Interview: A Forest Of Stars Discuss New Album, Sporadic Lyrical Themes, Influences, The Future Of AI & The Possibility Of Man’s Demise

London’s A Forest Of Stars aren’t like other bands and Beware The Sword You Cannot See isn’t like any other album. As a matter of fact, there’s a good chance that it doesn’t sound like anything you’ve ever heard before. I spoke with Mister Curse (Vocals), The Gentleman (Drums, Keyboards) and Mr. T.S. Kettleburner (Vocals, Guitars) about this astonishing new album, as well as that which inspired it and it’s arcane nature. We also discussed the future of AI and the possible downfall of humanity. Well, perhaps things won’t be all that bad. You never know…

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Tell me a little about the band. How did you form and what was the goal from the beginning? It seems like with every record, your sound evolves into something even more textured than the last one.

Curse: We formed from a simple desire to create some music on our own terms. Several of us had been talking about forming a band since the middle of the ‘90s; it just took us a while to find the right people and the time to put something together. As far as progression between albums is concerned, it is more a natural evolution rather than a conscious intention to make change for the sake of change.

Kettleburner: Exactly. As soon as you try and force too much direction upon the music apart from what flows naturally from you, it can smother it and it loses the essence somewhat. As time has gone on we have let ourselves become more collaborative. I’m definitely a lot less precious than I was at the beginning.

What exactly is meant by the title, Beware The Sword You Cannot See? What exactly is this sword a reference to, or symbolic of?

Curse: The sword is a reference to a hex, a curse. The title could be taken as a warning to keep all eyes on our backs, lest that sword should find itself lodged between our shoulder blades with much malice aforethought. It could also be perceived as a warning that just because an aggressor cannot be seen with the naked eye does not mean that he is not waiting for us in the shadows as we stumble blind stupid down some of the darker, more piss soaked alleys of life.

Though I’ve immensely enjoyed the record, I’m having a bit of a problem understanding lyrically what the focus of the album is about. It’s a musical fiesta of sounds that keep me listening, though I’m not real sure what the message if any, is behind this recording. Could you enlighten me on that?

Curse: I feel that I should probably make some attempt to apologise on that front – the album is all over the place lyrically. The reason for this is the fact that my head was all over the place whilst writing it. If there is a theme, it is that of madness, paranoia, death. Live burial, desperation, maggots, worms and things that creep and crawl through our dreams. There is no message as such, apart from to say that at the time of writing I perceived myself to be ensconced in a flesh and blood coffin and was not particularly enamoured with that fact. In fairness, very little has changed on that score, though I have come to terms with my lot in this box in this hole in this plot.

Let’s talk about the recording process for Beware The Sword You Cannot See. How long did it take to compose and eventually record the album? Where did you record the disc and what was the atmosphere like during that recording?

The Gentleman: The writing process took a bit longer than usual; personally speaking it was a bit tricky to try and come up with anything that could surpass what I’d written previously. The last album ended up being very well received which was quite a shock and I didn’t want to just rattle out any old thing, or worse, tread water. The songs were written either as individuals or in pairs and then brought to the group to finish off once they’d reached the point where they needed more input. In that way, we manage to get everyone’s stamp on it and involvement, which makes for a great uniform AFOS feel to everything. I think it took, on and off, about six months to write everything, but there was a lot – and I mean a lot – of rejection of material we felt wasn’t working. Probably about fifty percent, again of what actually ended up on the record, at the very least. Recording was quite quick, though spread out: I think six weeks in total, possibly a few days more. But that was between October and April.

Kettleburner: The recording was one of extremes in terms of the atmosphere around us – mainly jubilant and light hearted, but with some subdued times during the end.

I’m almost reminded of Alan Moore’s spoken word work in some of the songs here and the whole record seems to convey some sort of bizarre occult quality. At many times it feels more like a ritual recording. Am I simply imagining these occult leanings, or is there an arcane influence to be found on the record?

Curse: From my own perspective there is indeed an arcane influence on my work – there always has been. It is on the periphery of everything for me. Both in and out of plain sight. Having said this, I follow no particular philosophy in this respect; it is more something that is undeniable for me and is simply a part of my existence whether I like it or not. For the record, I like it. Also, it is a tremendous complement to be almost compared to Alan Moore’s spoken word work.

What artists would you consider as inspirations to the act? Why would you feel that these artists are important to the sound of A Forest Of Stars?

Curse: Personally speaking, Skyclad, Darkthrone, The Legendary Pink Dots and Devil Doll were probably most influential as regards my beginnings. Tom Waits as well. In truth, there are so many bands, writers and situations that I have been influenced by in one way or the other through the course of this that they would be both impossible and very boring to list! It is the lyrics and delivery of such by these artists that inspires me. Lyrics are very important to me; to my mind they should be an essential part of any musical output containing vocals. I know a lot of people don’t care about lyrics and I am happy to say that I don’t care what they think on this subject. It is, you could say, close to my heart.

The Gentleman: Pink Floyd, most definitely. John Carpenter, Tangerine Dream; that dreamy synth/prog era of the seventies is a huge part of our sound (and a large influence on myself personally).

Additionally, list some of your personal favourite records and why you think they are worth listening for fans of the material.

