Jake Dreyer: “We usually release in November, so ‘The Curse Of Autumn’ was supposed to come out in autumn, but because of covid-19 – which is kind of the curse of autumn – we had to push the release. On top of that bad things seem to happen in the world whenever we release an album. That’s the reason for the title ‘Curse Of Autumn’.”
Witherfall houdt er flink de vaart in en dat juichen we toe, want hun derde studioalbum ‘Curse Of Autumn’ luidt de lente in met een soundtrack die furieuze metal hand in hand laat gaan met epische passages. Bovendien is het altijd een plezier om zanger/toetsenist Joseph Michael en gitarist Jake Dreyer aan de tand te voelen en hun huidige ontboezemingen te noteren. Met een kwinkslag zeilen ze doorheen onze vragen vanuit hun woonkamer in de VS.
Vera Matthijssens Ι 10 april 2021
Congratulations with the new album! Just listened to it and it is even better than the ones before!
Jake: ‘Ah thank you. Since they all have a concept, they are always going to be a bit different.’
What can you tell about the writing process for ‘Curse Of Autumn’?
Jake: ‘The writing process has always been very smooth and it has always been the same. Joseph and I always write songs. We started right after the last record ‘A Prelude To Sorrow’ was completed with the acoustic guitars and vocal lines, accompanied with red wine. A lot of red wine. That part is pretty simple. When Joseph and I get together, we always start to write easily. The logistics of recording are another story. The pandemic really messed up our intentions of when, where and how we were able to record.’
What can we see as the general theme going on in the lyrics, because I notice a kind of anger is going on in the songs sometimes?
Jake (laughs): ‘Yeah as a band you face a lot of challenges. In the business, with some people that really don’t understand what you are doing. These are in general not good people to begin with (chuckles). You cannot voice your frustrations on people in general, especially in a small, close community like the music industry. We took the opportunity to get them out of our hearts on this record. We never plan what we are going to write about, but when we sat down writing, a lot of that anger and frustration with people in general – but specifically with people we had to deal with climbing this massive mountain to get the band where it is – really started to come out.’
In the beginning you did not play that much live, but did it come to expansion after the last record (before the pandemic hit of course)?
Jake: ‘No. We actually did not play any of these songs live before we recorded them with studio musicians. Everything is from the paper in our head to concept down to the paper or in the computer. We don’t work out the songs, we compose them.’
Joseph: ‘The hardest part is trying to get in other people’s heads what is in our heads. Luckily we had really professional musicians. Anthony Crawford will always play with us as our bass player. It was a pleasure to work with Marco Minnemann too. So it made that process a little less painful, because when you are dealing with musicians like that, you can speak in musical theory terms basically.’
Jake: ‘The process and the vocabulary is a lot better for being transparent. That can be a little bit difficult when Joseph and I have this in our heads and try to convey other people. It is always a challenge.’
Is the band now a constant, solid unit?
Jake: ‘Yes Marco did the drums in the studio. Originally we were going to have the drummer from ‘A Prelude To Sorrow’, Gergo Borlai, but because the pandemic was stuck in Spain, he could not travel. So we got Marco and he is amazing. I am sure the readers are familiar with his work. He is a very sought after tour and session drummer, so when you are dealing with guys at that level, there is a lot of stuff with scheduling.’
Joseph: ‘And Marco almost got stuck in Germany. This is a really tough time to do a record.’
You recruited your well-known friend Jon Schaffer for the production. That must be familiar, especially for you Jake…
Jake: ‘Yes and we are also lucky enough to have Jim Morris and Tom Morris for mix and mastering. It was really nice because these guys are all super pro. So it made the production aspect of it – besides logistics of scheduling – it made the actual recording process a lot easier. Because we have confidence in those guys and their ears. We knew what we wanted and working with those guys was a pleasure. They have more than twenty years experience. It was pretty natural for us to go in there and work together.’
Joseph: ‘Also with the pandemic, Jon and Jim did not even make it to the drum tracking. They had to cancel that part of it. Jake and I took care of that and we got engineered by Brad Cook, doing The Foo Fighters and Slash. The thing is that we always produce our records, but we wanted Jon as co-producer, because we wanted an extra set of ears there and someone who is professional and could take the pressure out of us. So we could just focus on creating the art and let them worrying about whether we fuck it up or not.’
It is also more or less the same kind of metal style as Iced Earth…
Jake: ‘Well yeah, I think that Witherfall is totally different sounding than Iced Earth. The first records maybe have some similarities with the productions of older Iced Earth records, because it is Jake, Jim and Tom, but the actual songs of Witherfall are way different in my ears.’
Joseph: ‘Jon did not have any input in the writing at all, so that Iced Earth comparison must be due to the production. We had everything ready before we walked in the studio. There are no major adjustments made at all.’
Jake: ‘Sometimes when people see my name they think: that’s Iced Earth, because of the guitar playing association, but well, that’s the nature of the beast.’
Let us zoom in on some of the songs, starting with the title track ‘Curse Of Autumn’. A rather short track, an intermezzo let’s say… What do you have in mind with ‘Curse Of Autumn’?
