by R.S. Frost
Alex Boyd and Ana Dujakovic are the enigmatic duo behind ULVESANG, a darkfolk/neofolk project from Nova Scotia focused on utilising their music to build stories and atmosphere inspired by nature, animals, and folklore tied in with human struggles through mental illness and an overbearing melancholy.
Coming from vastly different points of origin, I was curious as to how Alex and Ana found themselves in the commonly-envisioned idealistic setting of Canada’s eastern maritime province.
Alex - I was born in Moncton, New Brunswick, but predominantly lived and was raised in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The geography of Halifax and Nova Scotia, in general, makes for a dynamic I enjoy in a living space. I have come to realise that while I enjoy some of the amenities of urban living, the constant overwhelming nature of much larger cities is not conducive to my well being. On the flipside, having lived in small towns in Nova Scotia as well, I am not personally well suited to the social dynamic of particularly small towns. They believe things I do not and interact with each other in ways that I find invasive and irritating. I’m an ardent anti-theist, so regressions to theocracy or open theocratic values are nothing short of stupid and disgraceful to me. Halifax provides a rare balance point between both and the more naturalistic aspects of Nova Scotia are very easily accessible from here.
Ana - I was born in the former Yugoslavia, and moved to Canada when I was five.The area I was born in is now considered to be in Croatia, although I am ethnically Serbian and Croatian mostly. My family and I are really close and I think that the culture there is a little more direct and forward with communication and the expression of ideas, at least that is how my family interacts with each other as well as the broader Serbian/Croatian community around here. We moved to Canada because of the civil war and we also had some family in Nova Scotia. Canada is a beautiful landscape and the people here are generally really polite and respectful, so I would say that allowed me to be comfortable with being who I am and expressing myself authentically, especially with music.
One would imagine that the natural landscape of Nova Scotia would induce a certain audible aesthetic for those musically inclined. How did you guys find yourselves making music as individuals, and as a creative duo?
Alex - I grew up musical. My family has always been fans of music and it was always playing in either cars or the house when I was a child. Lots of punk, post-punk and early “alternative” which I’m sure laid the basis for my attraction to heavier and weirder music as I got older.
I was in a band as a child playing clarinet and saxophone and I got my first guitarat around 16. Until Ana asked me to try to write some neofolk with her, my experiences with playing music as an adult were restricted to jams with friends, or just playing for myself. I always wanted to play music, but I don’t know that I ever had serious aspirations to be in a “big band”so to speak. As I got older, I did have a goal of releasing “something”. I didn’t really know what or how… I always kind of expected it would be something heavy, but I also always kind of sucked at writing and playing metal. Ulvesang came about at the right time and place.
Ana - I also started playing clarinet in the school band in grade four, and once I was in grade seven (approximately 13 years old) I switched over to electric guitar and played that in a school band until I was 16. I would mostly play at home by myself, and I started listening to metal around age 12, but it took me some time to acquire the taste I have now, which was probably between the ages of 16-20 years old. I also started taking flamenco and classical guitar lessons around the age of 15-16, and I didn’t start messing around with bass or synth until I was in my ‘20s. I really liked playing my instrument, because it allowed my mind to focus on one thing, since I have OCD and ADHD, and I enjoyed that quietness in my head.
Eventually, some of my friends and I began to jam regularly and form little local bands that played some shows here and there. I then began releasing music in my ‘20s with some local bands but wanted to start my own project with a more personal vision. That is when I created Ulvesang with Alex, after asking him to contribute to some neofolk riffs I was writing on guitar at the time. Around this time, I also formed ASTRAL PATH with my bandmate Justin, which is an atmospheric black metal band inspired by science and the cosmos. Both debut albums were released about a year and a half after the projects began.
I also played and recorded bass in a band called PERSISTING ABSOLUTION, which was a technical thrashy death metal band, and have been involved with INVITING END and NIGHTFALL. I am currently working on my solo dark ambient project.
Ulvesang released their self-titled debut in 2015 through both NEUROPA RECORDS and THRONE RECORDS. The follow up titled ‘The Hunt’ saw a release in 2018 via Swedish label NORDVIS PRODUKTION as well as seeing a cassette release through FÓLKVANGR RECORDS.
I’ve been trying to put my finger on the differences between the two albums for a few days now, and although there is a definitive change going from one album to the other, I have not been able to identify what that change is exactly. Both offerings are unmistakably Ulvesang records, yet not in the way that every song sounds the same. If I had to take a stab, I would say that ‘The Hunt’ is perhaps a bit more saturating, with less breathable air than the first album, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it allows the listener constant submersion in the atmosphere of the music.
What is it that drives you both to keep creating music that is unquestionably unique yet somehow uniformed within its effect?
Alex - Most of my personal motivation comes from a need to create. I work in some visual art mediums as well and I am generally restless if I’m not making “something” and Ulvesang has been a deeply resonant way for me to express a creative drive in a focused, intentional way. Ana does an excellent job of making sure I stay focused on a unified goal rather than just piss around and get nothing done.
Having people reach out to tell us that what we’ve recorded has affected them in some deep way has probably been my most humbling/intense experience related to this project. I find I cannot hear the finished output objectively so those sorts of comments really mean a lot.
Despite the trappings that often come with the genre, neofolk and darkfolk music have always felt to me like a call to a time or place that never really can or did exist. It feels like the darkness before a calm when executed well. It is a spiritual music to me, and not just in the sense that many of its adherents/audience are self-professed pagans and such… more so in that the atmosphere often has a pastoral effect. Sonically, it lends itself well to creating a shamanic space in a similar way that ritual ambient or even some black metal can. The debut album was an act of magick in a sense for me.
My go-to artists and inspirations for the genre vary but Michael Cashmore’s compositional work with CURRENT 93 and NATURE AND ORGANISATION would be the biggest from a guitar-oriented framework. Despite not formally being associated with the genre, Michael Gira’s work is arguably my biggest artistic influence.
Ana - My answer here is also really similar to Alex’s. It is really great to hear positive feedback about your various musical endeavours and to know we connected with people in some way.
The music means a lot to me, but I like how it is an expression of something that can’t always be translated any other way. Some of my musical inspirations for Ulvesang are EMPYRIUM, TENHI, AGALLOCH, WARDRUNA, ULVER, and NEBELUNG.
In December of 2018, Ulvesang recorded a cover of BATHORY’s ‘The Lake’ taken from the ‘Blood on Ice’ album. At the time of writing this article, the track has just been forwarded on to Fólkvangr for mastering.
Alex - The Bathory cover came about when the idea for a tribute album was suggested to Mark of Fólkvangr Records. We have worked closely with Mark on our most recent cassette release and he wanted to get the bands on his label together to each interpret a classic Bathory track for a tribute compilation. We thought this would be a great idea for us to be involved with as we both come from a black metal background, and contributing to a Bathory tribute is kind of like the black metal version of contributing to a Beatles tribute. We also felt that due to the nature of Ulvesang's style, we could provide an interesting acoustic take that would contrast considerably with the original, while still paying homage to it. We settled on ‘The Lake’ as the pacing and style provided a strong template for us to work with and reinterpret without having to rework the tempo or rearrange the particularly thrashy riffing.
This article is approximately half of the full interview conducted, which touches upon civil wars that led to the separation of the Yugoslav States, as well as a closer analysis of the Darkfolk/Neofolk movement.
The full interview is available in the print edition of Inner Missive #1, alongside discussions with PRECARIA, MISERIST, VLADIMIR CHEBAKOV, CONVULSING, RÁN, TRUTH CORRODED, FEDRESPOR and THE ORDER OF APOLLYON.