MERCIFUL NUNS – Interview METEORA
MERCIFUL NUNS are one of the few bands that foster their own unique style which is actually rather cool. Seldom have I encountered such a telling and comprehensive work of art comprising graphics & cover art, stage imagery, lyrics, videos, trailers and still images of the band as that which has become representative of the MERCIFUL NUNS. “Post Goth?” – Artaud’s telling response to the question how the MERCIFUL NUNS’ sound could be defined. Somehow one cannot help but agree with such sentiment. What Artaud Seth, Jawa and Jón Tmoh deliver with METEORA VII is arguably an outstanding work of art, laced with Post-Goth hymns as only the MERCIFUL NUNS can offer. Setting an extraordinarily elevated standard in musical quality, never excessive but always hitting a point of focus, we find ourselves taken back to the mystical places Artaud traversed during his first musical incarnations.
METEORA (ancient Greek: “to elevate”) “When fog envelopes the METEORA rock at dawn we can sometimes see the monasteries. They appear to be floating.” Artaud
When listening to METEORA one quickly realises that the contextual lyrical plane recently occupied by Artaud has changed. Surreal and fictionalised events replace otherworldly themes as well as complex and universal questions pertaining to the origins of mankind. We move into a “Soul Room” in the KARMA INN, accompany ELEKTRA along “Concubine Street”, interpret signs & symbols from the future on the PHANTOM WALL, race through life at the SPEED OF LIGHT and lose all earthbound traction whilst exploring curious and strange entities, traverse Eleusinian grounds and observe the spawning of new galaxies until we finally reach an Acheronian place of calm and solitude in A PLACE BEYOND.
The KARMA INN “…a cosmic hotel with 12 rooms at the event horizon between this world and the beyond. A place of transformation and the stomping ground of earthbound, corporeal and exoplanetary entities.” Artaud.
It is nothing short of a remarkable achievement; considering the short period of time in which Artaud Seth and his MERCIFUL NUNS have managed to establish themselves at the pinnacle of the international Goth Rock Scene. Having amassed a comprehensive and richly diverse following, with a level of interaction exceeding conventional musical horizons and regular gatherings in a global network of Lodges imbued with the scent of exclusiveness; they organise gigs, release-parties and serve as the band’s mouthpiece in their respective countries. Currently there are 21 Lodges operating in 21 countries.
33 Degrees of the A.A.S.R. (Ensoph) “For me the 33rd Degree represents a metaphor for perfection, alluding to Freemasonry as something that can be deemed god-like.” Artaud
The album is available in a beautifully created, rendered in an almost pitch black 6 panel digipack featuring an integrated booklet. As with all previous MERCIFUL NUNS covers an archaic logo designed by Artaud adorns the album’s front cover.
“The graphic representation of my conceptual and contextual ideas is rather important to me. Every element ought to complement, even supplement each other as an integral unit. If a symbol by itself is deemed not entirely sufficient I simply create character fonts to add contextual weight and this particular style has developed into a secondary, explanatory level to my art work.” Artaud
METEORA raises many questions to which we humans have been seeking answers since time immemorial. Who are we? Where do we go? Where do we come from? Who created us? Such and even more fundamental aspects which compel us to acknowledge in reverence the beauty and complexity of our universe. METEORA offers suggestions, thoughts and ideas without preaching them, it asks questions and shares insight which should lead the listener to his or her very own conclusions. Rather fittingly and somewhat reminiscent of Socrates the Greek philosopher. Elektra, Triton, Hades, Eleusinian Grounds and Morphogenetic Fields escort us through the ancient mythology to METEORA – that place of contemplation in which we find close proximity to the Divine. And I am certain that the MERCIFUL NUNS have erected the superstructure of their own KARMA INN in this most sacred of locations, where we can pause for a moment or two in order to marvel at the beauty of transformation.
Sarru Mass, Artaud! Something I have always been curious about: Which language do we employ in our greeting “Sarru Mass” and what exactly does it mean? Artaud: This is how we greet each other among the Nunhood, a kind of society of mutual interests within the world of Merciful Nuns and its subject matter. It is ancient Sumerian and roughly translates as: “May your path be blessed with good fortune”. Originally we only used this form of address in our Lodges, though nowadays it does happen that people greet me like this on the street; rather strange for a reclusive person like myself.
What is the thinking behind the Lodges scattered around the globe? It is somehow reminiscent of Masonic Lodges – justifiably so? How did they evolve? Artaud: I have always held an affinity to the guardians of hidden Masonic knowledge without ever being a member of the society unlike other members of my family; and I maintain intensive contact to leading figures within the Scottish Grandlodge. Though I must admit Freemasonry is too archaic for me to ever develop a serious penchant for it. I am more taken by the Masonic rites, especially the path one must traverse to develop into a more complete and knowing human being; similar to elaborate appendages found in Hinduism and other far eastern traditions, for what it’s worth. The Lodges’ primary objective is to serve as a localised mouthpiece for the Merciful Nuns; they currently number 21 in as many countries; in this format a rather unique concept indeed, at least for a post Goth band like ourselves.
