Sunday, May 10, 2020

INTERVIEW: The Living Beasts: Broaching Nekrasov’s Hermetic Realm

NOTE: This interview was originally published by Heathen Harvest in 2016, and has been republished here only because Heathen Harvest is no more, and I wanted people to still be able to read it.

The Living Beasts: Broaching Nekrasov’s Hermetic Realm

Interviewing Nekrasov can be a hit or miss affair: he can be funny, scornful, self-loathing, or self-righteous depending on his mood, sometimes moving from one extreme to the other in the time it takes to finish a sentence, and he takes absolutely no shit.  (I remember with much fondness reading an interview he did in 2009: when the interviewer asked him “Do you feel that solo projects display a sense of misanthropy?” he responded “Would that be true also for Kenny Loggins?”)  But this second-by-second realness has always been part of his appeal: he’s not posturing or posing or pretending to be something he isn’t, and nothing he’s doing is designed to appeal to an image or please a fanbase.  Whether it’s his self-titled black-metal-meets-noise project Nekrasov or his newer blackened thrash hair-metal homage Rebel Wizard, what you get from him is 100% honest, and, although it’s not always easy to digest, it’s the fact you have to chew a bit that makes the taste so rewarding.  

I caught up with Nekrasov and opened the volley with a question on the premature pronouncement of his musical demise…

Heathen Harvest: First of all, a few years ago, the Nekrasov project was dead – what was the reason for killing it?

Nekrasov: I needed to shut it down for a while, kind of to see if I could move on from it. I wanted to release it from ‘the scene’ a bit as it seemed I went a little too far and I am a horrid snob for that kind of thing.  I was getting too close to elements I was always fiercely against and needed to put an end to it.  

HH: What do you mean you were “getting too close to elements [you were] always fiercely against”? Do you mean you were taking on influences or sounds you weren’t comfortable with, just because they were kinda trendy? Or do you mean you were feeling too much pressure from other people for how Nekrasov should sound? Or do you mean specific people in specific “scenes”?  Or what?

N: Oh no, none of those. Sound and influence-wise there’s nothing that could compromise that. There’s never a pressure on how anything I do should sound, I’m way too stubborn for that. Notice how I don’t work with any labels! Haha. 

It’s a hard one to answer as it stems from a lifetime of my weird staunch ‘punk purity’ – sorry to use such horrible terms.  What I am fiercely against is what the underground has become.  A great example for me is Dark Throne releasing a ‘Facebook exclusive’ track off the new album. There was an actual Facebook logo on their fucking Dark Throne ad!  It’s just fucking weak and lame (see what I did there). To me this is a pure horror of our times.  King Diamond playing energy drink festivals.  These were such powerful forces for me growing up. They stood so far removed from the banal culture we are bound in and offered a nice place to rest our troubled souls in this super fucking dull corporate world.  (Actually, King Diamond, as far as I am concerned, can do what the fuck he wants. No disrespect, sir. But seeing those pics of him next to huge blow-up energy cans were heart-breaking.) 

So I guess, to answer as best I could, I found Nekrasov getting too close to that kind of thing (obviously no way near that level but close enough for my fucking sensitive bullshit).  Outrageously written bios and product marketing, trying to create hype etc…  There’s also this fucked up hierarchy in everything now.  It’s vapid and empty.  No guts, just idolisation and commonality.  Crass and Bolt Thrower are big inspirations for me not just musically but attitude.  That kind of attitude doesn’t seem to exist much anymore, but that kind of thing is a fucking life-line to mentals like me. Haha.  Penny Rimbaud is still keeping it real.  Thank fuck. I would kill myself if I saw him throw a Facebook ad on one of his aphorisms!

I am, unfortunately for me, stuck in that ‘purpose’ that kept me sane my whole life. The world is tragically getting worse and the commercially mimcry of what was a ‘confronting alternative’ to that realm is just something I can’t associate with.  I submitted my stuff to labels and I felt dirty.  Haha. I am trying really hard to not sound like a pompus turd here, sorry If I am.  Maybe I am!  Oh shit, this interview has turned me on me.

HH: Haha! 

