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Michael Cashmore - The Snow Abides

There's a fragile beauty to the work of Michael Cashmore on The Snow Abides borne from delicate piano scores, complemented by lush arrangements from a small ensemble of players, and the heart-stopping voice of Antony Hegarty, with his first major clutch of new material to see the light of day since walking away with the Mercury award for I Am A Bird Now, his second album with the Johnsons.

The Snow Abides compares favourably with last year's Sleep England, Michael Cashmore's first release under his own name. It's stark guitar compositions lost in a hazy reverie for a forgotten England - that may or may not have ever existed. Now resident in Berlin, Michael Cashmore, the main guitarist and composer for Current 93 since 1990, continues to tap into this English melancholy with a stunning 5 track CD EP, that eschews the dreamy electric guitar compositions that formed Sleep England. 'My Eyes Open' the first track here begins with solitary piano notes, gently swelling into a graceful evocative melody supported by a small string section who bring a warmth and a sense of yearning to the proceedings. It's disarming in its singular beauty.

Antony makes his first of three appearances on the title track. His soft soul swoon imparts the beguiling poetic imagery of David Tibet (who provided the lyrics for the three songs). The complexities of the lyrics partly reflected through split-channel and multi-tracked mixing, at odds, with the plaintive piano melodies. And while the piano based compositions recall the structures of Current 93's Soft Black Stars a more apt comparison would be Antony and the Johnsons ensemble version of that album's title track, that appeared on his I Fell In Love With A Dead Boy EP. David Tibet, naturally, inhabits his words so completely, filling them with conviction and pain, whereas Antony, with his vast soul-swoop transforms Tibet's earthbound lyrics with such apparent effortlessness he sends them heavenwards. 'How God Moved At Twilight' is the centrepiece of the album, Antony's voice rich and tempered over gentle piano score seeking out its emotional nuances, as lush passages of cello and oboe surround, adding a haunting serenity to the inherent melancholy. 'Your Eyes Close', Antony's final contribution to The Snow Abides is a beautiful but understated moment where over delicate piano chords, Antony quivers, quavers and harmonises with imagery in the hinterland where sleep ensues, before a short ensemble piece gives way to piano chords. The Snow Abides ends on the instrumental 'Snow No Longer', a meandering piano based track that slips into the ether amidst a short flurry of bells and chimes.

For years now Michael Cashmore's work as a composer has been underestimated. His contribution to Current 93 has been remarkable, adorning the obsessions of David Tibet with moving and evocative guitarwork. His previous releases under the name Nature And Organisation, specifically Beauty Reaps The Blood of Solitude which marshalled the talents of Douglas P., David Tibet and Rose McDowall remains one of the finest examples of what that has become known as "apocalyptic folk". Yet his musical career outside of Current 93 has been beset by problems. Death In A Snow Leopard Winter, the second Nature And Organisation album was shelved as a result of personal issues, eventually appearing in a skeletal based piano form. Even this release was recorded between 1999 and 2001, with Antony's vocals being recorded days after the Current 93/Antony and the Johnsons performances at the Bloomsbury Theatre, London in 2001. The Snow Abides is such a beautiful release it can only strengthen his profile. That it's take six years to appear is almost criminal, so don't let it slip unnoticed. It's one of the best releases of the year. Don't stop there though start scouring eBay or whatever for his work with Sorrow, Fire + Ice and Death In June, and of course those out-of-print Nature And Organisation releases

We've been long time admirers of Michael Cashmore's work with Current 93 and as Nature and Organisation, and his varied extra-curricular work with Death In June, Sorrow, and Fire + Ice so we're more than pleased to present this interview with Michael Cashmore.

i) Could you provide a brief history of your musical career up to The Snow Abides?
I started playing guitar when I first became interested in music as a punk in 1977. A few years later I got into TG and PTV and started experimenting with tape recorders and super 8mm film. Around this time I made a few live performances with a friend and a few recordings, this is when I first used the name Nature And Organisation. I first got in touch with David Tibet in the mid-80's and we recorded the track 'Hooves' in '87. I then became a member of the group Current 93 in 1990, with whom I've worked with ever since. Apart from my work with Current 93 there have been a few sporadic releases as Nature And Organisation, and in 2006 I released my first proper solo Michael Cashmore album Sleep England, which was followed in 2007 by the mini-album The Snow Abides.

