Hello Larry, nice to have you back, three years after our nice conversation at Graspop 2014 on behalf of ‘Bled White’! Let us have a nice update of things now that your tenth album ‘Hamartia’ is about to come out... how are you doing?
Hi Vera, nice to talk to you again. I am doing alright, the usual ups and downs of life occurring. We've just been very busy lately with the release of the new album taking up a lot of our time.
Indeed, three years have gone by since ‘Bled White’. What happened after the release of that album with the band? What kept you busy?
Well honestly, not too long after we finished ‘Bled White’ and released it, we started writing right away for the next album, and as it was it still took us three years to get it finished. I guess we're getting slower in our old age...
I could not trace so much gigs after ‘Bled White’. Is it true you only played two gigs in the US and two in Brazil? Well, please tell us about your adventure of going to Brazil then…
I'm trying to remember exactly, but I think we did more than two U.S. gigs since the release of ‘Bled White’. We did a few in the Midwest U.S., like Chicago, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, etc. We also did another appearance on the 70,000 Tons Of Metal cruise last year. And last year we also appeared at Maryland DeathFest, which was a great show. So we've done more than just a couple shows, but even so we really didn't get out and tour as much as we'd hoped we would. Personal obstacles and money issues kind of held us back from doing as much as we'd planned. But it seems like this is getting a bit better now, or at least we hope. The money thing is always an issue, it's so expensive to travel with a band these days. But definitely one of the highlights of the last couple of years was getting to play in South America finally. The fans down there are really incredible, very supportive and so excited to see us, we were quite shocked. It seems we have a pretty strong following in South America, and that makes us very happy. We're planning on going back in the somewhat near future, I think, if all goes according to plan.
It is the first time that Novembers Doom had the same line-up on two successive albums. What can you mention as pros in this respect?
Well the main benefit of having the same lineup again is that we've had time to really gel as a unit and create a good chemistry together. We've never intended on having so many lineup changes over the years, it just wound up happening that way due to people having jobs or personal lives that get in the way, or just wanting to branch out and do something different than what we're doing. We've maintained friendships with most of our ex members so that's a good thing. Every person who has come into the band has brought something new to the mix, so we're grateful for everything they did at the time. But having had the same lineup now for six years straight has really helped us to become more solid musically. I think we're definitely the tightest we've ever been especially when it comes to playing live.
Is Novembers Doom actually a band that starts from scratch with every writing session or do you also insert older fine ideas in new songs? How was the writing process this time?
Every now and then we'll have an older idea that might be resurrected and inserted into the new material, sure. There's one riff on the new album that I actually wrote back in 1999! I had almost forgotten about it and when we were trying to come up with a part for one of Vito's songs, I remembered a bit that I thought would fit perfectly, and it did. But that's a rare occurrence. Usually we create all new ideas every time we write for a new album. The process this time was much the same as it was in the past, with Vito and I getting together with Garry to put our ideas together into complete songs. Paul usually adds his vocals and melodies last. The main difference this time was that Paul really didn't bring in his ideas until the very end of the writing. Some ideas we didn't even hear until we were in the studio. It all worked out fine.
What does the album title ‘Hamartia’ mean and how can it be linked to the (lyrical) contents of this particular album?
‘Hamartia’ is often defined as being a fatal flaw in an otherwise good or heroic person, that flaw or sin that winds up leading to that person's downfall. In the case of the album's lyrics and general concept, it has to do with someone's fatal flaw being love, or the failure of love or loving someone who perhaps doesn't deserve your love, or will wind up destroying your life because of your erring love you had for them. Or at least that's how I interpret it. Paul might have a different angle on it. And that's ok, because our songs are always intended to be interpreted differently by each listener depending on their own viewpoint, even though Paul does write from a very truthful, personal place.
On the cover we see a plague doctor, what leaps to the eye is the flower and the title in red. Who did the artwork and can you tell a bit more about it?
The artwork was done by a guy named Eugen Poe of Dead Inside Graphics. Paul had a very specific concept visually for the album cover and the overall artwork of the album and booklet, as he always does. He'd had one artist in mind but it didn't work out, so he went on a search and came across this artist who fit the style he was looking for. The Plague Doctor on the cover is holding out his heart, exposing it to whatever disease and harm might come to it. That definitely falls in line with the title and the concept behind the lyrics. I'll let the listeners read and listen to the lyrics and draw their own conclusions from that...
