WOLVES IN THE THRONE ROOM DRUMMER AARON WEAVER ON BLACK METAL AS PROTEST MUSIC, WHY SCION IS SATANIC, AND THE GIANT WOLF CHASING THE SUN
Eight hours straight of phone interviews is nobody’s idea of a good time, especially when the guy doing it usually spends his non-band time working the land on a self-owned farm outside of Olympia, Washington. So Aaron Weaver, the drummer for black metal band Wolves In the Throne Room, must be commended for his affable mood during his revealing conversation with MetalSucks. Weaver has the hyper-articulate manner of someone that speaks not just to be heard, but to be understood; his loquaciousness is balanced by a humility about his band’s place in the world, and his own. Weaver talked to us about Wolves In the Throne Room’s third album Black Cascade (recently reviewed by our own David Bee Roth), and dispelled some myths about the oft-misunderstood eco-spiritualism that guides the band. Other topics of discussion: Is Scion a minion of Satan? Should we fear wheat? Answers to these questions and many more, after the jump.
Aaron Weaver: Hello?
Satan Rosenbloom: Hey, is this Aaron? You’ve already had a few hours of this already today, huh?
Yeah man. This will be, let me count, 1-2-3-4-5. You will be number 6.
And then you’re going until 9 o’clock tonight?
9 o’clock your time, yeah.
Are there any questions that you are straight up totally sick of answering?
No, actually everyone that I spoke to up until this point had a pretty different slate of questions. It’s always really good to talk to people who have a different take on the band and a different set of ideas they want to focus on. But even answering different questions, I’ve become a little brain mushy. Pardon me if I blather off about nothing or just become silent at some point it’s because I’m staring into space.
I welcome all of it.
Thank you for doing this. I don’t envy what you’re going through right now.
Yeah, it’ll be okay. It’s better for me to do everything in one fell swoop and be able to focus on other things rather than always have 2 or 3 interviews at the end of the day that I need to schedule in.
Do you consider this a task that you need to perform, or do you sort of delight in explaining what you guys are about and what you’re doing?
I like it. It’s something that I think is really important for the band to be just beyond the music and beyond the aesthetic we create and to have some dialogue that goes on about the music. That has always been a part of our vision – to move beyond just the rock band aspect of it and be something that is all encompassing.
How important do you think Wolves in the Throne Room’s ideology, if you can say that in capital letters, is to the appreciation of your music? Would you be content if your fans just heard Black Cascade as music bereft of the ideology that, as I understand it, births a lot of your music?
Yeah, I would rather that not be the case because we really do play this music with the intention of expressing a certain spirit. It’s not just music; it’s something that tries to move beyond just playing songs on stage in a traditional rock and roll format. At the same time, we’ve always been very wary of the idea of impressing our own sort of vision or our own sort of ideas on people. It’s our intention to play the music live or to create a record and just put it out there into the ether. A listener can draw from it what they want or need to. If someone just wants to listen to the record and enjoy it on a purely musical level, that’s fine. That’s not the kind of thing that’s going to hurt my feelings. If someone wants to go deeper with it and become more involved in the ideology or the occult aspects of it, then so much the better. I would like that to be a personal choice for each individual.
So is the idea of not impressing the ideology on your listeners, is that what’s behind your refusal to publish your lyrics?
Yeah, that’s a big part of it. I think that having the lyrics published would make the music all about us and our ideas and vision. I would rather that the music have a more universal aspect and feel more open ended to people.
So tell me about your relationship with Nathan [Weaver, guitars/vocals]? This isn’t the first band that you’ve had with him and obviously Wolves in the Throne Room isn’t the first experience you’ve shared with him. How has your relationship with him affected your music or even vice versa?
That’s a really good question. It’s interesting because we’re very different people and have really different ways of looking at the world. For instance, the famous Wolves in the Throne Room farm Calliope, I’m the one who is interested in the actual farming side of things – building barns and timber framing, the sort of traditional skills and crafts. Nathan is the kind of person who is completely nocturnal. During the wintertime he’ll never see the sun. He considers himself an artist above all. I think that’s why we’re able to work together effectively because we’re not trying to step on each other’s toes. So there’s no sort of ego clash because we’re both coming at music and life from a very different place, but at the same time we have the same sort of goals and we want to manifest the same sort of energy at the end of the day. So I think it’s obviously been a long and fruitful relationship.
It’s really interesting that you say that, because you look at what you do during the day and what he does during the evening, and I guess if there is a standard way of understanding Wolves in the Throne Room, it would be such a perfect fusion of both. There is this naturalist living off the land idea but also consummate artists at the same time. I guess Nathan’s lifestyle, the nocturnal ethos, seems almost more in line of what you would understand black metal to be.
