November 4, 2016 Interview – Piotr “Peter” Wiwczarek of Vader
Begun over three decades ago, Poland’s Vader has become fierce leaders in the world of Death Metal. Founded by Vocalist and Guitarist Piotr “Peter” Wiwczarek, Vader relentlessly toured, quickly gaining a reputation for their live performances, as they pumped out impressive albums such as 1995’s De Profundis, 1997’s Black to the Blind, and 2000’s Litany. Sustaining many lineup changes along the way, Wiwczarek has kept the band together as they continue to churn out great records and tour the world. Now, Wiwczarek, along with Guitarist Marek “Spider” Pająk, Bassist Tomasz “Hal” Halicki, and Drummer James Stewart make up the current cast of Vader, arguably the band’s strongest to date as they prepare to release The Empire. Anxious for fans to hear the new material, Vader prepare to embark on a U.S. tour that will begin in May of 2017 at the world famous Maryland Deathfest. Recently we had the pleasure of talking to Vader’s leader about their beginnings in communist Poland, his thoughts on Metal in 2016, their new album The Empire, and more.
CrypticRock.com – Vader has been going strong now for over three decades, and to many, you are considered pioneers in Metal. Please, tell us what this journey has been like.
Piotr “Peter” Wiwczarek – It’s been a long journey, and, we definitely were among those pioneers. Definitely not the first band to play Metal, even Extreme Metal, but we were the band that wanted to play something modern, something different compared to the other bands that were popular over there back then. That was the beginning of the eighties, so things were different in Poland back then, we were a different country, so it was not like today. We are a country from the Eastern Bloc behind the Iron Curtain. That meant that nothing was available, especially for teenagers who wanted to play some Extreme Metal in an extreme country. Of course we had our inspirations. Personally, I started with Black Sabbath. That was the first Hard Rock band to influence me a lot. That was exactly the time that I finished my grade school. I started my education in the Metal world with Black Sabbath. Of course, I was looking for something more extreme, then I started to play music.
There was one show after the situation in Poland in ‘81. We had a sort of state of War, and actually that was weird times. It was the very first Metal show in our city after that state of War. It was the very first show ever after two years where almost nothing happened. I was so shocked after I saw the band playing the heavy riffs, they were playing some AC/DC songs and this kind of stuff, it was very impressive. Since then, I just started to play bass guitar, then I met the guy Zbigniew (“Vika” Wróblewski) and we started Vader, then I changed into guitar. We just wanted to play something like Judas Priest, like Saxon. That was the most extreme bands we knew back then, and Motörhead of course. Then, a year or two years after, we started the band, “Show No Mercy” (Slayer) hit the stage and it was fucking revolutionary. We just decided to play faster, unfortunately, it was me, a drummer, and a singer, which was like two thirds of a band; (Robert) Bielak just didn’t want to play such extreme music, he wanted to stay with a more Heavy Metal, classical style.
CrypticRock.com – Very interesting. That was pivotal time in the world of Heavy Metal.
Piotr “Peter” Wiwczarek – There were some bands who had, probably, the same beginning, but there was no support from media. There was no media for bands like us, there were no magazines, there were no stores, no equipment, no nothing. All we could use was homemade equipment and some stuff that we had to prepare on our own just to have it. Posters for the first show, so you know, I made it on my own, in my house. Probably nothing different from all those bands who started in the US or wherever, just we started years after and in some different conditions. We definitely did not have the same conditions as people living in the West, but we had big passion. We wanted to play even if we knew it was going to be hard. We just wanted to do it. All the bands, they were supporting each other, we were cooperating. We invited other bands to play small shows, like in the local scene.
Maybe, the communism was not really supporting life, but they were supporting something like culture, and they must do something. If there was a band in the area, they must give them a chance to perform. They didn’t care about what do you play. They did not support Metal at all, but they never give a fuck. We would play Metal about Satan or something, they did not understand it, they did not understand the music, nor lyrics, so as long as you did not touch the political thing, you could play whatever you wanted. That was the good part about that time. There is not much time to tell the whole story, because it is a really long story; as you mentioned, it’s over 30 years. The most significant thing was the cooperation between the bands. We started this date trading thing so some bands from Poland started to communicate outside. I remember the first date trading with bands like Blasphemy, Immolation, some bands from Brazil and Singapore; very exotic countries. For us, that was like to touch with the world. It was good to know that there were more bands like us in a different part of the world, so that was the very beginning.
