Winter Interview with Stephen Flam: Carving Destiny in Chaos

Last weekend, reinvigorated New York doomers Winter played the Maryland Deathfest. This weekend, they’re at Chaos in Tejas in Austin. Over the course of the last year-plus, they’ve taken part in the Southern Lord-driven Power of the Riff festival and they played the main stage at SunnO)))‘s curated day at Roadburn 2011. They’ve come to be seen as a pivotal act within extreme doom — forbears of the likes of Grief and among the first American bands to incorporate the influence of Hellhammer and Celtic Frost into metal that was as heavy in tempo as it was in tone. Their influence has spread through more than one generation of acts.

Tell that to Stephen Flam, though, and you might get a laughing response like, “Eh, this generation’ll be done with Winter in probably about two years.” The guitarist and cowriter of Winter‘s only album to date, 1990′s Into Darkness (reissued by Southern Lord in 2011), is humble as regards the band’s seminal position, and — to hear him tell it — largely unaware of the contemporary genre he helped form. This interview was conducted the week of Maryland Deathfest (just a couple days after I ran into him at the Pallbearer and Loss show in Brooklyn, which also comes up in conversation), and Flam‘s tone was more curious than accomplished. At several points, he asked me, “Really?” when I spoke of the impact Winter had following their breakup. I suppose it’s debatable as to the reach of underground death-doom, but within that realm, Winter was doing what they were doing on the East Coast at a time when just about nobody had caught on yet. Naturally, that sounds great in hindsight, but at the time, nothing supports a doomly atmosphere like being almost entirely misunderstood.

As such, Flam tells stories of being flipped off by headbangers looking to mosh and finding a more open-minded base of operations in New York’s early ’90s crust and underground punk scene. His voice picks up talking about playing basements and Squat or Rot benefits for Rock Against Racism alongside bands like Nausea and Apostate. Compare that to his stories of opening for Death or Sepultura out on Long Island, and there’s little question where Winter‘s fonder memories reside. He’s not bitter about it, by any means — there was more laughter here than I noted in the transcription — but the sense of surprise he conveyed in talking about the reception Winter has had since their resurgence began was unquestionably genuine. 20 years ago, no one got it. Now they do. That’s a big change when you go from one idea of what your band was to the other.

But if Winter are at home in anything, it’s extremes. Flam, bassist/vocalist John Alman and drummer Jimmy Jackson (who played live previously and has since replaced Joe Goncalves full-time) have begun to write new material and Flam is optimistic they’ll be able to capture and expand on the same vibe as Into Darkness without repeating themselves. The guitarist spoke at some length on both the future and the past of the band. Seriously, you might wind up taking this one on in pieces, but it’s definitely recommended reading, and as Winter do interviews about as often as they put out records, I couldn’t be more thrilled to bring you the conversation in its entirety. We were on the phone for about 50 minutes, and Flam being a native New Yorker, that translated to just over 7,100 words.

You’ll find the complete Q&A after the jump, and please enjoy. Thanks to Steve Murphy for his help in coordinating.

Take me through what initially brought Winter back together. Which came first, the Southern Lord reissue, or Roadburn?

I think the Southern Lord reissue’s what really brought us back together. Without a doubt. We’re all friends, regardless. We hang out anyway. But the Winter thing, there never seemed like there was any interest in it. When we were doing it back then, the tide was a little different. Everybody was playing really fast, so what we were doing, people weren’t really digging it. After just lack of interest, we moved on. I moved onto a different project, and John did as well, and we all maintained as friends. It’s not like we broke up because we didn’t get along or anything, it was just not something people were interested in. As much as people like to look back in time that there was [interest]… I mean, I went to see Saint Vitus, and skinheads were laying on the floor, saying, “This is boring,” going to sleep, and we had the same reaction.

So yeah, Greg [Anderson] from Southern Lord had contacted us and said he wanted to reissue it, and we were like, “Okay, that’s great. Reissue it.” It sat dormant for so long, and I hadn’t really listened to that music for – I mean, every now and then someone would pass something on to me, but it wasn’t really something I was currently listened to. Greg approached us. We had a contract with Nuclear Blast that had expired, and it was just kind of sitting. It wasn’t like we were looking to do anything with it. Southern Lord got in touch with us, and then some other labels did as well. It was weird. I don’t know if it was because the contract was up or whatever, but we actually liked Greg, we liked where his head was at and we liked Southern Lord, and so on. We were just gonna re-release it, and then he had mentioned to us, “Would you guys be interested in playing Roadburn?” and we were like, “Nah, we’re not interested. Just re-release it,” and he was like, “Before you decline, why don’t you at least look and see what it’s all about?”

