Aaron Weaver: “Music is a feeling in your body and in your heart, it is not a thought or a rational process. It is something older and deeper, lower down in our bodies.”
De pracht van de natuur in het noordwesten van de Verenigde Staten – Cascadian mountains en Olympia in de Staat Washington – heeft Aaron en Nathan Weaver van Wolves In The Throne Room weer intens geïnspireerd om een zevende studioalbum te creëren vol spiritueel beladen black metal. Helemaal alleen in de eigen studio te midden van uitgestrekte wouden, is ‘Primordial Arcana’ de neerslag van dit werk geworden dat eerstdaags zijn distributie begint over heel de wereld. Voorafgaand aan dit heuglijke feit, hadden we een gesprek met Aaron Weaver (drums, synths, mix) die bijzonder eloquent en beschaafd bedachtzaam zijn overtuigingen met ons deelt.
Vera Matthijssens Ι 18 augustus 2021
You have made a new album ‘Primordial Arcana’ and that has been a while. It has been four years since ‘Thrice Woven’ came out. What happened in your life, with you and with the band during that time?
It took almost two years to write and record ‘Primordial Arcana’, because there is a lot to it. As you may know, this is the first album we recorded totally on our own, produced by myself, Nathan and Kody, mixed by me, in our own studio, we built from the ground up. So during those four years, there is a great deal of swinging hammers and cutting wood, wiring things, doing all the kind of technical work that was required to make the studio take shape and then of course writing the riffs. We spent a great deal of effort into the writing, the pure song-writing element of our music. We always like all of the songs to be complete and feel very coherent and strong with just a guitar riff. No drums, no distortion, sometimes only acoustic guitars playing the riffs all the way through. Once we are confident that the songs are strong, we move on to the recording process and that takes a while. We have been on tour, we also took time for our personal lives to charge ourselves up and become very strong for when we release ‘Primordial Arcana’ and bring the music around the world. We wanted to make sure that we are in top physical, mental and spiritual condition to do that.
This time Kody was involved in the writing process from the start and that was different, isn’t it?
Yes, that is true. This is an album where Kody was there from the very beginning. When we first had the inspiration for ‘Primordial Arcana’, he was in the room with us. He was there the whole time and this has been a great bonus to us, because Kody of course, brings his own spirit, his own energy and his own heart for riffs, he is all knowledge of metal music and I think you really hear that on the album. To my ears it sounds very fresh and very strong. Part from that is that we produced it ourselves, so we worked very careful and meticulous on what we put on the record and also with Kody’s input, which is to my ears, very exciting. He brings a lot to the album.
Usually you choose a place to be inspired and write. Was it written in the studio or did you do that also elsewhere?
We did it entirely in our studio The Owl Lodge, we built it as our creative temple. It is perfectly set up for us, for the way we work. And we each have our home studios where we can work on things. My home studio is a bit more elaborated, because I am the most technical person in the band, the engineer and mixing engineer. Also I like to write out in the woods too. I take an acoustic guitar and record on my phone or whatever to get inspiration. A few riffs on the album came from the mountains in North Carolina, very far away from my mountains, but I was exploring the Appalachians. There are some songs that came through up there in those mountains in North Carolina, which were very special and specific. So the inspiration can come at different times from different places.
So you are also a person who likes to explore different places than yours (which is already very beautiful)?
Oh yes, I think of the Alps in Europe. I think of the Indian Ocean and Australia, all the beautiful places in North America. Yes, there is so much beauty and magic everywhere on this planet. It is always good to be in the place. It is wonderful to dream, it is wonderful to look at pictures, but for me, to touch the ground and feel the water, experience the way the air smells in different places, that is very inspiring to me.
What is the title ‘Primordial Arcana’ based on?
For me this title is invoking ancient wisdom. Primordial has to do with that, which is the most ancient, maybe the first things. For us it is the wisdom of the earth itself, the very ancient entity that is our home. If we listen carefully, with respectful ears, we can hear beautiful songs and receive great teachings in wisdom. This is the meaning of the album title.
Inspired by the current volcanic activity in Iceland, I was thinking that everything comes from deep within the earth or from the stars…
Indeed, the image of volcanic power is very important to us. We are actually just discussing that, because the next video we will create, is for the song ‘Primal Chasm’ and this video will be shot at the volcano here in the Cascadian Mountains, which is Mount St. Helens which has flooded in I think 1982. I was a very young child and I have memories of the ash clouds. The power of the volcano, that is something very inspiring.
That same song ‘Primal Chasm’ should be an explosion of cosmic grandeur. It should be inspired by ‘As above, so below’, envisioned by Keyworth. Can you tell something more about that?
