Interview with Henryk Vogel

September 1st 2007 - by D.M.K.

All images by Henryk Vogel, except where noted.

Most people will know German neofolk veteran Henryk Vogel from his project Darkwood and the HeidenVolk label. He tells us about his latest album, Notwendfeuer, and several other cultural and spiritual subjects.
D.M.K.: First of all, a few questions about Notwendfeuer, your latest album. Notwendfeuer means something like 'emergency beacon'. Is this album meant as a warning, and if so, for what?

Literally translated, Notwendfeuer means something like "need changing fire". I don't know whether this makes any sense in English. The term is taken from the poem "Deutsche Sonnwend" where it says "Sonnwendfeuer, Notwendfeuer, Endzeit Du und Zeit der Wende" - "Solstice fire, need changing fire, time of ending and time of changes." The winter solstice fire indicates an end and a new beginning at the same time. So this fire could also predict some great changes for all those who are willing to see them or to struggle for them - the end of misery is proclaimed. But there is misery - so 'emergency beacon' could be another meaning, that's true.

Who is the boy on the cover of the album? Can you tell us a bit more about this photograph?

I bought this photograph at a flea market. I don't know who this boy is but when finding this picture, his face seemed so familiar to me as if he was a far relative of mine. I felt really weird and was totally struck by the impression of his eyes. He looks so young and innocent but at same time so wise. He looks into the future so defiantly but seems to have suffered so much pain. Since it is an original from some family album found on any garret, I demonstrated some late respect to this picture.

The poem Wintermärchen (by Otto Ernst) is about a 'Drossel' (thrush), who remains in the cold land, while the others migrate to the sunny south. How does this poem fit Darkwood, and what does the poem mean to you personally?

It definitely doesn't mean - never leave your country. I used to travel a lot but I am sure I did it in a reasonable and educating manner. I either worked and lived in a foreign country for some time to get to know people and habits or I at least traveled through the countryside carrying a backpack and a tent.
This poem rather says that it is stupid to always long to be somewhere else when coldness captures our homeland. It says, enjoy winter since this is part of our life and facing odds is a challenge and part of our nature. The poem has been written about one hundred years ago but they obviously seemed to have the same kind of tourism already. It also says, stick to your homeland and try to change anything rather than going somewhere else where 'the grass seems to be greener' and where you finally might become unhappy since it is against your nature. But everybody has to decide himself, everybody has to find his own realm of the sun. I found it inside myself.

Verlorenes Heer ('Lost Army') is about soldiers fighting in a faraway land, but who have been forgotten by everyone. Is this song a tribute to all these soldiers - or perhaps more broadly, a tribute to all people who have fought for something, but have not been remembered?

Exactly. Since Darkwood is a quite controversial band, everybody just wants to see fallen soldiers at the Eastern Front. But your interpretation is really good and I would even say that it is not just about fighting - also exploring new territories demands its victims. So it's about those who have lost their lives in a struggle for gaining knowledge.

Totenburg ('Castle of the Dead') seems a more abstract song, more like a folktale, is that correct? What is the Totenburg?

This song is more closely related to soldiers since the original idea to write this song arose when leafing through the pages of an old book. My attention was supernaturally caught by a picture of the so-called "Totenburg of Bitolj" - this was as if I have been there before. I don't know whether this WWII memorial in Yugoslavia still exists - but maybe somebody reading this interview can tell me! The song is about a spiritual journey to this place ending in the Ehrenraum - there haunted by the ghosts of the past.

Can you tell us something about Ostenfeld? In the chorus, you sing about Ostenfeld as being a land "tempered by storms". What do you mean?

Ostenfeld is a little village at the Northern Sea. I have never been there before. I first had this title in my mind and then I learned about this place - a place at the coast 'tempered by storms' as you say. But of course, I very much enjoyed playing with words - and sung in German it sounds like 'the East is falling'. It can be both the approaching of a terrible thunderstorm or the approaching of the devastating and all consuming front.

