INTERVIEW: Folk/Dark Rock Band Harm Wülf
Chances are if you’ve followed hardcore in any capacity over the past decades, you’ve come across Blacklisted and their particular take on the genre. At times branching out into more experimental territory, one element that listeners could always expect was the emotional delivery and in-depth lyrics from singer George Hirsch. In 2013 Hirsch released solo material under the name Harm Wülf, but the resulting full length ‘There’s Honey in the Soil, So We Wait for the Till…’ was anything but hardcore. Going for a singer/songwriter approach that emphasized acoustic guitar and somber melodies, it showcased a completely different side of Hirsch.
Three years later Harm Wülf’s sophomore full length ‘Hijrah’ is on the verge of release, due out on August 26th from Deathwish Inc. Where its predecessor leaned on sparser instrumentation, this time around Hirsch has expanded the sound outwards towards fuller melodies that still have that bleak, reflective feel to them. Stylistically you could say it treads somewhere between King Dude and an acoustic Neurosis, with the airier guitar melodies driving forth a sound that’s melancholic and overwhelmingly emotional in how much feeling it gets across. It’s also worth mentioning that Hirsch has improved his singing from the debut, as there’s a greater sense of confidence and grit to the performance that will have you hanging on every word. With fuller instrumentation and a bleak atmosphere that sucks you in from beginning to end, Harm Wülf’s newest effort is an incredible listen and worth spending some time with.
To learn more about the creation of ‘Hijrah’ and what Hirsch has been looking to accomplish with the project, I had the chance to send some questions over.
Transcending Obscurity (Chris Dahlberg): Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions. It has been a little less than three years since the release of ‘There’s Honey in the Soil, So We Wait for the Till…’ When did work begin on ‘Hijrah’ and what elements did you want to expand upon on this album in comparison to its predecessor?
Harm Wülf (George Hirsch): Thanks for being interested!
I started writing the album not too long after the first one was finished. I am not sure there were any specific elements I wanted to expand upon. I know I wanted acoustic guitar and vocal at the heart/center, but that was the only “restriction” or “demand” I put on myself. I write all the songs on acoustic guitar and that has always been the goal, to make heavy music with those two things in mind. I think this album has such a wash of sounds with the electric guitar that I chose not to fully explore on the first album. The first album leans more towards a “demo” than an album in some ways. It just so happens it had a proper release.
TO: Let’s talk about the title of the new album, ‘Hijrah’. This term can originally be traced to refer to the migration or journey of the Islamic prophet Muhammed. For you, what does the material on this album represent a migration from or journey towards?
Harm Wülf: My immediate feeling is to say healing; through escape/exile. I moved away from my longtime home around the time I started writing ‘Hijrah’. I lost a lot of my life in that process, humans and otherwise. Writing the album had me figuring out/dealing with so many levels of life. I am here because I escaped. That is a fact.
TO: The album artwork perfectly suits the bleak, somber tone of the music, showing the remains of a plane crash. What made you decide to use this as the album cover and how does it tie in t the themes explored throughout?
Harm Wülf: I went to Iceland around my birthday last year. It was my 5th or 6th time going, so I brought along a camera, knowing that I wanted something from there to be the cover. It is such a beautiful, beautiful place that is both the loneliest place and the most majestic, simultaneously. I had other options, but nothing seemed to fit. The picture I took of the “Solheimasandur Plane Crash” remained perfect in my opinion. I was torn at first because it is such a recognizable attraction. But, in the end it fit the album/feel so well. It lends itself perfectly to escape, exile, and the abandon I’ve felt, before ultimately learning the survival I needed. While writing the album I also had an obsession with this certain color; it’s a blue, but has hints of green and purple as well. It’s the color you see when you are walking down the street late at night and its dark, but you can see peoples’ windows illuminated by the television. It reminds me of colors that would be used in the original Scooby Doo cartoons or the set design of classic Hammer Horror Films. Bathing in that color many nights has given me so much comfort, much like the album has, and I hope it does for others.
TO: I was having trouble finding information online, but did you have any outside contributions on the first album or did you handle all the instrumentation yourself? This time around you have Jon Nean and Arthur Rizk contributing on the recording for a more expansive sound. Was it difficult to let others into music that is of this personal in nature?
Harm Wülf: Jon and Arthur both played some stuff on the first album, as well as my friends Andy and Carly. I had parts written, or ideas, and they played what I had and, in some instances, they changed what I had for the better. The new album was written the same way. Jon played bass on this record and that was great because he added a sense of melody that I couldn’t fully see sometimes and made up for my guitar playing. Arthur played drums and recorded the album, and he is amazing across the board. The only difficulty is I want it done immediately, but that doesn’t work with scheduling. Otherwise, it’s fine. I trust them as humans and musicians.
TO: What were some of your influences for ‘Hijrah’? Specifically, though I know you’re pulling a lot of personal feelings and emotions, were there any musicians or writers that played a significant part in your life as this album came together?
