Friday, June 26, 2015

Concert Report: Ostara and Caitlin Danenhauer - Los Angeles 2015

Hello everyone!

I have a new article published at Heathen Harvest – a concert report! The other month, Richard Leviathan of Ostara was in Los Angeles working on his next album and performance a one man acoustic show. I was there to document the event, and that is now published here:

However, I want to create an addendum to this concert report. One of the preceding acts before Richard Leviathan was a local musician, Caitlin Danenhauer. While I devoted some of the write up to her, I only got to quote and use some of the responses from her when I was composing the article. I’d like to publish the other questions and answers I had in dialog with her to my blog here, so please enjoy this addendum to the Ostara report with this focus on Danenhauer:

You had mentioned from me you had split from your prior band and were performing solo right now. Perhaps you can elaborate on this?

Kybele was my first-ever music project, and when I was choosing a name I saw her myth as a metaphor for what I was experiencing inwardly -- the legend that she was abandoned in the woods as a baby and raised by wild lions was the first of hers that I came across.  In the myth she becomes such a powerful witch that she evolves into an immortal goddess.  I find a lot of my own sources of power and inspiration coming from nature and animals, and for a long time I was exploring my inner states and creating from the center outward.

With Betty Petty, my new project, I'm more interested in starting at the surface of things and seeing how that reflects back at me and the people watching or listening. I'm more inspired right now by what we can perceive from outward appearances and how these impressions effect us for better or worse.  I think I'll always work on Kybele, but for now I wanted to take a new direction with my music.  I won't actually be performing as Betty Petty solo, ultimately, but as I've been writing new songs my band is on tour with their other project, The Cigarette Bums.

Would you like to share your set list of that performance?

I don't actually remember everything I played that night, but I would like to share a video I made for Kybele.  I shot it totally by myself on an iPhone, did all the music except for the bass and some slide guitar, and edited it, and I feel like it communicates so much about what I was trying to do with Kybele. YouTube: Kybele "Wheels"

What did you hope to accomplish with your performance?

It was an unusual show for me because normally with Kybele I'm pretty committed to connecting with her vibe -- communion with nature spirits, fortitude, wildness -- but I was also trying out a lot of new material that was Betty Petty, and that's a whole character I'm just getting into. It was also the first solo show I've had in a while, so I was really just trying not to butcher the songs.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Review/Interview: Changes & Autre Que - Ride the Tiger

Introduction / Preamble

Greetings everyone!

I am extremely happy that this year has been one of my most prolific ones in regards to my writing. I’ve been contributing content to Heathen Harvest (I’ve had seven reviews and one interview published so far, with many more in the pipeline), and I’ll soon be working on my next essay for print publication in an anthology, which may either be on Italian space horror films of the 1960s, or meteor horror films.

While I am excited for all this writing, it also means my writing here has been a little more neglected. I’ve been working on some essays for a long time now, and I’ll confess it’s tough at times. We shall see how I juggle what I do here, but I’ll definitely keep posting links to my Heathen Harvest articles here since in the grand scheme of things, it is helping me be a better scholar and writer about neofolk music.

This entry is on the Changes Ride the Tiger vinyl. After concluding the Changes portion of the Terra Fria split CD with Andrew King, doing a rather quick essay and review of this vinyl seemed a proper way to bookend the Changes material. The two tracks of this vinyl are canonical to the Terra Fria split, so it is the hope that this document along with the prior essay (which can be found here: ) provides the definitive account of these songs. This essay will also shine more light on the French Autre Que label that released Ride the Tiger. Sincere gratitude goes to both Nicholas Tesluk and Nathalie of Autre Que for allowing me to interview them for this essay.


As with the Terra Fria essay, I will overtly state my biasness in this essay is due to my long term friendship with Nicholas Tesluk. I’ll also say this review is coming from the most academic and democratic lens possible.


Ride the Tiger is a 7” picture disc that was released by Autre Que in the Fall of 2013. The A side displays an original artwork by R. N. Taylor that depicts a tiger inserted inside a yantra. The B side of the vinyl contains both credits for the record but also a chronological order of tour dates and locations Changes played at during their Ride the Tiger tour in 2013.

