Metal Maniac

An Interview with While Heaven Wept…

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Greetings over there! I’m not sure if this is our third or forth interview, but for this website it’s the first one and, I must add that it’s always a pleasure for me to interview you. I thank you for taking your time to answer my questions and kindly ask you to introduce yourself to the readers.

 

Cheers Marcus! It’s always a pleasure to speak with you, and thanks for the opportunity!

 

As for me, well I’ve been the captain of the While Heaven Wept ship for 25 years now, the sole founding member remaining and the primary songwriter; WHW is my vehicle for catharsis and expression, unhindered by genre, based upon actual events, relationships, circumstances, motivated solely by heart and soul. Our music is an amalgamation of Epic, Doom, Progressive, and Symphonic Metal, with flourishes of Black, Thrash, Power, as well as Space, Shoegazer, Ambient all woven together via Classical forms, structures, and harmony.

 

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Suspended at Aphelion. I was blown away. I literally have no words to describe how much I love this album. Please, let us know how you feel about this album, what it represents for While Heaven Wept and, now that it has been released, if there’s anything that you’d like to change about it.

 

I’m glad to hear that “SAA” is resonating with you! It’s quite unique, and thus not for everyone! As for what it means to me, it’s really the culmination of the past 25 years in one, extremely epic album…uniting every previous era of the band whilst also providing some sense of what is to come in the future. I believe that we have done this music justice and likewise honored the “legacy” of WHW. The important thing to me – as always was insuring the emotion was clear, unmistakable, which I believe we achieved…along with a recording that was as organic and dynamic as I felt it needed to be. Of course, being the perfectionist that I am, there’s always SOMETHING that I’d like to revisit, and surely will; in this case, there’s a couple very minute details that I feel should be cleaned up, but in terms of major overhauls, there’s nothing of that ilk…it’s 95% as it should be, but I do feel like we could push the guitars just a touch harder…there’s room sonically, without infringing upon anything else. We’ll see!

 

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In this release we have a roller coast of emotions, atmospheres, genres blending and texture changes. It’s really a grandiose work, complex and unique. I’m sure this isn’t easy to accomplish, so, please, let us know how the compositing process was for this album. How does the band manage to represent so many emotions on this release? It’s something I find impressive.

 

It’s a natural thing really; everyone in the band has extensive experience with every one of those styles and genres I mentioned previously, so ALL of this music is part of our DNA…we’ve long abandoned the notion that things should be segregated, so the twists and turns just manifest. Likewise, the music just “happens”…there’s no rhyme or reason, preconception, forced creation – it’s as if it is just “meant to be”, as if it writes itself using us as vessels. I know it sounds supernatural or cosmic, but it’s the honest truth…I don’t think we could ever intentionally write anything…it would surely be terrible – rigid, cold. It does come on the heels of emotional catalysts and actual life experiences, but like an innate reaction. And there are times where nothing is channeled…for years at a time even…but there will also be these intervals of deluge as well. All I know is when I feel it, it is deeply and knowingly…that it is “right”, sincere…and I’m thus compelled to follow the map given to me, allowing fate to guide my fingers…that’s truly how “SAA” was revealed.

 

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You always point out that the emotions and experiences behind While Heaven Wept’s releases are real, personal, genuine, which, in my humble opinion, turns the music into something even more interesting. How does this apply to Suspended at Aphelion? I ask this because you’ve stated that this was an album that you needed to do to move forward in other aspects of your life. Can you tell us a bit more about this?

 

Everything we’ve ever released has been of this ilk…vital for closure, healing, acceptance, and “SAA” is no exception. It’s a little different this time however, in that we approached this album as if it would be our last – not that it is by any means – but you just never know in this day and age…I mean on account of sales declining in general due to illegal downloading and the impact that has on subsequent options from our record label partners, as well as the subsequent recording budgets – and I assure you that we can’t afford to do DIY albums of this magnitude, with high-caliber, extremely detailed productions out of pocket anymore. So this album was multifold in seeking peace – both as far as resolving some personal turmoil as well as being content to let go of WHW if need be. But yeah, the gist is that it’s another entry in the ongoing aural diary of my life, and in order for me to be fully present today, I needed to exorcise some demons – or rather demoness’ – past. In the end, this album in some ways is all about letting go.

