FEN to me has been surrounded with mystique. So when the opportunity to interview them happened I wasn’t late grabbing it. Anders Ekdahl ©2013
I must say that to me FEN as a band has been quite mysterious and hard to track down. How much of a conscious decision has this been and how much has been circumstantial?
DERWYDD: Perhaps a bit of both. When the band started it was very much a rehearsal room project with the emphasis entirely on writing and recording quality black metal with lots of innovation by way of dynamics and atmosphere. To this day, despite greater attention and growing focus on live performance, I’d say Fen’s ways have not changed very much. We still create new music as the number one priority when we get together. It’s never been a band about rock’n’roll self-promotion, jumping in a van and doing gig after gig to anybody to get our faces known – ultimately nothing is more important than working hard on quality material as when all is said done, that is all that will be left to judge you on. Now that the band is on the third album and showing that we want to be in this for the long haul, we are now facing the dilemna of needing to grow a bit and present this music in a way that gains far wider exposure without losing integrity. Social networking and front-line fan interaction is a main driver right now for bands, but just imagine Fen on Facebook doing a tongue-in-cheek ‘behind the scenes’ video or photo caption competition…such things would clash terribly with the considered musical and lyrical intent we are trying to get across. We are thankfully very fortunate to our now not-so-new manager, Patricia Thomas, who can do all the profile raising, press stuff and news updates in a clear professional manner, relieving us of such burdens, keeping our intrigue in place, and ensuring we can get further music written and rehearsed to the highest possible standards.
The first time I saw your name I thought you were a Swedish band. Fen in Swedish is Fairy. Then I came to understand that fen is the word for a particular sort of land. But I guess that wasn’t why you picked the name. What does the name mean to you?
DERWYDD: Well you were almost right actually, the band’s name is indeed derived after the Fens, an area in East England of extensive flatland where the founders of the band grew up. You can see much of the Fens in our album artwork. The barren nature of this part of the world has an eerie and ghostly quality all of its own. Barely romantic in the sense that many black metal bands find mountains and forests; the Fens are a source of bleakness, desolation and abandonment, which directly inspires the band’s ethos.
When you get great reviews and almost everybody hails you as the greatest thing since sliced bread how do you deal with all the back patters?
DERWYDD: Interesting you should say that, as we find that Fen is much more recognised outside our own country, or perhaps I can be so bold to say that Brits are often very muted in their praise of anything, especially British. Also whilst some say the band’s work has inspired others on the post-black metal path which is a great compliment, many on the other hand maintain we just regurgitate the ideas of bigger band x or y to better or worse effect, sometimes with totally wrong conclusions drawn. Even if not all praise is unanimous, and some we feel is mis-targeted, we are still very grateful when we get it, and indeed any good comment is welcome be it positive or negative on our work. We are particularly pleased with the highly positive reception ‘Dustwalker’ has received critically at this early stage. Notwithstanding however, I think we need a good 10 or 100 times more listeners before deserving of any back patting!
How did you find your way to the sound that is FEN? What kind of roads did you travel on your journey?
DERWYDD: The journey began with a dose of honesty, really. The band started when the founders craved room for further musical exploration than could exist in the confines of their more orthodox black metal projects, such as atmospheric rock, 80s guitar-wave/gothic rock, shoegaze, perhaps even a bit of prog, and see how that could all weave into the black metal soundscape. You will hear many times in Fen riffs and ideas that are miles removed from metal altogether, but somehow in the delivery and context it is still black metal in essence. It’s an interesting paradox that this works, and I think the ways in which black metal allows other ideas to orbit and embrace its spirit has helped it thrive creatively and diversify more than any other contemporary genre. Sonically, ‘Dustwalker’ is a new chapter for Fen as it is our first album without keyboards. Initially a practical barrier we had to work around, being that keyboardist left and no replacement found, we have instead adapted and looked for greater breadth in guitar tone, effects and embracing a different sort of band chemistry as a trio. We have to be a lot more forceful in our sound and work double hard to project what we do as a three-piece, but this has given us a really great new fresh energy and dynamic, especially in the live arena. ‘Dustwalker’ is for this reason our heaviest and most black metal sounding album to date, yet also has a great amount of depth and colour. This is aided by the excellent recording from our engineer Barry Haynes, who got the best out of us in the studio, ensured that what went on tape was a true live-sounding representation of the band at its apex, no obsessing over drum samples and grids, no copy/paste and studio trickery, just the band in a room giving it everything.
