Thrawsunblat Drummer Rae Amitay Talks Latest Album "Wanderer On The Continent Of Saplings"
Thrawsunblat’s first release, “Canada 2010,” was a blackened wonder, with the occasional folksy passage jelling with the blast beats and hasty shrieks. Featuring the late David Gold on drums, the album signaled the beginning of what could turn into a fruitful career.
After Gold’s passing, vocalist/guitarist Joel Violette continued on with the project, recruiting new members and working on “Thrawsunblat II: Wanderer on the Continent of Saplings.” Incorporating more melodic dynamics and stretching out above the fury of “Canada 2010,” this album fuels the claims of Thrawsunblat being one of the best underground Canadian metal bands out there today. I had a chance to discuss Thrawsunblat’s latest release with drummer Rae Amitay.
How did you get involved with Thrawsunblat?
As many people know, I was going to be the drummer for Woods of Ypres and Joel Violette was the guitarist for Woods. Those plans didn’t come to fruition because of the demise of David Gold. I was feeling really lost and disheartened about everything that happened, so I reached out to Joel and asked him if he would be willing to perform with me for the 1st annual Ypres Metal Fest, held in David’s home town of Sault Ste. Marie last April. He said yes. So we sent a lot of demos back and forth and figured out our set list, which was an acoustic blend of Woods of Ypres songs and covers that David liked.
We performed together and we got along really well. I think the world of Joel. When we were flying back to Toronto from Sault Ste. Marie, he asked me if I had ever heard his other band Thrawsunblat. I said no, and he showed it to me and I was completely blown away. We still didn’t put two and two together. So, here I am, really liking Thrawsunblat and really liking performing with him, and here he is, without a drummer for Thrawsunblat, because David had previously been the drummer. We were still really stupid about it, until a month later when he asked me if I wanted to drum for Thrawsunblat and I was like, ‘What took you so long man?’ So I sent him a video of myself playing “Black Sky” off of the first album and I got the gig.
When you started working on the drums for “Wanderer on the Continent of Saplings,” did you go back and listen to “Canada 2010” and get inspired by David’s performance on it?
Oh sure. I listen to “Canada 2010” all the time just because I think it’s a phenomenal album and David was an incredibly good drummer. I knew right away that I wasn’t going to be able to do the fast, intricate blasts that he did, but I also knew that this album was taking a folksier direction. So I was sort of able to take all the blasts and really fast fills that David did, and put my own spin on it, because a lot of the songs are a little slower and have more dynamics than the first album, which I would consider straight-ahead black metal. David’s drumming on that album definitely inspired me a lot, but I wasn’t trying to imitate it because he did it the best, so I just tried to do my own thing.
Did you feel like you were pushing yourself to a new level by working on these drum tracks?
Yeah. I know for a fact that if I hadn’t been rehearsing so hard to be in Woods of Ypres and to do our European tour, that I would not have been able to pull off what I did with Thrawsunblat. Before that, I hadn’t been really doing a lot of black metal. Blast beats were sort of a new thing that I just started incorporating into my playing. It was definitely a challenge, but I’m really proud of how everything turned out, and it’s definitely the best recording I’ve ever done, by and large.
Did you bring any influences in when you performed these drum tracks? Do you have any that have influenced your music career so far?
Joel would give me a lot of ideas for what he wanted for the tracks. He gave me a lot of suggestions for the styles he wanted, and he would even give me specific songs that he liked. So I was able to sort of imitate what they were doing in order to get what Joel wanted. As far as drumming in general, my inspirations are pretty eccentric. I admire jack-of-all-trades type drummers like Josh Freese and Vinnie Colaiuta; they can play pop records, country records, and then metal records without breaking a sweat. That’s what I want to do. I think drummers like George Kollias, those crazy speed demon drummers, are amazing, but that’s not what I’m going for.
As a drummer, do you tend to over-analyze your playing, or do you let it flow organically and see what comes out?
I think I want it to flow organically, almost to my own detriment. I am constantly switching fills around. Basic grooves stay the same during the recording process, but I would say that almost every take, I would have a slightly different fill or a different little thing that made it unique from previous takes. I think that actually helps, because then Siegfried Meier, who produced it, he could pick his favorite take and take a fill from one take or a fill from a different take and mush it all together for exactly what he and Joel wanted.
In addition to drumming on this album, you lend some backing vocals to a few songs. How did you get the opportunity to do that?
Joel knew of my vocal ability, or lack thereof, or whatever you want to call it, because I did a lot of vocals when we did our Woods of Ypres tribute show. He knew that I liked to sing or thought I could sing (laughs). That’s why he asked me to do some backing vocals, and I really appreciate that. It’s cool to feel like I’m singing on the album, as well as drumming. It makes it feel even more personal. It makes it feel like I had even more of a stake in the album.
What do you get out of singing that you may not get out of playing the drums?
