I recently caught up with a dear friend of mine, Allen Simpson who resides in Pretoria. He has written three poetry books, Tales from the flow, Skaduland and Asylum of Verse. He writes poetry in English and Afrikaans. His hobbies include visits to small little towns and graveyards, taking photos of these venues and writes poems about them. He is actually a direct descendant of James Young Simpson of Scottish noble blood and a direct descendant of the Jewish Nezer family who used to own half of Transvaal in South Africa but they went bankrupt. His nickname is Wolfie and derived this name from his surname Simpson as it means ‘Son of Simon’ or ‘Son of Wolf’. Here is my interview with him.
1. Let us begin by clarifying some labels. Are you a Goth Musician and Poet? Is this the right classification of your work?
I prefer artist if I should clarify what I am. I have sung in a Goth Band, yes so that makes me a vocalist more than a musician. I am also a poet, yes but not all my poems are about Goth-related themes.
2. Before I ask you what Goth music is, can you define what Goth culture is?
I would say Goth is more a subculture than a culture. Here I am talking about the musical culture, not the Goth tribes that existed in history or Gothic Novels from the Victorian era, per say. The origins of the gothic music subculture started in England in the 1980s (some would argue it started in the late 1970s). It was initially an offshoot of the post-punk genre. Bands like Bauhaus, Joy Division and Siouxie and the Banshees were the 'pioneers' in this new genre. Goth is a unique subculture. Like Rasta or Metal people have their own dress codes like some would dress Victorian and others dress in a way certain movies inspired them, movies like the Crow or some even dress like Vampires. Goth is about artistic expression, you can see each Goth (well I do) as an artist in his or her own right as each individual expresses himself or herself in an artistic way example one person may dress up in a corset and black boots and the next person in a black suit with piece of chain instead of a tie. But this is my view on the Gothic Subculture. Other Goths may answer this differently. We are all individually diverse.
3. So the Goth subculture IS the Goth Music?
Yes, it is all about the music, but also it is a lifestyle. Many of us dress up 24/7 and some even dress Goth at their workplace. But be warned not everybody that dress the way we do is Goth, since listeners to the Emo genre and the Black Metal genre may look similar to us. Also, fans of Shock Rock artists like Marilyn Manson may be seen as Goth. Although some Goths like Marilyn Manson his music is not Goth. Part of the lifestyle also include a love for literature like Ann Rice, Bram Stoker and the great poets of the Victorian Era, we are barely scratching the surface here of a humongous iceberg, oh and important to note Goth is not a religion (we get asked if we are in a religion a lot). I know Christians, Pagan, Jews and even a Hindu that are into the Goth scene.
4. Now I am getting it. I know from our many conversations that this is bigger than what it really appears to be. I for one had a big part of my life where I dressed up Gothic but did not follow the culture itself. I was able to express myself freely and I emerged my own spiritual beliefs into it. I did not even listen to Gothic music until I met you and heard you sing. And I loved it instantly. The closest to 'dark' music (may I call it that?) that I listened to was Celtic Woman and Era, which you would have to advise me what genre music are sung by Celtic Woman and Era? Seemed like a very versatile culture, may I add. I am going to be very cliché here and ask you, what are the misconceptions of the Goth culture?
Celtic Women are seen as Irish by some and New Age by other and Era (one of the bands I love deeply) are a straight New Age / Ambient band. As for Goth misconceptions here are a few
a) People believe we all wear just black. Not true. I have seen Gothesses wear white dresses, and even seen one in a green dress that looked like a Celtic princess. I have seen a Goth that only dresses in dark blue. The majority dress black but it depends on from person to person
b) People think we are all unhappy or depressed. Not true, most Goths are very cheerful and if we see a Goth that looks depressed we nickname them 'There-Goths' (because they just sit there and mope). If you want to see depressed black-clad people, the Emo fans fit that description lol
c) Some people believe Goth is just a phase. If Goth is a phase then why have I been one for over twenty years? Some of my friends have been Goths for over 30 years.
d) Goths are dangerous people. No, were not. Most goths are pacifists, we're lovers, not fighters, darn it!
e) We think we are vampires. We think we're human beings, but thanks for the compliment laughs
There are a lot more misconceptions but these are the ones I can think of right now.
