In Conversation With Watain Frontman Erik Danielsson

By Nathan Hernandez

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Watain is a Swedish black metal band hailing from Uppsala. They formed in 1998 and have been touring and pumping out albums ever since. Touring with bands such as Dissection and in Europe heavily has solidified Watain as a force to be reckoned with. Watain in recent years have been able to tour the U.S. successfully. In January 2015, the Black Metal Warfare tour with Mayhem and Revenge came through the States. Now, in November they are kicking off the Black Metal Warfare Tour Part 2, showing America how Watain does black metal. This being the last phase of the touring cycle for their 2013 Century Media Records full-length release ‘The Wild Hunt’, it is going to be a tour fans of the band and genre wouldn’t want to miss. Earlier this week, I did an interview with frontman Erik Danielsson to discuss the upcoming tour, . Enjoy the conversation below.

What motivated you guys to bring the Black Metal Warfare Part 2 tour? I know you guys did Part 1 in February this year.

Yeah, the routing of that one was pretty much just some of the States. We did the last show of that tour and left with a feeling of it was just one of those tours that you just wanted to stay on. It was just a really, really good tour in so many ways. So we figured that we we’ll just book a second leg of it and cover all the ground we didn’t cover in the first one. So that’s the story, and he thing with this tour is it’s so much about the package itself. I mean, it’s a little bit more than that, it’s just more than just another tour, you know. It’s an important package, it’s a statement in itself. It’s two generations of black metal coming together. I think that it makes sense and you can also see that when it comes to the turnouts of the shows, of course, but also in the general gratitude of the fans. You know, it’s like they were really passionate, but fuck it, I’m really glad to do a second leg of it.

How have been the past tours been for Watain in the U.S. in general? I know you guys did a tour with Tribulation and In Solitude a few years back. What cities would you say generally have the best response to Watain?

Well, it’s always hard to say, because you can end up in Salt Lake City but if it’s on a Saturday night it’s going to be a great fucking show. You know it just matters on what day you get there, what mood the people are in that particular night, what venue it is, and what the energy is on the stage. But I think some places that pretty much guarantee for a good metal event is pretty much all of the West Coast cities. I don’t know what it is. It’s strange when you think about it, because like California for an example, the first thing you think about when you hear California is not exactly wild black metal, it’s more like surfer dudes. But there’s a fanaticism among the metal community that just can’t be denied, and there is always great turnouts, always proper fucking headbanging and fistbanging and you know, wild people in the crowd, and that’s all we ask for. If they do that part, we are sure to do ours, you know. So yeah, I’d say the West Coast, New York, Chicago, and Atlanta actually is also really good, but those are the more obvious places, and at the same time I’m also really into playing the off-market places. You know, those are sometimes a little bit more exciting just because you never really know what to expect.

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I know you guys are coming more towards my area for the San Diego and Santa Ana shows. What makes Santa Ana really cool is that Sadistic Intent is also on the bill and I know you guys did a signing at Dark Realm Records a few years ago, which is a store run by members of that band.

Yeah, that’s right, when we started Watain we were doing a fanzine called Hellish Massacre and back then they were they were one of coolest band around. They were like this totally reliable underground force that just never back down and never fucking wimped out whatsoever. But you know, it’s cool to see that 20 years later they are still maintaining the same thing. It’s really, really cool that we have them on the bill. For me it’s one of the highlights of the tour for sure.

I’m really hoping to make it out to that show. It should rip. Is this your last tour for ‘The Wild Hunt’? After this are you guys going to start with writing a new record or recording?

That’s right, yes. Usually, what happens when we decide to do one last tour for an album we never really plan past the last date of the tour. That’s how far our plans go but that’s how it’s been for every album cycle. I think it’s very important for us and it should be for everyone that writes music to just allow yourself a little bit of free space instead of just trying to plan an album recording or plan writing an album. For me it’s a pretty foreign concept. I think it’s really important to feel a kind of emptiness, a kind of desolation, a vacuum, because that’s where things always happen. As far as we are concerned, at least. So with all of that being said, I really look forward to a period where there are no plans whatsoever because that’s usually when the interesting stuff starts to happen.

http://youtube.com/watch?v=DJvTodICI

One thing I noticed about Watain is the ability to progress but in a way that isn’t totally like leaving your sound or roots. We still know it’s a Watain record but it’s different every time. Is that something you guys strive to do as a band or does it come naturally?

