Expressway To Woven Skull

Agfa Vista 200 - Mar 2017 - IMG_0023 - Columodwyer©

l-r: Willie, Natalia, Aonghus. Image by Colum O’Dwyer

 

This is the full version of an interview with Natalia Beylis from Woven Skull, conducted by email ahead of their Gateshead show in July.  I first saw Woven Skull at Supersonic Festival in 2015 and they were a highlight in a weekend full of them, leaving me stunned and mumbling to anyone who’d listen about ‘if Godspeed were a folk band’ (not an accurate description, as we’ll see later). Since then, they’ve become regulars at all the right festivals, never failing to utterly captivate the audience, and released a barrage of essential releases through various sources. I must have seen them ten times in the intervening years and drunk with them a few times too. I kicked off the interview with Natalia by asking her to tell me a little about the band’s origins. 

So firstly, can you tell me a bit about how Woven Skull came together. I know you and Willie met in the States, but how did a Ukrainian lass end up living in the middle of Ireland?

Soon after I was born my parents decided to hit the high road. We snaked through Europe, spent a few months living outside of Rome and eventually ended up in Baltimore which is where all of my memories begin. There must be a roamer’s strand on my DNA because I could never fully stay put. I met Willie [Stewart, drum and percussion] when I was living in Pittsburgh and he was on tour with his old band Bambi. A few months later, I followed him back to his hometown of Dublin. As the officer at Dublin Airport Passport Control said to me the other day “Whatever possessed you to shack up with an Irishman?” I have no real answer. Maybe he dosed me with a spell? Eventually we moved into a big warehouse space in the city. It attracted all sorts of everyone. Aonghus [McEvoy, guitar] lived with his parents up the road and used to come over with two of his friends nearly every day. They didn’t drink at the time and would just silently sit there on the couch. Sometimes they would play hackeysack. There’s a lot that drew the three of us together musically. We were all always at punk gigs. We all like Crass. We all like Smegma. Once Aonghus left the dry life behind we all found we had a common love of partying as well. Eventually the guy who owned the warehouse realized Willie and I were living there and it wasn’t just the artist studios we’d claimed it to be. We’d got so used to somewhere cheap with plenty of space that it was hard to adjust back to a cramped expensive city house. So we headed out to where there was no one to bother with all our noisemakings.”

Was there a set idea of what the band was going to be or was it much more informal than that?

The beginnings of what morphed into Woven Skull were sparse, with me writing monophonic tunes on a little bowlback mandolin, leaving expanses of space for whatever would eventually come to fill itself in. My friend Ivan Pawle was the first one I tried playing these lines of music with: Ivan on hurdy-gurdy and Willie accentuating the most skeletal of all rhythms on a frame drum. Ivan was soon called away to dig up bones so we brought Aonghus into the fold and that’s when the spaces began to swell. We were in no hurry to cement the sound of the band. We still aren’t. I reckon it will keep morphing alongside us as we go. The only thing that remains constant is that there are us three at the core. Beyond that we’re always getting stirred from playing and recording with a bunch of inspiring musicians.

Woven Skull

There’s quite a contrast between Woven Skull live and many of the releases. I believe the idea with Lair Of The Glowing Bantling was to capture something like the live incarnation (or as it was at that time) but there’s a lot more field recordings, abstract collisions, concrète elements, soundscapes and things with the tapes. Can you tell me a little bit about that?

Since Willie and I live about two hours from Aonghus, we rarely have short band practices, preferring instead to get together over a few days. This gives us plenty of time to create sounds outside of those we set aside for our live gigs. We’ve played together for so long that I feel completely at ease trying any ideas out with Willie and Aonghus. Sometimes they look at me like I’ve grown arms out of my eyeballs but I never feel judged and without that rush of having a restricted time in a practice room, we can give any notion a try. Thankfully though, there’s enough honesty between us to admit when it’s going woefully wrong. When it’s going right, we record it. Our practice room is awash in noise making possibilities: bundles of seashells, a pump organ, disintegrating kids toys. They get added in, and a lot of what we end up with is delicate and abstract or calls for the kind of listening atmosphere that we aren’t trying to create with our live set. Live, I just wanna swaddle the space with everything we can push at it. The Bantling LP is the first one that we recorded with an engineer in a studio and it was an attempt to capture the songs and atmosphere of our stage performance. I think we nearly got there though it’s still got a delicacy over our live sound. Our other recordings give more of an insight into the space in which our sounds are created, into the sounds that are going on around us while we’re recording and into snippets of our writing process.

