“Turmoil, Ecstasy, Violence and Isolation” – a conversation with Wreche

the stunning artwork for Wreche’s album, by Max Moriyama and Athena Wisotsky

 The self-titled debut album by Wreche, a duo consisting of John Steven Morgan (piano/vocals), and Barret Baumgart (drums), released by Fragile Branch Recordings back in May, is undoubtedly one of the most eccentric and striking releases of the year. Almost certainly a love/hate kind of record, this is essentially a black metal album, albeit without most of the musical elements that make up traditional heavy metal (guitars, basically). The band’s name is an Old English word meaning affliction or calamity, deep distress or misery and it’s an appropriately extreme, unsettling and deeply affecting album.  In fact, it’s quite unlike anything else I’ve heard and so it seemed like a good idea to ask John, (who, incidentally, also has an excellent non-Wreche album, Solo Piano Works coming out soon)  about it – and so…

The most obvious, because most unusual, element in Wreche’s music is your use of the piano. In ‘standard heavy metal’ terms this is a strange and some would say incompatible choice, but somehow it feels absolutely right for the black metal aesthetic, why do you think that is?

 “Thank you. We found our skill set and taste fit naturally with black metal. There is so much flexibility compositionally—from long, almost shoe-gaze atmospheric arrangements where the focus is less on individual notes and more on swathes of colour, to abrasive crushing passages and agonised vocals. For us, it was an ideal platform. As for the use of piano, there wasn’t much to decide —it is the instrument that I play and I’ve always played aggressively and texturally. For me, there’s an emotional continuity between metal, jazz, and romantic/modern classical music. I found metal to be the logical extension of the narrative of the piano. Rather than adding classical to metal or playing jazz that quotes metal, we wanted the piano itself to drive the music—it is a heavy instrument on its own (no pun intended) and spans a vast sonic range. It is both string and percussion.”

Perhaps a question I should have asked before the last one; do you consider Wreche to be a black metal band? 

“Everything has to be called something—it gives a clear reference point for potential listeners. Apart from loving all the great music coming out in the genre (which has definitely inspired us), we felt that metal enthusiasts, specifically “black metal” enthusiasts would be the most receptive to our style and composition. So we call it black metal, but I think there is more to it and it can resonate with those who don’t know anything about black metal. Some of the textural/formal elements conform to the genre, but I see the project as music with some classical, some jazz, and some metal—it is its own thing. The tough part about picking a genre is that we now deal with the “novelty” aspect which can be good if the music transcends it, but bad if nobody considers it apart from the black metal foundation.” 

Obviously, as the composers of your music you are in control of it, but would you say it’s a tool for expressing what you want to express, or do you find that the act of making music itself takes you in directions you hadn’t necessarily considered? 

“A little bit of both. With the first, I think expressing an emotion through your instrument is a gradual process. I can feel a certain way, but it won’t necessarily translate into piano music that day. The compositions took months so there were spurts of turmoil, ecstasy, violence and isolation where I could write passages same-day for days at a time locked in the studio. On the other hand, some emotions had to settle in and eventually work their way out. As for the latter case, the act of making music influencing the compositions themselves, that also played a part. I write from the keyboard, so errors or occasional stand-out phrases in practicing one thing led to new parts. I am always open to the focal point of a passage changing emphasis if it leads to more effective, evocative music.” 

Compared to other forms of metal, black metal has often been involved with spiritual, metaphysical or philosophical concerns, rather than purely earthly ones, with the forms of the music acting almost as a catalyst/lightning rod for the energies that bands are channelling; is the music a tool in this way for Wreche? 

“In a way it is, however I don’t live in the forest, outer space, or subscribe to religion. I do look at the stars and feel awe, weightless existential ecstasy, and sadness. But, I think the music comes from earth. I grew up in the desert, but for the last 13 years I’ve been traversing and staring at city blocks. I play music in the street for a living and have always only been able to afford housing in blighted neighbourhoods. The spiritual or philosophical drive, if you can call it that, comes from my observations of the human condition and metaphorical “desert” in the cities we exist – especially in Los Angeles. There are so many broken people, crammed to capacity on freeways, office buildings, sidewalks, who are barely staying afloat or are lost altogether. They are in a chokehold – always needing money, never having enough of it, and never able to catch a breath. All the while we have a steadily rising wealth inequality, a dying earth, and booming technology designed to express our individuality and our successes. The misery, anxiety, irony and sadness of it all is overwhelming. In this way, I think the music confronts and reflects.” 

 The album has a very intense, pervasive haunted quality, is that something that you felt while making it?

 “Definitely. Besides the actual tone I managed to get out of the piano, this album partially reflects on my own life, personal growth and the repurposing of my playing style. Whether through piano lines, lyrics, song titles or samples, the music is peppered with snapshots and memories from the past. Another factor was probably that I spent almost a straight year living out of the rehearsal studio during this time. It was extremely isolating, money was tight, and I was in a new environment having just left my previous band in Oakland to work on this album. Some nights were real bad, and the city has that effect on people—high anxiety, sleepless nights, anonymity. I felt invisible roaming the streets or looking out the window, always in my head, like I was dead already. A real ghoul.

Barret also had recently completed a book basically about climate change, geoengineering, and human extinction—I know he brought that cheerful perspective to some of the writing as well.” 

Do you find the surroundings of a recording studio a conducive environment for making this kind of music? Does the environment affect the feeling you capture when recording? 

“I really do. Some people can write anywhere, but I like feng-shui. Our studio, by pure chance, has a wall of windows that overlook the Los Angeles river and a view of the complete LA skyline. It was beautiful at times and oppressive or sinister at others. We opted to record the album ourselves so that there would be no time limit or stress about how much money a formal studio costs per hour. In this way, I was able to make decisions at a pace that allowed the music to develop over several drafts.” 

Your album feels like a strangely intimate kind of black metal chamber music, which could translate very well to extremely atmospheric live shows, is playing live something that interests you?

“I think the music, while abrasive, is really something that works well played loud and alone—maybe in the dark. We would love to play live shows, but so far, our focus was to make the best music we could with our respective instruments. Now that we have finished the first album, I’m anxious and excited about getting back to writing and trying new things. However, if the opportunity arises to travel and play, I’ve been working on several ideas for that. I would like to involve Max [Moriyama] and Athena [Witosky]’s artwork in an impactful way, and if possible, some of the Wreche film Zack Kasten is creating for the project.” 

Unlike the majority of new black metal releases, where the listener can easily pinpoint key influences, Wreche have a sound that is completely unfamiliar in the metal genre, are your musical influences mainly from the black metal world or beyond?

I love black metal and the greater genre of metal, but my background and taste started with Pink Floyd as a teen. I delved heavily into classical and jazz too—which I think set me up nicely for metal. I would say apart from Pink Floyd, huge influences on me musically are Hella, Ethan Iverson of the Bad Plus, Jackie Mclean, Thelonious Monk, Eric Dolphy, Chopin, Shostokovich, Beethoven, Scriabin, and Rachmaninov. Recently in metal, we both look to Ulcerate and Krallice. Lately, I’ve really been enjoying Ultha’s Pain Cleanses Every Doubt and this CD I have in my van of Sviatoslav Richter playing Scriabin Etudes and Poemes. Richter is the master.” 

Do you see Wreche as a band with a specific overarching concept/philosophy, or can it tackle any direction/theme you have in mind at any given time?

I think Wreche is, by design, an open platform. It isn’t based on a particular philosophy, just a reflection of the human condition filtered through our perception. Black metal is a great starting platform, as I’ve said, but I can see a lot of potential with these two instruments, the potential even for evolution outside of the genre. The focus will always be on writing the best possible music—to push our limitations, with all other styles and textures as tools.”

Many thanks to John for the interview! Check out Wreche on Facebook

Wreche photo by Nestor Guevara

Difficult, But Fascinating: The Gail Carriger interview

Preamble to the Preamble…


Following the success of steampunk icon Gail Carriger’s recent novella, Poison or Protect the new novel in her Custard Protocol series, Imprudence is out now and Gail was kind enough to answer some questions for me. If you are already a fan, you may wish to skip all the waffle and go straight to the Q&A below. If you want to know why I wanted to interview her in the first place, read on.

