Fundamentally, Watain is a band which doesnâ€™t care about what anyone else thinks of its art. At least, there is no way that this external vision could distract the Watain trinity from its objective. In the following interview, Eric Danielsson explains his deep respect towards a few founding fathers of the metal genre such as MotĂ¶rhead or Iron Maiden which have kept the same recipe for decades without worrying about what people may think. However, unlike these bands, the Swedes are vowed to pushing further the boundaries of their music. This quest is both personal and spiritual since the band plays to voice its own conception of spirituality and religion. Indeed, Watain undeniably knows what it is doing and is proud to have successfully sailed its boat to where it is today. Besides, Danielsson doesnâ€™t hesitate to express his satisfaction regarding the creative force that animates the band nowadays.
For the Swedes, Watain is a band with substance, vowed and driven by ideas. Thus, the band leader reacts to the sayings of one Ghost’s Nameless Ghoul, whom we interviewed a few weeks ago and described the two bands as similar, and gives his opinion of the band which he considers, unlike Watain, an entertainment. Danielsson also comments on his new musical experimentations, which lead The Wild Hunt to be more diversified than ever but also, paradoxically, more approachable, without having actually meant it.
Radio Metal: In the bandâ€™s biography sent with the album, itâ€™s written that taking things to the next step has always been Watain’s goal. Do you think a band that stagnates is a dying one?
Erik Danielsson (vocals): There is a difference between stagnating and sticking to your guns. Bands like Iron Maiden or MotĂ¶rhead are some of my favorite bands of all time, and I’m really grateful that theyâ€™re so stubborn about their artistic vision, in a way. But for a band like Watain, progressing has always been extremely important. It has always been about exploring our art, our selves, and the back side of the world, really. For us, it’s never been an option to stay in the same place all the time. We are nomadic, restless people. We need to move forward.
Watain is a trio. Do you think working as a trio is the best way to write natural music, without any superfluous tricks?
There is something about the trinity thatâ€™s very essential and primal somehow: the triangle is the simplest form in geometry, and there are also many religious references to the number three being a very foundational number. But at the same time, I could write with plenty of people as well, I don’t think it’s all in the number so to say. But Watain has always benefited a lot from being three core members up to five members on stage that are equally as much part of the band. But it’s still the three core members that constitute the essence of the band.
This is a very diverse album. We have an instrumental track, some classic black metal songs, some calm and melodic songs with clean vocals, and â€śOutlawâ€ť that has almost some sort of a rock’n'roll vibe. Where does this diversity come from? What were your influences for this album?
The reason the album is so diverse is that itâ€™s very much based on the history of Watain, and on ourselves. It’s an extremely personal album. There was obviously no way of keeping it straight. We wanted to bring the listener on a roller coaster ride through the mad universe of Watain, and that universe is very diverse in nature. There are places that are extremely violent, fiery, and very very dangerous, and there are also places that are filled with silence, reverence, and a very serious and calm nature. It’s also a matter of being entirely honest, and showing a bit more of ourselves than we have perhaps done before. To us, it was extremely rewarding because it gives you a feeling of freedom as an artist: you feel very liberated when you don’t have anything you have to care about, any limits, any boundaries whatsoever; you can write and compose in whatever way you see fit… That means a lot, that’s a very rewarding way to work.
You recorded this album in four different studios. Why?
Because we decided first of all that we were going to be in the studio for four months to record this album because we understood at a very early stage that it was going to take a very long time to get it right. Like you said, it’s a very diverse album, it demands a lot of attention from various angles. And when we decided we were going to be in the studio for four months, we realized pretty quickly that there was no way we were going to stay in the same place for four months: we would probably have killed each other or at least the producer after a month! So we decided to record in four different places that we thought were suitable in atmosphere and in location as well. And yes, we had to move the equipment to four different places.
â€śThey Rode Onâ€ť and â€śThe Wild Huntâ€ť are the first songs with clean vocals of your career if I’m not mistaken. Can you tell us how you got the idea to include some clean vocals in your music?
Mmh yeah, I wrote the song and I wanted to have clean vocals on it, so it has clean vocals on it. [laughs] It’s not that much of a big decision for me, it was just a matter of that we were trying to express a certain feeling with those songs that demanded another kind of vocals than the ones we were used to. Then you have to do another kind of vocals, and we did. So I don’t know. For me it’s not a really big thing. I mean, we have always been very open to incorporate any element in the music that we needed in order to express what we wanted to express, and the clean vocals were just another instrument we had to take in in order to achieve the goal with that particular song.
