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Interview with

Ashley Dayour (voice, guitar) from Whispers in the Shadow

With ‘Beyond The Cycles Of Time’, WHISPERS IN THE SHADOW, probably Austria´s longest serving Goth-Rock outfit (being around for 18 years now), released the last album of a tetralogy on 4th April. After the release we spoke with band leader Ashley Dayour to dig deeper into the new record.

Reflections of Darkness [RoD]: First of all congratulations on your new album ‘Beyond the Cycles of Time’ and the associated accomplishment of your musical concept-experiment. 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2014 - four albums in six years - that sounds like a lot of creative and temporal pressure (not to forget the concerts, which want to be made!). Was it that supposed challenge or easier than I assume? Try to convey a sense of the respective two years between.
Ashley Dayour [Ashley]: Thank you! It really feels good to finally close the cycle. Actually no, there wasn’t much pressure, simply because there was no real deadline for the four album cycle. The fact that we released an album every two years was totally natural. It seems that this is the time we need to write and record an album.

RoD: Means there was no hand on the part of a record label in your musical path for the last six years? Sounds like a latitude a lot of signed bands would like to have. Negligence or knowledge of the time the bands creative development takes? By the way, WITS moved from Echozone to the court of Artaud Seth´s Solar Lodge two years ago. Financial reasons or a step tailored to a contentual consubstantiality? Or something far beyond that?
Ashley: Heavens, what could be worse than a “hand on” of the record label when it comes to artistic matters! Things take as long as they need; but I think two years in-between album releases are perfect. It has been like this: about half a year a complete break from song-writing concentrating on live shows, after that I slowly started to think about new songs, first demos, first lyrics. Another half a year break for developing more ideas, throwing half of the songs away, struggling to come up with something that really seems to matter, writing new stuff and then setting up the recording stuff. Artaud asked us if we want to be on Solar Lodge, I always liked what he did with his bands. We knew each other for a long time (we also toured together back in 2003) and even theme wise we are very close. I just think it is a good match and we get along well.

RoD: The four elements, the four lunar phases, the four cardinal points, the four final events of the Eschatology… Why did you chose of all things the four stages of the alchemical transformative process as the topical nucleus of your musical tetralogy? Any personal references?
Ashley: The cycle is about transformation, it was from the beginning. I can’t really tell when and how this concept came into my mind. Like with good tunes, it just was there one morning. The thing is I instantly knew that there is a lot we could do with this concept, there was a lot to explore. A whole universe of creation opened with it. Besides, as far as I know, nobody else did it before.

RoD: Okay, a melody can appear in a visceral way, right from the blood, but such a complex topic like the alchemical transformation (famous men like Mesmer, Newton, Boyle, Paracelsus and Ashmole dedicated their life to) isn´t something that springs to your mind for no reason! There must be a profound knowledge about, especially if you decide to chain your body of work to it for a few years. A knowledge you were a mine of already or did you start hitting the books after that fateful morning for being prepared?
Ashley: Of course I was into the subject before. But the actual idea to do an album cycle about it came more or less overnight. Besides I don’t see the whole subject as “serious” and “dogmatic” as you seem to do. I come from a Chaos Magic background, which basically is: jump into the water and see what happens. I like it more that way, and it certainly is more fun but having said that, of course you can be kicked in the arse if work like that, but that actually is the fun part, isn’t it? It all developed very naturally. Magic isn’t something that is determent or fixed, it is very much alive. At least for me it is.

RoD: Tell me; isn´t it a creative impediment to tie yourself to such a themed template for such a long period? I mean what about individual or stylistic changes you couldn´t foresee, musical clearance, which feel important for your artistic way but don´t fit the topical scheme? How did you kept the intellectual and sensual fire burning while being aware of the content of your next four albums? Is the artistic expression not also a lasting desire to satisfy a certain hunger and curiosity?
Ashley: It really went hand in hand with what I wanted to do, of course those problems you mentioned came into my mind when we started it. There was a certain sorrow that maybe we will lose ourselves or just lose interest. But as the whole thing went on and developed, we as a band and I as a person developed and transformed as well. So I think we must have done something right. But having said that, for me it is not that difficult to follow a certain path and stay on it. All this artistic freedom blah blah is pretentious bullshit anyway, to be honest. In my opinion an artist has to be able to work on something and finish it, doesn’t matter what. So for me it was a challenge as well to see if I can live up to that. And it wasn’t easy I give you that. But who said it would be easy? I loved the challenge.