Yeah, and that’s what the farm is all about. On one level it’s a working farm that sustains my physical needs, but it also has a spiritual dimension to it. We’re very interested in farming as an occult act and understanding the process on an esoteric level. You know the act of putting a seed in the ground and seeing it through the season. There is something to that beyond just the immediately quantifiable reality of it. There is a hidden dimension, and that’s what Wolves in the Throne Room is attempting to do – to expose and express that hidden occult element to the universe that I think as modern people, we’re often times unaware of or just don’t believe in. Some would call it superstition or some sort of religious way of looking at things which doesn’t have any validity in the modern world.
You mentioned the physical aspect of working the land and that fulfilling a physical need of yours. Black Cascade and really all of your music feels really visceral to me, especially because Black Cascade is maybe more aggressive than past outings. I can only guess as a drummer, you have almost a more embodied relationship with this music than your other band mates. Is it important to you that your music is cathartic in a physical sense as well?
Absolutely. I think you really got to the heart of it. For us the physical act of playing the music, the wrenching physicality of it is the method that allows the transformation of consciousness. I think it’s not just me. I think that both the guitar players are just as physically involved as I am on the drums just through the intense movement and the intensity of the vocals and that sort of thing. I understand that Wolves in the Throne Room and black metal as being part of a shamanic tradition really using intense and overwhelming sensory input and using repetitive physical movement and rhythm as a means to truly journey to another plane of consciousness to journey to a shamanic reality.
So then would you say that playing live or even when you’re practicing or playing by yourselves, is there an almost a ritualistic aspect to it for you?
That’s a really good question, and that’s actually one people ask quite a bit: whether or not we consider Wolves in the Throne Room to be a ritual or if we consider the live performance to be a ritual. On one level it is because we’re consciously trying to manifest some sort of energy. We’re trying to do something beyond just playing the songs with the intention of having people listen to it and have a good time. There is another dimension to it. But I also hesitate to use the word “ritual” because I associate ritual with magic. You perform a magical ritual with the intention of manifesting a very specific outcome. That’s not what Wolves in the Throne Room does live. We don’t have any specific goal when we play. Our only agenda is to unleash a certain wild and primal spirit or at least create a potential for that wild and primal spirit to manifest.
To create that space.
Exactly, to really create a mythic space through the art. People can do with it what they wish. I have friends who perform ritual black metal, and they have a very specific goal in mind. They perform the music and perform the rite with the intention of manifesting some specific outcome. I’m uneasy with that sort of thing. I think that it is wrong to include people in ritual magic without their express consent or without them being aware of what they are party to. To answer to your question: yes and no.
It was very thoughtful. Thank you. It strikes me as you’re talking about myth and creating space for transcendence. I imagine you have a very uneasy relationship with the notion of myths being created about your own band whether it’s the way that you live or misunderstanding about the reasons you make your music. Do you feel like you are completely out of control over the perception that people might build of you?
Yeah we don’t have a whole lot of control over it. For instance there is a whole story out there that we live in a one room cabin with a single candle. We all go out in the morning with scythes made out of deer antlers.
I didn’t know those were available.
Well of course we had to shoot the deer first with an addle addle and not a generic bow and arrow because it’s just too far down the typological path. And of course, that’s just not true. It’s partially true in many ways, but as you said it is maybe a mythologized accounting of reality.
I think you mentioned that story in interviews before, and when I read that it reminded me of what people used to say about Fugazi – that they live in some shack in Washington D.C. with no electricity and minimal food just as a statement against capitalism. That’s absolutely not true. It’s funny now the ideology gets mixed up.
I’ve seen [Fugazi vocalist Ian] MacKaye drink a beer awhile back.
Dude he totally sold himself out. What’s the most ridiculous thing you’ve heard about yourselves in the press?
The absolute most ridiculous thing we heard was when we played a show in Copenhagen. One of the other bands that were playing was a sort of a more traditional black metal band with a rotting carcass of some sort of animal in their van. The promoter of the show told them not to bring that carcass out because Wolves in the Throne Room are radical vegans and animal rights activists and if they see you with this carcass they will fly into a rage and get into a fight with you. These guys are dangerous so don’t do this. I can honestly understand the one room shack thing, and I can understand the addle addle deer antler stuff, but where people get the idea that we’re militant vegans from, I just don’t know. It’s true that a new guitar player just joined Wolves in the Throne Room and he is actually vegan.
Is that Will Lindsay?
