Interview with Woods of Ypres (2008)
Last week, Earache Records announced that they would be re-issuing ‘Against the Seasons: III – The Deepest Roots & Darkest Blues’ the 3rd release by Canadian Black/Doom metal band Woods of Ypres.
They describe the album as “ the band at their most aggressive, with the harsh black metal sound reflecting the predominant personal lyrical approach. The doomier style that the band subsequently adopted is also hinted at here, particularly on the haunting “Your Ontario Town Is A Burial Ground”.
I had spoken to the Woods of Ypres frontman, David Gold after the release of the album in 2008. He answered my questions with a lot of detail. Below is the transcript of my interview with David.
(Left to Right) Jessica Rose, Dan Husle and David Gold
Hails David!! How are you? It has been 3 years in the making, how does it feel now that your 3rd album “Woods 3: Deepest Roots and Darkest Blues” is finally released?
David: Relieved! I had already been working on “Woods 3” ideas since the writing of “Woods 2: Pursuit of the Sun & Allure of the Earth” and there are even a few riff arrangements that I’ve had since shortly after the recording of “Woods 1: Against the Seasons: Cold Winter Songs from the Dead Summer Heat” so I’ve been carrying the weight of some of these ideas for a very long time. It took me about a year to compose all the songs and write and rehearse my drum parts. We recorded the drums in February 2006, the finished all the guitars in May, it’s just everything else that took so long to do and delayed the release. The main problem was time. Through the three years of “Woods 3”, like most metal bands we’ve all worked full time day jobs that could often be very demanding. We would work all week while making time to write and rehearse at night but recording would be restricted to the weekends. That might not seem too bad to some people reading this but the cycle is horrendous because in order to fulfil all your obligations, you work your heart out and never get a break. It’s all work, studio, binge drink, repeat.Then of course there are always logistical hassles and scheduling conflicts and the unfortunate and unexpected massive, tragic drama that always somehow shatters our progress while trying to finish recording a Woods album (another vulnerability of a long process is the length of your vulnerability). We have been plagued by the kind of life changing event stuff that you hope never happens, that you wouldn’t even wish on your enemies (well maybe your worst enemy) and that happens at the worst possible time to derail our focus and hands us a serious setback, at least for a while. It happened during Woods 1, Woods 2 and now especially Woods 3. I won’t go into details, but it sure set my soul on fire this time around and made anything I’ve ever gone through before seem so minor. Peace. I’ve now come to expect it, but have also decided to become a superstitious person about these kind of things, fingers crossed. Let’s hope that Woods 4 goes smoothly enough and without incident. We sure have some new things to write about.
Tell us a bit about the recording process.
David: To get in shape to write and rehearse the drums, I lived in the rodent infested jamspace known as the “Rehearsal Factory” on Front St. in Toronto for about a year. It was expensive as fuck and I had to deal with all kinds of disrespectful asshole, bullshit hip hop producer neighbours who insisted on making beats at club volumes at all hours of the night (not cool when you have to wake at 6 am for work). I would basically come home after work, play our click track pre-production CD through our PA and play along, trying out different ideas. My place was basically a one room jamspace with a bed so that year wasn’t too comfortable. I resorted to living like this after our last jamspace in Scarborough was condemned for whatever reason. We had just moved in, paid and out of nowhere they just told us to move out our shit because the building was being torn down. They answered our requests for our deposit back with “We are so far in debt, good luck getting your $300 deposit back. In fact, we dare you to sue us for $300” etc… What a nightmare. That building was full of scumbag assholes and it was a pain in the ass to drive out there all the time anyway so we were happy to leave but frustrated not to have a jamspace again. Making music has never been a problem for WoY, but I could give you details of about a dozen jamspaces that the band has occupied in the last five years, in four cities. In my opinion, they were all shitholes and wickedly overpriced for what we paid, but it seems that’s what you always have to suffer in order to ‘keep the ball rolling’ as we used to say.
