“Practice Freedom” an Interview with Natalia Beylis of Woven Skull

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Since 2008 the core trio of Woven Skull have recorded in dark haunted woods, beside bottomless lakes, and in the attics of abandoned houses. Their latest LP, “Lair of the Glowing Bantling”, is their first studio album, and an enchanting journey where we meet delightful characters and a ship full of drummers. Yoshiwara interviewed one of the trio, Natalia Beylis to shed some moonlight on Woven Skull…

Greetings from Yoshiwara,

Please introduce the individuals at the core of Woven Skull. What brought you together in the first place?
We’re a trio at our core. There’s an allure for me to the number three: the three witches of Macbeth, the three heads of Cerberus, the dynamic tension which exists within triangular structures. The constant members of Woven Skull are Willie, Aonghus and myself. When we’re recording and experimenting with sounds, we might use anything at hand to create resonance but in a live setting our set up is fairly consistent: Willie mainly bashes a floor tom and cymbal. Aonghus mostly uses a guitar (both conventionally and atypically) to create his sounds and I play the Mandola. Beyond that constant three, we’ve been lucky enough to have dozens of people perform and record with us. Two fairly regular players who are part of our extended family are David Colohan from Raising Holy Sparks and Jorge Boehringer from Core of the Coalman who have both played in Woven Skull on various tours and appear on numerous recordings.

I can’t remember exactly what brought the three of us together in the first place. We were friends first anyway and playing together just stemmed from that friendship.

We also have an allure to the number three. Did you have any overall aims or ambitions when you first formed as Woven Skull? Why do you think your approaches to music were able to fit so well?

There was no grand vision for what the band would become when we first started. There was just an openness to experimenting and creating together. We don’t all live in the same place so practicing isn’t ever just a two hour stint in a rehearsal room; it’s always at least a few days of hanging out, cooking food, playing our current favourite records for each other, a bit of youtube roulette, a walk with the dog, a few beers, maybe a bonfire and, of course, dipping in and out music. Well, usually. Though there was once when we were meant to be making music but instead we spent the entire day finding different foods to put on the BBQ (sliced mangoes worked surprisingly well….Camembert still in the wood packaging, maybe not so well). All that time you spend together feeds in and out of everything you do together. When you’re cooking alongside someone, you become attune to the rhythm with which they chop vegetables and somehow you fall in line with it and when you’re walking together along the lane the pace of your footfalls quickly synch up. Maybe it’s these very patterns that creep into the songwriting and make it fit the way it does.

There still isn’t a grand vision for where we’re headed. We’ll just keep exploring the reaches of this band together while it remains an enriching and engaging process. Whatever gigs, tours, releases and opportunities to play with other musicians come along as a result are an added bonus. For me, it’s the same way as I engage with life. I know that the moment I saddle an expectation on anything it will burst apart.

This approach comes across in your music, especially the prominence of nature. I have the feeling your music  taps into something quite ancient.  How has your own background influenced the music you create?

I think the things we create come from an amalgamation of all the odds and ends that we encounter through life. I don’t have a conscious awareness of the specific different influences on the music I currently write. I don’t mean there’s no influence on it, rather that I try not to ponder it. I like the mysterious abyss from which ideas erupt and I guess I’ve got an almost superstitious fear of pinning those things down, as though in naming them, I’ll get stuck with those specific influences and close myself off to others.

Your new album “Lair of the Glowing Bantling” is out on Penske records. Tell me how you came about the title? When did you first begin to think about making the album and what was the initial inspiration?

Up until now all of our releases have been a mix of practice tapes, home and field recordings and snippets taken from gigs.  So our live sets and our recordings were two completely different beasts.  When Albert from Penske said “Let’s make some vinyl,” we figured we would use the chance to capture something more akin to the songs we perform live. We tried to record these ourselves at home, in our usual way, but just couldn’t catch the sound right so we ventured into the studio.

“Bantling” came first.  I like the shape my mouth makes when I say it….Bantling.  I read it somewhere months before and it kept creeping through my brain.

“Bantling” is starting to creep into my brain also, I can see its allure. I believe this is the first Woven Skull album on vinyl. The first of many I hope. What has been the initial response to the album so far?

It’s great to have an album out on vinyl! We had a lathe cut come out in early June that Supersonic put out for us which was technically our first vinyl but that was limited to 15 copies. We’ve got a few other recordings at the moment that will hopefully be destined for LPs in 2016. Albert who runs Penske says that sales are going well at the moment so that’s a good response! I haven’t heard too much feedback aside from that though a friend just described the album as “glorious” so that’s very nice!

