Luke Tromiczak is a name that exists in hushed tones on the fringes of the underground in one of the least celebrated, but most vibrant musical countercultures in North America. Meanwhile, he has become one of the the defining voices and minstrels of dark folk in this modern age. Operating under the name Blood and Sun for well over a decade now, Luke has taken his music from utter obscurity to some of the furthest reaches of the genre. He walks among the forefathers and brightest suns of the art form as an innovator, though true to the tradition of a genre that spawned out of post-nonconformity.
Originally circulated in tight circles and online through rough demos, the project exploded in the face of fans devoted to names like Current 93, Darkwood, and Death in June. With an unforgettable potency, Blood and Sun’s first full length White Storms Fall redefined what it meant to make a record of that style in the Americas. That was 2014, and the “neofolk” or dark folk sound experienced a brief, but red-hot, Renaissance for a few years in North America. Those were exciting times and Luke’s was one of the most important voices to rise above the rest and remain in the upper echelon. Controversial to those without eyes to see. Essential to those with ears to hear.
It is now the year of Our Lord 2020. Times are terrifying, tricky, and turbulent, but Blood and Sun has returned from a lengthy hiatus with a gorgeous juggernaut of an album, Love and Ashes. Utterly shredding definition, dense and necessary, this album requires as many listens as you have to fully take in and feel. It’s a rare occasion that music leaves you breathless after each experience, and the effect never loosens its grip. It is a sound of triumph, defiance, and love all in one. Forgiveness and growth perhaps? And that’s something we could all stand to integrate into our benumbed venomous world views in this day and age.
We had the esteemed honour to interview the man behind the Sun, and contrary to our usual approach we decided to preserve his words here almost uninterrupted. A journey for the uninitiated and a familiar sage voice to those in the know.
Time & Travel
How has Blood and Sun changed in the 6 years between albums? How have you changed (as a musician, as an artist, as a man, as a spiritual being)?
The past 6 years have been nothing but change for me. It’s been a great adventure within a nightmare. There have been high points, but the subterranean and vertigo on the edge has been the place of trials and learning. As an artist, I have been working on reflecting on my experiences as they occurred more honestly. As a musician, I have been laying the groundwork for the development of my own voice as a folk singer: a sound that feels more uniquely mine.
As a spiritual being, I have halted the scorched earth policy of my youth that lit up the darkest corners of my mind with phosphorus and a Gatling gun. This was an exaggeration of sorts to try and strike an equilibrium between my Christian and radical socialist upbringing and the neglected shadows left to ferment in a suppressed mind. But like the Coyote chasing the Road Runner, if you stop for a moment you realize that you’ve passed the edge, the maw is open directly below your feet and “hard is the fall, that much we both know.”
I have had some opportunity between White Storms Fall and Love and Ashes to discuss dissolution and disarray through the split E.P. At Rest, Cain’s Orchard 7 inch, and “The Confession of Saint Augustine” on the Communion of Saints compilation.
Directly regarding the spirit, the intuitive ritual practices of my youth have been replaced by structured rituals and meditations. This has been quite a good change and one that aims to focus my growth and to “keep up the days.”
Another major change has been the hard stop of using chemicals to augment my reality, which fueled the flood of dissolution. It’s been two years of clarity and this has been an invaluable change. An incredible weight has been lifted off my back. Although I won’t tell anyone how to live, I might advise anyone to re-read the Havamal and other Old English poems about the proper relationship to take with alcohol.
The decision to hang dry coincides with my friend Mutt’s death who passed from lung cancer after giving up smoking some years earlier. In our last conversation in 2017, a year before he passed, he pressed me to continue making music and to keep my head high. When I was 12 he took me on my first motorcycle ride, at 16 he taught me to shoot his SKS, at 20 he gave me Emperor’s The Loss and Curse of Reverence on LP, and at 30 he came to my aid when I was down.