I’ve been on the record as being pretty militantly anti-vegan over the years. It just goes to show you that you don’t have a whole lot of control over people’s perception of the band.
I have a feeling that in the environmentalism that you’ve espoused often gets mixed up with vegetarianism and vegans or the idea that we have to preserve everything no matter what.
Yeah, I’m in full support of killing in the proper context just so that you know.
I’m with you. I got to tell you Los Angeles is an incredible burger city. No matter how you feel about that, it’s a great place to be a carnivore.
That makes a good point because we’re not eating hamburgers. It’s not like a one room cabin with a single candle is that far off from the reality, especially the reality we desire. The way that I see it, as a people, we’re in a space of transition. I have a cell phone. We have a DSL connection at Calliope. We obviously own a van and all these sorts of things. But honestly I’d rather not have those things. I’d be perfectly willing to put them aside at any moment in favor of a much more primitive existence. I don’t want to give the impression that we’re just regular guys. That’s another big misconception about Wolves in the Throne Room – which it’s all a joke or it’s just some sort of hipster playing around. That to me seems as deeply untrue as us being 7 foot tall frost giants from the mountains.
It’s unfair to you and it’s also unfair to the music itself. If there is so little connection between the reality and what it is. Like it or not, someone’s perception of you as a band is definitely going to color the perception of the music.
Yeah, for sure. That’s something that we struggle with because we don’t like the situation when we show up to a show and people say “what’s it like in the one room shack?” We have to say it’s not a one room shack that it’s actually this or that. It is what it is. It’s not the kind of thing that we lose any sleep over.
So tell me something. Did you or the band have difficulties with Scion? Did you catch any flack for your relationship with them?
Oh man, well we gave ourselves more flack than anyone else could have given us.
Tell me why.
Well, like I said, Wolves in the Throne Room as people and as a band, we’re interested in unearthing an occult aspect to life and to reality. This will be a long answer to that question. It’s kind of an important thing to get out. What’s a good example? So take a phenomenon like a solar eclipse. So I think as modern people we would all understand and agree that a solar eclipse is caused when the moon moves between the sun and the Earth. That’s very much true. I think if you look at it from an occult or mythological perspective like the Norse mythology, you would say an eclipse is caused when the cosmic wolf who is constantly chasing after the sun gets too close and is nipping at her heels. Ragnarok, the wolf, will succeed in catching up to the sun and devour her and that will be the end of the world. I think that mythic understanding of an eclipse is just as true as the scientific understanding of an eclipse. That notion is fundamental to black metal and fundamental to Wolves in the Throne Room. It’s very hard for most people to swallow that because there obviously isn’t a giant wolf in the sky.
Do you just mean that black metal is rooted in this idea of the multiplicity of interpretation?
It’s rooted in the idea that we need to destroy the modern worldview and its one dimensional understanding of reality. We need to destroy the notion that the only way to understand phenomenon is through that which is immediately quantifiable through a scientific process. It’s a really extreme and radical idea. That’s why we’re so interested in it because that extreme demand that you hear in black metal dovetails with our own interest in deep ecology and with radical environmentalism and radical ecology. So I’m still going to get into the Scion thing, but just understanding the ideas is really important because I do believe that there is a giant wolf who is chasing the sun and that understanding a phenomenon like an eclipse in terms of that mythic image is a really important part of life. There’s a lot of truth to it. In many ways, I think that’s truer than the scientific reality. I know that sounds crazy to a lot of people, but that’s an idea that’s really important to us and is really fundamental to our music and the reason we play it.
It doesn’t seem that crazy to me. My mom is a clergy person in a Jewish temple. So I’m used to reading about the mystical interpretations that the rabbis would give, and I’ve done a tiny bit of reading about Kabbalah. Really, it’s not until the Enlightenment that the scientific rationalist way of thinking took hold.
And there’s not much poetry to it.
And there’s not. What people often times say to me when I talk about the cosmic wolf in the sky is “Well what are you going to do, go live in a mud hut? What about penicillin? What about this and that?” That’s missing the point. I’m interested in the idea of evolution, of not bombing ourselves back to the Stone Age, but just sort of accepting of what I think is obvious that there needs to be some progression beyond this really simplistic materialistic way of looking at the world.
So this actually brings me to a question that was going to be my last, but I want to circle around a couple of more basic things if you don’t mind. The final lyric on Two Hunters contains a really hopeful sentiment: “When I awake, the world will be born anew.” It seems to get at the root of that idea of destroying the world in order to start again. Where do you see your place in that future or where do you see your place in creating that space for the world to be reborn?
