The Principles of Goth Orchestration – An Interview with Nosferatu

By on 12 July 2011

A conversation with Louis DeWray On Behalf of NOSFERATU

When one speaks of bands representing capital G goth, no better example can be found than Nosferatu. With this, that and the other hyphenated fashion take on goth coming and going in the over two decades of the band’s existence they never compromised their fundamental dark and romantic style. Their fans remain loyal and in return Nosferatu are no less loyal to their audience and to the edifice of dark art they have built. That ‘Wonderland’, their latest album shot to the top spot of the dark wave charts on Amazon UK attests to the depth of this symbiotic relationship.

A week after a triumphant performance at WGT Nosferatu front man Louis DeWray was viciously assaulted, bringing up ugly memories of the attack on Sophie Lancaster. «As you may have read, I’ve had a somewhat difficult week…» is how he put it to me. With characteristic kindness and strength of character he shared his thoughts on Nosferatu’s long awaited return, the goth scene and hipsters among other things just a few days after the attack. Louts, thugs and reactionaries notwithstanding, Louis DeWray shows that Nosferatu and goths are here to stay. We pull together in support during hard times, just as we do under happier circumstances.The attack has made every member of Nosferatu all the more determined to play a great gig at DV8 (UK) and Castle Party (Poland) in a week’s time. “Luckily my spirit is stronger than my jaw!” Louis DeWray said to me. “It was a sad irony that at least one of us was wearing a ‘Sophie’ wristband when we were attacked…”

I had to start by congratulating Louis on the production on ‘Wonderland‘ which was recorded at his Earth Terminal Studios. This release has a sound that is simultaneously the heaviest and warmest of their releases to date. I asked if they recorded to tape or digital, for it’s very hard to achieve such a warm sound in the digital medium. “The initial recordings of the songs were made to 2″ tape and then transferred into the Komputer.” he said. “Everyone in the band loves the sound of analogue recordings so we really wanted to have that going on at the heart of things. As recording the album developed – and with some of the songs having over 100 tracks of audio (!) – there was no way other way other than to go digital. ‘Black Hole’, for instance, has Belle and Eddie drumming on it, as well as drum machines, drum samples and at least 30 tracks of vocals.. and that’s before we began with the strings, choirs, harpsichord, guitars and basses..so the 24 tracks of tape would have been pretty limiting. There are at least 2 songs on the album with some very carefully hidden sonic secrets waiting to be found.”

It is inevitable that one may wonder about how their having been such a long break between albums. There have been a number of compilations, collections and releases as well as gigs and festival appearances. In between these activities, much of that time was spent writing and refining the material for ‘Wonderland’. And having the opportunity to give attention to every detail of writing, performance and production for this album is part of what excites Louis DeWray the most about ‘Wonderland’.” says the tall dark one. “I’m really pleased that we took the time to make ‘Wonderland’ just the way we wanted it to be. After such a long time and because the last album I sang on was ‘Rise’, I didn’t want to compromise anything. I think that we’ve ended up with an album that is Gothic with a capital ‘G’, but also very original sounding… no mean feat!”

The vocals in particular show a new level of assuredness and an even greater revelling in melodic invention than ever before. “It’s very exciting to have a new waltz to sing – I’m particularly proud of the title track. This is the first album where I have written any of the songs.. something I wasn’t quite expecting when I rejoined and we began again…Maybe that’s why even after all this time it’s an exciting and fresh sounding album – it’s my first album.”

 

Wonderland

 

The members of Nosferatu continually pushed one another to make every aspect as solid as it could be. Where some bands go through lineup changes and charge on, with the altered interpersonal chemistry gel (or not) as they jump right back into the record, tour, write, record cycle. “It took a long time after I rejoined Nosferatu for it to feel like a proper band again. I hadn’t sung for quite a while and we had to find the right people who wanted to be involved.” says Louis, dispelling any notion that Nosferatu is a revolving cast of characters carrying out Damien DeVille‘s evil plans. “Nosferatu is almost like a ‘collective’ – there are so many people who have been in the band over the years. Some members are great live but don’t write; others hate playing live but are great in the studio. We enlisted the help of Nevyn, my best friend since school to play bass and he really helped me lift my game as far as the musicality of the album goes because I’ve always looked up to his writing style. We fell out horribly during the recording – he said that I wrote ‘like a monkey on a typewriter’ which made me very angry and determined to do my very best. Nevyn sent me some champagne and telephoned me when he got the finished copy of the album and said it had made him cry… which I always take as a compliment – at least from him!”

