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With tenth and latest album 'This Was Death' now reviewed on site, it was time to rectify the fact that we've never actually interviewed My Silent Wake. Band founder Ian Arkley filled in the blanks for us...!

Interview with My Silent Wake.
"Hailing from the English West Country, My Silent Wake have amassed a lengthy discography - running an intriguing gamut across Gothic/Death/Doom through to Ambient/Experimental, with plenty of other elements along the way - since their formation in 2005. Although we've covered many of their releases, it struck me, whilst reviewing this year's 'There Was Death', that we'd never actually interviewed the band. Fortunately, it's always a pleasure to chat with founder Ian Arkley, and he was happy to address our omission with this look at the history and philosophy behind MSW."

Our guest for today, My Silent Wake's Ian Arkley (pictured wearing an official doom-metal.com T-shirt...!). Photo: R. Brunnekreef.

Hello Ian, and welcome to Doom-metal.com. Thanks for talking to us! It's a bit of a surprise that we've never interviewed My Silent Wake before, so I guess perhaps we could start with a brief introduction?

In a nutshell: We formed 2005 in Weston-super-Mare; have released a fair amount of material; have a broad range of influences, a complicated history and our output has varied considerably!

And how are things in the My Silent Wake camp at the moment? What have you all been up to recently?

We had to cancel a few gigs due to poor health on my part but we have done two this year. We are hoping next year will be busier. The new album has been well received so far which has been nice - thanks for the great review Mike! We have a new member this year in Dave MacLean from Irony of Christ.

The current My Silent Wake line-up: Gareth Arlett (Drums), David MacLean (Guitars), Addam Westlake (Bass), Ian Arkley (Guitars, Vocals) and Simon Thomas Bibby (Keyboards). Photo: Andrew Spencer.

It's been quite a long trip for you, starting with Seventh Angel back in the '80s - how did you get into the whole extreme scene to begin with? What was your musical background and most important formative influences?

By the time SA formed around '87, I had been seriously into music for about five years, starting with Saxon, Adam and the Ants, Sabbath, Zeppelin, Floyd, Maiden, Priest and others. I started listening to some death metal and thrash metal and more doom and it was all an influence on what I was writing at the time. SA started as trad metal and got more thrashy and doomy as time went on. We had a review for our first demo in Metal Forces which mentioned a thrash element to our sound and I think we wanted to go more in that direction. It was really a desire to get heavier. SA reformed about ten years ago and the albums have recently been re-released including the one we did in 2009. For those that haven't heard of the band it was a thrash/doom band from Halesowen in the West Midlands. The last album was more doom/death.

Seventh Angel originally folded in '93, and you moved on to Ashen Mortality. What was the story there, and how different was your approach to material between the two?

I wanted to form a doom band and was listening to a lot of Trouble, Candlemass, Paradise Lost, MDB etc. SA were heading that way anyway, but I felt like a fresh start and formed the band with my partner at the time. Some of the early AM songs were modified SA songs for an album that never happened. It was a strange time all round and we had recently spent some months playing in Holland. We should have carried on with the band but when you are young you do stupid things. Actually, not just when you are young.

You worked with a couple of bands overseas - Australia's Paramaecium and Century Sleeper in the US. How did those come about, and how did you work on the collaborations at the time?

Andrew of Paramaecium was a fan of SA and I was a fan of Paramaecium and somehow we got in contact and made an album together. I think he rang me from Australia one day which was quite an impressive thing at the time. We worked out a plan and soon after he came to the UK for a practise and writing and I went over there to record my parts for 'A Time to Mourn'. Also, by this time I had recorded the second AM album. Century Sleeper was a bit different as it was a project rather than a full band. It started around the same time as MSW and in a short space of time I had recorded debut albums with MSW, CS and The Other Window. James was in Visionaire who I liked and we worked out the songs via sending each other demos and after a while, I went to Seattle to record in his house. I can't remember how we first got in touch. The Paramaecium album was also recorded in a house (Andrew's), or at least my part was. I never met the drummer on the album, who was Andrew's cousin and we never played live together. I am still in contact with James and Andrew and have seen Andrew a few times since the recording when he has visited the UK. I would like to work with them both again, I would like to do more Seventh Angel but there is so little time.

My Silent Wake, in 2005: Ian with Andi Lee (Bass) and Jasen Whyte (Drums). Photo: Sarah Southorn.

