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Ison - Interview #2

Interview with: Heike Langhans
Conducted by: T.V.

One of the most atmospheric, the most immersive, emotional, yet dark and also the most beautiful music out there must be the one done by this Swedish duo named Ison. In the beginning of February this year Ison self-released their highly anticipated second EP named Andromeda Skyline, and with this immersive sonic cosmic path that builds up slowly and with caution, where every consequent note takes us deeper, further into the vast universe that could have many meanings, the two artists behind this project who seem to be from another dimension, offered us something truly unique, something so very deep, sensitive, fragile and melancholic that is simply irresistible. Ison was formed in 2015 by two highly creative musicians, the magical vocalist and songwriter Heike Langhans (Draconian, LOR3L3I) and likeminded soul Daniel Änghede (Hearts Of Black Science, Crippled Black Phoenix). Ison is inspired by drone, goth and shoegaze, combined with a deep fascination for the astral planes and the universe, so their music was described as cosmic drone. Their debut EP, Cosmic Drone, which was released in June 2015 already caused a real stir among the fans of dark atmospheric music and Ison soon became one of the most respected acts in the genre. With the new EP Andromeda Skyline, which has a playing time of a proper full-length (more than 40 minutes), the two had a difficult task to make a proper follow-up to their debut, but they succeeded, Andromeda Skyline is a masterpiece from any possible point of view, is magic filled with kind of sweet sadness in motion, the music here is a harmonic perfect blend of drone, ambient, goth and shoegaze with a certain portion of doom, spiced up with a bit of electronics and post-rock. You can read my review of Andromeda Skyline over HERE and if you want to know even more about Ison, the interview I did with Heike three years ago is available over HERE. Now we talked mostly about their new release, but also about many other things, like are future plans, possible live shows, about Draconian, Hallatar and LOR3L3I. So take some time and read this very interesting in-depth interview with one of the best female vocalist around.

T.V.: With this new EP Andromeda Skyline you really hooked me, totally! It's a pure masterpiece, one of the best releases that I've ever heard. I'm of course interested how are you satisfied with it?
: At first we were unsure how to top Cosmic Drone, but at the same time we knew we wanted to do something entirely different. We're both satisfied with how easily we channeled different styles we love into Andromeda Skyline and managed to have a whole different feel to this EP overall. It's creatively satisfying.
T.V.: I'm wondering why do you consider it to be just an EP, even though it has more than 40 minutes of playing time? Most of the bands will release such a thing as an album.
Heike: This is actually something we debated over like nerds. "Can five songs be called an album? Can an album-length EP be called an EP?". Some people actually don't consider five songs an album, no matter how long the total playtime is. We decided to go for the glass half-full approach, so it's an EP that gives more than bargained for.
T.V.: Yes, I know what you mean, there's no a certain trajectory set between what should be an EP or an album. Some bands release five or six songs with a playing time of 25 minutes and yet they call it an album. Ok, lets leave this and tell me why did you named the EP as it is, Andromeda Skyline? Is there something behind this very title?
Heike: Credit for this title actually goes to Anders Jacobsson (Draconian). Being the wordsmith that he is, he often comes up with lines in passing that begs to be used. The concept of this EP was ultimately reaching Andromeda (both in 3-D and in lower 5-D where Andromedians reside and Earth humans are destined to reach in the future). Andromeda Skyline thus evokes the imagery of seeing this beautiful galaxy on the horizon for the very first time.
T.V.: And what about the front cover artwork. You simply put in there the photo of Andromeda constellation. Nothing exagerated, or maybe... Is there something special behind all this?
Heike: When I first saw this image, I gazed at it longingly for a while. Everything from the composition to colors are just perfect and fit that notion of seeing it through one's own eyes for the first time as I described before. Astronomer Mike Hankey was kind enough to gift us with its use and I personally feel that this beautiful image needed no alteration or additions to distract from its marvel.