I went online and checked it out, and I was like, “Wow, this is a really cool festival. If we’re going to come out of retirement, that’d be a pretty cool one to come out of retirement for.” But to us, it was like, “Are people even into that stuff?” We tried to write some new material around 2003, and there were some groups who were doing stuff, but we were like, “Ah, the lack of interest, whatever.” Then we ended up playing Roadburn, and Jimmy, who plays with us – it wasn’t Joey [Goncalves], who originally wrote a lot of stuff with us — but who’s a good friend of ours and a really good drummer. We said, “Yo, you want to play this with us?” He didn’t play double-kick. He learned to play double-kick for the gig. We actually bought him a double-kick pedal, and he’s just a pretty astute guy. To him, Winter was like playing in a cover band. He doesn’t even listen to metal at all, the guy. He’s just our friend. Literally, we played in hardcore and punk groups with him in the ‘80s, and when you’re into that kind of music then, it wasn’t really very popular like it is today.

It was like, “Hey man, I play guitar, you play bass, some guy down the street Jimmy plays drums.” He’s into Billy Idol and stuff like that. Steve Stevens and a totally different thing, but he’s into music. So it’s, “Hey man, here’s a Discharge record. Can you play drums like that?” and it just kind of evolved. He’s our friend. Literally, we grew up together. Me and John have been friends since I’m in Ninth Grade. I’m 42 now, and we cycle together and we do all kinds of stuff together. Winter was just a part of our friendship. Jimmy, we mentioned to him – because we’re not currently listening to the music, so we don’t even know what’s out there, so we were like, “Let’s at least ask some of our friends first who are into music” – putting an ad out seemed too complicated. Jimmy was like, “Give me your album and I’ll listen to it.”

He knew we had a group Winter, but in 1989, he was playing in other things. Doing all kinds of stuff at that time. Winter was just a group that played and there were crickets in the back (laughs). We played some cool shows with bands I liked at the time and so forth, but ultimately, no interest. So Jimmy took Into Darkness and literally learned it like you would sit down and play a Led Zeppelin. Sat there with a music chart, figured all the shit out, and learned how to play double-kick. He took lessons from a friend and learned how play double-kick. Not that anything on a Winter album’s too complicated, as far as double-kick goes, compared to what’s out there today, but the guy’s a single-kick player, you know what I mean? To learn that stuff – and he learned it basically in three months – and he killed it, as far as we were concerned, because he’s a good musician.

We played it, and then we were like, “Cool,” and we didn’t really think about it, but then Greg approached again and said, “Hey, you wanna do Power of the Riff?” and that was on the West Coast, so we were like, “Well, it’s already kinda rehearsed, we just have to review it again.” So we played Power of the Riff. It was fun. We had a good time. Bounced around a little bit. The thing with Sleep, same thing. We’d played Power of the Riff, and then it was, “You wanna play with Sleep?” Like, “Well, it’s already kinda rehearsed.” Currently, in the last couple weeks, we wrote a couple new songs, because I have some cassette tapes from, like, 1989. They’re in my basement. And we started listening and I go, “Those are really good riffs. We should use them.” So a lot of the stuff that we’re writing now is from ideas we had earlier, we just never really… Me and John wrote tons of stuff that never made it to Into Darkness, it’s just we felt those were the strongest songs.

So it gives us an excuse to hang out, really. Those guys have kids and stuff. John’s got two kids, Jimmy’s got a daughter, and I don’t get to see them that often, and we’re all friends. So I call and, “Yo man, you wanna jam Thursday nights?” and we kind of hang out. It’s been cool. It’s just worked out to be something that we never really thought was gonna be anything. We all have records in our record collection, groups we really like that we think, “Whatever happened to this group?” I’m sure you have them, and I have them, and they just go into oblivion. Nothing ever happens to them. You go, “Ah, they’re just another group that put a record out that never really did anything. And that’s how we viewed it.

