Return of The Empire: In-depth Interview with Vader frontman Peter Wiwczarek

Interview by Jason Williams

Polish death metal veterans Vader recently completed a highly successful North American headline run, in support of their latest album ‘The Empire’ (Nuclear Blast Records, 2016), and played to packed houses everywhere they went. Our man Jason Williams, who has followed this band for more than 15 years, knows more about Vader than possibly anyone on this planet. On the San Diego stop of the tour (following the Santa Ana show), Jason sat down with vocalist, guitarist and leader Peter Wiwczarek for an in-depth interview. Read it below.

How has Vader been doing since the bus incident on Monday’s show at Malone’s in Santa Ana?

It was a rough start, but it was alright. Just in the middle of the way, the bus broke down. But everything else was pretty good. Beginning of the week, we some awesome shows, like in California of course, they really never disappoint, you know? It’s a great thing. And it’s good to be here. It’s not too hot. I feel bad when it’s hot and feeling wasted in the weather, but this is not too bad and it’s definitely more energy saved for a show (laughs). After a real hot day in Arizona with the bus, we’re out of that weather, and it’s good.

I believe I’m speaking for Southern California, and the rest of North America when I say that It’s good to have you back. It’s been 4 years since the last tour here, and we’ve all certainly missed the band. What’s been going on with the band between that time frame, touring wise?

You know, we were recording and touring (laughs). Pretty normal for Vader, touring especially. I think we exist to tour, that’s actually the meaning of Vader’s existence. And that’s the same with all of the metal bands’ existence, right? So 4 years, we recorded two albums in the meantime, and now actually we got the time to promote ‘The Empire’, our newest album released. It’s also good to be back in the US, by the way (laughs). So we didn’t play for a while, but it was for different reasons. Situations change a lot in the US, and it’s not as easy or cheap even now, if you don’t have any connections from other companies and we never really had any good support from our record companies in the US. Nuclear Blast in Europe are different. They focus more on cooperation with the bands. I wish we could do the same in the US, maybe things will change in the future, hopefully. But all in all, we still have Vader maniacs here, who have followed us here since the beginning, so they do not really need any hard push in the back, so we still have that respect after all those years and times we were visiting the US before. So that’s the best that can happen for a band, and we’re back, and really happy.

I’ve noticed over the more recent years, Vader’s sound has been going to a direction of focusing on the thrash side. More attention to the old-school Vader days of the ’80s, that few have been able to hear. Not quite the death metal flow as ‘Litany’ (2000), or ‘Black to the Blind’ (1997). What was the reason or process for this slightly different sound on ‘The Empire’?

I can’t say what the reason is, it’s just natural. When I record the new albums, there’s a lot of spontaneous work done in the studio, and I never really know how the album is going to be like until it’s done. And may be because I was listening to more older stuff, the same stuff, the same music I was listening to years ago in the ’80s. I found the box of old cassettes and demo tapes that were trading with bands in the ’80s. So may be ‘The Empire’ is kind of like a “compilation” of something real old, like you call it thrash metal or heavy metal, along with something which is typical for Vader, with blast beats, the blasting parts of death metal. And something more may be. The influence is all around, happening at an early time. There was nothing to prepare before the studio time. I never know that the album was going to be like this, rather I just get some feelings from it, you know? But what I do know from the past, I always change something in the studio, always something happening around, with new ideas, or changing songs right in the studio. So until something is recorded officially, I can’t say how it’s going to be like. But definitely ‘The Empire’ is the most different album, if we’re talking about the songs. You can find different songs on it, and it’s still pretty much like Vader, but they’re different.

Like the track ‘The Army-Geddon’ for example. The song really focuses on a more percussive and drum theme much more than the usual Vader song. It gives the listener a vast imagination of an army gathering together and facing their enemy in battle, just from the music alone. Was that more of your idea or from James (Stewart, drummer) being extra involved?

This is the only song on the album made with this approach, also a song Spider (guitarist) wrote too. And the main riff in the beginning was created on one of the soundchecks from when we were touring in Europe, a year before the recordings. And that main riff just stayed, and we built everything around it later. Of course, Armageddon, it’s a game of words, so Army, Geddon, and putting it together. It’s all about crusaders, and crusades in the past, but it’s also based on the modern world. There’s still this religious war between countries and we have crusaders now. That’s what going all around, like these “holy wars”. It’s crazy, and hard not to see it and to not talk about it. Even for us, we keep out of politics, but there are so many songs of Vader that talk about the realities and putting them into stories. So we never tell straight about events, but each song has a background from other realities.

I’ve been following the band for 15 years now, and one drastic change in the band that I noticed was in 2008. Vader released the ‘XXV’ compilation album, and then about the same time, Novy (bass), Daray (drums) and Mauser (guitarist), all left the band. I don’t know the circumstances why everyone departed, but it must have been a difficult time, and similar to the late ’80s when the other original members left, leaving you and Doc (drums) in the band, then getting (now former) members China (guitar), and Shambo (bass) in the early ’90s. What was going through your mind during the 2009 release ‘Necropolis’?  Was there a time to possibly put the band on hold?  I know Vogg of Decapitated filled in for a while, but what were your thoughts during that time?

