DH: Can you please tell me a little bit about you and your artistic development? How did The Soil Bleeds Black begin? Which musicians are involved?
MARK: The Soil Bleeds Black was conceived in 1992 by my twin brother, Mike, and I as a way to express our musical ambitions. TSBB took on a pure neo-medieval/folk sound in 1994 when we added Eugenia Wallace to our efforts and have remained a trio for a decade now. The purpose of TSBB is to create an environment portraying the ancient medieval past. Our music is often written in a neo-medieval fashion with original compositions but we do attempt traditional pieces as well. Some of the subject matters expressed by TSBB include alchemy, religious devotion, medieval poetry, stories and art, Arthurian legend, important historical events or individuals of the Middle Ages, medieval warfare and common peasant life.
DH: Why did you choose the name The Soil Bleeds Black? Do you want to express something with the name?
MARK: The origin of our band name is derived from an ancient Druid myth about the last dragon on earth. The dragon was slain on the Isle of Yns Wyth (Great Britain) and its blood, which was thought to contain magical properties — dragon currents, soiled the earth beneath giving it a very dark red-black color. This red-black soil is referred to in our band name.
DH: Your style seems to me a mixture between traditional and modern instruments with a medieval approach. Why have you decided to make such music?
DH: MARK: Yes, this is an accurate observation. We utilize a combination of synthetic and natural instruments to achieve our sound. There are many reasons why we decided to follow the path of ancient music. Sometimes it is hard to explain why we create neo-medieval music as it seems innate within us or as a second nature; however there are some rational and intentional reasons for us to venture into this realm. Initially, our music was a way for us to pay homage to our European ancestors. Since our genesis we have expanded our interest in medieval life and have discovered that the Middle Ages were such a unique time in history where Europe experienced a grand metamorphosis. There are so many stories to tell about its vast and rich history as well as its legends and lore. We attempt to express a variety of medieval themes in our music without a biased stance on issues of religion or politics during the Middle Ages.
DH: Your new album is called "Mirror of the Middle Ages." Can you tell us something about the release? Where did you record the album and how long did it take to record it?
MARK: “Mirror of the Middle Ages” is our sixth official full-length release. The recording was first published as a limited edition 12” LP in 2002 and then in CD format in 2003 by our own record label, The Fossil Dungeon. The vinyl and CD formats feature a different track listing and artwork. “Mirror of the Middle Ages” is a collection of songs, both original and traditional, featuring a wide spectrum of medieval subject matters and themes. Some of the subjects covered include disease, love, feminism, sorrow, Norse legend, Jewish mysticism, religious devotionals, pilgrimages and drunkenness. Although TSBB typically likes to write around a specific theme, we decided that “Mirror of the Middle Ages” would act as a compendium of diverse songs representative of the Middle Ages, hence the title. The album was recorded in our home studio, Dungeon 325, where we have recorded all of our albums in the past. We prefer to record our material ourselves because it allows us full control over our sound and the ability to write and record when inspiration arrives. This makes the song writing and recording process more natural and less forced. “Mirror of the Middle Ages” was recorded during 2001 and 2002.
DH: There is a song on the album called "Palastinalied" that I like very much. A lot of medieval bands recorded this song before. Why did you decide to record it too?
MARK: “Palastinalied” is a traditional song originally written by the popular 13th Century German minnesanger, Walther von der Vogelweide. It is one of our favorite traditional pieces. We decided to do our own version of it despite our lack of knowledge about the Middle High German poetic language and the fact that so many other neo-medieval artists; both purist and non-purist, have already recorded versions of it. The melody is so catchy, which is probably one of the reasons why it was well known and respected in the German and Austrian medieval courts. We also did an electronic remix of “Palastinalied” as the last track on the CD version of “Mirror of the Middle Ages.”
DH: Which is your favorite song on your new album?
