Metal Squadron was one of the first, if not the first, to feature Walpyrgus, back when their demo was first released on tape through Swords & Chains. Some time ago I was contacted by Sure Shot who does promotion for Cruz Del Sur, the band’s label nowadays, but as this happened around the time I had strong doubts about the future of this webzine, nothing came out of it. When I contacted Scott Waldrop some months later, I have to admit that I didn’t expect such an inspired feature as this one became. After all, he had already chatted to quite a few different medias when this interview materialized. As you can see for yourself, Scott did an excellent job answering my questions in an honest way, and I tried to get him to speak about some stuff that hasn’t already been covered to death in previous features. Enjoy!
One of the reasons you started Walpyrgus was because you wanted to have a band to rehearse with on a regular basis. Has this been as positive for yourself, both as a musician and as a human being that you hoped it would be?
– Yeah, I don’t know what I would have done with my music if Walpyrgus never took off. I can sit around my house practicing scales and writing songs, but playing in a band requires human interaction and negotiation which is just something I suppose I crave. I felt like I was languishing musically and socially. Truthfully, I really was going through a dark time when I started Walpyrgus. I had been isolating and my drinking was getting to be more and more. I probably should have addressed my true problems at the time which was a combination of depression and alcoholism (which are usually inextricably linked) but instead, I thought I needed to start a new band. I was lying to myself about what was really going on in my head and about my problems, but in a way – starting a new band gave me something productive to do. So, yeah I had to practice a lot by myself to keep up with Charley’s guitar chops and I’d say this helped me improve as a player. So, as a human? Perhaps. I got pulled over by the police and let go after drinking 13 beers on the way home from Walpyrgus practice. This was one of the things that started to bring me out of my fog. The band was there during a big transformation in my life which entailed getting sober, quitting cigarettes and going from being technically obese to an athlete. I think that the “new” band was somehow unconsciously part of my metamorphosis. I think it was meant to be part of my journey for whatever reason. Yes, I think it gave me what I was seeking at the time but the weird thing is – that I found out that what I was really seeking was not really music but wellness.
As you indicated last time we spoke, that “Walpyrgus Nights”, your debut album, doesn’t feature any of the songs from the demo you released back in 2014. Did you feel that the newly written stuff was superior, or did you want to make sure that those who followed the band from the start got the best possible value for money?
– Yes, we had enough exposure so that those demos songs where exhausted and got a lot of mileage. Not only would we be giving people stale Music, but we’d have had to take the time and money to re-record the stuff. It takes much effort to get recordings to a professional quality level and is such a drawn-out pain in the ass that I’d prefer to dedicate that emotional energy to new ideas. That was really the whole point of Walpyrgus anyway – to be prolific. There were so many different types of ideas I wanted to make sure that some of the less-expected songs like “Dead Girls” and “She Lives” would get onto the album.
Even though there are no signs of this album fading off so far, I was at first a bit unsure if I would be able to enjoy this Walpyrgus-album also in years to come, as the structures are quite simple and everything so damn catchy. Has the fact that these songs might not have the long-lasting effect that I feel the Twisted Tower Dire-stuff has, crossed you mind or concerned you at all during the process of creating this album?
– I think a song’s lasting potential depends on the perspective of the listener. If you need to be consistently stimulated by complex musical structures and intricately interwoven orchestrations, then you may not be into bands like us. Personally, the catchier something is like ABBA, The Ramones, The Beatles – the more staying power it has in my heart. I haven’t felt the need to listen to Fates Warning “Ivory Gate of kDreams” any time recently, and don’t ever foresee myself really craving it in the future. I do know I will definitely want to listen to songs like The Beatles “I Wanna Hold Your Hand”. I will definitely want to hear Willie Nelson “On The Road Again” sometime in the near future. That’s me though – I love pop music. I like AC/DC and The Go-Go’s. That’s what makes me happy. That’s the music I take with me into my heart and walk through life with along with many other types of music. For me there is greater resilience in something that is relatable on a large scale. When humans are all gone and aliens are sweeping through the dusts of our ruins, they’re going to find more evidence of Elvis Presley and Kiss than they will of Mars Volta and Mastadon. No, I never once thought these songs will not have a lesser lasting-effect than Twisted Tower Dire. I wrote them with the express intent of them having a wonderful shelf life. If I’m being honest, it actually surprises and bewilders me a bit to hear that the contrary is suggested. I think there are plenty of forgettable Twisted Tower Dire songs that I wrote, whereas all the songs on “Walpyrgus Nights” are probably at the peak of my song writing “maturity”. That’s just my opinion though. Everyone has their likes and dislikes. No two humans have the same set of genes and circumstances so fuck it – no worries. You can’t please everyone and shouldn’t try. I just try to stand in my own light and give the best I can to bring a little entertainment into peoples’ lives. Artists or musicians can be narcissistic or altruistic. I am, have been, but try not to be – both. I’d much prefer to make the majority of people happy with what I can create with my bandmates. It’s a bit upsetting to hear people freaking out saying you’re a “sellout poser asshole who needs to be killed” when you just want to entertain some folks on your own dome no-less, but that’s the nature of stepping out in public and offering shit for people to love or make fun-of, ha ha. I’m cool either way.
