Once a Barge

Once a Barge is an upcoming neo-folk project from Germany. After a debut on the Reaping Horde label from Portugal, the second album “Conditio Humana” came out recently on Once a Barge’s own label Holzr?na. The album showed various influences, but still was original enough attract my attention. Sole bandmember Antonius was so kind to tell us more about his musical project.

Can you introduce Once a Barge and its member(s) in a few sentences?

After thinking about a new musical project, Once A Barge was founded in 1997. Since the beginning I wanted to present a mixture of neoclassic, dark-folk and some electronic elements. The first album “The withered leaves” was released in 2000 and the second one “Conditio Humana” has been released in 2003. Once A Barge is a one-man-project. I am the only member and responsible for nearly all refering to Once A Barge.

When did you decide that you wanted to make music?

Since my childhood I make music in different ways and with different instruments. When I got a little bit older there was no more motivation to be only a reproducing musician. To cut it short I didn?t only want to play songs of other people. So I decided to become an “active” musician. In the next years I runned many projects with different people; some very electronic or experimental and some more rock or metal oriented, but nothing very succesful. It was just fun. In 1997 I decided to found Once A Barge, because I wanted to create a special kind of music far away from my other projects. I had the idea of presenting music that really touchs the soul with great melodies and atmospheres. I wanted to create something that really matters.

Where does the bandname Once a Barge come from?

It is not so easy to explain it in short. 1997 was with no exaggeration a dark year for me. Some bad circumstances influenced my life physically and at least psychologically. So there was a time when I thought a lot about life and especially about my life and in this time I made some decissions for myself. In this connection an idea of music came to me. At the end you can see the evocation of Once A Barge as a kind of process. It was a conclusion. Once A Barge is the metaphor for this time.

The term ” barge” I use in the meaning of being a boat used for mystic occasions. So I had the picture of a boat in my head that ferries across a river. The shore I have left was the old life and the other shore was the new life. It is a very strong metaphor in many ways, because it is also a symbol for the dividing river and the boat that ferries you to the afterworld. At the beginning the writing was Once A Barge…, so it seemed to be like the beginning of a tale or something.

Your first album “The Withered Leaves” appeared on the Reaping Horde label from Portugal. How did you get into contact with them?

That was only a lucky coincidence. In 1998 I recorded a first demo-tape. In that years I had a contact to a little tape-label in Belgium. So I have sent them the tape. This label also had contacts to other labels, and to Reaping Horde which is the label of Johan Aernus of Karnnos and Wolfskin. They sent him the tape by chance and he liked it so much that he got in contact with me. I appeared on a tape-sampler called “The nemeth” and then in 2000 we decided to release the first album of Once A Barge. Over the years we became friends not only partners in business. So we still are in a regular contact.

I haven’t heard that album, are there big differences between your debut and “Conditio Humana”?

Yes, there are. “The withered leaves” was a compilation of tracks I have written and recorded between 1997 and 2000. In consequence the songs sometimes seem to be not very homogenic. Also the sound and the production differs from song to song and isn?t of the quality I prefer today. If I ever rerelease it I have to remaster the old tapes. But the most songs are not so far away from “Conditio Humana”. They are also very melodic, sometimes a bit bombastic and completed with sometimes hymnic vocals. The new songs are more homogenic, because I have defined a kind of Once-A-Barge-style, so you can hear the development.

You have released “Conditio Humana” on your own label Holzr?na. Why an own label? And will it be used for more releases?

After the first release I needed some time to think about the further way of Once A Barge. When I finished the work on “Conditio Humana” I was faced by the situation that Reaping Horde wasn?t able to release it, because Karnnos and Wolfskin got more popular and Johan hadn?t enough time to release any album on his label or to promote it. In the following time I get in contact with some labels, but at the end I came to the conclusion to release it on my own label. So Holzr?na came into life.

It was an old dream to rise my own label. There are some disadvantages like doing really all the work and organisation. But there are also the advantages of having the full control which is a very important topic for me and you have the chance to learn a lot. The label was started as a platform for Once A Barge releases, but in future I can also imagine to release albums of other bands or split releases, but it always should run on a small level.

