Voidhaven interview

Hi Voidhaven! Here we go with the serious conversation. When did you start writing/producing music – and what or who were your early passions and influences?

Phil: Each of us would answer this differently, as we all played in several bands long before we even formed / joined this band. My personal influences ironically differ a lot from what Voidhaven sounds like, as I come from a very clear Death Metal / Death-Doom background: Asphyx, old Tiamat, old Samael, very old My Dying Bride and Anathema, Evoken, Mythic, Disembowelment, Bolt Thrower… you see, there is not much in common with the Voidhaven sound, haha. This is because even though I am involved in the songwriting, the basic ideas usually come from Simon and Marcos, and I just add to their groundwork.

Martin: Same as with Phil. My musical backgrounds are widespread and I’ve written songs for different bands in very different genres. The only thing all my musical influences have in common is that they trigger an emotional reaction for me, so that’s my drive and goal in writing music.

What do you personally consider to be the incisive moments in your artistic work and/or career?

Phil: Since Voidhaven is still a very new band just at the start of their career, our personal incisive moments so far have happened with earlier bands. The ones with Voidhaven are yet to come, although of course the release of our first EP on a well-known label can be already counted as one. My personal main incisive moments was 10 years ago, when I embarked on a real tour for the first time.

Martin: Everything new is an incisive moment for me. I felt the same way when we released the Voidhaven EP than when any release from one of my former bands came out. Same with concerts.

What are currently your main compositional- and production-challenges?

Simon: As far as I am concerned, the main challenge in composing new material is simply missing time. I have quite a few responsibilities other than music at the moment. Production-wise, the biggest challenge is usually money. Surely it is possible nowadays to achieve quite a good sound with a self-production. But for a really good sound, at least from our experience, you should still go into a real studio. And those cost, even if they are fairly priced.

Phil: My biggest challenge is to convince Simon when I think I have a better idea, haha.

Martin: My biggest challenge is convincing Phil that he’s the only one who thinks that his idea is better. 😉

What do you usually start with when working on a new piece?

Marcos: Normally one of us comes with a new riff or some kind of harmonic progression, sometimes even a melodic progression to our rehearsal. This new idea is discussed musically between us and from there we start adding the rest of the instruments.

Martin: The lyrics are actually added pretty late in the progress of the song. We first make sure that the structure and the riffs in itself work.

How strictly do you separate improvising and composing?

Marcos: It´s difficult to say because some compositions start as a improvisation. The process of composing for me is more like a improvisation towards a fixed goal. This means that the free improvisation takes place between some musical boundaries that we decide for the song.

How do you see the relationship between sound, space and composition?

Marcos: For me a composition is the product of the relationship between sound and space. There must be a balance between the different sounds used in a particular composition. This balance is given by the space between these different sounds.

Do you feel it important that an audience is able to deduct the processes and ideas behind a work purely on the basis of the music? If so, how do you make them transparent?

Phil: At least I personally never care if the audience can deduct the process. Because if you start to work in a way that everybody can, you are not writing from your feeling anymore, but from analysis. Also, you will never succeed fully in such tasks anyway. Finally, I also doubt that many people even WANT to deduct the process anyway. Most people just want to enjoy and feel the atmosphere in a holistic way. And I agree. I have studied musicology at university, so I am very used to deduct music, and even I don’t want to do it. I want to feel music, not analyse it too much. Sure, some people do. That’s fine. But I think those people can deduct the process anyway, and we do not have to make it transparent for them.

In how much, do you feel, are creative decisions shaped by cultural differences – and in how much, vice versa, is the perception of sound influenced by cultural differences?

Martin: Creativity is, as everything else, influenced by human perception, experience, thoughts and ideas, starting even before birth in the womb. Since every human is during their life confronted with different cultures in different amounts these influences of course shape their creative decisions. I would not pinpoint it to cultures in the bigger sense though. The largest influence on people have families, their friends and their close surroundings, which clearly shows a rise in art influenced by a multitude of seemingly different or even exclusive cultures in circles where people of different backgrounds meet. I am always surprised and impressed about the level of quality and imagination, while on the other hand I sometimes worry about the lack of ideas and creativity from artists who obsessively avoid stepping over creative and cultural boundaries. For me, creativity has much to do with crossing boundaries and limits and creating something new, not copying the established and redoing what others did better before.

Phil: I have a slightly different approach. Creativity is the skill to express what you feel by a medium. If you cross borders with it or not, is not important at all. When you feel that you express yourself, then you are creative, no matter if it is innovative in any form or not. Sure, crossing boundaries is interesting, and also necessary in order to improve and broaden music. But it does not say anything about the creativity. I can mix Jazz, Death Doom and Country music. That would cross borders. But it would not express my inner picture. Therefor I would not call it creativity on my behalf.

Martin: Yes, of course. The drive to create and to express yourself needs to come from within you. I assumed this as given. Even for “artists” whose sole aim is to express their inner need for more money and riches by the creation of shallow pop music.

