Old But Stylish: An Interview with Herald K

Describing his sound as folk-noir, singer-songwriter Herald K evokes strong echoes of Leonard Cohen with his haunting lyrics and melodies. His latest single, “Arethusa,” is a lush ballad that recounts the ancient Greek myth of the nymph Arethusa’s escape from the river god Alpheus. Like all of his music, it’s intelligent, moving, and above all honest, speaking of the human condition with warmth and passion.

I love the term “folk-noir.” Did you come with that? What does it mean to you, particularly the “noir” part?

I didn’t come up with it. The term already exists, but came into use pretty recently, I think. But even though the term is new, I don’t think of that genre as new really. Old would actually better capture it. Folk is old. And noir I associate with old-fashioned, like a Humphrey Bogart movie. Old, but stylish. And black & white, like the night tends to be, and sometimes inhabited by ghosts, who are of the past too. I’m sure lots of artists of the past would fit snugly into this genre…

And what draws you to noir?

It wasn’t conscious. Only after having created a bunch of songs did I realize that they were somehow loosely tied together: by shadows, blackness, whiteness, quaintness, ghosts, dramatic narratives. All elements that are kinda captured by that noir description.

I’m also curious about “Arethusa.” Can you talk a little bit about that myth?

Summed up, it is about a river that becomes infatuated with a water nymph. He pursues her, but she escapes, by transforming into a current of water herself.

Ever since I first read it, many years ago, it has been on my mind, for reasons I couldn’t quite fathom. The story seems to have so many mysterious elements to it: Water and currents, natural forces and transformation, masculine and feminine, harmony and struggle, youth, beauty, and old age…

How and why does a story like that still resonate today?

Most of those old Greek myths have a strong resonance. There’s just something about the way they express aspects of the human condition. I even think myths can be more resonant to people in a postmodern world , because they stir some profound something that isn’t available through rational description. They’re attractive to us. They tell us things we can’t find in our own time. This particular myth, ‘Arethusa’, tells us all this stuff about the male and the female, about desire, about tangible and elusive, and so on… Yet it leaves a lot to the imagination. Doesn’t give us the answers. Just a lot of food for thought. and also for the unconscious…

I suppose the same can be said of why folk continues to resonate through the ages?

I guess so. And there’s something about the form. It is recognisable and accessible and stirring in a way most members of a community can respond to. The togetherness that comes with that is the essence of folk, I think.

Your bio mentions that you used to want to write novels but that you eventually turned to poetry and songwriting instead. How did that change come about?

I decided it would be a good idea to first improve my writing skills by just practicing a shorter form, like poetry, for a while. I got quite into that, but realized it might be a whole lot easier to reach more people if I learned the guitar and changed my poems into songs. Then somebody suggested I sing them myself, and now that’s what I do. And I like it. Feels like I wanna keep doing it…

Curiously, there’s still something novelistic about your music. Characters abound. They have desires and motives. There’s rising and falling action, both in terms of the lyrics and the music. Any guesses where your seemingly innate interest in stories comes from?

I love reading a good story. And I love hearing a good story transformed into poetry or song. Maybe it comes from hearing bedtime stories and songs as a child? In any case, that has stayed with me ever since, through my interest in storytellers and character portrayers like Homer, Ovid, Bob Dylan, John Prine, Townes Van Zandt, just to mention a few. If you wanna learn about rising and falling action, you could go to any of them and find it.

For my own songs I’ve had great help on the instrumental side in strengthening those dynamics of my song narratives. Especially Stephan Steiner, who has helped me on many tracks, has an amazing way of suggesting those stories and their moods, whether it is with his violin, nyckelharpa, or accordion.

Your debut album, Strange Delights, is incredibly impressive. In addition to your own musicianship and singing, the additional instrumentation gives the proceedings an old-world texture. I’m reminded in some places of Bob Dylan’s Desire album. Can you talk a little bit about recording your album? Who played on it? Who produced? What were the sessions like?

I laid down my guitar and vocals first, in a kind of home-studio environment. Jürgen Plank, head of the indie label I’m on, helped me with that. The rest of the instruments were recorded later. For those later overdubs, I sent out some ideas and directions on what I was aiming for, and then the people I worked with just executed. I was really happy with what they all came up with! That all ran pretty smoothly. Then I did a bunch of editing and mixing myself, but with some pro help at the very end.