5. What is Goth music to you? What does it represent for you?
I love the depth of Goth culture and music but it can take you to places you never knew existed. It is a conduit. When I am sad or when I kiss someone, it helps me feel better, when I am happy it helps me celebrate, when I need inspiration, it inspires. To me, it represents medicine for my soul. It brings light to my darkness
6. How does Goth music differentiate from pop music?
Pop Music borrows from popular styles of music to attract listeners. Often the artists 'clone' each other and make use of 'smoke and mirror' tricks like catchy chorus lines and so forth to catch people's attention. To me, personally, I do not always find substance in such music. To quote a song:
‘I'm tryna put you in the worst mood, ah
P1 cleaner than your church shoes, ah
Milli point two just to hurt you, ah
All red Lamb’ just to tease you, ah
None of these toys on lease too, ah
Made your whole year in a week too, yah
Main bitch out your league too, ah
Side bitch out of your league too, ah’ Starboy by The Weeknd
The song is very popular there is no substance. I find the fact that a woman is referred to as a bitch very offensive to humans as well as to dogs. Goth is different in that regard. Here is a sample of a Blut Engel song:
'You do everything for me
Protect me from the shadows
You hold me when I'm falling
Chase all the bad dreams away
You hear me when I'm calling you
Wash away my tears
My blood is poisoned, my soul is aching
I'll die for you once more'
I can relate to that. The song tells of tortured feelings, of love and a little darkness many of us have dealt with in our lives.
Another example is the song Severina by the band Mission UK
'She's got her head in the clouds
She's got the stars in her eyes
She's dancing with a dream in her heart
She's got the wind in her hair
Moonchild shining bright
And she's dancing, with a dream in her heart'
This is poetic and when listening to it, it evokes times you were also in love like that or it makes you yearn for a love like that. As a poet, Goth music touches me on an artistic level. It inspires me. Pop Music not so much. I do not judge people that like Pop Music and I am keeping an open mind, who knows maybe one day I will find a pop song that resonates with me
7. WOW! I really love those poetic sounds of Goth music. It is way deeper and more profound. Do you sing Goth music in Afrikaans lyrics too, as Afrikaans is your first language?
I sing in a band and our band, Hexotericka mainly sing in English, but we do throw Latin into some of our songs as well. There have been Goth bands that sang songs in Afrikaans but we prefer English. I do write Afrikaans stuff, but mainly poetry. I DO have a few poems that can be set to music, but I would prefer them to be performed in a folk music setting like an Afrikaans version of The Cranberries or Omnia.
8. Tell me more about the process of YOUR music creations. The lyrics you write, to composing them, to performing in your band? What albums have you composed so far, if any?
Sometimes Keith or I will write a poem and make music around it, or one of us will compose a song, then sit together and create the lyrics. It depends on the muse. smirks Then we practice and practice and when the night of the gig comes we perform it. We sometimes have guitarists or DJs, dancers and other theatrics at our concerts. We have not released an album yet but have a lot of downloadable content on the internet.
8. Who is Keith and how he fits in all of this?
Keith is my best friend for over 20 years. We started a band called Disciples of Sorrow with friends of ours but the friends moved away and we disbanded Disciples of Sorrow. D.O.S. used to be a Goth Rock band. We immediately started a new band (in 2007) called Hexotericka, with a great Electro Goth/Darkwave vibe and have been Hexotericka ever since.
9. Where do you see your band in the future?
Life is unpredictable. I do not like to answer questions like this but, and I say but, I think as long as our hearts are in the music and the love for it, the music never dies. Saying it like that, I think we will look back and think in the future "Wow, we never thought it would be THIS awesome".
10. In 2012 you published your first poetry book some poems in English and some in Afrikaans. I was privileged to have had a signed copy from you. The book titled ‘Tales from the Flow’. What was your inspiration for this book?
You know how people always use the expression to “Go with the Flow"? Well, the idea behind the book was that my poems are Tales from that FLOW. I draw much inspiration from life. Like the poem 'Changing the I' which speaks of how I, as an entity, as a person are ever changing, ever evolving in some way or another, others are inspired by romance like 'Sonata Noctem' which is a Dark Romance poem inspired by Goth, then, of course, there is 'Doll's Eye' which is an apocalyptic poem inspired by Christian Mythology and 'The Calling of Hecate' which is inspired by Celtic mysticism... All tales from the flow, all connected, yet all a different entity. All my books have some form of an inspiration behind it and have reasons way I chose the name of the book.
