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Andy Winter Explains New Album "Incomprehensible"

An eclectic slice of all things metal, Andy Winter's new album "Incomprehensible" (reviewed here) features an array of guest musicians from Europe and North America. The disc sees contributions from members of Madder Mortem, Starofash, Agalloch, Tristania, Novembers Doom, and more, making this a must-hear for fans of just about any style.

Excited to share "Incomprehensible" with the world, the mastermind behind the project conducted an interview with us, diving into how these tracks came together with musicians scattered across the globe working in tandem.

The verbose Winter discusses the tight-nit Norwegian musical community, how people will likely interpret the lyrics differently from one another, and his own history in the metal scene.

xFiruath: For our readers who aren’t familiar with you or your work, can you give me a brief rundown of the bands you’ve been involved with in the past leading up to this release?

Andy: My main bands is Winds, which has been going on since 1998 with Jan Axel von Blomberg from Arcturus, Mayhem, etc., as well as Carl August Tidemann, Lars E. Si and myself. I also have another band called Age of Silence with Lars A. Nedland from Solefald, Borknagar, etc. and a few others, which we have been doing since around 2003. I did a self-titled instrumental piano EP in 2005, and I have been a member of Sculptured since 2008 with Donald Anderson and Jason W. Walton from Agalloch. I have also done two guest appearances for Subterranean Masquerade and one for Self Spiller. So it’s a wide array of projects with different styles and sounds. I’ve always been a bit of a musical chameleon and never managed to just stick to one thing, so having all these different projects has been a necessity for me to able to explore the various ideas and expressions that wouldn’t necessarily fit together in just one band.

xFIruath: “Incomprehensible” has a wide array of guest musicians. Was this primarily a situation where everyone recorded their own parts and sent files back and forth, or were you in the studio working with these various musicians?

Andy: It was a combination of both. For instance, John Haughm’s vocals were done in a studio in Vancouver with myself and my engineer Shaun Thingvold, as well as Donald Anderson who did some spoken passages. We would bounce ideas off of one another and discuss the various possibilities and ways of arranging the song until we felt something worked, and then we’d go with that. John himself came up with most of the melody lines and arrangements through improvisation, while I gave input on things like placements, arrangements, harmonies, etc. So that was one example of a way in which the vocals were done. But conversely, since the record features artists living in 6 different countries, including Norway, Sweden, Finland, Germany, Canada, and USA a lot of the recordings were also done long distance. Not so much by sending things back and forth, but basically discussing the vision and approach ahead of time between the relevant parties, and then once each vocal recording was finished, it was then used exactly as recorded without any rearranging or changes.

So there is a great deal of spontaneity on this record, but of course also a lot of planning, coordination, and scheduling went into it both in a studio sense but also in everything else surrounding that goes into producing a record. For instance before the mixing was done and the album was about to be mastered, I went to Los Angeles and met up with Maor Appelbaum in order to discuss my vision for the album, and he then gave me his professional input on the mixes, and after that we sent lots of files back and forth until the mastering was done. And it was the same process for the artwork as well. Travis Smith and I had lots of creative discussions about the visual direction for the album, and we experimented with different ideas until we found the right ones. So the way this was made is probably not the most typical or traditional way to make an album at all.

xFiruath: I’ve been a big fan of Heidi (StarofAsh) from Peccatum for many years, and I’m specifically interested in how you worked with her. Have you collaborated with Heidi or her husband Ihsahn before, and how did the process go this time around?

Andy: In the case of Heidi, I had been familiar with her work for quite some time through us both being on The End Records. We also have a common acquaintance in Asgeir Mickelson, who has recorded with her husband on the Ihsahn albums as well as his own project God of Atheists, which also features Carl August Tidemann who is my guitar player in Winds. The Norwegian music scene is kind of small, almost an “everyone knows everyone” kind of thing, and that’s not just the case in metal but it’s also the case across various musical genres. So when I told Asgeir about my project, we discussed that Heidi would be a great artist to work with, and so he put us in touch.

