It would be fair to say that having Swedish extremists Watain on the Soundwave Festival is one of this year’s more interesting inclusions on the bill. Their uncompromising attitude toward the philosophy of black metal and confronting ritualistic live shows has seen the Uppsala trio sew controversy wherever they go. After all, leaving a record label like Season of Mist convinced they must be crazy is no mean feat. As they prepare to throw the cat among the pigeons on their first Australian tour, Loud spoke to deeply philosophical bassist and vocalist Erik Danielsson about their plans for the tour, current activity and music in general.
Q: Thanks for your time today Erik. What has Watain been doing lately?
A: We’ve been working on what was supposed to be a concert DVD which turned out to be a movie instead. That’s turned out to be a lot of extra work, when we realised that we couldn’t keep it as just a concert DVD anymore. So we’re just about done with the production of a movie that’s turned out to be quite a monster, I would say. It’s been a lot of work.
Q: That sounds like something very different. Can you tell us a little bit more about what it will be?
A: It’s based on this 13-year anniversary concert that we did in Stockholm last year. That show alone is quite spectacular (chuckles). But apart from that, it’s like, I would say, more regular movie sequences. There’s quite a lot of documentary footage from the 90s, and there’s interviews… All in all, the good thing about it is that it didn’t become the regular rock documentary. Which, there’s nothing wrong with that, but for a band like Watain, you need something else. It became like a dramatic journey into the band, you know? Very personal and very in depth, you could say. I think it will be considered to be a bit too much by most people, but we’re used to that by now!
Q: It must have been incredibly interesting for you to be looking back at a lot of that stuff. There must have been things you saw in there that you probably didn’t even remember.
A: Well I don’t know. I’m quite a nostalgic kinda guy you know, and Watain’s a band that often refers to the past because we believe that, like many others, the past had a lot more to offer to terms of, well, in terms of a lot of things. What I like, looking back on the history of Watain, there’s a lot of things, but first and foremost is this feeling of… fucking hell, we managed, we really managed to stick together. The three core members are still the same, and we really managed to keep it growing in a way that it didn’t just mean more and more to other people, but first and foremost it meant more and more for us. Every day. It really became our life. It’s so much more than just a band somehow. That’s fascinating and it’s really inspiring and to be able to say something about something that you’re a part of.
Q: So what are we going to see from Watain when you are here?
A: You’re gonna see five shows, and they’re all gonna be Soundwave. Because we were supposed to do a bunch of side shows too but it just became a logisitical clusterfuck and so we decided to leave it aside and just do these five festival shows for now just to try out the grounds a bit as our first time in Australia. We’ve been wanting to go for so many years. We’ve been about to go numerous times, so it’s good to finally get there and try out the soil a bit, check how things are out there and maybe come back for a proper headline tour later on. I don’t know when at this point, but it’s a good start. It’s a good thing to start off with the Soundwave thing and see what it’s like.
Q: It’s certainly going to be interesting having Watain on the Soundwave bill.
A: Well you know, we have chosen to call our part of the tour Wolves Among Sheep and that is quite an obvious hint at our place in this Soundwave line-up. We’re not afraid to admit that. We have hardly anything in common with any of the other bands, but we’re kind of used by now to being the black sheep of the family. I would lie if I said I didn’t like it either. There’s something nice being such a contrast at a festival.
Q: I would say that anyone who happens to be just walking past when you guys are on might see something that they may not exactly be very used to from a live band.
A: But I think that’s a good thing. I don’t think there’s going to be anything bad about it. As long as people are prepared to take it for what it is. Because I think a lot of people make the mistake to think that it’s some kind of freak show because it consists of everything from pyros to blood to animal parts to ceremonial ritual activity, and that’s the kind of thing that, when people are kind of confronted with that kind of stuff, it lies in the human nature to sort of try to laugh it off… to try to make it more understandable than what it’s trying to be. But what I want to try and ask from people is to see it for what it is. It’s a ceremony, first and foremost. It’s a ceremony of freedom and of the wild and I think people are in for quite an experience if they choose to partake and to just watch.
Q: You’d talked in the past about how black metal has lost its way. Do you think that’s one of the things that people seem to have forgotten, the whole ceremonial aspect of black metal?
A: And not only when it comes to black metal. I mean look at all the big rock bands. The fucking Stones and Doors and all these bands, they all had a sort of… they saw their music as something more than music. And it was. It started off a revolution, it was something so much more than entertainment. It should be challenging, not only towards social conventions of today, but in general it should be something for every human being. It should be attuned to a much greater reality than what people are used to. And I think that ambition has been lost among the simple desire to entertain or just take people out of their regular daily life for a minute. That’s fine, that’s what a lot of bands do, and fine by me. But I personally demand more from music, and we certainly demand more from what we present as entertainment.
