Ancient Tundra/Hypnotic Dirge Records interview with Voltage Media (01/30/2010)

Posted by Nick Skog on Monday, February 1, 2010
Interview with Voltage Media 01/30/2010 - You can view the interview at its original location at this location. - Voltage Media - A Conversation with Nick Skog

Hypnotic Dirge Records is a Canadian label specialising in the release of Depressive Black Metal, Dark Ambient, Funeral Doom, Down-tempo and Experimental music. Starting its operations in October of 2008, HDR already works with an amazing roster of ambient and experimental projects including; Immundus, Winds of Sorrow, Astral Luminous and Neige et Noirceur.

I recently had the chance to catch up with owner Nick Skog to discuss the ins and outs of HDR, his own dark ambient project Ancient Tundra, and the views he holds on the creation of his music, as well as the society around him.
What brought you to start Hypnotic Dirge Records?
Skog; The idea to start Hypnotic Dirge Records stemmed from wanting to have full control over my own project Ancient Tundra in terms of the manufacturing process, choosing release dates, shipping the orders, making trades to have it available in other distros, and sending away review copies to various magazines and web publications.
I wanted to be in full control of what I was doing. Luckily I already had good contact with Bruno Duarte (Immundus), Scott Johnson (Astral Luminous), and Mort (Exiled From Light) in particular so they were very supportive, offered advice, and we all sort of shared the same vision for what we expected out of record labels. We were all thinking on the same page so that was great! Luckily they trusted me with their projects and that is how it all began. I remember having numerous conversations with Bruno about HDR as we were sort of planning it out prior to making it public knowledge.

The label is still relatively young, starting its operations in the late of 2008. However, in this industry and the niche that its supports, it is doing very well. How has the support been from both the fans and the artists on your roster?
Skog; Well, as I've mentioned, the support from the HDR artists have been great. It's a very two-sided relationship I share with all of the artists and we are all after the same goal so there are no problems there. They understand that this is an underground market, and release dates are entirely dependant on sale figures.

The fans also have been great. I have been getting a lot of positive feedback about how the label is operated, and things such as the aesthetic, and layout of the website. A lot of positive comments on the promotional videos which I create for each release...different things like this. It is always nice to hear that people think you are doing a good job.
How many people are behind Hypnotic Dirge?
Skog; Only myself. Sometimes during busy times, I get help from my girlfriend putting together orders but it is only me that operates the label.

How difficult is the upkeep of an underground label?
Skog; I would say it is a lot more difficult than people realize. The main problem is financial. Of course, it takes up a lot of my time, hours upon hours a day replying to e-mails, creating videos, putting together orders, updating the website, contacting reviewers, trading with other labels, having conversations with the Hypnotic Dirge artists and so forth but I don't mind that aspect at all because I enjoy it.

The financial side is the difficult part. A lot of people do not realize the costs behind it... they figure only the costs of manufacturing CD's, which is of course quite a lot less than the price that they are sold for, so people automatically think that (underground) record labels are making money, but they don't consider factors such as paying artists for designing flyers, or album art, the costs of shipping trade packages, shipping review packages, printing promotional pictures and flyers, getting albums professionally manufactured, office supplies, the cost of shipping (which is getting absurd in Canada), taxes and customs, etc.
I could care less about the "business" or "financial" side of things... those things don’t interest me, and I have a very strong disregard for any sort of consumerism or commercialism as that only corrupts things - both artistically, or culturally, in society, in politics or anything else, but I am forced to at least care a little bit because the reality of our world is that I need money to survive, and Hypnotic Dirge therefore needs to break even so I can continue to release new material.

The moniker of HDR is very fitting to the music that you distribute and support, why did you choose to represent such an underground form of experimental metal, especially in the dark ambient genre?
Skog; I wanted to support music that I appreciated for its artistic value. I like a lot of different kinds of music, but some music is only entertainment, while other music transcends that and becomes art. Besides that, I already felt at home within the scene from my involvement in Ancient Tundra and my good friendships with Bruno, Scott, and Mort in particular who were all without a label at the time, so with having three good musicians right there without an outlet for their music, it just seemed like a logical step to go in this direction. I think the timing was just right because I can’t imagine projects such as Astral Luminous, Exiled From Light, and Immundus going much longer without finding a record label.

