Face-to-Face, Heart-to-Heart...

Story online since:  06.06.2011 / 18:39:25

Eviga, the stunning-looking man whose on-stage charisma and incredible vocal performances make the ultimate flammenmensch (in my own interpretation, someone who is capable to set people’s imagination/inspiration on fire) takes full form when the theatre lights are lit up. In an everyday dimension, Eviga is Jochen Stock, a gorgeous man both inside and outside, who is not afraid to show his vulnerability. I knew I would find a real person in front of me: no barriers, suspicions, no judgmental attitudes on either side cannot but allow for a face-to-face to become, quite naturally, a heart-to-heart. As I set up my recorder at the back of the Alcest/Dornenreich’s tour bus, I feel Jochen’s eyes on me and I lift mine to find a warm and curious smile saying "So that’s you, uh?!...” That childlike beam makes my heart skip a beat as it is so genuine and familiar at the same time: it took me a few days to place it, and now I know it reminded me of my eldest cousin: genes, those mysterious life building-blocks, always read each other to perfection, if only our polluted consciousness could keep up with them! As we talk I realize how many things we have in common, life episodes, circumstances and choices - both good and bad - which made us what we are, but this is not the time or the place for satisfying my instinctive inquisitiveness about startling personal coincidences, so I focus my mind on the job in hand, feeling certain that the many Dornenreich’s fans will find a lot to chew on from this friendly, long chat.

"Nature is visible Spirit; Spirit is invisible Nature." (Friedrich Schelling, Ideen, "Introduction")

I’d like to start by looking into how your acoustic/folk work is integral part of the black metal spirit, with the discourse on nature and human spirituality connecting the two genres. Your almost shamanic perception of life as interplay of energies lifts your work to a unique dimension: are you familiar with shamanism?

I have read a lot about Shamanism but not really in-depth, so I guess my way of connecting to nature is completely instinctive, my own way to perceive the world and experiences. So the music is all based on intuition too. I did study classical guitar between the age of 14 to 19, but when I compose it is all about instinct. The lyrics of course are about the interplay between conscious and subconscious, especially the latter, and how emotions react to the pictures that the music paint.

All your works are defined by a profound philosophical frame supported by spiritual believes. Which of the older meta-philosophical systems have you explored so far and inspired you particularly?

I have explored philosophical thought quite a lot, and I am very familiar with the writings of Osho. I know he is a controversial figure, but to me he was a very authentic person, you can really grasp his passion and his views are very interesting because they are a synthesis between oriental and western thought.

I studied Paramahansa Yogananda’s Krya Yoga (a very secretive higher type of yoga for the body and the mind) from the age of 13 with one of the most influential people in my life, my late aunt, a painter and an incredible woman with the independent spirit of a Madame Blavatsky and the looks of a filmstar. Did you start at an early age to be interested in the deeper meanings of life?

Yes, actually, and sometimes it frightens me to go back and read how deeply I was digging even then, writing about stuff that I thought I discovered only later through my life experiences.

You mentioned before that being an only child was crucial in your formation as an individual.

I think so. You know, when you are an only child you are the center of your parent’s energies and the world seems very different from what it actually is. At the time I thought it was great but now I wish I had siblings.

I completely agree, and I think being an only child makes you very sensitive as you experience the concept of being alone in a very subconscious way.

That is very true. You know, I have to admit that I am a person who really struggles with the concept of life in general. This life is based on arrival and departure, and I would love to "arrive” somewhere but it seems impossible to. Basically, mine is a struggle for "belonging” and I am not sure that, after 6 albums and 15 years with the band, I have really walked the path that I need to follow. Sometimes is not difficult to see that some decisions I made years ago where crucial and I could have been somewhere else right now, but you know, I made a conscious decision of not relying on an income from music as I wanted it to remain pure. It is extremely had to combine the mundane world with art: now we are on tour and I guess I am doing what a band has to do, and I even know for a fact that when, in a few days, I am back home again I will miss this enormously. Right now we are all here together on the bus with Alcest, we get on so well together and we have such good times, but in a way this is also a side of the business. I am not that kind of person because I am making music to find something far "higher”… I mean, I often write about finding a balance in life but sometimes it is so difficult because people tend to perceive you as some kind of a "myth” while I am just a guy who is struggling to find his own answers in life. It’s very weird… I am really not the strong man you see on stage, I only aspire to be like that!

And yet, I am sure that when you meet your fans you are rewarded by the fact that you are some kind of inspiration for them…

I have been a passionate music fan myself since I was 16 and it does mean so much when you meet someone face to face and you have that quick moment of mutual understanding, you know, just one glimpse or one comment is enough for both of us, and it feels great. Interacting with the fans is extremely important to us, and for that reason we always make ourselves available after the concerts so that we can speak to them. We have a small fan base but they are so loyal and for the younger kids it is so important to be able to find some identity, a sense of belonging, especially nowadays.

