Heathen Harvest: Can you begin by explaining how Harvest Rain was originally conceived and how the band came to form?
Jason Thompkins: There was this very unique storm in the Autumn of 1995. It just so happened that the storm was right before dawn. When dawn began pouring through the windows, me and a friend named Charles went outside to see why the windows and everything seemed so dusk-rust orange. It was one of those moments that you never forget. The whole sky was this strange blood-red, dusk-orange with hints of bruise-purple bed sheet. The wind was blowing constantly, making the barn howl. Normally, these so called “Orange Twilights” last like a usual twilight, it's here, and then it's gone. It is also an omen that foretells a bad storm brewing at sea. Not this one, it lasted all the morning. It was during this morning I wrote the first few Harvest Rain songs and decided to make music revolving around eerie and strange Autumnal phenomena.
HH: Who are the current members that form the nucleus of the band?
JT: From the beginning it was Jason Thompkins, my brother Jamey Thompkins and Christopher Mehl. If Harvest Rain were to play live, that is who it would be.
HH: Though many artists disdain labels and genre associations Harvest Rain has been quickly adopted both here at home and especially abroad in Europe as a neofolk band. Do you see the band as aiming to be a “neofolk” band and are you comfortable having your music placed under this banner?
JT: No, I had never heard of that word until recently. Harvest Rain has also been called Scarecrow-folk, Autumnal-folk, and Ghost-folk and so forth. I prefer simply Dark-folk. I did not strive to be part of any genre or scene, but we seem to be lumped in it. It's not that I have a problem with it; it is just the fact that a lot of tasteless people are putting on black-shirts for so called “fetish” reasons, putting runes on album covers, and making empty noise to the soundtrack of it all. I do not want to be associated with any of that. At the same time there are some very “real” musicians that I admire and work with who have also been called “neofolk.” So…..
HH: How did you come about choosing the band name and what significance does it have for you?
JT: During that windy morning I was just talking about above I wrote some lyrics to some music on an old half-dead acoustic guitar. In the song “Gown” there are the words: “In this season of this harvest rain.” The name came from there. It came to mean a lot of things over the years. The crop will not blossom without rain. How does one truly enjoy the fruit of the crop without first chewing on its roots for a season or two? The tears of the scarecrow. Now, except in very rural areas of the South you may as well go ghost-hunting if you want to see a traditional scarecrow or old barn. The rain can be seen as a sign of depression, gloom, or sadness, a drowning liquid mirror of tears. The mourning of the death of a former time. The harvest rain can be seen as the crying of the fields and of lost traditions, customs, and folk-ways of the past. Knowledge is a seed watered by tears.
HH: Harvest Rain's members reside in South Carolina in the Southern United States . Is this where you were born and what has kept you in South Carolina ?
JT: I was born and raised in Horry County , South Carolina . I have traveled to different places, but I end up here. This is where my family and childhood memories are. However, lately if I had the chance I would up and leave in no time. It's a bit like a person not wanting to stay around to watch the final hanging of a family member. The small town I live in is turning into a futuristic nightmare.
HH: The music of Harvest Rain often invokes moods and atmospheres that seem directly inspired by the South Carolina landscape and natural cycles of weather, seasons and crops. Can you explain how your environment influences your creative process and the music itself?
JT: Growing up and spending my childhood on my Great-Grandmother's farm. You have to understand that even when I was a boy all the meat, milk, eggs and food in general came directly from that land we lived on. I was surrounded by cornfields, bean fields, wheat fields, and so forth. There were still folk-tales given to children at bedtime. The elders would tell us not to go in the fields after dark or the “monsters” would eat us. I have direct memories of my Great-Grandmother busting out a 12-gage shotgun and shooting Hawks from the back-door that were targeting her chickens. It would leave a huge bruise on her arm every time and upset my Father. I'm in my late twenties and it seems all this is now lost. No more traditional Southern ways. It seems like the future happened over night.
Also, growing up in the rural country we had limited things to do. Behind my Father's house is an old cemetery from the Civil-war era. This place is hidden and forgotten, located in the middle of a deep part of the woods. This was my childhood treading zone. My sympathy with ghosts and spirits came from this environment. Early on I built an obsession with ghosts. The female ones looked very sad so I would plant flowers where they lingered to try and make them feel better. The ghost photo on the album cover for the new “Evening and Devotion” EP was taken in this cemetery. Actually, all the photos within this EP are from that area. Also, my brother during his childhood had what is called “Night Terrors.” He would start screaming in the middle of the night that something was looking in the window at us and so forth. By the time I was a teenager I had quite a healthy relationship with the paranormal. Whether or not all the paranormal activity I grew up with would have still happened in a Northern city or any other place I do not know. It is quite obvious the isolated and small country life I grew up in had a huge impact on my imagination and creative input.
