Woe – Interview

woe-chris-live1A spirited descent into the burning fields of sonic drama and unruly despair, Pennsylvania’s Woe are at the tip of the spear of the US’ black metal attack as the colonies strike out against their Euro/Scandinavian counterparts.  Sole visionary, Chris Grigg, has taken the 1 man black metal aesthetic to higher ground with stunning/inspiring songsmithing rarely experienced in this genre, not to mention a very talented musician as he has handled every duty on Woe’s latest album, “A Spell for the Death of Man”. Technical and heavy as hell drum work fuels the antagonizing speed of this material, for melancholic riffs to further twist the atmosphere of this mans musical vision into a very intense and moving statement of anger and isolation. Chris was kind enough to recently dig deeper and reveal the workings behind his process and further unearth the unholy fire that is the essence of Woe.  -Marty

Woe has been a steadily growing and advancing band over the past few years. Could you give our readers a view into the realization and swift evolution of this musical outlet? Looking back on your body of work, is there anything you regret, or would like to change?

In the interest of not writing one of those bios typically found on the websites of the shittiest bands, I’ll keep this brief. I started in 2007 as a very basic raw black metal solo project, released a demo and a split 7″ in 2007 and a full-length in 2008. While the first two recordings were raw, home recordings, I realized that the growing complexity of the music required a higher production quality if it was to come off correctly. Thematically, the original intention was nothing profound — typical black metal themes of Satanism, evil, etc, but I quickly grew bored of that and began writing more introspective lyrics. The combination of that boost in production and change in philosophy gave birth to the Woe found on “A Spell for the Death of Man.”

As far as regrets or a desire to change the past, I think that the author of any creative work has any number of things that they’d do differently, given a second chance. That said, there’s nothing that really springs to mind because, to tell you the truth, I’m quite satisfied with how things are working out! The things that I’d like to change are things that I had to learn anyway — they were simply unavoidable.

A Spell for the Death of Man” truly is a very deep and skillfully written album, a trait that is rarely experienced with 1 man black metal projects. Since this is definitely more of a challenge as a writer to handle every aspect of an album, from conception, to lyrical ideas, to every note and drum fill, how do you tackle the writing process and deal with the stress of it all? Is there less, or a lot more scrutiny when it comes to viewing new riffs, since there is no one else around to bounce ideas off of? When it comes to 1 man bands, I feel this is the most common offense…. the lack of looking at the material objectively and weeding out the week so to speak… would you agree?

In a word: carefully. Honestly, I find more stress in the collaborative creative process than when I work by myself. One of the major reasons that I started this project was a desire to work at my own rather fast pace without having to make concessions or compromise my vision. When you work with others, your number of limitations is increased dramatically. You have to deal with schedules, personalities, motivations, skill levels, one set for each member of the band. By yourself, though, you work at your own pace and are only held back by your own capabilities! I see that as freeing. Succeed or fail, it’s up to me, and that pressure forces me to be very critical and very careful of everything that gets the name “Woe” on it.

Beyond that, though, there are a few things I do to make the process a bit easier for me. The first is a rigid definition, a very clear set of goals and standards. When I enter into a project — and this goes for everything I do, not just Woe — I start with a statement of intent. It lets me know what is and acceptable for all aspects of the band and covers everything from guitar tone to lyrical topics to the overall feel of the music. A lot of bands are unfocused, they sort of just write riffs that are fit together; a good band, though, knows what they want to accomplish and works to achieve that goal. With “A Spell…” I limited my conscious influences very carefully — I knew exactly how I wanted it to come out so there was no guesswork involved. In a way, this makes it easy when writing because something either fits within my guidelines or it doesn’t. If it fits, the goal is to then make it work within the context of the individual song and if it doesn’t snap into place, it gets cut and I try to find something else to put in its place. In a traditional band environment, this is tough because my rigid definition of “acceptable riffs” might be different from someone else’s. Without a unified vision, the end result suffers.

