Thursday, March 05, 2009

Wolves in the Throne Room

Art list is posted below

Wow. I guess I should have figured that I'd be dealing with some fairly intense individuals when I interviewed a Black Metal group like Wolves in the Throne Room (as part of our ongoing interview series with interesting bands playing SXSW 2009), but I was still highly impressed with drummer Aaron Weaver's outlook on the world, and especially by the underlying positivity contained within his worldview. His opinions and lifestyle might not appeal to everyone, but his thoughts are interesting to say the least, and his lifestyle is one that you don't encounter every day, especially when living amongst the urban and suburban sprawl of DFW. I spoke with Weaver on the phone today about his band, his farm in rural Washington, and the spiritual component of Black Metal. Here is what he had to say:

I wanted to start off by asking you about the Malevolent Grain EP (released this year)-- when did you record it and where, and what were some of your goals for the recording sessions?

Sure. We knew we wanted to record a full length, we had a lot of material and the desire was there. But we also wanted to collaborate with our friend Jamie Meyers, who was the female vocalist on some things on Two Hunters, but we didn't want to have a song on our full length album that we couldn't play live. Both of our older records have songs that if we play them live without Jamie or Jessica (Kinney, of Eyvid Kang and Asva) singing, then we're really missing an important part of the music. So that's why we did it, we had talked about it doing it for years and we really wanted to work with her. It was kind of a difficult thing to do because she lives in Texas and we live in the Northwest, obviously, so it was in many ways an interesting experiment because we wrote some music and sent it to her and then she sang over it and sent it back, so we really created the first song on this EP without ever being in the same room until we actually got together to record it. Every record that we make has its own sort of narrative and its own sort of spirit to it, so we recorded this as a separate thing.

So this isn't a preview of what the new album is going to be?

No, I know it's often times the case that the EP is put out first in order to promote a full length album, and it comes from the same recording session, but thats not the case here at all. The new material on Black Cascade, the new full length, is very very different. It's very much a metal album. It's quite dark and pretty unrelenting. I think its focused, that's the best word to describe it. It's focused and powerful I think. Because 12 Stars and Two Hunters (the band's previous full lengths) are very expansive and sprawling albums and explore a lot of sonic territory, and we wanted to make a record that was more powerful.

I read a couple of reviews of Malevolent Grain on metal sites, and although the two I read were pretty positive, they seemed to be written by guys who were really into the genre of black metal, and they claimed that you guys were sort of moving away from Black Metal, the quote is that Wolves in the Throne Room's relationship with Black Metal is "more tenuous than ever." Do you agree with that, do you care?

Well we've always had a very tenuous relationship with black metal. That's the interesting thing about our band. That of course we're playing music that owes a great debt to Scandinavian Black Metal in terms of sound and a certain spirit, but it is also very much a product of our own culture and our own set of influences, and our own very idiosyncratic ideology. But I think when that same reviewer hears Black Cascade he'll be in for a surprise because it's by far the most "Black Metal" thing we've ever created.

Where and when did you record the new full length?

We've done all three of our last recordings all with Randall Dunn, who I don't know if you're familiar with him but he's recorded Sunn 0))), Earth, Grails, a bunch of really good interesting bands. We've developed a very good recoding relationship with him. So it was recorded partially at his home studio called A List, in West Seattle, and partially at a bigger, fancier studio called London Bridge, which is a little bit north of Seattle, which has a really amazing old console and two inch tape and a really amazing room for drums. It's a really great sounding studio. We were able to do all the basic tracks there, all the guitars, and then do all the overdubs and vocals and ethereal stuff at Randall's house.

How long have you been interesting in Black Metal-- how long have you been making and listening to it?

We've always been metal heads, I had the In the Night Side Eclipse when it first came out, and I've always been interested in Black Metal and death metal and these sorts of things. I think we had the idea to start playing the music seriously about six or seven years ago because we all come out of a punk sort of background and we were beginning to see some cracks in the facade of that sort of way of looking at the world, that sort of political, left wing way of looking at the world. I think we were looking for something deeper, some sort of evolution, and I think we found that in Black Metal. It's this music that has a spiritual dimension to it and I think it allows one to access another world, a spiritual reality or a transcendent reality.

Would you say that your political views went beyond the categories of left and right wing, or do you feel like you rejected leftist ideas?

