Interview with Crippled Black Phoenix
"We are sure as hell going to try"
Crippled Black Phoenix is one of the bands who always know how to impress me – Most recently with their current album "Ellengæst". Now I could arrange an interview with songwriter and singer Belinda Kordic and bandleader Justin Greaves via video call.
The conversation, in which Justin's cats were also actively involved, was incredibly inspiring. I talked with the two about their plans, animal rights, veganism, music, and activism. And, of course, about their record.
Anne: Thank you so much for agreeing to this interview! I have to say that I am incredibly flattered! Sitting in front of my screen and talking to you guys feels quite overwhelming!
Justin: Thank you very much! It's nice writing that you're doing!
Belinda: Yes! Definitely! It's something that we care about a lot!
Anne: Thank you so much for your kind words! How are you doing today? Where are you staying these days? Your place looks quite cozy, Belinda!
Justin: I'm in the north of England, and Belinda is in Stockholm. Sometimes we're together in the same place, and sometimes we're apart. Right now, we're each in our little dungeons (laughs).
"It's about the things that we feel strongly about."
Anne: The song "Lost" from your new album, didn't let go of me and Matze, who I asked to write a guest article on my blog about it. I had the feeling that he would be the right person to put it all into words. And it seems this intuition was right because you told me that you enjoyed reading it! The article is quite political and refers only partly to your song. I think, as well as you did, with your music, we felt the urge to look a bit deeper. What made you relate to it?
Belinda. Picture: © Crippled Black Phoenix
Belinda: It was great! It was all put together really well.
Justin: It's about the things that we feel strongly about. It was nice to see that it wasn't just about the video. It was actually about the bigger topic, which is exactly what we were trying to say.
Anne: I am very curious about your story behind the video. Who came up with the idea? What's it's background story?
Belinda: The song "Lost" is about we've lost our humanity in all different ways. How humans lost their souls. We talked to Guilherme (Guilherme Henriques, director), who did the video with us, and he got it straight away. We wanted to show the worst of everything in the video: How humans treat animals, homelessness, greed, and bad politics. Everything that's going to be the end of the planet is put together in one video. Not only animal-related topics like in our old songs but everything. The whole story. And Guilherme did it so well.
"Like an apology on behalf of humans"
Justin: Like in "Nebulas" (CBP album "Great Escape", 2018). That song was like an apology on behalf of humans. "Lost" is kind of expanding. Realizing that so many different things affect this in the same way. It could be the way that we treat animals, greed, corruption, and everything else. It is all fuel in the same fire. The wrong people are in power, and that's sparking the flame. It's making it even worse. It's such a hard battle. We feel so hopeless about it.
I think many people would agree with this. We all feel quite outcast because we can't stop it indefinitely. There are masses of people who know what goes on in the world. But they don't want to see it.
Belinda: I guess for many people, the thought is "if you don't see it, it doesn't exist", and it's then not a burden on their shoulders. So they put the blindfolds on. But many people out there have absolutely no idea how animals are treated in the farming industry etc. I didn't either once upon a time. That male chicks are crushed to death because they "serve no purpose". That calves are taken away from their crying mothers, so we humans can have their milk.
Anne: I think you did well putting this all together in an eight minutes video. It is amazing.
"I couldn't watch the whole video"
Belinda: Guilherme did a fantastic job. He was really destroyed and emotionally upset after sitting there for hours editing the video like the thing with the animals. It got to him. And who can blame him? To this day, I haven't been able to watch the whole video.
Anne: For me, it was like watching "Earthlings" for the first time. It captivated me. It was pretty intense. I hope that many people are watching it.
Belinda: Thank you! Well, that's the reaction we were hoping for. We wanted people to see these warnings, so we chose not to have a trigger warning label attached to the video, for example.
Messages in a visual format is a very powerful tool. This is one good thing with social media. It reaches the masses. And once you see something like the scenes in "Lost", you can't un-see it.
Justin: It is essential to use this in the right context and in a proper way. I think there is nothing provocative about the video. Everything is in context. And I think this is how we need to tell people about this. We care a lot about the animal cruelty part. That actually shocks us and makes it difficult to watch.