The second is that I record full versions of every song prior to the final studio recording. Every song on “A Spell…” was demoed at least twice except “No Civilization,” which only had one demo. “Longing…” actually came from putting two songs together, one of which was completely finished but lacking lyrics for months prior to being chopped up. The changes from the final demo to the studio recording are usually minor since I work out most of the kinks as I’m recording the demo guitars but it helps create one extra filter to catch things that need changing.

I think that a lot of solo projects suffer not only from a lack of vision but just a basic lack of standards. American black metal, especially that coming from solo projects, seems to adhere to this strange level of acceptability, where any goes if you can get it on the internet, take some “grim” pictures, and slap a logo on it. I don’t think that the most common offense is a lack of quality control, it’s a lack of giving a shit. My longstanding joke about Woe is that my CD isn’t that good, it’s just very competent and by that virtue alone, it is instantly better than so much else! There are guys more talented than me all over the place, they just never thought of black metal as a good way to exorcise their demons. Maybe that will be Woe’s greatest gift: inspiring others to push for higher standards of acceptability.

Breaking down “A Spell for the Death of Man”, I was instantly drawn to your drum performance. Would you consider yourself a drummer first, then a guitarist second? Typically, music written by drummers is rhythmically interesting, but the music often lacks direction or overall depth. I find Leviathan to be a good example of this hypothesis. But this isn’t apparent in Woe’s music…. Every aspect of your music strikes me as full of life and an organic pulse… your thoughts on this?

There was a time when I considered myself a drummer first but these days, I certainly don’t. The thing that keeps surprising me is the response to the drums on the album. Honestly, my playing is so subdued, so utilitarian and basic… I really thought that the major criticism against the album would be the boring drumming!

The drums, really, are only as complex as they need to be. I was trying to write simple, straightforward black metal so the drums fit that. I love Faust’s drumming on “In the Nightside Eclipse.” For the most part, Woe has two drum beats: the blast beat and the Emperor double bass thrash beat. I even added in the occasional triplet snare beat during the double bass parts! (Listen to the mid section of “Wrath of the Tyrant” if you forget what I mean!) Woe is a guitar-centric band and the drums are as simple as I could make them without using a drum machine. I see songwriting very much like putting together a puzzle. You have a picture you’re trying to create and you have all of the pieces in front of you, it’s just a matter of finding how they all fit together so it looks right.

These days, I don’t see myself as a drummer, but I don’t really see myself as a guitarist, either. I don’t practice either of them, I don’t obsess over technique or nerd it up with strangers on forums unless I’m trying to improve something so I can apply it to my music. If I had to answer, I’d say that I’m more of a composer than anything else. Drums and guitar are a means to an end and if you ask me. I’m not particularly great at either of them.

Woe uses speed as a very deadly weapon, yet never loses site of incredibly memorable and engaging riffs, along with creative/unpredictable song structures and dynamics. Through it all, these tracks adhere to a definite feeling of depression and overall emotional decay. The sincerity in this set of feelings is evident throughout the album. What is the trigger for this musical mindset? Trying to find that sound that sets you apart from the ever growing black metal hordes? A personal experience in life? Or is this simply a natural reaction to your surroundings and musical intuition?

What you’re describing, that overall tone, that general feel, was a conscious decision and became the uniting musical aspect of the album but that was because it was what felt right at the time. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t sit down and say, “OK, I’m going to write an album… I’ve got it! I won’t make it evil, I’ll make it depressed!” It was really that I was writing music, I realized that this was the general feel to which I was drawn when I sought out new music, and it was what moved me most as I was listening to others and writing. As for the trigger, the reason why music with a certain emotional urgency hit me so hard, I guess it was the combination of things going on in my life, the world around me, and the development of certain philosophical ideas that needed to get out.

woe-cd-imageLyrically, I found your approach to be quite refreshing… Occult topics have been cast aside for more of an introspective and personal glimpse into your life and psyche. Would you consider Woe to be a purging of those negative burrows in the mind? Just how personal are the lyrics on this album to you?

The lyrics are exceptionally personal. I don’t think I’d describe anything as a “purging,” though, as that suggests that something has gone away; no, the ideas expressed are all very much a part of me, though some have changed and others just don’t seem as dramatic or important these days. Particularly, there’s a very specific concept of guilt running through the lyrics that I’ve moved past, thankfully.

