> Hidden in the Leaves; an Interview with Strength Through Joy (by Chad Hensley & Intro by Michael Moynihan – Heathen Harvest)
.:.HIDDEN IN THE LEAVES.:.
An Interview with Strength Through Joy
Introduction by Michael Moynihan
Interview by Chad Hensley
Strength Through Joy is an enigma and often a seeming contradiction in terms. An iron fist hidden inside a velvet glove. Taking their name from the Third Reich program which provided cultural enrichment for the common workers, not to mention Volkswagens and vacation cruises for every happy German family, Strength Through Joy deftly mixes iconography of European romanticism and totalitarian artistic imperatives with lush string arrangements and pensive lyrics to form a unified vision that’s as haunting as it is beautiful.
Created by Richard Leviathan and Timothy Jenn after meeting in Australia, the band soon struck up a correspondence with Douglas P. of Death in June, who quickly sensed the importance of their unfolding development. Strength Through Joy fits nicely both alongside and outside of the continuum of Death in June, and admittedly there are numerous similarities in approach. These connections are even more amplified by Douglas’s contributions to their first EP, Dark Rose, as well as his overseeing of the production on all of their releases to date. Despite such strong collaborator ties, Strength Through Joy has forged its own sound and is steadily defining itself more completely with every subsequent effort.
Based now in Australia and Dublin, Ireland, the Celtic influences evident since their first recordings are even more predominant on Salute to Light, a new double CD set which has just been released through the Twilight Command imprint. Equally evident in Strength Through Joy’s expression is a beautiful painting by Völkisch artist Fidus titled Sun Worshiper adorning the front of the new release, to the swirling solar imagery on the discs themselves, one cannot help but notice a similar disposition in much of the music as well. These are not dour and gloomy songs for the self-indulgently depressed, but rather genuine celebrations of life in all its simultaneously radiant, torturous, joyful, and absurd glory.
Chad Hensley: When did the band form and what is the meaning of the band’s name?
Richard Leviathan: We began around 1991-92. The name of the band is derived from the German social organization which projected an ideological and aesthetic conception of physical strength and beauty. The historical roots of the organization, however, predate the rise of the Nazis, beginning with the emergence of the Völkisch and Naturalist movements which comprised various political, cultural and esoteric elements. These were not restricted only to Germany and were evident in other areas of Europe as part of a general shift in consciousness towards an intimate awareness of the relationship between Man and the natural world, with particular emphasis on the indigenous landscape. To some extent this was a reaction to the negative effects of materialism and industrial civilization, but it was also inspired by the revival of a magical vision of the universe which could only be recaptured through a more natural expression of life. The forces that motivated and its destructive culmination in history are of considerable interest to us, not simply as relics of the past but as a vital element that continues to inform any deeper awareness of life.
CH: One thing that immediately grabs my attention is the use of the Process symbol on both the CD and 7 inch–but the symbol is upside down. What is the significance of this?
RL: The symbol actually resembles the Process symbol by chance, significant as this might be. The design represents a fusion of four diagrams of the Volkswagen gear stick (the VW being the original Strength Through Joy automobile). This image is quite striking, and probably has some symbolic value. The complete design is also a Celtic symbol and the similarity to a swastika is no doubt another reason why it looks like the Process emblem.
CH: What concepts of the original Process Church most fascinate you and why?
RL: I have read some of the original Process material as an extension of my interest in Charles Manson. From what I can remember, the Church was seeking reconciliation of certain Satanic and Christian perspectives combined with a doctrine of Social Darwinism. There were also some pagan aspects to their vision. I tend to be generally averse towards any Christ-centered orientation, but I still quite admire what the Process was trying to do in the late sixties. Robert DeGrimston is an interesting figure, the type of person who personifies what he preaches in a bold and charismatic way.
CH: Douglas P. of Death In June both produced and played on “The Force of Truth and Lies”. How did you come to meet him and how did this collaboration take place?