I have tons of records, of groups I really like, that whatever, were just lost in lost collections. That’s how we looked at it. We enjoyed writing Into Darkness. Our heart and souls went into writing that. When we made that record, dude, we were living, breathing, eating that shit. We were rehearsing four or five times a week. We lived in that rehearsal room, and just wrote stuff with Joey. No one was into what we were doing at the time. New York Hardcore was thriving at that time. Everyone was playing really fast. In Europe, Napalm Death was happening. A different mentality. And that’s cool. I liked a lot of the stuff that was happening in New York at that time as well. Just not necessarily what we wanted to do.

Take me through doing Roadburn and the reaction you got. That seemed to set the stage for you guys. I know you did the show in Brooklyn before you went over there too.

Yeah, we did that. Was like a warmup for Roadburn. I hadn’t played on a stage since 1993. Was the last time I played on a stage, and I’m fuckin’ playing Roadburn? What am I, out of my mind? At least let me go play a little club or something before I get up in front of however many – what is that, 3,000 people or something? I might freeze up like a deer in headlights. But Roadburn was cool.

I got a little taste of what it’s like to play a show where – because understand, back in the day, we played with Sepultura. We played with Death. I got to open up for Carnivore and some other groups at the time that were groups I liked, and so on. But we were opening up for them. We were just another in the bunch of groups that were on the bill at the time. In that time period, yeah, we opened up for Sepultura, and it was great, but no one wanted to hear this slow group. They were like, “You’re boring!” “You’re putting us to sleep!” People would say shit like that (laughs). And we’re like, “Sorry, man.” They’d be like, “I can’t mosh to this!” and we’d say, “Sorry. We’re not really mosh music, I don’t know what to tell you.” They’re like, “Then what the fuck are you playing with Sepultura for? That’s why we’re here. We want to stagedive and shit,” and I’m like, “Alright.” That’s what was going on in 1989. You had the Cro-Mags on one side, AF, and all the New York Hardcore shit that was killing it, and you had all the thrash stuff like Slayer, Sepultura, and all those kinds of groups.

Roadburn was finally a big show that we played that we were like, “Wow, we’re actually a band people are here to see. We’re like one of the headliners on it. This is pretty cool,” and then the response we got there was really good. People really dug us, like, “Wow, I guess it took over 20 years for the tide to change.” I think there were people who got it then too, but it hit a point – I think that music, that sound, the tide changed. People started to appreciate it differently. People have a lot more variety and a lot more access to music now than they had in 1989. There was no internet and stuff back then. We traded cassettes and stuff, and you read Maximum Rock & Roll, and you read the scene report, and you had to wait a month to find out what was going on in Philadelphia, or in California or something.

It wasn’t the instant gratification it is now for kids with the internet, where you want to hear a group, people take it in and digest it in two seconds and they move onto the next thing, whereas, if you wanted to get a demo tape from someone, you put a money order in an envelope and you sent it to California. And the demo tape – five bucks was a lot of money, so you really listened to it and digested it before you said, “I don’t really like this anymore.” I don’t like this, or I do like it. Whereas now, I think people have a lot more access to stuff, so it makes them a lot more fickle with taking things in. So we’re like, “Eh, this generation’ll be done with Winter in probably about two years” (laughs). That’s my prediction. Because the next trend will come in. Unless it’s here to stay. I don’t really know. I’m not a record reviewer.

I don’t really listen to too many – there’s a couple current groups that I really like that people pass me onto and I’m like, “Wow, that’s great.” But I always felt with Winter that being on Nuclear Blast was not really the right label for us. And the first label [Future Shock] went bankrupt, and being on Nuclear Blast, there was always a better response for what we did in Europe than in the States. The States had it own thing going on, and in Europe, that Frost, Hellhammer, and some of those kind of groups… the sound we were at had more of an influence from those European metal roots in some ways. As much as we grew up in New York and we were spoiled growing up in New York during that period. 1983-’93? A lot of stuff came out during that period here.

Every single weekend there was another sick show at CB’s, and you just went there. Even if you didn’t like the group, you went and you hung out. But Europe was definitely more accepting. We’d see the record sales and we’d get like things of records being sold – not that there was a lot of records being sold – but there was always much more being sold there than in the US. Here, it didn’t really catch on, and Greg had the pulse. Greg was the first one to come to us and be like, “You guys really need to put this out here.”

