Eyes of Ligeia interview from Qvadrivivm #4 (2001)
The Despairing Motifs
“Winter. Thergothon. Sorrow. My Dying Bride. Anathema. These names conjure up images and sounds of an era of doom/death that is no longer being done in its purer form. Enter Eyes of Ligeia from Atlanta, GA, USA.”
So begins the press release explaining the goals and background of the U.S. band Eyes of Ligeia. By no means is it an ordinary press release, as you may figure from the quoted introductory words. Somewhere along the lines of leading his life, musical sovereignty and so-called ideological firmness have entered Eyes of Ligeia leader Toby Chappell’s mind, in a manner that can only exhilarate the outsider. Here at the helm of this publication, this is of course most warmly welcomed. Hence it was a sure-footed decision to throw some questions Mr Chappell’s way. Since, aside showcasing a heap of strong opinions, Eyes of Ligeia is, mildly said, quite a potential act of tenacious and tangible doom music in the league of depression, despondency and isolation. More than one hundred thousand metres away from all things giddy and snazzy and spiffy.
Eyes of Ligeia’s musical dominion creates images of grey and pale skies under which people with drawn and weary faces tread on paths that are without destination and function. Eyes of Ligeia’s music is a kind of an understatement, and understatement is always a most elevating thing. The album A Dirge for the Most Lovely Dead, released by Unsung Heroes Records in the summer of 1999, was the first word on which the new order, The Night’s Plutonian Shore (demo version 2000; album version 2001), continues. All of these works are meritorious for the wicked style in which dissonance and lucid and beautiful melodies are entwined in them. The tracks are long as they should, the instrumentation is all done by one Toby Chappell, and every non-musical aspect is handled with all the care and affection that one could hope for. In other words, Eyes of Ligeia is onto a good start on a trail that should hold many a successful year ahead.
Instead of starting off with mundane things such as inquiries about the origin of the band moniker or the history of the band, I might as well pose the source of all and nothing by myself. As it is conveyed perceptibly by Toby himself, the concept ‘Eyes of Ligeia’ derives from the Edgar Allan Poe piece Ligeia: “The expression of the eyes of Ligeia! How for long hours have I pondered it! How have I, through the whole of a midsummer night, struggled to fathom it! What was it -- that something more profound than the well of Democritus -- which lay far within the pupils of my beloved? What was it? I was possessed with a passion to discover. Those eyes! Those large, those shining, those divine orbs! They became to me twin stars of Leda, and I to them the devoutest of astrologers. Not for a moment was the unfathomable meaning of their glance, by day or by night, absent from my soul.” …But then, I am curious to know how much of Eyes of Ligeia, at a strictly spiritual level, is comprised in these few thoughts and ideas of the good old Poe? I have heard that there might not be much of a connection there…
“The name Eyes of Ligeia was my tribute to the inspiration of Edgar Allan Poe’s fiction,” voices Toby, having just returned from a trip made to Toronto, where he spent time hanging out with our old friend ChorazaiM of Megiddo, for example. “Poe is just one of my many influences, one who is often overlooked in today’s underground scene in favor of Tolkien, Lovecraft, etc. The parts of Poe’s fiction that really connected with me are his wonderful understanding of the inherent beauty of the night, and the ways he faces and resolves his own fears of Death in his writing.”
In earlier interviews, you have given credit to Lovecraft and Crowley as some of your favourite authors, so I take it that the occult and the ‘dark side’ in general interest you considerably? Where would you reckon that this interest has risen from and how does it affect you today? In and of itself, does indulging in these themes have any relation to what you are currently doing with Eyes of Ligeia?
“I look at music as an extension of myself. As such, the influences of what I am experiencing and learning will always manifest themselves in my music. I have dismissed most of Crowley as the Right Hand Path drivel that it is, although some of his techniques do still hold some use for a Left Hand Path practitioner such as myself. My fascination with Lovecraft still holds, particularly the ways in which he tackles his fears through dreams, and his descriptions of other-worldly architecture and music are very inspiring. Eyes of Ligeia exists both as a mirror to look inside myself, and a window through which to manifest the very essence of myself in the World, and as such will always reflect the various influences in all parts of my life.”
