STARS IN THEIR EYES – interview with Mihály Szabó of The Moon And The Nightspirit
Although not exactly a household name in the UK, The Moon And The Nightspirit have delivered one of the year’s standout albums in ‘Aether’, a rich and beautifully evocative album painted from a palette of many colours. Spiritual and ethereal, ‘Aether’ is a stunningly atmospheric blend of music and figurative otherworldliness, inspired in part by the band’s home: “the eastern part of Hungary at the Great Hungarian Plain,” explains Mihály Szabó, “a truly inspiring place for us, with its endlessness and openness to the star-manifested sky.
“The Moon And The Nightspirit is a Hungarian duo formed in 2003 by Ágnes [Tóth] and myself,” he continues. “We play ethereal pagan folk music inspired by Mother Nature. It is a musical journey to the depth of human soul, in search of the long-lost unity and the revival of the eternal link between man and nature.
“We met when we were young, at the age of fifteen to seventeen. We were both part of the same circle of friends, bound together by the love of music, nature and philosophy. We've been always interested in the ancient cultures and wisdom, the spiritual and musical heritage of the ancestors, the long-forgotten tales of the old. Though we grew up listening to metal music, and started our musical career in a gothic metal band, we always wanted to create music that’s magical, emotional and closely related to nature. So we formed The Moon And The Nightspirit and started to play this kind of music. Ágnes plays the violin, all other bowed instruments, woodwinds, piano and percussion, and of course she is responsible for all the female vocals. I play the acoustic guitar, the acoustic bass, and other plucked instruments. I also write all the lyrics. For our live shows we have two session musicians to play the bass and the percussion.”
As for the band’s name, “we wanted something full of expression,” he says. “Something that’s symbolic. So ‘Moon’ symbolizes the feminine and ‘Nightspirit the masculine side of nature. Moon is the muse, the guardian of ancient wisdom, who knows all secrets one alone; she is the Mother. Nightspirit is the seeker, the wanderer of dreams, the Child. Moon is the Master, Nightspirit is the Disciple. So in this context Moon and Nightspirit are personified symbols that belong together, forming a strong unity, and symbolising one aspect of the world.”
After seventeen years and six albums together Ágnes and Mihály unveiled their latest release ‘Aether’ in June. “We use the word ‘Aether’ in a philosophical, spiritual manner, rather than a scientific term,” he clarifies, “to mean ‘the breath of the divine’, the spiritual essence, the cosmic link that connects All, the celestial energy that permeates the universe, the fifth element. Although it is not a concept album, there is a common narrative in the sense that all the songs are dedicated to the realisation, revelation and empowerment of the boundless inner cosmos, the Great Infinite Source. They are about a journey into the inner realms of the soul and re-connecting with our own divine, higher self.”
Although ‘Aether’ took three years to bring to fruition, the duo are of the opinion that there’s no point rushing things. “Well, first of all we need an ‘inspired state’ to start writing songs. We usually don’t hurry things but wait for the inspiration to come. It doesn’t really make sense to write songs without anything to say or express. And being a duo, we are free to experiment and create the music we want. A free flow of creativity without any outside interventions. It’s just the pair of us, creating our own musical world.
“We usually begin with an acoustic guitar theme, a string melody or a vocal that starts the actual songwriting process. From then we go forward, adding new layers of instruments and melodies, sometimes replacing the original instrumentation, and lastly adding the percussive parts. We work in our own recording studio, and this way we have the time to experiment and find the right sound for the actual album. And working in our own studio means the recordings were smooth and relaxed. By now we have learned how to realise our own, distinctive sound in an unrestricted way. It took three years to finish the album, but we both think it was a good decision not to hurry things and to let the songs grow and evolve in a relaxed way. We revised the songs from time to time, always listening with ‘fresh ear’ and changing minor or major things here and there as needs be. And we are very happy with the final outcome. We knew what kind of atmosphere we wanted to create right from the beginning and we experimented with a lot of new things and approaches to achieve it.
“Our music has changed a lot since our early days,” he answers, when asked how ‘Aether’ compares with its predecessors. “It has matured and evolved, and is enriched by many new layers. Throughout the years we've found our own distinctive voice, and become better and more experienced songwriters. In the case of ‘Aether’ our intention was to write an album with oscillating powers, changing forms all the time like a wave, although still retaining a common foundation. With the introduction and significant presence of male vocals we think our music has become more powerful, creating an expanded and dynamic atmosphere. The feminine and masculine powers are now equally present, intertwining with each other, creating a swirl of polarities, merging into a new-found unity and wholeness. So, although the theme is similar, we always approach it from a different perspective on each album. From the moss-grown, ancient forests we’ve now ventured into the star-manifested cosmos in the case of ‘Aether’.”
The Moon And The Nightspirit do play live, as the bonus disc with ‘Aether’ ably demonstrates, and at some stage gigs are a possibility. “Once the world situation stabilises and things go back to normal we’d certainly like to do a small tour to present the new songs. But at the moment we can just wait and see and hope for the best.”
© John Tucker July 2020