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Band Interviews Features Interviews

An Interview with Clare Webster of YYLVA and Kathryn Gee of ZenZero Images

It seems like a pretty standard thing among music bloggers to complain about the unbelievable number of emails we get on a daily basis – most of us are basically drowning in music. It’s a nice problem to have for sure, but it also means that things invariably fall through the cracks. There are only so many hours in the day, you know?

I do always make a point, however, to check out the emails that come to us from the artists themselves. Our loyal Vault Hunters have likely picked up on the fact that I don’t really cover the bigger bands or labels all that much anymore. Those releases are going to get plenty of coverage, anyway. The dude that’s dubbing runs of 50 cassettes in his living room, or the artist trying to do her own PR, though – this is the music I like discovering and sharing with our audience.

UK-based one-woman black metal project YYLVA fall in that latter category. When Clare Webster’s email landed in my inbox a couple weeks ago announcing the release of her debut single “A Sidhe in Throes,” I was immediately intrigued by the last part of her pitch: “do you know of any other metal bands that incorporate the organic tone of the Celtic Harp within their music?” The short answer: no, I haven’t. And you know what? The pairing works beautifully – “A Sidhe in Throes” is absolutely gorgeous, and the video by Kathryn Gee of ZenZero Images is the perfect visual accompaniment for the song.

There’s something very special happening in YYVLA’s music, and I knew within about 30 seconds of hitting play on the video that I wanted to talk to both Clare and Kathryn. Much to my delight, they both agreed. So check out the stunning video for “A Sidhe in Throes,” and then read my conversation with both of them below.

Indy Metal Vault: So for starters, I absolutely love “A Sidhe in Throes,” both the song and the video. So I really appreciate both of your willingness to answer a few questions. I want to start with a question both of you can answer, so can you tell me how the two of you came to work together on the “Sidhe” video? How did you first connect?

Clare: I first came across Kathryn’s work after a mutual friend of ours, Connor Sanders (noted for his work with Northern Extremity Promotions and folk / black metal project Wyrdstaef), appeared in one of her earlier productions. I was particularly impressed with her artistic visuals and creative way of storytelling, so shortly after I contacted her to see if she would be interested in working with me on a collaboration and luckily, she said yes!

IMV: Usually when I interview a folk/black metal artist, I find myself asking what it was that lead that artist from folk music to black metal. In YYLVA’s case, however, it seems like it was the other way around: you’ve been the vocalist for UK-based gothic/doom outfit Edenfall since 2009, and then you decided to pick up a folk instrument. So let me ask you this instead – what inspired you to pick up the Celtic harp and ultimately start your own project? And why the Celtic harp? That doesn’t strike me as the sort of instrument that would be easy to just pick up and learn.

Clare: Although metal has always been one of my biggest passions, since around the age of seventeen I have also shared a love for dark folk and neoclassical artists, listening to a lot of acts such as Dead Can Dance and Loreena McKennitt. I remember there was a store up in West Yorkshire, UK where I grew up called the Early Music Shop that sold a whole manner of strange and unusual instruments, including harps, and every time I walked past I always hoped that one day I would be able to afford one. It wasn’t until 2013 that I made the spontaneous decision to go and purchase one as I was travelling back down the country and had some spare money.

Like any new instrument, it can be particularly daunting when you first start to learn, but I wouldn’t say I have found it any more difficult than any other instrument to learn how to play; perhaps my experience of playing the piano in the past has helped though! It took a couple of years to become proficient on it, by which time I decided that I would like to start a new project as I wasn’t sure if the tonality of the instrument would work too well with Edenfall. Around this time, I was starting to birth a very deep love for atmospheric black metal too, so instead of starting two new potential projects I decided to try and work with the two combined.

IMV: According to your press release, the word “Yylva” translates as “she-wolf.” Is there anything in particular that drew you to that as the name for this project? There’s a long history of wolfen imagery in black metal, but given the folkloric aspects of your music, I’m wondering if there’s a different significance to it in this case.

