Elements and minerals are prominently audible on Engravings, the powerful second album from UK-based artist Forest Swords (aka Matt Barnes). Released on Tri Angle – his first release since 2010's Dagger Paths EP – it's an epic and anachronistic album that flits between the primordial, the medieval and the contemporary, with the lingering feel of solid but unseen things that form us and our environments. Likewise, the first track released from the record, "Thor's Stone", takes its name from the myth-inspiring monument in Barnes' home district The Wirral. Barnes even mixed the record outdoors, overlooking this geography.
As an extension of the themes explored on the record, the physical release of Engravings comes with a limited edition, 20-page A5 art and photography zine, collated and designed by Forest Swords specifically to accompany the release. Dazed Digital exclusively presents a gallery of these images here – some of which are found, some of which are of his own making. Like his album, the zine presents landscapes that invoke spectres of the past, tying us more firmly to our own physicality.
Dazed Digital: Were these images used to conjure the desired mood when you were recording the music for Engravings?
Forest Swords: Music for me is essentially design with sound and texture. A lot of the found imagery in the zine is stuff that I collated over the period I was recording, as well as images that I made that didn’t get used in the artwork. It all became one, the visuals reflecting the music and the music reflecting the visuals I had around me. To get the whole package right is super important to me. If I had to delay a record by six months to get the artwork right I totally would.
DD: Do you have a real fondness for physical print?
Forest Swords: I’m a magazine junkie. It’s a bit of a cliché, but now that media is becoming more digital, it’s even nicer to have those tangible objects. I also used to read a lot of punk zines when I was younger, and that really influenced my aesthetic when I began to design. So actually being able to make one to accompany a record is really exciting for me. I feel I’m contributing back into the culture that inspired me.
I really dislike looking at something and knowing what software’s been used to make it or which processes have gone into it. I like the ambiguity of not being tied down to any particular year or century
DD: Do any of those punk zines particularly stand out as having made a lasting impression on you?
Forest Swords: I used to pore over Fast Connection, which was done by a record label in Newcastle called Slam. I was fascinated with how it was put together and what it looked like.
DD: Which illustrators do you like?
Forest Swords: I’ve always been a huge fan of Peter Blake. He used a lot of collage and found imagery, but really managed to reflect the music, and it’s quite a skill to do that. As for current artists I really like Leif Podhajský. He’s very talented. He forged his own path and people have really responded to that.
DD: The images in the Engravings zine are collated from across the ages, to me it feels like your ideas merging with local history and carrying it forward.
Forest Swords: I would say that’s right. Musically I’m interested in soundtracks that are atemporal. I really dislike looking at something and knowing what software’s been used to make it or which processes have gone into it. I like the ambiguity of not being tied down to any particular year or century.
DD: I like that you added in fragments of quotes. Did you write them?
Forest Swords: Yeah. I really got into the idea of automatic writing whilst listening to the tracks. I like the organic, human aspects of that process.
DD: So with this zine does the Engravings package feel complete as a true, physical representation of the music?
Forest Swords: Definitely, and then there’s a new website I’ve made that’s coming out next week. It’s not that I’m a complete control freak, but the record was so personal to make that it felt right to do everything myself. The things that I handed over were all done by me, all part of that same package, so they have that same energy and vibration. I’m really pleased with how it all feels.
DD: Engravings is so warm and natural sounding, but also very clean. Are you careful not to overfill your compositions?
Forest Swords: It’s definitely something that I’ve become more aware of now I’m older. This record’s a lot more minimal than the first one, but conversely it’s a lot more powerful as I had the confidence to leave ideas exposed. At art school my teacher was always saying it’s just about the idea. Every other element can be taken away as long as you leave the bare bones of that idea.
DD: Did you name the album Engravings as it’s one of the simplest, purest art forms?
Forest Swords: I like the connotations of it being quite ancient and I’m just really into the idea of making something that has that weight to it. Also as a music fan I wanted to create a world that resonates with people and I think that the word “engravings” reflects that permanent aspect.
DD: Were you hoping that by producing a zine and so giving people a piece of artwork to hold, it would be a cue for them to step away from their screens when they listen?
Forest Swords: Definitely. It changes your focus. If you listen to something on Soundcloud, you’ll be clicking through different tabs, and it becomes background music whereas if you have a tangible product in front of you, then hopefully it inspires this onus to be an active listener rather than a passive one.
Engravings is released on August 26 on Tri Angle. Pre-order the LP and fanzine here.