Wolves in the Throne Room: Interview Outtakes

Excited yet?  This Friday, Wolves in the Throne Room finally smash open the doors on their latest grand statement, Thrice Woven.  Actually, it’s already available to stream here, so check out the whole experience and come back for more.  Specifically, come out to their fall tour for more mesmerizing sylvan black metal.  Beginning next Friday in Boise, Idaho, and bringing along John Haughm’s post-Agalloch project Pillorian for the journey, Wolves in the Throne Room will spend a month rounding the country in support of their first black metal record in six years.  After that, they head east for a substantial European tour.  You might have a reason to miss these shows, but let’s be honest with each other and agree it’s not really a good reason.

A couple months back, we spoke with the band for our September cover (Issue #155), and we weren’t quite able to fit all of our conversation into the allotted space.  While you listen to the new record in full, read the part of our conversation that never made it to print.  We talked about song concepts, the sweat that goes into making studio magic, and the Wolves’ newer side project, Drow Elixir.

Your last album, Celestite from 2014, was very non-metal.  It feels like a long time since you’ve released a black metal record.  Did you feel the same way when you started work on this one?

Aaron:  It feels like just yesterday.  [Celestite] was completely essential to our process as a band because it was just taking a breath.  Life is all about breathing, and we had been breathing out for a really long time – recording and touring nonstop for years and years and years.  Celestite was just a time to tune into the studio again, get out of that live space and get back into the studio mindset, begin to set the stage so we could go really deep to record the next album.  You’ve got to remember, we’ve been working on this record for the last two years.  For us, the break from black metal was extremely short.  We got right back into the studio into that very dark, black metal space and it took us a year to make the record, mostly because we recorded a lot of it ourselves at a studio we built at our place in Olympia, so a lot of that time was on the technical end, setting up the ProTools system and physically building the studio, hanging sheet rock, framing walls, doing insulation, the straight-up construction side of it, because we did all that stuff too.

Did you know how to put a studio together before you started doing it?

Aaron:  No, but I got some really excellent support from a really good friend, Randall Dunn.  He’s a record producer.  He recorded Two Hunters, Black Cascade, Celestial Lineage, Celestite and also Malevolent Grain, our EP.  We have a really long history of working together.  He is, in many ways, my mentor in recording.  I really love recording, I really love the studio, and most things I know about, I learned from him.  Every time I’d run into a dead end with putting together the studio, I’d always give him a call and he’d set me straight.  And he oversaw the recording process as well.  He was there throughout the whole process.

What were the particular struggles with putting this record together?

Aaron:  We just always want to be better.  It’s never good enough for us.  We’ll work on a song for weeks and weeks, just keep hammering on it and try to find better ways to work.  One of the reasons why recording is challenging for us is because it was just me and Nathan writing the record.  For the most part, our songs have two or three guitar parts, so it really takes three or four people to actually play the music.  But it was just me and Nathan putting the songs together in the studio by ourselves, so it’s just hard.  It’s a matter of having to keep going over and over things, record stuff and listen to it and reflect upon it.  I really appreciate that challenge, because it yields a really interesting and unique result.  The record turned out way differently than if it had been three guys jamming it out in the practice space.  That’s cool, but that’s not really what we usually do.  We like to really craft our songs and come at it from a different point of view.  Just the way our band is set up, it’s hard to do.  It’s not five guys getting together, drinking a few beers and having a good time.  It’s intense, and it’s emotional and complicated.

Kody, you’re a relatively new full member of the band, but you’ve been playing live with the Weavers for a while.  How much input did you have on your parts in the live show?

Kody:  There’s always been some maneuverability as far as the songs are.  The live show doesn’t always mirror the recorded set.  We definitely change things live, which is really fun and exciting, compared to a lot of other black or death metal bands who sound the exact same [live as on record].  We’ll change numbers of repetitions, we’ll have a three minute jam in the middle of songs, which is not like a typical metal outlet that I’ve been involved in.  I definitely put a little bit of my own flair over things, even timing-wise, which Aaron always seemed to like, and Nathan definitely appreciated.  It wasn’t like a fully different section, but sometimes we’d have a three-minute trancy drone thing in the songs, and that was always fun.  I’d always bring a little bit of my own flavor, which always coincided with the vision, anyway.

Was that hashed out in rehearsal ahead of time?

Kody:  As far as leads go, or harmonies, a lot of that would be hashed out, but we don’t normally practice a lot.  We just go in there and feel it out.  During the course of a tour, things would definitely change for the better.  We definitely practice before tours, but we kind of flesh it out live.  It’s more of an experience that way, because you get more of the feeling from the crowd, and that’s when we’d do the longer droning somewhat ambient – even if there was a blast beat involved – sections where we just would feed off each other.  They would evolve over time.  We definitely wouldn’t do it the same every time.