The preamble proper; whys & wherefores…

Up until the 1990s, I would always have said I liked vampires, werewolves and ghost stories. But although my love of horror, science fiction and fantasy has never diminished, the post-Anne Rice* world, with its endless teen soap opera-style angst-ridden ‘nice’ vampires and increasingly formulaic genre conventions left me cold and I tended more and more to re-read favourite authors from the past (or, in the case of HP Lovecraft, read the works of his associates) rather than pick up anything new. That was until I first read Gail Carriger’s debut novel Soulless a few years ago. Sadly, I don’t remember where I first heard about it (online, I assume), but from a quick read of the first few pages, I was hooked, and welcomed vampires, werewolves and ghosts back into my life.

*No slight  whatsoever intended towards Anne Rice herself, or her excellent novels; as well as an incredible storyteller, she revolutionised the horror genre at a time when all of its other revolutions seemed to be towards a more one-dimensional, graphically violent approach. Not that I mind that in itself.

PrintSoulless wasn’t Dawson’s Creek with vampires; the supernatural characters were, as with most modern/post-modern fiction, given a similar complexity to their human counterparts, but Carriger goes further, weaving the supernatural/natural worlds together in an ingenious yet extremely logical and historically-informed way. Part of what makes this so successful is that she placed her characters in a parallel version of the Victorian era, creating a society where vampires and werewolves, without sacrificing their predatory nature, exist alongside their mortal contemporaries as yet more finely nuanced layers in the already-complicated social hierarchy of Victorian Britain. If the Victorian era represents the height of the British preoccupation with social class and proper manners, these become even more crucial in Carriger’s world, where the correct way to interact with social superiors/inferiors includes people, possibly on both sides, whose politeness is the only thing preventing them from drinking your blood/eating you.

The author’s masterstroke (Or ‘mistressstroke’? Should be right but has inappropriate connotations and too many ‘s’s, so masterstroke it is) was placing into this brilliantly realised world, one of her greatest creations to date, Alexia Tarabotti; intelligent, wilful, tough, of fairly-good-but-slightly-shaky social standing (aristocratic, but a spinster, and more interested in science than fashion) and born without a soul, the contrast between Alexia’s dramatic, fantastical and romantic adventures and her own prosaic, practical-yet-impulsive nature makes Soulless (and its sequels) as lightheartedly funny as they are action-packed and dark.

With The Parasol Protectorate series and the ‘young adult’ Finishing School series complete and her latest series The Custard Protocol well underway (volume two, Imprudence is published this summer, on July 19th) as well as a stream of short stories and novellas, Gail is intimidatingly busy (not to say prolific), but nevertheless gave up some of her valuable time to answer a few questions.


Far more information can be found on her excellent website, and she is also especially fun to follow/engage with on Facebook and Twitter. But enough ado…


lovely portrait of Gail by Vanessa Applegate

 The Interview…

With your website, blog and personal appearances, your fans have quite a lot of access to various facets of your personality, but to what extent is the public Gail Carriger something you create versus (or as well as) being ‘the real you’, if that’s a question you can answer?

 There’s not a lot of difference between the two, it’s more a matter of what I focus on talking about publicly. Because I am so open and all over the internet, I tend to keep my relationships, close friendships, and family out of it. After all, they didn’t ask for that kind of exposure. I don’t talk about politics, and I rarely talk about the nitty-gritty of writing or offer writing advice, there are others out there who do this more eloquently than I ever could. I also don’t talk much about the mundane of everyday life: my policy is that if I don’t want to read about it, why would anyone else?

 As the last question suggests, your fiction is part of a wider world/lifestyle that your readers get involved into varying degrees, but do you have interests that you wouldn’t consider incorporating into your fiction?

I don’t think so. It would be hard to keep the things I love out of my writing for all time. There are things that haven’t come up yet, but I wouldn’t rule them out.

GailCarrigerSteampunk_JDanielSawyer Gail in Steampunk regalia, by J. Daniel Sawyer

You (fairly) recently announced you will be self-publishing alongside publishing the usual way, should fans expect a big (or any) difference between the two?

Well my self published stuff will be confined to novellas and short stories under 40000 words. So that’s a big difference. I suppose it might feel a little more unfettered. I’m not limiting myself to anything typical about any genre that I’ve worked in before. I figure all bets are off. I’m taking on anything I feel like from full on romance, to light BDSM, to LBGT relationships front and center, to class relations, to darker themes with less comedy. It’s still all me though, that oddball bend toward silliness that people expect will likely never go away.

Victorian writers like Dickens and Trollope often wrote their novels in monthly installments, which seems a very high-pressure way of writing but lends itself to a great deal of detail and fast-moving action, does that kind of writing have any appeal for you?

 Yes, but I don’t think I could do it given my current travel schedule and traditional publishing commitments. I always fancied writing Alessandro as a serial. Another big problem is all the contract workers. That kind of process needs a dedicated available team of developmental editors, and copy editors, and proofers, and formaters. Not to mention a killer outline for all the installments up front. (Because you can’t go back and fix and error at the beginning if already published.)

A related question, writers in the Victorian era often became associated with particular illustrators (like Dickens and ‘Phiz’) but at some point the idea of illustrations in grown up (I would say ‘adult’, but the connotations!) fiction went out of fashion, do you think the cover artists for your books have shaped readers’ ideas of your characters in the same way that those Victorian illustrators did for the writers of that era?

 Perhaps a little. Cover art is important, but more to encourage people to pick up the book than to give them a visual clue into the author’s imagination. Most of the time we aren’t even consulted, so it’s entirely marketing. (Not true for me, luckily.) I doubt that cover art has as much impact on imagination as illustrations did.

In some ways the ‘virtualisation’ (ugly made up word!) of books/growth of digital formats (and online retailers) means that fewer readers pay the full cover price for a book, but conversely means that some people will pay more for small/special editions (like the Subterranean edition of Soulless that I still need to buy). As someone who grew up in the papery book era (I’m a couple of years older than you and assuming – perhaps wrongly – that you were not a technologically precocious child who only read books via a Commodore 64 from floppy discs) what are your thoughts on all this for the present and future of literature – good, bad, or just different?

I’m one for different. I like the changes going on right now. And I am lucky enough to have options because people want to read my stuff. A whole cornucopia is open to me which, twenty years ago, wouldn’t have been possible. I can write novels for my publishing house, write short works with side characters and self publish those, and I can arrange side deals with boutique publishers, like Subterranean, for high end limited editions. I don’t like it when my work is pirated or stolen, but every new technology has a price of admission and there is not going back now.

Your books have so far mostly been in series’, but at what point in the writing/planning process do you know that a novel will be part of a larger structure?

Depends on the novel. I didn’t know Soulless would be a series until contract negotiations and I didn’t know how long that series until half way through the third book. I’m not sure how long the Custard Protocol will be but I’m writing it as couplets so each two stand alone but also tie in to the others (likely 4 or 6 total). The Finishing School, on the other hand, was always going to be four books, and I had the arc planned from the beginning.

All the novellas are entirely stand alone, although they seed to each other and my full length works, because I can’t help dropping cookies and scattering favorite characters through everything I write. Depending on how well they sell (read: worth my time to produce) the novellas are loosely gathered into three collections all of them steampunk comedies of manners.

The Delightfully Deadly novellas are espionage romances spun off my Finishing School series, and could go up to 7 stories. Poison or Protect is already written and in production, and the other 6 just in note form. I’m using my Supernatural Society novellas to tell LBGT romances. I have 2 planned, one written, and some possible shorts. And the Claw & Courtship novellas all feature werewolves. I have 2 mapped out with a possible third and a short story. Basically, I’m using the novellas to write whatever I want when I feel like writing it, so I am leaving my options wide open.

Your novels would (or, thinking about novel-to-movie adaptations could) make good movies, would that be something you would welcome?

