THE MAKING OF DAATH, PART 6: EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH GUITARIST EMIL WERSTLER
We’re just a week away from the release of Dååth’s new, self-titled album (pre-order it here!), and so we’re nearing the end of this almost two-month long look into the making of the record. I’m honestly kinda sad about that.
Today’s penultimate interview is with guitarist Emil Werstler. There was some web-nerd rage back in August when Dååth co-producer/co-engineer/mixer Mark Lewis called Werstler “the best guitar player in metal,” and while I tend to agree with Werstler’s band mate, one Mr. Eyal Levi, that the word “best” is basically impossible to define, I do think there’s a strong argument to be made that Lewis’ assessment is correct. During my brief time in the studio watching Werstler record, I saw him pull off ridiculously sick move after ridiculously sick move — I mean, the guy plays some really, really mind-blowing shit on this album. And little wonder he’s so good: Werstler professes himself to be a “learning addict” and is a tireless perfectionist. I watched him get so wrapped up in his work that he quite literally forgot to take breaks or make sure he was taking care of some of his basic human necessities, like eating.
After the jump, get Werstler’s thoughts on the recording of Dååth, how the band has evolved, his ongoing creative relationship with Eyal Levi, why he enjoys teaching guitar lessons when he’s not busy with the group, and more.
Yeah. I think that I do prefer it. It’s definitely a pain in the butt when it comes to deadlines, but since we’ve been a band for so long, we kind of know who and what to trust.
So, yeah, the skeletal thing works out for us really well. I enjoy it. You never know what you’re going to get, but it does have a freshness. You go home after recording and you’re sick of the songs, but later, when you the album is done, you put the final track on and go, “Oh shit, I forgot we even did that. That’s awesome!”
It seems like you guys are having a lot of fun in there.
Yeah, I guess when it comes to a task that arduous — and we’re talking about this specific point in time [when we’re recording] — I think the only real way you can do it without losing your mind is just to have as much fun as possible. [laughs]
You guys are also obviously on a deadline. I know that add a lot of pressure, but do you find deadlines helpful at all in terms of not over-thinking it too much?
Absolutely. I’ve always considered myself a pressure player, and I’ve considered Dååth a pressure band. We always tend to succeed and excel whenever there is a pretty big deadline scare. We take deadlines with the record really, really seriously, but the last thing we want to do is look back and go, “Man, I really wish I put that part in there,” and that kind of thing.
This lineup of Dååth has really only been solid for about three years now. What do you see as being the internal changes from the time you worked on The Concealers to the recording of this album?
That’s a really good question. There have been lot of changes, not really in terms of our goals as a collective, but more as individuals.
When we did The Concealers, the metalcore thing was still kind of around. MySpace was only just dying down — that trend came to a really quick end right around when our album cycle was over, but during the cycle, it was still going. So at the time, it was obvious that the tours were going to be really, really, really bad or really, really, really good. There was no medium where we could go, “Okay, let’s get on this tour in and see what we can make of it.”
So we decided not to do those really bad tours, and suddenly we all had a lot of time on our hands. But we had to pay our bills and make money. So… the cool thing about Dååth is every one of us in the band has a side thing; whether it’s teaching music, running a studio, things like that. I know that [drummer Kevin] Talley was doing session after session. Eyal recorded a local band, friends of ours, and did a great job. [That would be From Exile. – Ed.] We were both doing guitar session work. We did the [Levi/Werstler] solo album. We reached out individually, and it sharpened our skills a little bit, because we weren’t out there killing ourselves on the road doing some shitty tour. So we came back in with more ammunition for creativity.
You mentioned that you’ve been teaching guitar lessons, which I actually wanted to ask you about. First of all, I can’t believe that you’re teaching during the day and coming here and working at night. How are you even standing upright right now?
[laughs] I guess the good thing is that I teach on the internet so I don’t have to chase people down.
It’s a natural thing. I had bad instructors, and I think that when you teach art, it’s a very delicate situation. I think you can ruin it for a lot of people. As cheesy as it sounds, I feel like I need to represent the people that really want to do this for the sake of art, and not some sort of unrealistic goal, like wanting be a rockstar or something like that.
Do you find that teaching is a good way to keep yourself on your toes, or maybe refresh certain things for you?