The reception for “Walpyrgus Night”, although mainly positive, has been a little mixed among some people who have followed Twisted Tower Dire since the early days. If they heard both “Make It Dark” as well the demo you did as Walpyrgus, this album shouldn’t come as surprise to anyone, although some stuff like the punk influence in “Dead Girls”, the country-bit in “Lauralone” and the organ you are using, maybe was kind of unexpected.
– If anyone had expectations that weren’t met and are thus cross with me they shouldn’t hear the shit I really want to write. They might show up at my doorstep with pitchforks and torches ready to fuck me up like I’m Frankenstein. Walpyrgus is really not that much different than anything else I’ve done. It’s very similar music to Twisted Tower Dire. I listen to Chopin and Blondie between writing songs for fellow metalheads. I’d write a fucking funk album inspired by the sound track to “The Last Unicorn” if I had the time and money. Look, I love the movie Conan. I love Iron Maiden. I love Bathory. I love that fucking shit. Love the fucking shit out of it. I also love other stuff like surfing, animals, charity, vegan living, fine art, ultra running and all sorts of leftfield shit that sits outside of the heavy metal ethos if not downright antithetical to our genre’s core aesthetics. But you know, so does Bruce Dickinson. He’s a jumbo jet pilot. I run 100-mile marathons in mountains. To me, doing stuff like this is being true to the epic behavior and lifestyle metal lyrics talk about. Your average metalhead never comes to know experiences like this in any sort of visceral way. If you’re into escapism you’re living vicariously through the deeds of tales of another. So, don’t worry about Tom’s organ solo in our “Misfits” song. You can listen to Manowar and fantasize about big buff warriors wielding swords or you can go out and meet your authentic self who exists irrespective of the constraints self-enforced upon on you through “metal culture” or whatever other bullshit excuses you give yourself to avoid doing the internal work towards self-mastery. Somewhere there within, you will find something that truly is epic and magical as opposed to some trite and superficial words you sing along to, but have no deep connection with.
Even though the material is clearly in the same vein, do you feel that you have taken things a little more away from the Twisted Tower Dire-sound with this album, compared to the demo. I mean, a song like “We Are The Wolves”, to me at last, was like a bridge between Twisted Tower Dire and Walpyrgus?
– Yes definitely. Walpyrgus was a chance for me to create songs that I couldn’t do with Twisted Tower Dire without people feeling betrayed. I created theses songs with a different band because I wanted to avoid people’s expectations of what Twisted Tower Dire means to them. People only know me for my music with Twisted Tower Dire so of course the comparisons will be inevitable. “We Are The Wolves” was actually going to be a Twisted Tower Dire song. It was one of the first songs I had written right after “Make it Dark”, but Marc was busy playing in a bunch of bands up in the Washington DC area, and Dave was busy with Volture so I just decided to use it to kickstart my new band. So, the fact that you noticed that that song is a “bridge”, shows that you have very keen ears. I think there was a certain amount of open dialogue at the time in the band talking about how it’s good to have a song like “We Are The Wolves” next to “The Sisters” so that the latter doesn’t just really freak Twisted Tower Dire fans out. It helped buffer the traumatic impact felt by sensitive metalheads when songs like “Dead Girls” came out, ha ha. Sorry…
Seen from the outside it looks like you have gotten more attention with Walpyrgus than you have done so far with Twisted Tower Dire. Are you able to enjoy it, or does it feel unfair knowing of course the time and resources invested in that band and the sheer quality that always was there?
– No, we had much more mainstream metal attention around 2003 with “Crest of The Martyrs”. We got to play Wacken twice, we had an album cover done by Derek Riggs, we were offered a tour with Saxon & Doro, and Michael Wagener personally offered to produce our follow-up album. That shit all fell apart when we declined the Saxon tour and we never returned to that level. So, if any kid is reading this, please take this one note to heart. Opportunities in music are rare and when they are offered – you accept or the door closes and the momentum ends. This was a listen I took into all aspects of my life. I remember so vividly how quickly things disintegrated that it just makes me grateful that I’m sitting here typing about my music at all anymore. We enjoyed a good ride of success though. Walpyrgus I believe is being received well and I think people are enjoying listening to it, but I don’t have big names coming out of the woodwork that want to work with us like we had 15 years ago with Twisted Tower Dire. So, it seems you are asking if I have any guilt because I’m sort-of “riding the coattail” of Twisted Tower Dire’s former success? No not at all because I had been working on getting music out there since 1991. I was sending shitty live demos of my death metal Golgotha to zines and everything I’ve done since has mbeen a slow building block process. Of course, there are guys like Marc and Dave who I never want to make to feel like I’m abandoning them, but they were busy at the time I started this band and I don’t feel like I’m beholden by anyone or any circumstances to focus my creativity in anyone particular one conduit. Also, I wrote every song on Twisted Tower Dire’s “Make it Dark”. That album was well-received by many, but it was also totally fucking shit on and crucified in some places like Terrorizer (UK). They said something to the effect of, “This band is washed up and shouldn’t exist”. Marc called me when he read it and was like, “What the fuck?!” I hate to admit it but it was honestly a pretty big disheartening mind-fuck. Maybe it stung so badly because we felt at the time that it was true. If I wrote another Twisted Tower Dire album you’d just get another version of “Walpyrgus Nights” but I don’t think it would be a as good. Marc and Dave don’t want to go as “rock & roll” as I do. They’re writing the main music for the next Twisted Tower Dire and I’ll be doing a good deal of the lyrics going back to where I was circa 1995-2003 lyrically with supernatural war topics. I think this way we’re creating something that will make old and new fans happy as well as the band itself. It should be added that Marc Stauffer and Dave Boyd are two of my oldest and closest friends. I love those guys with all my heart and I don’t think they would feel like I’m exploiting Twisted Tower Dire’s legacy for my own gain. If anything, Walpyrgus has drained my bank account, ha ha ha. I mean, they know what I’ve done to get us where we’ve gone and come. They know that I’m willing to give them my creative energy and that I won’t abandon them so I would hope it’s all good. I mean, I know it is fine as we talk often and openly. I’ve been through a fucking lot with those guys. I also hope Tony Taylor’s kids and wife Charry feel like we’re preserving Twisted Tower Dire’s legacy. That’s another factor in my brain of why I stepped back from Twisted Tower Dire after “Make it Dark”. I wrote “White Shadow” in 2004 for Tony to sing. I was thinking of his voice when I wrote it. I know he would have liked the lyrics. The chorus melodically sounds like 38 Special which was something I think Tony would have loved. I don’t necessarily think he would have liked “Snow Leopard” though. I have no idea. My thoughts are that I was indulging too much in what I wanted to create and not what was necessary to stay true to Twisted Tower Dire’s established trajectory. I think I got too caught up in reinvention and that “Make it Dark” should have been written under a different band name in hindsight.
