MERCIFUL NUNS – Interview ANOMALY
To be honest I still haven’t recovered from the demise of Garden of Delight and still feel melancholic upon listening to the brilliant final GoD album; and now you’re already carrying the next project to its grave. Why? Artaud: Perhaps I need the transformation from one incarnation to the next as part of a cleansing process. Hard to say really. I can’t even say with any degree of certainty whether I am more fascinated by closure or new beginnings; perhaps both in equal measure. Sorrow and a new dawn, death and life, to my mind both are all closely related. This time, however, its different. The severance runs deeper, and the motives differ. In just eight years we managed to record ten albums. That was an enormous effort which perhaps inevitably sucked the band dry. Creativity, after all, is finite if it follows pre-determined guidelines. There is always a danger of repetition and that is something I really want to avoid. And let’s be honest, where else could I possibly take the band? It has achieved everything, nothing left to do. We’ve been playing for years in rotation the biggest festivals available for our genre, mostly occupying lofty positions in the line-ups. We could not be any more successful than what we already are. We cannot reach higher or farther. Within the framework of our possibilities we have reached the zenith. Now I am turning in circles. Every word has been written, every sound sequence played. Our legacy is ten albums, that must be enough.
Did you make the call yourself or was the whole band involved? Artaud: It was my decision alone.
How did the other Merciful Nuns react? Artaud: No one was happy about it. Though I think they suspected it was coming. Jawa was obviously aware about my thought processes for a lot longer, yet she was probably still surprised at the swiftness and indeed consequences for the band when the decision came; then again – “swiftness” is of course a relative term. We will continue defacto until the autumn of 2019 because I want to bring the new album live to our public in any case.
What was the defining point at which you knew that “Anomaly“ would mark the final chapter? Artaud: It happened through an encounter with death, whilst writing a song sometime towards the end of November. A member of our Lodge, Frater Fidens died suddenly and unexpected. Some people around me were deeply affected by his death. Everywhere I could sense the sadness and personal unease about getting older, the cold sensation of approaching death gradually. This sadness found itself transmitted into the last song on the album: THE PYRAMID. A friend told me a few weeks ago that within that song Frater Fidens is resurrected for a few seconds. This is probably the most profound and wonderful compliment about my music I have ever received. On that particular day I knew that the MERCIFUL NUNS’ sojourn would soon conclude.
The topics you have covered with this project are major and indeed philosophical in nature; they occupy a lot of time and significance in your life. Will this remain the case and therefore its only the MERCIFUL NUNS that are bereft of a future, or have your interests and thought patterns shifted to a new focus and direction? Artaud: Irrespective of what I end up doing next, it will always incorporate the mother of all questions: Where do we come from (as a species)? And where are we heading (humankind)? The philosophical aspects in my lyrics and conceptual art are those which surround me generally.
How did you arrive at “Anomaly X” as title for your final album as the MERCIFUL NUNS? Artaud: Perhaps I should describe it as follows: I was looking for a term for us humans in context to our environment. A word which reveals that in a perfectly attuned environment there is something alive with an inherently destructive nature. The anomaly, the “crack in the universe” is effectively what we are. We are the ones who don’t belong here. We are the anomaly on Earth and soon beyond. This formed the background. On the album I chose to reduce the “we” or “humankind” to a solitary unknown person. He or she calls itself the Anomaly.
„Anomaly“ therefore is a metaphor for a certain person? Artaud: Yes. A person representing all.
Where did you get the inspiration for the album from? Artaud: From within myself and my thoughts. They are influenced by “experience” and “observation”. I do like to observe. Perhaps there is also an element of finalising and clearing up what I have done previously with the Merciful Nuns. The album consists of two levels at least. The obvious level covers the society of Freemasons whilst the subjective level details the search for a higher, better Self. The album opens with words spoken by a Freemason: “…remember always that man is God”, a concept I am in agreement with. There are no gods, no One Godhead, no higher being. We are the gods. We have simply forgotten their origins. The odd ancient text or other forms of lore provide some insight; though in the main we chose to ignore them, even condemn them as heresy. Yet all the while it is the very alternative on offer, called religion, which is but a figment of human imagination. What a simpleton one must be for buying into such. There is after all a reason for knowledge being the greatest enemy of all religions.
Can anomalies exist when in the end the “norm“ is a rather individual concept subject to adjustment and change? Considering there is so much happening in the universe, anomalies are rather the norm, if we want to use these two terms. Artaud: You’re quite correct. The potentially infinite number of possibilities means the universe is governed by chaos and disorder. This is, however, only true in as much as humankind is simply incapable of grasping the extend of this grand and complex system of our universe. The anomaly referenced in the album relates to a specific person who doesn’t fit into the crowd. An outsider, a reject, someone with an inclination to resist conformity.
Listening to the album what strikes me the most, aside from the complexity of each song, is that there seems to be an imaginary red thread carrying the listener through the entire album; not just on the lyrical level but also and even more so in the music itself. How do you manage to write and compose individual songs, which fuse into something greater in its entirety? Artaud: By keeping the concept of the complete album in the back of one’s mind whilst writing each song. In any case my focus is more aligned with the creation of an album rather than song oriented. Were I more inclined to write song-oriented pieces then I’d be relying on chance whether the individual songs would fit together or not. And I do not like to rely on chance or coincidence.