After Dan and I had recorded a couple full album drum demos in the Front St. jampspace, we bought two days at Chemical Sound in Toronto (do you know that “Death From Above 1979” band/album? That was recorded there.). We set up on Saturday morning, tuned and miced the drums and were tracking by mid afternoon. I managed to get half the album done by the end of Saturday. A couple oven pizzas and a shitty sleep later, we finished the second half on the drums on Sunday and gorged ourselves with Indian Roti while the dude mixed down the tracks. I did at least three useable takes of each song, except for “Distractions of Living Alone” which was the last track I did, 9 times! I was exhausted and I just couldn’t find the right feel that I wanted right away, so it took some practise. Overall, it was a lot of drums to record in just a little over 24 hours (73 useable minutes). I was wrecked for a few days. I actually went to see Devin Townsend live on the Monday night and I remember drinking beers while leaning up against the wall because I could barely stand from so much blasting, over and over again. We did what we had to do, but I would love the luxury of having a few more days to track drums on any future WoY albums, or better yet, have someone else perform them and leave me to focus on guitar and vocals.
Next, we recorded the guitars at Dan’s cottage studio near Bobcaygeon. I used my brown Gibson SG and my Marshall Mode 4 on the left side guitars (the main riffs) and my B.C. Rich Warlock with Hetfield EMGs through a borrowed Marshall JCM 800 on the right (the thrash and power chord rhythm parts). Again, I remember Dan and I finishing up our work weeks on Friday, getting some ‘recording groceries’ (beer and spicy food) driving up to the cottage listening to Behemoth or whatever it was at the time, enthusiastically talking about metal and W3. We’d load in Friday night, crash, make breakfast, track guitars all day over multiple pots of coffee until we were shitting out pants and then eat BBQ, watch hockey on illegal satellite and get trashed at night. Sunday would be similar but with a hangover. Then Sunday night we’d tear down, load out and drive home, usually in complete silence (haha!). I think it took about 4 weekends to record all the electric guitar parts and then one more weekend to do the acoustic parts. By then it was nearing summer time and getting pretty warm. On the acoustic tracking weekend I remember sitting on a chair with my guitar in hand in front of a couple microphones, facing the window of the sliding door to the outside, looking at the trees, hungover, sweating my balls off thinking “ah, it’s almost done, only a few more songs”…fingers shaking.
That summer was full of work and personal life conflicts (as is the deal with summer in our case it seems) and we didn’t get much done. Plus, I hate summer. Once everything had cooled down, we resumed tracking at the cottage in the fall, doing the first of the keys, vocals and bass. When winter had finally set in and it became too cold to record at the cottage ( we all have limits, even black metallers, Abbath would have backed us up on this one) we moved our process to our (then) new jamspace in Oshawa. Tracking here came with a catch. The building had a noise curfew from 12 noon to 12 midnight which meant you could play at full volume during those times but the place was to be quiet otherwise. So, tracking sometimes began in the frosty ‘see your breathe’ dark of winter mornings as early as 7 am so we could record in a quiet environment before other scumbag bands woke up and started jamming at noon. There would of course be pressure of the looming deadline each day before other bands in the building started making noise as we would be wanting to get as much accomplished as possible in our dirty window of opportunity. Again, not a comfortable thing at the end of a work week, but it’s what we had to do. Vocals, keys and bass all wrapped up in late spring / early summer and it had been mix, mix, mix ever since, rediscovering layers we had recorded and nearly forgot about. By the fall, W3 was being sent to be mastered and pressed. This album would have exhausted a full band that actually had time and resources, so for ‘half’ a band such as ours with so, so very much less, I’ll admit it nearly killed us, but we finished it and it’s now out. Please enjoy our painful labour, and if you do enjoy it, please buy a copy.
How different was it recording this album as compared to your last album “Pursuit Of The Sun & Allure Of The Earth” especially since you had a couple more members in the band?
David: Well Jessica has been with me since 2004, so she is now the only other member other than me to have recorded on at least two consecutive Woods albums. Having Dan Hulse join the band as bass player and recording engineer came at a great time. Though convenient, we did have our challenges as it was a huge commitment and simply just a lot for one person to take on as bass player and engineer, especially for a guy who worked as much as he did and also had a life , etc… We would always talk about the ‘wearing of too many hats’, and having too much to do, which was the predominant theme of the W3 process, with Dan being the recording engineer and me doing all the writing and managing all aspects of the band, operating our mailorder, etc… In the future, I would much rather have 1) a drummer other than myself, 2) a producer 3) a label to handle some of our administration. These three things would allow Dan and I to free up a little more time and brainpower to work on the songs themselves and ultimately make better music. I always dream of the albums we will make with more time and some peace of mind. I basically wrote the arrangements, the drum parts and then the guitar riffs. Dan and Jessica both wrote their complimenting bass and keyboard parts, I sang over top of all of it and then Dan mixed it and had it mastered.
