Evoken – The Bereavement of Gods

evokenheaderWhen contemplating the significance of American doom metal, Evoken is a name that immediately rises to the top of the dreary throngs of crawling misery. The past is very much alive in regards to this band for their catalog spans 19 years and with each passing release, their sound evolves into something even more heartfelt, organic, and revealing as if allowing the listener to gaze into the souls of its creator. Evoken have retained the essence of their beginnings, yet grown into something so much more poignant and powerful. Instead of losing their muse as time has passed by, they have unearthed even more emotion and deathly pain to coexist within their suffocating sound. Atra Mors is a stunning glimpse into the creativity of this band as they strive to embrace a wider atmosphere with aura sculpting instruments and a seemingly open minded and free concept of what they want their music to be and achieve. Vincent Verkay, the talented skins man and lyricist for Evoken recently and candidly opened up for us about the working and creative core of this long standing band. Read on and feel the doom corrupting your soul… -Marty

Worm Gear: Vince! Thanks for taking the time to sit with this series of questions. With a rich history dating back to 1994, you have invested almost 20 years of your life in the ranks of Evoken. This is a time span longer than most people have been in their job or “career”. I know first hand that time moves quickly, especially the older we get, but looking back, what have you gained personally by being in this band and essentially, dedicating your life to the world of doom/metal?

Vincent Verkay: Well, first let me say it’s an honor being given this opportunity to interview with Worm Gear. I would read Worm Gear whenever I was able to obtain it. I always felt the questions were more interesting than most magazines, the coverage was honest, and so I’m really glad to see Worm Gear churning out that same enthusiasm it had when in print.

You’re spot on when saying time moves quickly as we age. 10 years as a child or teenager appeared as if it extended beyond the physical years, but as we age, 10 years fly by in a blink of an eye. For me, Evoken has allowed me to have something I can essentially “hang my hat” on. It’s provided me with some sense of self-worth and pride. Long after I’m dead, our music will exist in some form. Also provided me with a sense of confidence I never experienced throughout my teenage years. I tended to keep my head down, being VERY quiet to the point people thought there was something mentally wrong with me, which is somewhat the case, but even though I had a circle of friends, I was a misanthrope, opting to avoid situations where I was around a group of people; the intense anxiety I felt. It also gave me strength since there were plenty of situations where I was an outcast or targeted for someone’s chance to feel empowered at my expense. Playing in Evoken put me in a place I was comfortable in, a place where I felt like I was doing something more than your average teen. Of course, the most important aspect of this was it gave me a place where I could focus my anger and depression. If I felt things were becoming overbearing, I focused those emotions into my playing, writing, and lyrics. It’s my hope that an individual out there that may be experiencing that same story, can find some sort of solace with Evoken.

WG: Trends come and go, but Evoken quite comfortably dwells within its own realm. You have seen the explosion of this genre, only for it to taper off during “the black metal years”, but now it seems that Doom is enjoying a revival of sorts. Where do you see Evoken sitting in this rekindled scene? The elder statesman? Does it even matter as long as the new fans find their way back to experience Evoken’s catalog?

VV: I really never sat back and reflected where Evoken is at this point. If Doom lost the spotlight or never climbed to this level, makes no difference to me, we would still continue down that lonely path.

Through the years, our fans have stuck with us, never wavering. It’s that “cult” dedication I enjoy so much. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fantastic to see this substantial rising of new fans; I would like for that trend to continue. It just validates what we have discussed between ourselves for a number of years. We have always felt if our music was exposed to a larger audience, plenty of those people would catch on to what those fans who have stuck with us over the years have always known.

With “Atra Mors”, we’re beginning to witness so many fantastic things we never thought would come our way. The reviews, the comments and the events we’re being offered is mind-blowing. With this new surge in attention, new fans are seeking out our back catalog, that’s something I’m really excited about because anyone who was involved in Evoken back then, but are no longer with us, I feel as if they’re receiving the positive feedback that’s flowing in our direction. Especially Nick because he was the first member of the band who left before we became the ole saying “what’s old is new again”. The hard work he put into Evoken is finally being acknowledged by the masses. So, we’re quite proud of our achievements, with even more appreciation toward our older fans who have NEVER casted us aside.