With me on that record were Stephan Steiner on violin and accordion, Katie Kern on telecaster, Othmar Loschy on harmonica, Toni Schula on mandolin and electric mandola, and Lina Louise with her voice. All living in and around Vienna. I guess each of them brought some of that old-world-feel with their styles and instruments.

How’s the new album, Mythologies, coming along? 

That one is coming along fine! All recordings are done. Only 6 more songs to master and then they are all ready. It will be an album of 10 songs in total.

Anything else on the horizon?

I plan to release some more individual songs during this autumn and winter, before the whole album comes out next year. Next one in the works is titled ‘Circe’, and is all about a witch! I also aim to step up my concert schedule and get into a good flow of live performances by the time the full record gets released…

Definitely something to look forward to! Thanks for taking the time to talk to me!

It was a pleasure! Thanks for having me around!

Oryctolagus Cuniculus: An Interview with Beth of Won’t Say Rabbit

Won’t Say Rabbit is a garage pop-punk from deep in the heart of New Jersey. Listening to the pair of tracks they currently have up on BandCamp and all the major streaming services, I’m picking up hints of ultra-cool 70s new-wave like The Runaways and Blondie mixed with a distinct 80s vibe. Over the years, the band has consisted of Brian and Tom on guitar and bass (and keyboards) respectively, and Beth on vocals. Drummers have included Frank, John, Billy, and Juan. I was curious to find out more about them, so I dropped Beth a line to see if she’d be up for an interview…

Earlier this year, you posted an image of the front and back cover of Won’t Say Rabbit’s CD from 1991. How long has Won’t Say Rabbit been together? Are you still playing?

Won’t Say Rabbit got together in 1989. We never disbanded, but we haven’t played any live gigs since 1997–yikes! We have all done musical projects individually, including writing new songs, playing and singing for fun, but we are just beginning to get back into our music more seriously in order to rehearse and record new material. Our goal is to release another album and play some reunion shows in time for our 35th anniversary in 2024.

Cool! Can you talk a little bit about the history of the band?

Tom learned to play keyboards as a child. In college, Tom became interested in punk rock music and gravitated towards bass guitar. Brian was about fourteen years old when they met while working at a restaurant called The Fireplace. At that time, Brian had just started teaching himself to play guitar. While Brian was learning guitar, Tom played bass in a band called Fragrant Moth.

When the band broke up Tom and Brian decided to form a band.

I always wanted to sing, it was my childhood dream. I sang in bands all through junior high and highschool. After college I put together a band called Vox Angelica that played gigs all over New Jersey. We released a vinyl 45 that got a bit of college radio airplay. However, by 1987 nothing was happening for us and Vox Angelica disbanded.

In June of 1989 Tom and Brian ran an ad in a New Jersey music paper called the East Coast Rocker. They were looking for a female singer and I answered the ad. They had all the music tracks recorded, so after rehearsing with them for a while, we went into the recording studio to add my vocals to the songs.

We released our eponymous CD in 1991, and once again, I was in a band that received a little bit of college radio airplay, but otherwise, crickets… We did play some gigs that Brian taped and I am currently putting videos from the shows up on our YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC4mm-iojo8aX4pGk8PnAQ2g

I’m also curious about the band’s name.

When we started we had a different name related to “Oryctolagus cuniculus.”* However, from the time the Internet started gaining popularity, up to the point where bands were using Myspace, we kept receiving less than happy messages from bands with the same name. We vowed never to say that word again or use it in a band name. We thought about it for 25 years and finally came up with “Won’t Say Rabbit!”

That’s awesome! What part of New Jersey are you from? What was the scene like when Won’t Say Rabbit was getting off the ground? Who were some of the other bands on the scene at the time?

The three of us are from Northern New Jersey. The year 1989 was all about Hair Metal Bands. Poison, White Lion, Guns n’ Roses, Bon Jovi, Cinderella, etc. were played in heavy rotation on the radio and MTV. I like all those bands, and just as with any trend, New Jersey was overflowing with musicians that wanted to look and sound like them.

How did being from that particular place in that particular time influence your taste in music and the sound of Won’t Say Rabbit?

