Woe's third offering Withdrawal was a personal pick for our Most Anticipated of 2013 feature earlier this year, and for good reason. Even before I heard a note I knew that this was going to be something special and having followed the band from their starting point as a one man effort from lead vocalist/guitarist Chris Grigg on A Spell for the Death of Man, through to 2010s roundly praised Quietly, Undramatically, it was always clear that Woe were something very different and unusual.
With all that in mind, we caught up with Chris to discuss Woe's progression, learning to let go, his take on the current "scene" and its desire to live in the past, and embracing new ideas and change.
Scene Point Blank: Withdrawal seems like it’s been a long time coming. Was it an intentional thing to wait so long or is it the age-old problem of real life getting in the way?
Chris Grigg: I always claim that it's because I write slowly, but the truth is that I procrastinate. I'm only able to get something done when I am 100% committed, so writing an album means absolutely obsessing over it, necessitating a few months of a free schedule and solid dedication. So...I guess you could say real life was getting in the way, but it's more that I just wasn't ready to make the commitment.
Scene Point Blank: Withdrawal is an intensely personal record and you’ve mentioned that as much as all Woe lyrics are important, this time around it’s even more so. Are you able to expand on that a little?
Chris Grigg: I don't think I have much more to say on the topic of having a lot to say. I have a lot to say. The album has a lot of words. Past Woe songs all had their lyrics written on the spot, usually while the music was being written but, sometimes, while I was in the studio by myself. This time, everything was demoed and planned out very carefully. Everything went through a series of demos, songs were recorded and rerecorded and cut up and analyzed.
Scene Point Blank: The cover art for Withdrawal is incredible and really sets the tone for the record, and to me it speaks of burning and of waste. Who did the art and did you collaborate on ideas?
Chris Grigg: The cover was done by Justin Miller, whose work can be found at http://www.hauntlove.com. He also did the artwork for the last two Woe albums. We've worked together for years, so at this point I send him the demos or early mixes plus lyrics plus some notes on the theme, the atmosphere we want the art to create, and the feelings from the music we want the art to hook into. I sent him some sample images that I felt had the right vibe. He went from there and he absolutely nailed it. "Burning and waste" is a good description—I’d say that's a great start.
Scene Point Blank: The band began life as a solo project, how has bringing together a full band affected how you write/record? As it’s your “baby,” as it were, do the other guys get much say in what happens, whether that’s from musical standpoint or a “career” point of view?
Chris Grigg: It wasn't all that different from the last album. I still held the full producer's title, still wrote most of the music...I sent everyone demos of my songs and if they had objected to anything, I was open to working on parts, making whatever changes they felt were necessary. The big change is that this album had songs and riffs written by the other guys. I think that the next album will be even more collaboratively written and if all goes well, there will be multiple writing credits on each song.
Scene Point Blank: Withdrawal has so many different sounds that, personally, I’m not sure I’d even call it a black metal record (at least in the “traditional” sense) as it’s so much more progressive (mature?) than Quietly… What was your aim for the record and how did these styles come to infiltrate your sound?
Chris Grigg: The answer to this is somewhat complicated. For the record, I still refer to it as a black metal record but in a general sense because I don't think anything else fits when you describe the sound. The attitude and the ethos that I ascribe to black metal are still there, but that's all personal shit. It's certainly not post-anything, it's definitely not anything-core, it's sure as hell not some kind of black metal/something hybrid. But, at the same time, I'm past the point of arguing whenever someone in an Archgoat shirt wants to argue that it's not really black metal.
Anyway, nobody in Woe has ever listened exclusively to black metal or even metal as a whole, so outside influences have always been there, it's just been a matter of how far we allow ourselves to take them. On the first album, I worked hard to keep them out. On the second, I was rather frustrated with black metal and wanted to push the limits but went softer and more ambient. This time around, we wanted a faster, more aggressive album so I focused on simpler arrangements that played on our strengths and outside influences that would contribute to the tone of each song and not push it away from the goal or feel tacked on. That meant really embracing the punk, hardcore, and skramz that first got me involved in DIY music, really feeling all the clean vocals, and using gang vocals carefully. We cut a lot of extra stuff: an entire song, a lot of clean vocals, a lot of gang vocals, a lot of tradeoff and backing parts, some intros.
Scene Point Blank: And as a follow-up to that, what are your thoughts on the current USBM scene and in turn the global market?
Chris Grigg: I don't really care, to tell you the truth. There are bands that I like, bands that I don't. I think it's refreshing that there are so many black metal bands these days, particularly in the US, who are willing to go their own way and experiment with new ideas, sounds, ways of presenting themselves and their music. Many people in the black metal FUNderground don't like all the new blood but those people tend to be more interested in taking spooky pictures in graveyards and measuring their dicks than actually creating anything worthwhile anyway, so fuck them. That isn't to say that the entire black metal underground is afraid of change—there are many people completely dedicated to black fucking metal that are and always have been very supportive of Woe—but there is an attitude in much of it that wants it to stay grim, stay white, stay male, and stay in 1996. Fuck that shit.
"Many people in the black metal FUNderground don't like all the new blood but those people tend to be more interested in taking spooky pictures in graveyards, so fuck them."
Scene Point Blank: Are there any records you’re particularly excited about this coming year?
Chris Grigg: Vhöl is at the top of my list right now. I just got the new Batillus and Inter Arma and I love both of them. Beyond stoked for the new Queens of the Stone Age and Alice in Chains. I just got into Noumena from Finland and I see they have a new one coming out soon—it's gonna rule, I'm sure. Sadgiqacea's first full-length is coming out on Candlelight a week after ours. I produced it but despite my personal connection to it and the band, I think they are an amazing band and it is a masterpiece of a record, independent of my contributions.
Scene Point Blank: You’ve been playing a few shows as the release date draws nearer, do you plans to get out onto the West Coast or over to British shores this year?
Chris Grigg: Yes, absolutely. We want to get back out to the West Coast ASAP and we are working on a UK trip at the very end of summer or early fall. Anyone interested in booking Woe should get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org. We've made a lot of progress towards that goal but since we are doing it entirely on our own, we can always use more contacts and more help!
Scene Point Blank: Awesome, thanks Chris!
Check out Woe on tour during May 2013 at the following venues:
May 10 The Acheron Brooklyn, NY w/Mutilation Rites, Mortals
May 11 Democracy Center Boston, MA
May 12 The Railroad Tavern Keene, NH w/Falls Of Rauros, Obsidian Tongue, Barren Oak, Dark Was The Night
May 13 Nectars Burlington, VT w/Vaporizer, Gorcrow
May 14 Pandora's Box Quebec, Canada w/Devil Drowned, Cyanide Eyes
May 15 DEATHOUSE Montreal, Quebec, CA w/Ensorcelor, Velvet Glacier
May 16 Mavericks Ottawa, Ontario, CA w/Alaskan, Occult Burial, Stay Here
May 17 Hard Luck Bar Toronto, Ontario, CA w/Ischemic, The Sustained Low 'C' of Richard Strauss' "Also Sprach Zarathustra"
May 18 Rancho Huevos Chicago, IL w/Black September, Hedlok, Arahant, Bailout
May 19 Cincy by the Slice Cincinnati, OH w/Merkaba, Highgate, Pusdrainer
May 20 Belvederes Ultra-Dive Pittsburgh, PA w/Glorior Belli (headliners), Wolvhammer, Anciients, Dendritic Arbor, Möwer