Exclusive Interview: Watain’s Erik Danielsson Talks New Album, What it Means to be Underground
MetalSucks was invited to attend a very special listening party to hear Watain’s new album The Wild Hunt last month in Brooklyn. It’s a doozy, although that’s probably not the word that uber-serious vocalist/mastermind Erik Danielsson would use to describe it (listen to new song “All That May Bleed“). We sat down with Erik to pick his brain about the metal underground, the role (or lack thereof) of humor in metal, Watain’s infamously smelly stage show, the new album and more.
Upon introducing ourselves, Danielsson exclaimed, “Why do you call it MetalSucks?” which seemed like a perfect way to start the conversation. And so:
To you, what sucks about metal and what doesn’t suck?
There’s nothing that sucks about metal, but there’s a lot of stuff around metal that sucks – people who take it too much tongue-in-cheek. I’ve always had a hard time with that. To me it’s been my life for the past 20 years, and I take it very seriously. I owe everything to it really. I think we grow up in an environment where we are initiated into metal, especially black metal, in a very harsh manner. The people who wore the wrong band shirts at shows in the mid-’90s, you’d get fucking beaten up. I like that and I agree with that idea. It’s a harsh fucking music style.
Who cares what you wear or what you look like? It’s all inside you.
There’s a different way of looking at that. For me, metal is about so many things. It’s about aesthetics; it’s about a fucking harsh, liberating way of living your life. I’ve seen people fight and die for this kind of thing. Out of respect for them and out of respect for the music itself, that’s how I choose to look at it. It’s a really big deal for me. You know what I mean?
Yeah. There are different ways of looking at it of course. In a nutshell, it’s very much about not being serious about everything but I think Watain represents the more serious point, you could say. I don’t force my opinions on anyone. I don’t give a fuck what people think. I have some opinions on stuff and if people ask me about it, I’ll give them an answer. I think there is a need for bands like that as well.
What are your some of your strong opinions about where the metal scene is today (whether it’s certain bands or just different styles)?
I hate to be known that “oh I hate deathcore” and blah, blah, blah. Whatever, really. What I like is that in Sweden, that’s where I live (my radar is Swedish/Scandinavian), you’ve got the tabloids having a fucking metal section, like a separate paper coming with the tabloids.
Once a month. They have everything from metal with stuff like us to the Deftones. It’s really… I wouldn’t say “on the rise” since it’s been like that for a while, but it’s cooking, it’s boiling. People are fucking hungry for it, and I like that. It’s also interesting to see a band like us, for example, who are nowadays kind of accepted within the metal context. Say, 15 years ago, black metal wasn’t a part of the whole thing. People who were into Slayer didn’t maybe know that much about Bathory or Mayhem. Now it’s incorporated into the whole metal culture, which is for good or for worse.
Yeah, yeah. Kind of related to that, I was reading the pamphlet you guys put together. The first song, the introduction, is talking about how the underground is important to you and you try to put that into the new album but also to step outside a little bit. How is that reflected on the new album?
The intention with the lyric… we started to be active, writing letters to my record label in ’93 or ’94. We had our own fanzine, made our own flyers and all that stuff. There was something there, something so vivid and alive and spicy. That feeling that I got from that and that I still get looking at old fanzines — I have a huge fanzine collection — that feeling is still so relevant to me. It’s still a foundation and fundamental to what we do – that fucking raw, ugly face, the underdog. I think people make the mistake, a lot of the times, when they’re talking about the underground. It’s a constant thing that people bring up with Watain because we have reached a kind of minor success. I think people tend to focus a little too much on how many albums we sell or whether or not your t-shirts are black and white. It’s kind of nerdy.
So what is it to you to be underground?
To me it’s so much more about a profound thing. The underground is symbolic and something that owes everything to the abyss of places where people do not dare to go, where men are not meant to tread. That’s what the underground is to me and that’s why it’s such an interesting phenomena because from these deep and dark places within the mind of the artists, very interesting things come to life. That’s the underground to me, the connection with that backwards idea of being alone. Having that in mind, it’s been so weird talking about the underground concept. “You’re selling more than 25,000 albums now.” “Yeah”.
Where does somebody draw the line? 5,000? 25,000? It’s silly to just come up with a number.
That’s what I mean. It’s not about that. It’s about a state of mind. It’s about being liberated as an artist and owing your inspirations to really dark and disturbing things that belong with the underground. That’s my perception.
Can you be underground without being dark and disturbing?
Yeah, of course. I guess I was talking more about the black metal underground. Of course. I was going to say older Black Flag or Misfits.
Even just like a dude playing the accordion in his basement or something.
I suppose. It’s not really something I ponder too much about. There is a sense of underground in every music genre, especially in the black metal context, the term to me is very important.
Are there certain bands in the black metal/death metal underground right now that you’re digging, like younger bands?
Yeah. There’s a band in Sweden called In Solitude. They’re releasing an album later this year that’s going to be… I don’t want to say “album of the year” because that’s going to be ours.