Curse: For me, Darkthrone’s A Blaze in the Northern Sky, simply because it is an essential work to my mind. Hvis Lyset Tar Oss by Burzum, since it feels like winter. Heart of the Ages by In The Woods…, anything by Ved Buens Ende, Tom Waits and Devil Doll. Skyclad’s Prince of the Poverty Line is another, because it is one of my oldest and most enduring influences, (mine too) with a sense of real passion and bile – which seems to be a rarity in a world of posturing and think-alikes. A lot of the more apocalyptic works by the Legendary Pink Dots – The Tower, Any Day Now and The Golden Age would be a good start; I am also heavily indebted to Peste Noire for his unfailing spit, bile and passion. I am not going to mention politics here, since this is not relevant in the discussion of music, to my mind. Though I should say that artists with the nerve to say what they really think are a rarity, and I think that they should be applauded for this, whether or not you agree with their backgrounds or not (I humbly agree, it’s what I try to support most on this website). I could go on for hours about bands and albums that I love that have influenced me hugely, but I would go on for ever, and the list would change and fluctuate depending on what time of day or what season I was to be asked… (Don’t worry, I wouldn’t have minded.)

The Gentleman: As you say, we could go on all day! I’d plump for: Kate Bush’s Never For Ever because never have I heard such a bewitching production coupled with spooky, claustrophobic songs – it’s like a living, breathing fairy-tale; Peter Gabriel’s 4/Security because it’s a fantastic tribal, rhythmic nightmare with the oddest, most imaginative sounds, arrangements and production; and finally Angelo Badalamenti – Twin Peaks/Fire Walk With Me (the two albums are inseparable) some of the darkest, densest, most atmospheric, mysterious soundscapes created. The sense of dread and menace is astounding, matched only by “that” guitar sound and an amazing set of jazz musicians at their peak (pun not intended, but what the hey). (These all sound fascinating; will definitely have to check them out. Readers should do the same.)

What sorts of things do you do when you’re not making music? What sorts of hobbies do you enjoy and what are some things that you would recommend to readers? Additionally, what is something about you that we would never guess?

Curse: I am an avid reader, though I don’t find a lot of time outside of my day to day work for anything else – I’m getting on a bit and get tired. I am attempting to write a book at the moment, though this is going in fits and starts at present. Hopefully it will begin to come together with time. (I’ve been there. It is rough. The hardest part after editing is finding someone who will actually want to read it!) Something about me that you’d never guess? Not a lot – I’m your basic misanthropist – anti-social, black-humoured, fuck-witted. What’s not to hate?! Oh, I like frogs. I keep fully amphibious frogs. These frogs like worms. I like worms. Everyone’s a winner!

The Gentleman: Lots of books, lots of cinema, lots of work and stuff like that. I’m currently helping my cousin renovate a house he’s bought – that tends to take up quite a bit of spare time (but is wonderfully rewarded with craft ales.)

Kettleburner: As we’ve now pretty much thawed out from the winter I’m currently planning a few minor expeditions locally and elsewhere in Europe. Our record company Prophecy are holding a festival of bands on their roster in Balve Hohle in Germany in September, so I think I may pop over to that.

Tell us about the tours you’ve been on recently. What are some of the best and worst moments that you’ve had while on the road? Did you meet any of your musical inspirations while touring?

Curse: We have been a little lax regarding touring of late due to various circumstances, though we are intending to rectify this in the future.

The Gentleman: Over the bits and bobs we’ve done, we’ve managed to meet lots of bands I/we’ve always wanted to see and get to say hello, which is always a treat. I think the most jaw-dropping one was when Agalloch approached us to say they were huge fans – that really was a surreal moment, being big fans of them and they having a large influence on us!

How do you feel about the fate of humanity? Do we have enough left within us to go for another decade or two? Or will we be wiped out completely within the next two years? With the advent of robotics, body transplants and virtual reality worlds for people to live in looming just over the horizon, it seems that this technology could very well be our downfall.

Curse: (Laughs) Like any good infestation, I think it’ll be pretty hard to get rid of us without going the whole hog and ensuring total nuclear annihilation. The planet would repair itself given time, and I’m sure that some other pestilential space wasters would then evolve in our place. Regardless of that, it would please me somewhat to still be around when the bombs fall or the sky turns black, but I’m not holding my breath!

The Gentleman: There are a lot of people writing on this subject at the moment. Between the Fermi Paradox, The Great Filter and The Advent Of True, sentient AI (it really is a lot closer to happening than we realise) the future is either going to be a wonderful paradise or just a huge dead spot. I’m firmly in the second camp, though I wish I were in the first. But I just can’t trust humanity to balls it up out of greed, sadly.

Kettleburner: Perhaps our current placement on the Kardashev scale will provide a bit of theoretical optimism there, although that scale rates a civilisation on its ability to consume all around it, which is again really a bit depressing.

Finally, where can we catch you guys live? Will you be touring here in the states? If so, with who?

The Gentleman: Though it pains me to say it, there are no current plans to tour your fine country. It will happen one day, though – we’re determined to get to everywhere we can, it just takes planning, logistics and seven people’s busy lives to fall into the right place and then bam! We’re off… It’s a real shame we can’t be doing it now, to be honest; there’s nothing we’d like more’ we love playing live and getting to meet people, it’s always a treat!

Thanks for an absolutely wonderful album and I hope to hear more from you in the future. Best of luck to you on tour! (Eric May)

Curse: Many thanks for your questions!

The Gentleman: Seconded; many thanks indeed, some interesting questions there!

Pick up your copy of Beware The Sword You Cannot See here at Prophecy Productions or on Bandcamp.

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