LA-based transgressive darkwave duo Night Tongue features Australian expats Carisa Bianco Mellado and Andrew Dalziell creating a dark, mythic world of sex, death, horror and ecstasy.
On their latest EP 'Achelous + Melpomene', Night Tongue delve into Greek mythology with their version of the union of Achelous – an oceanic underworld god – and Melpomene – the Muse of Chorus who became the Muse of Tragedy.
From their union it is said the Sirens were created, creatures who lured sailors with their enchanting voices only to be shipwrecked on the rocks.
Carisa and Andrew are in Australia this December for a short run of dates, which will be their first live shows here ever, and we catch up with Carisa an Andrew for a chat about all things Night Tongue.
How did you and Andrew come to work together in Night Tongue?
[Carisa] We met when Andrew came out to LA on a tour for his solo project Concrete Veil and we immediately connected as aesthetic comrades. We had a really similar style and tastes, and we both immediately became huge fans of each other’s projects. We talked about working together in the future, as even then Andrew was considering moving to LA. When he did move to LA permanently a couple of years later, he actually become the cellist in my solo band.
[Andrew] The projects we worked on together started to increase. Carisa played bass and sang in Matt Nicholson’s Function Ensemble while I played drums and cello. We also both took part in Eric Erlanson’s (Hole guitarist) 25th anniversary classical rendition of Hole’s 'Pretty On the Inside', where I played cello and Carisa sang. It became really apparent that we made a really perfect fit as a musical team, so we decided it would be fun to have a jam. From the very first time we jammed together, everything we played became a song.
[Carisa] Yeah, and it was like a song we’d always wanted to play but the other person perfectly completed it, so it was obvious we needed to work together. That was a couple of years ago and everything has just grown from there. We still can’t casually jam without everything becoming an instant finished song.
What sort of personal experiences and history informs and influences the work you produce as Night Tongue?
[Carisa] I worked for many years as a tarot reader and Reiki master, and I taught mythology as well, so everything we do is infused with mythological and spiritual symbolism. But I’ve also had many traumatic experiences through my life, including physical and sexual violence, and being a recovered heroin addict. I think we both take our experiences and look for transcendence. There’s horror and beauty for all of us in life and I think when you look at things mythically, we all go through the same deaths, sacrifices, rebirths, moments of courage, moments of surrender and moments of triumph. I look for ways to see the cycles of human challenge, human creation and human experience with rites of passage from birth to death, and see how we are all fundamentally connected and the same at the core. I think we both look at ways to see our personal experiences in a mythic way so that at their core they’re an expression of human cycles and human experiences as art.
Your EP 'Achelous + Melpomene' was released in February; have you been happy with the response to the record?
[Carisa] Yeah, there have been some very kind words said and it’s also been really nice to play it around the world in different places. It was especially beautiful to play it in Italy because that’s where the mythology for the EP is set.
In various mythology, Achelous is said to have fathered the Sirens with Melpomene; how have you adapted this story into song?
The story of Acheclous and Melpomene is set in Southern Italy; we were out there in Naples and found the only Temple Of The Sirens on Earth, in Sorrento. My mum (Carisa) is from Naples and I lived there for a couple of fairly influential years of my life; it is the weirdest place in the world in my opinion. It has beauty that is totally indescribable and your senses come totally alive there in a way I can’t explain. But it also has this ancient, sometimes devastated, vibe there with places and buildings that are thousands of years old and still in tact. The volcano Vesuvius hovers over Naples while the ruins of Pompeii, a city destroyed by the volcano over 2000 years ago, still stands untouched at its feet. There are buildings still devastated from the world wars with families living in them. Music, food, talking, beautiful smells and people fill the space so intensely, with so much emotion and passion that you can’t help but be moved and overwhelmed. It’s a wild place that seems to represent all the beauty and tragedy of being, of life and death. Naples has always haunted me and when we were there we both felt it.
So upon further investigation of the sirens, we found that they were fathered by the beautiful serpentine or ox-shaped ancient underworld oceanic God who is best known as producing the original cornucopia when he was defeated by Heracles, or Hercules as he is better known. The cornucopia, the ultimate symbol of abundance, came out of this defeat - which just reminds us of the Joseph Campbell saying 'Where you fall, there your treasure lies,' - and we found that his union with Melpomene, the muse of tragedy, mothered some of the Sirens. In Greek mythology, tragedy is that experience of realizing that all ends but it is in perfect connection with Comedy, which tells us that all is eternal. So the muse of Tragedy is also the voice of the Chorus in Greek myths that tell the heartbreaking truth at the centre of a piece or reveals the great revelation. It’s 'the burden of the breath' in the song. Her name actually means ‘to sing’ or ‘the one that is melodious.’ The chorus of the song says 'leave me alive, tear me awake, take. Caught on fire, I’m your prey, slain,' but this is more the voice of the nature of tragedy inside us, of which the sirens sing, calling out to the Gods or God. If we were able to complete the circuit and get to the Comedy part, we’d remember that everything is eternal in essence, even though form might change. But that leads us to the end of form and we get back to tragedy. Two halves of the whole; beautiful, sweet and sad as well.
