Heathen Harvest: Can you begin by discussing how H.E.R.R. was originally conceived and you went about forming the conception into a band?
Michiel Spapé: Quite naturally, given the practical premises, I suppose. How does one form a band without having much management and authoritative affinity? You see, a normal band, the way I see it, starts with a group of friends that have similar experiences and goals; they may say, if they have a similar interest in music, “let's start a band” and get on with it. Lacking that, I just started making music by myself, made some people listen to it and, as some people showed their motivation and skills, asked them for participation. Miklós Hoffer, Oskar van Dijk and Reinier Jansen (who is our guest-drummer and practices regularly with us) had been long-time friends, they were, of course, obvious choices. Now, as for Troy , that's a different story…
Troy Southgate : My involvement with the group came about after I bumped into Mich on Soulseek, quite by chance, and I then went on to review the first HERR album for my Synthesis webzine. He was kind enough to send me a copy of the promo version of ‘Es Regnet', which I found absolutely stunning in all departments. I thought it was a little similar to early Puissance, actually, a group I'd been keeping tabs on for quite a while. I think that, subconsciously, at least, Mich had actually been looking for an English vocalist in many respects. Like myself, he's a big fan of Current 93 and I remember him sending me a little demo of a recording he had made using an actor's voice reading from Jung's ‘Memories & Reflections'. I then sent him something that Michael Lujan (Synthesis) and myself had been working on and he was impressed enough to want to take me on board. So the relationship between Mich and I has always been based on a strong mutual appreciation of one another's abilities.
HH: Will you please introduce the members of Herr and explain how they contribute to the band?
- Michiel Spape: Composing, all music unless otherwise mentioned, producing, mastering, visual designs, etc
- Troy Southgate: Lyrics, vocals
- Miklós Hoffer: Lyrics, vocals, live timpani
- Oskar van Dijk: Cello
- Reinier Jansen: Live snare-drum.
HH: What previous musical experience or training have the members of Herr experienced before the joining the band?
MS: Oskar and I have been in a band together as respectively bassist and guitarist in the mid 90s, and although we had quite a good time rehearsing every Sunday, we never got round to recording anything, or play anything except a few cover songs for that matter. At that time, I was still into ‘doom-metal', which was funny, as it took me some time to realize that the sole reason I liked the music, were the occasional use of classical instruments. I remember the now unfortunately destructed rehearsal hall as really much, much better than anything we now use; it sported a grand piano and an upright piano, a decent drum-kit, 200 seats or something, and, best of all, was free !
TS: I'd always written songs and poetry as a child and therefore I was always fairly creative, even if most of it got no further than my bedroom. I was particularly inspired by the lyrics of Ian Dury & The Blockheads, Madness and Bad Manners, because they spoke of everyday life in a humorous and down-to-earth manner. Meanwhile, in my teens, I both joined and helped form several Ska and Oi! Bands, most notably, The Distortions (1983), The Banana Skins (1984) and The Toot ‘n Ska Men (1989). The last of these was the most successful of the three and we played at such illustrious venues as The Dublin Castle in London 's Camden (where Madness themselves first began) and Sussex University , although we never recorded anything and, apart from some wonderful memories and a few awful hangovers, have very little to show for it.
HH: Can you discuss the original vision or theoretical premise of Herr?
TS: Personally, I think HERR has gone beyond the purely theoretical stage in that we are putting our dreams and our beliefs into action. But we do share the vision of a pan-Europa forged from the spiritual and cultural achievements of our ancestors, be they Dutch playwrights, Byzantine loyalists or indomitable Roman legions.
MS: Indeed, cultural heritage and general, a mythical view on history, are leitmotifs. We pick up the pearls amongst the rubble of historical and mythical knowledge and hold them to the world, thus creating an isolated paradise where the listener can fully experience (our aim for) true beauty.
HH: Three of Herr's band members or Dutch and one is British. How did this multi-national collaboration occur?
TS: This has already been explained, to a great extent, but I see HERR less as a multi-national phenomenon than a manifestation of the united European soul. I think it's possible to celebrate both the similarities and the differences that actually define what is Dutch and English in the first place. For me, it is a pleasure to work with three such talented and intelligent musicians.