Exactly. You said about Twisted Tower Dire in the past that you wanted to reinvent the band for each album. As Walpyrgus represents an alternative, does this mean that what we hear on “Walpyrgus Night” is pretty much what to expect from this band in the future, that there is not a desire to “reinvent” in this band?
– Oh yeah, for sure Walpyrgus will be reinvented if there’s another album. I didn’t learn my lesson, ha ha ha!!! That’s how I roll. You don’t know what to expect from me save goofiness and weirdness. I am currently “reinventing” Twisted Tower Dire by relinquishing Twisted Tower Dire primarily to Dave as he’s my long-time guitar partner and I know he knows how to get the job done. Also, that tactic requires me to do very little yet claim “reinvention” ha ha ha. I should say Dave is currently reinventing Twisted Tower Dire instead of taking credit for it like a total asshole. For Walpyrgus, I would prefer to make songs that are even more “pop” than “Walpyrgus Nights”. I’d be happy to do an album of songs like “Dead Girls” but maybe even a little more MC5 in there. I don’t know – we’ll see how it will materialize organically. I have another Walpyrgus album’s worth of songs already demoed on my computer and Tom has them if he ever wants to start fucking with them, but I’m not going to pressure him. Walpyrgus’ future is tentative as our original drummer Peter, who is a massive creative force integral to our sound, moved to Los Angles, and our current drummer Carlos is on tour indefinitely with Weedeater which we really want him to do. You know, we were happy for him that he had the opportunity so I’m just patiently sitting around to see what happens with things. Enrico from Cruz Del Sur has it in our contract to call for another album if he wants us to make one. If he asks, I’ll gladly rise to the occasion and make it happen. You know – if it doesn’t do as well as he wants it to I’m not going to burden him and beg him to let us do a second album if he can’t sell it. But yes, if there’s another Walpyrgus it will be full of surprises. Maybe it will be about Walruses.
What can you say about the direction of the new Twisted Tower Dire-material? Would we have seen another Twisted Tower Dire-album if you were to supply all the material yourself? Are you still able to write songs that feels and sounds like Twisted Tower Dire, or would that be very forced?
– The new Twisted Tower Dire material sounds a lot like the stuff we were coming up with around the “Isle of Hydra” era. Around that time Dave and I were traveling back and forth to each other’s houses and doing guitar jams where we’d write those very elaborate riffs and harmonies. I think Dave is kind of “channeling” that era when we were both growing as musicians and doing it together – you know, kind of developing our own style together. I’m not sure if I would have had the energy to do another Twisted Tower Dire album the way I normally have done them in the past where I obsess over every little thing. I want to say, “Yes I definitely would never give up on Twisted Tower Dire and would have come up with a 6th album.” The truth is that I just don’t know the future and definitely didn’t foresee myself being a sober-vegan-distance runner involved with charity so who knows what my musical “climate” may have been like. Dave wanted to work on an album at a time when I wasn’t focused and I saw it as an opportunity for me to be a part of something awesome that Dave wanted to create instead of struggling for control. I decidedk to let go, just be in the natural flow of life, and be grateful that my talented friends want to carry the torch when I didn’t feel like I had the energy. Life is magical and strange when you’re in its flow, so you know, I’m going to keep going along with the good things the universe is bringing to me – I’m gravitating towards the things that are given and that I don’t have to fight against the grain to attain. I’m not talking about not working hard – quite the opposite. I’m saying that when you try really hard to make something happen and it just doesn’t seem to want to come together, maybe that’s the universe’s way of telling you to take another path. In other words, when you’ve got other opportunities present themselves to you but you’re myopically following the original goal you sometimes are just fighting this bitter fight with little return or negative return. I supposed I was afraid with Twisted Tower Dire around 2012 that if I started a new album I’d be fighting against the universe and looking back I still think that would have been the case. I had to let it work its way out and letting things “work themselves out” was never my default attitude priory to my sobriety, ha ha ha. I had faith in the process though and sure as shit, Dave came to me wanting to write the next Twisted Tower Dire. So, that’s pretty much my philosophy these days. If the atmosphere is hospitable for me to continue being a musician, then I will go with it. If other things come to me then I will pursue those opportunities. Writing a full Twisted Tower Dire album by myself that I think fans would want to hear, would feel very “forced” to me these days. I’m no longer drunk. I’m not angry or on drugs. I don’t read fantasy novels. I’m chronically upbeat and enjoy being healthy. I love metal and I have 20 hours of death metal on my phone I often listen to on long runs. I still have the metal in my soul, but I need help to make sure that it “stays” metal because when I pick up the guitar to write music it quickly tends to stray into different places as most of my audio candy these days are things like The Rich Roll Podcast, Bob Marley and Sia – not conducive to the metal mindset. With Dave giving me the thrashy riffs, I had a great time writing gruesome metal lyrics about human bodies being shredded and planes falling on fire in the B-17 bombing raids of WWII and stuff like that. It came natural because the music was given to me and I was revisiting the 15-year-old version of myself. I feel like I’m helping the band and may entertain some old long-time Twisted Tower Dire fans so from that perspective it gives me purpose. I suppose though that I’m now hyper-aware of how I spend my time so I always ask myself questions like, “How is this helping anyone, is this in alignment with my values, is this hurting anyone, how is this contributing to any greater good?” If I had to do the whole thing myself and especially if it was in a social climate where I was begging and nagging to things done it would seem like I would be doing something ridiculous with my time.