 

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Still about Suspended at Aphelion, I’ve read that you mentioned this release requires a lot of attention from the listeners. Could you elaborate a bit more about this? I agree that there are many details in this album and, for those that weren’t able to listen to it so far, could you describe some of these details and how would be best way to listen to Suspended at Aphelion?

 

The album really should be taken as a whole; there are no singles and in fact it is actually just one song, 40 minutes in length – but it doesn’t really have a traditional Rock or Metal structure…there’s not a lot in the way of standard forms like verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-verse-chorus or “ABACAB”…there are themes and motifs that occur early on in the journey that resurface at other points, but often with varied instrumentation or perhaps in different keys. There are songs within the song, such as Part 4 (aka “Heartburst”), but even that is an elaboration upon some phrases from Part 1, and more often than not, things are dispersed in an unorthodox way; for example, the first proper chorus of the song occurs about 9 minutes in and then not again until the 12 minute mark or so, however it isn’t random. Another reason it’s important to listen deeply and repeatedly is the sheer amount of counterpoint involved here; there is music moving in every direction simultaneously throughout the majority of the album – it’s not based on riffs or power chords, and the way the album is produced – since everything is so clear, yet subtle, it’s likely each pass will reveal more to the listener. Plus, who else is releasing albums like this in 2014? Or even this decade? It’s likely to catch a lot of people off guard, and just by its nature will require multiple listens to digest – yet, it’s not so cerebral that it’s beyond comprehension; there’s a lot of hooks rhythmically, melodically, etc…there’s just no way that anyone could foresee how the album ends based solely upon where it begins, or from any other point therein. Needs to be taken as a whole, or it may never be gratifying or understood.

 

About the band now, I think that, fortunately, the band has reached a level of stability when it comes to the members. I remember I asked you a few years ago about the many line-up changes and how this must be hard for the band but, for quite some time, all seems fine on the While Heaven Wept camp in this field. To what do you credit this? From the pictures, it looks like you actually have fun together, but also, keeping a professional level.

 

Yeah, the core of the band has remained intact for about 16 years now and Trevor came on board in 2004…otherwise we’ve just been expanding, with the addition of Rain on vocals in 2008 and Jason on additional keyboards in 2010. The important thing here is that apart from musical chemistry, we all have personal chemistry – which in many ways may even be more crucial…it may sound trite to think of things in terms of whether or not you can enjoy a BBQ with this person or something, but it actually is an insurance that we’ll navigate the more difficult times we inevitably face with greater empathy and understanding. We do have a lot of fun indeed, often at each others’ expense, but given the solemn nature of the material, it’s almost necessary to avoid succumbing to some internal abyss. It also doesn’t hurt that Scott and Michelle are siblings, plus she’s married to Trevor…and then of course Rain and Jason have a history together with Altura. Even the guest musicians on this album – Mark Zonder and Victor Arduini (both Fates Warning alumni), Christopher Ladd, and Mark Shuping…we’re all friends, in some cases with lengthy histories, long before playing music together. I’d endeavor to suggest to all the bands out there struggling with personnel issues, that they persevere, find the people they truly connect with on other levels outside of the music and get along with…chemistry assures longevity more so than commercial success…trust me on that.

 

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I am aware that you must have been asked many times about this subject in the current year, but allow me to ask about it for the readers of this website. While Heaven Wept, as an entity, has been alive for the last twenty five years. How do you feel about this? What are the main differences you see within the band and the metal scene between 1989 and 2014? How has been this remarkable twenty five years journey for you?

 

Never in my wildest dreams could I have ever imagined WHW continuing on for so long, firstly because in the beginning it was never meant to be anything more than an epitaph for a sad, lost soul…there was never meant to be anything other than “Sorrow Of The Angels”…but people grow, time heals, circumstances change, life is far from linear…and I’m so grateful for all of this…I would’ve missed out on so much had I not ended up on various tangents along the way to here.

 

Anyway, I’m not so sure that there’s much difference between 1989 and today as far as the band is concerned; we still have the same influences as we always have had, and the primary purpose for existing hasn’t changed since 1991 at least…it’s always about a genuine personal need for catharsis and healing, as well as exploring different ratios of said influences as fate sees fit to channel through us. The music has always been dark, melodic, heavy, progressive, and symphonic…constantly evolving as we do as people and musicians. I still see the parallels between everything from “Lovesongs Of The Forsaken” to “Fear Of Infinity” and on through “SAA”…even beyond, knowing what is coming next (whenever that may be).