T.V.: I was very surprised that you had to release Andromeda Skyline as a self-release. Was there no label interested to offer you a record deal?
Heike: We've actually had great interest from labels, but we prefer to be independent and license vinyl releases with smaller trustworthy labels. To put it bluntly, we are all too familiar with how the music industry doesn't always support the artists accordingly. I say this as a humanitarian that would rather see a more community-based approach to sharing and supporting music, rather than the careless corporate machine. Since this is our side-project and we do everything ourselves, we prefer to be in control of our own creation. Surely it means more hard work for us as individuals, but it brings a greater happiness to see hard work appreciated through the support from you, the people. These days it's not impossible to self-release. I have nothing against labels in general, but people have every right to turn their own music into their own job. And ironically it has been more financially beneficial not to sign with a label. Perhaps a notion most people haven't considered possible.
T.V.: It seems that you were quite successful with this approach. If I'm not mistaken the first pressing was sold-out before the official release... It's also pretty evident that you got quite a large fan base already after the release of Cosmic Drone. So you must be doing the right things.
Heike: We are still a bit taken back by the response and appreciation. Our two-person DIY approach almost seems inadequate compared to the demand and I'd be lying if I said we haven't considered making this our top priority and putting more resources toward production etc. All we really wanted to do here is have a little side-project where we can experiment and combine styles we love but never get to play. Perhaps we have created something unique and I think most people, myself included, are looking for something different these days.
T.V: Andromeda Skyline feels like a bit more immersive and even more melancholic if compared to the as well grandiose first EP Cosmic Drone. Where are in your opinion the main differences?
Heike: The first EP usually sets the tone and lays a foundation for future expectations, but as time moves along, we evovle and so does equipment. From a pragmatic standpoint we simply had more resources to experiment with, which seems to ultimately lead to repetitive, more cinematic soundscapes. From the energetic standpoint, we intended for a more introspective or dreamy canvas. I personally feel like we are in a time of need for healing or hope and wanted to reach out in a deeper way with this EP. Giving listeners open spaces in which they can be mindful or simply rest.
T.V.: What if anything has changed in the compositional process with Andromeda Skyline, again if compared to Cosmic Drone?
Heike: Very little actually. We kept exactly the same format on purpose, It's not meant to be obvious, but each EP is actually a story from start to finish. The second last song is always the odd one out in terms of style and brings a twist in the story. Each EP almost becomes our idea of a soundtrack to an episode of Star Trek.
T.V.: Yes, sometimes it really feels like that. Are you a fan of sci-fi movies and series? How much of inspiration do you get from there?
Heike: If I'm going to vegetate to something, it's going to be sci-fi 90% of the time, because it inspires thought about what is actually possible (theoretically or in the quantum field). The thing about sci-fi is that it has to make sense from a scientific perspective, so even though it's termed "fiction", I find the content far more related to my own interests in the Universe. Then again, even what we consider fantasy and impossible, has proven otherwise. One example is the invisibility cloak in Harry Potter. Just weeks after seeing that film, I came across military demo videos of invisibility cloaking for tanks and thought to myself "yeah the lines between fiction and reality are getting blurrier by the day." One can't help but be inspired somehow.
T.V.: On the first read the lyrics seem to be just about the universe and post apocalyptic events, but if thinking outside the borders it's much more meaningful. I believe that it has a lot to do also with inner thoughts. What can you tell me about this matter?
Heike: Nothing written has only one meaning. I like to write lyrics in a 'read between the lines' fashion. I feel that what I'm trying to convey will reach people through metaphors or visuals they create in their mind while listening. I prefer to leave it open to interpretation to people so that it can relate to them more personally. Other times I think of something mundane for days and it leads to connecting dots and finding parallels to how it affects our existence. A good example of this is "Helios", which I've actually gotten many questions about. This would be a good opportunity to demystify it, so (spoiler alert): One evening I was listening to a podcast with a nuclear fusion scientist who built one of the first nuclear containment devices for the U.S Military and seems to know a hell of a great deal about radiation and the Sun. He was explaining how a coronal mass ejection from the Sun aka an EMP event would affect the electronic grid system of the planet if not properly prepared for or dealt with. Since nearly all power lines contain transistor canisters with oil in them, they would all catch fire (along with whatever is flammable around it) and wreak havoc. The smoke alone would cover the sky for over two weeks to suffocate us. The one thing that every scientist in the field agrees on - We'd all be dead in less than couple of months. This concept really fascinated me and I kept thinking - Here we are worrying about nuclear war when all it takes is one kiss of death from the Sun. It reminded me to not take this majestic entity for granted. What an epic death it would be. In many ancient ideologies, the Sun is personified as a father figure and one can draw parallels to the mythical definitions which brings wrath and fury while promoting life itself. There are many different ways listeners can interpret the words, but they are all somehow connected through time and space. On a macro and micro level - all different proportional expressions of the same principles.

