Approaching my interview with Wolves in the Throne Room, I was unsure of what would become of it. I knew I wanted to ask about their music, but I also wanted to find out more about a band whose mythology has been inundated with rumours, lies and exaggerations. I wasn't sure what to expect, and then my phone rang. It was Aaron Weaver, but he couldn't talk for very long. At least not initially. He was on a cell phone, its reception fading...he only called to pass along another number for me to call. Of course it didn't solve the problem entirely, as you'll soon read that our call dropped mid-interview. Luckily Aaron was a good sport, waiting for the phone when I quickly called him back.
SputnikMusic: Are you at your homestead right now, or are you guys on the road yet?
Aaron Weaver: No, we don't have a landline at our house so I had to go over to a friend's place.
SM: You guys try to keep it organic, right? I know there have been lots of ridiculous, overblown rumours about you guys. You live on a farm, right?
AW: Yeah, that's true. I mean, you know, I have a cell phone but we live too far out for it to work.
SM: That's kind of a necessary evil to have a cell phone if you're in a band...
AW: Especially being on the road, it's pretty crucial.
SM: But you do try to keep it “organic”? I'm sure you don't live in an isolated cabin in the middle of nowhere, with no touch with the outside world. I'm sure a lot of that's exaggerated.
AW: Of course, of course.
SM: It draws attention to you, though. Positive or negative, it gets your music out there.
AW: It's an interesting mythologizing that's transpired.
SM: Does the lifestyle you lead help with the way the economy is going now? With the economic downfall, is it making you feel secure living in a place where you can grow your own food?
AW: Yeah, for sure. Our whole goal is to withdraw as much as possible from mainstream society. I don't really care about the ups and downs of business cycles. That's just kind of a natural part of how capitalistic commerce works. It builds up past it's capacity into a speculative bubble, it bursts and then people go crazy as if it's never happened before. We're just not very connected to that mainstream world, we try as much as possible to set ourselves apart.
SM: You guys just played that huge Scion fest, right? What's it like playing on such a giant bill?
AW:The festival itself and the band's that played were all really good. There's a lot of bands that played that we find personally inspiring, that we're fans of; Neurosis is one of those bands. But I mean we're not very interested in playing anymore corporate sponsored concerts.
SM: It was Toyota, right?
AW: Yeah, Scion is a subsidiary of Toyota. And yeah, I'm sure they'll be trying to convince us again to play some more of their corporate car commercials but I think we decided as a band that enough is enough. I think that there's a Satanic element involved in that sort of corporate world and you feel a sort of dark energy swirling around it. I'm willing to take their money every now and again if it suits our needs but..
SM: Willing to take the promotion to get yourselves out there but you don't want to have to buy too much into it.
AW: Well I'm not interested in promotion either.
SM: I just mean getting fans to hear your music, not so much record sales.
AW: Of course it's nice to be able to play for people have them not have to pay any money for it.
SM: Ideally. Other than Neurosis are their any other bands you took to on that bill?
AW: It was nice to see Krallice, are you familiar with them?
SM: Yeah, they put a good spin on the genre, kind of like you guys. Not necessarily musically but they put a new aesthetic on the genre.
AW: We're going to be doing a tour with them in the late spring, so it's nice to see them in person. I've met Mick Barr before a couple of times in other bands, but it's good to see his new project. High on Fire I was really impressed by. They really owned the big stage, the 6000 person outside stage. They were very impressive. It was all around...all the bands that played were very high calibre. It was an impressive thing that the Satanic lizards at Scion managed to pull it off.
SM: It's weird though, I know there was controversy with one band in particular, Nachtmystium...they got booted right off.
AW: Yeah, for supposedly being neo-Nazi's... SM: I'm not really sure about that...
AW: That's ridiculous. It's insane. I know those guys really well. The issue is that Blake Judd, who is the mastermind behind Nachtmystium, used to run a record label which put out a lot of really deep, underground black metal music. I guess one of the bands he put out had some sketchy right-wing politics. So I guess it's guilt by association.
SM: Yeah, I got the e-mail from one of their press guys and I couldn't believe it. They're not even remotely...
AW: I think he made statements in the past coming from a Satanic point of view. You know, “do as thou wilt” kind of think, like “I'm not going to pass judgement on anyone's personal politics”, which makes a lot sense if indeed you're serious about some sort of Satanic....
SM: It's just so bizarre, I mean know it's corporate but they're trying to hold a metal fest. I mean you've got to relax... but it's over and done with. I was really just wondering what it was like playing on such a huge stage. You guys obviously prefer the smaller, more intimate settings, right?
AW: For sure. That's where we feel most comfortable. And at the Scion Festival they had a couple stages, we were not on the 6000 person one, it was more of a six, 700 person capacity room. So it was more the size stage we're comfortable with.
SM: Did you guys get a night slot, or in the day? Because I'm sure it'd be different to hear your music in broad daylight than it would at night.
AW: We're going to be playing a lot of festivals in Europe in the summer time and were given the choice between the big stage, 50,000 people during the day, or a smaller stage, a 1000 people at night. Of course we'll take the small stage and the darkness every time.
