Botanist: Hammering the Dulcimer, Creating “Oxygen,” and Painting the World Green (New Song + Interview)
Botanist, by now, has made an impact -- a real, measurable one, not only related to the genesis of "green metal" (whatever that is) but to the notion that you do not need distorted guitars to either be heavy or be metal. Or black metal, for that matter. And while what Botanist "is" is far less important a question than what Botanist "does," the fact that we ask ourselves these questions in the first place means that, just maybe, project mastermind Otrebor is onto something special.
Clearly he is, and has been. Last year's Ecosystem release showcased a Botanist brought full circle, enraptured in the prospects of the new but not absent-minded when it comes to prior material. This year's Photosynthesis release carries on in much the same vein, albeit with some differences that Otrebor goes into in our interview below. It is 100% Botanist, but the project's turn of late has involved a significant development in songwriting, production, and achieving that "full band" feel that so many solo projects aspire to obtain.
We're stoked to bring you a new single "Oxygen" before the album's Friday release. Enjoy the tunes, and check out our interview with Otrebor below.
How do you react to "black metal" versus "green metal" -- clearly Botanist's music is invested deeply in the natural world, does that investment also mean a change in style?
I don't know if "green metal" is the chicken, and if the Botanist recording EP3: Green Metal is the egg, or the other way around, but someone started calling what Botanist does "green metal" before we could publish the EP, which we wanted to publish long before anyone else started calling Botanist "green metal."
Botanist sounds like it does because it's primarily made with dulcimers instead of guitars, and secondarily because it's made with dulcimers that are written either by me, Otrebor, to drum tracks that either I or someone else wrote, or in a rare case, dulcimers written to drums that I wrote.
What about the dulcimer and its prominence in the music attracts you to the sound and experience it provides, especially as it relates to themes of Earth?
I play dulcimer because it's the easiest and most intuitive melodic instrument to transpose my skillset as a drummer onto. In the early days of Botanist's creation, the dulcimer worked super well with mirroring the way music formed in my head. Later, my personal relationship deepening with the hammered dulcimer showed me how it is the most intuitive conduit to my melodic creativity that I could ask for. That enabled me to branch out into other melodic instruments, including my voice, and develop those.
Do you envision or imagine your music in Botanist in terms of atmospherics? You mentioned melody – dulcimer as melody vis-à-vis percussion, even – and I wonder what relation melody has with Botanist’s atmosphere, especially as of late. Sometimes atmosphere is a byproduct, sometimes it’s intentional by the creator, and I’m sort of driving at that distinction perhaps. Atmosphere is often hard to describe, in any case.
I'm not sure I can answer your question in the way that will satisfy it. The most essential process of my part in Botanist is that it's specifically me that is taking part. That process is only partially understood, even by me. The part that can be explained in words is the one that I explained in your initial question, and that I've talked about in other interviews. The other, more mystical, spiritual part, is the one that emanates from me and that I am able to channel through me. That's the magic, the thing that creates Botanist. It's driven by volition, devotion, application, dedication, and love. Even I don't really understand it, and I don't aim to.
What also contributes to this duality of seeking answers that can't really be put into words is conflict of perspective. The audience necessarily has a unique role of interpretation of the creator's work. That's a beautiful and intrinsic relationship of an artist's decision to make his or her work available for an audience to consume. When it stems in curiosity of what's behind the work, that's a good thing, but it isn't always useful, or even possible to have that question answered in a way that satisfies any half of the creator/audience whole. And that's also beautiful.
I feel it's safe to say that notions of harmony and balance have fascinated me forever. The applications of those fascinations can be brought to their greatest level in Botanist because I direct the project -- they give me the opportunity to develop my interpretations of them in the best way I'm able at any given time. The perception of development by the audience of those notions may be an interpreter's view of how harmony and balance are developing and being refined as the project rolls on.
On your voice specifically, you mentioned using more cleans on Photosynthesis – was there an impetus behind this shift, even if subtle or unintended? It’s an interesting dynamic in Botanist, the harsh-versus-clean one – has one style been more difficult or trying than the other? You also mentioned working on your voice over time, those ventures seem to have been fruitful.
For the answer to the creative aspect of the question, please see above.
For the technical answer, I've been enjoying developing the expression and musicality of what my voice can provide, and also enjoying discovering where that development can go based on the limitations of my ability -- to maximize that limitation and further discover where the maximum can go. There have been thus far a handful of experiences that have inspired me to push. Some of those experiences are first hand, others are third hand. One of the third hand experiences was an interview I read decades ago. I remember it was with Ihsahn of Emperor, who discussed doing the variety of vocals he did in Emperor. I remember his describing all the vocals he did as coming from the same place, as being performable using the same techniques. Although in my body I wouldn't say Ihsahn's interpretation is universally true to me, it has been far more meaningful to discover how much his interpretation is true, and how much his words helped give me the inspiration to go from doubting I could do anything to using his words as a stone on the path to exploring and expanding what I could do.
Describe your personal affinity to all things natural -- what emotions or stories are at the root of your dedication to nature? Is there any personal background you'd like to point out in light of the new album?
Otrebor is my stage/artist name. In Botanist, the band, Otrebor (and bandmates, when applicable) channels the persona of The Botanist, the titular character of the project and the perspective that all the songs are told from. The Botanist conveys the voices he hears in his head, the voices of flora and the demon Azalea, interpreting them in a shamanic way, retelling those stories with his scientific mindset. Botanist's telling the story of the aesthetic beauty and importance of the floral world is redefined in some way in each chapter of its directive. This time, it is about the process of how plants convert light into energy, and how that process is essential to all creatures that require oxygen to live.
What's new on Photosynthesis compared to Ecosystem -- the two albums are close in release but offer, I think, two different takes on the Botanist style. Any new challenges or techniques to be mentioned?
Not much, or maybe what is new/different is making all the difference.
Ecosystem / Photosynthesis can be appropriately written with a slash. They are sister albums. The music was written simultaneously from a big batch of songs on dulcimers and drums in 2018 with no regard as to which songs would go to what album. We planned for both albums, but decided to figure out which musical processions would flow best as 8-song records later. What's the same is my writing dulcimers to a big session of drums Daturus made.
What's different is "Photosynthesis" has 1) Tony Thomas on bass, 2) keyboards instead of harmonium, 3) Dan Swanö producing the album. And maybe I'm expanding the presence of my clean vocals even more this time, but I think it's mostly the first three factors ;)
What does the future hold for Botanist, especially as our natural world experiences increased threat from humanity? What is our role, and what does this music say (if anything) about human responsibility?
Botanist rolls on regardless of what humanity in general is doing. As long as there is the means and space to create music, Botanist will continue the arc that it has planned since its inception. Botanist will continue its life's mission to promote the beauty and importance of the natural world. In that way, we hope that it will inspire people to slow down and appreciate whatever immediate natural environment that they have, to be more mindful, to remember that everyone, from the most desperate person to the most comfortable, has some ability to make better choices, even if it's around their own perspectives or how they treat others.
Photosynthesis releases this Friday, October 30th, via The Flenser.