ii) Could you provide some background on your latest release The Snow Abides? Was it a conscious decision not to use Tibet as vocalist? How did you hook up with Antony? Why did it take so long to appear?
I met Antony in 1999 in New York, he was a fan of Current 93's music and came to a show that David and I were giving at a venue called The Tonic - he gave David a copy of his then unreleased first album. I was just in the process of beginning to record an album and the following year I asked Antony if he would be interested in doing vocals for a few tracks. I sent him some of the music I'd been working on and the next time he was in London we went into the studio and recorded vocals for three tracks with lyrics that David Tibet had especially written. For this album I thought a mix of some tracks with Antony and some with Tibet would work really well, I'd started trying to write lyrics of my own for the first time, some of which David recorded for the remaining tracks on the album. In the end I had a full album of music with 3 tracks featuring Antony, 5 or so tracks featuring Tibet, and a few instrumental tracks that completed the musical cycle.

The problem I ended up with was that the lyrics I wrote for David to sing sounded pretty weak in comparison to the lyrics David wrote for Antony; the tracks didn't really sit well together at all. For a long time I left the album without really knowing what to do with it, every six months or so I'd listen to it and knew that I couldn't release it all in the form I had. So eventually in 2006 I just sat down and put together a CD of the parts that I did like and was content with, and after some consideration and editing this became the final version of The Snow Abides.

iii) Guest vocalists feature prominently in your work: Douglas P., Rose McDowall, David Tibet and now Antony. If given the opportunity who would be the ideal vocalist you would like to work with?
Interesting question...I don't listen to much music so I don't really have this great burning ambition to work with so many people. I love the music of Bill Fay and I recently had the chance to work with him on a track, he really is the person who immediately springs to mind. I wish I was able to perhaps work on an full album with him, but I love his work so much that I'd be equally happy just to have the opportunity to own a new album from him.

iv) How did you come to work with David Tibet as part of Current 93? What it's like working with David Tibet? How does the process of composition differ between Current 93 and your solo work?
I first got in touch with Tibet in '86, we started talking by phone and got on really well together. We recorded the track 'Hooves' for Nature And Organisation the following year, and then in 1990 he asked me if I'd be interested in playing a show for Current 93 in Amiens (later released as the album As The World Disappears).

Working with David is often pretty straight forward - I go to the studio, lay down the basics for some tracks, and then David adds the vocals over the top. Often I record music composed from my own thoughts, or sometimes David may give me a piece of text to use as inspiration, or sometimes a piece of music to adapt. When I'm working on a solo release I have much more freedom to do what I want, to develop things in the way I want to, whereas with Current 93 I often make the basics for tracks and then other people may add other parts which sometimes I think compliment my music, and sometimes not. Working within a group framework always involves a lot of compromise...

v) Black Ships Eat the Sky or Black Ships Ate the Sky?
Black Ships Ate The Sky. I'm not really keen on mutiple versions of things. For me being an artist is all about making decisions, this is what I want to do, this is how it sounds. Some of the tracks from this album have already ready been on four or five different releases. I guess you can justify it artistically, that it shows another "facet" of a track or album, but I personally don't like the thought of people buying the same track over and over. I think there are more than enough talented people involved in Current 93 to just make new things.

vi) What specifically prompted your statement on My Space regarding your role in Current 93? Do you think your role within Current 93 is underestimated?
Well, when I moved to Berlin in 2004 I really wanted to concentrate more on making music, to make as series of solo albums as well as working with Current 93, and to see if I could also earn a little money from music for the first time in my life. I began using a computer for the first time, and from things I read over the internet it became immediately apparent that I was underestimated in the history of Current 93. Often I was never mentioned in biographies of the group, or if I was included then it was just in peripheral terms, which I found strange considering that I have written most of the music for the group during the last 16 years. Because David has always credited the music of Current 93 albums to the group Current 93, and he has stated that he alone is the group, then I guess that people presume that David does everything, that he writes the text and the music, which is understandable but at the same time ridiculous considering that he doesn't play any instruments or write music.

Since I joined the group back in 1990 I'd only ever been involved because of my wish to try and make worthwhile and beautiful things, I've never received any proper royalties at all from the music I've written for Current 93 or the albums I've made for the group during the last 16 years, and at the time it was never really of any concern to me if I was even credited properly on the records or not. But in the last couple of years when I really wanted to also make my own albums, I found myself in the situation that it was a disadvantage that people weren't actually fully aware of my role in Current 93, of the music and things I've done in the past, as this makes it very difficult when trying to generate interest in the solo recordings I wish to make.