I personally think that it is a crime to discourage young kids from becoming musicians as it is a tough but very rewarding path to follow which can encompass so many other disciplines, from literature to philosophy and science. Do you see yourself as an artist, or are your university studies taking you somewhere else?

Well I am studying German. I am very interested in literature, hence my fascination with the structure of language that I use in my lyrics, but to be honest university has been one huge disappointment: the way everything is structured etc., is just soul-breaking. To a certain degree it means a lot to study my own language so in-depth, but if I am honest university is mainly an excuse to be able to carry on being a musician. I am also a librarian, which is very interesting and ideal for me.

Isn’t studying German helping you in writing your lyrics?

Well no, when I write I put all the theory aside and just follow my instinct. But going back to the question about being an artist, I must say that before I never wanted to be called an artist: I used to define myself as someone keen on "artistic expression”, but nowadays I think I am more accepting of the term "artist”. Unlike Thomas, who is a great violinist, I am aware that I am not the best guitarist in the world, but now I accept that I am an artist.

You are a wonderful poet…

Thanks… I guess that’s it, what I write comes out of a powerful connection between the music and words, and I do have my own personal approach as far as the guitar playing is concerned: I truly invest my whole being in what I do.

Speaking of which, you have stated before that you deeply believe in the immortality of the soul. I think that life as a human being revolves around this mystery: if you look at all the religions and philosophies of all times, whether they are based on the postulate of the reality of the soul or whether they deny it altogether, it is the conundrum which mankind wants to solve more than anything else, just because of its massive implications in making conceptual sense of our existence. My personal perspective involves finding a connection between scientific grounding and spirituality, which most people find odd, but to me it makes perfect sense…

I do believe in the immortality of the soul but, again, it is just an intuition. For example the album "Durch Den Traum” is inspired by the German Romantic philosopher Schelling, who had a - very controversial at the time - pagan view of the world where everything is interconnected. I guess that by observing nature and life one feels as everything might be a manifestation of what we call God or divinity coming into itself. I can relate to this view as it maintains the concept of individuality but at the same time it is a harmonizing, all-inclusive view.

Where you born in a city environment or in the countryside, and what can you tell me about Tyrol, a place my mother’s side of the family has strong links with?

Really?... I was raised in a city environment, but my family comes for a touristy region in the mountains of Tyrol where they were very often taking me to when I was a child: a place of outstanding beauty which had obviously a great impact on me. Tyrol is a good place to live as far as the environment and the landscape is concerned, in fact I call it "little Scandinavia”. As for the people, it’s a different story: some are very narrow minded, but you get that everywhere I guess. There are certain areas that are still firmly rooted in their traditions.

My grandfather used to bring home from Tyrol some amazing hand-carved wooden artifacts…

Oh yes, we have a lot of that. Also there are a lot of pagan traditions and old lore still going on, like rituals to get rid of the winter demons and so on…

Is Austria still a 100% Catholic country?

Yes, I’m afraid so. There is a huge difference between the Protestant counties and the Catholic ones: Protestants definitely look at religion in a way that is closer to real life. I went to school with the monks until the age of 13: I had a difficult time back then, so that’s why I became a rebel and got into black metal at the age of 16!

Oh dear… Do you still feel rebellious towards it?

Aaah, yes. I still struggle to see what all that is about. It is really hard to realize how deeply influenced one is when brought up with Christian values: it is all about manipulating young souls.

They do try to shape you since you are a baby: it is absolutely horrific what the Judeo-Christian religions have done, and knowing that it’s all based on institutionalized lies boggles the mind… Did you know that every single Catholic state pays millions of citizen tax-money to the Vatican according to the % of baptized people living in that particular country? It’s shocking to know that, in spite of Churches being thankfully empty everywhere these days, they still rake in our money just because most non-religious parents stupidly still choose to baptize their offspring! The only way to stop this hemorrhage of wealth going to those greedy fuckers, especially in this bad recession times, is to officially renounce one’s religion by an act of apostasy.

Yes, it is awful how they catch you when you are at your most innocent and vulnerable stage in life! I have left all that behind me now: I signed my apostasy document more than 10 years ago. For me it meant a lot more than just stopping them getting my money, but yes, I see the utility in cutting off their resources.

Ah, fantastic: I don’t meet many people who have actually gone through the apostasy process, because so few know about it. Moving on, you often describe yourself as anachronistic. I do like to imagine you and your avant-garde friends and colleagues sitting in a café like in the olden days, discussing philosophy and art… Today the so-called modern "café culture” is mainly a shallow fashion parade, but Vienna in particular has been a thriving cultural hot-spot since the late XVIII century!

