Interview with Ethan Helfrich

A Conversation with Ethan Helfrich of Black Brunswicker

By: Jason Behrends

March 12, 2019

The sound that I wanted in my head was "warped and degraded folk recordings from the 60s that were chopped up into tape loops."

The Deli (TD): Your latest project, In the Age of Aristocracy,  was released under the name Black Brunswicker? Is this project related to or inspired by the painting of the same name or the military unit?
Ethan Helfrich (EH): Yeah, I've been wanting to put something out under this name for a while. The name itself comes from both the military unit and the painting. I'm a bit of a history nerd and have been fascinated with the Napoleonic Age. The Black Brunswickers were a military unit originally based out of Bohemia during the Napoleonic Wars that formed to fight off Napoleon's occupation of the German states. They gained a solid reputation as vicious fighters. I think it's that fierce image of the Black Brunswickers that makes John Everett Millais' painting so effective in how it displays that through the tough exterior, there's a softer side.

TD: Do you view these songs or the recording process differently than your work as Rest You Sleeping Giant?
EH: So I've been wanting to do something different from RYSG for a while now. When I started putting music out as RYSG around 4 years ago now, I was in a different place and space. Musically, I've drifted a bit and have started writing and playing acoustic more. I've been listening to a lot of John Fahey and have been experimenting with open tunings more. "In the Age of Aristocracy" was all composed using acoustic guitar recorded into a tape machine. Many of these tapes I took and turned into tape loops and manipulated using effect pedals and added more acoustic layers. The sound that I wanted in my head was "warped and degraded folk recordings from the 60s that were chopped up into tape loops."
It's a bit of a different process than RYSG music and feels more analog to me. I'm happy that I'm using a computer a lot less with this project. I work on computers all day and am happy to just play guitar and not have to mess with a bunch of overly complicated programs to record and edit my music to get it to sound the way I want it to sound.

TD: I love that you set the scene with these songs with your cover art, song titles, and liner notes. Do you feel it is important for the listen to have those images in mind when listening?
EH: All of the music was inspired by my travels through the Czech Republic this past December. I want this record to give listeners images of the kinds of scenery that I encountered while traveling - rustic countrysides, sleepy old towns, and pastel colored buildings. My trip to the Czech Republic was magical and life altering in some ways, so I wanted to convey that through the music. I think music can tell a story even without lyrics, which is my goal with this record - to tell a story. I hope the music can transport the listener off into a world that feels slightly different, but warm and welcoming.

TD: Ambient and Drone music seems to be enjoying a renaissance of sorts lately, especially in and around Chicago. Do you feel the same and how do you see yourself and your music in the context of the larger scene?
EH: To tell you the truth, I don't really know what all is going on within the Chicago music scene. After I finished grad school at IU Bloomington last May, I moved up to Evanston, and haven't had much of a chance to explore the musical landscape in Chicago. I tend to be a bit of a homebody and keep to myself, so I'm not super connected with the greater music community. I do have some connections with other ambient and drone folks, but the scene is small and scattered around, but it is nice to connect with others who enjoy and make this type of music.

TD: This new album was released through Stereoscenic Records out of Cleveland. How did you get connected with them and was that an overall positive experience?
EH: I met Andrew from Stereoscenic over the summer I think. I've been a fan of the music he's been put out through the label and it just so happened to work out that he had an opening on his release calendar and was into my music. He's been great to work with and has been really supportive.

TD: What is next for Black Brunswicker and/or Rest You Sleeping Giant?
EH: I've got another RYSG album coming out in November on Flag Day Recordings, which will probably be my last for a while. As for Black Brunswicker, we'll see - I'm currently writing more music. I'm trying to do more with my tape machines and acoustic guitar, so who knows what I'll do next. Maybe a fingerstyle acoustic record. We'll see.