I interviewed the vocalist from Swedish black metal band WATAIN a couple of weeks ago in anticipation of their new release, "Lawless Darkness". I have found Watain intriguing, as they seem more genuine in their belief in what is behind black metal (that force or being many refer to as satan), and have seen them live a couple of times. The second time I saw them, the stench was so bad I had to listen from the other side of a wall- not the way I prefer to listen to a show if you know anything about me, but I was not willing to let the smell of death stay on my clothes for the 2-plus hour drive home. The foul odor was part of their presentation, I was curious about that and some of the other aspects of the band.
The interview was done early in the morning (for me- E was in Sweden), and the audio on our connection was not great. I felt only a small part of it that I aired (archive here) would be understandable or clear enough for radio, so below is the interview transcribed. Here is a track from the new record, "Lawless Darkness", this is entitled "Four Thrones" (mp3).
DK: Joining me is E from the band Watain, thanks for talking to us here at WFMU! You have a new record out called Lawless Darkness released by Season of Mist. Can you discuss the title and the main subjects in the record?
E: The main subject of Lawless Darkness is the breaking of patterns and the breaking of laws that chain the heart to the true self. It is about true liberation in that sense. And Lawless Darkness is about the liberation of the inner self that is, the flame of the devil, the one who opposes order of things-the one that is the liberator of the self. Lawless Darkness is what the liberated soul experiences- it is the result- the achievement of the breaking of said laws.
DK: Would you say it’s a goal, or an end point, something to get to?
E: Yeah, it is a type of salvation, so to speak - to use a more familiar term. Lawless Darkness is in a sense - liberation meaning the breaking of laws - achieving liberation by breaking laws. And by Lawless Darkness I mean on both a spiritual and physical level. There are laws within yourself, unconscious, subconsciously, and there are laws externally in the world. Lawless Darkness is about breaking and going beyond those.
DK: In light of you saying that, do you find that certain audiences who may be more restricted where they live, may be more open to your music?
E: It might be so, at least, they are more open to the message of our music- I think they can perhaps relate to that message and what we're trying to convey, but then again, I don’t imagine that the majority of our listeners actually attempt to understand what it is we mean. I don’t think we have a larger fanbase in countries that are rougher, so to say, but I think they might be more dedicated or into what we have to say.
DK: If you think that a lot of your fans don’t “get it” or come from the place that you do, and Watain, is so super focused and dedicated on their dark interests, how does that feel to know that?
E: We are dedicated, but then again, that’s how it works. The metal scene has never been consistent for philosophers -that’s never been the case. What’s most important to us ourselves is that we, Watain, can stand behind everything that we do and we actually have our own goals. What parts of Watain that people find attractive, it’s really not for me to have an opinion about. Of course, I always am grateful when people come up and prove in some way that they have looked beyond the surface of the band. That is rewarding for any artist -when someone dives deeper into your work, but I would never mind if they don’t, that’s not really a concern of mine.
DK: Individual choice, I suppose.
E: As much as it can be, I don’t think anyone who listens to Watain sees us as something as it is not, but there are different aspects to like and appreciate about the band.
DK: There is a special edition of Lawless Darkness coming out, can you describe it?
E: The box, yeah. The idea behind the box was we wanted to do something special apart from a CD version. We are on a label with money, so we decided to do something special instead of bullshit. So we decided on this box- the idea behind the box is we want to give the listener a little bit more personal and deep experience of the album-that’s what the box is for. There is a flag in the box which one is to hang up while listening to the album, a necklace to be worn while listening to the album, a candle to be lit while listening to the album, and there there are also cards for each lyric to focus on during the songs. We are offering a physical environment that we thought would be suitable to enjoy the album in.
DK: Have any sets been completed - have you seen one yet?
E: Not yet, I’ve just seen pictures, but we have been- we designed everything, so I’m sure there won’t be any surprises. I think it will come out good. We put a lot of effort into this package.
DK: What is your writing process like, and has anything changed in production values between the last and this record
E: Well to Watain, stagnation is the enemy, so there is always progress, but it’s not like there is something that I can pinpoint out, bit it’s a general feeling of focus, determination, advancement and execution. First and foremost we understand how this magic works now, and I think it took up to Sworn (To The Dark, rel. 2007), we now see we have a concrete foundation that is Watain, and now for the first time, we are free to act freely, without having to think about where to put our feet.
DK: So you mean, you’ve mastered the technical stuff, so that’s not in the back of your mind as a worry?
E: I don’t really mean the technical stuff actually, more like the creative aspect in general, we have come to know it so well, it works more naturally, we don’t have to force it now & for the first time I finally feel we got everything out in the open that we intended to.
DK: Have you ever had the experience of the music writing itself, as if it’s being channeled?
E: Sort of - if you’ve been in a knife fight 5 times, the first time you might really get stabbed up, and by the fifth fight you don’t have to think so much about what you do - and that’s because you've come to know how to really handle it. The the intent is still the same, the way to get there is more natural now & less forced.
DK: Are there any guest lyricists on this record?
E: Yeah -Pete Helmkamp from Angelcorpse who now plays in the band Kerasphorus, he has done one lyric for the album, which is called Total Funeral. I had been meaning to ask Pete for a long time for a contribution. He is one of the few writers in metal that I genuinely respect for his way of writing..it's beyond words. It's great to finally collaborate with him on this CD. Apart from that I wrote all the lyrics except for a song called Hymn To Qayin, which is written by live guitarist Set Teitan.
DK: Is he still considered in the live guitar position only?
E: Well, Set is first and foremost doing the guitars live, that's what he does in Watain, but we don't just take in any members, he is a brother and a full member of Watain.
DK: Is there anybody that you would like to collaborate with?
