Musk Ox Interview
Story online since: 31.08.2009 / 22:10:06
Neofolk is an ever-expanding genre, forever being pushed in all directions, with very few bands providing as well as Canadian one-man act, "Musk Ox". Armed with a superb melodic sense, mature and intelligent song-writing and an emotional depth rare in modern music, Nathanael Larochette's project graces our ears in a very personal way, and now he is here to grace your eyes and brain as I bully him into revealing his trade secrets to all those willing to read on. Enjoy.
Now, the first thing that some people may think when reading this interview is "Why are a neofolk project being interviewed in a metal webzine?Ē. I also notice that this isn't the only metal publication that your band has been featured in, I remember reading about you in Terrorizer not too long ago. What influence does the metal genre have on your music and why do you think that your music appeals greatly to that demographic?
Metal music has always been the greatest influence on what I do. Since I was young itís always been there so the influence was bound to appear. For me, metal doesnít simply mean music that is loud and has lots of distorted guitars. I believe metal is much more than this. Metal to me is something deeply emotional. I feel a classical guitar by itself can be just as heavy as a wall of guitars. Not aesthetically, but emotionally. Thatís how I feel my music is able to connect with people who enjoy metal. There is a heavy mood to what I do. There is also the technical side of things because there are many intricately played guitar parts on the album which is also something that is characteristic of metal. Itís funny because Iíll play Musk Ox material to friends who donít listen to metal and they immediately say it sounds metal. As I mentioned before, metal is something you feel and I think that comes through in Musk Ox. I donít call my music metal, I call it music that will appeal to metalheads for the reasons mentioned above.
Am I correct in saying that all material for Musk Ox is written just by yourself?
My three demos and my full-length album were all written by me. On the bonus song "Lullaby for GhostsĒ I had some guest musicians including a brilliant cellist who composed and performed the solo in the song.
Your music is obviously very rich, with many layers and ideas going into one song. Could you explain the general process you go through in songwriting to come up with these ideas and make them work in a cohesive manner?
It always starts by playing the guitar as much as possible. Eventually Iíll stumble across something cool that I can work with. Iíll then record a rough version of my riffs so that I donít forget them. Eventually Iíll have a bunch of riffs that I then attempt to piece together in a way that flows. When composing layered guitar parts I generally just record the riffs and then play over them until I find something that works.
Your music contains, as you describe it, choirs and chants, but no traditional vocals. Was this a conscious decision or did you feel the music just flowed better and felt more pure without them?
The choirs and chants just felt natural to me. I knew I wanted the music to be instrumental but I also liked the sound of the vocals used as an instrument, rather than dominating the mix. I like creating a musical backdrop for the listener to feel what they want over it without explicitly telling them what they should be feeling.
Do you also play all of the instruments in your albums yourself?
On my three demos and the full length I played everything myself except for a guest violinist on a few songs and a guest cellist and female vocals on "Lullaby for GhostsĒ.
How long has it taken to gain an understanding of this array of instruments to allow you to compose with them to the standard displayed? To what extent do you utilise traditional music theory?
When it comes to the melodica, recorder, wood flute and piano I canít really say how long it took me to learn them. Iíll usually just pick them for a part, find a melody line that fits and then hit the record button. As for utilizing theory, itís definitely something that Iím aware of and resort to if I run out of ideas. Itís a balance. Iíve met lots of players who resort to just feeling it out which is great, but what happens if that doesnít work? I find that theory is great because it can really expand your understanding of music and push your writing if you allow yourself not to get too bogged down by it. The new material is definitely more theory based because I wanted to expand beyond the chords and time signatures that Iíve grown comfortable using.
There are some apparent influences on your music by neofolk bands such as Tenhi and also by more post-rock oriented bands like Mogwai. Who and what do you feel influences your music the most, inside and outside of your genre?
Inside the genre Iím obviously influenced by Agalloch, Empyrium, October Falls, Neun Welten and Tenhi, to name a few. My original reason for studying the classical guitar was so I could play like Mikael Akerfeldt from Opeth. I love the way he plays the acoustic guitar. Iíve always been influenced by the acoustic interludes in metal songs and wondered what a whole album of them would sound like. I also love Post Rock bands like Mogwai, Sigur Ros and especially Amiina. People often believe that if youíre influenced by a band you must sound like them but there are things beyond the sound of a band that can influence you. With Post Rock bands, Iím really influenced by their approach to song writing. I like the build-ups and the repetition. However, Iíd never heard a Post Rock band used classical guitars before so I figured itíd be an interesting mix. Outside the genre Iím influenced by nature, life and whatever evokes an emotional reaction within me.
