Bone Awl | Interview
Bone Awl will be a name familiar to anyone who has been keeping a weather eye on the deep underground Black Metal scene over the past several years but their actual sound is probably less familiar to most.
Interviews are few and far between and kept far away from the glossies. Their releases, while multitudinous, are only ever presented on cassette or vinyl. They eschew the use of forums, websites and other social networking services and band photos are few.
An enigmatic duo, they seem content to keep their work out of the spotlight, rather luring in the curious with eye-catching artwork and a general air of intrigue and mystery.
Having recently witnessed their merciless-rampage of a set at the Nuclear War Now! Fest in Berlin I decided to catch up with them for a natter, and what better place to start than at the start…
“Bone Awl formed in 2002. Two members began the group being very inspired by black metal at that time and the same two members still comprise the band. When we started the band, we just wanted to play black metal and to do it well. Then, over time, Bone Awl became a vehicle for other ideas.”
Bone Awl is an unusual name for a BM band. It evokes images of prehistoric man, in touch with the earth, perhaps more in touch with spirituality than modern man. Who came up with the name and what does it represent to you, personally?
“I think about excavation and the past revealing itself through excavation and digging. Uncovering something like a Bone Awl, hitting it with a confused stare. Not being able to explain it easily. A long, long story attached to a symbol that has outlasted the people who made it. What reaches beyond one era to the next might seem to be something of fortitude. Bones outlasting flesh, they seem to be the greater story tellers in history.And you take it, and you carve the tip and you use it. It becomes more and more.”
One of the most striking things about the band, to me, is the lyrics. They are stripped to the bone, stark and poetic and often possess a strong philosophical aspect. Is there a message behind Bone Awl? Where do you find inspiration?
“The issue isn’t where to find inspiration, the issue is HOW to find inspiration. Occasionally, a more honest glimpse of life bleeds through everything else. It’s all been a matter of determining what is full of meaning and what isn’t. You have to wait for it like an eclipse and a shaman will tell you that an eclipse is just his god winking at you.”
“A good man will create his own pantheon of gods as they reveal themselves. He notes all their names and the set of elements they each reign upon. Everything we have done has been leading up to this moment where we can define another religion.”
You have, in the past, flirted with the use of right wing imagery- the use of the Death’s Head springs to mind. Is there a place for politics in BM? Is there a place for politics in Bone Awl?
“There is a place for politics everywhere. When I think of the Third Reich I think of a violent evolutionary determination. Like an infant shark eating one of its siblings in the womb or a cuckoo bird blindly nudging the others eggs out of its nest. I don’t know if I ‘support’ this, but then again I don’t know if I have a choice. With violence in life, it seems like it’s something that simply IS, once civilization or nature starts accelerating the process.”
“There is a place for politics in any social situation, and where black metal becomes social and begins to contradict itself, it also becomes political. There is always a symbol that our beliefs can wear as masks to make them more digestible. No one owns the death’s head, though. We look for and endorse symbols that own us.”
The strength of the Bone Awl sound lies in the music’s simplicity. It is shorn of all flab, much like the lyrics, and it has a lot in common with Punk in its directness. Did you plan to keep things simple and direct from the beginning or was it a natural development- inasmuch as one could consider such an unwavering approach to primitiveness as being in any way developed? How do the songs come together? Is there one mastermind or do you both contribute equally?< /b>
“I think that from the beginning we in Bone Awl have shared a common feeling and it manifests in our songs. It’s a style of strut with an ugly facial expression. Writing music has always been a matter of revealing more Bone Awl songs. We can easily tell what is and isn’t a Bone Awl song and at this point are pretty experienced on what to do with a Bone Awl song once it has materialized.”
The most recent tape, Bowing Heads, shows a slight development in approach and throws in the odd curveball. The militaristic intro and the use of traditional BM riffing being the most obvious developments. Is there more to Bone Awl than meets the eye? Will we see any further developments in the future?
“It was absolutely not a conscious decision to have the release sound more black metal, but it was probably some type of subconscious reaction to what’s happening in black metal right now with all the shitty and boring “black metal punk” bands coming out. I guess we just had to refocus our intent, and iterate again that we started as a black metal band, and we are black metal. That is the style we were inspired by, and that’s what we do. It is much more the backbone of our music than anything else.”
I love your artwork. The cut-n-paste approach really ties in with the lyrics and music, making the overall experience that much more vital.
“The artwork that ends up in our album layouts is always what is somehow relevant at that time in the band. It has always been an issue of the artwork and ideas finding us, or rather our tastes can reveal what is relevant as and of the times when we are writing something. It has never been about following a tradition in the art, but waiting for something to present itself, and simply harnessing its effect into what Bone Awl represents. There is usually an idea in mind somewhere that we can notice when the symbol presents itself.”
“The style of presentation is something else. It has always been about the Xerox machine, what you can do with the machine and what simple processes and effects are at your disposal. Much like our music it’s a matter of letting your limitations define what you are.”