I asked Heidi if she wanted to do vocals on one of the tracks, and she agreed. I had a lyrical concept in mind, but Heidi asked me if it was ok to re-write some of it to make it fit better with her ideas and expressions for the song, which I was happy to agree to because I always believe in giving people that I work with a lot of artistic freedom. I think the result will always be better if artists working together are able to put their own creativity, heart and soul into the work. Some time ago Heidi and I also did website music together for a video production company in Florida, and although this was published before the album came out, it was actually done after, so it was not our first collaboration. And hopefully it won’t be our last. I identify a lot with Heidi’s approach as an artist, as from our conversations it seems very similar to my own in many ways. I also think she is immensely talented, and frankly I could not have seen anyone handling the task better.

xFiruath: Are there any plans in the near future for you to “return the favor” so to speak and make a guest appearance on anyone else’s impending albums?

Andy: It might be difficult for me to return most of these favors in in an exact sense, considering that I am not singer. I play guitar on this record exclusively since there are no keyboards used at all, and I felt I had to a guitar oriented album with this record to prove a point to myself that I could pull it off. And I always viewed myself as composer first and foremost, and not a keyboard player. Instruments are always the means to an end for me, so while I could have thrown in a bunch of keyboards on this record just because that’s what I’m the most known for, I think it was important to do what felt right for the music and let it direct my approach rather than the opposite. The songwriting process is also very different on guitar than on a keyed instrument, which is something I’ve experienced before with Age of Silence since I wrote most of those songs on guitar. In Winds I tend to do my composing on piano or strings, so it’s quite a different thing altogether. But to answer your question, of course if anyone on the album asks for help, I could not very well say no after they helped me. So if any of the artists on Incomprehensible should need a keyboard player, well I guess it would be their prerogative to call in a favor!

xFiruath: What’s happening with the lyrics on the album, and is there a central theme to the tracks?

Andy: Talking about the lyrics and themes in specifics is for me bit like an artist trying to explain their art or a painter trying to explain the paining. It is impossible for me, subjectively speaking, to pick it all apart and explain it to the listener like that. It would be a very hard thing to do. But I think the one important thing to highlight in this regard is that all my lyrics are always very conceptual and metaphoric in nature, and with this concept in particular, somewhat of a surrealistic journey where the narrators view themselves and their environment through a different set of eyes than their own. It is interesting to note that in two different articles I’ve seen about the album, the authors both commented on a specific line of the lyrics, quoted it as a single line out of context, and then made a comment about how this should somehow reflect something about me as an individual.

This aspect is perhaps somewhat misunderstood at times. I mean look at the cover art. There is a picture of an airplane with a city on top of it flying away into the sky, and on the inside there’s a guy walking into a room where a sailboat is sinking into a lake on the top of a table. This should drop some pretty big hints that the words in the lyrical concept are not meant to be taken literally and at face value. There are certainly many artists that write lyrics from the perspective of talking directly to the audience, and perhaps a lot of listeners are also used to this, and some listeners may not even know how to approach music in any other way. Similarly there is also often a misconception that if you don’t use this direct approach when writing music or lyrics, that it means the music is no longer personal. In fact, I think it could be so personal to the writer that the only way for them to be able to relate to it, or process it, is by taking on a third person perspective and experiencing it through the eyes of someone else rather than their own. This should also relate back to the listener’s perspective when interpreting music.

For instance, if the lyrics on the album say something that the listener might not agree with, this does not necessarily mean that it is the writer, or in this case me, Andy Winter, who has this opinion and is trying to convince the listener of their view. But I think this is also why as an artist, when you choose to put yourself out there for the world to pick apart, it’s important to recognize that not everyone is going to get you, or your art, and that is also the way I think it should be. You can compare this metaphorically speaking to breaking the fourth wall. Are the lyrics talking directly to the listener, or are they talking to themselves or another person who is not present? My own view is that Andy Winter as a person is not important, or even relevant, when it comes to the concept of the album. The artistic expression is a reflection of the art itself, and not of me as a person trying to preach my point of view to my audience. Perhaps some people might find something relatable in it, and of course you always know that not everyone will. But if the listener just chooses to accept things for what they immediately appear to be, without questioning it further or looking beyond the surface, likely they are not going to realize the full extent of the art and what it aspires to be.

xFiruath: With the number of guest vocalists I’m guessing this will be a studio-only project, or do you plan on doing any live shows ever with this material?

