Watain’s arrival in the US might be bad news to priggish guardians of Christian morality but it’s good news for butchers who have ordinarily found animal’s blood harder to shift than the flesh. Watain require a lot of blood, and it doesn’t have to be fresh. It’s better if it isn’t. We can only presume that the weeks-old lifeblood of some farm animal has been apportioned into the unholy grail and is satisfyingly strong on the nostrils, ‘cos frontman Erik Danielsson has just finished soundcheck in Atlanta and he sounds like a man who has got his game-face on. Indeed, Danielsson sounds pretty psyched in general with the progress of the inaugural Decibel Tour, which sees the Swedes join headliners Behemoth, the Devil’s Blood and In Solitude in what is gnarliest touring package going (hey, partisan or not: it is).
Watain might have missed the first four dates while the red tape was getting sorted out, but they are here now, in fighting spirits, and Danielsson was more than happy to kill time talking about the tour, what it is like to perform live with Watain, and the band’s forthcoming DVD, Opus Diaboli.
It’s good to see that you have made it to the US of A after all the visa rigmarole.
The visa thing, I mean we’ve sort of got used to things like that now. It’s been like that for every US tour we’ve done so far. … We’re not a very easy band to deal with. We missed on those first shows but on the other hand we’ve got them re-booked through our agent, so we’re doing at least four of them after the New York show. We don’t miss out on anything.
We can’t blame you for Ohio, though, which is a shame, as that would count as a job well done for Watain, offending Christian sensibilities and causing chaos with the schedule.
I think, as long as we stay true to who we are, which we plan to do ‘til we die, we will always bump into this kind of thing. Of course it’s annoying, but at the same time it’s a natural consequence of doing what we do. This music is supposed to upset people, and it’s supposed to arouse feelings of antagonism and opposition—that’s exactly what it does. Sometimes you have to face such things. But we are prepared; we’ve had 13 years of preparing.
I always think it’s silly for metal fans to complain about people complaining about the message or whatever, censorship—it’s a sign you’re doing something right if the fusty old crows moan about it. But, touring America, where the religious right aligns itself with big business and so forth, does it feel like you are striking at the belly of the beast?
It is a very strange country in that sense. I mean, it’s one of the most fundamentally religious countries in the western world. Being the band we are, we see that, we know this and have to deal with it. But to be honest, it’s something that fuels our enthusiasm, it triggers us to scream even louder, to make even more noise. I think it’s a good thing to be on enemy ground, in that sense. The USA is an extreme example, but no matter where we are playing—and it’s usually still in Western Europe—is in essence Christian. Our role has always been that of the enemy, and that is the way it should be.
Thinking back to the early days, has Watain’s sense of ritualism evolved with regards to the live show?
Yeah, it has evolved, and mostly in the sense that we have come to know ourselves better, and to understand how we work best and what we need to do that. I think, in the early years, there was just a lot of general hell-raising going on for better or worse! Haha! Just around the release of Sworn to the Dark was when we started to feel that we had a solid platform to work from, and I am talking not only concert-wise but everything band-related. It sort of cleared up around that time. I think it is a consequence of having tried out a lot of different things and come to know the nature of the energies that we are dealing with. I mean, it is after all very complex and chaotic things that Watain is based upon, and it takes time and it takes patience, determination, to come to terms with these things, and be able to work with them without becoming a victim of them instead of being in league with them. So yeah, there has absolutely been a process of evolution across all levels. And, as far as I am concerned, that is a revolution that will go on until I am dead.
From the outside looking in, it seems more like a spiritual evolution than an aesthetic one. It’s more like you have got better at articulating the ethos of Watain.
I think everything comes together eventually, and the spiritual evolution will eventually lead to evolution on other planes, be they aesthetic or personal, or musical, whatever they may be. A spiritual evolution is something that rearranges your whole way of thinking that puts things into a new light. To take the example of the stage show, it’s something that just gradually evolved without us actually thinking about it, and all of a sudden we are not able to go on tour without a truck, y’know!? Haha! It’s just a living, breathing organism that has a life of its own. We are just there to let it manifest itself.
Do you understand why many black metal bands would choose not to play live, especially considering that your ethos is strongest in a live setting?
The thing about playing live, being in a band and playing concerts—it is something that is taken for granted these days. It has always been, since the ‘50s when rock ‘n’ roll was coming out. But I always questioned why people would take that for granted, because I don’t think that just because you write music, play songs, and want to express yourself through music doesn’t necessarily mean that you are an artist who would want to be on a stage. To me, those things are following a theme; they are connected. But [writing and performing] are also very separate things when it comes to expression; I think a live show demands a whole lot more, or maybe not more but it demands a completely different mindset to composing an album. I cannot say that I don’t understand people who don’t want to play live; I can relate to that. But I think that the reason that a lot of black metal bands don’t want to play live is that they realize they don’t have enough potential—they don’t have enough force, enough artistic ideas to express themselves onstage. Because, of course, it takes a lot, and we put everything we can into our live shows and if we were not able to do that then I am not sure we would have played live either. For us it has always been a natural thing…
Do you prefer playing live? Is that the more gratifying aspect of Watain?