The album is very limited and comes in an unsusual package. Do you like special releases, and are you a collector yourself?

The special package is a kind of tradition I didn?t want to end. The first release came into a hand-made package, so I wanted to follow this way of special packaging for the first release on Holzr?na. I myself am a collector and I like special releases and packages, but I am a person who only collects releases that I really like, not because it is from a special label etc.

Once a Barge

Does the album have a central theme?

The album is about humanity. It presents different faces of mankind. And finally in the song “Hourglass”, but also in others, it deals with the final frontier and being at the end of a road looking back: death. It is like a spiral that leads you downwards. If you seriously deal with the lyrics you can see my misantrophy and my disappointment. As a result it leads you with the song “Godhammer” to an apocalyptic scene. It is a development. “The withered leaves” was about leavings, about the psychological autumn of life. This album leads me to my personal winter, so many songs are about death.

My favourite song is ‘Keepers of fire’. What’s the song about?

The “keepers of fire” are the human beings, because the fire of wisdom burns into them. But the song isn?t a positive statement. It shows the process how this world can kill every feeling. It leaves you alone on an infinite battle-field of life. Love is murdered and time is your enemy and sometimes life will be ended by a razor. But the keepers of fire will do any harm again and again. You can interpret it in different ways. This life can psychologically kill you or to name an alternative it enables you to rise again as a strong individualistic being with emotions locked deep inside your soul. This song describes the destruction of a dream…

Can you tell something about your creative process? How do you usually write songs, and what instruments do you use?

There are many ways to create a song. In nearly every case the music is the first part I write. Usually I sit down and play something on a keyboard, a piano or my guitar to get a first idea about melodies and rhythm. Sometimes the ideas come into live when I play something and sometimes there occurs an idea in my mind which I have to bring into life. If I like the result I begin to build it up. The most work is then to program the sequencer, search for sounds and samples, to sample something by myself and to arrange the song.

The instruments I used for “Conditio Humana” are: flute, guitar, bass, drums, keyboards and a sampler. At the end I can?t really tell you how songs come into live. Sometimes you have no idea for months and then suddenly an idea rises. But the feeling when you listen to a good song is undescribable. It?s pure euphoria.

My first reaction when listening to your album was that it has a neo-folk sound, with 80’s wave and classical elements. Are these styles which you appreciate?

Yes, I want to create a timeless sound which has its basis on classical song structures and far away from any modern trend. As a result it is a mixture of let?s call it neoclassic, neofolk and a little bit 80`s sound, because these are styles I really like. Musically I am a product of the mid and late 80?s. I was really impressed by dark-wave, minimal electro, industrial and later neo-folk, which is a rather new term. So all this styles influence my music.

Are there clear artists that have influenced you?

Oh, that?s very difficult to answer as I see my music as a result of all musical influences and they are a lot. I deal with different kinds of independent music for more than 15 years. Influences are all the heroes of the 80?s dark-wave and industrial scene, but also the “early” neofolk bands and some industrial acts. I think there is no clear artist that influenced me.

Do you feel that you belong to a musical scene?

Personally I always have some problems with terms like “scene”. If I think about a scene I have the picture of a cloud in my head. It is very hard to comprehend, it has no real limits and it changes its shape very often. I never was part of a scene. I like the music, I know some people which like the same music and sometimes I deal with some specific contents. But I don?t feel belonging to a special scene. Scenes often has the bad taste of being a cage. Clothes, musical taste, opinions and attitudes very often form a corset and if you differ from this you are not an accepted member. Don?t get me wrong, scenes in general have positive effects. I believe that scenes are useful to bundle interests and to simplify communication. It is a network for information.

How have the reactions been so far to your album?

The reactions were very good so far. I got tons of important new contacts all over Europe and there are many people who like the sound of Once A Barge even in the USA or China which is very strange for me. At the moment I still promote the album to get more and more feedback. And it is very interesting to watch which songs are the favourite songs of other people.

What is your favourite Once a Barge song, and why?