I think it would be very exciting, but I’m also realistic about the chances that anything would ever happen. The Parasol Protectorate books have been optioned for television, but that is all so far.

 What are you most excited about right now?

 Going hybrid and bring out the first novella, editing the second one, and writing the third. I’m super absorbed by cover art, fonts, and everything that goes along with the packaging of a book. I’ve never done it before and it’s really fascinating. Difficult,but fascinating.

 Do you have any plans to come to the UK in the foreseeable future?

 Nope. Like a vampire I only go where invited and I haven’t been asked in a while. I’d love to come back, I always enjoy visiting but I usually need some kind of event to draw me over. If I could afford it, I’d come every few years, I miss it there.


another great Vanessa Applegate photograph

Need more Carriger in your life? There’s a wealth of excellent information on all things Gail on her wiki and her fun vintage fashion (and related stuff) blog is here

No hierarchy In the world of sounds: Kib Elektra interview

abzSinger and multi-instrumentalist Abi Bailey has an impressive list of credits to her name; as a session musician she has worked with Emilíana Torrini, Sylver Tongue, Brian Eno & Karl Hyde, among many others, but her work as a solo artist is even more impressive. Her debut EP, Blemishes, released under the name Kib Elektra and available as a limited edition cassette here through Bezirk Tapes, is a strange and beautiful collection of beguiling and intricately detailed glitch-pop songs and Abi was kind enough to take the time to talk about it, and various other things, so without further ado….

Although Blemishes is your first solo release, you have a lot of experience as a musician, do you feel very at home in the studio?

Hello Will, thank you for having me!

Yes I do feel at home in the studio, I like my own company and will happily spend hours on end working on ideas. The technical side of working as a producer is something I’ve had to brush up on a bit as I hadn’t really written seriously for quite a number of years. I’ve been enjoying experimenting with the new technology available to me

Where did the name Kib Elektra come from? Is there a difference between ‘Kib Elektra’ and ‘Abi Bailey’?

When Blemishes was being mastered I sat behind Sam [Norland], my master engineer in the studio and had the joy of brainstorming an alias for the project. It took ages but eventually I settled on Kib Elektra. Kib is a nickname of mine from childhood and Elektra is a girl’s name I like, it’s got a nice ring to it; and so I went with that – nothing profound I’m afraid! As for any difference between KE and AB.. none really – Kib Elektra is a part of me.


A striking aspect of Blemishes is the balance between electronic sounds and the more organic/human elements, but it’s not an obvious contrast; sometimes you have ‘perfect’ electronics and ‘imperfect’ vocals and in other places a quite angelic, pure vocal with a very glitchy bit of electronica, but do you differentiate between organic/synthetic/found elements or is the process different with each song? (what a question! Sorry, I hope you get what I mean :/ )

I’ve definitely been exploring the voice itself, as well as the ways in which to manipulate the voice though this record. Initially I treated it as an instrument like any other, and then on other tracks the voice revealed itself as more of a feature. As for the contrast, well it makes musical sense to me to have rough with smooth for certain tunes. Not much of what I’m saying is something I’ve necessarily consciously thought about when writing music.. often it just comes out the way it does instinctively and through experimentation.

On songs like Blemishes itself, the very detailed texture of the music gives it an extremely intimate feeling, would you say the sound/texture of a song is as important to you as the melody/songwriting aspect?

Absolutely, I don’t really see any hierarchy in the world of sounds, though sometimes the rhythm will take a turn to shine, or the melody, or the bass line. Even the silence and space or indeed lack of space can become a feature… One building brick is as important as another. This applies to the song and the sound world too. With the track ‘Blemishes’, Sam helped me to sculpt the sounds more as there was more space in which to do so. He honed the sounds to bring out the detail and texture with tonal colour.

Listeners (especially music journalists) tend to focus on the lyrics as containing the meaning of a song, but presumably the music is just as, or even more important in connecting with people, how much of your meaning is in the music, if that’s a question you can answer!

Indeed, as I said before all elements are integral to the piece as a whole. The music itself carries a lot of the emotion for me… sometimes the sparser the lyrics, the more meaning a listener can draw from a piece. Basically, the answer is probably quite a lot!

More straightforwardly, does your music inspire your lyrics or vice versa?

This always changes… Sometimes something will come to me like in the song ‘Blemishes’, which presented itself as a stripped down bass riff, leading to the lyrics ‘if you strip yourself down’.. Other times I will have something I intentionally want to write about, and the lyrical theme itself will inspire what comes musically.

In your work as a session player you have played lots of different kinds of music, does any one genre or type of music inspire you in particular?

So through sessioning I’ve had the opportunity to play a mixture of rock, pop, electronic, Latin, and African styles of course I’ve drawn inspiration.. I think it’s pretty much impossible not to be influenced in some way or another by the sounds surrounding you. I am definitely inspired by the heavy sound I’ve heard and played in stuff like rumba, post-rock, soukous and maracatu.. I do like my music to have a lot of bottom end and heaviness in general, and this is something I’ve always been drawn to and have felt connected with.

A related question, do you think the kind of glitch/pop showcased on Blemishes will be the Kib Elektra sound, or do you see KE as a name for whatever musical inspiration you happen to be following as an artist?

I reckon the Kib Elektra sound will probably stay in this realm.. I do write in other styles and plan to complete a collection of kuduro tracks at some point. I think this would have to be under another alias for sure though as kuduro and glitch pop are very very different!

You have worked with lots of musicians and singers, who if anyone would you say you have learned the most from?

I think I’ve learned bits and pieces from everyone. Emilíana Torrini taught me tonnes about the voice through osmosis really – she’s got lungs of steel! Midnight Davis taught me how to kick myself up the arse and get something finished as well as how  minimal a lyrical idea can be.. The list could go on and on..

How did Blemishes come to be the first release on the Bezirk label, did you have any previous history with Daryl Worthington & Tristan Bath?

Well Tristan somehow found my demos on soundcloud and tweeted the link.. The connection was made there and then – wehay for the internet!

How big a part do your surroundings play in your songwriting?

Massively. I write in my home studio, which is in my kitchen/living room. It’s in a converted attic and has amazing treetop and garden views, I’m really lucky. There were some fantastic electric storms during the recording of the EP and I found it super special and energising recording with nature just there. I try to go out every day to my local fields, they are also pretty special and always seem to recharge and inspire me.


In theory the internet makes it much easier for artists to connect with the public, but it also makes it easier to give something a cursory listen and move on, do you find having an actual physical release makes it easier to connect with people than simply having songs online?

I must say it is novel for me to have a physical product – the internet is handy for sure and the EP probably wouldn’t be out if it weren’t for social networking. I do feel the attention span of people in general these days is shorter than when I was young, so yeah probably the physical product helps with this. A lot of people still like physical formats I believe. I like the fact it’s a bit more effort to listen to a physical release. If the listener makes the effort to physically put the tape or CD into a machine to play it out loud, then to me it feels like that person is more inclined to actually actively listen to it. I don’t really know if this is making the connection easier or more difficult… Perhaps it could be described as a deeper connection than with the digital.

Related to the last question; the idea of albums/single/EPs etc is almost an anachronism nowadays, do you think in terms of groups of songs rather than just songs?

I probably do group songs together… I seem to have spurts of writing tunes which would work together…It is still really early days to say what my normal pattern is though as I’ve only completed the whole process once!

A generic kind of question; who or what would you say are the biggest influences on your music?

I’d say probably at the moment nature and loss

Is it easy to find time for songwriting, or is it something you just do, whatever else is going on?

Yes writing is part of my weekly schedule. If it gets neglected I can go a bit doolally.

What does the rest of 2016 hold in store for you music-wise?

Mainly more writing, a few sessions here and there. There are plans to work on some vocals for electronica duo Neuschul as well. I’m potentially already in the process of writing another Kib Elektra EP at the moment as I’ve got a few tracks in progress..  this might progress into an album, depending on how the workflow goes. I’ll see where it takes me!

Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions!

Thanks so much for having me and for the great questions – it’s been a pleasure!

