I never used the opportunity to speak with Witherfall in the wake of their self released debut album, “Nocturnes And Requiems”, neither did I bite when Century Media re-released the same product a bit later, but when the follow up, “A Prelude To Sorrow” was ready, in November last year, I finally got a chance to speak to the band. Usually it’s just one guy you get at the other end, but this time, both guitarist Jake Dreyer as well as singer Joseph Michaels contributed to this interview.
First guys, if I understand right, both of you were members of the band White Wizzard for a while. Was it in that band you learnt to know each other?
– That was the first time Joseph and I had met each other. We met each other and instantly bonded over music theory and King Diamond. We ended up forming Witherfall after the demise of White Wizzard, at least the lineup we were in. There was a terrible tour in the UK that got awful, and after that we decided to form a band that should do all the crazy things that Witherfall does, says Jake Dreyer.
Did you learn anything from the whole experience With White Wizzard? Something must surely be going on, as there has been a lot of back and forth and many musicans in and out of that band during the years?
– We learned what not to do. Don’t run a band that way. There was one episode of Seinfeld, where one of the main characters are doing the opposite and everything good starts to happening. Its kind of what we thought. That wasn’t really our band and our music, Jake and I had a little input as to what melodies he would play or I would sing, but in reality we didn’t have too much to say on the the songs or direction of the band. It was pretty much someone else writing the shit the entire time, says Joseph Michaels.
You have come a long way since you released the first album on your own. What is the most important thing that has happened?
– It’s probably getting this second album recorded. It was a struggle, and so much work, energy and resources. This record means a lot to us, it’s the best stuff I have ever written or co-written, and I am sure Jake agrees. The subject matter is very emotional and its one of those things that doesn’t only mean a lot to us, but also to Adams family, to have his name carried on, Joseph continues and points to the fact that the album is shaped by the death of Witherfall’s former drummer, Adam Sagan in 2016.
– I would agree, and then siging with Century Media, especially in Europe gave us a boost. If it wasn’t for that, we probably wouldn’t be speaking to you right now, as they have resources we don’t have on our own. That helped us move on to a certain level, says Jake.
Speaking about Century Media, they don’t seem to be signing a lot of bands even vaguely similar to Witherfall anymore, and according to Jake it was quite flattering when they got contacted by the label.
– A long time A&R guy, named by Philipp Schulte, a guy that was also involved with the likes of Nevermore and Iced Earth, approached us. That was one of the main reason why we wanted to sign with Century Media, because he came in and really understood the band, our vision and what we excpect from the label. Century Media has been good to us, especially the European office.
– We have some styles you obviously could put us under, but I don’t really see us as one style of music. I think the label thought so as well, that we would easily be marketable because we cross over into so many different styles within the genre of rock and metal. The first record is its own thing, and every song on the second record is its own thing too, Joseph adds.
But some people would also call the fact that your music is not easy to categorize, a problem.
– It’s not a problem, it something we would try to break band. Take a band like Queen, they got a fifties doo-wop song and then the next one has this country tinge to it, and they even got some metal songs. You couldn’t put on one of their songs and say: “This is how Queen sounds.” And they’re the biggest band in the world. It’s pretty much the same with Led Zeppelin or Guns ‘n Roses, Jake says.
– It’s such a short term view to think it’s a problem to have diverse music, and to not have every song sounding the same. It’s easier to market a band that has one sound, to just shove it out there. I think songs are more important, and honestly you are not going to have ten great songs that sound the same on a record. Unless you are AC/DC. Even the best AC/DC songs doesn’t sound the same. “Money Talks” doesn’t sound like “For Those About To Rock.” That type of thinking is one of the main problems with the modern music industry, Joseph says before Jake follows up:
– If you ate the same food every single day, it could be great for some time, but after a while you get tired of it
The first album was a really professional product with great sound, packaging too go with the excellent songs of course. Jake says it was quite demanding having it done without the backing of a label.
– We tried to act like our own record label in a way. We put together funds, and of course lost a lot of funds. Doing it properly is not an inexpensive job. It wasn’t like we were there recording it by ourselves in our kitchen or something like that. We spent a lot of money in the studio. Also the Kristian Wahlin-cover art alone probably was as expensive as the recording budgets of a lot of records that were made that year. Not bragging about having the money, but to get something out there in that quality, it took a lot of money.
How many copies did you manage to sell on your own?
