Spring, 2002, Germany
Interviewer: Claudia Mona Striewe
Featured LJK’s faerietale ‘The Valley of Seven Keys’ in German, with illustrations.
How were you inspired to publish your first own album?
After my first studio recording at age 10, my dream of making albums had to wait until I completed university. I worked to finance 5 albums before self-publishing my first cd (prior to signings). Failure is an old friend who calls uninvited…
Has your attitude towards making music changed or developed throughout the years?
For a while it was an escape from pain or a disguise for my fragility. Now I feel: if I cannot put out my fires, let them give warmth to others.
It seems Alexandria transported more of a wind and water… misty atmosphere, whereas Ariel mirrors the warm mysterious summer of Australian bushland. Would you agree?
It was not intentional, but I like your idea. On the goldfields where I was raised, heat wasn’t warm; it was fierce and dry. You find a tropical ‘misty atmosphere’ more in our coastal mountains.
Does being Australian give you a special perspective on european (also classical, oriental) myths and history?
Being Australian is a contradiction. We are in South-East Asia… our fastest growing religion is Buddhism, our seasons don’t follow northern festivals. There is a dragon on the Welsh flag, but I felt closer to the Chinese dragon of Bendigo’s Easter procession. Western dragons seem predatory; but many Oriental dragons are positive and the Aboriginal Rainbow Serpent is sacred.
The celtic landscapes are very close to my heart (as i am half-scottish myself) but Australia is an unknown country to me. What do you like most about Australia?
Laughter of the kookaburra, when rough bark shines at sunset… Scent of eucalypt-earth in rain.
On your webpages i read that you disagree with the Australian government’s treatment of refugees, can you tell us more about this topic?
Australia’s integration is successful, so paranoia is crazy. It’s inhumane to imprison families. We have space, wealth and a duty to accept more refugees, with over 23 million displaced people roaming the planet.
Before Australia developed as the modern nation it is today it has been inhabited for thousands of years by Aboriginal people. I am fascinated by their rich spirituality and lore and their concept of Dream Time. What is your relation, as an inhabitant of Australia, to the Aboriginal culture?
In old trees, ancient energy of the Dreaming can be felt. I support Reconciliation and apology to indigenous people, who had no voting rights until 1967. From 1900 to 1970, missions removed Aboriginal children from families… My song ‘Kunmanngur’ is based on a myth from the Murinbata tribe. I hesitated, as whites have plundered so much (but it was already in a book).
You seem drawn to birds… Sometimes i think that your music tries to mirror bird songs… Birds play an important role in most myths and tales around the world, they are often messengers between the worlds or bearer of secrets or they enchant humans with their songs. What are your most enchanting encounters with birds?
Watching a kingfisher wading in a creek by our childhood home, or glimpsing a lyrebird in the hills. There’s a game I play with fairy wrens: if they cross our path, they herald a tune…
The word ‘fortress’ is sometimes used in your lyrics in the meaning of a nest. Why is a nest a fortress? Or a fortress a nest?
On Argo a seawitch builds a House of Legend for rejuvenation. It reappears on Alexandria with the Lady in the Fortress, shooting arrows in the mist. By Ariel it has become a fragile nest, abandoned.
Your music appears to me fragile yet hypnotizing and enchanting. Especially i like your use of various instruments and your way of melting different influences into beautiful melodies. What were your influences and inspirations to develop your very personal style of music?
Milestones include Purcell’s Fairy Queen, Stivell’s Renaissance of the Celtic Harp and Respighi’s Botticelli Pictures. A pastoral, troubadour spirit runs through my favourite songs: Drake’s ‘Riverman’, Zeppelin’s ‘Battle of Evermore’, Heart’s ‘Archer’/‘Sylvan Song’, Perry’s ‘Ulysses’.
Is the mandolin your favourite instrument? Why so?
It’s a faerie guitar, tuned like a violin. It’s light for fairs to carry with a basket and tambourine.
How did you learn to sing?
I had a few lessons, listened to birds, and liked to creep up on kangaroos till the herd broke; I leapt for notes like they took fences, up and over. Pitch was fine but I had an awkward register break. Listening to ‘Woodstock’ by Joni Mitchell helped to harness that rift – essentially a split personality.
Your lyrics are sometimes inspired by writers like Shakespeare, Rilke, Michael Ende, Dostoyevski, and others. Or in another interview you mentioned Dunsany and his forgotten influence on Tolkien… Who are your favourite writers?
