Sopor Aeternus

 •  Posted in: Kogaionon Interviews

"BE TRUE. Because with every lie you murder some part of the world... as you are killing some part of yourself".

SOPOR AETERNUS has a history so impressive, even for an underground band, that there is no point of me insisting on it. It must be said though, that the Eternal Sleep or Sleep of Death was founded some 18 years ago, through the cooperation amongst two musicians that have met in a Goth club.

Varney and Holger have released a single demo, one that has drawn the attention of the newly borne Apocalyptic Vision label. Soon after, Holger leaves the band and one can say that, since then, SOPOR AETERNUS means Anna-Varney Cantodea ... and The Ensemble Of Shadows ... about 20 of years of mystery, delights, contradictions, contentions, rumors and gossip but a multitude of sublime albums that have changed the whole Dark Wave scene. Last year an album of an incredible beauty, "Les Fleurs du Mal" came about, while this year brings us its sister album "Sanatorium Altrosa"...

And all the inspiration faults from ache, isolation, suffering and depression...

After years of reading, documenting and trying to get in touch with this band, I have finally managed to find the enigmatic character that is otherwise hard to track down, hard to make unveil any sort of information, one that doesn't appear on stage, who prefers to live away from the spotlights... and still, in their very light, one can distinguish forms, outlines, provocative references towards an universe seemingly intangible for the natural world we live in.

The only link here is the music...

And so, we are slowly, figuratively penetrating into an abandoned castle, through an immense and heavy door, with creaking sounds that would awake the dead, we enter a sinister room, we light a few candles in a dusty chandelier, we sit at a big wooden table, with a goblet of wine beside us, and we try to contact Anna-Varney Cantodea, not through black or white magic, seances or occult invocation but... directly. 

Greetings from Romania, lets better say, from the Bran Castle! The legend makes connections with Dracula, this local Count which, through Bram Stokers book managed to shock an entire world. Do you have any desires in visiting this castle?

Not really, no.

It would be my pleasure to show you around...

Well, thank you. I might come back to that, if I ever happen to end up in your part of the planet.

What is your opinion on this theatrically developed Hollywood-like concept entitled vampirism?

Funny enough, just the other day I was watching a documentary about Bela Lugosi. His son is quite cute, actually. He's got a huge hooter though ...-but that's probably not what you wanted to hear, is it?
OK, vampires in movies ... hmm ... well, there are so many vampirefilm, most of them pure rubbish, if you ask me. However, there are a few good ones,  of course, and the first one that always seems to pop into my head is Kathryn Bigelow's "Near Dark". But by far the best and most adequate performance was given by Klaus Kinski in Werner Herzog's remake of "Nosferatu". The film itself is rather boring, if not to say crap, but Kinski's performance is absolutely brilliant. In fact, it's the only time that the Undead was portrayed the right way, revealing all the depression and desperation, which forms suh an essential part of this character.

Do you believe in vampires?

Oh, I don't have to "believe" in vampyres, because I already "know" of their existence. After all I have met more than just a few of them ...-and they really piss me off. Seriously. Not so much the blood-drinking kind, but those psychic parasites.

This is a first for you; the first time you are talking to someone from Romania. Or perhaps I am mistaken...

Umm, I am not sure. To be honest, I don't really care about what country people are coming from. That's of abslutely no importance to me whatsoever; which is why I tend to forget these things almost immediately. Where did you say you are coming from? Ah, no ... just kidding.

What do you know about this country, about what is going on around here, in this East that is actually the West for many Asians?

Absolutely nothing. Well ... except maybe ... though this is actually more of a feeling, but ... well, the more east you go-and Romania is very east from where I'm sitting-,the more homophobic people seem to be. But then again ...  the entire population on this planet is becoming more and more homophobic ...-which is quite a terrible and most scary thought.

You have many fans; there are a large number of websites made by them, for example, in many different languages... Is SOPOR a brand?

Hmm, I think you can say that, yes. I have never thought of it that way before though, at least not consciously,  but yes ...-I think, you are right.

Throughout the years I have found available on the market illegal copies of your albums, even digipack versions. Once with Alex's (Trisol) re-releasing some older albums, this current has probably become diluted.

No, not at all. Unfortunately there are still loads of illegal products on the market exloiting the SOPOR-brand ...-and it IS a brand as we have just learned. There are tons of t-shirts available, CDs ... even vinyl bootlegs. Someone once suggested that I should consider it simply a compliment that Anna-Varney and SOPOR AETERNUS have reached such a high status, that people actually take the trouble of manufacturing pirate-copies of my work. But I heard this I couldn't help thinking: "Oh really? Well, I'll remind you of that the day somebody breaks into your house and steals all your possession. Let's wait and see, if you'll consider that a compliment to your sense of taste for interior design too!"

