Monthly Archives: July 2014
This week’s weird artiste makes most other so-called Goth bands look like posers by comparison. Anna-Varney Cantodea is so Goth she never performs “in front of humans,” preferring instead to save her striking, vampire/Butoh appearance for eerie photo shoots and the occasional blurry music video that flickers like a faded silent movie print. Her music is so Goth it defies easy categorization, mixing neoclassical, darkwave and synth-rock elements into long, lugubrious songs that occasionally erupt into densely orchestrated bursts of melodrama that would do Danny Elfman proud. She’s so Goth that her “band,” the Ensemble of Shadows, is apparently her nickname for the ghosts and restless spirits who crowd around her and provide inspiration for her work. Sopor Æternus is, in short, probably the Gothiest musical project ever.
Anna-Varney was born male and now identifies as a transgendered female. She took the name Varney from a 19th century Gothic horror novel, later adding the more feminine Anna and eventually the surname Cantodea, Latin for “I sing, Goddess.” She grew up in Frankfurt, Germany and her birth year is commonly listed as 1952, which would make her 61 or 62.
As a child, she had a vision of her future self in a train station, which she described thusly in an interview: “an ageless creature (of undefinable gender), all dressed in black, with a beautiful, kind of pennate black mohawk.” By 1989, the year she first began making music as Sopor Æternus (Latin for “eternal sleep”), she had apparently modeled her appearance on that childhood vision.
Her early music mixed baroque and neoclassical acoustic instruments with synthesizers and drum machines and was generally categorized as darkwave or a then-popular German Goth-rock subgenre called Neue Deutsche Todeskunst (“New German Death Art”). But aside from sharing themes of death, despair and the occult, especially vampirism, Cantodea’s music bore little resemblance to that of her contemporaries. After parting ways with an early collaborator named Holger, she worked, by her own account, in near-total isolation, battling chronic depression to compose her music and only enlisting other musicians when it finally came time to enter the studio. She’s continued to make occasional use of synths, but mostly her work now is richly orchestrated chamber music, heavy on strings, horns and more exotic instruments like dulcimers and harpsichords.
Since releasing her debut album, …Ich töte mich…, in 1994, Anna-Varney has released about a dozen Sopor Æternus albums, plus EPs, singles, remix collections and a box set of rarities and demos. Many of her releases come in elaborate, limited-edition packages, accompanied by books of lyrics, stories and photographs—if you search “Sopor Aeternus unboxing” on YouTube, you’ll find at least a dozen videos of fans lovingly removing the shrink wrap from their prized copies of her work. Her latest album, Mitternacht: The Dark Night of the Soul, is due out Sept. 23rd and can already be pre-ordered in one of four different packages, offering various combinations of books, CDs, vinyl and T-shirts.
Anna-Varney remains fairly secretive about her personal life, but she does regularly advocate LGBT causes, veganism and animal rights. She’s really into numerology, specifically the numbers 2, 11, 13 and 4, although she won’t explain what they represent to her. She also won’t explain her interest the Roman gods Saturn and Jupiter—she uses a combination of their astrological symbols as a glyph she calls Jusa on all her records, and they appear frequently in her lyrics (especially Saturn), but it’s unclear whether she feels a spiritual connection to them or simply finds them useful as metaphors for death and rebirth.
She’s a great admirer of Edgar Allan Poe (having set many of his poems to music, including an entire album’s worth of them on 2013’s Poetica: All Beauty Sleeps) and Rozz Williams, the lead singer of the goth-rock band Christian Death, who took his own life in 1998. In fact, she just visited Williams’ shrine at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery here in L.A. earlier this year. She wrote a blog post about it in which she mostly talks about how much she hated L.A., which I guess shouldn’t surprise me, since everything about her music and appearance pre-dates nearly every aspect of this entire city. Still, I hope next time she’s here she’ll come for Dia de los Muertos, or visit the California Institute of Abnormalarts, or the Museum of Jurassic Technology. L.A.’s a great city for Goths, if you know where to look. But I digress…
We’ll leave you with a few samples of Sopor Æternus’ Goth-tastic music and videos. First up: 2010’s “A Strange Thing to Say,” the first part of her A Triptychon of GHOSTS (or: El Sexorcismo) trilogy. Much of this video was shot in, of all places, Montana, at a ghost town called Bannack. The carousel is in the decidedly non-ghostly Montana town of Missoula, where we can only imagine the townspeople were really confused to see a woman dressed up like Gary Oldman’s Dracula riding the plastic ponies.
Next: “In der Palästra” from 2007’s Les Fleurs du Mal, probably her most famous release. Incidentally, in case you haven’t guessed by now, the warning at the beginning of many of her videos advising that “it’s naturally fabulous, but shows NO signs of humour” is itself a bit of a joke. Many of Sopor Æternus’ best songs and videos have a definite element of camp to them.
Still don’t believe us that some of this stuff is supposed to be funny? Fine, we’ll leave you with “A Little Bar of Soap.” Slippy, slippy, slimy!
We owe thanks to many readers for helping introduce us to the tragic charms of Sopor Æternus: Andres, Rembrandt, Michael from Mexico, Cr0w, Denny, jeanbannon and I’m sure we’re forgetting a few. For someone who never performs live, Anna-Varney has quite the legion of devoted fans.