T.V.: Ok, thank you for explaining this. I find it a bit dubious when you sing in the title track these lines: "We know it's too late / For a world we left for dead / It's never too late / To find our way again". You must refer there to something specific. I feel it's more about an inner perception or do you believe that out there is another planet where humans can start anew if the earth is destroyed?
Heike: It's a bit of an "either-or" and hypothetical scenario and the lyrics to this song only pertains to one possible outcome in a list of many. I personally don't believe humans will leave this planet unless we reach a certain maturity and by that time, if the Earth still exists, that maturity might have taught us to take better care of it. However, everything has an expiration date, our Sun and thus Earth is no different. We might have no choice but to leave, depending on our level of technology. This is of course assuming that our awareness will be bound to 3-D, which I don't actually think it will, since the Sun energy output changes will greatly affect matter. It's also naive to assume this Universe will remain in the same state forever. In other words, we might not need to travel at all, but simply move into our extra-dimensional selves. A tough concept to consider for some to consider, but worth the ponder.
T.V.: Was the music and lyrics done entirely just by you and Daniel, or did go you got some help also from the outside?
Heike: Heck no. Apart from mastering of course. The whole idea of this side-project was to have the platform to do all the things we can't get away with doing in other bands and studios. We prefer things dirty and unpolished. Even the vocals are used as is and not edited to be perfect (plus we get to slap on all the effects we like). This way it's honest and meaningful to us. Most professionals in the industry today would consider it the wrong way of doing things, so we simply feel no need for help from the outside. We are however considering a real drummer for the next release and eventually a band for live shows. For now it's just two nerds in the basement and we're happy with that.
T.V.: Two nerds that did a perfect job, even more satisfying than most bands in expensive studios with renowned professionals behind the knobs... I love that echoing sound of guitars, vocals and the overall depth of this album!
Heike: Thank you kindly. "That's too atmospheric". Said no one ever.
T.V.: Is Daniel the main man behind the knobs when it comes to recording, mixing and producing the music? And who did the mastering of the EP?
Heike: Daniel put in so much time into mixing, I cannot go any further before giving him the credit he deserves. I've never seen someone so determined to get things to sound the way we envision it and he has learned and improved a great deal since our first release. Mastering we have left in the hands of Johan Ericson on fairly short notice and we actually consider our production quality to be low by his standards haha! So I also have to say thank you to Johan for soldiering through it and holding back the urge to make it shine. We typically record in our own studio and motivate each other to experiment. We try to produce and be involved equally, but since Daniel is a brilliant guitarist and bassist, he records the majority of guitars. I often have a concept in my head and the minute I articulate it to him, he can already play and record it. It also gave him a pretty good excuse to buy a new guitar! I'm more involved with the melodic and electronic (supersonic) elements. The ambient outro part of the EP however, was solely the work of Daniel. He channeled that from who knows where and I liked it so much I vowed not to touch it.
T.V.: Yes, it really is perfect! Tell me, which song on this EP is your favorite and which one brings to you the strongest emotions?
Heike: It's tough to say, because I feel strongly about every word. "Portals" feels very personal to me, because it deals directly with sensing the pressence of my best friend Delene, who died in 2013. I've had experiences that became portals to interacting with her in ways I can hardly describe and it left me in tears of both sadness and joy. I truly feel that across time and space, nothing will keep us apart.
T.V.: You mentioned it before, but also in the interview we did almost three years ago you said that you'll play some live shows, but I didn't notice any live activities from Ison. Anything coming up in this regard?
Heike: We've seriously been considering it, especially since we got offers to open for some bands we really love. The biggest obstacle is this construct of time, I'm afraid. Our other bands always have priority and needless to say, the world gets more chaotic by the day. Nearly every person we would consider asking to join, already has three bands! We also slightly dread the monumental task of trying to figure out who will play which one of the six guitars in a song and who will fight over what pedals goes where. Maybe we can just have six guitarists on stage haha! Either way, it's our biggest dream at this point.

