Tuesday, 18 September 2018
An interview with ... Ancient Meadow Records
What’s up today, Nazgul? It’s one of those rare treats, an interview!
Who with? Jordan, of Ancient Meadow Records
Because…? Not only is Jordan the man behind the release of the new Uruk Hai t-shirt - a thing of wonder and splendour - but his label has much of interest to offer and likewise the man has much of interest to say…
Just occasionally Nazgul sees fit to share the airtime in Honour and Darkness with others, linked in a common bond to the work of our Austrian hero Hugin either through music or other endeavours. Today we are honoured to have a fly-past from Ancient Meadow Records who have recently listed for sale the rather spiffing new Uruk Hai “Ash Nazg Durbatulûk” t-shirt, which Nazgul will cover in a subsequent post.
The story of how this came to pass is contained in the interview below, along with some interesting an erudite observations about the work of the label and the music scene generally from Jordan. I hope that you enjoy reading it, and I encourage you to point your browsers at Ancient Meadow Records for a good rummage around their shop as there’s some excellent product for sale and – based on my own experience – I can tell you that the customer experience is second to none.
So enough of the preamble, let’s jump in feet first and say…
Welcome to Honour and Darkness! Please introduce yourself?
Thank you for the opportunity. My name is Jordan and I run the label “Ancient Meadow Records”, based in the U.S.. I like music, dogs, books, and video games.
So as the owner of the Ancient Meadow Records underground label, how did your involvement in the music business begin?
Technically, like a lot of people in this community, we could go back to my teens. I’ve been playing in bands, making CDs, and other music-periphery things my whole life. I did some touring and worked in some other genres throughout my early twenties. Ancient Meadow came along first as an idea born out of playing D&D with my friends, then I spent a long time just thinking about it, and then I finally decided to just jump in and do it. I had been a fan of Burzum and Mortiis and a lot of black metal when I was young, I had Danzig’s “Black Aria” album but I had no idea that this whole community was out there on the internet or that there was this new term coined for the genre. All of the imagery on fantasy worlds, the Dark Ages in Europe, pre-Christian Scandinavia, and general medieval feel had me hooked from the start. I felt like I had found my long-lost home.
Is there a philosophy or mission statement behind your label?
I guess there’s no succinct maxim or statement I could point to as the all-encompassing ethos of Ancient Meadow Records. The images conjured in my mind when I was imaging what all this would look like in the near-future were all images of fantasy worlds, taverns, wisps of smoke billowing out of tiny cottages; really pastoral and anachronistic imagery—romanticizing the Middle Ages in Europe, haha. If there is anything resembling a philosophy behind Ancient Meadow, it is this: anti-elitism.
This community is so small—maybe a couple thousand people on the entire planet actually engage the community and listen to the music. Dudes are out here selling 100 units and acting like Axl Rose. It’s hilarious but also incredibly frustrating. If you follow the “dungeon synth” community at all, you might remember a clamour over the artwork on releases from a musician with a sort of whimsical appeal. A lot of people were turning their nose up at the thought of a musician daring to deviate from the motifs of the genre. The first thing I did was ask to release some of the music on tape. That sort of arrogant hubris is laughable to me—fuck anyone who feels justified in criticizing anything. I will never criticize someone for trying, even if their shtick doesn’t appeal to my tastes. Ya know? Fuck anyone who never learned to keep their piss-poor opinions to themselves, haha. Commend before you condemn. There it is! There’s the mission statement!
Where did the great name come from?
Thank you for calling it “great”. I am humbled. I’ve always been unsure if I love it or hate it, haha. True story: I kind of compulsively write everything down. I have raggedy notebooks from 8, 9, even 10 years ago. Somewhere along the way, I read this article on the Daily Mail website, I think, about some Irish folks volunteering their time to restore an “ancient meadow”. I may be misremembering some of the details. Anyhow, I must have liked the phrasing, because I wrote it down in a notebook I kept over the winter of 2012/2013. Many years later, when toying with the idea of starting a starting a label in the “dungeon synth” genre, I went through some of my old notebooks looking for D&D notes from a specific campaign to get the creative juices going. I came across my note about the article and the rest is history. I recently went back and searched for the article. It’s still out there.
The entry for your label on Discogs states "Cassette-tape-only label and distributor based in Central Kentucky (USA). Ancient Meadow exclusively releases music from the dungeon synth, dark ambient, and medieval-inspired genres" - is that fair?