One can assume that you are a fan of the bands signed to HDR, are there any other bands that you are looking in signing at the moment?
Skog; There are definitely a few projects out there that I wouldn’t be able to turn down if they came to me and expressed interest in joining HDR. With that said however, I’m not actively seeking out any new bands and projects at this time just because I simply don’t have the funds at this time to release any other artist’s material. I have gotten countless demo submissions since opening up Hypnotic Dirge but unfortunately I can not give anything a very serious listen because I know I am unable to take on any more projects unless sales improve by quite a wide margin. That is unless something completely blows me away.
Actually, a band called Cormorant approached me about 6 months ago about a possible signing and they were a bigger-name band that had already played live with Wolves in the Throne Room, among others and appeared in Paganfest.
I would of had to scrape together money to put out 1000 Copies on Pro-CD for their debut album and take a new angle towards the label with different and more mainstream-type promotion ideals and would likely not have any spare time to work a day-job (or go to college as I do now) so I was skeptical of the idea, but looking back at it now, I kind of wish that we could of managed to work something out, as I seem to always go back to their MySpace page to listen to them, and always think of how amazing they sound.
There’s no doubt in my mind that HDR would be more financially stable and in turn that would benefit all of the artists on the roster, but I was afraid to take the risk back then. Anyway, it’s hard to look back with regret now, as you never really know for sure how things would be right now if Cormorant were on the roster. Either way, I am happy with the current bands on the roster, and feel like it actually gives me the perfect amount of workload.

What are some future plans for Hypnotic Dirge Records?
Skog; The Symbiosis/Ancient Tundra split album 'These Engulfing Winds Never Die' is next to be released. It will be a 2-disc set with a CD and a DVD, including a 12 Page booklet, and released in a Super Jewel Box. It is probably the most extensive and biggest HDR release to date so I am quite exited to have this finally released, as it has been through quite a bit of delay.

I just want the album out there in the public and I'm very excited to hear some feedback on it, as it is something that I and Valerio Orlandini (Symbiosis) have been working on for over a year. That should be out around the end of February - as soon as possible!
Next up after that is a couple of new merchandise items, an Immundus T-Shirt, and an Astral Luminous T-Shirt, as well as the debut Echoes Therein Gale album, and the second Exiled From Light album, among other things so things are definitely staying busy. I don't know the exact order or the exact dates yet, but these are next up for Hypnotic Dirge. The better the sales are, the earlier I can release stuff, which is always how it goes!
Your own musical project began in 2007. Can you give a little history about Ancient Tundra, and how you got involved in music in general?

Skog; Ancient Tundra began in 2007 from a desire to be able to release an album that was a “standard” in its genre. Previous to that, I was writing and recording Classical inspired metal music all on a $400 Yamaha keyboard, using drums from the keyboard, and synth guitars from the keyboard as well since I had no drum program, or guitar, and amp at the time, nor did I even know how to play guitar in 2007. It was for a project called A Dark Fantasy which was really my first music project, which began in 2005 with a friend of mine. You can still listen to some of these “recordings” at and on YouTube.
In any case, after becoming more of a fan of Black Metal, and then later Burzum’s ambient material, Mortiis, and a little underground project from the Dungeons Deep Records label, called Fjellelv, I started to grow an interest in dark ambient music, and started writing the debut “The Desolation of an Arctic Landscape”. I was interested in finally writing material that sounded complete and comparable to other finished material in its genre as opposed to the hindrance of only being able to write demo sounding stuff in the metal genres because of my equipment.
Of course, the debut album was almost straight-forward dark ambient music although it still carried some outside influences, but it was not until the second album that I really began to develop my own sound.