That’s a really good question because I was just talking to Nathan yesterday about some of our plans. We have a pretty good idea of what we’re going to be doing for the next year, but after that, we don’t know. We’re not necessarily the kind of people who have an apocalyptic sort of world view. I don’t necessarily believe that a giant serpent is going to fly out of the sky at 2012 and rain down fire upon the world. I do feel that something must change. Something extreme is going to happen, certainly in my lifetime and probably in the next 5-10 years. I think you just mentioned the Enlightenment. Talk about an extreme change that completely transformed human consciousness and transformed what was possible for humanity. It transformed our relationship to the world and the universe. I just have this sense that some change like that is on the horizon. I feel this massing sort of energy. My point is I don’t know what it is. I don’t know what the world is going to look like when it is born anew. I don’t really want to speculate necessarily. I feel comfortable on our own path, and I think that we’ve found a space that feels right to us. It feels fulfilling, and I think that we feel like we’re doing the right thing for us. I don’t want to speculate on any sort of grander sort of transformation. I don’t think it’s our place. I don’t think we are particularly intelligent or spiritually aware of people. So I don’t think we have a lot to offer on that. Again that’s the kind of thing that every individual will figure out for themselves.
I was thinking that it is often said that great music is made out of times of strife, great art out of struggle or protest. If black metal is essentially protest music, what happens when the hope is fulfilled and when the world is born anew? Is there a place for this music anymore?
Yeah, it won’t exist. That’s a really excellent point, one that I believe in wholeheartedly. I’ll be the first one to hang it up because those emotions won’t feel authentic anymore. Black metal is kind of a tantrum in a lot of ways. It’s expressing a very deep yearning for something that I feel, has been lost. To use a cliché from a Burzum song, “Loss is lost wisdom.” I think there will come a point when this won’t feel true anymore, and I hope there comes a point in my life, in my own internal apocalypse and my own internal revealing that the sadness and the despair that is a part of Wolves in the Throne Room won’t feel authentic anymore because I’ll have transcended that sort of darkness.
Do you have time for a couple of more?
I do actually. Can I finish my thing about Scion?
Oh yes, I’m sorry. We never circled back to that.
We went off on an insane tangent. The reason I brought it up is because I think that a Scion concert has an occult aspect to it. I think it’s a very dark one. I think that even though the people involved I’m sure are very well intentioned and just have the idea that “Isn’t it great that we can hook up these bands with this money? Isn’t it great that we can put on a free concert?” I think that fundamentally there is something very negative that is going on. I think that in a very real way that is truly Satanic. I do believe that there are dark forces that you could characterize as Luciferian or Satanic that have influence over the world, and I think that being a part of a Scion sponsored festival, you’re in a very real way making a deal with the devil. I believe that to be true. We debated a great deal within the band on whether or not we should take part in such an event. It’s a classic example of one of those compromises that you make. We’re pretty financially humble people. We were trying to decide how we are going to afford to buy our plane tickets back from Europe. Right as we were trying to crunch the numbers, we got an e-mail offering us this festival. They would buy our plane tickets and give us a bunch of money with rock star treatment. We decided to do it and make that deal with the devil. It’s not something that we intend on doing in the future. I think that playing a corporate sponsored event is a pretty intense compromise for a band like ours to make. It’s very obvious to me that the corporate world is trying to find some new way to sell products. Obviously television commercials don’t work anymore. People are way more sophisticated and savvy than they were a few generations ago. I just don’t want to be a part of helping the corporate world to figure out how to convince people to buy stuff.
That’s a good example. That’s the physical dimension of it: the economics and the business aspect. I’m not going to discount the occult level. I can just feel it. I can feel the energy flowing around that kind of thing, and it doesn’t feel good at all.
So would you denigrate another band that is involved with it or doesn’t have the same pit of the stomach occult feeling about it?
No. One of the reasons we played it, apart from our own selfish financial gain, was because Neurosis was playing the festival. They’re huge idols of ours. They’re a band that we think is really inspiring and always been very uncompromising. So it was kind of like if everyone was jumping off the cliff, we might as well do it as well.
You played one with Nachtmystium as well in Los Angeles, right?
That would be Scion number 2 for us. To answer your question: no I’m not going to pass judgment on other bands for doing whatever they want to do. I think that I mentioned earlier that is one of the things we try to take very seriously is not passing judgment on anyone or passing judgment on any choices that people make. The choices we made and the vision we have is for us, if other people are interested in it or agree with it or are inspired by it, that’s great. It’s not our goal to be on some sort of high horse and look down on anyone else. That’s the exact opposite of where we are coming from. I never want to give the impression that we are on this kind of high horse. We’re making compromises just like everyone else and we’re just doing the best that we can.
