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Whispers In The Shadow - Interview #3

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Austrian dark rock legends Whispers In The Shadow are back with a new album aptly titled Yesterday Is Forever. This is already their tenth studio album in their almost 25 years long career, the fourth one for the renowned German label Solar Lodge, and the second one of as they call it Phase IV. Just like the previous album, The Urgency Of Now (2018), it shows a deviation from their standard gothic rock sound that we were used hearing from them in the past, and Whispers In The Shadow is now experimenting more than ever, yet they have created kind of a unique dark alternative rock album that will appeal more to fans of David Bowie and of early Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds than to those of The Sisters Of Mercy and Fields Of The Nephilim, but fear not, there is still a lot of darkness in there. Nevertheless, the band which debuted back in 1997 with the album Laudanum, is walking its own stylistic path, and even in the chaos year of 2020, the Viennese band is not slowing down. For Whispers In The Shadow standstill and repetitions are foreign words,... but why not read everything about this and that in this in-depth interview with bands mastermind Ashley Dayour, who revealed many interesting things about the new album, new directions and the chaos of today.

Interview with: Ashley Dayour
Conducted by: Tomaz
Edited by: Jerneja

Tomaz: Hello Ashley, it's great to see Whispers In The Shadow returning relatively soon with a new album, which is, like the previous one, focused mostly on the real social events. So, did the occult themes used in the past become the past themselves?
: Yes, we said everything we had to say in that department. Besides, singing about magicians who are dead and buried for hundreds of years would be a little bit off regarding the situation the world is in at the moment. But the new album is in parts also very personal, and that goes hand in hand with my ongoing experience with all things, whether Magick or spiritual. But it is all a bit more between the lines and one has to pay close attention both to the lyrics and music to get it. The Magick is still there, particularly in the song "The I In The Void", but it is far more sophisticated and experience-based. Less obvious.

Tomaz: You were experimenting quite a lot with new sounds and genres once again. Yesterday Is Forever differs from your previous album The Urgency Of Now, but still, there's something that connects the two of them, isn't it so?
: I see The Urgency Of Now as a transition album, but it was the first one of Phase IV of this band. There might be some similarities in terms of lyrical themes, but musical wise both are pretty far away from each other. Sure, a song like "Toxic Express" (but with different instrumentation) could have been on The Urgency Of Now, but stuff like "Walk On The Mirror", "War That Never Was" or "Adrift" couldn’t. Also, the production and instrumentation are very different. The most obvious is the acoustic 12 string guitar, but that’s by far not the only difference. My way of singing also changed a bit since the last one. So, in a nutshell, musical wise not so much. Lyrical wise yes, there are similarities indeed.

Tomaz: Yes, indeed, the new album sounds different from anything you did before. Tell me, what did you do differently this time regarding the compositional and recording process?
: The compositional process wasn’t any different to the albums before that, I write everything on my own in my home studio, I also make a first demo of each song by myself, but it is in the actual studio after the other band members contribute their parts when it really becomes Whispers In The Shadow, and that is very important. The hardest part is always to find the actual theme of the album in terms of how it should sound like, what instruments we use etc. That always takes some time. But as soon as the direction was clear the album was written in more or less three months. Because of the whole pandemic going on we actually had more time to spend in the studio, I think that had a positive effect on the album because we paid more attention to details. This might actually be our best-produced album in terms of the mix, and our keyboardist Martin Gutmann is to take the credit for, this time for the second time. We all had a great time when recording this one, the most relaxed ever actually. Also, we spent more time on vocal recordings. That might be one of the biggest differences in comparison to all other albums, and it definitely shows.

Tomaz: Even though you are saying that you write everything on your own, I wonder how much of an impact on the final output have the other band members?
: They are the ones who actually transform the tunes into Whispers In The Shadow songs, which is very important, they make it sound like a band. Especially the real drums make songs more driven and alive. As a matter of fact, all instruments sound different when not played by me. I am in the lucky position that we all know each other for a very very long time, and the others totally trust my musical vision. I’m very humble and happy about that. It’s more than just a bunch of people making music it’s almost family business. And I’m always listening if someone comes up with something or does have something to say.