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An Illuminated Eccentric; the art of Christophe Szpajdel


What do black/death metal band Book of Belial and Kim Kardashian have in common? Aside from a desire to spread evil and darkness, the answer is that both have had their names immortalised by the iconic logo designer Christophe Szpajdel. Although inextricably linked to the extreme metal underground by his classic works for a vast array of bands, Szpajdel is first and foremost a great artist and designer and his work now has an audience far beyond the metal subculture to which he still undeniably belongs.


Szpajdel has been drawing bespoke logos since 1987, his big break coming in the early 90s with the classic and hugely influential logo for Norwegian black metal legends Emperor. Since then his work has helped to define the aesthetic style of underground metal, but also become well-known in its own right, being featured in exhibitions and books, including his own volume, Lord of the Logos.

 It’s typical of the UK that, despite being based in Exeter (and having been a UK resident for the past fifteen years), Szpajdel’s work receives far greater acclaim and coverage elsewhere in the world; a real shame, and a situation which will hopefully be remedied as his reputation continues to expand both within and outside of the metal realm.

In conversation, Christophe is funny and informative and has a passion for drawing and, especially, logo design (his own and that of others) which shines through everything he says. It’s worth pointing out too, that in a time when useable graphics have arguably never been easier to come by, he remains committed to the art of imaginative, hand-drawn, pencil and ink images; unique works which have the feel that only comes from manual labour and contemplation.


Anyway, enough introduction; here’s the man himself – What are you looking forward to in 2016?

CS: This year I have lined up a few exhibitions, I have a possible show in Manchester for March-April at the Gallery Grim and another possibly in London. But I have had quite a long list of exhibitions in the past, so what is more exciting to look forward to is in June, when I have my first proper workshop, which is going to happen in Vancouver, Canada. That workshop is going to be together with [photographer] Peter Beste. This is something really to look forward to. I had a talk earlier today about an exhibition in Romania, in the Carpathian mountains. Last year I had a very successful last-minute impromptu exhibition in Japan. I’m actually looking forward to having a much bigger exhibition there, because that last exhibition became something of a timebomb. It filled the venue, they literally squeezed in, and I had three hours of non-stop autographs. All these Japanese people were taking selfies with me, which is something I have never seen like this before. In the UK, selfies are a big habit; in Japan, selfies are an absolute obsession.  It’s the same with queuing. Here in the UK, everyone is used to queuing, the Japanese have turned queuing into an art form. So last year was a giant leap in my artistic career.”

As mentioned in my intro, Christophe’s name is known worldwide in metal circles, but although his love for and knowledge of metal music is obvious, his real passion is for designing logos, not simply recycling past glories.bruno

CS: Yes, there is always metal, but this year I have made a new experience, I have done some pop culture logos. I drew for Calvin Harris and Bruno Mars, and Kim Kardashian, and Katie Price, Wayne Rooney (laughs).  Also Maverick Sabre –  you know; really popular artists, because I have the will to have my work exposed to a calvharmuch bigger public. And at the moment I’ve been thinking about, just for fun, working on a Beyoncé logo, because she is so much talked about.  So there’s this whole series of pop culture logos, I did EastEnders, Coronation Street, Emmerdale, Shortland Street. So I had some real fun exploring the mainstream. But the metal public is always the most receptive to my work. It’s my public, it’s the one who collects my work. A lot of people who see my work who haven’t been acquainted with the metal scene say that it’s not something they would be going for. Or that it’s nice but it’s grim.


There was a time when the extreme metal underground was essentially a DIY business at all levels, but its growth, aided by that of the internet over the last two decades has taken your local extreme band from demos, fanzines and tape trading, to small indie labels, to world tours and ‘Norwegian Grammys’, with the concomitant rise of the oxymoron that is ‘big’ underground bands. No genre demonstrates this better than black metal; and it should be noted that the high profile black metal image that has evolved is in part due to the instantly recognisable work of Christophe Szpajdel himself. Classic 90s logos like his ones for Emperor and Moonspell set a style which is still widely imitated 30 years on.


As the world has changed, Szpajdel has changed with it, but although he puts in full-time hours designing logos, he still doesn’t rely on his art for his income, which means his work is, by the standard of graphic designers with his profile and pedigree, almost ludicrously inexpensive.


CS: “The cost varies, but really I am aiming for a fee of one hundred US dollars. Anybody who contacts me first must be prepared to pay my fee. This year I am also looking to introduce an hourly rate. I discussed this with some artists in Devon who saw my work, and they told me ‘you really need to concentrate on a contract. Send the client a contract that stipulates that there is $100 initial fee for the first draft; but the first draft includes a finalised logo. If they then want further drafts then you absolutely need to introduce an hourly rate.’ So I am working out those details soon.

old graves landscape

Bands who contact me now for a logo for free, I say ‘if you want a logo then I want to see the 50% deposit. And when I see the deposit in my PayPal account I will then start working on the logos. If I don’t have the deposit then I’m not going to make a move.’

So is the logo done just for fun, or out of enthusiasm for the subject now a thing of the past?

CS: No, because times like now [January], when it’s been quite quiet over the festive period so, I sometimes just dish out a logo to someone, to people who support my work, just to experiment and to exercise my freedom. There’s a woman called Natalie Corless who has posted a lot on my Facebook wall that she likes my logos so I did her an impromptu logo and she loved it. And so she posted and promoted my album on her timeline and she got me some clients! And this was a person who randomly added me on Facebook. And at the end of the day, she liked my work and she got me five clients, who paid $100 each. So these kind of random people who add me on facebook, they’re not as random as you might think.

Do you forsee a time when you will live from just doing your artwork?

CS: Well, I would love to. But since I’ve started charging professionally, I have observed a steep drop of the amount of clients who commission a logo from me. There are lots of other artists, for example Chris Horst, or Gragoth from Luciferium War Graphics. They offer packages. Chris Horst for example specialises in logos, but for $50 he does logos that include drafts, revisions, work on the computer, digitised, vectorised, coloured, all that; for just $50. Gragoth from Luciferium War Graphics, he is offering for $300, a complete package. Like it has album covers, banners, ad banners, website, myspace layouts, reverb nation layouts, logo, all inclusive for $300. And he is having a lot of success.

maries copy

But my work’s selling point is it is unique; it is absolutely handmade. I work in collaboration with some graphic designers to digitise my logos. Because now that I charge $100, my clients expect work exactly, precisely, rigorously, to their expectations. They expect the logo to be vectorised, digitised, they expect it in different formats; .PNG, .AI, Vector file, .RAR, .PDF, .GIF files, all the different formats.”


One would think that, as Christophe is now (and has been since the 90s) a well-known name, that bands would request a logo in his trademark style (or one of them), but surprisingly this isn’t always the case…

CS: When I used to do logos in my own style they all got rejected. Now I listen to what the clients want. When they pay the deposit I would like the band to discuss exactly what they are looking for. And actually I want them to send me examples by other artists and not mine, so I can avoid repeating myself. I’m also in very close contact and have been doing quite a lot of collaborative works with a guy called Raoul Mazzero from Italy. He is an absolute genius. He actually helped me how to create outstanding logos, and how to solve the symmetry problems. He’s been a huge help, and we’re looking at a possible Italian show too.”

Is symmetry something you aim for in general?

CS: I actually have an automatic impulse to create symmetrical logos, but I have also done quite a lot of asymmetrical logos. But symmetrical logos are just natural to me. I find a symmetrical logo to be more outstanding, and to be more balanced.


So what is a good logo to you?

CS: I think the readability of a logo is essential. A logo has to be readable, even in a small format. And I try to convince my clients and my customers that a logo needs to be readable. Not to be overly decorated, especially if it is going to be displayed very small on a poster or on the corner of a CD. On most of the logos I produce I am aiming for readability. And if the client wants a completely unreadable logo I am simply saying ‘why don’t we opt for several designs? Why don’t we think about doing a logo which is made of letters only, which is readable and then a more limited logo for t-shirts that can go more unreadable?'”


Do you have any interest in doing cover designs etc as well as the logos?