Notwendfeuer contains only German tracks, while older albums still had songs in English. Why have you chosen to focus on your native tongue exclusively this time?

I stated that Notwendfeuer is on 'Youth & Fire' and furthermore - as some people assumed and which is actually a really good further aspect - on 'Youth in the Fire'.
In fact, I am very fed up with the situation right now, all the advertisement terror, all the emptiness of modern life, all those TV shows people watch, and so on. I guess you know what I'm talking about. But I am not really into complaining about those circumstances anymore - painting black all the time. When I am having a look around, I see the youth I see, but when closing my eyes I see a different youth and a different life. I tried to make a positive album giving some perspective just having some relations to the past here and there. And singing about an alternative way of living - no English lyrics came into my mind!

Also, Notwendfeuer is purely acoustic, and it contains no more industrial tracks like, for example, Herbstgewölk and Flammende Welt. Why have you chosen this approach? Does this fit this particular album better, or is it a new musical direction?

It's no new direction. I already recorded a lot of purely acoustic tracks on previous albums whenever it fitted the lyrics and context. For Notwendfeuer I consequently dropped all industrial noises or electronic soundscapes since it wouldn't have emphasized the general idea or mood of this album. I had like one or two more martial industrial tracks which I finally didn't add. People might have appreciated that but they didn't fit the whole concept and I don't push them in just to have two tracks to please people who prefer this kind of sound. They are still quite good though and might be the frame for a next recording.

In your music and interviews, you speak of a 'Weltenwende'. This seems above all to entail a more conscious way of living, but does it also have a religious or spiritual aspect for you, and if so, what is it, and how do you incorporate this spirituality in your life?

It is right that I speak of a Weltenwende from a more practical point of view - to start living life in a more conscious way. The spiritual or esoteric meaning of a cosmic Weltenwende is, that few people with unspoiled blood in their vessels who carry the non-quenched sparkle of the past will be able to receive the Gnosis - a higher knowledge - necessary for the re-birth of a new mankind. Since the occident is characterized by a common descent, forced by Christianity, determined by rationalization and demythologization, one has to return to archaic paganism to "raise blood quality" and give the blood back its illuminating power of elder days. Regardless if you believe in these kind of theories or not, it is obvious that a few people need to seek for an alternative path to overcome the unacceptable circumstances of present time. And with the album Weltenwende, I tried to give people some help in seeking

What part, if any, does your music play in this 'Weltenwende'?

I would be grateful if my music would play just a little part in this Weltenwende, but this can only be a modest hope. On the other hand, a small contribution is better than doing nothing. And if it's just that more and more people start to think about the need of a great spiritual change... And those people are getting children and raise them, those people start to make music and art themselves, those people have professions and are part of the society - not like in the 70ies when they were basically taking drugs and hypocritically revolting against the establishment whilst getting money from their rich parents. There are numerous comrades and they will find each other. With the internet, it is much easier nowadays to get in contact. So hopefully, my music is one catalyzer of the Weltenwende. The catalyzer shortly sticks to the reaction material, you don't need much of it, and it is not being consumed - but it is necessary - it starts and maintains the reaction until the transformation has been done.

In your lyrics, you seem to concentrate mainly on the dark sides of war, while other projects with comparable themes often seem to glorify war in an abstract way. How do you feel about this, and why have you chosen this approach?

I don't know, are there so many projects which glorify war? I rather have the feeling that they like the 'sound of war' and like this 'playing with knives' when singing about war. Of course, a lot of people - also in other music scenes - glorify struggle, but more in a spiritual sense. I actually haven't met somebody in the neofolk scene who told me right in the face that he glorifies war and would like to see himself or his children fighting and dying in a war. So for me, it is obvious dealing with the dark side of war - if there is another.

In Germany (but also in the Netherlands) there still seems to be a taboo on being engaged in your own culture and heritage. Do you think this is a consequence of World War II, which was caused, amongst other factors, by an extreme form of glorifying your own culture? And that many people therefore now seem to veer in the opposite direction: neglect of one's own culture and/or global monoculture? What does this conflict mean to you? Do you find it difficult to find a middle ground?

