Interview by Laura Wiebe
Sometimes album art can be misleading, but visual imagery is to some extent genre specific, so there’s usually a pretty good chance I can judge by an album cover if a band’s style is likely to be my kind of thing. Such was the case with Dark Forest’s Land of the Evening Star. What I can’t always predict is how good the music is going to be, but with Dark Forest’s third “Vinlandic pagan black metal” release, the tracks inside are not just well represented by the gloomy mountain and forest scene on the cover. They’re also very good. As impressed as I was with the recording I wanted to learn more about the band, so I went straight to the source. Here founding and sole official member David Parks answers a few of my questions.
Land of the Evening Star is your second Dark Forest album – can you give us a little band history, explaining what developments led up to its release?
I was making music for this project as early as 2003, and decided to put it under the title Dark Forest during that year. In 2005, I self-released the four-track Demo 2005 in 150 hand-made copies. Not long after the release of Demo 2005, interest began to appear to see this music performed live, so I assembled a live session lineup which played some promotional shows. While I originally never intended for the music to be performed live, the session lineup has played many shows (particularly in Canada) up to the present day. In 2006, the first full-length album Aurora Borealis was self-released and then re-issued by Bleak Art Records in 2007. Five years later I assembled Land of the Evening Star, which consisted of material that was compiled throughout those five years.
The new record has a very big sound, so much so that it comes as a bit of a surprise to discover this is a one-man project. Why is Dark Forest a solo endeavour?
At the time when I began the project, I could not find anyone else locally who was interested in contributing to what I was doing, at least in terms of idea and vision. I had all of the means to assemble the tracks myself, so I did things this way from the start. I became very comfortable with doing things this way, and it has been so ever since. By the time I was releasing Demo 2005 and then Aurora Borealis, I really could not picture it any other way, and still cannot.
What is your process for writing, arranging and recording Dark Forest material on your own?
The writing process has changed throughout the years, both as I take a changing approach as well as acquiring new equipment and tools that I did not have before. In the earlier years, many of the songs were formed from a basic melody that was written on keyboard, and expanded on from there. With Land of the Evening Star, it seems to me that more of the material began on guitar. The material stays instrumental for almost the entire production process. The vocals are almost always assembled last, and many (but not all) of the songs do not have a title until the end stages. When assembling an album, the songs are composed and recorded in a demo form where I review them and am always adding or changing elements of the material. Once the demo of the album is complete, it is completely re-recorded into its final production value, where elements still change and evolve even up to the end mastering stage. With the current style that I track and produce the material, it is very easy to edit almost any aspect of the production at any time. By this I mean that almost none of the sounds are “real,” from the drums to the orchestral elements to the guitar tones (no amps). This is a very versatile way to produce that I have become accustomed to, and which has a large effect on the way that material meets its final stage and has the sound that it does.
How is Dark Forest in live performance like or unlike Dark Forest on recording?
I think that it is fairly similar. The goal is to re-create the atmosphere of the material as accurately as possible in a live situation. Of course there will be variations and elements that do sound different, but the goal is not to create something different from what the studio project fundamentally is, and with this I think that the live performances do well.
Calgary isn’t the first location that springs to mind when I think epic heathen metal. To what extent has your locale informed the kind of music you make?
The locale really has had nothing to do with the music, as far as Calgary goes. I only happen to currently live in Calgary. The material has a much broader scope than that, and as far as I know there are not really any other bands doing this kind of music in this area. If I lived elsewhere, I believe that the music would remain consistent. It is not bound to any municipality, and when I am creating the music, I am usually somewhere different in the mind. I am not here.
Your song titles and lyrics tend to have a historical, almost legendary quality. [Land of the Evening Star opens with “Rediscovery of the New World,” moves through tracks like “Vesperia,” “A Few Acres of Snow,” and “Northmen of the New World” and concludes with “Bjarne Herjúlfsson ca. 985CE,” narrating an early quest to reach Greenland.] What inspired you to take this particular approach? And how does it relate to the kind of music you make?
To say that I have a personal interest in history is an understatement, and this also stems from my formal education in history. Dark Forest, in its music and lyrics, is an aural projection of who I am and my thoughts. Therefore, I find this to be a natural fit.
Who are your biggest creative influences?
Oftentimes when creating the music, I am not listening to any other artists, or any music at all for that matter. When I do, the artist list is not very long, and I can say that artists such as Bathory, Enslaved, Moonsorrow, Windir have had influential and inspirational effects on me. I would say that these have manifested themselves in various areas of the Dark Forest catalogue.
What are some of the highlights of Dark Forest’s ‘life’ so far?
One of the largest highlights is interacting with the fans, both online and who come to see the live performances. When the project was originally created, I intended the music to be only for a hand-full of people to listen to. I can’t stray from that thought and how things have progressed since, how large the project has become since its early days. Other highlights include many of the live performances that the line-up played with various bands in various cities. Also, from a personal perspective, looking through the catalogue of material from the past eight years or so is a highlight for me. It allows me to see what has changed, what hasn’t, how I have grown musically and personally through the material, and that is something that is very interesting to observe.
Dark Forest is currently editing material filmed in March for a DVD release, planning potential tours, and has embarked on the early stages of writing new material for a follow-up to Land of the Evening Star.