Saturday, February 26, 2011

Tom Warrior Interview

When Triptykon came through Chicago a few months ago, I got to interview my musical hero Tom G Warrior. I also gave him a Like Rats 7", so hopefully he thought that was cool. The interview ran on the Alarm Press blog, but I'm posting the full thing right here right now. Enjoy.

You’ve taken control of everything at this point. Having read your books, you’ve experienced some shady practices in the music industry. For the new Triptykon LP and this new EP, have you successfully navigated the treacherous waters of the music industry?

I would say yeah. We had the advantage of having a huge framework in place because of Celtic Frost’s last album. When we reformed Celtic Frost, we decided to keep control over everything. We formed a record company, Prowling Death Records, we formed our own music publishing company, and we put a framework in place of a manager and a combination of other things. When I left Celtic Frost, all of these people decided to come with me. I’m very happy about that, actually, and I was able to build Triptykon on the basis of that.

We retain control of everything. We have partnered with Century Media, which is a fantastic partnership. But, at the end of the day, we call all the shots, we own all the rights, every single sentence that is being released in the advertising goes over my desk, and so on. It’s a much better proposition than it used to be in the 80s when record companies just did whatever they wanted to do with everything we created.

The Shatter EP and the Eparistera Daimones LP are part of the same body of creative work. Can you comment on what you’re trying to accomplish with this, be it an emotional agenda, a political agenda, or any or all of the above?

Probably all of the above, but, on this first album, it’s predominantly emotional. Of course, the sessions from the first album reflect some of the turmoil that existed when I left Celtic Frost. There’s no way around it. There’s some social commentary in songs such as “Goetia,” but, by and large, it’s my own feelings about leaving Celtic Frost, leaving my own band, leaving the summary of my life behind in a forced manner.

I think the next album will be slightly more balanced. Nobody’s forced to read the lyrics, nobody’s forced to read the liner notes. We provide very detailed information but by no means are you required to read all that. Music is music at the end of the day, and, with music, you should create your own images in your head. I think it’s perfectly possible to listen to Triptykon without dealing with the lyrics or the liner notes. The music is intense and dark enough.
When I was a teenage fan, I didn’t speak English so well, so I just listened and the music created its own images in my head, and that’s the way it should be. It’s probably better that way.

The EP is simply the remaining tracks from the sessions. It’s not us releasing garbage or anything like that. We did very detailed pre-production before heading into the studio and we weeded out the songs that we felt were not suitable. Everything we recorded in the studio was designed to be released, but the album had such long playing time that we decided to do an additional EP later on. The song “Shatter” is, to me, actually one of the most important Triptykon songs written so far. It’s a very personal song, and, for me, musically very interesting. It’s really a standalone product, it’s not just us throwing out some material that was still on the studio floor. It’s a legitimate product.

Do you consider your body of work to be albums or to be a line of consistent creative output that is then delivered to the public via albums?

Well, the albums are of course the landmarks. But, as I’ve grown older, the album has grown less and less important in society, especially with the advent of the internet. Albums don’t mean so much anymore. They’re still somewhat landmarks for bands, but…I think you have to be consistent. Whether it’s an album or not, every song counts. For us, since this is only our second release, the EP is a very important release. It’s half of what we have released so far, so it is significant. The albums are, of course, the big project where you have all of the elaborate artwork and things, so, even in a diminished role, they’re still the most important thing.

Having read your books, you describe your musical influences in detail. You reference the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, particularly Venom and Raven amongst others, but also some punk stuff like Discharge. To me, those artists are still very “rock” sounding. They still use the pentatonic scale and have conventional song structures, whereas Hellhammer and early Celtic Frost is this chromatic, atonal thing that, to me doesn’t sound like anything else. Where did that come from?

Good question…probably from my weird mind. That’s the thing, I never went to music school, I never learned to analyze music the way you’re supposed to do it. I don’t know…it’s probably because that’s my own interpretation of what music should be like. Yeah, it probably is weird by necessity. I never knew that you’re supposed to play in the blues scale, I just played whatever was in my limited mind, and what was within the limited capabilities of my fingers. And that’s what resulted. It’s all based on my emotions, and much, much less on any theory or musical heritage. I started from scratch with a bassist, Steve Warrior, who was equally untrained, and we just did what we could. It’s very authentic, at least.

Similarly, the intro track on “To Mega Therion,” to me sounds very classical. It sounds like Richard Strauss or something.

