Interview by Alessandra Cognetta
Marja provides vocals and percussions for the Finnish Hexvessel, whose latest album “No Holier Temple” has been released on the 7th of September by Svart Records. It’s difficult to put into words what a surreal experience their music provides, and I probably wouldn’t do them justice anyway, so we took the chance to ask her a few questions about the band and all the elements that surround their work. So get ready and follow us on this journey through the forests of old.
Hello and welcome, Marja! First of all, thank you for being with us. How are you?
Hi Alessandra! Thanks for getting in touch! I’m great, we’ve been touring and rehearsing a lot lately, so tiredly happy!
Since this is the first time we have the pleasure of featuring Hexvessel in the webzine, could you please introduce the band to our readers?
We’re a psychedelic forest folk band residing in Finland, founded by Mat McNerney and rest of us have gathered around him since.
Hexvessel‘s second album, “No Holier Temple”, is due for release on the 7th of September. What are your hopes and expectations for this new record?
This is our first album with the bigger live band involved and the sound reflects that. On the first album Mat told some of his and our stories through his sound, and now we’ve invited the band to channel some of new spells with their unique styles added. We’ve played some of these songs live for a while now so based on the live feedback from the audience, I believe “No Holier Temple” will be a great successor for “Dawnbearer”. It’ll probably be easier to get into, and will open up more levels, layer by layer with more listens like the first one.
The front cover of “No Holier Temple” (by the artist Bastian Kalous) is stunning, and really shows how important nature is for you. How was it conceived and, most importantly, how was your bond with and reverence towards the native forest born?
We were looking for the right visual for a long time, from illustrations to paintings until we came across Bastian’s work. You can see from his art that he’s one with it, and we were stunned how one simple image can be a symbol or a gateway to so many stories. It has the same eerie, beautiful atmosphere as the whole album. Magickal on its own terms. This is how we see the nature as well, it’s full of mythical signs of the cycle of life but it also holds the eternity of something more substantial. Only if those trees could speak.
What are the elements of your music that, in your opinion, changed (or evolved, if you wish) the most since “Dawnbearer” and why?
Mat has his own strong sound as a songwriter and singer which has always been present in his works, but now his voice as the narrator and storyteller is deeper and clearer, and the band supports his sound and vision. “No Holier Temple” is a story through music but also a step towards future and ideals, not just looking back.
I found particularly intriguing the “spoken” tracks, like the album opener, “Heaven and Earth Magic”, they feel like a prayer, even a shamanic ritual, we could say. As if you were summoning the old gods themselves. How do you manage to bring such magic to Hexvessel‘s sound?
Words, in any language, possess magick when spoken aloud. Humans have invented complicated communication systems that allow us even to talk about the metaphysical, abstract level using simple words. Poems, lyrics, incantations and prayers are initially the same, conjuring an emotion that stands out from the common day routines. Robert Graves calls poems “stored magic”. When you combine that with music, a non-verbal way of expressing emotions, it becomes even better, and the reader and in this case the listener, really completes the circle by joining it.
I’ve read on Svart Record’s press release that the themes of the new album were inspired by eminent figures such as naturalist John Muir and environmental activists Dave Foreman and Howie Wolke. How did you come across their work and in what ways did they influence yours?
I guess we’re all looking for something to hold on to these days, some grab a hold to global capitalism and consumerism, some to religion and some to trying to ignore all that’s happening around us. If you look at it all in the long term, it’s horrible how we’re just speeding up the decline of the Earth while people become more and more concerned about their own short term bliss. Mankind seems to be the worst kind of dictator, spoiling its own valuables. This while technology, ecological and moral thinking are on their height and would enable us to be bit better than that. To strive to do the right thing and leave behind something else than garbage and deserts, some ash in an urn – I guess that’s what it’s about. These guys been doing it, some are still doing it by showing that one man’s passion and vision for the common good – not meaning just the mankind here – can really make a difference. It’s like standing in front of the disfigured old god, and realizing what matters like the last conclusion in Rilke’s poem Archaic Torso of Apollo:
“We cannot know his legendary head with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso is still suffused with brilliance from inside, like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low, gleams in all its power. Otherwise the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could a smile run through the placid hips and thighs to that dark center where procreation flared. Otherwise this stone would seem defaced beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders and would not glisten like a wild beast’s fur: would not, from all the borders of itself, burst like a star: for here there is no place that does not see you. You must change your life.”
