Back in 2019, my journeys into the heart of Bandcamp brought me to Fogweaver. Now, I am not the world’s biggest dungeon synth fan but something about the cover art immediately caught my attention. Then, I noticed that the self-titled album was dedicated to my all time favorite author, Ursula Le Guin, and I knew that I had stumbled upon something special. It really helped that the music was also not exactly what you think of when people say dungeon synth; it had less of an adventurous vibe to it, way more introspective and ethereal than I knew dungeon synth to be. The atmosphere fit the dedication, as Le Guin’s work, whether fantasy or otherwise, always had this calmer, more wholesome vibe to it that set it apart. You could get lost in her words, in the kindness of them, in the smallness of her ideas which would, unexpectedly, blossom into great insights. Fogweaver’s music seemed to channel those ideas, achieving much with very little.
The other cool thing about the project is that, in the year or so that have passed since that album was released, Fogweaver has been cultivating a community of like-minded artists around this more abstract style of electronic music. In 2020, the project has released two splits with like-minded artists. The first was with Erreth-Akbe, which is one of the wizard’s in Le Guin’s Earthsea universe, and the second, released just last month, is with Fogcastle and Foglord. Notice the recurring theme? This latest release is like Autumn on a record, distilled into its gloomy, enchanting essence. I absolutely love it; each artist does a fantastic job of revolving around the same sounds and ideas, putting their own spin on the subject matter and genre at hand.
And so, I decided that it was time to sit down with Fogweaver and talk about these collaborations, dungeon synth, and, of course, Ursula Le Guin herself, her literature, and what it meant to both of us. What followed is a really nifty conversation on these ideas, I think, and one which captures well the unique approach which Fogweaver has to the genre. Enjoy and don’t forget to check out the project on Bandcamp; in these crazy times we live in, I think you’ll find a lot of solace in the music.
Greetings Fogweaver! Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me. To start us off, can you tell me how your journey with dungeon synth first started? I think it’s safe to say your music sounds quite different to the mainstream of the genre; what’s your relationship with it?
Hello! Thank you for doing this interview. I have been on the periphery of dungeon synth for a few years, being connected to black metal, though the thing that really made it click for me was receiving a CD from my friend Malfet. His music took me to this other world in a way I really had not experienced, and really spoke to me at a time that was really dark for me. My understanding of dungeon synth prior to this was based on the widely-held “classics”, some of whom I do love. However, seeing what the “revival” of dungeon synth really had done in terms of pushing the genre forward and into its own thing outside of black metal, is really what drew me to it. I loved being able to get lost in these fantasy worlds, some based on the writing of others, some with intricate worldbuilding of their own.
But actually, my connection with this kind of music goes back even further. When I was younger, I ended up with this keyboard that was gifted to my brother by our pépère (grandfather). It is an old Yamaha keyboard–older than me. When I was much younger, I would play that keyboard a lot and had these various ideas for songs. The music was very much this kind of fantasy music, and I had these stories that played in my head as I’d play these simple little keyboard songs. Now, this was well before I was actually creating any music. When I really started to properly get interested in dungeon synth, I thought back on that and remembered that I actually had the exact keyboard stowed away still. So I dug it out and spent several weeks just playing around with it, and I eventually decided to record some of what I was working on. I kept imagining the atmosphere and stories within the Earthsea books, because I had recently finished the final book in the series. Thus, the first Fogweaver album was created.
There is something really deeply timeless about dungeon synth as a genre. Being born alongside black metal in the 90’s, it was sort of lost to time in a way. There were lots of artists doing somewhat similar music back then, though they classified it as “dark ambient”. A number of years ago, a bunch of these old tapes and demos started to resurface, being uncovered by fans of the genre–what was newly redefined as “dungeon synth”. Within the last few years, there has been a sort of revival of the genre, with lots of new artists coming to the table. There are lots of different interpretations of what the genre is and what it should be, which I think is a beautiful thing personally.
The second thing that immediately rises from your music is your dedication to Ursula K. Le Guin. When did you first read Le Guin’s work? And, of course, the tough question: which book is your favorite?
Years ago, a good friend of mine recommended Earthsea very strongly. They were a huge fan of the books and often talked about how much the series changed their life. I actually even acquired A Wizard of Earthsea from them, which I read and liked quite a bit at the time. However, it wasn’t until returning to the series three years ago that I really connected with it. I actually got back into the writings of Ursula K. Le Guin when I began to read through some of her science fiction books, beginning with The Word for World is Forest. I was totally enamoured by the way that Ursula imagined these other worlds, different from ours but also very similar. I had been a fan of fantasy for a long time prior to this, though I have been somewhat picky about it.
So I decided to go through the Earthsea books properly. That series obviously holds a deep, deep place in my heart and it would be hard to pick any of them that are my favorite to be honest. So, I’d probably had to say that The Dispossessed is my favorite book of Le Guin’s. That is another of her books that I hold very dear and has been really formative in the way I think about things. Fiction can be about escapism, or about intricate fictional worlds, but it can also be a lens in which we can look at ourselves. This is something I have always appreciated about Ursula’s writing. Sure, it’s about other planets or wizards but ultimately it is still just about people. Just people being people. I can’t remember the exact quote, but I remember seeing something where Ursula said, and I’m paraphrasing, “if we’re writing about fictional worlds, why not imagine other possibilities?”