Harm Wülf: I think when I recorded my first album people judged the music by me wearing Death In June and other Neo-Folk t shirts, thinking I must have been so influenced by that genre, which wasn’t the case from a sonic standpoint. I love that band and genre, but the influence they had on me for Harm Wülf was from more of an “encouragement” or “strength” perspective. A lot of those songs woke me up, sometimes literally for the day and offered me a great sense of relief when I didn’t feel strong enough. However the genre I have been greatly influenced by, sonically at least, would be “Slowcore” (which I don’t even think is a thing anymore??). A band like Low for example. I love Dirty Three, I think Warren Ellis and Jim White are geniuses. Michael Gira (Swans/Angels of Light). There are so many to name. Hanna Barbera cartoons have played a large role in my life, along with a lot of other television and movies. I love stories by Raymond Carver, Flannery O’Connor and Ernest Hemingway (all classics). The Norton Trilogy (which is a screenplay that a close friend of mine wrote). The comic book “Mouse Guard” is perfect (I wish I named Harm Wülf, OldFur).
TO: As someone that’s struggled with a good deal of depression myself, I find that a lot of darker, drearier music actually makes me to feel better, as there’s a relatable element to the listening experience. What is this like from the viewpoint of a creator, does addressing some of your demons through music act in a therapeutic sense as well?
Harm Wülf: It isn’t therapeutic. I am not even sure my music is “dark”; that is what others call it. It’s hard for me to really step away and look at it and say what it is, to be honest. I only let people see what I want them to see. There are so many more levels to my life, and I don’t mean that in a way that is trying to paint me as interesting; just human. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle didn’t just write Sherlock and Watson’s stories, he WAS them, but at the same time he had a life, a wife, medical career, etc etc. It was a large part of his life, but in my opinion the only reason it is sort of quantifiable is because of monetary gain. I don’t have that part to worry about, so I can say this: I love music, but it isn’t the most important thing in the world. I’ve learned to love taking care of myself. A cup of tea and a full night’s sleep has been more therapeutic than any song I’ve ever written.
TO: In addition to contributing percussion, Arthur Rizk handled engineering for the album. I personally think he did a fantastic job in helping to bring your ideas to life. How did you get connected with him, and what type of feedback did he provide you that made the finished album what it is?
Harm Wülf: I’ve known him for a long time. He is a great friend and someone I trust. I have a lot of enemies, so it is nice to know I can always count on Arthur to be both easy going and firm in the studio, and downright hilarious in real life. He is the one that picked the first song that got released; I didn’t see it then, but I do now. His ideas were more of a “add more of that” and “less of this” type of thing. I would have just gone in there with noisy electric guitar, acoustic, vocals, harmonica, and a ton of chimes and tambourine. He was my ear on what was tasteful.
TO: Over the years there have been a lot of musicians from heavier bands that have branched out into somber, dark music that incorporates elements of folk and Americana. Though you experimented a lot with Blacklisted, do you feel as though you reached a point where it made sense to venture off on your own and explore these additional avenues? Do you feel any kinship to some of the other musicians that have gone off on similar paths?
Harm Wülf: I’ve always wanted to do Harm Wülf, since before I was in Blacklisted. I just didn’t have the courage. I don’t really feel a kinship with any musicians on a similar path, because I feel none of us are really on the same path. And to be honest, I am not even sure who these other musicians are. I am just in my own atmosphere.
TO: You’ve been working with Deathwish Inc. for quite some time, having released all of Blacklisted’s full lengths and both Harm Wülf on the label. At this point does it just feel natural to continue working with Deathwish, and what are your thoughts on how Jacob Bannon and company have built the label up over the years?
Harm Wülf: It is the only thing I know. My entire 20’s and now into my 30’s has been spent with them. So natural is an understatement. I think Jake, Tre and the whole team at Deathwish, past and present, do wonderful things. I have been horrible to deal with, and the fact that they continue to work with me shows me that they are the most forgiving people in existence. They love music and that is what makes great record labels.
While writing the album I also had an obsession with this certain color; it’s a blue, but has hints of green and purple as well. It’s the color you see when you are walking down the street late at night and its dark, but you can see peoples’ windows illuminated by the television
TO: You mentioned in an interview years ago that after touring for so long with Blacklisted and being in a different stage of your life, recording albums was of more interest and feasibility than touring. Are you finding this true for Harm Wülf as well, and is there interest in doing any longer touring runs solo or are the creative elements of writing and recording enough for this project?
Harm Wülf: I would try to take Harm Wülf out live, but I am not sure how I would do it. In the studio I am willing to keep what may not be a perfect take if something interesting happens, or if the atmosphere feels right. I am not some obsessive in the studio. But live I am, because I am trying to recreate the perfect atmosphere for myself, and I am not sure I could pull it off enough to satisfy myself. I would drive myself insane. Also I have no idea who I could play gigs with. There isn’t a huge market for “guy who likes Agnostic Front and Youth Of Today but also Swans” in whatever scene Harm Wülf does fit in.
TO: Over the course of two albums, you’ve already expanded outwards significantly towards fuller instrumentation and somber melodies that suck listeners in. Do you have any ideas of how you want to further expand your sound in the years to come?
Harm Wülf: I will do this for as long as I can. So only time will tell. Eventually I’d like to feel comfortable enough to do an album that is just my voice and acoustic guitar and have it be as heavy as Neurosis.
TO: Is there anything else you’d like to say about ‘Hijrah’ or Harm Wülf?
Harm Wülf: August 26th it is out on Deathwish Inc. Contact whoever runs the Harm Wülf Facebook at www.facebook.com/officialharmwulf and tell them I appreciate it.
Harm Wülf | Deathwish Inc.