Damsel Elysium unveiled their EP Whispers From Ancient Vessels early February, offering  a collection of tales, speakings and relationships with nature’s beings, from the earth, the trees, the sea, and our inner selves. The tracks guide listeners on a guided journey, in rediscovering our position in nature as one and the same, encouraging alternative semiotic forms that we have since lost touch with. One thing is certain about Damsel Elysium’s art; “You are not here to switch off but to be provoked.”
Whispers From Ancient Vessels positions nature in its place as an agent in our lives; a beautiful and ancient behemoth of wisdom. The tracks reflect this darkness and raw vulnerability, focusing on the textural elements and feeling invoked by the sonic sphere, to express those speakings of nature that our current language cannot translate. Damsel utilises double bass, violin, piano and original field recordings – the skeleton and bones of these beings they are in conversation with - to establish these alternative communication and connections with physical spaces and nature and understand the voices of the world unlearned through time. Intuiting the natural and its sonic and visual intersections, they become a vessel through which these conversations are told. 
Their inimitable style doesn’t stop with their sonic creations; they have been commissioned for Simone Rocha, Vogue x Gucci and Byredo notably, as well as having featured in FKA Twigs Tiny Desk session. Their audio-visual stories have also been featured in iconic spaces such as the Southbank Centre, Tate Modern, V&A Museum, and Union Chapel. With METAL, Damsel tells us all about how they convey these conversations in their EP and art.
Being based in London, yet principally creating art concerned with nature, where do you find you can reconnect to nature?
Well, firstly, this is exactly why I ran away to live in a nearby seaside town 2 years ago, it’s been my dream to escape the city ever since I was young, I was born in the city, but I’ve never felt connected to it. Growing up, I’d visit a local church yard and connect with a tree there. But I do work in London pretty much every day. I think we forget that nature isn’t just the trees and green fields though, nature is simply about slowing down and feeling the elements that surround you. You know when you’re in the middle of the city and those strong gusts of winds get trapped between the glass buildings and you get pushed around? Or when you spot a rare bird in a place you wouldn’t expect? Or when it rains even, people find that miserable, and London rain often is, but I like to imagine what ocean or river it came from, how near or far it travelled to fall at this particular time and what the sky thought needed cleansing, and how I gently curse it when it soaks my favourite shoes. Those are also moments when I am reminded to connect and to listen, reminders that nature persists attention and it’s just as important as swimming in the ocean or being in the woods. But the way of connecting to nature and the weather at the moment, for me, has been realising how much it has changed and is changing. The rhythms are all different and that is alarming.
In your work, you use a variety of instruments including double bass, violin, and piano, along with original field recordings. How do you approach incorporating these different elements to create your unique sound?
I start with a feeling or a concept. But every work is approached differently. I could start with a melody or texture on the bass, then build layers that are spontaneous, or I'll listen to a recording I captured outside that fascinated me and I manipulate it into something else or see how I can amplify or embellish the texture or sound I was drawn to originally. Or I may listen to the outside world and conjure up a musical sentence from it. I have a practice called extrospection where you draw and document the sounds that surround you, sometimes that’s a simple start to a project. I just listen and feel what it needs. It’s like cooking and tasting whether you need more salt or chilli or something. I don’t always know what it is I am making but I just have a vague idea and scramble in the dark until it makes me have a visceral reaction. I like working in a non-uniform way, I like working with things that I wasn’t trained with, like the voice or the piano, which means I can approach it from an angle that isn’t tainted by rules or insecurities.
With the nature of your art, can you provide an insight into your creative process?
I am more interested in listening to texture than the music. In fact, I find it hard to connect with the word musician, despite training classically for most of my childhood, the reason I stopped is because it killed the passion I originally had. I think that at age 6, I was drawn to the idea of texture (in the wood, in the bow hair, in the sound, in the tone, etc) than the idea of becoming some virtuoso violinist. But I didn't know that until now, and that's why I operate solely on feeling in today's practice. Texture comes in tactility, but it also comes in sound, colour, shape and words. It's why I am multi-disciplinary because touching texture can come in many forms. It's when my physical body rubs against my soul for a moment, that’s the best way I can describe it. I am only interested in that particular moment when I stop using my head and I can just feel. I discard anything that doesn't make me feel, which I guess leaves me with projects with lots of energy but rough edges. I don't mind that really. I reject perfectionism and minimalism because it's crippling and leaves out detail. I love detail. I love world building, and the world is imperfect.
