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Interview with Hercyn (October 2015)

Mystic. Earthen. Psychedelic vision. A compelling tapestry. A resonant journey.
These are words others have used to describe Hercyn.
Hercyn formed in 2010 as a personal folk conclave to explore deep, dark and epic music between friends Ernest and Michael.
The acoustic timbres explored visions of death, forests and esoteric space all while living under the shadow of urbanism. As time progressed, the duo realized they needed to expand their sonic visions if they were to continue to fuel their desire to compose epic songs. Overdriven guitars, mossy synths, and thundering drums were added to create a live constellation of what is present day Hercyn channeling the desire for a world beyond our own.
The fall of 2013 saw the DIY release of Magda, the 24 minute epic with mournful and somber rises and atmospheric decays. Juxtaposed next to the electric and dense Magda was the B-side (2014) chamber version of Magda feature prominent acoustics, mandolin and violin. 2014 continues with the late summer release of All This Suffering Is Not Enough - a split release with Brooklyn doom act Thera Roya. The darkness grows for Hercyn.

Hi guys, happy to have you in The Pit of the Damned, as we are following since the beginning: in not more than two years, you were able to produce two demos, a split album with Thera Roya and finally, the full length. Did you write all this material in these last 24 months or some songs were already in a drawer?

M. DiCiancia: Ernest and I have been composing for Hercyn since Autumn of 2010. Hercyn began as an acoustic duo while we composed ‘Magda’ and ‘Of Ruin’ simultaneously, with both songs taking years to finally complete with revisions existing even from the recording of ‘Magda’ that we released but 2 years ago, 3 years after it was started. Tony wrote ‘Ages’ in 2012, while ‘Dust’ and ‘Storm Before the Flood’ are predominantly recent in composition. There is a lot of back and forth between Ernest and I in regards to producing something relevant to us as musicians in the present and with the hopes of it being able to showcase the band as it has evolved. I think ‘Dusk & Dawn’ is a song that can be seen as a transition piece for us, sort of anchoring the earlier, acoustically-visioned, duet compositions to the more recent things we have done. The feel of Storm is very different in many regards from our early work which was conceived on acoustic guitars alone, which I think will be apparent to those who follow our music because of how much the sound has evolved, representing what Hercyn is today.

I would like to know much more about your moniker: why the choice of Hercyn, what does it indicate?

M. DiCancia: Hercyn is a name taken from the ancestral Celtic word for ‘Oak’ which was used by classical Mediterranean writers to describe the vast expanse of forests and mountain ranges that covered the upper parts of Europe, separating the civilized world from the unknown lands of the Celtic and Germanic peoples to the North. We chose this name because of the symbolism that it affords: a grand vastness of the mystical unknown, an unconquerable wildness that represents a natural world beyond the confines of civilization. It was the Hercynian forest which not even the mighty reach of Rome could completely penetrate and from which all manner of mysticism and legend arose. In our music, we try to embody and reflect this notion and our latest release speaks to this grand beyond in the esoteric sense of the indomitable excesses of ever-expanding space (dust) and the unrelenting march of layered time (ages).

E. Wawiorko: Hercyn refers to a very specific place and time, as Mike talked about. It also has a deeper meaning for me. Hercyn, as a band, arose out of a failed attempt to create music, it was an effort of art that was focused entirely on the wrong things. Instead of playing with expression and feel, we spent too much time thinking about technique and speed. Hercyn is the right headspace to create music in. In reality, it’s a deep dark forest that the Romans, the world’s largest empire, could not conquer. In my mind, Hercyn is a place, just as mystic and dark as that ancient forest and it’s a place so vast and mystic, I can explore all the things that I like about music - it’s a place that I have no fear in - where the formless and unknown takes shape. Despite being based in reality, it’s quite similar to Immortal’s Blashykrh or Niege’s ‘fairy land’. I’m influenced by these otherworldly places.

I have noticed that three of you have an Italian surname, am I wrong? Is there Latin blood in your vein? Does this reflect in your so passionate sound?