The early releases were heavy with the characteristic drum machine beats that was de rigeur of so many “second wave” goth bands. It can be argued that the sound of a drum machine is a stylistic mainstay of that era. What effect does having a live drummer have on live performances, one wonders. “I love drum machines – Damien hates them. In the studio I think you can get a good mix using both programmed drums and real ones together, but live.. I guess it depends on the gig. We got asked to play Judgement Day Festival in Doinburn, Austria a while ago. They wanted us to play an ‘old school’ set with a drum machine instead of Belle. It was a great gig but I think that with a good live sound and a tight drummer it’s more exciting to play with a real drummer.” Does this change the feel of older songs, and what does Louis feel about the original recordings? “I like the old sound with a drum machine a lot…” he replies, “I just wish the hi-hat in our old recordings was quieter! Also, it’s very hard to get a suitably massive snare sound without a drum machine… Anyway, Belle is a human drum machine, Steve Morris eat your heart out!”

 

Nosferatu

 

One of the most pervasive characteristics of Nosferatu from the very beginning has been a dense atmosphere of romanticism. Is this a quality that connects in your mind when contemplating death, witch-hunts and apocalyptic visions? “I’ve always loved music that was serious about its subject and that could accompany the most intense moments of human existence. I love writing lyrics and particularly enjoy the feel of certain words in my mouth when I sing. Writing about big subjects is a joy and it’s one of my favourite things about being in a ‘goth’ band.”

Related to this dark romanticism the title track from Wonderland has a bit of a Film noir atmosphere. Like a torch song that would fit in a scene where the hard-boiled detective is in a smoky nightclub drowning his sorrows over lost love. This could be something the band were consciously going for or these twists on thir oeuvre could be something that springs up organically. “I really wanted to write ‘Crysania’ pt.2…” “I spoke to Luke Tunney who played the trumpet solo on ‘Strange Fruit’ by the Banshees. I really wanted a heart-breaking, crazed, trad jazz solo in the middle of ‘Wonderland’ and I’ve always loved that Banshees cover and in particular the brass section. In the end we went with a guitar solo instead because it would’ve been weird live to have a big trumpet part on the backing track, but I think the mood has remained intact. ‘Wonderland’ is my favourite vocal I’ve ever recorded. The song is about how sad it is when a beautiful person, a person famous for their beauty above their mind, grows old, and how there are then increasing swathes of people younger than them who only know them as an old person…or at least that’s where the idea came from… I think the most beautiful people are beautiful all their lives and also through and superseding their death.

The lyrics of Nosferatu are full of vivid characters populating shadowy lands, all rendered with a painter’s masterful touch that points to a literary strain and cinematic economy of action in the lyric’s creation. In light of this I ask Louis what he is reading right now. “Umm.. no world of a lie, I’m actually reading ‘The Bible’ at the moment. Katy is reading ‘The God Delusion’ by Richard Dawkins and so we’ve been sharing some amusing pillow talk recently.. I find reading a book wherein the words have continued to have such power over people very interesting.” And as regards inspiration from films: “I really like an 80’s film called ‘Static’. It has a great song by The The at the beginning.” and art? “I love children’s drawings and paintings more than any other art. I love their honest and unruly eye.”

I ask Louis if he thinks other forms of art are important within goth culture, if he feels the moon rises and sets on the music or if the music is a part of the continuum of imagery, the social dimension and even a mythopoetic sphere. “Goth culture is home to a few fantastically creative people who keep the whole thing forward looking and exciting. It’s the musicians, artists, writers and everyone who cares about the difference between passion and pretence, humour and bullshit, mirrors and shadows who make the scene.” he answers. “I wanted to be a goth because I didn’t want to belong; I didn’t want to become part of a scene. I always find it unnerving that there are other people who like the same things as me – it makes me somewhat mistakenly possessive of the things I love.”

 

Damien Deville

 

When one listens to Nosferatu, one is brought into a world of their own creation. Without a doubt, ‘Wonderland’ exists firmly within this world, but we find ourselves traversing another country. “When we began writing ‘Wonderland’ I said I wanted it to be ‘Blue’.” says Louis, before elaborating. “And that it should feel cold. All the other Nosferatu albums are quite red and fiery. I was alone in the studio for a few weeks during Christmas ’09 into spring ’10 and it snowed really heavily. There were a few days where I was trapped at the studio in the snow and the isolation and pure white cold just seemed to fit the mood of all the songs I was working on. A lot of things grew and were lost that winter.. Unusually for the UK, it snowed hard once again last Christmas ’10, and again I was alone at the studio finishing everything. The timing was perfect. The situation was impossible.”

The print ‘zines of yore largely disappeared with the rise of the web, with some notable glossy exceptions. Sites come and go, making interviews and reviews more ephemeral leaving a hole for those of us who have a tendency to be archivists of not just music, but also print magazines chronicalling the culture. I ask if there’s a difference in how journos and fans interact with Nosferatu with this change. Was there a more intense engagement between the band and fans when people had to search for information and wait for ‘zines they ordered? “I loved the printed ‘zines.” Louis replies. “Nosferatu ran our own for a while via ‘The Gothic Society‘ – ‘Grimoire‘. We used to stand outside Brixton Academy and Full Tilt nights at the Ballroom in Camden handing out copies. Before the internet, we searched, devoutly, for information – the bands that we’d love and the new records.. Now, there’s way too much news – it’s blinding. Journalism has fallen into the hands of the masses – which in some ways is a great thing because it’s much easier get a firsthand account of something, but it also means that the writing is less skilled. I used to love the sprawling prose of Melody Maker newspaper before they (IPC Magazines) changed the size of the paper into a magazine and filled it with pictures. I’ve got hundreds of old ‘Makers in my loft. They make the modern NME and music press look like ‘Look-In’.. When the reviews of ‘Wonderland’ came out, it was pretty clear who the real journalists were…”

