Guitarist Nathan Weaver first conceived of ecological black metal band Wolves In The Throne Room (WITTR hereafter) at a gathering in Washington state’s Cascade Mountains of the radical environmental organisation Earth First. After Nathan and his drummer brother, Aaron, moved to a farmstead named Calliope on the outskirts of Olympia, Washington, songwriting and rehearsals began in earnest, with the recruitment of guitarist and vocalist Nick Paul, and subsequently guitarist and vocalist Richard Dahlen. Self-released demos appeared in 2004 and 2005, with WITTR’s debut album, Diadem of 12 Stars, being released by Vendlus Records in 2006. The band’s breakthrough album, however, was the widely-acclaimed Two Hunters, released by cult label Southern Lord in September 2007, and produced by Randall Dunn, who has also worked with Sunn O))), Earth, Secret Chiefs 3 and Grails. An appearance at the Roadburn Festival in the Netherlands during the summer of 2008 resulted in the release by Burning World Records of Live At Roadburn 2008, a limited-edition vinyl LP and DVD package.
Heathen Harvest: Perhaps we should begin by talking about your new album, Black Cascade. When’s that coming out?
I talked to WITTR during their European tour in January-February 2009, which is promoting the limited-edition picture disc EP Malevolent Grain, released by Conspiracy Records, and the first release to feature the band’s new guitarist Will Lindsay (formerly of doom metal band Middian), who was previously WITTR’s live bass player. WITTR have recently finished recording their third album, Black Cascade, which will be released by Southern Lord during the spring of 2009, prior to an extensive US tour.
Let’s see. I think that it’ll be out around April the 1st, something like that.
HH: Was there any question of not releasing the album through Southern Lord? What’s your relationship with the label like?
We definitely planned on releasing this record through Southern Lord. I believe we’re contractually bound to release the record through Southern Lord, in fact, which is always kind of funny, to have that kind of legal business element combined with the music, it’s always a really tough balance to strike. No, I’ve been really happy about working with them. I think that Greg Anderson
who runs that label has a lot of integrity, and he’s really paid his dues in the underground over the years. He grew up around Seattle, and he comes from a kind of punk background, and has then moved on to something else, which is similar to where we’ve come from. I feel really good about it. I think we’ll do this record, and then if we have another record in us that will also be done through Southern Lord, I think.
HH: Who wrote the songs for Black Cascade? Did Will Lindsay have much influence?
Well, Will just joined the band. Our other guitar player just had a baby, and I don’t think he likes touring very much, and so he departed. Will had been playing bass for us, just as our touring bass player, but he’s a really old friend. Nathan and I have known Will for about 12 years or so. He’s from Eugene, Oregon, where he put on a lot of shows. He’s from a really deep underground kind of background. It’s been great having him in the band, and yeah, he contributed. A lot of the record was already written by the time he joined, but he definitely contributed a certain amount. He gave his own energy and vibe to it. You can’t play guitar on a record and not leave some sort of imprint. As far as songwriting goes, me and Nathan and Will split it up to some degree. I play drums, but I’ll play a bit of guitar too and come up with themes and ideas.
HH: Are there any guest musicians or vocalists, like Jessika Kenney on Two Hunters, for instance?
The plan was that Jamie Myers, who did all of the backing vocals on Diadem Of 12 Stars, flew out and laid some stuff down, but none of it made it onto the record. You know, you always have a pretty strong idea of what the record is going to sound like when you go to record, but then when you really get deep into it, it kind of becomes its own thing, and takes on a life and an energy of its own, And we all decided, I think Jamie suggested it, she said, ‘You know, I don’t think these parts are really working, I think this record is too bleak and aggressive-sounding,’ and it just didn’t fit. We didn’t want to force something on there. I’m trying to think if anyone else actually played on the record. Randal Dunn, who recorded it, every now and then would do a little synthesiser, but for the most part it was me and Nathan and Will. Will played all of the bass guitar.
HH: Do you think your music changed has much since Two Hunters, or is it recognisably the same band?
Yeah, that’s a good question. I think when we were thinking it was about time to write a new record, when we kind of had the inspiration and had enough distance from Two Hunters to be able to create something new, we could have gone in one of two directions. We could have extended more on the psychedelic, ambient, dreamy side of Two Hunters, or focused more on the black metal side, and I think that we were thinking that if we were to do a more ambient album or a more dreamlike album, we could never really go back. And I think that all of use were feeling that we wanted to create a true metal record, something really authentic and authoritative. The Emperor, you know? We’re all deeply into Tarot, and the theme for the past couple of years has been the Emperor archetype. We wanted something that was imperial-sounding and aristocratic in some way – powerful. And I believe that’s the way it came out. It’s a pretty pummelling record. I’m very excited about it. We put so much work into it. We spent a solid month writing pretty much every day, and a solid month recording in the studio, with really no other distractions, we were just in the studio every day, so we were really able to get really deep inside the record. I think I went a bit strange during the recording process!