M. DiCiancia:
My grandfather was from Italy, but the rest of my ancestry is from the British Isles, most of which is Irish, so I identify with that part of roots more so than with my Italian, though I do cherish all of my European heritage deeply and it is a huge influence on how I engage my life. I was very close with my Italian grandfather and he did pass on a lot to me about tradition, and one of my earliest and most fond memories from childhood is going out with him to tend his garden or on the weekends for Sunday mass. Musically, I was influenced to start playing by my father and my uncle on my mother’s side and I love Italian composers, but those I follow (Boccherini, Tartini, Corelli, Paganini) are exclusively from Northern regions.

T. Stanziano: I pledge allegiance to no land. We were all raised in urban New Jersey and shaped by our environment. I have ancestors of Polish, German, Czech, and Irish descent in addition to my Italian relatives. As a third generation American, I identify much more with American culture than anything European that my ancestors would have passed on.

E. Wawiorko: Both my parents are from Poland, but I was born in the US. I’ve visited Poland many times in my life and have an affinity for the country. I’ve spent a lot of time in my life overseas, and while I identify with American culture, I definitely find myself thinking of Poland or other countries. I absolutely identify with a lot of the metal that comes from Poland: Behemoth, Mgla, Outre, Sceptic.

On another note, our song ‘Of Ruin’ was influenced by a trip I had taken a few years ago to Rome. While sight seeing through Rome, The Roman Forum and what remains of the Temple of Saturn inspired me. These great beautiful places still stand today, two thousand years later. I find a certain stillness and presence in them, but I also found how wonderful they were in their decay. If these visages of such a great empire could stand so well in their ruin, why can we not stand honorable in our ruin and loss?

Would you tell much more about the feedback about 'Magda'(in its 2 versions) and about the split album? Why the decision to chose the guys of Thera Roya in this work? Do you like their music?

M. DiCiancia: ‘Magda’ for me is a definitively important part of the formation of Hercyn. We became a band based on that song, and it is special in that it is the first piece of music we wrote and shared. It was through our release of ‘Magda’ that we found Mike T. on drums which allowed our band to go from an idea to a reality, and it was the song which generated all of the initial interest in us which led to the growth we’ve experienced. The acoustic release of it was done to harken back to Hercyn’s roots and to how the song was written - that is as an acoustic two-piece. The power of the song is very distinct in each format. That said, I also feel that ‘Magda’ has evolved a lot since we released it, and I sincerely intend on it being re-recorded as it is played now and with the impact of a full band and with a proper quality recording sometime in the future when the time is right. Thera Roya played with us on a string of our first local shows and from that came the idea for the split. The contrast between what we did and what they did for that was interesting in a polar sense.

T. Stanziano: When we met the guys in Thera Roya, they thoroughly enjoyed Magda and were adamant about doing shows with us. After a string of successful shows, the idea came about to release a split with one new song from each of our bands.

E. Wawiorko: ‘Magda’ is the blueprint for Hercyn in a way. It was the largest musical undertaking that Mike and I had ever made an attempt at. It contains all the musical and compositional elements that we’ve strived with Hercyn for: long songs, emphasis on harmony and melody, theme and variation, but also an attempt to play as expressively and with as much feeling as we can conjure. Playing the song live is always an exercise in presence, ability and patience. The acoustic version of Magda is even more special to me since the song was written on acoustic guitars and the quiet soft acoustic timbres capture some of the original ideas differently than the electric version does. I sometimes wonder, was Magda meant to be played only acoustically?

I have spent a lot of words about your sound as the continuation of 'The Mantle' by Agalloch for its folk and oniric spirit, may I definitely consider the band from Oregon as your main influence or are there other bands you are inspired?

M. DiCiancia:
I understand why the Agalloch comparison gets made but I honestly don’t feel it is a completely accurate comparison. I appreciate Agalloch but I would have to say that Hercyn is a bit heavier and more progressively and melodically inclined than Agalloch, whereas their value is in the folky-inspired atmosphere they create. We both play longer songs, we both have a lot of dynamics in our music, we both blend genres with black metal, but I think the comparisons end there, especially with our latest release. Perhaps that comparison is more suited for ‘Magda’ because it was written purely on acoustic guitar and lends more into the feel that characterizes what they do. When it comes to metal, I love bands like Primordial, Altar of Plagues, and Winterfylleth, to bands like The Ruins of Beverast, Covenant and a wide array of other extreme metal bands, but I personally feel my biggest influences come outside of metal anyway.