You mentioned some of my favourite writers. Others include Cavafy, Dickenson, Calvino, Mandelsh’tam, Baudelaire, Vallejo, Montale, Kafka and Byatt.
One of your songs i like very much is ‘Salamander’ (my very favourite songs is ‘Numb the wren tear’…) For me salamanders are very special animals but i had the feeling the song is really about something else. What does it have to do with salamanders?
It’s a metaphor for Nick Drake. Nick died at 26 from an overdose of antidepressants. It is said, alchemists knew they’d made gold when a salamander appeared in the furnace. What is it in us that longs to burn brighter, to be more alive? To swim in fire with the Immortals? We’ve had this dream since the time of the Pharaohs! There is an Aboriginal myth where two girls learn the secret of fire from a sungod, who turns them into stars. It’s universal. We are the salamanders.
Your music is quite often compared to Dead can Dance – maybe partly because… you shared a house with Brendan Perry’s sister… But doesn’t it become annoying sometimes to read this comparison again and again? I don’t even think there is much similarity, furthermore i think it is careless to describe music by only comparing it to other music…
DCD touched me deeply but I’m almost a decade younger than Lisa, we differ spiritually and aesthetically; I went against the advice of Lisa’s husband in mixing vocals. DCD broke new ground, yet the rebellion keeps moving. Revolution and Revival are firesticks that clash to make energy…
Other bands you were compared to include The Gathering, The Moors, Enya, Tori Amos, Kate Bush or Loreena McKennitt… would you agree that they had some influence on you?
The Moors and I shared the same label before I went to Prikosnovenie. Their music is great, like Bel Canto’s Birds of Passage. To fans of Tori I recommend an album Mercy by Lisa Cerbone. Enya and Loreena are luminous, but Kate had the strongest impact… I admire Bjork. Presently I love the singing of Azam Ali (Vas) and Fadia El-Hage (Vox).
Encounters with strange and mysterious beings are common in your songs… What are your own experiences with the hidden life around us and what sort of relation do you have to the beings you talk about or create in your songs?
On some nights in the bush, it seemed darkness grew wings of whispering, trees turned pale, spirits moved with gnarled limbs, wide eyes and flowing hair; voices moaned, wild as the wind.
You are not only a musician but also a storyteller. How did you get into this?
I became a storyteller after the owner of a faerie venue saw me in a theatre troupe. She introduced me to an old storyteller Nell Bell, who passed on her craft and some faerie history.
Where do you usually tell your stories? Are they… made up by yourself or traditional?
I’ve told under trees in parks, carnival tents, cafes, galleries and at the Royal Melbourne Show, hired with puppeteers, clowns and Koori dancers. Most of my stories are traditional but adapted.
With many people who are into myths and magic i experience a lack of interest in the everyday world with all its problems. In my opinion it is cynical to sing or write about nature’s mysteries or old tales of fairies and gods and at the same time give a shrug to… environmental organisations. What is your opinion on this?
Some artists scorn, hide or resent ordinary jobs. They confuse ‘esoteric’ with ‘exclusive’… The person who provides microphones is part of a singer’s energy: miner, manufacturer, driver or retailer. Labour is a resource like oil or water. How can we share it unless we respect it?
You also work (at time of this interview) in the educational field. As i do so, too, i would like to know how you think this influences your opinions… On the other hand, do your musical and storytelling activities influence your educational work?
Most of our students are immigrants, including refugees, of diverse races and creeds… We swap myths. We’ve had rap and break-dancing… When we studied Steve Biko, a beautiful black girl spontaneously stood and sang the South African anthem (re. Cry Freedom). There’s a great vibe.
Mark Krol is not only your co-musician but also your partner. How does your personal relationship nurture the creative act of making music together – or the other way round?
Send my greetings to Mark, i really love those lines from his lyrics: “I don’t have no money but I have that distant tree / You don’t have no money but you have your hidden key”.
Mark has made me a better artist, encouraging my reading of poetry and advising on arrangement or expression. Yes, ‘Beads of Rain’ conveys something essential in Mark’s struggle as a Polish immigrant growing up in an industrial area, an outsider in every sense.
You performed at the International Feminist Book Fair. How important are feminist issues for you? What do relations to other women mean to you? And relations to men?
The most urgent global feminist issue is human rights abuse of women, as in stoning… I relate to the mermaid archetype… or Medusa with serpents on her head – hatching cds not babies.