HOUR OF 13: “Substance beyond the shock value”

This interview with HOUR OF 13-singer Phil Swanson, was published in Norwegian when “333” was released on Earache during the summer. What is the status on your other band/projects at the moment? If I remember correctly, Vestal Claret was on ice for awhile, but now it seems like you have put Upwards of Endtime (which was the first Phil Swanson-band we featured with an interview in Scream) on hold. Is that right? Will you continue working with Seamount and Briton Rites as well?

– Vestal Claret is back in full swing and just released the double LP “Bloodbath” on Cyclopean Records and will be out on CD later this year. We also have 2 splits available with Ungod and Albatross. Upwards of Endtime is done, it’s over. Seamounts 4th record “Earthmother” will be out this Summer on Church Within and we are looking into a spring 2013 tour and a new Briton Rites record is in the works as well for 2012.

I really love your voice, but have you ever considered the possibility of  overexposing it, by singing on too many releases. A guy like James Rivera for instance, has done that in my ears. He is still a great singer, at least  in most of the bands he is involved, but I have slowly but surely grown tired of his voice cause he has been singing on lots of releases in genres I love.

– Not really cuz I just do this for myself and I am just keeping busy, staying  creative and working while I can. James is great and what I’ve heard from the new Malice is amazing. But he and I are very different singers, he being a much better singer of course is the obvious but the other difference is he sticks to one genre and I kinda float between metal, doom, rock and even have a punk rock project with Chad due out on Svart Records any day now, so it allows some variation? Maybe I am completely wrong in saying that but the reality is I am just making music for me and my music friends. People can listen or not listen, it won’t change whether I make more music or not. I also wouldn’t count James out just yet, cuz like I said he’s awesome with Malice and I am sure got plenty of great things to come. Hopefully I do as well?

What is it like working with a multi talent like Chad who plays both guitar, bass, drum, keys and also produces, mixes and does the mastering?

– Convenient to say the least and really relieves allot of stress. He takes care of all of his own work as do I. We both self-record and self-produce our own performances as does Tim in Seamount and Simon in Vestal Claret so its just something we’ve all become accustomed to at this point I guess and to us is the norm.

When I did the last interview with Chad, he said something like: “My songs and Phils voice has an unbreakable bond between them”. What is it with your voice that makes it so suited for Chad’s compositions?

– It’s just one of those things I would imagine? I am just lucky to tap into something in the doom scene, never been good enough for the power metal genre and just found a niche here and been able to connect with some and completely offend others. I realize people have a love hate for me and I’ve learned to accept that you can’t please everyone, but the people you connect with are the only ones who are important in the end as they are the ones who truly care about what you do and it becomes a very important part of their lives.

Seen from the outside, there has been what seems like lots of drama within the band, with Phil leaving two times before returning to the band. I guess, when one makes a decision to leave a band, it is well thought through, so when you return again, not once, but twice, some things must have changed in the mean time?

– I don’t know why people see it as this heavy drama? It wasn’t this big scene or anything, we were both completely understanding of the issues at hand. It wasn’t a bad blood scenario, just me trying to balance real world realities and rock’n roll fantasies. Chad was always respectful of me as a working family man first and musician second. People just want to get on forums and make it something it’s not cuz they take it personal themselves as fans and have no idea what goes on in the HOUR OF 13 camp. We are regular guys trying to find balance in our lives being pressured to do things that take us away from our lively hoods and families with no benefit or reward. There’s no rock n roll dream here, only on the discs you hear, not in the boring day to day lives we ourselves live.

The reactions when people on the Internet read that you were back in the band again for the second time were almost only positive. I guess this must be relieving for you to see, that the fans care most about the quality of
the vocals, and don’t blame you for quitting the band some time earlier?

– Why would they blame me? It’s ridiculous that they think they understand the goings on with Hour of 13 and my personal motivation to why I do what I do. I never really intended to do a second HOUR OF 13 record, I was happy to have done the first and would have been quite content with that. With the second I attempted to scare people away with the subject matter not attract them closer. Now with the third I am just trying to legitimize HOUR OF 13 as a real heavy metal band with substance beyond the obvious shock value. So it’s no relief to me as I haven’t even taken the people on the internet into account. My reasons for coming back were for the HOUR OF 13 family that includes Chad and I but also others who are very close to the band and wanted to see us continue.

In retrospect, how do you view your two releases “Hour Of 13” and “The Ritualist”? What do you see as each album’s strengths and weaknesses? Which one do you prefer? I think I will have to go for the debut, as I felt “The  Ritualist” was a tad too similar, but with also the songs being a little weaker.

 – I am very critical of my own work and feel they are both about 75/25. I really like some of the stuff and can’t believe I pull it off while other parts I feel I or someone else could’ve done better. But I feel both records have their strengths and weaknesses. While I am a debut guy and always like bands first records most and love that raw integrity of a debut I honestly feel the melodies and production of “The Ritualist” is better while the debut conceptually is stronger and has more bite due to its underground carefree approach.

Earache re-released “The Ritualist” only a short time after Eyes Like  Snow put it out. Why did this rerelease make sense? I know Eyes Like Snow is a German based label, but I had no problems ordering it from them when it was
released. And most people order their music online these days, don’t they?

– Earache wanted that record for themselves, they loved that record and didn’t want to sign us without it. That may surprise many as most prefer the debut. We wanted Earache to sign the whole discography but they were quite content with having “The Ritualist” to start us on their roster. We were fine with that as we wanted better distro in North America where no one was catching wind of us at all. Lots of people were complaining cuz they couldn’t get the record, despite the option of online buying it was still hard to get in many countries and lots of people are wary of oversees purchases.

Was there something specific that you wanted to do different this time around, compared to how you did it on your first two albums? I am talking in terms of songwriting, lyrics, production and/or musicianship.

– Only lyrically. I wanted a more mature record. Less rapey and gimmicky. I want to see where we stand without it. I wanna know if people are listening more to the music or the lyrics. Production-wise I did all my vocal recording the same as on “The Ritualist”. I feel recording at home on my own I give a much better performance than in a studio. I try to avoid the studio if at all possible.

As I wrote in my review of the new album, my fave songs are probably “Spiral Vacuum”, because it’s a bit different, and “Lucky Bones”, because it sounds so unmistakably like HOUR OF 13. Quite a cool paradox, I think. What are your fave song off the album, and where do you think you put in your best vocal performance?

– I think “Lucky Bones” by far is my best performance on the record and it is as well my favorite song on the record. I also very much like “Who’s To Blame”

Back in 2010 I believe, you did your first live shows. After quite a long wait, could you describe the feeling of performing live with HOUR OF 13 for a long time?

– The long wait only added more stress to the idea and was not a good feeling at all. I hate performing live so that part for me wasn’t fun either. What made it special was Ireland, the people there so welcoming and accepting, they made it a great and a once in a lifetime experience. I honestly reflect on that often wondering why I would want to even consider playing live again, nothing else could ever really compare to it.

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