And so, in 2005 came My Silent Wake, formed soon after Ashen Mortality split up, but including some of the band members. Was it not possible to continue as Ashen Mortality? Did you feel you had to start off as a new band?

Only because I had formed AM with my partner, who became my wife, who became my ex and a new start was required. It was really more like a name change. We used some of the songs which I had written for AM and we were almost the same line-up. The band fluctuated over the 11 years it was together with a few members coming and going, especially in the drum dept. In retrospect it may have been beneficial to keep the name as by now we would have quite a legacy! There was also the fact that AM was classed as a Christian band and we didn't want that tag at all with MSW. We still do get tagged in this manner which is pretty bizarre these days.

You'd got plenty of experience by that point: as band founder, did you have a specific goal in mind for My Silent Wake? And how had your tastes and influences changed over the years - were you bringing any new ones to this new band?

Yes, it was less restricted to pure death/doom like AM was and we allowed whatever influences we wanted to pervade what we were writing. There was a lot more freedom and inspiration. We have mainly recorded death/doom albums but they have varied considerably and we have recorded albums that are completely non - metal. My tastes develop over time rather than change. I just add more influences as I go along. By the start of MSW I liked some black metal as well as the other extreme musical forms I already enjoyed. Also, around the same time I got into Dead Can Dance in a big way.

My Silent Wake - 'November' (Official, 2005):

For a Doom band of any sort, you've always been surprisingly prolific - even leaving out all the EPs, splits and shorter format releases, ten full-length albums in thirteen years is a lot! Do you have a particular method of working that facilitates this?

I think the key is that instead of doing offshoots of the band, we keep it all in-house. Recording ambient and folk is very different to recording metal and so lots of stuff can be released in a short space of time. I think I will be slowing down for a while now as in the past 13 years I have worked on over 20 albums and EPs with various bands as well as guest appearances. All this time I have had a full time job working various shifts. At nearly 50 you need to take time out.

As the founder, and only constant member, is My Silent Wake 'your' band, in terms of decision-making, or does everyone get a fairly equal say in what goes on? Has it always been that way?

We have always discussed things together and band members have been existing friends or people that quickly became friends. I am certainly no dictator, I will make some decisions and wouldn't do anything I wasn't fully happy with. I have only had a real issue with one member.

The first ten years of My Silent Wake releases.

I find it very impressive, especially given how many different people have contributed - as both band members and guests - to your back catalogue, that you've always seemed able to use that diversity as a real strength in creating quite distinctive and often very different albums. What's the secret?

No real secret. the flexibility in style means we can record what we want rather than what we feel is suitable or has a set sound. It makes for a lot more enjoyment and freedom but can confuse the listener. The band has always been more about feel and a love of the music and lyrics than showing off or trying to be something we are not.

And as a corollary, what determines how 'experimental' you want to be with any particular release? We've had everything from more-or-less pure Death/Doom albums, to completely improvised ambient and natural recordings, to plenty that shared elements of both - how do you balance those? Many bands would consider them different enough arenas to keep them entirely separate and even release them under different names: clearly you don't feel that's necessary or appropriate?

We could have done this but when we started the band with the freedom to create whatever we wanted it didn't seem neccessary. I like variety in music and I think a lot of our fans feel the same. You may not like a certain aspect of MSW and really like another and that is fine because we have released so much stuff! Each release starts differently. You know what to do if you are preparing for a metal recording as you practise everything to get ready to eventually record a set of songs as quickly as is practical. Experimental or folk releases tend to have been brought together from a variety of sessions, home recordings and totally non-rehearsed improvised stuff.

The band in 2010, with Kate Hamilton (Cello, Clarinet, Keyboards, Vocals) and Steve Allen (Drums). Photo: Jane Hamilton.

I guess in terms of line-ups, the biggest shake-up occurred between 2012 and 2014. What happened during that period? What would you consider the biggest differences between the pre- and post- phases of the band?

Actually the biggest shake up was initially around the end of 2010 when Jasen, Andi and Steve left. They all left for legitimate reasons and there was no acrimony whatsoever. They are all still my friends; It was just unfortunate that this happened in a short space of time. For a short while we rested and I was doing some gigs and recording with Attrition. The lineup fluctuated for a while and for the last few years we have tended to add new members rather than lose old ones. The exception is Mike Hitchen, who also plays in The Drowning; with a full time job and his band commitments it was time for us to find another rhythm guitarist and that is when Dave joined earlier this year.

