INTERVIEW WITH OBSKURE MAGAZINE, FRANCE.
By Yänn Mondragon, December 2014
Few Frenchmen really know Oberon. Can you please introduce your project to us? Tell us in detail how it started? Why it exists?
Oberon was started in 1994, a young man drawn to the mysteries of the ages, within his heart a raging storm, trying to make sense of the world. Along the way, this young man recorded a few albums, trying to express his desires and hopes in a musical vocabulary that touched both the light and the dark of his experience, and in the process making an eclectic blend of songs ranging from pompous metal to soft, acoustic ballads. In the 20 years of Oberon’s existence, nobody has been able to determine what kind of artist Oberon is, or what kind of music this is. I have been following this path since the beginning and what Dream Awakening represents is the same search, just some 20 years down the line, hopefully with more maturity, more force, and with a richer musical palette. Oberon’s symbol is the crescent moon, symbolizing something hidden coming into view.
Bard, you're the thinking mind behind Oberon, but do you happen to get some help from other musicians? If so, what do they bring you? It's also right time to talk to us about your songwriting process... how does an Oberon song come into being?
I enjoy working with other people because it brings a sense of family into the project: My engineer, the guy who mixed and mastered the album, my co-writers and musicians, my guy at the label – they have all become a part of the extended Oberon family. This is very important to me. Sometimes I don’t agree with their suggestions, because at the end of the day Oberon is an expression of my soul, my vision, my heart… and it needs to always stay true to what I believe in. But to illustrate this, take something like the Hippocratic Oath – is something you wouldn’t necessarily associate with music, but it tells us about the correct way to treat our mentors, our parents and ultimately our family and those we rely on in life. Everyone should read this ancient text because it carries with it a universal, timeless truth. I am saying all this because in this world, money, fame and material success is only skin deep. We have to look for gratification at a much deeper level if we want true happiness. And for me to be able to draw from such a great, creative and passionate team brings true blessings. You could say that Oberon started because I was looking for a light in a dark world. Each record is a beacon, a signal flowing outwards into that vast shroud of the world, calling to those who can understand and share the beauty and inner meaning of Oberon.
As for the writing itself, it can take me years to finish a song. I don’t usually collaborate with others on the actual song writing (there are exceptions, like “Secret Flyer” or “Age of the Moon” from Dream Awakening), and most of the time I will work on short pieces and bits until I get lyrics that bring them together. I don’t usually write in a verse-bridge-chorus-verse kind of way. The lyrics usually dictate the flow of the song. Like with «Age of the moon», I like to think about it more along the lines of the movements of a symphony where all the movements of the song builds up to the final line, «The Magician’s Holy Silence», and everything after just tries to maintain the momentum of that moment. In my writing, each part of the song is meaningful in itself, yet the songs all pretty much have an organic flow which builds towards a climax. I think songs like “Dream Awakening” or “Machines That Dream” are good examples of this. It’s hard to analyze my work like that, though, and I don’t normally think about it much. Everything usually comes together in a very organic way.
Thirteen years elapsed between Dream Awakening and the previous album... that's quite some long time! How did you spend your time all that while ? Did you indulge in other artistic activities? Did you continue playing music ?
I released an album called «Future Whirl» in 2002, followed by some demos between 2004 and 2009. I kept writing, and in the last part of the decade, I also spent most of my free time working on the music that became Dream Awakening. As the decade came to a close, I recorded two songs for Albireon’s «Mr. Nightbird hates blueberries» album that came out on Old Europa Cafe in 2010. These were the final «Future Whirl» recordings before we brought back Oberon, and the Prophecy deal got signed.
What drove you to “resurrect” Oberon ? An uncontrollable urge to write, a trigger pulled from one or many events coming from your own life?
If there has ever been a case of synchronicity, this was it: I had been corresponding via email with Davide Borghi of Albireon who kept pestering me about reviving Oberon. I was reluctant, but it really made me take a new look where I was artistically, and it led me to incorporating more of the darker palette of Oberon into my work at the time. Shortly after that I got a mail from Stefan from Prophecy who asked me if I wanted to release some records on the label – but only if I did it under the name of Oberon. So basically, one thing led to the next and I am glad Davide and Stefan were adamant about Oberon because it feels right on all levels to do this now.
In thirteen years, your musical tastes must have evolved! What do you listen to nowadays that you formerly didn't? What did you listen to in the past that you still do nowadays ?
I’m old school, and like to stick to my roots in terms of what I have in my record collection. But I have a very relaxed relationship with music, and I’ll listen to anything that puts me in a good mood, be it metal, country or even the wind howling through the trees on my walks in the countryside. Back in the day it felt important to listen to the music of the underground, like Endraum or Abraxas (later Endvra) whose tape Dreams of Dark Waters was a revelation to me, but as the years go by it really doesn’t matter anymore as long as it is soulful. An artist that will always stay with me as a key inspiration is your own late great singer/songwriter Jean Ferrat. His 1971 LP «Ferrat Chante Aragon» will forever remain one of the most hauntingly beautiful albums ever recorded.