SM: Your music seems catered to wearing headphones and isolating yourself, so that's kind of as close as you can get.
AW: That's very true. The live experience is very much the same, I think people tend to close their eyes and use the music as an opportunity to journey inward rather than lock-out.
SM: How does it work, though? I know the new album is basically the first album you've done without any female vocals. I mean the first had Jamie Meyers, the second had...I'm not familiar with her name...
AW: Jessica Kenney
SM: Of Asva, right?
AW: That's right.
SM: And the EP had Jamie Meyers again. So how do you do it live without them being there?
AW: Well, we don't, and that's why we chose to do a record that's just the three of us playing. We love collaborating with other people, and it's something we'll do in the future, but we plan on playing a lot of concerts and doing a lot of touring in the next few months and we wanted the material on the new record to be material that we could perform live without missing any important elements.
SM: Are they friends of yours? You've also worked with Dino, of Dystopia. How does stuff like that come about?
AW: We just know them from the underground scene. We'd played with Dino's band Asunder a bunch of times, and Jamie's old band, Hammers of Misfortune. Jamie we knew less well, she was a friend of Randall Dunn's, the producer of Two Hunters and Black Cascade.
SM: You mentioned Asunder, a couple of guys from them were in Weakling. You were compared a lot to Weakling with your first album, do you think that was just by association, because I know they shared a producer with you, or is that a comparison you think is valid?
AW: I think it's valid in that we were both bands that were clearly inspired by black metal, but were coming from a west coast, underground DIY perspective. And also Weakling was a band that I wasn't so interested in, but our guitar player at the time was really into Weakling. I think that on our first demo you can definitely hear a Weakling influence, but I think that had more to do with the guitar player that was playing in Wolves in the Throne Room at the time, a certain lack of creativity on his part. At this point I don't think there's a whole lot of..I don't hear any similarities at all.
SM: I think a lot of it was just..I know on your first album, the producer also produced Weakling's Dead as Dreams..
AW: That's right, Tim Green.
SM: And I think a lot of it might have been that you're coming out of the US black metal scene, which isn't exactly...it hasn't always been the most highly regarded. I think it might just have been a quality comparison.
AW: Certainly there's a similarity in sound as well, you know, having really long songs. Really trying to utilize the trance inducing ambiance of black metal. I love that Weakling record, I think it's a really impressive d0cument, and I love Asunder, too, which is John Gossard from Weakling's new band.
SM: What do you think of the US black metal scene in general? Is it something you don't mind being associated with, or are you just ambivalent towards it?
AW: I think ambivalence is the best way to describe it. I mean I don't feel like we have any connection with a band like Leviathan or Xasthur, these kind of groups..
SM: It's a real different aesthetic than what you guys put out there
AW: Those bands are, I think, trying to stay true to a certain orthodox view of black metal, so it has a satanic, nihilistic energy to it. And that's obviously very different from what Wolves in the Throne Room are trying to do.
SM: You guys are a little more naturalistic.
AW: What we're trying to do with our music is express an ancient, transcendent spirit. It's based on the notion that as modern people we've lost a connection with a deep and transcendent source of wisdom that I think our ancestors had a much easier time coming in contact with. That lack of connection to this ancient transcendent spirit leads to a great deal of alienation, neurosis and sociological dysfunction. So our music is an attempt to re-awaken a connection to those sorts of feelings, those sorts of energies.
SM: You mentioned black metal orthodoxy and I did notice that the new album seems a little more traditional musically. I mean it's not without its ambient parts, but it does seem a little more traditional, especially compared to the [Malevolent Grain] EP you guys put out earlier this year.
AW: That's very true. That's because I think that the heavier, more unrelenting music that you hear on Black Cascade is really what the band sounds like live. The live performance is very loud and very brutal and it's very physically punishing for us as performers to play those concerts. We wanted Black Cascade to be a more accurate representation of what the band sounds like in the live format.
SM: So you consider yourselves to be a live band through and through?
AW: For sure. The band was conceived of as a live band and that's our primary focus, because playing live is where we are really able to achieve the cathartic state...
SM: You want to connect too... it's easier to connect with the audience.
AW: That could be part of it, too. It's absolutely gratifying to be able to feed off the energy of the audience.
SM: I read somewhere that you guys came out of the punk scene, and I definitely notice that in your drumming...It has that sort of..I don't have a word for it but I can hear that...
SM: No, no. Not necessarily sloppy but...I almost want to say primal, but I don't know if that's accurate.
AW: What it is that it comes out of years of playing in basements, squats, playing outside with no PA. A lot of metal drummers don't have those DIY experiences...
SM: They're playing with massive, $6000 rigs...
AW: They play with expensive drum sets, triggers, and it goes through the PA and that's just a really different style of playing.
AW: And that's fine, I appreciate a lot of that really extreme metal drumming but that's not what we're trying to do. The style of drumming that I do is a lot, yeah, I think more primal. More based on an emotional release rather than being technical..