The first track on the album is called Ludo after Ludo Mich. What is it about Ludo that resonated with you so much?

The first time we spent the night at Ludo’s we slept under the trance of his large glowing eye sculpture.  There was no turning back from his spell after that. For me, both Ludo and his art are completely pure and real.  No pretence nor boundaries, just honesty.  I don’t know if everyone gets this feeling but sometimes in life I come across a situation where I feel like I’m supposed to be this or that or supposed to act in some sort of sanctioned way.  But then I meet someone like Ludo who is always daringly himself and it helps me remember that you can only ever be who you are.
The second track on our LP is named Chantelle after his wife. Ludo and Chantelle are just really good people who embrace life.  They’ve got a big round table in their living room and any night I’m there it’s filled with a great mix of mavericks, sitting around, sharing drinks and laughing like conspirators returned from some secret adventure.
Soon all of Ludo will be revealed for the world….our drummer Willie is making a documentary about him at the moment.

The third track ‘Blind Willy’ is a beautiful song written by Sonny Sharrock. It’s a fitting midway point for the album. How did you come to recording this song? Why is the song important to you?

Our guitar player Aonghus first picked this song as something to include on the LP. I have a feeling that he chose it because he wanted to work on a composition that was very different from our other material. It’s much more straightforward and gentle and pretty and it’s in an uplifting major key. We all three quite like Sonny Sharrock….he just gets such a nice and nasty guitar sound….. so it wasn’t hard to convince me or Willie to want to record this. I know that it can sometimes be hard to distinguish between the sound of Aonghus’s guitar and that of my mandola. I think this was especially true before Aonghus switched to using an electric guitar (it was during the process of recording this album that he decided to switch to an electric). It’s nice to have a track where you can distinctly hear the guitar with just a few little seashells and sprinkles of mandola and cymbals in the background.

‘Sea Graves’ is a pulsating track and the only recorded live track to feature on the album. I was completely gripped by the song whilst spinning the vinyl. It’s truly captivating, as is the album as a whole. What are the Sea Graves the songs title relate to?

Aonghus chose the title so I’m not sure what it originally relates to but it fit the inspiration for the track. When Willie was writing Sea Graves he had the vision of a ship coming towards land in preparation for battle. He imaged the ship to be full of drummers pounding out a steady rhythm that both propelled the ship on its course as well as announced its arrival to those on land. A battle cry, really. The drums get louder as the ship nears shore. I often ring bells at the beginning of that track which I picture to be the bells of the people in the village, who upon hearing the sound of the drums, have run up to the church tower to warn the villagers that the time has come to either grab your weapons or else pile up all the furniture against the doors.

The final track ‘Wild Jorge’ concludes a fantastic journey. Who is Wild Jorge? Can you shed some light on the matter?

One fellow who bought our album reckons “Wild Jorge” should become the new national anthem. I’m not sure of what nation but I full heartedly think that Jorge, after whom the song is named, is deserving of an anthem. Wild, wild Jorge Boehringer (who, if I’m not mistaken, has had songs written about him in the past) is the Wild Jorge of the title. We’re all big fans of his. He’s a phenomenal composer and viola player and all of his music and art have a consistent high quality precision. He just nails whatever he sets out to do. Aside from that he’s a wonderful person.

LairOfTheGlowingBantlingIs artwork also an important part of presentation? ‘Lair of the Glowing Bantling’ has quite a distinctive cover. Where did this image come from and what does it say about the Woven Skull trio?

The artwork is a huge part of the release. Though that old idiom warns to not judge a book by its cover, I know myself that when I’m flipping through record bins it’s the first thing that pulls my attention to one release over another. The image is by Karen Browett who was working on a series of drawings around the time that we were recording the album. As soon as I saw her drawings I knew it was the exact kind of thing I wanted to visually represent the music. She and I are friends for such a long time maybe there was some cosmic force between us swaying her to create this image at the same time that we were creating the sounds. Karen did the art for an LP I put out a few years ago by the band Sea Dog and I’ve never tired of looking at that cover so I had a good feeling that the cover for this would continue looking good well into the future.

In June this year you toured the UK with an appearance also at Supersonic festival. What kind of experience was this? How did the audience receive you?

