Old tales from the solitary one – interview with ’Anhaga’

Welcome ’Anhaga’ to Dark Folk Nation and thanks for this opportunity to feature your music on our blog! Firstly let me ask how are you doing today?

Hi, thanks for having me. I’m doing ok, just anxiously waiting for the UK lockdown to ease so I can get back to spending time outside wandering the forests. 

What’s the story behind ’Anhaga’? How was the project born? Who’s behind the project? Where are you from?

My name is George Sykes and I’m a musician, sound engineer and instrument builder from the UK. Anhaga means “the solitary one” in Old English which seemed to fit well with this being a solo project rooted in history. I’ve been involved with music and sound in different forms for a long time and had been searching for the right musical outlet for a quite a while. The first spark for what became Anhaga happened when I was hiking alone in the Preseli Hills in South Wales. In the area where the blue stones originated, which were used in one of the earlier phases of Stonehenge. I started thinking about those ancient people undertaking such an overwhelming task of moving large stones over 100 miles to leave such a lasting mark on the landscape. I sat down on the hillside and wrote the lyrics to the song Blue Cliffs, and I found the musical direction I wanted to go in.

What kind of elements do you use in your music?

I use of a combination of acoustic instruments, like frame drums, bowed lyres/jouhikkos, blowing horns and flutes, with my own vocals as well as some sample driven synth instruments. I also have a background in woodwork, so I try to make as many of the instruments I use as possible. I find I’m much more connected to the sounds I’m making when I have used my own hands to shape the instrument I’m playing. I also like to use natural objects like stones, sticks and bones as well as field recordings of nature to fill out the overall soundscape. There is nothing quite like sitting perfectly silent in a forest while field recording just listening to the natural world.

What about how are your songs born? Do you have a specific way of writing songs or do you like to try out different methods?

I don’t have any tried-and-true methods for writing songs. Sometimes I start by just improvising with an instrument until something I like emerges, other times I can hear the tune or lyrics in my head before I start.  The main thing I aspire to do though is just let my guard down and see where ideas take me and try not to always conform to any preconceived notions of how things should sound, but that is often easier said than done. 

When it comes to lyrics do they have specific themes or storylines? What language do you use when writing songs?

I like to write songs that have a narrative of some kind and explore different aspects of human history. I do a lot of reading about the past and enjoy visiting ancient sites when I can, where I often just sit and contemplate all the footsteps that have walked over the same land for millennia. I mostly sing in modern English, but I am fascinated by older languages. This led me to singing the Lover’s Message in the original Old English, which took a while to get the pronunciation correct but I hope I did it justice.  I’d love to write something in some of the older Celtic languages too if I can.

It seems that you have released an EP lately called ’Sefan’. Would you like to tell us a little more about this release?

Sefan was the first release for Anhaga, and so was very much about exploring the kinds of sounds and themes I had been playing with, and the instruments I had been making, to find a tone I was happy with. Its themes stretch from the Neolithic monument builders, with Blue Cliffs, to Bronze Age attitudes towards death in Hearts Born New, through to the setting of the Old English Anglo Saxon poem, The Lover’s Message, which tells the story of lovers separated through circumstance. Sefan is an another Old English word which means heart, spirit, or mind, as can be found in the poem The Seafarer, “All these things urge him who is eager of spirit to travel” I wanted the EP to be very much in the spirit of exploring new things to see where the musical ideas I’d been thinking about for a while would take me.

 What inspires you most as a musician and a songwriter?

History and nature are my biggest inspiration for writing music. I enjoy reading about anything from the Neolithic era to the Viking era and most things in between. I’m always looking for that human connection to our past and our ancestors. We are all connected as human beings not only through our DNA, but through the natural world we inhabit and the human experience of emotions, of love and loss. Exploring the ways our ancient ancestors navigated these ideas, through their myths and legends, and the remains they left behind, looking for the differences and similarities to modern attitudes, I find to be a deep source of creative inspiration. 

Do you plan to do live shows at some point?

I would love to do live shows, but I think this is something for the distant future at this stage. To create the kind of sound I would like live will mean putting a band together, which I don’t have time for at the moment. But it is hopefully something for further down the road.

What is next for ’Anhaga’?

I’ve started working on the first album. I’ve mapped out the themes I want to explore, started gathering new sounds and planning new instrument builds. I’ve been doing a lot of research and some of the songwriting has begun. So I’m hopeful it will be done by the end of 2021, but don’t hold me to that.

Any wisdoms you’d like to share with the world?

Just to say look after one another and spend as much time in nature as you can.

You’ll find Anhaga’s music at:

https://anhaga.bandcamp.com/album/sefan

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