It seems like now, as you say, the tide has turned, and there’s a core of people who’ve embraced the style. I think you’re right, and it’s hot now, and that will taper off, but I think the big difference between now and 20 years ago is now there’s a core audience for it.

Oh, definitely. Like I said, I went to that show I saw you at the other night [Pallbearer and Loss at the Saint Vitus Bar; review here]. I went to it because all my friends were like, “Yeah, you should check it out, you might like it. It’s groups that kind of have a slower, doomy sound or whatever. You might like it because you guys are in Winter, you should go check it out.” I don’t usually even go to those shows. I’ve just been going to them lately, like, “What’s actually going on out there?” I’m totally oblivious. It seems like a good scene. It’s a totally different vibe. I like the audience.

I think the current audience that likes us is a cool audience, but they’re not concerned about stagediving or slamming. They’re actually there, cerebrally, listening. I don’t get the impression that that audience is trying to be cool, or that’s the “in” thing. The people that were at that show were legitimately there because they liked the music. Like when I saw that group Pallbearer, and Loss. I didn’t think there was anything about those guys that was pretentious or anything. They were just some guys that were going up and doing the shit, whereas other current music that I see happening, I don’t necessarily feel the same about it. I think that scene – I don’t even know, what do you call that? Is that doom? Is that the current doom scene?

Yeah, I would say that’s the doom scene.

That’s doom? Okay. My only thing with some of what people consider doom, though, is it doesn’t really have that dark side to it, though. It sounds more psychedelic to me than it sounds dark.

You could make that argument. Loss sounds darker to me than Pallbearer, and I’ve said about Pallbearer too that they’re kind of psychedelic, so yeah, I agree with that. I think the two have blended a lot, over the last several years especially. There’s  a lot of mixture of tones between heavy psychedelic rock and slower metal.

If you compare Winter and that thing, Winter’s definitely more metal-sounding than psychedelic. I always think doom, I think a little eviler sounding. I don’t think some of those groups sound evil. I think they sound melancholy. It’s like comparing Slayer to Metallica. Metallica don’t really sound evil, but Slayer sounds evil. I guess the chord structures I use and stuff like that are different, but I think of doom, I think darker. I find that a lot of the stuff that people consider doom just sounds like psychedelic rock tuned down to a different key.

It kind of warps the sound a little bit, but it sounds more like Kyuss slowed down, but not really. I guess that’s just my opinion of it. Whatever. When I think doom, I don’t really think psychedelic. I think more like Hellhammer. I guess that’s just because I’m from a different generation?

The definition has expanded a lot, and those lines get blurrier and blurrier the more bands there are and the more people become aware of what others are doing. There’s arguments to be made either way, I guess. Do hear a Winter influence in any of those kinds of bands, though? Like watching Loss the other night.

Maybe there are similar drumbeat patterns they choose, and longer chord things, but I don’t think they sound like they’re coping anything from that sound. I hear influence, but I think they both have their own sound. I don’t know what to say to that, because I don’t know groups that are currently in that genre. I don’t listen to them. I don’t know if they’re super-original today, today’s world. I guess I hear a little bit of it. Just the slowness of it. But vocally, no, not really.

John’s vocals sound a little more like Tom Warrior or, I don’t know, Amebix, maybe mixed together, and those vocals sound more rocked out, more rock and rolled out, to me. But yeah, I guess I hear a little of the influence in it. It’s definitely its own sound, though. I don’t think it sounds like Winter. If they’re influenced by us, that’s a compliment. I think they’re both really good bands. Do you hear similarities in it?

Maybe not so much in Pallbearer, who are more melodic vocally and going for something else in the guitar tone, but I think for when Winter were doing what you guys were doing, and especially doing it, like you said, while New York Hardcore was happening, I think of Winter like – you always hear the stories about Saint Vitus playing punk shows in L.A. and being so opposite of what was happening at that point – I think of Winter as being the same.

Oh, totally. We’d seen Saint Vitus playing with hardcore groups, and people didn’t dig them. But you’ve gotta remember too, there wasn’t as many outlets. Music that was heavier and stuff wasn’t really as mainstream. You didn’t have as many options of places to play.