Q: Lawless Darkness has been out now for well over a year. What are your thoughts on it now, looking about on it from this point in time?
A: I’m still very proud, I guess you could say. Because it’s definitely an album that I could only dream of writing when I started listening to this type of music and it was an honour to be a part of it. But the reason it talked to a lot of people and why it got such good reviews, not only in magazines but the general atmosphere around the album was very welcoming coming from the audience as well – especially from the audience. And I think it once again reflects on what I said earlier. A lot of bands kind of lose their ambition a bit in the kind of musical environment we live in today. I think people really don’t have the ambition of writing an album that will last forever because many bands are in too much of a hurry. They need to keep up with the digital pace of things, which I considered myself impossible, and also pretty uninteresting to do. Maybe we’re out of the limelight for three years while we’re writing an album, but we sure know that when the album comes, it will strike like a bomb. I think, fuck yeah, that’s how people thought about it back in the day. Why should we think about it less now? Why should we have less ambition? I think it should be the other way around. There should be higher and higher goals. At least, that’s the way we think.
Q: So is that kind of ambition then going to make you deliver an even bigger Watain album next time?
A: No, no, the next one’s just gonna be like a garage rehearsal. Two minute songs. Sound like Iggy Pop and the Stooges. And then the one after that is gonna be big again. No! Really, I don’t know. It’s really hard to say, man. It’s like, this whole creativity thing and the way music comes about and the way albums come about, to me it’s so fucking hard to define for me, or even talk about. We never sit down and say, Ok, let’s make a new album. How did the last one sound? How should we do it now? It’s never like that. It’s pretty chaotic (laughs). We take a deep dive and hopefully we come up over the surface with something good in our hands. It’s really hit and miss.
Q: Is there anything you still haven’t explored with Watain? Musically and visually?
A: The longer you do a band, the more you sort of broaden its concept. I like a band that sort of stick to their guns no matter what, but I also at the same time, with Watain there’s still so much that needs to be expressed. I don’t give a fuck. I mean, we’re very connected to the traditions of black metal, but in the end, we always will be, in some way, but the most important thing we’ve realised is that, you know, Watain is not a black metal band per se. Watain is Watain. We’re allowed to do virtually anything. We live by our own laws. That is a very nice and creative position to be in, when you say, fuck it, if we feel like doing whatever tomorrow, we do it. As long as it contains spirit and quality, as long as we don’t lose our grip on that, because that I think is the most important ingredient of Watain. And always has been.
Q: The last time we spoke to you, you were talking about touring with Deströyer 666. How did that go?
A: Wow man, that was quite a ride! It was really one of the better tours we did. We’re old friends you know. We’ve been meeting each other back and forth since the 90s, and it was nice to be able to get on the same fucking bus and go on a rampage for months, you know? You can probably imagine that there wasn’t really much of a Christian atmosphere in that bus, so to speak. We get along well. They’re a rowdy bunch, and we’re a rowdy bunch. We’re like two packs of wolves coming together doing something. It also made us realise, probably something we’ve known for a long time, we heard a lot of stories about Australia, and they told us lots of stories from back in the day… I think that Watain and Australia is a good match, you know? There’s something wild and open-hearted about Australia that allows for a lot of the relevant parts of Watain to come through properly. I think in the USA or even in Europe, some places in Europe, people are a bit like they have this white picket fence kind of attitude to things. They have a bit hard time relating to wild and spicy things. But from the impression we got from their stories and just meeting other Australians was that, fuck this, this could be a good match. We’re looking forward to exploring that.
Q: I hope you meet a lot of Australians when you’re here and we can lay the groundwork for perhaps bringing you out once again. A Soundwave set doesn’t seem like it’s going to be long enough to catch the whole Watain experience.
A: Well we’ll see about that. I’m not aware of any set lengths or anything like that at this point. I just know that we’ll be playing after dark. That was one of our only demands from the festival management. We’re actually bringing the whole show over as well, so there’s a ton of steel and death on the way to Australia.
Watain will be touring with Soundwave 2012 on the following dates-
25/2: Brisbane Showgrounds, Brisbane QLD (SOLD OUT)
26/2: Sydney Showground, Sydney NSW (SOLD OUT)
2/3: Melbourne Showground, Melbourne VIC (SOLD OUT)
3/3: Bonython Park, Adelaide SA
5/3: Claremont Showgrounds, Perth WA