MS: Indeed, we often talk for hours about such differences and similarities, both in a casual way – talking, for example, about the common roots of words such as ‘fishwives' – and one related to HERR. As such, we remain truly astounded by the beauty of the Byzantine culture as it stood for a thousand years, and the wonderful differences with our own cultures, that now, unfortunately, remain buried beneath the surface of Istanbul .
HH: The music of Herr is a rather unique combination of neoclassical instrumentation and modestly martial percussion. What originally drew Herr to working within the neofolk / Neoclassical genre?
MS: It was never a choice I made consciously. I love classical music and appreciate a bit of neofolk now and then, in that order, and I try making the music I like most. However, I call that integrity, which to me is the exact opposite of boundaries imposed by others.
TS: Given our influences, I think it was inevitable, although I certainly don't feel bound by any specific boundaries or categorical guidelines. I think that, more often than not, the most exciting dimensions that accompany an individual or group from this genre, are those which actually display qualities which have been gleaned elsewhere. I'm thinking of Werkraum's subtle use of psychedelia, for example, or Ostara's experiments with driving Metal guitars. It shows real strength in depth and a willingness to experiment and take other concepts on board.
HH: Has Herr's band members been active in the post-industrial / neofolk / neoclassical music genres previous to forming Herr?
TS: Not in my case. I had experimented privately with Michael Lujan, as mentioned above, but that's about the extent of my participation. As a listener, on the other hand, I've had a strong interest in this type of music since 1997. Elsewhere, I have recorded a track attacking capitalism and modernity for the Survival Unit LP, ‘Continuity'. But this is based more on a combination of vocal aggression and harsh electronics.
HH: Was the music of Herr specifically created for the neofolk / neoclassical audience?
MS: No. It would be quite arrogant of me to consider that our music should only concern them, much like it would be arrogant of them if they consider us some kind of ‘possession' of a genre. I would indeed even love to see a Herr video on MTV one day, that would really be interesting, experiencing such a contrast to all that rubbish that is generally broadcasted there.
TS: I don't think HERR consciously made a decision to operate within this particular field, there are simply people out there already who recognise something in our work that appeals to them on the basis that it has been inspired by some of their other musical heroes. And I wouldn't say that we're aiming to fulfil a specific role, either, I think we're being driven to wherever the Muse takes us. This is inevitable when four individuals bring their own separate ideas to the table. What is exciting, of course, is seeing this four-fold beast unravel before our very eyes and take on a form of its own.
HH: Do members of Herr have previous classical music training?
MS: Oskar van Dijk has long been a member of a Dutch youth orchestra where he played cello. I myself have had some seven years of training in classical guitar, which I think can be heard directly in my compositions. Mind you, this is very different from the typical ‘campfire'-guitar so many people seem to know, and I hate it when people expect me to play a familiar song (unless they are familiar with Scarlatti, that is!).
HH: Herr incorporates a number of vocalists on the bands second album “The Winter of Constantinople.” What has drawn Herr towards utilizing such an array of vocalist as opposed to the singular lead singer so common in popular music?
MS: Coincidence? Destiny? As I explained earlier, Troy later became a member, as I invited him for a part on “Vondel's Lucifer”. Since this collaboration was so fruitful for that particular song, I asked him to become a permanent member. However, this in no way should diminish the qualities of Miklos' voice, so I thought the best result would be the combined effort of both vocalists.
TS: There isn't really a single lead vocalist in HERR at all and the fact that Miklos and I both contribute in some way adds to the overall diversity and depth of the material itself. We also have our own unique styles, too. When we played in Leiden recently, it was interesting to see how much we could actually play around with the various roles that each of us were fulfilling. To some extent it was as though the group was in a constant state of flux. At one point I was doing the vocals myself, at another point I played acoustic guitar and at another moment completely I temporarily left the stage. Miklos, of course, alternates between percussion, vocals and percussion combined and megaphone. And then Mich will also come out from behind the keyboard and take up the guitar himself. I think it's so much more interesting that way and opens up an increasing number of options.
HH: With a number of vocalists at the bands disposal how do you determine who narrates or sings which songs or sections of the album?
MS: On TWOC are featured as singers: Miklos, Troy and Maria. Maria, being Troy 's daughter, is really brilliant for verses that should express innocence or purity. She is not, of course, considered as a ‘band-members', as such (I would require more rehearsals for that!), so her role is rather restricted. As for Miklos and Troy ; there parts are reserved as a function of their vocal qualities and characteristics. Miklos has quite friendy, if authoritative and somewhat lower voice, and is really good with staccato speeches and chants. Troy 's voice, on the other hand, has the expressive quality that comes both from his particular accent and his musical experience, and this is particularly shown during legato songs and sung words.
