November 12, 2013 Interview – Erik Danielsson of Watain
The black metal scene has been an intriguing sub-genre within the heavy metal world for the latter part of 3 decades. Bands like Venom and Bathory paved the way for bands like Mayhem, Burzum, and Darkthrone. Raw energy mixed with a cold darkness are just some of the key aspects which craft the art form. From the purest of black metal roots, Sweden’s Watain has been carrying the torch for the scene 15 years now. Through many misconceptions and misinterpretations black metal and the movement has been labeled many things. Through these negative ideas and connotations lays a band with a vision; that vision to prevail in pure artistic freedom. With the release of their latest album The Wild Hunt, Watain look to take the next step in their quest. Recently we sat down with band leader Erik Danielsson for an engaging interview discussing the band’s ideology, their musical vision, society, and much more.
Crypticrock.com – Watain has been crafting music for 15 years now. You have released 5 full length records now and toured all over the world. Besides the ultimate goal of fulfilling your artistic vision in the music, how rewarding is it for you and the band to have accomplished such achievements thus far?
Erik Danielsson – The premise of reward has never been so important to Watain. The reward to us has consisted more of the fact that we have been able to uphold this world we have built for ourselves for so long. The reward doesn’t really lay in certain events, releasing an album and winning a fucking Grammy, whatever it might be. Those are not things that we consider to be rewarding in the first place. The reward is the fact to be able, to think we’ve been able, to shut out the world outside for 15 years. Living by our own rules, living by our own laws, doing whatever the fuck we want, praising our gods, through this strange and fantastic band that we’ve managed to be a part of for so long. That’s the reward, just to be a part of it.
Crypticrock.com – Of course, the best reward is ultimate freedom. With deep roots in the underground black metal scene Watain is honestly one of the more pure bands in the scene in recent years. What is your opinion on the current direction of black metal as an art form?
Erik Danielsson – There has been times I have been pretty close to giving up on anything else than Watain in regards to black metal just because how misinterpreted this genre has been for several years. At the same time there has always been a core of bands that have been acting in the shadows and underground. There is always a heart of black metal and that’s what Watain always was. That is the thing we are constantly in touch with and that is where our bond goes. To me black metal has never really changed. The idea of traditional black metal hasn’t changed, no matter how misinterpreted or misrepresented it has become in the last 10-15 years. For some years there were some bands that are very representative of this movement that are very active and other years there have been really low watermarks so to say. I am proud to say we have carried that torch with pride and that’s our legacy. That is what we have taken upon ourselves to do with this band. Right now we are living in very interesting times. We are standing at the brink where a counter reaction to this plastic culture is going to get a hard blow from bands like us and bands that do similar things that we do. There is always a counter reaction, it’s bound to come.
Crypticrock.com – We are living in interesting times. It’s sort of a materialistic and fast food type of culture we are living in.
Erik Danielsson – Yes but it’s fun though. Often when you read or listen to interviews with bands from the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s people that are generally looking at the world in not a very materialistic sense but perhaps in a more spiritual prospective; they always seem to complain very much about the times they live and are active in. I think that is a pretty common way of expressing your content for the world around you and the fact that you are doing something that you hope will change the world around you. I think it’s very easy to be negative about the current times. I also think things are actually moving in a very good direction. Rock music existed now as a blue print for over 60 years, and the way it is progressing even though people have made music into something materialistic and commercial as well, I think the general direction is always one that moves more toward a spiritual approach toward music. I think it’s inevitable really that people are more often going to the premise within rock music that is it’s not entertainment, not materialistic, but spiritual, and even divine nature. Watain is a very good example of that. In a way I think it’s about the counter reaction as I mentioned early. I am very glad and proud to be part of that movement. I think it’s quite an interesting time to be a musician and artist. These things are becoming respect and people are willing to listen perhaps more than before. I think people are looking at what is underneath the surfaces in general. That is where you find things like black metal and things like Watain.
