Latest release: The Wild Hunt (Century Media/EMI)
Band site: www.facebook.com/watainofficial
Throughout a 15-year career, controversy has flocked to theatrical, occult Swedish black metal outfit Watain like flies on you-know-what. Throwing every inch of themselves into their emotional outpourings, the band recently issued the cracking The Wild Hunt, and will return to Australia alongside their heroes and perhaps greatest sources of inspiration, Mayhem, as part of one of the most cold-hearted double bills to visit our shores. During an intriguing discussion, Loud got the lowdown from typically outspoken frontman Erik Danielsson.
Q: This will be your second time in Australia, but touring alongside Mayhem is obviously a vastly different environment to playing at Soundwave.
A: Yeah, fucking hell. It was kind of weird for us to come over for the first time to Australia and do something like Soundwave. I mean, in a way I think it really made sense, because we got to play in front of big crowds and all of that bullshit, and we got to do the whole pyro show and everything. But at the same time, it felt a bit weird to come there for the first time and probably most of our like old, diehard fans, they wouldn’t even go because of the whole, well, Soundwave thing pretty much. So it feels really good to finally come back to do a proper club tour with a good band and just do the whole thing at that level instead. I think it’s much more fitting somehow.
Q: That said, the major benefit for Watain from playing Soundwave was that you would have reached many people who would never otherwise have heard your music. For instance, from memory you were playing immediately before Machine Head in some cities.
A: Yeah, yeah. I mean, it served its purpose, for sure. And I think playing in between, what was it, Black Label Society and Machine Head, you know, playing in between those bands, and people not knowing at all what to expect from us. It made an impact of course on a lot of people, as it does when we do what we do. But yeah, like I said, it felt a bit awkward at the same time, because it was our first time in Australia and playing in front of a crowd that basically had no idea what we do (laughs). But it was good, I liked it. It kind of underlined even more, when you’re playing next to acts that don’t really do much on-stage and that are kind of like more mainstream stuff or whatever (laughs), I don’t want to sound too arrogant here, but you know what I mean. It underlines the intensity and extremity of Watain, which I think, of course, is a good thing.
Q: What types of reactions did you encounter from those at the festival who were previously unfamiliar with the band? Or are you typically just too caught up in “in the zone”, for a lack of a better term when performing to notice?
A: Yeah, I would definitely say I’m in the zone – I fucking love that expression, it’s an Australian expression isn’t it? (laughs) In the zone; the Destroyer 666 guys were saying it all the time. But anyway, yeah, that’s really what’s going on for me on-stage. But I think when I talked to people afterwards, after the show, there were a lot of people that came up who were kind of blown away, because they didn’t know at all what to expect from us. We had loads of pyro that time, and all that stuff and people were pretty blown away I think. That was just the feeling that I got. So I liked it, but like I said, I think I prefer doing a smaller club tour.
Q: You’re also touring with Mayhem, who has been a major influence on Watain from day one.
A: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, it’s weird with Mayhem. When I was young – or younger (laughs), they were probably one of the most important bands in my life. They released all those records that literally changed my life. And the years pass by and you get to know each other a bit; Attila (Csihar, vocals) and I have been friends for many years. And it’s very strange actually that we haven’t toured together. We have done one show together in the UK, like two or three years ago. But we get along really well, and we have a similar outlook and attitude to the world around us. It’s bound to be a pretty wild and interesting ride, you know? (laughs)
Q: Both bands have, whether always intentionally or not, courted a fair degree of controversy as well. So you could say it’s a good fit in that respect (laughs).
A: Well, we like to tour with bands that are not wimps, you know? It’s nice to tour with bands that at least live as they learn, so to say. It’s weird, you meet a lot of bands, over the course of 15 years you meet a lot of bands that you kind of looked up to when you were younger, or you expect them to be a certain way. But as is very often the case, they often just turn out to be wimps and posers. So when we met Mayhem and finally started to hang out, we quickly realised that this was not the case with them. They are still really fucking good people and they believe in Watain, and I think that’s something that we’re not really spoiled with, in the metal world today… With good people that are actually honest and genuine. I think that’s a pretty uncommon thing unfortunately within the metal scene.
Q: Why do you feel that’s the case – is it related to projecting a certain image on-stage, but wanting to detach themselves from that lifestyle off-stage?
A: I think that people have the misconception that black and death metal is something that is for everyone. And it isn’t, it definitely isn’t. It’s something that is reserved for people that are free spirited… And wild and fiery people who are willing to do anything in order to have it their way. It’s really a music for, it’s really a movement for radical and extreme people, and I think a lot of people don’t seem to understand that. A lot of people seem to think that this is just another subculture for anyone to partake in. I believe that music is for everyone, and if you want to listen to black and death metal while you work five days a week at an office and have kids at home, then fine, do that. But people like that shouldn’t consider themselves as a part of this movement, as a part of this culture. This movement, this culture is made out of people who are willing to sacrifice everything, and who are walking into the unknown without fear. That’s what this culture is built upon, and that’s how it should remain.
Q: How do you view the current state of black metal in particular from a creative standpoint?