The album has a superior flow, with harsh parts and serene passages as supreme contrast… a trademark of the band. Yet I think clean vocals have increased a bit, don’t you think so? Any other characteristics typical for this album you want to mention as creator, or new things you tried out?
Yes, I think most people will notice instantly that there's a bit more of the clean vocals on this album. There was no major decision made to go that route, it just came naturally for Paul. At this point in his life, he has been doing the guttural death-metal vocals for almost thirty years, and he does them very well. But his singing voice has gotten stronger over the years, and it's more of a challenge to himself to try and push himself vocally with creating new melodies and harmonies that suit the music. I noticed when we started writing this album that the music was lending itself to being a bit less busy and riff-y, and lending itself to allow more space for Paul's voice and melodies to really carry the songs. Some people are going to be angry that there's not as much guttural growls on this album, but that's honestly just too bad for them. We've grown as people and as musicians and with that we have to expand our sound and stretch out a bit. Some fans won't like it and that's to be expected. We won't stop ourselves from doing what we want just because some people will be uncomfortable with it. Within reason of course, we realize who we are and know certain boundaries that we ourselves want to contain, but if Paul wants to sing more or we choose to stretch a little bit musically then so be it. I have no desire to make the same CD over and over again, no matter how much some people might like it if we did.
We all know about your long time cooperation with Chris Wisco and Dan Swanö to perfect the final sound. But this production really rules! What was still possible to improve and few words about this bond with both guys I’d applaud...
Well, just in the same way that we as a band are always trying to stretch ourselves and possibly try new things and improve ourselves, the same can be said about Chris and Dan. I think they themselves would admit that they're always learning new things and pushing themselves to try new techniques or sounds. That's part of the reason why this whole team (the band, Chris, and Dan) works so well together. If you listen to the first CD we did with both Chris and Dan (‘The Pale Haunt Departure’ in 2005) and then listen to us now, you can see that they have grown in their respective roles as have we. Again, perhaps some fans liked us all better back in 2005, and I can understand because as a fan sometimes that's just how it happens. But I think the growth that we and Chris and Dan have had together has been organic and good. Those guys understand who we are as a band and as individual musicians, and they know how to get the best sounds out of us, and the best performances. And that's a rare thing too, we're very fortunate to have that.
I know that Paul writes the lyrics, but any more details about them or sources of inspiration would be nice…
Paul's lyrics are always 100% inspired by real life events and feelings. He's not much for writing fantasy lyrics, and even when he does it's usually still based in something that's coming from his true personal life. He chose to start writing this way many years ago now and it's what feels right to him. Sometimes it can be hard for listeners, or even for myself, to relate to everything he writes, but again that's ok because it's personal for him, and sometimes it's good for people to feel challenged or taken out of their comfort zone with the music they're listening to. Over the past few years he's had some serious things going on in his personal life, and they very much influenced the direction of this album.
As well-respected band you invited some guests. Dan Swanö is obvious, but how did you meet Bernt from Susperia and how did this cooperation come into being with this Norwegian guy?
Bernt was someone we'd met when performing together with Susperia on the aforementioned 70,000 Tons Of Metal cruise. I've liked that band for years, and we got to see him perform not only with them but also during the after-hours karaoke parties that would happen on the boat. He was very impressive and showed amazing diversity in his voice with the various things he could sing, from extreme metal to classic pop rock and so forth. Paul befriended him and remained in casual contact with him. When it came time to record the song ‘Borderline’, we knew that there was an element or texture still missing from the song. So Paul asked Bernt if he could help out, and he gladly did. It came out great, we're very happy. Hopefully Bernt is pleased with the results as well. He's an excellent vocalist and Susperia is an excellent band.
In the beginning Novembers Doom was compared to My Dying Bride. Now Andrew Craighan plays some soloing on the track ‘Waves In The Red Cloth’. But I guess both bands know each other personally for a longer time, isn’t it?
