Chain D.L.K.: Tell us a little about the mission of the group and it’s beginning, for those new to you and to the scene.
Unto Ashes: Michael Laird: The only mission has been to save ourselves from self-destruction. It’s no secret that everyone who’s ever been involved with Unto Ashes has had pretty serious psychological problems. They’d have to be deranged in some way, because it’s the only way that they could stay sane. We make difficult music: emotionally and psychically; and it’s no exaggeration to say that it’s often very difficult to create the kind of music we make.
Natalia Lincoln: Reason of unsound mind aside, another aspect of our mission is to bring together everything that’s forbidden and anachronistic in music, to pull people out of the dream of the present and awaken them to the true night.
Jeremy Bastard: I like to make and play music that I like to listen to; I don’t think I would want to play music for any other reason.
Chain D.L.K.: Where did you get the art for the album cover and why did you choose it? It’s very interesting, indeed (I don’t know why I keep thinking of the chess game in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure when I see it for some reason! : P), very cryptic!
Unto Ashes: Michael Laird: The artist Madeline von Foerster made the oil painting especially for Unto Ashes’ album “Saturn Return” – she incorporated some of our ideas into her design, but all the genius of the painting is hers alone. Some of her other work can be viewed at www.baphomatty.com and must be seen to be believed. She meticulously researches all her subjects: for instance, the chess game she presents in the painting is a genuine endgame, in which either side stands to win – or lose. A young queen, pregnant (with possibility), opposes an enigmatic sphinx (herself? ) who must kill all who cannot answer her riddle.
Chain D.L.K.: The album has a very pagan and archaic slant. Is this merely metaphorical or is it a pure belief/religion for each of you?
Unto Ashes: Michael Laird: My experiences in this life continue to reinforce, evermore strongly, my belief in my own self, to the exclusion of all else. However, lately I would without hesitation describe my religious beliefs as being more and more informed by TRUE NORWEGIAN BLACK METAL.
Natalia Lincoln: My pagan and archaic slant is built in, not a conscious decision or a belief system. It’s just how I approach life. I grew up marinated in fairytales and religion, and developed allergies to everyday reality. The music is both symptom and treatment.
Chain D.L.K.: Songs like “Sonnet 87” have a very folk ring to them, nearing death-folk/apocalyptic folk. Are you more inspired by European folk, American folk, or the wave of death folk acts like Death in June and Current 93?
Unto Ashes: Michael Laird: I love Death in June and all Current 93 that Michael Cashmore was involved with: he is a genius. American folksongs are weirder and more naive than British folksongs, but the British tend to be more depressing. I enjoy them all.
Chain D.L.K.: How did you become interested in the medieval period and what is it that keeps you interested?
Unto Ashes: Michael Laird: I enjoy listening to Medieval music for the reason I listen to Black Metal, namely because it is so far removed from present day reality, which I find frightening.
Natalia Lincoln: It IS removed, but much of it also celebrates passion with the same individuality and weirdness that a modern might. However, the medieval mind has little regard for the difference between reality and imagination that we’ve somehow hollowed into a chasm. It’s a strange vantage point, one worth standing in occasionally.
Chain D.L.K.: You stated yourself as a “16th century Joy Division” before. What similarities do you share in these two things to make that conclusion?
Unto Ashes: Michael Laird: Actually, it was an *audience member* who attended our first show who immediately came up to us after the show and said that he thought we sounded like “a 12th-century Joy Division”.
Jeremy Bastard: I would just like to take this opportunity to say that Joy Division was the best band ever.
Chain D.L.K.: Tell me about your vocal/instrument training backgrounds.
Unto Ashes: Michael Laird: As a child maybe 6 months of piano, then junior high school band (drums / percussion) – then sound recording in college. No vocal training.
Natalia Lincoln: I graduated from Oberlin Conservatory in piano performance and music history, really intending the double major to be the best possible way to learn to compose music; I sang in choirs for years but no real one-on-one vocal training. The next phase of my musical education took place in churches. I had the opportunity of composing a lot of music for a variety of instruments and voices and heard it all performed. Now in Unto Ashes I’m learning whole new aspects of the art, as well as bringing my past experience to it.
Jeremy Bastard: I’m mostly just self-taught. I would listen to the old Bauhaus, Christian Death, and Cure records albums obsessively over and over again and try to get the sounds that I thought were good. Not knowing anything about music or playing guitar, it was difficult to get the hang of it, but what can I say, I had a lot of free time as a teenager.
Chain D.L.K.: How do you feel about the club success of “Serve Me” Did you ever expect for it to become such a hit?
Unto Ashes: Michael Laird: I’m just glad we play the fucking song because when I first made up the music I played a demo-tape for this guy who used to be in the band; he was totally frowning and at the end he said to me: “Well, you should have consulted me about this- you really should have consulted me first” — what the hell is that suppose to mean? So I ended up burying the song for long time…I don’t know why. Then when he quit I pulled it out again, and worked on it with the rest of the band, and Ericah came up with better words in the second stanza. It’s nice when I’m in a club and “Serve Me” is played and everyone is writhing around like sinister snakes. That makes me happy.