HH: How does Herr go about composing its music and songs? Are compositional responsibilities shared or split between members?
MS: In general, I compose everything. Either Miklos or Troy or both will add lyrics and voice, and we've also worked two times on a chord-scheme by Troy (explained later on). In such a case it is not very clear who ‘composed' it – I would say then, that Troy wrote the melody and I the music.
TS: In terms of composition, of course, with the technology we have at our disposal today it is fairly simple to send voice and music samples through cyberspace. Mich and I always remain in regular daily contact, so we spend a lot of our time comparing different versions of songs and discussing ideas. What I like most about Mich 's approach, on the other hand, is that he's such a perfectionist. By the time I get round to listening to a new piece of music that he has just composed, he's already sent through the next extended or updated version of the same track!
HH: How does practice and composition occur with one band member living in a separate country?
MS: Yes, it is odd, and indeed, it would have been hard if we hadn't maintained the split responsibilities. Now, it is very clear who needs to do something, and the cogwheels of the Herr-machine only turn when I start emailing everyone. For our rehearsals, we practice with the four of us (guest percussionist Reinier Jansen included), Miklos sometimes taking on the role of Troy . Listening to Herr, you may have heard an average instrument of 20 or so on each song, so you might imagine that with two percussionists, a cellist, an understandably absent Troy, and myself playing guitar or keyboards, we can hardly recreate the music you hear on the recordings. Thus, to cope with this, we have a backing tape which plays some of the instruments we miss (and help us to hear the beat). So, we can cope with the absence of another member (except me, that is) when rehearsing, by practicing with each other as well as with the backing tape that becomes then, a rehearsal tape.
HH: Is the lyrical content of your music written separately or in synch with the music?
MS: As Troy lives in London and Miklos lives on the far side of the Netherlands (yes, we Dutchies think 200 km is a long distance!), we don't have many opportunities to write whilst ‘jamming', or something. What we normally do is this: I compose something with a general idea of what I want to do with it later on, and upon finishing the first version without lyrics, I have a name that describes the essence of a subject, of which I hope it reflects the song. Then, I send it to other members, and usually Troy , but also Miklos, will add lyrics to it, the former forced to record it at his home and send it to me over the internet. After that, I ideally simply mix the lyrics with the music, but often cut it all up and ‘slice' it through the recording, and do some rearrangement afterwards. Currently, we also have two recordings (neither released yet) that are based on a recording of Troy with singing and his guitar-playing, and me doing all the other instruments and arrangements that go beyond the strumming of guitar chords. That has also worked out well – I love expanding a simple song to a full arrangement, a bit like acting as a kaleidoscope on a bundle of pure light.
TS: That's a good analogy, in fact, I too enjoy hearing what Mich can do by taking a basic folk song and bringing it to life with the addition of various instruments and effects.
HH: The music of Herr is very emotionally engaging. How important is it to Herr that the listener be absorbed or caught up in the narrative and feel of the music?
MS: Thanks, I see that as a great compliment. In my opinion, the music you hear today all-too-often to evoke a hedonistic tendency. Listeners, as such, merely buy the music because it is fun, it suits their image, or maybe even because of the gorgeous woman that acts as a vocalist. Jedem das seine, maybe, but for me, art is there to provide beauty, not ‘fun'. Contrast that with a decent arrangement by Bach, shouting at you with a booming voice: ‘REPENT, SINNERS!', for although he may have thought true beauty was summarized in one name, God – his contemporaries knew his music came a close second ! Now, trembling under the massive sound of a decent orchestra, there is no fun. Emotion, as the communication of true beauty. Now, of course, I wouldn't compare myself with such a genius, but a man can dream, can't he?
