Erik Danielsson of Watain Talks ‘The Wild Hunt,’ Longevity, Swedish Metal Community + More
Watain fans will be rejoicing this summer with the band’s new album ‘The Wild Hunt’ arriving in August. After getting an early taste of the record on a Saturday afternoon at Duff’s in Brooklyn, we had the privilege of talking to frontman Erik Danielsson, who spoke all about the new disc, as well as its lengthy writing and recording process.
Danielsson also chatted about the longevity of Watain, the appeal of bands hailing from his home country of Sweden and how the band’s beliefs are incorporated into their live show.
Listening to the album at 1PM in Duff’s in Brooklyn, I forgot that it was a sunny afternoon and got lost in the darkness of the music. What do you want fans and music listeners to take away when they hear this new album?
When you start to forget what time of day it is or where you are – it’s a step in the right direction and that’s how it’s like with all great music that has a kind of magical potential. It’s about really transcending above your everyday life -- turn off the mind because a lot of very interesting things happen when you do that. We’ve been working hard to put people into that state of mind because when you turn off your mind and face music like this at the same time that’s when things get really interesting.
When you’re writing, do you go that route of turning off your mind or are you more focused?
It’s hard to say, it’s somewhere in between – usually like everything that is created around Watain it's very loose, we don’t have a specific way we do things. A lot of the songs came about in completely different ways. It’s one of the things I find really hard talking about actually because it’s very hard for me to pinpoint how that creative thing works.
There is for sure a feeling that you’re kind of translating something that is much, much greater than yourself and that’s not an easy thing to do. It can never be easy for me no matter how much I try but it’s a feeling that you sometimes just manage. It’s like this big thing hovering above your head and it just finds its way onto a specific song or a specific lyric. It’s really interesting but at the same time really hard, it’s an abstract idea.
With ‘The Wild Hunt’ being your fifth studio album, talk about the recording process of the record.
It was pretty special this time because we had this stupid idea that we were going to do double the recording time for every album. The first album was recorded in one week, the second was recorded in two weeks, the third was recorded in a month and so on. Now we’re up to four months, a stupid f---ing idea but it actually really worked to our benefit. We realized pretty quickly that we couldn’t stay in the same place for four months or we would f---ing kill each other.
We recorded in four different studios, we traveled around – we had a car with all the gear and just traveled around to these different places. We wanted really desolate places far away from cities which helped I think and it really made it’s way into the feeling of the album. Once again when turning off your mind, you can’t really do that in an urban setting, at least I can’t. I want to know that behind the back of the house it’s just woods, that really helps me to focus.
With well over a decade with Watain, what is something that you realize about the band and the music that you didn’t notice when you first started.
It’s been 15 years. We started when we were 16 years old and I think one of the greatest rewards or the thing I like most that I can look back on is the fact that the older we have become, the more important the band has become to us. We started out very serious from the beginning, it was like either we do this full on or we don’t do it at all and for being 16 that’s a pretty harsh way of looking at things.
We kept that mindset and it escalated and now Watain is all I know, it’s my life – I don’t do anything else and the same goes for the other members. The other thing of course is that it’s actually the same three guys that started the band 15 years ago that are still the core of the band, that is also one thing I value immensely.
The experience of a Watain live performance is intense with animal carcasses gracing the stage and this intense smell throughout the set. What do you burn during your performance and how did you decide to incorporate these tribal aspects in your performance?
The things we usually use onstage, we keep the ingredients to ourselves. How the idea came about was we realized pretty soon that Watain was as much a rock and roll band as it was a way for us to work with our beliefs. For me Watain is as much my music band as it is a religious tool, it’s a way for me to communicate with my gods and to live side by side with my gods at all times. That, of course, presents quite a lot of different angles to the concert scenario.
The concerts for us, they are rock concerts but at the same time it is also very much a ceremony for us. It’s a very cleansing thing. We want things on the stage that enhance that, we wanted things that made it easier to enter into the state of mind where we would be at one with the powers that Watain is built on. It makes for an interesting concert scenario and it’s just been something that has been developing through the years, I think it just keeps on evolving.
One of the few good things that I can really say about success is that you get the means to do these things that you’ve been wanting to do for such a long time. We started out a lot more primitive but we make all our stuff ourselves, we weld all the pieces together, we acquire the animal and the blood ourselves. For us it is a tribal feeling if you want to put it that way.
You can see the passion and intensity onstage, for me seeing Watain live, the set gives off a ceremonial feeling and an elevation of energy.
I’m very glad to hear that, I always appreciate hearing that from the outside. For us, of course, it is like that, it’s strange because people don’t really know to deal with a Watain concert. Is it okay to bang your head? Is it okay to raise your fist? I always encourage people to go f---ing wild but I think a lot of people see how serious this is for us and they see we are in a trance like state onstage and for them it gets to a point where it’s almost awkward. They might be more used to an audience, band communication like “C’mon guys!” and we don’t really do that. We always try to encourage people to release everything and go wild, I don’t care what people do.
For people who are unfamiliar with Watain’s beliefs and sound, how would you describe these things to them?
That is a good question but it is really hard to answer. We made a DVD when we had our 13 year anniversary and that DVD was our attempt to answer that question. When we released ‘Lawless Darkness,’ we were facing a much broader and new crowd, all of a sudden a lot of new people were getting into the band. We wanted to be able to answer that question “What is this weird Watain thing?” [Laughs] and the DVD became two hours long and it became a good insight into the Watain world. It’s a very complex thing that we have managed to create.
Watain are from Sweden, a place where so many great metal bands have come from – what do you think it is about the music coming from Sweden that causes people to gravitate towards it?
I’ve been thinking a lot about it and I have a bunch of different theories and I agree with you. I don’t want to boast about my country, I don’t care too much for that at all to be honest, but you are right -- there are a lot. Swedish history, especially in metal is quite interesting, I don’t know I mean we’re a quite secluded country, far up north. The winters are cold and hard, it’s like people f---ing die from depression and solitude.
I think music, as always is a tool to create something outside of the world as you have come to know it. I think people are very eager to do that in Sweden, that motivation makes for very good music. Then there is also something very old and hungry up in our part of the world, something in the soil, something wrong that needs to come out. I think that goes for all of Scandinavia in a way, I don’t know, it’s a special part of the world.
There is a rich and spicy atmosphere in the music scene. In Stockholm for example, when we go out to the pub we always end up at the same table with Candlemass and Dismember. Everyone just meets up and hangs out and we always talk about music, we always talk about heavy metal.
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