Epic, atmospheric doom metal is the music that usually reaches me the most emotionally. So it should come as no surprise that Thy Listless Heart strike a chord with me with Pilgrims On The Path Of No Return. I am therefore particularly pleased to present to you today an interview with Simon Bibby, the creative force behind this one-man project.
André: Simon, thank you for taking the time to talk to us. How are you doing? And which album did you listen to before you began this interview?
Simon: Hi André! Firstly, let me just say a big thanks for showing interest in my little project. I’m good thanks – as ever, I’m trying to juggle ‘real’ life such as work and family as well as finding the time for great opportunities like this interview! The last album I actually listened to was Monasterium – Cold are the Graves. The vinyl arrived recently and so I had to give it a spin. To be honest I often go quite a long time without listening to any music because life is always so busy. I like to give my undivided attention to an album if at all possible and if I can’t then I’ll wait until I can.
André: To start with, please tell our readers how long Thy Listless Heart has been around and why you created this project?
Simon: The idea of creating a solo project has been rattling around at the back of my mind for quite some time – I always felt I had it in me. However, it was a culmination of a global pandemic and my fast approach to 50 years old that made me turn a good idea into a reality. Thy Listless Heart started to properly take shape around three and a half years ago. I finished writing and recording in January of this year and then spent a week with Greg Chandler mixing and mastering before sending it out to labels in the hope of finding a sympathetic ear. Why did I do it? Well, in some ways it was a gift to myself, almost a bucket list type of thing. A chance to create something that was a true representation of who I am. A chance to express myself fully. Getting it released was an afterthought.
André: Let’s move on to your debut album, which was released on November 18th. What immediately catches the eye is the wonderful artwork. Can you please tell our readers a little bit about it?
Simon: I love it when artwork can encapsulate an album. That’s what I wanted for Pilgrims… and so I spent a lot of time looking for the right image. Mariusz Lewandowski’s art has that transcendent quality that I sought to create musically and so I knew when I saw it that it would fit perfectly. It’s suggestive of so many of the lyrical themes on the album: the fading of the light, journey, searching, sorrow, our fragility. I was very sorry to hear that he’d passed away in July this year – the world is a less brilliant place without him.
André: I particularly like the poetic title Pilgrims On The Path Of No Return. Was there actually first this incredibly powerful title and then the rest of the lyrics, which more or less developed around it?
Simon: The title of the first song is “As the Light Fades“ – ‘Pilgrims On The Path Of No Return’ is a line taken from that song. No, unfortunately the title didn’t come first to help give birth to the rest. I seem to remember the title coming nearer to the end of the writing stage actually. I chose it as the album title because, like the artwork I felt it really summed up the entirety of the seven songs in just a few words……and it sounds cool!
André: Which songs actually were written first?
Simon: This will probably sound weird but it’s a bit of a blur – I don’t just mean the order in which I wrote the songs but the entire process. Maybe it’s because I skipped from one song to another, gradually building them bit by bit: write – record – adjust – record again – throw away – cry etc etc. I think “The Precipice“ probably started the ball rolling.
André: Simon, I won’t beat around the bush: your album grabbed me emotionally right away and reminded me of great older and younger classics in the epic doom genre. When you were writing the songs, did you realise that you were about to create something really huge that would enrich the lives of many people?
Simon: Thanks so much André – that’s a massive compliment! When you create something so personal you always hope that others will be able to connect with it in a meaningful way, but in truth I honestly didn’t give it a lot of thought. My focus was to pour as much emotion and atmosphere as possible into the songs and recordings. As a bit of context, I feel it necessary to say that I have dealt with pain, suffering, sorrow, loss and regret through my working life. I have worked with people in crisis for the last 30 years – people who see no way forward, people who are desperate. I am also an adoptive parent and foster carer. As such, I am no stranger to big, powerful and heart wrenching emotions. Perhaps I have stored some of these up over the years only to find a way to release them through the medium of Thy Listless Heart. I suppose the fact that people are connecting with the album on an emotional level shouldn’t be a surprise – after all, we all bear our scars.
André: You manage to create a very sublime, sometimes sacral atmosphere. The first listen to “The Precipice“ was an almost transcendental experience. I know something like that from old Candlemass, Atlantean Kodex and Dautha, for example. Regarding Thy Listless Heart, which bands would you say are your major influences?
Simon: Thank you once again! I’m 51 years old. The mid to late 80’s were a time of discovery for me. The two albums that really stand out from this time and that had a major impact on me were Candlemass – Nightfall and Trouble – Run to the Light. These albums were my introduction to doom and I was obsessed with them. So much so that I took my vinyl copy of Nightfall into school with me and talked about the art and lyrical themes for my English oral exam! There are many other bands that have been influential but special mention should go to Anathema. I have found them to have an incredible ability to carry beauty and emotion through all of their different phases. And I’m ashamed to admit that Dautha are a very recent discovery for me. Suffice to say that I’m in love with their music and I took delivery of Brethren of the Black Soil on vinyl a couple of days ago!!