There are many things that draw me to Le Guin’s fantasy writing but the sense of calm and wonder that runs through your music as well is one of the main ones. Is this why you chose dungeon synth to communicate her work in music?
Oh yes, indeed! The world of Earthsea feels very dream-like to me. There’s this overwhelming sense of melancholy, but it is not wholly dreadful. I definitely try to embody that calm, dream-like atmosphere that I get from those books and channel it into what I do. But there is also so much more to the world of Earthsea. There are many dark moments. There are important ideas throughout the entire series. A lot of this is why I specifically wanted to base Fogweaver on those books. There are heavy concepts such as confronting your own mortality, dealing with the repercussions of your mistakes, personal responsibility, etc. For books about wizards and dragons, there is a lot going on–much of which can be used as a tool to look within yourself and to look at our world. There is also a lot in the Earthsea books about balance–very Taoist ideas. Again, this is something I really appreciate about Ursula K. Le Guin. Rather than having these very black and white ideas of good and evil, there is much more nuance–much like the world we live in. So Fogweaver has been a way to musically express the atmosphere the books have to me, but also a way to channel some of these ideas into my own art, I suppose.
Do you also read other fantasy works? Their feeling and mood are quite different than Earthsea, for example. Would you consider making music about other fantasy settings as well (for example, the Arthurian myths, perhaps?)
Totally! I recently read N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth Trilogy, which was fantastic. Those books are also extremely unique fantasy. I found myself immersed in that world in a completely different way than any other series I had read. I am always on the lookout for more like that. Earlier this year, I read through Ursula K. Le Guin’s lesser known Annals of the Western Shore series, which was really good too. It’s hard to not compare them to Earthsea, but I really enjoyed reading them. Lately, I have been desiring some more uplifting fantasy, so I have slowly been working through some of the Redwall books.
I think about other projects all the time, though I have my hands very full. I do have quite a few outlets musically, so it’s hard to take on any more at the moment. But perhaps I will someday. There are some ideas and stories that I would very much like to make music based on, but I will not spoil them for now. I do, however, create music based on other fantasy worlds, mostly from my own imagination. I have one project called Delmak-O, which focuses more on sci-fi landscapes and worldbuilding. The first album under that project was pretty heavily based on the writings of Philip K. Dick. That’s where the name of the project comes from, in fact. I have several other projects that explore their own worlds within the realms of dungeon synth.
Actually, since you mentioned Arthurian myths, that is actually what my friend Malfet’s project is based on. I highly recommend Malfet to everybody, especially if you’re looking for Arthurian material, or if you are looking to get into dungeon synth in general.
Tell me a bit about your recent splits with Erreth-Akbe, Fog Castle, and Foglord. Do you all consider yourselves to be a part of the same “scene”? Did you collaborate on making these tracks or did you all choose pieces of music you thought would synergize well?
The split with Erreth-Akbe was a really exciting split for me. I discovered Erreth-Akbe because it is another project based on the world of Earthsea. This was really exciting to me, so I immediately reached out with an inquiry about a split. I usually am pretty ambivalent about splits, especially with people I do not know. However, the following months after reaching out to the person behind Erreth-Akbe, I got to know him better. We talked for a long time about the split and how much we wanted to do it, but we both have several projects. So it took some time. Upon discussing it, we came up with the idea that this split should be about two wizards meeting in the Immanent Grove. The Immanent Grove is a place in Earthsea–a magical forest that only the most adept wizards can venture. This seemed like the perfect idea to really bring in the Earthsea books, but it was also a way to imagine meeting and weaving spells together. So much of this stuff is done via the internet, so it seemed like a really beautiful way to make it more personal. We both kind of “went” to that place, and wrote our songs separately, but each of our sides really go together in this really amazing way. That split is just so special to me.
The split with Fog Castle and Foglord is a similarly special story. Foglord inquired about that split after we both played the online Northeast Dungeon Siege, which, due to the pandemic, was a streamed event earlier this year. Foglord played right after I did. He came to me with the idea of doing a foggy split. He asked me first and then asked Fog Castle. I thought this was a pretty interesting idea, and I really enjoy both of those projects. There is a similar kind of dreamy atmosphere to both Fog Castle and Foglord and I knew that it would make for a great split recording. I think Foglord began working on his songs first. I sort of created my side with that in mind. Fog Castle did the same, I believe. That split turned out really wonderfully because I think we were able to create something that has a very specific atmosphere and mood, but all with our own flair. I’m really proud of that split and I was really happy to work with such lovely people. I was able to put out a Fog Castle album on cassette with my label Fableglade Records and I am excited to be putting that split out as well.
Regarding how all of us fit with the scene: I think all of us identify with the dungeon synth community in one way or another, which is a testament to how diverse the idea of “dungeon synth” really is.
Lastly, how has the recent state of the world been impacting you? Are you able to find solace in your music? Providing that solace seems to be a big part of your vision as an artist. Does it apply to you as well?
It has been quite a wild year, to say the least. Like I said earlier, fantasy is escapist in a way, but can also be a very introspective thing. I think creating music has provided me with solace in two ways: escapism and catharsis. It is very important, especially now, to look within as well as find connection with others as best as you can. I think music has offered me both, personally. And I hope the same for those who listen to what I do. With my music, I do want to bring peace and solace, but I also hope that it can be a way that people can connect to one another. These are especially alienating times, and it is crucial that we really come together as best as we can.