N: But probably moreso I am just overthinking all this shit.  But I find myself enjoying what I do more when it’s purely 100% personal and I really just like handing the music out to friends or those who might like it.  ‘Personal’ doesn’t just mean for me, it hopefully does resonate with someone who also feels that it’s hard to find ‘honest/different’ work that goes somewhere interesting other than just being ‘farken broodal’ – not that there’s anything wrong with that, I just need more out of this fucking sell-out world!  Haha!  I sit on this bed answering these questions smelling of misery and neglect, I am no beacon for anyone. Ha! 

There’s a ton of good folk out there though, still, they are dying out rapidly though.  Actually I must say how fucking excellent Heathen Harvest has been for so long. Sage and crew have kept so ‘true’ to their vision, that’s not an easy thing to do as most of the labels who were ‘true’ are fucking lollipops now.  It was amazing after a couple of years’ hiatus how many were just gone…

HH: So, this couple of years’ hiatus, and then Nekrasov is resurrected.  What was the reason for bringing it back?

N: The urge to ‘create’ this nonsense kept gnawing at me and I worked on things here and there.  Strangely, it did feel like it was a time to remove the project from what was happening at that time.  It had nothing for that era and had already vomited so much that it made sense to kill it off for a while and come in quietly – returning back its ‘purpose’, I guess.

But it’s hard to answer, and you will notice I will do this often to questions. This project is quite an idiot when it comes to interviews.  However, the ‘return’ – well, I suppose ‘releasing’ stuff again feels kind of new.  It’s a different era from 10 years ago.  I feel better having cast a lot of the ‘scene’ stuff off – that’s really important.

HH: Nekrasov has always been a pitchblack alchemical union of distorted frenetic black metal on one hand, and immersive black noise on the other.  This new release (“As You Trace it All the Way Back”), as well as a fair amount of the previous “Negative Temple” release seems to ditch both of those elements and mire itself in more minimal, quiet, creepy sounds.  Is this something you think we’ll be hearing more of in future releases?

N: Future releases?  I was trying to avoid making any more Nekrasov releases and I have no idea how they will turn out.  Certain ideas come up and I’ll work on it in a night or over the course of days or months.  It’s all a very subconscious process.  I never set out to release an ‘overwhelming’ or ‘creepy’ piece.  My mind is on it daily, whether it’s Nekrasov or Rebel Wizard – so much never makes it but there’s always something to work with.  Finally after 30 years of playing music there’s a liberation that I can write and release within a fairly boundless arena of my very deep interests with both projects.

HH: That’s definitely something I love about Nekrasov – as a listener, you never know what you’re going to get, so you’re kept on your toes, in a heightened state of anxiety/alertness.  Putting on a new Nekrasov release is never a “comfortable” or “welcoming” situation, but one loaded with uncertainty and anticipation.  (Which is surprisingly rare, even in underground musical circles, where you’d think the freedom to experiment would be more prevalent.)

N: This really surprises me, and I am really honoured that it comes out that way for at least one listener.  As I keep saying – and I am sorry to be so predictable – but it’s all really unconscious for me. It’s a ‘living’ beast.  Both projects need to have room for them to ‘be’.  It cannot be planned.  Life is not linear and nor does it work on expectation and plan.  And for me, this kind of thing is like a vital breath – and that makes it hard to breathe most of the time!

I have ideas of things I would like to do but I let ‘the process’ take it to where it wants to go.  Creating all this is a work out on as many levels as I/it can take it – with both projects.  Nekrasov is ‘other worldy’ – meaning it’s not of our immediate/common experience but it’s there, for me at least.  I have to go to these places and be fully immersed in that ‘unknown’.  It can and does go where it needs to. It’s not about being a ‘black noise’ project filled with nightmares of extinction etc… blah blah.  Rebel Wizard is a punk project ultimately, as far as keeping that ‘attitude’ alive somewhere in this ‘adore me/common worshipping’ backdrop. 

HH: Why aren’t you immensely popular?  There is so much copycat, terrible, unimaginative music out there, I just don’t know why your works aren’t just a little bit more better known.  Sorry, not so much a question as a lament.

