Living To Tell: An interview with A Pregnant Lightby Johan on Aug 18, 2012 • 4:03 pm • 6 Comments
Two years ago, I was handed a tape by a good friend of mine. This tape was apparently released by Rhinocervs records, but more information was nowhere to be found. Apparently, this was an untitled tape, leaving the music to speak for itself instead of linking it to any bands, images or structures. These 20-or-so minutes of putrid filth changed my perception of black metal. I noticed that while browsing through the endless torrents of blogspots, I glanced at band names in order to decide whether or not to listen to them. I looked at related artists, sounds-likes, all the periphery before I granted the actual music my attention.
But these tapes, released by Rhinocervs, Colloquial Sound Recordings and the like, opened my mind again to see the core, the pure, utter violence that black metal can and must be. But throughout the grimy, swirling layers of murky guitar tones, some melodies danced, shivered, struggled to be heard. This was tension concrete, a voiced struggle with darkness. And since then, I have been looking for black metal tapes, for these small-run labels that offer no insight, no explanations, no periphery, just the art in and of itself.
A Pregnant Light is an entity that fully adheres to the philosophies mentioned above. MAKE NO ASSUMPTIONS is all the information we get, no name, no instruments, nothing. Every tape that they release is a statement, a story, and I will review this release accordingly.
Live To Tell opens instrumentally, a soft ‘Panoramic Stroke’ across guitar strings, making the first chord sound decidedly Cure-esque. But then, the second stroke veers in another direction, adding a layer of noisy discomfort. And thus the story begins with an eerie riff sliding past yawning caverns and gritty, wandering paths. As we near the end, the unease and confusion grows, and suddenly the tranquil tones are spiked with harsh strumming and foreboding feedback, pushing the listener over the edge into a soft drone that fades away, into the black of deepest chasms.
‘Possession of Diamond’ takes a different turn, kicking off with lively chaotic picking, but as the first shriek slashes through, the struggle begins. Alongside mid-tempo blackened riffing, post-punk guitar lines keep guiding us upward, but the beast never stops howling, chanting, threatening. Suddenly, a build-up of sorts, will this be the escape longed for? All it does is plunge us back into despair; the chants continue, themes return and seem to foreshadow an infinite repetition of suffering within, yet the drumming intensifies, danger, struggle, pain, it is near, it must be struck down, it is better to glimpse the sky and perish than to live without ever beholding day. Then suddenly, we encounter the beast, its solitary wail speaks of recognition and suffering and the ensuing blast-beat is a celebration of this battle, life, of victory, we have conquered the void within.
‘Live To Tell’, the final destination of this tape, encompasses the message of this tale. This knowledge must be shared, through communication and contact, via any means. It’s not important who tells the story, as long as it’s told. Every single release that we love, respect, has a resonance within us. We recognise a feeling, a moment, a story. Anti-human black metal is a contradiction in terminis, we need the emotions of others to flourish, be it hate, love, abhorrence, disgust or veneration and we shape this through art. This last song is the illustration of that. For the first time ever, we are told of how two fellow artists, members of Amber Asylum, helped A Pregnant Light here. In order to deal with this world of darkness and chaos, it is with the aid of like-minded spirits and the knowledge of those that went before we can carve our path, our way out. Solitude is for the lost.
“How will they hear
When will they learn
How will they know”
Every piece of music is a pregnant communication, a pregnant light. That’s how. Enchanted by this mysterious tape, I pursued the creative mind behind this project for questioning…
I would like this interview to have some sort of line to follow. It probably won’t have. Is it important for you that your releases have a specific line, a path to move along to?
Each release has its own path. That is what is most important. I suppose, upon closer introspection that I value a path that is greatly varied from release to release. It is on a greater path, yes, but each release is taken on its own merit. There is much APL material that has yet to be released, and I’m writing all the time. We only have four releases, so it’s hard to really route out a path.
One of the things that thrills me when creating music is having it be added to our canon of recorded works. As a student of history, I know that context as well as time and space are critical in evaluating a work. It would be nice to have a lengthy recorded legacy, not for the sake of having a lot of releases, but as a record of emotions, ideas, and headspace relating to that certain period. I have an overall idea as to what A Pregnant Light should be, it’s buried deep in my subconscious somewhere. Every release chips away at the exterior and gets closer to the original idea. That is not to say that early works are by any means less enlightened than more recent works. I despise bands that slag off their old material in favor of promoting new material. Everything has meaning. “Everything is everything, what is meant to be will be.” – Lauryn Hill.
