Heathen Harvest: Can you discuss how Neutral originally formed into a band and who the original founding members were?
Ash: Neutral was formed in May, 1994. I played bass and did vocals. There were two more guys - a drummer and a guitar player. Musically Neutral in those days had nothing to do with dark folk, it was a more Godflesh-oriented band. The sound was harsh with distorted bass and screaming guitars. That lineup existed for about a year, then a demo was recorded and we played live a lot in clubs mostly. As far as I know now the original band members are not into music stuff anymore.
HH: Who are the current active members of Neutral?
AS: Just recently the band experienced a new change of line up. Ilya Lipkin, who played guitar in the band for about 8 years has left Neutral and we continue together with E.Voronovsky who plays a violin.
HH: Can you discuss the musical training of Neutral s members and what musical projects they were involved in before joining with Neutral?
AS: It is not a simple question for me, because there were a lot of people considered to be members of the band in different periods of time. Some of them were professionals, but mostly all of them were amateurs, and if they were involved in any projects before, these projects were really not of much importance. Exception is E.Voronovskyi, being a professional violin player, he is a very talented and open-minded person. He has many side-projects, but the most important and well-known is Cisfinitum, a noise-ambient power electronics one-man band. One more guy, being once a member of a the band, is worth mentioning - Yan Nikitin. He played drums in Neutral in 2000-2001 and participated in our two first tours to Koenigsberg, where out first official live album was recorded. He is a singer - a very good one - of a Moscow band Teyatr Yada (Theatre of Poison).
HH: What was initial musical vision that brought Neutral together and how has this vision evolved and been adapted up to the present time?
AS: When I started Neutral in 1994, I was under heavy influence of the bands like Throbbing Gristle, Missing Foundation, Head of David, and Godflesh etc. So the first 2 years were so called "industrial" period. In 1995 I've met Ilya and together we recorded a second demo, surprisingly more "darkwave" - like but still with a lot of industrial elements. During that period we composed our first dark folk songs such as Song of Shadow and Its Dream, Diamonds in Your Hands, Red-Yellow Autumn Funeral and Playroom. It was difficult to record them because of the lack of string musicians. We tried to find a violin and cello players to help us to record those songs, but they were mostly professionals and nobody wanted to play dark folk. So we started to record "...of Shadow and it's Dream" in summer 1996 with all string parts played on keys. Fortunately in 1999 E.Voronovsky appeared and that was a real deal for us. We re-recorded all string parts and the sound has changed completely. Frankly speaking, that time I was the only person in the band being deeply into dark folk music:) All the other members of course knew Death in June, Current 93, Fire and Ice, Sol Invictus, but their musical priorities belonged mostly to different fields. Anyway that was a great time of complete understanding within the band and everyone knew what he wanted to do in Neutral. Nowadays musically the general line is dark folk, but I think after we release a new album there will be more elements from "outside" in our music, because we know very well how to play dark folk and it is interesting for us to try something else.
HH: Neutral is based in Russia. Russia is about as Far East as Europe goes. How have the members and the music of Neutral been influenced by the greater European neo-folk music scene?
AS: As far as I've already mentioned we all knew the first wave of dark folk and pretty familiar with the second, especially German - Darkwood, Dies Natalis, Forseti, Orplid etc. But when Neutral changed musical direction to dark folk, we knew only the first wave of British bands. Now dark folk plays not as important a role in my life as it did 6-7 years ago when "Thunder Perfect Mind" and "Death of the West" were a kind of a revelation for me. It is too much for me to play dark folk and to listen it at home:) Now we have our own approaches to the ways of musical expression and I can hardly say that we experience any dark folk influences.
HH: Does Russia have any kind of established dark music community?
AS: Yes, now I can say so. But when you hear about dark music community in Russia you have to keep in mind that it is mostly goth community. It is pretty huge because it's very popular nowadays in Russia. As for dark/neo folk people, they are distant from goths because these things can never go together for they have different philosophy, different musical roots and different scale of values, if you want...
