INTERVIEW: Jason “Venien” Ventura of VON on blood, Satan, and being unconsciously black metal

Even though VON have been kicking around since ’87, are pretty much responsible for Watain’s existence (their name, at least), they only managed to get their shit together and release debut LP, Satanic Blood, in October of last year.
There are mitigating circumstances and all, what with the band splitting and going into what appeared to be an indefinite hiatus between 1992 and 2010. But still, 25 years is long time. Before Satanic Blood‘s release, VON’s recorded output was available only on lo-fi demos and bootlegs; enough for the band’s name to grow in legend but more a half-realized vision than something that is fully representative of what VON are/were all about. As Satanic Blood was about to be released, finally, officially, we caught up with the Jason “Venien” Ventura, to find out what’s changed behind the scenes in America’s first black metal band.

When you approached the release of Satanic Blood, did you want to rearrange it or did you want to keep the songs as they were?
“All the material that everybody knows of as far as VON is concerned, from 1987 ‘til now, was all recorded as demos or as works-in-progress, cassette tapes and whatnot, and now at this point I re-recorded all the old material that was never recorded properly. All the tones and all the set-up, as far as what the songs sound like, was all from the original material; there were really no new arrangements or anything that changes the material from when VON started. Everything that you heard on the Satanic Blood album is from all the works from the incubation period, the first years of VON, and all the stuff you know of was demo material; those were not proper albums, so now you’ve got proper recordings of all that material as a proper album.”

How has VON changed for you as a creative outlet—does the material still have the same emotional pay-off for you as it did when you were a kid?
“When I started VON in ’87, there was a lot of energy, a lot of life injected into the music, rage, just pure aggression; I’ve never changed, I still have all that. I’m 41 years old. I still have all the original stuff inside me, all the dark aspects of it, feelings and belief, and it’s all reflected in the new album, the final album . . . It’s all still there; nothing’s really changed as far as I am concerned.”

What were you listening to at the time?
“The majority of the things I had been listening to were in the punk rock realm of music. I listened to all the standards of thrash, speed and death metal as well, and just rock-and-roll, classic ‘60s stuff, from Sabbath to Venom, Led Zeppelin, anything that I felt comfortable with. I listened to a lot of Sodom and Kreator, just a lot of punk rock like Septic Death, D.R.I. and Black Flag. A lot of that got reflected in our music. As far as what we set out to do, it was just an amalgam of things that we were accustomed to that we were influencing us.”

How has your attitude to the Satanic aesthetic and ethos changed since ’87?
“I’ve learned many things since then. But as a child, in the world around me, being raised with all these aspects around you, you tend to focus on that and sometimes towards the negative or dark aspects of that. Still, I respect it, I understand it, but the place I am at this point is on a different plane, a different world. It’s all part of me still to this day, but as far as the Occult or the Satanism of it, that was part of the album, definitely, as the new albums come and you see the stories behind them and the things that drive them, the lyrics to the bigger picture, you’ll understand a clearer picture as to where I’m at and what I believe in and what I feel is important to us as a species, to us as human beings and what it is all about.”

Where are you at spiritually?
“I’m a free thinker . . . and as far as how people interpret that that’s totally up to them, but I am not a slave to anybody. That’s sorta where I am at spiritually. Physically, as a human being, I respect everybody’s viewpoints: That’s where they are in time and I respect that. As far as I am concerned, personally, I am in a different world. I’m free.”

Isn’t that freedom all a part of the Satanic belief system?
“I could say this—let me say this, I don’t shy away from what that album is about or what I believed in at the time, I respect that, it’s always going to be a part of me, it’s always going to be in us, but as far as my understanding of it at this point goes, I have totally have ascended from that level. I have totally gone to another place. But in its form at the time, it was what it was. Now, I look back at it, I see it in a different light, if that makes any sense.”

What do you make of the current black metal scene?
“I really don’t have the right to comment on what the other bands are doing in the black metal scene. I don’t feel like I have the right to say anything about that. But I do, however, have the bands that I do like. I do have bands that I feel are unnecessary. There are bands in scenes, all kinds of scenes, who are not necessary—that’s my own personal viewpoint and people shouldn’t necessarily take it as gospel, what I think. I think people should think for themselves, and understand what makes them feel good at the time, what they want to listen to, but as far as any scene or categories, genres or whatnot, and the many sub-genres that I am learning from the younger members in my band, it’s just really daunting. It’s just the focus of people who want to categorize music—and that’s fine—but I just recently, in the past 10 or 15 years, learned what black metal was—I didn’t even know what black metal was. I didn’t really know that we were black metal, and I didn’t really know there was a thing called black metal when I was playing in the ‘80s, so this is something that is obviously bigger than myself, VON is something that is bigger than me. It is a monster that has been created by me, but it has grown to a level that has surpassed us as people in the band, the creators of the band, and that is all down to the people out there, the culture out there has taken VON to a new level. I am humbled by it. I appreciate it, and I respect it. I definitely do respect the whole black metal tags that they put on VON.”

Some people could argue that the black metal scene lacks a bit of danger and personality these days.
“As far as the lack of this or the lack of that, with regards to the current performers and bands in the black metal genre, it’s not to sugar-coat it or anything it’s just that I just don’t know. I’ve heard bands, I’ve seen things, but I have been so disconnected with it. And even in the years since I started VON Records in 2006, I’ve just been so focused on my own material. I have about 70 songs that either mixed or mastered, or on their way to being finished. I have quite a lot of material of my own that I am so focused on and trying to stay focused on without being distracted by what’s going on around me—I know that sounds a little arrogant but I am just staying focused on what I am trying to do because there is a lot I can accomplish.”

Does it feel like a monkey off your back to finally release the Satanic Blood material on an official release?
“That is something that I’ve wanted to finish for years, to finish what I started.

What about all-new material? What can you tell us about the Dark Gods album?
“I started loosely going through demos and archiving material and songs through the years since 1987. I’ve had to break the Dark Gods album into three parts. The first Dark Gods album is called 7 Billion Slaves, that’ll be the first album out. That’s already mastered and ready to go. The second Dark Gods album is called Rise of the Ancients, that’s being mastered as we speak [late October], and that will be ready for release in July of next year; the last one is called Ancient Blood and that will be out December next year. Between all that, I have a 24-track solo album of just me, tracks that I’ve felt were more personal, more to the persona of who I am in the band—those tracks are more personal, [the] more psychological aspects of my story.”

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