Interview With Aaron Weaver Of Wolves In The Throne Room, In Helsinki Finland
Last Wednesday Wolves in the Throne Room graced Helsinki with their presence, and brought a bit of that relaxed West Coast vibe to a country very familiar with their love for nature. Aaron sat down with me and explained about the phenomenon of Black Metal in the public eye; the importance of identity, culture, and tradition; as well as what has driven Wolves in the Throne Room down this path to Europe and the alchemy of it all.
So you guys have two shows in Finland now and you’ve been in Europe for a few weeks now right?
Yeah, coming up on almost four weeks now I think. That we’ve been on the ground, but we’ve had a few days off to travel, I think this is our 20th show.
How has it been going?
Really good! Al the shows have been kind of above expectations, in terms of turnout, and hospitality all around. Good food; really, really cool people. We’ve gotten to run into old friend that we’ve have met on previous trips to Europe. Over all really good. I must admit we are a bit worn down at this point, before we came to Europe we had a tour I the United States, so really this is our 50th show maybe?
Yeah. And so in many ways that’s good because you really get into the spirit of touring, and we’ve gotten really into the music. I’ve forgotten everything else in the world really.
That’s got to be an amazing feeling.
Yeah kind of! It’s pretty psychedelic really; you enter a totally different mindset.
Has there been a difference between the American and European Response?
Well I mean it’s so hard to generalize about European audiences, they are so different from country to country, small towns too. In Germany, small towns are very different then Berlin. A small town in Germany feels much more like a small town in France; so big cities all kind of feel the same. Bu in general it can be pretty similar, a mix of straight up heavy metal people, to maybe more arty indie types, hipsters. It’s good I like the difference, and the freakier the audience the better. Like when I see like a bunch of hippies in the corner doing the grateful dead dancing then next to the hardcore kids like over in the other corner, then the long haired, tattooed metal heads.
It’s a beautiful thing. So I heard you guys got some radio play on NPR? How did that come about?
I mean it’s not as if we have any control, it’s not as if we are submitting pour music to journalist to review or pal. I don’t think about that kind of stuff, but it does give me pause sometime to kind of think about why this record in particular has gotten so much mainstream interest. I don’t really know, it’s not the kind of thing that bothers me, but it’s also not the kind of thing I really care about one way or the other.
Well as long as Rush Limbaugh stays away.
Well NPR is more intellectual left.
Ha, Thankfully it’s the opposite of Limbaugh.
Yeah. New York times, La times, New Yorker also wrote an article. And these are big names, but they are always sort of trolling the underground for the next big thing to write about. Then once they write about it it’s destroyed.
Right. Is that a bit of a conundrum for you? Being brought into the spotlight in such a way?
It’s completely unavoidable, like I said we have no control over who’s interested and who hears about it. I just feel as if Black metal is in a certain place in the culture, like a phenomenon, a movement and it begins in the underground. It’s something shared by a very small group of people and then eventually it becomes the property of everyone. And we are at that point right now. I think this year is the point where black metal has been fully enveloped out by the mainstream. You see black metal aesthetic everywhere. Like Fashion magazines, everyone knows about it. Maybe that means it time to change something. It doesn’t make any sense to me to keep going with corpse paint and the same sort of satanic imagery. Singing about fjords and wastelands. It just seems as if that style, that aesthetic that spirit at this point is almost classic rock. Why not push things to the next level?
Well I certainly think that’s something that you guys are doing. After reading some of the album reviews, one quote stands out “Finding beauty in the darkness”. Do you agree with that?
Yeah totally! That’s always been our goal. Almost all traditional black metal is really very dark. It channels the most negative bitter and hateful aspects of human psyche and revels in it. It’s the kind of thing you draw power from, and that’s what Satanism is all about: drawing power form darkness. We always wanted dot do the exact opposite. We wanted to engage the darkness and transform it, like alchemy really. To take things that are hateful and bitter and painful like alienation and despair and transform that into something that is positive and beautiful, like life. Not many bands do that, most black metal bands are very happy to stay in the darkness, and revel in the depravity of pain and fear and bring more of that energy into the world. That’s just not been our mission.