Absolutely. I think that being a professional musician, the only way you can improve is if you make your day job feed your learning addiction. Basically, I have to be able to back up what I say. If I say, “Run this through this and do these exercises,” I have to be able to do them myself. So there is an element of putting your money where your mouth is, of being able to walk the walk before you talk the talk. It keeps me on my toes for sure, and it lets me know what other people are hearing in Dååth, and my playing. I got a lot of students that are at that age, like seventeen or eighteen, where they’re trying to figure out what they want to do musically. I get direct feedback from them as to what they like. It’s a good way to calculate feedback that’s not from some listener that doesn’t know us personally. You can get a lot of trustworthy opinions from people when you’re sharing a learning experience or teaching experience.
You used and interesting phrase just now — you said you have a “learning addiction.” Do you feel like you’re still learning?
I think the threat of being obsolete is the only true job security. I think that you have to run around like a fucking crazy person on fire sometimes — like you’re literally on fire, like you’re burning and you’re trying to stop, drop and roll. I think that the older we get, the more responsibilities we have. Then there’s the economy, of course, we can all go into all that blah, blah, blah. It’s not going to get any easier, and I think that as soon as you’re comfortable, you’re pretty much defeated.
Fortunately for me, I’m not one of those people who’s like, “Oh, I need to do this before I’m 30, or I need to do this before I’m 40.” For me, it’s more like if I can’t do a certain thing I hear in my head or jam with somebody else who is doing a certain thing, I feel really left out, kind of like the kid in school who didn’t get picked. [laughs] I feel like I’m really missing out. The only way that I can really get to where I want to be is by having a long term goal, and that is making a living playing guitar and trying to express myself. Whatever comes between here or there is sort of… whatever happens, happens. If you learn a ton of shit and that comes out on a record, it’s going to be a lot better than what you were doing a year ago.
So what do you feel like you’ve kind of learned from the experiences of making Avalanche of Worms and now this album?
The one thing that we learned is that if you have a lot of time on your hands, somebody is going to blow it. If threat isn’t constantly there, people will drive off the beaten path and experiment. The cool thing about Levi/Werstler is that we got all to get all of our ya-ya’s out. We got all of our shit out trying to experiment. We got to totally go off the beaten path and give people weird shit that we wouldn’t work for Dååth. Coming back to this, I feel like we did have a very direct idea of what we wanted to do as far as this record goes for Dååth.
A lot of learning is a lot of reinforcement — like, “We can do this in this amount of time.” If we don’t have two months, then people aren’t going to screw around on things like that. Not that there was screwing around, it’s just that on The Concealers, we had to learn a lot about ourselves, because it was that lineup’s first record. This time, we know each other really well. Now it’s just finding what to do and what not to do, and that’s kind of where we’re at right now.
Cool. Speaking of knowing each other really well, I want to talk about this very symbiotic relationship that you and Eyal have… You guys have a very clear, creative shorthand where you can just say a couple of phrases to each other and know what the other guy is talking about. Does that come out of years of working together ,or do you feel like there’s a natural chemistry between the two of you?
I think that it definitely comes with the experience of having all these years of working together, and sharing moments — along with the rest of the guys [in the band] — of, “Oh shit, we gotta get this done!”
I think that one thing that Eyal and I have in common is that we both really, really desire getting something out there that’s not just, “Here is what we are.” There’s an element of that, but there is also an element of, “We have to put something out there that’s awesome,” even if we have to cut the bullshit and have less material. As long as it’s an awesome statement. It comes from the experience, and I think that we’re just such complete opposites, personality-wise and playing-wise, that it’s a very efficient relationship. Because as soon as I’m tripping up and need assistance, [that guitar part will be] his specialty, and vice versa. I think it’s natural, because we’re such opposites that it really does work itself out, and the experience that we’ve had for years working together on other sessions outside of Dååth as well — bringing me in to play guitars on stuff that he’s producing — I think it’s experience and just being complete opposites. It just works out for both of us.
Does it feel different making this record?
Man, this is the record that I just don’t even know how the hell I feel about it.
It’s all about the tunes. The tunes are brutal, and it’s funny how brutal they are. I think once you get over about the five or six song hump that we’re coming up on, that’s when things start to sort of flying. The work flow is kicking [snaps fingers], and then you get a second wind of inspiration and you go, “Okay, oh, shit, this song is awesome.” When you were saying earlier that we left stuff open, that the songs right now are skeletal so we have to write stuff as we go… well, that’s when then it really kind of kicks out and you get stoked on it.
If you’re interested in taking guitar lessons with Emil via Skype, you can e-mail him at emillessons AT gmail DOT com.
THE MAKING OF DAATH
Part 1: Studio Report
Part 2: Interview with Co-Producer/Co-Engineer/Mixer Mark Lewis
Part 3: Interview with Keyboardist Eric Guenther
Part 4: Interview with Vocalist Sean Z.
Part 5: Interview with Bassist Jeremy Creamer