Always a champion for the arts and the spirit of oddball outlaws, Mutt received three viking ship burials adorned with Hebrew, runes, and recounts of his wise advice to “check for kittens before shooting.” The ships were set alight by his friends in New Orleans, Minneapolis, and New York City. Mutt loved Northern myths, Tolkien’s tales, the Jewish culture of his heritage, and outlaw motorcycle culture. Mutt would stand against systemic oppression and stand up for individual freedom of expression in the same breath with no sense of irony. He is greatly missed by many and I count myself as one.
So how have I changed? In one sense I’ve tempered myself to be of more use to myself and those I consider close. In another way I’ve rededicated myself to my spiritual path in as serious a way as ever. But above all I’ve discovered a Love worth keeping and learning to live a life worthy of living.
Blood and Sun is very much about place and time. Folk music is an ever evolving tradition reflective of the times. How does the music of Blood and Sun reflect its (many) surroundings as a truly American form of folk music?
What is America? Is a patchwork quilt of different traditions? Or perhaps a synthetic carpet of various shades of grey reflected in our industrialized materialism? Do we all become one through Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, Jell-o salad, and the evening news, or do we all become one through political affiliation, entertainment, or class? What about the spirits that were here with the Peoples who resided on this soil well before Christian Europe had a colonial impulse? Do they still whisper to us despite the ghastly overlay of truck stops, diners, and big box stores? Certainly you can see the indigenous pagan cultures influencing the Christian overlay in areas of Mexico. And what about the pre-Christian European ways that still live in folk traditions of, say, Appalachia or the crafts of the Pennsylvania Dutch? Sometimes I want to be an outsider in order to get a taste of what is weird and specific to America. This is of course a benefit of traveling wide and returning home.
So Blood and Sun is American because it can be nothing else. Its themes might be Heathen but play out on the grounds of 21st century North America. That being said, no matter where you are, Nature is always Satan’s church, and the Pagani have always been rural.
Love and Ashes was recorded on site in multiple locations across North America. Every place carries a spirit or essence. Can you describe what each place brought to this record?
Many of the songs are site specific. “Dusk Century” is a nightmarish reflection of Manhattan somewhere between the films Synecdoche NY and Jacob’s Ladder. “By What Road?” touches on strangely quiet moments during a Brooklyn snowfall that remind me of the film Wings of Desire. Often the songs are reflections on the personal and the mythic, with the place they are being written as a kind of wavering backdrop.
Creation & Craft
How did you approach writing and crafting Love and Ashes? Do you consciously write songs or do they come to you as inspiration?
Sometimes they come in bursts, and sometimes it takes a while to will them into being. I always carry notebooks with me, so little foundations of lyrics are always batting around. The music writing itself is often a separate process but eventually words are welded to chord progressions. The songs on this album span about 5 years of writing: at least two of them came in the fall of 2014, “Resurrection Charm” was written for a stage adaptation of the Kalevala in 2016, and some came as late as May of 2018, including “Madrone” and “Love and Ashes.”
As someone who works in multiple artistic disciplines, do you ever find that the two influence each other? Does a painting elicit a melody? Does a pleasing chord inspire a vision?
It’s been nearly five years since I’ve made a serious painting. 2020 is the year that changes. That said, I have had themes from other mediums spill over and work themselves into one another. My more ambitious paintings always seemed so mid-century American kitsch to me that they don’t seem to resonate with the atmosphere I’m after with Blood and Sun.
Blood and Sun has had a revolving door of personnel. A keen ear and a long time fan can pick out a few individuals. Similar to the place question, what did each individual bring to this record?
Skill for one thing. Each person who contributed has chops that they flexed to make this record what it is. We constructed an album with zero budget and with already full schedules across a continent, many of us only coming from a rudimentary background in recording. I can say everyone brought spirit and a willingness to give their all, as well as the necessary trust to let me arrange and sculpt the results.
