Mentors & Mischief
I didn’t lie! I just created fiction with my mouth!
How to know what’s true here? Hopefully from the absence of glamour or grunge from which we’re meant to rise, via epiphany or discovery, brandishing street-cred. Not to say I’ve escaped errors or wounds. Just that self-pity would extend them. Hopefully, this ship steers between Scylla and Charybdis; between the boast and the underbrag. Whenever my phoenix combusted, nobody sent in the fire-fighters. And when it rejuvenated, few noticed. Even so, misconceptions abound. I’d like to clear a few.
Born 1966, I was raised in the bushland of Junortoun, South-Eastern Australia.
By lake at childhood home & Painting by mother Belinda John
Early influences include the usual suspects, such as Joni Mitchell, Judy Durham & Stevie Nicks. I wrote songs with my sisters Catherine & Rebecca and friends Jenni & Mandy, with titles such as ‘Mystical Stream’ & ‘Tropical Rainforest’, perched in trees with sprinklers, which did wonders for the instruments. My first original studio recording at age 10 was an ode to an island paradise. We read fantasy chronicles: Narnia, The Wizard of Earthsea, The Lord of the Rings, etc, also Faeries by Brian Froud / Alan Lee. When I met Brian over 30 years later, we discussed universality of Faeries. He questioned why my folklore was not indigenous to Australia. Complex question, beyond the scope of this page, except to mention that some Aborigines deplore our appropriation of their culture as extension of conquest. Yet what we transplant (as in my Welsh father Michael’s storytelling or choir LPs) need not be a sealed bubble. Who are the tree-ghosts? Respect and receptivity may be symbiotic.
Moving to Melbourne for boarding school, I wrote songs in basements or forbidden balconies tangled in ivy. Later at university, listening to Kate Bush and medieval cassettes run off vinyl LP’s from libraries, I thrived on philosophy, literature, fine arts and classics, while continuing to write songs about elves, gnomes, tree spirits and other fey creatures. During the 1980’s I sang at The Green Man and other folk hubs with college friends such as Zara Guthrie, prior to widespread venue closures in Melbourne’s 80’s recession.
Fionvarra & Megwyn
Above: with Andrew Persi in the duo Fionvarra, I produced fairytale cassettes. Late 80’s I was also performing / songwriting with mythic folk-rock group Megwyn (whose later incarnations included Beltane, Sleeping Beauty & Kristine Allan’s solo gem, Dragonfly.)
Below: mishearing a stranger in a club – I thought he was into Folk, but he’d said Funk – when I accepted his call to get on stage, his band swung into ‘Sex Machine’ and ‘I Got You’ by James Brown. Realising my confusion, the band began yelling lyrics; the audience joined in, taking us for a comedy act. We called ourselves ‘What the Funk?’ Ever since, I’ve found it hard to resist morphing into an imp.
In 1990 I became a storyteller at Australia’s first fairy shop, Wonderwings; later also at the Royal Melbourne Show, Moomba pageant, Royal Botanical Gardens, Lit Fest at Vic Arts Centre, heritage sites (Rippon Lea, Como House), fairs, etc. that gave rise to the carnival atmosphere in songs like ‘Madame Alchemier’ (Alexandria), ‘Alice in the Garden of Live Flowers’ (Ariel), or ‘Beautiful Lie’ (Djinn). A record executive’s advice, “drop the unicorns and mermaids”, encapsulated the Aussie industry’s prosaic attitude: the only way my songs found gigs was through a back ditty door of faery storytelling.
Fairy Storytelling: black & white photos by Geoff Branton
During the 90’s I shared a rambling terrace house with singer Liz Van Dort, who introduced me to producer Harry Williamson, who in turn introduced me to musician Sean Bowley (Eden), who introduced me to producer Brett Taylor. (See our Links & Credits for more on each of these wonderful, brilliant artists, all of whom have cast deep shadows of influence.)
Co-tenants included such artists as sculptress Dawn Perry, sister of Brendan Perry of Dead Can Dance. Dawn introduced me to DCD albums, which I still love. However, to clear a misconception: I never met Brendan or his partner Lisa, and was into medieval fusion long before hearing theirs. Consider also a spiritual distinction. While Lisa lit a path of divine wordlessness, I swung a lantern on heathen folklore. It’s possible to respect an artist, while moving in contrary currents. Contradiction can generate energy. My (soon-to-be) co-songwriter Mark discovered DCD via 4AD’s collection This Mortal Coil. Brendan’s subtle lyrics soothed, or stirred, misfits already in rebellion.