Your recent EP release, Whispers From Ancient Vessels, explores themes of nature, grief, and hope. Can you share more about the inspiration behind this collection of tales and relationships with nature's beings?
It all started in Prague, 2019, I was at this outdoor botanical garden and suddenly felt this presence from the trees. It was the first time in years that I had connected with nature and the feeling was so great that I was crying and completely overwhelmed. I realised that nature was speaking, and I had ignored it for so long. Around the same time, I had restarted my relationship with music again and was working with improvisation and feeling. I realised these worlds were mutual and I felt an urgency to tell their stories through visual and sonic experiences. I had come from filmmaking and photography and the project actually started as a film and photography series, before it became this EP. So, I would spend months meeting with trees and documenting their thoughts, feelings and memories. There were tales of tragedy and time passing, of romance and wisdoms that would help me in life later on. There were even phrases and expressions to this day I still have no idea what they mean, like the tree in Oxford said, "Take the Moment and Eat What you Know".
Then I would translate the words and feelings they gave me through the double bass and slowly the EP emerged. The main tale was of one Copper Beech in Vale of Health in Hampstead Heath, which had sadly fallen down due to a storm, I couldn't believe it, I was heartbroken as I had seen the tree two years prior and promised to visit her again. The tree was however still alive after 120 years, as I had learnt that even tree stumps live supported by surrounded trees feeding them nutrients through the roots. The words it whispered became track 2, Whispers from Ancient Vessels and includes field recordings taken on the day of visiting the dying tree and creating percussion with its fallen branches.
The EP cover art is so beautiful, really visualising this relationship to nature; can you tell us a little more about the art?
As mentioned before the project started off as a film and photo series and I had worked with a friend to bring this world to life. I had such a strong sense of the world that I was trying to create. I wanted something honest about nature, though it is a beautiful thing and often portrayed in this pretty, ethereal light, it’s also dangerous and dark. Nature has a balance and I wanted to show that in the work. Unfortunately, the film never materialised, but I then worked with Vasilisa Skasca to continue imagining the world in depth. We pulled references from Ana Mendieta, images of the sea, and wrote in detail of the world. I was looking for the feeling of being merged with nature, embedded, taken over. We created a photo story for each song on the record in places like the woods, to an abandoned house in the city.
How does this EP for you translate these conversations or whispers from nature, notably without the use of language, and how did you approach achieving this?
As someone who is neurodivergent and struggles with verbal communication in this society, the trees and I had something in common, communication that is alternative. I wouldn't say there was a lack of language in these conversations at all. It was just one that we are not used to. I really do urge de-prioritising communication verbally, as that is one way of a decolonial practice. When I speak to the wind or a tree or a pebble, I am returned with a feeling, a presence, or a sentence; it's like speaking to someone only using eye contact or the touch of fingers, you know that so much has been said in those moments but it's impossible to say it verbally. The EP was an attempt to deliver that language, with sound. Can the double bass mimic the voice of a tree? It is made of the body of a tree, so it must have some dialect. I did so by embodying the feeling that the whisper gave me and approached the bass with that energy. Whatever came out, to me, was its voice.
Dream of the Rood stood out to me significantly on this EP, of course because of the Old English poem by the same name, which does feel like such a perfect link to this EP. Can you talk a little more about this, and more on this track?
I was introduced to this 8th century poem around the same time I was making Whispers. I was ecstatic when I was told "it is about a tree or a rood having a dream", as I had so many dreams about trees, some on fire, some floating on a sunset horizon, a recurring one about a tree covered in sunflowers in twilight. As soon as I heard the Old English language, its foreignness still felt familiar to me somehow, and when I read the modern translation I was so drawn in. I'm not religious and most certainly not a Christian fan, but I couldn't resist this poem. A tree who has a premonition about being cut down for the crucifixion of Jesus stirred such interesting images for me. This unknown poet gave a tree an identity and a voice, and it was what I felt I was in the midst of doing, centuries later. The person who introduced the poem to me also introduced me to a professor who could speak Old English, we got him to record the poem and the track was born very quickly.
Are there any other influences like this that we can find in your work?
I think the other tracks feel fairly more linked to my own experiences with nature rather than references to other works, but I was definitely moved by the imagery and works of Ana Mendieta. A gifted book The Secret Life of Trees and a video on Youtube Discovering a ‘Singing’ Tree - Bernie Krause about the sound that trees make.