WG: When it comes to doom, gothic elements are an increasingly popular genre sculptor. Such elements exist in your sound as well to provide the atmosphere, but Evoken has always struck me as having more of a death metal foundation when it comes to piling on that suffocating misery. Would you say this stems from your early rise in a scene when death metal was nearing its peak? Where do the roots of your creativity spring from?

VV:Death metal is such an important component in Evoken. Death metal is a part of the foundation that has molded us over the years. We have always considered ourselves Doom/Death first and foremost. Over the years we have been classified within so many different genres, but felt the most comfortable using that term when explaining to someone who might not have heard the music before.

When we started Evoken back in 1992, death metal was at its peak, but it was also at a stalemate. Bands were beginning to simply release albums no longer relevant, it came to that point where all the bands sounded the same, so naturally fans started to seek out other genres hence came the start of the black metal explosion. So for us, even though death metal was becoming “old hat”, we were driven by those bands. To this very day, they stir a sense of inspiration like Grave, Entombed, Immolation, Lord of Putrifaction, Crematory, Unleashed, Carnage, Dismember, Ripping Corpse, Corpse Molestation, Autopsy …the list just goes on and on.
Our roots come from a variety of places. I think we have the Death Metal influence covered, but we also find inspiration in bands like Sadness, Monumentum, Dead Can Dance, Portishead, Bathory, Celtic Frost, Swans, Lycia, Aghast, Lustmord, classical music, the old doom/death bands or older extreme doom bands, bands like The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Rush and a whole sleuth of classic rock. I could probably take up several pages since it’s not just metal we find inspiration, it’s not only music either. We find ourselves influenced by different authors, different movies, just a variety of places. I think we would do ourselves a disservice by only listening to metal; we would have faded out long ago.

WG: Both lyrically and in sound/atmosphere/intent, Evoken strike me as an otherworldly force. Many bands, some consciously, others subconsciously, are influenced and inspired by their surroundings. How do you see New Jersey affecting/infecting the mournful and oppressive churn of Evoken?

VV: This may come as a surprise since the mass media created this sensational misinterpretation of what New Jersey is defined as, but there are a whole range of beautiful scenery and engaging places that are not all tied to mob hits or empty headed twits running around on a New Jersey beach. We have some incredibly inspiring scenery which can be found in western New Jersey or Northwest New Jersey. We used to just jump in one of our cars and drive over an hour to different locations to clear our minds, but also find some sort of muse. Visiting places like High Point, NJ, which is incredibly scenic and peaceful. We would just allow those surroundings to influence us. Instead of taking the easy way out and just taking photographs to reference, we would take those elements in mentally, let our senses take over. We have wonderful Civil War locations, which for me, embraces an abundance of negative energy left over from the Civil War that you can just sense. It’s like walking through water. There is a sense of heaviness you don’t have to mentally strain to experience, its presence washes over you. Those elements serve as a fantastic influence as long as you pay attention to your surroundings, removing what is going on around you at the moment so you don’t lose those imprinted emotions.

WG: I had a profound connection with A Caress of the Void, but I must admit that Atra Mors is a monster of an album. It seems to be earning unanimous praise from the press and the fans alike. I find it rare that longstanding bands can still create such a pure/focused and excellent album from beginning to end. Let’s face it… bands start out hungry and take a lot of time crafting those first few albums, but often run out of inspiration as the years go by. The band has always had that unique inspiration, but would you feel that you’re hitting your stride with Evoken the past few albums? What would you attribute this continued inspiration to?

VV: Wow! I’m really honored to read your heartfelt appreciation. You can definitely attach that aspect as being one reason why we continue moving forward with a high state of inspiration…thank you. With regards to “A Caress of the Void”, that album encompasses a more plodded feel to it, which I felt really singled it out from our previous releases. With the new album, the only ideas tossed around while writing was to create songs that were more dynamic than previous releases, starting with melodies.

There are several elements as to why we continue 20+ years with this unwavering dedication. The most important of those reasons being the intense satisfaction we obtain when writing new material. I always tend to connect it to a natural high. I have never experienced the gratification I feel when we’re writing new material, and someone starts playing a new riff. Everyone will listen to it a few times, and we’ll just fall into a cohesive wave of thinking. Each guy will start pitching in their own creativity until we can all agree something feels complete. Being able to go home that day, and listen to everything we have completed to that point is very self-gratifying.

