Not many bands can say they've played in a forest or inside a train car—and most certainly not in a mausoleum. Spanish dark folk group Sangre de Muerdago have done all that and more, though, adding an extra layer of magic to an already utterly unique entity. The group's spiritual and musical leader Pablo C. Ursusson moved to Germany nearly five years ago, but the music he makes with Sangre de Muerdago (translation: "Blood of Mistletoe") is firmly rooted in his Galician heritage. The region—located in the northwestern corner of Spain, bordering Portugal—has a long tradition of folk music that's been part of family gatherings for centuries, and also embraced by young punks in the past few decades.
While Ursusson grew up swimming in Galician folk music, he's taken his own direction on records like O Camiño das Mans Valeiras and Lembranzas dende o Lado Salvaxe, which take on modern issues through traditional instrumentation—Ursusson himself plays a variety of instruments, including the hurdy-gurdy, a droning instrument that uses a wheel to strike the strings. "I play a lot of everything, and not too much of anything," Ursusson jokes.
Sangre de Muerdago's new EP, Os Segredos da Raposa Vermella, is another candlelit journey through the group's dark and mystical musical powers. It's no wonder punks and metalheads (Ursusson himself plays guitar in German black metal band Antlers) are drawn to their music. The group is rounded out with German multi-instrumentalists Georg Börner and Erik Heimansberg, as well as touring American musician Asia Kindred Moore, who also plays in the dark folk outfit Will O' The Wisp.
Noisey caught up with Ursusson to talk about growing up with traditional Galician folk music, and how he navigates this modern world.
Noisey: So, Sangre de Muerdago has performed in some interesting places. What's been the most memorable?
Pablo C. Ursusson: We played once in a mausoleum in Oslo, Norway—that was very amazing. We've played on a train wagon, we've played on a boat, and we've played in a couple of beautiful chapels. And a bunch of forest concerts—the last two we played were in the Alps, in high-altitude forests and high-altitude meadows. Sometimes it's just tricky because of the weather, and if it's too cold it affects the instruments. Especially if you play in the evening when temperatures are dropping—the instruments are alive, they're made out of wood—it's a pain in the ass [laughs].
Did you record the new EP in a studio, or did you try to do it somewhere with the right ambience?
We did it at home. We did a couple of albums in a studio, but we like recording ourselves. This is the first album that we recorded entirely by ourselves. We just did it in Georg's living room. It's very relaxed.
Tell me about growing up with Galician folk music. How did you first get interested in it?
My family is really big, like on the side of my father there are lots of brothers and sisters, and lots of cousins. So when I was a kid we used to get together a lot, very often. And my family liked to sing [laughs]. When they'd get together they were always singing these folk songs. My aunt plays guitar and they were playing songs all the time. Growing up in Galicia in the late-70s, early-80s, it was something that was around a lot. Actually we only touch a little part of it with our music in Sangre de Muerdago. But I think Galician music is something special musically, and also culturally. It's something that's managed to stay alive until today.
And you said you only incorporate a small part of it in your music?
What we play with Sangre is just a small part of what Galician folk music is. There's a lot of different currents, to say it somehow. Lots of tavern songs. You have these kind songs that are only percussion and voices. Songs made with everything you can find. You have lots of bagpipes. Then you have the more elaborate folk songs from the last decade. And a never-ending amount of traditional melodies—each village has their own melody, their own songs.
Galicia is similar to the Basque Country in that it's autonomous, right?
They are what they call in Spain "autonomous communities." And there are a few of them that have this strong cultural identity. The Basque Country is definitely one of them—Galicia as well, together with Catalonia.
Is it as political in Galicia as it is in the Basque Country?
Yeah, definitely. It took different ways though. Also folk music in Galicia has always been political. Galician folk music became the music of people against the empire and against oppression. For centuries—against the Roman Empire, against the Spanish State, against so many things. So somehow the punks in Galicia are very into folk music.
Lyrically, are you influenced by traditional Galician folk?
My lyrics are not necessarily related to the traditional songs. It's more a contemporary approach to traditional music.
What are the common themes that run though your music?
The main source of inspiration is life itself, and the development of humans among other animals and in relation to nature. It's definitely a longing for reconnection to ourselves, our instincts, our nature, and our knowledge. I have a feeling we are living this period of time, the last couple of years, at a very fast speed. People want everything right now. Like the younger generations—what is the proper way to get through it?
The lyrics of Sangre are very melancholic, and they long for something, but they always intend to empower people. It's not like a desperate cry. We all have sorrow, we all have sadness, but we have to somehow process it, and then make it our fuel. It's something that keeps my head busy [laughs].
So you're old enough to have experienced life and music at a slower pace.
Oh yeah. I've written many letters to people. I've sent cassettes with photocopies as covers and all that. Man, and going to your friend's place with your vinyl, and listening to it with your five friends. Some of the early Neurosis albums were pretty—how would you say—striking for us. I don't want to romanticize it, but it was pretty beautiful.
SANGRE DE MUERDAGO – "ANIMAL WHISPERS" EUROPEAN TOUR FALL 2016
16th – GER – Sangerhausen @ Ulrichkirche 17th – GER – Kassel @ FBI + NIHIL NIHIL18th – GER – Frankfurt @ TBA
19th – GER – Stuttgart @ Laboratorium Stuttgart20th – CH – Zürich @ Pfadiheim Rüschlikon
21st – GER – Giessen @ Café Amélie //
22nd – GER – Bonn @ Nblng HQ + NIHIL NIHIL 23rd – BEL – Leuven @ Livingromm Leuven
24th – BEL – Gent @ Café Molotov
25th – NL – Beuningen @ De Hof van Wezel + Duo Rodriguez Franceschini 26th – GER – Düsseldorf @ Atelier Kino Düsseldorf 28th – DK – Aalborg @ 1000Fryd29th – NOR – Oslo @ Blitz + Ill Wicker 30th – NOR – Oslo @ Emanuel Vigeland Mausoleum + Ill Wicker31st – SWE – Gothenburg @ Amandas Teater + Ill Wicker
Mark Lore is taking it one day at a time on Twitter.