A path leads in
A map of colored rings
The painted trees
Mark the ancestral path we walk
As the year comes to a close and the holiday season is upon us, it’s those moments of tranquility I find myself seeking out more than anything. Something to reflect on, something to calm the savage beast, something to accompany the bitter chill that’s settling into the atmosphere. Even though it just came out this last Friday, I’ve been deeply obsessed with Meridiane‘s full length debut for some time now, so much so that it carved out a prominent spot among my top albums of the year. For the uninitiated, the record is a sometimes spoken, sometimes crooned album of dark, tranquil ambient and neoclassical-inspired pieces that tap into the nature’s ultimate sublimity. The project features a slew of familiar faces; the core of the group consisting of Clan Of Xymox’s Pieter Nooten, His Name Is Alive’s own Warren Defever, and Blacklist/Azar Swan/Vain Warr’s Joshua Strachan. The core trio is rounded out by cellist Kaily Schenker and guest contributions from Christine Papania and SRSQ’s Kennedy Ashlyn. For those familiar with either Nooten’s otherworldly Sleeps With the Fishes LP on 4AD or Defever’s recently unearthed home recording series, Meridiane serves as a welcome accompaniment as well as a new world of wonder and allure.
The project’s long-awaited debut LP, To Walk Behind the Sun, is now digitally available on Bandcamp, with pledges available for a vinyl edition. With all of that in mind, we’re honored to premiere a short film for “The Returning,” directed by Simon Nolen and edited Joan Pope. The film taps into the cyclical nature of death and nourishment of the earth, returning back to the nothingness we all stem from. Watch below:
We also had the chance to catch up with Defever, Nooten, and Strachan to discuss the album’s genesis and future plans for the project:
Tell us more about how Meridiane came together?
JOSHUA: Around December 2019 had written some instrumental synth pieces I liked but I knew they could be better. I started asking myself who did I know who might be able to help grow them into something. Right around then Warren released All The Mirrors In The House which had blown my mind. I’d known him since he mixed the first Religious To Damn single some years back. Pieter’s record with Michael Brook was the first ambient record I truly, deeply loved. Unbeknownst to me at the time, it was a very influential record to Warren as well. So when I suggested to Warren we reach out to Pieter, he was enthusiastic about the idea.
In January, I decided to perform a few of the songs while I was home in Virginia over the holiday. I reached out to Kaily Schenker, a cellist I’d discovered through mutual friends, and she booked us a night at a beautiful small church-like Oddfellows lodge in Blacksburg. The songs were still in a very embryonic state, so I asked Kaily, who I knew was great at improv, to join me on stage for a few songs. The chemistry and mood of that night were really memorable and everything just took off from there.
WARREN: I met Josh in-person for the first time when he played with Azar Swan at the UFO Factory in Detroit six years ago. I had just gotten into French black metal and he was like a Les Légions Noires scholar. I thought it was a good sign plus I learned a lot that night. The following year His Name Is Alive was playing in New Orleans at a jazzy jazz bar and Josh was the only person to show up, probably due to our unsophisticated chords, unswinging rhythms and lack of horn section. I recall questioning everything I thought I knew about how shows work and ended up paying him twenty dollars to take one of our records at the merch table. When he called me and said he and Pieter were working on a thing it was very easy for me to offer some guitar solos.
PIETER: Joshua contacted me via email. He suggested a collaboration and after he sent me a few demos I was very much intrigued and inspired by the material. Without hesitation we started an online musical alliance.
Were there any particular challenges in collaborating from different corners of the world?
PIETER: None whatsoever. We just collectively started sending and sharing musical additions to Joshua’s demos to and fro. So slowly they crystalized into proper musical pieces.
WARREN: Recording separately, alone and unsupervised feels natural to me and I’m sure if we were all in the same room together it would just devolve into a party or we’d spend all the studio time fighting over what toppings to get on our pizza, next thing you know all the tequila’s gone and we’ve wasted another day and got nothing to show for it…classic.
JOSHUA: I would go so far as to say the social and economic shifts over the last decade has made this quite easy. Collaborating in-person can even be harder. Of course making music in a space with others is wonderful. It’s just not, as it was maybe once imagined, always the easier way.
How did the songs come together? What was the collaboration process like across the board?
PIETER: I added a lot of musical elements and a few subtle rhythmic components. I recall Joshua and I communicated a lot on how to proceed and every time we seem to agree on the same processes.
JOSHUA: It was very easy to find shared loves and thus agree on directions for the songs. Pieter is an extremely generous, enthusiastic and communicative person to work with, and Warren has a very easygoing vibe and is extremely funny to talk to always. The classic band downfall of too many egos simply does not apply here, there’s some kind of magical ego loss and general positivity that governs everything. You can’t ask for more.
What kinds of instrumentation is there on the record?
PIETER: Too many to mention! I used tons of sample libraries, especially the more acoustic sounding once, like strings, piano or even sequenced harpsichords, only to accompany Joshua’s synth pieces, Warrens guitar sound and Kaily’s cello.
Can you expand a bit more on the album’s lyrical themes?