E: Well, I have a lot of ideas about collaboration-it's a fruitful way of expanding what a band can build. Of course I have a lot of ideas, but I'm saving them for the future. People were surprised by what we've done in the past, they will fucking lose their heads when they see what I have in mind for the future.
DK: How did the June 5th Record Release gigs in London come about?
E: The idea for the show started with us sitting in the studio and wanting to do some fitting celebration for the release of the album. Logistically, there's a lot of things you cannot do at venues in Sweden, it's complicated-- anyway, so we wanted it to be a concert, not just a release party. We were talking about the perfect lineup for such a gig, and Von came up and we all said -yes of course, that's perfect, but there is no way it is going to happen because they are not around anymore. Not long after, they ended up on the bill-- I mean, that's the band we took our name from, so obviously it meant a lot to us and it's great to have them on the bill. And in turn, Devil's Blood from Holland - took their name from a Watain song, so there's a link between the 3 bands that are playing Saturday. The London fest is a combination of 2 ideas, so we put the 2 concerts together. The Friday happens to be pretty much all the other bands we could imagine having on the bill-so it's a very successful lineup.
DK: Can you talk about how the June 12th Sweden Rock event came about?
E: Well, it’s more like a traditional metal festival, and of course there are a lot of younger people who attend it, and we felt it was more of an opportunity to give them a proper lesson about Black Metal -how it’s supposed to be done. We decided we would do this Bathory tribute - as an educational measure and also because Bathory has been one of the more important bands artistically that Watain uses for inspiration. Now it’s gotten a bit blown up but as long as the spotlight is on Bathory no matter, why not? They deserve all the attention they could possibly get. Especially in a generation of people where fans think that black metal started with Gorgoroth!
DK: Is there more meaning for yourself in performing or writing?
E: The same kind of bond between myself and the forces behind Watain-- the same bond exists in both forms of expression. That's what's important about both of them. I couldn’t say which one I like better, they are 2 completely different kinds of artistic expression for me. Lets say the writing and the recording - at least the writing part seems more like receiving, while the recording & playing live feels more like my way of letting everything out. If you have a very strong feeling within you, and you have come to certain understanding of things that you are very passionate for, you need to express them, at least that's how I work. You need an outlet, that's what happens.
DK: Do the steps of the recording process make it feel different, less removed from the music?
E: Well all of these things are part of- it's hard to say what I enjoy the most. The recording process is also extremely intense time. I mean, playing live, we do the same thing when it comes to composing. Recording is such a short amount of time, it's very compressed, so it's usually very special to Watain. Lawless Darkness was no exception. We worked every night for 2 months on it - true dedication- like anything else we've done before.
DK: What's the significance of the animals and blood in your live performance?
E: The animals and the blood along with the other things we have onstage, everything from the banners with logos to the number of candles that we light onstage, to the incense, to the symbols that we have on the banners- everything has the intention to reach out between this world to the dark and remote place that Watain and its music originates from. They are objects that create a bridge between us and what fuels us or what speaks to us- we are making the stage pleasing to those powers in order to let them flow more freely to us- a portal between a great force and us.
DK: Is it almost a ritualistic recipe? Is there an exact way you set up the stage each time?
E: It doesn't have anything to do with where exactly things are or order, I mean of course there are certain measures we always go by based on tradition, but in general, the idea/intent of having those things onstage is to create the pleasing atmosphere- it is to paint away every little sense of normality from the stage. We want it to be a glimpse into the other side.
DK: To make people think
E: Definitely however, the stage is not set for the sake of the audience. It's not made a certain way to look cool, I mean we have things on the stage that are not even visible to the audience. That's not the main goal. The main goal is for us and for the power behind us to be able to act most freely without being blocked by anything. And as far as audience experience go, that's another question, that's up to whoever is watching to get whatever they do out of it. I've seen people cry, I've seen people vomit, I've seen people run away, I've seen people cutting themselves, I've seen people fucking wanting to shoot us-- as long as it creates something, as long as it opens up something for the audience, that's the only thing I ask from one that comes to see us, to stay open. First you have to experience it- you have to open yourself up and grasp it.
DK: In terms of what it is that Watain wants to create, is there a future overall goal?
E: The goal will always be to remove as much as possible, that is, human from the music and by that reach a purer and purer way of expression. The only thing between the actual songs and the force that we portray, the only thing that is lost in translation are the things that get caught up in human involvement.
We are interpreters, Watain, we are interpreting something that is actually uninterpretable. And we are getting better and better at translating to the audience at what is in our hearts. That's one thing that is true, we have become better and better at it. There are always things that get lost in translation. The goal of Watain is to perfectly, perfectly translate the message of our god, which are the gods of the dark.
DK: In terms of the future, does Watain have a plan far enough into the future even after Watain is gone? What I'm hearing you say is that you are talking about dedication, and a force that is bigger than you, so what are you doing to ensure that it continues? Live photo above by Tor Johnsson.
E: We are living with and working with that force every day of our lives. We are dedicating our lives to it, and by that dedicating our lives to ourselves because that force is what drives us and there is no breaking of that cycle. We don't go around focusing on when the band will end. I've said it before, and it's hard for me to talk about, really, but the way things go, I'm sure there will come a day when we will not be able to express what we want in music anymore and it will have to take other shapes or forms. There are a lot of things to achieve, some of them in music.
DK: Is there anything else that you would like the listeners to know?
E: I would like to encourage all you free spirits, to, on the 8th of June, to commit any act of lawlessness, whatever it might be, whatever it is that you have been dreaming of doing for a long time but the law has prevented you from it, that's a good day to do it!
Post interview note: For those of you who feel you missed your opportunity, I am sure that no one would react any differently to whatever it is that you have wanted to do-committing "that" lawless act for yourself...if you did it sooner rather than later. It seems to me it's all about self-expression in the end!