Many people tracked their contributions solo when travel was not possible and sent their takes for me to edit and use: some on generator power, some in the woods, and some between public transit trains blasting past their windows.
Can you explain a little about how working with Clay Ruby (Burial Hex, Kinit Her, Brave Mysteries Records) influenced your album?
Clay lent me use of his studio to track cello and make use of many of his instruments over the course of a week. I re-tracked guitars for Love and Ashes there, with his 12-string Rickenbacker hollow body electric, plunked around with various sounds on “Wanderer’s Road,” and stayed warm in the middle of the 2019 polar vortex. Clay contributed to four or five of the songs. He really helped build up the “Sigdrifumal” intro, parts of “Madrone,” the soundscaping on “Stone Wrote in Stone,” and the organ on “Until the Dawn.” He’s a thoughtful artist and one who makes work with the utmost seriousness. I’m incredibly thankful for his contribution and insights.
Can you explain a little about how working with Bob Ferbrache (Blood Axis, Absinthe Studios) influenced your album?
Bob was great to work with. He mixed and mastered White Storms Fall in Absinthe Studios after all the tracking was completed in Minnesota. We became fast friends after that and kept in contact. Later, Bob approached me at a festival and said he wanted to produce the next album. For Love and Ashes, we used his arsenal of handbuilt and vintage microphones, tube preamps, old soundscape DAW, and a 16 channel summing mixer for final mixes. He has an extensive guitar collection that we used as well. Some specific instruments featured on the album were a 1950’s Gibson acoustic guitar, Gibson Thunderbird bass, an old bowl back Bouzouki, and a mandolin built by Johm Rumley from Slim Cessna’s Auto Club out of a wooden airplane wing.
Bob’s responsible for records ranging from Woven Hand’s self titled album, the insane percussive madness of Itchy O’s Burn the Navigator, multiple records by Munly & The Lee Lewis Harlots, In Gowan Ring’s Hazel Steps, The Fall I Fell by Denver’s multi-talented singer/cellist/pianist Ian Cooke, Fire and Ice’s newest 10” Wanderer, to the dream folk project Nighttime’s fantastic debut album Hand in the Dark. He brings a rock and roll knowledge that dates back to him seeing The Beatles live, being the bag man for the Rolling Stones on several tours, starting a prog appreciation club with Jelo Biafra in high school, photographing and bootlegging dozens of bands through the ’70s at the short-lived but legendary Denver venue Ebbets Field, including Tom Waits, the Ramones, Gene Clark, David Bowie, Cheech and Chong, Dolly Parton, Lynyrd Skynard, Dick Dale etc. etc. etc.
Bob prides himself on mic placement, capturing a strong signal at high resolution, and final masters that are both loud and smooth. He imparted me with much of his engineering wisdom over the two years we worked together and helped steer the ship to where I wanted it to go: in many instances, to better places than I imagined.
For gear sluts and nerds we used: Avalon and Drawmer tube pre-amps, Iram and JLM audio solid state preamps, Nuemann mics including a Km147 stereo pair, TLM103 Stereo Pair on guitars and drums, and M147 for vocals. We also used MicroTech Gefell mics, a M930 stereo pair, and a UM900 for vocals. We also used a number of Blue mics: The Black Ball stereo for cymbals, Woodpecker stereo pair on strings, and the Mouse for vocals.
Who is the artist from whom you have taken the bulk of your imagery from? Tell us some more about them and why you chose that particular artist?
My friend Luke Hillestad painted the images that I used in Love and Ashes and White Storms Fall.
He’s a fantastic painter and we are both interested in myths playing out in our lives. The recurrent and vital themes that re-emerge time and time again throughout cultures permeate his work. We organized a few figurative shows over the years together and keep in touch from time to time.