Natalia Lincoln: The minute I heard it I thought it would be smashing to dance to, so I’m not shocked at its club popularity at all.
Jeremy Bastard: Serve me is a pretty good song.
Chain D.L.K.: “Saturn Return” has a lot of songs all sung in foreign languages, such as German and Latin. Do you speak any of these fluently?
Unto Ashes: Michael Laird: I’m pretty fluent in French. I hate myself because my German and Latin are both so terrible.
Natalia Lincoln: I hardly ever speak French now, but I studied it so long that I never quite forget it all. My best languages are German and Hungarian (not counting English, of course), and I studied Latin with a really fantastic professor at NYU for a couple of years. I have a smattering of a couple other languages, enough to at least pronounce stuff and translate poetry and reviews of our music. : )
Chain D.L.K.: How do these languages add to the texture and feel of the songs?
Unto Ashes: Natalia Lincoln: If it isn’t too cliché-ridden to say so, each language has its own music. Something that trips the dark fantastic in German might sound ludicrous in English, and so forth. It’s similar to poetry that way: there’s a national vein every poet or lyricist can tap into, a spirit that comes naturally. I feel the more languages and eras and styles we appropriate, the more haunted our music becomes — haunted and informed by spirits with vast differences.
Chain D.L.K.: “You Say You’re Happy Now” stands as an odd one, contrasting with a more pop title. Was this the intention?
Unto Ashes: Michael Laird: The intention was exactly as stated: the person who is referred to in the song was an ex-girlfriend of mine. Soon after we broke up she said “I’m really happy now – I’m just really happy with my life”. So the song basically says: fuck you if you’re so fucking happy, you’ll never have me again.
Chain D.L.K.: Does it feel odd to play more classical music in the Goth stream when everything in the scene is becoming more and more dance oriented and electronic?
Unto Ashes: Natalia Lincoln: It’s nice to stick out in a crowd. “Goth” musicians seem to be heading more towards either a metal sound or a big phat techno beat these days.
Jeremy Bastard – I do not like dance music, it’s just a personal preference, and I do like lots of electronic music though because very often they aren’t the same thing. Nobody has ever come up to me at a show and complained about that though, so I suppose that I can’t give a real answer.
Chain D.L.K.: Where did Sonnet 87 come from? Was it from old poetry or from your own hands? Some of the lyrics are straight from old poems from what I understand, so I have to ask.
Unto Ashes: Michael Laird: I found the poem in the Oxford Book of Metaphysical Poetry, which was recommended to me by David Tibet; the poem was written in the seventeenth century by Fulke Greville, Lord Brooke.
Chain D.L.K.: Which songs are based on old poems and which are your own?
Unto Ashes: Natalia Lincoln: We used Crowley and Petrarch texts among many others, but we also wrote lyrics ourselves. In any case, we’re pretty specific about that on our albums and on our Website (http://www.UntoAshes.com/lyrics.html).
Chain D.L.K.: Was that a real organ you used in Ein Fluch? Or was it a keyboard? Any organic instruments on the CD, or is the sound more synthetic?
Unto Ashes: Natalia Lincoln: It was a Roland JV-80, but the organ itself was a kind of “synthesizer” a hundred years ago. Before recording, musicians used to play symphonies on the organ, as its mimetic abilities were pretty unparalleled back then. But as Michael says, we use many acoustic instruments; perhaps more than most bands I’ve seen.
Michael Laird: There’s “organic” instruments all over the album including acoustic guitar, tamboura, dumbek, bells, hammered dulcimer, plucked dulcimer, cello, sax, drums, rattles, chains, too many to remember. The credits are all on the CD.
Chain D.L.K.: With the female vocals was the intent more towards ethereal or operatic?
Unto Ashes: Natalia Lincoln: In my case, neither, no intent except to bring the right sound to the song.
Chain D.L.K.: On the song “Serve Me”, is the subject matter more about erotic domination/S&M, or about possession in general, perhaps enslaving someone?
Unto Ashes: Michael Laird: Both are true.
Chain D.L.K.: Does anyone in the group or the group as a whole practice S&M? Odd question I know!
Unto Ashes: Michael Laird: that would be telling!
Chain D.L.K.: So how did Dracula’s Ball go?
Unto Ashes: Michael Laird: We had a wonderful time: we love the Trocadero Theater – the techs and the sound is first rate. Our performance went extremely well, certainly we received many kind comments about it, and we sold lots of merchandise. Seraphim Shock are a great bunch of guys. Thanks to Patrick and his able staff at Dancing Ferret for a brilliantly organized event.
Natalia Lincoln: I’ll echo that — we had a great time.
Jeremy Bastard: The people there were SO incredibly nice to us. I love the Philadelphia scene, and ferret really knows how to throw a party. I got to talk with the guitarist of Seraphim Shock for a while, he was a totally nice person, I liked the entire band, and they put on a hell of a show.
Chain D.L.K.: I saw where you cover Christian Death’s “Cavity -First Communion ” not too long ago. What impact does Christian Death’s sound have on the band? Did Rozz’s death influence the cover as a tribute to him?
