Interview for Paradox Ethereal Magazine Issue 10 (Dec. 2015 – Feb. 2016)
Verney 1826 is a German project, active since six years, around the founder, and only fixed member Lionel Verney, that with the time has developed a wide range of collaboration with international artists of the Ethereal and Darkwave scene. Their music could be defined as neoclassical with martial atmospheres, that make darker the atmosphere of the symphonic background of their songs. Full of emotions, literary and art reference, is a music that leads who listens into a world apart, where Art is the Queen of inspired and out of common lives, quest and adventures.
A romantic attitude, that has a deep emotive connection with the Sturm und Drang movement, with the fascination for art, for the eternal quest for feelings, meanings and beauty
Lory Fayer: Please introduce Lionel Verney and Verney 1826 to Paradox Ethereal Magazine audience
I’m aware that the name Verney 1826 is new to a lot of people. So Hello to everybody! If I should tell you in one line what it’s all about, I can only cite from my homepage: “To restore some of the most sublime moments of literature, arts and history”. It’s difficult to describe the own music, but I can only agree with what you said in your introduction lines. I could hardly find a better description of my aims. So here am I and this is my project. It doesn’t care about politics, it doesn’t care about religious beliefs, it’s all about arts and history.
The name of your project is the name of a Character from Mary Shelley’s “Last Man”: why did you choose it?
Mary Shelley’s novel “The Last Man” has been a major influence for my own development as an artist. I read her “Frankenstein” when I was 15 and I was deeply impressed by the pure sad beauty of her tale. Some years later I stumbled across her lesser known novel “The Last Man”, in which the protagonist is wandering upon a doomed world. In retrospective, I think this book was one of the most influential books in my life and for the Goth scene in general. I know there were Gothic Novels before the books of Mrs. Shelley, but most of them fail to hit a chord for modern readers. The amazing works of Mary Shelley are still as striking as they were many, many years ago. When I finally read “The Last Man” again, I came quite naturally to the conclusion that I must link my music somehow to this book, so I chose the protagonist’s last name and combined it with the publishing year of the tale: 1826. And that’s the story.
In your web page, you write that somehow Verney 1826’s journey has begun in 1991, but your first issue is dated back in 2009, and I’d like you to tell us something about what have you made, artistically, during this time.
I write and compose since the days of my childhood, but nothing of that time has survived, except – maybe – for some pages of sheet music for piano, only some sketches. When I was 16 or 17, I started to record my first songs to tape cassettes and I chose the project name “The Dorian Gray”. Apart from the fact that the music was nothing but an unstructured collection of raw ideas with very bad sound quality, it is interesting that even back then my music was linked to literature since I chose the name of Oscar Wilde’s famous novel. This all started in 1991, so I used to say that this was the birth date of my music. Of course, Verney 1826 was created not before the year 2008. The gap between was filled with work (I’m an IT engineer), my marriage, the birth of our son etc. etc. I used the time in between to explore new technical possibilities so that I finally was able to record my own music in a decent quality without the need to use the limited quality of tape recorders. I think the spark for the creation of Verney 1826 was the first meeting with my friend Leif Allendorf. We met in 2007 on an archeological excavation campaign in Hessen/Germany and it was one of these strange lucky events when you realize you have found a soul mate with similar literary taste. After this week, I was determined to find a proper way to express my appreciation of art. I started with recovering my early tape recordings but was rather disappointed about what I heard. Later I tried to rework one or two of the songs but finally I wrote a whole bunch of new songs which eventually formed my first album.
You had a classical music basis… and I think your music an attempt to melt, contaminate this roots with darker, somewhat martial sounds.
Yes, this is due to the fact that I love almost all kinds of music. I grew up with the works of Chopin and Beethoven and developed an affinity to sad music in a minor key, even in the popular music. Songs like “Always the Sun” (The Stranglers) or “Jealous Guy” (John Lennon/Roxy Music) were extremely fascinating for me, as well as the music of Dvorak. Later I discovered the dark music scene, The Cure, Fields of The Nephilim, Dead Can Dance, Death in June, Current 93 etc. etc. Maybe this is the reason why my music is never “strictly martial industrial” or “strictly goth”, although it contains parts of it, but often blended and mixed in a strange way. And of course, my classical background. All this is now part of the music I write.
