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!