Unto Ashes: Michael Laird: We love Rozz’s Christian Death! Actually, we composed and recorded “Cavity” over two years ago for a Rozz Tribute record. The album was supposed to generate money for his headstone (apparently there is one now). However, that record *STILL* hasn’t appeared yet, so we just got sick of waiting and we posted it on our mp3. com/untoashes site – go there and download it for free! It’s very different from the original – sort of “exquisite / degenerate /neo-baroque”.
Jeremy Bastard: OTOP era Christian death is basically amazing. I love Rikk Agnew’s guitar style and it has influenced me very much over the years.
Chain D.L.K.: How did you come about picking the logo you have?
Unto Ashes: Michael Laird: We have several, but presumably you’re referring to that “weeping Madonna” image? I found it in a 19th-century book of Maurice Maiterlinck poetry. Jenna Mindlin took Natalia’s handwritten “Unto Ashes” script, and with some slight modifications made the logo.
Chain D.L.K.: A lot of critics receive your music as threatening and menacing? Do you think of it this way too? I think it’s quite relaxing actually rather than evil or upsetting, something I could paint to or read Poppy Z Brite to!
Unto Ashes: Michael Laird: It pleases me to know that some people think it’s too menacing.
Natalia Lincoln: I often hear from people that the music is beautiful but the lyrics are deadly melancholy. To hear them talk, the combination can wound people.
Jeremy Bastard: I can see why some people find it relaxing or pretty. But just because something is pretty doesn’t mean it can’t hurt you.
Chain D.L.K.: I also see where you’re into black metal and Nordic metal quite a bit. Quite eclectic! Just a passive like or does it actually influence you? Perhaps metal mixed in on one of the future songs, perhaps?
Unto Ashes: Michael Laird: This is a difficult question for me to answer since I obsessively listen to Norwegian Black Metal on a daily basis I am no longer able to discern between reality and unreality.
Jeremy Bastard: I do not like black metal, I am the only person in the band that does not like black metal, somebody please help me.
Chain D.L.K.: Hehe so how you enjoying the Thyrfing CD? I’m picturing you being like a kid in a candy store!
Unto Ashes: Michael Laird: I absolutely adore Thryfing’s VALDR GALGA – it is completely over-the-top triumphant Scandinavian Black Metal – wonderful!
Chain D.L.K.: For those like me who have never seen an Unto Ashes live show, tell us a bit about it.
Unto Ashes: Natalia Lincoln: There’s a plethora of strange instruments onstage. We move from one to another, vocalists change from song to song, halfway through a piece someone picks up a tambour, or beats on a guitar for percussion. Guests often join us onstage. Sometimes we wear masks. Some of us wear wimples and veils; some have spiky bracelets and electric-shock hair. We don’t like to talk much between songs — it seems to interfere somehow.
Jeremy Bastard: Live, we just put all of our energy into the performance of the songs, and making sure they come out just the way we like them. Playing live (especially when it involves travel) is exhausting for us, just because we have a ton of equipment, and a lot of it is very fragile. This however is immaterial, because every live show we have done has been absolutely worth it, and we basically can’t wait to do more.
Chain D.L.K.: In the track Ostia (The Death of Pasolini)? Is that a drill going off in the back?
Unto Ashes: Michael Laird: That shrill noise in the background is actually the sound of my teakettle boiling on the stove! It happened while I was recording Louise Landis-Levi’s Saranghi tracks – the pitch and timbre was so perfect that I actually ended up recording an entire track of boiling water to use in the final mix.
Chain D.L.K.: Any details as to the mystery concert on Halloween? Looking forward to it?
Unto Ashes: Michael Laird: No details as yet, but they will be posted on our Website: http://www.UntoAshes.com/news.html.
Natalia Lincoln: We’re really looking forward to it — we’ve never played on actual Halloween before. Once we had a Halloween show, and were all set up to play, but the cops shut it down before we even got onstage.
Chain D.L.K.: Do you ever write poetry in your free time, given your love for ancient text and poetry?
Unto Ashes: Natalia Lincoln: Yes. : )
Chain D.L.K.: Who are some of your favorite writers?
Unto Ashes: Natalia Lincoln: Ursula K. LeGuin, Lord Dunsany, Tanith Lee, Roald Dahl, and E. T. A Hoffmann. Only a sampling.
Chain D.L.K.: Any words of advice or words of divine wisdom for those of us out there?
Unto Ashes: Michael Laird: Stay True…Stay grim…and finally: It is better to regret something you HAVE done rather than something you HAVEN’T done.
Jeremy Bastard: Look, I dunno, dance music is okay I guess, as long as you’re having fun right?
Chain D.L.K.: Oh and one last question before you mosey on. I read where Kraftwerk is a big inspiration to you. Any plans on perhaps a cover of say, The Robots? Wouldn’t a cover of Pocket Calculator be interesting?
Unto Ashes: Michael Laird: I don’t know, Kraftwerk is pretty sacred ground to me…
Jeremy Bastard: I don’t think that there is any real room for improvement with the tracks you just mentioned. If we tried that we would just end up shaming ourselves…
[interviewed by Shaun Hamilton] [proofreading by Erica Breyer]