Interview: Erik Danielsson of Watain
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Watain kick off a month-long North American tour with In Solitude and Tribulation tonight with a show at NYC's Irving Plaza. Check out the full run of dates at the end of the interview.
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Erik Danielsson, lead singer of theatrical occult-metal phenomenon Watain, is a tough nut to crack. In interviews, he takes to extended metaphor like a fish to water. Some might call him mannered—or effete, depending on how well you deal without direct answers to your questions.
I can play ball, so long as Danielsson and his comrades keep making records like this year's The Wild Hunt, and as long as they keep putting on some of the best live metal performances around.
Watain are returning to the United States for a national tour, with their brothers in Satanic worship (on paper, at least) In Solitude and Tribulation. All three groups released critically acclaimed albums this year, and the tour promises to be one of the most exciting bills on the road this autumn.
That is, so long as he can get inside the country. Danielsson and I discussed his border issues, black holes, and his prickly demeanor, in anticipation of The Wild Hunt over North America.
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The last time you toured in America, there were some border issues, and Watain missed the first few days of the Decibel tour with Behemoth, In Solitude and The Devil's Blood. Have those issues been resolved?
We are working with a bit more knowledgeable people this time around in terms of management, and they are handling all these—how should I say?—mundane aspects of the band, such as paperwork and general communication, and all these bureaucratic idiots that stand in our way of getting into this beautiful country. No, this time around I don't foresee anything like that whatsoever. We will be well-prepared this time.
I've heard The Wild Hunt, and it seems, to me, to begin like what, as a fan, I would expect a Watain record to be like. Then, around “They Rode On,” things change, and become more adventurous. Where did those songs come from?
It came from the place where all of Watain's work derives from. It's just that, it's a bit like exploring a mine. You start out, as a band, by—accidentally almost—stumbling across this place, in the middle of nowhere, where the soil seems to be promising. Then you dig a little bit, and find these jewels, that urge you on to dig deeper. As you do, you realize: "This is our place, this is where we can build and dig deeper." The deeper you go, the more things you find. Such is the nature of things that are buried in the earth. Sometimes you dig and dig and nothing comes. So basically, when your creative work is about digging deeper into the ground—which is really yourself—it should not be unexpected to find surprising things.
And that is where you get songs like “They Rode On,” or in general things that people seem to be a bit provoked by, or surprised by, on The Wild Hunt. These things have simply been lying in wait deep in the tunnels of Watain, this mine we have been exploring for the past 15 years. And these things have found a righteous place within our work, and we allow them to. It's as simple as that: we dig deep in ourselves and find things that need to be expressed and brought up to the surface. They aren't things we expected to stumble upon, but we did and here they are.
There's been already some reaction from the Watain fan base regarding clean vocals, and other things like the tribal percussion, for lack of a more precise term at this moment, on “Outlaw.” Did you expect that reaction, and what do you have to say to people who won't accept it?
Well, when it comes to reactions from the fan base it's something that I—and this might sound like an arrogant thing to say—it's really not something that I ever dwell upon as an artist. It's not something that I take into consideration when writing music, or something that I take into consideration after we have released the music. What we do with Watain is bring up things to the surface, things which have been buried very deep in our subconscious. The fact that people have opinions about these things is kind of like... I mean of course they do, they're music listeners.
But, to me, to take a position in regard to those opinions is quite absurd. I don't really know what I should say about those opinions. They aren't my opinions. I'm sure people have a lot of opinions about the album, but I'm sticking to my guns. We put it there on the table for people to enjoy, or hate, or do whatever with, but honestly it's really nothing that keeps me awake at night. That whole relation between a fan base and and artist, it has other qualities that I think are important, such as the energy at concerts that is evoked between the audience and the band, or the fact that people are actually colored by our work. That's a beautiful thing. But that people have opinions about us using clean vocals, or a certain style of drumming, to me that's an absurd thing to think about.
You have a reputation as a man who makes arrogant statements.
Maybe I do, yeah, I don't know. I don't know what my reputation is.
It seems to me that in interviews you can come across as aloof, or elusive, and I want to know from the horse's mouth—is that something you think about going in?
What people need to consider is the absurdity of the interview situation. Consider a man, in this case me, sitting in a field, outside of this hut in the middle of nowhere in Sweden. And he's talking to this person on the other side of the ocean. And he's being asked these questions about the album this artist has put out. He's being asked to communicate these things about this music which is, to me, very much based on intuition, on abstract thought, things that are so intimate that I cannot find any way to express them except to write lyrics and music about them. To me, the whole idea of Watain is something that is very elusive and abstract, something that is a logic of process that you can't really put any words on, and I think the arrogance you are talking about stems from... to me, it's not really about being arrogant. The things that we are talking about mean so incredibly much to me. They changed my whole life to something else than most people consider to be even human. And then to have to put in words, on telephones or face-to-face with people I have never met, is just completely absurd.