HH: How difficult has it been launching Neutral from your homeland?
AS: In the beginning the main difficulties were to find a convenient place to play and some money to buy instruments. And people of course. Those days there were not so many people in Russia who knew this kind of music. But later everything went well, and now we have no serious difficulties in recording our music, in playing live or whatever...
HH: When did the members of Neutral first become aware of the neofolk / neoclassical music scene and how did they begin to become involved?
AS: I think I've already answered this question above.
HH: Seeing that Russia has had a turbulent political past has it been difficult in the past to gain access to politically charged post industrial music such as Death In June, Blood Axis or other acts such as Con-Dom or others that promote anti-authoritarian messages?
AS: No, definately not. When all those bands appeared in Russia, the country had much more vital issues to resolve, so nobody really paid attention to that. I don't think that the political message is what makes these band so attractive in Russia. It is more to some matter of charisma in their musical expression. I don't think that many people in Russia had seen DIJ or Blood Axis live in those days, people mostly had some albums on tape…but there is definately something more in their music for the people than the political vector.
HH: Are you in contact or collaboration with other Russian artists working with the post industrial music arena such as Sol Solaris, Wolfsblood, or Romowe Rikoito?
AS: I've never been in touch with Sol Solaris; never did I listen to their music. As for Wolfsblood - he is my close friend being our photographer, cameraman and webmaster. I can say that Wolfsblood and Neutral formed the roots of the dark forlk community in Moscow back in 1998-1999. He asked me several times to help him with Seidr Webzine, but I prefered to concentrate more on music. Wolfsblood still shoots videos on every Neutral concert. I think we will record something together soon. Speaking of the Romowe Rikoito guys, I have contacts with Johnny, their guitar mastermind and some people from Koenigsberg that are close to RR. Being a sound engineer, Johnny helps me with my home studio, and in November 2004 he invited me to play bass in his project Kratong during their gig in Moscow. This is apart from our close collaboration in 2000-2002 when we participated in the PRUTENA festival in Koenigsberg and the RR musicians helped us to record such songs as Diamonds in Your Hands and In Erwartung.
HH: Do you find that you enjoy more recognition abroad or do you also have a stable fan base within Russia?
AS: I really don't know, because I'm not very much into all this promotional stuff. I know for sure that in Russia there are people who can consider themselves as Neutral fans. We have a good response from Europe and even from Japan and China. The thing is that there is a stable dark folk community in Europe with media support, concert promoters and labels, which we do not have here, in Russia, so as for recognition it is more visible from abroad. I simply do not know how things are here.
HH: Does the band have a vision concerning how widely you would like to your music reach?
AS: What I would really like is our music to reach those who know what is it about, who understand it. It is not a matter of gaining an all-over-the-world audience, but a matter of understanding, but of course it is a good thing when people react positively even if this kind of music is new for them.
HH: Neutral s first widely available release was Walpurgis Night which is a live recording. It is quite unusual for a band to debut with an album of live recordings. Can you discuss how you came about debuting with a live recording of your music?
AS: Well, all we planned that time was to make a good live performance in Koenigsberg, for this was our first gig outside Moscow. During that gig Wolfsblood made an audio recording. After we listened to it we liked the sound and the atmosphere of the concert and decided to release it as a live album. First there was an option of making 2 CD split with Romowe Rikoito, but they didn't like their part, so it was released as the Neutral live album.
HH: Neutral's first release Walpurgis Night was released on Brudenia Records. Can you discuss how you came about working with Brudenia?
AS: It is very simple. The head of Brudenia was a Romowe Rikoito promo manager, so this was quite obvious to release an album with the help of Brudenia. As I've told you before there were not any preliminary talks or discussions before we came to Koenigsberg and played the concert.
HH: Brudenia is a Russian music label. Do you feel as if the album Walpurgis Night was able to reach your desired audience working with Brudenia?
