An Interview With Chris Of Woe
Philadelphia based black metal band Woe is currently offering their latest album "A Spell For The Death Of Man" for download on a "pay what you want" basis. Woe mastermind Chris Grigg recently spoke with me about the band's absinthe origins and the upcoming vinyl release.
xFiruath: How long have you been involved in music and how did Woe originally come to be?
Chris: I've been involved with music in one way or another since I was about nine, I guess. In an underground rock context, I first got involved with the local punk/hardcore scene at 14, or 11 years ago. Woe came to be almost by accident. In 2007, I had been writing and recording my own songs, songs of different genres. I had been into underground black metal for years and at this time was without a black metal band as Algol, for whom I drummed, sort of faded away, and I was frustrated with the collaborative band process. I wrote the first Woe song, "Hunter Unholy," just for the sake of writing a song. A few weeks later, I drank a bottle of absinthe that we imported from France and when I woke up the following morning, I found that I had written and recorded all the guitar to three more songs plus a short intro. Those songs, with vocals and drums added and combined with "Hunter Unholy," became the first Woe demo, "Absinthe Invocation." The project developed over time, not so coincidentally as my guitar playing improved, and here we are.
xFiruath: As a one man band what instruments do you play and do you recruit other musicians for live shows?
Chris: So far, I have been to blame for all guitar, bass, drums, and vocals on the three Woe releases plus the new, unreleased 7". Live shows consist of myself and anywhere from two to four others. The songs are written for four but we have and will continue to play as a five piece, with three guitars, two playing rhythm parts, me playing the lead, when possible.
xFiruath: How would you describe the sound of Woe to a metal fan who had never heard your music before?
Chris: I'm the worst person to ask because everyone seems to make comparisons to that which they know best. It would depend on my mood. If I felt like being serious, I'd say that I started with a framework of raw black metal Ulver, Faust-era Emperor, and "Transylvanian Hunger" and built upon that in my own way. If I felt like being antagonistic, I'd look at the person and pick something they'd be least likely to be impressed by. "I dunno man, I guess it's sorta symphonic NSBM, like Nokturnal Mortum but with more keyboards." "It's a lot like Slipknot, but with more breakdowns and rapping." "OK, picture the new Cryptopsy album. Now add more clean vocals. You're there." "A more raw version of Vlad Tepes." "Slower Burzum." I can go on and on and on, I'm not here to make friends. When Woe is on the road, we always talk about how we want to get into situations where we can claim to be the shittiest band possible. "Don't tell anyone cause we don't want to cause a scene, but... ever hear of Disturbed? Shh..."
xFiruath: The title of the latest album and some of the song titles reminded me quite a bit of another obscure black metal band Deathspell Omega, who are well known for their music being an expression of their religious ideas. Is there any particular religious or occult connotation to your music?
Chris: When Woe started, it dealt with some aspects of Satanism but not so much these days. I go in and out of feeling connected to the metaphysical world, usually more out than in, and I'm far too wrapped up with personal and philosophical issues to care about religion or the occult.
xFiruath: What’s different about “A Spell For The Death of Man” from the previous releases you’ve put out?
Chris: Everything. It's a studio recording, while the others are 100% lo-fi, raw, DIY efforts. The songs are longer, the music is more developed, the whole concept is bigger and more dramatic. It deals entirely with very "human" ideas and, as a result, is much more real than my other stuff, at least as far as I'm concerned. It was the result of much more anguish, sweat, and time than the previous demo and all the other unreleased songs that came before it.
xFiruath: The album is currently available in electronic format on a “pay what you want” basis. Why did you decide to go this particular route in distributing your music?
Chris: Digital distribution in this method is the future of music. I was a bit annoyed by illegal downloading of my album at first but came to realize that the blogs and torrent sites were the reason the name was getting out there so much. Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to "make it big" or anything like that, but as an artist, I feel like such a douche bag, calling myself that, it’s only natural to want your work to be appreciated or, at the very least, paid attention to. Anyway, I realized that downloading is something we need to encourage and embrace, particularly in a world where reality is such that each and every album with some positive reviews will get downloaded very heavily. The "pay what you want" system was my response to this. It's a way for listeners to get the complete album for a price with which they feel comfortable and, at the same time, help me pay some of the huge costs Woe accrues.
xFiruath: I read that a vinyl version of “A Spell For The Death of Man” was in the works. How is that coming along and is it available yet?