I try not to be so caught up in thinking about where things will go in general. I try to leave things open because I think as soon as you try to direct yourself or try to steer your creativity in a certain direction, you end up being a little bit limited somehow. But let’s take Motörhead as an example. They are one of my all-time favorite bands. They have this consistency like a base formula that they manage to stick to and it really works. That’s one kind of band, and on the other hand you have a band like Black Sabbath, for example. You can look at each of their albums and you and can see a leap between every album in terms of creativity and in terms of expression. I find that extremely inspiring as well, so I think with Watain we make an attempt to going with both of these things. We have certain sets of emotions, a creative spine, a set of symbols and a set of language that we always stick to, but the things we talk about and the things we try to express, they might be different from album to album. With ‘The Wild Hunt’ we dealt with quite different subjects than we did on ‘Lawless Darkness’ while speaking the same language, if you get what I mean. So, I think it’s important to keep things exciting when you are the creative force, and I think it’s really important to not get worn down by stagnation or by setting up too many goals but pretty much go with what comes to you. Because the only path that we have been on is leading us further down, further towards the within, further towards the core of our beings. And that’s the only direction I know of, where that direction will take us and how that will end up from album to album, that’s something that has to be left open.

You have stated multiple times that Dissection is a huge influence on you. How did it come about that you were able to a record a song written by Jon on ‘The Wild Hunt’?

I played bass with Dissection on their last three shows and Set Teitan, our guitar player, he played guitar in Dissection since after Jon came out of prison, so we have always had a very strong connection with Dissection. This song you’re referring to is called ‘XI’, and we recorded it during ‘The Wild Hunt’ sessions. To say it’s a special thing doesn’t really say it. It’s more, much more than that. It basically was a song that was still un-recorded by Dissection, that was written around the time of Reinkaos. It was never played live and never really properly finished like an actual song. We had the riffs and Set wrote the lyrics, and the people that now take care of the Dissection legacy approved of everything, of course. These things are you have to understand this isn’t just like doing a cover of a band. It’s about life and death and it’s about ..

It’s about preserving a legacy?

Exactly, through the 17 years that Watain have existed now, I think that’s one of the most special things we have ever done in a recording.

You guys released a live album covering Bathory this year, called ‘Tonight We Raise Our Cups And Toasts In Angel Blood: A Tribute To Bathory’. Tell us about that.

The album you’re talking about is a live album that we just released to 1,000 copies that features a live recording that we did in 2010 or 2011 which was a big Bathory tribute show where we only played Bathory songs. We just did it once, it was a one-off thing just around the release of ‘Lawless Darkness’. I feel really good about having just done that once and that’s that. I also feel really good about having it being captured, and now a few years later being able to put it out. Because a lot of people were asking for it and this show was done in Sweden, so of course a lot of people abroad didn’t get to see it or hear it, so it felt really good to do a special thing for the more die-hard fans that have been waiting for a documentation of that show.

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Yeah, it’s pretty cool, I was just listening to that a few days ago and it sounds really good. Let’s talk about the new documentary movie titled ‘Music, Blood and Spirit: The Life and Work of Erik Danielsson’. How did that come about?

Well, first of all I really want to underline that it’s not at all a Watain documentary of any sort. I mean, this movie that you’re talking about is a 20-minute short film that is a part of a trilogy about me and two other persons that have nothing to do with music. Actually the first part of the trilogy is about a tattooer and the other part is about a UFC fighter and one is about me. Of course, I talk about Watain in the documentary because Watain is what I do and it’s my life’s work. It shouldn’t be considered like a Watain movie or anything like that. It’s basically a portrait of me as an artist seen through the eyes of the director Claudio Marino, who’s a fantastic artist and director from Sweden. I still can speak about it within a Watain context story when I go to Watain because I feel that there is Watain fans that want to dig a little bit deeper and know a little bit more of what’s going on behind the scenes to may be try to figure out where all of this comes from. I’m not saying that the short film, which is only 20 minutes long, will give the answer to everything but it’s perhaps a nice insight to what motivates me as a person rather than just a member of Watain. It’s a much more personal portrait rather than a Watain portrait. It’s cool, it’s going to come out in like a month from now. I haven’t heard anything about it in a while but I know a lot of people are asking about it and I assume it’s about to happen soon.

I’m definitely interested in seeing this new documentary for sure. Hopefully, I’ll be able to see it soon. I’m actually a big fan of Slayer magazine and it was pretty cool to see you on the last issue. Metalion was a huge influence for me to start to do interviews and reviews and such. When did you become a fan of Slayer Mag?