To get back on the music, Eyes of Ligeia is not exactly the archetype of the metal that the U.S. offers, what with all the equal nu-metal, death metal and crossover garbage lashed from that country. How do you comply with this personally - that in terms of selling figures and general knowledge you are probably bound to remain incognito for ever - is it perhaps a relief?
“I make music primarily for myself. The fact that at the moment people are actually interested in listening to what I have to say is encouraging, but is not necessary. If no one cared, I would still write music for my own amusement and wonderment. I also write quite a bit of ambient music, some of which will never be publicly released. The name Without a Shadow is the moniker I use for that type of music that is released; the unreleased music is primarily used in my various occult interests.
“If the right label came along, i.e. one that gave me complete freedom, I would not be opposed to working with them. Given that I have my own studio, essentially the only needs I would have of a label would be for distribution and promotion. I am not interested in excessive promotion, since word of mouth is often the best way of letting my music be known. I am using mp3.com for distribution, so I have already taken care of both needs myself.”
A befitting side of the Eyes of Ligeia creation is the relative absence of romanticism and overstated sentiments. Was this something innate or did you consciously aim at a more ‘objective’, for lack of a better word, impression, to create, so to say, a closer symbiosis with the music?
“You’ll notice that the songs typically have very few lyrics; I prefer to concentrate on the musical exploration, and only include as many vocals and lyrics as are needed to enhance the songs. In fact, I have strongly considered abandoning vocals entirely on my future music. Of course, that means the music will have to be even better to be able to stand on its own. Only time will tell…”
There was, and is, certain vagueness to the whole ‘project Plutonian’, if I may call it so. At first it was intended to be entitled Amphigory but for some reason that title never made it through, and in addition this three-song demo version is not even the final version, which will include seven tracks.
Toby explains: “The title change happened early on in the recording process for what became The Night’s Plutonian Shore. As the songs began to come together, a logical ordering of them presented itself: the cycle of songs naturally forms an account of someone’s last night, from dusk till dawn. At that point, a new title was needed, and the Poe reference was perfect.”
Yet Toby avoids calling it a concept album and says that the songs ‘were not written to go together’. Since the songs, however, revolve around dusk, night, midnight, etc., he sees the final ordering making perfect sense.
For the reasons of this unorthodox practice, he states the following: “I released the demo versions because the recording process was not going as fast as I had hoped. When I record, I typically have very rough arrangements of the songs when I begin, and the songs are fleshed out and arranged - and often times partially or wholly re-written - as they are recorded; this makes the recording process be quite time consuming. Since it had been so long already since I had released anything, I wanted to release what I had so far as sort of a prelude to what was to come. The songs on the demo were completely re-recorded for the final version of the CD as I was not happy with the sound on the demo, particularly the drum sound.”
Yes, I had certain discomfort toward the drums as well. The idea of synthetic drums in general just does not seem to work with almost anyone. Is this something that Toby will be getting rid of in the future? Megiddo, the Canadian band that used to be a one-man project just as Eyes of Ligeia, expanded to a ‘real’ band formation not so long ago. Would this be totally unthinkable to Toby, would it correlate with the Eyes of Ligeia doctrine?
“I think that everyone will be pleasantly surprised at how good the drums sound on the final version of The Night’s Plutonian Shore. I am certainly not opposed to using a real drummer, but so far using programmed drums fulfils my needs. Since the drums are actually programmed to play patterns and fills like what a real drummer would play, the missing element has been getting the right sound, and this has hopefully now been accomplished.”
While reading the defining notations of the press release and simultaneously listening to The Night’s Plutonian Shore, I kept wondering why a certain Bethlehem was not given due somewhere in there. Both of the releases clearly have a large share of similarities with early Bethlehem (I am primarily thinking of Dark Metal here), so are you just trying to cover up the traces there or what…? Do you have anything else to say about your apparently vast field of influences and kindred spirits?
