by RS Frost
Dan Capp is the man behind epic Heathen folk project WOLCENSMEN.Having released a trinity of works, the 2013 Demo, 2016’s ‘Songs from the Fyrgen’ and the recently released EP ‘Songs from the Mere’, Dan has cemented himself as a shining example of England’s folk music conglomerate.
With music brimming with traditional poetic lyrics and rich folk ladened themes, I queried Dan on his formative years and how he began this creative journey.
- I was born and raised on the Berkshire/Buckinghamshire border of south-east England. Actually, I was born in a place called Taplow which is so-named for it is the site of a barrow in which an important Anglo-Saxon named Tæppa and his grave goods were buried. During my teenage years, my friends and I spent many evenings listening to black metal around campfires in the woods of Buckinghamshire.
One place of note, which certainly inspired my love of dark, gothic music, was the caves and mausoleum at West Wycombe. These were the 'Hellfire Caves' in which wealthy figures supposedly once performed occult rituals. Furthermore, there were rumours of High Wycombe being laid out in the form of a pentagram if seen from a certain angle from the West Wycombe hills. That area always seemed to have a sinister and magical feel to it, and as a young man, I revelled in this sort of mythology. It was also the area where the famous CANDLELIGHT RECORDS was founded (by Lee Barrett), and so my friends who introduced me to black metal had a connection to that during the early days of EMPEROR and OPETH. By sheer chance, I became good friends with Lee many years later.
How was it that you came to create the delicate and intricate acoustic music that you do, given this early exposure to black metal by firelight and locales of occult ritual?
- My father was an old rocker and introduced me to stuff like QUEEN and RAINBOW early on. From this, I became fascinated with playing guitar and began lessons at age 11, which only continued for a few years. I spent a lot of my free time working out songs and riffs by ear and taught myself to play punk and metal mostly. Some of my first decent compositions were actually acoustic ones, inspired by early Opeth and ULVER, and this is the origin of WOLCENSMEN. Like a lot of kids from my era, I wanted to be a 'rock star'. Luckily I just enjoyed creating any kind of art, so even after the promise of a musical-career died, I lost none of my enthusiasm. I've played in many bands since.
I come from a rather 'torn' musical background; on one hand obsessed with black metal, and on the other hand, drawn somewhat to punk and hardcore. I was in a couple of hardcore bands initially and with them learnt how to perform live and manage the trials and tribulations of being in a band. I was also in a rock band for a while. My friends at the time were into this stuff and I was just happy to do something musical. I made my first black metal album under the name SPEIRLING in 2007, and nearly joined my brother's black metal band ETHERNAL around that time. Later I joined the sludge-doom band HAMMER OF THE GODS, which Chris (Naughton) from WINTERFYLLETH was also a member of, and then I got drafted into Winterfylleth at the beginning of 2015.
Wolcensmen began in about 2011-2012 and initially existed in the background while I was doing other stuff. Ironically it's the most niche style of music I've made, and the one I had the least ambition with; and yet it's become something of an underground success.
‘Songs from the Fyrgen’ was seemingly several years, and continents, in the making. The music was written between 2010-2015 and subsequently recorded from 2015-2016 in England, Germany, Belgium, Norway, Canada, and the USA.
- I didn’t set out to include guest musicians from various different countries – it really happened quite naturally, and without intention. It began with Jake Rogers (Utah, United States) from GALLOWBRAID and VISIGOTH, who I had befriended in 2013 through doing some design work and illustration for. I sent him the Wolcensmen demo and he told me that he played the flute, and should I ever want flute parts in future songs, to let him know. When it came time to write and record ‘Songs from the Fyrgen’, I took Jake up on his offer. He recorded and composed some beautiful parts and sent them over to me to be put into the mix.
GRIMRIK (Germany) played a big role in the album, as he was one of the first people (who wasn’t already a friend) to ‘discover’ my music. He was co-owner of DEIVLFORST RECORDS, who released the album, and we struck up a friendship over a mutual appreciation of each other’s music. He would go on to master the audio for ‘Songs from the Fyrgen’, and I also asked if he could compose some cold ambient synth sections for the album, which feature in the song ‘’Neath a Wreath of Firs’.
I needed a pianist to perform the piano parts I’d written, and as an old friend of my other band Winterfylleth, Dries Gaerdelen (Belgium) was the one I got in touch with to borrow his talents.