HH: Yeah, what can you tell me about the way the album was recorded? It sounds like Randall Dunn had a lot of input, as far as using retro recording technology goes.
Yes, that’s very true. He’s a real analogue purist, and we recorded Black Cascade in quite a fancy studio on a 1973 Neve
console with a two-inch tape machine. I think using that kind of equipment also dovetails with the idea of doing something that’s really powerful and with a lot of authority to it. It has that sort of rock’n’roll kind of energy. I have mixed feelings about that kind of rock’n’roll, I can go either way with Led Zeppelin
or Black Sabbath
or that kind of thing, but there is a certain undeniable kind of legitimacy and power to that kind of music, and I think using that kind of equipment brings that kind of energy to it. Once we had the basic tracks done at this fancy studio, we went to Randall’s house, where he has a home studio, and we did all the overdubs and vocals and synthesiser, all the layered psychedelic elements. And Randall always contributes ideas, I think he really understands where we’re coming from. He’s lived in the northwest for a long time, and I think he really understands the attitude that we’re trying to manifest. So he’s a really good partner, not just in terms of the technical side of things, but also in terms of the more spiritual side.
HH: WITTR are obviously well known for environmental awareness and your interest in ecological issues, and I want to talk a lot more about that later, but I was wondering how your respect for nature influences your sound. Does that mean that you strive for a ‘natural’ sound, or is it not that simple an equation?
Definitely not. Someone wrote somewhere that we recorded Two Hunters in a completely analogue format because we think that’s somehow a more natural process. I couldn’t disagree more! I think that recording on any sort of format, whether analogue or digital, is a very unnatural sort of act. As soon as you capture a moment in time, it’s no longer natural or organic or immediate or unmediated. It’s become something else entirely. It’s become a very modern thing. And that’s a contradiction to our philosophy, of course, but I’m fine with that contradiction. Life is all about making compromises and trying to do things that feel right at the time. There are a lot of people that would say that it’s wrong to record something. A legitimate case can be made that it damages the spirit in some way. But for our band – you know, we’re a rock band, in most ways, and we work within the rock idiom. We’ve chose a certain set of tools and a certain way of doing things. So I feel fine about that, but I definitely do not think that recording on tape as opposed to digital lends any more spiritual legitimacy to the music.
HH: What about formats? You’ve just done a couple of vinyl releases – is that your preferred format, or are you not really interested in that?
As far as CD versus vinyl?
HH: And versus mp3, for instance. Surely purely digital releases would be more environmentally friendly?
Our music’s available in all of those formats, and it’s not really something I think about too much. I’ve never really thought about how people are going to listen to the music, necessarily. I’m not a vinyl fetishist at all, and I don’t even own a CD player. I had a record player for a long time, but it’s kind of dusty and long-forgotten now, and the needle’s broken. I tend to listen to stuff on digital format. I download things off the internet, I rarely buy things. But also, most of the music I listen to comes from a pretty immediate circle of friends and musicians who aren’t interested in anything commercial at all. Almost everything I’ve listened to recently that’s newer music is something that would be released on a CD-R, for instance.
HH: Is there an overarching theme or concept to Black Cascade, as there was for Two Hunters?
Yeah, there is. In many ways, it’s a personal record. I think that usually our music and the themes behind it are working on a more mythic level, and are about something bigger than oneself, but Nathan wrote all the lyrics for Black Cascade. There are four songs. The first song is called ‘Wanderer Above The Sea Of Fog’, after the famous Romantic painting by Caspar David Friedrich
, the second is called ‘Amonic Trance’, as in Amon the deity, the third is ‘Ex Cathedra’, and the last song is ‘Crystal Ammunition’. Each song corresponds to a different card in the Tarot deck and represents a different archetype, but the lyrics, even though they’re pretty obscure and esoteric, are more about our personal experiences in the world, just trying to make a life, and find a path that feels right and brings wholeness.
HH: Does the word ‘Cascade’ refer to the Cascade Mountains?
Partially. Black Cascade has a lot of different meanings, but we can’t help but reference the Cascade Mountains, which are so important to us. We have a pretty intense art scheme for this record, and we went to the Cascades and spent a couple of days camping and taking photographs, which is the best way for us to create images, because none of us can paint.