The good part about living in North Jersey was the proximity to New York City. In 1989 we were able to drive into the city and see bands we loved like Stiff Little Fingers and The Ramones. The hippest New Jersey scene was in Hoboken where there was a well known club called Maxwell’s. We saw great shows there like Marshall Crenshaw, Wreckless Eric, and The Hoodoo Gurus.

For each of us, our musical tastes evolved much earlier. Tom loves punk and is influenced by X, The Damned, and The Buzzcocks. Brian is a fan of classic rock and says his influences are Cheap Trick, The Who, and Led Zeppelin. I grew up singing along with the radio. I love The Beatles and the fantastic girl groups from the 1960’s like the Ronettes, Crystals, and Shangri-Las.

Currently, your songs “Getcha” and the instrumental “Laryngitis” are available on Bandcamp and other streaming services. The track list for the CD includes eight other songs. Any chance those will become available as well?

Yes, we will be releasing all our songs eventually. For anyone who may be interested, you can follow us here: https://twitter.com/beth60910 , https://wontsayrabbit.bandcamp.com and https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC4mm-iojo8aX4pGk8PnAQ2g

As someone who’s been playing music since the 90s myself, I’ve seen a lot of changes in the industry and how people make and discover new music. Do you have any thoughts on that topic?

Let’s see, I’m older than you, but I bet you remember cassettes and vinyl. It was so much fun going to record stores and blowing your allowance on the albums or 45’s you really wanted to get. In fact, I was photographed in a record store, at an autograph signing session for Meatloaf when his album “Bat Out of Hell” was released. That picture appeared in the “East Coast Rocker.” (I lost the picture long ago, but sometimes I look on EBay to see if anyone has back issues for sale.)

That’s wild!

Regarding making and discovering new music, you can do it all at home now. When Won’t Say Rabbit recorded our music in 1990, we had to go into a recording studio. The music was recorded on reel to reel tapes and then mixed onto a D.A.T., which was sent off to Discmakers to be made into CD’s. Now you can use software to record a masterpiece from your bedroom and release it on the Internet to your fans.

For discovering new music, Twitter is AMAZING. That’s how I learned about your great music, The Star Crumbles, Matt Derda, plus the other terrific #Tweetcore musicmakers. There are so many people on Twitter who love to recommend different bands and songs to listen to. I’m really enjoying all that energy, creativity, and love of music.

Needless to say, I agree! Why do you think so much music of the 80s and 90s continues to have such staying power?

I think every generation has a certain level of nostalgia for what their parents listened to. Just like punk rock from the 1970’s harkened back to the music and fashions of the 1950’s and 60’s, young people today listen to music rooted in 1980’s new wave (or dark wave for the Joy Division/New Order fans out there,) and 1990’s post-punk, indie, and grunge.

Thanks for taking the time to talk to me!

It was an honor! Thank you for inviting Won’t Say Rabbit to be interviewed. I loved your thought provoking questions. I enjoy following https://twitter.com/marc_schuster #Tweetcore on Twitter and look forward to hearing your new music when it is released. In the meantime, I hope everyone watches The Star Crumbles documentary: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6B7mzXeCLOs . I know I certainly learned a lot about the band!**

*The Genus and species of rabbit!

**I swear I did not put Beth up to including these links… She’s just cool that way!

Plucking Melodies from the Ether: An Interview with J Peck

According to his bio, J Peck started writing songs at age ten when someone told him that he couldn’t. Though he describes his early efforts as “trash,” he’s progressed over the years, taking home a “One to Watch” award in the Lights and Lines Album Writing Contest for his EP Come What May, a collection of songs that deals, among other things, with the universal phenomenon of growing older.

You mention in your bio that you started writing music when someone told you that you couldn’t. Can you say more about that?

My  best friend wanted to be in a band probably because his uncle was in one and it was the 80’s. He was telling me all about it when the girl next to us in class said “You can’t JUST write music. You have to have talent.” Well, that offhand comment derailed my life. I can’t abide someone telling me what I can or can’t do. Though too be honest, the music I “wrote” at that point was just melodies that were partially ripped off of other songs I’d heard.

Do you find that being told “no” is a good motivator for you?

This has been an ongoing joke between Paul Bosco and I over the years. It’s not like spite is my only motivation, but it’s a strong one. Luckily, I suffer frequent bouts of crippling self-doubt so that keeps me from getting to uppity.

