Shamanistic tunes: 12000 Days & Orchis

An interview with Neofolk musician Alan Trench of the London-based label World Serpent (Coil, Current 93, Sol Invictus, Nurse With Wound, Cyclobe) and the bands Orchis and 12000 Days -arguably the most 'quiet' folkband around...


How did Martyn and you get to know each other? Did the both of you realise immediately that you were meant to collaborate in the way you do now?

Well, I knew of Eyeless for many years, of course, but only met Martyn when we started working with them at World Serpent. The first Orchis album, The Dancing Sun, had not been long out, and I gave him a copy - which he hated. However, he then got into its' peculiar charms, and we wanted him to do some vocals on some Orchis stuff. As soon as he and I started playing it was
immediately apparent that it wasn't Orchis - it had an identity all of its' own. Tracy suggested we try something ourselves, which we did. We found that we worked incredibly easily together - very complementary; and both of us like to try and capture the immediacy of the moment without worrying unduly about the technical side of it 'til later. This wouldn't suit everyone, and as we've always worked in the same way I guess it does mean that it was a fairly instant realisation - there was no working at it, or


What is your opinion about the England of today? Does living in England have a central and concrete influence on your art - or do you think it’s more of a subconscious "background noise" to you?

The England of today is divided into threes: the England of the past, the present and the future; the England of popular/everyday culture, historically received culture and that of the personal; the city, town and country and so on. In the day-to-day, England has all but lost any sense of identity and history (apart from mindless patriotism). Marx famously said that religion was the opiate of the people; that has very much been replaced by the cult of celebrity - it seems to me that the attributes that used to be vested in the ancient gods of the land, later to be usurped by the Christian church are now vested in footballers and soap stars (David Beckham as Christ and his benighted wife as the Magdelene/Virgin)... There seems to be a basic human need for some sort of role model archetypes, and in modern England the pantheon, although ever changing, is also constant - a very depressing thought (although I'm sure that it is not unique to England). Social life has become so debased that television soap communities, and the unthinking audience's reaction and involvement in them, are far more real in the minds of most than their own actual communities - even if you go to campsites in England there will not be people out and about in the evening; they will all be cut off in hermetic capsules, bathed in the blue glow of a voyeuristic hyper-reality. This is the background noise that must be cut out, and that has no place in anything we do. Yet every placename, and virtualy every streetname in England is charged with the past; while there are no wild places; the whole country has been shaped over centuries by those that have lived here, and shaped with purpose - managed for the growing of food, materials & etc. As you walk through this landscape you come across beribboned trees, tokens placed on grassy mounds and in shadowed and mossy groves... there is a secret life in England that is green and vibrant the further it is from modernity (the benefits of which we're quite happy with, thanks!) - and that is what has a central influence on me personally. An individual is part of the land, and it chimes within him - in particular, for me, there is the Weald and Downs of the South which have a high and airy calling, and the Wolds and wooded Fens of Lincolnshire where I grew up (and have now returned) which are full of a dark secretiveness. In such places, ghosts and the past take concrete form and you can feel the beating of the heart of the land; that which we have lost seems so much closer.

How do you attain this devotional and atavistic mood your songs convey? Do you perform any "rituals" to establish a link to nature and/or a more intense self-perception, finally carrying you into musical and lyrical composition? Or is it a rather pragmatic mode your song- writing follows?

There are two distinct ways that we write. We will either have a finished song that we bring along and the two of us arrange or one will have the words or the tune and the other will provide the missing half and then we will both work out the arrangement. Either way, our personal interests and obsessions will be inherent in the song, and it so happens that we have a
very complementary outlook. Of course there will be pragmatism at work in that we will change the odd word, or the modality of a song, or even a passing chord... I think in a way it is because we aren't precious about our 'own' songs and are able to change them that we have such a focused sound - I mean, to me, it is obvious which songs start with me and which ones start with Martyn, but I am always amazed that we sound as one to others. I'm very much a believer in pulling songs out of the air - although you can decide in advance what you are going to write about, songs usually present themselves fully formed (for good or ill) and if you force them into unnatural forms they protest and twist into their original form. From this point of view you have to be receptive in the first place - although this may be as simple as picking up a guitar - and you must have to express the idea. Some of the Orchis material has indeed been done as ritual pieces; but with TTD it is far more organic and far more the nature of who we are. Where the mood comes from is the physical process of recording, which is incredibly easy and swift, and I think at that point we are able to capture the 'feel'. We very rarely do more tham one take - in fact, we very rarely do more than one rehearsal - and we don't even start recording until it is 'right' to do so. This is particularly so with traditional material, where we will pick songs that strike at our hearts in the first place, suggest ideas, play a bit, but only record when the time is ripe - for instance, we have just recorded a song called The Cutty Wren, which has fantastic tune... when we first tried it, the guitars sounded great but the words didn't seem right, so we went off & I re-wrote them. We then drank beer for the rest of the night, and returned to it, blinking, in the morning, where it worked perfectly. The time has to be right...