Thinking about the live band again, you’ve had various comparisons (including from me) of being like an acoustic / folk take on Velvet Underground or even Godspeed You! Black Emperor, that same sustained intensity. Do you think of the band as being at least partly rooted in folk, and what else comes into play in terms of the sound? You’re all clearly immersed in a wealth of experimental and esoteric music.

For me two things come to mind when I hear the term ‘folk music’; the first is the traditional music of a specific group of people from a specific place and the second is the music that’s evolved from the Irish, US & UK folk traditions. We fit neither of those definitions. Someone did once describe us as creating self-imagined folk music. I kinda like that idea; that we’ve invented our own country and written the traditional music for it. But we are not a folk band and we are not rooted in folk. People who come to us with that expectation with inevitably be in for an unexpected surprise; pleasant or disappointing. We’ve never played acoustically live. Even though I play an acoustic mandola and various members join us on violas, violins and cellos, everyone is amped up, often running through pedals and FXs. There’s a lot of pushing the limitations of what is conventionally done with the instruments and how loud and nasty acoustic instruments can go in a live setting.

 

Tell me a little bit about the scene / community at home – I know you’re fairly near David Colohan [Raising Holy Sparks / United Bible Studies] for example, but I have this mental image of a busy scene of drunken improvising and collaboration?

Willie and I live in the least populated county in Ireland. It’s generally very, very quiet and I often find myself communicating with the sounds of four legged & winged creatures more so than two legged ones. David is our closest musical pal living about 45 minutes away. The elusive Fuzzy Hell is about an hour away. In terms of musicians I collaborate with, those are the only ones around. There is however a fine group of general creative misfits (architects, poets, woodturners) that regularly come out to gigs at our house. Plus tons of visitors pass through. People are always up for getting out of the city to wreck some sound havoc for the weekend. That’s often when the drunken improvisation kicks in.

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David Colohan

There’s a sense of the importance of place – and time – that comes through really strongly in your music both in Woven Skull and your own work [Natalia has recorded in various incarnations, often for her own Sofia label], of things being in the moment and the location being part of the experience. Can you tell me something about that?

I had a little black cat named Pussolini (Puss Puss) (RIP). He was always trying to get something across through his ceaseless meowing. It got to the point where I wouldn’t really notice it in the present. But I’d be editing back through recordings and there’d be the Puss Puss meow: at the end of a Woven Skull track, in the midst of a field recording of the gurgling of the bathtub sink, providing vocal accompaniment to piano tracks. I like when the place sneaks itself into recordings. Audibly sterile environments make me antsy.

 

Whilst I know you’re all a bunch of drunkards and tearaways, and I’m including David in this, there’s nonetheless a vibe I get around you that I would hesitate to refer to in terms of spirituality or anything – I have no idea if any of you have any religious impulse, although Aonghus probably has a GG Allin shrine – but there is something that feels ‘other’ in some way. Maybe it’s just coming across a group of people who are working towards something so creative and powerful, I dunno. I now realise it would have been better to ask this question over a bottle of rum at Supersonic than by email but fuck it. Do you have ANY sense of what I’m getting at?!

This question made me realise that I don’t personally have a working definition of spirituality so I asked Willie how he would define it:

“Being able to put yourself in a atmosphere or headspace where you feel comfortable, confident and at ease. That could be falling into a trance while listening to music or walking through the woods.”

Through his definition, I can safely say that David spends a lot of time in the woods and Willie spends a lot of time walking the boreens around our house. Maybe that’s how they find this sense of ease?

I was at a Sufi gig recently and there was one Sufi fellow that was doing a particular dance, he was rocking back and forth and had one finger pointed up to the sky rhythmically ticking along to the beat. I realized it was, to a tee, the same dance a friend of mine used to do at punk gigs years back. There were two other Sufi lads grooving along in a way that were you to pull them out of the audience and drop them into the middle of a Sleep gig and they would have looked right at home. Would they have even noticed? It got me thinking of that film Rock My Religion by Dan Graham which intersplices footage of people dancing at 80s hardcore gigs with Shakers ecstatic trance dancing. Hmmm……where am I going with all this?… it’s all the one I guess. Whatever gets you to that place of ease without imposing yourself upon others along the way.