We listen to a lots and lots of records, but we admit that we have never listened to Oberon before Dream Awakening and we apologize. We will own up to this mishap as quickly as possible! Meanwhile, what differentiates Mysteries' Oberon (1998) and Dream Awakening's Oberon ?
Well it is never too late! Like I said earlier, the 90s Oberon was the work of a young man just about to emerge from his adolescence, whereas the Oberon of now is that of a person approaching middle age. It’s really all about perspective, and as the body and mind struggles against the ravages of time, perspective deepens. It’s a good place to be. You got less to prove and more to share, in my opinion.
“Oberon” refers to the king of faeries according to numerous medieval legends. What kind of relationships do you have with fairy tales and legends ?
I think the beings encountered in these legends are euhermeristic representations of real energies that are a part of our world. When you are close to nature, you are empowered in a special way. The French scholar Henry Corbin of the Sorbonne spoke about Visionary Geography, a fantastic concept, where in the case of a mountain, for instance, when you perceive it with not only your eyes, but also your imagination, you see its’ true nature. You see it both as a topographical object as well as a spiritual being, and in this way – in my opinion – you can see the true nature of something. If I think about you, Yänn, as a biological entity, it doesn’t tell me anything beyond what you are as a colony of cells, bacteria, atoms and so on. But when I see you through the eye of the imagination, I see a cosmic being, which in the language of myth would have his feet rooted deep in the heart of the earth, and the soul connected with the very source of the cosmic mind itself. If we see each other like this, we see how valuable life is and what potential we have. We need to identify with the great heroes and magical beings of the myths. That is why they are there, not just for entertainment.
Through your biography, we feel a great deal of mysticism in you, as if spirituality and religions take an important part in your life. It makes me wonder: in whom and in what do you believe ?
This is difficult to answer, because faith or religion, or spirituality is best communicated non-verbally through symbols, or music. But I feel very human, very earthbound, yet I long for something I can’t quite express in simple terms. I think the concept of God or religion is something we have all received as part of our cultural heritage, for good or bad, but as with many other things like that we really need to look beyond words and sense our own experiences deeply. Only then can we say something about it. In traditional terms I think I am quite agnostic with perhaps a slight emphasis on the gnostic part of it. I believe that life can be a process of transcendence, but it can also be shallow and devoid of any sense of direction or purpose. In many ways life is what we ourselves bring into it. But the fact is that we don’t know what it is – it is truly a mysterious thing. Just because we get used to routines, paying taxes, going to work and eating and sleeping, doesn’t make life less mysterious. It is completely within our power to either be like the pauper or the prince.
Let's talk together about your latest album: Dream Awakening is imbued with progressive rock and 70s folk influences... there is in your music too these soothing trippy sonorities as well as dream-shrouding dimension. Is that Oberon's willingness to give dreams, calm and serenity ?
I want to create a feeling in the listener that he or she is being held tightly within the music, letting the atmospheres and melodies take him or her on an inner journey. At the same time, it is my hope that they will take the time to read the lyrics as they are deeply connected to the music. I have a deep respect for directors like David Lynch or composers/artists like Scott Walker who have such clearly defined artistic visions. For my they give me that same feeling of being held within a dream. Dreams, of course, must be understood as worlds of possibility, where invisible things become visible, where we can touch things that are normally beyond our reach. Dreams are the worlds of our imagination – it’s not about being asleep in your bed, but to see and understand the world through the inner eye, through the symbols and language of the soul: “Beautiful orbit now soars, beautiful now of infinite hours…”
By listening to Dream Awakening, I tried to label Oberon, to tie it to a music style... impossible! About that matter, do you feel like belonging to a music scene (doom, folk, Gothic, etc.) ?
So many people feel a need to classify and compare, and I’ve never been a fan of that. When I was a kid I used to buy records based on how the album cover looked. There was no internet and no youtube back then of course, so except for the odd magazine, flyers or what was being recommended to you by friends in the underground scene, music was mostly discovered by going to the record store. I’d go there and pick out albums either because I had seen the band on someone’s thank you lists, what label had released it, or as I said, from how awesome I thought the cover was. And whatever I heard once I put the pickup down on the vinyl was whatever it was. For the longest time, I kept seeing Candlemass’ Epicus Doomicus Metallicus record, and while that looked dark enough, I’d see those other albums with their classical paintings of angels and heavenly realms, and I didn’t understand it. Their name sounded dark, yet their image seemed, almost religious, and it created a mystique for me and I was unable to imagine what they sounded like, but it appealed to me deeply. So when I first heard the music on Nightfall, I couldn’t believe it, I was swept away by the vocals, the melodies, everything. So to enter the world of an artist, in my opinion, should always be done with a clear and open mind. What you receive can be like a gift. So in the same sense, I don’t feel that I belong anywhere. I have my roots and that’s about it. I use the “language” I learned from my mentors and idols growing up, and that’s my palette now. A lot of people point out this unclassifiable quality that Oberon has, and I love that. I owe a lot of my guitar playing to Ace Frehley and Andy Scott from Sweet, but when I make a song, when I play a solo or a riff and close my eyes, I see visions of things that have nothing to do with 70s Glam Rock, the music that gets channeled through me, through my guitar, transports me to another world, and exists at that moment only in the light of it’s own splendor.
