Interview: Faith and the Muse Talk Dragon*Con, Taiko and Butoh
L.A.-based Faith and the Muse have long been influenced by world music and traditions and the duo's latest effort :ankoku butoh: is no different. This time around, though, William Faith and Monica Richards looked towards Japan, specifically taiko drums, butoh dance and Shinto spirituality, to inform their work.
Their latest album, though, isn't simply a collection of music. Released through their own label, The Mercyground, the thirteen-track CD is packaged with a 120 minute DVD featuring both videos and live footage from gothic festivals Convergence and Wave-Gotik-Treffen. Also included is a 30-page, full-color book with lyrics as well as poetry and artwork from a number of collaborators. In keeping with the theme of the overall project, the book reads in the Japanese back-to-front style.
After debuting their new material and show at Dragon*Con, Atlanta's mega-fandom convention, the duo toured Europe last fall with a full band and dance duo Serpentine. We caught up with Faith and Richards by phone upon their very recent return to L.A.
How did you get involved with Dragon*Con?
William Faith: Basically, our friends The Changelings had been doing Dragon*Con regularly for years. Paul Mercer from The Changelings is with us now. They were our Atlanta counterparts, we always played with them whenever we came to town. They told us that it was a lot of fun and that there were a lot of people who were interested in similar subject matter, so we decided to give it a go [in 2004] and were blown away by it. It was a great experience.
When this one was coming up, we were looking for a launch party for what we're doing currently. We couldn't think of anything better than Dragon*Con as far as an audience that was already interested in this kind of thing.
You play multiple shows there, right?
WF: We did an acoustic performance and then the regular show and then Monica and I were on a couple of panels. We were kept busy for the duration of it. We were able to experience all of the different aspects of it.
What kind of interaction do you have with the people there? Are they familiar with Faith and the Muse or is it new to a lot of people?
Monica Richards: It's a mix, absolutely. We had a number of people who said, "I wasn't going to go to Dragon*Con this year, but then you were playing, so I had to come" to "Oh, I've never heard of you guys, but my friend told me I should come." Then you have people who are, "So, who are you?" It's such a mix and it's a great mix too. We hang out at the table as well, so we talk to the fans all day.
Why release the CD, DVD and book as one package?
WF: We live in an age where music seems to have become devalued to such a degree that people have resorted to downloading as a means of access without placing any value on it. For us, we felt that one way to put the idea across is to create an entire experience, so we have the visuals, the written word and the music all in one pack and we created an interesting package too, which is as much a part of the art as anything else. It allowed us to create a whole experience and in so doing, creating something of value that people would really want. So, it challenged us on a creative level and at the same time, created something hopefully people will connect to and and want to buy.
What inspired you to create the book in a Japanese style?
MR: It's funny, when we started to do research into the direction where we were going, William was researching taiko and we were both researching butoh dance and I was researching Shinto beliefs. Because I also work in graphic novels [note: Richards created the graphic novel series Anafae], I had read manga and I've seen how the authentic Japanese always starts from the opposite end, I thought it would be a way to let somebody know that they were entering a different world by having it read in the authentic Japanese style.
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Faith and the Muse "Battle Hymn"
How did butoh and taiko influence the new music?
WF: We had been developing a bit of an interest in J-Horror over the last couple years and we thought the more interesting films were the ones that left a heavier impression of what seemed to be coming out of Japan. We were taken by the films and then the music that we were thinking about doing seemed to have a sort of urgency to it. I came around to taiko right around the same time. I was familiar with koto for years, but in terms of using it ourselves, we started thinking about it right around the same time. Because there is a sort of an overarching commentary about the world in there as well and how we seem to find ourselves in a really violent war-like time, taiko really seemed to capture that in an aural sense. It sort of continued the theme of what we were trying to say. By bringing the sort of martial sound into it, it communicated a lot of that without having to use words necessarily to put that across. That was a key component. Monica had originally keyed in on butoh and then I ran with it. It was such an abstract and angry style of dance that had both beautiful and horror aspects to it, which also, once again, connected to the subject matter we were dealing with on the album. Even the sounds, from the extreme martial sounds to the pretty, kind of ethereal sort of stuff, bringing that aspect in seemed to complete the picture
MR: I'm always trying to go to the source as far as what is the influence of the new J-Horror movies. Where did these come from? The more I began to research and the more I began to learn abut Shinto beliefs, I began to learn that they came from ancient Japanese tales and most of the revenge spirits come from man's disrespect of nature. That really keyed in for me as well because I've done so much research in other worldwide mythologies as well. It just made sense. It was an amazing, kind of eye-opening thing to go into Shinto and learn more about it.
Is butoh influencing your performance style with this last tour?
MR: I don't know if it would influence William or myself completely.
WF: What we did is we brought in a dance troupe, Serpentine, who are based in Portland. Both of the girls, Aradia and Lucretia Renee, have studied butoh for years on their own. It was one of those happy accidents where I was reading a magazine and saw an article on Serpentine. We thought about trying to do a slightly more grand show than we had done in recent years. We had always had an image in our heads of doing a very grandiose, theatrical performance that we had never been in the position to do before. Not that we're in any better position to do it now, but it just seemed like man the torpedoes, full steam ahead. We really wanted to do it.