chance on. Frankly, the music scene on the whole is full of egotistical, whiny arseholes with a side-dish of infantile narcissism. I just thought I would throw that in there for shits and giggles.

HH: Tony, you have been somewhat ‘blessed’ with the success of your side projects: Owls and now Twa Corbies. Has this success prompted thoughts to stray further from Sol Invictus, or will that always be your primary focus?

TW: For the moment, Sol Invictus is my main concern, but nothing is forever.

HH: How have the live shows been received? Is there encouragement from the supporter base to continue touring/recording?

GM: Despite the fact we unfortunately also had two relatively badly prepared shows, the reactions have always been very good. We have not yet presented the album on stage up to this point, so perhaps that is why they were received so well. The first occasion will be in Paris in June, where we will be playing more songs from the album, and two gigs in Germany in autumn, one even as a co-headliner as I have learned. Judging from reactions to The Clamouring, people like the music, so it is up to us to translate the songs into great rock shows!

It will be interesting to see if we can translate the album well live. The trouble with Owls and Twa Corbies is the lack of proper rehearsals, which I find very stressful.

HH: What can we expect from you in the future?

TW: Well, a lot depends on an operation that I am on the waiting list for next year. If it goes well I will be a lot more active, and if not, then buy speakers for you Ouija board. I hope to have a new Sol Invictus album out in 2016, provisionally entitled Necropolis.

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