CS: No.  I’ve tried to do it and it doesn’t really come well. I found out that doing album covers is not my speciality. However, I did work last year on a mural in Exeter. This is something I wanted to experience. I love working outside, especially in the summer months. In the winter, I essentially work in my studio. But in the summer I’m working a lot outside.


The mural is a rare Christophe Szpajdel work, not only because of the scale, but the use of colour.


CS: “In my logos I do everything in black and white.  However, there are a few exceptions. For the 2014 Remembrance Day I did a logo with red poppies on it. [since this interview took place, Christophe also designed the beautiful memorial logo for David Bowie below also) Sometimes I like to share my thoughts through an artwork, like a logo. I find that logos come to me a lot better, it’s my vocation as an artist. I find that I prefer to put my hand into one pot, rather than to try to put my hand into a lot of pots.”


Although Christophe is known for his black and death metal logos, it would be a mistake to regard these as being in one single style; beginning in the 90s with the bold, spiky logos such as the classic designs for Emperor et al, but he also pioneered the naturalistic, organic, ‘spreading roots’ style logos now extremely widespread in the genre (I have chosen his logo for Grim as both a perfect example and a personal favourite) and latterly has turned to increasingly bold, primitive designs.


He has also experimented with various alphabets and styles, a favourite of mine being his masterful and atmospheric Art Nouveau and Art Deco inspired designs.


decos copy

CS: “I like to do Art Nouveau logos, Art Nouveau logos give fantastic ways for using the space, using space between the letters, rather than pure black metal old school logos, which generally look crumpled. And I think that these usual kinds of logos actually reduce the chance for a band to become well known. Sometimes it’s an ultra-radical kind of orthodox black metal band who wants only to release ten copies of their demo or something, but unfortunately I prefer a logo to be standing out, to be readable. It has to be readable at first sight, but at the same time it has to be outstanding. it has to be kick-ass and memorable, not just a bunch of letters put together, but a logo.

Is creating a simple logo easier or more difficult than complicated one?

CS: “When it’s a complicated and sophisticated logo I mostly get it right the first time. If it’s a simple logo, that is where the client will challenge me. Because in a simple logo, that’s when any imperfection will be seen. And the client will be the first to see it. And this is what I really love; logos to be incredibly easy to recognise straight ahead. [note; the logos Christophe lists here are not his own designs] Think about Gojira; I love that logo. It’s simple, it’s clear, and even if you see it very small, you recognise straight away; that is Gojira and no other band. Think about a band like Tool. They have a perfect logo because it stands out, it’s unique, and it’s appropriate. Or logos like Anthrax; it’s modern, it’s thrash, it’s simple, it’s distinctive, it’s unique. Same, think about the logo of Helloween; or the logo of Malice. Think about Bathory!”

Or indeed Emperor…

CS: “You see, when I did Emperor, they had a sort of logo they used with upside down crosses, and it was too black metal, I thought they needed something simple, and imperious. And I got it right first time. You know, you throw your first dart and you get it right in the centre of the target. Bam! Like that. It’s a logo which is at the same time simple, distinctive, useable in any size, which works in any size and format.”

And of course you now have your own logo…

CS: “Yes, I have the Lord of the Logos, which is my trademark, which is my book.”

lord logo book

It’s a beautiful book, have you plans for more?

CS: “Well, Lord of the Logos, is still available, it’s still sellng. I’m looking to release a second volume, which has a working  title of Ancient Modernism later this year. The title comes from a whole concept I’ve developed . The concept in tundo creationhe new logos is a real travel through time and dimension. So there is a timeline, beginning with really primitive logos I have created. A band called Gau, which means ‘night’ in Basque, this logo is very prehistoric, almost as if it was drawn by dinosaurs. With these very prehistoric plants around, no crows, no wolves. Very prehistoric, almost reptilian, taken from a time there was no mammals, no birds, there were just reptiles and primitive insects; trilobites, and ammonites. And in fact I live in Exeter, by the Jurassic coast, so you can send yourself spinning on a time travel of 200 millions years. So we go from these very simplistic logos, like Undo Creation from Georgia, up to the most sophisticated logos; art deco, or futuristic logos, like I did for Outsider Industries. Or Haunted, an Italian project.


It seems like, although drawing logos still isn’t your ‘day job’, it’s definitely your main focus…

C.S: “I’m trying to keep myself at the age of 45, forever doing logos. The main reason is being single; all the time being single, so I can concentrate 100% on my logos because this is what gives me happiness. I have never been married, never had children; my first child is that book, Lord of the Logos. And that child is growing all the time, it has been in many hands, and it’s being appreciated by people who have never been listening to metal. Lord of the Logos is really only focussing on what inspires me; it’s photographs and logos. And there are some medieval aspects, but mostly it’s nature. All the photos have been taken by myself, and the logos are all my own work and it reflects the places that have inspired me. It includes many parts of Devon, Dartmoor, Southampton, Oregon, California, south of France, Belgium. Quite a lot of places that I have visited. And last year there was also the release of the compendium, Logos from Hell by Mark Riddick, and I’ve got something like 200 of my works in there; no other artist had 200 logos collected in one compendium book. The book is very heavy.


Collecting works into books creates a great  reference work for graphic artists, but does it inspire you to look back at your old stuff?

CS: “I have been at the moment making a complete retrospective and over the next while… I have been looking to post on Facebook for the first time logos that I did from 1992 to 1999. So a real retrospective that includes some logos like a band called Eternity of Darkness that I did in 1992, something like that; that was a UK band. And Stone Circle. We’re talking about very, very old stuff from the 90s…

What were the logos that first got your attention? In the 70s there were some classics like Kiss…

Yeah; the original [Paul Stanley designed] Kiss logo with the SS style lettering; it’s just exactly the kind of logo that got me as a kid. I started listening to Kiss in 1977. I also loved bands like The Cure. I remember going to see them when I was 12 and it was like going to enter a completely forbidden country. When I went in ’82 it was all the ‘post-punks’ but when I saw them again in ’87, that was the time of all the Goths. There were just loads of Goths; the people you just couldn’t see in the daytime. You just couldn’t see these people outside of some special place like Camden. In Camden you could see all these illuminated people with a vivid imagination; and I am one of them, I definitely consider myself as an illuminated eccentric with a vivid imagination.

 At this point do you have any idea how many logos you’ve done?

It would be easily a good ten thousand. And there are quite a lot of logos that I unfortunately parted with the originals. Because in many cases I’d be drawing on the go and just hand the drawings over to the client. Like a band from Italy called Deathraid, who were a little bit in the vein of the oh-so-legendary Necrodeath…

…brief interlude as we discuss Necrodeath’s Into the Macabre and Christophe reveals that, however wide his tastes and artistic ambitions, his roots are most definitely in the underground metal scene of his youth:

CS: “Into the Macabre very memorable, it’s very simplistic, its raw. It’s got that vibe. The songs are just basically keeping you on your toes. It’s a great blend of thrash, speed metal with that slight black metal edge, but at the same time it’s very insane, it’s very haunting. It’s the kind of album if you hear it once you will remember it for the rest of your life.”

Well, it was recorded before all the genre boundaries were really established…

CS: “Yes, it was just straight from hell metal. And that was what I adored.”

Last year, Christophe’s iconic Emperor logo became, for the first time, a source of something other than pride, when it became the basis for some joke Christmas jumper designs posted online by the Foo Fighters; which still rankles, evidently…

CS: That drove me absolutely ballistic. And I could have sued them, but I had a much nicer idea. I came up with a Foo Fighters logo designed by myself, which has a black metal vibe, but with the FF of Foo Fighters and elements of the Foo Fighters logo but had a black metal, but still readable, Emperor-esque inspiration, without being a barbaric cut-paste like this pathetic Foo Fighters Emperor-esque logo which had been done on a computer.