That’s part of it. Because you were doing what you were doing, where you were doing it, at the time you were doing it, I think Winter is an anchor. If I’m listening to a band, and I like this band, and I look back at the bands they like, I think Winter has become one of those bands that that trail leads to.

Okay, right on. That’s great. It’s great to be thought of that way.

I think if you talk to someone like Loss and ask them what they like, they might say, “I like this band and this band,” then you go find the bands they like, and that might lead you to Winter. Maybe on the way to Hellhammer, Celtic Frost and things like that, but still.

I never thought that was ever gonna happen (laughs), but it’s kind of cool. It’s a blessing, the whole thing. We had no idea that it was even gonna be influencing anyone. We just thought it would be a record that just disappeared with a couple people who bought it back in the time period. But hey, I remember when I used to buy a lot of records back in the time period in that genre, and there were groups that were like 10 years earlier than me that I was digging into, and I’m sure they felt the same way. So I mean, to be felt that way, that’s great. How many people get to actually say that? We all have friends that are musicians and stuff like that, and don’t multiple projects and one of the projects catches on.

The whole Thorn thing. I thought that was a lot more accessible to the masses, and that album like plummeted (laughs). No one got that record, man. Everyone just hated the vocals on it. I thought musically it was kind of an interesting record. I wasn’t necessarily in love with the vocals. I thought Winter was definitely the one I was going to hear the least about, because there seemed to be so little interest in it. When we did the Thorn thing, there was actually interest in it, but it ended up being the opposite way around. I guess you never know which way music’s gonna go sometimes. I’m glad it came around. I love that shit. I love that album. I think that album – to write that album, we worked with a really great keyboard player at that time, who was old enough to be my dad.

He was in his 60s, and he played Hammond organs and stuff, and we met him through a friend. He used to manage a record store out on Long Island, and he was just a regular guy who had a bunch of organs in his basement. Next thing I know I played him the record as we were recording it and we had him come in and had him lay down the tracks. We told him what we wanted. Even the engineer was like, “Where the hell did you guys find this guy?” and I’m like, “I don’t know, man. He manages a record store.” And he ended up being this amazing keyboard player.

That was Tony Pinnisi?

That was Tony, yeah. Tony was an interesting guy to work with. He tried out for Richie Blackmore’s Rainbow and stuff. He’s the real deal. The only reason he didn’t get anything is because he doesn’t fly, which is why he didn’t come to Roadburn with us. He contacted us. I sat in his living room with his Hammond B3, going over the songs again, and he’s like, “You know, I can’t do this, I can’t get on the plane.” I’m like, “Are you fucking kidding me? You’re not gonna get on the plane? It’s the biggest show of your life, man! Come play.” It would have been awesome to have him come play with us.

But [the band] gave us the opportunity to meet really interesting people like him. There’s a lot of people that we met along the way that were cool to do that record with. I think the most current is Greg. Southern Lord has definitely turned out to be the right decision, going with that label. Some other ones approached us, like I said, and I’m not gonna mention names and stuff like that, but Greg definitely put the jumper cables on us, and got us going and let us realize, “People really like your record, I want to put it out,” and I’m like, “Okay. Go ahead. Do it.” And you look at the reissue and the reissue’s actually pretty cool. We found old flyers and stuff like that. Have you seen the reissue of it?

No, I didn’t get one. I have my Metal Mind bootleg and my Nuclear Blast version.

Oh dude, the Metal Mind one sounds like shit. Get rid of that. It was mastered horribly. The reissue’s cool, because I had saved and John had saved a lot of the flyers from shows, and we made the booklet. The booklet’s cool though. There are flyers for like Winter and Nausea. Us and Sepultura. All the shows we were talking about, and they’re oldschool 8”x11”, and we’re like to one of our friends, “Yo, draw us a flyer for the show,” and they’re street flyers. That’s what’s cool about them. That’s the real shit.

Like I said, there was no internet. That was, you go out, wheat paste, and you just hit the whole neighborhood, or near where you were playing. You’re playing in the city? Just start wheat-pasting all around. All the Squat or Rot squatters were in there. Those shows we actually felt like we fit in the best out of any of them. The Squat or Rot shows. The Lucky 13, we’d do shows with us, Nausea, Slaughter, and more of those anarcho-punk bands. Those shows, in that time period, that was the place we were the most comfortable.