TS: We've tried to put a lot of effort into making songs like ‘A New Rome', for example, reflect the great tragedy and drama of European history. So it's inevitable that a song like that will contain real feeling and emotion. Or at least that was our intent. But I think it's very important for the listener to actually sit down and listen to our music very carefully indeed. There is often a great deal going on, and certainly nothing that can be fully appreciated in one sitting, so it is definitely not the kind of music that you should play when you're doing the housework or some DIY. Give it the full attention it needs, and I guarantee that you'll enjoy and appreciate it far more. I was quite astounded, in fact, how much my parents enjoy the latest album. A sign, perhaps, that its distinctly Classical qualities have taken it way beyond the purely neoclassical genre and made it surprisingly accessible for those people who aren't remotely familiar with the likes of Puissance or Current 93.
HH: How much of Herr's music is played upon actual physical instruments and how much of the orchestration is sampled?
MS: Almost all music is sampled, so I can still say it is composed, produced and largely executed by me. If I feel there is a point to it, I will ask Oskar van Dijk to record some cellos that are mixed with sampled string-arrangements – usually to make it sound more natural, much like I've also used guitar and melodica (on Vondel's Lucifer) for expressiveness. Ideally, everything would be based on true recordings of a gigantic orchestra; I must say, I love the idea, but of course, we totally lack the financial resources for such a thing (yet!). However, the brilliant thing about sampled instruments is the extreme degree of control they allow, and the speed with which ideas can be turned into reality. Keep in mind, by principle, I never use loops (or grooves, as they are sometimes called), but note-based sampling. I know a few bands I will not name here that use quality classical recordings of famous composers and conductors, mash that together with a martial drum and will not even mention them on the album-sleeve – a despicable way to ‘make money', if you ask me.
TS: I would argue that we are ‘a happening' to some extent, although not in a way that Mich would particularly disagree with. What we are doing is to breathe substance into certain cultural and historical fields and, as a result, give them the life and vitality that they deserve. I believe that there are certain eternal and traditional principles out there which often find themselves obscured beneath the tide of modernity. By reviving them, therefore, we are creating a current that – combined with other groups like Von Thronstahl, for example – is beginning to sweep through Europe . But the similarities, I believe, lie in the actual content, rather than the style.
HH: Herr creates a very rich visual experience both within the artwork and packaging on “The Winter of Constantinople” as well as on your website. How important is it to the band that the artistic vision you are attempting to communicate be consistent and flawlessly executed?
MS: It is quite important, for in order to tell a story well, you have to maintain form and content. Still, I try to concern myself mostly with the music, as we are a band – not a ‘happening'. Maintaining a website is more like a hobby, and I try to make that a personal aspect of Herr. So, while the packaging of releases should reflect my aesthetics in relation to Herr and the contents of the particular album, I am not so strict with web-design. Its consistence is only bound to the degree of my integrity, and if I feel like expressing myself visually, I will change it again. The website is hardly flawlessly executed either, because it can take hours to solve bugs in flash – really takes the fun out of it. The upside to this kind of irregularities is what I feel is a very personalized end-result, truly designed and written from an I-perspective; minimizing the distance between Herr and the listeners.
HH: The artwork and presentation that supports the music of Herr is very nostalgic. The majority of images used by Herr are examples of classical western European art and sculpture from the classical art period. Can you explain what has drawn the band to concentrate on this historical period in art and explain the emphasis on Western European art?
MS: As our music is neoclassical, so is the art! No, truth of the matter is that I love neoclassical French, German and Italian art and thought these sculptures combined both nicely together and to the themes. This period in art was characterized by a renewed enthusiasm for the classical (Greek/Roman) age, so that makes these artists similar to us. Also, they show a mythical view on history, as we do, with recurrent themes such as heroic feasts, betrayals and legends, so it was easy to find relations between certain songs on the album and sculptures.
TS: Classical sculpture truly reflects the grace and purity that we're striving to project through our music. Just as form is carved in stone and marble, so, too, can ideas and values be expressed through music. And when sound and vision are combined, of course, the results can heighten the sensibilities and take the experience as a whole one step further.
HH: On the Herr website you have posted a manifesto denouncing globalization and mass consumerism. The manifesto states that globalization and rampant consumerism is stripping people of their culture and heritage. Can you discuss this phenomena and how you see it manifesting around you?
TS: I think the signs of decay and dissolution are all around us. In fact it might be easier to ask ourselves what hasn't actually been affected by this process. In Europe , for example, the twin profanities of Americanisation and liberal democracy are eating away at the very soul of our civilisation. Individualism has replaced individuality, economics are taking priority over ideas, and the mass consumer society rides roughshod over polytheism, identity and diversity.
