First Fallen Star: an interview with Mr. C.

“The dichotomy of light and darkness, of good and evil, that exists in the universe is not a representation of opposition but of a relationship, as neither can be defined without the other. Indeed, the two are often so closely intertwined as to be indistinguishable, and incapable of surviving without one another. Our purpose here is no celebration of evil but instead an embrace of the darkness as an integral part of our souls. Where would Heaven be without Hell?”
– from the First Fallen Star website

First Fallen Star1 – How and why did you come about starting First Fallen Star?

After running the Dark Music Domain online shop here in the USA for 5 years, in 2009, I decided to launch a record label division to develop a deeper involvement in the “fringe” music genres of dark ambient and experimental sounds. Much of the decision stemmed from enjoyment of those genres of music, as well as others, and the desire to see them continue and prosper.

But with the rise of many tiny upstart record labels came a decline in the quality of the music being released, and truly horrible customer service, which has served to undermine the faith that listeners had in these genres, including the bands/projects and record labels that produce and release them. I was confident – as I remain to this day – that we could release excellent music, and serve the musicians and our customers well.

2 – When you started First Fallen Star, were there any labels that you could say were a reference/inspiration for your efforts?

It seems that every record label cites Cold Meat Industry as their inspiration, or as representative of the goals they would like to attain, which usually translates to something as vain and foolish as “status.” There’s only one Cold Meat Industry in the world, and there will never be another. Although I am personally a fan of that label’s extensive discography, I admit that the only other label that sticks out in my mind as anything akin to an inspiration for First Fallen Star is Cyclic Law. Although other labels have achieved similar ends, Cyclic Law has managed to gain the confidence of dark ambient fans around the world through the release of some of the finest sounds, using unique packaging, and without any of the arrogance found in other labels and organizations within the “scene.” Cyclic Law and its artists have worked hard to achieve their goals, and their status is well deserved. First Fallen Star has its own set of goals, though, and we do not seek to be like any other record label.

3 – Almost mandatory question, how did the name “First Fallen Star” come about?

What makes the hairs on the back of some people’s necks truly stand up is the fact that “First Fallen Star” was one of many monikers referring to Lucifer. We have all seen a great many musicians and record labels – typically in the genre of metal – employ the most “evil” symbols and words in grabbing attention through sheer shock value. References to Anton Szandor LaVey and Satanism, misuse of images of the Sabbatic goat and pentagrams, overuse of ideas considered “evil” – all grab the attention of music fans without fail, but also without aim… or truth. On the other hand, and equally false, are the contrived images and ideas of Lucifer as an utterly evil creature, literally hellbent on the corruption of humanity, as conjured by Christians over the centuries – and most of which was blatantly stolen from the beliefs of other cultures and religions existing at the same time as the early Church.

The only real truth seemed to be that Lucifer had fallen from Heaven, and was likely doomed to an eternity spent in some ethereal realm distant from the light and warmth of God’s presence, some realm both cold and lonely. The feather and starfield images accompanying the label name are in reference to Lucifer as well, for such a sad creature must surely weep feathers as a human weeps tears. This imagery was quite fitting for the often-gloomy sounds released by First Fallen Star, although it must be noted that it is not indicative of the beliefs of any representative of First Fallen Star or any of the artists – all of whom have their own distinct personal beliefs, religious or not. And there is no connection with, or endorsement of, Satanism whatsoever. We have merely adopted our own vision of Lucifer’s personal torment for purely aesthetic purposes.

4 – Since the inception of First Fallen Star, are there any events in the history of the label that you’d consider as particularly relevant, from difficulties and setbacks to successes?

Our history, admittedly, is quite short, as it dates back only to early 2009. In the beginning, we were graced by the trust of Karsten Hamre, who believed in the potential of the record label enough to have two albums – one under Dense Vision Shrine, and one under Karsten Hamre – released on it. Both of those albums, as well as the others that followed, are definitely what I would consider successes – for the artists and the label. Each album successfully released is a milestone for us, as well as an investment on the part of the artists in the label’s future. We thank them for that!