But you know, No Gods No Masters at the end of the day.

I know you and Willie have a BIG thing for Moroccan / North African music: how did that come about, what is it about that music that grabs you and do you think it feeds into the band? 

Every time Willie and I visit Morocco there’s just always live music everywhere: in the squares, floating above the rooftops, creeping down the alleyways. We both initially got into Moroccan music through listening to the Master Musicians of Joujouka and it’s their sound that drew us to travel there. It’s a different experience to listen to music in the place where it is written. When we got to Morocco we were inundated with Berber, Gnoua, Sufi & Chaabi music. Tapes are super cheap down there so it was easy to start coming home with recordings from all across Morocco and North Africa and slowly sorting through the sounds back at home. With Willie being a drummer I guess there’s that draw for him to North and West African rhythms. But we’re both into music from all over the lands. Eventually we’ll start making our way down and across to other places too. [Willie has a fanzine looking at his love for Moroccan music available here]

We don’t consciously feed anything into the music we write. But all the sounds I’m hearing must be mixing in their somewhere. That’s just the way it works.

N & W

Natalia & Willie DJing at Supersonic Festival 2017

 

Back to a more mundane question: you’re touring England in July, are you doing it all with $un $keletons or just Gateshead? And do you have a release / releases coming out to accompany it? If so, what?

We’re doing four shows with $un $keletons: Gateshead, Middlesbrough, Todmorden plus we’re doing an afternoon generator gig about 15 minutes south of Gateshead. It’s in a very secret location. Can you guess where it is?! There will be more info closer to the time on all the usual channels.

Woven Skull have two releases coming out for this tour. A 10-inch on Lancashire & Somerset Records which is us playing with Jorge Boehringer and Eleanor Cully. It’s noisy and free form and we let Willie use a full drum kit for it. We’ve also got a tape coming out on Cruel Nature (His Cattle Are Pets And He Goes With The Moon) which has a photo of me, my brother and my granny on the cover. It’s a more delicate and possibly more formidable release.

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The other new thing we’ll have with us on this tour is a viola player named Ailbhe! This is very exciting. She’s a shredder. Get ready.

And what next, after the tour? Any other releases or big plans we should know about?

We’re at the final mixes of a new LP. So after tour we’ll be looking for a label to take that on and we’ll be planning some big tours around it’s release. Also we’ve got a split 7 inch coming out on God Unknown Records this autumn. It’s got Thor & Friends on the other side. Plus we’re all always working away on material from solo stuff and our other bands and there’s some of that stuff coming out soon.
Thanks, Natalia

Natalia

Natalia being a minstrel at Sin Eater Festival 2016

Woven Skull play Gateshead Old Police House on July 21st alongside $un $keletons, Wreaths and Luna Del Cazador

https://wovenskull.bandcamp.com/

 

 

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Woven Skull 

After seeing Woven Skull half a dozen times in 2015 and being blown away each and every time, 2016 has been decidedly lacking unless you count The Tor Invocation Band or drinking rum at Sin Eater.

So for now this will have to do – the band in a rehearsal space tearing us a new one.

Woven Skull // Live in Guerrilla Sounds Studios, Dublin

Astronaut Music From Bedlam

Finally got round to putting together a new Panic & Carousels column for Narc – you can read it here.

Astronaut Music From Bedlam.jpg

This one has Woven Skull, Girl Sweat, Sly & The Family Drone, drcarlsonalbion, Hey Colossus, Melvins, Girl Sweat, Boris, Concrete Tapes, St James Infirmary, Khünnt, Peter J Smyth and Cluster.

As usual, it comes with a mix – stuff that’s mentioned in the column, stuff I should have mentioned, and a few things just because they fit.

