Monday, March 28, 2016

Interview: MARS (Marcus S. Oliver F. and Nadine)

Introduction
     Back in 2014 I had commenced working on an essay about the MARS album Blood is the Food of the Gods to give it an in-depth and analytical treatment. Interviews were conducted with Marcus S., Oliver F., and Nadine to form the basis of original research, while I began to consult textual sources such as René Girard’s Violence and the Sacred. This turned out to be an enormous task that I faltered on completing in 2015, so it was shelved as other obligations kept popping up.
     However, tabling the original review questions from MARS does not benefit anyone, and with a looming new album and upcoming concerts, this is an opportunity time to take the Q/A, edit it into an interview, compliment it with additional questions and present it. What follows are questions conducted during 2014 that were originally geared toward Blood is the Food of the Gods, (but are still relevant), combined with recent questions that are more topical.
     A sincere thanks to Marcus, Oliver and Nadine for their time, and apologies for the tardiness of this final product.

The Sacrifice EP
     In 2013 MARS released a vinyl and digital EP called Sacrifice which would set the official ground work for what would follow in Blood is the Food of the Gods.
     There are some connections between Blood is the Food of The Gods and Sacrifice. Firstly, what is the reason that “Icarus” appears on both releases? Is this an anthem of sorts for MARS
     Marcus: The 12" Sacrifice is a kind of preface and key to understanding Blood is the Food of the Gods. It may be considered our first fully realized release (while Sons of Cain is more of a demo). There are two songs present on both releases, which are “Icarus” and “Sacrifice.” Both are key songs for the sacrifice-concept. Both songs will be presented on concerts to come for we feel very close to their lyrics and the message. Both songs were originally written by myself. “Icarus” is a special case for it was initially written for my first band :Golgatha:. It appears as a version sung by myself and by Patrick Leagas of Sixth Comm. The Mars-version is the third version of “Icarus,” provided with a new melody. I consider it the ultimate version of the song so far. This will not be the last new interpretation of a :Golgatha: song by Mars. In my opinion Mars is the official follow-up of :Golgatha:.
     What is the difference between “Sacrifice” from Sacrifice and “Sacrifice 2” from Blood is the Food of the Gods?
     Marcus: “Sacrifice 2” is mixed on different equipment and has distinct break towards the end. Check it out.