In this context: What is the reasoning behind the limited 33 Grade EP? The 33rd Degree or Grade is, after all, a rather conventional Masonic expression to denote “Perfection”; correct? Artaud: Yes indeed. The EP was incepted as an acknowledgement in gratitude and reverence to our Lodges all over the world. The intention, if you like, is an exclusive EP for the Inner Circle and a chosen few.
Many bands indulge in the passage of three to four years before a new sign of life makes an appearance; yet you’ve released seven albums in four years. How do you manage to keep this up? Are there any concerns that you might invite too much pressure with respect to future albums? Artaud: No, I prefer creativity! And I just love good sinister music. Since no one else seems capable to deliver such albums in regular intervals I might as well do it myself. I am not one for idleness, so what choice do I have?
How would you describe your development since “Exosphere”? Artaud: In musical or contextual terms?
Both. Artaud: On Exospehere I focussed a lot on spherical synthesizers and tried to incorporate these sounds in a homogenous fashion into our own post-Goth formula. I reckon it worked quite well. Simply put: I wanted to match the exoplanetary level of the lyrics with an exoplanetary soundscape. They are also present on Meteora, though much reduced and remixed, less prevalent than on its predecessor. On the textual level I returned from the otherworldly back to terrestrial spheres. At least as far as perception is concerned. Exosphere gazed outwards whilst Meteroa looks inwardly.
The preceding album came with the recommendation to hear it beyond the exosphere. What would be the most suitable conditions to hear Meteora for the first time? Artaud: In Meteora of course. Though I’m not quite sure what the priests there would have to say about it (laughs). After all, it is a rather quiet and introspective existence in an incidentally beautiful place – in case one finds oneself in need of a recommendation for places to visit in Greece. The suspended cloisters are truly unique.
Why did you chose “Meteora VII” as the album’s title? Artaud: “Meteora” translates from ancient Greek into: “middle of the sky” or “in the heavens above”. One transcends from the terrestrial in spiritual form into the spheres beyond. This particular metaphor served as the foundation for the album and must thus be considered the logical and only appropriate title for it. In addition, the place itself is extraordinarily beautiful. Our video for KARMA INN was produced there. We ventured out by first light to capture the foggy atmosphere; a truly unique experience.
In other words: your videos were filmed in the original locations? Artaud: The external scenes and in large parts the hotel scenes are from Meteora, that is correct.
What significance do the Meteora cloisters hold for you personally and how would you describe their influence on the album’s development? And how important was Greek mythology in all this? Artaud: It formed the framework for the album, if I can call it such. Greek mythology in general does not hold any primary significance for me. I am driven by the unifying factor behind ALL forms of mythology, religions or any other forms of faith and devotion, both terrestrial and beyond. Why does the human mind believe in stories incepted by human minds so much that they could give rise to religions? Where are the parallels? Where are the common origins? Where is the core of truth! For sure it differs quite significantly from what we are led to believe.
Have you ever found the answers to such fundamental questions for yourself? Artaud: Even though this amounts to my own demystification for some people… No, I have not. I simply endeavour to engage such questions with specific theses. I may not possess the knowledge itself, but insightful imagination to find answers I have in abundance. No more, but no less either.
Speaking for myself, I perceive many tracks as surreal concepts for parallel worlds. How do you see them? Artaud: That is not at all farfetched indeed. My lyrics often originate in a question. What if there were no God but instead we ourselves are the gods? Or where do we come from? Where does our development take us? Why do we use at best just 2/3 of our mental capacity? Is humanity all but one major experiment in the architect’s laboratory? What is space? What is time? What is infinity? And what of the finiteness of our existence? These kind of questions are the driving force for me and also my inspiration.
Which song on “Meteora” is your favourite? And why? Artaud: Hard to tell. KARMA INN seems to shift into the light of my preference again. This songs had a good feel about from its very inception. KARMA INN is one of those songs that always manage to feel new and fresh.
Personally speaking I could not pick one: “Phantom Wall” is one I like very much, but the same goes for the rather dark and atmospheric “A Place Beyond.” Could you perhaps elaborate on the latter? Artaud: Quite a good choice actually. PHANTOM WALL was one of the first songs we wrote for the album and I do think it has a fantastic drive. Jawa’s pulsating bass line imbues the song with a particular magical power; something otherworldly even. This is also especially applicable to A PLACE BEYOND; a song that symbolises for me the link between the exoplanetary world of the preceding album and the ulterior odyssey through the ancient Greek myths in “Meteora VII”.
Where was the video of “Phantom Wall” made? Initially I thought it might be Berlin, but couldn’t say for certain. Who filmed the video? Artaud: We filmed PHANTOM WALL in an old abandoned mill south of Berlin; and also in a disused subway close to Potsdamer Platz. We, as in a small collective of artists mutually supporting each other. Large scale video productions are no longer feasible in modern times and what we are trying to do is to make up for it in creativity and to a certain degree condensed pragmatism.