Clare: The wolf is known to have a very fierce reputation, but in truth they are very intelligent, shy and illusive creatures and are often misunderstood. This sentiment is something that has followed me a lot in various aspects of my life, including my own spiritual practices and beliefs: people are often too quick to judge something that they don’t fully understand.

IMV: There are so many questions I’d like to ask you about the mythology that inspired “A Sidhe in Throes,” but I feel like if we delve too deeply into it then we might get a bit too nerdy for the average reader. So instead, I’ll ask this: for those who aren’t familiar with Irish folklore, can you explain a bit about the Sidhe? I’ve always thought the Sidhe were essentially the Celtic version of the fae, but there’s actually more than one possible use of the term. What particular aspect of the Sidhe was it that drew you to that bit of mythology for this song?

Clare: You are correct, the Sidhe does both refer to what we know as the ‘fae’ or ‘faeries’ in Irish Folklore, but does also refer to earthen mounds wherein they dwell. The concept of “A Sidhe in Throes” describes the world beyond as full of vitality and wildness, perhaps more so than usual, as you would expect under a Full Moon or Samhain and the process of you, the listener, being swept away to a different realm. Tennyson’s poem “The Stolen Child” has long been a favourite and inspiration of mine, particularly the line: “Come away, oh human child, to the waters and the wild with a faerie hand in hand for the world is more full of weeping than you can understand.”

IMV: I usually ask at least one question about songwriting in my interviews, but I’m always particularly curious about how that process works for a solo project. When you sit down to write for YYLVA, how do you approach it? Do you compose on the piano and then build everything else up around that? Or do you actually compose on the harp? Or does it vary from song to song?

Clare: The songwriting process can vary, depending on the song. Usually when I am composing a primarily harp-led song, I will compose using the harp first of all and then build around it on Logic, the music software that I use. Sometimes with lyrics, I will write them before writing any music and other times they will be written once all the music and melodies have been composed, it really does depend as to what comes naturally. One thing that I will say though is that the structure and the lifeblood of a song will change dramatically from start to finish; I am always going back over things previously written to make sure that everything sounds just as I would like, and if it doesn’t then I will change things.

IMV: What was the recording of “A Sidhe in Throes” like? Given how fantastic it sounds, I’m guessing you used an actual studio for at least part of it? Were there any challenges you weren’t expecting when it came to tracking the harp? I also noticed that two of your Edenfall bandmates, Rob George and Sean Brazil, add guitar and bass to the song respectively, but no drummer is listed. Are those live drums, or did you program them?

Clare: Thank you very much for your kind words! All of the recording took place in Rob’s home studio and then was sent off for mixing and mastering by James Scott, who runs Black Cat Studios with his partner Katrin Brunier (who also appeared in the music video) in Leicestershire, UK. Luckily, recording went surprisingly well with only a few minor issues with the harp: at one point we noticed that there was a ‘buzzing’ noise being picked up on the recordings, but this turned out to just be a loose jack input and a couple of songs had to be re-recorded.

The decision was made fairly on in the process to use programmed drums, rather than hiring a drummer and adding quite a few additional costs. In an ideal world, of course I would have preferred live drums on the recording, but unfortunately this was not something that my budget easily stretched to. That aside, I am very pleased with how the drums have turned out: as long as they are written and mixed well, they can still sound convincing!

I am very lucky to have worked with such talented and amazing friends and musicians on this album, I can safely say I would not have been able to do it without them!

IMV: So let’s talk a bit about the video for “A Sidhe in Throes.” It prominently features another piece of Celtic folklore, the Mórrígan. Aside from being visually stunning, I’m also really impressed by the eye to detail in the video in terms of the folklore: the crow, the livestock, the sisters Macha, Badb, and Nemain. Again, for those who are unfamiliar, can you explain a bit about who the Mórrígan are and why you went in that direction for the video? Also, how closely did the two of you work together on the video’s concept?

