October 3, 2016 Interview – Chris Naughton of Winterfylleth
One of contemporary Black Metal’s brightest bands is England’s own Winterfylleth. Over the past decade, they have churned out extremely high quality Black Metal concerned largely with their heritage and humanity-based issues felt in all cultures, bridging the past with the present, and offering a look at mankind’s bleak future. Recently we sat down with the lead singer and guitarist of the band, Chris Naughton, to discuss their latest elegant platter, The Dark Hereafter, which came out on September 30th, 2016 on Candlelight Records. Read on for some entertaining insight into his thoughts on subjects as disparate as religion, flying in airplanes, NOFX, and a philosophical discussion on the genre of Black Metal itself…..
CrypticRock.com – It has been about 10 years since the Rising of the Winter Full Moon demo. Can you describe what it has been like to rise up swiftly to become one of the more respected bands in the Folk Black Metal genre? Did you think that you would roll out five studio albums in that span of time, gaining notoriety with each release?
Chris Naughton – Wow, that’s an interesting question. I’m not sure if we thought we were going to do anything more than the first album, to be honest. Winterfylleth began as a side project of our previous band, which was called Atavist. When we started, it was really only Simon, the drummer, and myself. We recorded our first demo in a couple of days in this rehearsal room we used to play at. Then the first album came out. Ever since then, it grew into the focus of all our creative energy, and a lot of our free time as well. I don’t know if we thought we’d have this many albums, but I’m glad that we do and I’m glad that we have the backing of our fans and our labels, and hopefully we can continue to make music and have the energy to keep making relevant music that matters to people.
I’m glad we’ve been able to refine the sound and build on those early ideas that we had. When we started, it was much more simplistic music that had a purpose in the lyrics. We’ve grown to make sure the music is as beautiful and sorrowful as the stories we are telling, and the tales we are spinning, if you like. I’m pleased. I think it’s good that we’ve been able to stick our heads out from other bands in the UK and Europe, and do things that are interesting and a little different than the black and white, lo-fi music of our genre’s past, I guess.
CrypticRock.com – You are certainly making a great name for yourselves. The Dark Hereafter was released on September 30th via Candlelight Records. Can you go into the writing and recording process of the album, and tell fans a little bit about how such an album comes about for you, creatively speaking?
Chris Naughton – Yeah, a lot of our songs are riff-led. An effective, powerful riff is always the cornerstone of our songs. I guess when someone comes up with that, it becomes the basis to jump off from and helps everyone to see the idea of where the song goes. I tell a lot of people and I’ll tell you as well, we often write as a band outside of our album cycles, so we don’t just write an album for 2 months or 3 months or whatever it is, and come back in 2 years and try to write another one. We keep the writing process evolving and moving more or less all the time around that. So I think that helps us develop a lot of things, it’s obviously made us tighter as a band, made us more focused in terms of our writing and in terms of the lyrical content. It’s meant we’ve been able to explore different styles and obviously grow up together, kind of, getting better at what we do.
A lot of our songs rely heavily on the unique kind of guitar playing and tuning we’ve come to use over the years. The way we can layer those things adds to the atmosphere and makes them our own. We don’t use particularly traditional bar chords and all that, we tend to use more open chords and droning notes, and tend to merge our lead and rhythm guitar playing into one part. That poses some challenge for some people trying to learn to play the songs, but also adds this extra dimension in terms of atmosphere within the riff itself. We tend to do a lot of pre-production work in our home studio, where we do lots of writing and rehearsing and demoing most weeks.
We have a lot of contact outside the shows and the touring that we do. I suppose that adds up a lot to where we are now, we’ve got this album coming out called The Dark Hereafter, which obviously you know, cause you’re calling me (laughs). We have got a few albums worth of stuff behind the scenes that’s waiting to come out over the next couple of years, so we are a few albums ahead in terms of our writing. With this one, it came about by us thinking that this group of songs works together nicely, that the concept stands for a common theme, so let’s put these together and make a release out of it.
CrypticRock.com – It all seems to work together quite well. So you guys all live near each other?
Chris Naughton – Yes, very close in fact. Maybe 3, 4 miles a part in the English countryside outside Manchester called Cheshire.
CyrpticRock.com – That probably really helps the creativity, as you get to work in person more frequently, right?
Chris Naughton – Absolutely, I know bands… some friends of ours who recently called it a day, Wodensthrone, split up about 3 or 4 months ago. For bands like those guys, they struggled a little bit, with their guys dotted all over the UK; some guys in Scotland, some in the north of England, and some down here in Manchester. I think that can pose you a challenge when you are trying to be a creative entity around your daily pursuits, you know; having families, and working, and the things people do. If you don’t carve out some quality times for yourselves to be creative, to do things like focus on the quality of your songs, have the time to be self-critical, and bounce ideas around, it can be really hard to put out good music. Because we live together, it definitely makes that easier. We always try to write once a week together, so even if we get a few minutes here and there, it’s good for us.