Having lived in Ontario, Canada for a few years I can understand the sentiment behind “Your Ontario Town is a Burial Ground”. How much of that song was about Woods of Ypres?
David: Really? I’d be curious to hear your take on it as well. I won’t deny that the main inspiration for this song was from my time growing up in Sault Ste. Marie, in Northern Ontario. I lived there all my life and had never seen much else so by 18 I was dying to get the fuck out of there. Of course the list of pros and cons are endless when comparing big city life to small city life, but I was frustrated having spent so much time there and felt pressured to make up for lost time, to catch up on the world. Once I got out there, I felt so underexposed to life. I mean, I could write a book about the stupid shit we would do to pass time, growing up, up north (playing in a band being the most exciting in a list of going coffee, drinking beers, driving around, throwing shit at other shit, taking shits where you’re not supposed to take shits, breaking things, being hillbillies etc…). It’s now been 8 years since I left and it’s sometimes hard for me to believe that I ever used to live there, it sometimes seems like a lifetime ago. Maybe I’m out of touch and just don’t realize that it’s the same life for kids growing up anywhere, but maybe not. It’s funny for me to think that I didn’t see my first concert until I was 19 and in University when I went to see Megadeth and Static-X at the State Theatre in Detroit (haha! Btw – I’m not at all a Megadeth fan really but somehow I’ve seen then live 4-5 times since then. I am however still a huge Static-X fan! Seriously!). Since leaving the north, I grew to resent it even more as I lost touch with friends, either intentionally or inadvertently, from either side. In retrospect, I ask myself, “who the fuck am I to judge anyone else’s life” but I guess I felt that there was too big of a world out there for good friends of mine to spend it doing the same shit in the same shitty city every year of their lives, driving around, doing nothing. I wanted more for myself and them, but it was because it ended up being me alone on my own so much that led to some pretty lonely, isolated periods of identity crisis and questioning of my choices, searching for purpose (enter WoY). I guess I also felt that many people who I knew ‘gave up’ or who didn’t take those important chances in order to do what they wanted to do with their lives but instead chose to stay put where things were dark, boring but yet familiar and comfortable. SSM can be comfy, but not exciting or rewarding. But anyways, again, who the fuck am I to judge? I wrote that song a few years ago when I still really felt passionately resentful towards that scene but have since ‘relaxed’ and changed my focus. I do believe that people will relate to that song, get their own angst out and appreciate the fact that I wrote it, but really I realise that it’s no business of mine to try to tell people what they should do with their lives. I may visit, very rarely, but I just know I don’t want to live my life there. What anyone else does is up there is up to them. “Brutal north, bring me down!”.
Jessica Rose makes another appearance and plays a “key” part of it. How did she become part of the band?
David: The story: While still I Windsor, fall 2003, I submitted the Woods 1 song “Shams of Optimism” to a guy named Kyle from Toronto who was releasing an indy metal compilation on his label. Fast forward to living in Toronto January 2004, I had posted an announcement on the braveboard (www.bravewords.com/braveboard) entertaining the idea of possibly adding a keyboard player to the band. Jessica was the only reply and the only keyboardist we’ve heard from since. We met for coffee and Kyle (then boyfriend, now husband) came with her. Jessica has stuck with me and the WoY even since, through hell and success. Her role in the band increases with every album so please enjoy and appreciate the greatness she gave to Woods 3 and look forward what she contributes on Woods 4.
What are your thoughts on those who feel that there is no place for keyboards in black metal?
