With an undeniable penchant for darkness, Season of Mist has a keen eye for unique musical gems scattered across the world. Further diversifying an already extensively varied label is Hungarian dark folk act The Devil’s Trade, the solo project from longtime metal artist David Mako. Having first made his name with various metal bands including Stereochrist and HAW, Mako has embraced his folk-leaning roots and dedicated his time to growing his solo project. His first release on the label, “The Call of the Iron Peak” sees raw vulnerability play out across an isolated guitar and banjo, coupled with Mako’s imploring voice to give listeners a look directly into the artist’s soul.
“The Call of the Iron Peak” is the second album released under the name of The Devil’s Trade, and it sees the project expand to include traditional folk melodies alongside Mako’s personal life narrative. Using music as an expressive outlet for his own journey and connection to the roots of both nature and himself, Mako has prepared an album which uses stripped-down melodies to convey a sense of introspection alongside soulful expression. Meshing the resounding tones of a guitar alongside that of a banjo to create unique intonations that are both distant and close to the doom framework which gave Mako his musical experience, The Devil’s Trade presents “The Call of the Iron Peak” as a window into the soul as well as the quiet side of an even-present natural world.
Sonic Perspectives contributor Samantha Buckman spoke with David Mako on his journey from metal artist to his full embrace of The Devil’s Trade, as well as the inspiration behind a number of tracks on “The Call of the Iron Peak.” Read the transcript for their conversation below, and remember that for more interviews and other daily content, make sure to follow Sonic Perspectives on Facebook, Flipboard and Twitter and subscribe to our YouTube channel to be notified about what we publish on a daily basis.
From what I understand your musical career really got started in metal – you’ve got doom metal and sludge metal. So how did you make the switch from that to a folk project?
It can sound difficult from the outside of my world, but these two different kinds of music styles were always present in my life, especially with the Hungarian folk music that we all study or learn in primary school. So it’s kind of like a part of our culture. It usually happens that young people get far from their folklore, and it happened to me as well. Later on when I met the band called 16 Horsepower, I don’t remember the exact the title of the album, but the song was called “Outlaw Song.” I was into sludge and doom metal back then, but I was searching for darker music genres too, so that is how I found 16 Horsepower. I was reading through the booklet and I found that it’s originally a Hungarian folk song. It’s a nice story to find Hungarian roots in Americana. So I restarted to study Hungarian folklore because of 16 Horsepower.
How long did that take you from that first discovery to create The Devil’s Trade?
It was a very long, long way because it was 2004 when I got into a bigger Hungarian band called Stereochrist. The Devil’s Trade was started in 2014. So it was a very long and rocky road for me to find my own voice and find my system to write music alone. Although the first song I wrote was when I was 18 years old and I actually recorded it on my first album as The Devil’s Trade. But it was a very long road from screaming and shouting in metal bands to this kind of laid-back version of my music.
Which skills transferred between the genres and what did you have to relearn?
I think the hardest part was to get far from all these obligated techniques that you are meant to use when you are a metal singer, those poses, and how you talk and how you behave on stage. I found out that I was more into artists like Nick Cave than all of these iconic metal singers. It was quite a shock because I learned that I try to fulfill an ideal picture that people are searching for when they’re listening to metal and these genres like sludge and doom. And I found that it’s not really comfortable for me, but it’s a tricky situation because back then I was a hard drinker and drug user. So first I had to get clear of all these things, these addictions, to realize how far I am from the picture I wanted to be. So when I got clear, it became obvious that this is not my path. I even stopped playing music for a year, I even stopped listening to music for a year. I thought that I probably quit music altogether. But it was all about my friends; they wanted me to get back to play music with them and it helped me start to find my own voice. When you get far from alcohol and drugs, it’s like you’re facing another reality that you have to get used to, then you have to be able to walk in it and be ready to fit the system which you were trying to avoid so much by using drugs and alcohol.
How does The Devil’s Trade help reflect this journey that you’ve gone through and how does this solo project capture reality as you see it?
