TONY WAKEFORD: PONTIFEX SOLIS
An interview with Tony Wakeford of Sol Invictus
by Per Norstrom and Johan Birgander
In the spring of 1994, Per Norstrom and Johan Birgander interviewed Tony Wakeford. This interview was supposed to be published in a Swedish magazine (Release). However, the editor changed his mind, finding it more lucrative to put acts like the Human League (!) on the cover. FluxEuropa is very grateful to Per and Johan for now allowing this interview to be published here for the first time. It reveals and clarifies a number of points about Tony Wakeford's attitudes and thinking.
Sol Invictus released their debut album, Against the Modern World, in 1987. The founder and songwriter of the group is Tony Wakeford, a founding member of Death In June which he left in 1984. Sol Invictus' music centres around the acoustic guitar and Wakeford's singing, often aided by cello, drums and keyboards. The lyrics centre around a number of themes, some of which will be discussed in this interview. One is an interest in Europe and its culture. The texts often comment on the invasion by American culture which, with its striving for the lowest common denominator and its crass commerciality, forms the main threat to European culture. We asked Wakeford about his interest in Europe, not exactly a British trait.
Tony Wakeford: Britain is strange because many do not feel a part of Europe. I feel very comfortable in Europe; in countries like Germany, France, etc. I have a lot of friends over there. Europe, and its culture, have made me, for good or bad, what I am. Therefore it is only normal that I should look to those roots for whatever may be there of interest. To me it is a very natural thing. I feel European.
Q: But you often express disappointment with the present day Europe?
W: Yes, because what unifies Europe is a very American ethos, an ethos of economics and multinationals, ignoring cultural and spiritual aspects. The result is just a European version of America, a United States of Europe. This is not my idea of an ideal Europe.
Q: So where did it go wrong?
W: I think the rise of capitalism replaced a national tyranny, which although a tyranny at least had roots, with an international tyranny. The ethos behind this is just to move money between countries without any loyalty to where it was made. The merchant mentality. This is of course a simplification, but it is basically how I see it.
Q: So what do you see as the great threats to the European culture?
W: I would have to say America, although it's a cliché. The ideology and the culture that is seen, simplistically, as under the banner of the dollar. It's a very pervasive culture, an invasion of hearts and minds.
Q: But do you see any hopes for the future?
W: I am not sure there are any! However, a lot of young people seem to be taking an interest in the past, in European art and culture. Another good sign is France's protection of their endigenous film industry against the American Hollywood power. There is also lot of healthy regionalism in the Europe of today, a lot of people have broken away from the nationalism which has divided Europe for so long.
Q: So you see a future Europe as divided into regions with distinct cultural identities, but with co-operation between the various regions?
W: That's right. For instance, in the 18th and 19th centuries the problem was the formation of Germany, which really isn't a homogenous nation at all. It may be passé to say that Germany is a big threat today, but any mammoth economic power in Europe will have a threatening underlying ethos.
Linked to the interest in Europe is a theme of pagan religion which runs through the records. For instance, the name Sol Invictus is taken from a south European pagan cult, the cult of the unconquered sun. However, Wakeford's interests in the old beliefs seem to be more centred around the old Norse religions.
Q: What drew you to the runes and Norse mythology in the first place?
W: Without trying to sound pretentious, when I found out about them, it didn't seem anything strange at all. It was like something I had always known about, but never recognised. So it was basically the fact that I seemed to accept it so easily. I have been interested in the runes for years, though I do not claim to be an expert and don't preach what they should or shouldn't mean. It's completely up to the individual to make interpretations.
Q: How do you see the role of Christianity today?
W: I get some mail from people saying Sol Invictus is their favourite satanic band. The reason for this may be explained by songs like 'Kneel to the Cross' and 'Black Easter'. But 'Black Easter' was actually quite tongue in cheek. It was inspired by Hammer horror films of the seventies, like The Devil Rides Out and The Wicker Man. In those films, satanists are very rich and successful, in fact you would almost want to join them if they were really like that! In reality, however, most satanists are just sad, spotty types who live with their mothers when they are 40! So the songs were inspired by these four or five really good British horror films, as well as the book Black Easter, which is quite good. So it was a bit tongue in cheek, but at once you get letters from people who expect you to be virulently anti-Christian, which I am not. I think a lot of the effects that organised Christianity has had, have been very pernicious in the past, but then again I love a lot of Christian old music, architecture and art. That said, it is good that organised Christianity is dying, but if it is just going to be replaced with shopping, then I'm not sure it's such a good thing.
Q: What are your views on other forms of organised religion?