A: I think that throughout the course of history there have always been very few bands that have been able to live up to my standards, at least of black metal… Then there are thousands and thousands of misrepresentations and misconceptions of it. But true and genuine black metal is always something that will always be a minority in the music scene. A small minority even. Then there’s all these people that kind of want to… It’s just like punk, you know? You have a few real punk bands, and you have a thousand bands that try to do the same thing, but fail because they don’t have the right spirit and they don’t really believe in it. But at the same time, it fascinates a lot of people, because it is an extreme way of expression, and it is controversial, and it’s therefore also popular and people are fascinated by it. That’s why it’s also so often, like with other forms of extreme art, whatever it may be, that’s why it’s also so often misused, and just even commercialised, just for the sake of that, horror sells. And extreme metal sells, controversy sells, and that’s why there’s so many charlatans in this kind of music. But anyway, there’s no need focusing too much on that either, because if I feel there are some bands who are willing to stand up and represent this movement for what it truly is, then I have no reason to complain. There will always be charlatans and circus people everywhere, but that’s old news.
Q: It’s amusing that you make that point, because I read a review recently of a black metal band on a high-profile label, and the writer reviewed to them as “mainstream black metal”, which I thought had to the ultimate oxymoron.
A: (Laughs) Yeah. The second that black metal truly becomes mainstream, I think we’re really in the last days. I think that’s really the end times. When such an extreme thing and extreme form of music becomes mainstream, I think the world is truly fucked. So I want that day to come, but I think it’s very far away, because I think (what) people consider to be “mainstream” black metal now is just completely irrelevant. It’s a misinterpretation of what black metal truly is. But then again, there is no need actually to put too much focus on people who have misunderstood black metal. It’s more important to focus on what it actually is, and that’s what we will show with this Australian tour.
Q: What do you feel is Watain’s “role” within that process then?
A: It’s an interesting question. I feel that it’s honestly something that I don’t really reflect on that much. I think it’s pretty much up to people who are not in the band to make up their minds about that. I do Watain from the inside, and I don’t really do it for the sake of any scene, or the sake any movement or whatever. What we do is an organic, living thing that is just there because it has to be there. It’s why we are here on this earth, to do Watain. And whatever role that plays in the larger context, let’s say within a black metal scene, it’s interesting, but at the same time it’s nothing that I would choose to think too much about. I just keep on doing what I always have done.
Q: Each Watain album seems more akin to a statement than a mere recording. Whereabouts within the evolution of the band do you feel The Wild Hunt exists? How close was it to realising your ultimate goals for your music?
A: Yeah, but the goals are, it’s not really about that there is a certain point that we are trying to reach. The goal has always been I think to maintain and uphold what we have created for ourselves. The goal has never been to actually reach to a certain point. It’s more been about pursuing a certain path, a path that will always lead you into the unknown, into the wilderness really. And everything that we learn along the way; everything that we experience, and everything that leaves its mark on us. That makes its way into our songs, and into our work with Watain. With all that being said, Watain is a journey. It is not a journey about what the goal (should) necessarily be. The goal is to have the journey itself, and that is why every album must be seen as a moment of a specific place in time. Every album reflects what Watain is at this very moment, and we are always moving. We are always on the move. It’s a constant movement; stagnation is not an option. It’s always about reaching further and further, deeper and deeper into yourself and into the unknown.
Q: What’s best rumour you’ve heard about yourself, or Watain that was just completely baseless?
A: I’ve kind of lost track by now (laughs). I’ve heard so many ludicrous fucking stories by now, that I can’t even begin to remember. But I think one of the things that I always found the most laughable is like the right-wing rumours that have been going on about this band. That we’re Nazis and stuff like that, that we have been like Hitler saluting on-stage and all that bullshit. Just take one look at this band, listen one time to one of our songs, and try to place that in a Third Reich scenario, and I think you will realise how utterly fucking stupid that kind of connection is. But I’ve heard about everything by now. People can keep on talking – it seems to be doing them a lot of good, so keep on talking.
Q: The more they talk about you, the more it boosts your profile anyway.
A: Well, to be honest, I don’t really care that much about that. I’m far more interested in truth than anything else. I wouldn’t want to base people’s picture of Watain on things that are false. But on the other hand, it’s very much out of my control, and in the grand scheme of things Watain is something that we do for ourselves, and we have decided to share it with the world around us. But however people want to interpret that on their own, and whatever stories people want to make up, however people perceive Watain is very much up to them in the end.
Q: Any famous last words?
A: Well, I just hope as many bizarre, wild fucking maniacs come out of the woodwork as possible for the upcoming tour. We look forward to touring Australia again, in front of our real crowd, instead of Soundwave crowds – no offence. But that’s really how we feel (laughs). But it’s gonna be good, it’s going to be very primitive and it’s going to be some of the most minimalistic stage shows that we have ever played with in the past five years. But I think that will be a very good thing actually, and I look forward to these shows.
You can catch Watain with Mayhem on the following dates:
9/1: Amplifier Bar, Perth, WA (Watain only) (+ Advent Sorrow + Malignant Monster)
10/1: HiFi Bar, Melbourne VIC (+ Nocturnal Graves)
11/1: Factory Theatre, Sydney NSW (+ Nocturnal Graves)
12/1: HiFi Bar, Brisbane QLD (+ Nocturnal Graves)