Absolutely, those were magic times! We had our own magic times in the mid-nineties too: I think about that a lot actually… We used to share our rehearsal room with Korova and Christof (note: Niederwieser, also’s loving Dad) recorded our first demo tape. The old original member of Dornenreich, Thomas ("Valñes" Stock) and I were about 4 years younger than Chris which, at the time, made a big difference, so we were looking up to him and what he was doing with Korova. I will always be thankful for what he did for us… It is such a shame that Korova/Korovakill always remained so underground and so cult: it is extremely complex and anachronistic music and Chris is incredibly talented. Ah, his vocals were just mind-blowing!... (Note: don’t miss the re-issue of Korovakill’s 1995 ground-breaking album "A Kiss in the Charnel Fields”, in tasty anticipation of a new album expected in the summer!). But yes, it’s weird how the Romantic period has had such an effect on me: I always thought that I was born 200 years too late… I identify myself so much with all the topics that were dealt with in both Romantic literature and music, maybe way too much because they were all very dramatic and even the artists all seemed to die so young. But since an early age I did identify myself with the misfits, Lovecraft, all the poets and philosophers: each had the same tragic life story and I believe that dark outlook truly made me in what I am now. Dornenreich has always been more about death than life, I always wanted to get across thoughts and emotions which are really relevant and death is the ultimate concern for every thinker. Sometimes it is a burden to be so acutely aware of death.

At a younger age death is a shifty concept to grasp: I vaguely remember the death of my Dad’s father for example, but the more recent dramatic deaths of my aunt and her daughter made a devastating impact on me on so many levels. Have you experienced death in your own life yet?

Yes, both metaphorically and not. The old member of Dornenreich, Thomas, used to be my best friend, we put the band together, but one day he left to become this really dogmatic, fanatical Christian, so for me this was like a death because he was no longer the person I knew. Then I had to say goodbye to my youngest aunt just before going to Waken, knowing she was dying: it was just so awful; of course we both said we’d see each other again, but... Then I can put into the account various broken relationships… So yes, I can say I know death.

Do you believe that ultimately a true soul-mate would bring you some inner balance, perhaps making you feel closer to the concept of eternity?

Yeah, yeah (he sighs)… Unfortunately I know that the only person who can truly love you is yourself, but maybe I am a weak individual because I need to be loved and to love back. To be able to give love to someone is very important to me. I have dealt with being alone so many times, and I fully know the difference between loneliness and being on your own. Maybe it’s a cliché but what you see on stage is not necessarily the real me, in the sense that I have always needed a strong woman by my side, like so many others…

They say that behind every great male artist there is a strong woman, and I have witnessed that in many an occasion!

That is so true, look at Klimt for example. I guess I am attracted to the femme fatale; people like me always are… It’s about that intensity, that dark energy that makes it totally irresistible!

Definitely, I always seem to go for/attract the most difficult men: I am sure it’s my unquenchable desire to learn about life’s deeper mysteries. Sorry, we are slipping into such personal territory…

No, that’s fine. I think it’s important to just express one’s thoughts and share. I always wear my heart on my sleeve…

That is wonderful and rewarding for someone like myself, whose mission is to show, whenever possible, the human side of the artist… Shall we move onto another subject? Tell me your views on the infamous word "avant-garde”: personally I have always looked at it not as a specific genre but as an attitude; what does it mean to you?

Well, the term can be applied to a lot of things and it is definitely a cornerstone for Dornenreich as an artistic project but, to be honest, I do not believe so much in "avant-garde metal” simply because metal has become such a cliché these days. It’s like with pagan metal, it’s really becoming a circus with all the festivals and so on... Metal is not what it used to be and I feel that the word avant-garde is being polluted by these associations.

Sadly as soon as it became a genre with its own paradigms, the word lost its original significance of being radical, innovative, anti-establishment and free of rules (hence the fact that historically the artistic avant-garde has always associated itself with political extremism of all kinds). I still find the idea of AGM as very exciting though…

I don’t know, once there were Ved Bues Ende, Virus and so on and that was great, but today I really think that one of the few bands which could be called avant-garde is Madder Mortem. I am always mentioning this band in all the interviews because they are still so unknown: they are just great, very disharmonic and unbelievably intense, and the female vocals are just incredible!

So you are still very much a music fan…

Absolutely! It is very strange when I get to talk to so many fans at big festivals for example, because when I look into their eyes I see they see me as "Eviga”, you know. We did a lot do second that I must admit, keeping the mystical aura around us and so on, but now I like to do my best to show that I am just a man.