AS: Yes, to that period of time it was ok, taking into consideration the fact that we had never planned to release a live album. The real thing is that this album contributed more to the reputation of the band, not to any commercial profits. Later I've heard that people could find “Walpurgis night” in the stores in Poland, Germany etc. That's ok for me. As it's said "First you work for the reputaion and then the reputation starts to work for you".
HH: I first heard Neutral on the widely acclaimed tribute to Sol Invictus Sol Lucet Omnibus released by Cynfeirdd. Neutral contributed the Sol Invictus cover Sheath and Knife for the compilation. What inspired the band to record a track for this compilation and what drew you to record Sheath and Knife?
AS: The inspiration is obvious – Sol Invictus. One of my favorites. I have chosen this particular track for several reasons. First was that as far as I knew this song had never been recorded in studio, Sol Invictus had only ever released live versions of it. Second, the song itself is emotionally a very strong piece. It has lyrical, romantic parts and at the same time some aggression, “drive” if you want… I've heard this song many times before Cynfeirdd offered us to do something for the compilation, and at that time I could say for sure that I had my vision of how it could be performed by Neutral. So, the task was pretty easy for us and we did the track very quickly.
HH: Did you find that interest in the band increased after the release of Sol Lucet Omnibus ?
AS: Yes, I can say that. I had some offers for interviews, we were invited to present some songs for the Heimdallr radio show, we also had an invitation to perform at the Wave Gothic Treffen Festival and so on... I also established useful contacts with some other european musicians in the genre.
HH: Neutral has since gone on to release their second widely available album Of Shadow and its Dream through Cynfeirdd. Can you discuss how you began working with Cynfeirdd?
AS: After we decided to release "Walpurgis Night,” we wanted to know if our music would be accepted in Europe, so we sent 4 live songs to some labels and zines. Alex from Cynfeirdd was the first who replied, so we discussed with him the possibility of releasing our studio work via his label. At this time we thought that we could finish working faster than it happened in reality. But anyway it is done, and I'm ok with it.
HH: Of Shadow and its Dream was limited to only 499 copies. What was the idea behind releasing your first studio recording as a limited edition?
AS: It was not my decision:) Alex decided to do it this way and I never thought about it. I think from his point of view it is useful, because it is his first experience working with us and a limited edition can show if there is any reason to continue. Hopfully it plays back positively.
HH: Can you discuss the title of the album Of Shadow and its Dream and what it means for the band?
AS: Generally speaking it is based on the song title, but there is always some magic for me in dreams and shadows. These are what we all see, but cannot touch. These is what exists in our material world being not material by its nature.
HH: Can you discuss how the music of Neutral is conceived and composed? Who write the lyrics and music?
AS: When Ilya was in the band we did all music together, and then E.Voronovsky did all arrangements from the professional point of view. Now I do all the music myself, recording working demos at home and then Voronovsky arranges it. I also do all the lyrics, excluding the cases when I base the songs on other poets lyrics.
HH: Are all the members of Neutral involved in the creative process?
AS: Yes, it is a general rule. I can compose everything, but if somebody has something interesting to offer we use it. Every member of the band considers the theme, offering his own ideas. Neutral is not a "performers only" band.
HH: Do the lyrics or music come first?
AS: Usually music is in the first place, but when we base a song on the poetry of another author's lyrics then the lyrics comes first.
HH: When writing the lyrics of Neutral how much of the lyrical content is drawn from personal experience?
AS: I can say that most of the parts of the lyrical content is based on my own approach towards different aspects of the world around me and the one inside me. My imagination also takes a big part in the band`s lyrics.
HH: The songs of Neutral often reflect feelings of isolation and suffering. Can you discuss what draws the band towards narratives filed with sadness and loss?