HH: Are you worried about people getting the album confused with Black Parade by My Chemical Romance?
I never heard My Chemical Romance, and I didn’t know they had an album called Black Parade. I think and I hope that the two albums will not be confused!
HH: Moving on to your current tour, how’s it been going? Have you been visiting any new territories?
We have indeed. Europe is always really interesting, mostly because of the hospitality you receive, which is so different from what it’s like to tour in the United States. It started off a bit rough. Travelling is always an unnatural kind of act, and flying on a plane especially so, and so we were karmically punished by the universe.
HH: Oh yes, you lost all your guitars, didn’t you?
The flight for Seattle to Chicago was delayed, due to weather or something, so we missed our flight from Chicago to Amsterdam, and we had to beg and plead in order for them to put us on a flight that would get us to our first show in time. And so we got to our first show, which was at Groningen in Holland, but our bags didn’t make it. None of our clothing, our personal items, guitars, cymbals, everything that we checked in, eight bags, were all gone. So that was a stressful way to begin the tour. That’s one of my issues with touring, that so much of it is about the kind of technical, mundane side of things. So you’re worried about getting to soundcheck on time or whatever. Oftentimes, that kind of stuff has the potential to affect the energy that you put into the performance. I think on this tour, that hasn’t been a problem, but it has in the past, especially in the States, where you’re often playing in a bar or something like that, and the aesthetic of the place isn’t so conducive to the things we want to manifest.
HH: Where do WITTR have a big following?
In the States or in Europe?
HH: Around Europe – where do you get the most attention?
Honestly, I think all the shows have been fantastic. If a hundred people will come to see us in any random place in Europe, that seems to me to be an amazing response, and it makes us feel really good. Our biggest show so far was in London, of course, because that’s a big city, and in general I’m really surprised by the kind of diversity of the audience, especially in the smaller towns, where it’s an all black metal crowd, it’s 100% European black metal audience, which is a little bit different in the cites, where you might have some of the kind of people who’d go to a Sunn O))) concert or something like that. But I’m always pleased that we’re so readily accepted by the European black metal community or scene.
HH: Is it difficult fitting touring, recording and the other demands of being in a band around your farming work? Do you, for instance, have to adjust your touring schedule to fit in with the agricultural calendar?
Yeah, for sure. To clarify, Nathan doesn’t have anything to do with the actual farming side of things. We live in this compound or commune together, but he’s more of an artist, and he is completely nocturnal when we’re at home. I think we kind of balance each other in that way. My girlfriend is the actual farmer in the family, though I work with her a lot, and I do the man’s work, I suppose you’d say. I’m in the middle of building a barn right now. There’s so much more to farming than just sowing seeds and collecting the harvest in the fall. It’s more of a homesteading lifestyle that we’re creating. And it is difficult to be gone for such a long period of time. But right now, it’s the late winter and there’s not a whole lot going on at home. This is the time when you should be thinking about music and being with one’s friends around the fire, maybe. We’ll be home by the springtime, when the ground thaws and there’ll be some work to be done. I’ll be working on some projects outside. But yes, it’s a challenge.
HH: Do you and Nathan ever get sick of the sight of each other?! I mean, I have a brother, but I wouldn’t share a pair of shoes with him, let alone a band and a farm!
We get along pretty well. I think oftentimes in families, siblings go in very different directions and end up wanting very different things, but we’ve always really been on the same page in terms of what we value and what we want our lives to be like. We’re willing to work as a team for the time being. Certainly, this is not a permanent arrangement. We actually just managed to swindle a bank into lending us the money to buy another piece of land…
HH: Oh, you’re the only guys to get a loan out of a bank in the western world this year!
Actually, it seems like they’re quite desperate to lend money, because they have all this money lying about to lend to someone, so why not to an unemployed metal musician? So in addition to our farm, which is called Calliope, we have another compound with a couple of houses on it and a barn and amazing infrastructure – mature orchard, berries – that’s nested right into a thousand-acre nature preserve, and it’s a five-minute bike ride away from Calliope. It was an amazing stroke of luck. There was a bit of magic involved in the procuring of this piece of land. So in the future, we will each have a separate domain.
HH: Are you planning to involve more people and build a community?
Ownership-wise, we toyed with the idea of a more radical economic situation, but that sort of thing is too complicated, and I’ve seen it fail too many times. We’re very interested in looking back in history, and the hippies did it all, man, they tried everything. And I have a lot of friends who are older hippies, they’re 50 or 60 years old, and I took their advice. When I was 25 and first toying with the idea of buying land with friends and having a communal kind of living situation and trying to make it a long-term thing, their advice was, ‘Shit changes. You’re 25 years old, your friends are 25 years old, people are going to want to do other things and have families and so on, so keep it simple.’