To put it simple, we love what we’re doing; we love playing and listening to this music. I think once a band loses that will, once they lose that ability to motivate from within, that’s when the music begins to suffer. Having to search for that drive in other places, maybe a hint it’s time to re-evaluate what you’re trying to accomplish. Up to this point, and I don’t see this ending any time soon, we’ve been lucky enough to not only find the inspiration within ourselves, but lucky enough to have a band where each member’s motivation and dedication is also fierce. So, I definitely believe we have hit our stride, but we are far from running out of ideas or goals.

342321WG: What still inspires the band to write those larger-than-life, sorrow-drenched moments like those closing the songs ‘Grim Eloquence’ and ‘Descent Into Frantic Dream’ … have the years made those musical arrangements easier or more difficult to conjure up? It seems like such a monumental undertaking…

VV: I wouldn’t say the years have permitted things to become easier, in fact it might be quite the opposite. We’re harder on ourselves now than we ever were. We have cultured a tremendous amount over the years from the various individuals we have worked with. Ron Thal was also someone whom I can say opened our eyes to various ways of reaching certain atmospheres just by playing your instrument inversely. Not every riff has to follow a particular guideline. Not only is the music you’re playing that’s significant, but how you play has an undeniable impact.
As the years progress, we learn how to improve our craft. We’ve learned that you don’t necessarily have to change your writing or the direction of the music to sustain a band. There is absolutely no reason to drastically change the music your writing in order to avoid becoming stale or bored with what you’re playing. All we have to do is improve our way writing. If this was 10-15 years ago, chances are some of the songs you’re hearing on “Atra Mors”, more specifically the melodies; they never would have manifested. Our thinking was narrow; our ability to try and experiment by adding very subtle changes to a few notes to accentuate a riff just wasn’t there yet. Now that we’ve given ourselves the freedom to attempt these things, we have made it harder on ourselves. If that makes any sense?

WG: Lyrically, Evoken has always painted a colorful, yet endlessly bleak picture with a poetic/prophetic glimpse into the abyss. Could you give the readers a bit of insight on the theme, if there is one, spun throughout the course of Atra Mors?

VV: Well, in the past, the lyrics were always written by Nick and I. His lyrics focused on constructing a scene for listeners/readers. My lyrics were always poetry based, written metaphorically. I’ve always tried to eliminate my reasons behind writing any particular song, in order for the listener to formulate their own interpretation. Something akin to a director of a movie based upon a book. When reading, we all tend to create the world we are reading about in our imagination, but when a movie is based from a book, we have to contend with the director’s take, which could quite possibly be very different than our own ideas; it’s basically the same concept here.

With “Atra Mors” Chris also wrote the lyrics for a couple of songs. I would rather have Chris one day provide an answer about his lyrics, but for mine, this album is the first album I tried to move away from some of the metaphorical lyrics to a more direct approach. I would rather not intercede with my ideas on these songs as well, but the song ‘Atra Mors’ is written to be fairly obvious, so that song’s lyrics I don’t mind. Those lyrics are based around the artwork and layout of the album, it’s based upon a period of time I have always been fascinated by, and that is the Black Death or Bubonic Plague of the 14th Century. Those lyrics are based in the first person. It’s as if the disease itself is explaining to us the power it once held and can return if it so chooses, only on a wider and more deadly scale. It’s meant to show that the human race is mired in ignorance. We have come to the belief that we are the masters of this planet, that we as a species rule all. This couldn’t be a more flawed belief. We have been shown time and time again we are at the mercy of this planet and the life that inhabits it. The plague of the 14th century has shown us, as has the ones that have followed, that we are at its mercy. These lyrics were written as warning, as a narrative to show centuries may have come and gone, but our ignorance has stayed the course.

WG: From a writing perspective, how much of the real world seeps in to shape the topics that Evoken writes about? Or does the band prefer to keep the meaning behind the message isolated from outside influence?

VV: I would say the later. Although it’s different for everyone, the others in the band could differ on this as well, but I think they tend to feel the same way, that when I listen to music, it’s to escape the nonsense of everyday life or the constant wave after wave of issues being pushed on us by the 24 hour news stations. So, Evoken was never based around the events of the time. The music is meant to be isolated from the outside world.

