Tarsem Singh’s magnificent film The Fall led its viewers on a journey across the world’s most beautiful locations: through threatening Rajasthani deserts to apparent peace on Pacific atolls. Always enlightening, while informing of impense, Singh pilots a flight into areas uncharted. Similarly, Forest Swords’ music treats the listener as an explorer; each pulse of sonic stimulation indulges listeners with discoveries of meaning within the sparse layers. Darker than Singh’s masterpiece, Dagger Paths, like Mr Swords’ other work, is no less epic, and certainly no less menacingly mystical.
As far as I know, the undergrowth is not a favourite subject of The High Arts. While Homer, Dante and Hieronymus Bosch, among others, have explored the Underworld and its implications, very few have found themselves exploring the undergrowth. As the Renaissance divided its time between Hellish Depths and the ether, leaping from cauldrons to golden plains, few, if any, spared a thought for scrub. Above steaming caverns and below the gap between industrial wasteland and wooded greenfield locales, one finds the rotting mousse of yesteryear and the crust attached to fungal root on upheaval. Finally, someone, Forest Swords, has chosen this stratification as his mode of expression, and has utilised it with stunning results. These unrecorded depths are replicated sonically using sparing instrumentation, layered and distorted, not beyond recognition, but to a distance which reminds the listener of the proximity of the world underfoot. Bells echo through tunnels of trunks and voices soar down from the canopy, pulling up before thudding into the damp beneath.
Do you feel you have anything unique as far as recording / producing habits go? I can imagine the tracks being recorded in late night sessions: Wrong?
I do like working in the evenings, and I suppose the type of music I make lends itself to that kind of atmosphere. But I’m a fairly impatient person, so songs generally get created fairly slowly over days and weeks rather than in short bursts. I’ll do bits and pieces and return to the song each day – so say I’ll do a guitar or beat and then leave the song to settle for a while before I go back to it. I try not to force it.Although its origin could suggest a level of usage of historic sampling, in fact the idiosyncratic nature of the Forest Swords sound is almost purely current. “I like ambiguity with vocals”, I am told. The vocal snatches one experiences wafting into a rhizome crevice may be “manipulated or untouched samples of [Mr Swords’] voice”, while others are “straight-up samples lifted from various other sources”. Most instrumentation and production on Dagger Paths is fresh and unreconstructed, even though auditory nerves may analyse otherwise. This musical ambiguity is perhaps parcel to the veil of mysticism attached to Forest Swords. Only having played a handful of live dates, having issued only two suitably obscure press images during his career (the second of which almost certainly has its first appearance here), and releasing all his early material either on cassette or CDr (all of which is collated on the Dagger Paths bonus disc), suggests an adoption of an introversion present throughout much of today’s music world.
The ‘cut and paste’ vibe that comes across in your artwork, your videos and your music is fascinating. For example, there is a clear relationship between the handmade EPs you put out and the layered sound of the tracks themselves. Is there a conscious effort towards artistic consistency across these media, or does it just come naturally?
I grew up with fanzine culture – I delved into riot grrrl and post-punk and hardcore when I was a teenager and that shaped my whole thinking from a pretty early age, right from the way I approach design or visuals through to the way I make my music. You can’t hear those genres directly in the music at all, but I think the way of approaching creativity, layering, deconstructing and recontextualising I can trace back from those kind of influences. It’s not a calculated decision to make everything look and sound really consistent – it’s just natural with the way I work, I guess.
A longer version of this article first appeared in the Electronic Beats Print Magazine.