And it’s worked out so well – in each one of our houses, we have perhaps ten friends that live there, so it really is a kind of community unto itself, and I’m really pleased with the way it’s worked out.
HH: So you have these agrarian, communal ideals, but obviously being in a band involves having to engage with the modern world in terms of using technology to produce, record and manufacture music, taking flights to go on tour, maintaining a website and so forth. How do you reconcile this?
It’s just a matter of drawing a line. Everything you do is a compromise of sorts, and I’ve got so many friends who have driven themselves mad by being so ridden with guilt, who are unable to make any decisions at all. There comes a point where either you decide that you need to be an ascetic hermit, and go live by yourself in the woods, which I think is a totally reasonable choice to make, and purists have always made that choice over the years, when they decide that they can’t deal with society on whatever level, and I go back and forth as to whether or not the compromises that we make, especially as a band, are something that I feel good about. But all in all, just talking to people, all over the United States and now in Europe, who seem to really resonate with our music, and it’s meaningful to them, and it’s some sort of positive thing in their lives, that to me is enough reason to put aside any discomfort about commercializing our music to the degree that we do, or taking that international flight, which is hard to justify sometimes. So for the time being, I’m OK with the compromises that we make. We’ll see how long we keep it up.
HH: I’d like to explore some of the philosophy underlying WITTR. What was it that drew you to black metal as a way of expressing ecological awareness? What did you perceive in black metal that made you think it was capable of carrying this kind of message?
That’s such an interesting and important question, because a lot of people, I guess, don’t make the same connections that we do. They see black metal as something Satanic or nihilistic and beyond that, maybe just about drinking with your friends and having this fuck-all kind of time. It’s kind of like punk – I think a band like Watain
is no different from GG Allin
, for instance. But I’ve always seen something different in it. We come out – me and Nathan and Will too – we all come out of a very specific sort of culture and community on the west coast, which was really kind of a punk scene. And I hesitate to say that, because in Europe, punk means something so different.
The squatter punks here, they’re drawn into that kind of culture, and they’re galvanised around political issues, so their reason for existing is to fuck the pigs, or to get into fights with skinheads or whoever, so it’s a left-wing political thing. But the community we come from is concerned with different issues. It’s not about politics so much as it’s about environmental issues on the surface, but I think there’s also a much deeper analysis that goes on. I think it’s a culture that really questions the most basic tenets of civilisation. So it’s something that’s rooted in anarcho-primitivism, and it’s a more spiritual culture, I think. You know, I talked to crusty punks in Germany, and to them, any idea of spirituality is a right-wing idea. They’re so intensely dogmatic about it. So coming from this culture, why are we drawn to black metal?
Well, I think black metal really is the most important music of our time right now. It really does speak to something so deep and so true and so pressing that you cannot help but be entranced by it. And to me, the reason black metal is important is that it’s an uncompromising call to destroy the modern world. And not just by burning down a church, or by smashing a window or whatever, but to destroy it in a spiritual apocalypse. So it has more to do with destroying the worldview of modernity, destroying the way that it makes you think and the way it makes you perceive the world, and the way that it affects your spiritual being. Black metal expresses in such a clear way to me this ancient, primal, transcendent spirit that I think is lurking just below the surface of all human beings, a kind of spiritual undercurrent to our world and our universe, and I think that modern people are deaf to that.
I think that’s why black metal has become such a worldwide phenomenon, because people crave that connection to that kind of transcendent energy, and I think maybe in the 60s or 70s, people might have touched that through whatever they were into back then, through psychedelic rock music, or through living in communes and the back-to-the-land movement, but man, the hippies failed, you know? And I think there’s this desperate call coming from the universe, or coming from the collective unconscious of humanity, if you will, and black metal is a manifestation of that. So that’s the connection we make between black metal and our ecological concerns, and the questions we have about civilization. It feels like a perfectly natural and necessary connection to make.
HH: The thing is, when you start talking about the callings of the ancient primordial spirit, it’s quite a short step from there to some right-wing ideologies, isn’t it? I know that you’re from Olympia, Washington, which, a few years back at least, had a reputation as a stronghold of political correctness and strident left-wing activism. Did you encounter a lot of resistance to the idea of using black metal to promote progressive environmental themes, given that BM is more often associated with reactionary, right-wing attitudes?