You are absolutely right, and this has been the main subject of Flammende Welt. This album deals with the American role after WWII, especially mentioning the influence on the German and European self-confidence. I was not only designating the circumstances and analyzing the causes but also tried to give rise to some hope by expressing strength and optimism. The CD shall invoke a proud feeling for our cultural and historical heritage regardless of any anti-German propaganda. And in my opinion, I am far away from extreme glorification - although I have often been accused for that.

The Jewish philosopher Aaron David Gordon (1856-1922) thought that man connects himself with the land by working it. In his work, he sketches a spirituality and creativity gained from connecting yourself to nature, and in a certain way to return to nature: "On that day, O Man, deep in your heart you will know that you had been wandering until you returned to Nature. For you did not know life. A different life, a life not ready-made, a life to be experienced in preperation and creation - that life you did not know." (Excerpt from: Logic for the Future) What do you think of this idea? In what way do you connect with your surroundings?

I must admit that I have not heard of this philosopher, yet. Obviously, it is not just a typical Germanic belief. But for the old Germanic belief, this was the most important spiritual perception. Firstly, you have to live in harmony with nature accepting it and struggling with its odds. And secondly, you realize that you arise from it, are part of it, and finally return to it. I cite from a German song that came in my mind right now: Earth creates, earth takes away, German holy earth preserves us, has born us, we belong to it, faithfulness, eternal faithfulness announces the banner...

If I understand correctly, you lived in Belgium and the USA for a time. How has this experience influenced your view on your own living environment?

My "travel" through Belgium and the US inspired the album Heimat & Jugend which is a reflection of this stay and my experiences - always related to the history of Germany. The album has been published after I returned and I placed a quote by Hermann Hesse in the digipack which says: "The one who returned back home is a different person compared to the one who always stayed at home." It would really go too far to mention all the little things which changed and which did not. A general achievement is, that this travel provided a different insight to the world, and that I fell in love with Germany again. Not the insane and desperate love of someone who loves the one and only thing he owns - but the self-confident love of someone who has chosen this one thing amongst thousands and who would still love it if he leaves it back behind.

What can we expect from Darkwood in the future? Are you already working on new material, and do you have a tour planned?

After the really hard and exhausting work on Notwendfeuer, I guess I will have a creative break for this year not to proceed in the same manner and style. This is actually what I always did. In those breaks, I am of course not lazy. Besides traveling and re-activating friendships after being locked in the studio for half a year, I will answer interviews and try to focus on label work which basically means collaborating with people or contributing to other albums.
I did quite a few guitar parts for the new Voxus Imp. LP "Myrikvidi" which is out already on Eis & Licht. Apart from that, I am working on the second collaborative release after the "Secret Lords" compilation which will be published on Heidenvolk as HV11. This will be the new studio album of the brilliant American neofolk project In Ruin - a name one should remember. Their album will be entitled "A Ghost to be Forgotten" and brings very personal and darkly emotional neofolk music with guest appearances of Kim Larsen (Of the Wand & the Moon), Isaac Aubrey (The Arid Sea), Catonium, and Darkwood.
There is no particular tour planned for now. We have been talking about giving some concerts in Europe together with another band but nothing is settled, yet. I actually prefer to play at festivals and I have a couple of requests but I cannot name any at the moment which are for sure. The reason is that I don't really have a live line-up. The classical musicians I record the albums with are friends of mine who I see like once or twice a year. They have too many commitments to find the time to play Darkwood concerts. Usually, I collaborate with musicians of other neofolk bands and with people I know from times when I used to play electric guitar in several strange bands. But I will announce everything on our website as soon as anything is settled.

Thank you very much for answering our questions! Do you have anything to add to the interview?

Well, at this point I want to take the opportunity to thank you for your questions - and your patience to wait so long for my answers. I also want to thank all readers for their interest in our work and our path. Hope to meet you at a concert one day.