HH: The music of Harvest Rain also refers to natural spirits, ghosts and other “supernatural” entities or beings. Where does the inspiration to write about such spirits come from?
JT: That question is best described above. My relationship with ghosts came from spending my childhood literally playing in an old cemetery every day after school or even when school was out. Then, as a teenager who started taking his first LSD trips I would climb out of my window, down the ladder and head out to my “little spot.” Obviously, this is when the more stranger things began to happen. Being in a very strict disciplinary family also prevented me from engaging in so-called ‘normal' activity that most growing children do. The most we could do at certain points in our life was sneaking out of our windows at night and wandering through the woods.
HH: Can the themes of ghosts and spirits in the music of Harvest Rain also be traced back to your residing in South Carolina ? Or more specifically are these references inspired by a directly Southern American perception or understanding of ghosts, spirits, and folklore?
JT: Of course residing in a very rural town in South Carolina can cause certain individuals to explore the ‘hidden' aspects of the ‘soil'. Add in a damaging ‘domestic childhood' and you get a young child who will find his comfort “elsewhere.” My “safe place” was out in those woods and fields with the crisp Autumnal winds freezing the night breathe. Leaves scattering all about the graveyard and the whispers, friendly whispers. Upon growing older I started visiting libraries and looking for directions to supposedly “haunted grounds.” This was basically my hobby. It was about the only thing that made me feel comfortable. Camping out in an old house that is supposedly ‘haunted' way back in the woods, spending the Autumn mornings in old abandoned graveyards. It isn't just South Carolina that has such things, it's just all my memories, and places of interest are in South Carolina .
HH: The Thompkins brothers form the nucleus of the band. How did you come about working together? And have you always shared a general interest in arts, spirituality, music, folk culture etc.?
JT: I have always played music with my brother. We both share a common outlook on things, but not all things. Jamey and I grew up singing in a choir for most of our lives so we have always been around music. I took violin lessons in the 4th and 5th grade. However, we both taught ourselves most instruments. He is, by nature, a gifted piano player even though he never took lessons. When we gather to record I can give him a mental picture and hum a tune to him and he is capable of simply playing right there, making the mental picture turn to form.
HH: Do you see the family connection between band members as a strengthening factor for the band and / or does it ever become difficult working with someone you know so well?
JT: It is more suitable to be working with my brother as he can often “see” what I am describing to him that which I am “seeing.” So, he can make/add to the music in an organic/pure way. He just knows. Strangely, it is often very silent when we are recording. It is one of those things where it just works, period.
HH: Harvest Rain has a number of CD-R's that the band has released on the label Haunted Showers Music. I was not able to find any information about Haunted Showers Music or Harvest Rains earlier releases. Is Haunted Showers Music connected to Harvest Rain and are any of these earlier recordings still commercially available?
JT: Haunted Showers Music was started by me when I was releasing our music to the local public at our few gigs. It never really got launched too well. It was 1995. I didn't own a computer until the year 2000. Now, it wasn't going to be of my interest to sell Harvest Rain tapes to the local farmers although they were role-models of mine. I do not have the income to properly release my music myself. Sad, yet true. However, upon someone's request I do make CDRs or tapes of the Haunted Showers Music catalog. There is a label from Poland which has recently sent a very promising request to release the past releases of Harvest Rain. This may start out with the “Evening and Devotion” album from 1998 (not to be confused with the 7” of the same name).
HH: Harvest Rain has released its last two releases on French based label OPN Records. How did the band and OPN start working together and will OPN be releasing future Harvest rain releases?
JT: I sent OPN a CDR of my material. They have released “A Frost Comes with the Wind” and the “Evening and Devotion” EP / 7''. Next will be a Harvest Rain ‘1995-2005' Retrospective CD. When I sent them a CDR I didn't even know it was a music label. I have never pushed myself on labels. I have always believed that if my material is to be heard then it will be. I do hope to continue working with OPN as I like the gentlemen who run it. Also, they take good measures to make the releases look good.
HH: Was it an intentional move by the band to work with a European label to broaden distribution and reach the European “neofolk” market?
