Jean-Xavier Boucherat talks with Wolves in the Throne Room about Soil, Shamans, and Huxley.
Listen – this is just a student newspaper. We don’t have the time or resources to even begin to understand how scenes originally created with the intention of alienating just about everyone can gain worldwide appeal. So let’s start making some dubious but fun assumptions – we’re all a bit unhappy. Some of us are seriously unhappy, and cannot rely on traditional or mainstream artistic endeavors to help us navigate our own dark recesses, mainly because such endeavors are the produce of systems that are making us unhappy in the first place. So if you’ve got tens of millions of people looking for salvation elsewhere, you’re gonna have a hard time alienating them all, no matter what you’re making.
Obviously it’s more complicated than that (everything is). But it does go a way to explaining how the genres surrounding Black Metal continue to flourish, despite attempts by media sources the world over to irrevocably associate the music with all kinds of nasty things; church burnings, murder, national socialism et al.
Naturally we’re all much smarter then that. Tonight, brothers Aaron and Nathan Weaver, Wolves in the Throne Room, bring their own transformative take on the genre to Glasgow. Signed to Sunn0)))’s Southern Lord label, WITTR hail from the rural outskirts Olympia, Washington in Northwest USA, and are currently based at a self-sustaining farmstead there.
The show is part of a brief tour culminating in a performance at ATP. We went to chat about Black Metal and radical environmentalism.
Aaron Weaver, amongst other things, you’re labeled as a Black Metal band. Our publication hasn’t come into much contact with the genre, so for the benefit of our readers, what are your thoughts on that particular term?
We all know Black Metal started off as a scene with one hundred, two hundred people, localized to a few towns in Scandinavia. Now it’s a worldwide phenomenon. There are black metal bands in every country on earth. There’s probably a thousand black metal bands in China just now who we’ll never know about. It was just one of those cultural scenes that was, and still is, genuinely unconcerned with commercial viability. A lot of homegrown punk rock scenes are like that, it’s all about the local community, one hundred people connected to one place. And I think that’s a hallmark of black metal, it should spring from the place it comes from. When I listen to Darkthrone, Immortal, Burzum, Emperor, to me it sounds like Norway. It sounds like the archetypal endless winter, the snow, the ice, the extremely long dark nights around the winter solstice.
You’ve often talked about your lyrics and particular vision being strongly driven by eco-anarchist ideals.
With regards to WITTR, it’s an attempt to connect spiritually to the place we live. It is not any sort of right-wing, blood in the soil notion. It’s just the idea of respect and reverence for the land that sustains us in that basic, primary way. That’s our fundamental principle; we’re trying to channel the spirit of the northwest, which is really quite a special place. In Europe of course there’s an extremely unfortunate right wing connotation of cultural heritage, being linked to land through blood, I think it’s a sad thing and I do not envy European bands who have to figure that out and find their own stance. In America we don’t have any history, nor any sort of culture, nor any sort of ancestral lineage. It’s all about our immediate experience with the place we live. And I think that’s the basis of all spirituality, all religions and mythic experience evolve out of a cultures experience with a place. What’s our food source? What are the animals we interact with? What’s the weather like? These primary interactions with nature are the things that create our whole reality. That’s the eco-anarchist idea. Everything fundamentally derives from our experience with nature, and specifically the nature of the nature where we live.
What differences do you see between the kind of restraint that you exercise, and what you could call an irrational fear of technology?
This has to do with a deep questioning of the things you’re given as a modern person, your culture, the things you ought to do and how you ought to earn your living, or how you ought to think about the natural world. Saying to one’s self, do I really want to walk down this path that’s been presented to me?
So there’s something Huxleyan in that, as in, people tend to assume that whatever direction science and technology takes us in, it’s invariably good, progressive and positive.
Sure, I mean that is the fundamental myth of modernity. People still believe that things are getting better and better with each subsequent generation, that society is evolving. And I just can’t believe that. Any rational person can look at the reality of the ecological situation we’re in and understand that it is unsustainable, and realize that at some point in the next fifty or one hundred years this modern world we’ve created will collapse. As soon as you accept this, which is a hard thing to accept, you also have to throw out the myth of progress. I think that’s another fundamental part of a philosophy that questions the basic tenants of civilization – dealing with this idea of progress. I don’t want to romanticize pre-modern existence, clearly things are much easier and better for more people now then they were a thousand years ago, depending on the rubric you apply to what is ‘better’. The thing that really bothers me is this sense of triumphalism, this sense that we’ve reached the end of history, that we are the generation of people who have figured it all out. This idea that we have arrived at a system that is the best; politically, economically, ideologically. It’s clearly not true. We look at society a hundred years ago and talk about how backwards it was, we can’t believe the things they did. People will do the same to us in the future. And I think that’s the role of art; literature, film or music existing on the fringes, pushing radical ideas in the mainstream. I mean think about say, Jamie Oliver and organic eating and all that, yeah it’s a fad, but really it was pushed in there by hippies, freaks, y’know? Crazy outsiders. I think that’s another role that Black Metal plays, it deconstructs the rules of society by channeling through lands of nihilism and extreme misanthropic vision. And that’s not the goal, the goal is not to arrive at this place of self-loathing and nihilistic, depraved existence – the goal is to use that dark mind space to think about yourself, to put up a mirror to yourself and society. It’s a catalyst for transformation. A lot of people see it as an opportunity to destroy themselves. And, I think that’s fine. Sure. But it’s not how I see it.
Lets talk about your own sound. You’re described as a duo, tell us about your live set up tonight.
The band has always been me and my brother Nathan, a third guitarist comes and goes, I really don’t envy that job. And then our sound engineer incorporates some other sonic elements, we want it to sound huge. We’ve never had the intention of trying to be a rock band who just gets up on stage and plays a show, we see WITTR as more of a sound installation as much as anything. Of course there’s a rock element, a certain sort of aesthetic and set of assumptions. But we take our own approach.
When I listen to your tracks I tend to get lost in them in the same way I would listening to a drone or psych record, or even something like Burial (Will Bevan). It’s like strolling about in a mist.
There’s a trance element that’s fundamental to our vision. But then again, I’ve always seen black metal as having these shamanic overtones. The role of a shaman in traditional society is to live on the fringes, someone who’s compromised in some way. These days it’d be someone who’s schizophrenic, someone who’s totally out there on their own trip. But in traditional society, it’s their job to delve into the other world, to deal with the spirits there both malevolent and benevolent. And that’s terrifying work. The other world is not a safe place. It’s a really dangerous psychological space to enter. I think all music fulfills that role in our society; it’s artists sacrificing themselves in some way, entering into a dark dangerous space to achieve something, to pass on something greater.
We’ve talked about Black Metal a lot. There’s also an ambient element to your sound, is this something that’s always been present in black metal or something you think you’ve cultivated?
Definitely something that’s always been there. As soon as you have two distorted guitars being picked really fast, the chaos that’s created by the sound-waves interacting in that uncontrollable way creates that ambient effect. You get ghost-notes, ghost-harmonies that aren’t being played consciously by the performer, but appear just as a function of the physics of the sound-waves. That’s the basis of that ambient aspect, a droning, static-ridden, cold soundscape. So when you combine that with that relentless style of drumming, it can’t help but transport the listener to a different space. Black metal’s never been about a load of thrashing about like at a hardcore or a thrash metal gig, as far as I’m concerned its all about inward journeying. Music listened to with your eyes closed.
www.wittr.com. ‘Two Hunters’ and ‘Black Cascade’ are out now on Southern Lord.