Erik Danielsson (vocals): “We play music that has its roots in things that are not really a part of this world. We write music that is the opposite of normal behaviour. It is music that is meant to kind of break the status quo in life, it is supposed to question what people in general consider to be normal or correct or generally accepted”
Gruwel en weldaad zijn twee uitersten die men mogelijk kan ervaren in het leven. De titel van het zevende Watain studioalbum ‘The Agony & Ecstasy Of Watain’ voorspelt een rijk gekruid muzikaal palet dat inderdaad zowel zalft (tijdens songs van epische inslag) als geselt (hun satanische blackened furie). Binnen de blasfemische cirkel van bands met een eigen identiteit hebben deze Zweden inmiddels een solide status opgebouwd. Het nieuwe album werd met veel oog voor details in elkaar geknutseld zonder haast of stress, zodat ook Erik Danielsson erg tevreden is over het resultaat. Daar vertelt hij graag wat meer over. De band is aan het oefenen voor komende shows op een afgelegen plek, wanneer we – genietend van de lentezon – Erik contacteren. Ook in Zweden schijnt de zon.
Vera Matthijssens Ι 2 mei 2022
Hi Erik, great to talk to you! It is a lovely sunny day here, how are you?
I would say it is quite similar here. I am sitting here now outside the workshop that we have planned where we build most of our stage stuff. We have been working just a few days now, using the Springtime weather, just to be able to be outside and work. Fantastic!
That is true, it changes your view on things a bit more positive when the sun is shining…
I think so. Living in a northern climate in the northern part of the world is harsh. It makes a big difference once that winter is coming to an end. It makes a change in many different ways.
Watain has a new album and only the title ‘The Agony & Ecstasy Of Watain’ says a lot, because this one has more nuances than the former one ‘Trident Wolf Eclipse’. You seem to work with more contrasts, do I see that right? Was that the intention?
Both ‘The Wild Hunt’ and ‘Trident Wolf Eclipse’ were a bit experiments. Before that, on our first four albums up until ‘Lawless Darkness’, we had been working in a very free spirited way in any possible sense. We were just writing music that made us feel something strong and that made the air between us grow a little thick and sparkly, that was the only goal we had when we were writing the first four albums. On ‘The Wild Hunt’ we started with a little bit different approach to have more artistic goals for the record label. We started to broaden our horizons, we kind of wanted to expand our colour pallet so to speak and the same for ‘Trident Wolf Eclipse’, but kind of reversed. On ‘Trident Wolf Eclipse’ we wanted to limit our pallet, pretty much just black and white and red. That was also great to do, but with the new album I think we were pretty sure from the very start that we wanted to go back to that free spirited way of writing, that is basically about expressing profound things within yourself and making it into music that you feel very strongly for and I think, after such a long time of being in a band – this is our seventh album within almost 25 years – I think it is very important to ask yourself how you want to approach your writing and why you want to do the things you do. It becomes increasingly important to define that somehow, because if you look around – if we stay in the metal world – if you look at all the bands that had been going on for a long time and that maybe can be called veterans now, some of them ten years longer than Watain, you can often see I think that they kind of loose something along the way. It becomes a little bit tired, it becomes a little bit unfocused maybe, it doesn’t really have the same importance as the earlier works and I am sure that you can avoid that. I am totally positive that you can avoid that, but then you have to be quite careful about how you do things and how you approach your work, how you see yourself and how you know yourself and how the rest of your life looks as well. Nobody in Watain has a normal life. No one in Watain has a normal family and a normal job. We never had. We live very different lives outside of society. Lives that are quite reflected on what we do with our band and I think that is maybe the key point in all this. If you have a life that kind of interprets your art, or the other way around as well, then interesting things can still happen after a very long time, maybe they will become even more interesting.
I think it comes down on staying true to yourself and who you are…
We play music that has its roots in things that are not really a part of this world. We write music that is the opposite of normal behaviour. It is music that is meant to kind of break the status quo in life, it is supposed to question what people in general consider to be normal or correct or generally accepted. Our music is meant to represent the opposite of that in a way and I think it is super important to be closely connected to these kinds of things. Both within yourself, but also in your actual life and how you live your life. I think that a lot of these veteran metal bands that are still around today, they might have lived wild and free lives when they were younger, but they grew older and they became a bit more normalized, a bit institutionalized, members of society you know. To be totally honest, I don’t think you can mix those two things. I don’t think you can mix creating blackened death metal and being a normal member of society at the same time. I don’t think that is a good recipe for doing something interesting. I think that metal should be written by people who live metal lives.