Blood is the Food of the Gods Album
     The first truly realized and fleshed out album proper of MARS, Blood is the Food of the Gods was released in the summer of 2014 by Lichterklang in both a standard and a limited edition version with an extra CD of a live performance.
     The cover of Blood is the Food of the Gods is a watercolor painting depicting a nude woman, bloodied hands outstretched to the sun. Can you tell me about the genesis of the cover?
     Nadine: Marcus, Oliver and me, we were talking about the cover and we all liked the imagination of a naked, female shaman standing with her back to the beholder. So I've made a (very) small watercolor sketch which was the origin of the picture. And while I was painting, the music of MARS inspired me of course.
Blood is the Food of the Gods album cover
     Why is everything dead in the piece? The trees hold no leaves and it is a barren area around the lake.
     Nadine: I don't think it is dead, it is more a landscape in winter, it is sleeping. In the first place that was an artistic decision in favor of shape and composition. Nevertheless there was the idea of a tormented nature somewhere in my mind, indeed. It might be a nature which needs to be treated with more respect, just like the shaman does, and which - maybe - demands the one or another "sacrifice".
     The cover depicts the Wolf Queen, the subject of track 10, "Song of the Wolf Queen.” Can you elaborate on this inspiration?
     Marcus: The idea of the Wolf Witch was derived from the respective scene in the film Conan the Barbarian yet I always was bothered by the connotation of her being “evil.” The other inspiration was a walk through a wolf areal in a zoo nearby with Nadine. It is a kind of love song at the same time.
Oliver F. - photo courtesy of the band
     What textual insight do you want to share, or did you want to convey with the songs you wrote? "Blood is the Food of the Gods," "Hunters," and "Saviours?” MARS wears inspiration on its sleeve with lots of literary sources, what where your inspirations for these tracks and what do you want to convey with them?
     Oliver: I'm also an academic (history/culture science) and read a lot in my life about cultures, history and philosophy and so on. From these experiences and from life itself I get my inspirations. When I write a song, it's usually based on a core idea and then I keep it in my mind for some time. I also try to create a creative environment where the words can flow. Sometimes I get my inspiration from walking alone in the nature, visiting old Mehir Stones or Celtic ruins not far from my hometown. I never know when it is "coming" to me, but I try to stay prepared.
     For the three songs:
     "Blood is the Food of the Gods" is mainly a song referring to old hunter cultures and their involvement with religion. It is a reminder that man is a predator. The meaning of the phrase "blood is the food of the gods" should remind you that blood is not only a kind of motor oil running through your veins, and that humans are not only scientific beings. I think we live in two worlds: the so called rational and science world and in a spiritual world. In our blood everything that we are and who our ancestors were comes together. The gods are those who give and take. That blood is their food refers on one hand to old blood sacrifices, but also a reminder that the gods (or what else someone believes) are not here to make it easy for you, they don't prevent catastrophes or personal tragedy. But in the best way, we live like those hunters and go out night after night, not knowing, if we will kill our prey - but nevertheless we praise the spirits/gods and take life as it is and destiny reveals itself to us. It is hard, but life is just not meant to be easy.
     "Hunters" as the title says refers also to these traditions. You could call it "Blood is the Food of the Gods Part II.” Here we are called to evoke our inner strength. It doesn't matter how hard life is: we are the hunter and not the hunted. It's a call to be brave in life and never to forget who we are and that we take the fight against the hardships of life.
     The part "things differ /not only in the eyes of the gods and live flow like rivers/ not only in the eyes of the gods" reminds us that we don't have a guarantee to succeed - but again, we should accept it and take on the fight.
     “We are on our path to war /Freedom is so glorious /so fine and pure /But we cannot choose / the destiny that‘s woven / Dreams do never rust/ The Blossoms of a fresh morning /At the day of your death.” That is what represents the warrior heart.
     "Saviors" is a criticism song. From time to time, one man/woman climbs up from the masses, someone with an overwhelming charisma. His heart is full of ideas and he seems to burn for it - the saviors "hearts burn like fever.” But in the end, we see, that a savior is also only a human being that was never capable to fulfill what he has promised. So this savior “leave(s) nothing but questions.” Even Jesus Christ left his followers before he could answer all questions. We "wander like blindes" and "the vastness lies before us” - many people are (subconsciously) waiting for someone who leads them - the blind masses- through this vastness of this desert. They are like "terrified children."
     MARS had mentioned that The Seeker was being recorded with 17 mics and there was 32 tracks to be mixed. What other technical aspects like this can you share about Blood is the Food of the Gods?
     Oliver: We recorded The Seeker and “Ravens Eyes” in a very fine studio with a lot of old-school equipment. This was a very nice production and for some of the future songs (especially those with E-Guitars and heavy drumming) we will do it again.
     For the Blood is the Food of the Gods album, this was totally produced and recorded by ourselves. We both have small studios and the rehearsal room has a very good acoustics. The process from idea to final recording is like this: first the idea, then working on it in rehearsals, doing a demo, playing it for a few weeks and then we do the final recording. All vocals and instruments are done separately, like in any other studio. As Marcus has over ten years of experience in producing music he does the final mix and mastering. He is very accurate and I like the outcome a lot.
Photo courtesy of the band
     Many MARS’ songs are textually repetitive, with lines are said over again. Is this repetition is supposed to evoke a ritualistic quality to the music? How does the work of René Girard in regards to ritual violence and sacred tie in?
     Marcus: Yes, ritual IS repetition, yet we try to avoid that neofolk thing to focus on only very few repeated lines.
     The ideas from Girard I refer to are:
  • The history and use of the blood sacrifice
  • The idea of kydos - the cruelty of the hero
  • In general, the relation of violence, blood letting, sacrifice and religion
  • The dialectics of mythos and modernity