With “Light The Torch” there is a Witch Cross cover on the album, while you covered Mercyful Fate on the demo. You are very soon running out of Danish bands to cover, but why Witch Cross, why this particular track and wouldn’t it make more sense to let the song close the album?
– We’ve only just begun worshipping The Danes. Wait ‘til you here our cover of White Lion’s “When The Children Cry.” Aqua is next. We really did put an emphasis on Scandinavian & Finnish metal as an aesthetic when we started the band though. We were kind of taking a page out of the old Metallica playbook and deciding that we’d kind of “turn the song into our own”. That’s why it wasn’t last. As a group of songs, we felt the album unfolded better as a narrative by putting the title track last. It may seem kind of arrogant to think that we could put such as classic metal song along our songs as if to say, “It’s just as good as the Walpyrgus originals and belongs.” But, at the same time, it’s like you have to ask yourself as a band, “Are we really doing such a great cover of this song that it measures up to the original and therefore should be the grand finale?” You know, like saying to the world, “Look what an awesome job we did with this much beloved heavy metal anthem.” It was a bit of a quandary and with some debate we decided that second to last was the lesser of two evils.
What do you feel you achieve with the way Walpyrgus mixes dark lyrics with uplifting melodies and influences from pop music?
– I think it’s weird, funny, and creepy all wrapped up in this funky juxtaposition of moods. Listen to Blue Oyster Cult’s “Career of Evil”. It’s got this groovy little butt-wiggling jingly riff with an awesomely corny organ line looming over it. The music sounds like something of the Hair Soundtrack and you’d expect the lyrics to be about “The Dawning of The Age of Aquarius”. But, if you listen to the words this dude is talking about taking how he loves to embarrass you, steal your shit, lie to you, take your wife and then fuck your daughter on a dirt road!” I think you can go to jail for writing lyrics like that now. My point is that that goofy music made me pay MORE attention to those crazy lyrics. I think it’s more impactful. If you have this very whimsical instrumentation that conjures silly or majestic images on its own then put theses crazy violent words over it paints a distinct picture in your mind. If you put my lyrics to some Dissection music you’d be like, “Yeah, yeah – another ‘tough guy’ band singing about devil shit, so what?” When you hear Scooby Doo music about witches slathering themselves in afterbirth before they have sex with Satan – it makes you cock your head like a confused dog. Some people think this is great. Other people have really don’t like that I have done this, ha ha. It’s just my weird sense of humor. I know it’s not for everyone.
There is also a comic book available, where you have illustrated the lyrics to the songs on the album. By doing it this way, you certainly leave less to people’s own imagination, but I guess this was something you wanted? It was a different experience for me at least, as I got a real insight into your thoughts when you wrote the lyrics.
– Well yeah – I thought about that. I do sort of rob the listener of forming their own images in their minds, and if that’s important to you I implore you not to look at the comic book. At the same time, when do – you get the lyricist to draw out every line and give you a glimpse of what goes on in their minds. I always wonder what the hell some lyricists were envisioning such as songs like “No Quarter” by Led Zeppelin. But even better – If Ian Gillan could even draw me a sketch on a napkin of what he was thinking when he wrote the Sabbath lyrics “The grey and plastic retards all floating in circles” – I would be most curious to see what was going in in his head. I feel like I can see “them” perfectly but I’d love to see his perspective. Shit, I’m, getting side tracked and want to draw this right now! So anyway, one day on a long run I had the thought, “I love ‘The Walking Dead’ comics – I should do something like that one day…wait a minute…I write lyrics, I have a band, I can draw… I’m gonna give our fans something really unique just because I can do it.” It can be annoying to have too much imagery in your head while Iistening to music – that’s one of the things Jim Hunter always says about videos and why he hated MTV. You may love a song and then see the musicians in this stupid video and it kills it for you. Go on YouTube and check out Anvil’s video for “Mad Dog” ha ha. I personally love it, but I think that’s what Jim’s talking about. I relate very much to this notion in the sense that I often have to listen classical music or almost atonal soundscape because I cannot have lyrics adding to the extra monkey chatter in my hyperactive brain. I mean, when you listen to contemporary music your mind is really just being taken on whatever ride the lyricists wants to take you on with their story or words – even just listening to the music. Anyway, I hope my silly doodles didn’t detract from your Walpyrgus experience Leif! It’s like my buddy Hayes who played guitar very briefly in Twisted Tower Dire used to say, “Never read the lyrics first before listening to the song!” Ha ha ha! So true. No, I do not want to take away anyone’s imagination while listening to the lyrics which I toiled over as much as the comic book. If you really like the album, I would highly suggest “digesting” the album for a while. Form your own “relationship” with it and what it means to you – then read the comic book. Seriously, I’m not even joking – I would read the comic book a year after listening to the album regularly. But buy the comic book now! They’ll all be gone very soon, ha ha. And that’s right, I’m telling you to listen to “Walpyrgus Nights” on a regular basis.
