We talk to DARK FOREST founding member, guitarist and songwriter Christian Horton about the band’s fifth studio album. The album, perhaps more so than any other DARK FOREST studio effort, properly expresses the band’s deep connection to the past, as well as the theme of the perpetual outsider, reflecting the course the band has charted since their 2002 formation. One question is clear, they always shot in the right direction.
Hello Christian, you return with Oak, Ash & Thorn, your fifth full-length, four years after Beyond the Veil, a long wait…?
Hello, yes it has been a fair while coming. On one hand we’re pretty relaxed about writing and releasing and we prefer to be completely happy with the material before we commit it to recording, but we were also faced with a few obstacles along the way which set us back in our tracks. One good thing is that the long wait seems to have made the listeners even more eager to hear the album.
When did you start composing Oak, Ash & Thorn and how as everything going?
We had a brief break after BTV in order to build up the creative juices again and then pretty much continued to write material much as we’ve always done. I think the first song that was fleshed out was Wayfarer’s Eve, which was based on the main melody written by Pat and then developed. Most of the songs had been written in the basic sense a couple of years ago now but we always continue to add more layers and tunes into them until they really sound as rich and full as they can.
Is it true that lyrics were inspired by some England’s history book?
Not the lyrics really no, The Kipling Book Puck of Pook’s Hill was drawn on for inspiration mainly for the album title and artwork. This worked well because the lyrics I had been writing for the album anyway had similar themes to the book, so it seemed like a nice idea to borrow from the book for imagery and titles. I think I used some lines from the book for the chorus of the title song only but the rest were my own conception.
I suppose the album’s title has a lot to do with it?
The title is from the book yeah, there’s a concept about the leaves from the three sacred trees of England which are magically cast between the historical adventures. I thought it would make a good title for the album because, like I say my own lyrics and album themes were sort of similar to the themes within the book. It married together magic and history which have both been strong currents within our music since the beginning.
Your popularity has grown steadily for the last six years I would say, but it seems you are immune to it because you continue to write great melodic sounds
Yes it has been a steady growth but I think we gained a lot more new fans after releasing BTV than after any previous release. I think with that album and also this new one, we’ve reached a point where we’re completely comfortable with what we’re doing and more focused as a band. I don’t think our music has ever been very different in terms of style, I’ve always seen it as continuation, a constantly developing sound that has always had its roots in the same place.
Oak, Ash & Thorn is your best album ever?
I think it could well be yeah, at least up to this point. Although it’s a shorter record than BTV, I think it works better as an album, there’s no filler on there, nothing is there for the sake of it, every song has its purpose and place and the album works as a coherent whole.
One point is clear, long time fans of Dark Forest won’t be dissapointed, we find the great melodies and that mix of epic and folk that you build so well
I don’t think they will be no, I hope both new and old fans will enjoy the record. We’re much happier with the music we’re releasing these days than in the past. That mix you mention is just what comes naturally to us when writing, it’s what sounds and feels good so we go with it, it’s what we’ve always done but I think we’re writing to a much higher calibre than before.
Any guy inside the band has contributed more than others to that excellent work?
We work together more than we used to in the old days when it was pretty much just myself writing. Since the era of Pat and Josh, both those guys have contributed a lot in terms of melodies and riffs, we’re all on the same page in terms of what the band is all about. They also contributed so much in terms of sheer musicianship and skill and as a unit we’re really locked in these days. I still write all the lyrics and build the bulk of the songs, but the band wouldn’t be what it was today without everyone else’s input.
Josh Winnard continues to be a certain value, I appreciate the way he sings, almost without effort, but also his role as not gathering too many spotlights, sharing time and importance with all members
Yeah we like to think of ourselves as pretty humble really, none of us crave attention or the spotlight. We’re all quite happy keeping our heads down, enjoying writing and performing the music which we love. Josh was a big fan of the band before joining so he never had the prima donna attitude or anything, he fitted in really well, just wanting to create some good music.
Premium guitars all throughout the album, not surprise here either Christian, right?
Again, me and Pat work pretty well together, we share the same vision and inspire each other with tunes that we each come up with. We naturally lean towards big multi layers of harmonies and melodies and we like the folky/medieval kind of vibe.
The cover artwork seems to go in the same direction we mentioned before about the lyrics right? What’s the meaning behind it?
Well the artwork was created by Duncan Storr and we worked together developing a depiction of the album’s subject matter. This is more where the Kipling book came into play, the trees on the hilltop are those three magical trees oak, ash and thorn featured in the book. The figures are the spirits of three different eras of British history which also feature in the book. One of the heavy themes running through the album is one of harking back to the past, the old, simpler ways of living and of reaching out into history. This was also a major theme in the book, so it worked well to develop the art along those lines. There’s also the barrow or hollow hill on the centre beneath the trees which has to do with both the spirits of ancestors and also the fairy folk, the two became confused in folk memory, so again we have the two elements of both the book and of Dark Forest in general, magic and history.
Any favorite song in the album or any hard time dealing with some song to finish it off?
I like them all for different reasons really, it’s hard to say. I think The Woodlander is currently one of my favourites and also Relics. Woodlander is classic Dark Forest but Relics is quite a different feel for us, it was an interesting one to write. No there weren’t any hard times with the song writing, it’s just about getting into the creative flow. Sometimes you need to give it a rest and come back to it a few weeks later because if you’re not feeling it, you shouldn’t try and force it, that’s when bad things happen.
Five of five good albums, the wait was long, but your path is immaculate so far, that is not easy…
I guess it’s all subjective really, some people don’t like our early albums, some people prefer them to what we do these days. I think the best gauge you can have is yourself and be honest with yourself. If you know it’s good then that’s all that matters. I personally have some gripes with our early stuff regarding production, I think it could have been much better and albums like Dawn of Infinity particularly suffered, but a lot of this was down to only ever having a small budget and having to do the best we could with short time and money. Having said that, I think musically we’ve been on a steady progression upwards and I’m still very proud of the songs which I wrote years ago.
We are living hard times with the coronavirus all around the world. How are you dealing with the situation daily? Has it changed your living?
Yes I’m no longer at work but I’m making the most of the situation, I’ve been writing more music, doing more painting and been enjoying walks around the countryside, which has always been something I get inspiration from.
With this virus free out there I suppose it is not time to think about a tour in the short term at least?
No that’s impossible at the moment but we’re not really a touring band anyway. We all have jobs which make it difficult to go on long tours but we do enjoy playing select gigs when we get chance. It would have been nice to play an album release gig for OAT but it can’t be helped now. We’ll make sure we organise something when things go back to normal.
In Spain we are required to stay at home except for some essencial trips to work, supermarket or pharmacy, what advice would you give people to expend day after day in the best way possible?
We are in a similar situation here too, I think it’s best to try and make the most out of the situation. It’s a good opportunity to do some things which you never get time to do. For me it’s more music and art or you could make plans for some creative project to start up when things go back to normal. It’s also good not to worry at all about the future, it doesn’t exist yet, only the now matters, this very moment, so be in the present mentally. If your mind is in the past it often leads to sorrow, if it’s in the future it leads to anxiety. Both of them are illusions, only the present is real, so keep your mind there and be happy.
Thank you very much for your time Christian, wish you good health and success with your new album, if you wish to add something…
Thanks very much, good health to you and your readers too and we very much hope you all enjoy the album!