“Elektra” is a solid intro to dance to; please share some insights on its development. In what way – if at all – does Elektra play a part in Greek mythology? Artaud: In this context we only took the name of the mythological figure Elektra. She reflects the grace and beauty of a noble courtesan in Hong Kong who needs to earn a living on “Concubine Street”. She develops into the main attraction for the local upper echelons; loved by men, loathed by women.
Is your music influenced by your environment? Artaud: You are wondering, for example, whether there is or has been an Elektra for me in real life. No. All my lyrics are fictitious and void of any traces of the mundane. My interests alone have a bearing on what flows into the lyrics. Actual reflections or experiences seldom come into it.
What do you reckon we can learn from Greek mythology in this, our mundane existence of today? Artaud: Democracy! What we in the Western hemisphere consider to be democracy is really just a dictate by economic forces in the guise of basic democratic principles
Philosophy, mysticism and mythology are clear focal points in your resounding legacy. What is it that fires your fascination for such grand subjects? Artaud: I just want to know where we come from and where we are heading, plain and simple as that. I am not content with the conventional religiously tinged attempts at an explanation for such are just too simplistic, naïve and most certainly born from human minds. In other words: they are just so obsolete! A curious person can recognise the deception and will invariably be compelled to search for the truth. This is by no means an exclusive ambition of mine, it’s a collective need!
And where do you draw the line between philosophy and “hot air”? Artaud: They are naturally in close proximity to each other. Wherever there is ignorance, there is always room for speculation.
Stars and the universe are recurring themes for you. Are you interested in horoscopes? Do you read them, for example, while sitting in doctor’s waiting room? Artaud: (laughs) As I am never really ill I don’t tend to find myself sitting in medical waiting rooms. And even if, most certainly I wouldn’t be reading horoscopes.
Do you ever have a day, or perhaps even a few days in a row, whereby you, Artaud, are not engaged with your artwork, new songs, lyrics or conceptual ideas? If yes, what does such a day or days look like? Are these occasions where you feel quite good within yourself or perhaps less so? And how does such an “artistically free” day unfold for you? Artaud: Such days don’t really exist for me. That said, I don’t really distinguish between work and play; I am fortunate enough in not having to categorise my life into pigeonholes like work and leisure. This is indeed a great privilege as it enables me to dedicate my whole life on self-fulfilment. Plus it provides plenty of opportunity for both Jawa and myself to travel extensively, something I enjoy very much. Ultimately our travels inspire new ideas, which are being explored, developed and transferred into new songs. Thereafter, in-between and even proactively I take care of the duties coming with my label. Everything I do is associated with music one way or the other. There is no private life in the conventional sense.
What about family and friends? Is there room for either in the life of Artaud Seth? Artaud: Not really. I have never been big on family life; and even real friends are few and far between if indeed there are any at all. Now you are probably going to ask me whether I don’t feel like missing out. No, I am quite content with a micro sized family life.
The musical basis and reference points of your band are both evident and obvious. Would you consider yourself more of a traditionalist or rather a developer of the “classic” Gothic Rock genre? Why so? Artaud: More like the architect of my very own post-Goth universe.
From the uniform black and dry ice fog of the early days to the black-colourful fantasy carnival costumes of modern festivals. How would you rate the development of the “dark” scene since the late 80s? Artaud: Actually I find it all rather annoying. Back then we tried to escape the multi-coloured, loud and superficial “fun-society”. And yet, however ironic and curious this may seem, it forms the very foundation of the modern scene. Then again, the modern Greens are selling weapons to the Saudis too; perhaps it is inevitable that a group will eventually take that which it hates the most into a loving embrace.
You managed to gain a lot of popular appeal and also many fans. How would you explain the appeal? Good promotion of the Lodges? Carefully selected gigs with associated bands? Artaud: Associated bands are few and far between. I have to admit the superficiality of most musicians I happen to meet does trouble me somewhat. Hence I try to refrain from such contact. Of course, this perception does not extend to all musicians, but for the most part nonetheless. In this sense the query pertaining to gigs with “associated bands” becomes superfluous. I reckon the core of our success, if one might call it that, is based on the high level of quality we are offering, the profound concept behind the Nuns and in no small part to the comprehensive workings of our Lodges. They form the hub for the external embodiment of the Merciful Nuns.
What about any future plans for the Nuns? Artaud: Over the next few months I intend to focus on our label Solar Lodge. We have signed two deals of cooperation with a label in the USA and Mexico respectively with the aim of increased exposure in the US and Latin-American market sectors. In addition we will schedule some performances in Mexico, Brazil and Europe as well as appearances at a few summer festivals.
How would you describe the main difference between the audiences from the different countries? Artaud: To be truthful I am quite oblivious to such things, at least whilst I’m on stage. Our Southern and East-European audiences as well as the Latin-American contingent seem to be a touch more open minded than the Central or North-Europeans; although I think that is more a subjective perception.
My gratitude for this interview! Artaud: The thanks is all mine.
Thanks to Vince Stoos