Faith And The Muse: The War For Peace, Part 2

William Faith and Monica Richards, the core of Faith And The Muse.

After a five-year hiatus, Goth icons Faith And The Muse returned last year with their fifth studio album ankoku butoh, an edgy, energetic and mystical collection of songs that incorporated Taiko drumming into their sound, with lyrics culled from Japanese folklore and horror stories. It comes gorgeously packaged with a full color book and bonus DVD of videos and live performances. Expressing their anger and frustration with, as William Faith says, “the world that we live in and the political climate,” the new release is intense, impassioned and beguiling.

ADD caught their recent gig in NYC, and it was a fantastic show, full of life and energy. The spooky, J-Horror inspired dancers/back-up singers was a nice touch, and the string players and Taiko drummers added a rich and deep vocabulary to the show. It was a sight to behold, even on the tightly packed stage of the Santos Party House venue in downtown Manhattan.

Prior to their current North American tour, ADD chatted with vocalists/multi-instrumentalists Monica Richards and William Faith for two hours on a wide range of subjects, from music to politics to permaculture. During their hiatus (in which they still collaborated outside of their main group), Richards released a solo album (InfraWarrior) and the comic book series Anafae, while Faith revisited his anarcho-punk roots with the politically-minded Anima Mundi project. They are reunited artistically in this configuration, ready to roar once more, waging their war for peace and sanity with a heady sonic brew both on album and in concert. (Part One can be found here.)

Adding a J-Horror vibe to the set.
(Photo © 2010 by Bryan Reesman.)

Was the idea behind the boxed packaging of the new album to make it more collectible and less downloadable?
William Faith: That aspect certainly played into it, but because it had also been so long since we had done something, we wanted to come back with something really special.
Monica Richards: The thing is we had planned to put a DVD out around 2003, but our cameras and footage were stolen while we were on tour in 2004.
William Faith: Somebody broke into our van in Detroit — go figure.
Monica Richards: They stole everything, plus a lot of personal belongings and merchandise and just devastated our tour.
William Faith: We came out in the morning and found a brick on the front seat of the van. The window was gone.
Monica Richards: Normally we would carry everything into the hotel, but we hadn’t slept the night before because we had a blowout on the highway. That night I don’t think we got in until four, so we were just thrashed. We just went in, plunked our heads down, got up the next morning and bam…
William Faith: Paid for it big time.

The cover of the latest Faith And The Muse album, ankoku butoh.

Monica Richards: We had a three-camera shoot of our 2004 Dragon*Con gig in that footage and a lot of the DVD footage plus the cameras as well.
William Faith: Plus everything we had shot on tour. That was a real drag. Then after that we went off and did different stuff for a while, so when we came back to do this [album] we were thinking of doing something of value to the fans who had been waiting for a while. Also, at the same time, to create something really interesting for people who don’t know us yet — something that captures us performing at full strength, and also brand-new music that expresses where we’re at right now. I feel that this album really does that. We also wanted something that was graphically engaging — trying to hit on the visual, the oral and the printed word — and bringing all these things together into one item that really expresses who we are. In the time that music has become so devalued and ancillary, this is a statement that this is actually important and this actually matters.
Monica Richards: Back in the vinyl days, whenever I would get a new album I would sit just there with the album and the lyric sheet and just enter another world for a little while. That’s gone.

I’m finding it hard to keep up with and absorb all of the music that is out there. I am starting to remember track numbers more than song titles these days.
William Faith: At the same time, if it’s that difficult for you — and you grew up with the same reverence and love for music that we did in the ’80s — imagine what it’s like for a kid that’s coming up now. If anything, I can almost see where some of this lack of value in the music comes from because you’re so disembodied from it. Ultimately it should be about the songs, but there was always more to it than that. The artist had painstakingly taken this time to design this experience for you, down to what font the lyrics were written in and what the cover art was like. It was designed to bring you through this whole concept, and graphically it was a very specific aesthetic that was being expressed that really embodied the character of the band. All of this work went into it, and now all of that stuff is considered secondary. Its fluff and nothing of any real importance.
Monica Richards: We’ve also seen a lot of artists who also don’t care either. They’ve lost their excitement for putting out something new, so they just plunk it out. Maybe they shrug their shoulders, knowing it’s just going to get downloaded anyway.

You’re both vegan and have been working on the Ars Terra project. Could you talk about those aspects of your life? You took some time off from doing Faith And The Muse to do other projects and to get back to nature. How did that transform you?
Monica Richards: William found out about it through punk rock. Back to your roots.
William Faith: We were doing this project called Anima Mundi, which was entirely reactionary to the Bush recoronation in 2004. At that point, it was literally when the election results came in that I had to dust off the combat boots. I had say something I wanted to say that was just not compatible in the world of Faith And The Muse, where we’ve talked about myth and legend and these ephemeral, timeless things that come and go but always are rooted in these core aspects of the human condition. I think coming up with something overtly political would be to some extent disrespecting that framework that we’d spent so long building, so coming out of that I wanted to say something very directly. That’s where we created Anima Mundi from and put out a disc of that material. By getting in touch with my old friends from my anarcho-punk history in the ’80s, it was like, catch me up [with] what’s been going on while I’ve been doing this other stuff. At one point a friend of mine gave me a VHS cassette of stuff that he culled off of different TV news reports from over the years, and one of them was this PBS show where they had these street punks in Mexico City doing this thing called permaculture. I thought it was fascinating, so I went and Googled it and all of this information came up. All of a sudden, I went out and got a book on it, and Monica and I were over the moon about this. It’s equal parts philosophy and art and science, in my opinion. It’s basically focused on creating sustainable human settlements while having the smallest ecological footprint possible. We learned so much about how we could change our lives and how to reverse a lot of these negative effects that have been occurring over the last century.