That’s why I am the leader. I was the one in the band since the very beginning. Well, not the very beginning exactly. When we formed the band, there was two of us, and I was just a guy who joined in the band who wasn’t even named Vader yet. I believe in the music, and after so many years, especially today, it is a pleasure to play with all of these guys in Vader. So sometimes, they had different opinions, or wanted to do something different. Sometimes, they could not stand the hard workload of touring. To be in Vader was a big deal for many, and after the first couple albums, we became heroes in Poland. The band was a symbol, had a symbolic meaning. Just to be in Vader was a gift to many, and they joined. But they thought it was a good deal, but they never expected the hard work involved. So to spend almost all of the year being on tour, recording, doing something, not everyone can stand it, you know? People miss families, and they miss the girlfriends, or want to stay home and be lazy. That’s why sometimes the members just had to quit. Sometimes I couldn’t stand somebody who just couldn’t sacrifice themselves, and do as much work as I can. So this is a sacrifice, and if you want to be in Vader and in a professional band like that, you have to be ready for really, really hard work. If you’re not ready for that, I’m sorry, it’s not a place for you.

All in all, 99 percent of the band members I have played with, I’m still in good talks with them. We’re still friends, but took other choices. With Mauser he wanted to do something of a different band with his wife. Daray got the job with Dimmu Borgir, so the reasons were different. But you know, I don’t want to force people to do something, it just wouldn’t make sense. I want to play with people who want to be in Vader, like now. So now we have the most stable lineup in the history of the band, which is long enough. We get people in different ages, James actually has his birthday today, turns 27, and you see that I’m 52, but it’s not a big deal with the age. If you have the passion and want to play, it’s not a problem, even if he’s from a different country. Actually, he just moved to Poland and works there now, so it’s not just Polish immigrants here (laughs), some people took the opposite way. I am a leader, a guy who may be is the last one who decides, but not a tyrant in a band, so I’m still open to ideas. You mentioned ‘The Army-Geddon’, which is an example of a song when Spider and James cooperates. James will get the last word on how the drums will sound like. Of course as a composer, I give the main background for everything, to see what it’ll be like in the beginning, the end, all of the details within the riffs. So that’s how we work.

In terms of your guitar playing, the riffs seem to be written with a basis of tremolo picking, with some staccato and intricate riffs added. Could you discuss that, where it came from and how you were comfortable to write in that way?

Vader’s style is just years of experience. And I don’t know how we did it, just a normal evolution of the band, I think. Almost always when a band starts, you are under the influences of other bands. My influences started with Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Slayer, Morbid Angel, and everything was up, up and up, in terms of extremity. But, I was pretty much open to some other things which influenced me as well. Same with my vocal style, it became a sign for Vader as well. But I didn’t want to be a singer, I had to be a singer. I couldn’t teach my original singer English, and when we tried to break through with the demo tapes, we had to have songs written in English, back then around ’88, right after Doc joined the band as a drummer. So I started to sing (laughs), because it was the only way. And then I stayed. I never took the voice in a metal band as something more than just an instrument, a voice of expression than a bringer of words or something. That came later, while starting to write the lyrics, and I became the “owner”, so then I tried to give more to the lyrics and stories involved. I put realities into stories, it kept the spirit of Vader in the lyrics, but I tried to say something more than just about hell and demons. I used all of these terms, because it’s the language that we talk to people about. Our language of expression, hell, you know. Satan, symbolic meanings, and there’s a lot of that in Vader, that’s us. But again, that’s just natural. I never really thought about it, just next album, next album, and so forth. We just become better songwriters and musicians, opening our eyes and ears to everything. We tried to find new music, and all of the influences, sometimes you’re able to put those into your sound. But you know, I don’t really have a philosophical explanation for that (laughs).

For all of these years that Vader has been around, with newer bands being more technical, faster, more brutal, and find more ways to be extreme, people still have a place in their heart for Vader, the very proficient, musical band that fits a variety of preferences for many metalheads. Vader doesn’t have to be 300 BPM, or have 20 solos in a row. What would you say the fans love about the band and the message it has sent to them?

You need to talk to them, not to me. I’m just a composer. I am a fan of music still, dealing with the music as they do, just do it differently. I’m also a creator, and not just a listener. But it’s still fun and I still like the music. I know many people who are in metal bands, who say they don’t officially like metal, and I don’t get it. How is that possible to create metal if you hate it? Not me, but maybe it’s possible, I don’t know understand many things today (laughs). But whatever. As I said, you should ask people why they like Vader. Because of the tempo, it was time when we tried to be as extreme as possible. Speed was the priority in that. And I feel ‘Litany’ was the limit for us in speed. Of course we could play faster, but there’s no sense in that. We already have so many fast songs, it’s really hard for me to create a setlist for the next and next tour, and probably the reason why we started to compose slower songs. Because I know that if we mixed this with all these, 80 or 90 percent of very fast ones, it’s going to be more interesting for people, it won’t be boring. We could play fast songs for 90 minutes, but where is the sense of it? We don’t want to “beat” people (laughs) with the noise, we want to give them noise and make them hungry for more, for the next time, you know? Not just death and wasteful. We’re an extreme band, but want to give something in between. All in all, its about the setlist, about the touring, and talking about it in the beginning, it’s the priority of Vader, and the meaning of its existence. When I’m still in the studio, I’m keeping in mind that the new songs will be mixed with the previous albums for live shows, and the whole show needs to makes sense from the beginning to the end.