Clare: The Mórrígan is a goddess in Celtic folklore known to have triple aspects to her, although it has never been clear in documentation exactly who the three aspects were. However, it is most commonly believed that The Mórrígan is a collective term used for the three sisters: Macha, Badb and Nemain who are all goddesses within their own right, but also work together as a single force. Both individually and collectively, there are all associated with battles and warfare: Macha is associated with sovereignty, kingship and the land, whereas Badb (known as the Battle Crow) is known to cause fear and confusion among soldiers on the battlefield and Nemain is a spirit-woman who personifies the frenzied havoc of war. Although primarily associated with war and battle, The Mórrígan has also been linked to prophecy, fate and sorcery and in later folklore became heavily associated with the banshee: a female spirit in Irish folklore who heralds the death of someone by wailing or shrieking.

I think the main inspiration for the themes explored within the music video were the lyrics to the song where I include excerpts from The Morrigan’s prophecy where she foretells the end of the world. I personally feel as her words are timeless and, in many ways, can be associated with society in this day and age: the political, economic, social and environmental structures of many nations only seem to be falling further into ruin. I loved the idea of exploring subjects such as weaving the web of fate, prophecy, and death and rebirth within the music video, and Kathryn came up with a wonderful concept and storyline which fit in absolutely perfectly with what I had in mind. Quite often, I come up with strange ideas heavily dressed in symbolism and I’ve noticed that a lot of people will have a hard time trying to understand my intentions, but Kathryn completely embraced my ideas and that is why I think we worked so well together.

IMV: These next couple of questions are primarily for Kathryn. Assuming that the Zenzero Images Vimeo page is accurate, you’re still in film school. How did you make the leap from student films to music videos? And why music videos instead of some other form of visual media?

Kathryn: Yes, that’s correct! It’s been a fairly recent transition, to be honest, but I think that working with talented fellow course-mates has given me the confidence to try and break free from the ‘student film’ bracket.

Music videos have always been something I’ve been desperately keen to work with. It probably stems from my love of music, and how frustrating it is to see bands’ visual material not always living up to the creative input that has gone into making the music itself. Working with an artist’s lyrical themes and reason for creation gives me a starting point of a theme to research, and from there I have space to sort of sculpt a secondary voice for the music. There’s a lot of enjoyment that comes from that.

IMV: “A Sidhe in Throes” isn’t your only video to include mysterious women and a body of water. The video you did for The Wounded Kings, “The Swirling Mist,” prominently features one as well. Is that just a coincidence, or is there something specific that draws you toward that sort of imagery?

Kathryn: Haha! I’m not sure about the mysterious women, but certainly I have an affinity with nature in its various forms.

Water, in particular, has a tendency to resonate with intuition and the communication of emotions, so as well as filming in those locations to look visually impressive, I think there is probably a fair amount of personal expression that comes with its inclusion.

IMV: The press release mentions that “A Sidhe in Throes” will be on your forthcoming album The Wood Beyond the World. Aside from a release date, which hasn’t been set, what else can you tell us about the record? How indicative is “A Sidhe in Throes” of the rest of the album?

Clare: I would say that “A Sidhe in Throes” is fairly indicative of the rest of the album’s sound; part of the reason why I chose to release this song as a single is because I wanted something that was a good representative of the sound of The Wood Beyond the World. Like this song, the album features variety; exploring both the very extreme elements of black metal, but also softer, ethereal folk and neoclassical passages. It can’t be denied that the harp has been the muse for the entirety of the album’s creation, it only felt right to include plenty of room for it to shine on its own too.

Just this week I have received the masters back from James Scott at Black Cat Studios, so once more progress has been made with the artwork over the next couple of months I will think about setting a release date. The album consists of seven tracks altogether and comes in at around fifty-five minutes, so plenty of time to be whisked away to another realm!

IMV: Thanks again for taking the time to answer a few questions. I always like to leave the last word to the artists – anything else you’d like to add?

C & K: It’s been a pleasure. Thank you very much for taking the time to interview us and being so supportive of our work!

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