an interview w/ Wolves in the Throne Room’s Aaron Weaver
by Black Bubblegum
“I think that black metal fundamentally is an attempt to reawaken an ancient spirit.”
Aaron Weaver of WITTR at Scion (more by Anthony Childs)
Wolves In The Throne Room are the outcasts of the outsiders. Among the black metal community, WITTR are constantly named as a band that dodges the conventions of Black Metal, much to the chagrin of its purist (tr00) core. That desire to push the boundaries of the genre has won them copious fans as well, as evidenced by the success of their 2007 release Two Hunters, and their heavy touring cycle in support of their new long player Black Cascade. The Black Cascade tour with A Storm Of Light and Krallice hits NYC twice. The first show is at Europa in Brooklyn TONIGHT (5/22) (tickets). The second is at the Studio @ Webster on 5/26 (tickets). The two shows surround their appearance at Maryland Death Fest this weekend.
We recently sat down with WITTR drummer Aaron Weaver to discuss the meaning of black metal, their recent releases Black Cascade and Malevolent Grain, Gang Gang Dance, and the darkest depths of human experience…
The material recorded for the Black Cascade and Malevolent Grain EP, was that all done together and then separated into the two releases afterward?
No, definitely not. I know that’s often times the case with EPs that are released ahead of a full length record. This was conceived as two completely separate entities or part of different recording sessions that had a very different spirit behind them. The reason that we did this was because we talked for a long time about doing another collaboration with Jamie Meyers who is the vocalist on Malevolent Grain but we didn’t want to have another song on our full-length record that we couldn’t play live. Whenever we would have a guest vocalist like Jamie or on Two Hunters, Jessica Kinney, when we would play those songs live it’s missing something. We wanted the material on Black Cascade to be something that we could perform in the live setting in their entirety. At the same time, female vocals are an element I wish that we could have all the time, but it’s just not in the cards right now.
Black Cascade album cover
Were there any other concepts behind the two EP’s that were separating them as well or no?
Each record has its own sort of internal coherency or spirit. There is a different sort of narrative that is created on each record. They are very different from each other. They focus on different aspects on the band: sound-wise and ideology-wise.
As far as goals going into the Black Cascade sessions, did you have personal goals like “this aspect of Two Hunters I enjoyed, but maybe I want to change this”?… besides the live element, and besides the concept and the more mechanical aspects… “this snare sounds great” etc….
We really wanted to focus on the metal side of things. Two Hunters has long ambient passages, and I think a wider spectrum of sound. That’s something that we plan on doing again, but we wanted Black Cascade to be really powerful sounding and as focused as possible. We recorded maybe 20 or 30 minutes of material in the studio that didn’t make it on the record. We looked at it as if we were writing a novel. You know you write your first draft and just jot down anything that comes to mind, and then you go through a pretty brutal editing process to try to strip it down to the absolute necessities. It’s still, of course, a more sprawling album than most bands would create, but for us it feels a little bit stripped down.
As far as Will Lindsay joining on with you guys, did he have a hand in the songwriting?
He did. He joined the band right as we were beginning to write the record and he was able to contribute some song writing ideas and play half the guitars on the record. The bass as well. He played more notes than anyone else in the band because he played all the bass guitar as well.
He was a touring bassist with you guys for awhile, right?
That’s right. We’ve been friends for a long time. We’re known Will for 10 or 12 years probably, which is kind of hard to believe. For the past year and a half he had been the touring bass player. The previous second guitar player, Rick, left the band. He had a baby at home in Olympia, and it was time for him to move onto something else. Will was right there to fill the position. It was a very easy transition for us.
As far as your touring lineup, don’t you have Ross Sewage too? Is that correct?
Yeah. Ross is from Ludicra and Impaled. He played bass on our last 2 tours. Unfortunately, I think that might be it for him. He’s already got 2 full time bands . . . 3 full time bands. He is also a member of a band that we’re not supposed to talk about [Ed: Ghoul] and it’s just too much for him to take care of all that and maintain a life at home and expect to be on the road 3 months or 4 months out of the year. It’s sort of been a revolving door on the bass guitar and we don’t intend on having a fourth band member, but we do always plan on having a bass guitar live from now on. The two guitarists are fine in smaller venues: basements, warehouses or outdoors. You know the kind of places where the band started out, but we’re going to be playing a lot of bigger festivals and bigger venues and you really miss something not having the bass guitar there.