N: The album NEGATIVE TEMPLE sold out at an entire 50 copies. That’s immensely popular for something like Nekrasov. Haha. I’m surprised people listen to it.  During the ‘early’ years the entire project was ridiculed.  For a long long part of its history it was always criticised for not being black metal enough, too much noise, etc.  It’s not easy stuff to get into.  I understand that.  But the popular thing is a repulsive realm these days.  ‘Popular’ is what is constantly told to people as to what is popular.  I like where I reside, as it’s a place for those that really appreciate the work and they haven’t been told by PR companies, glossy mags and underground ‘gurus’ that they must listen to this etc.  It’s all fairly unimaginative, as far as I am concerned.  There’s not much distinction in the processes of the current underground and our ultra conservative contemporary culture, sadly.  So the one or two people who really take on, especially the Nekrasov stuff, seriously, I feel pretty fucking honoured.

HH: Tell me about the Mors Sonat project with Mories (from “Gnaw Their Tongues”): how did that come about, how was it working with him, and will there be any more?

N: We’ve been friends for a while now. I think we started out just doing a trade, mutual respect of each other’s work etc. I don’t have a huge network of like minded folks for Nekrasov, just a few good ones.  Mories is a high ranking comrade.  We were writing quite off and on, trading our nonsense to each other.  We discussed for a while working on something, files were sent and over time it all just came together as Mors Sonat. 

It was all easy.  By the time we were sending files we had a pretty decent understanding of each other and it all happened quite spontaneously.  There’s only been a couple of folk I feel I can work with on that kind of level.  I have a folder somewhere of some ideas.  We don’t keep as regular contact these days though… I have degraded most of my communication to others due to becoming really ingrained in my hermetic realm. 

HH: As a hermit at heart, how do you find working with others?

N: I basically grew up playing in bands and I’ve always been fortunate to predominately be involved with some good folk.  Melbourne in the early 90s was excellent for punk and hardcore – where I was mostly based. However, I was 14 at the time, so it was a really powerful transformation as, of course, growing in the suburbs and seeing the world as a nightmare, I thought I had found my kin.  But then after a while you see it’s all the same and what used to be a special and powerful realm rapidly lost its unique presence and morphed into what it despised, and what we see today is really an absolute horrid outcome where everyone in the underground is exposed by marketing.  Fucking marketing!  Of all things.  So when it was ‘revealed’ that the ‘alternative’ was also a farce I was pretty much ruined and went on my own ways.

Anyway, I digress.  I have one band that very rarely gets together.  I really enjoy that.  But I’ve always worked on solo stuff.  It’s how I process all the ‘personal’ and the ‘abstract’ surrounding and swirling all around ‘being’.  I prefer solo as it’s kind of how I handle ‘living’.  It’s something I began doing very young and it’s mostly habit now.  Music was always a personal thing as when I grew up, metal and punk etc were not cool things.  There wasn’t really anyone around me listening to it apart from one older kid.  It’s wasn’t all chicks with Hellhammer shirts and tatts.  At least where I’m at/was from.  It’s really strange to see how fucking ‘normal’ it is.  Haha!

Hence why I mentioned the freedom in having worked on something so long that I feel I have perfected some areas of musical expression that are unrestricted.  I need this as this is how I operate as a ‘person’. I need to be able to mangle all the fucking epic processing that’s going on both consciously and subconsciously.  I can do a pure wall noise album with Nekrasov, I can cover so many varied forms of metal and punk in Rebel Wizard, and it will all fit nicely into each project and I can do it as I see fit. 

I am a stubborn mess so I don’t allow others to suffer my pains, they get to ‘choose’ by hitting that download button or moving on.

That didn’t really make sense.  Sorry.  I don’t know how to answer these.

HH: Let’s talk about Rebel Wizard, then.  Rebel Wizard, to my ears, fuses 80’s thrash/heavy metal riffs with black-metal gasping and howling, like some sort of a Leviathan-meets-Megadeth.  What inspired that project, and how has it been received so far?

N: Oh, I’ve always done stuff like that.  The real thing was really just make music that I feel no one is doing.  Metal/Punk etc is pretty boring for me these days.  Hence why it’s important to be the ‘rebel wizard’ within a supposed group of ‘rebels’. Haha!  The whole state of things in the underground – now remember, this is a personal opinion – is like a bad dream for me. 