I guess, that is the most difficult question so far. My favourite song isn?t released yet, because it will be part of the next release. Reffering the older releases I have to name two songs. My favourite song on “The withered leaves” is “O ruina”, because it has such an intensity whether it is not very loud or bombastic. The refrain is the epitaph for humanity. Everytime I hear or play it it touches my soul again. My favourite song on “Conditio Humana” is “Ruin on them all”. The percussion creates a picture of pride, but also of rage. It is a very massive piece of music with great melodies. But it is also like the evil side of Once A Barge. The lyrics are very aggressive and dark. It is my personal catharsis.

Has Once a Barge played live already? What would your ideal concert be like?

No, Once A Barge never played live so far. It was conceived as a studio-project. But since the last year I really think about playing live. Actually there are some inquiries to play live. I think an ideal concert would be hard to organise, but I have plans to play with a line-up of three people to present a special kind of live sound. There would be a friend of mine playing guitar and bass guitar, a person on drums and percussion and finally me on vocals, percussion and keyboards.

Can we expect a Once a Barge website?

At the moment there?s no plan for a website. Perhaps Johan put some information on his Reaping Horde page, but we will see.

What do you think of the controversial image of the neo-folk scene?

As I said above, the neo-folk scene is very heterogeneous and so in my view there is no clear image. For some outstanding people this scene is very difficult to handle, because the basic topics, the style of music, the artwork and even the clothes lead to discussions. Sometimes it is worth to lead such discussions, because every band should be able to explain why they use specific images etc. But sometimes some people have the problem to face that there exist people which live a different model of life. And if some people use runes or other pagan symbols it mostly has to do with the searching for the roots that lie deep inside our souls. In my view all people should have in mind that neo-folk is a style of music in the first. Anything else has to be subordinated. Personally I have no real problem to make music that eventually could be seen controvers. Music has to be embarrassing, must start discussions and has to think unconventional. If you don?t go over the limit there is no problem.

What is your view of the Conditio Humana? Do we have to despair about the human condition?

The term “conditio humana” in its original use has a very neutral meaning. It is more a describing term. But you are right when you implicate that I haven?t used this term in this neutral meaning. In fact I always present a dark picture of humanity in my work. Deep in my heart I still believe that some things could be better if we want. But reality always shows us its grim laughter. I am afraid that people get more and more deaf, dumb and blind. Stupidity is set as a standard in media and society. Terms like honour and truth are only empty words today. Tradition and culture are opposed. Human beings loose their roots and strive for meaningless money and materialism instead; a dead end. I am not very optimistic refering the human race.

Can you name your all-time top 5 albums?

As I am a collector of music this is a very difficult question. I will name the releases in chronological order which are important stepstones in my musical development. But they are not only albums and you may be surprised about the answer.

  • Fad Gadget – Back to nature 7″ my first love.
  • Front 242 – Politics of pressure E.P.
  • Skinny Puppy – Ain?t it dead yet? acoustic and visual hell on earth.
  • Sol Invictus – In a garden green, the best Sol-release so far.
  • Backworld – Isles of the blest.

    What do you do when you’re not making music?

    Much of my spare time has to do with Once A Barge (not only the music). My second passion is literature. I really like reading everything about different religions, mythologies and history. The problem is: I have not enough time to read all the books I would like to read.

    What would you do if you won a million Euro?

    I would buy thousands of records, some instruments and equipment and a little house, hidden behind the leaves. I would try to build up the label and I would travel to many places. That?s all. If I could buy inner silence, I would do it.

    Any future plans for Once a Barge?

    Right now I have finished work on an exclusive track. It will be released on a sampler published by the spanish Antiphonal magazine. I believe that will happen around october. If all goes well I hope to play live this year or at the beginning of the next year. And finally I work on the next album. Actually the most music is written, but there?s much to do. The sound will be a bit more bombastic than on “Conditio Humana”, but there will be also more guitars…and it won?t last three years to release it.

    Any final thoughts?

    Thank you very much.
    “Don?t watch over the ashes-poke the fire!”