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Interview: Wolves In The Throne Room

'…the hippies failed, they fucked up…'
Katrin Kropf January 25, 2012
WITTR top Interview: Wolves In The Throne Room

WOLVES IN THE THRONE ROOM are certainly one of the most important and innovative blackmetal bands out there. “How come?”, one who listens for the first time to the band without having ever heard of them before might ask. This is noisy and mostly raw blackmetal, okay, one can not deny. But the revelation lies in the second sight, in the close-up, in the band’s some-sort-of-concept or more or less in the band’s biography. Growing up in the utmost Northwest of the US the Weaver brothers have a close connection to the lush primeval nature ever since they can remember. About ten years ago they bought a farm there called Calliope and lived a rural, widely autarchic lifestyle, but also having built up an own studio there. Thenceforth the bonds and correlations to nature grew stronger. And the band continued to record all those impressions and most inner thoughts and became quite popular already with their second album Two Hunters, a remarkable, ambient-driven dark homage to the Douglas firs and nature’s capricious but beautiful spirit of the Pacific Northwest…

I talked to Aaron last October, right before a hypnotizing gig in Dresden. Though it’s some months ago, the words didn’t lose their statement-ish character and still praise an album, released in September 2011, and its ideas that last longer than just a few hastily-lived months. WOLVES IN THE THRONE ROOM created something that stays. I dare not say that this is the best album they have ever made, but it’s probably the most important one, because it closes a cycle that began with Diadem Of Stars in 2006 and almost threatened to collapse with the hardly accessible and very harsh Black Cascade; at least to me the third album of this tetralogy marked the so far weakest moment of this very special North American band… but still, it was not really weak, only very dark, heavy and hostile. Luckily, their latest release Celestial Lineage now seems like the perfect and seamless follow-up to their 2007 album Two Hunters.

AARON- It’s the most important one to me. Not at first. The first two records were quite spontaneously made. But with Black Cascade we knew that there would be a third record. From that point we had our future planned, with a vision of how we wanted things to flow. Since Black Cascade we were thinking a bit more about the material and the spirit, so that is something that evolved from a place of misty nothingness to something that is really concrete.

KATRIN- So you don’t need to listen to all three of them to get the whole point? (Which would be a selling point of course!)

AARON- I don’t think so. I think you would have to listen them through; you wouldn’t be able to listen just to one song of each record. Those records work from beginning to end. Some people listen to music on their ipod shuffling around. For me that’s not the right way to listen to music. Of course it’s hard to make a record that flows from beginning to end, but the three records don’t need to be listened to as one piece.

celestial lineage 300 Interview: Wolves In The Throne Room

Thuja Magus Imperium – taken from Celestial Lineage (2011)

KATRIN- Yes, each of them is quite different too. So let’s start where the new album takes off, with Thuja Magus Imperium. Thuja is an arbor vitae, an evergreen life tree, which can grow very tall in the north-west of the US where you live. Having that in mind the whole opening song sounds like a mysterious ode to life, but of course humble and respectful. It sounds so powerful and to me even kind of positive… or maybe I’m just a bit mixed up!?

AARON- It’s like the darkness of the moon for instance. But yes, your words fit too. Everyone has their own experience obviously, but that sounds like what we wanted to raise.

KATRIN- I love all the details you put in there: the subtle synthesizers, ambient elements like fire cracking, bells ringing, all those chants… Sounds like you spent a great deal of time to write, record and arrange everything?

AARON- There’s a lot of weird little details and it definitely took a long time. But we were able to do it that way, because we bought a studio in our house in Olympia, a big nice studio with drums and all the heavier guitars. We could spend a lot of time with those tapes. We were able to take breaks and walk away from it for a walk. And Randall Dunn, who has also done the last records with us, moved into our spare bedroom in Olympia. We lived together all day pretty much and were able to get really deep into it, having all those ambient elements and layer-to-layer sounds that we are very happy with. In the past it was different. Our past records were also good, but not like what we wanted. Normally you never really get what you want when you do a record, because you are constrained by money and time. But now we actually had the time to do it.

KATRIN- So did you start to write music immediately after the release of Black Cascade?

