Behind the mystery of existing – Interview with ’Crooked Mouth’

Welcome to the Dark Folk Nation blog ’Crooked Mouth’, I am truly happy to host you here! How’s it going?

Hello, thanks for your interest! I am trying to make the best of our current world-situation, and how I’m doing that seems to vary with each passing day and week.

Firstly would you like to give us a little summary of ’Crooked Mouth’ – where are you based? When was the project born? Who’s involved?

Right now I am based in the central region of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada, though I have lived and made music in many areas in this general region of the world. The project was born on the shores of an obscure northern lake called Lake Babine in the winter of 2011. Living far away from human settlements in a harsh winter brought me my first glimpses of spiritual communion through first learning to “read the script of nature,” and this is what I wanted to express through my music.

I am the only constant member, but I have had a rotating cast of characters join me through the adventure over the years. We have managed to create our own tiny community of dark folk weirdos here in southern BC and there is a lot of cross-pollination between our bands. Some other musical projects with ties (through sharing members who’ve worked with me) to Crooked Mouth in one way or another are Night Profound, Headstone Brigade, Tithe, and more recently, Kinit Her.

What kind of basic influences does your music have?

There are many! Some of the early ones were English folk rock bands of the 70s, a group from Quebec called Harmonium, Gordon Lightfoot (the two artists who inspired my use of a 12-string guitar) as well as the Cascadian dark folk underground circa the 00s; Fearthainne, Alethes, Novemthree, River, Chet Scott’s work, and more. A little later I would get inspired by European and American neofolk from the 90s to contemporary times, as well as the spiritual and folk musics of many traditions and ethnicities.

It seems that you have been releasing music since 2018. Has your sound changed during the years?

Since 2012 actually. I’m sure it has, but I would leave the specifics up to the listener to judge. In my own opinion my songwriting and general album-making skills have gotten much better, but the spirit out of which I started creating back then hasn’t changed, its just been refined over time. I have recorded all of my music myself, in home-studio situations, and am self-taught. The single time I have been in a professional studio ended up with tracks being lost and never recovered, so I prefer to do it myself be in total control of my own process. I have also found reliable friends to help with the more advanced aspects, such as final mixing/mastering and other audio sorcery.

What kind of instruments do you use for writing music for ’Crooked Mouth’?

I write almost all of the songs with acoustic guitar (a 12-string has been my primary instrument for many years now), but I also have a fairly large collection of instruments that dabble in and use to colour my recordings. A few of them being: harmonium, cittern, a children’s glockenspiel, bodhrán, some large frame and tom drums, a beat-up zither, various percussion bits, a trombone from my childhood etc… My latest purchase just a few weeks ago is an old Italian accordion, which I am enjoying learning very much, and look forward to incorporating into new work. Often I bring in friends to play instruments which I can’t, such as Lillian Liu playing violin on a few releases, and my cousin playing drums on the Coastal album.

What about what kind of themes inspire you to write songs?

The mystery of existing as a human being in an ever-evolving cosmos. That is it in the largest sense possible. There is no experience or topic that is off-limits to me, but as someone who has a mystical bent and the drive to create an aesthetically coherent statement through my work I must constrain myself to certain limitations. I purposely don’t just write songs about things or concepts that I have previously decided on as subject matter. Every song has a touch (or more) of my personal life in it, though I often hide it deeply, and purposefully. In some way they become talismans charged with the energy of a certain time or feeling. The objective is not to wallow in egoism, but to raise the personal experience up into the spiritual world, the cosmic, or the universal, and in that way be able to open two-way communication between us.

You have just released a collaboration album with Headstone Brigade – would you like to tell us a bit about the release? How was the idea born? How did you work with the release?

Egan of Headstone Brigade and I first met because of our connection through our mutual label, Brave Mysteries. He is based in Seattle, and at the time, I lived in Vancouver, a three-hour drive away. Egan would often be up here at concerts, and we played together for the first time at the release-show for my Decay record. Soon it seemed like every time Crooked Mouth performed in Vancouver, it would be Crooked Mouth and Headstone Brigade on the bill. In 2019 we played several times together in various locations and did a small tour together in the summer, which was great fun, and where we’d join each other on stage for one song from each band. Kevin, the absolutely brilliant cellist who plays on the new album, was with us for those times too. Finally at Yule 2019, in a small shed, packed shoulder-to-shoulder with audience members, we played together again for the 5th or 6th time that year, and decided, “we need to do an album together.” So it would be.

The lockdowns hit and both Egan and I were anxious to do something with our time to stay sane and we decided to start this album, first with a few songs that were “leftovers” (didn’t fit the atmosphere of our full-lengths, etc.) and such, then writing some new ones. I think it turned out to be remarkably coherent considering how it started and the conditions it was created under. We recorded everything in our home studios many hundreds of kilometres apart and actually haven’t played any of this material in the same room as of yet.

I, Voidhanger, a label that does not usually release this style of music, was kind enough to take a chance on us and will be releasing the album on March 19, almost exactly a year since we started laying down the foundations.

Do you play live shows?

Yes. My last concert was at the Mėnuo Juodaragis (MJR) Festival in Lithuania in August. I was somehow able to make it there amidst the pandemic and it was a fantastic and life-affirming experience. I have played this material live since around 2014 or so. I perform solo, stripped-down versions of the songs, other times I have a backing band, and a few times I have played ambient/ritual sets that involve playing multiple instruments through a looper to create a soundscape.

What are your plans for the near future for ’Crooked Mouth’? What can we expect to see or hear?

Well, with a lack of chances to play live I will just be working on more new material. I have a few things coming up that I can only tease… a cover song on a tribute album to a very well-loved neofolk artist… playing guitar on the new album of a group I’ve listened to as a fan for years… and also a split release with a Polish forest-dwelling friend.

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

The world would be a better place if more people listened to and understood the truly magical music of Romowe Rikoito.

You’ll find Crooked Mouth’s music at:

https://i-voidhangerrecords.bandcamp.com/album/crooked-headstone

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