According to their online bio – Flowers of Hell are a trans-Atlantic rock orchestra made up of 16 or so experimental independent musicians consisting of members based in Toronto and London. There’s something about the word trans-Atlantic that makes it all the more intriguing (not that the name ‘Flowers of Hell’ isn’t intriguing enough). Trans-Atlantic, oddly makes me think about the word inter-galactic – they’re in the same word family, right? Hyphenated location terms aside – interstingly, one way that you can describe music by the band is it’s space-age, symphonic space rock. If this genre’s never existed before, or has existed, but never been aptly named, Flowers Of Hell would be one of flagship groups to represent it. Not only do they have the groove and feel of being in the Starship Enterprise, but NASA hearts them – as proven by this cool video of the Discovery launch to the music of Flowers of Hell, made by one of the members of NASA’s shuttle launch team.
This week, the band’s very own Greg Jarvis was kind enough to take a stab at answering our daunting questions for Fresh from the Post. The following is our little Q and A about the group, which somewhat diverts to an anthropological book referral, a brief introduction to motorik and how forming a band is like a one night stand that somehow turned into a steady relationship.
As our site is The Indie Music Database, we’re curious to find out how other artists define the term ‘indie music’. How do you define it?
On a basic level, ‘indie music’ to us is guitar based stuff that’s come down the Dylan-Velvets-Bowie-70s Punk tree of musical evolution/revolution. But on a more intellectual level of things we’d define it by reading Wendy Fonarow’s ‘Empire Of Dirt: The Aesthetics And Rituals Of British Indie Music’. That book is the most thorough and thoughtful exploration of that question that you’ll ever come across; it’s a brilliant anthropological deconstruction of all things to do with indie music & the culture around it. And we love it – Wendy’s the world’s coolest genius.
Do you consider yourselves an indie music artists and why?
We just consider ourselves artists – different people apply different labels to the sounds we make, and that’s fine by us. I think the London magazine Time Out coined what we deem to be the most fitting name for what we do “Beauteous quasi-classical folk-blues cum motorik shoegazing pop”. Mind you only one of our tracks, Blumchen, really goes motorik – and by motorik I think they meant krautrockish.
How did you guys start out?
It started out with me doing it as a solo studio project in London in 2002, and in 2005 I inadvertently expanded it into a live band. We originally came together as a six piece to do a one off gig and recording of Opt Out, which was a 20 min tune initially (and it still usually clocks in at 14 mins live). When we played Opt Out for the first time together at our initial rehearsal, as we reached the song’s crescendo it was a real spine tingling moment – and after that we were all into playing together for more than just the one show. It was somewhat a case of the music forming the group. Sex and drugs don’t compare to that feeling of the music causing you goosebumps – while you’re playing it. I suppose it was kind of like turning a one night stand into a relationship because the sex was great.
When I hear the name Flowers of Hell it conjures up an image of a metal rock band, that maybe specializes in mushy love songs. How did you guys come up naming your group Flowers of Hell?
Well our guitarist Steve Head had just been kicked out of the Christian metal act Stryper for drinking and dissing the Lord….erm no. The name comes from the old blues ideal that the misery and toil of the musician gives rise to the pleasure of the listener. I’ve always thought there’s something beautiful in the way music can transform one person’s downheartedness into the joy of many listeners. Kind of a schadenfreude thing. Erm, that’s a German word that the English language has somewhat adopted for the idea of getting pleasure from another person’s misfortune. Not that we’re misfortunate – we’ve been really damn lucky lately!
With such as large ensemble, how do you guys come about matching your schedules to meet up and practice, let alone do gigs?
There’s a website called bandcentral.com which was started by one of the guys from Air Formation and is designed for helping band members sort out their schedules amongst other things. But most of the time, lining up all of our schedules simply isn’t do-able, so we tend to work by almost all band members having a person or two who can substitute for them if they can’t make it out. That’s also how we ended up growing into such a large line up; originally we’d invite a sax player along because a trumpeter couldn’t do a show, then they both could do the next one so we’d have sax and trumpet come at it. Repeat, repeat, and next thing you know you’ve got a full on orchestra on your hands.
How about sharing some songs from your new album, Come Hell Or High Water?
This is a Jesus & Mary Chain tune that we originally recorded for a shoegaze covers compilation, Never Lose That Feeling, put out by the London based label & club night AC30. The Mary Chain had a thing about re-interpreting songs they chose to cover, and we wanted to apply their own philosophy to one of their tracks. Using horns & strings as the vocals on it was inspired by the EP ‘Terry Edwards Plays The Music Of Jim & William Reid’ – which has got some superb horn led instrumental JAMC covers. We laid down the initial bits in Camden way back in 2005 but due to massive delays with the comp, it sat on the shelf until last year. We dusted it off, did a lot more work on it in Toronto, and sent it off to Manchester for Tom Knott of The Earlies to mix.
Aside from Kraftwerk, krautrock had always been a blackhole in my music knowledge until I worked with Tim Holmes from Death In Vegas on our first album – he turned me onto a lot of great stuff like Music Von Harmonia. And this track was very much inspired by the Neu ’75 album. The narration is a traditional German folk poem that was written down in my friend Anna-Nicole Ziesche’s mother’s school book in the early 1950s. I’d originally recorded Anna reading it for an installation she was doing at London’s Institute of Contemporary Art and I reworked it to fit with the track. It was only after I sent her the finished song that I found out the poem is co-incidentally about flowers! German often gets slagged off as a harsh sounding language, and I wanted to show just how beautiful those hard consonants can actually sound.
Flowers of Hell gives instrumental music fans a nice collection of tracks to listen to – it’s eclectic, edgy and never boring. Furthermore, it’s a sensory delight – the type of music that you can imagine and feel with. Also, if you’ve always wanted to hear what music from a person that not only hears music, but sees music sounds like, you’re in for a nice treat – since Greg, a synaesthetic, recounts that his timbre-to-shape synaesthetic visions were a big part in the creative process involved in making the band’s album.
If you loved the two tracks sampled here, Come Hell Or High Water is an album best experienced in full.
Download the album here