The Ontarian duo of Northumbria (consisting of Jim Field and Dorian Williamson) creates amazing heavy and Drony yet light and beautiful Ambient Metal (their own term) using only guitar and bass, played through various amplifiers and effects. Their music is of truly magical nature, full of feelings and emotions, visual landscapes so numerous and vast, every person taking their trips most likely has a different story to tell. After getting to know their awesome music I wanted to ask a few questions from the man responsible for the sounds created with the bass guitar, Dorian Williamson.
Greetings Dorian! How has life been recently in Toronto?
Things are well Antti, and thanks for the interview. I found your site through a Sutekh Hexen and I’ve been really enjoying the coverage. Great site! I actually moved out of the city, about an hour or so, to an area called Northumberland County. I wanted to be closer to nature and was a bit sick of city-life. I grew up in the country and was missing it very badly.
You come from the region of Ontario, with a very similar climate to Finland I’d imagine. Long cold winters and short hot summers, forests of fir and pine, lakes scattered across the woodlands. It’s no wonder people from Scandinavia settled to these kinds of regions, bringing their customs with them? How is your lineage, is it reflected much in modern life?
There are certainly many similarities between Canada and Scandinavia. Our climate is very cold right now, we’re buried under snow! Winter here is so magical and beautiful, and really inspires us a lot. The geography of Canada is so varied and beautiful. My family has been in this area since Canada formed and broke away from America in the early 19th Century. My ancestry is Scottish on my Fathers side, and Irish on my Mothers. We all feel a closeness with that history, and how hard our families worked to make a life here under such harsh circumstances. Living here you have to love the winter and adjust to the climate!! I’m sure you and your readers are aware that the Norse visited Canada over a thousand years ago. There is evidence in the Arctic that their presence was there for centuries. Four centuries before Columbus “discovered” North America!
Northumbria has been active for a couple of years now, and prior to that you both made music in a band called Holoscene. How would you describe the music of Holoscene compared to Northumbria, are there many similarities? Why did you decide to quit the previous band and form a new one, were you drawn to more Ambient mindscapes?
Well Holoscene was but to rest when our principle songwriter Rob Plastow moved back to the UK from Canada. It just didn’t feel right trying to continue using that name. For the latter half of Holoscene’s existence we were joined by Jim Field, my partner now in Northumbria. I’d been a fan of his music for many years, going back to his band Rhea’s Obsession. As soon as I heard him play I knew I wanted to do something more abstract and long format with him. He has incredible control over his sounds, and is able to create soundscapes that have so much emotional resonance. He’s also brilliant at improvising musically, something I was very attracted to after being in many structured bands. Regarding similarities between the two bands there are some tonal similarities, but fundamentally they’re very different. Northumbria is all about the power of the moment, experimental sonic exploration and trying to capture the magic of the ineffable in an emotional way. Some of the ideas we’re exploring are things Jim began with his solo ambient guitar project Spacenoiz. We try, in essence to act as one guitar.
How is the music scene of your surroundings, are there a lot of underground activity going on for the more rare types of music? Have you guys known each other for a long time, or have you met due to interests in the kind of music Northumbria does?
I was first made aware of Jim’s music from within the Toronto Gothic scene in the late 90’s, although we didn’t become friends until about 10 year ago. As the driving creative force of Rhea’s Obsession, his reputation was well known in the scene. Right now there are quite a few artists that we are friends with that are doing really cool things, all stylistically quite different, but connected in a way. In Toronto there are bands such as Nadja, Gates and Black Walls; In Montreal Thisquietarmy, Havan, Echo Beach, Menace Ruine and Aun; In BC there’s Funerary Call and Skagos. We also feel a strong connection to New York, and have been fortunate enough to play with, and get to know bands like Theologian, Requiem, Insect Ark, Sewer Goddess and A Murder of Angels. So yes I would say that the ground here is very fertile at the moment!
What is your musical background otherwise? Have you ever been involved in for example more aggressive type of music such as Metal or Punk, or perhaps more experimental stuff such as Electronic music? What kind of music interests you the most in your personal life at the moment?