Do you believe in something like a collective subconsciousness? Would that be a source you draw the familiarly strange and timeless images and moods for TTD from?

Yes, of course. Though for collective unconcious in this context, I would define this as the grand total of generations of experience; folk song, folk medicine, folk tales, etc. - all of which is part of a common heritage; not just English (although it is primarily that) but European. As we are a product of that, then naturally we draw upon it and use it in our metaphorical language... there is a great deal that is timeless and unchanging in people's lives despite the clamour of the modern veneer... we
all are born, live and die and spend a great deal of time trying to figure out why... There is a core of melancholy at the heart of the English tradition - most of the stories are pretty fearful, in one way or another - and, I suppose, otherworldly. Because these are the themes we are dealing with, then the moods and images naturally spring from them, and although the exact meaning of images or symbology we use are very personal to us I would
be surprised if they didn't resonate with others.

Your lyrics often seem to ensue a dreamlike logic: Do they emerge in the manner you set them in for TTD originally or do they rather pass through hard work of arranging/puzzling?

For me, the lyrics come about 95% finished. I'll go through them and change the odd word - for something more apposite, something that gives greater charge or depth of meaning. There's actually noting vague at all about my lyrics - I find them very exact. I've often heard people say that they catch whatever is floating past, and it is very much like that. Certainly you can try doing it as hard work, but it is seldom as good, or as true. My
lyrics are very specific - they tell stories by referring to them rather than by stating them as an a to b sort of thing... it isn't deliberate as such, it's just how it is... they are about three steps removed from what they describe - it's an attempt to capture the inner meaning, or the emotion of a moment.

Would you consent if I compared your tunes to shamanistic soul-journeys? Are you into Shamanism in some way?

Well, in many ways that is a fair interpretation, though it is more a collection of tunes representing a particular journey - or rather the facets (or certain facets, anyway) of a particular journey. The order of the songs on the albums are arranged in the way they are for that very reason... But I do think there is a lot of rubbish talked about shamanism - modern shamanism that is... there should, perhaps, be some other name for what genuine modern
shamans do. Primitive shamans are so immersed in a world of symbols and magick that any such journey is real to them in a way it can never be to us (we have too many pre-conceived and largely artificial ideas of what such a journey 'should' be like) - the nearest we come to it is dreams, dream manipulation, induced trance states and so forth. I do think that there are
certain people who can achieve things in a way that would be meaningful to primitive shamans - and so to do the security services such as the FBI,CIA, and indeed many state sponsored research programmes of modern times, with their interest in remote viewing and the applications of occult techniques
in general - but these are the same naturally gifted people who would have been shamans in tunguska or wherever. Your leather clad antler waving idiots are just rather sad personalities seeking to impose their will upon the weak and gullible... because I do think that there is a great, unfulfilled public appetite for shamnism/sacrifice, for those who go out there to parley with the gods on our behalfs. But there aren't many genuine ones, and a huge amount of charlatans.

"The garden of the wild stars" starts with the invocation "Let the
evening in by the door": Does this "evening" - as a time of weakening vigour and increasing relaxation - have a transcendental meaning for you? A parting from the day and a turning to a more mental-magical sphere?

The whole album is a kind of night-time, or dreamlike journey starting with letting the evening in - letting that which is without become that which is within, opening yourself to the power of dreams, being able for one moment to glimpse that power and grasp its' meaning. It's about the cyclical nature of dreams and obsessions and of trying to find a way through the mundane and into the inner and timeless core... evening, a time of gathering
shadows, is when the mind becomes freer, when objects and people shift and change and become more 'real'than during the daylight hours... the cyclical nature of time and dreams is pointed up by the reprise of the track at the end - we were going to call it 'let the evening out', but that seemed a bit obvious.

The song "All in the may" contains the striking line "Fan the spark of the ancient fire": What does the term "ancient" mean to you? Is there a way leading back to the instincts and "innocence" of old? By means of romantic idealisation, can the idea of "ancient" still be something realistic and applicable?

In this context it's a rather romanticised ideal 'elder time' when
everything was as we would wish it to be - the childhood of Man and also a personal childhood. In reality, I'm sure that the day to day life , as well as the people who lived it was(as has been quoted many times), nasty, brutish and short. Having said this, the idea, or ideal, of a 'perfect' time when we were closer to the gods and nature is a very strong one, as long as it is realised that that is what it is - an idea. Even as far back as Mallory's 'Mort D'Arthur' (1469) people were yearning for an earlier,
better time... So yes, as an ideal, or an ideal mind-set perhaps I think it can indeed be realistic and able to be applied. It's a way of looking at things.