When you write lyrics do you have a theme that you stick to? A concept that you don?t stray from?
THE WATCHER: With many of our songs, the music tends to come first – it is from the ambiences and sensations invoked by this that a lyrical notion tends to form. This can be born from an image in the mind, an emotional response to a particular riff or just a general ‘feeling’. From this seed the lyrical framework then follows – I tend to write quickly at this stage, preferring to write honestly and very much without restraint. I think it is important to capture a moment and truly mine the furrow of inspiration when it is struck. After this initial ‘outpouring’, one then returns to the words and can craft them into the final version. Sometimes however, a song title can come first – this is very much true of ‘Walking the Crowpath’ from the new album. This is an idea that I have had for many years now, inspired by a particularly affecting twilight walk through wheeling hordes of crows coming in to roost. It set my mind alight with ideas and concepts and these lyrics were written several years ago – is has simply been a case of waiting for the right music to communicate this idea.
What in your opinion does a good lyric make? What does it have to contain for it to be good?
THE WATCHER: Good lyrics need to be evocative, affecting, honest, sincere and above all, visual. They do not need to necessarily be flowery or verbose in language – some of the most powerful lyrics in music can be incredibly simple and raw – but they must deliver a message of meaning. Of course, context here is important and there are certainly genres that benefit from something more mysterious, psychedelic or esoteric. For me personally though, lyrics that are clearly written with passion and taste inspire me the most. ‘Storybook’ lyrics are all well and good and are certainly appropriate for certain bands/styles but it isn’t something that we here in Fen feel is appropriate for us.
How much does local/national folklore play a part in the whole concept of FEN? What can we learn from these tales today?
DERWYDD: Obviously the local landscape of the Fens is a huge influence on the sound of the band, the images evoked and the lyrics. But these are not so much a folklore as a modern day or even eternal sense of detachment that the Fens evoke. I guess the band’s logo does suggest the ancient cup and ring markings of megalithic times, but again not really bringing forward any particular message beyond this. On the whole, we are not one of the folklore, heritage etc. style bands in the UK. We’ll leave that to the many excellent bands who can do that sort of thing better than us. Landscape is a different matter, it seems to hold something for the individual, personal feelings, reconciling the external and the internal, the passing of one’s time and memories. But even then we feel much more strongly aligned to the subjective experience of landscape in our expression of black metal, than to boast that we are from such a bloodline who fought the Saxons in this place in year dot. It holds little relevance now. Out of all parts of the isles and probably also Europe, England went and still does undergo incredible and continual change as it influenced and was influenced by the rest of the world. Here what is true for one generation isn’t necessarily for the next. A lot of what we think are traditions have origins more recent than you would think. It would be interesting to see our own current arts portrayed a couple of centuries on as an obscure folklore curiosity, made by people whose ways and language have quickly become incoherent and devolved.
What is a Dustwalker? Why the choice of album title?
THE WATCHER: The ‘Dustwalker’ represents the self, a consciousness detached from reality, seemingly floating between worlds. It’s an anthropomorphic representation of disassociation, of feeling dislocated from the world around you. In this, it symbolizes a mindset I very much found myself increasingly trapped in throughout much of the compositional process of the album. With this in mind, many of the songs on the album are metaphors in a sense for this feeling.
When you use pseudonyms there must be a greater concept behind that. What does each individual moniker represent?
DERWYDD: There actually isn’t, we just use pseudonyms for the pure sake of intrigue and mystery. This works better for our, and pretty much any black metal band’s aesthetic than saying, for example, here is Mr John Smith on kazoo. Even if one may be Mr John Smith to his wife, work colleagues and down the pub, he needs to immediately drop that persona when stepping on stage with his warfare black metal band to make the story of the music all more convincing. Such atavism, even in the most meaningless way is nonetheless effective and thereby almost universally undertaken by black metal musicians.
What future do you see for FEN?
DERWYDD: We’ll be writing new music, constantly, endlessly. No doubt about that, it’s what keeps the band going. We’re always writing the next album, and that will of course be the next goalpost to do an even better one than before. On the live front, we have immensely enjoyed playing in new countries in the last couple of years and just want more, much more going forwards actually. As a live unit we are particularly strong right now but putting on a high quality show, exhilarating as the end result may be, is very expensive for bands and promoters these days, so until now we haven’t been able to just tour everywhere and anywhere at the drop of a hat, much as we’d like to. At the very least we can hope that ‘Dustwalker’ will be a great success and get some memorable live and touring action negotiated in its wake.