Tuesday, 21st August 2018. 9:22:59pm ET
Interviews Ethereal Interview- Unto Ashes


Band: Unto Ashes
Interviewer: Shaun Hamilton
Date: 12/14/03

Strange, morbid, enchanting are but a few of the words to describe these prolific and acclaimed Projekt artists, who I interviewed a little while back. Their newest "Empty Into White", is a very unique journey into the gothic and deathfolk world, bringing out many twists and unexpected turns. Now a bit of insight into the groups from the masterminds of the group, Michael and Natalia! Enjoy!

(1). Hello yet again. How is everything around your way, and how's the black metal treating you so far with the new releases (I remember you being into Thyrfing and all that)? The new Kalmah is pretty good, as is the new Emperor best of.


Michael Laird: I've been obsessed with BLUT AUS NORD (from France!) who has been working in relative isolation to create some of the most extreme and the most heartbreakingly-beautiful music I have ever heard: their most recent albums "Mystical Beast of Rebellion" and "The Work Which Transforms God" are both absolutely sublime - and TOTALLY necro. Both are incredibly scary and brutal, yet poignant - and profoundly sad.


(2). Well, first off, the sound on the new CD is much more 'ancient' and a bit more cryptic than, say, "Saturn Return". Does this reflect more your passion for ancient history and folklore, or more of a natural progression of sound?


Michael Laird: I guess it's not surprising that "Empty Into White" sounds cryptic. We all live in New York, and to be honest with you, while we were working on the album, writing it and recording it, I had a genuine fear that New York City was going to get blown up; and if we all died, or got horribly mutilated or whatever, well, I guess there's not much we could do about that. But my biggest concern was that we wouldn't be able to finish the album and that it wouldn't out there at all. At one point I thought about sending preliminary mixes to my dad along with a note saying if anything happens to me, just upload everything to mp3.com.


(3). Also, a lot more strange and exotic instruments were brought into the mix, such as dulcimers, Persian saz, and tamboura. Was it intended originally to bring these instruments to the new Cd, or were they used in the process to flesh out the sound of the guitars and vocals?


Michael Laird: we used dulcimers and hurdy-gurdy on "Moon Oppose Moon" - and on "Saturn Return" we used dulcimers, saz and tamboura - on "Empty Into White" we used all of them; not in order to make a statement but because the instruments sounded really amazing on the songs we were making up at the time.


(4). When mixing these instruments, did you have to use any sort of mechanical manipulation in the studio, or did the sounds already carry the proper amount of musical elements, such as treble and volume? As in other words (for those in the audience whom I'm confusing), does the final sound on the CD reflect more of a studio product or more of a live product put to CD?


Michael Laird: All the voices and instruments went straight into the board - no effects - then during mix-down I made sure the instruments and voices "spoke" for themselves; in other words, I purposely mixed everything pretty clean; I added a little EQ here and there, a little reverb sometimes, some mild compression overall. The main thing was to make a nice COLD sounding record, where you can actually hear everything. The process of making a record is like making a painting - you have to blend here and there, and you also have to destroy parts of it in order to create it. We play most of the songs on "Empty Into White" live; in fact, it really helps if you BEFORE you make the record, because then you know what works - or doesn't.


(5). Tell us about the title for "Empty Into White", and what that term means.


Michael Laird: It could mean a lot of things... It could also mean the phenemenon whereby a subject who is dying - or has died and was brought back to life - reports seeing WHITE... all around: WHITE... it seems that this is one of the universal truths of mankind: that's how it feels to die.


(6). Does it tie into the title's theme/meaning for "Moon Oppose Moon" and "Saturn Return" have any relation to "Empty Into White" at all? I notice the first two CD titles reflect a astronomical theme, so I figure perhaps Empty Into White reflects that as well.


ichael Laird: Maybe it does?


Natalia Lincoln: There was not as much of a mandate on this album title--we knew in advance we'd call the second one Saturn Return, but the third had no astrological continuity with the first two. We kicked around a lot of ideas, including stuff about darkness and northernness and the past, but Empty Into White won the consensus in the end.


