On the back of last year’s acclaimed albumDamnatio Memoriae – and having just released 10-year anniversary compilation – My Silent Wake are finally threatening to enjoy the level of success many of their fans had always predicted for them. Now the atmospheric doom outfit have finally got something approaching a settled line-up, the band’s singer and driving force Ian Arkley tells ZT’s Paul Castles why the future is nowhere near as dark as their melancholic music.
ZT: This must have been a rewarding 18 months for My Silent Wake, releasing your 10-year anniversary album An Unbroken Threnody 2005 – 2015 fast on the heels of last year’s acclaimed Damnatio Memoriae?
IA: It has been. It has been nice to get some recognition for the past ten years. A lot of reviewers are hearing us for the first time with the compilation and have been pretty complimentary. I think because of being on small labels, we have often been overlooked. We had turned slipping under the radar into an art form. We recently signed with Imperative PR and they have helped by getting these two albums out to a lot of magazines and webzines. The band has been pretty busy for most of its lifespan, with lots of releases and a good few gigs (for a doom based band).
ZT: Had the anniversary release been in the pipeline for a while or has it been prompted by the positive reception, and interest in the band, built around Damnatio Memoriae?
IA: It was something I wanted to do for a while and with the ten year anniversary it seemed like a perfect opportunity. It was a lot harder than I expected and I mainly chose songs that we play live or have done in the past. There are only two tracks on there which haven’t appeared in the live set at some point. It would have been nice to have some longer songs on the CD but then it just lessens the amount of songs you can include.
ZT:How would you say My Silent Wake have evolved over those 10 years?
IA: Certainly a lot of changes. Things were fairly stable for half that period but then there were a lot of line-up changes for a while. Thankfully, no one has left for a couple of years now and we have the addition of my old mate Simon Bibby from Seventh Angel. Mike from The Drowning has played with us live on and off for about 9 years and has become a permanent member now. I am very happy with the current line-up and hope it continues for many years. The sound of the heavier songs has got slightly more extreme of late and we are continuing to record ambient/acoustic songs as and when. Because the band was a continuation of Ashen Mortality, we had already gone through a lot of changes and growing into the sound we started with MSW. I think I would have kept the name Ashen Mortality going if it wasn’t for the fact that it was something I had started with someone who had now become my ex-wife. Apart from her, the three other members who were playing in AM at the time, namely, Andi, Jasen and me, went on to form MSW. A lot of early MSW songs were written many years ago for AM. In reality as a continuation of AM, MSW has been going for 23 years but we underwent a name change. This is something a lot of people didn’t realise when the band came out and we often got compared to the early 90s bands as if we were some kind of tribute to them.
ZT: Has there been one particular theme that you’ve come back to over that time?
IA: The lyrics I write can be very personal so there tends to be a common thread there. For a while Kate wrote a lot of the lyrics as well but the songs on the compilation CD all have my lyrics. They are very important to me, just as much as the music, but often in reviews the lyrics aren’t mentioned. The old cliche about lyrics being cathartic is completely true and it gives the songs some extra weight that they are written about reality rather than fantasy.
ZT:You have recently recruited a keyboard player, Simon Bibby. How has he fitted in with the band and musically does the presence of a keyboard potentially offer new dimensions?
IA: Si took up bass in the late eighties to play in Seventh Angel. When we split, he took up guitar for his own projects and bands and then when SA reformed he remained on guitar. Now for MSW he has taken up keyboards for the first time and as ever he is doing a splendid job. He is very easy to get on with (as are all our band members). Si is very creative so has already come up with his own keyboard parts to existing songs and started to write new stuff. Unfortunately due to work commitments and living miles away, he can’t be at every gig but will be at the two London gigs we have coming up – Doom Over London and The Vision Bleak / Saturnus.
ZT:How has Simon’s presence on keyboard affected the dynamics of your stage show?
IA: So far we have only been able to play one gig with Si but the next three will have him there so time will tell. He has to stay at the back as he doesn’t have a posey 80s keyboard he can sling over his shoulder and prance around with.
ZT:My Silent Wake has more or less undergone a total makeover over the past couple of years. Are you hoping that the band will now enjoy a greater period of stability?
IA: I am hopeful and fairly positive this time. No-one has expressed any doubts about continuing and everyone seems enthusiastic. In the past, band members have mainly left due to other commitments and have remained friends. Most band members were friends prior to joining. Friendship in the band is very important to me.
ZT:The artwork around the anniversary album is very inspiring. It’s by Matt Vickerstaff who some people will know through his work with My Dying Bride, Mayhem and Autopsy. Have you known Matt for some time?
IA: Yes, we got in touch when he worked on our album A Garland of Tears. He has since done covers for many of our albums. He is great to work with, and has a lot of imagination. We have hooked up at an exhibition he did a few years ago and at Bloodstock so have spent a bit of time together. Very funny bloke and a great artist. The new cover looks fantastic in my opinion.