Umm, I don’t know. It’s not the most gratifying part—it is a very important component of being in Watain. I think that the greatest reward for being in a band like this is more about living in our world, in the world that we have created during these past 13 years. To be one of the family, so to speak, and to have a feeling that you are not a part of regular society… We have our own thing going, and that’s how we are going to keep it: that is what Watain means to us, and I think that is the most gratifying aspect of being in this band. But then, that’s maybe looking at it overall; the live shows are pretty direct in their sense of gratification, so to speak. You are there. You feel it. And there is something very powerful going on at that very moment, and you can be inspired by it for months afterwards so, yes, it’s very important, a lot more important for Watain than for many others.
Is the direct gratification of the live show coming from a personal point of view, in terms of it being a transcendent experience or whatever, or from the confrontational purpose, from spreading the word?
It’s both, really. But it always has to be based on something personal that we do for ourselves; that wouldn’t be the case if we were only confrontational. There wouldn’t be a solid enough foundation to stand on. To me, the live shows are still a process of transformation that I would need to go through; no matter if I was in a band or not, I would still need to find ways of reaching the state that I am in onstage if I wasn’t in Watain. The live shows are very personal in that sense, and something that we do to the greatest extent for our own pleasure, wellbeing, and transcendence. On the other hand, the communication that you have, and the power transmitted between the audience and the band is something that cannot be denied. It is a very important ingredient of the whole concert concept, and I enjoy every second it happens—it is something very powerful and something that I relish greatly. I guess it is a bit of both but in the long run it must always be based on personal will, on a personal will to do it.
Which bands have had the greatest impact or influence on your live performance?
I think the last tour we did with Dissection, the last tour they did. I think we saw them about 40 times. They were definitely some of the most powerful concert experiences I have ever witnessed, by far. I think a lot of that has to do with the road that Dissection went down and the influence that had on our lives. Musically and spiritually, the time that we spent together working side by side was very special, and they inspired us a lot. And they were definitely a band who did something very different, aesthetically different to what we do onstage. That’s interesting as well, it sort of explains what happens on the stage, what sort of power comes onto the stage is always based on something completely individual. To take it more recently, this is something I feel when I am watching In Solitude, who are opening up this whole package. I mean, some bands just have a very primal energy that is not forced in any way; it’s just there. I mean, it is primal and incredibly strong in so many ways. It transcends the whole rock concert experience and makes it something different completely different.
Who is exciting you in music at the moment?
Oh, In Solitude and the Devil’s Blood, who are on this tour are two of the big ones.
Having them on tour with you can only help intensify your own show.
Exactly, and that is what is happening every night. That’s the beauty of it all; everyone inspires each other on this tour and that is a very beautiful thing, and a very rare thing. It has happened only a few times before.
Doing the DVD, looking back at early footage and putting the package together, did you learn much about yourselves?
Absolutely! Quite a lot actually; I don’t know if learned is the right word but we got a lot of insights when making the photo book, compiling the photography. I mean, just from the process, we had literally thousands of photos to choose from, and to try pick out those that best explain what has been going on these past 13 years, and to set the atmosphere of the book right, let the pictures talk for themselves; that was a really interesting experience. It made you realize how fucking fast things have gone. I can still remember when we took the first ever band photos as if it was yesterday. I can remember it perfectly and it was 13 years ago—that’s almost half of my life! Doing this was a very emotionally heavy experience, but in a positive sense, and I think that people will hopefully feel that when they see the DVD, the book, and everything else that we did around it. It is straight from the heart of the band. That’s what I consider the Opus Diaboli to be—that is its best selling point. It is straight from the band, especially since we released it through our own label. It is a very special release for us. Most of this stuff has never been published before and Watain is one of those bands who people want to get behind the scenes with in order to understand it better. There are a lot of things about the band that people don’t understand, naturally, because we are doing something different. It was a good time to let people into the secrets that we have kept within the band.
**You can pick up a copy of Watain Opus Diaboli HERE**
**Click to order tickets for the Decibel Tour.**
2012 MAY 04 US Charlotte, NC, Amos Southend
2012 MAY 05 US Baltimore, MD, Rams Head
2012 MAY 06 US Philadelphia, PA, Trocadero Theatre
2012 MAY 07 US Buffalo, NY, Club Infinity (Watain only)
2012 MAY 08 CA Toronto, ON, Opera House
2012 MAY 09 CA Montreal, QC, Club Soda
2012 MAY 10 CA Quebec City, Imperial
2012 MAY 11 US Worcester, MA, The Palladium
2012 MAY 12 US New York, NY, Irving Plaza