CrypticRock.com – Very disappointing about Wodensthrone; they were excellent. But that is good news that Winterfylleth is so active, and always creating. As a band which concerns itself with the preservation of heritage, which is always threatened by the dilution of individual cultures in this modern world, do the themes expressed lyrically on this new album deviate in any way from your prior expressions? Do they strengthen them? What do you feel you are trying to say on The Dark Hereafter?
Chris Naughton – I think throughout all of the albums, there has been a common thread of political and social change, and how you can relate the struggles and wisdom of old to modern, contemporary situations. I think that particularly on this one, we looked at it through a different lens. So the concept of The Dark Hereafter, if you will, refers to the long term after effects of bad policy-making, and of the way that our society’s been for, well forever, but particularly heightened over the last 5 to 10 years. Even if you look at the last 2 years since our last album came out, there’s been a huge chaos in our societies, really, behind the scenes in terms of lots of wars going on in places, us having detrimental effects on the lifestyles and cultures of other countries. In Europe, we’ve seen mass migration because of the impacts of our war-mongering, and our resource hungry corporations pushing into other people’s countries, and things like that.
So The Dark Heareafter itself refers to, on a basic level, the negative long term effects of bad policy-making, and how that comes home to roost. The individual songs go into certain elements of that. The focal point for me is a track called “The Great Cathedral,” which is the fourth track on the album. That one is a really interesting one because that one talks about localism as opposed to globalism. It says look as an individual population of people its very difficult for us to effect political change. Our political systems, on a country by country basis, tend to be geared up to support big business, and maintaining the status quo rather than benefiting the average person. So the only real power you have as a person is the power you have as a consumer.
If you take your business away from big, powerful companies and buy from local businesses, from more sustainable sources, then it helps to shape how we live in the future because it takes away some power, demand, and influence from some of those big powerful companies that deforest our world, that dig up oil, that use plastic, that burn hydrocarbons, and all those things that are so harmful and detrimental to the environment and other countries. These companies also exploit workers in other countries, and that sort of thing. I think that there’s a strong sentiment of, we make bad decisions in western governments and others, for how we interact with the world, and here are some ways that we might live differently as people to influence how we proceed going forward.
CrypticRock.com – There is a lot of truth to what Winterfylleth is trying to impart. How important are the Folk elements in your music, and do you think you would ever expand their prevalence in future recordings, or do you like them where they are at and you maintain the Black Metal heart as your primary aim?
Chris Naughton – Well that’s a good question, and a timely one. So, you’ll probably notice that there’s less of a Folk influence than on previous releases, and there aren’t any Folk songs on the album, as we’ve done on previous releases. I think the reason for that is, with losing our long term Guitarist Mark end of 2014, we had to get in Dan Capp to replace him. He collaborated with us a long time ago on all of our artwork, he’s always designed everything we’ve ever done. He’s responsible for another project called Walcensmen, which is a sort of Folk, ambient project, which is really great.
So we’ve been doing a lot of work and writing among the band behind the scenes in more of the acoustic realm. So we focused less on the Folk element this time, because the next album in a year or so’s time is going to be a solely Folk album. We’ve been writing that for the past year or so, perhaps, as we have four or five songs left to develop, and then to decide which ones we want to record and develop further. But I think it’s definitely interesting, I’m really pleased with how it’s coming out. I’m not suggesting we’re going to change to being a completely Folk band, but given that, we shall soon have five straight Metal albums, it’s time to slightly challenge ourselves in terms of our output on the sixth one. I mean, if we were to do another Metal album, I’m sure it would be well-received, but maybe people would like us to explore, as you questioned, the other side of the band. I think it feels like a natural time to do that.
CrypticRock.com – Having heard the Folk elements underneath the music on all the Winterfylleth albums, its obvious you’d be really good at crafting songs solely in that realm. Very exciting stuff. Speaking of departures from the typical Black Metal medium, on the song “Led Astray In The Forest Dark,” were the clean, baritone vocals performed by you only? How challenging was it to sing a whole song in this manner?
Chris Naughton – That song is a cover, actually, by Ulver. Its an old song of theirs, and it’s not obvious at first because we sang it in English, rather than old Danish, and expanded on the original with a bigger production. It’s a song that really inspired Winterfylleth and it allowed us some creative freedom to make it our own in a sense. The album would have been quite short without it, perhaps 35 minutes or so, which is ok because we will be releasing the Folk album in about a year’s time. We wanted to put something of interest onto The Dark Hereafter, for our fan base. We’ve had a lot of influence from bands like that over the years, and I think it was nice for us to have a go at doing something like that, a nice tribute. Expanding on some of those vocals that they did allowed us to actually sing a song instead of just use the extreme vocals.