Definitely not. No way. In Europe, absolutely – we’ve gotten into big trouble. We’ve had shows cancelled, we’ve had protests, which just blows my mind. I have a lot to say about this, so I’ll try to say it all in order. You know, back home, every crusty punk wears a Burzum
patch, and there’s just no conflict in that, there’s no thinking twice about it.
HH: That seems kind of contradictory to me.
Yes, it does, because in Europe, the history is still so fresh, and it’s still such an issue, that it’s on everyone’s minds all the time, the echoes of World War II and the spectre of some sort of new fascist right-wing movement. But because we’re Americans, six or seven thousand miles away, and we live in this very kind of almost hermetically sealed community, we’re able to look beyond the obvious and surface political viewpoints of Varg Vikernes
or whoever. What we’re more interested is this underlying sort of spirit, which I don’t think the actual musician has much to do with. I think that those [Norwegian] black metal bands were just fucked-up kids on speed. They were the same kind of people who, given different circumstances, would have been into GG Allin, if they’d lived in New York in the 80s. The thing that we’re interested in is some sort of ephemeral spirit that I think they were unknowing or unwitting conduits for. I think that all really great bands, especially bands with members who are 17 or 18 years old, they’re following the orders of the universe. And because in America, we’re so far removed from World War II, culturally and historically, we’re able to see that much more easily than Europeans are. So that’s the first thing I’ll say.
The second thing is that WITTR was protested in Germany as a neo-Nazi band. We had shows cancelled, crusty punks were angry, it was quite a big deal, and it came as an absolutely insane shock to me, because I think we’re the only band who works within this genre who are explicitly, not exactly a left-wing band, because I don’t think we have any political agenda at all, but you know, in interviews, I must have said 50 times that I hate the idea of racism, I hate the idea of a fascist, totalitarian, militaristic state, I hate the right wing. I just do not like the right wing. I have absolutely nothing to do with it philosophically or spiritually, and that goes for the American right wing, and what I perceive to be the right wing in Europe, and the right wing throughout history. I don’t have much interest in the left wing either, but it was just insane to be branded as a fascist band. Do you know why this happened, did you hear the story?
HH: No, please tell me about it.
So what happened was I did an interview for a German magazine, and the interviewer asked, ‘Well, if there’s a political spectrum, and on one side you have Drudkh, which is a radical conservative, nationalist kind of band, and they have skinheads at their shows, this sort of thing, and on the other hand, you have a left-wing squatter punk band, where do you fall in that spectrum?’
And I said, well, we’re not a political band, but we definitely come more from a punk kind of background, and we’re not interested in right-wing kind of stuff at all, I’m against racism, I’m against totalitarianism, the whole litany of things that you say in interviews so that you don’t have crusty punks trying to kick your head in or whatever. Because people are so stupid, and they take things out of context, so I’ve got in the habit of making this list, so that it’s just as clear as day to these left-wing nutjobs. But, I said, and here’s where you get into trouble, especially in Germany, the right wing has co-opted a lot of really important and good things – like heathen spirituality, and in Europe I know that radical environmentalism has a right-wing tinge to it sometimes. And I said that’s totally unfair and uncalled-for and there’s no reason why this need to be the case. And so someone takes that sentence ‘The right wing has co-opted some good ideas’
, takes out the word ‘co-opted’
, put it out on the internet, and creates a huge sort of frenzy about the whole thing. This is totally ridiculous, and it made me lose a huge amount of respect for Germans in general, really, because no-one was willing to say ‘Listen, this is ridiculous’
, because they would be the next one in line.
HH: They take their culture wars very, very seriously in Germany.
And at the same time I understand. I mean, the Holocaust and World War II is a huge issue to deal with as a people, and they’re clearly trying to work it out, and I don’t think they’re doing a very good job, because of the fact that they can’t even discuss it, and the fact that there’s just no room for having a conversation. That’s just not going to work. You can’t just sweep things under the rug like that.
So I was upset about it for a while, to be so misperceived. For me to be seen as a fascist, racist, anti-Semite is just so wrong, and I was hurt and annoyed. But the more and more I talked to these angry people, the more I realised that it was hopeless. These are people that say that Noam Chomsky
is a fascist and anti-Semite. You know, Noam Chomsky isn’t allowed to speak in Germany. If he shows up to speak, angry activists will be throwing rocks at him. So when they told me that, I said, well, wait a minute, as far as I’m concerned, Noan Chomsky is a radical, extreme left-wing, anarchist, Jewish, anti-fascist activist for his entire life, and you’re trying to tell me that he’s anti-Semitic and a fascist sympathiser? So really, if that’s the perspective that you’re coming from, then I’m not going to argue with you. So I’m through arguing with those kinds of people.