Those are quite big words. I would never remotely rate myself anywhere near Richard Strauss. But I’ve been deeply fascinated by classical music, by the epic emotions that classical composers were able to convey in their music. Without any amplification, without any modern means, they were able to bring across such intense atmosphere, such pride, such epic landscapes. It pulled me in deeply as a child when I heard classical music. In my own tiny, minute way, we tried to do something like that on To Mega Therion in ‘85. Absolutely.

Initially, it seems that Hellhammer and Celtic Frost were sort of a novelty. This extreme thing. However, by today’s standards, those recordings are not particularly extreme. But people still care about it. For me, for example, I was listening to Suffocation and tracing my roots, and I listen to Celtic Frost and I’m like “this is pussy shit.”

The same thing happened to me in my generation.

But at some point, something clicks. What do you think makes it hold up?

That I don’t know. It’s totally inappropriate for me…I don’t know if it stands up to other people. It’s my music, I cannot rate it like “yeah, it stands up.” It would be kind of a star trip to say that. I don’t know if it holds up. People like you and our audiences decide about that.

I can repeat from before, it was very authentic. It was very honest music. At that time, there was no corporate view on extreme metal. There was no extreme metal scene. You had to devise it yourself. Everything you created was original by necessity. You had to invent it. Maybe that makes it somewhat timeless, I don’t know. It’s very honest music, and maybe the rawness has a certain appeal. When I listen to many modern extreme metal albums, they’re very over-produced. Which on one hand is fantastic; you hear all the details. On the other hand, it’s called extreme metal, after all, and it should be extreme. Maybe the rawness of the early recordings is something that appeals to people, I don’t know.

You’ve often expressed a deliberate avant-garde intention in terms of combining different genres. However, in terms of actual song-writing and riff-writing, do you do that with intention or is that more spontaneous?

It’s very spontaneous actually. My song-writing is very honest. It’s based entirely on the mood I’m in, or the emotions I’m feeling. I think it’s best evidenced on Triptykon’s first album, which is completely based on emotional turmoil and a lot of those songs happened very spontaneously. Even though afterwards I worked very extensively on these songs, but the core of the songs usually happens very spontaneously.

But the word avant-garde is a huge compliment and it’s very flattering, but it’s not something we apply to ourselves. It’s something that the press applied to us starting in the late 1980’s. It was surprising for me to read that, because I associate “avant-garde” with real art, and art is a big word to me. It’s a word I approach with a lot of respect, and I have no idea if my music actually classifies as art. So the term “avant-garde,” while very flattering…I’m very careful about it. There are real artists in the world who have really changed the world with their art. We’re just creating noisy music.

Do you think it’s possible with metal to achieve anything other than subcultural success? Do you think it’s possible to make some sort of change in the world other than having people who like “noisy music” like you?

Yeah, I actually am certain about that. Of course not on a global scale because the metal scene has been pushed back into the underground. It’s now an underground scene again, and you reach only so many people with that. But yeah, of course. Metal fans are by no means stupid. They are intelligent people. They have a very good instinct. My experience is that yeah, you can change things if you want to change things.

It’s not mandatory, metal can also be there to headbang and have a good time, which is just as legitimate. But of course if you want to convey a certain point, you also want to think about certain things. Not take everything for granted, and think a little bit behind the scenes. “Why is this like this? Why do human beings act like that?” But of course you can, you talk to those fans by means of your releases. And I’ve had uncounted amazing discussions in my life with fans who read our lyrics or… through something we did, our artwork or whatever we did, came to me or came to Martin and discussed these things with us in extreme detail and sometimes, in turn, made us think again.

Yes, definitely it’s possible. It really depends on what you want to achieve with your band. You don’t have to be a missionary. But of course, it’s also nice if you’re given this platform to talk to several generations of people and your peers that you say something meaningful, and not just sing about beer cans, you know?

Or toxic mutants or whatever.

(laughing) Exactly. Although, if you look at Hellhammer’s lyrics…

(laughing) Kind of similar, although with maybe less obvious humor

(laughing) Yeah, exactly.

Someone just posted the “A Dying God” documentary that was on Swiss TV with English subtitles

Oh Jesus…I haven’t seen it yet.

I was happy, because I tried to watch it when it came out, and I speak mild Spanish and English, so…

That probably won’t do any good.
You said something along the lines of “Celtic Frost doesn’t work when I’m happy.” Do you still feel that way about Triptykon?

That’s a good question. It’s probably less so in Triptykon, because I’m very happy in Triptykon. There’s two states of happiness, there’s your current happiness that you’re living in right now, and then there’s the feelings that you have about your life as a sum of things. And my life, as a sum of things, is rather less happy. And that’s probably where I derive my music from, and that’s why the music is so dark. But here on tour and in the band, I’m very happy because it’s a circle of friends. I know it sounds like a cliché, but Triptykon is actually a circle of friends, whereas Celtic Frost was a congregation of enemies. There’s a huge difference in that, of course, especially when you’re on tour or in the studio and you talk to each other for 24 hours a day. I’d much rather play with a band that is a substitute family than with a band that, when I turn around, stabs me in my back.

