In the wide world of alternative folk sounds, which after the short-lived hype of the noughties was only able to reveal its real potential beyond nostalgic retrospectives, New England native Allysen Callery has become an integral part, after all she has created more than a handful of studio albums since her debut in 2007, smaller releases, collaborations, anthologies and concert recordings are added – on all of these she reveals her very own signature, which combines the influences of the British folk revival, which she owes her parents’ record collection, with her very own penchant for subtle, ghostly moods. Especially the latter, which, in addition to the appeal of her music, predestines her for one of her regular labels, Gruselthon, is the substrate on which her most recent collaboration was able to thrive: On “Witch’s Hand”, together with the Dortmund doom stoner band Mother Bear, she lets a whole gang of undead creatures crawl out of their enchanted graves and along the way create one of the best style hybrids of folk and metal. We talked about all these things in the following interview.
You’ve just released a fantastic new album in collaboration with German doom stoner trio Mother Bear, who like you participated in the “Universal Hammer” compilation. It’s music is quite unconventional in comparison with both your more typical styles. How did the idea of the album came up?
Mother Bear actually had my favorite track on the Universal Hammer compilation, and I’ve always had a great love for Black Sabbath, one of my favorite bands to this day. I was watching a documentary and they were talking about how horror music inspired them, and it all made perfect sense to me as to why I love their music so much. The founder of Gruselthon is also a fan of horror movies, and we’re always trading recommendations.
Did you, apart from a shared interest in certain horror motifs, both notice a common music code, which was independent from genres and styles?
Occult , stoner, psych music all join hands in my music collection, and there’s just something about witchy horror that’s really fun , if you’re into that sort of thing!
Is metal and stoner rock something you’ve enjoyed before?
Yes, when I first started driving my friend gave me a cassette of Black Sabbath’s Paranoid album, it always brings me back listening to those songs.
I even recently recorded a cover of Planet Caravan which is on my SoundCloud.
In terms of lyrical content, which comes from both you and the band, the album seems pretty consistent. How did you agree on the subjects and the atmosphere of the stories told? I can only imagine that a lot of things resulted quite spontaneously out of common interests…
We just sort of agreed that we would collaborate on a horror record, it was astounding to me how easily the songs flowed from my pen… Must’ve been a ghost writer haha
I really love Mother Bear’s take on my song “Beautiful Teeth”.
The stories told in the lyrics have something of a panorama of classic horror stories and their corresponding characters. Have you always liked to listen to and probably also to invent such stories?
I love horror, my husband & I watch horror movies almost every night. Even when I was a kid going to the library, I always reached for the Horror stories. I’ve never tried writing a horror story? Other than my little songs… But I guess my dream might be that somebody takes those songs and makes a horror movie from the stories they tell.
“Witch’s Hand” also gave me quite some associations to classical horror cinema. Is there an era of uncanny movies that you’re particularly fond of?
I love Folk Horror movies the most , Wicker Man, The Company of Wolves, The Witch , November, etc. Not necessarily a time period , but a certain style. Supernatural, occult horror is my favorite kind of horror.
You’re from Rhode Island, New England, not that far from the area where the Salem witch trials took place, and also being home to authors like Hawthorne and Lovecraft, the region is associated with dark atmospheres. How much from your home area do you think you can find in your music? Do you think New England really lends itself to a spooky atmosphere, or do you think it’s more of a cliche thing?
Well, I live across the street from woods that are protected Native American land.
My husband & I go mushroom hunting in there, & our house is decorated with the many skulls we have found from deer & other creatures we’ve found on our nature walks.
We spend a lot of time outside, and I think nature creeps in in the way that I write, and the way that I relate my human experience.
The term ghost folk – referring to your seminal album title – has come to describe your music, and terms like folk horror have been heard a lot in recent years. What do you think is the reason that folk music likes to connect with the uncanny and the supernatural?
The world is an interesting and confusing place. Anyway I think paganism kind of connects us with the Earth, and our ancestors. I’m not a real practicing witch , but I like to do a lot of witchy stuff.
Baking bread, hand sewing , lighting candles , petting my black cats, among other things , brings me peace which I then can share.
When did you discover Americana and other traditional music genres? Were you already an active musician at the time?
I was kind of languishing in my previous marriage, my guitar was under the bed and I didn’t have any support or encouragement. I heard by chance Gillian Welch singing “Dear Someone ” on TV. This was before the Internet for me. I pulled my guitar out from under the bed and was inspired to write my first record which was “Hopey”.
I don’t think of myself as an Americana artist, although Gillian Welch did inspire me at that time, most of my inspiration comes from British isles artists such as Steeleye span, Fairport convention and of course The Incredible String Band which was the music from my parent’s record collection I’d grown up listening to.
Were there certain classic folk albums that were particularly inspirational to you?
The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter , A Parcel of Rogues, & Leige & Leaf are some of my favorites.
Joni Mitchell’s Blue & Ladies of the Canyon as well.
For me, “Ghost Folk” is one of the most intriguing dark folk albums of recent years, and one of its main qualities in the subtle quietness of the songs’ atmosphere. Did you intend something like this while writing the songs?
I am what I create . I’d say by nature I’m pretty subtle, dark & quiet .
I love that people can connect with me through my music, and I love that it’s for select people.
“Lost Children”, a compilation of partly fragmentary home recordings, lead me to the impression that you improvise and record a lot, when ideas come to you. Are there certain circumstances and situations when you’re especially receptive for the muses’ input?
I’ve had some issues with loss to process, and that’s a common chord that shows up in my music for sure. I am a prolific writer, and I do have the luxury of a lot of alone time to be able to at least record little things at home as they come to me.
What were the main reasons that these pieces didn’t fit on one of your more regular albums?
Some of the songs I put on Lost Children were written & played only once as I recorded. But I’ve always enjoyed looking at artist’s sketchbooks, & I thought it would be something special to share with my true listeners.
It’s only out on bandcamp , & not streaming anywhere else so you really have to look.
Do you still plan to record music with a more band oriented sound together with Myles Baer? I remember you mentioned this idea in another interview and referred to your former Land of Nod project…
I have a deep love for lo fi, home recordings, but I love when Myles goes totally wild with production too. I kind of dream about having a little band with him, my daughter Ava Callery and Karen Zanes. We’ll see?!
Did you and Mother Bear already think about touring together to present “Witch’s Hand” live? I’m sure there’ll be an audience for it..
Wow, no we haven’t discussed that but if I can step onstage in a cloud of smoke to sing with them at a festival that would be a dream come true!
They are a fantastic band & I am sure they will be playing many in the future.
What’s on your schedule for the nearer future?
I’ve recorded an EP for UK label Future Grave, which my producer is working on.
I’m excited for that one, and I’d also really like to do a collection of British Isles covers as they were so incredibly meaningful to me growing up.
Interview: U.S., Ted Hayes