Nash Rothanburg (Norway) became involved because I’d recently discovered his band BYRDI and enjoyed what he was doing. We became ‘online friends’ and agreed that it’d be cool to have him contribute some guest vocals to the album, which can be heard on ‘Hoofes Upon the Shymmeringe Path’.
My little brother Mark played some bodhran, here in England, on the songs ‘Hoofes Upon the Shymmeringe Path’ and ‘’Neath a Wreath of Firs’, and helped me to write the percussion parts for much of the album. He was the drummer in Ethernal and has a similar musical background to me.
Last but not least, the renowned cellist Raphael Weinroth-Browne (Canada) became involved in the project after I decided the album demanded a real cello. I’d initially planned to use a virtual cello sound, but after recording guitars and vocals, I realised that this was going to be a more accomplished production than I’d foreseen, and I began to pull out all the stops. I sent Raphael my rough ideas and he recorded them beautifully with his engineer Dean Watson.
I’m honoured to have had all of these talented people add some ‘flavour’ to the first Wolcensmen album. I have some big criticisms of the ‘Internet Age’, but its benefits are undeniable. It’s now almost easier to have someone from another country record parts for your album – someone who is on a similar artistic wavelength - than to have someone local do it, who may not be of the right mindset.
‘Songs from the Mere’ was originally an accompanying EP included with the 2018 vinyl re-issue of the album. In January of 2019, this EP was given its own release as a stand-alone piece and features a cover of BATHORY’s ‘Man of Iron’.
- INDIE RECORDINGS wanted to re-release ‘Songs from the Fyrgen’, but I wouldn’t have been happy with a simple reissue of the album, so the label and I discussed ways we could make it a more special event – sort of an ‘ultimate edition’. The album was remixed and remastered, new photos were included in the CD and vinyl sleeves, and liner notes were written to accompany the song lyrics, giving enhanced insight into the themes of the album.
I still didn’t feel that this was quite enough, so I mentioned to the label that I had an unused song, and some new compositions that I was working on and didn’t think would be included on the next album. I suggested recording them as a bonus CD, and the original plan was that I’d do them quite rough and DIY – simple guitar and vocal recordings. I should have known that it’s not in my nature to do things by halves, and by the time the deadline came around I’d booked studio time and enlisted the help of guest musicians. ‘Songs from the Mere’ was recorded in July of 2018, by which point it had been over two and a half years since I had last recorded music, so I felt it would be prudent to offer something new.
Some friends and I performed as Wolcensmen for the first time in October 2017, and as part of the set I covered BATHORY’s ‘Man of Iron’. It went well and when considering a song to cover, it was the first one that came to mind. Since that performance, I and others felt that it should one day be recorded, and the EP was the perfect time to do it. Jo Quail (the cellist) and I composed an introductory passage of music to lead into ‘Man of Iron’, as a means of adding something new whilst not undermining the basic composition of the song itself. It came out really nicely. It’s a song from my favourite Bathory album and one which I’ve always adored for its purity. It’s a simple, timeless song and very in-keeping with the ‘Wolcensmen’ sense of things.
Wolcensmen’s music is distinctively unique, which isn’t overly common within the folk music community as of late. There are subtle suggestions of influence woven throughout, but all in all Dan’s output takes somewhat of a side-step from the norm.
I queried Dan as to the creative impetus behind his approach to this style.
- For me, Wolcensmen and related artists have always been about one thing: atmosphere. It's there to take the listener to another time and place, away from the modern, mundane world. It's really about escapism, in a healthy way. I judge the quality of my compositions and recordings on whether they achieve that or not, and how memorable they are.
Early Ulver, Opeth, Bathory, SATYRICON, BURZUM, EMPYRIUM, NEST, ISENGARD, SUMMONING, VANGELIS, ILDJARN's synth albums, and DEAD CAN DANCE are the main artists that have impacted me. I think something of Ritchie Blackmore's work has inspired me too, as well as STEELEYE SPAN and certain traditional folk and classical songs.
Receiving some praise from Haavard of Ulver, Samoth of Emperor and Rich Walker of SOLSTICE - all musicians who inspired me a lot - was deeply rewarding. And when I get messages from various people who have found a deep connection with my music, it makes me feel that I've given something good and beautiful to a small part of the world.
Having three releases with Wolcensmen under his belt, and holding down guitar duties for the latest two Winterfylleth albums, I’m curious to hear where Dan finds the incentive to maintain this level of creative output and activity in the touring circuit.