Still, I wanted to write something to which others could connect and from which they could draw their own meaning. That is certainly not meant to mean that when writing lyrics, I considered for a second how someone else would interpret them, but I did take care to make sure that I kept a bit of a line between “personal lyrics” and “diary.” Every song was initially inspired by some event or events but the main ideas of loss, uncertainty, struggle, disappointment… these are all very human ideas, all intrinsic of the human experience. As far as I’m concerned, they are the perfect lyrical fit to the emotional intensity I tried to convey in the music. The philosophical ideas explored such as the nature of truth, permanence/impermanence, and human interaction are central points to many existential philosophical works and, to a lesser extent, personal crises!

Having stated the absence of Occultic topics, would you even consider Woe to be in league with black metal in the traditional sense? Is this even a concern or thought when you ponder what it is you do with this band?

This is such a great question.

Black metal in the “traditional sense” is going to take a different form, depending on who you’re asking and what they choose to pay attention to as the basis of their tradition. I don’t think that there is one correct answer to this question and I’d consider a few of the different responses completely valid so I’ll try to answer from a few perspectives.

If one considers traditional black metal as something that embodies anti-Christian, Satanic, or general occult ideas, the essence of true hatred and evil, it would probably be said that Woe stands in opposition for its dedication to introspection instead of the blasphemous and metaphysical. Satanism is something to which I feel a strong alignment, as far as its worldview is concerned; however, “evil” and blasphemy as expressed in modern black metal bands typically bore the shit out of me. Most of the bands still pushing this stuff are absolute phonies. We have no connection to that scene.

I argue that Woe is very much in league with traditional black metal. In my opinion, the best of what we’d think of as “traditional” black metal really came from the heart. There’s so much power to it, so much anguish and feeling, so much intensity… These were bands interested in expressing themselves, in opposition to the world around them. They presented themselves and their music the way they did because it made sense, it fit the context of their art, and even though they admittedly took major influence from other bands, they did their own thing and created something new. This is a model I’d like to think Woe took: I took their general music guidelines and standards and wrote dark, powerful (or so I think) music straight from my core. I then presented it in a way that is respectful to the content, in a way that makes sense, that is dark and deathly serious. Compare that to black metal bands who claim tradition but in actuality are just ripping off old Darkthrone promo shots, taking something that was new and serious and just kind of rearranging some elements. Woe is in the spirit of the black metal classics because it uses them as a framework while using that very spirit to give the whole of modern black metal the finger.

My only concern is that what I do should be respectful to myself, to Woe, and to black metal on the whole. As long as I don’t step outside of my stated guidelines, everything will be fine.

The older I get and see how things are changing with music and the rise of the Internet, being a fan of something tangible like CDs and LPS, I fear the death of these musical mediums in favor of MP3’s and peoples inability to control themselves when it comes to file sharing. Recently, you have seemingly embraced the digital medium with “Pay-what-you-want” download offers for your releases. I’m curious how this is working out for the band. Do you feel this is essential to the growth of a band in these modern times? Doesn’t it undermine the label that released it? What are your thoughts on the status of the metal world in the age of the Internet? With things like Metal Maniacs, independent music shops, and distribution houses closing all over the place, it seems that peoples fascination for instant gratification and getting stuff for free is aiding in the fall of the economy and metal outlets…

This is another great question!

When the CD was officially released in September of 2008, it hit the blogs within a week. My website started getting traffic from all over the world, people were sending emails and Myspace messages when I knew for a fact that they weren’t buying it… it was a shock. It was clearly being received very well but the reality was and still is that significantly more people downloaded it than paid for it. At first, it was a bit upsetting as the recording and post-production work on this album cost a significant amount of money and since I had no plans of playing live, I was really hoping that the CD would allow me to break even and put money into the next album. As time went on, though, I came to realize that these blogs and not-legal downloads were almost solely responsible for what limited popularity we have, at least until we started playing touring and reviews began hitting larger publications.