WG: With this album, Evoken has seemingly embraced multi-instrumentation even more than in the past, finding piano, violin, even more synths and other experimental elements to achieve full absorption in this dark realm you have created (which I think brings out a slight Disembowelment influence). How important have these elements become when piecing an album together? Are they a part of the writing process, or added as embellishment to strengthen the selected pieces in the studio?

VV: Just so it’s been made aware, there are actually no violins in the songs. What everyone is hearing, on say the beginning to ‘Into Aphotic Devastation‘, is the cello, just played in a higher scale. Just some useless info there…hahah. Putting that aside, instruments like the cello have never been a rooted element when creating the music; they are there to enhance the atmosphere of a particular riff, or as a lead up to a song. The keyboards on the other hand are just as important for us as the guitars or drums. They hold their place within the songs to not only create an atmosphere, but they are absolutely essential to the foundation of the band without going overboard and overtaking the songs. Even though the keyboards are essential, we make sure that each song can also survive on their own if the keyboards were removed. There has to be riffs present within the content of a song, otherwise we feel like the music would be nothing more than window dressing.
Disembowelment, among quite a few other bands, have shown us that underneath all the expected heavy guitars, bass and drums, using something as completely opposite as the clean guitars can create a whole new world, bring a whole new spectrum to the music. Again though, it’s there to strengthen those pieces, and we try to avoid using them on every riff because I believe once you begin using certain instrumentation or select sounds over every riff you begin to lose its initial benefits.

Could we write music without utilizing those instruments; probably, but then we are losing part of our identity. So, certain instruments are indeed essential for the writing process, while other instruments are added to enhance an atmosphere. Instruments like the cello are just the tip of the sword, we have ideas for the use of other instruments as well, but it’s just difficult in finding those who play those particular instruments. We could just use a sample of them, but I think it loses something at that point; they become sterile, lacking those slight imperfections when played by human hands, which makes it quite unique.

WG: It is no secret the impact that the internet has had on the music business. Even though easy access to one’s music may be a useful promotional tool, labels in the underground in particular who don’t have the foothold and money behind them like the big labels do to weather the loss in sales, are feeling the pressure to survive. How does this affect an underground band such as Evoken?

VV: Even though the internet has provided us a means to spread our music on a wide scale globally, like everything in life, every good has its bad. Unfortunately, the negative side to the internet with regards to downloading is an element that is here to stay. At this point, it’s similar to the so-called “war on drugs”. Once can spend countless hours of wasted time and money trying to contain or put a stop to it, but reality is it continues to thrive. So, instead of fighting a lost cause, the bands and the labels need to adapt.

I think underground metal will adapt, and just like it has in the past rise above what the other genres of music seem to fail at doing. Metal is fortunate enough to contain a fan-base that look to support the bands, they want to purchase the physical product itself. Of course there are those that seem to find contentment in following the rest of society by downloading their music for free, but I believe those individuals aren’t as numerous as one thinks.

It does affect us at some level. One example is only 2 days after the release of “Atra Mors”, the entire album was up on YouTube. I understand fans want to share the music they enjoy, and I’m extremely honored they feel that intensity from the music, but even though their motives are innocent, by doing so it hurts us because that could eliminate a certain level of sales, which in turn affects the record label’s finances by damaging their ability to recoup their costs. When that happens, it could potentially harm our ability to receive the needed funds to record the next record. We don’t have the means to record on our own, using our own studio, so we have to record with a 3rd party studio, and their costs continue to rise. If we cannot obtain the amount we need to record, it cuts down our ability to record the best material we can for ourselves and the fans. When that happens, we may have to go into our own pockets to record, which could affect our chances of touring since we are an underground extreme metal band; unfortunately we fall well outside the range of a band in high demand like the more mainstream acts. Therefore, we have to pay for certain aspects of touring, so on and so forth. It’s a trickle down affect. Something that takes one click and a total of 5 minutes to download has an impact on bands’ tenfold. So, I make it a point of my own that if I am going to download a song, if I enjoy just that one song, I’m going out to purchase that album.

ImageForWebEvokenWG: I know you guys play out on occasion, but probably aren’t touring at the capacity one would need to survive. Some say the only way for a band to make money in this era is with merch sales and playing live. Would you agree with this statement? How have Evoken as a band changed your ways of operating since the early days to remain able to do all of this and still be able to function financially? Is Evoken a self-sustaining entity?