It is one of my favourite songs on the record. It feels like something we have never done before. The riff has a very exciting energy to me and Kody wrote the lyrics. I know that he was expressing this… oh what was his idea? – the union of opposites, the non-duality of the universe, of this space in between the yin and the yang. It is in this space, this infinitely small influentially huge space where the cathartic creation occurs, I think on the level of our own spirits, our human spirits, our own hearts, as well as on the level of the cosmos. It is a spiritual idea. It is very important to us and I think that the people who experienced this non-duality awareness, know what I am talking about and those who haven’t experienced it, maybe they will some day. That is the meaning of that song.
That spirituality you experience, does it go back to ancient powers or is it also a modern matter?
I think so, I think it is accessible to all human beings. It is in our DNA, it is in our blood. I think it may be more challenging to be in resonance with this kind of consciousness as modern people, because there are so many distractions, but it is certainly possible and I think that music and art is maybe the most accessible path to touching in to this kind of consciousness. Music is a feeling in your body and in your heart, it is not a thought or a rational process. It is something older and deeper, lower down in our bodies.
The former album ‘Thrice Woven’ should be very earth bounded, but this one should sound colder and icy. Any thoughts on this? How do you see that?
Well, ‘Thrice Woven’, the previous album, was very inspired by the forest, literally close to our backdoor, a cider forest where our studio is situated within. We wanted that album to be very humble in a way, very earthy in its tone. To me, the colour of that album – if I had to describe it in this way – is deep red, brown, orange colour, which is the colour of the forest. You come across the stump of an ancient tree, a thousand year old cider tree that is now decomposing and turning into soil. It has this very unique colour, this red/orange colour. To me that is the inspiration to ‘Thrice Woven’, this earth, this fertile earth. ‘Primordial Arcana’ is quite different. When we were first touching into the inspiration for this record, we imagined ourselves on the high mountains, at the edge of a glacier. We were imagining the feeling one gets from drinking the ice cold melt water, forming into a stream on the tale end of a glacier. When you drink this water, it is almost like being struck by lightning. It is like an electrical shock, because it is so cold and so clear. ‘Primordial Arcana’ is inspired by this feeling, this electricity, this coldness, this purity and the feeling that one gets from being in the high mountains.
On the other hand there is also a song about the metal bond between people who are into metal… that’s quite a different vibe…
Indeed yes. That is ‘Spirit Of Lightning’ which is just released as a single yesterday. This song has a few meanings and one of the important ones is a feeling of celebration that we experience as metalheads, as people who love this music and this culture and join together in the ritual of a live concert. I know that you know how this feels and how important it is to you and for the people who read your publication and how much they long to return to it. This is something I feel really strongly, that it is definitely time for us to get back on the road and reawaken this ritual of the live performance and share musical magic.
How long has it been, since you played live?
You know, we were just returning home from Europe, right as the plague time began. We were doing a tour, supporting Dimmu Borgir and Amorphis and we were flying home… I think March 1st. Right before the plague time began, I got extremely sick on the plane home. So it is very possible that I experienced the plague right there in the very beginning.
In addition to you, your brother Nathan and Kody, one can find two guest musicians on the album. We can hear clean vocals of Galen Baudhuin in ‘Through Eternal Fields’ and he plays bass. Who is he?
We have known him for a very long time. He is a beloved friend of ours. He is the live bass player for Wolves In The Throne Room. So he did those clean vocals on one track and also played bass on the whole record. It was a glorious contribution that he gave, because I love the bass lines and in fact we haven’t had a bass guitar on our records since ‘Black Cascade’ actually. Even then those bass lines were quite rudimentary; they were just there to support the guitars. So this is the first time we have a bass guitar that is really active melodically and harmonically. It is going to be extra exciting to do gigs, because Galen is going to be there with me in the rhythm section. So, for the first time I am going to have this halo in the low ends and I pretty much look forward to that, because he is a wonderful musician, a great friend, a true brother and an excellent bass player.
Who is the second guest, Yianna Bekris?
She did acoustic guitar on the acoustic sessions for the song ‘Masters Of Rain And Storm’. She is a great friend of ours. She has a great band called Vouna. It is a doom metal band, I think Profound Lore just put out her new record. It is truly excellent and well worth checking out! It is funeral doom with excerpts of black metal and a lot of synthesizers. It is excellent music. And very strange. She has a very strange song-writing sensibility. Twisted, but also very beautiful.
What was the source of inspiration for the longest track – we just mentioned it – ‘Masters Of Rain And Storm’?
Pure mountain energy. Yes, the mountains are so important to us and so beloved to us and the song is simply an ode to them, to the magic and to the spirits of the high places.