Here’s the tracklisting:

  1. Portland Vows – Free Milk
  2. Melvins – War Pussy
  3. Boris – Heavy Rock Industry
  4. Hey Colossus – Wired, Brainless (version)
  5. drcarlsonalbion – She Moved Thru’ The Fair
  6. Blown Out – Gravitic Imploder
  7. Girl Sweat – The Floor Swallowed Me Whole
  8. Nisennenmondai – #3
  9. Ex-Easter Island Head – Ten Bells
  10. Acidliner – Home
  11. Four Tet – Pockets (Minimal Version)
  12. Hoofus & IX Tab – The Ploughs & The Machines
  13. Preston Field Audio – Café Daydream
  14. The Comet Is Coming – Space Carnival
  15. Kamasi Washington – Final Thought
  16. Swans – Finally, Peace
  17. Steve Gunn – Park Bench Smile
  18. St James Infirmary – All That Is Solid Melts Into Air
  19. Peter J Smyth – It’s Gone
  20. Brian Eno – Fickle Sun (III): I’m Set Free
  21. Preston Field Audio – Brass
  22. Cluster & Eno – Base Apex
  23. Sly & The Family Drone – Your Mum’s A Provincial Rock Club
  24. Woven Skull – The Forest Of Everything II

Live from the Black Hole…

20160430_220228Bonnacons Of Doom/Woven Skull/Night Trips/Bushism                  Wagon & Horses, 30 May

The promoters of this evening’s entertainments surely imagined the last day of April would be a fine spring evening to be out in the courtyard enjoying a few bands and a few beers and truthfully they should have been right but it’s recently taken to hailing and snowing and it’s quite chilly out. I wore a nice coat and kept my alcohol levels suitably warming myself but it’s fair to say I have to endure a degree of moaning from fellow patrons about the cold. As if they’d flown in from Spain or something. I miss Bushism, but there’s now four of them apparently. Night Trips have just started and the band are noticeably skilled and well drilled, their music comfortably familiar without sounding too generic or endebted to anyone specific. Definitely on the pop end of the night’s psychedelic meanderings, they’ve got similar ingredients to Inspiral Carpets (vaguely 60’s garage thing, organ, manc singer), The Doors are mentioned but, again, it’s just that wild organ. It’s their most winning element and comes from Billy Bainbridge (once of Broadcast and others) who does great things with retro sounds in less obvious ways. I think they’re most like a less punk version of The Creepers, a comparison both obscure and unhelpful, you’re welcome. A lot of the crowd are more used to the singer’s performance art/comedy with homemade masks and props, singing top pop hits fitted up with surreal lyrics in a vaguely Frank Sidebottom exaggeration of his own voice. It’s not just me having trouble adjusting, it seems he does too early in the set but the last three or four tunes are all the better for him shaking it.

Woven Skull are a whole other world entirely. In fact it’s quite hard to imagine when they wouldn’t be. Last time I saw them was in a rural barn and they still seemed to come from somewhere closer to the earth, deep in a cave or off a mountain side. The idea of them as somehow ‘folk’ music because they have a mandolin player seems a little lazy but there is something undeniably organic about their sound ‘Minimal Repetitions Made Inside of Haunted Woods & Burning Bogs’ as they put it themselves. They’ve recorded out in the woods and used field recordings in the fairly tall stack of stuff you can find on their bandcamp (13 releases in the last 5-6 years, a lot of it free to download). I’d recommend you check it out but, as is often the case, it doesn’t capture the power of the band live. They don’t seem to bring the field recordings into live performance and out the back of The Wagon is a long, long way from the heart of the mythic forest even if it is cold and wet. I’m not going to claim they take us there but sat in a row behind their curtains of hair they truly seem to work magic, conjuring a storm of sound from a minimal set up. Willy has the added bonus of a gong tonight which he has some fun with but for the most part he produces a dazzling array of rhythm and texture from just the one floor tom. I can’t tell if he’d be remarkable or just confused behind a full kit but he’s incredible. The sitting down and the building repetition of the music remind me briefly of Spacemen 3 but it’s Spiritualized’s ‘Clear Rush‘  they’re nearest to, a title that perfectly captures that tune and something of whatever these guys are up to as well, a headlong race towards the light. And then back in to the bar/warm.