(7). With "Empty Into White" I noticed as well that you experiment more with language, including French and Dutch. Did you originally try those songs in English at first and then try them in multiple languages?


Natalia Lincoln: More frequently the original language asserts itself before English comes into the picture--either it's "We need something in Norwegian" or "These songs were originally sung in French... well then, French it is."


(8). And how did you go about the translation process? Do you naturally speak the languages mentioned, or did you use a live translator/Alta-Vista translator?


Michael Laird: Natalia is the best linguist I know - she speaks and writes at least a half-dozen languages!


(9). Did any of these songs come from variations of songs on "Forever Sick"?


Michael Laird: No.


(10). Could we ever see a re-release for good of "Forever Sick"?


Michael Laird: Maybe.


(11). With the addition of the new and exotic instruments, were there any certain combination of the instruments that worked and any combinations that you believe will never work together properly?


Michael Laird: We enjoy experimenting with combinations of instruments in order to achieve a certain mood, or feeling. For me to claim that a particular combination "doesn't work" is invariably premature, and symptomatic of my impatience. I now believe that whenever I claim that something "doesn't work," it's actually more probable that I need to just step back and just listen more carefully.


Natalia Lincoln: "Doesn't work" is just a challenge to find the one rare instance in which a combination works beautifully.


(12). Was it pretty much a process of elimination trying to find which ones would make the song in the end?


Michael Laird: Absolutely; though sometimes I could anticipate in advance that two or three things would sound really good together - for instance hurdy-gurdy, dumbec, and bells. I think that combination sounds unstoppable - but that's my subjective opinion.


(13). With the last interview, we gained an insight into your fascination with folklore and mysticism. What are some of the folklore and mysticism elements incorporated this time around? I'm sensing that there is a Lusitanian and Mediterranean influence, particularly Greek.


Michael Laird: there are definitely some Mediterranean influences, not only Greek but North African: and it was in this part of the world that virtually every single European musical instrument came from during the Middle Ages. I'm very interested in early Arabian/Andalousian music - it's phenomenal. We also explored a traditional North American folksong - namely "Go Tell Aunt Rhodie" which was a song that I used to hear when I was a child. Then we took another "folksong" which everyone knows by heart - namely "Don't Fear (The Reaper)" by Blue Oyster Cult - and turned it back into a "folksong" - complete with vocal harmonies and acoustic guitar. It just seemed so logical to me: to give that song "back."


(14). Tell us a bit about your Tori Amos cover on the "Songs Of Goddesses" tribute CD. When listening the original, did you picture the alternate Unto Ashes version in your head?


Michael Laird: We were asked by Cleopatra to contribute a cover of a Tori Amos song for that Tribute CD -I tried to listen to all these different Tori songs, but I couldn't get into it - however, I was BLOWN AWAY this one-minute long song ("Beauty Queen") in which the piano part was literally just one note on the keyboard, but the vocal melody is magnificent! It was such a completely crushing song: I didn't know what it would sound like when I got through with it, but I knew we could work with it.


(15). I also noticed the Madonna logo you use quite often wasn't featured at all on this CD? Is it being used anymore, or would it have not fit in with the final artwork on "Empty Into White"?


Natalia Lincoln: We still use the Madonna logo, just not on this album.


Michael Laird: There were other elements that seemed more important. I like the Goltzius engraving of Icaros falling out of the sky.


(16). Why the translation of "Beauty Queen" (by Tori Amos) into Latin? That is quite strange, given (1). Barely anyone can even speak it, (2). It's quite rare in music, (3). It's the first time I think anything outside of church hymns have been in Latin in the world of music.


Michael Laird: It seemed that her lyrics are so obscure anyway, it woudn't be that much more obscure to translate them into Latin - but mainly we were going for a real 12th-century sound, in the style of Perotinus, complete with human drones chanting in the background. Natalia greatly improved my first translation of Tori's English words into Latin. I mean, come on: there's no Latin word for "bean bag" so in those cases you just have to go for it.