A lot of people brought it to my attention and there was much going on on my Facebook wall that I finally said I’m gonna ram it down and post the logo. This is how the Foo Fighters logo should be! Woe to the guy who ripped off my Emperor logo and made a right pig’s ear out of it! Of course I had some people who told me I should be honoured. Well! Honoured of having my art being disfigured, desecrated, stolen and mistreated like that? Bollocks. If they really wanted to have an Emperor tribute logo they would have contacted me! They wouldn’t have contacted a lousy, so-called graphic designer, who made this terrible pig’s ear out of it, and on this awful, terrible, shameful Christmas jumper!

So what is  the legal situation with the Emperor logo? Do you have any rights or does the band just own it?

I still have the right to exhibit. I had a massive exhibition; last year started great. I had the Marks of Metal exhibition in Odense in Denmark. There was an encounter between me, who did the Emperor logo and Kristian Wåhlin, Necrolord, who did the Emperor album cover. We actually brought the actual works, and we were there with the works together, making the same kind of statements. We both did these works when we were just Emperor fans, when we were young. I was exactly twenty when I did the Emperor logos, I was still doing my studies and I did it as kind of a hobby. When I did that logo in January 1991, during my first year winter exams, I would never imagine that Emperor would become so big. It wasn’t until 1994 and In the Nightside Eclipse that my name became big. That was when my name spread in the underground and became known among the metallers.


How do you feel about that logo now? Do you still like it?

Yes, I love it still. It’s become one of the timeless classics. Think about Motorhead, think about  Iron Maiden, think about Abba! Tom Jones, he’s still going on. The Foundations; Build Me Up Buttercup. These are artists and songs I loved and still love. Think of Elvis Presley; these are timeless classics and the Emperor logo is one of those classics. And it’s one of the few logos that is still unaltered after 30 years. And when people meet me they say ‘you’re the Emperor logo guy!’ Of course there lots of  other bands from the 90s whose logos I did; but Emperor is the one that stands out.

Do you feel your focus as an artist has changed much since 1991?

CS: “Well, in the 90s I wouldn’t say that I wanted only true black metal exclusively, but there was no way on earth that I would have been doing the logos for Kim Kardashian and people like that… I do wonder where those will take me…




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Contact: christophe.szpajdel@gmail.com


Independence as a State of Mind: the Bosque Records story (1988-2001)

Bosque Logo

Romantic intro

Records (even really bad ones) are mostly just what the word suggests: a unique record of a specific performance, made on a particular day or days, by people in a particular room or rooms, who were in whatever mood they happened to be in at the time.

Record labels are, at their best, a time capsule of an era (or, if they go on long enough, time capsules of eras; see for example the lavish Rise and Fall of Paramount Records box sets), bringing together and preserving these voices and sounds and making them accessible for as long as the technology exists to play them.


Naturally, the more focussed or niche (or just small) a label is, the stronger the time capsule quality is; which brings us to Bosque Records. Although the big names of the 90s Scottish indie scene (Primal Scream, Belle & Sebastian, Teenage Fanclub, Travis, Shamen etc etc etc etc) are well remembered by posterity (or else are actually still around), they were simply the most visible/commercial/successful elements of an extremely vibrant and wide-ranging scene, which had its roots in the punk era and evolved throughout the subsequent decades in a variety of unpredictable and sometimes whimsical ways.

At the less commercial end of the spectrum was Tom Worthington’s Bosque Records, initially based in Edinburgh (rarely noted for its music scene) and then Glasgow (always noted for its music scene). In the period 1988-2001 Bosque released a handful (twenty-something) of distinctive, often powerful releases by artists as diverse and idiosyncratic as Dominic Waxing Lyrical, Gilded Lil, Starstruck and Trout. A small output perhaps; but it fulfils the ideal that (presumably) all labels start out with; you can pick up a Bosque release, be it punky, experimental, bluesy, dancey, with the confidence that you will hear something different, something interesting, something unique. And that is a real achievement.


In some ways, Bosque was documenting the end of an era; changes in the music industry, along with (and partially caused by) the birth/growth of the internet and the (temporary, as it turned out) death of vinyl records meant that the indie scene of the early 21st century would be less local and often less experimental, thanks to the appearance in the mid-90s of ‘indie’ as a term denoting a specific style/genre of (mainly guitar-based) music.

The original meaning of indie was in fact exemplified by small labels like Bosque; truly independent, devoted to whatever music their owners wanted to release, regardless of style and fashion or commercial potential. Indie releases from the 80s and 90s have their own special charm; like the music itself, the hand-drawn logos, the artwork and design have a resolutely non-corporate appeal, an expression of freedom and the non-elitist sense that art isn’t something precious or pompous, and that it has everything to do with your life.

Tom was good enough to share his reminiscences (and pictures; please see his Flickr albums for proper photo credits) with us;

When and why did you decide to start a label?

benefit“I was in a band in Edinburgh, named Hee Haw and we had recordings that we wanted to release. In 1988 we first put out an 8 track cassette ‘Splash your head’ that sold quite a few (200?) so logically we thought that we would next do a vinyl record which was the 5 track 12” ‘WrigglEP’ in 1989 (bosc 006). Of course we should have done a 7” or 2 x 7”s but we had ‘label support’ from Fast Forward who persuaded us that the 7” was wrong for us and the ‘market’. And we were impressionable so that is what we did. It was alright, Peel played it and we sold a few, gigging as much as we could.”

Where did the name Bosque come from?

“Bosque (my spelling) is/was a word in common parlance in Forres, Moray, the town where I grew up. It means, roughly, excellent or sound, as in mighty. There was a Bosque cassette compilation in 1994 that featured The Manxish Boys, Pink Kross, Starstruck, Gila Monster, Policecat etc. This was called ‘Humpy Bosque’ (bosc008c) which suggests that it is an incredibly wonderful thing – which it kind of was. The name was of course awkward and annoying, always requiring to be spelled out to people, B O S Q U E.”


What were your biggest influences when you started the label?

“Punk rock. Vanity self publishing. Desire to document. Validation. Independence.”

What is your favourite record label, if you have such a thing?

“I shall plump for Shimmy Disc. But also early Flying Nun. Ankst Records too – I so admired their thing and was always actively seeking a decent band that communicated in Gaelic. But to my knowledge no such band has ever existed.”

Was there a specific guiding principle/vision behind Bosque records?

“Initially no, not really, it was a collective necessity and a shared responsibility. But after the Hee Haw releases it became me and Mark Gibbons, and that’s where it got freaky, and free. We were so in love with music, our own and that being made all around us. We were passionately involved, music and art and poetry was all that mattered. We knew that we had to take complete control and somehow, that is what we did. After Mark & I moved through to Glasgow in 1995 he started to have more fun. He joined and recorded several other bands and became less and less involved in Bosque. It was mostly me then, in a cheap white suit, a bit stoned.”


You were involved in the Bosque Burlesque events as well as the records, was there a spirit of camaraderie between the label/bands/fans?

“Well yes there was. I mean not always, because we were purposely juxtaposing things and boscvertdeliberately trying to integrate many strands of the cultures that we were interested in. The Bosque Burlesque shows were a good example of this approach. Bosque was always about widening things out, finding connections and introducing jarring elements that tickled our fancy. We were trying to be free. And straddle the medias. There was such a great scene in Glasgow in the mid 90’s. We hardly cared about the rest of the world, we had all the excitement and all the tunes right here in our city. It was, essentially, a very wonderful time. The grotty basements and the parks and the cheap bars were full of individuals experimenting with their lives, throwing all that they had against the wall to see what would stick (a Will Prentice observation).


< Minx Grill

Seemed like everyone made music, wrote zines, put on gigs, we were just very, very present. Really I was too involved to ever be successful at the label game. I was a little bit older than most of us and I found myself in some kind of welfare/surrogate uncle role for lots of lovely, amazing, needy people. But at the same time I was trying to be a responsible safe bet to London promo/label types, fuck that wasn’t very comfy for me. But someone had to do it…

But aye, looking at the photos I took of the Bosque Burlesque shows, just about everyone in the audience was in bands themselves – and lots of them still are! A lot of fun, so many stories…”

bosque bur 1


What are your favourite Bosque releases and why?