In that last two or three years since the last album, we have a new guy who helped in the last album but joined now as a full member, called Mark Deeks. In his day job, he is a choir master and a performing pianist, and he’s really amazing at helping us realize the vocal sections even more. So I think it really adds to that original song by allowing us to put those massive, choral arrangements onto the vocals of the track. Not a lot of bands have done that with the proper sincerity, besides Bathory and a few others. Lots of bands have sing-along choruses but its a different thing for us, it adds atmosphere and passion to it. I guess the logic behind that was to show some of our influences and allow us to expand a bit vocally.
CrypticRock.com – You did a great job with it. It was not obvious that it was a cover from the press release, so it is a testament to Winterfylleth to make the song sound like your own creation. Well done.
Chris Naughton – Thank you. You’re the 60th journalist who didn’t know it was a cover. No worries. Candlelight, our record label, got absorbed by Spinefarm Records so we have been working with many different people on our press, as opposed to just one person. I’m glad people think it could be our song, though. That’s a good sign.
CrypticRock.com – Obviously Ulver is a big influence for you personally. What bands or musicians made you pick up the guitar initially in your life, and which ones made sure you never put it down?
Chris Naughton – Well, it’s probably nothing as cool as Black Metal, really. I think that many of us in the band evolved into that much later. I am the byproduct of parents who liked Rock music, so perhaps I’m less uncool than some people’s influences. Some of the material which made me pick up the guitar were like, Queen, being a huge band I really loved. Some of those Mark III, Mark IV Deep Purple albums. I was always a big fan of Eric Clapton. I suppose that kind of stuff originally, but after listening to Rock and getting the desire to play Rock music.
But then growing up in the town of Huddersfield, here in England, it was a really big Punk Rock scene here, so I grew up listening to a lot of early classic Punk, but also the Epitaph, Fat Wreck Chords bands which made me want to learn those songs. Only in my later teens did I evolve into listening to some of the more extreme bands we’ve come to be associated with. Those bands, the extreme ones, made me want to start writing music as opposed to just playing it. The Black Metal stuff, particularly Slavic Black Metal like Drudkh and Hate Forest, and also Enslaved and Ulver from Scandinavia, also Burzum to some extent. But that came later than the traditional Rock stuff.
CrypticRock.com – Very interesting to see where the musicians that fans follow come from. No one would look at a Winterfylleth album and imagine that Chris Naughton was a big fan of Bad Religion or NOFX.
Chris Naughton – I think NOFX were actually my favorite Punk band when I was a kid. Obviously, everyone comes from somewhere don’t they. And I hear some of them in our earlier stuff, actually, the way they use octave chords, chord progressions and things like that. There’s definitely an element of that in my earlier guitar playing.
CrypticRock.com – NOFX are very good, underrated musicians. Winterfylleth should cover “GonoherpesyphillAIDS” or something on the next album. Just throw everybody for a loop. See what the press release says then! Winterfylleth covering Ulver and NOFX. No doubt it’ll upset a lot of people.
Chris Naughton – (Laughs) Maybe that’s how we challenge people going forward, do something crazy like that. Well we all come from somewhere, and I think what that’s led to is a sincerity and desire we have to advance the plot of Winterfylleth.
CrypticRock.com – In terms of Black Metal, when one looks at the genre, even now, there seems to be this distinct line between those who accept it only being about Satan and darkness, and those like yourselves who have so expanded Black Metal’s thematic spheres. In the 21st century, it seems religion is becoming more and more irrelevant and archaic, at least the monotheistic side of it. Do you think that the type of Black Metal being wrought by yourselves is more applicable to and grounded in everyday life? How important and/or relevant is that to you?
Chris Naughton – Absolutely. The way I would view it is, it’s been almost 30 years since the early Black Metal, the Mayhem demos, etc., so I was thinking about this recently. I think that medium was their reaction to the landscape and the social situations they were dealing with at the time. The music and the imagery and the otherworldliness of the music and atmospheres they were trying to create was very much anti-corporate, wasn’t it, anti-religious, nihilistic, minimalist, and even anti-music. Against the over produced Death Metal, triggered stuff. That was their reaction to the issues they were confronting at the time. My issue with it is now there’s been so many bands, like a whole generation of bands, that have tried to just be black and white, the corpse paint and bullet belts, and the photocopied album covers.
I think it just becomes a bit tedious. I think the genre has grown way beyond where its founding fathers would have liked. You hear interviews from guys like Fenriz in Darkthrone and they’re sort of like it’s been taken on a bit too much by popular culture, and sort of copied, and bands have done that sort of thing forever. I think that some of the sentiments that they had are important, anti-religion and those kind of things, but it just doesn’t feel relevant, particularly now, 25 to 30 years later. For us to just parrot that back to people now, do another black and white album that talks about darkness and Satan just doesn’t make sense to us. We are from a different country with a different political and social landscape, with different contemporary issues, that needs to find a way to interact with that in our music.