– I don’t want to go into exact numbers, but our first week sales when we were self releasing, they eclipsed many bands on Century Media and a couple of other labels. We can talk about money and all these things, but in reality, what really sets up apart is how much effort we put into it, how dedicated we are, and how much we work on songs, writing and productions. Our really maticulate attention to detail and setting high standards, not only for ourselves, but for everyone we worked with, that’s what made our product look like it was coming from an already signed act. That first record would not have come out if we could not get it to those standards. We would have kept working, kept getting money together, says Joseph.
– One of the main reasons we wanted to do Century Media, was because being an American band, in order to tap into the European market, you had to go through a lot of the wholeseller stuff. So they were willing to put out the records, do a bunch of colours and everything. But the sales we had going on first, were really good. I was personally surprised by it, especially the first day and the first week, says Jake.
– The sales were pretty well spread between Europe and the States, and a bunch of interest in Asia, South-America, as well. As Jake can tell you, I don’t sleep. I get up in the morning and market the damn thing. And then we’re up all night writing. We are really determined to get this music out everywhere. And we’re not going to sit by, waiting for other people to do it, says Joseph before Jake continues:
– There were two days where we worked 17 hours straight with packaging all the vinyls. I remember one went to Costa Rica and another one to Taiwan. They were all over the Place. It seemed we made quite a big impact he Japanse territory where we got signed to Ward records.
You set the bar quite high with your first album. Did it ever occur to you that the album could end up as your best work, as it in hindsight does with quite a lot of bands?
– No, because if you start thinking like that, you already put some doubt in your mind and risk setting your standards too low. What I want to Write about, is what I am feeling right now, and not putting too much into the past work. If it ends up being that way, with the debut regarded as the strongest release, so be it. If you start killing yourself over it, you’re just gonna create a lot of stress, explains Jake.
Jake is pretty honest when asked how if the fact that both he and Joseph are involved in bigger bands like Iced Earth and Sanctuary, has helped Witherfall’s career?
– It has helped for sure. When you put names like that around the band, it automatically draws more interest to Witherfall. It was great when Joseph and I did that tour, in North-America in February to March. It was almost like a little, mini-Witherfall promotour. Both Nevermore and Iced Earth are great bands, so it’s not like were tying ourselves to these bands we don’t enjoy. It’s the opposite of the White Wizzard-thing too, you get to see a couple of bands that have run their organizations for a very long time. And have been successful, you get to see a little what it takes to maintain that level of success.In Iced Earth’s case for more than thirty years.
Let’s speak more specific about the new album. Of course “A Prelude To Sorrow” is influenced by what happened to Adam, do you think would have made a similar sounding album without that happening?
– I think Adams passing added this raw, emotional factor to it that would have been impossible for us to dive into and honestly feel it, says Jake. He continues:
– It was almost a therapy thing of grieving writing these songs. There is a reason why those parts sound very aggressive or sad. It’s a very emotional record for us. I think if we didn’t have that mindset going into it, when we were composing these songs, they would be similar I think but…
Joseph jumps in:
– I think they would be completely different, It’s no way these compositios would have ended up the same if they weren’t about what they are about. This isn’t a band where the guitar player or the singer or a member come in and says: “Here is my song, put your stuff on top of it.” Everything gets worked out at the same time in the room, there is no way it would be even remotely close to the same record without the tragedy.
I thought it was the same story with you as a lot of other bands, having all the time in the world to write the songs for the debut album under little pressure, while the follow up is created under some sort of pressure during a much smaller amount of time, but it appears that with you it was quite the opposite really…
– Yeah, it was. The first one we spent probably three or four months writing. For “A Prelude To Sorrow”, it was spread out over two years. If we sat down and had two or three months, we could probably have written the album. No problem. It just took awhile because we had other stuff going on with the band, like touring. Certain songs did take longer than others, because it felt like they needed to breathe for a while and then for us to come back to them. That’s part of the grieving process as well. “Nocturnes And Requiems” was definitely written more consistently, like every single day, while this one was spread out over a couple of weekends or so, here and there throughout the course of a year, Jake explains before Joseph continues:
– We worked on “A Prelude To Sorrow”, while “Nocturnes And Reqiuems” was kind of still the thing. Its not like we decided when to start on the second album, and draw a line behind the time devoted to the first record. We are constantly writing. We had continued writing after “Nocturnes And Requiems”, and that’s why Adam was able to hear pieces of some of these songs before he died. Time goes by quickly, look at the releases date of “Nocturnes And Requiems” on Century Media and the release date of “A Prelude To Sorrow”, it’s barely a year.
According to the Joseph, there are a no such things as “main ingredients” in a Witherfall-song.