Sativa DrummersRockaragnarok“I suppose that the Sativa Drummers / Rockaragnarok split 10” (bosc024) summed up the ethos pretty well – and it is a great record. Sativa Drummers were a collective of drilled, politically motivated ravers with drums who would turn up from over the horizon at every demo or radical event in the east of Scotland. Mark Deas recorded this record and marshalled a massing barrage of drums, with minimal tape loops that conjured up an Albini-esque finale. Rockaragnarok on the other side were associated with and even shared members and lives with the Sativa Drummers but played an entirely different, timeless plas-rock psyche that amazes me still. But I am proud of all that we released. I just wish there had been more.”

Are there any Bosque artists you feel deserved wider exposure?

“Pretty much all of them. Seriously. I honestly believe that when they were on form, Gilded Lil were one of the greatest rock & roll bands of all time – and Trout were punk rock incarnate. Starstruck were pretty incredible at times and I am extremely proud of it, even if I say so myself. And what to say of Dominic Waxing Lyrical? I hardly know where to start, but the good thing is that he has not stopped and that is perhaps in some small way, due to our documenting and validating his music and stance on life back then.”


<Gilded Lil live c.1998

Were there any bands around then you wish you had signed but didn’t?

“Lots, I had so many ideas, so much enthusiasm, but so little money. There were so many good ideas for records, it’s a wee bit painful to think about them. I was useless with the business and admin but was convinced all through doing the label that someone, some big label or distro or individual would support and bankroll me through a load of releases. I had the bands ready, and the ideas and energy. It didn’t happen though.

I very nearly got to make a record with Mr. McFall’s Chamber (trumped by Robert Fripp).

I would have loved to have made a record with the Country Teasers.

There was to be a Starstruck picture disc 7” on the subject of red hair that just never happened dammit.”


It felt like the UK indie scene really changed around the time of Oasis, when suddenly commercial appeal/mainstream success started to be a goal, rather than something to be suspicious of, was that how it felt from the inside?

“I don’t think I cared that much. That stuff was all so crass and bland to me. Starstruck actually had a run in with Creation records around this time. Dave from Fire/Paperhouse Recs wanted to re-release the 1991 Starstruck cassette album ‘It’s fun, it’s easy. It’s you’ (bosc005) on CD on his Seminal Twang label – which was a fantastic idea, we were thrilled. And he was keen, he got us to do some recordings for various compilations, flattered us, gave me beer money, put us on the guestlists and generally held out the prospect of looking after the band, he was just really enthusiastic. But then he got head hunted to Creation where it all went wonky. Although we went with him there (without having signed anything, duh) his priorities suddenly seemed to change to immediacy and cashing in on what had become indie as a style not independence as a state of mind. We were palmed off, were bottom of the pile and basically forgotten about, which was deeply frustrating and resulted in Saskia and I going into the Creation offices at Creation and removing the Starstruck artwork and tapes. Disappointing, extremely. But we never were startapegoing to fit into that scene. Maybe we never were going to fit into any scene… Thus the subtitle to the Starstruck ‘Moi et Beatrice Dalle’ cassingle (bosc009) in 1993 was ‘No Creation Now!’. It also includes our classy version of the Beach Boys ‘Surfers rule’ which we had recorded for a Seminal Twang compilation with Murdo from The Cateran and Margarita from The Fizzbombs/Rote Kapelle.”

How far (if at all) do you think the label was shaped by being based in Glasgow? It definitely felt like Glasgow had a scene in a way that Edinburgh didn’t…

“Well Bosque moved from Edinburgh to Glasgow in 1995. Couldn’t be bothered with Edinburgh any more. Glasgow was absolutely the place to be. I was coming through twice a week anyway. Mark & I had both split up with girlfriends in the east and besides we had added a rhythm section to the Starstruck sound and they lived in Glasgow. So we loaded a van and hit the M8. 13th

Mid 90’s Glasgow was grotty but kind of perfect. Bands would form, flicker and break-up in a day. 15 people would huddle in a bedsit to watch a VHS of a Cassavetes film. Folks would meet at the photocopy shop, start a new zine. We all forgot to eat. The 13th Note and Sleazy’s could be so perfect of an evening and sincerely we did not give a fig for the rest of the world, we had our own. We made friends for life. Very interesting when Richard Hell or Kim Fowley or The Make Up came to town – Glasgow gave more than it got. Amazing.

Of course I remained closely involved with my pals in bands in Edinburgh and felt obliged to introduce and promote their thing, first to Glasgow and then anywhere else that would have them…. This Edinburgh connection seemed like a trump card for Bosque, it felt important. But when I’m in Edinburgh I always want to get back to Glasgow to see what’s going on.

So yes, Bosque was shaped by Glasgow, but perhaps in hindsight it would have benefitted from a slight remove. But that’s not the story.”

Was running the label a financial struggle? Was it ever a full-time occupation?

postre“Well yes it was a struggle, eventually a bit of a disaster. It was so hard to even make ends meet and I never made any money to speak of, it all went back into the bands, their records, tours etc. But for a very long time I was so motivated and convinced of a beautiful outcome. The satisfaction was from being with fantastic, hilarious, talented people and making music and records. And between me and all the other labels, we did document an important and exciting time in Scottish culture. We did.

But yes I had to work through it all to pay my own way. And I sold furniture, records, all kinds of stuff, just to complete recordings and make the records that I believed in and was committed too. My enthusiasm knew no bounds.”

Was distribution ever a problem?

“Distribution was always a problem. We existed in a window of time where provincial rock & roll had little currency outside of our scene and the internet was but a baby. Post Fast Forward (1990 or so) there was no Scottish distro network to speak of so we were trying to deal with the London distributors and certainly for Bosque that was generally a highly dysfunctional & unsatisfactory relationship. These firms always seemed to be at it with us, but I freely admit that I was pretty dim about it all and not good at the language of bullshit or of playing hard-ball, both of which seemed to be required skills in manouvering within the London music industry. So probably most of our sales were at gigs, direct to shops and through the mail. But can I say that Paul Kearney is a lovely man!

As far as the web went we were actually really on it and did even attempt to live-stream a gig in 1995 as Mark & I and Saskia & Clare from Sally Skull were involved in Scotland’s first internet café then – but it all went tits up, which was another reason for escaping Edinburgh. We subsequently had a website and tried to work that but in the absence of streaming/downloads/secure server it was never a realistic way of running the label.


Sally Skull live, c.mid 1990s

badgeMy complaints about distro should not obscure the wonders of the myriad bedroom distros & the international pop underground which supplied the Bosque P.O. Box with cute letters containing fivers and ten dollar notes and IRCs and cheques in return for our vinyl – which meant that there was always a wee bit of money around for the essentials of life.”

Why/when did Bosque close?

“It all got very messy in late 1998/1999. Drugs and depression, death and despair. I had promised certain things basically the Gilded Lil album (bosc028), and I just had to hold on until that was released, which wasn’t until 2001. But I so very badly wanted/needed to get out, quit, take a back seat and get some rigour and honesty back in my life. It was a sad end to an extraordinary time. So very much energy had been put into the venture and there was not so very much coming back at me.”

Gilded Lil sleeve

What do you think of the Scottish/UK indie scene nowadays, do you still follow it?

“A bit. I go out and see bands in Glasgow sometimes. Lots, maybe even most of my friends make music, some of them have never stopped, I guess that they cannot and indeed why should they. There is still a lot of fantastic music being made in this country, particularly of course here in Glasgow. Great bands, labels, venues – loads of crossover into visual art, film and the written word. Exactly as it should be and, I am glad to say, it just don’t stop.”

Looking back at Bosque, do you have any regrets? Would you do it all again and if so what would you do differently?

“No regrets, fuck that. Never again. Onwards.”


