I N T E R V I E W S
ERIK DANIELSSON of WATAIN: "Beautiful Destruction"
T. Ray Verteramo
June 8, 2014
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"When you are creating or looking at art, you have to completely destroy yourself."
This is the essence of what makes Erik Danielsson such a salacious figure on and off stage. The music of Watain has very much has always spoken for itself, from the "Go Fuck Your Jewish God" demo in 1998 to the bewitching, primal 2013 release, "The Wild Hunt." This is the fundamental principle of successful expression, because if you have to have to read an essay or have it explained to you so you can "get it" then it's a failure. The lyrics paint imagery of deleterious devotion and gorgeous decay, while the music hones, implodes, empowers, blinds, conjures, and heals making the devastative experience a complete experience. Erik speaks with the same dichotomy of pedantic eloquence, as Watain explodes in cacophonic harmonies. The term, "extreme" is used in our dialogue, but never lightly, and they take these extremes to the stage in every sense.
"While some satanic bands use Lucifer as a metaphor for atheistic Bacchanalian indulgence, Watain claimed to actually pray to the dark lord." Spin article, 2013 http://www.spin.com/articles/watain-wild-hunt-interview-live-2013/
No. They do not "claim" anything. They do.
Walmart does not "claim" to sell cheap shit made from China. After you are greeted by the sad, underpaid retired veteran and walk into florescent light hell, you can see that for yourself. There is no "claim," that is what they do.
However, if you ask Erik Danielsson, the engineer, conductor, and commanding vocal presence of Watain how he awakened, you won't get some Shakespearean fairy tale. "People tend to be romantic about our discoveries. For me, it just grew on me. It's too abstract to put a frame around those feelings. I just felt naturally drawn toward arts…things that just came to me until I realized that this was all greater than just a hobby."
According to Rev. Raul A. of the official, recognized Church of Satan (founded by Anton LaVey), whose pragmatic practices and philosophies contradict much of what European black metal artists strive and stand for, explains the rationality behind the phenomenon with, "if someone is creative or willful enough, this externalized ego can seem as real to your mind's eye as anything in your surroundings. As a Satanist, we are our own gods, so by worshiping this external ego, we are worshiping ourselves. It is this ego that we are communicating with and channeling. And if done as a concert performance, it is this super-ego that is influencing the audience, and in turn being recharged."
When you see Watain live, you are seeing a ritual. There is no connotation, there is no metaphor, there is no "claim." You are standing in sacred (profane) space created by the band who, for the sake of simplicity, are just as much a coven as they are band, though they choose to exercise their freedom from the restraints of labels. Every drop of blood has significance, every bone has a purpose. The altar is not ornamental or symbolic. Every gesture, every sound, every flame is designed and crafted to align and connect with…something the constraint of labels cannot help the layman understand.
"I try to avoid discussing...some things are too easy to misinterpret. There are too many misconceptions that must not be misinterpreted or misunderstood."
This is Watain. This is what they are.
And they don't usually get a chance to unleash their entire beast, which is the real reason why they'll be in Denmark on June 15th, then Brooklyn, New York on the 20th, and then back across the pond to France on the 27th. "Yeah, so many people have been asking me about this," Danielsson admitted, bewildered, "I don't really understand why it is so curious." But, when I explained that it was most likely due to the controversy around Rammstein's one and only American show a few years ago, also in New York, it seemed to click. "Oh, I see. I never got into Rammstein, but I have a lot of respect for their stance and not compromising. But, this is nothing like that at all. I like the United States, actually. It is a country of opportunity for free thinking. Yes, it has its problems, who doesn't, but it is a place of real potential to do something outside the confines of expectations."
"Europe right now is in festival season, which is…terrible. I just hate it. *laughs* But, we were contacted by these guys in Brooklyn at the last minute that invited us to do the full show. And I mean, everything, all the pyro, the whole thing. Everyone is so uptight and nervous; we saw this as a great opportunity we didn't want to pass up." And he added, "And besides, it's not like we're going to be turning right around afterwards, so the going back and forth is not as crazy as it sounds."
Though it's very easy to dismiss the language barrier, though his English is flawless, as arrogant or bombast, it's just simply that most of us were not blessed or cursed with the complete intellectual freedom that this man has enjoyed all his life. He takes comfort as a hermit, just as some of the more extreme metal artists such as Xasthur and Arckanum do, away from outside influences in order to be able to breathe deeply and exist within his own meat case. Where most of the human league drones punch in clocks, blocking traffic with their big faces in little screens, these black pearls formulate themselves without obstruction, without commercial breaks. Though Danielsson's strong gentility denotes an authentic understanding and patience with having to compromise his isolation for the sake of his livelihood, such as speaking with journalists, there's no way anyone can completely decipher a lifelong of soliloquy codes in 45 minutes and it would be moronic to think otherwise.
"There is no real need for categorization for rationalization," Danielsson, as the dark hierophant sagely explains. "It is an interesting observation to connect music - metal with visual arts. But, you cannot put such neat little labels on experiences, like to call Iron Maiden 'realism' when there are very spiritualist and sublime elements to some of their work."
In a recent interview by Andrew Epstein (JMT), Nergal of Behemoth stated bluntly, "Extreme music has become stale." But, Mr. Danielsson's perspective is much more generous. "I don't know if I can agree with that," he answered respectfully. "There are a good amount of bands that are around that we're in contact with that are still relevant. It's the same in any art form, in music or horror movies that you'll always get 95% product and 5% real vision. How to tell which is which? The trick is just developing an antenna over time."
It is said that writing about music is about as useful as dancing about architecture. But, he counterpoints, "Why is that? You could write three pages about one note."
"When you can forget what you have been told, let go of the programming, then you can start really creating. To think and create outside the box, you don't necessarily have to see the box – I know I try not to look at it, myself. I prefer to be out of touch. But, it doesn't matter. You first have to know your enemy, which is yourself. It's about taking away everything that keeps you or gives you the illusion that you are safe and leaving yourself in an unpredictable state of mind."
"I know that I have enjoyed intellectual privilege, but we need to always strive for freedom," and then, "I am so tired of people trying to convince themselves and have this idea that they think they are strong with unique vision, but they still compare themselves to other artists or repeat what others say. It's so boring and uninspiring." With conviction, he adds, "It is insulting to Watain to be put together with these people. It just makes me want to crawl…it is extremely troubling. Where are the mad painters, anymore?!"
"Art is meant to be dangerous," he proclaims. "I kind of liken it to the phenomenon of the birthday party…here are all these children gathered around, innocent, at play, and then you give them the knife to cut the cake. At that point, anything can happen."
"Sometimes, I think we need to drop a bomb and start over."
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