Do you have a favourite release - or one which sums up the most essential qualities of the band - from each of those main periods?

I think The Anatomy of Melancholy is a stand out for me but I am happy with them all in different ways. I can also pick faults with them all - better to listen only occasionally! I am very pleased with the way the last one turned out and I think the hard work paid off.

My Silent Wake - 'Sturm' (Official, 2007):

Lyrics-wise, you tackle a lot of subjects across the spectrum from the spiritual to the political. What inspires you to write - and are you venting, protesting, educating or narrating both when you draw them up and when you deliver them vocally?

Probably a bit of all those things. Generally songs are written from negative experiences - we are a doom band after all. I find it helpful to me and I know others have found it helpful. There is a lot of honesty in the lyrics so they are very personal at times. I try to think about what I am singing as much as possible when I record, rather than just sing the words.

Do you have a general preference for making music - live, studio, rehearsal? What are the good and bad points of all of them?

A rehearsal is great for blowing off the cobwebs, gigs can be amazing or shit and recording is stressful at times but is a wonderful experience as well. I enjoy a really good gig or recording the most. If pushed I would say recording is the best thing you can do as it is lasting and reaches more people.

At Priory Recording Studios in 2017, with recording supremo Greg Chandler.

You've always made the effort to have your works released physically, even to the extent of crowdfunding some of the vinyl albums yourselves - something I for one very much appreciate. As an artist and a listener, are you firmly of the old-school 'real physical media' persuasion, or are you quite happy with download-only distribution?

I myself am very firmly in the old school camp in most ways! I prefer vinyl and I think our vinyl releases have been a highlight for me. I love to see the artwork full size and listen to music on vinyl. To me it sounds better but I don't like everything perfect. So far we have had five albums come out on vinyl. Two were crowd funded and the rest were on labels.

You must have some good - and possibly bad! - memories of live performances over the years. Are there any real stand-out moments or achievements in that department?

I have enjoyed many of the gigs we have played, especially festival gigs and gigs abroad. We have played some amazing venues and had a lot of fun. Playing three Doom over London fests has been great and the tour we did with the band In Vain in Europe. The last gig on that tour had a lot of stupidity going on, such as In Vain coming onstage when we were playing and feeding us cake.

Live in 2016. Photo: R. Brunnekreef.

How do you feel My Silent Wake gets treated by the music press, and all of the associated web-based social/shared media? Do you get the level of recognition, and appreciation, that you'd for? And when you do get coverage, is it generally fair and reasonable?

Yes it is generally fair. One too many references to MDB even on albums where their influence was at a minimum. Of course I love them, especially the early stuff, but they are one influence of many. The reviews for the last three albums have been excellent and obviously this gives you a boost when support for this kind of music is very limited. I was very surprised by the positivity of the reviews for Invitation as I thought that album would be panned by some with all the experiments and home recordings.

It's not that long since 'There Was Death' was released: how has that been doing in terms of reception and sales?

Sales, I don't know. We have sold most of our share of copies. Not sure about how many Minotauro have shifted. We haven't nearly covered the album recording costs but have something towards the next one. Reception has been good. reviews have been positive and the feedback from listeners has also been very encouraging.

My Silent Wake - 'There Was Death' (Official, 2018):

So, what's next? Do you anything planned in the short term? And, in the longer term, is there anything you'd really like to have achieved with the band? What would you most like to hear said about it, looking back from sometime in the more distant future?

We recently released our new video 'There was Death' directed by Andrew Spencer, who did a few of our promos and some short and feature length films including 'The Casebook of Eddie Brewer'. We have recorded a song live in the studio for the forthcoming Amazon Prime series Polyphonic Dreams. We have taken a couple of bookings for next year and hope to have a relatively busy year on the gig front. New material is being developed at snails pace right now but will no doubt surface eventually.

There are loads of other questions I'd like to ask in more detail, but I should probably stop here! Many thanks for your time and participation - and if there are any last words you'd like to finish with, please feel free!

Thanks for the interview Mike, and for your reviews. Always a fair and knowledgable word from you.

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Visit the My Silent Wake bandpage.

Interviewed on 2018-08-08 by Mike Liassides.
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