Slayer Mag, I can say without a doubt was one of the most important gateways to me when it came to discovering the black and death metal underground. Issue number 10 came out in like 1994, and that was just around the time I just started to dig deep into the tunnels of the underground and that issue in particular is so special because it deals with all the issues that had just happened in Norway the year before, with the murders and the church burning and everything, and while at the same time it also has got bands like Necrovore from the U.S inside of it. It’s all-encompassing and it gave me an all-encompassing view of what the underground was like back then, even opening it now. I know there is this book now with all the issues, but I still have my copy of issue 10, the actual one, and every time I open it, it’s like going back in time. Over the years I came to know Metalion/Jon quite well and we worked together in a few different projects. We actually even did an art show together in Oslo or Bergen, I can’t remember. We got to be very good friends. He’s like the epitome to me of someone who never gave up, never wimped out, never became a poser and never surrendered his true will or his true intelligence. He always stuck to his ideals. Sadly, you can’t say that about too many people in this day and age. So definitely, I hold Slayer Mag and Metalion in high regard and having been put on the last cover on the last issue of Slayer mag was probably the greatest reward for a band like Watain to get in terms of publicity or whatever you want to call it. That was really like one of the proudest moments in our history as a band.

I totally agree, Slayer mag is a great magazine and one of the best the underground has ever seen. Last year or earlier this year there was some “controversy” with TMZ trying to create headlines to just get a story that leads me to this question. Will the U.S. get more of the European shows with the blood and pyro, or does that not happen due to the “Great White” fear in the U.S.?

You know, Rammstein, the German band, hey have been doing huge pyro shows in the States for years. But what it comes down to is, it’s not really a matter of whether people are scared of the Great White thing, it’s a matter of money and it’s a matter of contacts. Let’s face it, Watain is an underground band, a very extreme band which doesn’t really have that kind of backup. You know we could do it if we have people being charged 500 dollars to see the show but that wouldn’t really make any sense and it’s better for those who want to see it to come over to Europe to see the actual thing instead. It is a very annoying thing but at the same time, for us as a band, every time we go to the States we have to think a little bit different and kind of have to focus on other parts of our show. For us as a band it’s quite rewarding and it opens up new different ideas at this point in time, which is something we really value as well. But it’s a double-edged sword for us as a band. It’s not necessarily a bad thing but at the same time if we got the green light I would do it in a heartbeat but on this tour we are going to continue with the same stage setup as last time. It’s pretty ambitious and we worked a lot on the stage setup in the States as well. It’s something that won’t be taken over to Europe. Americans will get something quite unique and quite special of a Watain show and something that we worked really hard on. It’s just that it’s not the same thing as Europe, of course.

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Do you have any last words to say before we end the interview?

Well, we are rehearsing like a military squad right now before the tour that kicks off in November. It’s going to be the last tour for ‘The Wild Hunt’ and what usually happens with us is that for each tour we do for an album we grow in intensity, we grow in energy and I think this is going to show very well for this last tour. Because people are going to take part in an energy that’s been building up not only in the past two years touring for ‘The Wild Hunt’ but in the 17 years of us as a band! So take the chance if you want to experience something that is far out of the ordinary.

Watain links: website | facebook | twitter | instagram

‘Black Metal Warfare 2’ Tour Dates:
11/05 – New Orleans, LA @ One Eyed Jacks
11/06 – Houston, TX @ Warehouse Live
11/07 – Austin, TX @ Fun Fun Fun Fest Nights
11/08 – Dallas, TX @ Gas Monkey Live!
11/10 – Albuquerque, NM @ Sunshine Theater
11/11 – El Paso, TX @ Tricky Falls
11/12 – Phoenix, AZ @ Club Red
11/13 – San Diego, CA @ The North Park Theatre
11/14 – Santa Ana, CA @ The Observatory
11/15 – Sacramento, CA @ Ace of Spades
11/17 – Salt Lake City, UT @ The Depot
11/18 – Colorado Springs, CO @ The Black Sheep
11/20 – Palatine, IL @ Durty Nellies
11/21 – Detroit, MI @ St. Andrews Hall
11/22 – Pittsburgh, PA @ Mr. Smalls
11/23 – Philadelphia, PA @ Union Transfer
11/24 – Brooklyn, NY @ Music Hall of Williamsburg
11/25 – Baltimore, MD @ Baltimore Soundstage
11/27 – Tampa, FL @ Orpheum
11/28 – Atlanta, GA @ Masquerade

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