What was the difference?

Because they kind of came a little bit more from that background. If I went to check out Nausea, I liked Nausea. I’m friends with those guys. Or any of the shows that Ralphie – I don’t know if you know Ralphie Boy. He used to put on shows called Squat or Rot, and sometimes they’d be benefits for like Rock Against Racism, or they were more like benefit kind of shows. Some of them just took place in the Lucky 13 squat on the Lower East Side, when the Lower East Side was, like, the Lower East Side. They were like real dingy dirt-hole squats, in a basement. And it was fucking crazy. And those people embraced us more than anyone else.

New York being our home, that was the audience that embraced us the most. We used to play either on Long Island, in Sundance, because we would get offered shows there, and we’d play in Manhattan at the shows that were happening there, the Squat or Rot shows. It was one or the other, really. The bigger shows that we got on Long Island, they were cool, they exposed us to people, but they weren’t the people that really wanted to see us. Like I said, those were the people who were like, “Yo, I can’t mosh to your shit.” And then we played the Lucky 13, and even though it was punk bands and shit, they were either totally intently watching us and getting into it, or, if it was a little part of the song that was fast, they weren’t being like, “Yo, I can’t slamdance to your shit!” They were just like, “Alright, these guys are really slow right here,” and then, when we would pick it up a little bit, they would pick it up a little bit.

Those were the groups that played those shows – “Yeah man, let’s put some gigs together – those were the groups we mingled with and made our nest with, and those flyers that were in the reissue. I’m speaking to Greg this week, I think they’re repressing the CD, but the vinyl has the actual flyers, and the groups that are on there, like the Rock Against Racism shows, groups like Born Against, Slaughter, Nausea, Apostate, The Radicts, and all those punk, and those kind of groups were where we fit in. The groups we loved were like Amebix, Discharge. That’s the whole reason we’re playing the show in Texas – because Antisect is on the bill – I think the only reason we’re playing it, because John really loves Antsect. John loves those guys. When we were kids, he had it painted on the back of his jacket. They were a group he was into, and hey man, it’d be cool to open for Antisect – even though it’s not the real Antisect – there’s a lot of people missing. That was like the clincher: “If we can go on right before Antisect,” and we’re just cracking up. We’re like, “Dude, we’re like 40 years old and we still want to open up for bands we liked when we were teenagers.”

But that’s what’s cool about it. You want to embrace it. That’s the best part of the whole thing. You’re being appreciated for what you’re doing finally, and now it’s like, “Hey man, would you like to play this festival?” and you’re like, “Nah, not really,” and then you look and Antisect’s playing it. “As long as we can go on before Antisect.” That’s what it’s really about anyway. Look. I have a job. We all have a job. We’re not really making any money from doing it, so the only other reason to do it is because you want to have fun doing it and get the whole humor and the whole thing and enjoy it. If I had to live off of it (laughs), I’d be starving right now. It’s not like we’re making any money off of it. But like I said, those were the groups that were important. People keep saying to us, we keep getting the question, “Oh, you guys said you were never part of the death metal scene, that you didn’t want to be labeled,” because that was in the record. When that thing was written, it was 1988, man. Things were definitely divided. They were together, but they were still kind of divided.

The death metal people, man. They didn’t really… Death metal was different then, and thrash heads, it was still divided, and we were not really accepted. What was happening at that time period was like Sepultura. Your big dogs were Slayer, Sepultura and all those groups on Combat Records, so like Possessed, and Exodus and all that thrash stuff that happened at the time. Dude, those people didn’t like us. So we were not really a part of that, and all the groups that were more into the death metal scene sang about Satan and stuff like that. Couldn’t really relate to them either, because lyrically, that’s not where we were at anyway. Our stuff might have been apocalyptic as far as lyrics, but we were socially aware of what was going on around us, more like an Amebix, or a Discharge, or Antisect, or Conflict. Those are the groups that I think lyrically made us think.