Would you describe yourself as a contrarian?

Yep, that’s probably accurate.

How has your songwriting progressed over the years?

I think my view of songwriting has changed. I used to feel like I was waiting on a bolt of lightning moment where the perfect melody and lyrics would come to me. Now, it is more a question of chipping away at a song.

Warning! Weird symbolism ahead: I used to visualize writing a song as catching a piece at a time from an ether of melodies, rhythms, and lyrics that were always floating through my mind. This led to songs that would have strange changes in feel from the beginning to end. It also led to songs that were unfinished for years since I need another bolt of lightning moment. I still pluck a melody from that ether, but now I stop at that point. I then treat it more as a sculptor would. The melody, like a stone, has a shape already. I simply need to chip away at it to reveal the true song hidden within.

Interesting! I know that the Lights and Lines Album Writing Contest took place in May, so I’m wondering if the title of your EP – Come What May – is a play on words.

Haha, yeah. I guess that was a little on the nose. I knew from the start that I wanted to incorporate May in the album in some way. It all came together in the last three days of the month when I started writing the last track “Waiting on the Rain.” While I was writing lyrics, I wrote the line “I know that come what may.” So, technically the title comes from the very end of the last song on the album. The album starts with the lyrics “It’s Starting” and ends with the title of the album. I like the symmetry.

I like that! How would you describe the experience of recording an EP in a month? What kinds of challenges did you face? Were there any setbacks? How did you overcome them?

Writing and recording an EP in 30 days was not easy. At the start, I had grand ideas for an 8 song album that went through the lifecycle of a revolution. But halfway through May, I only had 1 song written. I woke up on the 14th ready to give up since it was impossible. I talked myself out of it but I was very close. I even posted about it on the Album Writing Club’s forum:

May 14 2022

I’ll be honest. I want to give up.😔 

I was laying in bed this morning defeated, a little hungover, and thinking “there is no way I will finish this album.” I laid in bed for another 30 minutes thinking these thoughts (very productive). Then something I’ve told my children time and time again came to mind.

“Most people never even show up.”

Challenges I faced? Let’s just say Murphy’s Law was in effect.

  1. Since I don’t have a studio and just record in my living room, I had to record around my family’s schedule. Everyone had to be silent for hours while I recorded.
  2. In the last couple days of the month, I was forced to set up my car as a mobile recording studio. I parked in a Target parking lot, set up my mic and laptop in the car and recorded vocals from until 1 am on 2 different nights.
  3. I also ran into issues with my guitar not staying tuned, so I was forced to tune my guitar between every take.
  4. On the last day while finishing mixes, I could not find the vocal takes for “Waiting on the Rain”. I thought that I’d forgot to save the track while recording in my car, but found the mix a couple days later saved in a file name “car 5-31.”

You won the “One to Watch” award in July. I imagine the temptation to release the EP immediately must have been great. Why did you wait?

Two reasons:

1. I was hoping to win the record contract. If I had, I wouldn’t have needed to mix and master the album myself. I hate mixing and mastering. But when I didn’t win, I was stuck with a lot of work that I put off. So, the album was delayed.

2. I wanted to make sure that the release date was at least a month in the future so that I’d have time to properly promote the album before its release.

What have you been doing in the meantime?

Mixing and mastering the album. Creating album art and an album booklet with lyrics, photos, stories, etc. for anyone that buys the album on Bandcamp. I’ve tried not to work on too much new music though, I’ve written a song or two.

Do you ever get a chance to play live?

I miss playing live. Due to Covid, I haven’t played a show in years. I have some medical issues that I need to be careful about and as of right now I have no plans for playing in public. I am hopeful that an opportunity will arise for some outdoor shows that I can feel comfortable with this year.

What’s on the horizon for you?

I have about 6 songs that I’ve recorded for Blowup Radio’s Songwriter Challenge (Challenge: They provide a writing prompt and give 2 weeks to finish a song). Plan is to clean up those recordings and release another EP in 6 months or so. Tentative title is “2 Weeks at a Time”, though I hope to come up with something better. Bosco and I also have a handful of songs that we have written that we may get a chance to release in 2023.

Nice! Thanks for taking the time to chat with me!