 

As for the Metal scene…now that…is significantly different for sure; when we began, they kind of music we play was largely considered “archaic” while Thrash was reaching its peak and even that became passé when Death Metal was on the rise. It was always this sense of pushing things to further, faster, heavier extremes – to the point of Grindcore and even total Noise. Even record companies were swift to bandwagon jump onto the next trend, while further ostracizing more classic-sounding bands…but the majority of bands like WHW, Slough Feg, Manilla Road, etc…were never doing what we do for fortune, fame, chicks or cars…it’s in our blood and hearts, so while at times frustrating, it really didn’t matter – in our case, because it was always driven by personal needs, Fast-forwarding to where we find ourselves today (in general), with the Internet and technology, there are generations that have grown up hearing ALL of that music and are thus more open-minded…there’s a place for everything and everyone now, which is a fantastic thing. Sadly, most of what is commercially successful is dreadful…I mean the bands that are “huge” these days…and not really anything that I would call Metal personally, but the underground is as strong as ever.

 

Needless to say, the past 25 years has been filled with twists and turns, extreme highs and gutting lows…personally and musically…but I’m proud to say that WHW hasn’t ever compromised our integrity nor have we released a single note that didn’t come from the heart. The best part is that it feels like we’re really just beginning amidst this golden age we’re experiencing right now collectively.

 

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I’ve asked you before, but it was a long time ago and for another website, and I’d like you to answer this question again for this website and also because I really find interesting to get to know the musicians’ answers to this aspect of the music. What are you feelings and thoughts when you get to know that While Heaven Wept has helped people to go through tough times, helping them to simply go on with their lives? Do you have any stories that you’d like to share with us concerning this? Allow me to tell you that in many hard periods of my life, I used to (and still do) drive for hours listening to your albums and when I got back home, I always felt better and was ready again to overcome life’s problems.

 

After the therapy that WHW is for me personally, it’s knowing that we’ve made a difference in even strangers’ lives that keeps us going – and that aspect is far more rewarding than any other success ever could be. Over the years, people have reached out – first by handwritten letters in the early days, and now more through social media/Email (all of which we’ve made a point to answer personally since day one) – and have shared very intimate details of their personal lives…speaking of death, divorce, relationship troubles, broken hearts and spirits, coping with diseases, even bullying…the fact that our music has somehow helped, made them feel less alone, like someone else understands…it’s huge. And humbling. In some ways, it’s an added insurance that feeling compassion and responsibility because of this…it helps to uphold the virtues of keeping it true to ourselves.

 

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An usual/ standard question, but I think that it’s always needed to be asked for a better promotion of the band. What are the future plans for While Heaven Wept? Any tours or festivals? And how do you see the future of the band? Have you reached the goals you’ve set in your musical life?

 

In the immediate sense, we’re going to be embroiled in “SAA” promo for some time as the album isn’t even coming out in the USA for example until mid-November, so I’ll definitely be ensconced with this kind of thing for the rest of the year, but we’re indeed having dialogue with our booking agents, looking at some plans on the table and discussing our ambitions as a band (in terms of touring). What I can say is that we’ll be spending most of 2015-2016 performing as much as we possibly can: first up will be Europe as usual, and I believe the intention is to do two legs, to cover more ground than ever before. We’ll also be setting out on the most extensive North American tour that we’ve ever done at some point…it’s a matter of “when” rather than “if”. The primary goal on that front is to reach as many places that we’ve yet to visit before as we possibly can, and by no means are we limiting the scope in any way – we’re cognizant that WHW is overdue in South America, Asia, Australia, etc…but it’s really up to the audience and promoters to reach out to make something happen…we’re open to just about anything!

 

Beyond this, we’ve got another album waiting in the wings, one that was actually channeled between “Fear Of Infinity” and “Suspended At Aphelion”, and it’s rather vital that we realize that sooner than later to insure the music is still as relevant as it is right now…plus it will make sense of how we evolved from one album to the other…it’s literally the bridge between those two chronologically and musically. The other reason we need to sort that one out is because there’s already new music developing post-“SAA”, from 2014, that is WAY out there…even more progressive and unorthodox…I don’t think there’s any chance of going backwards after that madness…so this more “traditional” Metal album needs to happen imminently, as we’re heading far beyond the sun after that!