CrypticRock.com – It is pretty incredible to think about the power of music and how passionate you and your bandmates were about playing music. You were not going to let anything stop you and you did not let anything stop you.
Piotr “Peter” Wiwczarek – If you love something, nothing can stop you, right ?
CrypticRock.com – Exactly. The band did, in fact, early on, start more along the lines of Classic Heavy Metal and Speed Metal. What inspired the evolution into Death Metal by the time 1992’s The Ultimate Incarnation was released?
Piotr “Peter” Wiwczarek – To me, personally, this is just the name of a genre. When we started, we called our music just Metal, Heavy Metal, Extreme Metal, or Speed Metal. Speed Metal sounded pretty good, and we liked that name for a while, but then after Thrash Metal started to be a very trendy name, so we named ourselves like Black Thrash. Black, because we were playing about hell, devils, all this war in heaven and things, very dark things. Black Metal was nothing like today, so it was different. We used Black because we knew that Black was connected to Venom and this kind of band and this kind of stuff, and, actually, Venom inspired to write lyrics about something Supernatural, something like war between Hell and Heaven.
For a long time, we liked Thrash, Black Metal. Actually Death Metal, so we found this name good after it became already trendy. Thrash Metal became more melodic in those days and pretty much connected with the hardcore scene especially in New York and the U.S. We played different so we were close to bands like Possessed and Kreator and this kind of stuff. We wanted to play more aggressive and darker, so Death Metal, so we found this name for our style perfect. We keep that name until today, but actually, it is not really something important or significant, it is just a name. We play Extreme Metal, and the line between Thrash, Death, Black, it’s pretty thin, so pretty often we are crossing that line.
CrypticRock.com – Interesting, so that brings me to my next question. You mentioned how much Metal has changed and how now there are so many different genres, and offshoots, and categories. What is your opinion of Heavy Metal in 2016?
Piotr “Peter” Wiwczarek – Well, I’m not following the scene today like it was 30 years ago; I had more time to do it. Today, there are more bands that maybe play well, but I can’t find a passion in the music. There are so many great musicians with technical abilities and they know how to play really well, but they do not know how to create the good music, how to create good songs. I look back in the past, the bands made something they couldn’t even play, but they created great songs that we played today, we cover today, even as a classic; that’s a big difference.
I know that there are so many, too many in my opinion, subgenres; the names, it’s just a big chaos. In my opinion, even if I like the name Death Metal, or Thrash Metal, or Black Metal, it’s just the name part. To me, in extreme music, there are just the three main paths. I would still call Metal as good Metal or no Metal, seriously (laughs). I don’t really like too many bands playing today. To me, Metal was not just music, it was my life. The jacket, the spikes, the high boots, the long hair, it was not just trendy, in those days, that was Metal. Going to shows together, having fun, drinking beers, listening to music together, that is what Metal was to me; brotherhood.
Today, even the people playing Metal, they even look different, they look like somebody from a different planet, but they still call the style they play Metal, just because they use the fucking gain guitars or something like that. They scream loud and are popular, and a lot of tattoos of course, but this is something different. I connect my Metal feeling with the old days, and I’m so happy that I see that this is coming back. I see more and more younger people wearing the jackets, with long hair, banging heads in front of us. That’s emotional, that’s what Metal is for me.
CrypticRock.com – Agreed. There are too many categories, it should be so much simpler.
Piotr “Peter” Wiwczarek – Way too many, it doesn’t make sense. If you try to be too original, making something like a new category, like Math Metal. What the fuck is Math Metal? What the hell is that? I have no idea about that. I don’t get it (laughs). Sorry, I’m not saying bad words about the music itself, because I just don’t give a fuck. I don’t like it, I keep away from that, but I just don’t get it. Why these names? You don’t really need them.
CrypticRock.com – (laughs) Very true. Metal is not just the music, it is a lifestyle and a mindset.
Piotr “Peter” Wiwczarek – I would really say that it is supposed to be. It was a lifestyle, but now it became a business, and too much business. Too many bands get such high success in life that there are hundreds of followers that tried to be the same. They don’t even give a fuck about Metal as Metal, they just want to be famous. For them, playing Metal is sometimes the easiest way, which it’s not. They try, especially if record companies are pretty open to new guys and young bands. They don’t even know what they play, but they play and they see people coming. The record companies make the band’s famous, so this is totally opposite. You know how it was in the past, if the band was good, you sign a deal, you got a chance to play the shows. Either you are good and people are coming, if you’re not, people are not coming, you disappear. Today, it’s different. Bands nobody knows get good promotion and sell the millions of albums and they become huge. It’s not right, you know what I mean, it’s crazy.
