When people first discover neofolk, they’re quick to come across the work of Death in June, Current 93, and Sol Invictus, if indeed the work of these founders isn’t what led them there in the first place. However, it usually isn’t long before the work of Michael Cashmore comes into focus, who has arguably been every bit as important to the development of the genre. This long-time Current 93 collaborator has long been considered a legend through his work as Nature and Organisation, releasing one of the most unique and instantly distinguishable albums that the genre has to offer in 1994 with Beauty Reaps the Blood of Solitude before allowing the project to grow dormant several years later after the release of the unfinished album, Death in a Snow Leopard Winter.
After many years of silence, however, Trisol—likely known to our readership for recent releases ranging from Rome’s A Passage to Rhodesia to Sopor Aeternus’s Mitternacht—has convinced Cashmore to finally reissue both of Nature and Organisation’s albums, along with two bonus tracks, under the banner of Snow Leopard Messiah. Michael was kind enough to grant us an interview to speak about the project’s past, the reason for bringing these albums back to print for his fans, and his need to evolve as a person today.
Heathen Harvest: Listening to your releases, you can hear the development of your sound from Bone Clinic to Nature and Organisation transition from experimental electronics to a more acoustic sound. Can you tell us about how that developed?
Michael Cashmore: Since I was around thirteen years old, I had an acoustic guitar. The first one I ever bought was from a friend of my brother’s for five pounds; it was 1977, punk had just begun in the UK, and I developed an interest to play. When I started Bone Clinic, I had been listening to Throbbing Gristle, reading William S. Burroughs, and was experimenting with tape loops, tape cut-ups, super 8mm film, and drum machines, and I came to a point where I felt a melodic element would add an emotional side to this experimental work, and then just bring more potency.
HH: What prompted you to revisit Nature and Organisation? The project has been held in high regard for quite some time, so why now?
MC: Well, it’s now been twenty-one years since Beauty Reaps the Blood of Solitude was originally issued in 1994. In the past, I’ve had quite a few offers to re-issue this and other Nature and Organisation material, but I just felt that now was a good time to make these recordings available again because the situation seemed right, and also because I know that people would like to own this material and are having to pay distorted prices to obtain the only copies available, which are from the original issue.
HH: Trisol has been mostly a Gothic/Darkwave label but seem to be bringing in more post-industrial music with Rome, Spiritual Front, and now Nature and Organisation. How did your partnership with Trisol develop?
MC: The head of the label, Alex Storm, sent me a message over Facebook saying that he was interested in re-issuing Nature and Organisation recordings on CD. Over time, we talked and made an agreement over how this could work, and I soon found out that not only was he a very nice, easy person to get on with, but that he was also a genuine fan of this work. It was clear that his main purpose for this idea was really because he had an emotional connection to the music, which made him the ideal person to finally re-issue these recordings. It was a perfect opportunity.
He has been totally accommodating for me and made this reissue possible by giving me the freedom I needed to do it, that there were to be no deadlines, and that I could simply make the artwork and design ideas without any pressure. He was equally accommodating in allowing me to use ideas that increased manufacturing costs; nothing was a problem for him, and everything I wanted was available.
HH: I’ve always seen “Beauty Reaps the Blood of Solitude” as the culmination of the best elements of the World Serpent era of post-industrial. Looking back at it now, what are some of your favorite memories from that time?
MC: I spent a lot of time in the studio making that album. I had a job at the time, so I would sometimes go to the studio after work in the evenings or during the day on the weekends. I remember quite well sitting on a bus with a glöckenspiel in my bag and spending the evening adding it over a few basic tracks. It was recorded on three rolls of 2″ tape, which are really heavy. I often had to drag them from Birmingham down to London when I was recording vocals with David Tibet, Rose McDowall, Douglas P., and when I eventually mixed it with Steven Stapleton, so these times I remember a lot. It was exciting when vocals were added to the music tracks as they finally took shape and identity as songs—that was always rewarding. My best memory is probably when Steve and I had mixed the final track of the album after three days of mixing, and the album was finally finished.
