Front Man Chris Grigg Explains The Dynamics Of Woe's New Album "Quietly, Undramatically"
Recently signed to Candlelight Records for the release of the sophomore album “Quietly, Undramatically," Philadelphia black metallers Woe have not-so-quietly invaded the U.S. black metal scene. Front man Chris Grigg recently corresponded with Metalunderground to explain how Woe went from a solo project to a full band and getting a record deal with the legendary Candlelight.
Chris also tackled the issue of adding in clean vocals on the new album, stating "For a musician, selling out is defined by doing something that you would not normally do in the interest of selling records. To not follow my gut, to omit a musical idea that really worked just because I was scared of how people would react... That would be a sell-out move." Throughout the interview below he discusses leaving behind the band's direct European black metal feel, playing live shows, and even discusses his trip to Ken Ham's creationism museum.
xFiruath: One of the biggest changes between “A Spell for the Death of Man” and “Quietly, Undramatically” is that there are a few more guys this time around. How did Woe go from a solo act to a full band?
Chris: It sort of just happened. After the first album, I put a band together so we could do a few shows. Those "few" shows turned into a lot of shows, which turned into the idea that maybe they'd play on a song or two as a thank-you for their hard work, which turned into them playing on the whole album. We became a full band so it was natural for them to play on the album.
xFiruath: You guys got hooked up with Candlelight for the new album. How did that come about?
Chris: Great album, some would say, plus great reviews plus great live show plus knowing the right people, equals signed to a label. That is the equation. Candlelight USA is based nearby so they were very familiar with us from our live shows. Turned out that one of the A&R guys in Europe was also a fan of the first album, so it was easy for our contact in the US to sell it to the guys across the pond. Candlelight is really the right label for us. Their focus is black metal but it's a lot of serious artists, a good mix of solid support and distribution without being too big or mainstream of a label.
xFiruath: Where was the new album recorded and how were the recording sessions?
Chris: I engineered and produced the whole thing, drums and guitars at a studio called Gradwell House and then bass, vocals, and all mixing/editing at my home studio, BS1. The recording sessions were mostly good. We did the drums and guitar in a whirlwind 36 hour session: first drums, then I immediately started the guitars around 10 or 11pm that night. Grzesiek played his few tracks and then I worked until about 4 or 5am, slept on the studio's couch, and kept going when I was done! Bass and vocals were done over the course of a few nights. Mixing took the longest. My studio setup was new so I was adjusting to my new monitors, the acoustics of the room, and a lot of new gear. If I did it again, it would sound a bit different but, it is what it is.
xFiruath: There is a bit of cleaning singing on this album, which didn’t happen on “A Spell for the Death of Man.” Did you write the album intending to add those parts in, and how did you decide which parts would be clean and which wouldn’t?
Chris: I actually never planned on having clean singing in Woe, much like being a "real" band, it kind of just happened. The title track was missing some lyrics and I had been driving around in my car, listening to the mixes that I had so far. Whenever that part came on, I found myself humming a little melody over it. I tried recording some vocals as an experiment, first a simple two-part harmony with two voices. It worked so I added a third voice, then decided to add three voices singing each part, ending up with nine voices and some reverb to give it that choral effect.
I was extremely apprehensive about the clean vocals. Aside from what I thought of my voice, I was worried that I was breaking a black metal cardinal rule and pussifying my music a bit too much. After a lot of thinking, I reminded myself that I need to do what is in the best interest of the music. This is not the "Chris Grigg ego project" and if something sounds right, it sounds right. For a musician, selling out is defined by doing something that you would not normally do in the interest of selling records. To not follow my gut, to omit a musical idea that really worked just because I was scared of how people would react... That would be a sell-out move.
xFiruath: What else is different about this new album from the last one?
Chris: A lot. The first album was very representative of not only what I was listening to and interested in but who I was at the time. I was a lot angrier at the world, which is really why there's so much finger-pointing going on. Conceptually, it's a lot of, "People are garbage, everything sucks, everything is a mess." Since then, I like to think I've grown up a bit. I'm not quite as angry about the world because I've come to accept the things that were so upsetting on the first album. Things are the way they are and you can't change them. Instead, the new album is about inner turmoil, it points the finger inward and focuses on the individual. Like the first album, all of the lyrics are personal in nature, but written in such a way that they can be interpreted by each person to fit their own world. I'm writing a lot about my lifelong battle with serious depression but focusing on the cyclic nature of it, the inability to get away from this thing that is a part of you and just won't go away. It's about accepting who you are and the struggle that goes along with that.
It's a bit different musically. I wanted to purge the very obvious Norwegian black metal influence found on the first album because I don't find much feeling in typical "evil" sounding riffs. There's a huge influence in terms of melody from the band Dawn and still a little of that Emperor drama but beyond that, I wanted to really develop my own riffing style a bit more and focus on dynamics and song structure. The first album achieved its goal but I feel like the constant attack with no time to breath makes the attack less effective on repeat listens. The new album is much more dynamic in the hope that the quieter parts will make the aggressive parts that much more effective and, ultimately, it will age a bit better. The result, I think, is an album that might not grab people on their initial listen than the first one because it simply doesn't have the same intense energy, but as you spend more time with it, you find a lot more depth, a lot more complexity, and in that, a lot more substance than its predecessor.
xFiruath: Will Woe be hitting the road to support the new album?