I do have a tendency to perform really hard when I’m drumming. I’ve actually gotten yelled at before by singers in bands I’ve played with because they’ll be like, ‘Dude, calm down. You’re just the drummer.’ That’s never sat right with me, so being able to sing on stage or on recordings is a really good outlet for me to channel all of my performing-type energy. I’m starting a project right now where I’m going to be doing live vocals. That should be a fun new adventure, to be out from behind the kit.
Do you think you have room to grow as a singer?
Oh my God, of course. I have very limited training in singing. I know that I’m very pitchy and I have a tendency to slide into my pitches. I have some natural ability, but man, it’s not even close to being perfected, not even remotely. My screams, same thing. I need to learn how to manage my breath and expand my lungs. I need to do all sorts of stuff, but I’m totally willing to put in the effort because it’ll all be worth it in the end if I’m a better singer.
What kind of project are you working on? Is it based on other stuff you’ve done in the past? Is it something outside your comfort zone?
This thing is all new. This is my first time in a main songwriting role. I’m co-writing with someone. What I’ll do is, I write on five-string bass. I’ll write basic riff ideas and then he’ll orchestrate them for guitar, and then I’ll write bass lines underneath. We’ve got two songs and it’s going really well. I’m not going to reveal anything until we have a nice, finished product ready for everyone. I don’t want to jump the gun. I don’t want to hype something up and have it be really bad, I want to be confident in everything that I’m doing. It’s definitely a new thing, and it’s outside my comfort zone. I’m relinquishing drumming duties live. I’ll be drumming on the recording, but live, I’ll just be doing vocals. We’ll see if I crash and burn or not (laughs).
Do you see this project turning into your main focus going into the future?
I have a lot of myself invested in this. I want this to be a heavily touring project. I want this project to have as much exposure as it deserves. We’ll see if it just dies on Bandcamp with three downloads, or if we end up touring the world. It’s too early to tell at this point. I could see this becoming my main project, although Thrawsunblat would always be a close second. As of right now, Thrawsunblat is my number one.
Not only as a member of the band, but as a listener, what kind of progression have you seen the band take between “Canada 2010” and “Wanderer on the Continent of Saplings”?
It’s almost like a different band. It’s still Joel’s creative vision. It’s still really strong lyrically. He has a lot of great themes he explores on both “Canada 2010” and “Wanderer.” “Canada 2010,” at least to my understanding, had been written for years leading up to when Joel started working with David. Whenever you have big gaps of time between when songs are written and when they finally get recorded, there can be a loss of cohesiveness or train of thought. I don’t think “Canada 2010” does that, but I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a concept album. I think “Wanderer on the Continent of Saplings” is. It explores a lot of Joseph Campbell’s work. Joel had a very clear vision for it. All of the songs reflect that, and I think it’s one solid work. He has a solid line up. He’s got Brendan Hayter on bass, he’s got me on drums. There’s a lot of interaction and a lot of collaboration. I think it is a very good sequel to “Canada 2010.” It shows a lot of growth.
Can you pick out one song that to you best represents this album as a whole?
The title track maybe, or “We, The Torchbearers,” but I can’t pick a song that encapsulates the whole record. They all work with each other to convey the central message.
We talked earlier about Woods of Ypres and David Gold’s tragic death. Did you rehearse with him before his tragic passing? What was it like playing with him?
I was never able to rehearse with David. He passed away a couple of weeks before Brendan Hayter and I were supposed to go to Canada. We were going to go there for about a month and rehearse with Joel and David. Brendan and I both live in Massachusetts, and we were able to meet up a couple of times. That was great, and we became very good friends. As far as rehearsing goes, it was mostly me by myself, but I listened to that record (“Woods 5: Grey Skies & Electric Light”) probably ten times a day for months. It never got old. I walked all around Boston listening to it. I listened to it while I did the dishes, while I was in my room, just constantly. That album has a very special place in my heart, and I have not been able to play it since David passed away. I’m hoping maybe one day to be able to whip out the iPod and jam to it for a bit, but right now, it’s not going to happen.
Some people have called you a “drummer for hire,” because you drummed live for Castle and Mares of Thrace in the past. Were you comfortable with that title?
Oh sure, of course. With Mares of Thrace, I was supposed to be the new drummer. That was supposed to be my band. Therese (Lanz, vocalist/guitarist) had to put the band on hiatus because of her educational pursuits. So it ended up seeming like I was a drummer for hire, since I was only around for a few months, which is fine. As for Castle, that was a complete 'drummer for hire.' I’m not the drummer for Castle. That was simply a gig that I was filling in on. I think the chance to play music in front of many people is awesome. I have Thrawsunblat - that’s my heart and soul - and I have this new project that I’m working on. If other bands want me to fill in and play drums for them, I’m completely fine with that.
If you could tour with one band as a drummer, past or present, who would it be and why?
Foo Fighters. No question. They are fucking fantastic. I really do think they are such an incredible band. I think Dave Grohl is one of the most talented musicians in the business. I love his songwriting. I love his guitar playing. I think Taylor Hawkins is an amazing drummer who comes up with incredibly tasteful parts. I would relieve him of his duties for a little while if need be, if he decided to take a break for a minute.
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