Yes we've unfortunately been compared to My Dying Bride for years, which is silly since we've been around for about as long as them and we used to trade demo tapes with them back in the early days. Of course they gained success must faster and became bigger than we have, but even they will acknowledge that we're not just some copycats of theirs. That being said, we've always had tremendous love and respect for that band and those guys as people. Paul has been a close friend of Andy's for a long, long time now. Most of the time their friendship has had nothing to do with our respective bands, but this time when preparing to record the album, Paul and Andy got to talking about finally doing some small collaboration just for the fun of it. I had written that song not at all with My Dying Bride in mind... actually to be honest my main inspiration for that song was bands like The Melvins and Triptykon. But when Paul presented me with the idea of Andy playing on the new disc, I could just hear in my head how it would work with Andy on there. And it turned out great, added a cool element to the song that is uniquely all Andy's. So it was nice having him on there. I don't care if the haters are going to keep bringing up the My Dying Bride comparisons because of it, there's not much I can do about it at this point. Other than the occasional bit here or there, I don't think we really sound anything like that band at all!
And who is Ben Johnson?
Ben Johnson is an excellent multi-instrumentalist from the Midwest, who has worked with various artists and most recently is known for playing in prog-metal band Divinity Compromised with Lothar from The Skull, and also plays keyboards in Vito's project, The Kahless Clone. Ben has contributed keyboards to the last three Novembers Doom albums now, and his stuff gets better with each new CD. I wrote the song "Hamartia" myself at home with guitar and keyboards, but Ben performed it in the studio and added his own touch and flair to it that really took the song to another level. Much like Chris and Dan, Ben is now a vital part of the overall Novembers Doom team, very happy to have him working with us.
A guest we should also mention and hug is Paul’s daughter Rhiannon who’s doing (backing) vocals on three songs. How old is she now and how did she grow into singing on dad’s record?
Rhiannon is now in her early teens, and she's been singing for a while now. It's been interesting to watch her talent grow over the years. She's still learning and getting used to things like singing in public or on recordings, but she has come a long way. On the particular songs that she sang on (‘Ever After’, ‘Miasma’ and ‘Zephyr’) it made sense for her to be a part of them because Paul wrote the lyrics from a viewpoint that included her. Again, they're all very personal subjects for him, and in this case they're things that matter to her too. So it made sense for her to be on it. She performed ‘Zephyr’ onstage with us for the first time just last week when we opened for Katatonia, and she did a very good job!
We can watch a lyric video for ‘Zephyr’, but not a usual one… please explain as a taster…Are you planning to make other (music) videos for any of the new songs?
Yeah, when the record label came to us and asked if we'd be interested in doing a lyric video, we knew instantly that we didn't just want to do the same old thing we'd seen done a thousand times already. Not that there's anything wrong with that, because I've enjoyed plenty of lyric videos I've seen. But again, since the theme of a song like that was very personal, then we took the personal approach further by having Paul (and Rhiannon) personally write out the lyrics by hand. Taken in this context, the lyrics really do read like a letter written to a particular person, expressing their thoughts and feelings towards that person. So in this case I think the concept suited the song and video perfectly. As for other videos, yes we have been talking and planning on doing another video or two for the new album. We're still in the planning stages though, because we want to make sure whatever we do, we do it right and don't rush it. We like to take our time, even to a fault!
Somewhere I read that Pink Floyd has inspired your guitar skills. As huge fan myself, I’d like to know everything about your fascination for them now haha…
Oh yes, I mean I think if people go back and really listen closely to some of the stuff I've played over the years with this band, it's pretty transparently clear that Floyd and Gilmour in particular has influenced me. The way he can set the mood so quickly with just a bent note or a particular chord and his amazing tone, has inspired me since I was a kid. My biggest influences are the guitarists I grew up listening to from the 1960's and 1970's mostly, and many of them are from the prog scene. Gilmour, Robert Fripp, Steve Howe, Steve Hackett, Brian May, Neal Schon, etc... I'm not anywhere near as good as any of them, but their influence is all there. Even if people can't always hear it instantly. When writing for ‘Hamartia’I was driving home late at night every week from rehearsals listening to Pink Floyd ‘Animals’. It became a bit of a habit, almost. And I do think it influenced some of my ideas on this album, though I've been listening to Pink Floyd for 35 years or more anyhow so the influence is always there.