We played first on Saturday afternoon. Cloudy weather daylight streamed down through the skylights of the warehouse space. Before our own set we’d waited through an hour of The Bug’s soundcheck. I usually love listening to The Bug but the music felt so displaced at those floor shaking volumes in an empty room. There was an army of techs milling around and at one point during soundcheck we got accidentally immersed in an eruption from a smoke machine. It was the last gig of our tour so it was bittersweet and I guess the whole thing had a lonesome ting. The audience seemed to enjoy it and said nice things afterwards. On the last night of the festival we got to have a few pints with some of the lovely Supersonic organizers which was a perfect ending….the end of a long festival weekend for them and the end of a tour for us.

At supersonic, did you get a change to check many of the bands? Was there a particular performance that stood out for you?

I didn’t catch much on the Saturday but Richard Dawson picked all the bands for the Sunday of Supersonic and I really got into everything that I saw on that day. It was all solo acts: Rhodri Davies, Angharad Davies, Jiří Wehle, Afework Nigussie, and Richard played as well. (Phil Tyler was on first and sadly, due to cans on the canal, I missed his set.)

More recently in August you played at Supernormal festival and Tor Ist Das! Festival. Supernormal as I understand is a communal festival encouraging artists and musicians to collaborate and experiment together. That sounds like great fun. I can imagine the music of Woven Skull entrancing and beckoning people to experience the live performance. How was your overall experience of the festival? What were your personal highlights of playing and experiencing the other performances?

Supernormal was great! Well worth the trip over the sea to the UK if you can make it. You can follow trails into the woods and find people performing in all sorts of nooks and crannies and weirdos stuck up trees with drum kits and hardcore bands playing in clearings and people sitting in the dirt messing with tiny synths and pedals who might or might not be a part of the program at all. There was no shortage of madness. Asparagus Piss Raindrop ran a highly entertaining “pub quiz” during which some guy sitting beside me got up, yelled “You’re not making any sense!” and stormed off. There was a collaboration between some of the Gnod musicians, Charles Hayward and a few others that I really enjoyed called Anonymous Bash. I was transported to another time and place by a gentle and melancholy performance by two women, Rie Nakajima and Keiko Yamamoto, who play under the name O YAMA O. The Bonnacons of Doom ripped it up out in the middle of the woods on one of the sunny afternoons. I could probably go on and on about all the good stuff. Though there was one overall highlight for me. Jennifer Walshe’s performance topped anything I’ve seen in a long time. I won’t tarnish it by even trying to describe it.

We had a good time performing. We got to take part in three sets through the weekend. We played a kids gig that was organized by Supersonic. The kids went feral. We’d made them all shakers to play along to the music but the shakers just got them all hyped up out of control. They were throwing them on the ground and bodying slamming the shakers. Then went we started properly playing this one little girl just went around punching all the little boys. It was like a Lord of the Flies mosh pit. I’m not proud. Well……maybe I’m a little proud. We were also part of Neil Campbell’s Astral Choir during his performance where three stages were all overlapping/going at once over a three hour period. We added about ten minutes of vocals along with 10 or so other choir members. And we played just a regular old Woven Skull gig at the end of the Sunday.

As for Tor Ist Das!, how did playing here compare? What made it special?

Tor Ist Das! was very different. While Supernormal mainly takes place in a field with camping over three days and has an audience of about 800 or so, Tor Ist Das! happens in the town of Todmorden and is split between the Church there and a traditional Thai/English pub called the Golden Lion. I think they have an audience of about 200 or so. It’s much more intimate. There’s mainly three people that run the whole festival (and do a damn fine job at it!). The line-up was deadly and it was easy to catch all of the acts since nothing overlapped. A lot of the music blew me away. Guttersnipe was an especially welcome new find. A lot of people stayed for the whole weekend so there was a good chance to get to know new people from all around the place. There was a whole lot of harmoniums kicking around the festival. Someone told me recently that Todmorden is the “Valley of the Harmonium.” I’ll have to find out more about that! Our gig was a Woven Skull/Core of the Coalman collaboration and David Colohan and out friend Henry Davies both played with us. (Though Henry only played for the first 20 minutes or so because he had to run then to catch his train home to Nottingham half way through our set.) I ate the best chips of my life in Todmorden and drank very nice ale. It’s a magic wonderful place full of really talented weirdo creative types and UFO spotters. The Death Festival also takes place in Todmorden during which they have workshops on making your own burial shroud and other such Death-related interests. Todmorden’s got its own thing going on for sure.

