Here’s the Only Wolves in the Throne Room Interview You’ll See This Album Cycle Without a Farming Question

They like trees and not showing their faces.In terms of heavy ambience, there are few in the realm of black metal who do it as well as Olympia, WA‘s Wolves in the Throne Room. Helmed by brothers Nathan (guitar/vocals) and Aaron Weaver (drums), the band has been igniting cross-genre acclaim since debuting with Diadem of 12 Stars (Vendlus) in 2006. The response to that record was so strong that it led to Southern Lord signing them and releasing follow-up Two Hunters. They explored their trance-inducing side on this year’s Malevolent Grain EP and are already in the process of issuing the next full-length, Black Cascade. Known almost as much for their strong stance on environmental issues as for their music, the band makes a strong argument in favor of paying attention to the latter with this latest work.

I’ll spare the wax poetry since the review of Black Cascade went up just a couple days ago. Certainly there’s enough of it there. In the meantime, after the jump you can read an extended interview with Aaron Weaver about the troubles of touring and playing corporately-sponsored functions such as the recent Scion Fest in Atlanta, keeping the balance between clarity and a natural sound, and tightening the Wolves in the Throne Room songwriting process so the songs can be better presented live. Dig it.

Do you ever worry that the music is taking a back seat to the personality of the band?Okay, it's not a lemur. I know, I know.

Yeah, that’s something that we talk about quite a bit, because the music is really the most important thing. I think the music should be separate from us as individuals. It should really be able to stand on its own, and I think that it does. It’s good music. I think it’s worthwhile. I hope that’s the reason people are interested in Wolves in the Throne Room. Not because of the mythology, if you will, but of the actual feeling that one gets from listening to the music or going to a concert. At the same time, I think it’s also good for people to be interested in the band beyond just the music, because there’s so much more to Wolves in the Throne Room than just the standard rock band way of doing things. I think we’re coming at music from a pretty different perspective from a lot of bands and I guess I’m glad people are aware of that and are interested in learning more about it.

In listening to Black Cascade you guys sound like a much more established band than even on Two Hunters. Is there a definite Wolves in the Throne Room sound you have in mind, even if that sound crosses genre lines?

Yeah, I think so. I think on the first record, Diadem of 12 Stars, that kind of established the sound and the boundaries we want to work within. Obviously we could focus on one element of that sound or another. The EP that we just put out, Malevolent Grain, is more ambient, less song-oriented, a little bit less linear. Black Cascade is more focusing on the metal side of things; the brutal and unrelenting side of things. But those are elements that have always been there, so I think that we’ve definitely got a sound and the sound is becoming more solidified. We’ve always kind of known what we want to do but now we’re really, really sure about it and have a better idea of how to manifest it.

Has the fact that you guys have really started touring more had an effect on that?

Yeah, that’s one of the reasons Black Cascade is maybe a more focused album than Two Hunters. It’s not so sprawling, if you will, and that’s because we wanted to do a record we could play live. Two Hunters we created pretty much in the studio and there were songs we’d never played out before, and so once we recorded the record, we had to figure out how to play them live. Black Cascade, we wanted to do the opposite. We wrote the songs and then did a short tour and played them out for a while and then went into the studio. The songs have a more live element to them; maybe less premeditated because they were created in a live context, in a more spontaneous context.

Candles and acoustic guitars. Jeez guys, cool it with the black metal imagery, would you?There’s a kind of immediacy to them. They sound like something you’d hear live.

Yeah. The record is still definitely very layered and has a lot of depth to it, a lot of hidden sounds and a lot of movement that goes on underneath the superficial level of just the guitars and the drums, but still, it’s the kind of thing that, we could play those songs and not feel like something’s missing. There’s a lot of songs on Two Hunters, for instance, where maybe Jessika Kenney does vocals or something like that, that we just can’t really play live, because the song would be missing a pretty crucial element.

Going forward, since the direction you’re going seems to be more and touring, is that going to become more of a consideration for you guys?

No, actually the opposite. We’re doing a lot of touring right now, but that’s not the plan for the future. I think we all just want to get it out of our system a little bit. It’s a good thing to do, the traditional sort of rock band way of doing things; to record a record and take it on the road and do the traditional tour circuit and play festivals and this sort of thing. But that’s definitely not the long term vision I have for the band. I think it makes sense for this next six months, but after that we’re really going to assess things and see if we really want to continue doing it on that level or find some other way to do this band. That’s what my intention is, to find some other way of doing it and not get caught up in the rock and roll machine. There’s so many people putting pressure on you to do things in a certain way and really wholeheartedly buy into the commercialization of the music and to really play ball, and we’re just not going to do it. We’ll do it on our own terms and we’ll do it as long as it suits us and as long as we feel we’re not compromising our integrity, but as soon as we start to feel like we’re giving something up, it’s over. We’re beholden only to ourselves as far as the choices we make about how much touring we do and how we release our music.