Was it a challenge for you to sing like that?
No, not really actually. I took one or two singing lessons to make sure that I was doing it right, but I didn’t learn so much from them, just to not give a fuck, you know? That’s the only way to do it. I don’t think so much, don’t care so much. Just sing how your heart feels, that’s the way it is.
And don’t you think you will have reactions from the â€śtrueâ€ť extreme metal fans that will think you have sold out because you’ve included clean vocals in your music?
[Yawns] Yeah, I’m sure we will. I’m sure there will be reactions, but I’m so completely uninterested in those kinds of reactions… I’m interested in relevant ones. I’m interested when people have points with what they say, but when it comes to teenagers who are upset because I don’t scream, yeah… I think of our work in a bit bigger picture than that, so it’s far from my concern, to be honest.
You just said that you’re interested in relevant reactions. Did it ever happen that sometimes you hear some reaction, and then change something in your music according to it?
Uh, no. We don’t work that way. We write the music for ourselves and for our gods, and we do that as we see fit. To me, it’s an extremely strange concept to consider the expectations of other people when you write music yourself. That’s a very alien and strange concept to me. I don’t know how to relate to that, to me it’s a very strange idea. The reason I’m a musician is because I have something to express, not because I want other people to listen and like my music. The first idea has always been that you, yourself, have something you want to express. I don’t know. That idea is just strange to me.
You declared: â€śI piss on those so-called artists who adapt themselves in order to reach bigger audiencesâ€ť. Is it possible to write accessible music and remain honest?
Well, apparently our music is somewhat accessible because we sell albums and some people come to our concerts. What I mean when I say things like the thing you were quoting is that what I cannot accept is if one band adapts their music in order to make it more accessible, in order to reach more people. That’s when it gets strange to me because that’s when you lose your artistic vision. Then you base things on something completely different, then you just want to entertain; then it’s just about entertainment, and Watain is not about entertainment in the first place. It’s about something entirely different. I’m sure my mother could like â€śThey Rode Onâ€ť from the new album, in that that’s an accessible song, but it’s not written in order to be accessible. It is accessible for whatever reason but I don’t know, it just turned out that way. It wasn’t the intention with the song, to be accessible. Do I make sense? Do you understand what I mean?
Yeah, no problem! A few weeks ago we had the band Ghost in interview. They told us: â€śWe are friends [with Watain] and they have a similar approach to what we do, in the sense that they understand that as radical as their art is, if you want to expand it and go beyond the cellars, you have to sort of step it up. And you try to find that fine balance between artful integrity and accessibility for the purpose of making your art explodes to something better.â€ť What do you think of that statement?
Well, it sounds very much like something Ghost would say [laughs]. I think they have a completely different agenda with their music in many ways. I respect them for what they do, they do it as a kind of experiment that no one had really done before. I find that fascinating, but they are entertainers. They are a theatrical group and they do what they do very well… It works, you know. But Watain comes from an entirely different source. It comes from a love for our gods. Watain is first and foremost a spiritual expression. It’s a religious tool. Ghost is an entertaining music group. That’s two very different things. But at the same time, at least they are challenging the norms, and at least they are doing interesting things, in my view. But what people have to understand is that comparing them to us would be like comparing a Broadway circus about Indians to a Shaman group in the Amazon. It’s two completely different things.
Yeah, actually they also said: â€śIn comparison to them, what we do is very cartoonish and sort of gimmicky. I definitely think that we are sort of similar, we are two different versions of the same thing.â€ť I guess that then you don’t agree and don’t see Ghost as a cartoonish version of Watain…
Well, in a way they are right. I don’t see Ghost as a cartoon; I see it as very good entertainment. â€śCartoonâ€ť sounds so childish. I like what they do! They do it in a very dignified way. But the only thing that I want to make clear is that the satanic aspect for them is as realistic as in a Roman Polanski movie or whatever. It’s well done, but it doesn’t come from a religious perspective at all. It’s about entertainment.
Well, that’s it for me. Do you have one last thing to say?
I would just recommend people to keep their ears and eyes open because we’re standing in front of very interesting times musically and culturally. I think the times we are in right now will be remembered in many many years to come. There is something very strange and large about to happen, and Watain will be a very integrate part of that thing. So be aware, be on your guards, because things are about to be very interesting.
Interview conducted by phone on July 9th 2013
Watain’s official website: www.templeofwatain.com
Album The Wild Hunt out since August 19th 2013 via Century Media Records.
This post is also available in: French