HH: Do you perceive your core audience to be within the black metal scene, however much you feel separate from most BM bands, or are you attracting fans from other areas – people who are maybe not at all into black metal in general, but who approve of your ideology, for instance?
There’s certainly more diversity in the audience than I think there would be at a show that’s more explicitly part of the black metal scene. We don’t necessarily call ourselves a black metal band. I think that black metal’s very much a European thing, and at this point it’s become very, very dogmatic. When we play with European BM bands, it’s very obvious that it’s a scene. There’s cool people in the scene, and this band is popular, and it’s all about friends, and hanging out, and it’s really no different than any other kind of punk scene or metal scene. And then those bands seem to be only interested in each other’s bands and going to each other’s shows. So yeah, I do think that WITTR does attract a wider kind of audience. I can’t necessarily say who those people are, but just to kind of look at people and stereotype them, I could say, oh, that person is clearly not a black metal kind of person, on a superficial level. I don’t know, though – we’re new to Europe, and you don’t really get the opportunity to talk that much to people in depth, which is sad for me. So I don’t really know who our fans are, and I don’t necessarily understand what their motivations are.
HH: Do you think your music is always going to have its roots in black metal, or could you imagine say, doing an acoustic folk album like Drudkh did?
Yeah, we’ve talked about this as a band, and I think that if we ever wanted to do something that was radically different, we’d do it under a different name, or as a different band. I think this band has a very specific sound that we’re interested in, and a very specific sort of spirit, and we’ll continue to explore the same kind of ideas and the same sort of sounds that are used to convey those ideas for at least another record, I think we have that much in us, and after that, we’ll see. But no, I’m not interested in radically changing our sound. I’d rather do that as a different group.
HH: I was wondering if there was a specifically heathen or pagan aspect to WITTR? We’ve talked about spirit a lot, and you mentioned Tarot cards, but are you pagans?
That’s a very interesting question, and again one I think that has a lot to do with the fact of where we come from, because we’re Americans. No, I don’t consider our stuff as heathen or pagan, because I think that is, especially in Europe, a very specific thing. As I understand it, heathenism is an attempt to re-create or reawaken a very specific heathen tradition, re-creating rituals as best as one can from the ancient epics that have survived, going to the places that were holy to one’s heathen ancestors, and for Americans that’s not possible. And also, I don’t know if that’s something that we should be trying to do. Here’s my thing about heathenism. My belief is that any sort of local tradition, any local holy place or holy symbol, is a local manifestation of a transcendent idea. So for me, the Thor’s hammer is not important, but it’s the idea that’s maybe lurking behind it. I think that the Thor’s hammer is a European manifestation, but I think that the thing it represents is not only available to Europeans. Nathan has a Thor’s hammer tattoo on his arm, so I think he’s maybe more interested in heathenism than I am.
I do believe that every place has its own kind of spirit, and every culture has its own spirit, but part of me thinks that there’s no reason that one can’t evolve. I’m not interested in the idea of trying to reclaim something from the past, and again, this is because I’m an American, and we don’t have a past, necessarily. It feels much more honest and natural to me to seek transcendence in the natural world, in a more unmediated kind of way. It’s never been important to me to have ancient symbols involved in that spiritual practice. To me, it’s enough to go into the woods with the intention of communicating with some higher power, and it will communicate with you. There’s no need to do some kind of Wiccan ritual, with this incantation and this cauldron and this dagger, or whatever. I think that it’s accessible to all people.
HH: What about the Cascadian music scene in general? There seem to be quite a lot of bands from that area who share your forest-focused concerns and outlook, for example Fauna, Ruhr Hunter, Blood Of The Black Owl, A Minority Of One, In Gowan Ring, and Waldteufel. What is it about Cascadia which has inspired you and these other bands?
I think all of those people come out of, or at least are influenced by that Cascadian underground culture which questions modern civilisation, and when you begin to question civilisation, you say, well, what do we replace it with? And that creates a conversation among peers that I think has come to the conclusion that there needs to be some sort of reawakening of an ancient spirit, a pagan spirit, a heathen spirit, however you want to put it, and I think that’s the philosophical stew that all these groups are emerging out of. I think that’s one thing.
Another thing is that there’s a strong contrarian culture in the northwest. A lot of those back-to-the-land hippies that I mentioned earlier set up a lot of institutions, whether they’re communes, or a magic shop, or a heathen group, or just being an older person in town who has really interesting ideas, and who’s been through it all before. I think that can’t help but start to create a culture that has a synergistic effect. And then more and more people move there who are interested in these sort of things, and talk to other people, and meet this older person who moved there in 1971 and became interested in heathenism, and has these stories to tell and wisdom to share. It just becomes a centre, you know? So that’s the second thing.