There are so many famous bands I never hear about for years. It’s not because I’m ignorant and don’t give a fuck about anything. I listen to music. In the past, it was not possible to miss a band like Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, or something like Judas Priest. It was just not possible, but today, it is possible. It’s just like a different kind of business.
CrypticRock.com – You are right. Today, it is all about the money and the business. It is totally different. Even with the changing landscape of Metal, Vader has been very consistent from album to album. Seeing that the band has sustained its share of lineup changes, what has been your key inspiration through it all?
Piotr “Peter” Wiwczarek – The line up, that’s important. To have good friends in the band, to have somebody you work with and you know each other, it’s significant. That’s why probably, over the last five years, we created a real team. Even if we are so different in age in the band, and we are even different in what we listen to. We created a good team, able to create good albums, and play good shows. The new line up is the most stable lineup in the long history of Vader, which makes me of course happy. I didn’t like the changes, but sometimes that was the only chance to save the band.
Sometimes the people who were in the band couldn’t stand the intensity of life on tour. Vader is a very intense touring band and not everybody can sacrifice life like me. Just to forget about life, everything about families, girlfriends, and everything, like I did. (Laughs) That’s why we sometimes had problems with the lineup. Sometimes I just could not stand somebody for longer. It just doesn’t make sense to play with somebody you hate, but actually this didn’t happen too often in my life.
Of course, Doc was a different story. Doc (Krzysztof “Docent” Raczkowski) was the drummer in Vader since ‘88, and he was recording the first significant albums for Vader with us; he was like a fucking legend. A very great man first of all, and a great drummer, but unfortunately he found drugs as something more interesting than playing, and he just lost himself. Actually, that was not one or two years, we were fighting years with this problem. We tried to give him a break, just to go into detoxification or something like that, but it all failed. The only way to save the band was this hard decision to say goodbye and good luck, so we did. He tried to continue his life as a musician, but in different bands, like with more Jazz bands and some different projects, but finally his health gave up and he died. It was like five or six years ago already. It’s a sad story, but I always try to use this story as a warning for people trying to do drugs without any thinking.
CrypticRock.com – A very sad story, when you just can’t get through to a person you love, and have to let them go. A very tough situation. Through all of that, the band are back with their eleventh studio album, The Empire. What was the writing and recording process like this time around?
Piotr “Peter” Wiwczarek – It’s the same like almost all of the albums, with one exception. The first album was recorded after almost ten years of waiting. All the songs were already done and there was nothing to do, just to go in and record. Ninety percent of all the songs and albums was recorded actually in the studio. We are a busy band. I personally collect all the ideas we had in my notepad. Today, I use iPhone and all this technology, it’s pretty helpful. Generally, the main work is in the studio. This is a time when I just focus on the work, I just stay alone in the studio with nobody. I could focus on the music, on the creation, all the process, and put together all the ideas I have in my head. Usually, I start to work with a drummer a little bit, not totally with all details, but like the main things. We start about two weeks before entering the studio, sometimes a little bit earlier, but not very early before.
First week, we work with drums, then I work with the rest. It sounds weird for people who do not create. For some people, it may sound difficult to do that, but not for me. It’s the way I’ve worked for years, and this is what I need. I need isolation in the studio just to focus and work without any people or things disturbing my mind. That’s what I need, and a good studio, of course, and people who understand me. The Hertz Studio in Białystok, Poland, I found years ago, was perfect. I actually lived in the studio for a month or longer, so I worked like home. The other different things is how we work with the songs after. In the beginning, when we started Vader, we were jamming a lot together. We were playing songs and creating songs in a rehearsal and the songs became ready. Together, we would build the songs together. Then we recorded it. Now, it’s different. If I and the drummer, let’s say, work in the studio with the song, after it’s done, we work together with the songs that are already done and recorded. It makes the work easier, but you still have to prepare the songs to be played live on stage, which is most the important thing to us.
CrypticRock.com – So you do not get the whole band together in the studio like in the old days?
Piotr “Peter” Wiwczarek – It’s different. I don’t have a plan like I have to do this or that in order. After I have the drums done, usually I’ll make the work different. Sometimes I do the guitars, then I focus on the vocal, then I do some leads or something, or the other riffs. Sometimes I need some time to listen over some riffs that I have already recorded, just to make sure that I’m going to keep it or not. Sometimes, I need a day and sometimes I know already that this is going to stay. This is different, this is not a rule.