Faith And The Muse circa 1994.

Monica Richards: It’s based very much on an aboriginal belief system of respecting the earth, but it’s also common sense. In New Orleans, the suburban developers destroyed a great deal of the wetlands, which actually could have stopped a lot of the flooding [during Katrina] and actually could have calmed a great deal of the hurricane when it hit land. So do you build levees or do you rebuild the wetlands? It’s really looking at nature and what does nature do to solve problems and doing it naturally.
William Faith: It’s called biomimicry — it’s just mimicking natural patterns and using them to build, create and enrich the human settlements in the way that we do things. There’s nothing new about it — it’s just a collection of a variety of old techniques. Bill Mollison, the co-creator of permaculture, calls it the cutting edge of 10,000 years of technology. It was one of these things that we encountered that was an immediate fit and basically just a philosophical underpinning of how we approach our lives at this point.

What do you think it will take for us to wean ourselves off of materialism and being so wasteful? What do we need to do?
William Faith: You want the fatalistic reply?
Monica Richards: Here’s a good example: People are getting more and more broke, so they’re having to resort to things that are free in order to solve the problems, and one of the big problems that is actually happening across the U.S. is people are trying to hang their laundry out on lines again. You have homeowners’ associations telling them that they are not allowed to because it’s ugly. What takes the least energy? You can use the Sun. I can dry my clothes and not have to pay my dryer bill. But now my homeowners’ association is telling me I’m not allowed to dry my laundry, which would be a free thing to do, so there are a lot of people fighting them over the fact that this type of thing is not being allowed. There are also homeowners’ associations that don’t like you to use compost because they say it’s unattractive and that it attracts vermin, but composting is a natural way to get rid of half of your trash. You can put all of your bills and everything into the garden, and the worms can eat it. A lot of people are starting to find ways to solve problems, and it’s going to change slowly just due to the fact that they have to.
[continued below]

William Faith: And the concept of food production is paramount in permaculture. If you look at the current way that food is handled here in the United States, the average piece of produce that we consume travels 1,600 miles from farm to fork, so it’s what we call the “1,600-mile Caesar salad bar”. You have this ridiculous amount of transportation involved in getting food to you, and in the time of peak oil that we’re looking at on the imminent horizon, things like this are simply not going to be possible. So localizing food production is another massive concern, and something that we try to point at — being able to eat locally is something that’s going to be much more important in the future. These are the kinds of things that we look at and try to bring to the forefront of the discussion with what we do with Ars Terra. What we do here, other than being the suburban demonstration site for what you can do — we have extensive gardens and do gray water and a variety of things like that — but we also do a lot of outreach, education and coursework, so that’s why we call it the other half of our life. We engage on that level as well. We are vegan and involved in animal rescue, and other than our rather extensive companion animal population, we also have a couple of ducks that happen to do a great amount of our weeding and fertilizing for us. We’re also trying to show ways that you can integrate animals into your life beyond just the companion aspect just by letting an animal do what they do naturally. You wind up getting a lot of work out of them.
[continued below]

Faith And The Muse live at Santos House Party, NYC, April 23, 2010.
(Photo © 2010 by Bryan Reesman.)

Monica Richards: Out here in Mojave [Desert], where we’re close to, there’s an enormous and growing solar panel field. We have so much sunshine here and so much desert that it would be so easy to create more and more solar fields and wind fields, out here where we have tons of wind and tons of sun. This could reach out to a great deal of the U.S. It is slowly happening.
William Faith: The frustration on our end comes from the fact that we know what’s possible, and ultimately I think that is the underpinning of virtually all of our anger — knowing for yourself what is possible and watching everything else standing in the way of that.

William and Monica in a Japanese garden.

Throughout your career together, you both have certainly done things on your own terms.
William Faith: In many respects, we’re fairly proud to be creatures of the underground. This is an area where we get to do exactly what we want with no compromise, and I know that we’re still doing it for the right reasons. There is no carrot on a stick in front of us — we do it because we want to. Even though we’re really not making any money on it to speak of, it’s what drives us. I never really want to get sucked in to the point where you’re putting out albums because you have to, because that’s your livelihood and you’ve got your management and label pressing you to do it so that they can make their 15%. That aspect of it has never been interesting to me. I never wanted to be a part of it, in that respect. From our punk roots in the ’80s up until now, we’ve always kept it at an altitude where we’ve never had to give anything up to do it. At some point, if you’re starting to climb that ladder, there’s a point that you cross a threshold point that you don’t necessarily know you’ve crossed until you look back. There’s a loss of power over what you do that occurs at some point. That aspect, however distant, has always been somewhat horrifying to me.
Monica Richards: Now that we are “older,” I think both of us, especially on this last tour, feel grateful that we get to go to Europe, and wherever we go people are going to come and see us. And [grateful that] people care, and that we’ve always just done what we’ve wanted to do. That’s actually a pretty great and rare thing.

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