Just look at what’s happening to "Neige” now…

It’s incredible, it’s like he has started a new religion!

In spite of the fact that most people do not really understand what he is actually singing about…

That’s right. I like what he is doing very much: Stefan is totally committed, you know. We are getting on so well, this is a very good tour!
Talking of commitment, you are one of the most individual and incredible performers I have come across and your vocal experiments are still been emulated within the more avant-garde side of black metal. One of the unique traits you have developed through Dornenreich comes from your powerful use of wording, where one symbolically rich word is punctuated forcefully, suspended in-between the spoken act and the singing act. This is very close to the tremendous beauty and power of a mantra or a shamanic spell because it catches the archetypal meaning of a word and transforms it into a universally understandable emotion… It is an outstanding achievement!

Thank you very much! I think my detailed and universal approach of language is primarily based on the fact that I adore radio-plays, which create that comprising visions just by working with invisible air-waves (- that’s what it all comes down to). Radio-plays have also sensitized me for the magic of human voices and language itself. Besides I have always been attracted by poems of Expressionists such as Trakl, Heym, Lasker-Schüler or Benn being an impetus to use language utterly pictorial an in a very free way. Ultimately, the existential topics of my lyrics demand a high degree of vocal devotion: the use of my mother tongue, German, supports this devotion and provides me with an additional source of identification with the emotional content of the lyrics while speaking, singing, whispering, screaming … them. In many cases certain repeated words, or even phrases, are meant to get across a shamanic quality, as you correctly observed. Therefore my lyrics make extensive use of words like for random-instance "Baum” ("tree”), "Sonne” ("sun”), "Wasser” ("water”), "Nacht” ("night”) or "Puls” ("pulse”). These words travelled widely and every single human being will be able to relate to them in one way or another – and that’s how these words develop a very poetic, multilayered quality in my opinion.

Let’s talk about your new album "Flammentriebe”: it seems to have gone full-circle as far as what Dornenreich represents both conceptually and musically.

When looking at the past fifteen years as both artist and human being, the journey seems to have been very adventurous. I had the chance to work and to share my life with many extraordinarily talented and passionate people, and I learned a lot about what life can mean - on many levels, good and bad. With "Flammentriebe” something seems to have come full circle. Many aspects of the instrumentation of "Flammentriebe” refer back to our first recordings, however, the album aims at and relies on different emotions and thoughts. I have always tried to get across a universal interpretation of Black Metal as a form of art that harmonizes all the worldly contrasts symbolized by contrasting elements, such as whispers/screams or acoustic guitar/distorted guitar, which embellish the artistic vision. I perceive "Flammentriebe” (similarly with "In Luft geritzt”) as a cycle itself starting with a very physical, dense and desperately driven opener ("Flammenmensch”) and ending with a very fragile and widely open final track ("Erst deine Träne löscht den Brand”). However, one could also claim that a "bigger” cycle within Dornenreich is represented by the contrasting instrumentation of "In Luft geritzt” and "Flammentriebe”.

The element of Fire is far more than a powerful symbolic element: human civilization began with the mastering of fire, but at the same time, like with everything in nature, we are still at its mercy. Forgetting who we are and where we came from is not just the main cause of our deep discontent but of our demise. In "Flammentriebe” you seem to show poetically how Fire becomes, in the hands of man, a negative, destructive force rather than a symbol of purification and rebirth: your flammenmensch is a being consumed by the fire of greed and delusion rather than one burning with the desire of finding his/her true self.

Exactly. However, I also deem that the "Flammenmensch” - whom I carry many traits of myself - fails to find a balance between the life/death-instinct within himself which – on this very album – is represented by the warmth of human emotions (represented by the flames): passions, longings, decisions, everything that ultimately contributes to making society what it is. The "Flammenmensch” our society seems to rely on the most negative extreme of human instincts, which keeps bringing more destruction and exploitation, and the fact that we are de-natured and way too civilized, urbanized, digitalized is a crucial factor… This is also the reason why Dornenreich constantly addresses the mentally and emotionally "bare” human individual, urging him to becoming aware of its strengths and flaws - far off any cultural, religious or political systems or structures. We need a deeper kind of self-awareness, a deeper understanding to what it means to live as a vital part of this cyclic earthly life: only this kind of attitude would change the society we dwell in from within – and in a natural and thus sustainable way.
Keeping in mind the staggering complexity and seemingly complete interdependence of all areas of our daily life in this growth-driven society, everything I pointed out before seems to be nothing but a (moralistic) utopia and I know that perfectly well, but I consider it to be a utopia which is truthfully alive yet.

Note: A big thank you to Moritz for making everything run smoothly at the venue! A true gentleman…

Mystery Flame

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