Tomaz: Besides the music and lyrical themes also the cover art differentiates from every other of your previous albums. I know that it was done by Spanish artist Billyphobia, but I wonder what does this artwork mean in this whole matter?
: It's always important that the visual concept goes hand in hand with the music, especially the colours of the artwork. I know Billy for some time now, he did all the fantastic shirt designs for The Devil & The Universe. The concept for this album cover is all his. I gave him the demos very early on, so he could create it with the actual music in mind. I think that helped a lot. The intention was to combine the past (the statues) with the present (isolated, glitches). There are many ways to interpret it, and I will leave that to the spectator.

Tomaz: It's somehow characteristical for the titles and lyrics of your albums to hide a deeper meaning. What is hidden in this one?
: One of the main themes of the album is nostalgia and all that comes with it. We live in a time which is totally obsessed with the past, a sort of anniversary culture. There is one verse in the song "Passion Project": The more we fear the future, the more we recycle the past, which hits the nail pretty much. But nostalgia is by far not the only theme on the album. However, this time it is not so important to me that the listener understands everything as he is "supposed" to. I rather invite him/her to make up his/her own story. Besides, some lyrics are pretty straight anyway, at least I think so. But the album title could be interpreted in many ways. Do I mean it positively? Or is it cynical? Or something else? That’s exactly why I went for it in the first place. I don’t like things to be too obvious.

Tomaz: Talking about nostalgia... There is a song named “Forever 1985”, which was also used as the first single. Does this year mean something special to you?
: I have not the slightest idea why I used the year 1985. Could have been any year in the ’80s, I guess. But maybe there is a reason, and I just haven’t found it yet.

Tomaz: Haha, maybe you will find out that something important happened to you that year, and you forgot all about it. Still, why the 80s… I mean so many people are nostalgic about this period?
: True that the 80s revival lasts longer now than the actual ’80s! Nobody would have believed you back then that this period will be the one to come back to haunt us and stay for good. I sure love a lot of the 80s stuff, but don’t be fooled, nostalgia is a two-edged sword because if you get stuck in it, there is no progress only regress. I’m aware that I too am a part of the problem, but as someone interested in progress, I try not to be stuck in the past. Nostalgia for nostalgia’s sake only is just wrong and will destroy any artistic progress.

Tomaz: That typical gothic/dark rock sound of the Whispers from Beyond The Cycles Of Time and The Rites Of Passage is not that obvious in Yesterday Is Forever, although it is still present in the shadows. Is this a consequence of evolution or new inspirations and influences?
: Sure, it was a very conscious decision to move away from that sound/direction. Even if I wanted to, I could not repeat myself over and over again. Change is the most important thing. If someone says to me, he or she is surprised by some of the songs/sounds I take this as the biggest compliment one can give me. Even if the songs are not liked as much, that’s not important to me for the most important thing is that we are not boring. And especially on this album, we are definitely not. Repeating the same gothic rock sound we did ten years ago, that would be boring, and there are plenty of other bands out there who do that very well anyway. Whispers In The Shadow is not one of them and never was. Our ever-changing sound and approach is the reason why this band still exists. This is what it makes working on each album exciting, even after 24 years.

Tomaz: I noticed, and I’m not the only one, that
Whispers In The Shadow on the new album sounds in many parts quite close to David Bowie, early Nick Cave and similar artists. There are even elements present of pop music and new wave. Is this a coincidence or you wanted it to be this way?
: Could be worse. I totally take that as a compliment. But I also think the new album has its very own style and sound. But, yes, we might be closer to Bowie than to the usual goth subsects.  But we didn’t sit down and thought, let’s sound more like Bowie. However, some bands influenced that album more than him, but I won’t say which ones.

Tomaz: But yet there’s a cover of Bowie’s “I’m Afraid Of Americans”. Actually, it’s a good choice for these strange times when everything is turned upside down, and especially with the events in USA, elections and such things. But I want to hear it from you why did you decide to use this one.
: We started playing the song live last year. And it was always a highlight of any show. And given the surprised and agreeing looks in the audience, it was felt like this for both the audience and the band. With everything going on in the world, it seems a perfect choice, and it feels even more relevant now. Besides, I always loved the tune. We had some extra time left in the studio, and we decided to give it a go. It has been our intention from the beginning to release it around the time of the election. Which now finally is over. Thank goodness.

