Erik Danielsson | The fire within

This interview has been published on Radio Metal the 24/12/2017.

It seems like nothing can stop Watain: since the beginnings of the band 20 years ago, the success of the diabolical trio grew bigger and bigger, reaching outside of the boundaries of black metal. Picking up where Dissection stopped, they developed their own sound, went on to experiment with the catchiest hooks of rock’n’roll—ruffling a few feathers in the process—, and stuck to their Chaos Gnostic guns all the while. For the release of the sixth full-length of the band, Trident Wolf Eclipse, I got the chance to speak with mastermind Erik Danielsson. Conceiving his art as transcendental, each album being the result of inspiration and circumstances, he remained elusive about his intentions but described carefully the conglomeration of energy that is Watain.

It was also the occasion to talk about the path followed by the band through the years, through success and fury, struggle and wrecked hopes. Indeed, after the triumphant, almost outrageous The Wild Hunt, Trident Wolf Eclipse sounds bilious, burning with anger. In the five years that separate the two albums, both The Devil’s Blood and In Solitude—two like-minded bands very close to Watain—vanished; Selim Lemouchi died. How do you cope with loss when you worship death? By doubling in fire and intensity, Trident Wolf Eclipse seems to prove, in order to carry the flame with renewed passion, for the present and the fallen.

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Trident Wolf Eclipse took you five years. Did you want to take your time after the wide-scale success of Lawless Darkness and The Wild Hunt?

The atmosphere and the general vibe of The Wild Hunt were really big, epic you could say, so it needed a bit more time than the other albums perhaps to run its course and be able to do what it should. We realized after a while that it was gonna take a while longer than what we were used to, with all the touring and generally to let the album run its course, but when finally we were back in the rehearsal room to write new material for this album, things went quite fast, actually. The whole album was made along the course of I would say a long year. Although many of the ideas were quite old and had been with us for quite a long time, the actual songs you can hear on the record were recorded in a quite short period of time. We decided we were gonna do things quite fast, to just skip a lot of unnecessary steps in the process and to go for what felt totally right. It was just a matter of going for what we really wanted and needed to do for this album. We were really aiming to do something more in-your-face, more direct.

Is it the reason why this album is the shortest you’ve ever made, and that it doesn’t feature any of these lengthy, epic songs like “Stellarvore” or “Waters of Ain”?

Maybe, I don’t know! We just wrote these songs and they turned out to be pretty short. We didn’t think so much about it. Maybe the next album will be two songs that are 40 minutes long, I have no idea. It’s nothing that we can control. It’s up to what happens during the creative process. We live like that: we never decide anything beforehand, we never work for any specific goal, we always just try to work as genuinely as possible when we are in that process.

Does the fact that you played Casus Luciferi in its entirety live at the beginning of the year influence Trident Wolf Eclipse in a way or another?

Honestly, I don’t think so. To me, the new album is far rawer and harder than our old ones. I think Casus Luciferi is actually pretty soft in comparison. For me, Casus Luciferi is a very dreamy album, very big and epic, very spiritual, with a sacred, almost cathedral-like atmosphere. On the other hand, I think the new album evokes something like a burning cave or a shower of stones. Personally, I don’t really see the connection with the old material because it’s just a natural expression of where we’re at right now to me. It’s not a nod to the past, it’s not a nod to the future either. It’s just here and now. That’s how it sounds.

Do you think people, and maybe musician especially, tend to focus too much on either their past or their future?

Yeah [hesitates]… Sometimes that can be good as well, I suppose. I’m sure some bands have a lot to gain from doing that, but with Watain we’re always wanting to do what feels like the most sincere and relevant thing to do in that moment. It’s never been a question of anything else. The last thing we would do would be to try to write music like we did when we were sixteen years old, to me that would be stupid [laughs]. Why would you wanna do that?! It’s more about just following the path and see where it takes you. Right now, let’s try and do this.

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The trident, the wolf, and the eclipse have always been the symbols of Watain, but with this title and this artwork, it’s at the forefront more than ever. Why, and what do these symbols mean to you in general?

