When you hear the term “black metal” what things come to mind? You probably think of Satanic symbolism such as upside down crosses, pentagrams and Baphomet. Or do you think of face paint, aggressive, dark, and ominous music along with a theatrical presentation for the live performance? Whatever it is you think about, after reading this interview maybe you will find that there is more to it than you think.
According to Watain leader Erik Danielsson, when it comes to Watain, there are many layers to them as a band and within each layer you will find something deeper, more intense, and even more dark and sinister but it is up to you, the listener/fan to decide just how deep you want to go. I was very intrigued and excited to speak with Erik about these deeper layers of Watain. Rather than stay at the surface of it all, I wanted to go a bit deeper and Erik was more than happy to escort me there and to answer my questions. Erik is a really soft spoken, kind, and very polite guy and I really enjoyed talking with him as he took me only where I chose to go. This is probably one of my all-time favorite interviews and I hope you all will enjoy exploring the depths of Erik Danielsson and Watain.
Hey there Erik, thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview today. How are you?
Hello Don. I am doing quite well today, thank you. You have some kind of an internet website?
Yeah. I run a site called the Great Southern Brainfart where I do interviews, concert reviews, album reviews and editorial type stuff.
[laughs] The Great Southern Brainfart. What does this mean?
[laughs] That is very funny. Ok, I see.
It’s a lot of fun. I’ve wanted to be a metal writer ever since I was a kid so I’m getting to do what I love.
That is very good for you Don. We should all do the things that we want to.
Yeah, I’m a lucky dude. I have a wife with a great job which allows me the opportunity to do this. She’s a cool woman.
Ahhh, that’s a good set up. I might look into that at some point and get one of those [laughs].
So I have to be honest. Aside from listening to Venom as a kid, I was never much of a Black Metal fan and then I gave you guys a listen and I’m really intrigued with your songs and your performances.
That is really good to hear that you made that comparison. I wish I heard Venom and Watain in the same sentence more often. Venom is one of my all-time favorite bands and I think if you have that sort of background you might actually be able to relate to what we do as well. Musically there might be a slight difference. Venom are the originators of the Black Metal movement that we later became a part and we like carrying that torch onwards and uphold that legacy.
Watain seems to have more of that classic element than most of the other modern bands. Is that something that was intentional?
We never really sat down and discussed how Watain should sound. It’s pretty safe to say though that our own personal preferences when it comes to Black Metal have always been very traditional. Venom are one of the most important bands ever to Watain and the same goes for bands like Merciful Fate and even bands like Exciter, Racer, and Voivod. We’ve always leaned towards bands like that in our own musical tastes when it comes to metal. I suppose our sound really comes from a mix of those bands and late era Black Metal such as Mayhem and Dissection and so on.
Black Metal from when I was a kid almost seems slightly different than what some of the more modern Black Metal bands of today and I love that Watain seems to have found a way to bridge the gap between the modern and classic black metal sound which I love.
Wow, that is very cool. I am very glad to hear that Don.
One of the things that intrigued me the most about Watain was the ritualistic approach to the live show using animal carcasses, lighting candles on a small alter and what not. What can you tell me about the live show and the background to this ritual?
If you play music of a diabolical nature and the music that you perform is permeated by a sinister and infernal essence, of course that will have to translate to the stage show as well and your appearance. It’s not a process that should be forced. It should come as a natural consequence of the music that you’re playing and the artistic work that you are doing. With Watain it was very much that way and it evolved into this thing that it is. When we started playing we already that kind of extreme view of how a black metal live show should be like. It should look like the music sounds. That’s how it all began. The longer that Watain existed the more we realized that the magical side of this band, the spiritual side began to come through and it just began to transform into a ceremonial thing rather than just a rock concert so to say. It evolved into an event where we communicate with the forces that gave birth to this band and that have always been a part of this band. It became a time where we could let these things just come to life and be at one with them. It’s an ever ongoing evolution and the live shows are constantly progressing. They have become something more and more severe and intense and that’s a very good thing to me. It’s a very inspiring context to work with.
When Watain takes this ceremony on the road, especially when touring in the southern part of the US, sometimes there are limits as to what you can and can’t do on the stage. When that does happen, how much of an impact does that have on the purpose of your live performance? Does it make things harder for you to do?
Yes, of course it does but being in a band like Watain is always quite a challenge. When you take something as inhuman as Watain into the world, then of course things can be a bit strange. We knew since day one that we would have to face a lot of opposition because of some of the things we wanted to do. I think we’re always pretty well prepared for that to happen. Of course it’s annoying and it makes me want to punch the living shit out of anyone who stands in our way but we always find a way around these things. There’s always a way for the devil to come through no matter what. It cannot be stopped. It’s just a fact and it’s been that way since the dawn of man. The devil always wins and the devil always finds his way. I think that in general, all of that opposition and all of the people who prevent us from doing what we want to do just makes us stronger. It makes us feel more proud and stronger about what we’re doing. We like to fight against the extreme and we like to go against the current. We like to be the enemy and that just fuels the fire of Watain and I actually appreciate that. I like touring in places especially the South because we always feel that tension and how skeptical they are but in the end we just do what the fuck we do anyway [laughs].
You obviously take your beliefs very seriously. As a Satanist, is it important for someone to be the same belief as you in order for you to feel that you can communicate with them? Does that make sense?