SM: Extreme precision. It's pretty flowing, not really tactical..
AW: Cool, thanks.
SM: Just to go back to the EP, the one song on there that features Jamie Meyers sparked a bit of controversy. People thought you were going in a shoegaze-y direction with Black Cascade and now people have heard it and...
This is where our call dropped.
AW: I lost you there. I heard some sort of strange interference...must be a UFO passing overhead.
SM: So I just wanted to ask: based on the EP...you threw people off a little bit. There was a real shoegaze-y sound there and people thought that's where you were going to go with Black Cascade, and you really didn't.
AW: Totally. I think a lot of people assume that when you release an EP before a full length it's being used as a promotional thing, say there's two tracks that didn't make it on the record. That's usually how EPs are used from a marketing perspective. That's wasn't the situation at all with Malevolent Grain, it was conceived of as its own entity.
SM: Just something you wanted to try out?
AW: Yeah, and we wanted to do a collaboration with Jamie because she's a good friend of ours and we really appreciate her vocals but we didn't want to have her sing a song on the full length record that we couldn't play live.
SM: Keep it consistent.
AW: For sure.
SM: Well I really enjoyed it, I thought it was a nice twist. I especially liked how you threw people through the ringer a little bit.
AW: I'd imagine a lot of people...the natural reaction would be, “oh, they've sold out, they've gone soft” or whatever. But of course, like you've noticed, Black Cascade is very much a return to our metal manifestation.
SM: I found it interesting how people were pissing and moaning about the female vocals but that really wasn't anything new.
AW: No. That's always been an aspect of the music. We were just expanding on an idea that's always been there since the beginning. Like you noticed, she sang vocals on the first record. It's something that's always been there and it's something we'll always be interested in experimenting with.
SM: Are you getting tired of all these interviews? I hadn't realized that you were in the midst of a huge junket. Is it a necessary evil?
AW: Actually I kind of like it. So many of the interviewers that I talk to really have some interesting ideas of their own and we usually have a really interesting back and fourth and discussion. I appreciate the opportunity to express most of the ideas we have beyond just the music and beyond the aesthetic that we convey with the artwork and the sound from the record. It's something that I enjoy doing. It is difficult to do so many in a row, you often times forget what you've already said and begin to babble incoherently. But I don't see it as a chore.
SM: Is it hard when you're on tour to stay true the lifestyle you want to live. Like you said, you live on a farm. Is it hard to stay true to that when you're essentially living out of a van?
AW: Yes, it's quite difficult. We do the best we can, we have a daily ritual on the road. Every morning we find a local food co-op or health food store, or whatever's available and buy our breakfast, then buy our dinner for later in the day so we wont have to eat any sort of sketchy hamburger or whatever they're going to offer us at the venue. We do our best to get exercise as much as possible and to read books, to try to use tour as an opportunity to better ourselves rather than revel in the rock and roll depravity side of it.
SM: Is there anything you're really into that you want to get the word out about?
AW: Hm, let's see...I have some friends of mine who do an absolutely amazing and powerful ritual black metal project, it's called Fauna and the record was just released on the label out of the UK called Aurora Borealis. They're really good friends of ours. One of the members of Fauna actually lives at the farm where we all live and we've collaborated on a variety of projects. Johnny's actually the person who takes a lot of the photographs that are featured on our records. So that's a band that is very much an inspiration to us in our hometown, that I think people should be more aware of.
SM: What are some of your major influences outside of metal?
AW: I'm really interested in all forms of primitive music, folk music of all sorts. I think that black metal is a folk music in a lot of ways, especially the first wave of bands...Burzum, Emperor, groups like this, because it was so unintellectualized, it was so unmediated and pure. It was a really primal sort of expression. I listen to a lot of music that's on the Sublime Frequencies label. Are you familiar with that label?
SM: I'm not, sorry.
AW: It's the..one of the fellows that is in the Sun City Girls, the avant-garde group from Seattle, it's a label that he runs. They put out all sorts of really interesting music from around the world and what the music has in common is a trance element. It's a spiritual music in one way or the other. That's something that we draw inspiration from.
SM: So that's the common thread, it doesn't matter...not genre per se, you're interested in the trance-like qualities?
AW: Yeah, because I think that's a very universal experience that human beings have...to use music and repetition and a certain style of drumming to achieve an altered state of consciousness. I think that's what the earliest forms of music were that were involved in shamanic ritual, and I think that's what black metal is and that's what we're trying to do with Wolves in the Throne Room.
SM: Can I ask where the name comes from?
AW: I forget if it was me that came up with it or my brother Nathan, but I think that it really sums up what the band is all about. That name, to me, conjures the image of wild and vengeful beasts unleashing destruction and apocalypse upon the world with the intention of creating something new, with the intention of re-awakening something. That's really what the music's all about, unleashing something wild inside us that's hidden from us because we live such controlled and safe lives in the modern world.
SM: Awesome. Thanks a lot.
AW: It was good speaking to you.
SM: Good luck on the tour.