AARON- Well, we did some touring for a while and had ideas cooking like themes and some melodic ideas in the back of our heads. It was around January of last year… we were playing our guitars, went out for walks, played more guitar and developed the concepts of the record. At the same time I think there’s nothing wrong with having to go fast with a record. Some of my favorite records were recorded in a basement or for only 100 dollars. Despite of all those limitations a record can become really really good, because you are fighting against those limitations and that can create a great energy or excitement. A band that has really much money to spend is usually just garbage, because it’s too easy. I mean does U2 really need to put out new records?

WITTR hi 2 Interview: Wolves In The Throne Room

KATRIN- Certainly not. That’ overrated “radio rock” to me. But let’s go back to some seriously good music… I have to admit that I had a bit of a hard time with Black Cascade. It was still good though: very tight and hypnotic, very dark and raging, especially in the beginning. Black Cascade was like sitting in a hollow cedar tree trunk alone in darkness, only with your own thoughts and feelings – which can be quite frightening at times. “Celestial Lineage”, to me, is more similar to Two Hunters, which ended with I Will Lay Down My Bones Among The Rocks And Roots, in my opinion still the best track that WOLVES IN THE THRONE ROOM have done so far. To me Celestial Lineage exactly starts where Two Hunters ended. It’s not so lonely like Black Cascade. It’s more like going out and exploring nature by moving through it. It has more details and dynamics and seems more caring for what is going on around you, less self-centered…

AARON- Yes, that’s how we envision it too. We envision music like walking through a world. We have a definite world, a geography, like a map the record takes place in… which is really just our home. You can walk through it, you can examine this one little object in terms of music, in terms of a series of rooms.

KATRIN- It’s a wonderful progress. I had my doubts before how far you could push the boundaries of blackmetal, but I wasn’t disappointed. Do you sometimes think – or do you still think – that the blackmetal genre all in all is a bit limited and hindering your creative freedom?

AARON- We never feel limited or restrained. Because we never think of genres and if things fit into a blackmetal record at all. We definitely have a lot of blackmetal elements, inspired by some of those Norwegian bands. But we feel like we pretty much found our own path. If people label it blackmetal, that’s totally fine with me, if they want to interpret it as anything else that’s fine too.

KATRIN- It seems like when you make music you basically don’t care about what people might think of it. That’s a good thing – and probably not too easy – to completely neglect peoples’ expectations during the process of making music…

AARON- Yes. We are able to hide during the whole recording process. We didn’t see anyone, we are basically by ourselves in a middle of nowhere and are able to work in a really intensive way. Everything else disappears and the only thing that we see is the record. With this record I think we got a little too deep into it. After it we were really destroyed, wrecked. We felt very good, but also very exhausted and emotionally drained. You end up sacrificing everything.

WITTR 300 Interview: Wolves In The Throne Room

KATRIN- Did you have a lot of material for this record that you finally didn’t use in the end?

AARON- Yes. For every record there is material that we didn’t use, this time a whole, maybe even two albums of material that would have fit on other records. We might revisit some of that material. There is some stuff on Celestial Lineage we came up with some years ago…

KATRIN- Why do you never publish your lyrics? Sometimes it’s a bit hard to understand everything…

AARON- The record has the lyrics actually published! But to be honest, the lyrics are the last thing we think about. We’re not too passionate about it. It is important, yes. But to me it’s the least important thing in music. When we have the lyrics included it might give too much of our own ideas away and people think “Oh, it’s about this.” Lyrics may limit the possibilities for the listener. It was a pretty spontaneous thing though, to print the lyrics this time.

KATRIN- Oh okay, I didn’t realize it because I was still waiting for my vinyl copy which I have pre-ordered somewhere else… But without having a lyrical background don’t you sometimes think that many of your fans lack the right access to your music? Do you think they might not understand what’s it all about?

AARON- When I talked to people I sometimes had a really cool conversation about it, also in interviews. It seems like people are picking up on some messages and give me back their own ideas about it. But especially in Europe it’s a bit sad we hardly get the chance to talk, because we feel a bit isolated from the fans. In a club like this there is a very strong barrier between the fans and the band. And then it’s hard to find out the peoples’ experiences with the music. We don’t play clubs like this in the States. On the US tour we played underground venues, tiny rooms with zero barrier between us and the crowd. In these situations it’s much easier to talk to the people, to make connections with the people.