W: I think the basis of Judaism, Islam and Christianity is pernicious. These beliefs in one male god is against nature, not recognising the feminine and the male side and thus intolerant and unnatural. That said, Catholicism is the religion I have the softest spot for, since it has got a lot of paganism in it. For instance, the Virgin Mary is basically a symbol of Mother Earth and there is just as much worshipping of the Madonna within the Catholic Church as there is of Jesus. I quite like the Latin mass as well, it's beautiful ritual magic. The worst ones are the American evangelical churches. They are far more satanic than any satanists could ever hope to be! I went to an amazing service here in London led by a very nasty man in a Mormon-type suit, and it was so exploitative. They said "we can make you walk again!" and, of course, "in your pockets you will find slips for cash, and if you want to pay by credit card, then just fill in this form!" That did not have much to do with the teachings of Jesus Christ! If I wanted to make a parody of it, I could not have done a better job myself. Of the great religions, Buddhism seems to be the least pernicious, at least they don't go around killing people trying to convert them. The others are just custom-built for genocide!
Q: What is the thought behind 'Lex Talionis'?
W: 'Lex Talionis' means "The law of the strong", or literally "The law of the claw". The law of the strong is a slogan by Crowley: "The law of the strong, this is our law and the joy of the world". It is a slogan I liked very much, but immediately you get accusations of fascism. However, my idea of strength is not some kind of macho-type figure, but people who are striving to rise above the mass, to create.
Q: Other people, like Friedrich Nietzsche and Anton LaVey, hold similar views. What are your opinions about them?
W: Nietzsche is my favourite philosopher. Unfortunately, he is completely misunderstood. Just mention his name and people just dismiss him as a nazi. The fact is that he wouldn't have been a nazi any more than a communist. Anton LaVey would be very sad if he was being serious, but I believe that his tongue is firmly in cheek. It is obviously a total con, but from their point of view, if people are stupid enough to send in $100 just to get a membership card and nothing else, then why not take the money? That I can sympathise with! A good 80 per cent of the people in the occult are just idiots and deserve anything that happens to them.
Q: The problem with philosophers such as Nietzsche is that their works could be interpreted in so many different ways, though. People could use them for any purpose they see fit.
W: Yes, but if you pander to the stupidity of people, then no-one would do anything. Take, for instance, 'The Killing Tide'. What if someone interpreted it the wrong way and went out and started killing little girls? That could quite possibly happen with so many lunatics in the world, but should that mean that I shouldn't write a certain record? You can't cut your cloth to the stupidest people.
Q: So what was the idea behind 'The Killing Tide'?
W: People used to send loads of absolutely awful tapes to me, and they always had pictures of SS officers outside Auschwitz or Charles Manson on the cover. And you know that these people are 18 years old and living with their mothers, who don´t know what they are doing. You just think: "This was done fifteen years ago, why are you bothering me now?" I wanted to do something on the mentality of killing in an intelligent way, without resorting to clichés like pictures of corpses in concentration camps etc. So it was an attempt in that area. We are a hierarchy of killers. The whole basis of our society is based on people getting killed and the record was a comment on the holier-than-thou attitude towards killing.
Q: Why do you think that there are so many people using this imagery of serial killers or Nazi war criminals?
W: Basically, to be blunt, it's because they are talentless and have no imagination.
Q: What are your major sources of inspiration?
W: Books, films, music and basically looking out of the window!
Q: Who are you favourite authors?
W: M R James, Thomas Harris, P D James, J G Ballard, James Ellroy and Barbara Vine, to name a few.
Q: On the subject of art, do you prefer the older, ecclesiastic art?
W: Well, on one hand I like very traditional art, but on the other hand I like Futurism, Surrealism and Cubism. I must say I'm not very keen on abstract art. Some of my favourite painters are Edward Munch, Francis Bacon and, of course, Tor Lundvall and Enrico Chiarparin.
Q: What do you think of the Dada movement?
W: I think it's a bit over-rated to be perfectly honest. I like a lot of the ideas behind it rather than the art itself. The importance is bound to the time and place in which they were working. If the same thing was done today, it just wouldn't be interesting.
Q: What music do you listen to?
W: I listen to a lot of medieval, classical and some ambient music, like Brian Eno, Arvo Part and some Michael Nyman.
Q: So you're not very happy with the musical climate of today?
W: I just don't listen to it! It may be unfair because there are probably a lot of good groups out there, but I just can't be bothered.
Q: So what is your impression of the musical climate of today?