ZT:In terms of the songwriting process, has this changed much over the past 10 years or is the approach always the same?
IA: Probably hasn’t changed and is fairly haphazard. Most of the writing comes from individual sources and is then honed in rehearsals. Some songs are ideas we have put together in jams with a couple of members present. Lyrics can come first or afterwards.
ZT:How did it feel looking back on some of your earlier work when you were remastering songs for the anniversary album?
IA: Some songs I hadn’t heard for a long time and some songs that I wanted to include didn’t make it after listening with very critical ears. I am happy with the song listing. We may have done better, more epic songs or heavier songs than some of these but I think it gives an idea of the variety of MSW and there are some songs you can sing along to :). The album was remastered by Jeff Mortimer who mastered a lot of the songs in the first place and the bonus tracks were remastered by Addam, our bassist.
ZT:How difficult was it selecting the right songs, and who made that call?
IA: I did in the end but I did get input from others. It was very hard due to time constraints. I think we managed to get just under the absolute time limit for a cd.
ZT:There is a download code with the CD purchase of An Unbroken Threnody which gives access to a further two hours’ material. Were you eager to really put together an exhaustive package for your fans?
IA: Yes, we wanted to give value for money and for the album to give a very thorough overview which isn’t possible in 80 mins! There still isn’t a lot of acoustic stuff included but I plan to do a new acoustic compilation at some point.
ZT:The anniversary release is with Stone Groove Records – just tell us a little about the label and how you enjoy working with them?
IA: The label is run by Randy Michaud from the band/ambient project Troglodyte Dawn. I have known Randy since we released Shadow of Sorrow and we have been online friends for many years. He loves music and is very committed to the label and doing his utmost for the bands he puts out. He also does radio shows very regularly which often feature one or more of his artists. He is great to work with and a very easy going individual. The compilation was put out through Stone Groove and was a joint collaboration with Randy and Andi Lee, who used to be our rhythm guitarist before he moved to America.
ZT:You’re usually seen as being cut from similar cloth to the likes of Paradise Lost and My Dying Bride with beautiful melancholic moments albeit at times incorporating something of a serrated edge – Is that good and evil contrast a theme you return to?
IA: I do like contrast and variety in music and to bring some unexpected dynamics in from time to time. I have been very influenced by the bands you mentioned as well as a lot of other styles through the years. I think every song is just written on its own as an individual piece without too much thought as to style. This has always been pretty loose with us anyway and some individuals get very confused. We get some ridiculous YouTube comments, but who doesn’t? The first few songs on the comp don’t show us as being particularly doomy but this isn’t a concern for us.
ZT:Doom has enjoyed a renaissance of late. The newer bands, I’m thinking Windhand, The Wounded Kings, take things even heavier than some of the earlier acts such as Cathedral. What are your thoughts on how the genre continues to evolve?
IA: It is good that there are so many bands about. I think lots of sub-genre categorization can be a divisive thing but the spirit of the music is a lot more important. I personally like a lot of different doom bands rather than going for one type of sound and just because a band is doing a style I like, may not mean they click with me. The seventies revival has thrown up some good bands but some of it is fairly contrived, as in – let’s start this riff like a Sabbath one and see how we can make it sound slightly different but obvious where the influence came from. Doom should be from the heart man! Forget fashions and trends.
ZT:You’re performing at Doom Over London – What tour plans have you got beyond that?
IA: The gig with The Vision Bleak on the 16th April and on the 18th June we play in Holland for the first time since 2010.
ZT:Away from My Silent Wake, are any of the band members involved with any other significant musical projects at the moment?
IA: Gareth was with Amputated, the band he started many years ago, but have recently split. Mike is with The Drowning and Addam has his band Striga. Me and Si played in Seventh Angel up until 2012. The band hasn’t split, but we have no touring or recording plans in the near future. I also play in The Other Window and Attrition.
ZT:Just looking back at 2015, were there any live shows that particularly stood out for you?
IA: Yes, the gig in London with Draconian and Helevorn which was put on by Funeral of Mankind. It was a great gig, well organised and a good turnout.
ZT:Will you be venturing overseas much this year – I see you’re down to play The Metal Resource festival in Holland in June?
IA: Yes this is our only gig abroad booked up so far. We are on the books of a Dutch agency so we hope for more to come.
ZT:Many thanks for spending this time with Zero Tolerance – Can you see a 20-year celebration further down the line or do you prefer not to look too far ahead?
IA: I am too old to mess around with splitting bands up and restarting so would like to keep going with MSW until I decide to call it a day. I think with this band we can record even if we no longer play live. I could see us releasing some obscure ambient stuff to a handful of fans 30 years down the line if I am still about by then.
Thanks for the interview Paul. Thanks for listening to MSW.