It’s a fantastic fucking album. You’ll be very surprised with it, in awe, I think. There’s another band in Sweden called Deajial. [Editor’s Note — the band is Degial. Thanks, MS commenters.]
I’ve heard of them.
Yeah, yeah. It’s fierce, fucking Morbid Angel or Necromorph [Inaudible — Editor’s best guess!] and really old school, sludgy, and satanic sounding. They remind me a lot of myself when I was young [sounding wistful and tearful in a sarcastic manner].
That’s a really good band. There are plenty of good bands out there.
That’s a good list. I heard that this time around that on the tour you guys aren’t going to bring the animal carcasses with you. Is that true?
No, we are.
You’re definitely bringing everything with you?
We haven’t really gotten that far yet, but I suppose. We’re working on the staging but I don’t know where we’re at yet. People like to talk.
Yeah, people do like to talk.
Especially about Watain’s stage and “they didn’t do that there” and “they didn’t do that here”. It’s like, leave us alone.
So no plans to abandon the full Watain stage show?
No way. It has to become more… I don’t know. I want to make it more raw. I think it becomes almost a little too beautiful with the candelabras and all that. I feel like we need something uglier this time around. We’ll see, we’re working on it right now. We’re working with really good artists in Sweden and Poland to get the whole stage show organized. We’re really, really anxious about it.
Great, great. Do you ever run into problems at venues where they just won’t let you bring all that stuff in? I guess it hasn’t become that big of a problem yet.
It has. All the time. That’s what we do. We were lucky to have a crew that consists of pirates that won’t take no for an answer. We’re lucky that they have to deal with that bullshit more than we have to. We do what we can and just do it our way. Touring America is really hit or miss. We were doing some shows in Tennessee and Louisiana when I thought “there’s no way we’ll be able to do anything,” but they were really open to everything. “I heard you guys have fire on the stage, fucking do it!” It’s weird. Unfortunately we have to deal with it venue by venue that way. When it works, it works. Removing things like the fire from one show that would put the focus on the other things. Everything we do on stage has certain relevance. I don’t worry too much about that.
How has it been moving from Season of Mist to Century Media? It’s a bigger label this time around.
Yeah, this is great. It’s like with everything, really. You do something for a long time and you get new contacts and you climb that ladder somehow. I don’t want to sound like I don’t care, but it’s something that… I don’t know. Of course it’s very important to us if we have a good label. I don’t really like to talk about it because for me it’s a label. I don’t talk about it if I change my band to go to another band. It’s the business side.
It’s an important side of it.
It is, it is. I deal with it enough; I don’t want to spend time talking about it.
Okay. Let’s talk about the new album. What can you say about how the new album is a growth for Watain or different or anything about it?
Musically speaking or lyrically.
Yeah, I think the most common thing that I hear from people whenever they release a new album is that “oh fuck, new change. What happened?” I always tell them “yeah, what do you expect? Do you think we’re going to do the same stuff?” I like progression. It’s very important to all of us. We enjoy being creative and doing new things that expand our language – being able to translate the nocturnal and weird things that are going on inside us. This album feels like it’s the most drastic step we’ve taken because we’ve got songs like “They Rode On.” “It became a very melancholy album. It’s kind of a bluesy album.
“They Rode On” is kind of like a ballad.
Yeah, it is. I’ve listened to that stuff since I started listening to metal. I love that stuff, like Pink Floyd. That was as big a part of my music collection as Metallica. For me, it was a matter of time before a ballad snuck its way into Watain.
Are you worried what people are going to say or if they’re going to reject that?
The only thing I worry about… I don’t worry. I just hope people will be a bit more intelligent and open-minded than to be just like, “oh, a ballad, eh.” Listen to it and read the lyrics because it’s really about Watain. We really open ourselves up in that song and I hope people will be able to appreciate that effort. It was quite an effort to write that song. To be honest, we never talked much about how it would be perceived. It just felt like a good thing.
It was a pretty good reaction in this room. I think people turned their heads and were like “wow, this is a good thing”. People definitely took notice of it. This room isn’t everyone. It’s just a bunch of music journalists.
Once again, I can’t always rely on this stuff during an album cycle and when you start doing interviews and stuff. I kind of let go of all the worries about expectations. I’ve done my part. You can look at it from any angle you want and throw it in the air and do what you want with it. It’s there, and I put it on the table for you to do what you want with it.
Yeah, definitely. Now that the album is done and the release date is in August, do you have touring plans for the rest of the year?
We’re going to start off with this big ass show in our hometown. It’s a 3,000 capacity venue and we’re going to have people building that stage for a week prior to the show. It’s going to be cool. We wanted to start off with something “wow”. We’re coming to the U.S., I think, in October, hopefully with In Solitude. It’s going to be cool. It’s going to be strange when we’re starting to write set lists because we have five albums now. I think we’re going to look forward to it because we’re going to try and do different sets every night or something like that and try to get as much in as possible.
A couple of new songs?
Yeah, definitely. I’m really looking forward to it.