T.V.: That would be an amazing experience to see and hear Ison playing live. Do you have in mind how a live show of Ison would look like and what will you offer to the audience when finally realized?
Heike: Ah you know, a wall of sound plus stars and lazers everywhere for starters! We have actually agreed that we would not do a show unless we can create the perfect combination of audio and visual. This type of music is a perfect opportunity to create an immersive or transcendental experience. I'd love to articulate my vision, but I've learned to keep concepts safely in my mind until nothing and no one can stop it from manifesting. You'll just have to wait and see!
T.V.: I'm really looking forward to see Ison live someday. It's almost difficult sometimes to hold the tears back when listening to the soundscapes of Ison and your heart rending voice. I don't know how it must be for you when actually playing or recording these songs?
Heike: I really appreciate that and it's interesting you mention it. I've always had a hard time with live shows, simply because music  comes from a deep place for me. This often can leave one feeling vulnerable or even unable to focus on technicality. Part of the reason I would never perform LOR3L3I live is because I would wail like a banshee and ruin the song! I'm always more comfortable in studio where I can tunnel-vision inner-space and can do ugly-cry-face all day long. On the other hand, most people enjoy an emotional performance and can excuse whatever flaws happen, because the emotion moves them far more than showmanship.
T.V.: As you mentioned LOR3L3I, tell me if is this project of your still alive and are you planning to make some new music in that regard?
Heike: Absolutely. Just last night I was fooling around with unfinished projects. I am in the process of revamping the sound a bit and playing around with the idea of adding guitars and hunting down the perfect producer. Sometimes I get frustrated with how little time I actually have for my own music, since it demands more time than I spend with Draconian and Ison. At least I have not given up and something tells me that in the future, I will prefer to have nothing but the freedom and time to do LOR3L3I  professionally.
T.V.: Of course I can't skip but asking you about Draconian. Are you working on a new album already? I think that I came along Anders mentioning something. Can you say some words about that?
Heike: We just recently started working on the new album and I am loving what I've heard so far. At this point it's too early to say much about the concept and overall sound, but I already sense something more deep, desolate and cinematic about it.
T.V.: Did you solve the problems that you had with your stay in Sweden? I know that you had some difficulties to perform outside Sweden because of some diplomacy.
Heike: It's no secret that bureaucracy in Sweden is a mess at the moment. Simply put, the waiting times for extending residence is outrageous (14-22 months). During my 19 month wait, I have been unable to leave the country to do shows. While I can't complain to be "stuck" in such a beautiful country, I can't help but become impatient and feel as if my wings have been clipped. The good news is I finally have my extension and can do shows this year. The bad news is that next year I have to go through this process all over again, but this time hopefully for citizenship. We've been fortunate enough to have the awesome Lisa Cuthbert standing in for me on live shows, but we can't wait to get out there as a whole band again.
T.V.: Last year you were a guest on the amazing album of Hallatar, No Stars Upon The Bridge, singing a fantastic heart rending duet with Tomi Joutsen (Amorphis). Tell me more about this experience and how did you feel performing on an album that is dedicated to the memory of too early passed away, as well the amazing singer Aleah Starbridge (Trees Of Eternity)?
Heike: Somehow it felt like the most natural thing in the world. Not only because I wanted to honor her memory, but because Aleah and I had very similar views and discussed them in-depth when inspired to. We felt like we understood each other and had some uncanny meta-physical connection or sisterhood. Reading her words, I felt such familiarity and sense of her presence. Those close to her have no better way to express their sadness than creativity, so it goes without saying that we'd come together to give tribute.
T.V.: What else can you tell me about the future plans of yours? Anything special that we don't know yet to be mentioned?
Heike: Since we've mentioned Hallatar, I do plan to join them for some shows where possible. Apart from that, I have some future collaborations I can't say too much about yet, but one of them is with a band/project I have admired since I first heard it. Ideally I would love to release LOR3L3I material this year. Mostly, I just want to travel. Play as many shows as possible and see my friends and family in South Africa.
T.V.: Thank you very much for this interview! It was a great pleasure for me to talk again with one of my absolutely favorite singers. The last words are all yours!
Heike: As always, you support us greatly and we really appreciate it! Thank you for this opportunity! Thank you to everyone who took the time and attention to read and for the world out there, I have one important message: We are in a time of immense change. The symptoms of rebirth on Earth and a shift of energy in our Universe is accompanied by chaos, confusion and tension for a specie of such infancy in the Cosmic scheme of things. I ask that you all learn to forgive what is to come, but also put aside your differences, albeit race, religion or political ideology. Look into your true selves and recognize that fundamentally, we all want the same things - peace, freedom, abundance, love and creativity. We must, for the sake of our own survival, unite against all the forces in this world that aims to keep us divided and enslaved. Human beings have the capacity for immense creation or immense destruction. Before you can reach the stars, you must respect the principles and life of your own planet. Live long and prosper.

Ison links: Facebook, Bandcamp, YouTube

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