AS: I think this is a kind of reflection on the outside world. There isn't much joy in it and this fact affects the inner world as well. This is a natural response to the hell we have nowadays and have had in the past. The way to escape, if you want…
HH: There are often references in the music of Neutral to ghost, spirits, angels, and demons. Can you discuss some of these esoteric themes and what inspires them in the music of Neutral?
AS: These are things I never speak about on purpose in my songs. They all appear partially as logical lyrical elements and partially as “the right image to fill in the gap.” The idea of angels also has some magic for me… it is not easy to explain, but humans who are not humans, servants with the powers of gods are somehow attractive… I think there is something more in this idea than meets the eye...
HH: The singing in Neutral alternates between a male singer and a female singer. When writing the lyrics are you actively think of who will eventually be singing them?
AS: Actually a female singer appeared in the band to replace me when I was not able to play an active part in Neutral for some period of time. So there was no special approach to the songs. She just sang the same things I did. I don't know if there will be a permanent female singer in the band, but I have some new songs where some lyrical parts are written especially for a female voice.
HH: Much of the music of Neutral is based around acoustic guitar and violin. What brought about the bands focus on this specific instrumental combination?
AS: The genre itself. Also I like the sound very much, it makes my imagination work, and it draws pictures, and writes words… This is very close to me, to my musical comprehension, the idea of how my music must sound. And this combination is just beautiful to my mind.
HH: How much of Neutral s music is recorded from authentic instruments and how much is sampled?
AS: We try to use authentic instruments mostly, but some parts are played on synths, we also use samples such as voices, sounds etc.
HH: Can you discuss some styles of music or specific artists that have influenced the musical style of Neutral?
AS: Well, in the beginning these were Treponem Pal, Godflesh, GGFH, Head of David, and Throbbing Gristle. Later – Sol Invictus, Death in June, Current 93, Fire+Ice, Nature and Organisation, Celtic folk.
HH: Neutral does not project a particular religious or spiritual message through the bands music. Many neofolk bands focus upon references to Nordic mythology and spirituality and often incorporate runes somehow into their art and music. Does Neutral have any specific spiritual agenda?
AS: I won't say that we are trying to deliver any messages. We simply speak of the things inside us and around us. And of the things that seem somehow to have some magic in them. It can be anything, I cannot say that Nordic mythology is close to me, but it is definitely closer than Arabic Mythology for example. If I see something attractive, magical in it – it will be reflected somehow in our music and lyrics.
HH: Many neo-folk bands choose to sing in their native languages. What has influenced Neutral to sing mostly in English?
AS: It is easier for me to use English in Neutral. In English you can say more with a little amount of words. Russian is a more complicated language and it is sometimes difficult to express yourself within the framework of certain musical forms and melodic lines. We have only one song in Russian and it is all spoken word and it is the longest song we have :)
HH: Can you share with us the meaning and inspiration behind a couple of Neutral songs?
AS: It is difficult to do… if you name the exact ones you are interested in; I'll be able to do it.
HH: How has Of Shadow and its Dream sold so far? Have you received positive input concerning the album?
AS: Frankly speaking, I have no idea :)
HH: Has Neutral played live outside of Russia? If so where and with whom?
AS: Only once. We had a solo performance in Switzerland, in Temple De Boudry in the summer of 2003. It was a really good concert. The sound was ok and the whole atmosphere was very friendly.
HH: Can you discuss what the future holds for Neutral? Are you working on new material and when can a new album be expected?
AS: Yes, sure. We are now working on our next album. We have 14 songs demo recorded, now we are recording them in the studio. I hope we will be able to finish it by autumn of this year
HH: Are there any artists in the neofolk scene that Neutral would like to work with in the future?
AS: Well, if I have a chance it will be great for me to work with Matt Howden, Tony Wakeford, Backworld, While Angels Watch, and Forseti…
HH: Is there any thing you would like to share with Heathen Harvest readers in parting?
AS: I'd prefer not to leave any high- faluting messages, just to say that to my mind music is the thing that can unite people but it also can be a very destructive factor. Be careful with it :) And take care!