Natalia Lincoln: It might have broken the mood to put such old-sounding stuff in modern English... I suppose we could have translated it into Chaucerian English, but that might have been even more pretentious. :) Anyway, in modern classical music there's still plenty of Latin, though in a sense, you're right... I don't believe anybody is translating 20th-century pop lyrics back into Latin.


(17). What was most of the drumming done on ths time around? The drumming has a kind of goa-trance and jungle/tribal feel to it on some songs, call me odd on that one.


Michael Laird: Almost all of the drum tracks are mine; for the tabla I was really lucky to find this really amazing tabla-player here in NYC called Deep Singh (this is his real name); he came over one evening we recorded tabla tracks on "Spider Song" and also "Persephone Queen of the Underworld"; then on "De Store Smerter" a friend of Ericah's named Chad SB added some extra drum sounds over the top of mine that really improved the mix I think.


(18). I think I've seen the front cover artwork from somewhere before, I just can't put my finger on it. Was the artwork from sketches or more of a sketch drawing made from an original painting, by chance?


Michael Laird: No, the image is from a late nineteenth-century German book illustration - in fact, it's a title-page ornament.


(19). What are the three symbols shown on the back of the CD and what do they represent?


Michael Laird: The symbols can represent many things, but it is important to note that they are presented within SHIELDS.


(20). Tell us how the addition of the new member, Mariko, has affected the sound of the group and about her musical background (she is quite the looker by the way!).


Michael Laird: Mariko has a wonderful voice - we have already made recordings that we will be releasing very soon - the tracks we've recorded so far sound fantastic. Her voice blends very well with Natalia's voice and my voice. She is also a very good violinist: it is my belief that her violin contribution single-handedly made our cover of Coil's "Ostia" sound 200% BETTER when we performed it at Albion / Batcave on Sept. 6. But the most important thing is that she is honorable. She would not dishonor her friends, or family, or other musicians.


Mariko: Background-wise, I am preliminary classical. This is actually my very first band experience and has opened a whole new world of music up to me. I started playing violin when I was 7 and started vocal lessons when I was 12. Since then, voice has been my main focus (I'm majoring in it in college) and I've studied it at The Juilliard School and currently the Manhattan School of Music....But I'm SO glad I have an excuse to play my violin now! Ostia is SO much fun to play! :-D


(21). With your musical passion being also in the black metal realm, where do you see the line between the scales, structure and ethic of death/black metal and the Unto Ashes sound blurring and meeting?


Michael Laird: We'll probably just start adding some doomful Metal guitar into the mix in the same way that we added other instruments; our music alreadly sounds perilously close to Doom Metal without even trying.


(22). Would you ever consider forming a black metal side project down the line? If so, would you use any of the female vocalists in Unto Ashes for it?


Michael Laird: Yes and yes.


(23). What on earth can we possibly do if the hokey pokey is really what it's all about? Personally I think it could really spell doom for all of us, especially if it turns into the old Dipsy Doodle!


Mariko: My, my, that could be incredibly symbolic, now couldn't it? Although if it becomes the Dipsy Doodle, we're all lost, I fear.


(24). I ran into this one today. Do you ever walk into a room, and suddenly forget why you even walked in there in the first place? Two words came to mind when that happened to me today: Alzheimer's Disease! Haha Or do you notice when you stand a certain distance away from a chainlink fence, and the wind is blowing it seems to move forward like it's 3D? I'm thinking of making 3D glasses made especially for that, haha. That idea is right up there with my glow in the dark flashlight idea.


Mariko: You know, I have experienced that...but let's hope it isn't Alzheimer's...I'm too young for that. ;-) Good luck with those glasses...


(25). Anything you'd like to leave us with before you go?


Michael Laird: Thank you very much Shaun for your time and support of our music. For more information about Unto Ashes, please visit our website - www.UntoAshes.com - and to hear some of our music, please visit mp3.com/untoashes - thanks!


(26). By the way, any plans to tour for this CD anytime soon?


Michael Laird: We're playing 3 times in the next month, twice in Massachussetts - we can't wait! Meanwhile, if you would like Unto Ashes to perform in your area, please write to us: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it - thank you!


(27). Thanks for the interview and the great new CD! It was great interviewing you again, and I look forward to the next interview down the line.


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