Wednesday 7 April 2021

Dark Ambient Interview: Mombi Yuleman

 Dark Ambient Interview: Mombi Yuleman

Mombi Yuleman

I first became aware of dark ambient artist Mombi Yuleman when our paths crossed on Twitter and he sent me a code for his Storm-Maker Red Horse album. Since that time, I’ve come to appreciate Mombi’s particular brand of dark ambient music, something that I’d describe as part retro horror soundtrack and part “spirit of Halloween in a bottle”. Mombi kindly agreed to an interview, the result of which you can read below. We take in such topics as John Carpenter’s soundtracks, our joint experience of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, religion, music as a means of communication, and of course, dark ambient.

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Casey: You are known for your monster-fuelled, mysterious dark ambient albums, but your music didn’t begin with the genre. How did you discover ambient, and the dark ambient genre in particular, what do you enjoy about creating this style of music, and what role does your love of horror soundtracks play in the way that you create?

Mombi: I got into music production over ten years ago with an industrial project called "Junkyard Apocalypse". I was really inspired by artists like Front Line Assembly and Dismantled but more than anything I was inspired by film scores and soundtracks. I grew up listening to composers like Jerry Goldsmith, Ennio Morricone, and most of all John Carpenter. The soundtrack stuff is what I mostly had playing in my ears from as far back I remember. So the cinematic element was very important to me when creating my own music.

After I created an album and some demos, I pretty much dropped "Junkyard Apocalypse" and music as a whole for many years for various reasons. During this period of time I was heavy into creating industrial sculptures and housewares out of found objects. I called this project "Junkyard Avenue". I had a YouTube channel at the time showing how I created these weird lamps and art decor out of metal pipes, pulleys, and giant gears. Much of it had a steampunk theme. I'd listen to a lot of those soundtracks I grew up with while building artwork, but I remember specifically trying to find soundscapes that sounded like a factory in the distance, with steam and metal clangs to further enhance the atmosphere when I was creating these things at home. I found out about an industrial noise act called Stratvm Terror that I fell in love with, and that's when I discovered some mixes by Cryo Chamber on YouTube as well. This would have been circa 2012 or so.

After some years, the "Junkyard Avenue" project fell through because I was moving so much, and carrying hundreds of pounds of found objects from state to state is exhausting. It was sad because I didn't have a passion project anymore. So, after some time I started going to music festivals. Particularly psytrance parties. These events inspired me to get into music again. While, I wasn't attempting to make psytrance music, I thought I would get into weird cinematic influenced EDM again. I branded myself as Mombi Yuleman and churned out a six track EDM EP. It was a good way of getting familiar with a DAW again. I had a lot of trouble getting my ideas together for a second release.

I was listening to all kinds of genres within the underground dance scene. Stuff like dark techno, psytrance, psychill. Thing is, rather than take a genre and really learn it and craft pieces that fell within those genres, I would take ideas from those genres and form my own EDM sound. And in all honesty, many of those tracks were never sounding quite right to me. Too many ideas and not enough focus. One of the things that was recurring within all of these sounds though, was a cinematic mood driven element. My girlfriend would put on a lot of ambient music at night time to sleep to. Some of these tracks were often quite bleak and mood driven. Even cinematic. That's when a light bulb went off and I realized that's the kind of thing I should have been taking a stab at all along! Dark mood driven cinematic music with no real necessity to follow a predictable pattern, rhythm or theme. Soundtracks to films that don't exist. Of course! I totally wanted Mombi Yuleman to represent my own unique take on this whole cinematic dark ambient thing, and dropped dance music altogether under the Mombi name.


Casey: In an interview with horror writer David Allen Voyles, you discussed your Witch-Works album, saying that ever since you got your first synthesizer, you always wanted to make an album like Witch-Works, and then adding that you could probably die happy having now made it. That’s quite a statement! When you listen back to Witch-Works, which elements are you the most fulfilled by, the components that you listen to and know that you nailed it. Also, which pieces of equipment do you most enjoy playing with when it comes to your music creation?

Mombi: Yes, as mentioned, I love listening to film scores, and to the film scores of John Carpenter, specifically the ones where he collaborated with Alan Howarth, had a sound that I was fond of more than any other synth based soundtrack artist at the time. I wanted to compose a soundtrack with a Halloween theme that was in alignment with that same sound but give it my own spin and incorporate some subtle orchestral and industrial elements here and there. I tip my hat to some other horror composers in that one but it's mostly John Carpenter influenced. Jars of Spiders, Dance of the Scarecrows and Through the Pumpkin Swamp are certainly tracks I feel particularly fond of. Leaves is also a sorrowful track that I feel really embraces some of my own inner turmoil.

I really only work with VST's rather than hardware synths, even though I had a Roland JP-8000 for years but it was unfortunately damaged during one of my many moves. I use Omnisphere in almost all of my work. There's just so much I love about the sounds within that magnificent synth. I tend to use a lot of programs by Native Instruments as well, the Symphony Series comes to my aid where appropriate. I lack the knowledge on how to orchestrate full blown symphonies, but using those instruments as elements with a soundtrack or a dark ambient album is so much fun.