Sure it makes perfect sense and it’s a question that is brought up quite a lot in relation to this band which is understandable. I don’t think many people have the same kind of points of reference that we have as Satanists. I think most of our fans don’t even think about it and that’s something we just have to live with. Not even 5% of our fans are remotely related or connected to Satanism. The thing that people must understand is that we do Watain for our own specific reasons. It is not about us conveying a certain message of our religion to the fans. We do it to be thankful and to be a part of this and for us is a way to get closer to those divine things that we consider to be the heart of this band. In regards to how people relate to Watain, I think people should consider Watain a catalyst of emotions and energy that in turn brings a lot of important questions and perhaps if the god’s will even answers to those questions. We have never meant to write a new bible. We have never meant to impose our beliefs on anyone. That idea is absurd.
What scares people the most or makes them feel the most uncomfortable is being confronted with things that they do not understand or things that they perceive to be as taboo or even evil. On the flip side, these things also intrigue a lot of people.
Yes. It’s about putting people in situations and a collection of things that are not of their everyday life. Presenting them with extreme things that set them off a bit and maybe make them think twice about things they don’t think about. That’s what heavy metal is all about in the first place right? It’s about putting people in places where they perhaps find a new concept of freedom; where they start to ask the important questions of life such as “Are you free?” “What are the obstacles in your life?” “What have you done to overcome them?” “Are you a man or a mouse?” It’s things like this that lie at the base of things that we present to the people. Some people are fine with that and will stay at the surface. Others might want to dig a little deeper and that’s where it gets interesting. You can dig very deep into this band and there’s still a lot to be found. A lot of people stay there at the surface and I cannot blame them.
Even though someone may not have the same beliefs as you, is there a certain level of respect for being so passionate about your beliefs to bring it to the forefront and share it with the masses no matter what that belief is?
I cannot say that I’m always that tolerant when it comes to other beliefs in general. I think when it comes to these bigger questions that are being presented to Watain or any other belief system whatsoever I think it should always be approached with a certain kind of respect. Whether or not you can relate to it is a different story. If people are totally uncomfortable with what we’re doing, which I don’t think would be so strange, then they are free to back off. We’ve always been very open about who we are and what we’re about.
Over the years, the use of satanic imagery and even Satanic based lyrics has been very prominent in heavy metal music. You could even say that some don’t truly believe in it but use it as a sort of gimmick. Do you feel that artists that have done this over the years have done more harm than good to those like yourself who are devout in your beliefs?
I think it’s easy to say that they are gimmicks and that they are pretty obvious gimmicks but because of that I cannot really get offended in the same way that I don’t get offended if Roman Polanski makes a movie about Satan. Rosemary’s Baby is a great fucking movie right [laughs]? That doesn’t offend me. The devil is a very interesting figure. He’s been tempting man and man has been admiring him since the dawn of man. It’s not that strange that the devil lingers around extreme forms of art such as heavy metal. I think he has his rightful place there although a lot of people that actually put his imagery or symbols there might not really be aware of how real these things actually are. In combination with music it becomes something more than imagery. That’s the thing with a band like Venom. Of course they were not devout Satanists but those symbols within a Venom live concert becomes something infernal. It becomes something very, very powerful whether or not Venom themselves wanted it.
Right now I think it’s just about the new album. When you release a new album and you’re about to go on the first tour for it things feel like they are going to explode in every direction. It’s a very intense thing. I look forward that and feeling that. We also have this brand new set of songs that I just can’t wait to go out and play live. The rehearsals have been very inspiring and it’s going to be very good to join forces with the people that appreciate these songs and have them come to life.
After over 13 years, how hard is it to create a set list for a tour without feeling like you’re missing something?
It’s hard in a good way. It’s a good kind of problem I suppose [laughs]. We don’t really write up a set list. We pretty much decide on the night in question what we feel like doing. It depends on what kind of place we’re playing, what we feel like doing, what we feel that day, and even what energies we want to work with on that specific night. It’s very much a heat of the moment kind of thing when we come up with the set list.
Erik, I’m so looking forward to seeing Watain here in Atlanta and I really appreciate you taking the time out to talk with me today. I really enjoyed getting to know more about you and Watain.
Thank you very much Don. I will see you in Atlanta.
Catch Watain on tour!
Watain 2014 Wild Hunt Tour Dates:
Oct. 8–New York, NY–Irving Plaza
Oct. 9–Philadelphia, PA–Underground Arts
Oct. 10–Worcester, MA–Palladium Upstairs
Oct. 11–Montreal, QC-Foufounes Electriques
Oct. 12–Toronto, ON–Opera House
Oct. 14–Detroit, MI–The Magic Stick
Oct. 15–Chicago, IL–Bottom Lounge
Oct. 16–Minneapolis, MN–Triple Rock Social Club
Oct. 18–Denver, CO–Marquis Theatre
Oct. 19–Salt Lake City, UT–In The Venue
Oct. 21–Seattle, WA–Studio Seven
Oct. 22–Vancouver, BC–Rickshaw
Oct. 23–Portland, OR–Hawthorne Theater
Oct. 25–Oakland, CA–Oakland Metro
Oct. 26–Los Angeles, CA–VEX
Oct. 27–Phoenix, AZ–Rocky Point Cantina
Oct. 28–Albuquerque, NM–Launch Pad
Oct. 30–Austin, TX–Red 7
Nov. 1–Atlanta, GA–Masquerade Hell
Nov. 2–Charlotte, NC–The Casbah
Nov. 3–Baltimore, MD–Baltimore Sound Stag