I came to two conclusions: first, downloading is here to stay. Second, with the low opinion and quality of American black metal, especially black metal solo projects, most people will download the premier album of a new band instead of risking money on something that, statistically, is more likely to suck than be good. The “pay what you want” option was the natural response to that and it has been received extremely well, well enough that I completely recommend it for absolutely every band for every release. Yes, really.

Downloading is simply not going to go away. As we enter tougher economic times, people are going to want to purchase music even less. Downloading offers them a way to get something for nothing; “pay what you want” or low cost download options controlled by the band offer the listener a way to support the independent musician and give the band a new way to fund their endeavors. The connection between the underground metal band and the listener who considers himself a part of the metal underground is quite unique. Black metal, for instance, is simultaneously a worldwide phenomena and a niche underground market. The listeners realize this and as a result, are more than willing to support bands when possible. The digital download is the perfect way to do this because it suits both parties.

At the same time, someone who wants to have a physical product to hold is going to buy that CD, tape, or LP no matter what. I can think of two albums that I downloaded in 2008 and I own one of them on CD; the other, I’m going to order any day now. The type of person who buys music is going to buy it, digital option or not, and the type of person who pays for a digital release but doesn’t buy the physical album is more than likely someone who would have only downloaded a not-legal version and never bought the CD in the first place. Labels will see this as undermining their investment but they need to realize that things have changed. They need to change their business model from one that profits off of CDs to one that finds other ways to make money while helping bands release their music. There are plenty of options out there, the labels just need to find them.

woe-liveHaving seen several live clips online, I’m quite impressed at how well the Woe material translates live. Especially for predominantly fast music, the intensity cuts through the PA with ease and clarity. From being the only one behind this band, was it always your intention to get Woe’s music in front of a crowd? How have the live experiences been? What you expected or more?

I always went back and forth on the idea of playing live. As much as I wanted to do it, the logistics of finding the right people, getting them together, teaching them the music, then getting it sounding right always seemed like more effort than it would be worth. It wasn’t until I saw Inquisition, Krallice, and Dagon live that I remembered just how powerful black metal in a live setting could be and decided to try and put something together. Thankfully, by that time, I already had an ideal lineup and mind and it happened to come together very well. While the initial plan was just one single show, the Woe live experience has pushed the music to an entirely new level; I’m now of the opinion that the CD doesn’t do an accurate job in getting it across. Response has been phenomenal and the experience has been unlike anything else.

Having summoned some guys to fill out a line-up for touring purposes, will these souls be a part of future material or are you still intending for Woe to be your sole vision?

The future is rather uncertain. All we know is that the creative end of Woe is mine and this is something that the others respect 100%. Evan Madden is a far better drummer than me — anyone who has seen him play or watched any of the videos knows this to be true — so I think it’s in the best interest of Woe if he plays on the next release. That said, no matter what, I will be drumming on all of the demos so he will basically be playing my parts, just… better. On the other hand, he himself has said that he likes my drumming and thinks I should do it so we’ll have to see.

Lastly… Is there growth in loss? Is there hope in loss? Does one have to lose something dear to them to finally experience the main building block of life and living?

The logical flipside to my obsession with loss as negative is that all change, all growth comes from loss. It wasn’t until after I finished recording the album that I thought about it and realized that someone could very easily take its promise of loss and say that it’s this uncertainty that makes life livable. These days, I try to keep myself firmly in the center, realistic, and views things in a less dualistic way, but we’ll see how long that lasts… Haha. Anyway, it isn’t “loss” that we should seek to overcome, it’s the concept of a universal “good” or “bad” event, which is the result of our cultural mindset being very simple, very Christian. That is the real enemy.

Thanks Chris for your time and music. Truly inspiring! Take these fleeting moments to peddle your wares to our readers. Take care!

Thank you for your questions and giving me the opportunity to ramble! There aren’t many wares of which to speak, though we are anticipating an announcement regarding the LP version of the album and another regarding the home of our next release. Until, then remember… all we have will one day pass.

Woe on the net:

Myspace: www.myspace.com/woeunholy

Official site: http://www.woeunholy.com/

Label: www.myspace.com/strongholdrecordsnet

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~ by martyworm on May 2, 2009.

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