I guess I should really update that for two reasons: 1) I haven’t done any distribution so far (although I am working on getting some of the more recent Obscure Dungeon Records releases to distro in the U.S.), and 2) I will be releasing a 7” record in 2019. As for the rest, I guess we could add “black metal” to the list, as I will have released a black metal cassette by the time people read this. Shout out to Cascadian Lightfall.
What's your view of the metal scene in the USA at the moment, both locally and nationally?
To be entirely honest, I really only keep up with black metal, and even then, when I say “keep up”, I mean listening to what I’ve been listening to for years. In the U.S., we have some really significant black metal acts: Michael Ford’s band Black Funeral, Von, Krieg, Xasthur, Judas Iscariot, Noctuary, and on and on. I have accepted that American black metal will probably never get its 15 Minutes of Varg, but I will assert that it’s safe to say American black metal made its mark. As for the local metal scene, there aren’t any metal shows or anything in my area, anymore. There are a couple of bars that bring in acts, sometimes. However, Kentucky has a pretty lush history with black metal.
In the 90s, there was a lot happening but it sadly lost momentum. There were a couple of mail-order distros operating in the state. I was too young to really know what was going on, but I’m comforted somehow by knowing that there was a time in this place when underground music really mattered to people.
Running a label sounds like a glamorous lifestyle, but I imagine it's far from it! Can you give us some insight into life in the underground scene?
Ha! If only that were true. I guess I don’t really consider what I do “running a label”. Whatever it is I do, there are two inexorable truths: it’s a lot of fun and a lot of hard work. I’m not really doing this for money or anything. Hell, anyone who’s trying to do something like this for money is better off putting in 40 hours at a fast-food restaurant each week, haha. As for life in the underground, it’s nice. There are a lot of really cool and interesting people who comprise the current dungeon synth “community”. I feel incredibly fortunate that I get to interact with these people and release some of their music. That’s really all I care about.
There are so many great people out there finding the courage to create and publish their music and art. That’s worth something. There’s a lot of tape-trading, which has been a sort of earmark for black metal and dark ambient music over the past two-and-a-half decades. I really like that the community has held onto certain practices from the days of yore. There are still zines being made (shout out to Skaventhrone), there are labels/distros that only do handmade tapes, and other nuances that were really the foundation of black metal in the early 90s.
One particular label, of which I cannot say too much about, is only accessible by solving a fairly clandestine Internet riddle. There’s a rumor of a label operating solely “offline” by mailing distro lists to people, like they did in the old days. I have yet to receive the list in the post, but I’m waiting patiently, haha. That’s how it is, just a lot of creative people really trying to share their ideas with others, with no expectation of fame or glory or anything dumb like that.
Is music your sole business activity, or do you make a living in other ways too?
Haha, I wish. I would love to do this all day. Sadly, the underground is a hard place to carve out a decent living. Pretty much everyone I know who runs a distro or label is doing it for fun and out of their passion for the music and people. I am no different. I have another business that I operate and treat more like a “business” than Ancient Meadow Records. I am also a software engineer for a research hospital.
You seem very dedicated to the cassette tape format, which to many readers will seem like a long-dead format. What's the logic there?
The cassette is kind of complicated, haha. In America, cassettes are making this enormous “comeback”. It’s no different than what happened to vinyl, really. It isn’t like cassettes are enormously practical, at least not on the surface. I chose to go with cassettes because they’re this piece of my own youth that I don’t want to see becoming lost to the throes of time. I’m old enough to remember when cassette was the only format available. I remember sitting next to my parent’s giant Pioneer stereo, dubbing my own mixtapes to take to school. Further still, cassettes are this great way of saying “fuck you” to modern music and the music industry. Music is so outrageously overconsumed. iTunes and Spotify and other shit like that just leads people to treat music like this disposable commodity. They press ‘Play’ and get an earful of advertisements divided up by some songs.
I publish cassettes because it forces people to really kind of stop and consider what they’re listening to; to listen to a cassette requires you to go out of your way to find a cassette player and invest yourself in sitting down and listening to the music. You can put 30,000 songs on a piece of silicon and never listen to a fraction of it, or you can put 5 tapes in your car and really get to know the people who made that music—really try to comprehend what they were trying to convey through that song. If I’m just going to play music on my phone as background noise, then what’s the point?