Indeed, I am jealous if I see the beautiful nature where you live…
Oh yes, it is spectacular. We have the Olympic Mountains to the west and the Cascade mountains to the east. We live right on the southern tip of the bay. This is salt water, full of salmon and orca whales, ancient forests and beautiful rainy winters. It is our home, our inspiration and our great love.
Wolves In The Throne Room have always been known for their DIY mentality. That’s why it surprises me now that you have signed a contract with pretty big labales: Century Media for Europe and Relapse for US/Canada. What is the story behind this move?
Well, as you might know, we have released ‘Thrice Woven’ entirely on our own on Artemisia Records. Mostly as a test or deal, because putting out a record internationally on digital, CD and LP is a heavy task. But I did it and it made me able to learn how to do it. Just having the trial by fire. What I learned at the end of this journey, is that it is simply too much office work, too many e-mails, too much what they call ‘the bullshit’ side of the music business. We have been talking with Century Media Records and Relapse for years about releasing records, in despite of that we always did it ourselves, but this time we realized if we do accept the aid of a record label, it would give us way more time to stay focused on the music, the photography, the music videos and staying in deep resonance with this spiritual source of the music, and it has been a wonderful partnership. It is not that they have creative input. We just give them the record and the music video. We give them the photography and they put it out. So in that way it is a very great partnership.
The artistic vision is always totally different from the business, that’s obvious…
Yes and no. We also like to keep a very strong hand over the whole business operation, of the arrangements. We are right in there, with all that kind of stuff, we never want to turn over to a record label, who then may represent the band in ways we don’t want to be represented, including things we don’t want to do. Everything that Wolves In The Throne Room does, comes entirely from Nathan and myself and the record companies in many ways are servants who do our bidding. We like to keep it that way.
You make your own videos. ‘Mountain Magic’ for instance, is a very beautiful video. It should be filmed near the upper big Quilcene river?
Yes, that video is filmed on the eastern slopes of the Olympic Mountains, the mountain range the closest to where we live. Maybe it is an hour drive to the trailhead, where we hiked in to produce the video and then of course the final session of the video in the higher mountains, where there is still snow. That is on Mount Olympus, one of the higher peaks in the Olympic Mountains. It was a great pleasure for us to be able to show the audience some of these landscapes, because these are the landscapes that are our true inspirations. For the first time we are now able to share these images with our audience and we definitely plan to make more video clips to deepen into this practise.
The way the band is projected in these landscapes is amazing as well, like the guitar solo from Kody near the waterfall…
Very epic indeed.
What are your musical roots, the first bands you ever discovered?
The first metal I got into is always a fine thing to talk about, because it was at the age of 12 or 13 that we were first exposed to metal. And I would say that the first album that I really got into in, was Metallica’s ‘Black Album’, because that came out in 1991 I believe, so I was 13 years old. I very quickly discovered Metallica’s back catalogue. Since then Metallica has been one of my favourite bands. I think you can hear some Metallica in our music too. I do some Lars Ulrich drum licks pretty regularly. Right after that, Nathan and I discovered the Florida death metal scene, bands like Incantation, Morbid Angel, Deicide… were and are very important to us. I think you can hear the Morbid Angel influence in our music. My ultimate favourite Florida band is Death. The drumming, the progressive guitar playing, the arrangements… Chuck of course, dearly beloved metal god. Then, not too long after that, we discovered black metal. The first record I got was ‘In The Nightside Eclipse’, which I discovered in a used CD bin at a kind of flee market. It even did not have the jewel case. I didn’t know what band it was. It was just the CD itself, in a plastic sleeve. I don’t think it even said ‘Emperor’ on it. I had no idea what it was, I just got it, because I was intrigued by the image on the actual CD. That opened the door to the world of black metal and of course we have been on this train ever since.
The artwork shows something from a blacksmith. It is a ceremonial leaf by blacksmith Marcus McCoy and that intrigued me…
On the cover you see that knife, the ritual knife, which was forged by a friend of ours, Marcus McCoy, who is an occultist, a blacksmith, a magician… he is a practitioner of Scandinavian folk magic, which is ancestral tradition and so he does this blacksmith thing in a very magical way. For instance, he will gather rain water on Thursdays during a thunderstorm and he will quench the seal in that sort of water. He has other buckets of water that are herbal teas and mostly magical plants. They all quench certain magical implements in these waters. It is great to collaborate with these sorts of magicians and artists. I do some blacksmithing myself, so perhaps the next album will feature some of my work on the cover.
Has it something to do with the shaman thing in North Scandinavia?
He is a teacher from Sweden, he is part of this, at the end of a family line of Scandinavian folk magicians. So he knows everything about trolls and norns and so on. We have a Norn who lives in our house, it is quite good to be in connection with the Norns. My son sees him regularly. Children are more open to it and same goes for the young at heart.