If you could create a perfect listening environment for this EP, what do you imagine it would look like?
Well, the woods of course! (laughs). I also wonder what it would sound like underwater.
The visualisers alongside this album I think are so fundamental to understanding this EP; you really begin to feel the EP, where sound and song intersects within it, as well as your clear talent for filmmaking. How do you view the visual sphere in relation to sound, and how do you approach creating both in harmony?
I am very much visually lead but I think a huge part of it is being narratively lead. I grew up watching really fantastical stuff, Studio Ghibli for example, I was watching those films from a very early age, and only remembered the striking imagery from it, coming back to them years later I realise it wasn't just the imagery that was striking but the stories within them. When I create visuals to my world they are usually images I have already imagined but I take it in a new approach for the project I work on. I wrote a story two years ago called Tales of the Earth which may not have been a film but entered an audio-visual performance realm,  where each track leads into the other with a beginning, middle and end. Coming from a filmmaking and visual art background it seems those approaches to narrative and reason have carried on here, I often imagine in scenes, where sound and image are impossible to separate. For this EP, I adapted that story and turned it into another performance for the EP premiere at Southbank Centre with London Contemporary Orchestra. Vasilisa and I wanted to create something for each track that felt like they could be stand-alone works, yet still link in the same world. I kind of imagine this EP like an anthology of short stories. And just like ancient and indigenous traditions, stories come in the form of song and dance.
How do you see your art contributing to a broader conversation about environmentalism and our relationship with the natural world?
I feel that I’ve only just begun to touch the surface. And there are so many others who have got so much further and deeper into that universe. I definitely don't see this work as new or original, but I hope that my perspective will remind us to reconnect and have a different relationship with the Earth and our bodies, one where we are actually communicating with beings rather than seeing it as these stagnant, lifeless background images. During this time where we continue to see lands, indigenous communities and the earth are being violently attacked and eradicated, connecting in this way is one of the first steps to freedom.
Your performances have been featured in prestigious venues such as Southbank Centre, Tate Modern, and V&A Museum. How does the space or venue influence the way you present your audio-visual stories?
It's intrinsic, I never perform the same show twice, because not only does nature speak but spaces do too. My performance is always about how I tap in to the room's energy and history, I have a duty to respond to its world and work with it rather than against it with works that were made for an entirely different purpose. It's important to note that these institutional spaces are difficult to work with and need so much de-colonisation work. But I guess being programmed in such places gives me an opportunity to spark a bit of that. I have to consider how my work is perceived in these spaces, by whom, in what room, where the eyes and ears are situated. I then work out how to disrupt that perception. I never want to perform a show that people are used to.
You are not here to switch off but to be provoked.
I then write a story, and then work out how to describe that story - is it through words itself or something visual or dance or sound? Sometimes I have to adapt the music I've written or make something entirely new so that it responds to the space and the audience. Tate's show was the first time I had attempted to make a work that fit a space. The Turbine Hall is gargantuan, and I knew that it would be extremely difficult to fill that space with a presence. So, I adapted to it by writing and drawing a three-act show that would respond to the walls and touch the ceiling. For Southbank Centre with LCO, I had an opportunity for people to not only hear the EP with a unique set of instruments but to also add the element of performance art and set design. I worked with Clod Ensemble to work out these performance scenes, and India Ayles on costume to design something that was not just to be worn but that also adapted and changed itself as part of the Acts. For the V&A, this was a collaboration with dancer and choreographer Becky Namgauds and Amanda Pefkou, and our idea was to completely turn on its head what an Opera should be, and our approach was very, very much "break the rules in every way" and a "middle fingers up to the colonial eyes that watch us through the walls".
Being commissioned work for fashion brands like Simone Rocha and Vogue x Gucci indicates a crossover between music and fashion. What exactly does this intersection mean for you?
Fashion is a visual art form, and as someone who expresses myself through clothing , the crossover only seems natural. I love composing for fashion worlds or tying in fashion into performance, it’s just another way to tell the story. I have my mum to thank for introducing me to fashion at an early age, I was hand stitching clothes out of her old fabric stash and drawing imaginary magazine covers at age 9 and younger. She studied Fashion and Textile, and it taught me so much about how fabric, shape, colour and styling is another way to conceptualise feeling.
You’re such an exciting artist to watch for, what can we expect next from you?
I've only just begun, and there is so so much, I can't wait to share them all - but on my mind at the moment is Godgida. Godgida!