HH: I understand that many years ago you had some challenges with confidence and depression, and some trouble getting the proper recognition with your work in other projects. How has that changed, if at all, since then? From a fan of the genre’s perspective, your name carries credibility that you can take to the bank, but I know that’s not always the case from within the mind and heart of the artist.
MC: I grew up in an average, working-class family, and this teaches you that a regular job earns you money, and things like art and music are hobbies and have nothing to do with earning money. I’ve carried this form of indoctrination all of my adult life, which means that I could possibly earn a living from music, but I don’t because I can’t see it as a reality.
The thing about not being properly credited for what I’ve done in the past is to do with the problems that it creates. This makes it more difficult for the future as it lowers the opportunities available to push the boundaries of your possibility. For that reason, it came to be that what I’d done in the past was a negative for me and not a positive.
The depression thing I’ve suffered with since my late teens. It comes and goes, sometimes with really long pauses in between, but then comes back with a sudden intensity as though it had never gone. I’m going through it again right now and it’s fucking awful, but I will get over it.
HH: Can we expect to hear some new recordings of your own? “Death in a Snow Leopard Winter” really showcased your solo talent and skill at composition, and we’d look forward to hearing you stand out on your own again.
MC: Thanks. Yes, I’d really like that too, and I also really need the challenge and excitement of it, but right now I’m too restless. I’m having too many issues with my psychological state, so I need to sort that out first before I can consider any new projects.
HH: What can you tell us about the Bone Clinic days? What was inspiring you to make music back then, and how different were you both as a musician and a person?
MC: Bone Clinic was myself and a friend, Neil Jones. He was one of the very few guys in my hometown who were listening to Throbbing Gristle, Psychic TV, Current 93, and Coil, and we became friends because of this connection. We were very unfocused in what we were doing—we were playing and recording together, mixing cut-up tape loops, vocals, bass, drum machines, and synthesiser to make collaged songs and also very simple songs with acoustic guitar. This was around 1982, I think, and after a year we changed the name to Nature and Organisation as we became more focused in what we were trying to do.
I was different then: young, more idealistic, serious … not more obsessive than I am now, but more diverted away from what I really was inside as a person, I think.
We played live a few times as Nature and Organisation in those days. I remember one time that we played a pub in Walsall called The Weatsheaf; it was upstairs and we had somehow fooled someone into letting us play as support to a local kind of pop group or something—posh kids. We turned up with a super 8mm film projector, an acoustic guitar, tape loops, a bass guitar, and a hammer each in our back pockets just in case it didn’t go down too well. After we started playing, the feedback from the guitar blew one of the PA speakers, and I had already put a hole into the snare of the drum kit of the main band, so we decided it would be a good time to end as the audience were getting pretty aggressive.
HH: Now with “Snow Leopard Messiah,” it’s clear that snow leopards represent something particularly special, even perhaps sacred for you. What is the meaning behind this creature’s reoccurrence in your music?
MC: I was walking around a zoo with a girlfriend in around 1996, I think, and when we turned a corner, I came almost face-to-face with a snow leopard behind a glass-fronted cage and I was instantly shocked by the extraordinary beauty and by the fact that I thought it was sitting directly in front of me, not behind glass. I studied its movements, its appearance and grace, and it lasted with me for weeks afterwards as a very potent image in my mind. So I don’t regard snow leopards as sacred or anything, and they have nothing to do with my music, but I just used images of them in artwork that I did at the time, and recently for Snow Leopard Messiah as an image I still associate with the time I recorded the albums.
HH: Some of the new photos that you’ve provided for us for this interview hint that you’ve entered (or have always been in) some form of psychedelic phase. If you choose to release new Nature and Organisation material beyond the current agreement with Trisol, will there be a new direction you take apart from older sounds in this direction?