The two members of the band (not including stand-in live bassist, Volahn) work under the pseudonyms He Who Crushes Teeth and He Who Gnashes Teeth. What do these names represent to you and are they a reflection of your personalities?
“These names now represent nothing else beside the two halves of Bone Awl.”
Bone Awl releases only ever appear on tape and vinyl format. Also you do not have any official merchandise or an official website, myspace or facebook page. Are you Luddites? What do you have against the modern world?
“I think now, with the decline of CDs, we can clearly see why we haven’t released a CD in the last 9 years of our existence, maybe we could see some glowing truth that CDs were a doomed format. Digitized information is further commodified information, and CDs simply became mp3s and melted into some other type of digital format. We like the idea of our music staying as far away from commodity as possible, and attempting to remain something sacred or apart from technology. This is idealistic and of course format means little to anything anymore.”
“If I could flip a switch and remove the internet and digital technology from existence I would do so without any hesitation. I am not a Luddite (I don’t destroy machines), and I do use technology because it is simply unavoidable. With my record label, Seed Stock Records, it would be stupid to not use a website to list the mail order. It is just the way ‘stores’ function these days.”
“With a band, you don’t need to use technology. You don’t have to promote yourself and you don’t have to socialize etc. You aren’t selling anything. The point of a band is something else, so why use technology to facilitate this? It is a matter of integrity and again stating what the point of Bone Awl is.”
You seem to take a very loose or spontaneous approach to your recordings in that the sound quality varies from clear and strong to absolutely noisy, even un-listenable in some cases. I often wonder if it’s a case of plugging in, recording everything in one go and whatever happens happens. Is this the case? Is capturing the moment more important than spending hours upon hours tweaking recordings?
“On the one hand, the sound and production of Bone Awl are just as integral to us as the music. On the other, what we do lends itself to being portable, with not much effort, and easily varied. I think it does take an ear and a sensitivity though, and none of Bone Awl’s production quality sounds redundant.”
Further to that, your sound is firmly rooted in the deep underground and makes no concessions to the listener; it is all on your terms, like it or lump it. Is it a conscious effort to push away those who you deem unworthy of listening to your music? Would it be fair to say there is an element of elitism to Bone Awl? What does elitism mean to you, does it have a place in BM or is it always a bad thing?
“Black metal is elitism. But elitism is a falsity. There is no one who is truly elite, it is simply the act of pushing everyone else away that makes it real. You have to take the opportunity to utilize black metal for what it really is. It is the great moment to disregard life and civilization and do what you want and partake in this tradition of antisocial destruction and selfish beauty.”
“In a sense, all good art should function along these guidelines, but black metal does a better job of being honest than most other genres. Elitism should be an unwavering ambition to see your vision realized. For us it has no social quality. We are silently elite, and if you think it’s about other people, great, because then you are missing the point and out of our way.”
I recently witnessed you guys in action at the NWN! Fest, and for me your set was the highlight of the weekend. Your stage set-up is, again, simple and basic. There is no interaction between band and crowd, the band just ploughing viciously on through the set with a red-eyed focus. What does performing live offer you that recording can’t and can we ever expect to witness a more extensive European tour?
“Not sure about a tour, not soon at least. We are more limited in our means these days.”
“Playing live, which we didn’t realized at first, is about being able to perform effectively in an entirely different scenario. I suppose it was a challenge and a desire for us, otherwise we wouldn’t do it in the first place. It’s completely different than recording and takes a different style of playing in order to communicate our intent effectively. Only some songs work live, and it’s not clear until you play them. So it’s very much about developing strength through experience. I feel confident about our set now, whereas I didn’t when we first began playing out. So it’s a type of personal accomplishment for the band.”
“Again, it’s very obvious that black metal is not about satisfying others or being social. So performing for us is a display of our strength as artists that have developed over time. It is not an instant gratification that recording is, it is an experience and a rite of passage. In a sense it makes your band more real if you can present it live and still reflect what the band represents. Bands that only have recordings and never play out are something else.”
Tell us a bit about the Black Twilight Circle and your involvement with that movement.
“Bone Awl are absolutely not card holding members of the BTC. These are bands, though, that we came up with during the same era, and have been great supporters of in the past. There was the tour in 2009 with Ashdautas and Volahn, so of course there is a personal camaraderie that exists between us and all the BTC. Some other support is shown through releasing records (like the classic Volahn LP on Klaxon records and the upcoming Bone Awl / Ashdautas LP). Also, as you stated before, Volahn has been the session bassist when Bone Awl performs. But again, Bone Awl has always been autonomous within the scene.”
Thanks for your time. To finish up please give us a heads up on any future plans or releases.
“The latest recording of Bone Awl, ‘Bowing Heads’, will be released (on vinyl) by the excellent Iron Tyrant records in Italy in early 2011.”
- Andy Cunningham 14/02/11