Our lives are comprised of many different currents, pushing in different directions and eventually weaving together to create the threads that bind our individual experiences together. With his new project Blood and Sun, musician and painter Luke Tromiczak brings this idea to life by creating a collaborative musical endeavor that he is able to bring with himself into all of the spaces he occupies, a product of many contributors and environments that is symbolic of his personal philosophies.
Tomorrow evening, Blood and Sun will celebrate the release of their debut album, White Storms Fall, with a performance at CO Exhibitions accompanying the opening of an exhibition of paintings and sculptures from the Holdfast Collective. The exhibition, Holdfast III: Effigy & Exile, is the third installment of the Minneapolis-based art collective, also led in part by Tromiczak. Gimme Noise met with Tromiczak in the weeks leading up to the show to talk about the new album and to gain some insight into its unique lyrical content.
"From the onset, Blood and Sun was going to be a project that I was going to be able to take with me wherever, and work with multiple people, which has been amazing," Tromiczak says. He has recently been attending school in New York City, and collaborating with various musicians there. While based in Minneapolis for the summer, the band's line-up will consist of Tromiczak himself on guitar and vocals, Thomas Ashe on violins, Tanner Anderson on hammered dulcimer(Obsequaie, Celestiial), Erik Wivinus on percussion(Thunderbolt Pagoda), and Angela Mcjunkin on cello.
White Storms Fall is an ambitious work. The album is a sweeping journey through dark and light, carried by solemnly chiming strings and swelling percussion. Tromiczak's voice is deep and sorrowful, lifting above the steady drone of what he describes as "heathen folk." The lyrics are heartfelt, complex yet straightforward, drawing upon themes that Tromiczak holds particularly dear. "I don't want to cloak things in irony," he says. "I feel that in order to make music and write songs that people almost want to take a sort of ironic distance from it." When reading through the lyrics, one is given a direct glimpse into the roots from which this work sprang.
The song "Lord of the Spring" stands apart from the rest in that its lyrics were written collaboratively between Tromiczak and Ashe, who is performing with the current incarnation of the band. The two met in 2004 in New Orleans, while Tromiczak was touring with a Minneapolis punk band. They actually met quite randomly in a coffee shop, and realized that they shared many mutual friends in Minneapolis. The two stayed in touch, and Tromiczak was eager to tap Ashe for musical contribution to Blood and Sun. "He was one of the first people that I decided to contact to work with on it, because he plays a real screechy kind of Americana fiddle," Tromiczak says. "Knowing his interests in things like Current 93 and Psychic TV or Death in June...it was a pretty immediate fit."
"Lord of the Spring" does showcase this screechy fiddle quite nicely, accompanied by waves of cymbal crashes and Tromiczak's monotonous intonation. The song is about the dissolution of the materialist world. Tromiczak often draws upon themes of Norse mythology to explain the ideas behind his music. "The sort of Lord of the Spring is almost like a fallen protagonist, like Baldr, where at one point maybe there's a certain harmony being sought between people that the world seems lacking," he says. "Even when trying to make something positive if it, it end of enveloping itself and eating itself in a way." In Norse mythology, Baldr is the god of light and purity.
In the song, Tromiczak sings, "This world so lacking, feast devours guest and host/ Crimson flowers come reaping/ Swelling sorrow past almost/ Fair prince of the spring dismantling his noontide/ Shimmering dust of the crown sifts into the dry ground." He likens this description to the struggle to find one's foothold in this world. "It's a song about making a life of purpose when a lot of currents tend to push you into really compartmentalized functions," he says. When asked how he relates this idea to his own life, he pauses. "I think there's a tendency for hyper specialization of people into work," he says, contemplatively. "At one point we might have a romanticism about the working class and the sort of industrial backbone of the United States, and now there is a move much more towards moving money and information in between people, not even with a sort of material result." He says that he and Ashe have both felt isolated as part of the current pushing against this spectacle of capitalism and consumerism.