Now I am not supposing, of course, Rebel Wizard to be ‘mature’ or ‘what the metal community needs’, but I did decide to release it, as I feel no one is doing such a thing. I also assume it’s my bullshit stubbornness to have available an outlet against the tidals of banality and idiocy.  For me, it captures something lost.  But that’s me.  I am not trying to sound pure NWOBHM or thrash or whatever; I am channelling 30 years of (my personal) influences into this project and again it’s a purely subconscious process.  It’s one of those clique answers that I am only really doing any of this because I want to hear it and no one else is doing it.  I won’t do something that will ‘capture the 80s’ etc or be ‘pure’ (fascist) – I’m not even trying to ‘push boundaries’.  It’s a bullshit world of illusion so here’s Rebel Wizard with an opinion for no reason at all. 

I enjoy and have lots of ‘fun’ with Rebel Wizard, and it protects me from Nekrasov taking me too far into the void.  Haha.  I do hate to admit it but this is who I am.  I hate it.  Haha!

However the reception has been great, really surprised by it actually.  Dare I say it’s been really nice to have people ‘get it’ – this relates to both Nekrasov and Rebel Wizard.  I struggle so hard with what a fucking piece of shit my work is, but then there’s some really insightful feedback that comes my way just when I am ready to give up.  Both projects need some kind of unique reference point so when others relate or find something in it I am pretty honoured.  Probably even moreso now, as I am really just working completely alone.  No labels, no networking and all that – just really purely working with what I have and that’s not much at all.

HH: That ‘aloneness’ does seem, from the outside, to be a central tenet of both Rebel Wizard and Nekrasov, not only in the miserable song titles, but in the sound as well.  Although, I honestly cannot understand any of the lyrics in either Nekrasov or Rebel Wizard songs, and have never seen a lyric sheet.  How important are the messages you’re trying to get across – or, if you’re not trying to get anything across, why have lyrics at all?  Is there a consistent theme?  My guess, and it really is just a guess, is that there appears to be a theme of “existential meaninglessness” – that is, the wretched weight of knowing that everything we do is futile, and that there is no greater reason (or reward) for anything we do above mere existence as some sort of base default.  Am I even close?

N: Way off, but I would expect that from a logocentric creature like yourself.  It must be hard for Mr Writer Man to not have a lyric sheet to guide him through the meanings we need so much to clutch to in our insufferable lives!  

HH: Oh. Really that far off, huh?

N: Ha!  You know I love you (and you too, ‘reader’).

All I will say on the matter is that there’s more than enough being ‘said’.  The titles are pointers but ‘sound’ is where more happens.  We easily become confined in the concept and cling to the meaning using ‘word’ which for me is far just too limiting.  Don’t get me wrong, lyrics were what broke my conditioning as a kid.  Discharge’s “Hear Nothing, See Nothing, Say Nothing” put me on this path but that’s the thing – there’s so much good lyrically out there that I just want to add or create outside that, as I am a fucking old philosophical fuddy duddy who reckons words are just symbols, it’s what’s powering the thoughts I am more interested in. The presence/being of what you are/are not experiencing.

HH: Okay then: so, what's powering your thoughts?

The thought ‘I see’ does not see. The thought ‘hear’ won’t make you hear. Seeing/hearing is happening.  Knowing what powers it cannot be known as it contains the thought: the thought does not contain it.  So get fucked. 

HH: Thanks for your time.

My time?  Thanks for yours!  It's been a great honour to be part of HH - you wonderful beasts were there right from the beginning, over a decade plus ago now.  In fact, probably the first that actually said nice things about Nekrasov.  Just for you, HH!  You won't see me on those bullshit, souless, VULGAR sites like Noisey and CVLT Nation!  Thank fuck HH is still around, you make it all ok.  I cringe at my answers but I hope you enjoyed and felt as unsure, confused and awkward as I did.  I apologise for ranting on fairly trivial subjects that don't matter, I did hope to make this better but I didn't.  

It's just a play.  Don't believe anything I said.  In fact, don't believe what anyone says.

Full disclosure: Mat Blackwell (in his guise as A Demon Sheen) and Nekrasov have occasionally worked together in the past (albeit, separated by both time and space), on the collaborative album “Volume Thirteen” by The Horn and Nekrasov, and on the track “Buried in the Winter Soil” by Nekrasov and Grist.  

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