CrypticRock.com – So you take a varied approach to recording, interesting. One thing Vader has never sacrificed from album to album is the ability to offer brutality. Does The Empire have its share of brutality?
Piotr “Peter” Wiwczarek – We are a brutal band since the beginning. When we started, we wanted to work that way. Of course the brutality today is different from the brutality of the first album or the second album. The first album is usually something that you’re looking for, you are trying to find your way. Of course, after so many years, we are more experienced as musicians. We are more experienced instrumentally. We get better equipment. Experience, that’s first of all.
We have much more to say, and we know how better to say it. In the past, I never, ever accepted anything like melody or something in Vader. I wanted it just to be total brutality, and brutality meant no melody, just blast beats and growling. We still use blast beats and growling, but I think it’s more clear and more under control. The songs are made from scratch since the beginning, from the idea, to the result, and the recording. That’s why the new Vader, we still keep brutality, but it’s more acceptable for those that cannot tolerate noise core on this kind of stuff.
CrypticRock.com – Great. Moving on to content, Vader has always had a lot of interesting lyrical concepts based on war, as well as Horror based themes. Are you a student of history?
Piotr “Peter” Wiwczarek – Pretty much, but military history is more my hobby. I include some things in the lyrics, in between the lines of course. We are not a band like Sabaton. We are not talking straight about history, about war, or something like that, but definitely war in many aspects is still visible in between the lines. I just use this specific language that we talked in since the beginning, so we used these supernatural stories, sometimes sounds like fairy tales, but this is how we talk. We make stories that may be different, or the background is different. This is the best way to explain it.
There is a song on the album Litany that was called “Demons.” If you would know what was the inspiration for the song, you would see the story about demons, some Horror story. What’s behind it is the human and the armored world. Actually tanks, which could be taken as steel beasts with human inside, and that was the inspiration. I am a big fan of tanks and all this military and the armor tactic, so I just tried to make a story which, in the background, the real story is about man and the steel beasts, which are actually tanks. There are more stories like that, that I did in the past. The same on The Empire. Some stories are ideas about something that I’ve experienced in my life. I just put this idea in some stories and this is how I tell the stories to our listeners and our fans.
CrypticRock.com – That makes it so much more interesting for the listener. One aspect Vader is known for is their intense live shows. Will North America see Vader return again soon ?
Piotr “Peter” Wiwczarek – Yes, we are talking about a tour, starting with the big festival at the end of May; a huge Metal festival on the East Coast called Maryland Deathfest. It’s going to be the first time we show up at that festival. We just found an opportunity and we’re going to continue to tour the U.S. after that. Actually, the Maryland Deathfest will be the first show. It’s going to be special because we are going to try to remind everybody about our first album; 2017 will be the 25th anniversary of our debut album. The tour will be more focused on the new album, of course on The Empire. After years, we are coming back.
CrypticRock.com – That is great news, there will be a lot of excited fans looking forward to this U.S. tour. Festivals have become huge in the United States and across the world. How do you feel about playing festivals ?
Piotr “Peter” Wiwczarek – Playing festivals is alright. First of all, it’s good promotion and it’s an opportunity to meet many fans and friends from different bands. It’s an opportunity to see bands more than usual. There are bad sides to the festivals, because the festivals, they kill the regular shows, that’s why almost nobody is doing shows in Europe in the summer season. There are so many festivals in the whole of Europe. Everybody is just making their tour the Festival tour. Of course, the other thing is, if you are one of a hundred bands, then it’s really hard to perform something special. You just get a spot in between something. As far as that, you are not the headliner, there is not much to really show. As I have said, this is Metal, the fans love Metal festivals and we love Metal festivals too. It’s alright, it’s just different. Personally, I’d prefer to play shows as the last band so we can perform fully, to give more than just, you know, forty minutes or something (laughs).
CrypticRock.com – No question. Festivals are fun, but it is always that much better to see your favorite band headlining a show. My last question for you is pertaining to films. If you are a fan of Horror movies, what are some of your favorites ?
Piotr “Peter” Wiwczarek – I am maybe not freak, but I definitely like Horror movies. My favorite is definitely Hellraiser (1987), since the beginning. I like also, because it’s the same way to me, Phantasm. It’s actually from the same time season for me, so I was just watching both movies almost at the same time. I love also the movies like The Omen (1976), the more spiritual Horror movies. There are definitely more of them, but I don’t remember the titles at the moment, but definitely Hellraiser is my absolute favorite.