David: Well, people on the Internet sure seem to feel a lot of things about what there’s place for in black metal now don’t they? There’s probably more discussion about these things in black metal than any other genre ever. Btw – have you ever had a conversation about black metal with someone in person, or do these things only ever happen online? Joking of course (poorly). I think it’s obvious that we are simply doing our thing with (laughs out loud as I type this) very little regard to what else is happening out there or what people think about what’s allowed in BM. You’ll poison your brain getting caught up in the rules or listening to anonymous opinions. We are obviously not a pure black metal band for many, many reasons and I think it’s clear to people that we’re not aspiring to be a part of all that. Even though we can enjoy that stuff, be fans and appreciate it ourselves at the same time, it’s just not us. Our style is black and doom, which means riff, blast, blast, blast, blast, fill, fill, fill, fill, DOOOOOOOOM! Hell-fast to slow as hell, sometimes hot, sometimes ice cold. That is the WoY sound. We like atmosphere and keyboards only contribute to that atmosphere, so they are cool with us. One of our goals in making music is to evoke emotions just as much as we want to blast your head off, and piano and strings are great tools to grab someone by the heart, via the ears and mind. Not all bands need a keyboardist, but Woods is a band that is better with one. + Jessica is a character and as much part of WoY as anything or anyone. She has also recently started a gothic clothing business: http://www.corpseknit.com
Dan Hulse (Ex-Blood of Christ) is responsible for the production on the album and also handles the bass duties. How did he become a part of the band?
David: Dan and I met on a very unfortunate mini tour with BoC and an early version of WoY in early 2004, which ironically included a show in Sault Ste. Marie and the old WoY stomping grounds on Windsor, Ontario. We seemed to have hit it off and kept in touch, talking about metal and future band aspirations. A time came when he left BoC and decided to join WoY fulltime. We’ve been working on W3 and trying to find a way for everything else to work out ever since. We’ve definitely paid our dues and put our time in on this album. Having this awful and disgusting process behind us, I feel as if the possibilities are endless going forward into the next era.
A week or so before the album release you put it online for free. What was the motive behind that?
David: Very simply, a few people in the press had already been sent a copy and as soon as one person has a copy you might as well just put it up for download. The link I posted was limited to 100 downloads and that got eaten up within about a day. Since then I’ve seen it pop up at all the major torrent sites. We of course would appreciate for people to still purchase a copy of a CD (the “physical representation” as I call it now) in exchange for making the music. It seems that’s what CD sale means these days, when people enjoy the music they’ve downloaded enough to send a band money in exchange for a booklet and a plastic disc, to say “Thanks!”. That’s cool with with us. I have an i-pod, I understand. Whatever works and keeps us going.
Is this album the last in the “Against the Seasons” series? What is the next album gonna be like?
David: Yes, Woods 3 is the third of three in the “Against the Seasons” trillogy series.
The next album (Woods 4) will be one of new growth and renewal. Expect the warm, green, organic sound of progressive black metal in major chords as well as some heavy ballads. I already have new riffs written for half an album. It will be ‘spring’ a la WoY!
Since you also run Krankenhaus Records, any new releases this coming year other than the Woods of Ypres album?
David: I don’t have any plans to work with any other bands other than ones that I am in. My focus is and always will be Woods of Ypres, so I am going to continue to focus on that and make plans for our next move (Woods 4, + maybe a few surprises). We are also planning to finally re-release Woods 2: “Pursuit of the Sun & Allure of the Earth” sometime in 2008, hopefully before the summer. We’ve also been talking to some artists about doing new and extensive artwork for “Woods 2” which may include a new graphic image for each song from that album, sure to make a good booklet and some killer t-shirts! Can you imagine a visual for “Allure of the Earth” or “Dragged Across a Forest Floor”? I sure as fuck can.
I can hear a variety of influences in your music. What is the main influence to your music?
David: The WoY sound of the full “Against the Seasons” ara (Woods 1,2,3) was influenced by a lot of that early 2000’s euro black metal such as Borkngar, Vintersorg, Arcturus, Solefald, that whole scene, as well as doomier bands such as Katatonia (and my personal favourites) Agalloch and Amorphis. Add to that the lyrical styles and riffs of Crowbar, Sentenced, and the darkness of Type O Negative and Danzig. Lately, I (half) jokingly compare the WoY sound to HIM meeting Darkthrone halfway, but with heavy drums. Basically, WoY mixes black and doom, the two styles of metal I enjoyed the most that were kept separate amongst the bands I listened to. We have both of those extreme moods, plus the ballads, so there’s really three sides to WoY.