Could you, please, tell us which authors, in music as well as in literature influence you most?
Apart from the aforementioned Mary Shelley it were (in no specific order) E. A. Poe, Theodor Fontane, Georges Simenon, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Agatha Christie, William Shakespeare, J. R. R. Tolkien, A. C. Doyle, H. G. Wells, Jules Verne… to name only a few. My library is literally bursting and as a rule, I never leave my home without a book in my pocket, although it is mostly an ebook reader nowadays. And speaking of authors in music… I was always impressed by the lyrics of Douglas Pearce, which have been an important influence for my own way of writing.
I’d like to know also what’s for you the deep meaning of art, and how it’s important in life.
Art surrounds us all the time, regardless of our reception and I find it very difficult to pinpoint something like its “meaning”. At least for me it’s the reason of life. Art can enrich our lives when we open up to it, may it be the beauty of an ancient poem or the explosive technique of a modern painter. It may be architecture. We may not be open to every kind of art, that’s quite natural. But I strongly believe that there’s not a single person on earth who’d be able to say that he or she has never been touched by art in any form. Everybody has something like a favorite tune, even when it is just an old nursery rhyme, like an echo from the past.
If I needed to describe your music in two words I’d use “emotive” and “evocative”… so what do you hope your music to give and to make the audience feel?
Thank you very much! When these words are coming to your mind when you listen to my music, then my aim is reached. This is exactly what I want to do with my songs. The first idea is always to write songs for my own pleasure, to explore fascinating topics and transform them into songs. This could result from a journey to old sites and castles or coming from a book or painting that left a trace in me. I can never tell how the songs evolve in the end, so the listeners experience doesn’t necessarily need to be the exact mirror image of my own intention. But “emotive” and “evocative sounds good. It tells me that someone has been encouraged to let the mind wander.
I counted 22 collaborations with other musicians until now, so please tell us how much and why co-working, sharing and involving is important to you.
Verney 1826 is basically my solo project and will ever be since it is my device to resonate arts and culture. In the first place, all these collaborations were never planned. My first album was finished so far when I met Anna Aliena and shortly after we recorded some songs together. This particular collaboration has lasted until now, even though our cooperation has become somewhat rare and sporadic. But her trained mezzo-soprano has merged extremely well with some of my songs. In the last years, our musical tastes went to different directions, but I hope to work again with her from time to time. Another constant partner is Sven Phalanx from Schattenspiel. I met him in the good old days of Myspace when the music scene seemed to be bursting and everyone got virtually connected with other musicians. Since then, we recorded several songs together and shared our work on our respective albums. For my new album “The Ghosts Of Yesterday,” I recorded several songs with Miyuki Day from the Netherlands and with Bjarkan from Germany. Their voices made the perfect counterpart for some of my new tracks. I always try to work with partners that somehow share my visions, and I often find it interesting that these cooperations can expand my own ideas. I have worked with so many talented artists that it’d be simply too much to list them here. But I want to say “thank you” to all of them. You know who you are and you have been important for me all the time. Words can hardly express my gratitude.
You also issued, by your label, two compilations, both with literature references, I’d like you to talk about them as well.