Is their union treated as a love story?
Their union is definitely treated as a love story. That’s pretty much how it plays out in song one and two and then the Sirens are born in song three, which is called 'Heiros Gamos', which in Greek refers to divine marriage. In most mythological contexts, the ocean represents the unconscious, the collective, feeling and emotion. So how beautiful for that essence to connect with the one who sings the Chorus Of Tragedy and together birth the Sirens.
In your treatment, are the Sirens portrayed as villians as they have become known in literature?
No, they’re treated in the way they’re represented in many early depictions. In some stories they’re Persephone, Queen of the Underworld’s handmaidens. They guide people into the afterlife. But generally they’re depicted as singing a song so utterly beautiful, sweet and devastating that you can become overwhelmed as it lures you to your death. They’ve been called the muses of the lower world because it isn’t the Sirens themselves that are necessarily trying to hurt you - it's that they express the nature and beauty of the soul, of life and death so completely that it has the power to devastate.
Night Tongue also compose music for film and TV; where else can people hear your work?
We offer film composition for a variety of filmmakers and our music appears in mostly festival short films at this stage but we have an Italian feature that is still in production called ‘You As Me’, which should be out by 2020 at the latest.
You also perform 'sound baths'; can you tell us what that is and what they're used for?
Sound baths are basically an experience you can have where you go to a big yoga studio type of place and lie on a yoga mat with blankets and pillows while a musician or musicians play very deliberate, high-frequency healing music for about an hour and a half. Crystal bowls and things like this often get used. We kind of do the dark version of this: we do Shadow Healing sound baths. So basically people lie down and we go through the scale but instead of using predominantly major notes which would uplift a person and calm them, we use mostly minor notes which awaken and shift the emotions. It also gives people a space to grieve or feel anger and emotions in general in a safe healing space and then as the session continues the music shifts so that healing can happen, especially self-acceptance and peace. We use cello and synth, and I specifically sing the mantras of the chakras and other healing mantras. So yeah, its a weird thing we like to do sometimes at a really big, beautiful healing centre in LA called Liberate Hollywood.
There is a big visual element to your shows, what will that be like on the Australian tour?
We’re lugging lights, a projector and screen, and a fog machine with us on this tour so we have the accompanying visual element. It’s pretty essential to our show because we have very dark, transgressive and mythic imagery for what we do. Some of it can be a bit disturbing or intense for some people but it’s part of what we do.
Your upcoming Australian tour will be your first time back home in seven years. What have you missed most about Australia?
[Carisa] To be honest, I was only in Australia for ten days for a funeral seven years ago, so it’s actually closer to ine years since I’ve made it home, and I have missed the heck out of it. I’ve missed the beaches there, how there’s a beautiful feeling of light and space. I’ve very much missed family and friends, some of whom I’ve thankfully been able to see when they’ve visited me in LA. I often listen to Australian music and just missed the food in Melbourne, going for a drive by the ocean, swimming in Brighton beach in Melbourne, seeing black swans at night. I can’t wait to set foot there and smell the air, crazy as that might sound.
[Andrew] I’ve been living in LA for two and a half years and I actually got to go home last June for ten days, which was awesome. I really can’t wait to see friends and family and have a decent coffee! I am really looking forward to playing shows at some of my favourite venues and hearing some great music.
What's the first thing you'll do when you get back home to Melbourne?
[Carisa] It’s my brother’s birthday, so we’re going out for a fun, delicious Melbourne dinner for it with his daughter, my niece. I’ll see my best friend Nadia, who I miss all the the time, and my dear friend Frances, which will be amazing! We head to Canberra first though, which is where Andrew is from originally before he moved to Melbourne twelve years ago. So we get to see his family and I get to see where he’s from, which I’m excited about.
[Andrew] We get to Canberra first, which is my hometown, and the first thing we do is play a show that night!
Plans for 2019?
[Carisa] We just finished recording an album which we will be released next year. We are making plans for European shows right now and we’re hoping to return to Australia again after that.
Night Tongue Tour 2018Wed 5 Dec - The Phoenix (Canberra)
Sat 8 Dec - The Bearded Lady (Brisbane)
Fri 14 Dec - The Gaelic Club (Sydney)
Sun 16 Dec - The Tote (Melbourne)
Thu 20 Dec - The Old Bar (Melbourne)