People can hit Google and find a free download of any album on the day it drops and sometimes before. An argument has been made by copyright warriors and music lovers alike that this easy and free availability of music has lessened the value of music for an entire generation. I put this to Louis DeWray and ask if he ever searches music download blogs/torrent sites to catch people spreading the music of Nosferatu for free. “If someone buys music rather than stealing it, I think they’re more likely to take the time to evaluate their purchase. There are records that I love that I think I’d never have fully appreciated if I’d got them for free. There are some albums I’m very glad I just stole though.. Possibly it’s only stealing if you ultimately enjoy your bounty? I couldn’t live with myself if I’d stolen my first copy of Disintegration or First and Last and Always for instance..although I have made many copies and purchased those albums in many formats since..Everyone wants to own a legitimate copy of a great thing. Albums and music in general would be a far higher valued art form if there was 1 original piece and all others were copies – the way it is with painted art. It makes me very sad that the art I love is devalued so much by modern mediums, not just in style but also by the awful sonic quality of the formats available.”

Nosferatu have been around for over two decades now, watching trends come and go. The flavours of goth that gets the main attention within the scene has wandered through “cyber” bleeps and burps, through futurepop, ebm and metal variants, undead armies of deathrock and synth pop revenants and back to what is now often referred to as “trad goth”. Over the last couple years cool-chasing entities like the NME and Pitchfork suddenly discovered the allure of goth. Many on the journo end speculate whether this will bring attention to the scene that has survived throughout the last three decades and the bands that flew the goth flag in the wilderness all along. “NME and their kind only cover landfill indie and tubbily safe and successful bands they think will sell dead trees and conformist lifestyles.” is the first word Louis has on the subject of said publications. “In 1989, the average word count for an album review was 10,000 words.. and 1 picture. Now it’s 10,000 pictures and 1 word – and that word is a lie.” In conclusion, he puts the work of journalists and critics in the context of an artists perspective. “I like creative, original, technical, accurate and intelligent journalism. People who write should have a love for the words and for the art they so lazily dismiss and a taste for the letters they savour. The best that goth has will always be cool.”

 

Nosferatu

 

There is a divide perceived by some between the scene and non-scene related young noise-makers. Some discussion, dissent and lamentation stirs in some quarters about promoters and punters in the goth scene ignoring the artists from outside the scene that are openly influenced by goth and post-punk. I ask Louis DeWray if the twain can ever meet. He is refreshingly free from angst on the subject. “Heh heh.. Well S.C.U.M. recorded their album, or at least their first few singles in my studio.. so ‘the twain’ met already…” He continues, “I love many genres of music – I produce and engineer music for a living – but through all the styles and scenes I record, the single most important thing I know how to do is to get as much of the person/people/band/artist onto the record as I can. As much truth, emotion and humanity as I can. I like very, very simple records.” But ‘Wonderland’ is anything but a simple record. “…so (‘Wonderland being) an album with 100+ tracks on each song was somewhat of a gore fest…”

And the hipsters who are of the opinion that goth is cool again, as long as it’s not goth? “I like hipsters… All people are real.”

With the success of ‘Wonderland’ one may wonder if this success is attributable to a loyal and ageing fanbase getting excited to have a new Nosferatu release. If at gigs following the release of ‘Wonderland’, what the band have noticed about who makes up attendees. I ask what the ratio of older fans and familiar faces to younger fans and new fans is these days. “We just played in Leipzig (WGT) to the largest audience Nosferatu has ever had.” he says. And in relation to the current direction of the band and the audience receiving it and beyond, “I’m sure that in certain circles of the goth scene we’re as unfashionable as ever, but with ‘Wonderland’ we’ve created the record I always wanted to make since I was 17, and anyone who doesn’t like it has a) better taste than me… or b) no taste…. and I have terrifically awful taste so they must be right?? Nearly everyone at our concerts is under 25 pints/pounds… or maybe just 25 years before they finish community service…”

I noticed that the Earth Terminal Recording Studio site has a link to Rimsky-Korsakoff’s Principles of Orchestration. In light of the hundred sonic elements so expertly placed throughout ‘Wonderland’, I am compelled to find out how has this book influenced their approach to recording and production, on which topic Louis DeWray concludes: “We tried to obey every principle in Rimsky’s text… but, instead we left with but the damage that a dream does…”

Catch Nosferatu at Thursday 21st July – DV8 Festival, York and Saturday 23rd July – Castle Party Festival, Bolkow.

The official Nosferatu website

About Miranda Yardley

I'm Miranda. Bite me.

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