Dream Awakening is a record that breathes nostalgia and sadness. What does that account for such melancholy in your music? Do you think the most beautiful of music styles is the one that takes us back to sadness ?
This is a very difficult question to answer, because my song writing is very intuitive. That feeling you mention is never deliberate on my part. I just try to make sure what’s in my heart can flow freely into the music. I don’t know why it is like that but I do think that what you are saying is true, though, that the most beautiful things bring us to that place.
What kind of stories does Dream Awakening tell? Where does your inspiration come from? From the confrontation with real life? Or do you draw your inspiration from art in general (music, cinema, literature, etc.)?
I think Dream Awakening tells a universal story about what it means to be human – something that’s been at the core of the teachings of saints and gods and the works of the occultists of the ancient world through the renaissance and onwards to the political ideologues of the 20th Century. There’s nothing new about it, in that regard, but I think it’s not a topic that is very deeply explored in popular or even underground culture these days. G.I. Gurdjieff said “Man can not do”. He was inferring that man does not act from will, but from impulse. But it also means that there is a will somewhere and that it is something we can find in ourselves. This is where the Dream Awakening title comes from. We need to awaken to the reality of will, so we can live consciously and wilfully.
The following excellent tracks “Age of the Moon”, “Escape” and “I Can Touch the Sun...” stand in huge contrast from the quiet moods from the rest of the album and stand out on their own thanks to a certain darkness, heavy/melody-laden guitars and assertive drums. These three tracks bring some diversity to the record, other colours. Was it a deliberate choice to diversify sonorities and feelings or don't you plan the whole deal?
Oberon records have always been diverse. If you listen to the “Mysteries” album and take a song like the slow and monumental title track, “Mysteries” or “The Garden of Flesh and Bones” which is basically an atmospheric rock song with some really great drums and epic choruses, and then the sparse piano sonatas; they’re all very different but together they create a special atmosphere that ties the album together. Normally you probably don’t find that kind of mish mash of styles on the same record. But I think this is a part of the very essence of Oberon. I grew up on classical music, but I have always also been a heavy metal fan, and in the past couple of decades I listened to a lot of acoustic music like Death In June, Jean Ferrat, The Moody Blues, the early Bowie albums, SWANS or The Angels of Light, and I like to say that those things were my ABCs which provided me with the building blocks that make up the language, or music, of Oberon.
A couple of words on the artwork: even if we feel free to give our own interpretation of it, what is yours ? The painting on the cover is called Urvasi and is painted by the great but little known symbolist painter Olaf Lange, who was born in the same town as me, almost a 100 years earlier, in 1875. It is a depiction of a scene from Hindu mythology about a beautiful female apparition, named Urvasi, created by the sage in order to bind the spirits sent by the God Indra to break his spiritual concentration. This is the work of a master who was able to see with the eye of imagination. I felt a deep kinship with this painting when I first saw it 13 years ago and decided already then that it would one day be a part of Oberon’s world.
What is in store for Oberon in the upcoming months ? Any projects ?
Just work. I am working on several new pieces for the next Oberon album, and am eager to start recording as soon as possible. «Dream Awakening» was a new beginning for me, and because of the time between this and my older albums, it almost feels like my first. I think the next record will be very diverse with each foray into different musical territories sharper and more defined than before. The next several months will definitely be spent meditating, reflecting, training and pondering The Great Mystery while putting it together, hopefully so it can be ready by next fall. Make sure you all keep an eye on my website for updates along the way as well as information on other projects that might materialize in the time ahead.
You may now conclude this interview if you wish: is there something that pisses you off ?
They say you should always try to take the higher road, but sometimes it’s not possible. The world would be a better place without what I’d like to call “Drone-ism”: People who do what is expected of them, because it is expected of them. I am pissed off by the world’s response to the Ebola outbreak, I am pissed off by the political correctness, greed and hate, bigots and zealots, and by those who try to impose their politics and worldview on others because they fear the consequence of true freedom.
Is there something that holds you dear ? Would like to spread a message to all the Frenchmen who will love Oberon ? It's your turn now! The fact that there are people out there who care and pay attention to what I have to say makes me humble. Like I said, family is something I hold very dear, and no matter how modest or small, the fans, or friends, of Oberon are like a family to me. I’ve been to France a few times, and being there has always made me happy. I would love to go back there, bring my guitar and my songs of dream and awakening and share some wonderful times with those whose worlds have been touched by Oberon in some way. Stay true!
Thank you for the sincerity of your answers. Thank you for those beautiful emotions and long live Oberon!
Thank you, Yänn!