André: I’m not a religious person, but visiting cathedrals or magnificent churches doesn’t leave me cold. At the Hammer of Doom, I visited the Würzburg Cathedral with my Epic Metal Blog colleague Aidan to get in the mood for the second day of the festival. What about you? Can visiting such special places also inspire you or at least put you in a mood that enables you to write larger-than-life anthems such as Yearning?
Simon: It’s funny that you mention religion – I grew up in a devoutly Christian family and was myself devout in faith for many years. I no longer subscribe to any religious faith but perhaps that time has left its mark upon me. Beauty and wander, whether it be in the form of a building or nature or a person is always inspiring. Much to my family’s annoyance I love to stroll aimlessly around grand buildings and picturesque spots in order to soak up the atmosphere…. and take photos (you can see this from my Instagram posts!). Does it inspire me to write epic anthems? Well, it’s certainly an ingredient in the overall recipe!
André: Do you also plan to perform live in the future? Or is Thy Listless Heart a pure studio project? I would be very happy to enjoy your songs live.
Simon: This is becoming a fairly common question…. In another lifetime, another version of myself would say yes – absolutely. But in reality, my time and energy are never sufficiently in supply. So, for now, Thy Listless Heart is a studio project. I’m not categorically saying never – just not in the immediate future.
André: Now I have just mentioned the Hammer of Doom, which is without a doubt one of my favourite festivals. Which festivals do you like the most? Where is your favourite place to be as a fan?
Simon: If I could choose a festival to attend it would be Hammer of Doom! Metal festivals in general are largely where you find yourself surrounded by ‘your people’ – I think Hammer of Doom would be the epitome of that for me so hopefully one day!! Having said that, I’m not a massive festival goer. Being able to find the time and money tends to be problematic, especially when so many of the best festivals seem to be outside of the UK. Bloodstock Festival is somewhere that I’ve attended several times, but not just to enjoy bands performing and hang out with friends. I also volunteer as a member of the ‘Welfare Team’ whose purpose is to offer a safe place and friendly word to those who may be struggling with anything ranging from anxiety to the after effects of enjoying a few too many beers!!
André: The year is coming to an end, so you can already look back a little: Which albums from 2022 did you particularly like?
Simon: I’m sure I will have a more limited list than many – I buy albums, but it can be months before I actually listen to them. I also know I am way behind on my ‘must check this album out’ list! But here’s a few…..
Arð – Take Up My Bones. This album was particularly important for me not just musically but also as an inspiration to myself as a solo project. I love what Mark has created and I look forward to what he has up his sleeve for the future.
Darkher – The Buried Storm. This is not in any way epic metal, but as I’ve already stated, I’m drawn to atmosphere and few do it as well as Darkher. A truly otherworldly album.
Darkest Era – Wither on the Vine
Shape of Despair – Return to the Void
Morgul Blade – Fell Sorcery Abounds (2021)
Enchantment – Cold Soul Embrace
Pantheist – Closer to God
HelėH – HelėH
Ash of Ashes – Traces
TodoMal – Ultracrepidarian
Crippled Black Phoenix – Banefyre
Also, I know it was released in 2021, like Morgul Blade, but I have to mention Wheel – Preserved in Time, too.
André: Last question: In the last few weeks there have been some shocking reports on my Facebook page about women who are regularly sexually harassed at metal shows. Aidan and I experienced it ourselves on Saturday when a woman was severely insulted in a sexist way. Do you also have the impression that this topic is still played down by too many men? And have you yourself experienced situations at festivals or concerts where men have harassed women?
Simon: One of the things that attracted me to your blog is the fact that you speak out on important matters and that you promote a safe and inclusive space for people to enjoy and share the music that they love. It saddens me that in these so called ‘enlightened’ times we still have to grapple with issues of sexism, racism, homophobia etc. I know all too well the depravity, hatred and intolerance of some in society – I work within that world on a daily basis. Is it still played down and minimised by too many men? Yes, I believe so. As long as there are women (or indeed anyone with a perceived ‘difference’) who feel vulnerable and, in some way, ‘at risk’ at gigs and festivals then there is work to be done and a need for people to speak up. Keep up the good work gentlemen!
André: Simon, thank you very much for your words – we are extremely pleased when readers appreciate our activities in this area as well. Thank you for this very interesting interview – and I would like to take this opportunity to wish you a happy end to the year and all the best for the coming year!