It happened that I had a bunch of songs unrecorded and they were not fitting into any rock music or metal bands that I was in. They were just, as we say, just hiding on the shelf. So when I met my friends, I showed them these songs and they kind of forced me to record them. That was the moment when I thought that, okay, if I recorded them I probably should post them on Facebook, or I think it was MySpace back then. The way I play music and the way I write the vocals and the way I sing is totally unconscious when in the writing process. So when I start to write a song it is kind of an out of body experience for me. So when I am done I switch back to my conscious and I look back on the item I created and it’s always a very surprising things. I found out that all of these things coming out of me through my music are these things I don’t want to face, or I don’t know how to face them.
So The Devil’s Trade became my therapy I think, besides martial arts which is the other side of my life, this is the only way I can stay mentally healthy. This is what The Devil’s Trade became It’s not a musical project for me, it just became a musical project when I first was invited to a European tour by a band called Crippled Black Phoenix. That was the moment when I started to think about it as a serious music project. And that was the moment when I thought that maybe I should reconsider being a musician again.
Given how personal his project is to you, what are the primary feelings and takeaways you want your listeners to have from your music?
It’s really hard to say for me because I don’t think about people listening to my music when I play it or when I write it. I don’t know how it works for other people when they listen to my music. I think it may help if they are up to focusing their inner fears, the things they are afraid of and their weaknesses, and if they can be honestly open to what they listen to or read or watch. If it’s a movie, a painting, or whatever other artistic things. I think this openhearted version of theirs is needed to get close to my music, otherwise they just listen to a song and it sounds very basic. It’s not complicated, technical music. There are not many notes in it and there are no tricky things to play. Technically it’s not heavy music, it’s emotionally heavy. You have to be openhearted to get close to these kinds of music.
I don’t want to be a great guitar player. I’m just really bored of guitar heroes, but there are only a handful of artists in the music scene, especially in the metal scene or hardcore scene that nowadays who are focusing on their emotions, not on the tricks that can make them famous or more liked.
While this project is definitely more focused on that emotional side, I am interested in the fact that you use guitars and banjos to kind of make that folk sound. So when did you actually start on playing both of these instruments and how do you write them together and make them work?
I think I started to play the guitar or try to play the guitar at the age of 16. That was the time of my first injury back in my sport. I was just not able to move, so I grabbed the guitar in the flat where I was living and started to play a note on it. And the banjo started in 2006 or 2007. I remember two moments. The first moment it was the movie called “Searching For the Wrong-Eyed Jesus.” There’s a scene where David Eugene Edwards of 16 Horsepower and Wovenhand is playing the banjo while Terry Cruz, the author, is telling the story about his childhood. David Eugene Edwards is sitting in the woods and playing the banjo in his own style, which is not how great banjo players are playing the banjo. It’s his own version and that vibe, that sound he created was the one that got me into playing the banjo. There was another moment when I was watching the Tom Wade bootleg DVD and in the extras there was two songs he played, probably in his barn, and he was playing two songs on the banjo and that began the way the banjo is played when thinking of the great banjo players. But he created a vibe that I had never heard before.
Back then it was really hard to find a five-string banjo in Hungary, because there are only Dixieland band and country bands back in Hungary those days, and they only play on the six string version of the banjo, which is a guitar basically. But somehow I managed to find a very shitty instrument, a five string banjo, and I really didn’t know how to play it or how the tunings worked, so I had to create my own version of it. It was the first song I wrote back then, called “All Good All Fine” that you can find on my first album. Actually I wrote it for my previous band, which was a stoner sludge band, but it became a Devil’s Trade song anyway.
I never thought of mixing things together, I just know how to play the guitar. I cannot play the guitar very well, because of martial arts all my fingers are broken, so I have to use alternative tunings for the guitar to be able to grab the neck without any pain. The banjo is quite a similar thing for me, so it is pretty obvious for me to mix these things together because these are the instruments I can play. There is a soundscape in my head that combines these two sounds I can create, it can fit together pretty good on an album. Obviously I cannot mix it on stage, but maybe later on I will have a band version of The Devil’s Trade. That’s a plan for the near future, and maybe I can find someone who can play the guitar like I do or play the banjo like I do, I don’t know. But it’s a plan.
In addition to the banjo and the guitar “The Call of the Iron Peak” also lists a few different instruments with guest artists. How did you choose to incorporate those into those few tracks where they’re featured?