JT: No. I didn't even know what a “neofolk” band was back then. One of the guys from OPN had a group and we decided to exchange music. I didn't even know he was involved with a record label.
HH: Are there any specific bands from the “neofolk” genre that have inspired Harvest Rain?
JT: I'm still listening to the same music I was listening to 15 years ago. Crash Worship ADRV, Death in June, early Christian Death, early Swans, Misfits/Samhain, etc…, although I enjoy very much Werkraum, Waldteufel, Allerseelen, Stone Breath, Der Arbeiter and others.
HH: The Harvest Rain Website has a hefty amount of Odinist and Nordic inspired poetry that is spiritual in nature. Do these poems and writings reflect a direct relationship between the band members and their own spiritual beliefs?
JT: I spent 10 years of my life devoted to the study and practice of Germanic pre-Christian ways. However, even that leads to something further. Before that I was heavily devoted to Christ, but was not a Christian. What I just said may sound silly, but to sum it up I saw Christ in the forms and symbols of nature. It may even sound ridiculous to say I had formed some sort of “pagan-Christ.” My devotions were to the wind, the fields, the thunderstorms and etc. However, I saw Christ and these things as symbols and archetypes. I was my own religion, I was my own belief. I also studied and practiced Tibetan Buddhism under the teaching of a Lama living in South Carolina , exiled from Tibet . Once again, I did not consider myself a “Buddhist” even in his presence and he knew this. He taught me methods of breathing and focus. I remember a very dry Summer here and I was over at my Grandfathers place one evening. A group of people were in the field literally praying for rain. This was a church group. Although they were physically calling their God Christ, it was the same archetype as the old farmers calling on Thor. That same evening my Grandfather's brother came over. He is a pastor of a church. Somehow the conversation lead to local deaths. The preacher's wife began telling me how she saw “glowing lights” near the homes of those that would die soon. She saw “death omens.” These are known in other places as “Will-o-the-Wisps” or “Swamp Signs.” What I am saying is it doesn't bother me one bit whether you call your God Christ, Wotan, or Abraxas; it is the same archetype of the collective blood. Christ is not the Christian church and Wotan/Odin is not the Asatru Free Assembly. My study of the Germanic Gods was when my blood started ‘speaking to me' and seeing my heritage being buried by the current age it was an organic process to get in contact with my blood-roots. With that being said, I have a certain disdain for atheist. They are the shallowest and boring individuals I have ever met. I'd rather spend an evening drinking red wine with a Christian than talk about so-called “evolution” with a drunken atheist.
HH: Do you consider yourselves part of the “radical traditionalist” movement or heathen cultures and if so how do you participate or relate to these communities and ideas?
JT: Once again, like the term “neofolk,” this term is a recent one and is mostly inspired by Julius Evola. I participated in publishing a booklet by Evola last year. However, I am more attracted to Miguel Serrano for my own reasons. I only think it has become yet another “trend.” I can only be a bit amused when I hear someone call themselves a “radical tradionalist.” However, it is a start. There is a great deal of discipline when it comes to these things. I'd rather see the youth of today learning the Bhagavad-Gita, studying the Eddas, and engaging in spiritual/mental/physical discipline than being professional modern patriots of decadence.
HH: Do your personal spiritual beliefs ever find their way into your musical compositions?
JT: Yes, of course. I'm not going to point them out, but it is certainly there. I couldn't imagine anything else but that.
HH: Do you feel that your spiritual beliefs open your perception to the power of the natural world around you? And is there a connection between your spiritual beliefs and the belief in a spirit world or the existence of ghosts or spirits or is this merely a folk inspiration?
JT: I see the natural world as a symbol of something more profound. When I sing about the frost glittered dawn I am drawing a picture of my beliefs, longings or in some cases a memory I want to turn to concrete. The existence of ghosts is not a belief I have; it is very real in my world. Of course folklore is a huge inspiration. It is the spirit of a people as a whole that keeps the “Spirit” alive. If a crop fails because of a lack of rain then it is by far more powerful to offer a sacrifice or a group prayer than merely sigh away at some scientific rational explanation. This is my honest opinion. If the preacher's wife sees “death omens” then I find this absolutely more fascinating than the rational explanation of: “You probably saw flashlights or lanterns.” The problem is that people have lost a belief in anything at all. If the old man down the road sees a “Sun-Dog” in the sky and tells you the hunt will be a good one then I'd take his advice!
HH: How much of the lyrical and emotional content of the music is personal or inspired by personal feelings and experience as opposed to abstract concepts?