I think a better way to describe is that we sort of became less interested in looking at the world in terms of politics. I think that, when I was younger, take any sort of issue, like logging a forrest, which is something we're all very interested in, a younger version of myself would say that it is a political issue: you have a particular track of forest sold to a logging company and the trees are cut down, its cause and effect, a political or economic or sociological issue. But I just don't believe that anymore. I think that at this point I look at things on an occult level or a spiritual level, I don't see it in terms of a political issue, I think its more of a metaphysical issue. And those are the issues that Black Metal deals with, and those are the issues that Wolves in the Throne Room deals with. At the same time, as people, I think that all of us still have a sort of humanist world view. We've always been a band thats always specifically said that we aren't into the idea of racism, or xenophobia, or right wing nationalism, Anti-Semitism, all the sorts of things that Black Metal is often unfortunately connected with.

Yeah, Black Metal does sort of have that reputation, but you seem to see something totally the opposite of all that in the music.

Yeah, and I understand why people make the connection between Black Metal and a Right Wing ideology, because Black Metal fundamentally is an attempt to destroy the modern world, its an attempt to replace the modern world with an ancient, primal, pagan way of living and feeling and thinking. And I can see how one can make that connection, because if one is to destroy modernity and democracy and capitalism, then what does one replace it with? And unfortunately I can see how people can say well "you should replace it with a fascist regime or a Right wing state of some sort," but I just really disagree with that. I think that Right Wing ideologies are fundamentally cowardly, I think that they are a natural impulse and a very negative one, because those ideologies are about looking backwards, about being afraid of the current situation and trying to grasp for something that is solid, something that feels familiar, moving backwards, taking a step back towards some perceived way of living. I think that's a really negative attitude to have because I think its a natural thing for human beings and other organisms to evolve, we have to move towards something new and not be afraid of any sort of possibility.

Do you see the band as a vehicle for any kind of activism or as a way to make a statement about these issues?

No, definitely not. We're explicitly non-political and very consciously not interested in the idea of having any sort of message. That's something that we're really interested in avoiding-- trying to preach or sit on some high horse. All we're trying to do is to express a spirit, something that has very little to do with the physical world, but has to do with another level of perception.

I've also read quite a bit about the self sustaining organic farming you do. Can you tell our readers a little bit about where you live and how you live?

Well we live on the outskirts of Olympia, WA, we have a small farmstead, and we're very blessed I think. My partner, Megan, is a very gifted organic farmer and she does the majority of the growing of food, that's her passion in life. So for a good part of the year I'm able to pretty much only eat food that comes from this farm or our friends who have farms in the same area. And as much as possible, I like to immerse myself in that very traditional way of living. I think its one of the ways to touch some sort of transcendent spirit, to immerse oneself in a sort of timeless and rhythmic way of living. To plant seeds in the spring time, and harvest in the fall, and then save the seeds and cast them again the following spring. Or to collect firewood in the summertime, burn it in the winter, and then put those ashes on to the compost pile. It's those sort of actions that for me have opened up a whole new realm of perception and have allowed me to experience something that is beyond, I think, the materialist, rationalist world view that the modern world is based on.

So do you think this lifestyle has a directly positive psychological impact on your overall well being?

Of course, but I don't think I really have an option. I think if I was living a normal life in a city, working at a job and just being a part of mainstream society, I wouldn't be able to do it. It's not something that is an option for me. So I think we're very very lucky that through a good deal of hard work and lucky breaks and bit of fate, perhaps, that we've been able to create this space where we can manifest in the physical world something that is a mirror of a spiritual reality.

Did you grow up in a rural environment?

No, I actually grew up in Olympia, its always been our home. I've lived other places over the years, but when I returned to Olympia six or seven years ago and moved on to our homestead, I kind of made a commitment that this would be my home for the foreseeable future. I'm very interested in making a connection to a specific place, which is a great sacrifice in many ways. There's a lot that you give up when you commit yourself to one spot, one place. You have to take on a whole never level of responsibility, and you give up that rootlessness that is very much a part of the modern American urban reality.

Do you feel like you would be completely uncomfortable if you were all of a sudden thrust upon San Francisco or New York or something like that?

It's not that I feel uncomfortable there. I feel very comfortable in cities. I have no problem navigating the subway or going to an art museum or going out to a dinner, these are things that on some levels I enjoy doing. But at the same time, when I'm away from home and away from daily contact with the natural world and this sort of traditional, rhythmic way of living, I can feel my connection to a spiritual reality giving. I can feel my connection to an ancient spirit being slowly severed. It's very much a trade off, because you become so used to this very primitive or simple existence, and you become aware that when you live in that sort of place you really transform your consciousness in a very real way, and then when you are away from that sort of lifestyle, you miss it, and you feel a very deep sense of loss, so its very much a tradeoff in that respect.

