(This feature originally appeared in issue #63 of Shindig! magazine. For the full unpublished interview click over the jump at the bottom of the post.)
Philadelphian collective make wintry psych-folk with a nod to the occult and nature mysticism. Duncan Fletcher feels the icy chill.
“A musician I admire told me that influence could be split into two categories: ghost and substance. Substance could be the conscious decision, as in, the songs were written largely with a folk palette, and we had some shared influences in mind. But ghost is harder to trace. It's the conscious or unconscious influence of a much broader palette. Ghost is about aesthetic or feeling, not discrete sounds... I'd argue we're driven more by ghost than by substance.”
So says bassist Jacob Brunner talking about the range of musical backgrounds that shape Shadow Band's modernised take on '70s acid-folk. Hear it for yourself on their new single 'Eagle Unseen' which, according to vocalist and songwriter Mike Bruno, was inspired by “the current dark age we live in, the toxic political climate and perpetual warring... the thankless will to do just and good in a bad world as one's only hope for personal salvation, and nature's gathering response to our abuse unto her.”
The video for the single's other track 'Moonshine' was filmed in the band's residence and creative hub, a townhouse called Castle Corbenic. It's the ultimate hippy hangout crammed with books, LPs and exotic musical instruments. Keyboardist Morgan Morel expands - “Corbenic is located in an as of yet unnamed neighbourhood in South Philly. There's a vibrant mix of people from around the world, with an energy that borders on chaotic. It's comforting to think that within the walls of Corbenic we've created a microcosm of our surroundings.”
Tellingly the house also contains a raft of vintage guitar amps. Not surprising for a band who cite Black Sabbath as a major influence. Jacob explains - “I'd say we're plugged in more often than not. We've played punishingly loud and feather-soft in the same show. It's hard to say where the folk ends and the rock begins!”
'Eagle Unseen' b/w 'Moonshine' is out now on Mexican Summer. A full-length LP Wilderness of Love is also now available.
Click over the jump for the full interview.
MB = Mike Bruno
JC = James Christy
JB = Jacob Brunner
MoMo = Morgan Morel
JC = James Christy
JB = Jacob Brunner
MoMo = Morgan Morel
The House used in the video for 'Moonshine' looks like the perfect hippy hangout/creative space. Can you tell us about the place?
MB: It's our home, the wandering grail castle in the clouds: Corbenic, wherein a fuzzy lil' holy grail named John Jacob stirs about, gifting eternal life to the pure of heart.
MoMo: Corbenic is located in an as of yet unnamed neighborhood in South Philly. There’s a vibrant mix of people from all around the world, with an energy that sometimes borders on chaotic. It’s comforting to think that within the walls of Corbenic we’ve created a microcosm of our surroundings.
Your debut single shows two distinct sides to the band. What other delights can we expect on your forthcoming LP? What's the LP called?
MoMo: The name comes from a song we all found at the same time. The song appeared and then drifted away very quickly, but the album was different. It took a lot of time to uncover the ideas we explore on the album. We tried doing some recording in a studio, but kept coming back to our house. Maybe it's easier to find hidden spaces in familiar places.
MB: The current dark age we live in, the toxic political climate and perpetual warring ~ the thankless will to do just and good in a bad world as one's only hope for personal salvation, and nature's gathering response to our abuse unto her mostly inspires the song.
With yourselves and bands such as Wolf People there seems to be a return to music steeped in the occult, folklore and nature mysticism. Why do think that appeals in the modern internet age?
MB: In the face of all things artificial and superficial it would seem natural to want to return to a place that feels more true and real.
MoMo: Technology has always been used to revisit the occult and mystical. In the 19th century Magic Lanterns and Phantasmagoria brought to life the ghouls and spectres that the viewers were supposed to have left behind after the Enlightenment. These visions were hugely popular at the time, not in spite of their irrationality, but because of it, all while being completely reliant on the the newest and most advanced technology of the time. We now have a chance to take the lantern into our own hands.
Philadelphia is not usually associated with music influenced by the '70s UK acid-folk sound, how did you get into that music?
MB: I've been interested in traditional folk music for a long time, so hearing revival bands bring some of those old songs into the modern world in a non-academic way has always been exciting to me
MoMo: Philadelphia is an incredibly old city. It’s steeped with historical significance and has palpable creative energy. We’re able to access sounds and ideas from around the world, but physically connecting to one another, our loved ones, and the city is a part of our daily lives. If we sound a particular way, or of a particular era, it’s because the city wants us to. It found us, brought us together, and sheltered us in a way that allows the music to sound this way.
MB: I believe that MS first heard about us through our playing a show/becoming friends with the beautiful humans in the band Quilt.
MoMo: We played a show with Quilt and Weyes Blood inside of an old church in North Philly. At the time Quilt was a three piece, Natalie was performing solo, and we fitted nine people on stage. It's hard to describe why that night seemed important, but I stumbled across a cassette recording of it recently and I swear it was pulsing gently on its own.
There's an array of exotic instruments used on the single and in the video, how have you managed to acquire such an amazing collection?
MB: Instruments and books are my favorite things to collect and engage with.
There's also an impressive vinyl collection there, what are the most prized items in that collection?
MB: Black Sabbath and Ruth White.
MoMo: There’s an album by a UK Christian Synth Prog band called Driver. It’s such a strange combination of sounds and ideas that its mere existence makes me feel as if the world could just collapse at any moment. There’s also a Moondog record I got from a thrift store in Michigan. It’s all beat up and mostly just a bunch of locked grooves now, so it can take hours to listen to each side.
Playing live with a seven-piece band must present logistical problems, do you get to gig much?
MB: Yes, we play somewhat often locally, but we don't always play as a set seven-piece. It depends what songs and feelings we want to convey, who of us are available to play, etc.
JB: I feel bad for the sound guys who’ve dealt with the full caravan. They see us load in and give us a look like, “Are you fucking kidding me?” But we’ve also had some really patient people behind the boards who managed to get the mix right. When you can balance 7 or more people on stage, you deserve some special recognition.
There's a real variety in the band member's influences and musical backgrounds. Was there a conscious decision to go for a folk based sound? Any notable previous bands?
JB: A musician I admire once told me that influence could be split into two categories: ghost and substance. Substance could be the conscious decision you mention, as in, the songs were written largely with a folk palette, and we had some shared influences in mind. But ghost is harder to trace. It is the conscious or unconscious influence of a much broader palette. Ghost is about aesthetic or feeling, not discrete sounds. For example, that hip-hop album you’ve been playing on repeat might have some interesting juxtaposition that somehow creeps into your compositional approach. I would argue that we are driven more by ghost than by substance. We are more an unconscious sum of influences than a conscious one.
MoMo: We've spent endless nights performing Dionysian rituals in the name of excess. The energy got so thick once I thought I broke all my strings, but when I looked closer they were all still there. Shadow Band is about restraint as much as it's about disorder.
JB: I’d say we’re plugged in more often than not. We’ve played punishingly loud and feather-soft in the same show. It’s kind of hard to say where the folk ends and the rock begins.
(A side question – my friend and former teacher, Dez Allenby, was a member of UK psych folk group FOREST, are you familiar with the two LPs they recorded for Harvest in the late '60s/early '70s? If not I recommend you check them out!)
MoMo: Forest are great! We're clearly huge fans of the British Psych-Folk crew. There was a night where a bunch of us watched the Incredible String Band movie together and it was a very emotional experience. Thanks!