KATRIN- So, if the Europeans want to know more about what you try to deliver, if they want a better access to the things beyond the music, to this nature and transcendental reality of your songs, which books, texts, writers or people in general do you refer to or which can you recommend?

AARON- I read a lot about architecture. There is an amazing British theorist who writes about buildings at the University of California Berkeley. The quest in life is to figure out why we – all people – love old buildings. We love old cities with winding streets, we love old farms and cathedrals. They make us feel comfortable on the contrary to shitty suburban trap houses and we all hate modern-style buildings… but yet why do we make all that things? Why is that happening? …


…the hippies failed, they fucked up… Now they start to come back again. Some of the blackmetal guys will be sad to hear that, but it’s absolutely true.


I’m also very much into literature and books from the hippie scene of the 60s and 70s. I feel connected to that culture, because that was the time in the west where people started to rise up against regimentation and mechanization and recovered spirituality and ways of living that reflect on a more natural way of living… But the hippies failed, they fucked up… Now they start to come back again. Some of the blackmetal guys will be sad to hear that, but it’s absolutely true.

KATRIN- And did the blackmetal fail?

AARON- Blackmetal is failure. It is all about our misery as human beings. Our connection to ancient gods has gone, we have destroyed everything. That’s what blackmetal is about. Maybe there’s some possibility to learn from those ethnic movements and to build one step higher on that pyramids towards something better. I’m an optimist. Maybe I’m not that optimistic about the world and human beings’ continuing existence. But I try to live like things continue in a positive way.

KATRIN- That leads me to my last question: What do you think is the world’s biggest woe nowadays?

WITTR hi Interview: Wolves In The Throne Room

AARON- I don’t like to speak for the world. I always know what happens in general, but I rather only focus on my very small communicative power of change and what I am responsible for. But the main problem I think is, that most people – the mainstream, the government… – have no connection to the reality that lies beyond this world. The culture is always acknowledged by other levels of reality. There are entities and beings forcing us and we are affecting them. In this world every act has an other-worldly dimension. Here and now there are just ourselves, but there is also an other layer of our existence. Everything we do in our daily world also happens in that world… and so it has a lot more meaning. Take for example an eclipse. In mythology an eclipse has its very own meaning and in science the reason for an eclipse is because one astronomical object simply obscures another.

My point is that both of those explanations are equally true. It has very much meaning and significance, the rational world view but also the mythical view that maybe our ancestors all agreed on. That needs to be acknowledged and honored. Maybe that’s what the new age is. Basically a new wave of hippie age comes down to sympathize those two realities, to make them coexist. One way or the other: We could just go back to the dark ages and live in caves or continue further down that extreme road of technological transformation. I think that will be disastrous. Technology transforms our consciousness. Many younger people begin to exist in a world of Social Media. Why not completely live in a world that is created in the web, with no beasts who are trying to eat you? You can always be comfortable and climb back. Why not do that? Go and see the movie Avatar if you haven’t already. That technology scenario is truly evil. On the other hand there is this beautiful nature there, the woods and creatures and amazing plants. Here you have the contrasts of those worlds very plainly to see…

Though the Weavers might follow a rural and self-sustaining life away from packed cities Aaron keeps on saying that the band is far from preaching “the one and only way to live”. There is no right or wrong… Hey, we live on a planet with seven billions of people, not all of them can live like that; there’s just not enough space. But have a think about some parallel realities mentioned here. And no, nobody had any dope during the interview. I also didn’t ask about all that “What’s next for your band?” kind of crap. It just didn’t seem right. People take so little time to cherish what they just got and tend to push forward to something new. We just closed a cycle here, a huge chapter, if not the band itself, who knows. We still have to swallow and digest this enormous tetralogy. Scrape your plates and come back for refills! This one here never expires.

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WOLVES IN THE THRONE ROOM

blackmetal / ambient
from Olympia / Washington / USA

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photos by Alison Scarpulla

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