VV: I would say we’re hovering around 90% self-sustainability, and this has only increased the past 6-8 months. We definitely have to work day jobs in order to have a roof over our heads. There is absolutely no way we could live off the income the band takes in, unless we were in our early 20’s, all living in an extremely small apartment.

It’s nothing new that the U.S. falls far behind the rest of the world when it comes to support for artists and musicians. In fact, unless you’re a corporate puppet willing to sell your soul only to check in your self-pride at the door, the general public tends to look down upon anyone over the age of 21 that plays in a band which you’re not a high profile figure. I don’t know how it is in other countries, but unless you become an overnight sensation, you’re supposed to give up any ambition to play music once you leave high school. Once that happens, you’re considered an impossible dreamer or lazy and selfish. So, in essence the general public discourages anyone from becoming an artist in any creative capacity unless you’re making money hand over fist.

You have definitely stated the situation accurately. In order to survive financially as a band, your main source of income for the band is through merchandise sales. In some cases, the income you make playing live via fees can sustain the band as well, but for a band like us, majority of our charged playing fee funnels into the logistic side of the band. Merchandise money also is recycled back into the band. In order to create more merchandise or possible elements for our stage show etc. Of course in order to sell a substantial amount of merchandise and to attract additional fans, you can’t simply depend upon releasing albums, you have to perform live. Playing live was something we tended to avoid in our early days. We felt extremely discouraged in doing so for various reasons. As time went on, we started to enjoy playing out to the point where we look forward to it. The fans old and new have been so welcoming towards us; we can’t see ourselves not playing live.

We came to the realization a few years ago that in order to make sure our music reaches not only the fans that have been with us since the beginning, but also the newer fans, we have to play live. Relying on your albums alone will not suffice. The reality is people are just not purchasing the physical items anymore. Sure, there is a resurgence of vinyl, but that accounts for such a small percentage. It’s all about downloading music for free in plenty of cases. For us, we are under no delusions; we know we will never bring in added income from Evoken. We know we’re never going to make a living off of this, which is fine with us. We would rather play this music we love and perform live for our fans. Hopefully with time, Evoken will be at 100% self-sustaining, but if not, that’s fine. I’ll just keep playing the lottery in hopes of becoming a millionaire that way.

WG: Having achieved so much creatively over the years, is the hunger to create within this style of music still driving you? Do you feel like the future is still yet unwritten for Evoken, like the band is still reaching to achieve a dark perfection that you may or may not have touched upon on a personal/creative level?

VV: Inspiration and the drive we started out with so many years ago are definitely still prevalent. In fact, it may even be more intense than it was then. We feel we’re better musicians than back then, although we feel we can always improve.
I don’t believe we will reach a level of perfection. I hope we remain unsatisfied with our records. Without goals, without a certain level of dissatisfaction we are as good as dead.

WG: Thanks again Vince for taking the time with this interview. Please leave us with your final thoughts, articles of promotion, and contact addresses so the people at large can find out more about Evoken directly from the source…

VV: To begin, it’s an honor to be a part of Worm Gear’s 2nd coming, I’m really excited to see things up and going again, just in a different format.

We have several shows lined up at the moment including Pittsburgh, PA, Brooklyn, NY, Maryland Deathfest, Denver, CO, Toronto, and prior to these, our return to Europe beginning at Hellfest in June. So we have a busy year ahead of us, with the intention of playing as many locations as we can over the next year. All info can be found on our Facebook page as well as Profound Lore. We also have our new merchandise page at BigCartel.com, and a new Official website which is bare bones at the moment. I had to steer away from working with the webmaster on it for some time in order to address other elements, but we should be back on track quite soon.
Speaking of merchandise, the vinyl release of “Atra Mors” is soon at hand, so keep checking the Profound Lore website for information, as well as our site on Facebook. The second pressing is also close to being released. We will also have limited edition t-shirts for “Atra Mors” that are taking longer than I would like, but we want to be 100% happy with the design before we give the go ahead for release.

Most important, though, is our thanks for ALL of our fans, old and new, for the undying support, as well as the various journalist who have been incredible toward Evoken over the years. We’ll see you on tour.

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~ by martyworm on February 27, 2013.

2 Responses to “Evoken – The Bereavement of Gods”

  1. Great band, great interview…

  2. Thanks U… Glad you liked it

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