MS: I will discuss this physical manifestation somewhat later on. Spiritually, this would mean a belief in Europe, as a whole, while maintaining a general kind of respect towards other cultures (within and beyond Europe ). Also, the ‘Rome Reborn' calls for attention to our past, not only the future. This view of self-made man, who is unbound by his own present and just tries to realize goals is one of the greater mistakes of my generation. We should remember our past, ancestry and heritage; otherwise, we are only trying to fill a void with meaningless material, such as money. As I seem to remember myself saying: we should not make the goal (ones' dreams) identical to a way to get there (money).
TS: I think we are consciously trying to channel the finest attributes of the past through our music. Not in an escapist sense, but in terms of letting people know that these values are still alive and kicking today. What we do has a contemporary significance; we are not a historical re-enactment society for Ancient Rome. Meanwhile, of course, if HERR can function as a kind of metapolitical reference point for those people who find themselves disillusioned with the state of the modern world, then all the better.
HH: Will this Cultural Revolution / Reclamation occur amongst the masses or do you think it will begin in the art world and sweep outwards? Does Herr believe such a cultural revolution can be achieved without violence or will the willing have to take arms against the consumer production facilities and the governments that support and shelter them?
MS: No, I don't think this Cultural Revolution as you call it, would occur any time soon. Violence would probably only lead to a natural counter-reaction of people willing to defend their precious products, as they form so much a part of their lives right now. The effect of art, as brilliant as it may have worked in the past, seems to be near to nil right now; maybe because it has abandoned such ideals, but in any case, it rarely has an effect outside certain cultural niches of popular culture. This also means that we, as Herr, are probably not very effective, but it's a good dream nonetheless. Still, I would say the current balances of power can't be maintained when it collapses from within by some sort of ignored crisis. Oil-peak related economical crisis, for example, could theoretically bring about a fall of consumerist culture, I think, as companies are affected first by the price of gas. This may or may not lead to a return to local systems that are less dependent on the economy.
TS: If we look at Nazi Germany, for example, we can see that political power is often a direct consequence of a burgeoning cultural phenomenon. I would also add that Art has been hijacked and misdirected. Not the Art of the past, which is often seen – wrongly, I might add - as the preserve of the bourgeois chattering classes or stuffy middle-aged men in ill-fitting suits, but ‘art' as a concept both in and of itself. The new artforms of today represent a kind of visual inversion, characterised by the yellow logo of MuckDonalds. This has become the swastika of the modern age. On the other hand, despite the success that these modern symbols have had on the mass psyche, the symbolism and imagery that truly marks us out as Indo-Europeans still dwells deep in the collective unconscious. It is a case of using revolutionary and counter-cultural methods in order to reacquaint ourselves, and others, with their dynamic and regenerative potentialities. Culturally, I believe that there are things within the musical underground that are beginning to swing in a specific direction. It's up to people to recognise and identify these signs.
HH: Speaking of cultural decay and mass consumerism, what does Herr think of the corporate-consumer juggernaut collectively known as the USA ?
MS: Though it would be accurate to think of Herr as not made up from lovers of the US of A, I am not saying the USA is a ‘bad thing'. Even if I don't know many Americans, I know there are some who are decent persons there and hence, I don't hate Americans as such. What I do hate about the USA is its effect on other cultures that comes from a point of view where American values are made into universal values. This is all natural (few are born moral relativists), but the degree to which these are exported by propaganda and sheer force is not to my liking.
TS: I think we have to make a distinction between Americans and America itself. It would be foolish to regard America as a ‘nation' of any kind. It's a social experiment based, in part, on the exploitation of the Native Indian population by European pioneers who knowingly severed their ties with the Continent. Ideologically, on the other hand, America is the spearhead of global capitalist hegemony but in order to justify its exploitation of other people's resources has set itself up as the self-appointed saviour of mankind. This was been achieved by the Neoconservative cabal which gathered around Leo Strauss in the last century, going on to make the so-called ‘American dream' synonymous with Christian fundamentalism and an imagined crusade against Islam. But I tend to take a Spenglerian view of the American empire. Nothing lasts forever. We just need to be ready for the power vacuum that will undoubtedly arise in the wake of its collapse.
HH: Herr often mentions the former Roman Empire as a “golden age” from which to draw inspiration or guidance as we abandon consumerist culture. What is Herr's connection to Rome and why have you chosen Roman as exemplary of your cause?