You spoke earlier about one of the albums that influenced me greatly, ‘Litany’, released in 2000. For North America, I feel this was the album that opened the gate for Vader to be more well-known and able to start regularly touring. ‘Revelations’ after, and then ‘The Beast’ too, but intense barrage of speed and aggression on ‘Litany’ I felt captured the moment for North America. Tell me what it was like recording the album, and your overall assessments on that album, what it meant to you then, and now?

Ah, you know, I don’t have a favorite Vader album. I like all of them. Like being a father, you can’t say which kid is your favorite, you love all of them, right? It’s the same with me and the Vader albums. ‘Litany’ was a long time ago (laughs), I don’t remember all of the details, but what I know is that there was a problem with the length, because the album was supposed to be about 45 minutes and Doc was just playing so fast, and shrinking the album to not even 30 minutes. I remember, the songs ‘Cold Demons’ and ‘North’ were created in the studio. We were afraid that Metal Blade, our record company back then, would act (negatively). But it was alright. The album was so intense, 30 minutes intense for all of the songs, so that’s I think enough. If we played slow like Black Sabbath, or Trouble, 30 minutes would be nothing, it’d probably be 3 or 4 songs. But we played really fucking lot of blast beats on it! We could record the album as this for 50 minutes, but it wouldn’t make sense. It was way easier to make the albums longer when we mixed the songs, and to create more slower, groovy riffs, you know? But of course, it’s not why. I never put intention on the time, just for the sake of making the record company happy. What we do, is what we do. The fans decide whether they like it or not, not me or the record company.

Vader at Malone’s in Santa Ana – photo by Karina Diane

And discussing the more newer material, ‘Hexenkessel’ for example on the ‘Igni Et Tibi’ record, I personally believe it’s one of the strongest Vader songs in quite some time. Especially with the atmospheric, theatrical intro, riffs and intense epic feel. Was that something that just came suddenly while writing the material for that record?

‘Hexenkessel’ was a song composed by Spider, and its working title was ‘Red Army’. That’s why the main riff, the melody reminds of the Russian songs, if you can hear it. And I found the title and wrote the song. First impression, the Hexenkessel was the witch’s pot. Something about the witches from the Middle Ages, religion blaming the girls and women. Just abusing the power to kill, like omnipotence, you know? But the real reason why ‘Hessenkessel’ is called that in English, was in the second World War. In the East, the deep winter, if the army was surrounded, they were called a “Kessel” in German. You couldn’t escape it, and there were places like that in Stalingrad too. People were starved, and suffered in the cold, they would die in the hundreds and thousands. And the song is about that, the expression of the soldiers. I found a letter from Stalingrad, left by a soldier. He was dying, dropping some last words to his family. That was the impression of it, and for a part of the end, some words of the bible were in the letter. He was asking the god why, for all of it. So this is the main part of my speech at the end of the song, but mixing them together, asking why allow this to happen? So the expression is sometimes as that, where people cannot understand why the good god send all that to them, you know? Impressions, from different sides. I put something real into a story, which could be totally different for someone who doesn’t know about the real background.

Being in the band for so many years, all of the evolution you’ve seen in Vader yourself, what are your thoughts on bands making use of modern technology in their music?

If I can compare to the ’80s and today, the first thing is that technology and musical ability are so much higher than in the past. It helps a lot. But it will never replace the passionate talent. There’s too many bands that focus on technical things, you know? Instead of creativity, that’s the difference. My reflection is I wish to see more bands that would try to use technology and use abilities which always help to give more, but they shouldn’t forget about creativity about what they’re doing it for. Because sometimes they just forget about it. They’re more like magicians onstage, instead of being musicians onstage. And that’s a big difference.

What is next for Vader after this tour? European festivals, possibly another tour in the US that won’t take 4 years?

We have a few festivals in Europe, exactly right after this. But not as many this year. We had an accumulation of festivals last year, so this year is a vacation, a real one! (laughs) Believe it or not. So we’re going to spend July with family, to go somewhere and just to a vacation, forgetting about the band for a while. Because the last days of August, we head into Australia and Japan with Kreator. Then we have some additional shows in India and Singapore, those places. So September is going to be exotic, but great I’m sure. Then we’re going to get back to Europe around October, and November probably is going to be easy for us to try to make some local shows with ‘The Ultimate Incantation’ album, because this year it’s going to be 25 years for it, and give this whole album to everyone. We did it already a few times, and people are asking for more, so why not? (laughs) It’s good to remind everyone.

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