I like to talk about Watain, but at the same time it's quite hard. I will never back down when it comes to underlining how incredibly important this is to me and to us, and the fact that nothing—and I mean nothing—can change that. It's still the same world that I live in. It's still my life. It's still every tattoo on my body, every thought that goes through my head. I might sound arrogant, but I don't feel arrogant. It's just my whole world—life—that we are talking about. It's hard for me to speak about these things without using big words. And these other people's opinions, they just don't mean anything to Watain. They don't change anything. That's just how it is. It's not trying to sound arrogant; it's just my humble way of trying to explain how I feel about it.
See, this is why I wanted to talk to you. Because you do strike me as the sort of person who had a moment where you said “I want this to be the rest of my life.” Heavy metal has changed a lot of our lives. I want to know when you knew. When did you know that this is who you want to be?
I've had that feeling for a very, very long time. I realize it's a blessing because I think one of the greatest obstacles that people face in their lives is that they're feeling very lost. It's the greatest question of all: "What's the meaning of life?" It's a question that commonly remains unanswered in most people's lives. Even when they're going to their grave it remains unanswered. To me, it isn't. I know who I am. I know what I'm here to do. It's a blessing.
To answer your question is quite hard because, from that particular moment when metal music, spirituality and my general way of seeing things... When they came together, it became this beautiful explosion that has lasted for several years. I can't say exactly how long. Ever since then it's been quite clear that there's nothing else. That's the principle on which I base my involvement in Watain. That's why we take it so far, why it's so utterly important to us. Outside the world of Watain, there's nothing for us.
Do you see Watain as an existential threat to Christianity?
That's not in any way how I would define Watain. But all of the qualities on which Watain is based—all of the energies of the band, the things that collide in this band—all of them are in nature an enemy of Christ, and an enemy of the living God within Christianity. Christianity itself has never been something that I've bothered with much, it's just an institution that uses the name of Christ, when in fact they aren't doing much other than creating wars and raping children, and other things that they do in the name of their God. But, it is the living God that is Christ, the virtues and nature of that god, that archetype, that we oppose. Watain, as well as rock and roll in general, has always been an enemy of that God, the opposer, the adversary in terms of energy, action, everything really. It is the weapon, to use Christian symbology. I'll put it like this: it's not the intention. It is, rather, a consequence of being a band that is based upon nothing else than a Satanic foundation, a diabolical foundation.
My favorite Watain song is “Stellarvore.” It took me a while to realize, but I think the song is about a black hole. So, if I told you that tomorrow the sun was going to explode, collapse into a black hole and swallow the earth, you would say... what?
I would say yeah, I know.
You wouldn’t be happy or sad. You'd just know?
Yeah that's an inevitable destiny. I'm not saying that you're right or wrong about “Stellarvore” being about a black hole. I don't like to put that kind of a frame around my music, but it definitely does have references to it, and it's got a lot of references to a destiny that will be proved. It's got references to a prophecy that cannot be altered, about an end that cannot be avoided. And whether or not that will happen in the shape of a black hole, or an end that is even more terrible than that, we shall see. One thing is sure, we live on a small little confined space of order within a boundless, vast space of chaos, and it is just a matter of seconds, in the grand scheme of things, until our peace is disturbed by what lies beyond our borders.
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WATAIN, IN SOLITUDE, TRIBULATION - 2013 TOUR DATES
Oct. 8--New York, NY--Irving Plaza
Oct. 9--Philadelphia, PA--Underground Arts
Oct. 10--Worcester, MA--Palladium Upstairs
Oct. 11--Montreal, QC-Foufounes Electriques
Oct. 12--Toronto, ON--Opera House
Oct. 14--Detroit, MI--The Magic Stick
Oct. 15--Chicago, IL--Bottom Lounge
Oct. 16--Minneapolis, MN--Triple Rock Social Club
Oct. 18--Denver, CO--Marquis Theatre
Oct. 19--Salt Lake City, UT--In The Venue
Oct. 21--Seattle, WA--Studio Seven
Oct. 22--Vancouver, BC--Rickshaw
Oct. 23--Portland, OR--Hawthorne Theater
Oct. 25--Oakland, CA--Oakland Metro
Oct. 26--Los Angeles, CA--VEX
Oct. 27--Phoenix, AZ--Rocky Point Cantina
Oct. 28--Albuquerque, NM--Launch Pad
Oct. 30--Austin, TX--Red 7
Nov. 1--Atlanta, GA--Masquerade Hell
Nov. 2--Charlotte, NC--The Casbah
Nov. 3--Baltimore, MD--Baltimore Sound Stage
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