This is some pretty hefty call-and-response type shit going on here, so it you’ll thank me in advance for not yammering on with no end in sight about how great Tom G. Warrior is, about how Celtic Frost and Hellhammer‘s collective legacy is responsible for some of the most essential records in metal, a whole scene, and how Triptykon rising out of the ashes of Celtic Frost’s pyre with Eparistera Daimones is the most spectacular re-entry since the first Space Shuttle came back.
This interview isn’t really from a vault; it was from a dictaphone that broke and this is the upside to data recovery. Some of this isn’t totally contemporaneous but don’t let that ruin your day. Enjoy!
Did the positive reception for Triptykon surprise you?
TGW:: When I left Celtic Frost and said in many interviews exactly what the album would be like. It got really quiet in my life, for the first time in my life, or in many years, no journalist would call me to ask for a studio report—now everybody writes, “Tom is a genius; he influenced so many people” but until the album came out no one talked like that. It was like, “Oh Tom left Celtic Frost—that’s it.” And no one gave a flying shit about Triptykon, what Triptykon was doing in the studio, how it was getting on, and then the album comes out and I’m reading over and over again “we didn’t expect that” when I’ve been saying it’ll be exactly what the album was going to be like. I mean I don’t aim that specifically at you but before the album was out, people were saying “Tom’s done”. The scene forgets really quickly. I had done 11 albums before the Triptkyon album and out of those, only one was a severe failure—it’s amazing, ‘cos in a month’s time people will forget about you and what you did in the past doesn’t count for shit. People just think. “Oh, he’s not going to pull it off”.
The metal scene can be cruel and unforgiving place.
TGW: It’s unrealistic. On one hand, I read things about me that are untrue; I read words like genius and they’re so far-fetched, it’s just like that and then the he’s not going to pull it off: they’re both extreme reactions, and completely have nothing to do with my life and that’s what puzzles me about the scene, instead of realistically assessing somebody and just being calm it’s always extremes that are completely, y’know….
How was Roadburn 2010?
TGW: It was a difficult show. I had some technical problems with my guitars which meant I couldn’t focus on what I was supposed to do, and of course it wasn’t my first concert so I knew what to do, but I would have loved to have enjoyed it more, being on stage with my mind on that and not attending to technical problems with my guitar tech. But it was a fantastic audience and the festival is outstanding.
Have you begun writing for album number two?
TGW: I’m constantly writing. I’m working on the second Triptykon album and the plan is to go into the studio in 2011 and either finish the album and release it before the end of 2011 or early 2012 [EDIT: 2012]. I have very definite ideas of what the album will be like. I pretty much know what it’s going to sound like, and I’m working on it. The artwork’s been determined for quite a like time—two years, already—and the music is starting to shape up, too. There is a lot of new music written.
Part of your problem is competing with history, your legacy.
TGW: And it gets more intimidating by the hour now that our album has received such amazing reviews, fantastic reviews from all over the world so the pressure hasn’t abated, it’s actually almost worse. It’s very bitter when you release an album that doesn’t follow what’s gone before, and of course there ‘s a huge danger that our next album will do that, because how much better can the reviews for Eparistera Daimones can you get? It’s impossible. And like I told you before, people call me genius and all these things, and that’s so far from the truth, because I have no idea why the first album received such good reviews. It’s not that I have some kind of secret formula; I simply wrote an album the way it was inside of me and I really have no ideas what made the album so successful so writing the next one is hugely intimidating, as with every other album I’ve ever done. I have no idea how to complete that task, to complete an album that can stand next to the first one, it’s a serious challenge and I have no idea how to do it. I know how the album will sound like but to get there it’s going to be a huge mountain to climb.
Is it just a question of ignoring what people say?
TGW:I always do that, of course. I’ve been part of the music industry for 28 years and when I write this song I have to write it so somebody will like it but you are aware of the mechanisms and reactions, even if it doesn’t influence your songwriting, I can’t just switch a switch and that’s me. I’ve been there. The next one is going to be my 13th album and I know very well how things work, and of course I’m not going to let it influence my music but I am aware that my album will come out and it will be judged whether I like it or not.
Eparistera Daimones turned out a lot more aggressive than I expected.
TGW: So as I’m writing the new one, if I’m ever stuck for motivation I’ll go to Zurich and ring the doorbell of Celtic Frost’s old drummer, and there you go I’ll have a new album.
What influences you outside of music?