However, the fight against the MP3s is practically difficult to be one. Having said that, there are positive outcomes relating to this, as now, you can listen to the new released materials prior to purchasing (and so you can decide if the music is worth to be bought). In the past, one would buy being guided by the feeling, cover and flair and perhaps after having read the reviews. Even if it could be interpreted as a lack of respect towards art and the artist, this MP3-like approach comes out victorious in the end. Is there an antidote?

Well, even in the past you could ALWAYS listen to the music before you bought an album. All you had to do was to go the record-shop and ask them to put in on for you. But I know what you mean, of course. For examle there has NEVER been any independent record-store where I lived, so I always had to travel to the big bad city for that ...-which I thoroughly disliked. But even in the 80s there were only one or two shops that had a halfway acceptable selection of "independent" (whatever that means these days) music ... and, of course, they both have closed down in the early nineties. It's a shame really. But, admittedly, even those shops sometimes had to order the LPs that I were interested in, which naturally meant that I was forced to buy them even if I thought they were crap. So, yes ... having the opportunity to pre-listen to an entire album (or just parts of it) via mp3 is just brilliant. I couldn't agree more. But unforunately it doesn't stop there, because humans are all liars and thieves by nature. For example: three days after "Les Fleurs du Mal" was released you could illegally download the full album from at least five different internet addresses. So, seriously ... I ask you: is that supposed to make me happy?

Thing is, it takes me at least one and a half years to create a album. And it is not just the music, it is the concept, the trinity of music, word and image. What I create is an intimate act of magick. But when people are reducing the beauty of it to a sheer consumer's product, being content with a cheap mp3-sound, never appreciating the effort and energy that has been invested into it ... then ... sorry, they don't seem to deserve any better ...-and it doesn't come as a surprise that this planet is dying.

What if I'd tell you that your music has now a visible melodic note, one that gets Goth-club-goers to dance? Does that bother you?

No, why should it bother me? It is a lovely thought that people are dancing to the music of SOPOR ...-though, admittedy, I find it hard to imagine ... and I wouldn't want to see it. It's just that old insecurity thing ... you know ... always believing that your own stuff is just never good enough ... for whatever. Silly, I know ... but still that's how I feel. Also ... I make music for headphones, not for dancehalls ... so, to me it would be like someone reading parts of my personal diary to an audience. Yes, it's a very strange thought ... but as long as I am not there to see it ...-go ahead. Have fun with it. 

I noticed that there are a large number of instruments contained within your music. Together with the keyboard, analogue synth, cello or violins, there are more and more obvious, expressive appearances of trumpets, clarinets, oboes and trombones; as well as that, impressive choirs, that harmonize perfectly with the bass, alto and tenor... while your voice continues to remain unmistakable, full of multiple modulations, of tremble, equally sad... but in truth, a sad happiness, dramatic... What does the future hold? What new instruments would be added? It seems as The Ensemble Of Shadows is getting a stronger hold on SOPOR, even when it comes to the voices! Is this how it should be?

Oh dear, where do I start?! OK, first thing: The Ensemble of Shadows has nothing to do with the musicians whatsoever. That is something people often get entirely wrong. The musicians are just guests, session-players that I rent in order to record an album. That's all. As for the instruments ... well, I have used brass, woodwinds and strings from the very beginning ... so there haven't been any real changes either. It was only with "La Chambre d'Echo" that I introduced a more electronic side to my music ... and for "Les Fleurs du Mal" I have made use of a choir for the first time. Appart from that things are rather consistent. But, of course, I do not know what the future might bring ...-if it going to bring anything at all.

I noticed that the electronic side of the music has gotten diluted after La Chambre... you really created some controversy amongst the fans with that orientation... I mean, it now seems that you are back to the origins, to the initial music, in a different form, of course, more bombastic, more complex...

Really? That's funny. After all there are still quite a few synths on "Les Fleurs du Mal", though not as many as on the album before. On "La Chambre d'Echo" the classical instruments served like the icing on a cake, whereas with "Les Fleurs" the synth are reduced to mere basslines, and ... as far as I remember ... the occasional lead. Here the icing is obviously the choir, yes. But it has nothing to do with people having disliked the electronical side of SOPOR. I am actually not even sure if they did, but even if so ... who cares?! However, I have to admit that I do feel a certain desire ... or rather need ... to return to certain aspects of SOPOR ...-something  you might want to use the expression "back to the roots" for.

The most homosexual thing... this is what I read somewhere about the album with references to Baudelaire... Although a reactive, provocative description, I find it interesting and suggestive... How do you see it?

I think that it's an absolutely lovely compliment when your albums is called "the most homosexual thing I have heard in years" ...-maybe I'll have that engraved on my tombstone ...-right next to: "Please, don't piss on the flowers, boys!").

With you, a new album isn't just about the conception phase, the rehearsal and the recording. It's also a new photo shoot. Isn't this continuous expression through photographs tiring (not necessarily from a physical point of view)? Like you would be a starlet that has to stay hours/days on end in front of a photographer that takes thousand of shots and picks only a few, representative... Or is Wolfgang Voglhuber patient with you? Do you like Vienna that much?