MS: I may have mentioned this before, but do not have concrete political aspirations; instead, it's the vision and symbol of Rome that is important to us. The absolute ruler as a figure who is very near to God, and if this believe in God fades away, so does the empire decline. My own belief is that the idea of nationalities never really worked out that well, for a culture is not rigidly defined by a border on a map. Meanwhile, a nation's government holds enormous power at all levels of western society – paradoxically to the current belief that the West is the land of the Free. Rome, on the other hand, despite – or precisely because – lacking democracy did provide protection from inside and outside forces and provided some benefits we still think of as functional. However, there was also localized power within tribes, maintaining cultural diversity despite continental unification. A perfect example would be religion; many think it is impossible to maintain a system with so many differences between cultures caused by religion (eg. North Ireland ). Thus, like the Holy Roman Empire, and like Rome itself, my perfect state would allow local freedom, but protect its citizens from forces such as this consumerist culture by having more power on a continental level.
TS: People often tend to forget how decentralised the Roman Empire actually was. As a child, I was always inspired by the adventures of Goscinny & Uderzo's ‘Asterix', consistently taking his side against Roman imperialism. If I was living in Ancient Gaul, I'd have much the same attitude towards an outside power, but I also appreciate that it's possible to be eclectic and take the best aspects from both. I've always believed in devolving power right down to the lowest possible unit, but the idea of a decentralised imperium underpinned by a unifying (as opposed to monotheistic) spirit greatly appeals to me.
HH: Why has Herr chosen Roman culture as superior to historical Dutch Culture?
MS: There is a Dutch nation, but a Dutch culture? The – ever changing – number of provinces collectively called The Netherlands used to be a part of the Holy Roman Empire , and it was not until 1568, when people here started having problems with that, and only because of the Spanish Inquisition. Indeed, the Netherlands were only called a kingdom after Napoleon ‘invaded' this country, so I hardly think the boundaries that define it are traditionally appropriate to be described as a united Dutch culture.
TS: I think a people are defined more by its cultural and linguistic attributes, than by its geographical boundaries. I used to describe myself as an English nationalist at one time, but these days I wouldn't describe myself as a nationalist at all. At least not unless the word ‘nation' can be equated with the term ‘people' or ‘race'. I have realized that England as a concept will inevitably have to be constantly redefined by the political establishment as a result of the changing demographical nature of the country itself. Citizenship has replaced ethnicity. The geographical boundaries may have stayed the same, but for me England is rapidly dying in the face of Mass immigration and a revamped 'Cool Britannia' in which sport - and particularly football - is used to whip the masses into a pseudo-patriotic frenzy in which the new icons become shallow media starlets like David Beckham, who spends much of his time listening to rap music. That doesn't characterize ‘Englishness', it's just a convenient tool used to heighten the so-called 'feel good factor' and convince us that life under Blair's economic cabal is simply wonderful.
HH: The Winter of Constantinople is largely focused upon the fall of the Eastern Roman Empire and the city of Constantinople . What brought about the focus on Constantinople as opposed to some other region or period of Roman history?
MS: I see TWOC as great tragedy about the fall of the Byzantine Empire . Constantinople, though a last brilliant pillar that lasted so long after the Western Roman Empire had fallen, seemed like relatively forgotten, as opposed to the more popular, united Roman Empire . In the west, we know relatively little about it, some may not even know that what is now called Istanbul, was renamed from its original Constantinople only about ninety years ago or so. Some people in Greece, in fact, still think it is a great injustice that it is a part of Turkey, and I have even received a letter from someone who applauded we called attention towards this aspect of history. Still, a lot of history is really interesting, forgotten or otherwise, and though it may seem as injustice to all potential themes, we can't focus on all of it without ignoring a lot of the interesting details.
TS: To some extent, I think the fact that Turkey spent the best part of the twentieth century imitating the West and that its government is now applying for membership of the European Union (EU) also influenced our decision to remind people that the city now known as Istanbul was once a jewel in the crown of Europe . Five hundred years may have rolled by since Constantinople fell in 1453, but she remains a city under foreign occupation. That doesn't mean we live in a blinkered Byzantine time-warp, unable to come to terms with the fact. On the contrary, it redefines what we regard as the historic gateway to Europe .