5 – So far what would you consider as special highlights (or successful) releases and artists in the history of First Fallen Star?

To be quite honest, each release on the label has been a highlight unto itself. Each release represents another set of hurdles overcome, another group of problems solved, another goal achieved, another success!

6 – Are there any releases in particular that you would recommend as good ‘introductory material’ to the First Fallen Star label?

The focus of the label is dark ambient, but there have been and will continue to be diversions away from strict genre definitions. Only the entire set of releases, listened to in entirety, could be considered representative of First Fallen Star.

For fans of dark ambient, Dense Vision Shrine/Karsten Hamre and Innfallen (feat. Doyle Finley of Invercauld) are highly recommended. Aspectee and Secret Druid Society are also dark ambient projects, but there are lighter moments among the tracks, and in having created those, the artists have demonstrated their versatility in crafting soundscapes. In contributing to the inaugural volume to our “Eulogy Series”, Mystified created sounds that crossed every line formerly thought to divide dark ambient, ambient, and neo-classical. Sometimes defined more accurately as ‘cinematic ambient,’ Mystified’s “Passing Through the Outer Gates” is a full-length album far beyond anything Thomas Park had previously released, which highly irritated naysayers who didn’t expect something so complex and mature. For anyone unfamiliar with our releases, we do highly recommend visiting the website, on which you can find song clips pre-loaded in embedded audio players for each release.

7 – Looking back, do you have any regrets with the label? If you could go back and change something, what would it be?

My only regret is that we could not release every album submitted to us. There are a lot of fantastic musicians out there, just waiting to be discovered – whether by record labels or on an individual basis by fans browsing the internet. I urge fans to break out from their existing music collection and discover something new.

8 – An obvious question, but what is First Fallen Star’s ‘relationship’ with the Internet? From promotion tool and digital sales to file sharing and piracy, how has it affected you?

Inarguably, the internet is a fantastic tool for exposure and promotion. With the advent of digital music sales, music fans are freer than ever to explore new artists, as well as add to their personal music collections without having to add one more jewel case to their shelf. But, as everyone knows, the internet is also a playground for people who believe that all music should be not only readily available, but also free of any cost. Bootlegging isn’t just rampant; it’s viral.

Even at First Fallen Star, we have had a difficult time keeping our releases from being illegally bootlegged through online blogs, file-sharing forums, and MP3 shops. Unlike most other record labels, however, we have demonstrated an unparalleled amount of aggression toward bootleggers, keeping illegal file-sharing to a minimum. Filesharing hosts are – now more than ever – willing to remove illegal files quickly, if a record label or musician even bothers to contact them about it. (Most record labels, however, believe that they cannot win so they do not try at all.)

MP3 shops, however, are very difficult. The owners know that what they are doing is wrong, and they are unwilling to remove illegal files unless threatened with legal action. Many of these illegal MP3 shops (selling MP3s for a tiny fraction of what iTunes might charge) are websites based in Russia, which, unfortunately, has a miserable set of copyright laws that do not acknowledge MP3s and other digital media as being protected under their copyright laws or anyone else’s. Potential customers are enticed with unusually low prices, and anyone who has concerns about the legality of those shops has the proverbial wool pulled over their eyes with claims that royalties are paid to an agency that pays the record label or artist directly. Nothing could be further from the truth as these shops are not paying any royalties to any organization or agency within their country, and no one is paying anything to the artists or labels.

9 – Slightly related to the previous question, how do you see the concept of ‘netlabels’ and, as a labelhead, what is your perspective as to the future and evolution of physical media (CDs, vinyl, etc)?

Despite the fact that a few netlabels are producing some excellent releases by equally excellent musicians, many of them are the inevitable ‘last resort’ for musicians whose music was not worth the potential loss of the financial investment on the part of record labels to whom the music may have been shopped previously. When you are releasing everything that comes your way because there is no risk of financial loss, terrible music (yes, it exists) is released alongside excellent music, and it serves to ‘cheapen’ the genre as a whole. Admittedly, this unfortunate end – the degradation of entire genres of music/soundscapes – is being accomplished not only by some netlabels, but also by a great many upstart CD-R record labels whose activities and miserable customer service are not only an injustice to musicians and music fans alike, but also a terrible insult. Absolute garbage and amazing music can both be released in any format (CD, vinyl, tape, digital download). But quality cannot be faked.