If you had to assign a colour, weather and landscape to the musical essence of TTD, what would that be?

Dark Blue, Late Summer/Early Autumn, The Woods and Wolds of Lincolnshire or the Weald of Kent/Sussex. Before it gets to cloudy, let's try to approach the ground somewhat...

Do you regard yourself as part of a "scene"? Are you in touch with many other (congenial?) artists and bands?

No, I wouldn't have thought so - I don't see that TTD fits in with any other scene or movement. There is certainly now a movement in the trad/folk scene to update traditional songs into the modern idiom, and I guess we should fit in there if anywhere - however, none of the material I've heard sounds remotely like TTD - other than stuff that Martyn has done with Eyeless, Mick
Harris and so on. I think we've more in common with people like The Iditarod and Tim Renner's projects, though the sound is pretty different, and maybe with some of the AntiFolk bands - not that I'm in touch with any of them, and again, it's more the intent than the sound.

Could you tell something about the distribution company and label you are co-owner of? Which criteria do you apply when it comes to the decision of signing a band or not? Which bands do you want to recommend here?

I don't think it's really the place for that!

What's your opinion on bands like Der Blutharsch, Blood Axis, Death in June, Allerseelen…? Do they mask political fanaticism (at least in terms of archetypes closely related to the Third Reich) and an immature/ignorant idea of provocation behind the label of art, particularly behind a type of art concerned with esoteric, myth and culture in general?

All the bands you mention have fallen foul of the AntiFa in one way or another, so there are certainly plenty of people who do think that. Certainly there are also plenty of people out there who still think it's pretty cool to embrace far-right ideals and that the best way of showing their allegiance to such ideals is to use 3rd Reich symbology rather than attempting ACTUAL political change... for these people, bands such as the ones you mention come as part of the package, part of the pose - and thus
are a ready made target for marketing. They're not interested in the music as such, and the actual political stance of the bands, if any, is likewise immaterial - the point is more that everyone thinks that the bands are 'dodgy' and buy into them or oppose them for that very reason, and, knowing this, the bands simply continue to cynically target this captive audience. So certainly it is extremely questionable - if something looks like a duck, waddles like a duck, swims and flies like a duck - and quacks - then surely
it's a duck? Given that it is a duck, then I would agree that the intention is to be provocative, that it isn't art unless it is the art of provocation, and that it simply masks a dearth of original ideas under a swathe of third hand-me-down symbols. Once the dust settles, it remains to be seen if the actual music is any good - a lot of it sounds pretty useless to me.


Are there ideas, traits of characters, emotions (aggression?) you cannot live out with TTD and Orchis?

In this context: What can we expect from your solo-project?
Certainly there are songs which I don't think fit with TTD & Orchis, and which I would like to do totally myself - unfortunately, I'm pretty much useless as a singer, but I'm having a go and if they're any good I will put them together as a fourth project. I'm trying them out with another guitarist up in Lincolnshire who actually comes from a more HM background - I'm also trying to organise a very basic rock band with him and an old drummer friend of mine, if there's time to do this, and also a live only
ambient noise project with Steve from the Mutoid Waste Company. All of these run the whole gamut of emotions or traits - they are just expressed in a different way. The Temple Music album, which should be out on Shining Day shortly consists of six evocations of the Olympians - they're all 8-12 minute tracks, and I prepared everything before hand - tunings, etc, and then recorded the guitar parts (which make up 80% of the finished track) live at the correct times, then overdubbing pipes, organ and a few choice samples. I was really pleased with it, but I think it will be of pretty limited interest - its a small edition of 200x in handdone sleeves, quite a special package to me. Part two is about ready to go, recording wise, and there is some talk of live shows as well, which would be great to do. I went into a studio - which is pretty unusual for me, as most of what we do we
record ourselves - a couple of weeks ago and did a long gamelan based track called Eisendrang which I'm pretty pleased with, and which will form part of the third album in the series. .

Secluding it all, could you give some prospects of your personal and artistic future (concerts?)? What are your aims, your wished concerning your next 12000 days?

We're always happy to do concerts in theory, but Martyn and I never seem to have enough time for anything - though despite that we have nearly two albums of as yet unmixed material recorded and ready to go. There's no doubt that we would love to do some live shows, rveything permitting - promoters feel free to get in touch! The new Orchis material I'm ridiculously happy
with so far, as well, so artistically things are going pretty well.
Personally, I'm actually pretty interested myself in what the next 12000 days hold - nothing has ever been planned (or not concsiously by me, anyway). When I look back it's clear to me that there is a definite path i'm following, so i can only assume that.

So now you "brought home the bacon" and I am very much obliged to you for your efforts. May we hear a great while longer from the both of you!