Chris: Well, I'm trying to hold off making an official announcement about it until it's actually available, but, I'm doing a bad job of that, aren't I? Haha. The vinyl will be out in the next month or two. It's a joint release between Creeping Vine Productions and Subvert All Media, which is my anti-label of sorts. We're waiting on test presses at the moment. The record's first pressing is limited to 500 copies on colored wax and features entirely new art by Justin Miller, who did the art for the CD. I saw the new proofs and it's going to look fucking incredible. Really, it's going to make the CD look like it was done by some kid in MS Paint.
xFiruath: What’s up next for Woe? Do you have any new recordings or anything in the works?
Chris: The vinyl soon, a new 7" in the fall, and hopefully a new album early in 2010. The 7" is completely recorded and just needs a mix. The album is about 15-20 minutes underway, so about 1/2-1/3 done, I guess. Other than that, we plan on continuing making loser black metal nerds feel uncomfortable throughout the rest of the country.
xFiruath: When you aren’t playing music what bands and albums are you listening to and what do you like about them?
Chris: My musical preferences are kind of weird. Lately, my playlist consists of Klimt 1918, Dawn, Nyktalgia, Ulver, Interpol, old Emperor, Jesu. There's this sense of longing in all of those bands, this really dramatic, deep intensity that really hits me and influences me in a big way.
xFiruath: I’m always interested in hearing about how current black metal bands feel about where the genre is going in comparison to where it came from, as well as about their feelings on black metal “celebrities.” What do you think about the state of the black metal scene today and do you have any particular thoughts about the recent shake ups like Gorgoroth splitting into two groups and Varg Vikerenes of Burzum being released from prison?
Chris: Celebrity gossip never interested me. I guess it has to do with not having a vagina. Gorgoroth won't interest me until Gaahl ends up on Bravo hosting "Queer Eye for the Misanthropic Satanist," in which case I'll watch it just to support his crusade of making people uncomfortable. As for Varg, the only reason I care about his release from prison is that now, I'm worried that he'll fuck up his musical legacy more than he already did with that electronic stuff. Still, at the end of the day, absolutely none of this shit has anything to do with Woe or me so I can only care so much. I have about as much to do with them as I do with Britney Spears. On the bigger issue of where black metal is going in comparison to where it came from, it's tough to say. Like anything else, black metal has grown into such a monster that you really can't compare it now, with magazine and television coverage, bands winning Grammy awards, or at least P3 Guild awards, and things like that, to its origins in nothing but Xeroxed fanzines. It's a joke on almost every level. In the underground, I think that bands who take a note from the punk scene are doing it right. Infernal Stronghold is the future, just wait till their new full-length comes out and the world will see. The spirit of black metal isn't in corpse paint or even a sound by itself, it's in a refusal to compromise, a refusal to bow before masters. A refusal to be create friendly music that caters to the weak of spirit.
xFiruath: Here’s a little more offbeat question – black metal is frequently influenced heavily by themes of horror and loss. With that in mind, are you a fan of the various horror genres in any way, and who would you pick out of the lineup of H.P. Lovecraft, Clive Barker, and Stephen King?
Chris: I used to be very into lesser known, foreign horror films but these days, I really don't watch many movies, particularly not horror. Picking one of those three is difficult because, frankly, I haven't really read enough Lovecraft or Barker to make fair comparisons.
xFiruath: That’s all my questions, is there anything else at all, metal related or otherwise, that you’d like to bring up or discuss?
Chris: Here's a question: how did Sepultura go from being so fucking awesome to so fucking lame? I just don't get it. Beneath the remains! At least Metallica have the excuse that they got old and went through rehab like ten times. Haha, anyway, thanks for your time. Stay fucking miserable!
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