Most of the lyrics to the songs on “Walpyrgus Nights” seem to have a girl as the main character, and you also had this girl on the cover on the tape release…Judging from the drawings in the comic girl, there seems to be a different girl for each song, but what is it about Walpyrgus and girls?
– I like girls, aesthetically pleasing, they’re sexy, have an interesting perspective on things and are generally neat. I think the feminine verses masculine energy is compelling when it comes to metal lyrics. It’s rather abstract to articulate but if you listen to something like Dark Star “Lady of Mars”, albeit you’re listening to guys playing a metal song yet the overall “energy” the music exudes coupled with lyrics has a dark feminine quality in its elegance. As for Walpyrgus’s aesthetic – by virtue of the band being named after a witch’s holiday, I want that “supernatural female energy” to be implied in the music as well. The “evil woman” architype is an integral figure in Heavy Metal imagery. It’s up there with The Devil, The Grim Reaper, swords, demons, Hell, warriors etc etc. We as a band just laser-focus on “evil women” so as to also laser-focus and define our style. I like it when I hear bands and they really know what the fuck they’re doing artistically and you know they’re steadfast in their convictions. Take Danzig for instance. You know he knows what his music is supposed be about. Then take a band like Anthrax who’s never taken their image or seriously or had much continuity with it. You know, music is fashion after all and they changed fashions with the weather. People pick up on this either consciously or subconsciously – hence terms like “false metal”. “sell-outs”, “posers”, “wannabees”, etc. I don’t like trash-talk as much as I used to, but Anthrax is sort of known for having a chronic identity crisis and I’m not calling them all those horrible names I just spat forth, ha ha. Scott Ian was one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met – He held the door for me once! Anyway, my ADD is running away with me so I digress. Back to Walpyrgus. Spoiler alert: if you like and respect us as song writers I’ll demystify and dispel any perceived talent quickly: there are a handful of songs you can listen to that really will give you all the secrets of our songwriting. Walpyrgus is pretty much all just a mix of “Mr. Crowley” Ozzy, “Pet Semetery” Ramones, “Skulls” Misfits, “White Witch” by Angel Witch, and “Blue Eyes Cryin’ in The Rain” by Willie Nelson. That’s it. That’s why we focus on witches and evil feminine energy – to keep the aesthetics very pinpointed and with decided vision. I don’t want there to be any question about what we’re “trying to do” because I know exactly what we’re doing. Also, really – something about writing those choruses with the “she” and “hers” just sounds really cool to me. So, there’s your very true and very generally-dumb final reason.
I have to admit that I didn’t know about Tom Phillips involvement in the band until just prior to the release. I can’t remember you going out and announcing his involvement, was that because he was originally intended to do just some keyboards for the album? Do you see him as a permanent member of the band, will he contribute both to live shows and future recordings?
-I didn’t want to make a big deal about it until we were done because we were working on it for so long. Sometimes when you announce what you’re up to many months or years before the product comes out, it gives people too long to get their expectations up to an insatiable level. Every day you don’t release new music is one more day someone can think, “It sure is taking these guys a long time to record this fucking album, it must be the next Led Zeppelin “Zoso…that shit better be good or those motherfuckers are dead to me!”. We just wanted to play it cool and put a good album out without a lot of potential theories circling about us (as if I really think many people give a shit about what we’re doing with our time, ha ha ha). When I first called Tom, it was just to do the keyboards. I had them all demoed out and played by myself in my home studio but I started thinking, “I’m doing an okay job with these orchestrations but Tom could do this way better.” He was totally into doing the keys for us, but after he spent some time with the album he started to really like it. I told him to “go crazy” on “Walpyrgus Nights” with the keys. I said, “Go wizard on that motherfucker!” I think at that point he started to put so much of his signature on the album that he was becoming inextricably linked to our sound. You know, you hear Tom on the album with those keys melodies just as much as you hear Aune’s voice, me and Charley’s guitar team stylings, Jim’s thoughtfully interwoven bass lines, and Peter’s Über unique drumming. At some point along the line he offered to really whole-heartedly sink his teeth into the project, put his “name” on it, take over production and offered to give it the While Heaven Wept “treatment”. I knew that meant it was going to entail a lot of re-tracking things, long-term hyper-analyzation, lots of personal/band money and multiple passes at mixes, but that’s also what I knew would make it great. I’ve known Tom since around 1991 and I know how he likes to do stuff so the idea of descending into artistic madness with him was familiar and fine. I knew what I was “signing up for”. It would require patience on my behalf and trusting his process even though I still resisted a little along the way, ha ha ha. We had these tiny little “battles” over money and changing things which I knew was going to happen (I elected for it) but I still tried to fight the invited tyrant (and lost every time to my ultimate befit as the album is exactly as I wanted it) ha ha ha. I knew he was going to help us make it killer. He’s definitely absolutely integral to the Walpyrgus brand. If we put more music out and he cannot get involved then I’ll just have to mimic what I think he might do orchestration-wise with the keys, technique, and their various tones. We’ve talked about doing him playing live keys if we ever do any Europe fests. Right now, we play “stripped down” versions of the songs and fill out a lot of the transient ambient key weirdness with guitar effects. For the song “Walpyrgus Nights” I transcribed the keys solo into a guitar solo with a lot of delay, phase and slow wammy bar descents.