Is “Saturnalia“ a throwback to the ”Dawn” album of your legendary Garden Of Delight? If so, was it a deliberate act or rather coincidental? Artaud: Certainly not intentional or consciously. However, what did occur to me while writing the song was that the whole album was turning out heavier on guitars than originally planned. One may and indeed should consider this as an analogy. But then again, one could also point to EXOSPHERE and need not go back in time quite so far.
What’s your favourite song on ”Anomaly X”? Artaud: THE PYRMAID
Why? Artaud: For the reasons alluded to earlier on. And because it carries a special significance. Something out of this world.
I too like this song very much. According to the booklet the song carries the stamp of Baudelaire. Which of his poems served as your inspiration? Artaud: “The Sadness of the Moon”, it most accurately reflected the previously mentioned general sadness I could sense around me.
I told you in the run-up to the interview that I find the video to ”Blue Lodge” particularly outstanding. For me its one of the best you have ever filmed. Who directed it? Where was it filmed? What is the background behind it? Artaud: Thank you. I find it rather appealing too. And Jawa evidently had fun bullying me. I had no idea about that side of her character (laughs). The video was filmed in Woolton Hall, an abandoned Masonic Hall in Liverpool; a small Czech village church in Lukova and also in Lohm palace in Brandenburg. We also filmed our second video: THE PYRAMID there. We produce the videos ourselves. I was fortunate enough to have two experienced cinematographers within the band & crew. If you want to call that way, then you could say the videos were directed by me.
It’s a terrific song: can you tell me a bit more about it? Artaud: Because it’s a phenomenal song. What else is there to say about “Blue Lodge”? (Laughs) No, seriously we contemplated for a while whether we should release ON THE SQUARE first; because from a sound perspective its quite close to our last single ETERNAL DECAY, which was, after all rather successful. Then I thought that would have been too easy and decided I wanted to deliver a surprise. Besides, a Classic Goth number such as this has been long overdue.
Can you elaborate on the cover artwork and its symbolism? Artaud: The Pyramid? Actually, the original intension for the cover was to use the logo from the booklet’s front cover. But then I wanted to have more “emptiness” on it, making it smaller, without band name or title… it was meant to have a more oppressive feel to it. The cover as it is now, shows a “pyramid eclipse”. When I saw its design for the first time I knew immediately: this is it. The “eclipsed pyramid” has thus accompanied me through the whole song writing process. A large picture of it adorned the wall behind my mixing desk. If you look close enough you can see it in the videos. And if you look closer still then you can see a world of symbols pertaining to the rites and customs of the Freemasons.
The 34th Degree? Artaud: That too. And it can only be attained by a woman. In the conservative, male oriented world of Freemasonry this is akin to sacrilege as there are only 33 Degrees. Unnecessary to point out that whilst I am fascinated by it, in the main I have a rather critical if not altogether deprecatory attitude towards the whole concept. Liberality is very important to me. I believe in the absolute equality between woman and man. A man is not the master and a woman is not a man’s subject. I just don’t call it emancipation but instead gender consonance. A state of normality which many men either don’t want to accept or are sociologically unable to do so. We need a new beginning, a NEO ALPHA GENESIS.
That’s the title of the first song on “Anomaly”. What is it about? Artaud: It’s about a new, more just world. And with that I don’t only mean the aforementioned relationship between men and women, but also between humankind and the environment, including other forms of life inhabiting the same. Here we are traversing a rather precarious path.
Personally speaking, in life do you value the seemingly mundane and ordinary or do you prefer the thrill and challenge of variance? Has this changed over the years? Artaud: An interesting question. Especially as its not an easy one to answer. On the one hand I enjoy experiences, travel a lot and constantly seek new impressions. Such may well be crass and different. Particularly in art and even more so in music I find myself rather quickly bored from the artists’ consonance and conformity. The creative input, if I may call it that, can therefore never be strange enough. On the other hand, I don’t require many “new impressions” in my mundane life to be happy. I know what I like, I know who I love and also know my tastes. This may well be considered as boring by some. To those I would, however, pose the question whether they are still searching or have reached their destination already.
Have you found time and leisure for reflection following the decision of the band’s demise? If yes, how does it translate? Or will that become relevant only after the final tour? Or do you never look back but only ahead? Artaud: I do indeed prefer to look ahead; but I am nonetheless proud of what we have achieved with the Nuns. That was truly unique. And like I said earlier on, we cannot do more. From hereon in I would be repeating myself and thus probably find my relevance waning. This wonderful band deserves better and hence we call proceedings to a close whilst we’re still at the top.
What’s next? Are you going to incept a new project with Jawa? Can we expect more music from Artaud Seth going forward? Artaud: Music is my passion, hence I will always be involved in making music. Where my inspiration will take me still exceeds my knowledge. But it will take me somewhere, for sure.
You mentioned that you intend to go on tour again. For when and where are the last shows of the Merciful Nuns scheduled? What is the last opportunity to see the band live once more? Artaud: We are planning another 12 shows in Europe and 4 more in Southern and Central America, that’s the aim. Just keep checking in on our website www.MercifulNuns.com or Facebook page; once confirmed the dates will be listed there.
Thank you for your candid answers and your patience with my questions! And indeed, for another brilliant album. Artaud: The thanks is all mine.
Axel Schoen & Katrin Hoog
translation Vince Stooss