Soon you will play a release show in Chicago (with Katatonia, isn’t it?). I guess you are rehearsing at this very moment for it. When you answer this when it already happened, please tell us about this event?
Yes, we originally were thinking of just doing the usual Chicago-area headlining show to celebrate the release of ‘Hamartia’. But then we were contacted by the promoter of the Katatonia show asking us if we'd care to be on the bill. Seeing as the show was scheduled for the same weekend our album was coming out, it only made sense. We've played shows with Katatonia before and they've always done very well, since a good portion of our following are also very much into Katatonia as well. The show wound up doing very well, it seemed like the crowd was very happy with the show overall and we sold quite a few CDs and records at the show, so I guess people enjoyed what they heard.
And what is in the pipeline for the near future? Gigs in the US? Elsewhere? Do you think you will be able to come over to Europe this year?
Right now we are working on possibly getting back on the road to do some proper touring again. Though, that being said, we'll likely never do the three to four week long tours like we did ten years ago. With personal lives and jobs, plus the high cost of travel, it's just become too difficult for us. So we're going to set out on various shorter runs here and there. We're working on setting up some possible shows in the Midwest and East Coast of the U.S. this Summer, if all goes accordingly. And then we're looking into the West Coast maybe later in the year. After that, as you might've seen by now, we've been confirmed to play the Madrid Is The Dark festival in December, in Spain. So we are coming back to Europe. Whether we're playing more shows than that, and where we'll be, I cannot say just yet as nothing is confirmed. But let's just say, we are most definitely working on that this very moment. So hopefully one way or another, we'll announce something soon. And in regards to South America, we're hoping to get there again soon, at least maybe by sometime in 2018.
I read an interview from another American musician and he said that in the US finally some more festivals are taking place, some of them inspired by the way they do it in Europe. Since you are at the source: is this true? Is there a positive development on that matter in the US?
Yes, there's some truth to that, but it's still got a long way to go before it'll compare to the way the European scene is and how it's handled. For example, they now have a big three day festival here called Chicago Open Air. This year they have everyone from KISS and Ozzy, to Meshuggah, Behemoth, Metal Church, Anthrax, etc., as well as some hard rock/nu-metal bands like Seether and Korn. It's a step in the right direction, for sure. But it doesn't draw any near as many people as a fest like Graspop or Wacken does. And the fans here are far more picky and narrow-minded when it comes to the lineups. I love the major diversity in the lineups of the European fests, and I think most of the European fans appreciate it too, even if they don't like everything on the bill. It's taking the U.S. scene a bit longer to warm up to this concept, but there's been some improvement so I hope it continues. But there still needs to be more big, well-attended festivals here in the States for the smaller-to-midsized underground metal bands. Maryland DeathFest does well, and there's a couple of other smaller underground fests that do respectably, but there's still a lot of room for growth there. It comes down to more of the fans here needing to really get off their asses and support it like they should.
To occlude, I hope that you and Paul are very well now, not suffering anymore from the health issues in former times…
Thank you. Unfortunately the truth is, the health problems that Paul and I suffer from aren't ones that can just be treated and eventually go away. His spinal diseases are permanent, and they are slowly taking their toll on him, to the point where it's liable to make him unable to do this anymore eventually. Though we are always hoping for the best and trying to be positive, we can't deny the truth. And while I have gone through surgeries and other treatments for my internal problems, they're still present and likely always will be. And as I told you before, they make traveling and such very difficult. So at this point, all we can do is try to do as much as we can while we still can, and just appreciate what we have. At some point, our ailments are going to make touring and continuing on as a band nearly impossible, I'm sure. But as for right now, we can still do it, so we're doing it.
Fingers crossed, I’m with you. If you want to add something I forgot to cover or just for fun, please feel free to do so…
Thanks again to everyone for their support, and thank you so much to our dear friends and supporters over in Europe, who've bolstered us and believed in us for years. Some of our greatest memories as a band have been because of the amazing European fans and promoters who've believed in us. We're very happy that we'll be back over there again later this year, and we promise we'll try to get out and see as many of you as possible if we are able! Definitely look up the Madrid Is The Dark festival, for anyone in the area or interested in traveling to the show. We're playing with My Dying Bride, Evoken and some other great bands so it'll be a good one to check out. Peace all!