So this will probably mean that there are no boundaries set, in the sense of what the music will bring. When listening to the recordings, you can hear clear differences, an evolution if you’d like, but I also hear, or think I hear, a broadening of perspectives and sounds. Have you set yourself boundaries music-wise, will it always be linked to black metal, be it musically or thematically ?
Well, I always like to include “black metal” in quotes when I talk about it. BM is a bit more stringent than, say, punk rock. I have such a deep reverence for black metal bands, I really don’t want to consider APL one of them. APL will always operate free of boundaries. Of course I love to play with different ideas and sounds, and one of the major sounds is lo-fi black metal. There is something about lo-fi stuff that really speaks to me. I don’t think APL would ever go to a studio and get a hi-fi sounding record like the guys in Aksumite did. One of the things about APL is that I don’t consider it to be evolutionary. I consider it to be a journey. At any point I would like to return to a previous sound, I will. Regression is as important as progression. Sure, if you want to get technical… yes. It’s all about “evolving” as a musician, but I think you need to be open to re-exploring ideas from the past. Too many bands keep evolving until they become something else. But when I hear a band I want to hear growth from album to album, I don’t want to hear something totally left-field. I do have some self-applied boundaries, but I think they’re pretty evident.
Live to Tell is the first release, to my knowledge, where you are joined by other musicians. Why change the chosen path of solitude in creating the music? And was it a choice to be a one-man project, or did things work out that way?
Correct. I am joined by the two immensely talented musicians, Sigrid Sheie (Hammers of Misfortune, Amber Asylum) and Kris Force (Amber Asylum). I only mention their respective projects not to gain crossover support from people who like Hammers or Amber Asylum, but to humble myself and express my gratitude to these amazing women. I would dream to touch the hem of their musical garments. To think they gave me the time of day still blows my mind. Sigrid and I came about the collaboration very naturally. It was based on our mutual love of Madonna. I think I said something to the tune of “Why do metal bands only cover Slayer, Venom and Bathory? Haven’t we heard enough? A true metal band would cover Madonna. She’s every bit a musical titan.” Thus the collaboration was born.
I don’t think I chose the path of solitude for any other reason than I have played in bands for years, and still do… and I’m sick of compromise. Bands need vision. Every tribe must have a chief and indians. Leaders and followers. It wasn’t out of some “misanthropic, hateful” vibe – it was out of necessity. I could have other people supplement me, but the minute they diverge from my vision, either musically or even scheduling-wise, I can’t take it. Life is full of compromises, and I’ll be damned if I have to sit around and wait for someone to show up to band practice for A Pregnant Light. It was a choice, and it worked out that way.
When someone asked me to describe your music, I ended up with: “Black Twilight-ish, but with a fucking soul, 90s hardcore and 80s melodies.” Your music sounds harsh, intense, but for me there always remains a glimmer of hope. Am I talking absolute bullshit here or can you agree to some level? Are there simple terms to describe the music? Or is it an insult if people try to categorise and divide art into segments?
Well, I think the “Black Twilight” comparison is lazy, but you’ve hit the nail so squarely on the head with the other descriptors I’m willing to forgive you 100%. There is totally soul and melody. There is heart and feeling. It’s not cold and necro… It’s fading and distant, but it’s also embracing the moment. We are absolutely inspired by 90s hardcore, 80s and 00s hardcore as well. 80s melodies… perhaps. This is probably coming from my subconscious. I love new wave, post-punk and bands like the Smiths, so I can see where that comes from. It’s not a direct influence… with perhaps the exception of Public Image Ltd. PiL is fantastic and will always shape how I create music, or at least how I view music as it relates to structure and atmosphere.
I’m not insulted when people try to categorise and divide art, you have to do that, to some extent. Of course, in a record store you can’t file a Neubauten record next to a Coltrane record, though the spirit they are both pulling from is most likely the same. They’ve just filtered it through their consciousness. APL is supposed to be harsh and intense. Even if it’s more restrained moments, there is a tension. There is a long, slow burn underneath the surface. I’m an extrovert. I like going out, but as I grow older, I turn more inward. I’ll never be afraid to express myself, but I feel that hope is fading. It’s something that I struggle to hold onto every day. Without hope there is no point in creation. I’m still overcome by feelings of anger and resentment at almost every moment of my life… so it’s a dichotomy, it’s a struggle. Hope within anger. Without that, I would die.
The vocals always sound distant, removed, lost in the whirlwind sometimes. Is there a meaning, a message in this distance?