TGW: A million things have had an influence on me, music is just one part of it. I’m a hugely opinionated person when it comes to the conduct of human beings on this planet, of religion, of history, of politics, and even though I don’t have to force my opinions on everybody, of course, having a strong opinion releases a lot of adrenaline in certain cases when you’re actually watching human beings and when you’re studying religion and all these things you form passionate opinions and when you’re writing music with these passionate opinions then of course these emotions will find their way into your songwriting and your lyric writing. And, I mean, these things have followed me ever since I was a teenager. One part of my escape, next to music, was history books, and learning about history and religion, I just needed to escape from the actual world I was living in. These things have only grown over the years; my home resembles a library.
Is there any particular period of history that fascinates you?
TGW: There are certain parts of human history that interest me more but generally I’m just a complete history fanatic. And that sounds completely stupid! But I’m hugely curious to learn about the world I’m living in. I’m not one of those people who is ignorantly… I mean, each to their own but I like to learn every detail while I’m alive, and I know my life is by far too short to learn everything I want to learn so I want to learn as much as I can. I personally think it is very important not to be ignorant, to avoid being ignorant about the world you’re living in or else you are bound to repeat certain things that should not be repeated, and of course, starting with the Babylonian times, or the Roman Empire or the Egyptian Empire have fascinated me ever since I was able to read. Because of my own family I was very interested in World War II, but there are so many periods that have interested me. History is one of my main interests, and if you look at the history of mankind religion is a constant parallel to political history, for many centuries. We are a pathetic race and that’s why we look to religions and political leaders. It’s ridiculous.
How do you think this period will be viewed in centuries to come?
TGW: Probably very unfavourably, because we are living in an age of history where access to information is more easy than ever before, in the entire history of mankind, and yet we’re still conducting a million mistakes that given the access to information should be avoided. If you look at the oil spill off the coast of America or the wars that are being conducted; religious wars are being fought by religious fundamentalists when everybody nowadays, who wants to have access to information that tells them what a dead end all of these things are, what it does to this planet, what it does to human beings, it’s amazing. If there’s any realism in the future, they will look at it this and think, “How could they do this when they knew all of this? How could they do this for the umpteenth time?” I mean, if a Roman soldier didn’t know about politics, that’s understandable, but nowadays? What the hell…
We’re waiting for an enlightenment that’s never going to happen.
TGW: We are suckers for ignorance.
Let’s talk a bit about the cover for Eparistera Daimones; though you’ll have to forgive me, I don’t know how to pronounce it.
TGW: You are at liberty to pronounce it any way you want to! There’s no recording of Aleister Crowley saying it, and given the way he played with language no one knows how he pronounced it. I think you are at liberty to make up your own version.
I’m just glad this is not on the radio… But what is your working relationship with H.R. Giger like?
TGW: Well I have a clear vision because I’m a huge enthusiast and a huge admirer of his work, and have been ever since I was a child, literally, so I have a clear picture of his work. I know almost his entire body of work and know exactly what I think would work with my music. And I also know him, his preferences and how he will act. So I approach him, him and I would probably feel the same way about the collaboration. I have this vision that this particular painting, Vlad Tepes, would make an absolutely stunning album cover for our music. I wanted to use it for this album. I had this vision for many years, I just had to have the right moment where I felt I could go to him, present it to him, his right moment and my right moment, and when I thought it was the day when we would both be on the same level I went to him and simply asked him. I first talked to his wife, who runs all of his affairs and is an advisor to him, and she encouraged me to go ahead and ask him; to my astonishment, he didn’t even let me finish my sentence, he said that he would be honored. He’s very difficult to estimate what he’s going to do. He said it was a huge honor to work with Triptykon because he knew our music and we are friends, but until he said that I had absolutely no guarantee that he’d want to. People come almost every day to him, from custom motorcycles to album sleeves, and he turns down so many things because he doesn’t want to commercialise himself.
He’s very good at managing his profile.
TGW: Very much so. I have the greatest respect for that. He’s an artist, a true artist; he’s always in dire need of money and then there are all these people coming to him with projects that will probably yield money and yet for one reason or another he doesn’t take on all these projects. He only takes up a fraction of them. That speaks to me as an artist and it makes his projects so much more special. And the astonishing thing is, when he agrees to do a project, like with Triptykon, he doesn’t ask for money. I offered him money for Vlad Tepes, “name any price you want, we want to work with this painting is essential to the album. I will pay whatever it costs, I’ll arrange for the money, whatever it takes.” He just flatly declined, and that’s amazing. He’s willing to work for the project, just for the project and not the money: how many people do you find like that in this world?
Changing tack, a little, let’s talk about riffs as they’ve been the cornerstone to everything you’ve written: what is your writing process like?