T. Stanziano: We get the Agalloch comparison pretty often, but I feel that Hercyn’s music is much more blastbeat driven and heavier overall than Agalloch. My personal top influences, as far as what I bring to Hercyn, are Enslaved, Vintersorg, Ephel Duath, among other more progressive black metal acts.

E. Wawiorko: I think some of the comparison stems from the mood that both bands put forth, both being dark, sad and somber. The biggest inspiration for Hercyn come from 70s progressive bands: Rush, Yes, Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd, Uriah Heep, Wishbone Ash, and Swedish and melodic death metal: Sentenced, Dissection, Dark Tranquillity, At The Gates, but also bands from various scenes and places: Enslaved, Death, Katatonia, Paradise Lost. 

What about the new album, 'Dust and Ages', when was written, how a song by Hercyn born, what about the lyrics? Tell me more about the songwriting process.

M. DiCiancia: Aside from ‘Of Ruin’ and ‘Ages’, which were written in 2010 and 2012, respectively, “Dust and Ages” was composed from March to June of 2015. In the case of ‘Of Ruin’ and ‘Magda’, these songs were written and continually edited over the course of years. This is in part to the dynamic change that Hercyn went through, from changing the medium of writing and playing to electric guitars to adding new members and having to adapt the music to fit the band format as it stands, as well as simply tweaking things to make them better until we are satisfied which when writing such long pieces, can take a lot of time. With material that was done since completing our line-up, such as Storm, the process of molding music to the band format is removed and the time to complete the song as it will be played is more seamless. Changes still occur but the transition from composition to performance is smoother. Ernest and I start composing material with a central concept as inspiration, be it a verbal idea or a musical phrase, and from there the song builds upon itself, with the idea going between us and our focus centered on the initial concept that develops the song from the start. It is challenging to maintain energy and focus over the course of weeks, months or years of splintered writing on a single piece and it is the focus on the origin core of a work that allows us to develop the music in a relevant way that maintains vibrance throughout.

E. Wawiorko: Most often, someone will have some idea: a riff, a melody, a chord change or a rhythmic pattern and then Mike and I will jam and improvise over these ideas. As musicians, we are the starting point for all the initial ideas, but one idea leads to the next and the next and before we realize, we have fifteen minutes of music sitting in front of us. We are simply the conduits for these musical ideas. Once we have as much material as we feel is good, we then piece together the long compositions. Arranging music is very mystic in a way; we can talk about it academically for hours or analyze the harmony of the music, but in the end, we write and we write and we trust ourselves and each other. When we finish a song, I sometimes ask “Where did this come from?”

Post black meets post rock, is it an American trend or a lifestyle or something that rise from your inner soul? (please consider that I love this mix)

M. DiCiancia: Our music is surely an expression of our inner intentions and our experiences as musicians over the time of our progression but I don’t think I’d define us in those terms. I’m not particularly heavy on genre definitions to begin with, so I suppose the perception of our genre and those who take genre labels seriously will be better suited to attempt to classify what we produce, but I would contend that our music is a progressive, melodic blend of metal.

T. Stanziano: I don’t feel that we fit into any “post” genre. Hercyn is black metal of a progressive nature.

E. Wawiorko: I like some post rock music, Mogwai or Isis for example. But none of the post rock bands were ever an inspiration for Hercyn. Maybe it’s a subconscious influence, but any similarity is coincidence and subjective. Post-rock tends to skip vocals but vocals and lyrics are a large part of Hercyn, despite not being used all the time. Hercyn also has a tendency to write epic and expressive music, but that inspirations comes from progressive bands rather than post bands.

Are you already writing new songs for a new album, do you have any new idea?

M. DiCiancia: Yeah, we’ve discussed what our next steps for writing are going to be and some concepts have already developed for the future material. I’m particularly excited for what we’re going to work on this Autumn and Winter, going forward.