 

As for reaching goals, as intimated previously, we’ve already accomplished more than we’ve ever set out to do, and anything more is simply “icing on the cake”; as long as each album is successful in its realization, then it really doesn’t matter what else transpires, what anyone else thinks, or even how it sells (though I’m sure our label partners would disagree haha!). I think more than anything else, I just want to get all of the music that exists – past, present, and future – out there readily available in it’s highest quality possible…and otherwise focus on reaching every place we’ve yet to go or have been requested as a live entity. We’re working on that, but again…it’s up to the promoters and so forth; we’re ready to roll.

 

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The United States has always presented us with great bands, many famous, many underground ones. Lately, there have been so many interesting releases from the US, the quality of the underground bands is getting better and better. What are your thoughts about the current US scene? Any bands that you’d recommend, knowing that they haven’t reached their deserved audience?

 

There’s definitely some great bands in the States these days…at least as far as the underground is concerned…and some actually are getting some attention like Agalloch, Pallbearer, Yob, Vektor…but there’s still bands that have been around for a while that deserve a lot more exposure such as Slough Feg, Twisted Tower Dire, Argus, Orodruin, Pale Divine, even Iron Man. There’s also some newer bands that are worth hearing such as Righteous Bloom (previously known as Beelzefuzz), Walpyrgus (featuring Jim of WHW on bass), Vhol, Cormorant…I definitely endorse all of the aforementioned personally!

 

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A question about you, the man behind the music. I believe many of the fans would like to get to know a little bit more about Tom, just to get to know a bit more about your personal tastes, but nothing to invade your privacy. Please, share with us your favorite activities, if you have any hobbies, movies or books that you like, anything that might interest the fans of your music, Tom.

 

Despite taking a sabbatical from listening to other people’s music for a couple years recently (due to the outpouring of WHW music, and the want to avoid compromising that or being influenced subconsciously), I am a voracious fan of music – I can never hear or collect enough…I devour things almost constantly when I’m listening actively…and not just contemporary things…in fact, mostly obscure bands from the 70s and 80s – both in terms of Prog and Metal…but also a lot of Post Rock recently ala Mono, This Will Destroy You, or the somewhat related Ambient work of Hammock. I’m actually a huge fan of The Killers too believe it or not – I detect the emotion and melancholy in their music, and of course appreciate the pompous and detailed arrangements for obvious reasons!

 

Outside of musical things, I do enjoy traveling – I spend a lot of weekends driving to random cities and parks equally…the ocean too. I’ve always found great solace in the mountains, forests, by the sea…away from people, troubles, responsibilities. I guess you could say that’s as much like going to church to me as going to see one of my favorite bands. I do enjoy exploring the landmarks and locally-heralded restaurants wherever I find myself…be it on tour, or just cruising around. Spending time with people that actually matter is a priority too, but honestly I spend most of my time in solitude – just because between WHW musically and behind the scenes with all the business, along with teaching guitar/music for a steady income, there’s not much time left…and not enough days in the week for everything sometimes! So, indeed I prefer to escape at every opportunity…often documented on Facebook, etc. Anything anyone wants to know or share, they can always reach me there or through our websites.

 

Oh, and I do enjoy a plethora of TV shows, love movies, books, etc…but finding the time for these is nearly impossible…at least right now. But my current obsession is listening to every tour of King Crimson circa 1969-74 via some new (and mighty amazing, albeit ridiculous) boxed sets and official FLAC downloads purchased directly from their website…doesn’t get more intense than that!

 

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Tom, thank you very much one more time for this interview. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s truly an honor to interview a real, honest and talented musician that I highly admire. I would like to wish you and the band all the best, both personally and professionally. Any last words for our readers?

 

Thank you again for reaching out with this opportunity Marcus, I really appreciate it and speak for the entire band in this regard! As for everyone else out there: thank you for your support over the past 25 years…you mean the world to us! We hope you will receive “SAA” as we intended it, listen thoroughly – completely and repeatedly – until it makes sense or you loathe it haha! And we also hope to see you on the road sometime soon! Namaste!

 

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All pictures belong to their rightful owners.

November 4, 2014

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