HH: In Herr's vision of a “New Europe” is this new Europe ruled by a sovereign force and is Christianity returned to the station of power that it once held?
MS: Sovereignty of ruler: as explained earlier, yes, ideally so. This does not mean it is ‘untouchable', though, as history has proven that with power comes a risk of losing it, and no people will maintain a ruler who does not care for them. Christianity: I am an atheist, and reflect on religions as interesting cultural phenomena, but by no means impose a structure of relative superiority between them. I do, however, admire the kind of Christianity that held sway in the Byzantine Empire and believe a continental rule would benefit from such a religion, based on an absolute belief of an emperor that is as close to God as a man can get. He could be seen as the Raphael of Vondel's play, which is our next project.
TS: As a former Catholic I no longer have much time for monotheistic systems, but I would like to see a polytheistic alliance of like-minded peoples committed to a single vision. I suppose it's rather like a Masonic oath, where everybody at least believes in a God or gods of some kind. I believe that all religions stem from the same root, anyway, they've just become corrupted and profane. That doesn't mean that I support ecumenicalism or syncretism, of course, or that I see all religions as being equally valid. The Swiss perennialist, Frithjof Schuon, believed that whilst the main religions such as Islam, Hinduism and Christianity are separate and incompatible in an exoteric sense, when you go beyond a certain stage towards the very root, they unite at an esoteric level.
HH: There are several themes within the musical work of Herr that seem recurrent. Amongst these are themes of war and conquest. Can you discuss your interest in these subjects?
MS: Miklos, Troy and I have a shared love for history. The story of the world is filled with the terror of legions, for blind obedience in earthly gods and the struggle for survival. I've always found the world of today quite dull and lacking the seeming honesty and romance of thrusting a good sword into a heart of evil. I admit it may sound like a boyish fascination, but really, we are no different from most deceased historians, troubadours and storytellers. A good tale, to me, involves romances, and I'd say there are quite enough songs around the old boy-meets-girl theme.
TS: It's quite staggering that History is regarded by most young people as something quite ‘boring' and ‘antiquated' when, in fact, it is literally filled with such vibrant and exciting tales of heroism, struggle, tragedy and romance. Sadly, however, the reason we in HERR are so fascinated with History is because the Hero has been replaced by the cult of the worthless Celebrity. What matters today, is not what kind of person you are, but how much money you have in your bank account. War and conquest are also facts of life. I happen to believe that one of the reasons Europe finds herself in such great decline, is because we haven't had a major war for sixty years. I don't think warfare and bloodshed are good per se, but I do think that extended peace leads to complacency and weakness. Man has exchanged his sword and his shield for warm central heating and slippers. Male virility must replace ‘cosyness', and the feminisation of society must be countered by the rebirth of the Hero and the re-establishment of the Mannerbund.
HH: The music of Herr is part neoclassical bliss and part martial percussion. What drew Herr to combining these two very opposing yet beautifully combined elements into your music?
MS: My latest stance on why we make neoclassical is: I love classical music, but lack an orchestra. I don't listen much to our contemporaries, as it only would increase illusions of similarity between us, while I maintain the epitome of music is in classical music. In the history of that, it's not a new idea of course, to combine martial drums and musical expression, as music has been used for centuries to encourage legions to walk in a quick pace towards death or glory. And as was recognized by early musicians, music can be very motivating by inspiring our cognition, affect and limbs. We dance, before we say we like something, for example, but there's also the potential of music to make us think of who we are, to transform our emotional state and, yes, to march. For this reason, I have been a dj at some Dutch ‘neofolk' nights and thought of it as a success when the music affects a ‘dance-floor'. A march, or martial percussion is the most obvious choice for HERR as it is a very traditional form that has succeeded in moving their audiences for hundreds of years. Why indeed would we even consider using a rock drum-kit when such brilliant instruments as timpani and field-drums exist?
TS: I think there are other, more subtle, factors at work here, too. The sadness and emotion that we often put into our music seems to be contradicted by the more upbeat, militaristic tempo you find in other HERR songs. But perhaps this is our way of saying ‘if this affects you, dear listener, march side by side with us and we can do something about it'? It's certainly a thought!
HH: Both of Herr's first two releases have been limited edition releases. Is the band intentionally keeping their music only available to elite collectors?