I guess you knew it before the rest of us, but what did you think when heard of Toms retirement from music? Do you feel that his story has similarities to your own, as you have invested a lot of resources into your music and had your personal ups and downs?
– No, I saw his announcement on Facebook just like everyone else though him and I have had some pretty deep discussions about both of our futures in music while alone recording this stuff, so I wasn’t “shocked”. Him and I have been going at this shit since we were kids and I think we’re both struggling to have a “healthy relationship” with music. Music draws in like moths to an illuminated web, it compels us, it can consume us and often places us out of balance. I’ve known him well since we were teens so he’s basically a childhood friend. I’ve known him through a lot of ups and downs. I was very happy for him when he announced, “the news” because I knew it was coming from a place of contentment and it wasn’t meant to be some overly-dramatic episode. He’s been through a lot. Now – I’m speaking for myself and can only speculate that this is also true of Tom’s journey, but the longer I go into sobriety it’s like I’m recovering and uncovering epochs of my life where I hadn’t developed into a full adult. When you start abusing alcohol and drugs at 13 like I did, it can totally arrest your development – especially with shit like LSD. God only knows that horrible drug did to my undeveloped brain. I was tripping my balls of in the woods at 13 with a boombox and Pink Floyd mix tape. I’m 100% positive that cast some everlasting shadows on my psyche and irreversibly tinkered with my neuro pathways. For Tom, I’d venture to say he’s just experiencing aspects of his life where before, he wasn’t able to “connect the dots” with normal adulthood as he was still living the narrative of his youth. With sobriety, you have this newfound clarity where it’s sort of like you go through the years you missed at warp speed. With music – you know – it takes up a lot of your time and forces you to isolate which is a major symptom of the mental illness that breeds addiction. That dude lives and breathes music. It’s everything to him. It can be a consuming passion though, and it can also hold you back from prioritizing your relationships with people which is really what life is all about. I’m guessing this is at the crux of him consciously stepping back from his “public” relationship with music. I’d think he is just taking time to do other things with his life and play some “catch up”. Sobriety has been an interesting game of me learning balance and my tuning in to my intuition. So, without prying too far into his personal life, I’m suspecting that Tom is going through something similar that I went through. You know, having some long-term sobriety under the belt gives one a sense of the greater picture of life. It’s easier to see the gifts in circumstances. So, I wouldn’t lament his announcement too much if you’re a fan of his music as I know he’s doing something healthy for himself that may lead to you hearing music come from him again as his “pendulum of balance” has time to swing back into a rhythm conducive and supportive of him putting energy into music. Maybe not though. This all one big fucking pontification of mine on what’s going on in someone else’s mind. I must profess, I’m not a licensed psychologist.
Has all the positive energy that seems to be around Walpyrgus at the moment motivated you to write new material for a possible next release as well? Has the change in your personal life, from being a heavy drinker to being a fit runner had a positive impact on how you work with your own music?