Tomaz: You are still loyal to Solar Lodge, for which I see that its focus is not just a typical gothic rock anymore. Are you still satisfied with them?  
: Yes, indeed. It’s been quite some time. Now it’s our fourth album with them in eight years. I personally think it is a good thing to broaden the style.

Tomaz: The Covid-19 pandemic made a huge blow on the entire music scene. How did it affect Whispers In The Shadow as a band, and how are you dealing with it personally?
: Well, the most obvious thing is that we lost all our gigs, not that many though because the majority of gigs is planned for 2021. But at the moment I think even that doesn’t look too good. We even have 25th-anniversary show planed at a well-known festival among other promising shows. I really hope it will work out until then (mid-2021) but at the moment, to be honest, it’s hard to believe there will be any shows in 2021 at all. But one can still hope. Apart from that, I deal with it well so far, I’m a very reclusive person, and I don’t go out that much anyway, so actually, there is not much that I miss. Also, I am in the lucky position that I have a nice home and that I share it with a person I really like, so being in a lockdown isn’t such a big deal for me personally. But as an empathic person, I feel for all the people who are not so lucky and for which this is hell. And of course, the whole atmosphere of the city is less from being a cheery one. Austria hasn’t been hit that hard so far, but at the moment it seems this is about to change soon I’m afraid. On an artistic side, I didn’t really feel any effects so far, there is more time for songwriting, but to be honest, I haven’t used that time as much as I properly should. However, there is a new The Devil & The Universe release around the corner, and we do have some plans for the next chapter of Whispers In The Shadow as well. It’s a bit too early to go into further details, but it has to do with our 25th anniversary. That much I can say.

Tomaz: Back to the new album… Among many really cool songs I guess that my favourite one would be "The Horror", where you inserted even some ambient, cinematic and industrial segments into this strong dark rock piece. I also find very interesting "A War That Never Was" with kind of a slight martial/neo-folk vibe. Of course, I also enjoyed the moody "The I In The Void". Tell me of which songs are you most proud of and why?
: It is interesting with the reviews now coming in how everyone seems to have other favourites. That speaks for the album. Because it is such a diverse beast. I love the fact that almost everyone seems to have other favourites. "The Horror", however, is an interesting choice for a favourite. It is a pretty unusual tune, but it didn't pop up that often as the album fave so far. For me the best and most important one is "Walk On The Mirror"; it is a very unusual tune for us, and we haven't managed to write a sort of romantic slow tune that works as good as this one so far. For me, this is one of the best songs we ever did, period. Same goes for the video. Everyone in the band thinks it is our best one. And I do too because it captures the mood of the song and what I wanted to express perfectly. The credits for that also go to Edie Calie, who is actually responsible for all our videos. I also like "The I In The Void" a lot, and I have a thing for the more experimental tracks such as "The War That Never Was" or "Straight & Narrow" because they give this album a certain twist. It is difficult to choose one, really. I am happy with all of them, which wasn’t always the case in the past. Normally a few months after finishing an album I already have one or two songs which I don’t like as much anymore. This time I can honestly say that I like them all. All of them deserve to be on this album. Ask me again in two years, though I am pretty sure I am going to tell you the same thing. Eventually.

Tomaz: Yesterday Is Forever is already your tenth album in the almost 25 years long career. I guess that this is a stupid question, but still… Out of all these songs that you released in these years, which one represents you as the person and musician for the best?
: Well, it has to be a new one because only the newer ones represent the person I am now. I mean, life mostly consists of changes, so I do have a little resemblance with the guy who wrote our first tunes some 25 years ago. It would be strange the other way around. Certain parts of me are still the same I guess, but the guy who wrote "Pandora’s Calling" (Permanent Illusions, 2001) is not the guy who is doing this interview, obviously. There are some key songs, one or max. two on each album I would consider the songs which shaped me and defined the person I was at the time. "Drowning Like The Moon" from our debut album (Laudanum, 1997) for example is one of these songs that changed a lot of things. "The Arrival" from the album Into The Arms Of Chaos (2008) also comes to mind. Considering the new ones, again I have to say "Walk On The Mirror" because it is not only a rather personal song, but it is also something we haven’t achieved before in terms of songwriting and atmosphere. That doesn’t necessarily mean we will keep going into this direction tough. Always expect the unexpected, as you might have figured by now.

