Wolves In The Throne Room – Interview

int_wolvesinthe_hed2The music of Wolves in the Throne Room speaks to me in earthen hues of green, brown and autumn fire. To sit with the amazing “Diadem of 12 Stars”, is to be placed sonically in a dense woodland setting. You can almost feel the moisture beneath you as you sit and sway in the breeze as the scent of moss and other degrees of woodland decomposition enter your senses. This element takes life and transforms it into nutrients and hope for a new beginning to sprout from an old idea/piece of organic matter. The whole ecosystem of the forest acts as the very basis and foundation for this amazing band to weave their well layered, almost Norwegian in aesthetic, songs into a vessel for the spirit of the woods to reach out and make her presence felt. Below lies a conversation conducted via email in January with Aaron. May the words of the artist inspire you to further explore the world of Wolves in the Throne Room, and possibly inspire within you a broader understanding on man’s desire to reconnect with the Earth. – Marty Rytkonen

This has been what seems to be quite an active year for Wolves of the Throne Room with all the press and critical acclaim that has supported “Diadem of 12 Stars.” I realize one rarely views their art in such a manner, but when creating the material for this album, did you in any way feel that there was something special on display here that would indeed reach out beyond the confines of Olympia, Washington?

Well, we had a feeling that this music would resonate with people outside of our small community because the themes we explore are bubbling under the surface of the collective consciousness. The driving notion behind WITTR is that we are all burdened with a deep sadness because humanity’s ancient connections to nature and our traditional lifeways have been so brutally severed by the juggernaut of modernity. Creating music and art is one way to begin to heal that ancient wound.

Try to remove yourself from your music for a second and convey what it is you think sets Wolves apart from the thousands of bands that make up the current status of black metal both in the US and overseas.

I think that it is clear that we don’t try to present ourselves as an orthodox Black Metal band, in fact we are becoming less and less comfortable with that label as our music and our ideas come to full fruit. Black Metal, to my mind, is a very specific thing and it is obvious that we do not hold true to the “rules”. Beyond the aesthetic that we present, which is more dreamlike and melancholy than full of despair and violence, I think that our music is created with a very different intention than, say, Leviathan. I would like to think that it is the intentionality behind out music that draws people to our band.

When listening to music, I find myself being quite reclusive… Meaning I have a room where I prefer to sit alone and “feel” what I’m hearing. Rarely do I go out and interact with the outside world with an album, but this past year I found myself on a walk through the woods surrounding my house with “Diadem…” in the walkman. What usually is a short trip, often just long enough to take in a change of scenery, turned into something much more expansive. I spun the record 3 times back to back in this environment and the music seemed to awaken something much deeper. Sitting beneath a tree with the wind in my face while hearing the swirling layers of “Face in a Night Time Mirror” made everything feel so much more alive and grounded. The hypnotic and organic feel of this material really made it difficult to return to reality. I’m curious the mindset one needs to obtain before writing such material? Is there a return to nature, or a more stripped down primordial essence that allows one to unlock such emotion? How do the members in this band each approach the writing process and what do you hope to accomplish artistically?

int_wolvesinthe_pic1It makes me very happy that you had such an experience with our music. I was first drawn to Black Metal after having similar experiences with albums like Ulver’s “Bergatt” and Burzum’s “Filosofem” – music that, I think, truly expresses the energies of the place where it was composed. Our writing is a combination of a somewhat logical and ordered process of composition and a more intuitive expression of deeply felt emotions. Certainly personal experiences in the natural world inspire the music as well; the flight of migrating birds, certain clouds, the rain and wind.

At the onset of Autum, we began writing material for a new record. We usually gather around dusk in a room in the great hall on our farm. During the composition of this record, I have been receiving a great amount of inspiration from the beautiful skies that grace our farm around this time of year, as the last rays of golden light illuminate trees and fields while the sky turns to grey then black. Just looking at such magnificence puts me in the mind to write music.

I understand that you have already embarked upon writing for album #2… with such a massive release behind you, do you approach this gathering creativity with a similar outlook or spirit, or is Wolves in the Throne Room not so concerned with emulating a past style, rather embrace your expression with a bold new, even linear approach? What can you tell us about the songs in your impending future?

We are at the point where we don’t over-think the songwriting, so I don’t think that we are consciously trying to recreate our previous manifestations or forge something new. We have a good rapport with each other and trust ourselves to create the music that will express what we need to express. Now that the album is coming together and we are able to reflect on the songs in their rough form, I can tell you that we are exploring the pulsing, trance-inducing side of our music by working more with powerful drums combined with emotive melody and atmosphere. “Diadem of 12 Stars” was very much a guitar album – our new release will bring to the fore the drum.

You’ve stated in the past that your lifestyle and your music are based on a set of clear principles and ideology, yet the lyrics are not reprinted and such a message likely wouldn’t be discernable to the audience due to the non-accessible music you create. What are you trying to say with your art and why have you chosen to keep this message obscured if you place such an importance on it?

I don’t know if the lyrics, which tend to express personal things, are particularly crucial to our message, which is to find healing and hopefulness by reconnecting with that which is divine in our world. In this day and age, bands and their ideas are so easily accessed on the internet that I think that anyone who is interested could find one of the many interviews we have done quite easily.

