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Today we have Doug Harrison from the canadian band Fen, welcome on Aristocrazia Webzine. How are you?
Ciao Gabriele. Thanks for inviting me to do this interview. It's a pleasure to make a connection with people 9000 km from where we live.
As usual, the first question is: may we have a short presentation of your band?
Guitarist Sam Levin and I have been working together under the name Fen since 1998. We are based in Vancouver, Canada, a city bounded by ocean and rugged mountains. We've released three albums independently: Surgical Transfusion of Molting Sensory Reflections, Heron Leg, Congenital Fixation, and this July we released our fourth album, Trails Out Of Gloom, with California-based label Ripple Music. Our music is generally dark in mood, and varies dynamically from ethereal lightness to distorted heaviness.
I casually found your band, I was searching infos about another band called Fen and then i found some of your tracks on youtube and i read the news about the new album. Well, guys, you really striked me, the album is one of my favourites of this year! Which are your influences and which bands do you love? Listening to your music it seems that it includes so many influences that is hard (but still pleasant) to say what genre you play.
First off, I'm glad you like the album, Gabriele. We have a very small fanbase right now, so everytime someone new tells us they appreciate our music, it is a huge event. As for influences, you're right, they come from all over the musical map, and there are just too many to list. GnR, Metallica, Slayer, Death, Slint, Loreena McKennitt, Danzig, Nirvana, Pink Floyd, Isis, Pandit Jasra, The Smalls, Leonard Cohen…
"Trails Out Of Gloom", why did you choose this title?
For Fen's last three albums, we have been working with an obscure oil painter named Jason Froese. Every now and again we drop by his studio and peruse his latest work. The cover of Trails out of Gloom was a painting Jason did at least a decade ago, the image of a man emerging from a dark forest into the light. I was always affected by that painting and I made the decision even before writing the lyrics, that that would be the album cover. Most of the guitar parts were already written, many of them on classical guitar, and the forest painting seemed to embody the new lighter vibe which Fen's music was taking on. Also, the writing of the album came after a period in my life when I didn't know if I wanted to continue being a vocalist or a musician at all, and I was considering all kinds of practical options for what I could do with my life. It was a confusing and passionless time for me, but once I began to focus on the album, it was as if I was following "Trails Out Of Gloom." When I look back, the title seems inevitable.
The album has much melody, ambience, passion and a strong dose of melancholy which wraps the tracks; at the same time, it's impressive the number of musical approaches which can be found in this work. How do your works take life (composition, lyrics) and what are lyrics about?
Fen songs have a way of guiding themselves. We are sensitive to when a song doesn't feel right, and we dedicate ridiculous amounts of time into remedying that. We draw on everything we know musically to make things feel right. Sometimes we study other songs to understand how ours can be fixed or made stronger. With Trails Out Of Gloom, each song originated from a single guitar riff. Vocal melodies were then added and the ideas were arranged into a working structure. Once the piece actually sounded like a song, I came up with lyrics. With our last album, Congenital Fixation, the lyrics consisted of wild imagery, the kind that might emerge during an acid trip, But with Trails, I experimented with lyrics which felt more personal on a human to human level. The songs feel heavier emotionally, and perhaps more comprehensible. The lyrics describe a person dragging himself out of state of stagnation and, by degrees, extricating himself from the fears and inhibitions which have grown to enclose him.
One of the strongest points of the albums are your vocals, in some moments i felt like i was in the nineties when Seattle Rock was making its way, but at the same time your style sometimes reminds me to the seventies. Is there a singer from which you draw inspiration? For example, even if you are very personal you reminded me to Jerry Cantrell.
I must admit that I'm surprised how often reviewers are making reference to the grunge-esque vocals. I don't hear it myself, but there is no doubt that grunge had a permanent impression on the way I sing. The seventies sound must be all the Zeppelin and Sabbath and Doors I've absorbed.. The Jerry Cantrell reference surprises me too. I was never a fan of his vocals on their own, though I thought his harmonies were the perfect support for Layne Staley's rich character. There's really no single vocalist who I worship unconditionally. The closest would be Maynard, due to the masterful quality of his work. Bjork is amazing also, especially on Vespertine. Then there's Etta James, Nina Simone, Ogre from Skinny Puppy, Elton John, Roger Waters…
The acoustic guitar is an important part of your songs, did you ever think about crating an entirely acoustic album?
Definitely. In fact Trails Out Of Gloom began with the intention of being an acoustic album. Most of the riffs were written on a nylon string guitar, so it was an obvious choice to keep it acoustic. But as the vocals took on more drama, distortion crept into the songs to support them, then drums and bass. We ended up with a kind of acoustic/electric hybrid. We'll probably record acoustic versions of some of these songs in the future. And though it won't be the next album we release, I can forsee Fen trying again to write an acoustic album for real.