In 2011, I had the idea to ask several friends to contribute to a compilation album which was in my mind for some years. The idea was that the whole album should have something to do with books and should express my love of literature. I didn’t know how these artists would react to this idea, but as it turned out, they all were very amiable and supportive. And with most of the involved musicians I am still socially connected and we exchange short greetings from time to time. The idea with the books fascinated me. I mean, I had songs about books in all of my albums, but this time it should be 100%, all or nothing. “Beyond The Mirror Of Time” was a wonderful experience for me. The 2nd compilation was created together with Sven from Schattenspiel. We both share a common love for the french author Jules Verne (just look at Sven’s tattoos 🙂 and so… I don’t know who was first coming up with the idea of a tribute album, but in the end we made our concept, we chose the title (“Au Bout Du Monde”) and made a list of “wanted” artists. When we created a Facebook page for the compilation, we made a little mistake. At least I regard it as a mistake today, but back then it seemed to be OK. We invited all our social media friends to “Like” that page, which led to the whole project expanding almost beyond our control. It turned out that many, many bands were really excited about the idea and asked to contribute. We didn’t want to turn anyone down and, in fact, I really liked what all the bands sent in for the album. Of course, in the end we had twice as many songs as we could reasonably work with. I mean, it should’ve been a simple collaboration CD, and finally we had so many songs that it was almost too much for a double album. I simply couldn’t afford to release it as double CD, so I decided to publish the compilation digitally with a small run of only 50 printed copies (Data DVD) which were not meant to be sold “officially” but given away as “Thank you” to the involved artists. All in all, I think we can be proud of the album. We have a wide range of very interesting styles from rather unknown bands and well-known names like Tony Wakeford or Andrea Nebel. Quite interesting was the search for participants. While we met a real sincere interest in the Neofolk- and Martial Industrial scene, we were coldly turned down by the so-called “Steampunk” scene, because we always told everyone that it should become a non-profit project. I asked several Steampunk bands to contribute, but there were only two or three who even answered my request, and two of them told me that they only make music to earn money and that it doesn’t make any sense for them to publish music “for free”. On the contrary: When I asked Tony Wakeford, I didn’t really expect an answer, but he answered very fast:“Hooray, not another bloody Evola compilation!”I admit that I burst into loud laughter when I read his answer. And no kidding, Tony must sell music as well to make a living. Just compare; it tells a lot about the main conception behind each scene. One is just for the money, the other is for the pure love of music.
You are also a member of Schattenspiel, could it be resumed in my phrase “one band is not enough for creativity?
This was surely the fact in the beginning. I met Sven of Schattenspiel in the early years of our projects and by pure chance we recorded a couple of songs together. He sent me 3 of his early instrumental songs and I wrote the lyrics and sung them. We both were very fond of the results. Then we had a kind of loose contact over the years, until we recorded a song together again, this time for the aforementioned “Au Bout du Monde” compilation. I think this was the point when we realized that we simply understood each other, and after this song he asked me to join Schattenspiel. I gladly agreed, and never had to regret this step. We recorded two albums together (“Aus dem Dunkel” and the upcoming “R/Evolution”), but now I must admit that my creativity has reached a point where I’m not quite sure how to proceed. I mean, there are still so many ideas in my mind, but my full-time job in a publishing house eats so much of my energy that it has become hard and harder to work on new songs in the evening. It’s also hard to see the creativity wither into dust. Sven and I agreed to take ourselves a little bit back. We both do not want to burn out – and I am positively convinced that this decision will leave me some time to compose new Verney 1826 songs.
You issued a CD with 8 different bands remixes of “Ordo Fratrum Minorum”, with their own style and atmosphere….. and it’s interesting! Please tell us something about this.
Well, the original song comes from my 2nd album “Sacrow” and some time ago I made this remix kit; I simply was eager to learn how other artists would treat the song, how they would turn it into something totally new. I don’t know why the project was postponed, but it took 2 years to finally turn into a CD. I do not think of this release as a real album, I just see it as EP, even though it has a running time of 38 minutes. I am really glad about the result since the EP now has so many styles and ideas in it, it is quite fascinating for me. I am not sure if it is of much interest for other listeners, so I decided to make it available via Bandcamp.com. You can download the digital version for free, but there are still some copies of the limited CDr edition available. What can I tell you of the song itself? Musically it is quite simple, it contains a sampled gregorian choir and my additional instruments with a short cryptic text. The lyrics refer to the death of father Maximilian Kolbe, who died in Auschwitz.
You’ve recently issued a new album “The Ghosts of yesterday” could you tell us something about this?