Crypticrock.com – Yes and you mention how people are more willing to listen now. This definitely does show to be a more open minded outlook to something like black metal. Black metal as an art form has grown in popularity over the years. Without a doubt still a underground style of metal but still reaching a broader audience than ever before. What do you attribute the growth in popularity of the music?
Erik Danielsson – I think people are getting a bit fed up with the materialism of music. I think generally music as an organic thing, as a great worldwide movement, kind of demands more than what it has gotten in terms of deeper attention in past years. I think the digital age didn’t manage to defeat the true the spiritual qualities in rock n roll. They have always been there, but they have been kind of laying and waiting. Now it’s time to for them to prevail. The people themselves are getting to understand that there is more to this whole thing than just mp3 files, and fucking digital distribution. People are coming to terms with that music is more than just entertainment. That is where bands like Watain come into the picture. We actually have an approach to our music that is different from that of how a general commercial rock band would perhaps look at music. Taking that into consideration that yes we have gained a lot more listeners over the years outside of metal. It’s a lot of people from outside of metal becoming interested in this band. I think it’s a consequence of what I have been saying, people are looking for something more. It’s more interesting to see a dinosaur for real than to watch one in a Jurassic Park movie.
Crypticrock.com – It’s very interesting because it’s almost as if the culture we have built has resulted in people wanting to go back to basics and feel something real again.
Erik Danielsson – I think so. I think the whole tribal and primal energies that have always been at work within rock music; they are valued higher perhaps these days. That is also why a band like Watain works on a scale that is perhaps outside the boundaries from what is expected from a black metal band. Watain works with very primal energies, that perhaps people aren’t really used to, and I think people are fascinated by that. I think people are fascinated by genuine things that generate powerful music. I think that combination people find it fascinating. You can see it at many different times in the history of rock n roll, poetry, and art. It’s always the more eccentric and passionate people that have made their way through. Just look at The Stooges or MC5, those people are remembered for something else than creating some entertaining art. They are remembered because they touched upon something very primal. I suppose that something that even people outside of metal appreciate with Watain.
Crypticrock.com – I agree with you. Your newest record The Wild Hunt was released last month. The record is an excellent cohesive piece of music. We are living in a world now of playlists and it’s rather refreshing when an album such as this is released in which you need to listen to the whole record as one to completely understand it’s beauty. What was the writing process like for this new record?
Erik Danielsson – Thank you for those words about the album. It’s always rewarding to hear people have taken it that way. I really appreciate that. The recording process was pretty intense. We decided we’d be in the studio for 4 months. For us that is a very long time, it’s twice the amount of time we used to record our previous album Lawless Darkness (2010). We decided to do it in a bunch of different places instead of being in one fucking studio for four months. I think being in the studio for that long, working in various places, and traveling around like a bunch of fucking gypsies with equipment (laughs), it left its mark on the album. To me The Wild Hunt is very much a journey, a pilgrimage of sorts. I think symbolically it meant a lot for us to be traveling around during the recording. I felt like a journey of its own during the recording process. There were a lot of ups and downs. It was emotionally very demanding and challenging. I think all of that translated very well into the album. It gave that extra dimension of diversity and you never know what you expect from it really. I think the whole recording process actually colored the album a lot. Which I wouldn’t necessarily say was the case with any of our previous recordings. We didn’t really let the recording process themselves have too much to do with the final outcome. We pretty much went to the studio, worked extremely hard, and came out the album we aimed for. With The Wild Hunt we allowed for a much more dynamic and open creative work so to say. It was quite a fucking ride.
Crypticrock.com – Watain has always placed emphasis on the atmosphere in your records. With this new record you further progress with that. A song like “They Rode On” off The Wild Hunt is an epic masterpiece. What I love about a track like this is its beauty yes, but your unwillingness to conform to a certain idea of what people want the band to sound like. How important is that to you to continue to progress in your artistic visions?