If you had the chance to make a duo with an artist, who would you choose and why?
This is a tough question, and one I've been thinking about even before you asked it. Right now, I'd have to say Chan Marshall of Cat Power. She's got such a sweet voice which is so haunting over certain passages, especially on the album Moon Pix. With the right song, I think our voices could meld really well.
How did you come in contact with Rippled Music?
We hooked up with Ripple through their blog, The Ripple Effect. While reviewing our last album, Congenital Fixation, they fell in love with what we were doing and invited us to release an album with them. They are hardworking, enthusiastic, and ready to grow with Fen. It's an ideal situation for both parties.
How is the promotion of the album going? Have you already made gigs and is there a supporting tour?
The promotion so far has consisted of reviews, interviews, some radio play, some print ads, and most of all, word of mouth. We've got some local shows coming up and we're working with Ripple Music to secure a manager or booking agency to get us on the road as soon as possible.
How was the response of the critics (webzine, magazines, radio)? And the one of the listeners?
The critics have been very kind to us for the most part. These are mainly writers of prog and metal blogs who appreciate something a little different now and again. We also got a short review in Classic Rock magazine, which is currently our claim to fame. As for the listeners, we've mostly been hearing good things, people saying that this is the best Fen album yet, and that we've finally come into our own. But despite that, there are a few people, mainly musicians themselves, who admit to missing the overtly proggy and aggressive side of Fen which was more thoroughly explored on previous albums. We've experienced that with each album though, where people pine for the sound of the previous one. It seems they have to mourn the loss of the old Fen before they can accept the new one.
Fen were born in 1998, they made 4 albums, which are the differences from when the band was born? Did you reach your goals (if you had any)?
When Fen began, we wanted to be as dark and complex as we could muster. With our second album, Heron Leg, which was a concept album recounting a story of incest and matricide, we reached a level of darkness which we've not repeated. As for our desired complexity, with each album we've strayed a little further from that original urge, favoring overall strength of song more than anything.
Who are Fen today and what do they want to be tomorrow?
Today Fen is just breaking the surface of the music industry. We've got our periscope poking through the surface and we're looking around and a few people can see us, but we still aren't sure where we've come up, or whether we'll be bashed over the head with a club and stuffed back into our hole. Tomorrow, we woud like to have a little hut built and a fire and a few villagers who will gather sticks for us. We hope that more people will come to visit us when we play, and that we will have the resources to visit them in their corners of the world.
Canada is working hard about music, are you into the alternative scene? Do you share your work with other bands doing gigs or mini-festivals, ora are Fen a hardly placeble band in the canadian scene?
In Canada, not too many people know about Fen. Most of our energy has funneled into writing the music and recording it, so that whole other side of things where we're supposed to play live every weekend, hang out with other bands, and drum up a fanbase has been neglected. We've got a handful of gigs coming up this fall, and we're basically starting from scratch in terms of building a name for ourselves locally, even though we've got listeners scattered across about twenty different countries.
How is your relation with virtual communities (social netowrks)? How much is it useful to put your music on these websites?
We've got profiles on Myspace, Twitter, Facebook www.facebook.com/fenmusic and a dozen other places, but our facebook page is the one we focus on. I think we've grown a bit closer to our listeners through that one.
What do you think about the modern musical scene? Which are its good and bad points?
It's great that so many musicians can afford to produce their own album and distribute it online. But there's just so much out there now, it's overwhelming to try to sort through it all and find something you like. I'm happy if I can find one new artist a year that does the things I like.
How is your life outside the band? What do Fen do when they aren't in the studios?
Well, we've all got day jobs which we alternately loathe and are grateful for. If anything, these mundane activities provide something to push against, and inspire us to be as determined and efficient as possible with Fen.
Are you working to new songs? Is there any idea for the successor of "Trails Out Of Gloom"?
The writing process has begun for the successor of Trails, though the process is quite slow. Our vision, as it stands, is to write an album with more consistent drive and rock intensity, to contrast with the slow melancholy of Trails. Whether we can pull this off is yet to be seen. Quieter passages always have a way of creeping into our music, so it will be a challenge to limit their entry.
Will we see you in Italy?
We'd love to come to Italy. In fact our drummer has family there who we might be able to stay with. Right now the challenge would be paying for the airfare. But we've been in touch with one band manager (I won't mention any names) who could potentially make a trip like that possible for us.
I wish you all the best and thank you for the time spent with us, the last message for our readers is up to you.
Thanks for reading. You can listen to tracks from the new album on our official site or buy it on ITunes. The best way for us to keep in touch with you is via email and Facebook, so if you like Fen's music, sign up to our email list and then "like" us on Facebook. Arrivederci!