A third thing is that really is a very special spirit to Cascadia that is undeniable. I guess that every place has a spiritual reality to it, and has a mirror of the physical realm in the otherworld, which is right behind the veil, which is just right here, beyond where we’re sitting, and the energy in Cascadia really resonates with the energy that’s in black metal, perhaps just because the flora and fauna is the same [as northern Europe], or because the weather is the same. So I think all these people – In Gowan Ring, Waldteufel, ourselves, Fauna – are drawn to these northern European metal or folk music cultures to express our own culture.
HH: Do you have much contact with other Cascadian bands? Do you feel part of a specific Cascadian scene?
Well, I suppose so. There is a pretty tight-knit community, and I think our band is included in that. Certainly, we are as people. We’re very good friends with Fauna. One of the members of Fauna lives at our farm, and I’ve performed with them over the years, playing drums. We’ve always worked together, manifesting different rituals and different sorts of events. Nathan, for the last five or six years, has run a music space in Olympia, which is one of the places where these Cascadian artists perform. So we do work together. We and Fauna work together especially closely. We know Chet [Scott] from Ruhr Hunter really well, of course. I don’t know Markus Wolff [Waldteufel] that well. He lives in Portland, and I’ve only met him a few times. But there are a few yearly events that are becoming local rituals, which are kind of the heart and souls of these Cascadian artists that you listed. There’s a festival called the Autonomous Mutant Festival
, which takes place somewhere in Cascadia every summer, usually around the summer solstice, and that’s the kind of thing that began as more of a rave culture thing. A lot of Oakland crews began this tradition, but at the same time, it’s influenced by that kind of Earth First tree-sitting protest culture as well. I think that over the past six or seven years, it’s really become a place of the emerging black metal-influenced culture, so it’s five or six hundred people who are all on the same page, who are all interested in the same kind of things, who are all coming from this Earth First, punk background, but who have moved beyond that kind of simplistic worldview, and are now into exploring all these other things, through music and ritual. So that’s a very important event. And then in Olympia, for the last four years, the two members of Fauna and one of their partners have been holding a winter solstice ritual that all of the bands you mentioned would play at. But it’s not a concert, it’s a ritual and a community gathering. It’s wrong to perceive those musicians as rock bands, you know, they’re definitely trying to get at something deeper.
I think that WITTR is different from Fauna, though, in a lot of ways, but mostly because we said to ourselves, well, we want this music to be accessible on a larger level. We think it’s valuable enough to want to share this with a greater community.
HH: You play the music industry game a lot more than they do.
Absolutely. They recently released their music on a record label, Aurora Borealis
, which really surprised me, because we’ve fought over the years. We’re really good friends, but we also disagree, as all good friends do, and they would say, well, it’s wrong to go on tour, it would be wrong to release your record on Southern Lord, because you’re compromising your spirit too much, you’re making this music accessible to people who don’t understand it, and who don’t want to seriously take part in the culture. And I disagree with that. I think that what Fauna are doing is amazing, and I’m glad that they’re doing it in the way that they do, but at the same time, they give an amazing, soul-wrenching, transformative performance, and there’s like five people there. And so, who are you touching? How are you transforming the world when only five people are aware of what you’re doing? So that’s exactly what I was saying earlier, when we first started the interview, that one has to make that compromise.
HH: How do you think what’s going on in Cascadia at the moment relates to earlier scenes associated with the area, like for instance the Seattle grunge scene of the late 80s and early 90s and the K Records, Kill Rock Stars and Riot Grrrl stuff that followed in its wake?
Well, that’s Olympia.
HH: Well, the Seattle scene and Olympia.
As a resident, I would make a very clear and stark distinction between the Olympia and Seattle scenes.
HH: Tell me.
At the same time, there were two different things going on. There was the Seattle scene, which was Alice In Chains
, Sub Pop Records
, and that sort of thing. Olympia had K Records and Kill Rock Stars. And they had two very, very different worldviews. Nirvana
kind of bridged the gap.
HH: Yeah, because Kurt Cobain was really into K Records and lived in Olympia, but went to Seattle.
