Citing influences as genre-diverse as Chumbawumba, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Propagandhi, Lankum, and Crass, Liverpudlian black metal band, Dawn Ray’d recently released their third album, To Know The Light (available through Prosthetic Records).
To Know The Light is a departure from their previous albums. Although still overtly political, the lyrics take on a more personal slant than before. Lyrically, To Know The Light traces the band’s journey through anarcho-nihilism, from anger to despair, to a radical acceptance of the darkness all around us, settling on a new understanding of liberation and joy. Whilst much of the thematic content is rooted in rage and resistance, there are also elements of positivity to be found throughout.
The man behind this thought-provoking work is Simon Barr, a man who has been surrounded by books for the majority of his life. In the latest of our series Fahrenheit V13, V13 sat down and chatted with Dawn Ray’d’s well-read frontman about the books that inspire him, his favourite writers and his ideal reading set-up.
How important were books and reading in your family growing up? Did you share that same level of enthusiasm, or did you differ from them on that?
Simon Barr: “My mum was an English Literature teacher, so books were a big part of my childhood, I didn’t have a choice, really! I loved Lord Of The Rings, The Chronicles Of Narnia, The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper, loads of fantasy stuff.”
Do you prefer fiction or non-fiction? What’s your preferred genre?
“Honestly, I prefer non-fiction. Modernist poetry is my favourite genre, I suppose, but I also have always loved fantasy.
“I’m reading Mordew by Alex Pheby at the moment. He builds these really gross, filthy, amazingly detailed worlds; I’m really enjoying that at the moment. I recently finished the Broken Earth Trilogy by NK Jamesin as well, which is another really well-thought-out universe.
“I do read quite a bit of political theory, I guess, almost exclusively anarchist stuff, but I feel like that’s more from a sense of need or duty rather than enjoyment!”
Who are your favourite writers?
“John Burnside’s poetry is my favourite thing to read ever, the way he connects you to the landscape, he slows you down, forces you to look carefully at every detail around you, I always feel like all his poems are set during that magical part of dusk where everything feels more profound. The Stag’s Leap by Sharon Olds is the best description of love and heartbreak ever, I cried so many times for so many different reasons reading it. William Golding, specifically The Inheritors and Pincher Martin too. When it comes to political stuff, Errico Malatesta, no debate.”
What book have you been meaning to read? How long have you been meaning to do that?
“I bought Devil House by John Darnielle about 6 months ago and haven’t even opened it yet. I love the Mountain Goats too, I think I want to give it my full attention but never find the right time! I’m a third of the way through The Music Of Time by John Burnside. It’s his history of poetry, it is pretty dense and academic, I haven’t made any progress on it in at least 2 years, and I should probably admit to myself that I’m not smart enough for it! I went to Whitby last year and bought Dracula on a whim, and if I’m honest with myself, I’m never going to read it…”
What’s a book that you think everyone should be required to read from cover to cover throughout their time in school?
“Anarchism and Other Essays by Emma Goldman probably, she was writing a hundred years ago, about how marriage is an invention of the church and state to control women; she talked about the importance of reproductive rights and so many other issues that people would massively benefit from today, especially young people. You don’t have to live the life capitalism sets out for you. Take some time to work out exactly who you want to be, who and how you want to love, and what makes you truly happy. It’s crazy that 100 years on, so many of her ideas are still so controversial.
“I also loved The Brothers Lionheart by Astrid Lindgren, there’s a line about doing difficult, brave things; “There are certain things you just have to do; otherwise you’re not a human being, just a piece of dirt”, and I think of that all the time, especially when I’m afraid to do the right thing in life.”
What is the book that has made the most impact on you as a person?
“I don’t think I could choose one book; honestly, I think different things influence you at different points in your life, things come along at just the right moment sometimes, but you always want to be moving forward and continuing that development, I think.
“My partner bought a book by Peter Kropotkin called In French And Russian Prisons on a whim, we were young and had been talking about all these different radical ideas, but it was before we had discovered anarchism. It just laid out in really understandable terms why prisons exist, why they don’t work, and why we should abolish them. It was another year or so before I would discover anarchism properly, but I think that opened me up to the idea of questioning a lot of the things you are told and being able to think more critically about things.
“Another big moment was reading Four Quartets by TS Elliot, all of a sudden, I realized that poetry was something normal people like me could relate to, it isn’t some lofty academic exercise but a way to see the beauty in the world, understand your own emotions and try and find new ways to describe your own life.
“Recently, during the pandemic, I read Desert and Blessed Is The Flame which was my introduction to Anarcho-nihilism, which really helped me cope with the world collapsing around us, the ecological predictions you see that make your blood run cold, the horrors of war… Those two books continue to help me find happiness and joy in a horrifically bleak world!”
What’s the best part of reading for you? What’s your ideal reading setup?
“I have this complicated set up with reading, if I’m reading poetry it’s often because I hope it will inspire me to write songs for Dawn Ray’d, I think as a musician, you are never really off the clock! So yeah I have this odd extractive relationship with it, it’s not work, but it’s definitely not pure relaxation.
“That said, filling your head with the writings of the best poets in the world, then using that to try and express your own thoughts into a song is an insanely satisfying and cathartic experience. Sat in a chair by the fire at my house with a black coffee on a Sunday is a pretty ideal setup.”
What was the best reading – or book-related present you ever received?
“I got a bookmark with the TS Elliot quote “Only through time, time is conquered”, which I love, I’m not going to paraphrase that as it is so perfectly succinct already, but that gets me through the dark moments.
“I also got a birthday card with another TS Elliot quote “At the still point, there the dance is.” That is my all-time favorite quote ever. The future and the past hurtle away from us in opposite directions, the still point is the present, the only time we can actually ever experience, but that is where everything happens; it is where all the true beauty and joy is. That poem from Four Quartets has helped me totally reframe how I try to view the world. It is the most beautiful line ever written, I think.”