Even further, cassettes (and other analog forms of media) have a synesthetic quality: you can feel what you’re listening to when it’s coming out of a cassette or record. You can purchase a black metal tape that a teenager dubbed in the 90s and you’re suddenly holding a piece of history—you can smell the age of the cassette, hear the wear on the magnetic tape, feel the brittleness of the Xeroxed paper, see the effect of time and dust of another age lining the insert, case, and tape; I like that experience.
How 'successful' have those releases proven to be, or is that not something that you measure?
I definitely don’t consider monetary gain a metric of my general success. From the outset, I just wanted to meet some cool dudes, make some friends, and release some music. I’ve managed that and so much more. If you do want to quantify it, I spend most of my free time packing up orders. Day-in, day-out. When I set out to do this, I thought it would be a weekend thing, maybe sell a few cassettes from Europe, release a few cassettes of my own, release some music from others. Almost instantly, I found myself coming home from work and finding myself wanting to do more with AMR, talk to new people, listen to new music, make new tapes, design new layouts, and on and on. I never thought it would come this far and every day I am increasingly grateful that it did.
Amongst the label releases has been a t-shirt from Uruk Hai - how did Alexander "Hugin" Wieser and yourself cross paths?
Man, Hugin was one of the first dudes to “friend” me when I started getting involved in the online community. I had really only been a fan of Uruk Hai for a year or so and had been hanging around the online community for even less time when his “request” popped up but I knew who he was and it was kind of this fleeting sense of being star-struck. Around a year went by before anything really happened, but Hugin made a statement about looking for someone to release his latest Uruk Hai shirt design. Without a moment’s hesitation, I offered to do it. When he agreed, it was one of those moments that really solidified all the hard work for me.
What are your impressions of Alex Wieser, the musician?
He’s definitely one of the Maiar. He has all the credibility one can receive in this tiny sub-genre. He wrote music with Varg, he was there and active in the 90s when black metal was becoming a global thing, and he’s still here today, writing and releasing music. There are very few who can say they’ve had that kind of dedication.
Do you have any particular projects or releases of his that you are particularly partial to?
In no particular order of favor: In Durin Halls, Orcish Battle Hymns, A Night in the Forest, the first Vinterriket split, Enslaved in Darkness, Battle Magic (because I want to own a copy so badly), Upon the Elysian Fields, Songs from the Woods. There’s probably more; it’s an understatement calling Hugin “prolific”.
Returning to yourself, which of your own label releases would you point someone towards to get a representative idea of the genres you support?
Damn, I’ve released a lot of stuff that stands apart from other releases on AMR. Hmm, I would say definitely checkout any of the releases by Darken Wood. That guy is my personal hero. The Final Beacon by Last Redoubt for some long-form ambient teetering on drone, ever so slightly. Finally, anything I’ve released by Lux Viridis for some impressive production and synth work (and one of the coolest guys I know). Honestly, though, I like everything I’ve had the pleasure of releasing because I have become good friends with all of these incredible people.
Are there any funny tales from life in the underground scene that you'd care to share with Honour and Darkness?
Sadly, there’s more drama than humour but I guess that’s inevitable in such small communities. Dungeon synth and black metal being mired in serious topics like escapism, misanthropy, war, paganism, olden ways, death, and so on really leaves little room for anything light-hearted. To that end, however, I think a lot of us are having a really good time. I know I am. We need to laugh, we need humour.
Your house is on fire (no, really, it is...!!) - what three possessions do you save first?
My wife, my dogs, my kid. If my wife has free hands, she’s definitely gonna have to carry out as much of my music collection as she possibly can, haha.
Your 3 books and 3 albums for live on a desert island would be....?
Summoning – Minas Morgul
Depressive Silence – ’96 Demo (a.k.a. Mourning)
Burzum – Filosofem
Dostoyevsky – The Idiot
Celine – Journey to the End of the Night
Thoreau – Walden
Your vote for the best cover art to a demo or album you've ever seen?
Damn, this one is too hard. I’m gonna cop out on this one and just say that I really enjoy typical black metal cover art that was made on a Xerox machine or artwork derived from that Northern Renaissance depiction of pastoral life. I like to see nature in artwork.
Thank you for sharing a bit of your life with us - do you have any message for Alex and/or the readers of Honour and Darkness to end this interview with?
Thank you, Alex, for your dedication to the craft and for involving me in your work. Thank you H&D for listening to me, and thank you to those who read this awesome blog!
One last round of hails: Endless strength to my brothers Nick, John, Cemeh, Chad, Vin, George, David, Mikey, and Tony.