When did you begin writing the style of music which you now release? What other styles do you and have you played which bring you to now?
I started playing this style just after I quit school and bought my first classical guitar about four years ago. During this time I had a group that was myself on classical guitar, a violinist and a chromatic harmonica player. We were called The Butternuts and we played instrumental/ classical/swing music. Kind of like a silent movie soundtrack. We released a full-length which I produced. That was fun because it forced to come up with stuff that was a bit jazzier and groovier than what I normally do.
What are your feelings about the future of the genre? It appears to me as one of the few which has been going a while without becoming overtly derivative, with bands still releasing fresh material and coming up with new ideas even tens of releases down the road. Do you feel any different being directly involved?
Neofolk to me is a really interesting genre because very few people even know it exists. I totally agree with your statement that itís still quite fresh. I feel that itís a genre that hasnít been fully explored and that there remains much to be expanded upon. Itís not really a popular genre so I think the people that play it do so because they love it. If all of a sudden Neofolk bands got popular this would change but for now I think it really represents a labour of love from the artists. As for the future of the genre itís hard to say. In my experience Iíve realized that it is a very universal style. Iíve sold CDs to fans in Japan, all over Europe, Canada, the US and even as far as India. I feel that when people are searching for a way to look within themselves Neofolk provides that soundtrack. There is definitely a huge amount of potential within this genre so itíll be interesting to see if any bands within it step up and get international recognition. I feel the art of acoustic music has sort of died out. Here in Canada, you either play bluegrass, folk covers that youíve heard a million times or you are strictly classical. Iíd like to see something similar to what happened with the Prog Folk movement of the 70s where people where really experimenting with folk music. I see lots of technical metal bands around nowadays which is cool, and I do like that stuff, but I donít really see anything within this genre that I could add. When making music you want to find something that you can call your own and I feel Iíve come close to that with Musk Ox.
What do you have in the works at the moment? I know you are working on an album with your new band "The Night WatchĒ, how is that going?
At the moment I have three exclusive songs appearing on different albums in the coming months. One will appear on the "Der Wanderer Łber dem NebelmeerĒ compilation which will be released this fall (www.myspace.com/derwanderercomp) . This double album will feature Agalloch, October Falls, Musk Ox and many more Neofolk, Ambient and Black Metal bands. I also have another exclusive song appearing on a fairly well known metal bandís upcoming album as well as for another compilation which is still in its early stages.
Aside from these releases, I am currently working hard on the new Musk Ox album. Expect a much more technical, engaging album. Iíve also met some musicians who will likely become part of the band both live and on record. As you also mentioned, I am in the process of recording the debut album from my band "The Night WatchĒ(www.myspace.com/dontcreep). My biggest influences with this band are three local groups from Ottawa, where I live. They are Buried Inside, As the Poets Affirm and The Flaps. I highly recommend these bands. Iím really excited about this project because it is something I have yet to hear in the metal genre. This will be a truly progressive album in that it will not sound like anything else that is currently available. Some of the influences will be obvious but the mix will be fresh. Having "The Night WatchĒ is good for me because it helps me express influences which do not necessarily fit within Musk Ox.
Where do you think the years will take Musk Ox? Do you think that you will begin to move into new territory or continue writing as you are?
There is no doubt in my mind that Musk Ox will change in form in the coming years. This is only natural as all humans are susceptible to change. Expect the same level of quality but do not expect anything else.
Do you have any plans for touring in the future?
Though I do not have plans written out yet, I have a deep seeded ambition to tour with Musk Ox. I would love to tour Europe because I feel audiences there would better understand what I do. As most musicians will tell you, travelling with their music is always a top priority. Iíve chosen this as my career so I plan on taking my time so as to get it right. I do not want to rush things.
Well thanks a lot for taking the time to talk to me, I look forward to whatever new material you release. Anything you want to say that hasn't been addressed?
Thank you Simon and Avant-Garde Metal for your interest in Musk Ox. To anyone interested in purchasing a CD, simply contact me at www.myspace.com/embraceinashes. If you live in the UK my album is available through Code 7 distribution. If you are beyond these borders simply contact me. Thanks again and please be well.