TGW: Well, what might surprise some people is when I write it’s not on my full Marshall stacks or anything, but I write almost everything at my home on a small practise amp, which sounds really shitty and has no Tubescreamer or distortion on it, which is my trademark—people always try to get me to play more modern equipment but the [Marshall] JCM800 is simply unbeatable. It’s just a Marshall practice amp with overdrive/distortion, and my selection process is that if a riff sounds heavy and dark there it will be monstrous when played through my full Marshall rig. I know that if something sounds good at home with this shitty equipment then I can be pretty sure that the band will be blown away when I take it to the rehearsal room, and me too. It’s rare that I go to the rehearsal room and play through the Marshalls. I really don’t know why this is. I enjoy playing through the full stacks, but it’s difficult to go to a rehearsal room and be inspired at that very moment, but at home I can be there 24 hours a day, and when I feel the inspiration I grab my guitar and go to my shitty little amp.
I guess when you’re playing at high volume it’s sometimes difficult to appreciate what’s good, it all sounds good.
TGW: It makes it too easy. A good sounding Marshall with some distortion and even the shittiest thing will sound heavy. It’s really not good for selection; you’d write a song and think it sounds fantastic just because the Marshall sounds good. If it sounds fantastic on shitty equipment then it will definitely sound fantastic on good equipment. I have sometimes written in the rehearsal space but it’s usually just a riff, like when the song works but there’s something that’s not quite there, not what I’m aiming for and of course I can write it then, but usually the inspiration happens when I’m at home. When I’m at home, I’m living in a normal rented apartment where I can’t possibly crank a Marshall stack. In the old Celtic Frost days, I lived in an old farmhouse because it was really cheap and there I could have a full Marshall stack. I can’t do that right now. I’m a normal citizen just like everyone else so I have to use a little practise amp, for many years now, all of Monotheist was written like that.
Then you’ve got this excitement of having the idea and the journey to the rehearsal space to hear what it sounds like, how good it can be.
TGW: I never know whether it’s going to work. The first time I hear it work it’s when the band plays it, and sometimes it’s an unpleasant surprise. Once again, I don’t just shake these riffs out of my sleeves, it’s a huge amount of work for me, and I have a huge amount of respect for anyone who makes albums. It’s not an easy thing to write albums, good albums. I’m not a riff genius, by far. Sometimes I’ll go to rehearsal and I’ll have something in my mind and think that this is going to work fantastically and then the band plays it and for some reason it just doesn’t work. And it’s of course embarrassing; my band looks at me and thinks here’s the guy who’s written so many albums and this? But it’s simply reality, I’m a guitar player and sometimes it’s hit and sometimes it’s miss. I think over the years I’ve become a lot more self-critical and a lot more assertive. I am my own worst critic, even the people on the internet who really hate me, I don’t think they can even approach my own criticism of myself, and I try to weed out my songs aggressively. When I write a song, and it sounds complete, it’s never finished; we usually work on the songs, as a band, and rearrange and rearrange until the emotion of the song is exactly as it should be. It’s not killing the song by giving it too much attention, it’s simply searching for the most powerful version of the song, and that sometimes takes quite a while. I just remembered, you mentioned “Procreation (of the Wicked)” and it’s funny, that’s a riff that came in the rehearsal room during a jam, which is one of the few times in my life that I jammed. A jam? I hate jams! But I was jamming with Stephen Priestly and that riff came to me and it’s my favorite riff of all the riffs I’ve ever written.
It’s a doozy of a riff, it has a personality of its own.
TGW: That riff has really come to represent me, and it has come as second nature to me, it feels like me when we’re playing it. I mean, there’s not a single rehearsal where we don’t play that song. I cannot imagine not playing it, even though it’s a very simple song. I sometimes think it must be the the same about Black Sabbath “Paranoid”; it’s the most simple, boring thing, but somehow it’s essential to me and I cannot imagine being without it. And playing it live it works, while all the other songs are so intricate and more technically… I dunno, it is so much me. If I didn’t play it, it would be like being amputated.
Because it’s so simple, it seems that bit more profound.
TGW: It’s funny, when I see other bands covering it, or playing that riff during soundcheck they always pull it like crazy to get that pulled sound, and when I play it I don’t even pull the string; I simply touch the string and hold it. It’s the attitude. People think that you have to bend the string but the string doesn’t need to be bend the string at all. That’s the key to “Procreation (of the Wicked)”.
It might be a weird parallel but it’s a bit like the old Chicago blues player, shaking it from the arm.
TGW: That’s not a weird parallel at all. But it’s not just the arm. I’ve said it many times, it’s not an equipment thing it’s an attitude thing. There are a million technical guitar players with great equipment but there are few guitar players who have an actual attitude, and don’t just talk about it, and if you actually have an attitude it’ll transfer into all of your playing, your signature style.