T. Stanziano: The creative process never ends. We are always producing new material, and altering existing material.

Any contact from labels? It is strange that a band like yours is without a contact, any news about that?

M. DiCiancia: As of now, we’ve had no label contact but that hasn’t kept us from writing, producing and performing our work, so we are aren’t terribly concerned in seeking that out, which is great because it means we are content with what we’re doing and can continue to have a natural flow to how we operate. I know we’d consider any offers that might come our way but we’re not desperate for anything so the terms would have to make sense for us to engage them.

T. Stanziano: Any record deal that we sign will have to be 100% comfortable for us. It’s not essential at this point in time, but we will be open to working with a label if the terms are right.

Did you get the chance to be on stage? How is Hercyn live? Is there something special? What can you say about that?

M. DiCiancia: Hercyn has played out on quite a few occasions, most recently supporting Negura Bunget’s tour with Dynfari in Brooklyn and playing Shadow Woods Metal Festival in Maryland, along side other US acts such as Midnight, Wormreich, Fin, and Dreadlords. I would say that our performances command the crowd with the atmosphere we create and engages them on levels beyond purely auditory to better create the vision that the music was written to embody.

T. Stanziano: Hercyn’s live show is a presentation beyond mere music performance. We create the appropriate atmosphere by stimulating multiple human senses.

E. Wawiorko: Hercyn is a spectacle live. I want to engage anyone who sees us. I want people to experience it, to remember it. I don’t want to be the band that shows up in t-shirts and sneakers and just snooze their way through a group of songs.

You are from New Jersey, what about the local scene, do you have some bands to recommend me?

T. Stanziano: The local grindcore scene, particularly in the Montclair area, has been producing quality material for years. Pink Mass, Organ Dealer, and Ubasute are some of the more recent exports of the NJ grind scene that have been creating excellent music.

My last question: during my face-to-face interviews with bands in my radio show, I am used to ask the "Desert Island List": three books, three records and three movies you can’t live without, what about yours?

M. DiCiancia: Choosing three books will be impossible, but if I must try, I’ll go with “The Book of Invasions” for myth & spirit, either Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species...” or Newton’s “Principia… “ for science, and Tennyson’s “Idylls of the King” or Byron’s “Sardanapalus” for culture. I think it goes without saying a collected works of either would be better, or of Lovecraft or Poe, or a transcendentalist collection to fit the scene with philosophy, I could go on forever. For records, again very tough, but I will take Altar of Plagues’ “Mammal”, Purcell’s “The Fairy Queen” and Ennis’ “The Pure Drop”, though it hurts to leave out an O’Carolan collection or Tull’s “Songs from the Wood”. I wish I had room for a collection of Boccherini’s baroque cello work or Bach’s “Art of Fugue”also , and many others as well, but that will have to do. Movies: “Cave of Forgotten Dreams”, the “Lord of the Rings” series & “The Rising: 1916”. Again, I could name so many more, I just saw Interstellar for example which I loved, but I’m struggling to stay within the confines and ruining the question.

T. Stanziano: Books - “The Alphabet of Manliness”, “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”, and “The Dirt (Motley Crue)”. Records - “Individual Thought Patterns”, “The Jester Race”, and “Appetite for Destruction”. Movies - “Terminator 2”, “Memento”, “Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”.

E. Wawiorko: Books: A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle, Cosmos by Carl Sagan, The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood. Records: Rush’s Hemispheres, Gun’s n’ Roses’ Appetite for Destruction, the Cure’s Disintegration. Film: Persona, Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back, Possession.

M. Toscarelli: Films: Brazil, Fantastic Planet, Scrooge (with Albert Finney). Records: Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s “Welcome Back My Friends…”, Cynic’s “Focus” and Bozzio Levin Steven’s Black Light Syndrome. Books: The Epic of Gilgamesh, Charles Dicken’s Great Expectations, and Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Planet

Thanks a lot guys, hope to meet you soon somewhere in Italy.

(Francesco Scarci for The Pit of the Damned)