Interview with Erik Danielson of Watain
Watain is one of those bands that make people cringe. Stories of men covered in corpse paint playing Satanic music and spitting fire amongst the limbs of animals and the infamous stank of them cooking under the lights have kept some people at bay while others are intriguiged and want to witness this strange event. Watain's latest album "Lawless Darkness" has become a favorite album in the world of metal. Just wrapping up a tour with Goatwhore and Black Anvil, I was able to catch up with vocalist Erik Danielson before their show in Metairie, Louisiana, just the day after Thanksgiving to talk about their notorious shows, Varg Vikernes, and black metal today. A transcribed version follows.
Buick Mckane: Welcome to New Orleans.
Erik Daniellson: Thank you.
Buick: How has the tour been going so far?
Erik: There are many parameters to look at, I suppose; everything from attendance to our own experiences to whatever. But, all in all, it’s say it’s been a bit better than we hoped for, you know. A lot of more people showed up this time compared to last time, which is a good thing, because last time was [smaller]. And, yeah, it’s how it’s supposed to be, a little bit better this time.
Buick: Since you’ve had a better time this time, how do you like touring the U.S.?
Erik: Like I keep on telling myself, and trying to convince myself, that I think the main aspect that one has to look at is always the concert itself, you know. I mean, of course there are differences between touring the States and touring Europe as far as everything from hospitality to the general concert goes, but to me as long as we get up on that stage and do what we want to do every night, then it’s all worth it, you know.
Buick: That’s great. I’ve heard a lot about your stage shows, of course. I’m looking forward to seeing it for myself for the first time. But is your show different in Europe than in America? Do you have to tone it down more, do different things?
Erik: There’s never a matter of toning anything down as far as I’m concerned. Rather a matter of doing it so it works, you know, smoothly within the environment. And, yeah, there are a lot more restrictions here in the states, and there are a lot more…I think people in general are a bit more worried here for some reason like they’re aware if we already have a bad reputation or if it’s just a general feeling that something bad is going to happen. But people here are a bit more careful. But there’s some ways to work around that. New Orleans is certainly not one of those places.
Buick: It is not, no. Have you had any protestors at your shows yet?
Erik: Not as far as I know.
Buick: Aww. They’re fun to mess with. I hope you get one one day.
Erik: Yeah, I’d love to meet them. But, I don’t know, if I was a protestor and came to one of our shows I would pretty much turn around after going inside the venue. So, you never know. Maybe they’ve been there.
Buick: Right. Well, you’re latest album “Lawless Darkness” came out this summer. How has it been received by your fans and the critics?
Erik: I guess you have to ask them about that. I don’t really keep track, but judging from the concerts and the reactions of the audiences, I think it’s been leaving a pretty good impact. Yeah, you can see that the new songs have found their place to grow, and that’s a good thing. But then again, it’s like I’ve done my part. Then it’s up to you and the fans to decide about the rest. I don’t know. I don’t really keep track of all that.
Buick: Well if you’re having more and more people show up, I’m sure they do like it a lot.
Erik: Yeah, I’m sure as well. I mean, of course, we’ve been getting great feedback. But I’m always careful about getting too caught up in the whole thing because the minute you start to focus too much on all that, then you sort of do what you’re told a bit, you know what I mean? I’m still doing this for the same reason that I did it when I started the band. So it’s like…I don’t know, it’s…
Buick: You try not to focus on it.
Buick: Well, a lot of people have said this album is the first true black metal album in a long time. So what do you think of the state of black metal today? I guess the whole lot of black metal.
Erik: As far as I’m concerned, black metal has always been the same thing to me. Never really changed. But a lot of people made very bad impressions or very bad, lame attempts at copying what I consider to be real black metal. And if you count all those bands into the genre, then I guess you could say that black metal is in a very poor state. Then again, for me it’s like black metal has always been defined by the bands that actually mean something, and not by the bands that don’t. So it never lost it’s good state in the first place as far as I’m concerned. But, yeah, of course Watain constitutes some kind of reaction, maybe, towards the state of things because we have always been very opposed to and felt kind of alienated to the whole…I don’t know, the thing that black metal has become. It’s never really been an intention of us to be, like, saviors of a certain music genre. That’s too mundane of a goal for us, as far as I’m concerned. But I hope that we make a difference somehow. And I think the real black metal fans have discerned that by now.
Buick: There’s been an effort to make The Lords of Chaos book into a movie and Varg Vikernes was going to be played by the guy from “Twilight;” the main vampire.
Erik: That pretty much sums it all up, right? That pretty much sums up the state of black metal that you asked me about.
Buick: And speaking of Lords of Chaos, Varg Vikernes is out of jail and making music again. What do you think of Varg because he was…
Erik: Well you can judge a person by a lot of different things. And as far as his artistry goes, and his sort of relentless way of sticking to his own artistic vision every time, as far as that goes, I admire him for that. But when it comes to the rest, I think he and I constitute two opposite poles in this whole thing and he is shine of the light and I am a shadow in the dark. If you want to use big words, and that’s how it is. Of course I cannot relate to any of his…
Buick: Former actions.
Erik: Nah, his former actions were one thing; they were mostly based on, you know, juvenile outbursts of emotion. But his agenda and his ideology as such is very different from mine. It is very different from mine.
Buick: Are there any young bands from today of any genre of metal that you feel have a lot of hope, are doing really well, or creating a new sound, or anything like that?
Erik: I’m very happy to be able to answer yes to that question because I wouldn’t have been able to a bunch of years ago. But I think things are definitely heading in the right direction, and I think in general, you know, the fans and the metal audience in general are going to start to demand a whole lot more when it comes to sincerity and community from the bands that they listen to, because I think people are going to get fed up with the stereotype and plastic culture that’s been going on for too long now. And I think we will see a lot of new, great bands coming, and we already have such as The Devil’s Blood from Holland which is a great example which is more in a rock vein, but still which has a concept very similar to ours. I don’t know, I’m blocked for the moment, but there are at least ten or so bands that I keep constant track of that I look forward to follow til they’re on the cover of the Rolling Stone.
Buick: I love that song. I was thinking about that the other day. Anyway, is there anything else you would like to say?
Erik: A lot of things, but just keep an open mind and an open heart when you approach Watain. Don’t expect a freak show. Expect a spiritual experience.
Buick: That’s beautiful. Thank you so much.
Erik: Thank you.
Emily is an avid supporter of the New Orleans scene, often filming shows and conducting interviews with local bands to help promote their music. She also runs her own site dedicated to the New Orleans scene, Crescent City Chaos.
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