As far as I’m concerned, the trident has always been in the forefront of Watain, it’s always been the symbol of the band. The wolf and the eclipse have also been extremely central symbols of Watain for a long time; the trident, the wolf, and the eclipse together are what we wear on our backpatches, that’s what we have tattooed on our arms for so many years now… For me, it’s just a matter of displaying these things instead of hiding them. This is what Watain is, it’s our symbols and we are really proud of them. We have a lot of respect for these, and we feel very humbled in front of that trident symbol that we have charged with a lot of power over the years. It’s a very strong thing to use. I carry all of them again and again. I’m very grateful we have such symbols, not that many bands do, actually. As for Trident Wolf Eclipse, I think it’s just a feeling of wanting to summarize not only the album but Watain itself. That’s what every album of Watain should be, it should be a summary of what we are and what we are about.

For The Wild Hunt, you used clean vocals and the overall feel of the album was very rock’n’roll. It felt like you were opening a new path to explore, but with this new record you didn’t go on in that direction. Why?

Every album is a monument for where the band is at a specific point in time. The Wild Hunt is very much about what Watain was about at that time. What you hear in the new album is what’s going on in Watain right now, and those are of course two different things. Five years after The Wild Hunt, we put our focus elsewhere. I’m not against reusing some of the experimentation that we did on The Wild Hunt again at some point, I’m sure we will, but right now we didn’t feel like that, we were feeling like making a rawer, savage record. A lot of the music that we listen to is like that anyway, and has been for over twenty years, so…

We interviewed you in 2013, and you ended the interview by saying: “We’re standing in front of very interesting times musically and culturally. I think the times we are in right now will be remembered for many years to come. There is something very strange and large about to happen, and Watain will be a very integrate part of that thing.” Five years later, do you think you have been proven right, or wrong? Would you make the same declaration today?

I don’t know if I would say I was right about it, but at least it was what I honestly felt and I was feeling about that time. It’s up to others to decide if they feel that way or not. It’s definitely the way I felt. It had a lot to do with the fact that we were surrounded by bands at the time that were doing something quite different—it must have been around the time when we were touring with for example The Devil’s Blood and In Solitude. Those two bands, along with Watain at that time of The Wild Hunt, were all very fearless in their expression; it was music that was very, very genuine and relevant. Looking back at that now, at that time… The Devil’s Blood and In Solitude are not here anymore, they don’t exist anymore. With that considered, I definitely think that that time should be remembered as something special. Those bands that are no longer around were in their prime and had such an impact on a very big part of the metal scene. To me, it was very exciting times. Now… It’s new times.

How did the fact that these bands don’t exist anymore affect you as an artist, if it did?

Yes, it definitely did. I don’t know, it’s a bit… I have a lot of feelings about that. We still are very much in contact with everyone involved in those bands, both dead and alive; we still cherish that bond of course. For us, it’s like these bands still exist in a parallel world, somehow. But I don’t know… It’s strange to think that bands that were born during the time that Watain already existed also died when we are still going on. That’s always an idea that evokes a lot of thinking and feelings…

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Watain has been going on for almost 20 years now actually, which is more than half of your life… How do you feel about that, about the evolution of the band and of the genre in general; about, as you just said, all these other bands that came and went?

Well… It’s been quite a ride [chuckles]. We have a very intense life: we live fast, we ride hard, we fight hard, we make sure that we do the most of our time here. That, of course, means that you experience a lot of things in the course of 20 years. A lot of quite extreme things, a lot of very bizarre, life-altering things. It’s quite hard to summarize and it’s quite hard to talk about evolution. It’s the same kind of evolution that goes on when a wave is formed and then reaches across the sea. It’s more a matter of pure power that it’s about moving forward. It’s a matter of force that is constantly existing, constantly building, and constantly heading onward without really looking back. This is how I feel about Watain. It’s hard to put it in a chronological context, at least in my head. For me, it’s a continuous experience that ties together the first years together with this, very naturally somehow. I don’t know if that makes sense but when I look at the other guys whom I formed the band with 20 years ago, I still see the exact same people. We are very much alike, and also very different of course, in many ways, because things like these will change you. If they don’t, then you’re doing something wrong.

You would say that you are still driven by the same things than when you first started then?