RoD: But the stylistic variety of that cycle-foursome proves that it was important for you to keep the band´s musical language flexible (a fact some people would call pretentiously “artistic freedom”), so have you tried to keep the topical frame as mouldable as possible to justify every musical step in its context or was it really that serious guideline that influenced the creative process no matter what way?
Ashley: Like I said before, it all developed “on the go”. I’m not a fan of dogmatic processes. Thing is if you have the confidence than things will work out in the end. But having said that, it was a long and winding road, and there was more than one night when I thought about abandoning it all together.

RoD: Apropos individual: Browsing your words I realized that there are very little self-references in the lyrics. You rather speak of units like “we” or “us”. Where is the personal level in your lyrics, the bonding to your lyrical Alter Ego?
Ashley: Well I assure you there is a lot of self-reference in it, I just don’t want to be too obvious and write only from the first persons view. I did that a lot on our first four albums where the most used word was ”I”. That had to change. I really like to play with characters in the songs. Some tracks are pointed directly to me, but sung from someone else’s perspective. That is something that I do a lot actually. It is really good fun to sing a song to yourself as another person, especially when you are on stage. I really does your head in. I just love that.

RoD: So would you mind to jump in one of your created characters to describe this person in a few words the secular world knows as Ashley Dayour?
Ashley: Longing, passionate, curious, drunk, sleepy, awake and lazy. I love to do “nothing”. If I wouldn’t write songs I would just stay home read and watch movies and browse the internet.

RoD: An unavoidable question: The circle is closed now, the journey finished and the purpose accomplished. “The end is the beginning is the end” as you said. So what does this mean for the forthcoming musical direction of WITS? It seems almost impossible to go on the previous way with such a statement!
Ashley: Absolutely right! At the moment I just don’t know what will come next, and if there is an “if” at all. And you know what; it really feels good not to know. I think I would need another vision to set sail again. What I would like to do is a two-evening event and play all four albums in a row. Or do a full album show and let the fans decide which album they want to hear. We keep talking about doing our debut album ‘Laudanum’ for a while now. That would be a challenge because we certainly would try to bring it into the here and now. But that’s all just talk and ideas. First of all we will focus on the shows especially on our first “own” festival here in Vienna at the 17th of May. Then we’ll see. I also would love to do a more band oriented album again. If I think about it there are so many opportunities what we could do next. Maybe we take some, maybe we take none. Who knows?

RoD: When you say you´d love to do a more band-oriented album sometime, tell me how much of the last albums is WITS and how much is pure A. Dayour?
Ashley: That varies from album to album, even from song to song. But the new one I pretty much did on my own. That wasn’t intended though, it was rather a matter of time it is difficult to get the whole band together and somehow it felt right to do it like this. We never played the new songs as a band before we went into the studio. That was a completely new approach. I think it really worked for this kind of songs. But like I said I would love to work more as group again, if we do another album that is. But who knows what will happen next. I certainly don’t and if I don’t know no one does.

RoD: We both know us for a while now (I remember our ways crossed about 14 years ago for the first time!) and it´s interesting to take a look at the metamorphosis WHISPERS IN THE SHADOW went through over the years. From the mournful, cure-influenced autumn melancholic materialized the shamanic Goth Rocker of today. Progress or course correction? Did you changed just your shell or have you sloughed the Ashley who wrote songs like ‘The weeping Tree’?
Ashley: Indeed we came a long way. Obvious 18 years is a damn long time. It’s the half of my life actually. Of course I changed as a person through that period. But in a way I still like the same stuff. I’m drawn to the same kind of music, the same kind of movies, books etc. And I’m still as passionate about what we do, otherwise we wouldn’t exist anymore. Just more experienced and maybe a little bit calmer, I guess. So it’s neither progress nor correction, just time passing by and learning from ones mistakes, well at least sometimes ;) BTW I still really like our first albums, and we are dusting of some very old tracks for the forthcoming shows. It’s always nice to perform older songs, it takes you back. It’s like reading in an old diary and for that 5 or so minutes I’m back again with that old songs or should I say with these friends I haven’t seen for a while. The only album I’m not too found off is “Permanent Illusions”, I can’t really say why though. The 2nd half of it is good, but the first half is just terrible.

RoD: In what way the mysticism, magic(k), religion and pseudoscience, which seem to be omnipresent in your current musical output, take part or influence your life offstage? Or asked differently: How lives a professing adept of chaos magic his life between being in line at the supermarket, paying rent and chatting on Facebook?
Ashley: It helps you when you are in a rush and want to get rid of that line at the supermarket. But then you keep asking yourself if that rush is really necessary at all :-P Of course it influences one off stage as well, if it is more to you than just an image to play with. Between is the right word to use here indeed.

RoD: Oh, please some more details! Has the occult passion, which has to deal a lot with time, space, subconscious and consciousness any influences on your way of dealing with the personal future?
Ashley: To be honest, I don’t want to dwell much deeper into that subject. This is a very private matter and I want to keep it that way. But yeah of course it influences my personal live as much as it does influence the artistic one.

