Interview by Tracey Moyle.
Acoustic neo folk with flourishes of atmospheric black and doom metal is how Emily Highfield, the heart and soul behind SULDUSK describes her very personal musical journey. Opening up in a soul deep interview with Tracey Moyle they discuss, the new album Lunar Falls, her musical vision, and the profound connection she has to her music.
Congratulations on Lunar Falls, I absolutely love it. It’s something very special. You must be so proud of what you’ve done?
“Thank you for that. I actually am, I’m so happy. I had a dream to do this and it’s come to fruition. It’s really very overwhelming in the best way.”
Is Suldusk just yourself or are their others involved?
“It’s just me. I have collaborators I use for recording and live shows, but it’s my vision and that’s what’s so cool about it, I don’t have to be a democracy. (laughs) You get to do things your way. It’s your dream. I couldn’t have done it without the others but it’s been awesome.”
Where does the Suldusk name come from?
“I think I was just playing around with sounds and Sul is I guess a play on soul. Dusk is that time of day between light and dark, it’s a transient, a little bit nostalgic time. I just put them together. I had to make sure no one else was using it at the time. It was used in Dungeons and Dragons and was referring to a wild elf and I thought, ‘that’s pretty cool’. I’ll go with that. I feel like an elf.”
You obviously have a strong musical background. Was music something you were encouraged to be a part from your upbringing or did you progress into it through your own passion?
“Oh no, no, I was actively discouraged to do music, which is probably why I do it. I grew up in a culture that was not very embracing of it. I mean music was a part of it but not as a female. Whatever I grasped, I grasped by myself through, luckily, a good Primary school I went to and then continuing that through High school and self-educating, learning how to play the guitar. I did have a guitar but it was not to be ‘overly used’. But I would listen to all sorts of subversive stuff with music and of course when you’re told not to do something it’s your natural instinct to be curious about the other side. It was only a natural evolution to me to delve into metal and become metal for life I guess.”
The contrast in your sound is amazing. Just when you think you can relax into the music the paradigm shifts and you find yourself constantly aware of what you are listening to.
(laughs) “That’s good, I love it.”
Is that something you are aware of or does it just flow through?
“I think that’s just the dynamic that’s in my head, which I enjoy listening to as well, a lot of atmospheric black metal music, very much ambient almost, like the guitars can be ambient and sometimes even the vocals, but then it will go into a harsh section. The dynamic has to go somewhere and the tension and the ambience is all very beautiful but there’s something about the harsh aspect that’s very grounding to listen to. I love listening to music that can do that, just shake me up a little bit now and then and its something I want to incorporate, I want to serve up.”
Do you draw that from deep inside yourself or is it a reflection of your surroundings or how you see the world?
“Definitely both, yeah that’s a good way of putting it, definitely both. I think in music it was interesting exploring the more harsh voice, especially live and to play along with the acoustic and see people freak out to hear a woman doing that sort of sound; and its not overly loud when I perform that, it’s more just a vocal effect. Also that to me was kind of important, it was like, without getting to analytical about it, it was about pressing that part of womanhood. Womanhood isn’t always pretty. It’s nice to have the ethereal and beautiful but I feel like its reality, you know, everyone has a dark side, like to bring out the Crone. The Crone is all knowing and there’s something about that idea and when I was doing it I was doing a natural thing. It wasn’t like a conscience thing like ‘now I’m going to perform a Crone, it was more about tapping into a certain energy and allowing myself to be ugly. Its great, its almost confronting but it’s so necessary to have that full gamut rather than just go one dimensional or else without it, it would be just another folk album with pretty vocals, and that’s not the vision.”
I know what you mean, it sounds like to me, that you’re tapping into the yin and yang of your soul, I guess, to pull that out. That’s how I see it, everyone has a dark and light side. Its all about balance.
“It is, it is, its all about owning it and actually finding power in it, not necessarily your dark side but in knowing that it’s there and that side can be seen differently. It’s not just evil, you know, everything is so black and white in so many religions or conceptions. There’s strength in the darker side to and by darker side I mean knowing yourself. Knowing that we all have human frailty and we can’t all be compassionate all the time. There are times when anger needs to be released but it can be released in a healthy way. And frustration can be released and it can be released in a healthy way. Being able to do that is a gift and to me I feel so happy that I’ve not neglected that.”
Do you have a particular song on Lunar Falls that has special meaning to you?
“They’re all like little entities. I think probably the last one, Sovran Shrines. I think it’s a good way to end the album because it takes you on a little bit of a journey. I don’t really like saying what the songs are about, I like people to feel whatever they feel when they listen to it but in terms of what I get from that song and the feeling I get when I play it, is a soothing feeling. Even though there’s harsh vocals at the end and it gets quite epic, the song has three stages. The first stage is sort of meandering and then the second stage is becoming still and the last bit is finding the dynamic within your self and there’s that feeling, when I play it. I really enjoy performing that one because people really don’t expect the journey that they go on and it’s a lot of fun.”
I love that music today is so personal and you can have that fusion between different genres to create your own sound.
“It is and I think what’s happened is, I don’t just play neo-folk which is new folk style acoustic, I don’t just do that, but I’ll include elements of post rock and post metal, those washed out harsh vocals. They’re not up front, its not your Arch Enemy kind of vocals where its right in the mic, its more like in a washed out kind of way. It’s a fusion, the fusion is what is about. It’s not just one style and why not! If that’s the expression that you have then why not combine styles, why do you have to stay in one genre. One song genre is boring. Experiment a little bit.”
You’re getting a lot of attention overseas. Which is fantastic. Is there any particular country that seems to have responded better than the others?
“My label is based in Germany and are affiliated with European blogs and outlets so I do think that’s why that’s happening. A few very passionate music lovers sent me a message a month and a half ago and said we’d like to help you manage Suldusk so they’re helping me with the American side of things. I guess they’re spreading the word. Black Metal Promotions are the label I’m signed to and that’s the German connection.
I think what’s been absolutely awesome, with this style of music, is because it’s really niche, I don’t think I’m going to find heaps of people here in Australia, I don’t think, maybe but I don’t know if there’s that huge a market for it. It’s a very acquired taste. Having the European and the American support, its all grass roots stuff and just from people sharing it and hearing it on the YouTube Channel, I’m hearing from people around the world like Russia, Poland, Greece, it’s like ok, that’s awesome, I’ll take it.”
Do you see a tour locally or overseas around Germany for example, in the near future?
“Yes, so what’s been happening is we’ve been doing shows acoustically. Just a cello, two acoustics and tribal drums and we’ve been doing supports here. It’s been a lot of fun and we got to support Zeal and Ardor when they came out from the U.S. We supported UK Industrial Black Metal Anaal Nathrakh, we were honoured to open for them. Lindsay Schoolcraft from Cradle of Filth came and we opened for her so we’ve done a lot of shows and we’ve done them all acoustically, but now I’m taking six months to transition into electric and get a full kit out, make it a really intense immersive experience like the album. Once people hear the album they don’t want to hear it acoustically, it’s a stripped back version of the album so we don’t want to be doing that anymore. It’s been a lot of fun to pick up my electric and to play a huge rig again because I haven’t done that for a long time. It’s been a lot of fun.”
Good luck with the album, I will definitely be recommending it.
“I just hope people listen to the album with an open mind. If you’re into darker flavours have a listen to it.”