Yeah, I would, actually, I definitely would. But these things, what you could call the fire that you have within yourself; that fire of course, over the course of time, stimulates the person that you become over the years. So although the fire itself is unchanging, when it’s growing and gaining force, it will transform you and it will also make you new versions of yourself. There are two sides to it. The driving core itself is very similar: it’s yearning for freedom, yearning for the forbidden, the things that are generally shunned in our culture, the things that are not considered to be things that are good to base your life on. We try to honor these things, to explore them, to let them take us somewhere else. This is definitely the driving force that has remained the same.

You declared: “After twenty years of carving our own path through and out of the world, Trident Wolf Eclipse feels like a worthy point of arrival indeed.” It sounds like this album is ending something, whether it is a cycle, an artistic quest or more… Should we be worried about the future of the band?

You should always be worried, I think. When it comes to Watain, people have all the reason of the world to be worried… Not necessarily about it coming to an end, but I think it’s a good mindset to have. I like the idea of people being worried when they think about Watain, it’s how it should be. As far as your question goes, every time we release an album, it always feels that it’s our last one. I think it’s a very good feeling because it means that you have achieved everything you wanted to. But then, it usually shakes after a while [chuckles]. I always try and think of our latest album as the last one, I think that’s a good way to think about it.

Your studio line-up and your live line-up are quite different: you have two extra members live and another drummer. Do the live members have any input in the music you write? What is their involvement in the band?

Basically, we have two extra members because, in the studio, I play one of the guitars, the bass, and I sing, but I can’t do all these things on stage, so it was a matter of setting up a live act, of helping us getting Watain on stage. Set [Teitan] and Alvaro [Lillo] have been with us for fifteen years almost, so, I don’t know, I don’t think there is so much of a difference at all. It makes us even more powerful on stage. But there is something very good about the fact that the people who founded the band are the main characters in the studio environment, because Watain, this source of songs, originally comes from the three of us. I think it’s good if that source comes the three of us, and then it is empowered on stage by even more people who are also part of the band. As for the live drummer, it’s just that our usual drummer doesn’t want to tour anymore, he doesn’t like being on the road, that’s it.

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Your live shows are known for being very big, very visual; you are a graphic artist yourself, and now the band releases videos for some of the songs. How important is the visual dimension of Watain, and how is it related to its musical core, especially for you who are involved in both?

Since I got into metal as a kid, I’ve always seen the whole heavy metal culture as equal amounts of music and aesthetics. The graphical side has always been as important to me as the music, to be honest. So for me, it was only natural to take that into Watain, especially since as you said I also design and make a lot of the artworks myself. For me, that’s as much as an expression of Watain as the songs themselves, really. It’s really about the totality that makes Watain, and everything else, Watain’s stage for example, the t-shirts that we have, everything, the concept… I think it’s a natural thing: if you are in a band of an extreme kind, everything should be extreme, everything should be taken into that, everything should be driven as far as it can, and this, of course, includes the graphical side.

There’s gonna be a release show for this album which will also be a celebration of the 20th anniversary of the band in Stockholm at the beginning of 2018. What can say about it? Are you planning a tour to follow that?

Yes, this show is gonna take place the 5th of January, the same day that the album comes out. It’s good to do a ceremony on the day of the release. As for 20 years thing, we aren’t gonna do that much with that over the year, we don’t care that much about the number 20, it doesn’t hold any special significance for us. We’re gonna use the show from the 5th of January in Stockholm to celebrate the 20 years, and we’re gonna do that by making an exhibition of all the graphic material that we have, concert posters, lots of merchandising, flyers, stickers, backstage passes and all that kind of stuff. It’s gonna be cool, I’m really looking forward to putting that together and make it a great exhibition so people can see the bigger picture of the thing. The week after that, we’re gonna do four more shows in Europe. I’m really looking forward to that. It’s smaller clubs, one show in London, one in Berlin, one in Paris, and one in Tilburg. That’s about it, it’s very exciting, I’m looking forward to stumbling on some stages that we’ve never been on before and burn everything up. It’s gonna be good.

If you couldn’t catch them live, you can find Watain here and there.

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