31 Dec 2021 - Jonas
Day 8 - before we let you off into the new year with our 11-hour playlist we have to give you the penultimate interview. This time with none other than Alex CF, visual artist, singer and lyricist for some of the most amazing bands this side of the millenium: Fall Of Efrafa, Anopheli, Morrow and many more. Find out what he’s been up to lately, his bands, his art and much more. Enjoy and Happy New Year!
When records like Owsla or Inlé were released the world stopped for a moment, because there, all of a sudden, was a band with such amazing talent, such a knack for songwriting and such a gift at telling a story that it seemed unheard of before. Soon Fall of Efrafa gathered fans worldwide for their version of hardcore with a big heart at the beginning. The way they incorporated their ideas into their music was breathtaking and singer Alex CF has done that ever since - release amazing music, re-tell fantastic stories and come up with many bands for his ever-widening musical scope. That he is a really great visual artist as well was one of the reasons why our man Jonas, maybe the world’s biggest Alex CF-fan, was so happy so chat with Alex!
Your current and past endeavours include being a visual artist, illustrator, sculptor, singer/lyricist, author, audio playwright, owner of an apparel company and comic book writer, to name a few. Is there another creative side of you that most people might not be aware of?
I am a firm believer in the idea that if you see a skill or a style you enjoy, it’s worth giving it a go, even if you fail! I have put my hands to a lot of different ridiculous projects -almost all of them with varying degrees of success or failure! None of the stuff you listed has been a roaring triumph, but the fun is in trying!
I’m sure you saw this question coming already, but to what extent did/does the pandemic affect you?
I think this goes for everyone but it has been a rollercoaster of responses, I decided to use my time as constructively as possible, I sat down and wrote a book, which I am really proud of, as it had been waiting patiently for me to stop procrastinating! Psychologically, I think I withdrew even more, became even more introverted, and I am struggling to adjust back to normal social interaction. I am fortunate that my art studio is shared, so I get to see my work friends every day. The larger scheme of things, the fallibility of governments whose focus is on economy and not people, the need for strong mental health care, the need for better education when dealing with the impact of misinformation. The importance of community, of being able to reach out to friends and support one another. I feel it pointed out very clearly what was good for me and what was not, what I needed to change in my life to reduce stress. So very little touring, no more touring bands in other countries.
So – Correct me if I’m wrong, but the CF in ‘Alex CF’ supposedly stands for ‘chronic fatigue’, and we recall reading in some other interview, or other, a long time ago that this is, indeed, a medical condition you’re suffering from and that the best, or only way you know how to mitigate the symptoms is to stay active, creatively, which would explain the sheer size of your massive creative output. Is this correct, and if so, does it still ring true?
Yes, I was ill for most of my early 20’s. I am 40 now, so it’s a while ago, but it still effects me even to this day. I was diagnosed with M.E (myalgic encephalomyelitis) when I was 19, and was sporadically bed ridden for many years. Chronic fatigue is a symptom of that, and this was a chosen pseudonym when I started drawing comic books as a way of focusing my frustrations into something useful.It was a huge blow to me, it made me feel worthless, and added to that was the fear of letting down family members. That instilled a need to prove my worth, and developed this work ethic. If I am psychologically overburdened, I will be sick for weeks. I think physically and emotionally exhausting tasks, like touring, really are a catalyst for feeling unwell.
As a purveyor of highly conceptual music – Which concept albums do you hold dear?
Jeff Wayne’s The War Of The Worlds was the first concept album I ever encountered, and I think that juxtaposition of artwork and music and story was just so all encompassing. I don’t think any one piece of music inspired me to create concept bands, it was probably a love of a number of visually complex literary worlds, and a desire to not write personal lyrics, but lyrics in story format that ended to that style.
Speaking of concept albums, specifically those based on already existing fictional works – If you had unlimited resources and access to any/all kinds of musicians, is there one dream project you’d dive headfirst into if given the change?
Honestly I would like to re-tackle His Dark Materials, but in a different form. Possibly some form of folk music. Its really the most significant series of books to me, for multiple reasons, (my oldest friend’s mum proofread the original manuscripts!) But nothing particular. My dear friends Oskar and Erik Karlsson and David Flood of Monachus and I are almost finished on a concept record based on The Dark Crystal. Thats a dream come true!
Having dabbled with a wide variety of genres throughout the years in all your projects, ranging from Emo Crust and Post-Metal, Melodic Hardcore to some straight up Punk, D-Beat and Harsh Drone. Is there a particular different genre or style you wish you could implement on a future release?
I am planning on creating a companion record to my novels, which may or may not be some kind of folk, doom folk. After many years, four fifths of Fall of Efrafa have considered doing a new band, so that could possibly be an avenue for something and would be rather apt in regards to future projects, I’d love to do an anarcho band, something like Flux of Pink Indians. Also a dream pop record, I guess I am limited by skills and the enthusiasm of my musical friends!
Alright, let’s do a roll call: Anopheli, Archivist, Carnist, Eleleth, Fall of Efrafa, Light Bearer, Momentum, Morrow, Wreathe and Worst Witch. Current, future or past – did we miss any projects?
We did a lockdown band called Social Distance last year, which was a Discharge inspired covid lock down band! That was fun.
Through the overarching themes of Carnist and Momentum to more subtle hints in Morrow, as well as the fact that you run an apparel company called Animal Allies through Etsy, I think it’s pretty safe to assume that you’re vegan and an animal rights activist. Do you feel like it has become easier or harder to promote this ideology now that we’re essentially at the precipice of irreversible climate change, part of which the meat industry is to blame?
