I can appreciate different sides of music. Metal doesn’t have to be all about infernal distortion all the time. There can be a sombre side to it to. MUSK OX are acoustic but not weak. ©2015 Anders Ekdahl
What was it that made you start MUSK OX?
-It all started with a love for the acoustic side of metal so after receiving my first acoustic guitar in 2005 I began learning the acoustic songs and interludes of metal bands like Opeth, Agalloch, In Flames and Kamelot. At this time I decided to leave university to focus more seriously on music. That summer I discovered Ulver’s “Kveldssanger” and Empyrium’s “Where at Night the Wood Grouse Plays”, two albums which had an immense impact on me. I then began taking classical guitar lessons and recording acoustic/instrumental demos on my computer. I never really had any big plans, I just wanted to improve as a guitar player and composer. By 2007 I had completed the “Entre La Terre et Le Ciel” and “Entre Les Nuages et La Neige” demos so I decided to enter a proper studio to record my first full-length album using some of these songs as well as new material. It wasn’t until I was in the studio recording the album that I decided on the name Musk Ox.
How does this new album compare to the previous ones?
-The early demos consist of very peaceful, simple and short songs. In those days I was really trying to capture the atmosphere of my influences while trying to develop my own voice as well. The first full-length was my attempt at combining the longer songs and structures of post rock with the acoustic textures of neofolk. This album had more elaborate arrangements and longer songs than the demos. The new album is much more musically and conceptually advanced than the demo and debut album. The influences are different as well. The biggest difference is that this album represents Musk Ox as a band rather than a solo project. I met cellist Raphael Weinroth-Browne in 2009 and we immediately connected. For the new album, I asked Raph to compose the string parts because he is an absolutely brilliant composer/arranger so this album represents the first collaborative Musk Ox album. He also added some guitar parts. The first song on the album was also composed in part by the first two members who joined Musk Ox back in 2008 so this album involved many more people than any previous work.
Was it hard for you to come up with a sound you all could agree on?
-Not at all. Raph and I had a mutual understanding of what the album would eventually become so there were no issues there. We knew we wanted to take the instrumental neofolk of the previous album into a more epic and technical direction and we were both patient throughout the creative process. Although it did take many years to deliver, we remained focused on the outcome and I am extremely proud of what we created along with violinist Evan Runge.
How do you compensate for the lack of lyrics? What kind of topics/visions do you deal with in your songs?
-I’ve been creating instrumental songs since I first began writing music so it never felt like I ever had to compensate for anything. It just came naturally to me. Early on, the songs were meant to convey my reverence for the vast landscapes of Canada with a mystical sense of wonder. Around the time of the first demos and the debut album I took a few long bus trips within and even across Canada which greatly inspired me. This early material was meant to express a solitude, stillness and longing that only nature can truly instill in us. Once the debut album was released, I received feedback from friends and strangers which gave me a deeper insight into the underlying themes of the music that I had not been consciously aware of while creating it. People began telling me that the music helped them grieve the passing of family members and one of my friends even played the album while his son was born. After the first album was released, some friends of mine who supported and believed in Musk Ox passed away. These experiences shaped the concept of “Woodfall” which deals directly with themes of life, death and rebirth.
How important is the cover art work for you? How much do you decide in choosing art work?
-Artwork and layout are incredibly important to me. I love listening to albums while studying the booklets and artwork so I want to create that experience for those who listen to Musk Ox. Since the beginning I have chosen all of the cover art. To me, the cover is one of the most important aspects of an album. I feel the album doesn’t fully come to life until the cover is chosen.
How did you choose the band name? Did you want a name that contrasted the music or vice versa?
-I chose the band name Musk Ox for a variety of reasons. Ever since I was a child, I’ve always loved the animal and while I was recording the first album, I brought a sketch of a musk ox to the studio that a friend had drawn. I loved it so much I decided to use it as the cover for the first pressing of the debut album. The name to me is very special because it represents an energy/entity that is natural, ancient and Canadian. I feel the band name expresses these elements without giving away too much so I guess it both compliments and contrasts the music.
What is success to you? How would you describe the feelings you get when people comment on you music?
-That is a great question and one that I find myself revisiting on a regular basis. When I started seriously pursuing music I had no big ideas about success. I remember thinking that just making my own album would be amazing. What’s interesting about success is that once you achieve what you set out to accomplish, you find yourself at the beginning of a new process with new goals, ideas and aspirations. It never really ends. I have always believed that it is important to celebrate every success no matter how little. Every time I receive positive feedback from anyone, that to me is a big success. To know that music I helped create has had a positive impact on people around the world is a wonderful feeling. Success is a balance between being proud of what you’ve accomplished while looking forward at what you have yet to achieve. Ultimately, I believe fulfillment determines success.
What status do you have nationally? Is being recognized and respected something you think about?
-I didn’t start making music with the idea of being recognized and respected but I am both humbled and grateful whenever this happens. As my career has progressed I have become more aware of this than in the past but I try not to let it interfere with the main objective of creating interesting and inspiring music. I have received a bit of recognition nationally in Canada but to be honest, Musk Ox has received more attention from international audiences. I’m grateful for anyone who takes the time to support our music, it just so happens there is a larger demand for this style of music outside of Canada.
If I had done music I would have liked that as many as possible would hear my music. How do you go about reaching as many as possible?
-If you create music with honesty and integrity people will hear it in time. There is telling when that will be but it will happen. There’s no secret recipe, just hard work, focus and a lot of patience. When I released the first Musk Ox album I researched and contacted websites and blogs I thought would appreciate the album. This was the first step towards building a following. My collaboration with Agalloch, myself and Raph’s work with Woods of Ypres as well as the “Whom the Moon a Nightsong Sings” and “Der Wanderer uber dem Nebelmeer” compilations greatly helped as well. The late metal journalist Adrian “The Energizer” Bromley, who re-released the first album, helped the band immensely by sharing our music with Agalloch and Woods of Ypres in the first place. However, all of this started because people heard and enjoyed the music. I worked with a publicist for “Woodfall” and that has helped the music reach new listeners but you never know how these things will work out. Even with label support and a team pushing an album, it doesn’t guarantee that people will love the music and want to write about it. I remember a few weeks before releasing “Woodfall” I became really nervous and began worrying that no one would be interested in the album. As I mentioned above, it starts with the music. You need to work hard to create something special while having the faith and patience necessary to complete it.
What does the future hold for you?
-I am currently busy working with my instrumental metal band The Night Watch which features Musk Ox violinist Evan Runge. We released our debut full-length in 2013 and are preparing to record a new EP, followed by our second full-length album which is already written. I am preparing to record a solo album which I am very excited about as well. As for Musk Ox, we are planning to write the new album this year and are currently working on releasing the Woodfall LP. Raphael is also busy with his cello/vocal project The Visit who will be releasing their debut album later this year. It will be incredible. For those who are interested in following our projects, please visit the links below.
A deep and sincere thank you for taking the time to interview me to everyone supporting Musk Ox!
Musk Ox (Progressive/Chamber/Folk)
The Night Watch (Instrumental/Progressive/Metal)
The Visit (Progressive/Chamber Duo)
Nathanael Larochette (Ambient/Spoken Word)