Like I said, I love Slayer, I love Frost. I like them musically. As far as lyrically, it was always more the punk groups that grabbed me, because it was like reading the newspaper, what was here today and what was going on currently. But I liked the mysticism of the way it was written. Certain people, like Tom Warrior, had a way of taking certain things and not making it sound like in-your-face. In-your-face is cool if you’re Cro-Mags or Agnostic Front, and I totally respect that. I respect that more than being like, “I have an upside down cross carved in my head and I love the devil and talking about the occult.” I couldn’t relate to that stuff, and nor could John or anyone else in the group. So the lyrics being the way they were, we’d talk about certain things, and we’d give them to Joey, the drummer, because he was really into writing – he actually wrote poetry and stuff like that – and he took themes of ideas that we had, and he goes, “Ah, I get the idea of what you’re talking about,” and he’d write stuff, and it would kind of be intertwined in the lyrics. Some people might take those lyrics – there’s not a thing in any of the Winter lyrics about the occult, or Satanism, or anything like that.

All that stuff, if you read the lyrics, “Horsemen echoing in the wind,” there’s imagery of things, ancient civilizations or whatever, that the problems they had at their time – uprising against power or whatever – are the same things we have going on in current day. We just chose that as the vehicle of where the lyrics should be written. It’s someone speaking in a different tongue, and Joe was able to do that. So when people are like, “You guys are death metal” – “No, not really. Not really at all.” People that saw us, that’s not where it was at. We liked the darker sounding stuff, but we didn’t really care for the lyrics. I felt that was a definitive thing of why we said that.

We actually put almost like a bio in there of where our head was at, to let people know. Our names are not even on that album, and nor is there a picture. We truly wanted people to listen to the album, “Hey man, you like this album? It doesn’t matter what the fuck we look like, and you don’t need to know our names or nothing. Just listen to the record. Sit on your bed, pull the record out, read the one thing that’s in the center of it which sums it all up.” There’s that thing, the sun design, there’s writing in it.

I don’t know how blurry it is on your Nuclear Blast one, but on the first pressing, you could actually read it (laughs). Every generation just got worse and worse and worse, and I think it’s to the point now where it looks like you’re trying to read the Torah after it’s been in a fire or something like that. It’s like, whatever. It’s been Xeroxed like 10,000 times. But yeah, I guess lyrically, that’s kind of where our head was at.

We keep getting interviews, and people keep alluding to that, “Well, now you’re playing Deathfest,” and I’m like, “Listen. That’s where they’re appreciating music right now. I don’t know what to tell you.” I don’t hate those people. Morbid Angel’s on the bill. I don’t even know Morbid Angel. I mean, I know who they are, but I don’t know them as people. They might be cool guys for all I know. I don’t care, nor do I judge them. I just know that, for us, it’s a place to play where people actually want to see us. So be it. You can’t have everything. Play wherever people want you to play. At this point, right now, it’s a blessing.

So these people, “You’re contradicting. You’re playing Deathfest,” and I’m the same person now I was back then. A lot of the struggles that people have currently are the same. It’s the same shit that was going on then. It doesn’t change. Government’s still sucking the life out of everything like it did then. The elite think they’re still elite, and those problems still exist. They’re not really changing – beware of it. I don’t judge any of those other groups. The Chaos thing is more of a hardcore thing, and the Maryland Deathfest has its own thing. Power of the Riff had its own. They all do. I think now everything is so homogenized and digested anyway, what’s the fucking difference? You’re happy to come and see us, fine.

I think they’re trying to find something hypocritical. We never said we were revolutionaries either. We just said listen, that’s not really a scene – death metal – that we gear ourselves towards. If people in that scene like us musically, that’s cool. The same way I really like Hellhammer and Frost – I use them because they’re a huge influence. I really like them musically, but I don’t necessarily like their lyrics, where some people might like their lyrics more than their music. Whatever. You get my point.

Tell me about the new material. About picking up and writing again, going back and revisiting older stuff and bringing new things to it. How is the process different now than it was then?

I think trying to recreate the wheel… Winter already has a sound, and after this all, we want to keep that intact. If I want to do something experimental, whatever, I could do that with John in another completely different project. We definitely want to keep the music in that vein, of what Into Darkness was, but now that we have Jimmy writing with us – and I think we’re all better players – I think we’ll be able to pull off the execution of several ideas that we couldn’t in the past.

