One man’s poison: an interview with The Haxan Cloak
Steph Kretowicz asks Bobby Krlic to delve deep on his critically lauded second album “Excavation”, uncovering the dark impulses that drive the record—and the human condition.
Dig deep enough and strange things will surface. For Yorkshire-born, London-based artist Bobby Krlic that means confronting his fears, however unpleasant. He’s made a career out of identifying, isolating and dissecting dread as The Haxan Cloak, taunting his audience with his black and wordless soundscapes intended to rattle rather than relieve. It’s fitting then, that the focus on death for his second album, Excavation, inspires visions of a grisly exhumation while the image of a hangman’s noose, dangling dangerously close, deforms its cover.
Both frightening and seductive, Krlic romanticises terror in the incessant clicks and queasy distortions of “Excavation (Part 1)”, the haunting pitch and rumbling palpitations of the Swedish folklore-influenced “Mara”. Anyone who’s experienced a night terror will be familiar with the feeling, an old hag trying to strangle you in your sleep, while the disorienting arousal of spiralling panic permeates. This is aurally overwhelming and excessively introspective sound design from a classical guitarist, with a punk and metal background and a shy disposition. But that shouldn’t be mistaken for malaise, because Krlic is a warm though softly spoken creature in person. At times he’s hard to hear over the bass of a café sound system, his words hidden in a mire of low frequencies, much like a sound exploring the mute terrors that lie beneath.
You’ve talked before about “finding comfort in discomfort”, it reminds me of when you get a cut and you deliberately aggravate it. It hurts but it’s strangely satisfying.
That’s the thing, you know this thing is going to make you feel bad but it’s almost romantically enticing. I used to do this thing as a kid, if I saw there was a terrifying film on late at night, I’d video it and I’d wait until my parents went out. Then I’d sit in my room, turn all the lights off in the house, put headphones on and watch it and be absolutely terrified. I’d be so scared but I used to get some kind of perverse pleasure from doing that. You find out weird things about yourself if you place yourself in that situation. I think it’s important.
On a sociological level, it’s like that refusal to acknowledge those feelings and compulsions as real. By evading the negative aspects of our humanity, you’re setting yourself up for disaster because when someone does something really awful, it’s often treated like it’s an anomaly but it’s actually, probably, an inherent part of everyone’s nature.
Yeah, of course, that’s exactly what I mean. That’s what I said about the theme of the record—I could have made it about something else, it didn’t have to be about death, but if you only embrace things that you want to embrace and that are easy to embrace, then there’s no challenge is there? If you’re going to do something like what I’m doing, putting yourself out of your comfort zone and to challenging yourself with ideas that make you feel incredibly uncomfortable, it’s going to take a project somewhere that you’re not aware of. I definitely arrived at certain points where I felt really uncomfortable and there were definitely feelings that I didn’t want to deal with.
It’s like medicating sadness or something. It’s a natural feeling, people are meant to feel bad and if you don’t, it’s not healthy.
Exactly. I’m always the kind of person who—and it drives my girlfriend bonkers—if there’s an elephant in the room, needs to get rid of it; I need to talk about it. Granted, there probably are times when you shouldn’t talk about everything but I’m the kind of person that’s like, “Look, I want to get this out in the open”. I’d rather just engage with something, rather than leave it for another day, because often that day doesn’t come.
When I thought of ‘excavation’ I thought about exhuming a body. But that’s not necessarily where you’re going with that is it?
No, the way that I think about it is, the excavation is from one plane to another plane. If there is a soul, it’s exhuming that.
The track listing is almost the reverse of a burial, because “Fall” comes at the end.
The drop is signalling the start of another journey.
With the new material, I got the impression that because you’re moving in to ‘phase two’ of human existence, the way the music comes across is far more ethereal. It’s not so grounded in organic instrumentation as your last one.
That’s totally true. I was thinking about that because with the first record—and obviously when you’re dealing with an organic process which is someone descending towards death—it kind of makes sense that the instrumentation you choose would be natural acoustics, resonating objects. And then, this place, wherever the place that this current record is, is very, well… It’s kind of indefinable or as definable as you want it to be as a composer. It made sense for me to take it away from the first record and reverse that process.
You’ve qualified before that you’re not a depressive person, is that really true?
I don’t know, probably as much as the average person. You know what? I think it’s different having this kind of job and being permitted this amount of freedom because if you have a nine-to-five job then it’s very regimented and ordered and you have someone to answer to; it’s very rigid and you have goals to meet on a daily basis. It does give a kind of structure to the way that your mind works because, obviously, in that timeframe you’re in work mode. But with what I do my mind is probably allowed to wander more than the average person. I think it’s easier to, again, engage with things you would probably save for another time or maybe not even bother with.
… Or push them out of your mind.
Exactly and it’s in those times when you’re looking for inspiration that those things present themselves. So I think, yeah, I can be a depressive person but it depends. Generally, day to day, I’m not, but I think because I’m permitted time to think about those things way more than the average person, it’s easier to go there.
You could look at your music and those ideas as restoring a balance to modern modes of thinking. Where rather than just presenting a happy escape, you’re showing that these other feelings are real too.
Yeah but there’s another thing that my granddad used to say to my dad, which he used to repeat to me when I was a kid: “one man’s poison is another man’s medicine.” I think that’s really, really true, especially with my music. I’m sure there are people that listen to it and think “Jesus Christ this is horrible, why would anyone want to make this? Why would anyone want to listen to this?” And I’m sure there are other people that listen to it and it makes them feel elated. ~
Excavation by The Haxan Cloak is out now via Tri Angle.
Published April 24, 2013. Words by Steph Kretowicz.