Your music seems to be in ways aesthetic to the name, what is the meaning behind your moniker?
Skog; There is really no special meaning behind the name ‘Ancient Tundra’ other than I thought it fit well with the theme of the project, in particular the original writing style that dominated the project on the debut album.

Your first record “The Desolation of an Arctic Landscape” was released through Dead Moon Records; after the label’s disband you moved to EEE records, did this mark the point of you wanting to start HDR, if so why?
Skog; I signed with Dead Moon Records in late summer of 2007, which was actually the record label of Thorn – the sole member behind the aforementioned project Fjellelv.
Unfortunately, like you mentioned, he was unable to keep the record label running, and I had to search for another one. I can’t remember who it was that recommended that I take a look at EEE, but whoever it was certainly pointed me in the right direction, as they were a fantastic label to work with, and did a great job of re-issuing my debut album in the summer of 2008. I still keep in contact with Eric from EEE regularly now, and we get along good discussing music and our record labels. The way EEE handled Ancient Tundra had no part in me wanting to start up Hypnotic Dirge as I can only say good things about the man and the label.

Your music is very atmospheric and yet minimalist, what does it represent for yourself? The Ancient Tundra bio states that the music features elements of; classical music, score music, drones, funeral doom and black metal, what music inspires you?
Skog; Thank you! I try to keep a balance between creating Dark Ambient soundscapes and throwing melody into the music as well. The goal is to write simplistic melodies with a strong emphasis on atmosphere. My music is definitely not what the purists would call dark ambient, but it still has an ambient influence as well as an influence from neo-classical music. All of the above mentioned genres influence me as well as some others. Burzum, Life’s Decay, Paysage d’Hiver, The Cure, Alcest, Austere, Wolves in the Throne Room, Njiqahdda, Northaunt, Svartsinn, the list goes on and on from a variety of different genres.
Apart from music, what are your other influences? Be they societal, cultural, historical, and/or literary.
Skog; I get inspired by a variety of different things and usually it comes completely unexpected and out of the blue. Whether it be a good movie, a good documentary, doing some research on some interesting topics, listening to a good album, a relaxing drive in the countryside, walking, or just a day to myself to reflect on things. I know this is a pretty vague answer, but there are just too many things that inspire or influence me and I am sure that half the time I do not even realize it. I just hope to someday be able to write and record a sonic masterpiece that is a good representation of all of my influences.

You have stated that “The subject matter of the projects on Hypnotic Dirge Records varies from project to project but mostly things are on a more personal, or philosophical level as opposed to preaching a certain viewpoint about the world”, what is your the ideal behind Ancient Tundra?
Skog; I don't really have an ideal behind Ancient Tundra. I have my own views and opinions about the world, politics, religion, and philosophy but for the most part I keep that away from Ancient Tundra.

As with all of the projects on Hypnotic Dirge Records, I'm sure we all have our own views on politics and religion as any thinking individual should have, but I am of the opinion that it has been vastly overdone in Black Metal and Experimental music, and I guess that just speaks of the intelligence of this genre that people have an opinion (usually not a popular opinion) about these subjects and are not afraid to speak out about it, but it is also a double-edged sword as it has now become very generic and stereotypical for people to have an outspoken view on religion and politics in Black Metal and scream about it every chance they get while not even being slightly educated on the subject.
They scream of religious people being sheep for "following the pact and the trend" but it is quite humorous because these black metal musicians are also "following the trend" in Black Metal without having an individual thought of their own.

I'm not saying that music and art should not have social commentary. I really enjoy some projects that speak of the problems with our society, and a good majority of these projects have educated people that know what they are talking about, but it can get out of hand too when you get people that are bashing religion when they don't even know what the fuck they are talking about. They are displaying the same close-minded attitude as the Christians they are bashing.