– I have music oozing out of my brain and pores constantly. I cannot control it at all. I used to think that drugs and alcohol helped me write cool and weird music. I thought they enhanced my creativity. It’s true they did for a while. At least I think it was “cool” music but that’s debatable. The positive energy around Walpyrgus is just generally wonderful and of course it encourages me to continue being creative with my music so yes, I’m regularly sitting down with my guitar & notebook and strumming out tunes with lyrics as a daily exercise. I need to be careful not to let it consume me as I need to also do other shit like train for races and concentrate on business. Okay, so the sobriety and running and its relationship to music…Let’s preface this by me saying that even while I was on drugs and drunk all the time I would run. I’d use it as an excuse to “appear” healthy. I was running regular marathons long before I became sober. That running time was always meditative and I’d get a lot of my Twisted Tower Dire and Walpyrgus ideas during those quiet times sweating the booze out of my skin alone in the woods. Now, my brain is so much clearer the music comes to me which much greater ease. I’ve been meditating regularly twice a day for over a year. Meditating isn’t like some hippy shitk or weird stuff liberal crazy people do – it’s just time when you sit and “be”. It’s time to slow that fucking monkey brain the fuck down and be comfortable sitting in silence. Thinking constantly is exhausting and the brain doesn’t even stop while you’re sleeping – hence dreams. So, giving my mind some space between it’s hyperactive jibber has really opened doors that allow me to channel ideas that come from somewhere very unique – perhaps not even myself of “ego”. Songs write themselves. I’m in a much better mood on the regular so I don’t become frustrated when the perfect word or note doesn’t come to me when I think I need it. I just give it space and it arrives in its own time which is surprisingly fast when you’re not filled with negativity and angst. So, yes, I’m in an explosively creative time right now – probably the most vibrant & prolific I’ve ever been with my creativity. I’m letting “Walpyrgus Nights” run its course and allowing time for our drummer Carlos to find out what he’s going to do with Weedeater. He’s been filling in on drums for them and touring with them for the better half of this year. No one’s really sure how long he’ll be playing drums with them, but they’re on the road all the time and I really want to give him the time and space to enjoy that ride as he deserves it. I gotta divert really quickly to give a shout out to my boy Carlos Denogean who stepped into replace Peter Lemieux when he moved to Los Angeles a few years ago. Carlos is the mastermind behind his own band Salvación and he was the only person I wanted in the band as the drummer without Peter. Without him Walpyrgus probably would not have gone on at all as a live band and we would have lost so many cool opportunities. Anyway, Carlos has worked his ass off to be where he is with his music and he’s such a cool guy so he’s a very important part of the band’s history and he deserves space right now to see how things will play out. I digress – yeah my return to athleticism (I quite sports at 13 when I started drinking and doing psychedelics) coupled with my sobriety & spiritual practice (which is mediating, not religion) has opened up a lot of doors. I have Twisted Tower Dire working hard right now, Walpyrgus obviously doing well and I actually have a couple others bands I have started working with which I can’t say much about right now other than one of them is based around me embracing the goofiest and catchiest music my brain can conjure. The other band is one I was invited into with some incredibly cool and well-known musicians I’ve never worked with until now, but I believe we’re still in the “courtship” phase of the relationship so not sure where it’s going. I hope we don’t have to officially physically consummate the relationship but follow my Facebook page and or twitter & Instagram accounts for announcements soon. You can follow me on all social media at the handle @ultrarunvegan. I interlope all my music, running, wellness, and charity endeavors there so if you’re only interested in music you’ll have to put up with all my other posts but I promise nothing I’ll put out there is bad advice. But to summarize, if anyone is in the same place I was – trust me, the drugs and alcohol degrade your musicianship and career over time if you let them creep up on you.
I’ve read some of the interviews you have given around the release of this new album, and since TWISTED TOWER DIRE and your music has always been important to me, I catch myself paying real attention to the stuff you speak about, especially the stuff about how easy it is to dwell with the past or to fear the future, when all you should really to is to live right now and cherish every moment. Have you reached a point in your own life now where you are able do this?
– First off thank you. That always feels wonderful to hear someone say my/our music is important to them. It’s what keeps us going. So, for my personal life and internal world which I’m now very open about, my changes started gradually yet I can pinpoint some trajectory-changing moments. I had an epiphany one day while I was running. I was not long into my sobriety but long enough to where the running was becoming athletic (not just for weight loss) and I was starting to feel some real gratitude. Out of nowhere and without reading any eastern philosophy or Buddhist teachings, I just had the realization that I was going to redress every negative thought I had from here on out. I was going to acknowledge the shitty thought, not beat myself up about, and let it float by. When I was near my end of drinking I was very sick physically and mentally. I was up late drinking by myself and just weeping in confusion about what I was becoming and how lost I was. I prayed to the sky for help and to restore me to the happiness of childhood before I had all this addiction-laced anxiety. I promised to be a useful human and to be a vessel of goodness for others. I didn’t know who I was talking to. I just know I had vomit and tears all over me and that I was quickly unraveling. I did manage to mend through running (not AA) and slowly as I pushed the negatives out of my life (substances and people), I really started to wonder about spirituality. I was asking God for a sign. I told him I was watching and listening. One day The Mormons showed up on my doorstep and I was like, “Shit I’m going to be a Mormon? Nooo!!!” That same day a book I ordered on Amazon showed up and it was Rich Roll’s “Finding Ultra”. I was just trying get some knowledge on endurance athlete nutrition but as it turns out the book was really about this dude’s journey out of alcoholism and finding spirituality through body and diet. He was raised in Washington DC like me and the way he described his life was just freaking me out with all the parallels. I read the book straight through almost and I really gleaned two things from it. First, it’s okay to be spiritually secular and that meditation is integral to addiction recovery, athleticism, and navigating the world in-general without seeing things from a shitty perspective. That was something I had already chanced upon, I just needed the extra push over the edge to fully explore it and have it justified as an acceptable viewpoint as I was raised Christian. The second thing was the vegan or plant-based diet. I really did not see this coming but he basically challenges you to adopt a plant-based diet at whatever your comfort level is for 30 days and if it doesn’t change your life, then go back and eat what you want. Nothing to lose. I respected the guy and thought I’d try it. 30 days later, my body was repairing itself dramatically faster and my running just exploded to the next level. I felt incredible and the night eventually came when I looked at the chicken dinner on my plate and just didn’t want it rather than the greens around it. The further I got into sobriety the “trifecta” (I think that word is so trite but It’s perfect here) of a vegan diet, a mindfulness practice, and a new body, started to shift my consciousness. I started to learn how to live in gratitude – and that’s key. If you can live with the constant notion that life is not a dress rehearsal, that you will get no second chance at it, you will indeed die, and if you don’t like the way it’s unfolding for you that you need you need to change your path – that’s when you step into your authentic self. That’s how you know your purpose. That’s how you discover how to stand in your own light. You just need to trust in the process and take a leap of faith without fear of failure. When you consider that you’ve managed to stay alive up until this very moment, that everything has managed to work out, problems have come and gone – you realize that you need to take the leap of faith that the universe will conspire to do you good if your intentions are coming from a place of positivity. It may sound like weak and stupid hippy dribble to “tough guy” metalheads, but it is infinitely more empowering to reveal vulnerability then to hide behind cynicism. Darkness and cynical spirits are real forces whether you’re a person of science or an ethereal sort. Darkness does not empower you – it turns on you and eats you. Standing in your own light and truth and striving towards physical and spiritual strength is ultimately more powerful. This I know to be true. Listen to me, I sound like fucking Yoda! I’m levitating as I type this.