What role did you play in creating songs in the studio for this album?

Kody:  The structure was already there.  The drums were already recorded.  I was there to lend myself whenever I had ideas for extra guitar parts.  For these types of records, especially with this band, there are multiple layers and so many guitar tracks at certain points.  So I was there giving my input on whether things were good or bad, or saying, ‘Hey, I’m just going to throw this part down and see how it works out.’  I was there for the whole process of guitars, vocals, synth and mixing and other sounds.  We were there, all in it together, consulting opinions.  It was fun.  A lot of guitar parts I came up with I think really lend themselves to the record, but also lift it to a different spot than it was before.  Sonically… doing things that weren’t synth or guitars or drums.  We spent quite a bit of time doing noise sonics, which is another type of music I’m really interested in.  It blends into the record really smoothly and seamlessly, and most people wouldn’t even notice.  There’s parts that are not based on music at all.  There’s banging on large pieces of metal and hitting bricks together.  We created sonics out of things where we weren’t sure how it would work, but it did work.

Did you manipulate the sounds or use them as they were?

Kody:  It’s a process for both, as far as introducing different sonics that don’t register in Western music, or that don’t accompany it, that’s just essentially noise – broken things, dripping water, samples in general can be very interesting, and also confounding, because it might not fit in with double kick and blast beats and screaming vocals and guitars… There’s not much room for anything else, but somehow we did make that work.  We’ve had a lot of practice on our own and together doing this, because we make other types of music.  Long story short, there’s a lot of manipulation going on, and of course you have to use effects.  We used a lot of space echo and other analog effects and effects pedals to support the music, but not to be the main source.

Do you seek out inspiration from outside reading material or philosophies you connect with, or is your music grounded primarily in your specific experience?

Aaron:  It comes from an inner journey.  The way that I write music is to go into the studio and create a beautiful space there, an intentional space, and just see what arises, just see what comes up, without any judgment, without any preconceived notions, and that is the source right there.  Sometimes it’s images that appear in my mind, sometimes it’s lyrics, sometimes it’s a riff or a drum beat, and it’s always a surprise what it’s going to be.  Sometimes it’s really fucking scary what comes up, especially working in the darker spaces, those parts of yourself that are usually off limits.

Nathan:  In the beginning, I think we drew a lot from literature and outside influences.  At this point, we’re not creating in a vacuum, but we definitely have our methods to create what we want to create without drawing directly from other influences at this point, because we’ve been doing it for so long.

Aaron, you’ve spoken before about how the forest and, more generally, the natural world influence your music.  Do different types of places project different things to you?

Aaron:  It’s perspective, man.  Everything in life has its own perspective:  A child has a certain way of looking at the world, a person who’s about to die has a way of looking at the world, and they’re both totally real, and we can learn some things from everyone.  I’d say the same thing about trees – a new little sapling has something to teach, and an ancient old fir tree that’s had eagles nesting in it for 500 years, that tree has something to teach as well.

Since you have a family now, do you find it difficult to balance work and music with family time?

Aaron:  To me it doesn’t feel like a balance, I guess.  It doesn’t feel like there’s much of a separation.  It’s the same thing.  My three-and-a-half year old son comes over to the studio and we go for a walk together, and we play music together in the studio.  But there is that struggle to not get consumed by your work.  I guess that’s the way I would describe my personal attempt to balance the work and the other stuff in my life.

How does touring fit into your life?

Nathan:  I love touring.  It’s very meditative, going on tour, for me.  It’s very simple, compared to being at home.  It’s relaxing, almost.  When I’m home, I’m running a venue in Olympia and between that and getting this album released and a bunch of other stuff, I’m pretty fucking slammed.  When I go on tour, all that disappears, and it feels like a very harmonious thing compared to working at home.

When you play live, do you feel like you return to the same emotions as when the music was created, or does it become something different?

Nathan:  That depends on the show and the night.  I think it’s different every time we play the songs.  It’s not always a return to the space we were in when we wrote it.  I think it has a lot to do with the space we’re performing in and the audience and where we’re at in our lives at that point.