Most of the musicians lead a normal life, but then of course they are bombarded with different vibes coming from work, family and so on… Hard to concentrate on music I guess…
If you look at artistry, music and artistry in general, do you think that the people who are still remembered, do you think they had normal lives? Janis Joplin or Jimi Hendrix or Screaming Jay Hawkins or Salvador Dali? All the artists, like picture artists and so on… None of them were normal people. None of them lived a regular life in society, they were fucking maniacs and I miss that a lot in metal. It is great that we can be a band with this kind of true approach to the things that we do, because I think that it is very underrepresented in metal in general. I think metal has become ‘normal’ in many ways and I am glad that Watain can represent the kind of antithesis to that.
What is also important in that respect, is that you can still rely on your close circle of friends, because you, Håkan and Pelle are the core of the band who still write the songs and the music…
Yes, that is of course another thing. It is a great benefit for us as a band. I think if you look around at other bands again, you will find that the line-up has just changed and changed and changed and maybe there is this one original person left in the band. I think it is great to have this original triangle of members intact, although we are working now as a five-piece with the people we have been playing also a long time with, Hampus and Emil. We take our line-up very seriously and we are very careful who we work with in such a close way. Everyone that is playing on the new Watain album has been part of the Watain world for at least ten years. That is also something we put much importance in. It is not something you just throw around, like pieces on a chessboard, you need to make sure that the group consists of people that have their spirits and their hearts in the right place.
Yet you recorded the album live in the studio with five men and that was new for you. How did you come to this decision of doing it this way?
Well, the thing is, I wrote most of the music and then I brought the music to the rehearsal room and we rehearsed as a five-piece. When the pandemic came, we said that we will not stop rehearsing, just because there is a pandemic. We will meet every week and then rehearse as usual and we started working on the new material. We felt that it was sounding better and better and the focus of everyone was there and we realized – pretty late actually – before we were going into the studio, that we were sounding good enough to make it a live recording instead. We didn’t have to do it instrument by instrument, so we went into the studio – which was located in an old church – and it took two days to just decorate the place in the same way that we decorate our stage. This was a very inspiring environment and then we put on our instruments, our amplifiers and pressed ‘record’ and we started to record the album live. It was great. It was a very direct way of working, full of urgency. There was no room for any other thoughts than the here and now.
It must be special, because it is your studio, but now it is located in a chapel…
Exactly. I think it is great to use a building that has been built in order to do spiritual works and that is exactly what we are doing with Watain. I think it is very fitting.
Let us focus on the song ‘We Remain’. Of course we know your bond with The Devil’s Blood. In this song you invited female singer Farida Lemouchi and guitarist Gottfrid Åman to contribute. Can you tell a bit more about this cooperation?
That was a fantastic collaboration I would say. We have a long time relationship with both Farida and Gottfrid. That relation goes back to when they were in their old bands The Devil’s Blood and In Solitude. I started writing that song ‘We Remain’ on a tour we did in 2012 in the USA together with The Devil’s Blood and In Solitude. Every time I picked up the lyrics of that song, it reminded me of that time. A very inspirational time, we had a very special relation going between our three bands. It was a kind of magical communication between us, you know. We did a lot of things together, not only as bands but as friends and we were in deep discussions about the important things in life and we simply developed a very strong bond. So when it was time to record this song now for this album, it felt so great to be able to reach out to them, because they are still very close friends of ours. It felt so great to be able to reach out and invite them into the studio and record their parts. It is a collaboration I am very, very happy with and something that has a deep meaning to me, that we kind of established this connection between us three into eternity with this song.
It is a great song. I have the impression that the second part of the album goes a bit more into an epic direction. One example of that is an intro followed by ‘Before The Cataclysm’… amazing parts!