You know what this blog needs? More Elvis impersonators. Who doesn’t love a fat guy in a jumpsuit singing “Love Me Tender” and “Blue Suede Shoes”? Don’t bother answering that, because whether you love it or not, we’re gonna ram some Elvis down your throats anyway.
First up: Sweden’s weirdest and I’m gonna say best (because how much competition can be there be, really?) facsimile of The King, a middle-aged, mush-mouthed dude who goes by the name Eilert Pilarm. Like all great Elvis impersonators, Eilert doesn’t seem to actually know all the words to most Elvis songs, but he barrels through them anyway, with a lack of rhythm and timing that perfectly complements his inability to pronounce the word “Jailhouse.” Enjoy.
Shout out to reader bambiraptor666 for introducing us to Eilert Pilarm. Bambi calls him “The best Elvis impersonator in the world!” and it’s hard to argue, mostly because we’re lazy.
So yesterday someone named Brad Cow Dizease (his actual name, it turns out—what are the odds?) sent us a link to a video by a fellow from Pittsburgh called Weird Paul Petroskey—or, to use his full YouTube handle, Original Vlogger 80’s Weird Paul Petroskey. Apparently he decided to start calling himself the “Original Vlogger” when he unearthed a VHS tape of himself back in 1984 doing a video review of a McDonald’s breakfast that is uncannily similar in style and structure to the awkward vlogger fast food reviews of today. It’s almost like he somehow time traveled back to 1984 and coached his younger self through the whole thing just so he could post it on YouTube 28 years later. But I digress.
Anyway, it turns out Weird Paul is a semi-famous outsider musician (by outsider musician standards) who’s been making music since the late ’80s. We’re sure he’ll be a Weird Band of the Week eventually, but in the meantime, I couldn’t resist posting this “We Love Computers” clip now, because having been the proud owner of a Commodore 64 in the ’80s, it gave me so many flashbacks I thought maybe I was time traveling back to 1984. The syntax errors! The clunky floppy disc drives! Zork! Man, we all thought we were living in the future.
To learn more about Weird Paul and his music, check out his website.
We’d like to wrap up another awesome week here at Weird Band HQ with an oldie but goodie from digital hardcore legends Atari Teenage Riot. Back when I worked in a cube farm, I prayed every week that something like this would happen right around 5 p.m. on Friday. Well, except for the part where everyone’s faces turn to digital soup. No, on second thought, even that would have been preferable to the mind-numbing drudgery of corporate life.
Happy Friday, y’all!
So as usual, we got something wrong when we first wrote about this week’s weird artiste, the inimitable Mr. Vast. We said he’s from Germany. But that’s not quite right. He is apparently based, at the moment, in Germany. But he’s British. His accent should have tipped us off, but we were probably day-drinking again. Anyway, our apologies to the entire nation of Great Britain for not properly crediting you with bestowing Mr. Vast upon the world.
Mr. Vast is the alter ego of one Henry Sargeant, an actor, musician and performance artist whose previous musical project was (or maybe still is—they’re still releasing music and Sargeant might still be involved) a jokey crew called Wevie Stonder. He relocated to Germany in 2005 and took a break from Art to become a Dad. (Not that those two occupations are mutually exclusive, but the hours are pretty brutal in both.) He returned to music in 2012 as a solo artist called Mr. Vast, making what I shall tentatively describe as tongue-in-cheek New Wave electro-glam-pop until somebody comes up with something catchier to describe his bizarre but surprisingly infectious tunes.
At his best, Mr. Vast reminds us a little of our current favorite Australian weirdo, Kirin J Callinan. Like Callinan, there’s something highly theatrical and fully formed about Mr. Vast, like he’s already a rock star and the world just hasn’t discovered him yet. Also like Callinan, he’s capable of being both unabashedly pop and slightly avant-garde, often in the same song, and doing both in a way that feels both fully committed and slightly tongue-in-cheek. Take, for example, “Teflon Country,” which might be a country-fried psych-rock parody, or it might be actual country-fried psych-rock, albeit one with a junkyard dog impersonation in the middle of it:
That’s from Mr. Vast’s one and only album, by the way, a brilliant, 14-track opus called Grievous Bodily Charm that we pretty much can’t stop listening to. [Update: He now has a second album, called Touch & Go, which you can hear on SoundCloud.] It’s got sci-fi Afro-pop workouts (“Process of Illumination”), fuzz-toned heavy rock freakouts (“Henry the 8th”), Groove Armada-style downtempo makeout music (“Elemental,” which contains the high-five-worthy lyric, “The sangria made me angrier”). You can listen to the whole thing on SoundCloud and decide for yourselves if it’s a masterpiece. We’re leaning towards yes, but it might be the sangria talking.
We’ll leave you with a few videos, because that’s how we do it. First up: An extended experiment in toast physics called “Buttercide.” For the record, this is one of Mr. Vast’s weirder tracks, so if you can’t hang with it, don’t give up on him yet.
Next: The far funkier “Ease & Speed,” which we maintain is best described as Gary Numan meets Professor Elemental (I think last time we said Mr. B the Gentleman Rhymer, but hey, po-tay-to, po-tah-to).
And finally, here’s a glimpse of Mr. Vast live and in concert. Well, it’s not so much a glimpse as a bit fat fucking eyeful. Not since David Byrne has oversized costumery looked so sexy. [Update: Sadly, this video has since been taken down. We’ll try to find another live clip of His Vastness soon.]