Andy: I don’t know how realistic this would be considering there are 15 musicians playing on the album, and specifically 8 different singers. To make this into a live band, you’d have to strip it down and change the parts a lot to make the logistics work, and it would probably have to be pushed so far away from what it is now, that the music would lose its identity altogether in this process and become something less than what it was meant to be. That’s not to say that I wouldn’t love to do a live show, because it would be really great if we could find a way to make that happen. I know it would take a lot of time, effort and money. So, maybe if I had a million bucks...

xFiruath: Now that “Incomprehensible” is out, will you be active with any of your other projects?

Andy: For the past several years I have been working very intensely on the Andy Winter record, so attention towards my other projects has unfortunately suffered a bit more than I would have ideally liked. Now that this record is finally out, I hope to change all that and be able to give my main bands some long-overdue attention. One thing I’ve noticed is that I find it increasingly more challenging nowadays to keep cranking out an album a year the way I did in the early days of my career. I also find that it keeps me more focused to only work on one album at a time, rather than juggling several projects the way I’ve been doing. I have never liked rushing the creative process just for the sake of releasing an album sooner, so my philosophy is that things will always take the time it takes, and I tend to work on things until I’m completely satisfied with it. If this means it will take another month, or another year, or five, then I would rather do that than push it ahead prematurely. But things are brewing, and have been for some time, with several of my other projects. It’s just difficult to say exactly when it will be completed. In some cases the process is still years away, and I doubt anything would see the light of day until 2014 at the earliest. And who knows, maybe I’ll do something else in the meantime to distract myself.

xFiruath: What’s going on in your local metal scene and in the Norwegian scene in general these days?

Andy: To be honest I’m not sure what everyone else has going on at the moment. But I will say that for someone who had never been a Facebook user up until the week of the release date for “Incomprehensible,” it was a bit of an eye-opener to see how important the Internet has become as a networking tool and method to stay in touch with music lovers all over the world. So while the local music scenes are perhaps dwindling down, and people don’t get as excited about CD-releases anymore, the Internet can be a great tool to help artists reach out to the people who might be interested in checking out what they are doing. And it’s inspiring to know that despite the new digital age and people’s ADD-like media consumption habits, that some people still care about this kind of independent and non-mainstream music after all these years!

xFiruath: What music are you listening to lately, and what albums are you looking forward to coming out this year?

Andy: Naturally I’ve been listening to “Incomprehensible” a whole lot, both in an unfinished state during the production of the album, and also after it came out with the final product. But truthfully, it’s hard for me to get excited about other music or art in general while I’m in creative mode with my own music, as it tends to be a subconscious distraction from it, and also when your ears get as tired as they do when you are working with music and audio all the time, you don’t tend to want to sit down and put on a record as the first thing you do during your downtime when you want to relax. What can I say… maybe I’m my own worst customer!

That said, I’m very excited about the next Madder Mortem album, and Heidi has also been recording new StarofAsh material that she will release monthly on her blog. I also know Kjetil and Tristania just went into the studio to record a new album, so although I don’t know their band all that well from before, it will be exciting to check out what they have done. The same really goes for any of the artists on “Incomprehensible.” Whenever any of them have anything going on, I would want to check it out, be it a new album from Dan Swanö, a new Novembers Doom record, or to catch Agalloch on their upcoming European tour, etc. After all, there’s a reason I asked these specific people to sing on my album in the first place. All of them are great musicians that I respect and admire for their uniqueness, talent and artistic voice.

xFiruath: Anything else you’d like to say?

Andy: Only that I think all the contributing artists on Incomprehensible deserve a lot of recognition for their efforts in their respective bands and projects, and I would encourage all your readers, and everyone else for that matter, to give these artists the support and recognition they deserve. And not the least, I would like to thank you for taking the time to interview me about my new album!

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xFiruath's avatar

Ty Arthur splits his time between writing dark fiction, spreading the word about underground metal bands, and bringing you the latest gaming news. His sci-fi, grimdark fantasy, and horror novels can be found at Amazon.

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