Interview: Wolves in the Throne Room
Aaron Weaver doesn't want to redefine black metal, nor does he want to preach about sustainable living. But there's one thing of which the Wolves in the Throne Room drummer is certain: the modern world is losing touch with ancestral spirits. When Weaver isn't touring or creating materials for another release, he's working on his communal farmstead "Calliope" outside Olympia, WA. In a phone interview, Weaver discussed touring Europe, hating corporate culture, appraising ancestral spirits, and glorifying mystical musical journeys.
Interview by Jess Blumensheid
Photos by Johnny DeLacy
You recently finished a two-month tour in Europe. What's playing Europe like in comparison to playing the U.S.?
The first thing that you notice is that the hospitality is much different. In the States, for us, it's a pretty rough affair, like sleeping on floors and fending for yourself in regards to food and everything. You get fed well [in Europe], and you always have a place to stay. People are much more accommodating and really go out of their way to make it easy for bands to play music.
But having to really struggle and having it be a difficult endeavor to tour is a good thing for music. I think that's why the U.S. and England produce good bands, because you have to work incredibly hard. And you have to struggle for years and years before you see any fruits from that. I value my experiences with squats and having to piece together equipment.
You recently played Scion Fest. What's the deal with you guys accepting corporate money to play the fest?
I think that every band that played is very suspicious of playing what is a glorified car commercial. Wolves in the Throne Room will not be doing any more Scion-related events. [In October 2008, they played a Scion-sponsored show in LA alongside Nachtmystium.] I don't want to be part of that world. The world is changing so much in terms of media and how corporations advertise. I don't want to help corporations figure out how to sell stuff to people. To me, there's really a sort of slimy, Satanic energy that surrounds that corporate culture, and I am unwilling to expose myself to [something] like that.
So do you regret accepting the money?
Yeah. But at the same time, it's very much a compromise for us. Life is a series of compromises. For the time being, we're willing to play music on this level and use the infrastructure and use music to our own advantage. But when it gets to the point where we're being used by "the machine," we'll take a step back. Success is not my motivation at all. I think that we have different motivations for playing music than a lot of other bands.
What's your reaction to Nachtmystium's dismissal from the festival in the wake of rumors of their neo-Nazi ties?
Nachtmystium was told by Scion that they were not to talk about the controversies. It's really kind of ridiculous. I think that anyone that would meet Blake [Judd] and the other guys in Nachtmystium would realize that they don't have any sort of right-wing agenda. I'm curious as to who [was] perpetrating this sort of action against Nachtmystium and what their intentions were.
How was creating Black Cascade different from your previous releases?
We did it in kind of a different way than we have before. Two Hunters is a record that we pretty much recorded in the studio. We had some rough ideas of the sound and we had the narrative, the story, but the actual songs weren't put together in a live context. Black Cascade was quite different. We wrote the songs and had a short tour and played them out on the road for a while and developed those nuances that only count when you play a song live and it really starts to develop a sound of its own.
How is it working with Ross Sewage and Will Lindsay?
Ross didn't play on the record. Sadly, I think that [touring as a bass player] is the last thing he'll be able to do with us. It's too much for him to play in three bands all the time. He's a nice asset to have on the road. Hopefully in the future he'll be able to work it out, but for this upcoming leg of touring, he will not be tagging along.
Having Will in the studio was really good because he's also a very even-keeled person and has a lot of experience in music and recording. We're really old friends and have known him for 10 or 12 years. We [had] only been playing together for a few months before we began making material for Black Cascade.
A quote from the Southern Lord website states that the band seldom finds comparable characteristics with "Satanic peers" in the black metal community. Can you expand on that thought?
We're not a band that focuses on Satanism at all. It's unfortunate that black metal has become so dogmatic. When it first emerged, it was this primal eruption of spirit that was very immediate and pure and was very uncontrived in the same way that eruptions of punk music are. I think that black metal nowadays has to be Satanic and nihilistic and has a certain ideology and spirit behind it. I think it's obvious that we're doing something very, very different.
Similarly, you told Heathen Harvest in an interview that you think "black metal really is the most important music of our time right now." Why do you think that?
Because it's fundamental [that] black metal is an attempt to destroy the modern world. I think it's nothing less than that. It means not a physical destruction, but it means stripping down your own psyche to something that's very primal, very pure?[I]n this modern age, everything we believe and everything we know is filtered through the lens of this modern worldview, which is based on science. It's a materialist worldview — that everything can be understood in physical processes, and there's not much more to the universe than what we can immediately assess through our five senses.
It's not the whole picture. I think one misses out on an entire other layer of reality and perception that was more accessible to our ancestors. I think that black metal expresses a deep sadness and sense of alienation that we as modern people have lost contact with this other layer of reality, and it demands that we awake to it.
You've compared it in the past to the nature of '70s psychedelic music and experimentation. How does black metal relate?
I think that black metal in many ways is trying to do the same thing: reawaken this spirit that's ancient. The form is much different, of course. It's more desperate and more vengeful, and it's much sadder because I think the need to touch these sorts of things is so much more intense. It grows daily as we continue down this materialistic, spiritually dead path. I think Satanism and gruesome sort of imagery and fucking corpses — it's sort of a symptom, it's sort of a window dressing. The deeper truth is something a lot more intense than that, a lot more universal.
I've been reading some writings by Aldo Leopold, the man who advocated the idea to "think like a mountain,"
to become matched with nature rather than dominate it in the Judeo-Christian tradition. What do you think of that?
I think that's really close to our philosophy that drives our music. We're interested in deep ecology. I think that people for the past three, four hundred years in the Western world perceive the natural world just as a machine, as something that can be understood in scientific processes. You look at a forest not as a place of power or spiritual renewal or a place that has its own consciousness, but see it instead as a tree farm. Or you look at an animal [not] as a being that should be respected, but you see it as a protein that can be put into a factory to be caught into a machine. That attitude is the source of so much intense sorrow. I think that kills your soul inside. That's the sadness that we're expressing.
Does WITTR use nature as an escape?
I think that's the way for me and for the other members of WITTR. That's the most immediate and powerful way to achieve some sort of sense of transcendence: to spend time alone in the forest, in the mountains, in the area that we live, or to become immersed in a very traditional, rhythmic way of life — working on a farm and collecting firewood in the summer and burning it in the wintertime — these very traditional ways of being that for me allow an awakening of that ancient spirit. And playing music, too. I think that black metal is an intent to reach a sort of transcendent state through very intense, physical acts. In the intense physicality of the music and the sensory overload of the volume and the sound, it has the potential to transform one's consciousness.
WITTR's new album Black Cascade is out March 31 on Southern Lord. For upcoming tour dates, see here.