11. Wow. I love that poem too. And if I may quote the poem here.
My favorite poem is ‘The burning’. It reminds me of everything that is so wrong. It is not only about the witches anymore. It still is about racism, sexism, homophobia and Donald Trump and Jacob Zuma as president. This poem speaks to us about the inequality of life and people and fallacies that have disappeared and re-appeared in other forms. I Love this poem. What is YOUR favorite poem?
I have too many favourite poems by myself, chuckles like 'Sometimes I feel the moon' it is a poem about a man that turns into a wolf and hunts with the wolves at night, and then there is 'The heart is a forest' which deals with the human heart and its intricacy. And then there is 'Black Swan" a poem about a 'donor' that is in love with a vampiress. Here are links to those poems from my blog:
If you want to know which are my favorite poems, not written by me it is 'Toe maar die Donker Man' by Ingrid Jonker, The Hollow Men by T.S. Eliot and The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe.
BTW I love how you see my poem 'the burning'... it shows how one poem can reach all the evil in the world and speak up against it
12. Tell me a little about your childhood, joys, and struggles. It is clichéd that most poets write from what they feel and mostly have troubled earlier lives.
I had a .... interesting childhood. I went to 5 different schools during my early years because my parents moved a lot. I lived in places like Glenhavie\Fochville, Hammanskraal, Magoebaskloof, Silverton and Pretoria. Thanks to that I saw a lot of beautiful places like Magoebaskloof. That is why I write a lot of poems about forests and woods. In Magoebaskloof we lived in a haunted house, maybe explaining my vampire and werewolf poems. I was bullied a lot in school and by some of my relatives but refused that to define the person that I am, but I wrote a lot of poems against abuse like The Burning. I was the kid that did not do sports but rather read books and comics.
When I was in High School I even joined the School choir to escape Cadet Training chuckles loudly. Back in those days, all the boys in school had to do military training for two hours, except if you were part of the choir and since I am an artist, not a fighter I made sure to become part of the school choir. I always had a passion for singing. When I was in Glenharvie Primary School the older kids used to 'abduct' me from my class to go and sing for them in their classes, in Klipdrift Primary School (Hammanskraal). My girlfriend used to whisk me away from class to let me go and sing for her class. I guess I was always the entertainer. Singing and poetry stalked me since childhood it seems.
13. I am going to touch a bit on politics and religion here as I think this is important considering we live in SA. I know that you are a beautiful, gentle, loving and awesome soul. How did you cope being a ‘white Afrikaner’ male in SA during the political struggles as you certainly not orthodox in your approach to life? Tell me more about cutting through these chains?
I am not your typical Afrikaaner. My dad was a Jew, Afrikaans Jew from Potchefstroom and my mom a Karoo Girl. I grew up Christian but being a bibliophile my reading started to include books on Mythology. I started wondering why my white ancestors forgot their ancestral gods like Thor and Morrighan and slowly started to believe in the Old Gods and not in the Biblical god.
Afrikaners in the 80s were scary when it went to the subject of religion so I had to keep my beliefs to myself. One day I picked up a story book called Cat Magic by a writer called Whitley Strieber and in the book, there were people worshiping the Old Gods, called Pagans. I then realized that there is a name for people that worshiped the Gods of their ancestors, that I am a Pagan.
It was in 1992 when I was working the night shift at a little guard house that I asked the Old Gods to reveal themselves to me. A Goddess I never read about revealed herself to me, and I did research on her. I became a worshiper of a lesser known Goddess, Niniane, after that. Niniane is also known as Niamh or Nenain and is part of the Celtic trinity that makes up the Morrighan.
Two years after that South Africa voted in our first democratic parliament and with that racial and religious freedom became part of the South African way of life. Now it is legal to pray any way you want to without being witch-hunted for it. I have met other Pagans that have met the Old Gods in their special way. It is a blessing to me. The new road of freedom in this country opened 'old ways' and the ancient beliefs are back.
* Thank you, Allen, for doing this interview with me. It has been a great pleasure to catch up with a good friend and brother from another mother.*
Thank you Pragashnie. I enjoyed sharing my story with you.