What are you personal views upon our world, both politically and spiritually – and are these view points represented within your music, or is Ancient Tundra an escape from your reality?
Skog; Personally, I completely disagree with any religious or political system, and they are completely irrelevant in my eyes. However, the distinction I make is that I disagree strongly with the system, but not the people. I have no issues with religious people, because I believe that religion is a personal thing.
Something that cannot be proven or disproved should not be ridiculed by either side. However, with that said, there is no denying that religion has been completely corrupted by its power and it is run by the same system that runs politics, the military, banking institutions, and the corrupt media that drives popular opinion. Our social system is fucked, and in that sense Ancient Tundra is an escape from my reality.

I try to educate myself about the world which I live in, but there is no point in getting worked up about it. I don't get involved with the things that piss me off, I just try to do my own thing and worry about myself and those I care about.

Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know.” - Ernest Hemingway. From your artistic endeavors, melancholia and depression seem to linger throughout the music, would you agree with the above statement?
Skog; I can certainly sympathize with this statement. The more you learn about human psychology, human behavior, and the current state of the world, the more you realize that something is seriously fucked up. We think that we are so civilized in the modern era because we have computers, big vibrant cities, and all these technological advances, but we are just as backwards as we were 10,000 years ago. We still live within the same social classes and we still live by the same basic human tendencies because of our conditioning.
However, if you are completely happy being a social slave working for a giant corporation, and think that there is some value in coming home late every night and watching football games on TV, or spending a few hours on Facebook, all while being infatuated by all kinds of different gizmos as long as you have a bit of "paper money" by your side, and see nothing wrong with the system, then you’re going to be happy with your ignorance. Life is precious; we shouldn't be wasting all of our energy and abilities on sustaining our current system.

Continuing on from the above, there is a true emotional severity within your music. How does this thrive, is this a natural emotive stance when you begin to compose, or a mindset that you put yourself in?
Skog; I would like to think it is completely natural. I don't write unless I feel like it. I could never force myself into a certain mindset in order to write music, so I just wait until the mood strikes me and if things work out well, something gets accomplished and I am able to write music that means something to me.
Lately, I have been held back by time constraints and problems with my equipment so hopefully within the coming months I will be able to get back to it in full force and complete another full-length album!

What is the process behind writing your music?
Skog; I usually begin by playing on my keyboard for a while, without the intention to record or write anything in particular. I am just playing for the sake of playing until I start to get a good basic melody or I can see a song-structure unfolding.
I tend to lose my ideas pretty quickly because if I were to leave it until later, I would likely lose the mood I was in while I was playing, so if I can feel something good happening as I am playing, then I start to record a song by recording the basic melodies or ideas.

After that, it is pretty simple, I just continue to experiment with different sounds, and overlaying melodies until the song is complete. I don't really do anything too special, I just play and record, and experiment with ideas until it feels complete. Sometimes this process can take months for certain songs and things tend to change quite a bit throughout the recording process.

You have collaborated with other musicians on a multitude of works, how do you find working with others to reflect your own vision?
Skog; I enjoy it. As long as it is a musician that I respect, and that can bring a different dimension to my music then I welcome it with only arms. I feel the guest appearances on my second album 'Requiems of a World Lost' really stand out as some of the best moments on the album, and they all captured something different than I was able to do, as every artist can bring in something new and each guest gave the album more variety.

Having Kenji Siratori's vocals on the track 'Across the Valley, Wherein Nature Speaks' brought a different dimension to that song, as well as having clean vocals from Hideous on the final track 'The Feeble Sickness and Depressive Rot'. This seems to be one of the Ancient Tundra songs that has gathered the most notoriety from listeners and I feel Hideous' clean vocals at the end of the album really helped to bring a stronger sense of emotion to the record.
I am always up for more collaborations and guest appearances on my music and the latest one will be on a new 17 minute Ambient Black metal track that I completed a couple of months ago. Elan O'Neal from Old Forgotten Lands will be doing lyrics and vocals on that track!