And I think was kind of cast out of Olympia for that reason. The Olympia and Seattle scenes really had nothing in common. I grew up in Olympia, and grew up in that scene in many ways, although always from the outside, because Nathan and I were always metalheads first and foremost. But I never went to shows in Seattle, and I was never interested in bands from Seattle, I was only interested in bands from Olympia. I guess I’ve always had a really strong native pride. But I think that growing up in that punk scene really affected us a lot. You described it earlier as a kind of left-wing scene, and I guess that’s true when you think about it, but to me the politics take such a backseat to the idea of putting aside mainstream culture and mainstream society and just forgetting about it, just trying to create your own world and your own community with your own value system. That’s what’s really, really important. To have your own economy – for the most part, I don’t take part in the mainstream economy. Everything that I really have to purchase can come from our own farm, or from friends, or from people who can make clothing. It’s just growing and growing, that sort of autonomous economy and culture. And even though Riot Grrrl or whatever isn’t necessarily my cup of tea, those people who were deeply involved in that kind of feminist politics perhaps ten years ago are now interested in farming or whatever. I think that political fervour of one’s youth kind of washes away, and it becomes more about creating an autonomous local culture and not having to deal with the insanity that is going on in the rest of the world.
HH: Is WITTR the ultimate expression of your ideas, or is it a vehicle that serves to relay your message for now? Do you envisage a time when WITTR is gone and you’re doing other things – writing books, say?
Well, I’d never write a book, because I can barely speak, or read, for that matter!
HH: What I’m really wondering about it whether the message is more important than the medium, or not.
Yeah, I think so, for sure. I understand what you mean. WITTR is an expression of what we want, what we want the universe to give to us. You know, when you go to a village that survived the wars and you look at it and you see how it fits together so perfectly, and it’s an expression of this coherent culture that’s beautiful and harmonious and I think expresses the transcendent in some way. Do you know the architect Christopher Alexander
Oh really? I think you’d be really interested. But that’s want I want to do in my life. Music is a very temporary kind of thing, especially doing it in this way, in this rock’n’roll context, touring and releasing records and that sort of thing. What I want to do is have a homestead, a beautiful homestead, and really master all those traditional crafts and ways of living that to me are so meaningful and just bring so much beauty into the world. And so in the future, that will be my artform – building a community, really. Me and Nathan agree on this, that WITTR is just one building block in a greater dream of manifesting a world. I imagine we’ll fail. It’s quite an ambitious dream, but that’s our intention.
HH: Finally, do you have any advice for WITTR fans who are interested in changing their lifestyles to live more sustainably? It’s not possible for everyone to have a smallholding in Washington, but what can everybody do?
I absolutely cannot comment on that at all. I’m really wary of the idea that some people perceive us as sitting on some sort of high horse, saying, well you should get it together, move out of the city and have a small homestead, and have a beautiful wife that makes cheese, and has artisan apple trees or whatever. That’s just not an option for people, and so everyone has to find their own path. I’m blessed and lucky, and it has everything to do with where we live, in America, which has everything to do with committing genocide against the native people, which has given us the space to spread out and do our own thing, maaan. And I’m deeply conflicted about that. I’m conflicted about everything in my life. So no, I would be totally unwilling to suggest anything to anyone.
HH: Are you optimistic that President Obama will take environmental issues more seriously than George Bush ever did?
No, not really. It’s an interesting question, because someone asked me in Germany, ‘Well, how can you not be interested in politics? You’re interested in ancient forests not being cut down, and that’s a political issue, isn’t it? Someone passes a law that says the government can sell these trees to a big logging company and they get cut down. It’s cause and effect, right?’
And I said, no, it’s not cause and effect. The political issue is nothing but an echo of a greater spiritual war that’s going on, and who the president is, I’m just not interested, really. I voted for Obama, I’m not afraid to admit that. I vote every year, especially on local issues, but no, I don’t think it’s some sort of great hopeful thing, I don’t think the world is going to change. I don’t know how hopeful I am about the world. I feel a looming sense of apocalypse, and we’ll see what happens.
HH: But then you’re involved in all these constructive projects. Why aren’t you just nihilistic?
Because I think that just because one is going to fail doesn’t mean that one ought not to do it. I’m very interested in being an honourable and ethical person, and I think that honour is a transcendent idea. That’s something that I’m really interested in about heathenism, that sort of ancient, transcendent ethical code. I’m disgusted by nihilism. I think it’s a cowardly and lazy way to wreck one’s life. And also, I think that one can be a nihilist, believe that life has no intrinsic meaning, and yet still be devoted to creating beauty in the world. I have a lot more I could say about that, but I think I’ll just leave it at that.
This interview with Aaron Weaver of Wolves In The Throne Room took place face to face in Birmingham, England, during WITTR’s European tour in January 2009.