Melbourne’s underground was growing more diverse: Pre-Raphaelite, Darkwave, Contemporary Medieval, Trance, Goth and related genres abounded. We enjoyed a revival of mythology. Left to right below: Liz Van Dort / LJK at Spring Studio (far left); A Melbourne Gothic Ball; Phantosea at St Kilda beach: Dominique Falla, Louisa John-Krol, Dawn Perry, Liz Van Dort; LJK dressed in pearls by co-tenant Helen Navarre (aka Madame Black)
In 1993 I married co-songwriter Mark Krol, a Polish immigrant, teacher and voracious collector of music & books: “I have fallen into Moontalk” (‘Paper Door’, Alexandria). Many instrumental lines – like horns in ‘Madame Alchemier’ (Alexandria), or ‘cello in ‘The Seagiant’ (Ariel) – lyrics & main vocal melody of ‘Which of these Worlds’ (Apple Pentacle) and entire songs (about half of Djinn, including its opening song) – were Mark’s compositions, conveyed via humming. I took them to the studio as vocal or keyboard guides for others to play. He also tutors my expression and advises on arrangements, e.g. removing an instrument to create spaciousness, as in the song ‘Alexandria’. Consequently Mark’s contribution is often underestimated, particularly as he is humble, never flies or performs, and avoids social media.
We moved between casual jobs on Melbourne’s urban fringe, permeating our lyrics:
I won’t be leaving you
In embers of failure
In the pool of our Winter
Glisten eyes of our Daemon
‘I’m not Walking’, Argo
One more festival glittering past
If they want something they’ll come to me
‘Madame Alchemier’, Alexandria
Prior to the internet, from the 80‘s to late 90‘s, industry gatekeepers ruled every genre. Changes of legislation allowed corporations to control media ownership. Their homogenous mindset blocked our releases. The internet changed that. When I was about 30, after 5 fey albums on cassette, our CDs began to appear on indie labels overseas, starting with Hyperium, considered Germany’s answer to UK’s 4AD or USA’s Projekt. This led to work with other composers on that label, such as Olaf Parusel of Stoa.
Promo for German edition of Alexandria, Hyperium Records.
A French indie record company, Prikosnovenie, was distributing Alexandria, prompting that label’s owner Frederic Chaplain to make contact circa 2000, inviting me to sign. I’ve stayed on, except for a collector’s edition of Alexandria on an American label and guest appearances on other labels. Prikosnovenie has outlived many, after celebrating its 20th anniversary.
For French ethereal label Prikosnovenie.
Whereas Argo and Alexandria were recorded with Harry Williamson, my 3rd CD Ariel ushered in Brett Taylor, who produced 70% of Ariel including the string quartet in ‘Blackbird’. Both Harry and Brett are accomplished in theory, technology and many instruments. Now we have a 3rd engineer: Jack Setton, at Mad Cat Sound.
You can find more about Harry, Brett, and Jack.
‘Blackbird’ (Ariel) inspired a fairytale ‘Louisa’ by French author Alyz Tale, in her book of stories Mon Dernier The. It was also an honour to be included in the hardcover book Carnet Noirs, a history of gothic music. Both books were published in France.
My first visit to Europe in 2001 fostered recording with Stoa (Germany) as well as label mates Lys (France), Daemonia Nymphe (Greece) and Gor (Italy). In France, Frederic Chaplain produced Love Sessions Volume 1. A second European trip, 2003, heralded Love Sessions Volume 2, alongside a tour of several nations with Gor’s clarinettist Francesco Banchini, an ambient album I hear the Water Dreaming with Gianluigi Gasparetti (Italy), and the album Ghost Fish with Daemonia Nymphe (Greece). All in 2 months.
In Paris & Bruxelles with Francesco Banchini from Italy and Keltia from Belgium.
Photos courtesy of Filip Van Muylem, Harry Fayt, Richter, Zak Mondiani & Frederic Cotton.