It seems that everything short of the 8-track has had its own respective resurgence in popularity, even if it is short-lived. It is hard to speculate on the future evolution of physical media – especially since I believe that its evolution has stopped altogether. I would be much more concerned about the evolution of physical album packaging, as record labels who do not release their albums as digital downloads are increasingly pressured by consumer demand to create innovative, or at least individualized, physical album packaging in order to maintain demand for physical products in a market in which most consumers care nothing at all for album packaging and, in fact, treat physical albums more as household clutter than as individual sound journeys unto themselves – something to be discovered and rediscovered again and again for as long as you own the album.

10 – Perspectives for the future, what lies in the horizon for First Fallen Star? Can you share some long-term goals and where would you like to see the label heading to?

In mid to late 2011, we will be releasing Melek-Tha’s “H.P. Lovecraft, Volumes 1-6” as an entire set (12 CDs), including the previously unreleased Volumes 4 and 6. Originally self-released by the artist in very limited runs on CD-R, the unusual blend of dark ambience and bombastic industrial crafted by Melek-Tha and his cohorts (47 Ashes, Silcharde, Karna, A.E.P., Posthuman Tantra, and Xa-Mul) had proven popular enough to warrant re-releasing the music in mastered form along with the remaining volumes as a budget-priced set. For the fan of box sets, however, First Fallen Star has ventured where no known label has previously ventured. We commissioned sculptor Corinne Crowe (www.CthulhuStatues.com) to sculpt a box form, wrapped in tentacles. From this original sculpture, the box set format is being cast in colored resin (plastic), and will include 2 bonus CDs with exclusive tracks from all 7 participating artists!

Around the same time later this year, we will release the second album by Innfallen, “Weathered Roads to a Burning Bridge.” Following that will be an as-yet-untitled album by French post-industrial/dark ambient project Nors’Klh. And Volume 2 in our Eulogy Series will be crafted by the well-known and immensely popular Svartsinn – an honor of which we are not yet certain of being worthy.

I strongly believe that First Fallen Star is headed in an upward direction, toward progress and success. But everything that we accomplish will have been for nought if we ever fail to serve the artists, acknowledging the fact that without them, we are nothing.

11 – What other labels/artists would you recommend at the moment and why?

I highly recommend the Black Drone label (www.blackdrone.com) in Australia. This label has released some excellent ambient/dark ambient, and started out rather humbly. I have watched their progression over the past year or so, and with the release of an Asbaar (side-project of a member of Eldar) album in late 2010, I strongly suspect that this label will go on to do great things and achieve even greater popularity among fans of various experimental genres.

Also recommended is Le Crepuscule du Soir (lecrepusculedusoir.yolasite.com) in France. Most record labels that focus on such limited editons of experimental music invariably end up doing it poorly, frustrating musicians and fans. Le Crepuscule du Soir, however, is releasing some very enjoyable dark ambient (and other genres) in editions as small as 50 or 100 copies. I think that fans in general, and collectors in particular, will enjoy the release on this label.

Last but not least, there’s Infinite Fog (www.infinitefog.ru) in Russia, which has released music by obscure artists as well as well-known artists, such as Raison D’Etre and Velehentor. This is another record label to keep an eye on in the future!

12 – Thank you for your time, do you have any final comments?

Thanks to Connexion Bizarre for this interview. In closing, we would like to thank all of the music fans throughout the world who, despite a worldwide economic downturn and increasing availability of illegal file-sharing, have continued to show legitimate support for the musicians and record labels by purchasing music legally – whether in physical format or as digital downloads. Thank you for keeping the music alive!

Relevant links

First Fallen Star

— interview by Miguel de Sousa & Kate Turgoose (January 2011)