Absolutely. It is well known that you guys have an ecological approach to black metal. What’s the connection between your personal beliefs and black metal, especially considering the nihilistic nature of the music?
That’s a really good question, and I think it gets to the heart of what Wolves in the Throne Room is all about. It also raises some interesting questions about black metal. I can talk about this for hours, so I’ll try to narrow it down a little bit. I think that black metal fundamentally is an attempt to reawaken an ancient spirit. It’s an attempt to touch some sort of transcendent primal knowledge that I think human beings had access to up until 3 or 4 hundred years ago when the world changed so much with the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution. I think that black metal is an artistic movement that is critiquing modernity on a fundamental level saying that the modern world view is missing something. It’s missing acknowledgement of a spiritual reality. That estrangement from spiritual knowledge is the source of very deep sadness and alienation. I think that is fundamentally what black metal is all about. I think that once you take that fundamental thesis as fact, you can go in any number of different directions with it. You can expand on it in the way that Watain has done, and you end up with this deeply Satanic and nihilistic manifestation. Or you can do what Wolves in the Throne Room has done which is to essentially take that sadness and alienation that we feel and try to transform it into something that is fundamentally positive and life affirming or do something in between. It’s an interesting thing because so many people look at black metal and say “well it has to focus on the absolute darkest depths of human experience or it needs to be Satanic or nihilistic”. I don’t believe that to be the case. I think that the Satanism and the nihilism is just a surface level sort of thing and beneath it lies a deeper and more primal issue.
So Black Metal to you is overcoming the pain of experience and not necessarily nihilism.
I think you should view black metal as an attempt to deal with intense feelings of sadness or the intense pain that comes with life and try to achieve some sort of catharsis and try to find a way to deal with those very dark feelings, those painful feelings or very painful experiences that are part of the world. It should be something you should attempt to move beyond. I shouldn’t be saying that one should or should not do anything. It needs to be a personal choice. But for me, it would not feel authentic to revel in that intense darkness that black metal accesses. To me I view it as a shamanic journey of sorts. The role of the shaman in traditional societies is through trance and through ritual to journey to the underworld and engage in harrowing and dangerous journey in order to come back with some sort of knowledge. Or to come back with some sort of new spiritual power that he can use for the benefit of the community. I think that black metal is best viewed as that sort of process. You engage with these extremely dark ideas and feelings in order to gain some knowledge and power and in order to move beyond.
That’s an excellent analogy, and speaking of journeys, I know you are hitting the road with Krallice…
I’m looking forward to it. I’ve known Mick Barr for awhile from Krallice. I just saw them for the first time at this ridiculous car commercial we played in Atlanta. Yeah I was really impressed with them. I like him and his perspective on metal and coming out at it from a different, unique point of view. So yeah I look forward to that tour. I think it’s going to be really good.
Krallice is a really interesting thing. Mick used to hang out in Washington D.C. I used to live in Washington D.C. for awhile. There’s a fellow who lives there who is a really good friend of Mick’s named Nathan Livingston, and he was a member of the band Gang Gang Dance. You know them?
Yeah they play in Brooklyn all the time. I’ve seen them quite a few times.
Yeah he was an original member of Gang Gang Dance, and he was killed probably 6 years ago. He was struck by lightning while performing some ritual on a rooftop of a warehouse in Chinatown in Manhattan. He was one of the first people I talked to years ago, maybe 7 years ago, who was making a connection between black metal and shamanism. He was this bizarre, arty, sort of hipster kid. I think he had a more true understanding of black metal and its real spiritual or occult significance than 99% of all the long haired, leather clad Hessians in Germany.
Do you take inspiration from any current black metal bands, or is it mostly from the old guard… Mayhem, Burzum and the like?
Yeah I think that’s the black metal that we’re most interested in: that first wave of the music. The reason is, I feel that that music was so spontaneous and so unmediated. It was really pure and artistic expression. That’s why Burzum and Emperor have inspired this whole movement because of the purity and intensity of that artistic eruption. I think that black metal in many ways is like punk music or whatever kind of spontaneous, underground musical culture that emerges in whatever place. So for that reason I am mostly interested in those primary bands. I’m less interested in current black metal bands. I’m interested in Watain intellectually maybe, but I don’t really draw any inspiration from them.