It's a common misconception, but unlike other bands or solo-artist, I am in full charge of the photo-sessions. After all, I am the one with the concept. So, any photographer is basically just a hired hand. They are here to serve me, because I don't want to be bothered with technical aspects when I am performing.
Wolfgang Voglhuber was hired for two photoshoots, "Es reiten die Toten so schnell" and "La Chambre d'Echo" ... and as for Vienna: I was only there because I was working with Joachim Luetke, who happens to live there. In therms of architecture, Vienna is a lovely place indeed ...-unfortunately all the pavement is covered in dog-shit. Quite disgusting, really.
It is true, however, that I do find the need to do photo-sessions rather tiring. In fact, I don't even like them. I suppose, mainly because the preparation for them is so damn stressful. Yes, it is not the session as such, that is usually fine once I am "in" it ...-but the preparation is a real pain.

How do you see "Sanatorium Altrosa", the sister album?

Well, it's a sister-release. It contains music from the same "period", mostly from the same session as "LES FLEURS DU MAL" ... but still it is an "entity" of its own.

Let us talk about this last album. Why wasn't it done at the same time with the previous one? There are songs, some instrumental, some remixed that can be found, in a form or other, on "Les Fleurs Du Mal" as well... What was the purpose of editing this album? It doesn't seem to be a conceptual one, but more like one that is meant to express a different side of the previous one. The dual personality, the concept of TWICE is manifesting visibly amongst these two makes as well?

Perhaps you do not know what it is like to record and mix an entire album. So let me tell you that this is really hard work. And we only had 30 days to do it! Which is a bloody miracle that I got that far at all! Once you have heard it, you'll hopefully realise that "SANATORIUM ALTROSA" has an entirely different vibration than "LES FLEURS" ...-even though some of the tracks are the same. And that's the thing about recording a SOPOR-album. It demands your full attention, and that means that you become one with its vibration. We did record most of those three extra-tracks in the "LES FLEURS DU MAL"-session as well, but they just sounded crap. Nothing like they do now. It is partially a vibrational thing, and partially also a matter of lacking studio-time. As a matter of fact, each time I have been in John's studio so far, I have always tried to record extra tracks for future projects, and it NEVER worked out! I always had to come back to it ...-always. Well, that should teach me a lesson.

What else should we know about Sanatorium Altrosa? Where is this military aspect coming from (from all points of view)?

What military aspect are you refering to? The snare drums? Oh, they are simply part of the music. They have to be there.

How is your collaboration with Alex Storm going? It seems he got a winning ticket with the offer he made you years ago...

Oh, go ahead, tell him! I think he needs to hear that from someone!

Have you received any other offers in the meantime, more tempting ones perhaps? Are you content with what he does for SOPOR?

I am never content. How could I possibly be?

As far as I know, you have no formal music education. Is that a handicap? Do you ever feel that? Do you have any desires to improve your aptitudes relating to this area?

Sometimes. But I am also the living proof that it is quite possible to compose absolutely brilliant music without a proper education.  So, don't give up, kids. If old Auntie Varney can do it, so can you. Come on, be creative!

Is suicide an act of courage or of cowardice?

That depends on the situation ... and also partially on what you believe comes after it. Like, let's say, you have been raised as a Christian ... or rather a Catholic ... and they have told you all your life that suicide is a mortal sin, and that you go straight to hell for it ... and still, despite all that, you commit it ... suicide I mean ... for whatever reason, perhaps thinking that all else is better than this existience here ...-well, I believe that does qualify for courage.
But actually this is a rather delicate and serious subject, and I really don't want to discuss it superficially. So let's move on, shall we.

What other musical projects do you intend to develop? Do you keep in touch with Constance? A new Nenia album?

Oh, dear ... definitely not.

Or perhaps the greatly awaited WHITE ONYX ELEPHANTS?

No, I don't think so. I only created WHITE ONYX ELEPHANTS in order to bridge the cap from the first CD to the "Todeswunsch"-album.

Are you up to date on what is going around the globe, with the power struggle, oil, armed conflicts, globalization... global warming, the environmental movements and the issues concerning animal rights? Do you find yourself in any of these issues; do they affect or influence you in any way?

No, I try to ignore all that as best as I can. It only depresses me. I am obviously not made for this world.

It seems like the morning is upon us, knocking at the doors of our castle. Dear Anna, thank you very much for the patience you required to answer my questions, a lot of them obsessed with finding something new, something intriguing.

I didn't winkle out much so far, especially as, I managed to peeve her now and then, yet she kept personal details for herself and more than that, irony had a special place within this dialogue... Certainly, she prefers not to uncover personal stuff and once again proved that any discussion with her must remain related exclusively to music ... at least for someone not having too much in common with Anna, except for the music. Maybe next time will show different... if there will be a future opportunity at all... Until then, I'll enjoy "Sanatorium Altrosa" and the T-shirt found in the boxset...

 

April 2008.
[The complete interview will follow in KOGAIONON 10 magazine]