Yes my background is more in Industrial, my early bands were influenced by bands like Godflesh, Swans, Skinny Puppy etc. I kind of gave up on that type of music and got heavily into more Electronic styles of music, but returned to playing bass with the formation of Holoscene in 2005.
Since the musical skill and knowledge of instruments and equipment needed in the creation of your music is so vast, I’m guessing you have past in working with audio in some way? Have you studied audio or music in general, or are you self-taught?
I’ve always been involved in audio and sound, and yes I went to school for Audio Engineering in Toronto after failing out of art school. Jim is also and Engineer and Producer, and has been involved in a lot of technical projects. We both collaborate on every aspect of Northumbria’s music.
Your music is extremely visual to me, in terms of visions of sceneries it creates in my mind, as well as emotions of different life-situations. Do you have history in visual kinds of art, such as painting or making films?
It’s interesting how music that is instrumental free up the mind to have an experience that is much more sensory, without the narrative or direction of a vocal you can impart any kind of meaning on it that resonates with you. That’s one of the more interesting things about this style of music. It’s much like a non-objective painting. The meaning is in your own personal experience, and in that way it’s completely unique. I’ve been very influenced by Film and Visual Art and I think it comes across in the music. Film-makers like David Lynch, David Cronenberg and Peter Greenaway have had a big impact, and visual artists like Andy Goldsworthy, Banks Violette, Spencer Byles and Antonio Tapies.
The art of Northumbria is very live-oriented (improvised even perhaps) in terms of creation, as well as working splendidly on stage I’m sure. How much do you play live, and do you see Northumbria as a live-band more than a studio-band?
We definitely see it as a “live” studio band, because we almost never add any overdubs. It’s almost all live off the floor, with a bit of mixing later. We wanted it to be a document of a raw experience. We do play live, not as much as we’d like to. It takes so long to tour in this country, the cities are so far apart. To date we’ve played a few times in Toronto, Guelph, Montreal, Boston and New York, but really want to play more and get over to Europe. Hopefully Finland! The label that released Bring Down the Sky, Consouling Sounds, is based in Belgium, so for sure we’d love to play there as well.
Your music has been received extremely well in the press, with stories in magazines like Terrorizer. Have you experienced the results of this much as a band, such as a stronger demand for physical releases or live shows?
We’re honestly quite surprised at the response, considering this is our most personal and in some way experimental, music that we’ve ever made. Almost everything we’ve released has been sold out quite quickly, which is awesome! Bring Down the Sky is our first widely available release with proper distribution. The label (Consouling Sounds) has been really wonderful to work with. Their roster is just killer!
How is the global (or local for that matter) scene for music like this? Do you feel like a part of a bigger group of musicians helping each other out, or do you prefer to work on your own more?
The people making this music are very supportive of each other, and the overall vibe is one of community for sure. I really feel like this is a special time, and that artists are making their best work. Not too long ago it was so hard to find and connect with people making extreme music, not it’s so easy to find things that would have been nearly impossible. Also for the DIY musician it’s really become kind of a grassroots movement.
Thanks for this chat Dorian! How does the year of 2015 look like for Northumbria, and you personally?
Thank you, and thanks also for turning me on to Taatsi, I’ve been listening to “Amidst The Trees” all the time. Perfect soundtrack to winter nature worship! Regarding your earlier question about Scandinavia and Canada…We’ve just completed our third full-length which is called “Helluland”. It’s inspired by the the Norse discovery of Baffin Island here in Canada, and translates roughly into “the land of the flat stone”. There is new evidence that the Vikings not only visited Newfoundland here in Canada, but set up a permanent settlement high up in the Canadian arctic over a thousand years ago. We both found that totally inspirational and used it as the basis for this release. We’re extremely honoured to be releasing it through the Swedish Dark Ambient label Cryo Chamber, operated by Simon Heath of Atrium Carceri; he’s also doing the Mastering and artwork. It’s a different record for us, much more subdued and minimal, but still very dark and emotional, hopefully translating the awe, majesty and terror that must have been felt at discovering this land. The Vikings must have felt as though they’d landed in Jötunheimr!