W: The whole mood of the scene is changing. If you look at Virgin Megastore today, then half of it is computer games! I remember, through the grey mists of time (laughs), the utter excitement of buying my first 'proper' album, Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. I must've played it 200 times in the first week! The kids nowadays will be excited by the new 'Super Mario vs. Satan' or whatever. So a whole generation will not be into music, not grow up with music. The music buying public is getting older and older. This will result in a more conservative audience. In the future, there will always be a couple of megastars, and not much else. With the new techno music, there won't be albums, because the scene will change so fast that any group that will stop to make an album will be completely dated by the time they put it out. With this type of music, it's totally irrelevant who made the records, it's all computerised anyway. The difference between this and the punk rock scene is that techno will never act as a springboard for groups to progress out of it. It's just not the fact that younger people will stop listening to 'serious' music, but they will even stop reading books, something which I find very disturbing.
Q: How concerned are you with your image? In Germany, for instance, you are very much associated with goth bands.
W: Yes, Death In June, Current 93 and us. In Germany, some of our audience look very much like something out of The Night of the Living Dead! I don't really understand it all since I have never considered myself in the slightest way gothic. I mean, look at us! I was that age once and involved in youth cults, so I am not going to criticise them, but I do find it odd though. Most German gothic bands are awful and there is no connection between them and us. We don't look like or sound like them. I usually feel more comfortable with our French audience. They are more into what we are saying and the ideas behind it. A thinking audience, which naturally can be said for a lot of our German audience as well. I do not really care how people interpret Sol Invictus as long as it is not offensive. When people write to me and say that we are their favourite satanic or nazi band, I just think "Are these people really listening?". But you can't pander to these people. There will always a minority that will see black clothes and say that we bite heads off babies! I'm very misanthropic, but on the whole, most of the people who are into Sol Invictus whom I have met have been friendly and polite, something which is quite a relief!
Q: How come you re-released 'Death of the West'?
W: I had written the lyrics and Douglas P had written the music. I had always liked the lyrics and I wanted to hear what it would sound like if I had done the music as well. Sol Invictus have been playing it for years live, and people have often asked me when we would release it.
Q: Then the planned single grew into an album?
W: Yes. We re-recorded 'Death of the West', 'Kneel to the Cross' and 'Amongst the Ruins'. Then we had a live tape from Paris of 'Sheath and Knife', which I really liked. The other songs are quite old songs which never seemed to fit anywhere into earlier works. So the whole thing grew into an album.
Q: One characteristic of Sol Invictus is that you, compared to other groups play relatively seldom. Why is that?
W: Basically, I don't like playing. However, I enjoy it more now than before because of the people I am playing with. They are not egotistical, something which I have had problems with in the past. If you are on tour with someone you don't like, it's the worst. But you have to play live since, for some reason, it does affect sales. If you don't, people seem to forget about you or think you are retired or dead! But I never want to do something like a 40-date tour. We have been offered 20-date tours and there is just no way we would do it. The limit is six or seven dates, and if possible less. I never want to get to the point where we are just another band in just another club. It's better to play less, and when you do, it means something.
Q: What are your plans for future live dates?
W: We have played Germany to death over the last four years, so we are giving it a break now. We will probably be playing in France, Belgium and Holland more in the future.
Q: How did the The Revenge of the Selfish Shellfish album come about?
W: We (TW and Steve Stapleton of Nurse With Wound) were up in Yorkshire at a studio working on Current 93's Crooked Crosses For the Nodding God. One day I and Steve were having a drink in a pub and wondered what would happen if we were locked up in the studio for a week, and that's basically what happened! We didn't have any ideas from the start, but after a week's work we came up with that album. Steve is very avant-garde and I am more traditional, maybe too traditional!
Q: Were you hesitant in doing this project, wondering how people would compare it to your work in Sol Invictus?
W: No, I never think about that. For instance, if I wanted to pander to my German audience I'd wear lots of make-up and wear a ridiculous wig and sell a lot more records! I just do exactly what I like, and if people like it then that's great, but if they don't, then I'd do it anyway!
Q: Are you planning any future collaborations?
W: No, I haven't spoken to Steve in years. He lives in Ireland and just comes over fleetingly and we never seem to meet. So I don't think it's probable.
Q: What are your plans for the future?
W: There are a lot of plans actually. In the end of July, we will record the new album. The title is In the Rain and will probably be a departure from the last album to a less produced, purer music. I am putting out a book, Above Us The Sun, which is a hardback book with all the lyrics together with a CD. At the end of August we may be doing a short tour of France and Belgium. Next year there will be a music festival in France, in a municipal theatre. We may be a doing a concert backed by some classical musicians. The whole thing is subsidised by the French Ministry of Culture. Little do they know...
(Note: Both In The Rain and Above Us The Sun have now been released. The book is sold out. The album is in our humble opinion the best to date.)
Q: Have you ever had plans on doing work in any other art form, apart from music?
W: I have always wanted to write a book, and maybe will some day.
London, Easter 1994.
First published here: 6 July 1996