Changes - Ride the Tiger from my personal collection

Changes Partnership with Autre Que

Though Changes has had a rich past with the Austrian Hau Ruck! label, who has released a bulk of their albums, Changes also has a great relationship the French label Autre Que, who not only released the Ride the Tiger vinyl, but also coordinated the ambitious Ride the Tiger Tour. Autre Que was born from the ashes of the webzine Heimdallr and is considered a not-for-profit cultural association per French law.1

Tesluk reflects on how the partnership between Changes and Autre Que came to be:

It was truly an interesting evolution.  When Changes performed at the Flammenzauber Festival in Heldrungen, Germany in 2004, a compilation CD was produced of all of the bands that would be performing.  They had also asked for any material that each of the members may have done outside of their respective group.  Fortunately for me and my other incarnation with Phase II, Robert Taylor submitted, along with a side project of his own, tracks from Phase II’s public access radio program from 1978 to Axel Frank, one of the organizers of Flammenzauber.  Thus, two of the early Phase II songs were used on that compilation. 

I received a message from Nathalie of Autre Que shortly after the CD’s release, inquiring about Phase II and asking if there was any other material in our published repertoire.  This began a life-long friendship between Nathalie and me, and consequently between Nathalie and Changes.2

Autre Que itself has been around for a few years, having released Ô Paradis’ El Juengo Negro and a re-release of Rûna by the legendary Fire + Ice. These releases have received extremely beautiful treatments under Autre Que’s own Nathalie’s stewardship, who also coordinates tours of various bands, such as the Fire + Ice Fractured Europe Tour. The quality behind Autre Que’s releases and the ability to take on coordinating touring really sets the label apart from the pack, as is evident in the label’s name proper. Nathalie elaborates:

Autre Que means what any reliable dictionary would translate by “other than” or “different from”. It is also an ancient oral expression from the south of France known mainly by the elders and used to show one’s emphatic agreement with someone else’s opinion. Therefore, it happens that I sometimes hear these two words in the mouth of people who know nothing about my activities. I picked this name for each and every [one] of these reasons.3

The beautiful picture discs of Autre Que are a hallmark of quality, but they are also extremely limited in their production. For instance, Ride the Tiger was limited to 240 copies. Vinyl, as medium of choice, harkens back to the pre-Autre Que days with Heimdallr:

It is also under the Heimdallr banner that I had my first experience with a vinyl production through the Europa Aeterna LP compilation, released in 2006 as a vinyl testimony to the six years of activity with the webzine.
With hindsight, they were the necessary and inescapable years of learning in the process that lead to the last and present actions of Autre Que.4

The roster of Autre Que thus far includes Changes, Fire + Ice, and Ô Paradis’, and seems as exclusive as their releases, but Nathalie clarifies this:

It is much easier to do a lot than to do little. Exclusivity is probably a strong word as Autre Que doesn’t exclude anyone although I certainly don’t strive to work with the whole scene either or to build up the largest catalogue possible. Quality is above quantity in my book and I avoid mediocrity like the plague. The genuine and unique nature of [these] bands and the fact that they certainly haven’t become a parody of themselves but have improved and transformed for the better instead is one of the reasons why they feature on Autre Que.5

Genesis of Ride the Tiger

Much like the Terra Fria split CD, the Ride the Tiger vinyl came about as a unique way to help finance the Ride the Tiger Tour that Autre Que was coordinating, while at the same time providing an exclusive release for concert goers. Tesluk elaborates the practicality of the vinyl:

It was to be a special Autre Que release for Changes and would consequently be a merchandising highlight and special souvenir or keepsake of the tour, similar to a one time published program of a theater performance.  Surely, it would have also been a great financial aide, not only for the tour, but to reimburse Autre Que’s considerable expenses incurred in producing the disc.  Even more than the T-Shirt and any of the other items of merchandise, however, this picture disc truly was a very special item.  We sold more at the locations where our friends/fans were more interested in vinyl than at the places where people shunned vinyl for CDs, but it is a coveted item and worthy of purchase, even if never played.6

Tesluk further clarifies the importance of making a vinyl picture disc:

Our intent was to do a vinyl 7-inch from the start instead of a CD, since we only had the two songs with which to work as they were very fitting to the concept of the tour.  The original idea was to make a colored vinyl 7-inch with a picture sleeve.  The thought was to use yellow/orange vinyl with black stripes running through to simulate the tiger of our tour logo.  Then, the idea evolved into the possibility of a picture disc.  I own several 12 inch picture discs and they are very special to me, one in particular is a picture disc by Sting’s group, The Police, which is cut in the shape of a policeman’s badge.  My thought was that a picture disc would be a very special keepsake indeed.7

Production of the Vinyl

As with the Terra Fria release, the best laid plans tend to hit snags. The actual creation of the picture disc ran into a huge critical problem:

Nathalie checked with the fine German company that produces all of Autre Que’s vinyl and they said they did manufacture picture discs.  So I designed the graphics and we were ready to roll with it.

What the record company didn’t tell Nathalie was that they, in fact, don’t produce picture discs themselves and were farming it out to another company in the Czech Republic.  This wouldn’t have been a problem, per se, but due to the chain of communications and processing and shipping delays, we soon discovered that we would definitely not have the shipment ready for the start of the Ride the Tiger tour.  This devastating news, along with other stress factors at that time was quite a depressing and disappointing revelation since we were definitely counting on picture disc sales for the entire tour. 

Consequently, we didn’t actually receive the shipment until we arrived in Austria.  We had already performed at the great MJR Festival in Lithuania, returned to Nice for a few days, traveled to and performed in Genoa, Italy; Copenhagen, Denmark and did two performances in Germany, all of which would have been great venues at which to sell the picture discs.  If there was one factor that could be called disappointing for the Ride the Tiger Tour, this was it.8

Ride the Tiger - reverse side 

Regardless of the setback, the vinyl saw the light of day and was available during the tour, with a few copies left over to be sold online. Though the record pressing proper ran into problems, the design work of the vinyl was much smoother. Tesluk provides insight into the creative process of designing the vinyl (along with other Changes works):

As with most everything I’ve done in life, I’m autodidactic with graphical software such as Photoshop, Paint, etc.  So back in the day of the creation of the Orphan in the Storm album, I quickly developed my abilities in digital layout while working on the graphics of that album.   I have then done all of the work on digital text layout and the graphical work of all of our albums and advertising posters, advertisements and banners ever since.  Speaking of which, when the Orphan in the Storm album was released, as it was our follow-up to the original Fire of Life album which had the graphics created by Michael Moynihan, he paid me the highest compliment by saying that my graphic work on the Orphan album stood as a perfect complement to his work on Fire of Life. 

So basically for the layout of the Ride the Tiger picture disc, I received the specifications from the pressing plant and proceeded to fit Robert’s tiger image to the front of the disc.I had previously taken Robert’s oil painting which was very similar to the final graphical image and made the edges of the design perfectly symmetrical for the Ride the Tiger tour use, so that redeveloped image was inserted on the front of the disc.  For the back of the picture disc, I took only the layer of the outer design of the tiger image and darkened it so that the typeface would be easily visible on it and then added the text of all of our tour dates to that. 

Nathalie and I had agreed that it is always very risky to list tour dates as often dates and venues change after the item has gone to the printer or in this case the pressing plant, but we were fortunate that there was only one small change. The date we had listed for us performing at the MJR Festival in Lithuania changed from August 24, as listed to August 23.  But, as I told Nathalie, it wasn’t likely that anybody would use the picture disc as their reference for any of the concerts of the tour, and as aforementioned, we didn’t have the disc for the MJR festival anyway.9

Mahabharata of the Soul

“Mahabharata of the Soul” was extensively reviewed on the Terra Fria split essay that was published back in September 2014 and can be found here:

The re-mastered version of “Mahabharata of the Soul” that appears on Ride the Tiger is clearly the superior of two versions, but both incarnations stand out as seminal Changes tracks.