I think its ever more present in mainstream society that eating meat and dairy has a huge part to play in climate change, and from the statistics of consumption, it has had an effect in how much of that crap is eaten and how plant based foods have soared in popularity. Whether consumers trends will see the death of the meat and dairy industry. I think that’s just a matter of time. As it becomes less and less economically viable to rear cattle, and in-vitro meat and plant based meat becomes less distinguishable from animal flesh, the more those traditional farms will begin to invest in more sustainable crops. Money talks! Animal Allies was more or less a way for me to contribute to animal rights activities, and it has allowed me to donate a whole bunch of money to hunt sabs and animal sanctuaries over the years.
The Merrylin Cryptid Collection & Museum – The website where we can see all these gorgeous hand-made specimens of various cryptid creatures, tools and objects, as well as read descriptions of them and stories about some characters from the same cryptid universe. It says it’s ‘permanently closed’, but that the website is maintained. Does this mean you no longer add new specimens and/or characters to the collection?
I have stopped working on the project. Something that started off as an exploration of my love of turn of the century science fiction and victorian science, it was co-opted by conspiracy videos of YouTube and became little more than clickbait, so I decided to abandon it. I have a book, a kind of deep dive into the mystery of Thomas Merrylin, but that will have to wait. Now is not the time, when people seem to have forgotten about critical thinking!
You’ve published one novel, Seek the Throat from Which We Sing, with a sequel, Wretched is the Husk currently being written, as well as a compendium book full of illustrations from said novels called The Orata. Could you describe what goes through your mind once you’ve sent it off to print and the emotions associated with them – be it relief, dread, excitement or a combination of all the above?
Ha! Dread, yes. Lots of dread! Fear that the book isn’t worth the paper its printed on, fear it will be a letdown…I think every possible negative emotion takes up residence in my brain! But eventually the excitement of revisiting that world, and the new avenues that open as a result. Finishing ‘Wretched’ meant that the next book became ever more possible, and my obsession with trilogies became all the more real. For those who don’t know my books, The Books of Orata are a series of animal fantasy/ mythology novels that depict animal cultures in the UK, in the shadow of humans. It’s about creating earthen, natural cultures and religions that each species adheres to, and the wars and follies and prophecies of those ideologies.
Speaking of novels. In the case of Fall of Efrafa and Light Bearer, we know their respective concepts are largely based on Richard Adam’s Watership Down, Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, as well as John Milton’s Paradise Lost. What are some other novels, or other pieces of fiction, you draw inspiration from?
My biggest inspiration has always been Brian Froud, and most importantly his world building and natural history of The Dark Crystal that he created for Jim Henson, When I was seven I was introduced to his work and it has been a constant companion through my life. I hope some day to be able to offer the world something like this.
When talking about Pullman’s His Dark Materials – it’s interesting to see you have such a love for something most people would consider a “children’s book” (not for the youngest but for like 10 to 14 year-olds, right?). Which part of that saga fascinates you the most? Because I know that this world is pretty vast and many people like very different parts of it?
I think it’s probably one of the most important works of fiction since Lord of the Rings. It encapsulates a great deal of the ideals I hope for children to be introduced to - the idea of acceptance, the dangers of organised religion, the terrors of oppression, the acceptance of love of all kinds, it is a story about friendship and, despite it being a fantasy, about the very real. It strips back the fairytales of religion and it shows the raw, unfettered world, in all its painful beauty.
Was there anything about the movie adaptation or the new TV show adaptation that you liked? How do you feel in general about such endeavors?
I think they are difficult books to adapt, but I felt the BBC adaptation was phenomenal. They managed to not only incorporate a great deal of minutiae but they have managed to tie in Pullman’s more recent Book of Dust novels, and I can only imagine that they will also be developed into a series. Any attempt to bring a book to screen comes with the weight of expectation. I can only congratulate them for what they managed to achieve with that series.
Shifting focus towards your visual artistry and illustrations – on top of illustrating most, if not all, your releases, as well as having illustrated the covers for 30+ other releases, you’ve also made your own interpretations of characters from various fictional works, like Alice in Wonderland, H.P. Lovecraft, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Jurassic Park and Thundercats. Is it easier for you to illustrate based on already existing characters, or does it come with some additional pressure to perform, as opposed to your original pieces?
I do these drawings for fun! I guess drawing takes up around 60% of my being. I draw in bed in the evenings and that’s usually drawing the above mentioned things. It’s less pressure and more fun to draw beloved characters from my youth! I am not sure my followers enjoy it as much as me!
Whenever I see an “Alex CF” I feel like there is a certain signature style of yours and it reminds me a lot of some good black and white comics of the 80s and 90s, where they didn’t go lightly on the usage of ink to accentuate things and details. Are there some roots of your art in there? And if you, which comic artist did/do you like the most?
I don’t actually use a lot of ink! It’s all pencil and watercolours. I was a huge comic book fan, mostly Eastman and Lairds, Mirage Comics. I imagine that has influenced me along the way!
And last, but not least; What’s going on in your life? What’s coming next? New albums, new collaborations?
Morrow has a new album, which is almost finished, just waiting on some final finishing touches and guest vocals. It’s probably my favourite of the three records. It’s called The Quiet Earth and I imagine it will be out on Bandcamp end of January. Wreathe will also record early next year, and Thra, the Dark Crystal-inspired band, will also have a Bandcamp release and then later a physical release.
Take cover – Quickfire questions incoming!
Buried Inside or Neurosis? Impossible question. Both are incredible bands
Spicy or mild food? Both
Bristol or London? London
Utopias vs Dystopias? Dystopias
Dinosaurs or rabbits? Dinosaurs
Performing music live or seeing music live? Neither!
English Breakfast or Earl Grey? English Breakfast (or as we like to call its ‘Builders Tea.’)
Mornings or evenings? Mornings.