Yes. This will always be a key feature of APL. It will be the uniting factor across all releases. The sound of a human voice, distant and fading. I make it a point to not sound other-worldly. I don’t want to sound bestial, or overly “black metal, necro, etc.” I want to sound like what I am, a human being in great pain. A human being going to great lengths to express himself. There is most assuredly a message and meaning in the distance; the role of the listener is to filter that through their own life experience and develop their own conclusion. There should be some mystery.
There should be some mystery? So there should always be a distance between artist and observer? I can see how you’d expect the music to have a personal, subjective meaning for every individual, but isn’t the sharing an essential part of underground music? Would you consider playing live in that respect?
In APL, distance is totally the key. I want the artist and the listener to be far away from each other. When I’m talking about distance, I’m talking about creating an emotion. Of course I want to share this with people, otherwise I’d never put it out. We all run away from something at one point in our lives. We all retreat. When I’m in solitude it’s because I’ve chosen to be there. It’s a unique perspective to me. It means something special to me. It’s almost like I’m creating music for past memories. I feel distance every day. Even when I’m surrounding by people who care for me, and I for them, I feel alone. I’m always emotionally retreated. Honestly, I don’t know why. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t jaded or cynical. I don’t let that rule my life, though – that’s the fast-track to being an annoying asshole with no friends. Most of the time when I’m around people I don’t care about them. It’s nice not to be alone, but I’m truly uninvested in most of my friends’ lives. This is a growing concern for me as I find myself more and more not caring about people that I used to care for.
As for playing live… I have no idea how that would work. It seems like any sort of thing you could do (smoke, fog, turn your back to the crowd, wearing masks, cloaks, disguising yourself, etc.) to distance yourself from the audience would be cheesy. It would be fake and laughable. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that APL would play a live show, but it’s very close to impossible – or, it could be re-imaged into a live set that just focuses on a certain set of songs or moods that APL conveys. Playing live is not a concern for me.
Colloquial Sound Recordings is an amazing label who have released everything you produced, but on tape only. Is this about a certain nostalgia, purely economical or another reason? And even though I think the analogue hiss adds to the music, is there any chance of releases on other media?
I know CSR has covered this topic extensively in an interview recently, so I’ll defer to him. Analogue sounds great, but I don’t think that music should be limited by format. Format should add to the experience, but not dictate. Cassette and vinyl are preferred of course, but I have nothing against CDs. I have a lot against a plastic, throw-away culture we live in. CDs get a bad rap, but that’s just because of how people used them. It’s always difficult to strike a balance between format and content. For now, and the foreseeable future, cassettes are a great match for APL.
How would they hear the beating of my heart
Will it grow cold
The secret that I hide
Will I grow old
How will they hear
When will they learn
How will they know
I don’t really believe that you picked this song purely for the melodies. The lyrics seem to be about distance, again, fear, but not about the individual per se. Who are “they” for you? Or am I adding to much importance to lyrics within black metal?
Of course I picked this song for all that it embodies, not just the music or lyrics. It’s a perfect song. It has everything that an APL song would have. It’s just done by a different artist, and filtered through her own experiences and influences.
To me, the song is about fear and mistrust. Again, I am not an introvert, afraid to express himself, yet fear is a daily emotion I experience. Fear is truly the greatest emotion, more so than love or hate. Fear can keep you from love, or drive you to hate. In my mind, it’s about a relationship. It’s sung from a female perspective, but I identify with both genders. Live To Tell is about survival. Making it through. I have been obsessed with the concept of burning. I’m no pyromaniac, but the bible speaks of a great flood that destroyed the earth, and the earth will be destroyed again by fire. Burning is the perfect metaphor. Nothing survives burning. Fire will consume all. When I heard Madonna sing that song as a child, when she sang “It will burn inside of me.” I just could not process it. The lyrics were so heavy. The music was so intense. This was a pop song, being played on the radio. This is the kind of thing you hear in a dentist’s office, yet it had this dark, brooding underbelly. It took an artist like Madonna to make such a complex song a top 40 hit.
When I was a child, “they” were my peer group. My friends, my family. As a mature adult, “they” has been transformed into the emotions in my head. I value social exchange… but only up to a certain point. Ultimately, I am a solitary man. “They” are all the conflicting ideas and emotions that make up my person. “They” are never quiet. They won’t relent. There is always movement. It’s not madness, it’s part of the human condition. It’s teetering on the edge of madness, but always having hope and restraint. Sometimes I let myself go, and those times are always scary. I often wonder how many times I can walk out of the flames before I am consumed in the fire.
