Children of The Atom Bomb – An Interview with Mat “Kvohst” McNerney of Beastmilk
Originally published in Ghost Cult Issue 18 – June 2014
Sat in the somewhat rustic confines of Manchester’s Star And Garter Pub, the venue in which the gentlemen known to many as Kvohst, English frontman of Finnish Post Punks Beastmilk is in fine fettle. After serenading us with an amusing version of Manowar’s “Battle Hyms” during soundcheck we grab a corner by the bands rider to discuss ritual magic, travel and formation of this dynamic outfit which released one of last year’s most exciting albums in “Climax”.
“We were in the middle of a really bad winter and Goatspeed and I were drinking in a bar and taking about depression. We were either going to kill someone or kill ourselves!” Exclaims McNerney with little hint of irony. “Out of that state we managed to create something cathartic where the music became a channel for that depression. Once you get that feeling and you stare into the void and the void stares back through you it really touches you. I think a lot of music from that era (early 80s post punk) was very political. It was that dark period in Britain when we had that really difficult era socially and economically. Globally there was a lot of apocalyptic themes like the threat of nuclear war. We sing about the apocalypse now in a similar way but the themes have changed. I think you can draw some parallels with some Joy Division stuff but we were just recreating our environment. People mention Joy Division but if they listen to our music it isn’t really like that. A lot of it is the reverb and the sad themes we use. It’s more relatable than say, Black Metal where you have to be in a very particular headspace to get it. I feel that Beastmilk has much more in kinship with Misfits and Dead Kennedys and the old punk scene. I think people get that when they see us live. It has the “Deathrock” vibe but the indie version of what people have done with Joy Division is so far away from what we do. We are not afraid to use dark humour in the way The Smiths did too.”
Certainly when it comes to attitude and philosophy Beastmilk are unafraid to gaze into the nether like the punks did while approaching it from a more contemporary angle. “Our songs are mainly looking at current themes but you can always see the touch points in history where things come from. Our parents’ generation had the cold war and the Cuban missile crisis, events which threatened our existence. That generation had a huge wake up call. When people ask me how the world is going to end I can tell you it won’t be because of any one thing. You should realise it has already ended. You realise if you read a lot that this has already happened. Hiroshima and Chernobyl, we will never clean that up.”
Charming and softly spoken but also extremely articulate, McNerney is certainly not one of one word answers punctuated by the odd swear word. Patiently explains the origin and significance of his Kvohst alias. “It is a spirit name which is my true name. The name you are given at birth isn’t your real name, you must find and discover your own name which is unique to you. It is also important for me to have this costume you can put on ceremonially when you do music to channel something greater than yourself. It is beyond you, were you grew up and the things Christian society has given to you. It came to me in a dream I had and when I looked it up it was closely related to the word “tail” in Russian which is very fitting for me as I am doing various different projects and I have always floated around never staying in the same scene doing lots of different things.”
As lynchpin of mystical Neo Folk act Hexvessel and former mouthpiece of Avant Garde Black Metallers Dødheimsgard and
McNerney has never been afraid to experiment and “float around”. “Creatively speaking I always want to be pushing boundaries. I am not sure if all my work shares the same ideology but I am always looking to break the reality tunnels that Robert Anton Wilson talks about. Your reality tunnel can trap you so you have to break it down and see things in a different way. If people have been following what I did in other bands I think what we did with
and Dødheimsgard were fairly revolutionary and influenced a lot of Black Metal bands to use different vocal arrangements. I have always wanted to make sure what I do is true and real and from the heart. I talk about costumes and the ceremony of performance but that is more how I portray things to the audience. Sometimes you have to use an artifice to make people dream and in that way they can come to an awakening. It goes back to the hippie culture of trying to expand your mind.”
McNerney’s fascination with free thinkers like infamous occultist Alastair Crowley and self-styled “Agnostic mystic” Robert Anton Wilson is well documented. Clearly better informed than most when it comes to literature it was interesting to hear his take on the so called “occult rock” movement but make no mistake McNerney has no time for the fakers. “I think it’s great. Everyone knows who is genuine and who is mucking around with it. I don’t connect the writing (of Crowley) with a lot those bands but I think there are many bands who make me think of Alastair Crowley without using his image or anything to do with him. You don’t need to put a picture of him on your album to give credit and respect to him or William Blake. A lot of people have tried to cash in on those works. I think the way we did things with Hexvessel was more interesting than if we had just plastered his name all over our stuff. There are too many people who name drop him. I go to record stores and pick up an album with his picture on expecting something but often I find these guys are messing around.”
Ritual Magick has clearly informed Kvohst’s worldview. “I think it’s more about crafting your own world. For me I needed to break out of the world that was given to me, I needed to destroy it and build a new world of my own. I looked back on my past life and the way I grew up there were lots of things I thought I had destroyed which I had brought with me. I had a very Catholic, Christian upbringing in London. I was a product of my environment and I had to find out what matters in life. I think working in an occult way you can utilise that (ritual magic). Ritual is a good term of it because it is a way to improve your everyday life. We used to go into the forest and pick berries but we always left some behind. The idea is if you take something from the forest you should give something back. You take your harvest then offer some back to the spirits. In a way these things seem mundane but if you think about what real magic or mysticism really is it is about survival.”
McNerney has a history of changing his environment having emigrated from England to The Netherlands then Norway and finally (at least for now) residing in Finland.
“It seems very apparent that when you travel around you meet a lot of people that don’t get out of their own bubble. People seem to be stuck in a rut and reluctant to move out of their comfort zone but really it is just a mental prison. Anyone can go anywhere or do anything they want it does enrich you. I would have never been able to do what I am doing in London. It’s a shame that the opportunities for creative people are so small. I respect people who can do that and not have to move. I think if I was in London now I would be ok but at the time I needed to get out.”
“Climax” has seen Beastmilk touring far and wide picking up unexpected celebrity fans. “HIM took us out for a couple of dates playing big venues but it’s maybe not the right kind of crowd for us. Ville (Valo) was so supportive and great to us. He is known in Finland for supporting recording studios. He got a fund together to keep the recording studio that we did our demo at from going under. There comes a time however where we have to do things on our own and not be under the wings of a HIM or a Ghost. I really hate playing bigger venues where you lose the intimacy. I hope we can evolve and grow the way bands like Current 93 have, playing venues to their crowd on their terms.”