Summon: How did the band get started?
Chris: I started studying at the University of Sheffield in 2006, and wanted to try and put together a band after spending some time at college in a couple of bands. I met our first drummer Daniel Loughran through the University Rock Society and we had a few jam sessions together at my hall of residence before our first keyboardist, Elliot Sinclair, wandered down to our practice room (having heard us practicing) and said he was interested in starting a band, and things developed from there!
Summon: What kind of music do you play?
Chris: I would describe our sound as ‘progressive folk metal’, with plenty of influence from black metal and other genres; we’re a very diverse band in terms of the kinds of music we listen to, and that’s reflected in our music. It’s very English-sounding, atmospheric folk metal with traditional instruments and melodies woven in.
Summon: How has the band response been?
Martin: Very positive! We’ve received a lot of very complimentary reviews including in British press such as Metal Hammer and Zero Tolerance and as we’ve been playing more of the UK the word seems to be spreading as we were able to play a fantastic set to a few hundred people at this year’s Bloodstock festival. Of course there are people that just aren’t in to what we are trying achieve but every show we’ve played there have been people completely into our sound that’s an amazing thing to see.
Summon: Where did the band name come from?
Chris: The name was suggested by our keyboardist, Elliot; it symbolizes perfectly both the area from which we draw a lot of influence (the north of England, and in particular the countryside in the north of England) and our love of nature, which is something that we all have. The oak tree is also a particularly English tree, and has been woven into many of the country’s myths and folk tales, so that part of the name emphasizes our interest in and appreciation of the folklore of our homeland.
Summon: Introduce the band members
Chris: I’m Chris Mole- I’m the guitarist and one of the main songwriters for Northern Oak. I’ve been playing guitar for about 9 years now, since I was in high school, and my playing takes influence from the guitarists I listened to when I was younger, notably Jimi Hendrix and David Gilmour, as well as guys like Bill Steer from Carcass.
Rich: Rich Allan, bassist. I’m influenced by the likes of Steve Harris and Bruce Foxton, bassists who can complement a song rather than stand at the back and play the root notes!
Chris: Our other members are Martin Collins who does vocals and is a budding poet on the side, Catie Williams who plays flute and is the most musical person I’ve ever met, Digby Brown who’s our new keyboardist and violinist, and Paul Whibberley who plays drums and is also in a salsa band with Catie.
Summon: Who writes the music? Lyrics?
Chris: Usually, the music is drafted by one member of the band and then brought into the practice room where it can be refined (and sometimes completely changed, if necessary) by the rest of the band; I wrote the basic structures for the majority of the songs on Monuments, but Catie and Rich also contributed some songs. A few of the songs on Monuments were also written by our keyboardist Elliot. All of the lyrics are written by our vocalist, Martin, although the rest of us occasionally suggest ideas or thoughts that we’ve had for the lyrics to him.
Summon: And where do the lyric ideas come from?
Martin: The lyrics are often a product of many influences, often whoever has written the song has an idea of what they want to the lyrics to be about, for example Arbor Low had been Catie’s title for the track before any words were written. Once an idea has taken shape I always research it to get more details and ideas, the lyrics for The Scarlet Woman are heavily influence by reading I did into Aleister Crowley and the book of revelations but I also find myself influenced by whatever is around or current at the time. In These Hills was influenced partly by the Dark Knight and Nivis Canto by Watchmen but I’d be surprised if anyone noticed…
Summon: How many albums/CD’s have you released?
Chris: Monuments is our second full-length album; we released our first album, Tales From Rivelin, in 2008. After Tales From Rivelin, we released two short EP’s (Into the Attic, 28th July 2009 and a self titled EP) which were simply live recordings of some material that we’d been working on for Monuments.
Summon: Tell me about some the songs on the latest CD?
Martin: My favorites to perform live are In These Hills and Arbor Low. The former because the song has such a dark sound that I feel I can really let loose with the vocals and the latter because the ending always feels intense when it cuts through a venue’s speakers.
Summon: Do you have any side projects?
Chris: I have a couple of projects outside of Northern Oak, yes- I started a parody grindcore/noise band with some friends from college which has continued to this day, called T.A.N.K- our most recent album was entitled Vaginal Faeces Implosion and was released in 2010. That said, T.A.N.K also does a variety of other styles of music- some of our other releases have included an orchestral soundtrack for a video game and a 70s blaxploitation funk EP.
Summon: Who are some of your musical influences?
Chris: Personally, I’ve been influenced by a pretty wide range of stuff; Pink Floyd and Jimi Hendrix when I was younger, Emperor, classic Opeth and Agalloch as I started getting into more extreme metal, as well as a range of classical music and video game soundtracks. I also listen to quite a lot of death metal and have been influenced by the absolute batshit craziness and atmosphere of bands like Nile. As a band, we’re all influenced by a lot of different things, and I think when we’re putting together Northern Oak songs each of those influences come into play- we know how a Northern Oak song should sound, which is like a hybrid of all our individual tastes.
Martin: My main sources of musical influences come from grindcore, industrial and the visual kei so influential vocalists for me would include JR Hayes, Jacob Bannon, Steve Austin and Kyo. I appreciate none of whom are linked to folk or black metal but I feel this helps me as I’m looking at the music from a different perspective rather than following the vocal and lyrical style of luminaries in the genre such as Agalloch.
Rich: Personally, I don’t listen to a lot of metal outside the band; the main bands listen to are either British post-hardcore bands such as Million Dead and Reuben, or alternative ones like Mclusky and Drive Like Jehu. That said though, I’ve been listening to a lot of dodgy 90s dance lately!