Do you feel like you are compromising in doing so much touring?

Yeah, for sure. It’s a big compromise for me especially because I’m the most interested in focusing on our homestead. That’s really my number one priority in life and that’s the kind of life I love most. I love just becoming completely immersed in this traditional rhythm of life, and it’s really hard for me to miss out on anything. Living in the wilderness the way we have for the last five or six years, you really become accustomed to doing certain things at certain times of the year. I was gone for all of February, and that’s the time when traditionally we’re preparing the ground for sewing seeds and other sorts of tasks and it’s hard to miss out on, but it’s a choice we’ve made for the time being and I’m okay with it for now.

Would you ever see yourself leaving the band to do that?

Well, I’d never leave the band, because me and Nathan, my brother, really are the band. We’ll decide together about how we want to do it and it’s not like there’s any tension in the band, some of us wanting to play music all the time, others of us wanting to focus on other things. We’re all really united in our vision of what we want to do and we tend to pretty much always agree on what course to take, and so the discussion of whether or not we’ll want to hang it up or focus less on touring and releasing records at the pace that, say, a record label would want you to do, that’s a decision we’ll make together, and I’m really confident we’ll have the same conclusion. Because Wolves in the Throne Room is just one manifestation of a greater vision or plan. It’s not like there’s any conflict between the band and the other things we’re interested in. It’s part of the same vision, or the same manifestation of a world that we want to create. It’s just a matter of what element we focus on at any given time.

Obviously Black Cascade is very analog-sounding, has a very natural feel. How much went into the equipment to record it and what does tape give you that a computer can’t, sonically?

We recorded with Randall Dunn [SunnO))), Boris, Earth]. He’s a real analog purist. Of course, you end up using Green. Get it?a computer at some point during the recording, it’s unavoidable at this point in the game, but we do as much as we can on analog equipment. And there are several reasons for that. It’s more difficult to do. So many bands, especially metal bands, really just put their stuff together in ProTools. Even a really raw sounding band like Deathspell Omega, you can hear the edits where things sound chopped and put together. So I think that recording onto tape makes things a lot more difficult. You have to really get through a take and play with as much energy as you can throughout the entire song and sustain it the entire time, as if you were performing it live, rather than just getting the best chorus you can, the best verse you can, the best bridge you can and chopping it all together in ProTools. That definitely makes a sound. That’s what metal sounds like nowadays, but to me it feels pretty artificial and contrived. As far as amplifiers and stuff, the equipment, we tend to use pretty old equipment. I think the newest amp we used was a JCM 800 from ’82 or ’83, and that’s more just an aesthetic choice. Music from that earlier generation, from the ’70s on, that sound has an authoritative, powerful, imperial sound to me and the music recorded nowadays I think is maybe missing something a little bit; maybe because recording has become so easy and so accessible to everyone. By using that sort of equipment, those sorts of techniques, we want to reference another age of recording. It may be a nostalgia thing too — that’s the music we grew up with and feel comfortable with and has access to these emotions and feelings.

In terms of balancing that kind of natural sound with clarity as the music gets more and more complex: A song like “Ex Cathedra” is very dramatic, musically. Do you ever worry about sounds within a song getting lost in the production?

Yeah. Mixing is incredibly difficult. Mixing is really, really, really hard, when you’ve got 20 tracks of guitar going or whatever. There’s only so much space in the audio spectrum. We do the best we can to retain clarity, because we’re interested in not just creating a wall of noise or a wall of sound, but having the sounds come through and the melodies come through, because that’s really what conveys the emotion, the story of the song. It’s a challenge to strike the balance between wanting to create this deep, psychedelic sea of sound, but also be able to transmit the melody, which is to me really the most important part of the song.

How close is Black Cascade to what you envisioned it sounding like?

Honestly, I haven’t listened to it. We recorded and mixed it, mastered it, and I haven’t listened to it since. I meant to listen to it before today in order to be able to talk about it a little bit better with all the interviews I’m scheduled to do, but I never really got around to it. We just got home from a long European tour and played a show in Atlanta on the way and got stranded there — there was a freakish blizzard.

The Scion Rock Fest. How was that?

We wouldn’t have played it but for the fact that Neurosis was playing and we all would like to see Neurosis. It was all just too good to be true. We were all really strapped for cash and had no idea how we were going to afford our plane tickets home from Europe and the festival was two days after our last date in Germany, so we couldn’t really say no. But I don’t plan on playing anymore car commercials; these new media Satanic, subliminal advertising. The whole thing is just nauseating to me. But it’s good to take the money and run, I suppose. It helps us finance other things that we need to be able to finance.

If it gets you the rest of the way home…

Yeah, for sure. And it was a good festival. All the bands that played were really good bands and it’s nice to be able to talk to so many different people and have different conversations and build that kind of community, that music community. That part of it’s really worthwhile.