Casey: In one of your YouTube videos, you said that you make music because you feel that your life depends on it, with the spectre of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) looming over you. What are some of the ways that your OCD has manifested in the past, and is your creative practise a refuge from the OCD, or does it sometimes encroach on your music composing as well? I ask as a fellow OCD sufferer, and for me, OCD always seems to attach to the things that I care about.

Mombi: OCD made itself manifest in my life at a very young age. It started out by washing my hands over and over. Eventually as years passed, guilt over intrusive thoughts had me performing seemingly bizarre rituals over and over, like running up and down stairs, or I'd stare at walls for hours while I think a certain pattern of thoughts in a particular arrangement, until it felt right to let them go. I spent the majority of my teen years going through this. It wasn't until my early twenties, when I left the town I grew up in that the extreme side of OCD started to lose it's grasp. When I discovered that I no longer felt a need to have religion in my life, things got a lot better as well.

Though I still suffer forms of OCD, it's not nearly as bad as it used to be and I mostly deal with anxiety and the occasional existential crisis these days. There are times where OCD rears it's ugly head during the production process, to some degree it's beneficial. I'm never completely satisfied with my work. I often re-render files over and over to get them to where I feel they are just right, when perhaps the sounds were perfectly fine before. But this is also where I feel OCD benefits me to some degree, as long as I'm not tearing my hair out over it. A lot of work goes into an album and my OCD mostly seems to help me strive to be better for the most part. If it gets out of hand and I'm stressing too much, I recognize this and I take a break from making music altogether. I try to come back to it with fresh ears and usually it's not nearly as bad as I thought it was. I am often quite pleased with where I ended up after I've taken breaks.

Mombi Yuleman

Casey: I’m a big fan of taking breaks from creative work too. I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve hated something I’ve written, but after returning to it with a clearer head, I often wonder why I was so critical of it. You mentioned religion, which I know can be a miserable subject to OCD sufferers that happen to suffer with scrupulosity issues. Which religion did you engage with or belong to, and how do you think this interacted with your OCD tendencies? I know that when I was struggling with my OCD at one of my worst points, my interest/mild belief in the occult wasn't particularly helpful. I still have a mild belief/interest, but I'm now more interested in perspectives that simplify or ease my life, rather than make it more complicated!

Mombi: I grew up in a very traditional southern baptist Christian bubble. The fear of Hell was instilled in me at a very young age. The idea of eternity in Hell really messed with me and I'm so happy I became a free thinker in my mid twenties. I understand how if you're constantly validated in a fear-based belief system by your family and friends it's nearly impossible to leave that. A belief system that makes you feel guilty for questioning it can be extremely hard to turn your back on.

When I left religion behind a lot of my OCD left with it. I was no longer afraid of constantly offending a deity I no longer had faith in and I'm so much happier for it. I love philosophy and obviously have an affinity for the occult. Though, because of the monumental task of overcoming the Christian belief system, I've learned to question everything and raise an eyebrow to anything that relies on me having to have faith. Existence, reality, consciousness and the cosmos are a true wonder to behold. Religion, to me, dumbs it down. Reality is much stranger and much more marvellous than fiction!

Casey: In the same YouTube video in which you mentioned your life depending on your music creation, you also mentioned that you are an introvert and that music is your way of communicating with people. What do you hope to communicate, by way of your music, and does the music sometimes reflect something back to you that you didn’t know about yourself previously?

Mombi: In group settings, I don't know how to really communicate. People can be going back and forth and I just don't know how to chime in. I'm the quiet one in a group and I prefer to listen whilst forming and keeping opinions to myself. Creating music gives me a way to boldly speak in a way an extrovert might. I hope the feelings evoked in the music can bring about thoughts that are both fantastic and relatable to those who listen. As in the case of my album, Storm-Maker Red Horse, I had the idea of an album where the subject matter was about a perpetual storm where a tornado just continued to grow and ravished the land until who knows when, as the listener becomes a victim themselves by the end of it. Indeed though, this particular album was much more about my own inner turmoil, depression and uncertainty that I was going through at the time. I do feel like there are folks who can listen to that one and relate to the chaos within.

Certainly there are themes and melodies that are born that I didn't know I've had in me but are very reflective of me upon listening. There's one in particular, a favourite progressive piece of mine written for an abandoned album concept and now I just can't figure out what to release it on. It starts out bombastic, goes into drone, then turns into a piano piece. Truly very progressive cinematic stuff and one that is very "me" that I had no idea was in me. It's been waiting to be released for years but I won't release it until it neatly fits on an EP or album or something. But for the most part, I'd say that I feel more relief that I'm actually able to finally get some of these sounds and melodies out of my head and into the world.

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Thanks again to Mombi for providing such fascinating and in-depth answers to my questions. If you’d like to check out Mombi’s music, you can find him on Bandcamp and YouTube, among other places. You might also like to join his Facebook Group: Unearthing Your Internal Monsters, a group created to bring anyone who struggles with life, and who uses their creative endeavours to cope with it, together.