When we were first introduced, mutual friends warned him that I was a strange Satanist, while others warned me that he was a born-again Christian. Neither of our supposed outlooks quite squared with our secular friends, and I guess there was concern we wouldn’t break bread well. Wherever our rigid paths came from, they brought us to similar inquiries when the dogma sloughed off. I remember us laughing about that as we both had come to a place in awe of these spiritual concerns that were far too complex to remain black and white. This curiosity drove our interests to more arcane but richly vital ways of seeing and questioning humanity and the cosmos.
Trials & Transformation
Love and Ashes is a declarative resurrection after many years absence. One can hear the defiance and the healing that is explored over the course of the album. How has this record’s process allowed you to “rise up from your lying down”?
The proof will be in the pudding so to speak. I think it’s a tough time to be expressive in a free way. The worst is assumed of every artistic gesture. This cynical demand of Truth from art is a disgusting cloak of nihilism. The discourse in the west has degenerated to a madhouse run by the lowest spirits and the loudest in the school cafeteria. Populism bubbles on both sides of the political spectrum and what little is left in the center is still as tepid and milk toast as ever. I’m defiant against all of this. I won’t have my expression cheapened by someone else’s objectives. This includes the right to explore dark areas and maintaining the right to outgrow myself and the self-imposed shackles of a young mind.
In a free society this is precisely what the arts are for. Dynamism—I demand dynamism.
The very song evoked in this question has inspiration in the Kalevala, a mother finding her son slain on the riverbanks and casting a spell to revive him to outgrow his fool hearted adventure. How many parents wish they could do such a thing? I’ve seen them try. In my life I’ve buried so many young friends that I am calling on their better nature and memory to impart wisdom on myself and those whose lives they touched.
Love and Ashes seems equally as spiritual as it is touchingly autobiographical. How does reality and the ineffable complement one another?
If you let the old myths in they begin to play out in your life—it’s as simple and as strange as that.
Unpacking this a little bit: the sun and the moon are the same sun and the moon that all of our forebears have seen. The stars in the sky are infinitely older than human cognition. The death we face today is the same death on the string of human life stretching back into prehistory. The spirits of old myths speak to me, and they make themselves known in the tapestry of nature around me. I choose to live my life in a way that is informed by these poetic meanings and spiritual currents. If the Great Work is to be played out across your life, the beauty of poetry and the wellspring of wisdom will help enrich you. This is again where I seek dynamism and a true rebirth of polytheist understanding of our world and Nature. I seek a dynamic reckoning with life, a dynamic reckoning with death, and the micro and macro feeding each other. I suppose I’ve stubbornly become aware that one’s specific story delivered with elegance will, with luck, find resonance with others. This is a small version of the mythic informing the specific and in turn the specific communicating in a wide breadth.
Also, I think the specifics of some of the stories behind the songs were remarkable, and I hope it’s communicated.
The album is not all whimsy and spirit … Can you explain the role that rage and pain play during the writing of this music? And how does it inform the rest of the records themes?
There is rage in the album. In the tradition of a destruction ritual you burn the enemy out of you, you take the claws out of your heart. There are things I’ve experienced I just won’t forgive, but I also won’t stoop to the lows of personal attacks. I am a radical in my stance to live and let live. Sometimes it’s a call to live better and let the lesser die. I don’t disavow violence, but at this point my will extends by higher means. I do not operate in answering to a 24-hour news cycle or a social media circus. I deliberate. I craft. I cast.
In terms of how anger operates or effects the other themes: I’ve said for over a decade that I seek balance in myself. I seek to see a balanced world. So there are times of anger, there are times that require firmness, but there are times of beauty, love, and camaraderie as well. There are also times that are painful when it benefits you to realize you’ve blown off your course, that you are to blame for your pitfalls, and that requires compassion, reflection, and correct action to rectify.
I was asked recently if I thought my music was melancholic and I had to reply: no. Blood and Sun is solemn. It’s deadly serious even when it’s touching on something light.
Love and Ashes is available on CD, LP, and digitally from Nordvis Records. Or order directly from Blood and Sun on Bandcamp for a hand signed LP.