Having recently returned from a trip to the Pacific Northwest (Portland, OR in particular), I found it quite surprising/refreshing to meet so many people that possessed very spiritual pagan beliefs and a generally progressive view of art and life. Perhaps I experienced an isolated area in what could be considered a “hip” city, but judging from the symbols and imagery you chose to present yourselves with in band photos, I get the impression that the members of Wolves in the Throne Room as well place more worth in the spiritual teachings of nature, rather than the trappings of Christian dogma often explored in black metal. Could you offer a bit of insight into your beliefs and what life circumstances led you to consider a less traveled path spiritually?

int_wolvesinthe_pic2This has always been my critique of Black Metal; the inverted Christianity and the emphasis on arcane “hidden knowledge” seem to me to be utterly claustrophobic and dogmatic. I’m sure to that to some people it feels deeply authentic and powerful, but I have never felt any connection at all to Satanic ideology and practice. My personal spirituality is quite simple and un-profound. Sometimes, for some reason, the air crackles with meaning and power. I don’t have a name for it and I don’t know what it is, but I know that it is divine. I had quite a crack-up a number of years ago which encouraged me to leave some of my logical-rational worldview behind in order to grow as a person and a spiritual being. Every day brings new insight.

What is it about The Pacific Northwest that attracts this way of thinking/living? The nature itself? The people?

I think that the North West offers communities where people will not be mocked for seeking authentic experiences, though I think that pockets of free-thinkers can be found everywhere. Irony is a plague of our time.

Knowing that Wolves makes it a point to play live, I’m curious about how this dense and atmospheric music translates in front of a crowd. What sort of a transformation do you feel your music embraces live? More aggressive? More open ended/jam oriented? Does Wolves in the Throne Room adopt a different aesthetic sonically and visually in front of an audience?

The pure physicality of the brutal drumming and screaming brings a certain aggressive energy to the music. Catharsis is one of our objectives in live performance. There is also the improvisational/intuitive element that comes into play when we perform, something that I would like to explore more fully. Our vision is to create a transformative space where the band and the listeners can share the wild abandon.

Upon reading that the band tends to shun contact with most of society, I find it even more curious that you have made it a point to bring Wolves in the Throne Room out on the road. In a genre where it’s not uncommon to have many bands/projects avoid ever playing live, it seems that in your case it would have been easy to keep your music on more of a subdued/personal level. Why do you feel the need to make this band a bit more accessible to the masses than you have made yourself on a day-to-day plane of existence? Has it been difficult adjusting to this lifestyle?

You are absolutely right that there is a contradiction in this – I am not so sure that touring and playing shows in bars and clubs is the right thing for us to do, but we have chosen this path and will continue to do it for the time being. A lot is lost when we tour, musically, spiritually, emotionally. It takes so much emotional effort to play this music that I cannot imagine sustaining it over 20 or 30 shows while maintaining any sort of authenticity. This is something that we continue to struggle with as a band. As for life at home, while I have no interest in interacting with the greater culture, it is not as if we are completely isolated. As you noted earlier, the Northwest is home to many people who share a life-outlook similar to ours.

What led you to choose your union with Vendlus Records? I have always respected that labels obvious love for a wide array of musical styles, but it seems to me that Wolves in the Throne Room are the first truly noteworthy band to arise from that roster to earn a wider recognition. Black metal fans tend to stick to the labels they know deliver consistently good black metal. Looking at the unfortunate politics of underground metal, has being on such an eclectic label affected the band in any way? Will you continue to be a part of the Vendlus family?

We were never interested in working with a label that deals exclusively with Black Metal, because our band is so clearly different in sound and intention from those artists who strive to create something “cold, grim and evil”. I think that we would not have felt totally at home on a label where all of the other bands present a kult aesthetic. That being said, I don’t know if being on Vendlus has helped or hurt our ability to present our music and our ideas. Our next full length will be released through Southern Lord, though we will continue to work with Vendlus.

The creativity on display in your band seems to be an element that would likely spill into other avenues of expression. Side projects are typically a common occurrence in the black metal world. Are there any other musical avenues pursued by members of Wolves in the Throne Room, metal or non-metal? In what other genres of music do you find the most inspiration?

Currently, WITTR is the only musical expression for the three of us. We all have very full lives and strive to find a balance between music and the other things that are important to us. The growing season is approaching very quickly and soon music will have to take a back seat to the demands of the farm. The barn needs to be repaired, wood needs to be split for next year, seeds must be sown… my list of tasks is endless, as it should be. We all have dreams of doing other things, but for now WITTR takes priority. As for inspiration, I am drawn to all musiks that serve to create a sacred and transformative space. Recently, I have been listening to the Elemental Chrysalis, folk music of all sorts, Burzum, Drudkh,.

Upon hearing all the time an effort that has been invested in the layered music you create, I’m curious about how you view the current status of the US black metal scene both stylistically and in a sense of musical community? Do you feel like a definite part of it, or a bit too different and out of touch with something that seems to be earning an increased amount of recognition worldwide? I feel that US BM is on the right track for sure, but the past couple of years have been a lot more about quantity than true quality.

We don’t feel a particularly deep connection with the USBM label. I think that most USBM groups are committed to staying true to the orthodox BM aesthetic, something that we are most certainly not interested in doing. I guess that I have nothing to say on the subject.

I know you’ve been bogged down with a lot of press this year and I just wanted to thank you for taking the time to dig through the questions for this interview. I know our readers will appreciate the effort. We at Worm Gear are definite followers of your craft and wish you continued success. Feel free to plug your current wares and end this how you see fit.

Thanks for the thoughtful questions. As a final thought, I would urge anyone who claims to be interested in Black Metal to learn more about the plight of certain people who have been charged with “ecoterrorism” and are facing a lifetime in prison for alleged crimes in defense of the earth. The connection between radical environmentalism and BM is, to my mind, self-evident.

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~ by martyworm on January 3, 2009.

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