Anne: You are also vegans and engaged with topics like the climate crisis and the world's exploitation. Humanity and animal rights are pretty often part of many of your songs. Even if a song text isn't about it, you can feel it in your tunes. Do you make music to transport this very important message, or is it the other way round? Or simpler: Are you more activists or musicians?
"I want to give the animals a voice"
Belinda: I try and do my part with the lyrics. Inside them lays a small part of my activism. I have to hold back a lot – or every demo song Justin hands over to me would end up being a song about animals, giving animals a voice.
I also give what I can to animal rights organizations and smaller charities. If I had more time, I would definitely go out more often being active, and doing things. But like I mentioned in another interview: I couldn't handle some parts of the crucial activism side, like investigating slaughterhouses. That would destroy me. I'd end up jumping from a bridge.
Justin. Picture: © Crippled Black Phoenix
Justin: Equal measure. Mentally I have always been an activist. But we can only do as much as we can and what is possible in our situation. It hasn't always been possible. But being a musician gives you a voice. I think that is what has made the activist side of us. Finally, we can do a little bit more. Most of what we can do is to use our voices! It is tricky, though, to find the right balance because, unfortunately, people go blank. Animal rights are not political – it's a social problem. People don't like it.
"An apology to the animals"
Belinda: Yes. They're calling you militant, If you talk about it too often.
With our song "Nebulas," I apologize to the animals that I can't do more. I want to say, "Sorry that I can't save you".
Justin: The crazy thing is you bring these subjects up trying to say it constructively and be informative and spread the word. And people come just straight away and say, "You don't tell me not to eat meat". They are beginning to argue about what food you eat. And I'm always like, "It's not about your diet! It is how we treat animals".
They always seem worried about what you eat for dinner. I don't argue with people who eat meat. We will never be able to stop people from killing or mistreating animals. That is, sadly, never going to happen. But we sure as hell are going to try. And keep spreading awareness. But without putting force on people because the more you do that, the more they're going to resist.
Anne: I can imagine that you've inspired many people to go vegan, too. Can you guess how many there are? Any of your band members or fans?
"My mom sneaks vegan food on my dad's plate"
Justin: Our sound engineer is quite the opposite of us when it comes to food. He loves his pie and chips – very English. We took him to a vegan restaurant. And he had to admit that it was excellent. I think he started to eat a little better afterward. He is never going to go vegan. But this doesn't make us like him less. My mom also sneaks some vegan food on my dad's plate from time to time.
People are always interested. When you're on tour hanging out, it's a topic every day. When they're serving lunch, they're always asking, "Who's the vegan". Everyone is interested; some of them tell you they want to try it. But as soon as you're away, most of them are suppressing the thought again, I guess.
Anne: When did you go vegan? What or who inspired you?
"It was Belinda who inspired me to go vegan"
Justin: I was a vegetarian since I was 14 years old. I'm not sure when I went vegan. But Belinda gave me the final push. So it was she who inspired me!
Belinda: I started vegetarian over two decades ago. For many years I was borderline vegan – if that's even a thing. I would eat "happy eggs," for example, from some friend's chickens. I took the final step, I think, about six years ago. As dramatic as it may sound, and believe me when I say this, I have this horrible guilt, and it's going to follow me to the day I die that I didn't go 100 percent vegan decades ago.
I also want to say that we are not demonizing non-vegans. It doesn't automatically make you a bad person if you do eat meat. We have a lot of friends who are amazing human beings who are not vegans.
Anne: Your whole album "Ellengæst" is an impressive piece of art – for me, it's a definite candidate for the album of the year. I think its mood perfectly represents the overall mood of 2020. Did you write the songs under that impression – especially talking about "The Invisible Past"? Did this plant the thought in your head to name it after a bad demon?
"We did 'Ellengæst' one and a half year ago"
Justin: The truth is that we wrote the album a year and a half ago. We recorded the songs in October 2019. So it was a coincidence it connected with 2020. For example, the song "Lost" is not 2020 really specific. It is such a big topic. It is how we see the world.
Picture: © Crippled Black Phoenix
I don't think that it got necessarily worse this year. I would say 2020 exposed a lot of things. Everyone is shocked, and everyone says that 2020 is really bad, but what is going on this year has been going on for so many years. People just became aware of it. People have been trying to raise the subject of climate change for 50 years now, for example. And in 2020, it's become a thing.