Bonnacons of Doom take an age to get on stage. I don’t care about this because I’m inside in the warm, drunkenly talking bollocks with friends but some folk are getting tetchy about it. When they do play the set is cut short, whether for technical or curfew reasons I don’t know. I was enjoying it myself. Not really a doom band if we’re honest, more of a psych/kraut thing, they wear capes and huge mirror masks, have a slightly silly name and are hopefully not entirely serious but who knows? At Supernormal last year they were considerably better than tonight’s showing, I was dragged into the woods to see them on the basis of my curiosity and some kind of Mugstar link. They’re only a pale shadow of that band at the moment but it’s early days, as far as I know there’s just the one single they’ve put out – it’s good – and Mugstar have more than ten years headstart honing their thing. The Bonnacons make a fine old racket in what is becoming the current style,  maybe on another night or when they get around to recording an album we’ll get a clearer idea of the bands own personality. I’ll just leave a space at the end here for you to make up your own clumsy ‘behind the mask’ or ‘reflecting back on ourselves’ summation. I’m tired.

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Panic & Carousels

The Panic & Carousels column for Narc Magazine was supposed to be regular – monthly, even – but by the end of 2015 it was dead in the water. Life, eh?

Panic & Carousels Narc Mix - Feb 2016

Anyway, all being well it should get back to at least  being fairly regular this year, and kicks off 2016 with a look back at 2015. You can take a look here. There’s reviews – or mentions, at least – for Workin Man Noise Unit, Early Mammal, Laura Cannell, Karen Gwyer, Kemper Norton, Supernormal and Tor Ist Das?, Woven Skull and The Cesarians, Shape Worship, Coil, This Heat, Harmonia. Mogwai, The Bug, Terminal Cheesecake, Denver Broncos UK, Oneida, Mamuthones, Capra Informis and Was Ist Das?‘ Noise In  The Woods compilation.

There’s also my Hickey-friendly end of year chart:

jon

  1. = Hey Colossus – In Black & Gold (Rocket Recordings)
    = Hey Colossus – Radio Static High (Rocket Recordings)
  2. DBUK (Denver Broncos UK) – Songs One Through Eight (SCAC Unincorporated)
  3. Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Asunder, Sweet & Other Distress (Constellation)
  4. Woven Skull – Lair Of The Glowing Bantling (Penske Recordings)
  5. Sleaford Mods – Key Markets (Harbinger Sound)
  6. Low – Ones & Sixes (Sub Pop)
  7. King Midas Sound & Fennesz – Episode 1 (Ninja Tune)
  8. Grey Hairs – Colossal Downer (Gringo)
  9. Blown Out – Jet Black Hallucinations (Golden Mantra)
  10. Teeth Of The Sea – Highly Deadly Black Tarantula (Rocket Recordings)
  11. Henry Blacker – Summer Tombs (Riot Season)
  12. Jenny Hval – Apocalypse Girl (Sacred Bones)
  13. Shape Worship – A City Remembrancer (Front & Follow)
  14. Wire – Wire (Pink Flag)
  15. EEK & Islam Chipsy – Kahraba (Nashazphone)
  16. Luminous Bodies – Luminous Bodies (Box)
  17. Workin Man Noise Unit – Play Loud (Riot Season)
  18. Steve Gunn & Black Twig Pickers– Seasonal Hire (Thrill Jockey)
  19. Bad Guys – Bad Guynaecology (Riot Season)
  20. Shit & Shine – 54 Synth Brass, 38 Metal Guitar, 65 Cathedral (Rocket Recordings)

And if that wasn’t enough, there’s an all-too-rare mix, of releases from the column or from the chart and some other bits and pieces.

Here’s what’s on it:

  1. Luminous Bodies – Stay Dead
  2. Workin’ Man Noise Unit – Yeah, I Was Hypnotised
  3. Teeth Of The Sea – Animal Manservant
  4. Mamuthones – Symphony For The Devil
  5. Shape Worship – Heygate Palimpsest
  6. Laura Cannell – For Sorrow Salt Tears (Karen Gwyer Edit)
  7. Raime – This Foundry (Regis Version)
  8. The Bug – Krak Teng
  9. E.E.K. ft Islam Chipsy – El Bawaba
  10. This Heat – 24 Track Loop
  11. Hey Colossus – Heaven Blows
  12. Oneida – All Data Lost
  13. Mogwai – The Sun Smells Too Loud
  14. Harmonia – Walky-Talky
  15. Bird People – Calder Valley Rockaway (Live At Tor Ist Das?)
  16. Woven Skull – Ananda