Well, it’s a very lovely question, because we are talking about one triangle note at the end of the song called “Dead Sister.” And that one note is played by the children of my friend who recorded the album, he was the engineer. So his children played one note on the Triangulum in one of my songs but I love them so much that I wanted to feature them in the booklet.
The other song is the title song, and they are also my friends playing at the end of this song. Some very basic drums, two of my friends, one of them is the same who recorded the album and the other is his older brother. The third guy is playing the spoons at the end of the song, and he is also a very old friend of mine. He is playing a very strange Eastern European Gypsy instrument which is actually a water drum, and he beat the shit out of it at the end of the song. These are the guests artists on the album.
It’s a very small community here, we are like ten or fifteen people and we are all very old friends. So we are always appearing on each other’s albums.
Are there any guest musicians or other instruments that you think you’d want to incorporate into your music in the future?
I don’t know about the future. This album is coming out in a very empty space where I’m not really able to play live shows, so the next year will be all about this album. I’ll have to play a lot and I would love to play a lot supporting this album. I have already three European tours booked, so I have to focus on those tours, so I’m not able to work on other things when I’m back home – I’m only able to focus on the next step closest to me, which is always a show.
As I mentioned before I would really love to create a small band around this music, and I’m sure they all will be my friends. First of all because I really need to feel safe when I play these songs because of the emotional part, and these guys know me for ages. They are extremely good musicians, but they are not professionals, they do not earn money from playing music. In this way I would really love to have them to get on bigger stages and to have real tours. It’s a win-win situation for everyone. I don’t want to play with paid musicians who I don’t know but are really awesome, I’m not into these things. I think I would love to play with my friends in the future.
This would be your first album which is being released through Season of Mist. What was it like getting signed there and what set of events led to it?
It was all the success of my manager and friend, his dedication and hard work which led me to take this project seriously. From the first tour I had been to in 2014 he’d been working very hard to get prominent persons on my shows, including anyone from Season of Mist he could get to the show, or festivals like Roadburn. It took four or five European tours to get close enough to Season of Mist to get the head of Season of Mist’s attention. It happened after the tour with Oceans of Slumber from Texas, and he called my manager and he wanted to listen to a three-song demo. Which is a pretty hard situation for me because I had only one song finished, my latest album was not even one year old, so I wasn’t really into writing new music. I thought I would be touring for at least one more year before I considered writing a new album, but if someone like him wants to listen to three new songs, you write three new songs, you don’t have another choice.
I wrote three new songs, recorded these three together, and sent him the songs and he said ‘okay let’s do this.’ It happened in August last year and all the songs were done by November, and the album got recorded and finished by January. So it’s not only an unconscious thing for me to write music, but this whole process of finishing this album was like a total out-of-body experience. I was not the pilot of spaceship, the spaceship just flew through this universe and arrived at Season of Mist.
What are you most excited about with the release of this album and what are you looking forward to, especially with touring?
First of all, the fact that I’m signed by the biggest underground label is an achievement that I never really dreamed about. It seemed so out of my reach that I never thought of being a Season of Mist artist. If you look at their roster they are all the greatest musicians in Europe and from abroad, so it’s overwhelming. When I wake up in the morning I have to remind myself that I’m a Season of Mist artist, because it’s still hard to believe.
Touring wise, I had a European tour in April that got cancelled so it will happen next year in April with the beautiful Darkher and the awesome Forndom, they’re all beautiful artists from Northern Europe. I’m really looking forward to sharing the stage with them. I hope I will have some summer festivals, and I have two plans for two tours in the autumn of the next year which I can’t talk about. So these are the plans, and I don’t really think of getting any higher than this level, because I don’t think there is. I just want to be ready to fulfill this dream I’m in right now.
Which artists would you love to perform with the most someday on a tour?
Some of my favorite musicians I have played with before as a supporting act. I already supported a black metal band from Germany on tour, and it was the best experience for me tour-wise. It was awesome, and to play for a black metal audience is a very scary thing, but it can work very well for me. I think Wovenhand would be too obvious to say, but I would say yes immediately to an opportunity like that. I would say bands like YOB, and I already played before Scott Kelly two times so it can happen again. I would love to support Mike from YOB when he’s ready with his acoustic project, that would be lovely.