Speaking of influences, what do you draw inspiration the most for you music?
I think we all bring a bit to the table, but overall you could hear some 60-70’s psychedelic themes and sounds, pagan folk and proto metal shavings and more jazzy spoken word poetry, not to mention just jamming at the Wastement. But most of all, I think we are inspired by literature, history, words and acts of meaning and beauty – and those stories find themselves in musical forms after a while.
I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Hexvessel has a Tumblr, as well as many other profiles on different social networks. What is your approach to the internet in relation to music?
We embrace internet as great means for interaction and learning. Long gone are the days when people would use all their money and time shuffling through albums and books on Saturdays – it’s all online now. I personally love following blogs and tumblrs for new music and inspiration. One great example is the Youtube channel for Sagan Series, quite epic short videos mashed up of Carl Sagan quotes, audio books, emotional music and excellent video footage. Perfect for the short attention span generation to experience something that you had to really search up before. We also enjoy exchanging music with our fans and friends online by putting up mixtapes of our favorites and receiving back great recommendations of lost and hidden gems so I guess we’re quite social online.
You provide both vocals and percussions for the band. Can you tell us about your musical background and how you got into Hexvessel?
I’m an active music fanatic so I’ve done lots around it, from having the honor to work at a record label with some of the best progressive rock legends in Finland to writing for zines, organizing gigs since early 2000s and taking photos. I loved Mat‘s early demos for Hexvessel and have been quite involved since as a wife, producer, and even devil’s advocate. Lots of Hexvessel material directly relates to the two of us, our life and love so in a sense, we create a lot of it together though Mat is the main vessel. I sing along and play air drums to my fave music so it seemed natural to do that on records and live as well, quite a dream come true.
Director Justin Oakey created a beautiful movie for your song “I Am the Ritual”. How did the collaboration develop?
If you check out Justin’s earlier work, you’ll see what caught our eye when we saw his visuals and he had the same feeling about our work. Mat and Justin see eye to eye so the planning and production of “I Am the Ritual” was very easy and the end result is just amazing. Justin is pretty much a natural extension of the band, he channels the music through the aesthetics. We are so happy to see other bands picking up on Justin‘s talent now.
You recorded a cover of Paul Simon’s “Diamonds” for “Dawnbearer”. Was it a one time tribute or we can expect to see more covers (or even guest musicians) in the future?
It was pretty much essential to have a Paul Simon cover on “Dawnbearer” as his music and especially “Graceland” play such big role in Mat‘s life. I love his take on “Diamonds” – its completely transformed but true to the original lightness of the vocals and story. There is in fact another cover on “Dawnbearer” – “Solomon’s Song” by C.O.B. which is bit more in the vein of the original. We’ve just recently started playing “Solomon’s Song” live which I really enjoy a lot, one of my faves.
You promote the Finnish Natural Heritage Foundation through your website and even your T-shirts are created with natural and recycled materials. What do you think is the role of music in raising awareness on environmental problems and the respect for nature?
We owe it to nature so we should give something back, make that difference. To be honest, the nature preservation topic has very little to do with the music itself as we don’t preach or even talk about environmental issues in our songs, but as all art, they can be made into a soundtrack to something that stands for a cause. “Woods to Conjure” video is of that sort, its not directly related to the song’s theme, but seeing those big trees fall makes you feel and think, and the song acts as a doorway to those emotions. We just try to do our part by preferring ecological and sustainable shirts and inks, using recycled paper and cardboard on our CD and LP covers and donating money to the Finnish Natural Heritage Foundation that buys forests and swamps to stay forever preserved in their natural state. It’s the little things that count, and in return we can have our walks in the forests and be in awe of those magnificent trees around us.
That’s it, thanks again and we wish you all the best for “No Holier Temple”’s release and your upcoming Finnish tour!
Thank you so much, appreciate the interview and good questions!