Well and I think people take different meanings from different things. I know that the reason for you not printing your lyrics is that you prefer people to draw their own opinions and meanings from the songs. Is this something that happens within the band also? Can one song mean different things to each of you?
Not really, because it’s just me and Nathan writing the music, and we are both very clear on the intention behind the songs. For us the music comes second, the first thing we come up with is the concept, the ideas, the imagery we are trying to evoke. We are both very much focused on manifesting those ideas. And Randall is as well, the producer. He’s very much into that as well, and helping us bring that into fruition.
Ok. So then, if we are thinking archetypically what are the most common, or recurring metaphors?
It’s always shifting! Lie every record has its own sort of form or spirit. The new record is very much about the world, the tarot card, the feeling of completion the feeling of reaching a place of accomplishment and maybe looking back and seeing all the struggles you’ve had to get to a certain place in life. And then also having to look forward to the next goal. It’s very much a place of deep transition for us. We’ve been in this band for almost nine years, and we are definitely getting older and we see this record as kind of rite of passage or a turning point. We are going to let go of all the old ways that we’ve done things in the past, our old priorities and motivations. We’re going to force ourselves to walk a new path. And so the archetypes are always shifting. When we were writing "Black Cascade" we were very focused on the emperor (tarot) and control. We felt at that point, people wanted us to be something we were not. We were pressured to be this band that plays by the rules, goes on package tours, and does all that kind of stuff. And we just refused to do that. It was very important for us to stay strong and stay very focused on the reason why we do the music. It's not about making money, it’s not about being popular or successful you know? It’s about making music that feels very honest to us, a true observation of our spirit and our vision.
It's so important. Well so far as strong opinions, it really seems as if Black metal as a genre has this. And everyone has their own specific ideology, for example NSBM. Now you guys are very much into radical ecology. So could you tell me about this idea, and its connection to the music and why it’s so important?
Yeah I could! Well one of the basic ideas that modern life is built on is that the world and the earth exists for us. It exists as a source of resources for us to extract and do with what we want. Now a forest is not just a forest, but it does have its own spirit, its own coherency and its own laws. But for many people an ocean is not a source of spiritual power it’s a place to pull fish out of. Or it’s something we can use to float ships across to get garbage from the United States to China. Or vice versa. Now the way I see it, our ecological pint of view is that the world and natural places have a divinity of their own and a value of their own that is intrinsic to the place. But it’s nothing to do with humans placing value on them. They are places that have their own spirit. And I think that’s an idea that all human cultures up until recently held to be true. It’s a very recent idea that the earth and the planet and the forests and the rivers and the mountains are not places that have their own sort of spiritual magic to them. And that’s what it is to us, is trying to reconnect to that magic of a place, and force. Which modern people for the most part have forgotten about. There is not much space for those kinds of ideas.
It has a Pagan ring to it.
Yeah of course, it’s definitely a Pagan ideal.
Well have you ever thought about touring with these kinds of bands? I for one could definitely envision a Wolves in the Throne Room tour with Moonsorrow and Agalloch.
I don’t know! We don’t feel very connected with a specific paganism. I don’t feel connected to Odin or Thor, or Northern European traditions. Because we are definitely Americans. And a big part of our life as Americans is that we don’t have any traditions of our own. We feel very deeply disconnected from any history or lineage anything bigger then ourselves.
What about Native American beliefs?
Well that’s not our culture. We have no right to procreate Native American imagery or ideals unless of course we are given express permission by those people. If you are invited into that community. And I do have a lot friends who have been, and they work very closely with Native peoples and they have been welcomed. It’s a really beautiful thing. But for the most part we feel very adrift very alienated, and that’s the source of the despair and the melancholy and the sadness in our music. Because we have this deep longing, and deep yearning to have this connection to have these deep traditions that Native Americans have, or Europeans have. Before Christianity. And that’s why we play black metal and not hippie jam music. There’s this rift, this sense of loss that we as a people have lost this beautiful and ancient and very intrinsic thing as to how we should be. And it’s our job through our music to try to reconnect to that, and form a tradition and lineage of our own. Which is what I think we are doing with our music and our lives at home. We are trying to create a culture that is connected dot place, and has it spirituality wakened. But honestly, we didn’t start it; I think it started with the hippies in the 60’s and 70’s. I very much feel as if we are following traditions started by those people who were breaking out form the mold, whether through drugs but that where it all started.