You named your recent EP Malevolent Grain. I hear that phrase and I think of a bucket of oats and barley trying to take over the world. What does it mean to you?
It’s literally about a bucket of oats and barley plotting to take over the world. Like literally, no joke.
Yeah, absolutely. I’m being kind of facetious about it, but that’s what it means. Obviously human beings lived in a very immediate and primitive way for tens of thousands of years living as hunters/gatherers in very small tribal groups. They probably practiced Shamanism as their path to spiritual knowledge. At some point, for whatever reason, human beings settled down in the Fertile Crescent and began to cultivate grains and as a result began to create cities and as a result began to create hierarchies and here we are today. That was the genie that was let out of the bottle. Going back to what I was saying about an occult dimension to reality, I believe that wheat and other grains have a consciousness and awareness. They have affected the course of human history. I think on one level people are making a very rational decision. “Oh it makes more sense to in order to settle down and cultivate these things and have some modicum of stability and not rely on the caribou herds for our sustenance.” That all makes perfect sense and it is very rational. I also think that there is another energetic layer to that history, and I think that it has to do with the consciousness of the plants that human beings chose to make a pact with. The wheat, the barley or whatever sustains the cities but also by the same token the wheat wins too because its genes are propagated. Its own species thrives and gains advantages over whatever was there before, whatever native grasses that existed in the place or whatever forest existed in the place before they were cut down and razed to make space for agriculture. It’s interesting that your sort of joking understanding of the title turns out to be the reality of our intent.
I guess I’m still not totally clear on where the malevolence in this is.
I guess that’s the kind of question: was it a negative thing? Was it a bad thing that human beings began to settle down and create civilizations? Or was it a positive thing? If you look at it from the perspective of anarcho-primitivism, like John Zerzan and Derrick Jensen or someone like that, they would say that the source of all misery in the world all stems from that choice to no longer live in this primitive immediate relationship to the wild world and begin to create this world entirely of our own. That’s a question that we don’t try to answer. I can see positive and negative aspects to both sides of that equation. I think there is definitely a negative side to civilization and a negative side to a process like agriculture that should be understood not just in terms of the materialistic implications, but in terms of the spiritual implications. That’s what our music is doing. We’re just sort of investigating those sorts of questions through the sound. I know it sounds sort of strange, but that’s the intention that we have. That’s what we feel like we are doing in the band.
You featured a female vocalist on each of your past studio releases. Was there a motive behind the lack of one on Black Cascade?
We wanted to make a record that we could perform all the songs live with just the three of us and not have it missing any sort of important element. On Two Hunters about half the record there is stuff that could only really exist in the studio. So we were interested in doing something that represents the sound we could create with three people on the stage because we plan on touring so much for the next few months, we want to be able to play all the music and not have it be missing anything.
One thing that is probably impossible to recreate live is that warm sound that producer Randall Dunn is able to capture. It feels like a big holistic rush than clean separated parts. Is that recording style just a purely aesthetic choice or is there something else that goes on behind it?
I think maybe I said earlier that the choices we make in recording are all trying to represent a sort of feeling – a sort of energetic feeling, an experience of an elemental power, an experience that you would have experiencing an ocean or a storm, that sort of thing. Which I’m sure sounds very clichéd, but at the same time, I think it’s a very worthwhile thing to try and represent. For us the technique that is very effective is to layer these sounds. So like you astutely noted, it’s not separated guitars. You can’t really separate one guitar track from the other from the drums from the synthesizer. It really becomes one sort of elemental force.
Alright, so last question because I know you have plenty more to get to. There’s clearly a musical growth from one album to the next culminating in Black Cascade. Do you feel like your message or even your ability to communicate it has grown as well?
Honestly, no. That’s one thing that I feel good about is that the objectives that we have in playing the music and the spirit of it is very much the same as it was when we first had the idea that we should start this band 6 or 7 years ago. I think it’ll always be the same. I think we’ll always try to express the same sorts of ideas with the same sorts of techniques in this band. If we as people need to move onto something else or some other set of feelings or sound, we’ll do it in the context of a different group. I like the idea of Wolves in the Throne Room establishing a sound and establishing a spirit and staying true to it until it burns itself out.
Fantastic. Is there anything else you want to offer?
No man, that was a great interview.
Thank you! And you are a great interviewee.
Thanks a lot, man. I appreciate the good questions.
Sure thing. Take care and good luck with the rest of the day.