After releasing two demos and one album, Symbiosis and Ancient Tundra worked on a split CD/DVD “These Engulfing Winds Never Die” that is due for a release in February of this year. What can an audience expect from this release?
Skog; 'These Engulfing Winds Never Die' is probably the best thing I have ever written, although the split with Old Forgotten Lands entitled 'Equinox' is also right up there as well, as both splits represent my newest writing style, and everything is done in a more professional way.
"These Engulfing Winds Never Die" has actually been in the works for over a year now (as I've mentioned in a previous question) and will be the biggest and most extensive Ancient Tundra, Symbiosis, and Hypnotic Dirge Records release yet. I can't wait to get it out in the public and get to hear some reactions from it!

Your forthcoming release “La Misere D'un Hermite Triste” is also due out this year. You have described it as an ambient black metal record. What is the story behind this album, and can we anticipate a darker, heavier sound?
Skog; I won't say much about this album as it has went through so many changes. It was initially a really big project of mine, and has actually been in the works since the debut Ancient Tundra album back in 2007, but obviously I have released a full-length album and a split album since then so it has kind of taken a backseat and I haven't had much time to work on it to be honest.
With that said though, I have some material written and recorded for this album that I have not shared with anyone, because I want to keep it a bit of a secret until it is ready to be released and promoted. It is certainly on its way, although I can't promise a release date. Plans are to get the Symbiosis/Ancient Tundra split album released and promoted for a couple of months and then begin to focus completely and only on this project. I will unveil more about this in due time, and there is definitely a story to this album. And yes, you can anticipate a darker and heavier sound!

How was the writing and recording process for the aforementioned record?
Skog; The writing and recording process is slow and gradual but certainly it is coming along! This is a big project of mine, so I will not release it until I am completely satisfied. I don't want to fuck it up!

Do you have any other side projects that the public does not know of?
Skog; My main current projects are Hypnotic Dirge Records, Ancient Tundra, Hypnotic Dirge Photography (photography offshoot of HDR – (, and Our Diabolical Embrace.

I have been involved in other projects in the past such as A Dark Fantasy, Satanic Scums, Screenplay, Skog, and a prior photography project called Epic Canada Photography but asides from the first two, these are not really worth checking out and are all dead at this point, (a simple google or MySpace search and you will find all of these projects).
I still have a whole album worth of solid material for the Satanic Scums project which was never released but I doubt I can find a record label interested, and I do not really have the time to properly promote it so it sits dormant for the foreseeable future.
I have also recently written an intro and outro track for the Drone-Doom band Within the Torn Apart which will release an EP on Sullen Records and EEE Recordings. It was an honor to be asked from Napalm Dave if I would be interested in contributing to this album as this project also features contributions from Elan O`Neal and members of Njiqahdda so it should definitely be an interesting release.

Have you been interested in playing live, or will Ancient Tundra continue to be a recording band?

Skog; It would be interesting to play live, but I don't think I will ever do so with Ancient Tundra. If an opportunity came along at some point I would probably have to consider it, but I really have no knowledge on how to perform ambient music live to be honest, and not that much of a desire to do so either.
My first step would be to actually see an ambient concert live so I can evaluate it, and gain an experience about how they work. There is certainly nothing like this anywhere near where I live, so it will have to wait for a while although I do plan a trip to Europe this summer, so maybe I can see something there!

What is the local metal scene like in Swift Current, and what has been the reception of your music?
Skog; There is no metal scene here. As far as I know, there is one metal band in this town and from what I have heard of their music, I really have no interest in them. Not that they are entirely horrible or anything, but to me it just sounds like a generic copy of Iron Maiden or Metallica with no substance or originality.
I have not shared or showcased any of my music in this town and really have no desire to do so. I will keep to myself and wait until I move to a bigger city to find any like-minded musicians.

Last words?
Skog; Thanks for the interview Anna! Keep up the great work on Voltage Media, these were certainly some of the most in-depth and interesting questions I've had the pleasure of answering. Also, thanks to anyone who is still reading at this point and managed to find some of my ramblings interesting.