Is this something that will continue to be apparent in your music?
Yes more so definitely. A lot of the bitterness and alienation that I hear in our earlier records is starting to wash away. We feel more connected in our lives, stronger in our vision of things, and are just feeling more and more positive.
Would you say this has been therapeutic?
Yeah! Very much so. The act of playing is so cathartic it really is a release for those deep wounds that are inside of us. These deep caverns of negativity that are locked inside our spirits have all been released in a positive way.
Well it’s so interesting because for a lot of black metal bands it’s the exact opposite. You guys kind of contradict traditional black metal, but is that a goal?
Yeah! It’s our goal to destroy black metal. And that’s the irony of black metal, I should be about freedom. It should be about destroying itself and then being birthed from the ashes. But nowadays everyone wants to stay “true”. Stay true to this very orthodox idea of what black metal is. And to me that is absolutely hilarious! It is this mirror image of the Christian Church. So you could look at Black metal dogma as the mirror image of the Pope. I’d rather have nothing to do with any of it. I want nothing to do with the Christian Church and nothing to do with Christian Black Metal. I want to be free to able to do what I want, and not be beholden to anyone.
So if you had to rename your genre what would it be?
Hm well we think about that a lot! Because there is just too much clashing with the black metal label. It’s kind of convenient. Transformative Black metal. Alchemic Black Metal. Astral Black Metal.
Well I like all those! :) So what are some goals you have for the next year?
Well music wise, we’ll take a long break. We’ve been working so hard for the past couple of years, and the idea was to finish some goals. And this tour was the last of those goals. After this we will focus on things in our lives. My first job will be to build my house and my farm. So it’ll take me about a year to complete. And after that I don’t know! There’s a thousand things that I want to do, it’s a matter of choosing the right path.
Wow so you will build your own house, that’s amazing. Is the goal to have it be completely ecological and self sufficient?
Well I’m impressed, not a lot of people have that kind of fortitude.
Well that’s what I do for money, is building houses. And there’s a very strong community of ecological builders in Olympia. There’s a strong tradition of unconventional house building in the northwest that actually started during the hippie generation. A lot of my mentors that I look up to are dudes that were 25 in 1968, and they made that break with mainstream society and moved to the communes out in the mountains. They built their own houses and had kids. They lived outside the mainstream. That’s what I’m trying to do. I want to stay and build upon that lineage; that outsider culture.
So it sounds to me like you’ve found the culture you’ve been looking for?
Yeah absolutely! It’s very much a tradition. A good example that occurred to me a few days ago is that one of our land mates at the farm had just had a baby, and while she was pregnant she had a blessing way. It’s just kind of this cheesy, this hippie ceremony, and kind of goofy. But it’s a very specific ritual. The woman that facilitated the blessing way was in her 60’s. And she had one for her daughter in a teepee when they were living in a commune in the mountains. And then there’s another woman in her 40’s who had one with her daughter. It’s about four generations of woman who have had the same ceremony. It’s kind of this goofy, made up, kind of cheesy hippy ceremony. But still I think it’s a very powerful thing to develop that tradition. Everything starts out that way but it becomes powerful in terms of repetition. So I’d like to find those little things that feel like the beginnings of something, and push forward into the future.
So is it an American subculture or something completely on its own?
Yeah I think it’s very much an American, West Coast, outsider culture.
Well I have to say it’s been very inspiring to speak with you! Any last words for our readers?
No, I think we covered it all!
Rachel Roth has studied classical music and folk music at the University level, and enjoys studying Folklore in her spare time. She is an avid metal fan lucky enough to be living in Helsinki, Finland, where she now studies social work. Currently, she has expanded her love of music to include photography and freelance writing. You can see more of her photography here.
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