RoD: In your lyrics you play a lot with apocalyptic images – any fear of the futurity?
Ashley: As for me personally: no. If I die tomorrow that would be ok, I had a great life so far. Really can’t complain, not much anyway ;) But I would like to stay a little longer though; there are still a lot of things to do ;) You know I really don’t understand when people say life is too short, it isn’t it is pretty long. I mean that’s a good thing of course it is amazing when one looks back and remembers all the things that happened. As for the human kind: I think we are lost anyway. But why bother, everything has to come to an end and so will the human kind. Nature and Planet Earth will not care.

RoD: Back to the music. Over the last years you could conspicuously often find bands, proudly espoused to the Goth rock formerly, coquetting with the label “Post Punk” now (without even justifying that stylistically sometimes), what led to a kind of an inflationary deterioration. Due to the fact that this stamp is recently linked to WITS too, let me ask you bluntly: Has the traditional Goth Rock, you claim to be a keeper of, lost its attraction and became “uncool”? Or is it musically stretched to its limits? What part plays the zeitgeist in today´s traditional Goth music?
Ashley: Well I certainly think the new album is more on the Post Punk than Gothic Rock side. But honestly I think we've always been a mixture of both. It varied from album to album. Thing is I just don’t give a damn what people actually call us but they need their labels. I’m fine with that. So if one wants a description I would say we are a very Goth rocky post punk band, or a post-punky Goth rock band or post rocky Goth wave band? Ahhh now I got lost… I really don’t know, and I just don’t care.

RoD: So you dodged my question! Where do you see and what is the current condition of that “classic Goth -Rock” your own press sheet calls you a preserver of?
Ashley:I did, didn’t I :-P . Oh, I don’t really know. There are a few very good bands out there and many not so good ones. But who am I to judge? I really did care a few years ago, but nowadays not so much anymore. The most interesting “dark music” is happening somewhere else, not within the Goth scene. That’s a shame really. But does it really matter? No, not for me, not anymore. As long as there is dark music coming out that moves me I’m happy. Bands like ESBEN & THE WITCH, BEASTIAL MOUTHS, IN DEATH IT ENDS that’s the stuff I like these days.

RoD: With a musical career that spans almost 18 years now, you compulsorily come across moments of reflection and survey. How many of your dreams and ambitions from thence are still with you and how much disillusion accompanied the band to its present state? Any signs of fatigue?
Ashley: Good question. There are always dreams to accomplish, quite a few actually. Of course not everything worked out as we planned it. There was a period, ca. 2003-2007 were we didn’t release anything. We did a whole album but nobody was interested, we tried and tried but nothing worked out. So that was most likely the hardest time for the band. But when we started to work on ‘Into The Arms Of Chaos’, the first album of the cycle everything seemed to work again. I think the problem was we just lost ourselves, sometimes that happens. But right so! We needed to find ourselves again and we did. But since 2008 since the ‘Chaos’ album it actually gets better and better. At the moment I can’t complain at all.

RoD: So tell me how it feels to rediscover yourself, especially within the framework of a band, of individual minds and sentiments? On what level it stroke you that you realized that specific moment, on a musical or an inter human?
Ashley: Well, thing is at first I didn’t really realize it myself at all. We just did another album. But when we had about half of the songs written I thought this could be something else, this could be our ‘Phoenix’ album. And so it was. I still remember performing ‘Down by the Sea’ (from ‘Into the Arms of Chaos’) for the first time. That was the point when I thought we are back on track. And after that everything fell into place with the new label, mixing the album in Leamington Spa with John Rivers and all that stuff. I was a very happy person when we finished it. ‘Chaos’ might not be our best album, but our most important that’s for sure. Without that very album we wouldn’t be around anymore.

RoD: Between us brothers in arms; Burroughs cut-up technique, the musical structuring by the help of tarot cards (as you did with your ‘The Devil And The Universe’ project), what strongly reminds of the work with Eno´s Oblique Strategies cards, songs like ‘Adversarial Light’ or the obvious cover of ‘Scary Monsters’… How wide is the musical and artistic influence of one David Bowie on the oeuvre of Ashley Dayour?
Ashley: I knew you of all people will ask me this! Well we can’t and we won’t deny a certain Bowie influence. But what inspires me even more than his great tunes is the way he approaches things, the way he works with creativity. That inspired me a lot indeed; you mentioned some of the things above. Also Bowie is one of the artists everyone in the band really adores. There was one critic who compared our new album with Bowie’s ‘Outside’… I certainly can live with that!

RoD: So thanks for the conversation and all fingers crossed for your festival and the upcoming shows!
Ashley: Thank you! See you around!

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