I have finished it in early 2015 and my record label Lichterklang released it this summer. For this album, I changed the topic from “literature”to “history”, but it was absolutely no deliberate decision. I just started to write songs about the ideas in my head and in the end I had a bunch of songs about various historical themes. It reaches from ancient Rome and Greece to the usurpation of Tibet, from the death of king Friedrich Wilhelm I to the end of the monarchy in Germany. On the musical side, I think I have found the logical successor of my “Ex Libris” album. I always have difficulties when I am asked to describe my own songs. I would say, it is Neoclassical music with a hint of Dark Ambient, Martial Industrial, and Goth. I had the luck to work with some very talented persons: Anna Aliena is singing “Bis zum Dach der Welt” (on the bonus CD), we can hear Miyuki Day and Bjarkan on some songs, and the closing track is an alternate version of a song I wrote for the upcoming Schattenspiel CD. Furthermore, Sven Phalanx and I wrote “Todesahnung”, whose original version was released on the last Schattenspiel album. Partly I worked with my own lyrics, partly with poems of Theodor Fontane and Lory Fayer. To create a more organic sound, we added some real instruments to the set of digital instruments (accordion, bass guitar, guitars, flute).
Take your time with this: I saw that your works have cultural, literature references, like Ex Libris, in which each track is dedicated to a book, so I’d like you to explain what was behind each one of Verney 1826 CDs.
There was no concept at all behind my first album “Nebelland”. The title means “Land of mist” and is taken from one of my early tape recordings and these are just the very first songs I recorded under the project name Verney 1826. But already in this early state you can find some songs about literature, like “Ligeia” (inspired by E. A. Poe) or “Lionel”(inspired by Mary Shelley’s “The Last Man”). The second album “Sacrow” had a conceptual frame: It should reflect the time in Eastern Germany 1949 – 1989, a time of political oppression and also the time of my childhood. “Sacrow” is the name of a small town (now part of the city Potsdam) which had the misfortune to be located directly in the Death Zone of the Berlin Wall, and so it became a ghost town. Gladly, it is now possible to visit Sacrow and its beautiful church again. The 3rd album “Silence Du Tombeau” started as a collection of songs about Prussian History (“The Death Of Innocence”, “Fiat Iustitia”, “Suum Cuique”, “Caputh, Sommer 1932”), but somehow I didn’t manage to follow that concept forcefully enough, so we find it interspersed with songs about Gothic Novels and other topics. But it’s OK, since the Prussian theme is just the conceptual frame, as it was the case with the “Sacrow” album. The 4th album “Ex Libris” is, in fact, my first successful attempt to follow a special concept.
The first song of your first album was about the White Rose movement, an intellectual movement against nazism that’s something almost unknown outside Germany, and I think it’s a bit connected to how sometimes only one part of history appears in books, so could you tell us something about this?
Ah, first of all, the song “Il nome della rosa”is not about the White Rose movement but about my favorite book “The name of the rose” by Umberto Eco. Of course, the text of the song is so cryptic that you can read it in a quite different context. Who knows, maybe my subconscious managed to combine different topics here. But there is indeed one particular Verney 1826 song about the White Rose movement: It is “Sophie” from my “Orpheus”EP, which is about Sophie Scholl. The song appeared on my 3rd album again, this time with additional lyrics by Anna Aliena. I was not aware that the White Rose movement is quite unknown outside of Germany. I think, a lot of people here in Germany know the names of Sophie and Hans Scholl, two members of this resistance group against Hitler. The group was founded in 1942 and the leading members were executed in 1943. “Sophie” is a remembrance of the short life of Sophie Scholl. I would be glad if my song could wake the interest of one or the other listener. Yes, there were indeed such things as civil courage or resistance during World War II. Maybe some more people know the name of Graf Stauffenberg? I am not proud of the dark parts of my country’s history, but I do not believe in such things like a “corporate guilt” for the 3rd generation after these events. But could it be that it’s easier and more comfortable to condemn a whole people instead of seeing the events in a chain of dependent historical incidents? Anyhow, I used to say that my music is about historical events and not about politics. But as you can see, it’s not always easy to separate both subjects. Especially when it concerns a time gone by, its culture, its arts, its people, ist politics. So in the end, it seems that I must correct myself: All art is political. But I surely will not stand up and tell anybody how to think and feel. I write about past times, my songs are just recollections, and I can only say: Make of it what you like, regardless of the color of your skin, of your political or religious beliefs. This is Wiccan morality: Do what you will.
Do you often play live? Are you programming new concerts or tours?
We played several live shows but stopped in 2011. For different reasons (mostly the lack of time), there are no fixed plans for the near future, but I do not want to exclude the possibility. Time will show if and how we proceed to play live shows.