Terra Fria version on Youtube

When the Sun Kings Reign Again

“When the Sun Kings Reign Again” is a composition unique solely to the Ride the Tiger vinyl, appearing on no other Changes release or compilation.  Taylor’s lyrics to “When the Sun Kings Reign Again” can be found in book two of his Lyrical Ballads chapbook.10

Song from the official Autre Que Youtube channel

As with “Mahabharata of the Soul,” “When the Sun Kings Reign Again” combines both apocalyptic elements with heroes/legendary figures elements. The apocalyptic elements are a bit reversed in the song however, as the lyrics are more optimistic. In this song, the (literal or figurative) apocalypse has already happened: the arrival of the Kali Yuga, the death of the West, which dragged the rest of the world with it, or the total takeover of modernity over traditionalism (take your pick). But the yugas are cyclical and will restart with the coming of the Satya Yuga, an age ruled by the gods, an in the case of this song, the Sun Kings, who provide the legendary/heroic component.

The lyrics of this song are a perfect compliment and conclusion to “Mahabharata of the Soul,” with Tesluk confirming the sequel nature of this song. Taylor composed the text while Tesluk composed the music. Tesluk clarifies this song writing configuration and will make the distinction more overt on future releases:

So far in our musical discography, any song that is co-written by Robert and myself (and in the case of Phase II, between Mark and myself) I am always the musical composer and each of them has written the lyrics.  Starting with the Changes’ Psychonautika album and the Phase II Fleeting Spirits album, I will start to indicate the lyricist and music composer on all of our co-written songs.11

In regards to the actual musical composition and drawing inspiration, Tesluk goes into great detail about creating “When the Sun Kings Reign Again”:

On “Anthem to Freedom” since the entire song is mine, I could give a synopsis of the whole creation.  With “Sun Kings” since I just set the lyrics to music, I will mostly tell of my part of the song.  When Robert wrote the lyrics, they were meant as a sequel to “Mahabharata of the Soul” with “Mahabharata” being the world’s civilization and culture moving towards the darkness, and with “Sun Kings” being the return from the maelstrom and the hope that that triumph entails.

The lyrics of “Sun Kings” conveyed the jubilance of celebration within me of the darkness turning to light, new dawn spreading its wings, etc.  Thus I wanted it to be set to celebratory music to capture that feeling.  It doesn’t always happen, but when I sat down with the lyrics and my guitar, the music and chord progressions just flowed out.  It’s always a good feeling when it works that way, because it seems that the song was in my head already, waiting to burst forth.  The first song that happened with was our iconic and poignant song, “The Saddest Thing,” where it has been noted that Robert penned the lyrics in a few minutes, and when I later arrived at his house to rehearse, I vividly remember sitting at the table with my guitar and immediately composing the music exactly as it has always been recorded and performed.12

Nathalie also shares sentiments about this track, with it being her favourite of the two:

“When The Sun Kings Reign Again” may be my favourite because it was unreleased before and I perfectly remember the feeling of joy when I played it for the first time. The guitar melody is absolutely beautiful and the lyrics immediately sounded as a new Changes anthem to me. This song was certainly an abundant source of energy and well-being during the months of work that preceded the tour.13

Miscellany: Typeface, Layouts, and the Iconic Changes Logo

A final curio, a little bit outside the scope of the Ride the Tiger vinyl, but still of importance, is Tesluk’s role with graphics, being working with Autre Que on layouts or creating the iconic Changes logo. For Autre Que, Tesluk had been involved with the layout for Ride the Tiger and Fire + Ice’s Rûna re-release along with other graphical assignments. Tesluk explains how this particular partnership came to be:

It turned out that when preparing the Fire + Ice vinyl release for Autre Que, the person with whom Nathalie had worked for the graphics of their previous releases became unavailable, so Nathalie asked if I could work with her.  I was honored to be asked and it turned out that Nathalie and I work very well together in the process as we both seem to have the same vision in everything we undertake.  I also worked as a consultant in her Ô Paradis vinyl release and recently worked with her on all of the advertising and graphics for the Fire + Ice/Knotwork Fractured Europe Tour.  It is a pleasure and refreshing to work with someone who has a similar strive for perfection.  We can each be honest with each other offering suggestions to change and improve the design we’ve started with, without offending each other as it is all part of trying to get everything perfectly the way we each envisioned.14

Fire + Ice - Runa (from my personal collection)

Nathalie compliments Tesluk’s contributions to Autre Que:

Nicholas is a close and long time friend. To ask him if he would be willing to get involved in the layout of the vinyls came naturally and our collaboration started with the Rûna LP. He is intelligent, perfectionist, skilled and capable to cope with my requirements: all the qualities I look for in people I work with. It is always a joy and a pleasure for me to work with Nicholas whatever the project.15

Tesluk’s interest in creating typography spans back to the 1960s when Changes was in its infancy:

It all started back in the mid-sixties when Robert and I started teaming up on posters that we planned to publish.  The first one we did together had Robert’s illustration of a pen and ink portrait of Henry David Thoreau behind bars for tax evasion and a quote below, faulting his friend, Emerson, for neutrality in light of the present oppression.  That was the first time that I realized that I had a real knack for shaping and spacing of letters in calligraphic form.  Again, autodidactic in calligraphy of all forms, but I did study a lot about the art in various books.  As with everything at which I’m self-taught, though I don’t have formal education on the subjects, I can’t say that I learn everything by trial-and-error, since I do usually have several reference books that I’ve learned from and use when I hit a roadblock.16

Changes logo from their official website

The Changes logo has been on every Changes album, and can also be found on shirts, merchandise, promotional material, and so on. Along with the colour purple, it’s an iconic and important component to the duo. Its genesis needs to be highlighted:

Much of what I’d done previously was based on traditional typestyles, both serif (like Times or Palatino) or a san-serif (like Arial or Helvetica) lettering.  When Robert and I decided on the name of the group, Changes, in 1969, I wanted to create a logo that would depict the feeling of what “Changes” meant.  In the original idea, my thought was to have a caterpillar entering on the left side of the logo and a butterfly emerging from the right.  Unfortunately, a caterpillar done in line drawing looks a bit too much like an earthworm, so that part of the idea was abandoned.  However, I think, early on we did have a butterfly that Robert had created emerging from the right side. 

Anyway, part of what I was trying to create with the logo style itself was a free-formed organic (though I don’t think the word “organic” was used as ubiquitously as it is today) typestyle.  Something that is not quite as obvious with the Changes logo itself, but since I have inked all of the titles of our albums in what we’ve come to know as the “Changes Lettering Style”, it becomes more apparent that depending on the position of letters in the title affects how that letter is formed along with the adjacent letters, some growing around the letter or some merging with the letter.  As Robert has said, it would be difficult to put the Changes Typestyle into a fixed reference alphabet, since there might be six different styles of say the letter “E” depending on where it falls within a word. 

Though I create all of our album graphics digitally now, I still hand sketch the Changes style titles on paper, scan them in to the computer and then digitally fill them in and color them according to the artwork used for the album covers.  Not that it isn’t possible to do it digitally using a Wacom device, but I just feel more comfortable creating and sketching the flow of the characters on paper.17

1.     Nathalie, email message to Nicholas Diak, February 2015, 22.
2.     Nicholas Tesluk, email message to Nicholas Diak, August 2014, 3.
3.     Nathalie, email.
4.     Ibid.
5.     Ibid.
6.     Tesluk, email.
7.     Ibid.
8.     Ibid.
9.     Ibid.
10.  Robert Taylor, “When the Sun Kings Reign Again,” in The Lyrical Ballads of R.N. Taylor Book Two (West Union, WV: The Red Salon, 2014), 46.
11.  Tesluk, email.
12.  Ibid.
13.  Nathalie, email.
14.  Tesluk, email.
15.  Nathalie, email.
16.  Tesluk, email.
17.  Ibid.

Links - Official Changes website - Official Facebook page for Changes - Nicholas Tesluk's art and gallery page

Monday, June 1, 2015

Interview: Lisa Duse of Porta Vittoria

Hello everyone!

A new interview I've conduced has been published at Heathen Harvest. This time around I had the honour to interview Lisa Duse of Porta Vittoria.

Long time readers of this blog will know my unabashed adore for Porta Vittoria and have reviewed them twice:

The first time here, for The Summer of Our Discomfort:

The second time here for Die Bruecke:

And of course I incorporated them into my TSIDMZ essay here:

The honour to interview Lisa is extremely important to me. Porta Vittoria is one of my favourite bands, so this is an extremely important interview for me. I hope everyone considers reading it here:

One of my favourite pictures of Lisa Duse