The statement on Myspace was to try and put some of this right, to help make people aware of the music I've written. I simply want to be able to make records in the future, and to do this I really need to be able to sell at least a small amount of records to make it viable, even though I'm aware of the fact that it is too late because the damage has already been done.

vii) Your compositions fluctuate between guitar and piano. Why do you separate them and what's your favourite method of composition?
I've been playing guitar so long that all of the chords and notes on the fretboard are so familiar to me that I already know their sound before I play them. Piano is different, I have no musical training, and no training on the piano so I don't know any of the names of the notes or chords on the keyboard. So for me piano would really be my favourite tool for composition at the moment, I can put my fingers on the keys and just work with the sounds that come out, it's much fresher for me than using a guitar. I don't have a piano to use right now, but maybe sometime in the future I'll have the opportunity again to have one.

viii) Much of your music is imbued with a feeling of melancholy, and reminds me of England. Would you agree? Is sound and atmosphere important to you?
During a lot of my adult life I've had long periods of depression and loneliness, so it's only natural that my music would totally reflect this. I've never wanted to make miserable things, I've tried to use melancholia to make poignant and beautiful things. Luckily times have changed and now I feel much more balanced, more content in my life, I'm not really making music right now but if I did it would certainly reflect this change I'm sure. I think that there probably is an "Englishness" to the music I make, I think there has to be as it should be a true reflection of me as a person. With the wave of "American weird folk" or whatever it's called there are so many English artists happily jumping on the bandwagon of sounding American and playing cliched cheesy guitar music...But in the end why not, lots of people are easily fooled by such things.

ix) What are your key influences, music, art or otherwise?
I don't really listen to music these days. My key influences don't really come so much from an artistic standpoint, just more from everyday things, from people, my family and friends, relationships, trees, the streets where I live, just the same things that everyone experiences.

x) Besides your considerable work with Current 93, your releases as Nature And Organisation has been slight and beset by problems. I'm thinking of the shelved releases: Hooves, Death In A Snow Leopard Winter. Would you care to comment?
I think my main problem over the years has probably been a lack of confidence, that I didn't really feel capable of doing good things, doing things that people would want to hear. Depression has also been the strongest restriction against producing other reason is simply that I've often never been able to afford studio time, I've never had the backing of a proper label as such, so I've had to find the money to pay for studios myself which has meant that output has been pretty limited unfortunately.

xi) Beauty Reaps The Blood of Solitude remains one of the finest examples of "apocalyptic folk". What are your thoughts on it now and the time period when it was recorded? Could you comment on your work with Death In June, Sorrow and Fire + Ice?
I haven't listened to that album for a long time, but the last time I did I was surprised how good the instrumentation and composition sounded, I think the overall album fits together really well. I think I've grown up a lot since making that record, it was a long time ago and my life was much different then.

Working with DIJ, Sorrow and Fire + Ice were all fun things to have been involved with and I think it produced some really nice works. I always enjoyed working with Douglas P. ever since we both worked on the Current 93 album Thunder Perfect Mind, he has a really dry sense of humour, I used to laugh a lot! Working with Rose is wonderful, she has a beautiful voice and again she is someone that's a lot of fun to be with. The last record I did with Fire + Ice, Birdking, was really enjoyable as I was virtually left to do as I wish, we had a few days recording so I could put down the basic tracks and layers, and then I mixed all the tracks I recorded for the album as well. It was so nice to have so much control over the tracks I contributed.

xii) What with the birth of your first child and the critical acclaim surrounding The Snow Abides, things appear to be going well for you. What are your upcoming plans? New Releases?
I'm not aware of any particular critical acclaim surrounding The Snow Abides, but I'll take your word for it! With a child priorities change, I really have to concentrate on just having a job right now and earning a living, so there's no opportunity for me to make music at the moment...But I'm hoping I may be able to come back to it sometime in the future.

xiii) There were plans to reissue Beauty Reaps The Blood of Solitude and a recording of an earlier live performance. Any news on these?
Maybe Beauty Reaps... will be reissued at the end of the year, but with little freetime to spare I am really reluctant to spend any of it on old things, I just desperately want to make new music.

Key resources:
Michael Cashmore
Jnana Records
Trisol - Nature and Organisation reissues including Beauty Reaps The Blood of Solitude available here