Tromiczak's friendship with Ashe is a perfect allegory to the idea of different lives being woven together, as in the Elder Edda, a text of Old Norse poems that he also draws inspiration from for Blood and Sun. He speaks fondly of their connection with one another. "We speak really freely with each other and it's a close friendship," he says. "He's particular. He will only receive phone calls; he doesn't text. He rarely uses the internet. He's kind of old-fashioned in his ways. Even in the bitter winter he will show up at a show on his bicycle with his violin wrapped up in swaddling to make sure that the cold doesn't affect the body of it." He is intrigued by the role that "coincidence," like meeting Ashe in a coffee shop in New Orleans, plays in our lives.[page]
The other song lyrics on the album were all written by Tromiczak himself. Oftentimes, arrangements and chord progressions would be written first, then lyrics to be matched to them. He keeps books filled with notes which, over time, become these lyrics. "I'll sometimes sit down with a very concise idea for how to approach a song, and it usually goes through about five or six pages of writing things, crossing things out, and eventually I start writing all in caps when I feel like it's ready to be matched to the songs," he says.
Writing the song "Keen" was different. The lyrics to "Keen" were actually spawned from a failed attempt at writing for his other band, black metal outfit Maledicere. Unsatisfied with that song as a whole, he scrapped the idea but held on to one line which eventually became the building block to "Keen": "Some things we shall not forgive and some things pride decides."
"Keen" maintains the simplicity of the other songs on the album, accented by droning string instruments and Tromiczak's unique manner of sing-talking the lyrics. It is a bit more melancholy than "Lord of the Spring," perhaps a bit more foreboding. This mood makes perfect sense, though, when the idea behind "Keen" is explained.
Keening itself is a form of mourning by vocally lamenting one's death. Traditionally, three women would perform the keening, representative of the three fates in Norse mythology. "Before the Gods, you had the fates, and the fates would weave the lives of people together, and they're sort of interpreted as something that you heed, but you're not quite beholden to," Tromiczak explains. "You work against what's given to you, or work with what's given to you. It talks about being born into a station. When you're born into a family, you had no choice of the sort of material constraints that you would come into, but there are things that you find, channels of things that you end up working with." The role of keening was not only to sing honors and mourn the life that was lost, but also to talk about the specific person who had passed: who they were, what their particular life was like.
The song "Keen" is based on deaths of friends that Tromiczak has experienced in his lifetime, some of whom were quite young. One friend in particular, a good friend from grade-school pursuing the arts in Seattle, was pulled off a moped and stabbed to death several years ago. Nothing was stolen from the friend, and no formal charges were ever filed. "That troubles me, that you know a lot of people that are trying to do incredible things with themselves, and wrong situations occur, and they leave before maybe we think they should," he says. "The song is kind of directly dealing with that."
"There's only one guarantee we have in life, and that's that it will end. I think that especially in this culture death is something that is separated from how we live on the day to day," he says. "If we can push it far away from us, we will. We might watch violent movies and that sort of thing, but in terms of actual death and dealing with people leaving and dealing with the fact that there is a certain finality to our physical existence, we try to push it away as much as possible I think."
Perhaps these moments when death becomes so real are meant to remind us that all of our lives are vulnerable. "Life is a dangerous thing," Tromiczak says. "This song is about coming to terms with that."
The album artwork, paintings by Luke Hillestad, offer visual explanations of the themes within each song. The vinyl will be accompanied by large-format reproductions of Hillestad's work. Hillestad will also be showing his work at Holdfast III: Effigy & Exile. The album itself will be made available in a heavyweight, textured, and foil-printed gatefold, with a stapled-in art/lyric book protected by Vellum. This 200gm black vinyl includes a CD version of the album.
Blood and Sun performs at CO Exhibitions during the opening reception of Holdfast III: Effigy & Exile. 7-10 PM, all ages, free admission
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