MS: Most definitely not. Were-di just started, so it's understandable he lacked resources to release ERDLH as a less restricted album. Cynfeirdd, likewise, really isn't a very large label, and the E4E series is meant as promotion for ‘starting bands' – such as we, I guess. We are not there to please ‘elite collectors' who just want to buy the disc, wait a couple of years and sell them for a multiplication of the original price. Music, in my opinion, should be experienced, not just be a product. My idea is that it is a good thing to bring as many people as possible, who truly care for our music, our album. And maybe, just maybe, we will be effective in forming a counter-position to the current view of music as a source of mindless ‘fun' instead of beauty.
TS: It's difficult at times, but someone has to tread the fine line between releasing limited editions and attaining MTV superstardom! Seriously, though, we are not trying to confine ourselves to appealing to just a handful of people, I've always believed that the objective of any group should be to appeal to as many people as possible. At least if they believe in what they are doing. ‘Selling out' should only apply to those who compromise themselves in other ways. Hopefully, when the second album is re-released on Justin Mitchell's Cold Spring label in the Spring of 2005, it will give far more people a chance to hear our work for themselves.
HH: The first Herr website incorporated the use of runes yet the new site seems devoid of Nordic references. What brought about this aesthetic change?
MS: First of all, because I wanted drastic change to provide a foundation for a drastically new album (‘Vondel's Lucifer'). I have maintained a love for runes since childhood (even though raised as a freethinking Catholic), but that fascination expanded to a general fixation on all kinds of symbols. They are aesthetically perfect to me, both the Latin cross, the Chi-Rho, Hagalaz and sickle Moon. The degree to which they bind individuals to their culture and can summarize relations between cultures, giving cultural identity to the people who – in turn – bring meaning to the symbol, is for me a sign of pure beauty. Now, the ugliness arises when people stop believing in the ‘magic' of symbols, but use them instead to please their masochist tendencies. These ‘fans' have no sense of history or culture, they just think it belongs to their ‘image', which I think of as an insult to the original bearers of runes. So, I think it is a good thing the Chi-Rho used throughout TWOC does not encourage this kind of people to buy our music – they'll have to start listening!
TS: Symbolism is immensely important, as I mentioned above, but I don't think we should ever limit ourselves or seek to follow one specific form. Using the runes, for example, need not suggest that we worship the Norse pantheon, just as using the Chi-Rho should not give the impression that we are Orthodox Christians. The beauty lies in synthesis.
HH: Herr's debut album appeared on Were Di! Records. That label has since closed and Herr recently released your second full length album on Cynfeirdd Records. How did your relationship with the Cynfeirdd label come about?
MS: Cynfeirdd music has always been a great inspiration for me. Most of all, the enigmatic, late Gae Bolg showed me how neoclassical music can sound truly original and powerful. A lot of Cynfeirdd music shows this fine quality of expressiveness without conformation to the' fixed' musical styles, and so, after the demise of Were-di, this label was my first choice. So, while informing about the (then) latest issue of the Cynfeirdd magazine, I sent him some promo-material, which lead to his offer of releasing an Eye-4-Eye cd.
HH: Did you expect “The Winter of Constantinople to sell out before it had even been finished pressing?
MS: It's always strange to think that people like something that I primarily create because I like it. Indeed, I still think it has more to do with Cynfeirdd's history for releasing albums in sadly very limited editions, than with our marketing tactics !
TS: Absolutely. The re-release of TWOC will give us an opportunity to see how much progress has been made in that respect.
HH: Has Herr played live in concert yet? If not do you have any plans to take the act on tour or play any European festivals?
MS: We've performed two times rather limited sets; once in Belgium (Were-di!/Carpe Noctem festival) and once in Holland (which was more a private/surprise event). Another gig in London is currently planned for November, at the 15th anniversary of Cold Spring Records, and we are negotiating about performing in Holland and Switzerland somewhere soon. Personally, I'd love to do a European tour, but the problem is: live, we are a group of five; and most of us actually have a life with obligations as well, so it's hard to plan such a thing. Myself, I hate ‘managing' the band, and since I am the primary spokesperson, we usually just ‘bump into' opportunities for playing live, usually because I am emailed.
HH: Can you share what the future holds for Herr?
TS: Thus far, HERR has lived up to all my expectations. I can't say where this will ultimately lead us, but that's all part of the romance that comes with trying to pursue your dreams and aspirations.