- That sort of implies that I do it for a living, which I don't - just to clarify. The single thing I live for are those moments where I compose something that sends chills down my own spine. As a designer, I quite enjoy creating the visual aspect of Wolcensmen, but everything else is - truth be told - a source of frustration. The constant self-promotion that's demanded of musicians today; the lack of time and money to do things as properly as they should be done; the fading sense of passion and appreciation most people seem to have for heartfelt art.
Countless hours and late-nights editing and mixing music, designing artwork, rehearsing or writing lyrics. I've got a strong work ethic so it's never phased me, but as a family man, it has meant quite a few sacrifices. I'm not someone who can 'just throw an album together'. I don't like to do things by halves. It'll get the better of me someday, I'm sure.
It's hard to explain. Some people just need to create. I do have a belief that creation is the ultimate act of worship. As a Heathen, I perform certain rites in accordance with English tradition, but when I think about what would make the Gods and Ancestors most proud, my first thought is: to create something beautiful or profound in their honour. The Gods are aspects of the cosmic, creative force, and the spark of divinity we inherit from them is what enables us to create original art. What better way to honour higher beings than to use our little creative spark to the fullest extent we can? I think I'd feel like an under-achiever if I didn't do that.
Given that Heathenry is said to have no unanimously accepted theology, do you follow any particular schools of philosophy or spiritual practice?
- I’m quite a spiritual (and philosophical) person. I believe that on a large, tribal scale, humans ended up with a worldview which was the natural expression of their natural character; their religion. Christianity, as an imposed religion from distant lands, is therefore not the natural expression of someone from my part of the world. Nor is Atheism, because to the best of my knowledge it is only in living memory that mankind has, in any great number, abandoned all spiritual belief and practice.
As someone who honours the natural order of things, and considers ancient man to be wiser than modern man in many aspects, I can only turn to what is broadly called ‘Heathenry’ as a guide to living a good, contented life. I have done for many years. I maintain a form of communication with my ancestors, I study and use the Runes, I read and interpret literature that has a pre-Christian origin, and I live each day as though I’m being observed by a higher consciousness.
It’s apparent to me that Dan sits on the black metal end of the musical spectrum. Having been involved and engrossed in this genre since the mid-‘90s, I’m always interested in how people interpret and experience changes within the ‘scene’ over time.
- Black metal is no longer supposed to be frightening or challenging in any way. When I first got into black metal, all the older guys wore combat boots, long hair and scowls. Of course, they still had to go home, fold their laundry and condition their hair or whatever, but they didn't make it easy for new bodies to enter their circle - there was a barrier of sorts. One of the only places to buy black metal wasthrough the Supernal Music mail-order, and there was nothing particularly convenient or friendly about that.
Sometime around 15 years ago - probably with the rise of SOUTHERN LORD RECORDS - black metal seemed to become a more open affair, with a new breed of listener discovering the genre. 'Atmospheric black metal' took off and I think some of that 'gothic charm', spite and spirit fell out of fashion. I still love discovering new releases, but very few new albums have the same magic that those ‘90s albums did.
The other change is social media. This has obviously impacted all musical genres enormously, but I think it hit black metal harder. When you have a genre/subculture based on mystique and misanthropy, for those bands to then have to do their own daily promotional work - sharing news and videos, photos and adverts - with their audience; it's pretty strange.
Part of what fascinated me when I first got into black metal (and the related dark-folk stuff) was the mystique surrounding the strange, sometimes extreme characters who created this profound music. Having to hunt out rare interviews to get some vague insight into their warped minds. Now you've got people like MYRKUR (who to her credit has a beautiful voice) filming and photographing themselves every day as a way to succeed in the industry. I try to keep my fans informed, but candid self-promotion doesn't come naturally to me.
This article is an excerpt of the full interview conducted, which delves into the absence of sincerity in the modern creative climate, raising children in an ever-darkening world, and spending several years creating album artwork for BURZUM amongst others.
The full interview is available in the print edition of Inner Missive #2, alongside discussions with THY DARKENED SHADE, THE ANTICHRIST IMPERIUM, ART AS CATHARSIS, ALTARS, GRIFT, ALTARAGE, ADRIAN BAXTER, PRIMITIVE MAN, COSMIC PUTREFACTION, EMYN MUIL, GIGAN, BYRDI, SLUDGE, ULCERATE and ÖXXÖ XÖÖX.