Growing up what were the Canadian bands you looked up to?
David: FaceDown (SSM). They were a thrash/Pantera influenced “crash metal” (buzz word expression at the time) four piece, pusing their early 20’s. They released one 8 song tape called “Self Muder”. I bought it for $5 off the guitarist in my high school intro to business class. Other than that, pre-Internet, I didn’t even know of any Canadian metal bands that existed. The world was just Metallica, Pantera, Slayer, Megadeth…oh and Type O and Crowbar!
One of the things I really like about the music is the honesty in it. How much of your personal experiences go into the music?
David: Lots. Every WoY song is at least originally inspired from something that happened in real life, and then I build around it to complete the idea of what the theme is about. I guess if you live a Dungeons and Dragons kind of life, that’s what you might think to write your metal about, but we sure as fuck didn’t and so we don’t. I believe that ‘life’ is the reason I found metal and why I’ve been inspired to make some of my own. With each new song I feel I make something good out of something terrible and it allows me to smile and move on. For example, “A Meeting Place and Time” is about terrible stuff that once thought would haunt me forever but now that’s so far from the truth. Now, I often think about that song without even remembering what actually inspired it. I’m always fascinated with the idea that you could be so intimately close with someone for years, only to eventually hate that person more than you thought you could ever hate a person. I wish it didn’t happen like that, but love and life is always like playing with fire. What’s funny to me is that I know my tendencies socially and the connections to my writing. Now sometimes I laugh when I meet someone know and think “this person will be a song” haha! I know I say this every album, and I probably always will, but Woods 4 will be the best WoY album yet. Hahaha! With each album Woods is older, wiser, tougher and better at expressing ourselves. In the wake of some fresh life changing personal experiences in my life, expect a new level of depth and intensity from DG and the crew on the next album.
Woods of Ypres has a strong following online. What are your thoughts on the internet and also networking sites like myspace.com and others and its effects on the music industry? Has the Internet been beneficial to your band?
David: Absolutely! Woods of Ypres has been built on the Internet. In this day and age, if we’ve ever had a choice, we’ve always focused on recordings rather than playing live (again, if we had to choose one). A live show can only be shared with a few hundred people at our level (if we’re lucky, in Toronto!) but because of the Internet, our recordings can resonate thousands of times throughout the world to be enjoyed (and loathed) by so many. Fuck man, we have a .ca, a myspace, a facebook profile, a facebook group, a forum, a guestbook, a garageband, a lastfm profile, etc… People are tuned in and listening to the Internet and I don’t think there’s a better medium right now. The Internet also allows a band such as ours to get out there and get on with achieving our goals without waiting for our music to be legitimised by a label. WoY has been 100% indie since the founding in 2002 and with the help of paypal and supporters sending us well hidden cash in the mail, we’ve run a successful mailorder distro ever since. I did a lot of networking through all areas of the band and have nurtured the interest of our listener base and rewarded them whenever we could. We now see that work paying off. Because of downloading and torrents, we have no idea how wide-spread our albums have gone but I’m willing to bet it would be a seriously impressive number to know how many people have those first two (soon to be three) WoY albums on their computer. We’re definitely out there.
Now that you have a full-band together, any plans for touring yet?
David:Some serious touring is definitely a dream and an interest of ours, but I’ll admit that the future of WoY is very much undefined at this time. A lot depends on time, money, scheduling, and demand based on how well “Woods 3” is received. Basically, we would love to. We’ll see what happens.
What are your plans for 2008?
David:For me, promoting “Woods 3” and finally visiting long lost family in Finland for the first time next summer.
Thank you for taking time out to answer my questions. Do you have any final words or comments?
David:Yeah, here are the two best ways to order a copy of “Woods 3”:
Direct from the band (preferred):
From The End Records:
+ Please check out the W3 e-card, in two versions: http://www.eyesickle.com/woodsecard/3/
Thanks for the interview Peter! Be well out there!
David Gold & the Wood… \w/
Check out the video for ‘Norther Cold’ from the album
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