– That goes back to the Queen-thing. Songs like “Epilogue” or Maridian’s Visitation” or “The Great Awakening”, don’t have any of the things most people assosciate with Witherfall, no high. crazy falsettos or arpeggiated 16th note sixtuplets. They’re just songs. I am really struggling to answer that question.
– One thing we’re always trying to do, is to write good songs. Whatever that has to be, we have parts of our song that have a lot of different percussion and also parts that are acoustic, but in other songs we dont use that. There is not really one single ingredient. It’s not like; We’re Witherfall, so we have to use this. We’ve been using seven strings, the next records could use just six, we will never go to eight though, that is too much, Jake adds.
Listening to both of your albums, to me it seems like you are just as much influenced by the metal of the nineties as what came out during the eighties?
– Yeah, there were great bands in the nineties, like Nevermore, Pantera, Alice In Chains and I am a big fan of the “Sound Of Perseverance”-era from Death which came out in the nineties. And King Diamond of course. People say there was no good metal in the nineties, but I disagree, says Jake.
The first taster you made available from the new album was “Ode To Despair”, and then you followed up with “Moment Of Silence”. Two quite different tracks, which I guess, is probably part of the idea?
– Yeah, it was. We wanted to keep people guessing and on their toes, what are we gonna do next? Hoping to fuel speculations about how the album was going to sound. A lot of our music you simly can’t put in one box, Jake explains.
– Those also happened to be two songs we thought were catchy and we wanted to put out as singles, Joseph continues.
Is it just as satisfying for you when people listen to single track as when they spend time with the full album? I ask because there is clearly a thought behind this album that goes way beyond a collection of song, with a red thread, well thought out running order and a certain atmosphere…
– We want people to listen to the album. You have to do it at least once, and then if you have your fave, by all means, do whatever you got to do. You won’t really understand any of the songs if you don’t listen to it in the context of the record though, Joseph says.
– It’s like the first time you listen to “The Dark Side Of The Moon” by Pink Floyd, you have heard “Time” and all those other super popular songs, but the first time you listen to that record from start to finish its like “Wow, I completely understand the story now”. It’s not a lot of bands nowadays that do that, bands just put out singles or people go to these sites and buy whatever tracks they like. There is stuff to be said about putting a vinyl on and the ritual aspect of it, taking an hour of the day to experience something. I would always encourage people to like Joseph said, listen to the album once, and then pick the things you like to hear, Jake continues.
Witherfall had Kristian Wåhlin doing the coverart for both releases. It quite striking how his work suits different types of music. He did a lot of art for death metal or melodic death metal, doom metal and prog metal, and his paintings also fit Witherfall really well. Jake explains how the cooperation came together.
– Yeah, Joseph and I have always been fans of his work. He did one of our faves, “Voodoo” by King Diamond, and countless others like Dissection’s “Storm of the Light’s Bane” which is an awesome piece. When we were doing “Nocturnes And Requiems”, we wanted a real piece of art, as it is a huge part of the package. A lot of these bands use the same photo shop crap. There is not a lot of stuff out there that actuallly have painted pieces of art. That was one thing we wanted to do. Luckily Kristian was on the top of our list and when he agreed to do it, we instantly formed this bond with him. He has been amazing, we told him a little of what we were going for and sent over some lyrics and a couple of demo pieces only.
You have always been very good at marketing your Witherfall. I have received emails about the band for years now, and you also have lots of merch for people to buy. Do you hope to be able to live of your music one day?
– Yeah, of course. We are able to do some of that now. Joseph does all the promotion stuff for the states. Answers all the emails and things like that. When it comes to merch ideas, we collaborate. Basically we are travelling t-shirt selling men, these days. We would like to have a lot more merch, different pieces. There are always different things, trends and stuff like that happening that people want. Different types of shirt, there was one period where people wanted all bright colours and shit. I didn’t like it, but the fans seemed to, Jake explains.
Will the two of you continue to be involved in Sanctuary and Iced Earth?
– You can definitely bounce in and out of both bands. It’s definitely possible. Bands at that level, know ahead of time what the touring schedule is going to be. It’s not like they’re weekend warrior guys: “Let’s load up our van, were playing this weekend.” They know six months ahead, a year ahead, so we plan accordingly. Usually, when Joseph is on tour, I am here, or vice versa, so there is always someone running the Witherfall- camp, Jake says before Joseph brings this interview to an end with some words on his participation in Sanctuary:
– We working on a record right. I am supposed to fly and meet with Lenny Rutledge next week. There is no measurement on how far into the process we are, but we have some song ideas and a couple of incomplete songs.