We might be able to be better at doing it now. But definitely keeping it in the same vein, I guess you’d say. Like I said, I always thought Into Darkness was a good album. We had some recording issues with the way it sounds, but I always thought it was a good record, so we’re going to kind of try and write another record kind of like that. In that vein. It’s been good writing. It’s like, if we tried to write the next record right after that, in some period, I think it might’ve gone in a direction that people might not have appreciated it the way Into Darkness is appreciated today.

Why’s that?

We all have records that, you know, the second album, the third album, and the first album’s the best one. Well, the first album you have your whole life to write. So you have a lot of material and you just pick what you feel is the best and it makes the strongest album. Now that we’ve had a lot of time and we’ve gone back to some older ideas that we’ve had – and I’m pretty good at archiving shit, so I have tons of cassettes of old songs that we maybe canned it and so on and start getting parts out of it – I think it’ll just be a better record to keep it real straightforward of what it was at that time. I don’t want it to be like one of those second albums. You can come back with just as strong a second album, I feel, if you really focus on, “What do you really want from the record?”

I definitely want it to have that same depth, and all the same voicing and stuff. I definitely want keyboards on it. I definitely want Tony involved in the writing. He might not be the guy to go on the tour with or anything like that, but I definitely want to write with a real organ player, and I definitely want to keep some of the tonal qualities that makes Winter what it is. Like the guitars I use for Winter, Winter has guitars that are in their own tuning, and used just for Winter, and it could be mutated and it doesn’t work with other groups, but for some reason, it works with what Winter does. All that same equipment, we still have. It’s been in the fucking basement in road cases for 25 years.

All that shit we used, except for the Rectifier heads, has been sitting around for like 25 years. I never had to sell it, so it just sat there. For the new record, we’re going to use all the same shit. That was the one thing when we played the Power of the Riff. Greg pulled us aside and he was like, “I’ve seen so many groups come back and they use all fancy new gear and everything. They forgot the most important thing: the tone of their sound.” And he’s like, “You guys sound exactly like you sound on the record,” and I’m like, “Dude, we used the exact same equipment as we used on the record!” Nothing’s really changed. That guitar that I had, that’s the guitar my friend made me in high school. All these cabinets that I use, and all the shit I use, the pedals and shit like that, it’s the same shit I used from then.

They’ve just been sitting in a case, and so the tone is exactly the same. It’s almost like we’ve taken up where we left off, except with a different drummer. I won’t say better, but I’ll say different. I think Joe was great to write with. Joe was a really artistic guy. We couldn’t get in touch with him. Tried to, but he’s lost in space.

The next album – we won’t just put it out for the sake of putting it out. We’ll put it out because we feel it’s worthy of putting out. That’s the one benefit of being in the place we are. I have my life that I do and I like what I do, and I know all those guys feel the same way. This is just an added thing for life that’s something we believed in that’s finally getting appreciated and we’re getting to revisit it. And we don’t have to be this touring group to support it, so we can truly be engulfed in the creative part without worrying about making money from it. The money means absolutely nothing to Winter, really, as far as survival. Whereas in 1989, I was fucking starving to make that record, and we all kind of were. That’s what it was. I was 19 years old when that record came out.

We can be even more creative in this day and age than we could then, because we’re a little bit more focused as people. We’re not distracted by drugs and all the other shit that came along with it. So that’s why I think it’ll be a good record if it materializes. And I don’t know if it’ll necessarily happen in a year. It might take time. But if it needs another year and a half to put it together, I think it’ll be a really good record. Hopefully Greg’ll like it and he’ll want to put it out. That guy’s putting records out constantly, so who knows if he’ll have room to put it out, but we’ll see.

Do you have any idea when you’ll record? How much more writing do you have to do?

Probably have to write maybe another four songs. We’re going to play one of the new ones at Deathfest. I didn’t really want to headline it, but I guess that’s cool (laughs). No, if you go on like, before the headliner, then if there’s no people, you won’t know if they’re there for you or not. If you’re the headiner and there’s crickets, you’re like, “Ah dude, nobody’s here to see Winter.” Then in the middle of the set, you don’t know who they’re there for. Roadburn was perfect, because we went on right before Corrosion of Conformity. It was Corrosion of Conformity and then SunnO))), and it was like, “Man, it was packed when you guys were on!” If we were last, maybe it wouldn’t have been that way.

I think you’ll be okay.

(Laughs) I hope so.

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