The Whipping Post presents...
Virgin Black Interview - Added 08/27/01
This interview with Virgin Black has been a long time in coming. Numerous delays have turned a January interview into an August interview. During the wait I've been able to get to know Samantha Escarbe (guitar), which has been a good experience. Read along as vocalist Rowan gives us some insight into the world that is Virgin Black...
Whipping Post - So what is the music scene like over in Australia, especially with gothic type music?
Virgin Black - You'd be amazed at the talent that's hidden away down here. With our minute population, a band in any alternative culture has to be extremely good to bring any response at all. Embodiment 12:14 would rival any hardcore band in the world, and Ethereal Scourge in their day, were masters of their art. They are two along with us, just in Adelaide. Specifically in the gothic scene there is enough potential support to give a band a start, but beyond that we heed to look to the rest of the world.
WP - What kind of reactions has Virgin Black been getting as far as concerts or any media attention?
VB - Media coverage has steadily grown over time and at the moment, with the new album, has peaked. It's incredible, the passionate reviews and responses we have received. Our fans fervently support our live shows. We are careful not to play too often and as a result, maintain an exceptionally charged atmosphere between the audience and ourselves. We are, it seems, at the very least an enigma, something that must be experienced at least once. Our shows seem to be quite evocative. So often, tears have been shed, by those who have participated. Tears of joy, tears of sadness, tears through utter fear; and we ourselves are prone to being overwhelmed with emotion. It truly is an intimate and ardent experience.
WP - Describe a Virgin Black show.
VB - Many long-time followers of Virgin Black have informed us that Sombre Romantic captures what they hear, see and feel at one of our shows. This is the best guide I can give.
WP - Do you guys get many chances to travel outside of your country very much? Any chance of you making it to the U.S. anytime soon to grace us with your amazing music?
VB - Too soon to know, but not too soon to hope!
WP - I am a HUGE fan of the band Saviour Machine. I hear slight similarities in your music. Is Saviour Machine any kind of influence on Virgin Black? Who are some of your major influences?
VB - Our music is a description of who we are as people. We would generally use influence more in the way of producing the highest quality ie. we have the raw material instinctively within us and look at the work of the best film directors, artists, poets etc. to determine the perfect way to fashion our raw materials. Saviour Machine are also very close to our hearts, when Saviour Machine II was released, it impacted some of us in a way that perhaps no other album has.
WP - What is Virgin Blacks main purpose as a band, besides just having a good time because you enjoy making music?
VB - The first line of our song "I Sleep With The Emperor" is "I shivered in the warmth of their god"
This god mentioned is any misrepresentation of God. We have witnessed some disgusting abuse administered by the church. Religious tyranny appears to be winning the race against political tyranny. We are repulsed, thus this is our malevolent passion. My favourite Virgin Black line is "I fall as one dead, with quivering lips." This line describes one being, in complete awe of God. This is our benevolent passion.
WP - Despite not being on a record label when you originally released Sombre Romantic, you guys captured a terrific sound production-wise. Any secrets? Any hints you might want to give some of the major record labels that seem to have a lot of trouble getting a good sound for their bands?
VB - Firstly, thank you. We especially appreciate the praise because the discerning factor in our recording process was the fact that we did it all ourselves. We financed, recorded and produced it, and also did all the artwork and photography. In our minds, the album was complete a long time ago, from that point it was a process of reproducing that into the real world. Some of us had sound production training, but the success of the recording hinged on our ability to have the right balance between ruthlessness and preciousness. If you are too precious you never allow preconceived ideas to change, while if you are too ruthless, you are often too extreme in choices and can lose your foundations.
WP - Virgin Black was recently picked up by Massacre Records who will be re-releasing Sombre Romantic in Europe. How did this come about? How has it been dealing with Massacre thus far?
VB - Massacre probably has the perfect balance between being small enough to be genuinely excited about its bands, and big enough to have the resources to promote them. Basically the President of Massacre really loved us, and the rest is history. They are the perfect label for us.
WP - Is there any song(s) on the album that really stands out as one of your favourites? Why?
VB - Not a song, but there are moments. When the build up that is "Stare" explodes into "Embrace." The despairing climax of "Drink The Midnight Hymn" with the dreamless sleeper lines. The point in "Museum Of Iscariot" when you realise that the song is not rushing into a cheap thrill, drums are not entering yet, and that lonely, heart-breaking lead guitar plays. Finally, the almost silence that is track 11 that links it all the way back to "Embrace."
WP - I really like the mixture you all have achieved on this album. Whether it is the beautiful, haunting acoustic guitars, keyboards, and cellos, or the industrial type parts, or the heavy, aggressive parts that rival some black metal bands. It all seems to fit together perfectly. Does the band all contribute equally to what is on the album, or does one person contribute the more calmer parts and one person contribute the more aggressive parts?