RL: We met Douglas after having sent him some demo tapes from 1991 onwards. By an interesting coincidence, he had already spent some time in Adelaide, South Australia, where we eventually recorded our material.
CH: Obviously Strength Through Joy is influenced by Death in June. Why? What concepts does Death in June embody that the band identifies with?
RL: Death In June conveys a depth of musical and lyrical resonance that makes a strong impression on the listener. The themes which Douglas explores are also an integral part of this experience and express in a poetic but not inaccessible form the powerful and elusive aspects of reality which are missing from a lot of popular music.
CH: Are you involved with the occult?
RL: Timothy and myself are both interested in the magickal traditions of European paganism.
CH: A lot of material on “The Force of Truth and Lies” deals with the worthlessness of life, failure, and misanthropy. Why do these subjects fascinate you?
Timothy Jenn: I think it is a natural disposition I’ve always had. I can’t give a specific reason for this “fascination”. Simply by observing people and studying their history has led me to this position. The things you mention involve fundamental questions about existing. It may disturb some people when they discover that their life is ultimately worthless, but it can also be used, paradoxically, as an affirmation of life. Those who believe that their life is universally significant, perhaps because they think they are going to some heaven or other, usually constrict their actions in life to follow the requirements for entry. If one rejects this mode of living and accepts that life, in the abstract, is ultimately worthless because the universe and everything in it will eventually end completely, one can either say, “what’s the point in going on, then?” or take the position that, as the sum of all human activity will end in nothing, “personally it really doesn’t matter what I do”. But while life may be pointless, this is no reason not to enjoy it. Unfortunately, there are always people trying to stop the fun, and that can make existing in this futility a bit overbearing.
CH: The title track seems to imply that this world is living in the end times. Please elaborate.
RL: There is something positive to be found in the void if one has the will to embrace it as a potential source of power.
TJ: I don’t necessarily see it as a pre-apocalyptic vision of the world. It is more a portrayal of the struggle between essential truths and the misinformation promoted by social establishments. The backdrop is one of the inevitability that existence everywhere will cease. This fact is ignored by those who perpetuate the myth that all this is going somewhere. Most people don’t like to think in these terms. By keeping their lives in a progression of boxes until death, they need not think why they are actually living. Perhaps at most they believe they are doing their little bit in the progression of humanity. But they don’t really want someone telling them that no matter what humankind does, the sum of all human endeavor will count for naught.
CH: I would guess that you are not too fond of Christianity? Why? How has growing up in Dublin affected you personally?
RL: The problem with Christianity and the whole Judeo-Christian spirit is that it emerged as a foreign import into Western civilization and although it contributed significantly to the culture of Europe, it also destroyed much of its indigenous heritage in the same way as it was used against other cultures around the world. Of course, many native traditions were preserved in Christian forms, partly as a way of protecting them from dissolution. But the spiritual substance of life changed dramatically. By insisting on the sinfulness of life and encouraging resignation, Christianity bred a negative contempt for existence while at the same time promising salvation after death. This outlook could only frustrate the natural instincts of which, in their most spiritual expression, seek transcendence through the experience of this world. Thus, the Christian religion was destined to be trained with the hypocrisy with which we are so familiar, given the contradictions between its gospel of humility and the methods it needed to impose its unnatural ideology on the world. This is not to say that there have been no profound Christian achievements but the inherently negative characteristics of that religion are revealed in its general state of decrepitude in the contemporary world for which it is a totally inadequate faith.
TJ: Christianity is an inherently unnatural system of belief. It goes against every basic instinct of life. Maybe most irksome is that Man is brought above Nature because everything was put there by God to serve Man. Thus, partly through the mediation of Christianity, Man had distanced himself from Nature and I think we are seeing the consequences of that in the world today. Growing up in Dublin, it is difficult not to be aware of the history of the city. One is surrounded by historical landmarks all the time. Being aware of history makes one realize more readily one’s place in time, and the mechanizations of existence. Dublin is a city of culture, with many great artists from all fields emanating from it over the years. The closeness of their worlds has influenced me in some respects.