Erik Danielsson – It is important in the sense that we have to be sure at all times that we are completely limitless through our creative work and do not have any shackles what so ever. Not musical, not business wise in terms of labels that want a specific thing; in the world of Watain we are free men. That is quite beautiful and a rare thing in any aspect of life. With that being said, of course it is important one should not mix that up with the idea that we’d intentionally try to oppose any expectation of what people might have. It’s not a matter of intentionally challenging those expectations. It’s not about intentionally wanting to do something different. It’s about if we feel like it we will do it. It’s not about trying to fuck things up for the sake of fucking things up. It’s about being free.
Crypticrock.com – Right it’s about following what you want to do.
Erik Danielsson – Yes, because I think if you focus too much on whatever people expect, and people expect a lot after 15 years of being a band, people have certain predefined conceptions of what we are. It’s not a matter of intentionally challenging those expectations, it’s a matter of just not taking them into consideration in the first. In a creative environment they are not important.
Crypticrock.com – You just came to North America in support of The Wild Hunt with In Solitude and Tribulation. Having played North America before how exciting was it for the band to play new material for fans here?
Erik Danielsson – Well it’s always this feeling, when you release an album and you are about to go on the first tours, that the doors are still closed but there is this immense pressure at those doors. They want nothing else but to be open and things need to fucking explode. That’s the state that the band had; that there is pressure in every direction in a positive sense, an explosive pressure that finally had its release when we did the US tour. In that sense the US audience got this very hungry and very explosive band. Basically it’s always those first tours for an album that are very special. You are in such an explosive state of mind as a band. Especially with In Solitude and Tribulation supporting as well.
Crypticrock.com – It was a great tour. What are some of your musical influences?
Erik Danielsson – My record collection is quite diverse but at the same time very focused on very dark, disturbing , and backwards things. That goes from everything from classic metal stuff to Screamin’ Jay Hawkins which I listen to the most lately. Stuff like Nick Cave, Bauhaus, Alien Sex Fiend. American stuff as well like GG Allin and The Swans. I always try to keep an open mind when it comes to dark things. I think there is a diabolical nerve in a lot of music that a lot of people don’t necessarily see. I think there are dark things laying and waiting in the most unexpected places within music. I’ve always seen it as a very positive challenge to find those. That has always lead to a quite diverse music taste.
Crypticrock.com – You are absolutely right. There are a lot of dark aspects to music that you need to look for sometimes that maybe are not there upon first listen. It’s always good to keep a broad range of musical tastes.
Erik Danielsson – Yes. Especially as a musician if you want to keep going for a long time, keep inspiration coming, and stay creative. I think it’s very important to be heavily involved and passionate about music. Sometimes people seem to get a bit caught up within themselves and don’t pay attention to what’s going on around them. I still love to buy records and go to concerts. That is where most of my time goes outside the band.
Crypticrock.com – That is really great that you are so passionate about it. My last question for you is regarding films. Crypticrock.com is a rock/metal and horror news site so we like to focus on all genres. Are you a fan of horror films and if so what are some of your favorite horror films?
Erik Danielsson – I won’t say horror is my favorite genre. Some of my favorite horror movies which are in my head right now are from Ingmar Bergman. He’s a Swedish director mostly known for his drama kind of movies which are of course exceptional. He has made a few horror movies a well which are extremely disturbing. For example there is this movie called Hour Of The Wolf (1968). I would recommend it to anyone into classic horror cinema. It’s a beautiful movie with some of the best role-playing that has ever been in any movie that I can think.
Crypticrock.com – I will have to check that film out. With horror I believe an emphasis on atmosphere is important much like music. Dialogue is extremely important.
Erik Danielsson – Yes. More of an ambience and a movie that puts you in a mood rather than it follow a particular storyline; it’s all about mood and the atmosphere. That is what I love about music and movies. When your whole mind is kind of immersed in this state of atmosphere there is no escape from, really.
Feature article photo credit – Ester Segarra