Chris: We will be doing as many shows as possible. My work schedule doesn't allow me to do huge tours and quite frankly, I don't think that extended touring will really benefit us much. I'd rather play smart than play too much. We will focus on shorter tours, a week or two at a time, hitting key areas of the country and hopefully the world. If you make yourself too available, it becomes less of an event when you're around. I'd rather play a city once or twice a year and have it be a big deal than wear out our welcome.
xFiruath: I read on your website that you had a trip planned to that absurd Ken Ham creation “museum” and I’d love to hear how it went. I was raised in a Christian home and attended Christian school, so Ken Ham’s insane anti-science is something I’m unfortunately very familiar with. As an aside, if you want some real fun, go pick up a Kent Hovind “educational” DVD about evolution at your local library and prepare for mind-numbing insanity.
Chris: Oh man! My girlfriend and I did go to the Creation Museum and it was insane. Really, really insane. Those of us who come from the secular world like to think of supporters of this kind of thing as backwards hicks, nutjobs, completely unreasonable people living completely unreasonable lives. What struck me about the Creation Museum was just how slick everything was, how professional, how friendly, how... almost fun. It was more amusement park than science museum, but it was so clear that a huge amount of thought and money went into it.
I was struck by the number of families there. My hope was that it would be a lot of old people with a good percentage of young people like us who just wanted to see what was going on there. The reality was that it was mostly families with young children, everyone excited and positive. Watching them was just like watching any other family at a real museum. It's sick.
Seeing how they view the secular world is really interesting and kind of funny. The pinnacle of the whole thing, for me, was this area that showed you what goes on in a society without God. As soon as we walked into the corridor, it got all dark and narrow, the walls were covered with fake graffiti. It's desolate, hopeless, violent. Ya know, just like everywhere in the world where God isn't in charge, right? My favorite parts: one entire wall was designed to look like the exterior of a church. Sitting next to it, having just struck, is a wrecking ball with the words "40 MILLION YEARS" engraved on it and the wall where it hit is a pile of bricks. Inside, you can see people sitting on pews in prayer. This statement that the secular world of science wants to literally demolish their religion and way of life really sums up how they see things. They're in a fight for surviva. Their whole religion, not just their anti-science/anti-progress position.
My other favorite section of this area was a wall painted to look like the exterior of houses, a few in a row. One window was a television screen, on which you could see what the person inside was doing and saying. On one screen was a teenage girl talking very nonchalantly about abortion on her cell phone. The other was a teenage boy with pot leaf posters, smoking a joint and talking about drugs on the phone with his friends. Again, this is how they really see things! This is what they teach their children! "Follow the word of God or end up a drug addict who wants to destroy our entire way of life."
We visited their planetarium, which was supposed to be really great but ended up being a bit of a letdown. It was sort of cool, it takes you through different areas of the solar system, shows you how big things are and how small our world is in comparison. The point was to illustrate the huge power of God. It certainly reinforced the feelings of pointlessness that "Quietly, Undramatically" deals with so heavily. Frankly, I think that they could make a good argument FOR God by using this stuff. They could say, "Only an intelligent creator could make such amazing things with laws that work together, everything in its place," but of course, they totally fuck it up with the very polarizing statement that is displayed everywhere within the museum: “The world was created in six 24-hour days.”
This is a focal point of the "museum." They leave no room for interpretation, no room for discussion. The point is a very literal interpretation of the bible, their very literal interpretation of the bible. It's terrifying to think that here in 2010, this is going on. They had an entire room dedicated to Noah’s fucking ark! They went to great lengths to explain that dinosaurs did exist and they were on the ark. They spent millions of dollars to tell children that this guy built a boat and collected two of every animal, which then repopulated the world. Oh, and this all happened 4,000 years ago. Oh, and the whole of human history, everything we've found? Yeah, that stuff is only 4,000 years old.
I realize that I've written a good four times as much about the Creation Museum than I have about my own band or album. Honestly though, this is far more serious than any music I or anyone could be writing. These people are serious and organized. They want to get into office and onto school boards. They want to force your children to learn their bullshit in school. I love how so many within the extreme metal funderground talk about how they're waging a "war against Christianity" and stuff like that but. What are you doing to stop this? I guess that any real museum could be considered the anti-creation museum. But it doesn't confront them the way they want to confront us. OK, I'm done now.
xFiruath: How is your local metal scene these days?
Chris: Philly's metal scene is fantastic. There's an endless stream of shows and new bands just keep popping up. I'm fortunate enough to not only play in Woe but also run phillymetal.com, which we use to network and organize, and I've also been recording bands so I'm getting a chance to work with a lot of different people. Right now, I'm really feeling Infernal Stronghold as always, Sadgiqacea, Abserdo, Coffin Dust, Gholas, and Dirt Worshipper.
xFiruath: Been to any good live shows lately?
Chris: I don't get to go to shows too much unless I'm playing them because of my work schedule. I went to see Abserdo, who I missed, Coffin Dust, Deathbeds, and Ramming Speed the other night, which was pretty cool.
xFiruath: What albums have you been listening to outside of Woe?
Chris: I've been listening to Depeche Mode's "Violator" nonstop. It's so dark and just has such feeling to it I'm also listening a lot to new mixes of stuff I'm working on, so that's been a new Dirt Worshipper demo and some Krieg covers. This past year has been characterized by a ton of Gris, Castevet, Tears for Fears, Dawn, Failure, Jesu, Satanic Warmaster, Immortal. I'm not someone who is constantly looking for the newest "cool" release. I tend to find a few albums that I love and play them into the ground, just spin them constantly until I can't take it anymore. The process takes a while. I bought a lot of CDs this year ,probably close to 100, maybe more, but the only new release that actually stuck with me that I can think of was Castevet's "Mounds of Ash." Gholas's new album has been in pretty heavy rotation. I'd type the name but they wrote it in Cyrillic to be dicks and I refuse to Google it and then copy/paste it in.
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