Right, but at the same time, the environment you’re in is really corporate. There’s a venue in New York City called Nokia Theatre that hosts a lot of metal shows. You walk into the place and there are cell phones in the walls.

That’s the interesting thing about the whole Scion marketing strategy. It’s very low key. You don’t really see a Scion logo anywhere. It’s not like there was a rotation Scion on a pedestal — “Win This Car.” It’s very subtle, and that’s the part that is the most unnerving to me, because it seems like they’re really smart people who are in charge of this particular marketing strategy and they’re just trying to cook up something new. There’s this sense of desperation in the business world where the consumer world’s falling apart, and they know that the old ways of doing things just don’t work anymore. The idea of trying to market something to some savvy youth by throwing it in their face; that’s just not effective, and so they’re onto this new scheme of sewing the seed by being some sort of perceived patron to the arts, so when it comes time to buy your new “ride,” you say, “Oh yeah, I heard something about Scion. I heard they’re really into underground, avant garde eco-black metal. I should do that.” That’s really disturbing to me. I’m That's actually a pretty big tree.disgusted by this really slick, Satanic; this glossy techno Satanism to it. It’s unnerving.

Can you describe the inspiration you get from your surroundings as opposed to that kind of environment and how you put it into such an extreme context musically?

That’s the part about touring that I like the least, is that even though you’re playing music every day and you’re focusing very strongly on the band, to me, the act of being on the road and flying on planes and just being away from the natural rhythms that I talked about earlier, really saps me of my strength and saps me of my resolve. I think you lose touch — or I do — I absolutely lose contact with another layer of reality, another layer of perception that I can only achieve when living a more pure existence. We like to think that the recordings are a pretty pure and unmediated expression of just what we feel and what we experience on a day to day basis; experiencing the grandeur and the power of this other layer of reality, which I feel on a daily basis when I’m hiking in the mountains or working outside in this very traditional and time-honored way. To me, I listen to the records and it just sounds like what I feel on a daily basis. To me it sounds like the mountains and it sounds like the act of putting a seed into the ground and feeling the energy and the power of those sort of actions. To me the connection is very direct.

What’s the difference in your mind between someone getting the album on iTunes versus buying the vinyl?

I don’t think there’s any difference necessarily. If buying a record on vinyl lets you get into the mindspace where you can take it more seriously and not just see it as something that’s a frivolous lark, then so be it. But I think that one could just as easily listen to music in a very serious way if you download it from Soulseek for free or whatever. I’m not too into the fetishization of objects. I have a friend who’s this sort of really extreme, he’s kind of a black metal mystic. I asked him to copy me one of his CDs one time and he refused to do it because his notion was that the more you duplicate a record, the less spiritual power it has. That might be true for some people, it depends on your perspective, but that’s not how I feel about it.

Do you know when the CD of Malevolent Grain is going to be out?

We actually got home yesterday or the day before and were greeted with a box of them at our doorstep, so we should have them available on our next tour. We’re leaving on a short trip down the West Coast in a couple weeks and we’ll have them then.

Are there plans to do a CD of Live at Roadburn too?

Not that I know of. That record was kind of a surprise to us in a lot of ways. We got an email from the label that put it out, Burning World, months ago, asking if we’d be interested in doing it and we said, “Yeah, it sounds like a cool thing,” and then forgot about it and received the vinyl with the DVD in the mail as kind of a pleasant surprise. I know they just pressed another edition of Live at Roadburn with the DVD because it sold out very quickly, but it’s not something that we’ve thought about very much.

And you’re doing Roadburn again this year. That lineup is insane.

Yeah, it is insane. That’s the kind of festival I’m really excited about playing, because it really is 100 percent about music and creating a space for artists to really do what they want to do. They really allow you to focus 100 percent on playing the best set that you can. And that’s one of those double-edged swords: The only reason they can afford to do that is because it’s Holland and the government throws tons of money at them. They don’t need to slobber up to the reptiles to pay the bills.

Different reptiles, anyway.


Beyond the West Coast dates and Roadburn, any other touring plans?

We do have a lot of touring scheduled. We plan on doing about two weeks with Pelican on the West Coast and then we play Roadburn in April and then we come home for a few weeks. Then we’ll do pretty much a full US tour. We’ll go all the way to the East Coast and then down the East Coast, then we’ll leave our van in Dallas and fly to Europe and do three weeks of touring there, then fly home and continue our US tour down through the South and back up the West Coast. It’ll be about two solid months, all together. The idea was to get it all done in one fell swoop, to really embrace it and do as much as we possibly can, and then be able to focus 100 percent on other things. So there’s a good amount of touring in our immediate future. It’s an interesting experiment in many ways for us and we’re going to work very hard to maintain our health and our integrity and the spirit of the music. That’s the thing most important to us. We’ll find different ways to do that.

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