     Also reflect on the name of your own site: 'heiligetod', which is German for 'sacred death' - death in a sacred state, the sacred act of killing, dying for a sacred purpose etc. Here I have to point out that the German word 'heilig' is also connected to 'heil' (well-being, sacred state), which is very unpopular due to its use in the phrase 'Sieg heil' - which also may refer to a 'a sacred victory.' These concepts are tangled indirectly by Girard. Girard is catholic by the way. I am not.
     In the photos inside the linear notes/lyrics there is a cool looking book. One picture has it closed, one has it opened. What is the book if I may ask?
     Marcus: This is my personal MARS book of lyrics. It was given to me by Nadine, is bound in buffalo leather, sewn by handmade paper and imprinted with the 'horned triskele of Odin'. Every finished version of a song is written down there by hand.
     On Facebook, in the MARS photo albums, there is an album called "Mars inspiration." In it you have a lot of books - from Jack London to James Dickey. For Blood is the Food of the Gods, what books compliment this album? What are some of the references you create in the album to these sources?
     Marcus: The big topic of Blood is the Food of the Gods is the sacred rite of sacrifice. Of special use were Mircea Eliade's writings on shamanism, George Bataille's writings on the theory of religion, and Curzio Malaparte's collection of short stories, Barbara Ehrenreich's Blood Rites: Origins and History of the Passions of War, and especially: Rene Girard's Violence and the Sacred. Also there are adaptations of Yukio Mishima's Sun & Steel and Cormac McCarthy's novel Blood Meridian on the album.
     The book that the song “The Dragon Seed” is based on is not out in English. It is an exploration of the nihilist hero of the early 20th century as featured in German literature. “Icarus” is closely related to Yukio Mishima’s writings in Sun & Steel. But references are not always in actual quotes, but more in mood and ideas.

MARS Presents the Trail
     After Blood is the Food of the Gods, MARS turned their attention to the ambitious project, MARS Presents the Trail, a soundtrack of sorts depicting the American west heavily based on the book Blood Meridian or the Evening Redness in the West by Cormac McCarthy.
     MARS Presents the Trail had an almost singular focus on Blood Meridian, with a few dabs of other western iconography (Peckinpah, Morricone, etc) thrown in. Since MARS has many literary inspirations, is there another topic you would love to laser focus on such as you did with the Trail?
     Marcus: There are always certain things working within me. Blood Meridian is a novel that left a huge impression on me over ten years ago. I might go even further back and find Melville's Moby Dick again. Again a very mythical tale of archaic power. These kinds of things never cease to inspire me. Also I am planning to compose a whole album based on the myth of Ragnaroek which accurately reflects the state of humanity at the moment. We are literally waiting for the end to come, not knowing what might arise from the ashes of human civilization. But this would be executed best as a collaboration of MARS and Vortex. Who knows…
Marcus S. photo courtesy of the band
     The Trail had some struggles at getting released in regards to labels or mail orders not wanting to carry it, or thinking it was outside the norm for what they thought their customers would want. Can you elaborate on this ordeal at getting The Trail out there?
     Marcus: Yes, releasing The Trail was a tragedy in itself, which took several years. First I approached my usual labels but one said it is “too unspecific” and “not interesting enough,” als “too American.” The other said “it is just not the direction we are heading at the moment.” Then we started contacting more metal and post-rock based labels, but rarely got an answer. You are only released if you are an actual buddy of the label boss. Otherwise - rare chances. Oh, and we tried a label for 70s film music and they said there were too many songs on the album. The thing is: you can always release music on your own, but who will distribute it? When I decided to release it on my own :Ikonen: media label, I did it the way we envisioned it: as a hardbound media book, with high quality sewn in booklet, full colour etc. No compromise made. It looks terrific as you have realized yourself. Yet it did never sell out for the lack of distribution. People who have it, they love it and keep listening to it as I have heard. But there could be like 500 more.