Summon: Which current bands?
Martin: It’s impossible to not be influenced by those bands we listen to and play shows alongside but our focus is upon creating our own sound rather than emulating others.
Summon: What is the band like when you play live?
Chris: We put a great deal of effort into trying to put on a big, exciting performance- heavy, fast and active. I personally hate it when I watch bands stand very still and stare at their instruments because they’re trying to play every note perfectly- I’d rather get some notes wrong because I’m head-banging and windmilling hard enough that my neck is sore for a week afterwards. We definitely jump around a lot on stage and try and engage the audience between songs.
Rich: Agreed. The best bands I’ve seen are the ones who put in 110% on stage and leave you thinking ‘what the fuck just happened?’ which is something I always endeavor to carry over to the stage, even though my bass takes a bit of a battering!
Summon: Do you have any type of stage props or special clothing?
Chris: We don’t currently have any stage props, but we do insist on wearing fine (sometimes Victorian) attire while performing- waistcoats, smart trousers, ties and cravats, and in some cases tailcoats and morning coats. Again, it’s just to make us stand out a bit from other bands where they come on stage in just jeans and a t-shirt- if that works for them, great, but we’d like to be seen as a band that puts in a bit more effort and dresses up for performances.
Summon: What was the best band you played with?
Chris: We’re great friends with a black metal band from Darlington called Old Corpse Road- we’ve played a lot of gigs together and they’re always great guys to hang out with. They also put on an excellent show every time.
Martin: From the UK scene I would also like to give shout outs to Evil Scarecrow, Andraste, Engines of Armageddon, The Prophecy and Eibon La Furies. All of whom we have either shared a bill with or will be touring with later this year and are all well worth your time.
Summon: Have you guys ever played in another country?
Chris: Does Scotland count? We traveled to Edinburgh to perform at a folk metal festival called Highland Fire Fest alongside Waylander, Ravenage and Annwn. Apart from that, we haven’t yet played abroad, but we’ve been looking at the possibility of doing some gigs outside of the UK.
Martin: Our first show outside of the UK is definitely something we’re setting ourselves as a challenge for next year!
Summon: How big of crowd shows up at shows usually?
Chris: It entirely depends on the event at which we’re playing and how well it’s advertised; when we did a launch gig for Monuments on December 10th, 2010 at a venue local to us, Sheffield Corporation, we had about 100 people through the door, which packed out the room in which we were playing. At Bloodstock Festival this year, while I don’t know the exact numbers, I think we had upwards of 300 people watching our set on the New Blood Stage on Sunday.
Summon: How is the crowd response when you play?
Chris: We generally receive a very favorable response- one review compared us to Eluveitie while on stage, but more energetic and exciting, which I think is pretty high praise. We’ve also had members of the crowd doing jigs while we perform, which is great fun and suggests that the crowd really enjoys what we’re doing, enough that they’re willing to look a bit silly!
Summon: What do you think of the US Black/Death Metal scene?
Martin: I have to say I’m more interested in the U.S. grindcore scene, bands such as Pig Destroyer, Agoraphobic Nosebleed, The Locust and Cephalic Carnage. Of the black/death bands from the US that I’ve heard Nachtmystium have stood out for me.
Summon: What do you think of the Overseas scenes?
Martin: Europe has always had a very vibrant metal scene, at the moment I have been listening to a lot of Negura Bunget but there have been great bands coming from the east as well. You should check out Chthonic who have been writing some brilliant black metal.
Summon: What are some of new favorite Black/Death Metal bands?
Chris: They’re not hugely new, but I’m really enjoying the latest release by Martriden, Encounter the Monolith- it’s a perfect fusion of black and death metal, and the concept just makes the album even stronger. Between the Buried and Me’s latest release, The Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogues is also excellent, even though I’ve never really listened to the band before.
Martin: To be honest I’ve always struggled with keeping up with what is ‘new’ at the moment but releases this year I can highly recommend are Chthonic’s Takasago Army, Dir en grey’s Dum Spiro Spero and Today Is The Day’s Pain Is A Warning.
Summon: When do you guys plan on writing any new material?
Chris: We’ve been working on new material since fairly soon after Monuments was released; at the moment, we’ve incorporated one new track into our live set, and we’ve got a couple of other songs currently in progress in the practice room. I don’t want to put any timetable on when we’ll have some new stuff recorded, but we have got some ideas for recordings that we’d like to do either at the end of this year or next year.
Martin: I’m with Chris in that I would much prefer to bring ‘Monuments’ to new audiences and allow the new material to be written at a more organic pace than force it to a deadline. We’d like to get some violins and clean backing vocals on the next album and that will require a lot of experimentation before we’re all happy with the sound.
Rich: Just to elaborate on what Martin said, we’re keen to vary the scope of our new songs; Monuments is an album we’re immensely proud of but we’re looking forward to introducing new elements such as additional instruments and three-part backing harmonies!
Summon: What does the future hold for the band??
Chris: Next month is a pretty big one for us- we’re embarking on a (currently) 5-date strong tour of the UK called The Great Exhibition, playing shows at Wakefield, Derby, Sheffield, Sunderland and London with our friends in Old Corpse Road, Eibon la Furies and The Prophecy. They’re all great bands, so it’ll be really cool to get out on tour with those guys and bring the line-up to a number of venues across the country. Beyond that, we’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from our performance at Bloodstock Open Air this year, so we’re just going to keep gigging and working on new material to keep building up our fan-base.
Contact them at: