Music » Interviews

Wolves in the Throne Room's Aaron Weaver on the art of noise and the edge of madness

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For Weaver, the new album brings back memories of learning to be a father and losing friends in the Ghost Ship fire. - PETER BESTE
  • Peter Beste
  • For Weaver, the new album brings back memories of learning to be a father and losing friends in the Ghost Ship fire.
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orget the dark lords of nihilism and nationalism, or at least set them aside long enough to consider the possibility of black metal delving into the collective consciousness and coming up with something more spiritual and substantial. Pacific Northwest eco-metal band Wolves in the Throne Room's legion of fans know that's more than a possibility.

Operating out of their rustic Olympia, Washington "compound," brothers Aaron and Nathan Weaver continue to embrace the overdriven guitars and Old Norse legends that captured their teenage imaginations, but without falling prey to the corpse paint, church burnings and other genre clichés that have afflicted some of their Norwegian brethren.

The band's sixth studio album Thrice Woven — which will be released Sept. 29 on Artemesia Records — still offers enough feedback-drenched sturm und drang to make other black metal and industrial-rock bands come off as lightweights. But it's also far from one-dimensional. On "Born from the Serpent's Eye," long passages of art-brut frenzy bookend a churchy interlude featuring Anna Von Hausswolff, whose ethereal vocals sound like a hushed Kate Bush in the eye of a hurricane.

"She just conjures the spirit of the album so beautifully," says Aaron, likening the Swedish singer's voice to "the cold gray oceans of the north." Hausswolff also appears on the track "Mother Owl, Father Ocean," which is the first Wolves in the Throne Room song to feature guitarist Kody Keyworth, now a full member of the band. Thrice Woven's other contributors include Neurosis frontman Steve Von Till and Turkish harpist Zeynep Öykü.

In the following conversation, lyricist and drummer Aaron Weaver talks about exploring the art of the drone, honoring their friends in Oakland's Ghost Ship warehouse venue fire, and journeying into the collective psyche.

Indy: Most of my questions are about the music on the new album, but I do have one about the cover illustration, which includes the wolf Fenris. Wasn't he the one that swallowed the sun in Norse mythology?

Aaron Weaver: Actually, there are two wolves. There is the wolf that is always chasing the sun — his name is Sköll — and I think he devours the sun at the end of the world. I don't think Fenris wolf eats the sun, but I think he kills Odin, which is the disastrous thing that he does."

Were you thinking of Sköll during the eclipse? Did he cross your mind while you were watching it?

Yeah, of course. Me and my wife and my son watched the eclipse from a really open field right near our house. And my instinct was to be really quiet and reverent and not look at it. My gut feeling was to not look at that eclipse.

You didn't bring your NASA-approved eclipse glasses?

[Laughs.] You know, there were a few pairs going around. I know my son used them. I remember looking at a similar eclipse that occurred when I was 7 or 8 years old, and so I have my memories from that. I didn't feel the need to look at it again.

So on to the music questions. Now that you've been able to spend time listening to the new album — instead of being caught up in making it — what do you think of it?

Ah man, I just love it so much. You know, it's still a little bit new. I think maybe once a couple years have passed, then I can really listen to it with fresh ears. But right now what I experience when I listen to the songs is just what my life was like, what inspired those songs, the things that I was experiencing — the heartbreaks during that time, and moments of exultation and beauty during that time. It still feels so immediate to me.

Was the Ghost Ship fire during that time?

It was, yeah. I mean, that definitely touched all of us so much, because the idea for this band came out of spending time with a lot of those people, like up in the mountains in the Cascades, around the fire in celebration, playing music, and just having community and friendship around art. You know, it was a lot of those same people who were there in those really early days. So that was something that broke our hearts so much, and renewed my gratitude for art and for community and for the people we've been making music with for so many years now.

What were some of the good things that were going on while you were making this record?

Yeah, well, I've got a 4-year-old son, so just learning about that part of life, being a father, having the opportunity to tell him the stories that I love. You know, it's funny... like a lot of the mythologies and stories that we drew upon for Thrice Woven are the same stories I tell my boy, and those are the same stories that I grew up with. Like when I was a kid, I got hold of a copy of The Power of Myth, the Joseph Campbell book that was on PBS with Bill Moyers. I was really into Arthurian lore too, like old Celtic stories and old Norse stories. That's my religion, you know? Those were the stories that gave me some ideas about how to live a human life and what to value, what's important. Justice and honesty, gratitude, hospitality, you know, you see all that in all the old stories from all over the world.

Thrice Woven is one of those albums that, each time you listen to it, you hear more and more things. Is that something you set out to do?

Yeah, for sure. I love records that reveal more and more, the more time you give to it. Thinking back to being a kid, I think Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon is the archetype of a deep record. You can listen to that record for years and keep having new experiences with it. For me, I think the record that I'm thinking about right now is [Norwegian band] Emperor's In the Nightside Eclipse, which was the first black metal record that I really, really got turned on to. I got some of these random albums from a yearly CD sale at the local college, where they'd clear out the vaults from the college radio station.

Did you buy it because it looked cool?

I got it because it looks like nothing else I'd ever seen before. It looks like a woodcut of the Normans invading the British Isles. Yeah, you know, it struck me as an artifact from a different world. It evoked something that felt ancient and mysterious, and it just beckoned me in. So it jumped out at me and I guess l got infected right then and there. And black metal has been a part of my life ever since.

What was the music like?

It's like music that has veils over it. You know, when the uninitiated hear black metal, it just sounds like noise. But the more you listen to it, the more it reveals this whole landscape. You know, you hear these different sounds, but for me it also reveals images too. That's how I experience our records. When I close my eyes and listen to Wolves in the Throne Room records, it's just pictures, it's pictures in my mind.

Now that you're bringing a third guitarist out on tour, how will that impact the way that Nathan and Kody play? Is it just adding another layer to the sound, or does it lead to reinventing the whole sound?

Yeah, we've re-orchestrated the way we play all our old songs onstage. And the songs on Thrice Woven were written with the intention of having three guitars onstage. It's an opportunity to bring more atmosphere, really. We also have a keyboard player onstage now too: Brittany McConnell, who plays in a band called Wolvserpent from Boise and is a great old friend of ours. She's playing synthesizers and drums as well. So there are two drummers onstage, three guitarists, and a bank of synthesizers. And what that does for us is just gives greater opportunities for atmosphere and for improvisation, which are two things that Wolves in the Throne Room always bring to the live setting.

And then there's the art of the drone that extends from krautrock to your labelmates Sunn O))). Where would you place yourself on that continuum, if there is one?

Yeah, the drone is important to us, because there's just something about it — you know, the drone, what else can we call it? — that inspires a meditative mind state.

This is kind of a weird question, but if you were in a van on tour and you really wanted to annoy your brother, what music would you play?

Oh man, I don't think there's anything ... I mean, I could think of some music that would kind of bring harmony, I could tell you that.

Okay, tell me that.

It'd be Coil. Like when me and Nathan and Kody are working on music, and we're just pushing ourselves to the limit and tempers are getting frayed and we're feeling on the verge of breakdown, we put Coil on and all of a sudden things get nice and calm again.

Wait, are you saying that Coil is mellow?

No, I think it just pushes us over the edge into complete madness, which once you're in there, is a pretty comfortable place.

That actually leads in to my last question. At this point in your life, would you say that you see the world through a filter that's different than the one you grew up with or, you know, what you might see on TV?

Well, I haven't watched TV in 20 years, so I guess maybe I'm a little bit out of touch with mainstream culture. But no, man, it feels the same to me, Wolves in the Throne Room is the same band it was from the start 15 years ago. I think the only difference is that I can just go deeper into it.

And when you approach those depths, does it ever get scary?

Oh yeah, absolutely. Yeah, I'm terrified most of the time when I'm in the studio. But it's just a journey. Our music is a journey into the underworld, into our own underworld, into our own psyches and spirit. And yeah, it can be a harrowing journey sometimes, but I always end up finding peace. And that's what the records are, just a documentation of that process.


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