Tomaz: I guess it is kind of strange to talk about live shows right now, but still, tell me about the scheduled plans for some live appearances/tours in the not so distant future.
: Yes, we have some great shows in the pipeline. New Waves Day in Germany in June is just one of them. With an absolute dream line up, And Also The Trees, Gary Numan, Chameleons,... In spring we also plan a 25th-anniversary show at a very well-known festival. And there is more. But if any of these can happen, I don’t know. Fingers crossed. If not, then we will do a 25th + 1-anniversary show in 2022. The concept already stands. We will play one song from each album in chronological order, plus a second set with songs from Yesterday Is Forever and some rare never played before stuff.

Tomaz: Of course, I must also ask you about what is new with other bands that you are involved in - The Devil & The Universe and Near Earth Orbit?
: As it happens, we are about to drop the next The Devil & The Universe release. It is going to be a limited Christmas record. We are interpreting some Christmas traditional songs plus there is a bunch of original composition with a goaty goat Christmas feel. And guest singers too! Matt Howden from Sieben is doing "In The Bleak Midwinter" and Box from Box And The Twins is singing "Little Drummer Boy". Pre-orders should already have started when this interview is online. As far as Near Earth Orbit goes, I left the project last year, so I wasn’t involved in any of the releases since then. No bad blood though, I guess I just reached the end of the line, and with more and more live gigs coming in with both Whispers In The Shadow and The Devil & The Universe, it would also be a bit of a time problem. At the time also no one could have known that there won’t be any gigs in the foreseeable future. Nevertheless, I contributed everything I had in me to that band. However, I have something else in the drawers, a new project I keep fantasizing about. But I'm not sure when this will see the light of day. I have something planned for the 25th Whispers anniversary next year. A special release, but it is too early to go into details. And there will be a new The Devil & The Universe long-player some time in 2021. I can promise you that.

Tomaz: I don’t know how much do you follow new music releases, but I hope you do. The year 2020 is slowly coming to an end, and I wonder which albums released so far are your favourites?
: If it wouldn’t be for our guitarist Lazy, I would not hear any new artists at all, I guess. I became one of these old lazy farts who only listen to the bands they liked in the past hahaha… But thanks to him, I discover something I like from time to time. But there is not much new stuff that really catches me these days. But that’s just me and my ignorance. Doesn’t necessarily mean there is no good new music out there. But something fresh and original? Well, it’s not happening within the goth scene, that’s for sure. Album of the year for me would be American Head from The Flaming Lips. They became one of my favourite bands during the last couple of years, and their new album is one of their best. I'm also looking forward to the new Smashing Pumpkins album, from what they've released so far, it’s going to be fantastic. During the summer I was listening to Sufi Music from the Middle East a lot, that was something fresh and new for me. I also listen to Gustav Mahler symphony occasionally. Fifth and sixth are my favourites if anyone cares.

Tomaz: Thank you for your answers. Is there anything that you would like to say to our readers and fans of Whispers In The Shadows at the end of this interview?
: "Fear not for the future weep not for the past" - Percy Bysshe Shelley

Photos by: Werner Nowak

- Laudanum (1997)
- November (1999)
- A Taste Of Decay (2000)
- Permanent Illusions (2001)
- Into The Arms Of Chaos (2008)
- The Eternal Arcane (2010)
- The Rites Of Passage (2012)
- Beyond The Cycles Of Time (2014)
- The Urgency Of Now (2018)
- Yesterday Is Forever (2020)

Line-up: Ashley Dayour (vocals, guitars, keyboards, programming), Martin “Acid” Gutmann (keyboards, piano), Alexander Kühmayer (drums, percussions), Zebo Adam (bass), Lazy Schulz (guitars, bass VI)

Whispers In The Shadow links: Official website, Facebook, YouTube, Bandcamp