MARS Miscellanea
     As a complex and interesting band, there are quite a few general questions for MARS that do not directly connect with a specific release but still gain tremendous insight into the project.
     MARS practices ALOT. Not many other bands in the scene do this. Not to sound disparaging, but many bands now-a-days are "bedroom musicians," meaning a bulk of the work is simply done in their private home studios on computers. But I see social media posts all the time of you and Marcus doing rehearsals. Do you think this is a lost art? What effect do you think rehearsing has on MARS and your ritual performances?
     Oliver: From some musicians I heard things like "We don't believe in rehearsals". But I don't think that there is anything to believe about it. Rehearsals are a powerful tool, and it is also a lot of fun.
     It's not only about playing your songs better, but also to develop new songs and to get even closer with your bandmates. It helps to get in the "flow" while you’re playing live.
     As you say, many bands are kind of "bedroom projects", some of them only meet two hours before a concert and only one of them is writing music and recording for himself. Sure, it is possible to play a good concert under these conditions, if the musicians are good enough. But what I love about doing music is to work together with my bandmates, in this case Marcus, and create something as a team! It is more like an ongoing process. Sometimes we have a song idea we both love. If you don't rehearse, that’s it. The creative process ends with this. But if you do rehearse these new songs, you will discover only by playing them many times, what else can be add or removed from it to make it even better and - I would say- authentic/organic.
     Our approach to this is very old-school. Rehearsals and band structure are a must.
Photo courtesy of the band
     You call your live performances rituals. Can you elaborate on this verbiage? What separates a "performance" from a "ritual"?
     Oliver: For me the aspect of doing a ritual on stage has three important points. The music builds a closed frame where we lead the audience through. We don't "pose,” for us this is very serious! And also the topics of our songs support it, that it's a kind of ritual.
     The MARS logo looks like an altered Mannaz rune. Can you elaborate on the design of the rune? Who came up with it, and what you'd like to convey with it?
     Marcus: The Mars band logo is completely based on my personal bind-rune which I designed around 1999. Mars was initially meant to be a solo-project by myself and refers to my name MARcuS, which means 'dedicated to the Roman war god Mars'. The bind rune is constructed of the runes Mannaz, Ar, Raido and Sowilo, while for me Gebo and Kenaz are also involved and equally important. Mars is meant to be a 'male brotherhood', thus Mannaz is very important as well. Oliver and I decided to keep it as the band logo for our joined band Mars.
     What do you think separates MARS from other neofolk/dark folk/etc. acts?
     Marcus: A lot. First we do not consider Mars a neofolk band. Our music is very far from the typology of (German) neofolk bands. We sing in English to reach an international audience - we have no interest in the 'national identity' thing that most neofolk bands are into. We will include even more electric guitars in future. Our music is based on rhythm, not on melody - like most of the well-known neofolk bands. We have no keyboards e.g. and use stings very rarely and only from guest musicians. Concerning our song writing we seem closer to punk or black metal than to neofolk, which is often heading towards pop and catchiness. Mars' music is more raw and archaic. We work on the basis of rituals rather than classical song writing. - Saying all this it seems to me that our music is much closer some acoustic elements of bands like Neurosis, Wovenhand, Young and in the Way, or Swans. On the stylistic level we are very different to most neofolk bands. First of all we love leather jackets, especially the Perfecto jacket from Schott NYC. We use a lot of shamanistic imagery like animal skulls and bones, wood carvings, natural objects etc. I personally feel closer to rock bands like Fields of the Nephilim or Wolvserpent.
     MARS has only appeared on one compilation, Au Bout Du Monde: the Jules Verne Compilation, that was released via Bandcamp in 2013. A lot of bands of the subaltern scene try to appear on many as compilations (digital and physical) as possible. Any particular reason why MARS doesn't appear on a lot of compilations?
     Marcus: There are bands who seem to be keen on being on every compilation suitable, while others (Rome, King Dude e.g.) avoid appearing outside their own context. We do not “boycott” compilations, but we will carefully chose into which context we might fit. The Jules Verne-compilation is a very mixed bag and in my opinion we do not even fit into it very well. The respective song “Mobilis in Mobile” works much better on our album. Compilations were a very important promotion means in the 1990s, and the neofolk scene still keeps this tradition from time to time. But honestly the time for this format seems over. In any case we are mainly interested in concept compilations, but it seems ages ago that such an opportunity was given (I remember the Arthanor compilation Lucifer Rising...).
     MARS uses Bandcamp to proliferate their releases, digitally and physically. How successful has this platform been for you? Do you feel a listener may miss out on a "full experience" by only having a digital edition of one of your albums rather than the physical version?
     Marcus: This is due to listeners' demand. We know that people in Latin America have a hard time buying CDs, so it is a good chance for them to download our music. But they definitely miss out the whole experience, yes.
     Original artwork by Nadine and luxurious digipack treatments grace the MARS releases. How important is the physical presentation of MARS music to go the extra mile? As a high quality band, does MARS seek to be associated with high quality releases?
     Marcus: Yes, we want people to realize that MARS is a Gesamtkunstwerk, a total piece of art, including layout, material, bonus etc. To understand what we want demands the whole thing. And the Sacrifice EP on 12" or The Trail CD turned out exactly as we wanted. The inclusion of download codes is just a concession to our listeners. Ideally you should concentrate on the music and get inspired by the artwork. Thus we are very happy that we found David of La Esencia (Spain) who was totally enthusiastic to release the new MARS 7" in an appropriate way: as a gatefold cover with postcards, including the option of a bonus CD 6 months later with exclusive songs and mixes all focussing on the two solstices.