Let’s talk about the individual songs a bit.  Up first:  “Born from the Serpent’s Eye”

AaronThis is a song that’s kind of in two parts.  The first part is just fucking coming right out of the gate with some straight-up black metal.  I think it’s, in terms of the bpms, the fastest shit we’ve ever played.  To play drums for this record, I was like Rocky: With a cut-off zip-up sweatshirt, I was barefoot jogging on the trails every day, I was eating bee pollen, just doing whatever it takes to get my chops up to be able to play that fast.  ‘Cause I play really fucking hard.  I don’t use triggers or anything, it’s the real deal, so finding that balance between power and speed…

This song opens the album in a place.  We wanted this record to not be in some fantasy land where there’s elves and fairies, or not be in outer space like the synth record was, or in some alternate psychedelic dimension but right here on Earth, in this human life.  Maybe not now, maybe a long time ago, maybe in the future, who can say?  But we wanted this album to open up right here, where we live, and spring from our experience.

The lyrics on this album are not about us or our personal lives, but we wanted to draw from myths and stories that are very evocative to us, and draw from the images that come up in our dreams.  That’s the most important source for me, is what arises in my dreams or visions while playing music, the stuff I see when I close my eyes.  That’s where the lyrics come from.

“The Old Ones Are With Us”

Aaron:  It’s an expression of a pagan/heathen spirit.  That’s our life, that’s the code that we live by, and it’s there in the music and there in the lyrics.  It’s about honoring the reality of life, honoring the beauty of the sea and honoring the death that comes at the end, and trying to move through it with grace and dignity.


Aaron:  In the Norse stories, there’s Loki, the trickster god – who’s only half god and half frost giant.  He has a wife among the Aesir, but he also has something on the side:  a frost giantess wife who lives in the frost giant realms, named Angrboda, and with her he has three monstrous children, one of whom is Fenris wolf who helps bring about Ragnarok at the end of the world.  This song is about:  Who is that figure?  Maybe that’s the dark, other side of that female voice that we hear on the first song.  “Angrboda” is the other side.  In Hindu cosmology, there’s the beautiful face of Kali, the goddess, and then there’s the terrifying one, where her fangs are dripping with blood and she holds a severed head.  That song makes space for that other side, that terrifying side of the dark mystery, the depths of the ocean, the other side of the moon, the space of chaos and terror that, if you stay with it long enough can open up into a space of wisdom.  Maybe it leads to the space beyond anything.  That’s my experience of it.  When I move through the fear and the terror and the things that come up when I’m working on the music, it gets to this peaceful place… It’s not wisdom, it’s not knowledge, it’s not understanding.  It’s nothing.  It’s just being there, just accepting what has occurred.  You learn something from it, but the thing that you learn, you can’t really put into words.

“Fires Roar in the Palace of the Moon”

Aaron:  That is, in my mind, the quintessential Wolves in the Throne Room track.  It’s this mix of sounds that sum up what we do.  That song has an interesting interlude in the middle.  That was another kind of chaos space.  On our records, Randall usually gets a little bit of time to do his own shamanic healing through his noise and soundscape creation, so he took the lead on that middle part, which is one of my favorite things I’ve ever done with Randall because it’s such a healing process.  We can get into this creative space together where our hearts are so open and it just feels so necessary to make these sounds.  It’s such a blessing to be able to share them with people.

Okay, what is Drow Elixir and what does it accomplish for you separate from Wolves?

Aaron:  Drow Elixir, at least the way we’re working with it now, is a space of complete freedom.  Maybe the thing that we’re most inspired by with Drow Elixir is Coil.  We’re all hugely inspired by Coil, and what they do is create a space that is totally free, where anything can occur, where the chaos force in the universe is given some space.  I think that’s so important in our modern world, where things are so hyper-controlled, where people’s lives are so mediated through all sorts of entities and technology systems… Music is a space where things can be completely out of control, just the way they are in your dreams.  You’re not in control of your dreams, and some music can create those same sort of spaces in waking life where magic happens.

Kody:  Drow Elixir is very nebulous in its manifestation right now.  Aaron and I both already do music that’s not metal at all, from harsh noise to ambient techno to ambient industrial or power electronics, so the idea was to have somewhat of a sister project that utilized those things, but also was still part of Wolves.  It’s a type of sound that doesn’t have any rules, which is really exciting to us.  Drow Elixir is an example of music that’s not 100% music-based.  It’s more of a free creative outlet.  We have a vision for it, but it’s going to be extremely varied, from industrial music to ambient noises to full-on goth, Dead Can Dance-style stuff.  We have a lot of things lined up, and it’s going to be very interesting for us.  Who knows if fans will like it, but we will.

Is Drow Elixir totally a live thing, or do you think you’ll record it?

Aaron:  That’s the beauty of it – there’s nothing attached to it.  Maybe the only concept is that the concept will always be shifting.  If you can grasp that concept.  It’s the rule of having not rules.