MARK: My favorite song on the LP version of “Mirror of the Middle Ages” is “The Dance of Leondegrance,” which is an instrumental piece exclusive to the vinyl edition. I am also very pleased with our version of “Tempus Est Iocundum,” which appears on both the LP and CD versions of the album. The song came out a lot better than I had anticipated. I recorded a version of it a few years earlier and it was a complete disaster. I decided to give it a try again for “Mirror of the Middle Ages” and it came together quite well.
DH: The Soil Bleeds Black 2004 sounds more natural than earlier releases. Since your first release had there been changes in your music?
MARK: Yes, we have certainly strived for a more natural sound in our music since our genesis. Our earlier albums such as “The Kingdom & its Fey,” “March of the Infidels” and “May the Blood of Many a Valiant Knight Be Avenged” were largely dependant on synthetic instruments such as keyboards and various effects. Over the years we have endorsed more natural instruments such as acoustic guitar, various recorders, penny whistle, low whistle, Scottish pipe chanter, medieval smallpipes, hammered dulcimer, and other instruments to achieve a more convincing sound. We shall continue to utilize more natural instruments in our music so we can challenge ourselves as musicians and songwriters. It is important for us to personally evolve so that our music and creativity does not become stagnant.
DH: Tell us something about the process of recording a song. Where do you get the ideas for the songs?
MARK: The recording process often begins when I conjure a melody out of pure inspiration or practicing on an instrument. This melody is usually first composed on acoustic guitar or a keyboard. After the melody is written others are written around it and various instruments are layered on top of each other to add more complexity and/or diversity to the song. These instruments are recorded onto our 18 track digital studio and then transferred to a music software program on our computer for final editing. The final tracks to be recorded are the vocals. Since our vocalist Eugenia, lives in a different state and all of our lives are very busy we rarely have time to record as a unit. The music is always completed first and Eugenia’s vocals are recorded last when we meet up on a few occasions during the year. This obviously makes the recording process very slow. It was a much more convenient process during our early years as a trio when we all went to the same school together. Another approach to the recording process is based around theme. When TSBB has a particular theme in mind we often begin with research and then write the music based around sounds that the theme might inspire. A good example of this is what we are doing for our next full-length album, which will be a musical collaboration with Italy’s Francesco Banchini (GOR/Ataraxia). The next album will be based around important medieval women of life and legend. Take for instance the 12th Century theologian, visionary, and songwriter, Hildegard von Bingen. We will most likely dedicate a song to her life work by composing a song in or around the medieval plainchant style with lyrics praising the Virgin Mary or the honor of an important saint similar to what Hildegard did with her work. The songs we compose for this recording will carefully consider the history, life or legend of each medieval woman we pay homage to.
DH: How important is your work as musicians for yourselves?
MARK: Music is the extension of my being. It is something that I am truly passionate about and cannot function without. Writing music is also a way for me to expand my knowledge about medieval history or even a new instrument I pick up. I appreciate the opportunity to challenge myself and test my creative abilities.
DH: Will you play concerts in Europe this summer?
MARK: TSBB is solely a studio project for a number of reasons. The biggest factor for us is the distance between band members. With Eugenia living in a different state, it makes it hard to record and rehearse for a live show. We have only performed live once and don’t have any plans to do it again anytime soon. Another reason why we prefer not to play live is that we don’t have enough session musicians to perform the appropriate instrument parts for each song as our songs are recorded with several layers of instruments and vocal tracks.
DH: Are there further projects for the future planned such as new releases or sampler contributions?