The Seeker – MARS on the Horizon
     The next album MARS intends to realize on their journey is the appropriately named album The Seeker. As a preview of things to come, MARS released a digital only release of Whispers/The Pyres to test the waters with and satiate fans until the album release proper.
     What has been the responses and feedback so far from Whispers /The Pyres?
     Marcus: A digital single does not really work as a commercial outing. But it was important to mark a new level by MARS. Both songs represent different aspects of our brotherhood, as different as they are complementary. Caught between gothic melancholy and pagan awareness. So reactions have been nice, especially considering the video clips that the German film artist Danilo Vogt did for us. But I expect the 7" Farewell to the Sun to create much more attention. The best one can do to promote a band is play live. And we even managed to play the legendary Slimelight at London which might be closed soon. This was a great event for sure. Next up will be the Sabbat Bloody Sabbat festival at Vienna (Austria).
Searching - photo courtesy of the band
     What has been the production story behind The Seeker so far? Places recorded, equipment used, lyrics revised - etc. What has been on this creative journey so far?
     Marcus: Some songs on The Seeker date back several years and existed at the time of Blood is the Food of the Gods yet they did not fit in then. We like to see our activities as a constant work in progress and allow changes to the material all the time. We also have started collaboration with the apocalyptic folk band Solitude Ravencrow from East Germany who share the same spiritual view of the world. They added subtle strings, bass guitar and a certain droning male voice to our sound. Oliver has bought several new instruments, mainly effects and guitars, which enable him to create a much richer and more atmospheric sound than before. Some tracks we recorded in the legendary Rama studio at Mannheim with producer Christian Bethge, who also produces the doom act Ahab. This changed our sound towards a more Swans-like edge.
     What do you hope to accomplish with The Seeker?
     Marcus: The Seeker will be the essence of our work and it will take more time to complete it. It is meant as a complete piece of spiritual art, enabling the audience to reflect on the downfall of human societies and to re-capture the nearly forgotten spirit of the ancient gods. The Seeker is a quest for the essence of the human soul to be found within ecstasy and ritual.
     Finally, what will listeners and fans see or hear in regards to the MARS sound with The Seeker? What will you be doing differently, and what will you be honing?
     Marcus: The Seeker is not finished by now, but this might be due to the title, hehe. This will be an epic album on the process of seeking spiritual truth and finally becoming “god.” The Odinic search if you like. We have over 70 minutes of material finished and will eventually aim for a double album: on disc with the acoustic songs, one with more atmospheric post-black-metal as on some tracks before. But now on a much grander scale. We have better technical possibilities now, new collaborators, and our sound will be much more diverse and soundtrack-like. This said, The Seeker will be a huge piece of audiovisual art, probably suitable for a vinyl version. Sound-wise I am heading for a more ritualistic approach, more drumming, more chanting, but there will also be classical songs. True apocalyptic pagan doom folk.

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