Jake: ‘Did you say intermezzo? That’s a good word for it. We’ll make it the next album title (hilarity). It is the perfect description of that song. It is exactly what it is. It definitely breaks up the front and back side of the record, because the back of the record, after ‘Curse Of Autumn’, actually it starts a three song trilogy. The last songs are also very thematic, with ‘The River’ and ‘…And They All Blew Away’. ‘Curse Of Autumn’ is a visual device, to bring you in the mood of what we were talking about, but it also has a reference in the real world. We usually release in November, so ‘The Curse Of Autumn’ was supposed to come out in autumn, but because of covid-19 – which is kind of the curse of autumn – we had to push the release.’
Joseph: ‘Also, every time, with the fall – Jake and I and Anthony to an extent – every time we release a new record, we have casualties. People die, cities are leveled down to the ground by national disasters, people implode… Bad things seem to happen whenever Jake and I put our music onto an LP.’
Jake: One thing more about ‘The Curse Of Autumn’ is that the last songs are part of a trio. Joseph and I are big fans of Queen and especially certain Queen records they have songs that would blend seamlessly into one another and almost act as if it is one piece. That was our vision for ‘Curse Of Autumn’ and the next ones. From the title track on, you should listen to the three next songs as one piece. I hope we can get that out to more fans, the real experience, the whole thing, because that is how Joseph and I meant it.’
Joseph: ‘Yes those three are specifically written together to go one into the other. Everything else is sequenced, written for the most part separately, but we were thinking how thematically the songs would go into each other. That might influence a theme of a certain song. ‘Another Face’ had to come right before ‘Tempest’, one of my favourite sequencing. One of the happy accidents that every happened to us is writing the a capella section into ‘Tempest’. I love that part.’
Jake: ‘Yeah that is a really great thing.’
For me ‘Tempest’ is also one of the highlights on the record…
Jake: ‘Yeah this is a song … actually many people love that song. For me too, I think it is one of my favourites on the record. It is very dramatic, but it is also a very interesting song, because it has so many different elements of different sorts of genres in it. There is like the black metal guitar picking and Joseph has his vocals on top of it. The chorus is in a clean section. It is cool that it all works in a way and that is how Joseph and I came up with it. We wanted it to see it as a giant piece. It is very Witherfall too.’
What was the idea behind ‘…And They All Blew Away’ except that it is belonging to a trilogy?
Jake: ‘Joseph and I always like to take the listener on a journey, whether it is one song or the whole album. So for that one, that’s just kind of our opus. It has three different movements to it and three different attitudes as well. It took a long time, not because it was difficult to write, but sometimes we lost the feeling for it and moved on to something else. It is just a rollercoaster ride, but it is all very much planned out, you know. We had a great chorus for it and it always comes back to tell the story that Joseph had. We expected that it would take a long time to record, but Marco nailed it promptly in one take.’
Joseph: ‘The reason why it took longer is because of the way we write songs. We don’t do like those two hour, three hour sessions. We start maybe around 5pm and we’ll be going on until maybe six or seven in the morning. It ends up with being broken up. The vibe of where you were kind of goes away, so you kind of distract yourself with a different kind of song or play a cover song, just to get your head in the real world. Actually that is how the Boston song came about, when we were in the middle of writing one night all the way. We just did that dark version.’
Jake: ‘Yes, that was a total accident, because we were trying to distract ourselves to get back to writing ‘…And They All Blew Away’ and that came out by chance. You have to be in a mind set, it can be difficult not to get lost in the woods. So we need those breaks. And usually during those breaks we drink more wine and play classic rock songs. So we found the Boston song ‘Long Time’ and tried to make it our own. Of course we made it very sad. There is a video coming out for that track. It is the long version with a bonus section at the end.’
Joseph: ‘We originally tear down that version and it is kind of like you are using these musical terms. It is another epilogue. It is definitely the closer, when all the dust is settled, the conflict has result itself but now there is this lingering emotion which in this case is… you know … the emotionally destroyed.’
You have your own wine. How did you come to do that and how do you arrange such things?
Joseph: ‘I like to go to random places and talk to strange people. Well, I am always in various wine bars and alcoholic establishments and one day we were doing some heavy metal festival with a lot of merchandising and we saw this place called ‘Charlene Echo’. We went in for a couple of glasses of wine and talked with the owner and he explained everything about their production process and where they sour the grapes. Jake and I had been looking for a small winery, but never really falling through and never really got in touch with one. He called me a few days later and told me he wanted to do it. He sent me some wine, a little sample of the young wine before it is aged in a bottle – and we liked it, so we said: okay let’s do it.’
Jake: ‘I don’t think we actually remember that day very well. (laughs). We went through that process almost like we were creating a record. We wanted the visual look to be very cool and have that Witherfall characteristic to it. We had the 2019 blend sold out in presales, so we had the 2020 blend for presales right now. In April it is coming out. If you want to have it, you have to order it now, because it is sold out before the first day.’
Joseph: ‘We have to find a company in Europe, because the rules for sending alcohol to EU are a little difficult. The way things go or were going in the States, I guess some of our packages are just lost or delivered on the sly.’