There needs to be importance to lyrics in “black metal”. There is a lot of time spent working on lyrics for APL… yet we’ve never published any. I purposefully mix them low and make them sound distant because that is usually concurrent with my overarching themes… Also I want people to strain themselves to hear. I want them to pick out certain words of phrases. I want them to work for it, to take away a piece of the whole. I want that small bit to ruminate in their minds. I want them to form their own conclusions.
Is the death of the author real? Is the moment you finish a piece of work, a record, the moment that you lose all control and it’s the property of the audience and what they do with it?
The death of the author? Absolutely. The minute the music goes “public”, it belongs to the listener. I’m not talking about how the current generation of kids think downloading music, or not paying for music is a god-given right – I’m taking about how they process the art. It is theirs to work through. I no longer have any say. I can’t go back and re-do something. I can’t go back and explain. It’s theirs now. It’s mine too, but I’m very into the idea of someone pulling their own meaning from the art. I don’t want to be too specific with anything. There is a time and a place for specificity, APL is about emotion. You can’t pinpoint a feeling. Feelings are too fleeting and prone to change.
I think one of the most amazing things about music is that the author has a chance to re-claim it though playing live. A painter can’t do that. Not to the extent that a band can. DaVinci can’t go on stage and paint the Mona Lisa every night. I know some painters paint live, but traditionally when a painting is done, it’s done. There is no re-interpretation. Furthermore, no one seeks out an artist and tells them: “We want you to re-produce this, and please do it in front of us.” The same goes for a filmmaker. They have to create a single definitive product. Poets are able to breathe a new dimension into their work by reading it aloud. I would always recommend reading poetry aloud. That’s how it should be done. It’s music with words. It makes the tongue your instrument.
When a band plays live, they’re sort of re-claiming their work, but they’re still sharing it. Even then, the live experience is totally unique to everyone involved.
I noticed that CSR supports animal rights and vegetarianism. I fully back this, even though I know a lot of kvlt blakkkies think that politics or morality have no place in this genre. What are your thoughts on this?
Black metallers like to very much pick and choose what they allow. BM is full of nothing but politics and morality… it’s just presented from a “less than normal” point of view. I’m not a political person. I don’t follow politics, I don’t vote, I don’t care. I back CSR in their vegetarian and animal rights perspective. The way that animals are treated on this planet is utterly horrifying. Any sane person can see that. Factory farming is the epitome of fucked-up-ness. Now, there are those meat-eaters who justify themselves by eating “free-range” meat or “grass-fed” or whatever buzz word there is. There are lots of people who raise cattle and fowl and they roam freely, and have a good life. They’re slaughtered for food, and that’s a big grey area. Is there such a thing as “humane meat”? Can you ethically kill something? It’s a personal decision. I respect people that eat meat and think about it. That’s totally fine. The people who fuck with me and talk about “FUCK YEAH BACON ON EVERYTHING” and “MEAT RULES, I ONLY EAT THINGS WITH PARENTS”…
I get this all the time. This sort of redneck mentality. It’s ignorant. I don’t want to force what I believe on anyone. If someone eats meat and acknowledges it’s a less-than-perfect system… I have to let that slide. People just don’t want to confront shit that’s not easy to confront. People that are willfully ignorant… that’s offensive to me. People that say things that are rude to me just because being a vegetarian is outside of the norm, these people should be gassed. I tolerate all viewpoints as long as people hold them respectfully. Very rarely have I encountered someone who is a meat-eater that has processed what he or she does. It’s a wilful ignorance. I find that offensive in all walks of morality. Not just meat eating. I hate it when people turn a blind eye to domestic abuse, or poverty. I hate it that people turn a blind eye to the destruction of the planet. I’m no tree-hugger. I like the outdoors to an extent, but the destruction of the planet is going to undo humanity. We are here. We are a part of the ecosystem. A MASSIVE reason I’m a vegetarian is because of planet management. All the food and water that is used to feed cattle. All the grain, all the water that could be used to feed people is being used to feed animals that are just meant to be slaughtered. I’m far from a tree-hugging hippie. I certainly enjoy many of the conveniences of modern life, but the rape of the planet in the name of humans being the “superior” creature is just nonsense. Humans naturally have dominion over nature, but our domination is anything but natural. I value human life above all, but I also have to acknowledge that there is other life, and that life has value.