If you look upon the album, like a journey, like a pilgrimage maybe, then I think that the instrumental song – which is called ‘Not Sun Nor Man Nor God’ which precedes ‘Before The Cataclysm’ – that’s the song where you take a pause on your pilgrimage. You sit down under the stars, you have your wandering stick by your side. You sit down and you reflect upon what has been, what you have experienced so far but also think about what is to come and things that lay ahead of you on your journey. And then the journey begins again and it begins with ‘Before The Cataclysm’ which is a song that opens up, it is like you have gone from a more familiar terrain into an entirely new wilderness where you have never been before. Then the album continues into that wilderness, into the unknown, and I think that is a pretty nice way to do, because it is good that there is a kind of drama that you can immerse yourself into and become like a traveller. I really like to see it as a journey itself.
It is nice to see it that way, because these are the most adventurous albums to get deeper into…
Yeah I think so, I like it when there is the adventure. I think it is very fitting to have metal music in general when there is a feeling of adventure. A lot of the heavy metal that I grew up with and that I still love to these days, is very adventurous music, like Judas Priest and the old Metallica albums, Dissection and Bathory and so on… it always felt like you were in a kind of adventure, in a movie, in a life altering situation somehow. It was not only music, it was something else that you could become a part of.
Then you will also like – if they are good of course – lengthy songs, isn’t it?
Yes, sometimes these long songs are fantastic I think. I can really enjoy a lengthy song if it is well composed. Absolutely.
The artwork is done by you, that is not exceptional, but was that desire for design and painting already there in your youth or did it pop up later?
No, I have started with that at the same time I started Watain, because for me, metal has always been music and the art. It was equally interesting to me and it was both those things that made me become a life long admirer of this culture. I always create art all the time. I do pieces, at least an art piece a month I think and some of them I keep and use them on Watain albums. As someone who lives his life as an artist, I think my medium is not only music and it is not only poetry, it is always other arts. We are also involved in the video clips, we never let anyone else do our things. I think it is kind of strange, as an artist, you tell someone else to do your work for you. If I am not able to come up with a good idea for a video and make sure that it turns out good, then I shouldn’t make a video. That’s how I see it and it is the same thing: I would not ask anyone else to write our songs or lyrics, we do it ourselves because we are the band. I never understood this kind of limitations that people seem to have sometimes.
There are many bands who work with a director for a video…
Yeah it can be nice with a good collaboration. We usually collaborate with people who are video makers and so on, but we always come up with the ideas and we always have the vision about it. Then we collaborate with other people in order to have someone that can help us to fulfil this vision, but the important thing is that the ideas have to come from the band, otherwise the concept is rather strange I think.
First the interview could only happen later, because you were planned to go on tour in the US, but now I found out you are not on tour. What happened?
Exactly, we still don’t know what happened. The US embassy still has our passports and it is a very strange situation. We always had working visas on the ten times that we have gone to the US on tour. It was always a lot of paper work, but we always get them, that was never a problem. But this time they have opened a separate investigation on the band. I think maybe they have found stuff of the band that they don’t like or something like that. Maybe they think it is like a Satanic band or a terrorist organisation or something like that. So that’s what is happening at the moment and I really don’t like to talk about it now, because I don’t know at all what’s going on. It is a very bad situation in my eyes and I just want to have a final answer from these idiots at the American authorities who are now responsible for cancelling our entire American tour and putting a lot of people in a very bad situation.
Let us switch to something positive then, because I think there are plans for touring in Europe?
Yes, exactly. The first show that we are going to do now is actually at Graveland festival in Holland and that will be in late May. So that will be the very premiere of the whole new chapter of Watain at Graveland festival. It is a bit the first opening ceremony of the entire new chapter of Watain, I think it is on the 28th of May. Then we have a few Summer Festivals, but not so much. We are also doing Alcatraz Festival in Belgium in August and after that we are going on the first headline tour for the album, which will be in September. It is fantastic, also on the tour is Abbath, Tribulation and Bölzer. Strong package and I think it will be great!
And the tour is called ‘Chariots of Fire’. That’s a nice name.
I am glad you say that. I like the name too. You can find it in the lyrics of the first song. It is the opening lyric line of the entire new album actually. And it has a bond with Bathory. I think you will always find some Bathory details here and there in Watain as long as we exist. For us it is one of the most important bands that ever existed in our universe and we always take the chance to pay tribute to that band and to other old bands too. In the metal scene in general we must be respectful to the things that have been before. I think it is super important as a younger band to pay homage and pay tribute to the old masters. Without them we wouldn’t have done it the same way.