In 2006 I shared a compilation with Loreena McKennitt, Effleurement. Although my instrumentation is often more dreampop than folk, we both admire Clannad & Alan Stivell. I like her interpretations of Romantic / Pre-Raphaelite poetry, notwithstanding some of my literary sources pertain more to Magic-Realism. Comparisons with Loreena (as with Lisa) have been overplayed. I was setting fairy stories and poems to music since childhood. I did not hear Loreena’s music until my late 20’s, in a documentary The Burning Times. It was a revelation to find a contemporary female songwriter exploring history, poetry and soulful journeying with such success, in defiance of the corporate label system.
In the next years acclaimed illustrators / film-makers, the Frouds, made a clip for my song ‘Which of these Worlds?’ (5th CD Apple Pentacle). Their Muse features on You-Tube:
As for a claim that this imagery belonged to a German band, Qntal: the Frouds designed both our clip and Qntal’s beautiful album Silver Swan, calling upon overlapping motifs, with the same agent Robert Gould (Imaginosis) and designer Stephanie Lostimolo (colleague of Brian’s son Toby Froud), presented with Brian’s book World of Faerie, and at festivals where both Qntal & I played, in the Frouds’ attendance.
In 2009 at the Belgian festival Trolls et Legendes.
Here I first met the Frouds and performed with Nehl Aelin’s band (from France) and Dandelion Wine (from Australia). I am grateful to organiser Frederic Cotton (Le Fantastique). At Trolls et Legendes I reunited with Stoa, Daemonia Nymphe & Keltia and made new friends such as American band Woodland & French band Rajna, later singing in Woodland’s CD Seasons in Elfland – Shadows.
LJK with Nehl Aelin & Dandelion Wine at Trolls et Legendes, 2009, Belgium.
Despite touring rarely, I have been fortunate to sing in such prestigious underground locales as La Loco in Paris, Le Botanique in Bruxelles and Faerieworlds in Oregon, USA: the world’s largest fairy festival (15,000 attendees 2009).
LJK with harpist Kelly Miller-Lopez of Woodland, Scotty Perey of The Sugar Beets, Jarod Kaplan of Trillian Green, and other Oregon musicians in Eugene, Oregon, USA. On-stage photography by Byron Dazey. Festival snaps by Louisa or anon.
Recently my focus shifted to writing, with several small pieces published such as my poem ‘Twenty Ways to Greet a Tiger’ in a national anthology, 2011 Award Winning Australian Writing (Melbourne Books). My main project is a trilogy of fantasy chronicles with forthcoming abridged book-CD Elderbrook. I began this fairytale as a teenager, revisiting it between albums, shows, jobs and reading books. Some characters, such as Escalder the Green Lady, glimpsed in earlier albums, are striding back.
Visual art abides; my CDs carry paintings by Karan Wicks, Sabine-Adelaide or family members; a US edition of Alexandria featured my own illustrations; and I look forward to including Rachael Hammond’s Fantastical Fae Art in Elderbrook.
Australian collaborators, including Dandelion Wine and others mentioned above, include Samantha Taylor (flute); Richard Allison (piano); Louise Radcliffe-Smith (percussion & manuscript advice); Bronny Lloyd (hurdy-gurdy); Kim Brown (bouzouki), Ikon; and, everlastingly, Jenni Heinrich.
Pictured below: Nicholas Albanis & Jenni Heinrich (with Naomi Henderson & Louisa) at The Witches Ball in Sydney 2010, photographed by Rachael Hammond; Bronny Lloyd at Phantosea in Adelaide 2011; Richard Allison & Louisa circa 2004; Midsummer 2011 with Spiral Dance. (Phantosea & Midsummer pics courtesy Peter Trapp and Mike Adamson.)
Circumstances have always compelled us to juggle responsibilities with passions, like work in secondary or tertiary education sectors. These we try to reconcile with imagination through a re-enchanted world:
Real because imagined, imagined because real
So take the handles of the flagons
Take the fruit I beg you – I dare you!
‘Duncan the Fiddler’, Argo
Flying Guardians, tails in the Air
were feeding the pine-cones
‘Talim Ridge’, Alexandria
Hum the home of freedom
Hum the mountain ring
Hum the forest leeway
Hum the shadow stream
‘Beads of Rain’, Ariel
Way over the windblown wainscotting waterwood
I heard a tambourine in the sea
Caravans in the dawn
carting musk and sandalwood
‘The Windrow’, Apple Pentacle
When the world hums long and loam
When the distance bids you roam
‘Yellow Leaves’, Djinn