“The only Bethlehem I have ever heard is Dictius Te Necare, which I did not particularly care for. It wasn’t just the vocals, which I suppose are the most common complaint about that CD, but the music to me just did not seem that interesting. I have been told by several people that I might find their Dark Metal CD more to my liking, but I’ve not had an opportunity to listen to that yet.
“Just to give an idea of some of my current influences, the CDs I have in my car at the moment are: Opeth Still Life, Mordor Odes, Anekdoten Vermod, Ved Buens Ende Written in Waters, Skepticism Ethere, Univers Zero Heresie.”
To continue on the subject, Toby is a man of variant taste in music.
“I too,” he says when I bring up King Crimson, Jethro Tull and Genesis as possible sources of inspiration, “am an avid listener of those bands, in addition to other more obscure progressive bands, both past and present, such as Univers Zero, Shub Niggurath (Fra), Present, Anekdoten, and so forth. I listen to all varieties of progressive, ambient, metal, and classical. Each song that I compose includes more of these influences, as well as more of my own original style. This to me is the essence of progressive music.”
At the same time Toby admits that he - unlike many of those who used to favour Thergothon - also enjoys the successor ensemble of that band, at once proving that his tolerant words of newer Anathema and My Dying Bride are not without backing.
“I did very much like This Empty Flow’s Magenta Skycode. That CD was a good example of how to get the same feeling that comes from quality doom/death in a completely different context. To me, the feeling is what counts; the medium I am using currently is my own twisted variant of doom/death metal, but the same feeling is certainly possible with many other types of music. Other good examples of this that I listen to quite a bit are Dream into Dust and Univers Zero.”
The press release that I have already referred to earlier in this interview concludes in a statement of sorts. Three remarks are given, those being: 1) A band’s top priority should be creating musical art, 2) Unless the music reflects the true nature of one’s soul, there is no point in making it, and 3) Too many bands and individuals have been drawn to a particular style or a particular aesthetic with commercial intentions and pretentions instead of pursuing art for art’s sake. The two first I have no problem with, but what good actually comes out of ‘pursuing art for art’s sake’? Would art philosophy or art theory aid one in elaborating this matter, do you think?
“I am not at all familiar with art philosophy and art theory,” Toby tells. “I think at the point where you start over-analyzing art - musical, visual, poetic, etc. - you lessen your true appreciation of it; while understanding it at an intellectual level can be important, most of art is more deeply and completely understood at an emotional level.”
Clearly Toby, as an artist, has few other perspectives to look at it. I would claim partly otherwise, and would probably do so for no other reason than having acquainted myself with the analysis side of things. At any rate, we all have our individual ‘knacks’, as it were, and although one may find many positive sides in incorporating the rational within the aesthetic, no one can certainly question the power of emotion.
“When I refer to ‘pursuing art for art’s sake’,” Toby continues, “I mean to let it reflect some part of your true self, rather than bending to a given aesthetic or sound for commercial or popularity reasons.”
Apart from that, you also urge people to ‘take a stand against commercially driven music’. An admirable stance for sure, ensued by which you also make all of Eyes of Ligeia’s music freely downloadable on the Internet and sell the CD’s always at the lowest price possible. How would you depict the reasons behind this ethic; is there a manifesto there, perhaps?
“No manifesto, just a feeling that too much of the metal music being released today is more concerned with commercial appeal than with making honest, heartfelt music.”
What will the future have in store for Eyes of Ligeia?
“I certainly intend to continue progressing. I am constantly finding new influences, both musical and non-musical, and these will always be integrated into the music I make. One of my goals is to continue moving even further away from typical song structures; the first two Opeth CDs, and some of the aforementioned progressive rock, are great examples to learn from. If it’s adventurous, I’ll at least give it a listen.”