I wanted to talk briefly about Southern Lord, because something I think is interesting about the label and its roster is that it seems to sort of transcend genres and different pockets of musical subcultures in Europe and the U.S. What is it about the roster and the label itself that allows it to do that? You guys are respected and liked in Black Metal circles, and in avant garde and art rock circles, and you even get coverage in kind of indie rock publications like Pitchfork.

I think one of the interesting thing about Southern Lord is that it is a very eclectic roster. So many underground labels seem to focus on one genre of music, so they'll put out all Black Metal, or all Doom, or all Avant Garde drone, and I think Southern Lord casts a much wider net for the bands that they put out. But the interesting thing is that I think all the bands have something in common, that they are all exploring darkness, or the idea of achieving some sort of transcendent state through exploration of the dark side of the spirit world, and I think that is what all the bands on Southern Lord have in common. And I think all the bands on Southern Lord stand on their own, are all a part of their own individual genre. But I think there are more independent thinkers on Southern Lord, rather than bands that are more interested in staying true to the dogmas of their chosen genres, these are bands that aren't afraid to step out of the prescribed boundaries.

So you guys are playing SXSW this year-- do you know where and when?

Yes, but I don't know where or when. I don't pay much attention to the business side of things, I'm just sort of told when to show up and where, and I appear the best I can.

Yeah, SXSW can be such an overwhelming experience.

It's a bit of clusterfuck. It's not the kind of thing I'm particularly excited about playing. Forgive me if I'm wrong, but it seems that SXSW is more about the business side of things, a showcase for all the executive types and distribution people and the magazines and MTV or whatever. I'm just so far removed from that existence. We have to deal with it to a certain degree because of course we release our records through a record label and go on tours, so we have a certain amount of awareness of that side of things, but it's a world I'm very wary of losing oneself to. And I don't think it is a danger for Wolves in the Throne Room because we're not the kind of band that could get swept up in sort of a rock n roll cliche, I think we're very rooted in our spirit and very rooted in our motivation. We'll use the music machine to our own advantage, but as soon as we feel like we're being used in some way, we'll gladly take a step back.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good interview.

8:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice. Anyone know if they're coming through here, on there way to Austin?

10:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry, their.

10:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Love this band. I love WSJR interviews because of the obvious care you put into making sure the interviewees words are exactly what they said. People don't understand how very frequent misquotes are in our local music media. Nobody uses a tape recorder anymore. It's obvious you do. I wish you would do 5 of these types of interviews a week.

10:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

thanks for that wsjr

10:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Speaking of misquotes-

"which has a really old counsel and two inch tape"

I got a laugh out of that. Not being shitty or anything- it happens, obviously.

But yeah- great interview. Thanks!

10:58 AM  
Anonymous stonedranger said...

Oops... yeah, you kinda lose your mind after a while when you're transcribing these things.

And thanks for the comments.

11:07 AM  
Anonymous stonedranger said...

Btw, if you hit submit and the page reloads but your comment does not appear, refresh the page just once and the comment will show up. We are working on solving this issue right now. Thanks.

11:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i have been asked to comment in the observer and some other papers and every fucking time they leave out words or reaarange the sentence slightly its fucking annoying either print what i just said if you are interested and if not then why even fucking bother asking?

nice interview wsjr

11:22 AM  
Anonymous Zach Bard said...

Thanks SR. Great interview, great band.

11:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

that dude has a lot of stuff figured out

12:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

great interview of an interesting human

2:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was playing their album one morning while I did the dishes. My wife woke up terrified and said she felt like she was in a horror film.

2:50 PM  
Anonymous twin cheeks said...

what a great band, that ep has been on heavy rotation at my house for weeks! i've always thought the stories about thier lifestyle was bs press shit, but i guess not. crazy!

2:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

good interview...i enjoyed it..great show a few months back!

3:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


3:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

cant wait to see them at sx

3:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

is T.O. gonna be there???

well then, you're gonna need to get yo popcorn ready, foo......

3:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

good job.

4:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

they're playing @ rgrs in june..

5:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll admit to liking WITTR but this hippie faggotry is what's ruining black metal. Black Metal is HATRED, not organic farming.

5:33 PM  
Anonymous aaron gonzalez said...

wolves in the throne room is beautiful and intense live

5:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

their show at rubber gloves was fantastic.
can't wait to see them again.

5:59 PM  
Anonymous le chauffeur said...

5:33 pm

gaahl goes strolling through the woods

10:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

good garrdn

12:41 PM  

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