VB - When a song is written, our primary aim is to delve into the emotions of that song, and attempt to re-create the passion of that message. Every sound on the album, was performed to ensure that the exact feel could be achieved. Sometimes the perfect mood can be created by a lack of harmony between instruments. For example, the cold, industrial beat early in "Lamenting Kiss" is cruel and unsympathetic toward the sad story that the vocals portray. The key is, use only what is needed. One should never force ideas and sounds together. Classical instruments should be written into the music only if they embellish and enrich the song, just as aggressive heavy moments should convey the mood of the message. We write in a similar way to a film soundtrack. A song will begin with a journey through emotions. Those moods and emotions then become sound. We listen to black metal, doom, classical and gothic music, but that is just a product of our emotions as well, it doesn't determine what Virgin Black will sound like. Our desire is to have the ability to write or play what our hearts dictate to us. Samantha and I are the main songwriters and are completely in tune with each other and write whatever the song needs, regardless of whether its aggressive, despondent, triumphant or majestic.
WP - I really enjoy the lyrics on this album. I love bands that have thought-provoking things to say. However, I've heard a few complaints of the lyrics being too vague and bordering on blasphemous ("Museum of Iscariot"). Is the bands writing style something intentional (as far as direction) or is it just something that naturally comes out? Describe your lyrics writing process, if there is one.
VB - Since the album was released, we have had an enormous amount of letters, reviewers have even commented on the lyrical content. The latest was from a big magazine in Italy. He spoke about our lyrics, and also specifically talked about the meaning of "Museum Of Iscariot." How is it, that a non-Christian (together with so many others) understood exactly what we were saying, and all the while, Christians are yelling blasphemy, witches? It's either a brain capacity problem, or they're actually looking for things to criticise. You could easily criticise the Bible, if you look hard enough. Some people don't want to look beyond the surface. If if doesn't immediately fit in the slot of the ideal image, then it must be nefarious! With regards to motivation for lyrics, surely the exception proves the rule. I think some of our material is blatantly Christian which automatically exempts us from being deliberately vague. We do not cater for an audience, we have not made ourselves into something in order to minister, we are verbalising what is aching to be released from within us. As a general indication, there is usually a simple meaning to our song within the elaborate presentation. For example, after all the fuss about "Museum Of Iscariot", it is merely describing a struggle to take a step of faith.
WP - I've heard many describe Virgin Black as a Christian band. Others, however, say they feel you've gone too far with the darkness and vague lyrics, and that a Christian band is far from how they would describe you. Whether you've heard this argument or not, how do you feel about these statements?
VB - (Do I vaguely remember the Pharisees claimed that Jesus had gone too far?) The fact is, there will always be a religious person who cannot recognise the various facets of God's character. Vague? Only to those who are accustomed to black and white mentality. (Perhaps next time well draw pictures). Nothing was written with the aim of purposely being vague. If one is not use to reading poetry, reading Shakespeare, then it would take a few extra moments to see the message. We simply love to write in a way which is poetical and artistic. It is the most natural method for us. How vague is "A Poets Tears Of Porcelain"?? I don't understand why anyone would say such things. As far as gone too far with the darkness. I Kings 8:12: The Lord has said that He would dwell in the thick darkness. God is a God of my darkness. This is where I need Him most. If my life has been filled with hardship, who are they to condemn the way I express my emotions? Over 70% of the Psalms are laments. Some people are afraid to be honest with God.
WP - There is a message board that I frequent and we were discussing Virgin Black a few days ago. One topic that came up was the issue regarding the band photographs on the inside of your CD booklet. The majority thought these pictures were done in bad taste and they saw no point in them. They said that there is no way to justify having naked photos regardless of whether it doesn't show anything. Could you explain why the band chose to take photos like that, and do you think that this might confuse some listeners despite the lyrical content of your songs (especially songs like "A Poets Tears Of Porcelain")?
VB - Sombre Romantic has a running theme through it. Part of this theme encapsulates the frailty and vulnerability of man. I think the photographs have been beautifully done. I love art, I am fascinated by photographic images which are able to evoke, and capture a mood. There is no nudity (you see more nudity at the beach), but a semblance of frailty, a reminder that we came into the world with nothing, and will depart with nothing.
WP - What do you see in the future for Virgin Black?
VB - We have a dream in our hearts, and I see that being fulfilled. Because of grace.
WP - Any final thoughts or comments?
VB - Our greatest encouragement is, leave behind man-made structures and laws which arise from an inadequate perspective of the beauty and dignity of God.
Thank you Matt.