Really, what it boils down to is money. Convenience and money. People don’t eat vegetarian or vegan because it’s convenient not to. There is so much money that can be made selling meat. The same cattle barons who made millions transporting cattle across the great plains are of the same old money that rail roads and oil tycoons come from. I don’t inherently resent them or anyone for being wealthy, I just resent what wealth often does to people. That includes the “free range” and “organic” people who sell meat. It’s all a scam. Death is death. There is no such thing as a “good death”. Listen to that Propagandhi song ‘Human(e) Meat (the Flensing of Sandor Katz)’. I take no political stance at all, Propagandhi is pretty liberal. I’m neither liberal nor conservative, I try to separate myself as much as I can… but Propagandhi has got it right here. Plus, they’re a great band, period.
Frankly, this whole topic is a bit more political than I had hoped. Politics and religion just piss people off. No one is willing to accept another’s viewpoint. Rarely, I should say. Rarely does anyone truly respect another’s viewpoint.
LURKER revolves around the link between music and philosophy, mostly French and German existentialism in their considerations of what life and meaning are. Is there a certain philosopher/ philosophy you adhere to? Is this pre-occupation with philosophy a fad you think, something to shun, or could it be seen as a useful addition to current black metal?
I will fully cop to having not read any philosophy since Philosophy 101 in college. That is not to say that I don’t adhere to some of those trains of thought, but to name check someone would do disservice to their work. If I named names, I’d be like that crust kid with all the cool bands on his vest, but has only really heard Amebix.
Everything is a fad. I’ve been trying to stay positive and thoughtful through the interview process because if I read one more interview where people are just playing a part of being a hateful misanthrope, it will be too soon. Honestly, I truly do not care about most things in the world. I am so emotionally disconnected. Even in my own personal relationships, I struggle to make connections with people. I just don’t care. I don’t see why people go through so many extremes in their emotions. Nothing good will last, conversely, nothing bad is forever either. Just let life happen. You should direct your own life as much as you can, and work hard to mould it and make it the best for you, but who cares… who wants to talk about philosophy as it relates to their music? It’s cool that a lot of music is informed by that, but I just think that good music has to come from a personal level. If you’re using philosophy to explore conflicts within yourself, that’s great. I’m into that. Just singing empty words that sound “heavy” or “evil” or “dark” to match with your “black metal” is a total poser move.
You seem to be asking me about what I think about philosophy as it relates to “black metal” as a whole… if it should be embraced or shunned… is it good for black metal?, etc. I don’t care. I don’t know. It has no bearing on me at all. So, it’s a really stupid question. Go ask that to some kid who doesn’t create a damn thing. I’m sure they’ll have a very well reasoned, fleshed out answer.
This is clear. Perhaps it was a stupid question, but I think that philosophy in itself is something essential. I don’t care about the names, I care about the outlooks on life, the knowledge of self and surroundings, that’s what matters. Perhaps the name-calling I did above is faffing about in some sense, but I don’t think you can disconnect your view on life and self from your art. Or should you?
These are difficult concepts to struggle with. For me, the view of life and the art are so deeply intertwined. Everyday I’m re-shaping and re-imaging my own personal philosophy. It’s not a radical change, but every day there is growth or regression. It’s part of being a human. I don’t know if you can disconnect your view of life and your art. Maybe you can. I don’t know. I don’t. I’m just on the path of trying to be a better person. The art I make is predominantly influenced by those struggles.
Thank you for this opportunity, as a closer I’d like to ask for a playlist/reading list/movie list for this summer. What should we do when all that is around us is so full of sun and joy?
Movies – I don’t really watch movies.
Reading – I just read The One by RJ Smith. A most excellent biography of James Brown. I’m a huge JB fan, and this is perhaps the best look at the man’s life. He was such an amazing contradiction of a person. The man had such an interesting life and was a true musical visionary. Smith does a fantastic job WRITING about the music. Music journalism has become so dreadful. The same ten words used over and over again. There was such a dynamic to Brown’s life and music. I would strongly encourage the readers of this blog to not only listen to James Brown (a profound influence on me) but also to read this book. He was equal parts good and evil. Maybe more evil than good… He was a lawless man who created his own control. I am so fascinated by him. Of course, he was a fantastic artist as well. Great singer, amazing dancer. Brilliant performer.
Einstruzende Neubauten – Haus der Luge
Lungfish – Indivisible
Moritz von Oswald Trio – Horizontal Structures
Natural Assembly – Fusion’s Origin
Pity Sex – Dark World
Turbonegro – Apocalypse Dudes
Bodystocking /Royal Tropical Institute