Heartfelt thanks to Tom for taking the time to answer my questions! See many more great photos from his archives here

See the Bosque discography here


(Don’t) Lower Your Expectations; the evolution of Oblivionized


We’re not quite at the ‘albums of the year’ stage yet, but when we are, Oblivionized’s Life is a Struggle, Give Up will be featured prominently. From their earliest demos onwards, the band has epitomised the vital UK underground extreme music scene, with a series of always high-quality releases varying from dirty, chaotic grindcore to extremely technical death metal and I have been lucky enough to be writing about the band since those early days, mostly for Zero Tolerance magazine. Back in April I caught up with one third of the band for Pun-Based Name Pending and below is (a slightly revised version of) what came of it:

Oblivionized band

It’s always* nice to watch a band grow and evolve and although Oblivionized have just released their first album Life is a Struggle, Give Up, it’s the culmination/distillation of five years or so of progress and transformation that has seen the band go from the powerful, technical death metal-infused grindcore of their earlier work to something looser, less metal, more intuitive and distinctive, far harder to define, but no less intense.

*disclaimer; if they are any good it’s nice. Otherwise it’s annoying.

The band’s history is short enough that it’s fairly easy to track down all of their work to date; it’s totally worth doing that. discography

The style the band has arrived at since shrinking to a trio in 2012 isn’t very much like any other band I can think of. Drums/guitar/vocals sounds like a pretty skeletal basis for an album, but the concentration on these components gives the music a sparse, elemental feel and an emotional impact that matches the harsh minimalism of the lyrics. On earlier releases the technical skill of Sammy Urwin (also of death metal band Regurgitated Life etc) was often used in a powerful but fairly conventional (riffs/solos) way and the songs seemed to be carefully composed for maximum dynamic impact – which was very effective. On Life Is A Struggle though, the technical aspect (though no less impressive) seems less to do with killer riffs and heaviness than with an almost jazz-like telepathic intensity, comparable in a way to Painkiller circa Guts of a Virgin, but with a more personal/introspective focus. The album perfectly captures the live sound the band showcased on last year’s This is S.O.A.N. split with Razoreater, losing none of the immediacy of the live tape, but giving everything more precision and a sharper impact.

oblo Well, that’s what I think anyway; here are some thoughts from vocalist/lyricist Zac Broughton:

It’s been quite a long wait for a full-length Oblivionized album, but it definitely feels like now is the right time for it, do you feel like this is the Oblivionized lineup for the foreseeable future? Was this the first time you ever wanted to record an album?

I’d say this is the third album me and Sammy have written for Oblivionized. Before Abhorrent Evolution (2011) Geoff (Bradley, guitarist), Sammy and myself over the course of nine months or so, demoed a twelve track album in my room. We turned the best from those demos into four songs when Jon and Phil joined and recorded them and released as Abhorrent Evolution. With that five piece line up we wrote nine, maybe ten songs for an album, we demoed two of them and released that as Nullify The Cycle… That album obviously never happened and I’m happy it didn’t. I realised recently that I haven’t been doing music just for fun, I enjoyed hanging out with my mates putting demos on myspace and going to gigs and that, but I’ve turned expressing myself through music it into my life. Being able to express myself honestly, not just screaming negative fantasies, or telling people how fucked the world is… which it is, lets be honest, we’ll likely all be dead in twenty years if that. But actually making something that I can be proud of and feel is an honest representation of what this is. So basically, if all the music we wrote, people’s lives we’d been part of, positive and negative experiences we have had as a band and individuals during our time together hadn’t happened, neither would Life Is A Struggle, Give Up… I don’t know what I’m trying to say anymore but I think I said it.

The title is great because it can be read as super-negative or actually positive, listening to the album it kind of feels like both; very bleak and angry but at the same time full of passion and energy, what would you say is the overall feel or theme?

I spent a lot of time trying to make sure I wasn’t telling anyone what to do or how to think, I’m not interested in that, so you can take them how you like. For me the album expresses exactly how I felt while writing it; simply put, life is really hard and I’ve wanted give up, just become what other people expect or want me to be. I chose not to and decided I’d live for myself, nothing matters anyway, so why give a fuck about other people and their opinions if the end result is your unhappiness.


One of the things that is really noticeable about the album is the way each element of the music has the same importance/focus, is that easier to do that as a three-piece band than it was in the past?

That is something Will bought to the band, in the past we’d had bass that was kind of an accompaniment, with guitars that played separate parts, make things more dissident but we’d made the drums all blasting and double kick. When Will joined and we became a three piece, Oblivionized became three different personalities working towards something.

You tour and play live a lot, was it important to produce an album that captures the sound you have live?

We don’t want to create much on record that we can’t recreate live as just a three piece. We recorded drums with just Sammy and Will playing together, no click track, no triggers or drum replacement, just take for take. Sammy then recorded his guitar parts and I did my vocals last, Tom (Corrupt Moral Altar, Vagrant Recordings) added some singing bells to I Pity You and Justine (Employed To Serve) did some extra vocals on Your Mouth Is A Wound, besides that it’s just us three in a playing music in a room.

SOAN tape

Secret Law records seem to be doing a really good job of promoting the album, how did you come to sign to the label?

Will was just hanging out with his mate Tom and Tom was most likely saying “bro I might start a metal label” and Will probably said something like “yeah that’d be rad dude, my band has an album no other labels want to release!” and it just snowballed from there, Ed and Tom are fucking on it, they’ve picked up Desert Storm and they just picked up a new band called Funeral Pact who are rad.

Do you have as much control and involvement in all the aspects of making and promoting the album as you did when you were putting things out yourselves?

We still do all the same stuff, we just have some mates working with us now. It’s good to be part of something like Secret Law Records where we are working together to get something heard.

I’m sure the music is carefully worked out etc, but compared to your older work it has a kind of explosive, spontaneous quality, almost like free jazz, is there any element of improvisation in the way you write songs together?

Some songs were written with all three of us in a room bouncing ideas off each other, basically pushing a song in different directions until it met a conclusion, others were Sammy bringing ideas to me and Will, or Sammy and Will bringing ideas to me. After I’d improve vocals until I knew what the song was about. More simply put, It’s all just ideas and things that happened, musically and lyrically.

A related question; I’m not sure which are the newer and older songs on the album, but it seems like the band has gotten a bit looser and less rigid over the past couple of years, would you agree?

Before Geoff (Bradley, now of Atonement) left the band, he said something along the lines of “it’s time Oblivionized stopped writing shredding guitar exercises and started writing songs.” So that’s what we did, weird avant-garde jazz grind songs, or something.

One of the things I really like about the sound Oblivionized has now is that it’s impossible to label in a meaningful way; there’s something really special about the contrast of the technical guitar playing with the kind of intuitive, non-robotic drumming and super-emotive vocals but it isn’t typical ‘tech-grind’ or any of the usual labels you are given. How do you describe your music as it is on the album?

I honestly can’t, when we started out the idea of a genre was a huge joke to us. We started in 2008 it was weird man, you remember all the bands calling themselves “Ultra Guttural Brutality” and “Brutal Technical Slammin Death Metal” yeah? We all thought it was funny, some reviews called us Technical Death Metal, others said Deathgrind so we called ourselves “Misanthropic Technical Deathgrind” and it was hilarious. So we don’t really mind; Trve Kvlt Heavy Core.


the Life Is a Struggle artwork by Mark W. Richards (Heavy Hand Illustration)

You seem to push yourselves further with each release, is that something you do consciously? Do you have a ‘comfort zone’ as a band and if so is it something you avoid staying in?

I feel like we are aiming for something musically and we haven’t reached it yet, I love music and really enjoy being involved with underground bands and new bands. Lots of people come and go, make new bands and there are some brilliant bands out there if you want to find them. There are also a lot of bands that sound just like Converge, Napalm Death, or someone else and that’s rad, go for it, I enjoy seeing those bands play… but I’d like express myself, not someone else’s self.

Since the early days of the band it seems like the lyrics have become more and more focussed and specific and possibly more personal, is writing and performing an emotional or cathartic experience?

The lyrics are all developing an idea; it’s fully developed, yet I’ve been exploring the same idea for a long time. Making this music and performing is a very cathartic and important experience though, I feel sorry for any musician or listener that doesn’t have that connection to music.



Secret Law Records homepage

Heavy Hand Illustration