MC: I am not planning to release any new material under the name Nature and Organisation in the future—maybe reissues of old material, or a DVD release of an old super 8mm film has been talked about. A psychedelic phase? Well, maybe somehow, but I never consider myself as part of any movement, genre, or anything like that. As I get older, I just feel that life can be more fun, interesting, and that it’s possible to experiment within oneself. I grew up in the middle of the sixties and the early seventies with the psychedelic sounds of music. The Beatles in their later I period I heard on the radio and television; I grew up surrounded by it, and then later the transgression of it through glam by Marc Bolan and David Bowie. I remember seeing the very first time that Bowie performed ‘Starman’ on Top of the Pops. It was revolutionary. I saw the original outfit he wore on the show at last year’s Bowie exhibition that was here in Berlin. I was desperate to touch it, but it was impossible. I did, however, touch the turquoise suit that he wore in the video for ‘Life on Mars’.
HH: Speaking of image, visuals of you in the past have been rather conservative and dressed-down. What has inspired you to change your appearance for this chapter of Nature and Organisation?
MC: This is not a new chapter for Nature and Organisation, but rather a new chapter for myself as a person. I wish to let go of old patterns, thoughts, and behaviours. I was very shy when I was younger, reserved even, but I wish to break out of that now that I’m older. I want to play more with identity, who I really am without the veils that we all hold up in front of ourselves.
HH: Several years ago, there was a fantastic but excruciatingly overlooked collaboration between yourself and a little-known artist, Steffi Thiel, on Durtro. Who is she to you, and how did you come to work with her? Can we expect more music between the two of you in the future?
MC: Steffi Thiel was my girlfriend for a long time. She’s German and the reason why I live in Berlin now. She has a really wonderful singing voice; I’d often hear her singing around our flat and it was only natural that sometime we would make something together. The album had a pretty weird journey, really. Steffi wanted to make something but was having difficulty in making the music she wanted, so I gave her an acoustic guitar album that I recorded mainly for fun shortly before the birth of our daughter. These guitar pieces were never meant to be songs in any way—more like simple melodic pieces of music. She did an amazing job in writing English lyrics for them, especially as it is a foreign language for her, in fitting them into the existing structures. Later, I embellished some of the tracks with extra instruments, or simply replaced the guitar with piano or synthesiser.
We won’t be making any other projects in the future, but I’m very pleased that we did get to make this album together.
HH: How has your personal opinion of your recordings changed over the years? Are you as proud of them now as you once were, or are there specific things that you wish you could go back and change? If so, can you point out anything in particular?
MC: My personal opinions of my recordings has changed over the years, or course. We are all expanding and constantly changing, and so do our opinions. I would not say that I’ve ever been particularly proud of things I’ve done in the past—I’ve always been pleased with them at the time, otherwise I never would have released them—but it’s always like letting them go and then trying to go forward into something new, better. Pride is not such a great thing when you are always striving for something of value. Sure, there would be things I would change now, but there’s not much point in thinking about it. It brings nothing, really, but if I do hear an old recording then I do sometimes think I’d do things differently now, but not always.
HH: While the likes of David Tibet, Douglas P., and Tony Wakeford have stood in the neofolk spotlight as founders of the genre, it may surprise you to learn that it is in fact you, certainly as much as these three, who I hear time and time again as the biggest influence and inspiration for many folks to come out of the genre. Even today, despite its obscurity, the music of Nature and Organisation endures and has influenced countless people—myself included—to hold neofolk high as more than just a musical experience. How does it feel to know that you’ve influenced so many people over the years?
MC: Well, firstly I am quite surprised to hear that. It’s nice of course, but I’ve never really been aware that I could be influencing people. Sometimes I do recognise it though, when people tell me at concerts, or when people write to me over Facebook, for example. Still, I find it difficult to accept, but it does makes a difference somehow.
I have started to realise more the power of music, especially recently with the release of this reissue CD, that music I made over twenty years ago can still touch and move people because it is genuine. It is a pure reflection of me at that time, however flawed. Music is ultimately magical.
Collaborative interview conduced by S. L. Weatherford & Raul Antony. Originally published in Heathen Harvest.