What got you hooked on long distance running, and please tell us about the loneliness of a long distance runner – how do you motivate yourself for these massive runs?
– I get asked this by all of my metal friends who are interested in my running, ha ha. First off, the tempo of that Maiden tune is not indicative of the pace with which any mammalian inasmuch as human body is able to endure a hundred miles or more at one time, ha ha. No one “sprints” for 100 miles. I think if you were to move your feet in tandem with the bpm of that song you’d be doing some sub-5-minute miles and for all the scant non-runners reading this, that’s like some Olympic shit and most definitely not endurance-sustainable. Just wanted to point out that discrepancy Maiden didn’t catch. My Dad got me into it. My Mom split from the family when I was 7 and my Dad had a very rough time. He remarried, finding a woman who he was really best friends with. Their relationship was very beautiful. Sadly, she developed cancer and died all very quickly in the course of a few years. My childhood had some very sad and turbulent times for my father and I. We were kind of in it together as he was left to raise this little kid without a Mom around. He was heartbroken for me and himself from all the shit we went through. He was a marine, grew up poor on a farm with 11 other siblings, didn’t believe in shit like aspirin and mental weakness – ya know – he was /is a tough guy “for real” – none of this Manowar fantasy bullshit. He was the “real” Conan the Barbarian – at least to me. So, he worked his ass off, managed a huge business and had all this shit to deal with including raising me. I watched him cope with the stress and sadness by running. Instead of abusing himself and escaping with the bottle like his father had done. He would run for many miles or chop firewood with an axe. He dealt with his shit. When I was drunk and depressed I knew I needed help. Shit was getting dark and weird for me at an alarming rate. I was calling local Psychologists for appointments but none of them called me back! I was drinking so I was hiding it from my metalhead bandmates because I knew even they would be appalled. So, I started running. It soothed me. It helped sort the wreckage in my mind piece-by-piece. It eventually lead me to the lifestyle choices mentioned in my previous answers. The loneliness of the long distance runner is not sadness – it is beautiful serenity. It is ultimate freedom. It is the ultimate trust in one’s self that you can handle yourself and surmount problems. It is not boring. It is fucking badass to propel your body defying gravity and perceived limits– a force of energy thrusting itself through space and time. The loneliness of the long-distance runner is the inner silence which takes you to a place of confidence, humility, strength and grace all wrapped tightly into one indescribable gush of teary gratitude for the infantilely tiny chance of your existence here on Earth. Alcoholism is a place where you lose yourself. Endurance sports is a place where you find yourself.
This August you are participating in the “Leadville Trail 100” and you are part of a campaign to raise money for mental illness/addiction. Is it mainly your own experiences that has made you interested in supporting something like this?
– No – it was my unexplainably massive gushing of gratitude that I (or something greater than me) was able to pull myself from my own wreckage and not become like many beloved family members and friends that have endured much worse. I have witnessed people I care about prostrate in hopelessness, denial, destitute, and dead. I’ve had much beloved ones attempt suicide and in perhaps in some cases they were successful. I’ve identified the body of my wife’s mother who drank herself to death. I’ve cleaned out the squalid homes of dead family members killed by this disease. Friends have gone to jail. It’s taboo to talk about this shit because people are too proud to admit that their parent or brother, (whoever) cannot “get their shit together”. It’s so much more complicated than that. We need to end the stigma around mental health and addiction. We need to stop treating people with mental illness like criminals, and help them. If you are interested in reading my story please go to www.ultrarunvegan.com and give anything you can (or) pass my story on to others. You can connect with me on FB/Twitter/Instagram at @ultrarunvegan I run to help others that are worse off than I EVER was. My mission statement around addiction is this: Do not compare yourself to others. If you drink alone, if you must drink every day at 5pm, if you frequently blackout please pay attention to these inconvenient warning signs. This disease slowly creeps up on you. You needn’t wait until your life begins to utterly disintegrate before you arrest your demons. You have limited time here on Earth. Don’t regret a single day in the present. I know this is an “un-metal” thing to talk about but it’s a universal truth and something I feel compelled to share. Just remember, even if everyone around you has bad habits around alcohol such as drinking it in the car or more than three drinks a day – that shouldn’t make it “normal”. You create your own narrative. You write your own story. The company you keep is the measure with which you will thrive. Be a light. Be a beacon of hope. You cannot change people but you can change yourself.As for Walpyrgus, you can buy our merch, connect with us on social media, and buy/hear our tunes here.