JOSHUA: I was writing from a deeply personal place, but since the record deals in themes that I feel are very spiritual, I hesitate to weigh them down with biographical details. I’d rather people connect with it on their own terms. The lyrics are about humility, connectedness, mortality, and the infinite – whatever that may be or mean. And this can be applied as much to human relations – especially family – as to the larger relationship of humans to nature and the cosmos.
Are there any non-musical influences that inspired the recordings?
JOSHUA: I I had become fascinated with how different kinds of storytelling works as connective tissue in our lives – between ourselves and others, between certain groups and the rest of the world. I became obsessed with the lack of differences between the horror I love and the dark fantasy books I read with my daughter. The bleakness and heaviness of horror almost came to represent to me some false “maturity” that always codes enchantment as evil. So I became interested in this overlap, and ultimately with how dreaming up other worlds, layers of reality, additional dimensions, has this religious component. In horror we dream up new hells, in fantasy the same but you more often add alternate heavens. I think in the video for “The Returning” you can see how it’s almost working backwards from films like The VVitch and Begotten and November to something more like a child’s fairy tale. That’s very intentional. It was also inspired by forests and mountains, snow, and night time – four things that mix together brilliantly. I love that Warren brought up our conversation about French black metal because that hovers in the background with a lot of what I do. Not necessarily musically, but in terms of mood and subject matter. I tend to relate to black metal the way a lot of people describe punk, for me it’s a kind of permission to do certain things that maybe before would be considered a little extra.
Several of you have worked heavily in the ambient sphere for some time now, in both past and present endeavors. Can you each speak a bit to your relationship with the genre?
PIETER: Since my time with Clan Of Xymox (and even before) I have always been inspired by instrumental, musical and contemporary as well as more conventional classical music. As a huge Bach aficionado I have always been intrigued by his use of counterpoint to create layers of polyphonic structures from which new harmonies arise. Pop music rarely allows this kind of depth in harmony or melody. So I sort of grew more and more frustrated by its limitations and began making music that did allow this kind of depth. Hence my ‘relationship’ with ambient music, classical as well as film music in particular.
WARREN: In 1987 Pieter made an album called Sleeps With The Fishes with guitarist Michael Brook and although I was still in high school at the time, it had a profound influence on the direction my life would take. Its a mysterious album, they didn’t have a word for it back then. The art is beautiful blurry black and white images with splashes of deep red on the outside and kaleidoscopic psychedelic rainbows on the inside, the music is vague, minimal and sadder than sad. Its a lonesome sound and doesn’t seem to have any obvious musical precedent. maybe chamber music but it really doesn’t sound like it could’ve occurred in nature. Do I consider Meridiane a follow up? No, but I hear it all in there and its great to be asked to be a part of this.
JOSHUA: Unless you count abrasive noisescapes in Azar Swan, this is really my first outing! With collaborations like these I tend to take on something like an art director role. Less a producer in the technical engineering or compositional sense, more in trying to bring together different people and their talents to achieve a specific thing. You could say Pieter and I are a production “team” in this way I think, but he is the compositional mastermind, whereas I’m the one saying stuff like “This is still a little too upbeat, I want it to sound like most of ‘The Revenant’ feels, like you’re at the edge of death staring up at the peaceful arctic sky.”
Additionally, you all have been rather prolific. What drives the creative inspiration for you over the years?
PIETER: Music is my life. It comes first. It’s an abstract relationship with the most profound art form in this world. It exists on an almost ethereal plane of reality that is very difficult to explain.
I must admit I am a very private person and find it very difficult to be ‘out there’ meeting people or even practice and sustain an online relationship with people, networks and corporations who matter in the music industry. I’d rather be home making music.
JOSHUA: In a recent conversation with my friend Tamaryn, I had an epiphany after she asked me a rather direct question. It was that everything I do, whether in politics, writing or art, is all about imagining and building worlds. This was a huge revelation to me because I’d never thought to say it out loud.
Music has extraordinary power to shape our experience of reality. If I am driving through the mountains at sunset in the autumn and I put on a melancholy cold wave album, my experience of that drive will be extremely different than it will be if I turn on the radio a happy-go-lucky pop tune comes on. I need at least an agreement between sound and environment – but even more thrilling is when sound transforms the environment. Being able to make music allows you to take a wild amount of control over this phenomenon. That’s the gas for me. It becomes an obsession: how can I make something that shapes experiences for myself and for others, how can I use sound to conjure possible worlds? When you feel you’ve accomplished it – as I very much do with this record! – it’s such an incredible feeling you can’t do anything but chase it more and harder.
Will there be more recordings in the future? Any plans for live performance, or is this a studio-only endeavor?
PIETER: I would love to take this further! Even live performances. These should be ‘events’ rather than gigs. Small theaters, alternative stages on festivals.
JOSHUA: Absolutely. I’m ready to make more records and would love play some shows! There are some logistical hurdles, though, beyond mere geography. They relate directly to the above conversation about how prolific we all are. There are only so many hours in a day and when you have the option to write music with those hours or hustle your band/product/image on social media so your likes and follows and subscribes can get bookers and promoters excited about you, there’s a price to be paid for choosing music over the hustle. I suspect Pieter, Warren and I will all choose to pay that price and just make music. So I want it to happen, but have no idea when it will. That will truly be up to the fans.