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You also started your own label Sofia Records and released the wonderful “Calendar of Moons” cassette where you asked friends to write a track each inspired by a particular full moon name. I particularly like Julys ‘Hungry Ghost Moon’. How did you manage to gather such an impressive array of artists? Was it difficult to incorporate all their input into your vision for the release?

I picked friends who I knew would be attune to lunar inspiration. There were only two musicians who I didn’t know personally and both came as recommendations specific to this project. I let people choose their own month and their own corresponding moon (from those that hadn’t already been picked). It meant that the order of the tracks was out of my hands after that and the final vision was left to chance. I spent a lot of time with the tracks together before sitting down and creating the packaging allowing the music to inspire the physical outcome.

The cassette and the packaging is also a thing of beauty and a fitting tribute to the moon. You describe Sofia Records as”A tiny label with tiny editions of recordings made by the people around me”. What’s next? Have you another release in the pipeline?

I have a few things bubbling in the pot but they’ll trickle out slow and steady. Years ago I used to run a label that was quite active. Though it was enjoyable in many ways, I was never very good at the business end of having to move lots of units and then try and chase up money from the sales so that I could afford the next release. I like the idea of having gradual releases that take longer but where each one has more that goes into the finished idea.

Next up, I’m doing a tape for “Fuzzy Hell.” That should be out by early winter. I’ve also got a stash of recordings that I’ve done of people singing and playing music in unusual locations. I’ve got one where my friend Conor O’Kane and I are standing up to our knees in the ocean in Donegal and he’s singing a song about a strange shoreline. I’m hoping this will make it out on vinyl in one guise or another.

“The moon is a friend for the lonesome to talk to”
Carl Sandburg

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Looking at Ireland right now, there is some incredible music being created, across all sorts of genres. Are there other current groups or scenes or whatever that you feel a particular connection with?

There’s so much good music around the country these days!! It’s really exciting. Directly around here there’s not too much of a scene..there’s me and Willie…David Colohan from Raising Holy Sparks lives near as does Yasmin who plays under Fuzzy Hell and that’s kind of it for the weirder side of things musically. Well, as far as I know! I constantly dream of stumbling across other people creeping around these woods and recording albums. If there was one thing I feel a particular musical connection to it would be the Fort Evil Fruit roster of musicians. Their releases include a lot of people whom I would feel are in my wider musical family (both in Ireland and abroad). It’s a great label, well worth checking out!

We are also big fans of Fort Evil Fruit at Yoshiwara HQ. Staying in Ireland. You had previously helped organise the Hunters Moon Festival which was held in Carrick-on-Shannon. Are there any plans in the pipeline for further Hunters Moon events/festival?

I’m always coming up with ludicrous Hunters Moon related suggestions. You know that movie, Festival Express? I’d love to do a Hunters Moon version of that. Get Iarnród Éireann to give us the use of a carriage for a week or two and fill it full of musicians, film makers, artists, a thumping sound system and cocktails and see what happens. I generally run these kind of ideas by Willie and he reminds me that we aren’t actually independently wealthy millionaires that could make this kind of thing a reality. But we’ll probably do something a bit more realistic in 2016. It won’t have the same format as the previous festivals but it’ll have the same general feel to it anyway.

Apart from stumbling through dark woods and entrancing festival goers, what can we expect from Woven Skull in the near future?

We’ve got two tapes coming out in the next month, one on Eiderdown Records and one on Makrame Records. The release on Makrame is a split with Hellvete. We’re heading over to Europe and back to the UK in late October and traveling around with Paul Lebrecque. A side from that we’re going to be doing a lot of recording over the winter which means a lot of new winter recipes to try out, a lot of firewood to chop and hopefully some dance parties in the living room between recording sessions.

Make sure to keep us informed if you find any more interesting food to cook with a BBQ. Thank you Natalia for answering my questions and please use this space for any parting words…

I’ll borrow some parting words of wisdom from my friend Dave, “Practice freedom people, practice freedom.”

 

https://wovenskull.bandcamp.com/ 

http://wovenskull.tumblr.com/ 

https://thesunkenhum.wordpress.com

https://fortevilfruit.bandcamp.com/

 

Patrick Toal

September 2015

 

This feature appears in Yoshiwara Zine Issue 1.