We opted not to go with any of the personal imagery, such as spikes and denim and bullet belts, and keep it simpler and about the image of nature and history, thereby removing ourselves from the imagery and just letting the music and the concepts do the talking. Let the albums speak more than us as personalities. I think some bands got caught up in this Black Metal ego, “I’m more kvlt than you, I’m more evil than you.” I’d rather be seen as “I have something better to say than you,” other than “I look cooler in shades than you.” So that’s where we are with that. That delineation you made is why we have come to write the sort of songs we write, and the sort of lyrics we write as well. It felt like this is our way of relating to the situations of now, and not just copy what bands did back then, and probably worse than them.
CrypticRock.com – The Satanic bands do have a place, and there are some great bands making new music with those themes, but the deistic side of Satanism has always been a bit puzzling. Especially when you consider that Black Metal mostly originated in countries, like Norway, that were so socially liberal and secular. One would imagine the biggest beefs with religion would come from places like England, where former Prime Minister Tony Blair wants creationism taught in public schools, or here in the US where George W. Bush publicly stated that Jesus told him to invade Iraq.
Chris Naughton – You’re right, but remember that Black Metal was the antithesis of the Christianity which had driven out the old Pagan roots of those Nordic countries. I think for us, England and the US, that our leaders rely on fictional deities to be able to make moral judgments, is scary. There’s a great book by Sam Harris, called Moral Landscape, which talks about how there is intrinsically a moral element to being scientific-minded, and you don’t need false religions to be moral. I mean, there’s an argument that religion is good in terms in how it binds people together in certain cultures, but I think we’ve seen that it has become a force for negativity, evil, and divisiveness, throughout human history.
As it becomes less relevant to younger generations, I think we’ll start to see it play less of a role in our policy making and government. Obviously for us in England, we’re a country of only 60 million people, I get really worried when I see in America how the campaigns attract the Christian vote because it’s so powerful. That’s really scary, and I’m hoping that if we start confronting different issues and make people think about contemporary social issues, I’m sure people will begin to see religion as a poison, not a cure. I think then it can be weeded out in a hundred years or so.
CrypticRock.com – Hopefully it will. Fans will appreciate learning that Winterfylleth truly has something to say regarding these complicated social and moral issues. Will fans in more countries be able to be exposed to the live efforts of Winterfylleth any time soon? What places are you itching to tour in, and might American fans expect to see you anytime soon?
Chris Naughton – I have to admit to not being the greatest flyer, and that’s why we’ve never toured the US. I don’t want to fly over there, if I’m being honest. I’d love to play there, though. It’s very difficult for a UK band to play in The States. I’m not sure if that’s known outside the music industry. You need to pay for four or five Visas and pay $1000 a piece for five guys for flights, so you’re probably $10,000 in the hole before you even play a note. If we do ever come over there, it’ll probably be in support of a bigger band.
I’d love to come to The States and Canada. I’d love to get a bit further afield and play some of the Slavic countries such as the Ukraine, Russia perhaps. It’s a fertile area for Black Metal at the moment. You have bands like Batushka and Mgla from Poland, so there’s great stuff coming out from those countries and it would be great to play there. I think the US has some great bands like Weakling, Leviathan, and those early Xasthur records. So obviously we’d love to play there. We’d love to hit Scandinavia more, as we love Dissection and the bands that came out of those places. I’d love to play with some more classic bands, because it was great when we played with Enslaved, Behemoth, and Primordial.
CrypticRock.com – Well, at shows here in The States, fans of Black Metal whisper the name of Winterfylleth with awe, imagining a tour here with you on the bill.
Chris Naughton – Did you ever watch that program The A-Team when you were a kid?
CrypticRock.com – Yes, of course. Loved it. One of the ’80s best television series.
Chris Naughton – You’d have to do like with B.A. Baracus and you know, sneak me some milk and knock me out.
CrypticRock.com – Well, it is understandable. Going 600 mph on top of 8 tanks of jet fuel at 30,000 feet is not for everybody. So, here at CrypticRock.com we cover Horror films and shows as well as music. What, if any, films in that genre appeal to you?
Chris Naughton – Well you might want to talk to our drummer, Simon. He is a massive fan of all the old Hammer Horror films. I like some of those early Vincent Price, Christopher Lee films. Recently I saw The Conjuring 2 (2016), thought it was interesting and had some new ideas I hadn’t really seen before. I think that Horror can be quite twee, can’t it. Some of these remakes have been pretty bad. Recently I heard John Carpenter talk about the Rob Zombie Halloween remake, and he said he wished people could come up with some original material, and I think The Conjuring 2 was something original and really good.