Interview: Witherfall on ‘Nocturnes & Requiems,’ 70,000 Tons of Metal and Warrel Dane Tribute

2017 was a massive year for progressive power metal troupe Witherfall. They released their debut album Nocturnes and Requiems, which led to a host of accolades and further activity. The band made their live debut aboard the 70,000 Tons of Metal Cruise, where they spread the ashes of their late drummer Adam Sagan, and vocalist Joseph Michael was tapped to perform with Sanctuary as a tribute to Warrel Dane, who passed away in December.

In the midst of the chaos, Decibel caught up with Michael and guitarist Jake Dreyer to see what comes next for the band.

Nocturnes and Requiems is Witherfall’s debut album. How do you feel it represents your sound?
Jake Dreyer: I think that we really did a good job on capturing the sound and atmosphere that we were going for. We just wanted to have a record that we personally wanted to listen to. The songs have to come first, we love memorable hooks but also complex instrumental passages that keep us as players interested. All of the parts just flowed during the writing process; nothing was forced. We are currently working on the follow up to Nocturnes, expected in the third quarter of 2018. The sound on that is just an expansion of Nocturnes and Requiems. It’s darker, heavier in some sections and lighter and more dynamic than Nocturnes in others. It might look ridiculous on paper but when one listens, they will understand. 

Joseph Michael:  I think that the record is exactly  as we imagined it. Jake and I sat down to write this record about a month after we left White Wizzard. I could not be happier with the result. The reception from the fans has been remarkable and long lasting. The album is still doing well a year later.

Your first live appearances are on the 70,000 Tons of Metal Cruise. What was it like playing your first performances in such an unconventional setting?
JD: It was very important for us to make our debut gig an important one. We never really do anything the conventional or easy way to begin with. Case in point, instead of just doing a local show, we decide to fly across the country and do two high profile gigs that are set up in a festival setting, which to begin with is super stressful. With that said, the shows went incredibly well for being a first performance. Our main goal is to provide quality, so we made sure to put in a lot of time woodshedding our own parts while rehearsing exact details just for these shows. 

JM: Just to illustrate Jakes point, our first show also included Adam Sagan’s brothers smuggling his ashes aboard the boat and we brought them up to spread them onstage. We always wanted Adam to be at our first show. Even when he got sick, we didn’t plan on replacing him. Just having a fill in until he healed. Well, at least he was on stage with us in some way.

Your late drummer Adam Sagan passed away during the process of finalizing Nocturnes. As a band, how will you work past a loss like this? To my understanding, Adam was both a large part of the creative process and, more importantly, a friend.
JD: Our main goal is to continue his legacy and carry his name on. I heard a quote once that was something to the extent that you only die when people quit remembering you. I feel bad that Adam could not see the praise he got for his contribution on the drums for Nocturnes and Requiems. I know he would have been extremely proud of what Witherfall has accomplished so far. Like Joseph said, at 70,000 Tons Of Metal, Adam’s brothers came out and spread his ashes on stage before our last song. It was Sagan’s dream to play that stage. We were willing to get detained and thrown in the brig, but there was no way Adam was not going to be on that stage with us for our first show. 

JM:  Jake and I are the writers behind the madness. Adam influenced the aggression of the album more than anything. We found Steve Bolognese who also replaced Adam in the band Into Eternity. He is a bit more aggressive, so the new album will be somewhat of a departure for us.

There is a lot of power metal and neoclassical influence on N&R, but the album is also undeniably heavy at times. When writing, how do you strike a balance between the two, if this is even a conscious effort?
JD: It’s an unconscious effort; it just comes from what we want to hear. The list of influences in this band is all over the place. To be honest, probably the least listened to genre is metal. Joseph and I love classical composers and of course on my end, I am a huge [fan of] Yngwie, Jason Becker, a lot of those neoclassical players. There is never any thought really put into it. Our main concern is just having a quality song that we find interesting to our ears. 

JM: Yes, quite honestly I would rather listen to Queen or Mozart than some of the “metal” bands out there. We are fans of metal music for sure, but we are very picky. The most important thing in the world to us is music. All the genre posturing and attitude before song or melody is a bunch of horseshit. We will leave that to those that cannot sing or write a melody.

You self-produced Nocturnes & Requiems. Did this afford you more control over the exact sound you wanted to unleash on the album?
JD: Absolutely, we knew exactly what we wanted to hear and what sort of emotional quality needed to be presented. The last thing we needed was someone telling us that we should shorten a section or that there was no need for an acoustic guitar solo. We spent a lot of time during pre-production analyzing everything that we were more than prepared when it came time for final tracking. It will be the same way with our second record. 

JM:  Well, the thing is that Jake and I wrote the record and demoed it in its entirety in my studio first. So there was nothing really left for a producer to come in and do except fuck up our vision. We went in with a good engineer and produced the final recordings. We then handed it off to Zeuss [Chris “Zeuss” Harris , mixing and mastering] who just floored us with his strong yet dynamic mix.  

Your singer, Joseph Michael, will go on tour with Sanctuary as a tribute to the late, great Warrel Dane, in addition to your performances on 70,000 Tons of Metal. As a band, how do you handle the pressure of these expectations while still being a very new group?
JM: There is no pressure. We are just doing what we do. We have worked tirelessly to achieve what we have and to bring some music that we consider great to the public. As far as the Warrel Dane tribute? I think that the task needed to be handled with not just great technical skill, but also class and respect. I am honored to be presented with the task. As far as Witherfall is concerned, the journey has just begun. 2018 will yield new surprises.