CH: What can be accomplished with the death of nature and culture?
TJ: The song you are referring to is written in the second person. We are not advocating all that is said here. It is a comment on the economic manifestations of society among other things.
CH: Do you follow the philosophy of the strong over the weak. And, if so, why?
RL: It is probably the principle that most clearly reflects reality. Obviously the reverse would be inconceivable. However, the distinctions between “strong” and “weak” need to be qualified. The possession of power does not necessarily suggest an inner strength and arbitrary force is not always a creative factor in the exercise of power. Strength implies wisdom as well as the willingness to act forcefully.
TJ: In any animal society, the survival of the strongest ensures the perpetuation of the species in its most adaptable form in its environment. As humankind, for the most part, has taken itself out of this process, the weaker members of the society are given an undue share of power which can only be wielded by those who seek to exploit their interests against the stronger adversary. The Christian ethos of embracing the meek and loving everybody has become akin to bathing a festering sore on the body. What’s more, these people have been given means to express their views. The weak are pandered to by reducing everything to the lowest common denominator for ease of understanding by those unwilling or unable to think for themselves. The cultures and societies of the world are demonstrating what happens when the weak are allowed some input.
CH: The song “The Blond Beast” seems to imply the Aryan Race. Do you think that any race of people is more intelligent than others?
RL: The “Blond Beast” is actually an idea conceived by Nietzsche and does not refer exclusively to the Aryan Race. It is an image of the lion and the unbridled forces of the wilderness which Nietzsche saw as the sources of the most creative cultures. It describes all conquering races who have imposed their will on the world, free of the civilizing constraints that debilitate and domesticate the “beast of prey”. Christianity and modernity were elements which Nietzsche felt contributed to the decline of life. The “Blond Beast” applies more to ancient than modern Man and while it has definite racial dimensions, it is also related to the idea of the Overman which Nietzsche associated more with an individual than a race. We are not particularly concerned with whether one race is more intelligent than another. What is more important is the existence of differences between races which are fundamental to the biodiversity of the planet. There are some scientists today who are trying to deny these differences as an argument against racism, but the conception of race cannot be restricted to an analysis of human genes. There are a host of other factors to consider like culture, environment, physical and spiritual characteristics.
CH: What does the song title “Rosin Dubh” mean?
TJ: “Rosin Dubh” is actually a misspelling to differentiate our song from a famous traditional Irish song, “Roisin Dubh”. This translates as “Little Black Rose”.
CH: Are you a religious person?
RL: If by religious you mean spiritual then the answer is yes, but I am not affiliated with any religious institution. I believe in other dimensions of reality beyond the immediate experience of the senses but these are transcendent or hidden aspects of this world rather than a paradise or netherworld reached only after physical death.
TJ: I am aware of the spirit in Nature and attempt to relate to it in my own terms. I don’t feel the need to join any organized religion to do this.
CH: Who are some of you musical influences?
RL: Our musical influences range from traditional folk and classical music to artists like NON, Current 93, David Sylvian, Joy Division, Bauhaus, and The Doors.
CH: Do you have any literary influences?
RL: I read a lot of European and some American literature. D.H. Lawrence, Celine, Burroughs, and Camus to name a few.
TJ: I have a particular fondness for old and contemporary Irish literature within a wider context of European writing.
CH: Would you call yourself a misanthropist? If so, why?
RL: Misanthropy is a reflection of the struggle of life through which the individual reacts against the lower, uglier qualities of humanity. The antagonism between Man and Humanity is a natural condition which is not exclusive to the attitude of a conscious misanthropist. It is one of the common features of life, a human trait which any misanthropist would have to consider in his endeavor to rise above humanity.
Originally published in the book “EsoTerra: The Journal of Extreme Culture”, published by Creation Books, 2011.