I think there are a lot of people who are taking that primary impulse that black metal conjured and doing something new with it. I think Wolves In the Throne Room is trying to do something new, local, and idiosyncratic – building upon a foundation of black metal. There are a lot of people who are doing similar sorts of things. I guess that’s the thing that I’m most interested in.
Is there anyone that you guys look to as far as visionaries other than the first wave of black metal? Brian Eno, Iggy Pop, Greg Ginn, or something on that level?
Art in general I would say.
Let’s see. Neurosis is a band that we talk about all the time as being a huge inspiration to us. I think they come from a very similar sort of perspective. They come out of this Oakland warehouse sort of cross punk sort of scene and have moved onto something else. A really, truly and creating music that, I think, operates on a deep and intense mythic level. We find that hugely inspiring.
I’m really interested in people who are feeling the same sort of things and are doing the same sort of things that me and Nathan are doing now in earlier generations. I’m always interested in the dropouts and the outsiders and the people who live on the fringe in whatever generation. I have a lot of older friends and mentors who were hippies in the late 60s and early 70s. The carpenter who I’ve learned the most from is probably in his early 60s now, and he dropped out of society in the early 70s and moved to a commune in Northeastern Washington state. He raised his kids in a teepee and tanned hides for a living. He really did some extreme stuff and was part of a really extreme sort of community. Those are the people that I really draw inspiration from. The people who have already been down the path and are going through the same sorts of things. So we don’t need to reinvent the wheel. We can look to people who have some sort of wisdom that can be shared.
So what are you guys growing out there on the farm? Is it a fully contained ecosystem? What exactly is going on there?
I want to clarify, I’m the one who is most interested in farming. Nathan is a really different kind of person. He’s almost completely nocturnal. In winter time he won’t see the sun for months at a time. He’s interested in the occult and in art. He considers himself an artist, whereas I’m more interested in rising early in the morning and working outside and doing these sorts of things. It’s mostly me and my partner Megan who maintain the farm as well as some other people who live on our piece of land. It’s very much a working organic farm. Megan grows maybe a hundred different varieties of vegetables over the course of the year. We raise chickens and ducks. I think we’ll have some plans for sheep and goats living on the land later on this year. There’s talk of trying to expand into growing a subsistence amount of grain which is difficult to do in our wet and rainy climate, but there is a few varieties that are suited for our specific bioregion. So yeah it is very much an old fashioned working farm that, as much as possible, attempts to be a closed loop in a way that farms were a 100 years ago before the advent of mechanized agriculture and chemical fertilizer and all these sorts of things.
Thanks so much for your time Aaron.
WOLVES IN THE THRONE ROOM – 2009 TOUR DATES
May 22 2009 Europa Brooklyn, New York **
May 23 2009 Maryland Death Fest Baltimore, Maryland *
May 24 2009 Club Hell Providence, Rhode Island *
May 25 2009 Daniel Street Milford, Connecticut *
May 26 2009 The Studio @ Webster New York, New York *
May 27 2009 Cafe Metropolis Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania *
May 28 2009 Kung Fu Necktie Philadelphia, Pennsylvania *
May 28 2009 Kung Fu Necktie Philadelphia, Pennsylvania *
May 29 2009 Gallery 5 Richmond, Virginia *
May 30 2009 The Hideaway Johnson City, Tennessee *
May 31 2009 Emerald Lounge Asheville, North Carolina *
Jun 1 2009 Caledonia Athens, Georgia *
Jun 2 2009 The Earl Atlanta, Georgia *
Jun 4 2009 Downtown Music Little Rock, Arkansas *
Jun 5 2009 One Eyed Jacks New Orleans, Louisiana *
Jun 7 2009 Emo’s Austin, Texas ^
Jun 8 2009 Rubber Gloves Denton, Texas ^^
Jun 13 2009 Waldrock Burgum
Jun 14 2009 AJZ Bielefeld
Jun 16 2009 Le Sonic Lyon
Jun 18 2009 Neudegg Alm Sonnenwend Celebration Salzburg
Jun 21 2009 Hellfest Clisson
Jun 27 2009 Graspop Dessel
Jun 28 2009 Dudefest Karlsruhe
Jun 29 2009 Hafenklang Hamburg
Jul 2 2009 Roskilde Roskilde
Jul 3 2009 The Garage Oslo
* w/ Krallice/ A Storm Of Light
** w/ Thrones, A Storm Of Light
^ w/ A Storm Of Light, The Roller
^^ w/ A Storm Of Light