So I am happy, but there’s been enough events in my life to keep my music dark, I suppose. The one album that I made when I was happy was made twenty two years ago, and I don’t think I will repeat that mistake again.

That thing…honestly, those are still obviously your riffs.

Well not really…

Oh come on, some of them are. You have a certain rhythmic thing that you always do that still shows up on that album. So I still kind of like it, because I really like the way that you write riffs.

You know, if you write that down, they’re going to burn you at the stake. (laughing) They’re going to lynch you. Like Frankenstein. They’re going to stand outside your home with scythes, pitchforks, and torches.

Hey, I’ll defend that opinion. I don’t think that many people have honestly heard that record.

Of course not. And I’m happy about that. (laughing)

But there are still good riffs on that thing. I can listen to a lot of stuff that I don’t like that much, and still appreciate chunks of it.

Of course, of course.

Something like Slipknot, that band has riffs.

I know, I know! But even the worst Slipknot album is still a million times better than that album, I’ll say it myself.

What about that one part where you’re like “Check this out!” (on “Seduce Me”)? That’s so awesome!


You know, I haven’t heard that album in about twenty years. I don’t own it!

See, I understand, because, if I listen to stuff I made in high school…I gotta hit the stop button on it.

I’m working on my thirteenth album, I prefer the other twelve.
“Check this out,” huh? Jesus Christ…(laughing)

It’s so good!

It’s so good, huh? Sure!

You know, because you’re so famous for the “OOOH” and then you kind of tone it down into “check this out.” It’s amazing. And it comes at a really good part, too.

I should end this interview here (laughing)

Relisten to it just for the “check this out,” it’s in the first thirty seconds of the album.

I will not listen to this album until the day I die!

Listen, it’s in the first thirty seconds of the record, you’ll hear yourself say “check this out!” and you’ll be like “that’s cool!”

I’m not gonna listen to it! I don’t own it! (laughing) Seriously, I don’t own it! I would have to illegally download it!

It’s on all the blogs, that’s where I got it.

I’ll also ask you, what did you do in the 90s?

I wonder myself. Well, I worked on Celtic Frost’s last album that was never completed until early 1993, then the band fell apart. I lived in America at the time, first in New York, then in Texas. Then I moved back to Europe with my then-American wife. I completely left the music industry for a couple of years. I was totally fed up after all the events of the 1980s. We got screwed so royally by the recording industry that I just…I didn’t know if it was a permanent break or just a temporary break, but I sold all my equipment, I completely retired from this shit. I became like a normal citizen for awhile.

Then a Swiss band approached me to produce them in 1995 or so. That never happened, but I became very close friends with the guitar player, Erol Unala. Eventually we decided to form a project together, which was the industrial project Apollyon Sun. There was no timeframe set for this project, we didn’t know whether it was going to be a long-term thing. Eventually, we recorded two CDs with Apollyon Sun. To me, that was good enough. It really provided me with a musical break that I needed. I had been playing extreme metal all my life, ever since Hellhammer, and I’d never done anything else. I really needed to have different horizons. A complete, drastic change to really clear out my mind. And it was nice being, for the first time, not the leader of the band, but one of five song-writers and just basically the singer. I hardly ever played guitar. It was very refreshing. It put a very different spin on making music.
I came out of that project completely ready to continue where I had left off. That’s ultimately the reason I reformed Celtic Frost. I came out completely refreshed and I think that, without Apollyon Sun and the second half of the 90s, that wouldn’t have happened. We wouldn’t be sitting here right now. My 90s in a nutshell.


Peter said...

dude, I dig Cold Lake.

RSS said...

Nice interview. I'm glad I got this chance in class to finally read it. I like how he dismisses the Cold Lake discussion after awhile hahaha.

Anonymous said...

Best Tom G interview I've ever read. I love it how you stand by your opinion. He's a self-loathing cunt, don't mind him. Great job.

Todd said...

Anonymous, I think you misunderstand the tone of this interview, as we were both laughing quite a bit throughout it.

Daniel said...

Dug the interview. Got to see Triptykon in Texas, Tom hung out and took pictures with fans,which I thought was cool. I remember looking at Cold Lake when it came out in the record store,shaking my head and putting it back in the bins. Glad Tom was laughing about that time period.