MARK: As I mentioned earlier, TSBB will begin work soon on our next full-length recording with the help of the very talented multi-instrumentalist, Francesco Banchini. We have a new limited edition 10” record coming out this summer titled, “Three Living, Three Dead.” The record is being published by Old Europa Café (Italy) and features six new and exclusive songs, including a guest appearance by Francesco Banchini. We are also recording two new songs for a 2 x 7” record compilation called, “Mythos of the Mediterranean” which will be published by our label, The Fossil Dungeon in late 2004/early 2005. “Mythos of the Mediterranean” will feature four artists, each contributing exclusive songs based around Greek and Roman mythology. The other three participating artists for this wonderful release include xArkanex, Chirleison and GOR. The most recent compilation appearance we have made was on Miroque Volume 9, a neo-medieval compilation published by the German label, Totentanz. We hope to participate on more compilations as the opportunities arise. We also have recent plans for our other projects as well. Hexentanz, which is a collaboration between TSBB and Psychonaut 75 members, have a debut CD, “Nekrocrafte,” coming out this summer via The Fossil Dungeon. Hexentanz is a medieval/ritual project that examines necromancy and practices of the Witches Sabbat during the Middle Ages. Another project, Equimanthorn, has their third opus coming out this summer via Displeased/From Beyond Records (Holland). Equimanthorn is a project initiated by the members of the American mythological occult metal band, Absu, in 1992. This project is a collaboration between members of TSBB, Absu, Melechesh (Holland) and Zemial (Australia). Equimanthorn is dedicated to the Sumerian/Babylonian pantheon and the mythologies that accompany it. Musically, it is a very ritualistic project with a Middle Eastern influence, paying respect to ancient Mesopotamia. Yamatu, is a solo effort by Mike (TSBB), which originated in 1993 and is finally publishing the abridged version of his musical compendium, “Shurpu Asaru,” via Ultima Comparatio Records (USA). Yamatu is a very esoteric occult metal project based entirely around the Sumerian mythos, alchemy and other secret arts. Lastly, we will begin concentrating more on our project, Moonroot, this year. Moonroot is a collaboration between TSBB and Dawn Desiree’. Moonroot performs pure Celtic/medieval rock based around Celtic and Anglo-Saxon poetry and stories from the Middle Ages. We are currently working on a new demo recording and have received a lot of interest from the Italian dark progressive rock label, Black Widow Records. As you can imagine, we are very busy with music activities as well as record label obligations.
DH: Is there anything else you'd like to tell us?
MARK: Thank you, Andreas, for conducting this interview. We are very grateful for your support. Please be on the look-out for new releases from The Soil Bleeds Black as well as the very talented artists on our record label, The Fossil Dungeon. We have some great new full-length titles coming out from Mephisto Walz, Chirleison, Dark Muse, Falling You, and Hexentanz this summer.
DH: Thank you very much for this interview and go on having fun and success with The Soil Bleeds Black.
MARK: Thank you, I will continue having fun.
The Soil Bleeds Black
c/o The Riddick Brothers
43796 Tattinger Terrace
Ashburn, VA 20148
Internet site: www.soilbleedsblack.com
The Fossil Dungeon Record Label/Mailorder: www.fossildungeon.com
1996 The Soil Bleeds Black “The Kingdom & its Fey” Digipak CD (Cruel Moon International – Sweden)
1996 The Soil Bleeds Black “The Kingdom & its Fey” 2xLP (Cruel Moon International – Sweden)
1997 The Soil Bleeds Black “March of the Infidels” Digipak CD (Draenor Productions – Austria)
1998 The Soil Bleeds Black “May the Blood…” Digipak CD (Draenor Productions – Austria)
1999 The Soil Bleeds Black “Alchemie” Ecopak CD (World Serpent – England)
2000 The Soil Bleeds Black “A Medieval Melange” Digipak CD (Renaissance Magazine – USA)
2001 The Soil Bleeds Black “Quintessence” Ecopak CD (World Serpent – England)
2002 The Soil Bleeds Black “Mirror of the Middle Ages” LP (The Fossil Dungeon - USA)
2002 The Soil Bleeds Black “Lead Into Gold” 10” EP (Lichtbringer - Germany)
2003 The Soil Bleeds Black “Mirror of the Middle Ages” Ecopak CD (The Fossil Dungeon - USA)
2004 The Soil Bleeds Black “Three Living, Three Dead” 10” EP (Old Europa Cafe - Italy)
Interview: Andreas Ohle