Belinda: I also think that Corona gave people time to sit and think about these things.
Anne: As you are not always staying at the same place – some of you are from England, some from Sweden – and there are also several guest appearances on your album: How are you managing to record songs together? Especially in times like this?
"We worked on some new recordings"
Belinda: We been in the studio last month! Some of our guests recorded their parts in their studios in their hometowns, and some came to the studio. Sometimes you have to make it happen!
Anne: What do you think about remote recording?
Justin: We don't like to record our albums remotely. We're a bit old fashioned about this, I guess. With the right kind of microphone, you can record your vocals everywhere. But it's different from the instruments. We have a specific type of sound that partly comes from the rooms that we've recorded it in. The drums on Ellengæst sound like Crippled Black Phoenix Drums because we've recorded them in a chapel with specific microphones and certain equipment in a certain way. These are things you can't do in your bedroom or any old studio. I think it's kind of a pain in the ass, but I think the extra work and extra stress are totally worth it.
Anne: That sounds like you are happy with the outcome of your work?
Belinda: You don't listen to your own music, you know (laughs). What I like about it is the message. You know, with the video for "Lost" and everything. I am really happy with this.
Anne: You did the song "Cry Of Love" together with Ryan Peterson. It is about the loss of his beloved cat. What led to this collaboration?
"Many of our songs are dedicated to cats"
Justin: When we did the song, Ryan asked us if he could do the words for it. We'd already knew about his cat passing away. He asked us if we would mind, and of course, we didn't. Weirdly we had just lost two of our cats – Tigger and Nell – quite at the same time, so we've both loved some dear friends.
For me, it was a remarkable coincidence with Ryan coming up with the idea for this song at this time. It was kind of serendipity. We dedicated the whole album to these three cats. And it was not the first time. We also dedicated "No Sadness Or Farewell" to a cat.
Belinda: Tigger, who died in Justin's arms, is also the cat on our EP "Horrific Honorifics"!
Anne: You've released Ellengæst during the COVID Crisis. How did the promotion work for it distinguish from the ones you did before? Did you encounter any disadvantages? For example, by not being able to promote it by playing live gigs?
Justin: Well, not being able to play any gigs has definitely been a disadvantage. But I would say we also appreciate doing interviews. We are very grateful for our record label. These guys are doing a good job connecting us to magazines and everything. They are known for being kind of a black metal label. So a lot of our press comes from the metal press. So that was also kind of difficult. It's hard to reach people by talking about what they like. So we also appreciate talking like this now. I'm not so sure how COVID affected our work. We're always kind of remotely together.
Anne: Speaking about touring: Some bands are already posting new tour dates on Facebook. Do you think this is too optimistic?
"We want to go on tour in 2021"
Belinda: We hope not because we also have some stuff coming up! We all hope for the best!
Anne: Can you tell me when we will be able to see you back again over here in Hamburg? The last time we've seen you, we had a fantastic time - for me, it was one of the best concert moments of 2019.
Justin: We hope to be there again in 2021. It's pretty cool you're mentioning the gig in Hamburg. It was at the "Knust," was it? I love this venue!
Anne: What's up next for Crippled Black Phoenix?
Belinda: If everything works out, we will definitely be on tour in 2021.
Justin: We have some shows booked somewhere around November 2021. There are lots of German dates and also some other trips overseas. We're also checking out the festivals, but we can't certainly announce these things. But let's keep our fingers crossed!
"We hope Brexit won't stop us"
I hope Brexit won't stop us in 2021 as COVID did in 2020. We looked into it, and it seems that it's going to making touring pretty expensive. I can't even imagine how this will be. From January on, I will not be free to travel to the European Union anymore. I mean, how crazy is this? Among everything else, of course. My mom is Scottish. So I hope that Scotland will get its independence. Then I can get a Scottish passport and get to travel again.
Anne: Are you already working on new songs?
Belinda: We're planning to record the second half of our new stuff in April.
Justin: Yes, we've done the first have of our next album. So I think we are going to release it somewhere later next year. And hopefully, soon, we will have a new song out.