JT: Maybe there is a combination of both. Rarely do I sing about human events. Once again, I'll use metaphors from nature to describe something. Parables, if you will.
HH: It is mentioned on your website that past recordings have been made in barns and even during the occurrence of a tornado once. Does the band use a home studio and if so how important is it to the band that the music be “commercial” grade? Does the band strive for a less commercial more homegrown recording experience?
JT: We have a very nice digital studio with built-in effects and so forth. It is about the size of a suitcase so we can carry it around. Wherever there is a socket to plug in, we can record. It also has a mixing-desk built in it. So, we can make a raw recording out in the old barn under candle flames and mix it later. I've always stressed that the ‘spirit' has to be present and is more important than a “clean” sound. We do not strive for anything; we simply play when we are ready. Sometimes it can come out sounding “home-grown” and sometimes these can be the best recordings.
HH: How do you go about composing the songs of Harvest Rain? What roles do each of you play in conception, production etc.?
JT: I've always described it as myself putting a skeleton on the table. From there, we put flesh on it. Sooner or later the corpse becomes alive and takes an interest in itself and it goes from there. This can be a simple guitar track from the start or us plugging in and being puppets to the instruments.
HH: Has Harvest Rain generated equal interest in the US and abroad? Or have you found that the European audience has embraced your music more?
JT: I've received most letters from Europe . The few releases we've had officially released and compilation tracks were done in Europe .
HH: What does Harvest Rain envision for the future of the band? What are your aspirations or goals concerning the future of Harvest Rain?
JT: I would hope that someone may be interested in releasing my work which goes beyond music, but remains in the little “aura” known as Harvest Rain. I have tons of notebooks under my bed filled with short stories which reflect the same feelings or sensations a Harvest Rain song or album cover may do. I also hope to continue my spiritual growth by giving Harvest Rain its final form.
HH: Are there any artists other than Matt Howden that you would be open to collaborating with?
JT: Yes. Any artists that I feel are “real” or “true.” Lately I am collaborating with Axel Frank of Werkraum. He has done some vocal and guitar work for Harvest Rain while I did some guitar work for his debut album and have sent some other works to him. Axel is one of those rare people on this earth and I consider him a good friend. Also, it's been an honor to get to know Tor Lundvall over the past two years. Recently he added some back-vocals and some of his superb ghostly sounds to a Harvest Rain track called "A Night Chorus”. I worked with the Chilean act Der Arbeiter this past year. Juan and I share a love for the great Miguel Serrano and Juan's Der Arbeiter is beautiful music. Amanda Votta, a Southern girl living in Canada sent me some of her flute pieces. I was amazed. In fact, her flute playing alone gave me a deja-vu, a huge deja-vu which was quite eerie just like the music she made. I added some guitars to two of them. One came out as a sort of instrumental (Green Flame) while another turned out to be a full song (Listening). Hopefully all these will show themselves on the next Harvest Rain album.
HH: How connected is Harvest Rain with the few other American based neofolk bands and labels such as Waldteufel, The Ajna Offensive, Stone Breathe or any others?
JT: I do not know any of these individuals personally, but the ones you have mentioned are superb groups. I was introduced to Stone Breath about a year ago by a comrade named Cody and I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I had never heard a group who invoked the same sort of aura as Harvest Rain until I heard Stone Breath. There are some strong similarities between the two. Although the music isn't quite the same, the whole aura is very similar. Waldteufel have created folk music at its purest. Only recently did I find out Markus co-created Crash Worship ADRV, a group which has had a profound effect on me.
HH: Do you receive any local support for your music?
JT: The few times we have played we were well respected. There is no real local support though.
HH: Can you discus the other musical projects that you are involved in? How can people who want to hear the other musical projects you are involved in procure this music?
JT: I started out at the age of 16 leading what can be called “Horror Punk” or “Death Rock” groups. Of course, these groups played gigs constantly unlike Harvest Rain. I started a side-project called “ Cain River ” in 1999. Basically, it allowed me to do everything myself. I wanted to make music with the same aura of Harvest Rain, but with electric guitars, bass, up-beat drums, and so forth. Anybody interested in my music in any form can contact me. E-mail Harvest Rain
HH: We want to thank you for answering our questions and sharing your music with us here at Heathen Harvest. And lastly, is there anything you would like to say in parting?
JT: “He wants you Malahki; He who walks behind the rows wants you!” --Isaac from “Children of the Corn”