The relationship between music and other forms of art – painting, video art and cinema most importantly – has become increasingly important. How do you see this relationship yourself and in how far, do you feel, does music relate to other senses than hearing alone?

Marcos: For me music can have different purposes and therefore have different relationships to other forms of art. For sure it can change the human perception. Games and Movies are the best example for the effects of music on the perception.

Martin: Human perception is not split up between the senses, they work together and influence each other. When I listen to an important song I immediately see pictures rising up in my mind, words, situations, memories, associations with different stations in my life. All these connections could of course influence paintings or videos, but it also works the other way around. A music video for a song you didn’t know before can severely inhibit your imagination and ability to make up your own “head movie”. It’s kinda similar with books and movies. I’ve yet to see a literary adaption which enhances the imagination I had from reading the book.

There seem to be two fundamental tendencies in music today: On the one hand, a move towards complete virtualisation, where tracks and albums are merely released as digital files. And, on the other, an even closer union between music, artwork, packaging and physical presentation. Where do you stand between these poles?

Marcos: I try to get the best of both worlds. I think that the artwork and the packaging is very important for a physical release and it enhances the end product. You get the “whole package” buying the physical product and you can hold it in your hands. The digital release for me is like a smaller, more practical version of the physical release. You get all songs, can transfer it to different devices, but that’s it.

What changes would you like to see to the music industry to allow you to make a living from your music?

Martin: A change in the general system, not only in the music industry, that makes it less necessary to rely on material wealth would be nice.

Phil: Even though the music industry is in terrible decline, it is still possible to make a living from music – as long as you are willing to give in to the demands of the market. Doom Metal is not in demand of this market. So, for musicians like us making a living from music is impossible, but that’s not the fault of the industry. That is simply because most people in the world do not care for Doom Metal. So I do not feel let down by the industry. Anyway, music should always remain passion for me. If I made a living from it, it would not be just passion, it would be a job. Like any job: you HAVE to do it, you have obligations, you have demands, you have to compromise. All attributes I would NOT want to relate to music.

The role of an artist is always subject to change. What’s your view on the (e.g. political/social/creative) tasks of artists today and how do you try to meet these goals in your work?

Martin: That’s a fairly controversial question and I’m pretty sure that if you ask five different artists you’ll get seven different answers. So I’ll reply solely for myself and see if the others add theirs too. To me, the artist’s goal is communicating by their art to an audience. This is, first and foremost, a creative one. The political dimension is indisputable, since every contact between two or more people is political, but we are not a punk band. Our music and our lyrics communicate individual experiences and emotions to which the listener can relate independent of their cultural or political background on a totally individual, private, almost intimate level. Everyone knows the feeling of solitude, of insomnia, of sorrow and depression, so it doesn’t need an equal bases on a societal political level to understand and identify with our music. Our art is not something to cause a change in the world, but within yourself, maybe. Or you just enjoy it with a glass of red wine.

Music-sharing sites and -blogs as well as a flood of releases in general are presenting both listeners and artists with challenging questions. What’s your view on the value of music today? In what way does the abundance of music change our perception of it?

Martin: I’m ambivalent on this. One hand I like stumbling upon great artists and works whom nobody has heard about and I love that music is so easily accessible nowadays. On the other hand this leads to an overabundance in pretty mediocre music where it gets increasingly harder to pick out the songs and artists whom I really like, so sometimes I just stick to the artists I already know. I can’t say how my perception of music changed over the years, except maybe that my taste became more open and widespread, but I think that’s just a side effect of getting older and less narrow-minded. I also can’t say that the “value” of music has changed. Sure, it’s more easy to create and distribute your stuff today, but that doesn’t make it better and I strongly believe that you can hear and feel the work an artist put in their creation. If you were talking about monetary value, I think the biggest problem with this is that the majority of the financial turnover flows in the hands of people who had nothing to do with the creation of the work.

Phil: I disagree. The overall value of music was never very high for the mainstream, but it is even lower now. People don’t even have to search for new artists themselves any more. You can have AI systems doing that for you, of course being fed by the industry. Many mainstream listeners do not even know the names of the songs they like so much. Kids have 40.000 albums on their computer, much more than they could ever listen to, without re-paying the artist for any of them. Also, when you look at the artistic level of the music that is actually successful, it seems that the easier and more shallow it is, the more success it gets. Compared to today’s pop music, even something like ABBA is highly complex and atmospheric art. Those aspects are all reflections of what music is worth today to the mainstay of people. Pretty much nothing.

How, would you say, could non-mainstream forms of music reach wider audiences?

Martin: I think we live in the best times to have access to underground music, it was never easier to listen to albums and songs from small bands from all over the world. As for reaching wider audiences, this somehow makes it mainstream. If that’s what you want then you need to adapt to the listening habits of the wide audience. I’m not sure if that is constructive if we’re talking about non-mainstream or underground genres. People who are interested in musical styles and expressions beyond the boring mainstream will look for something different with open eyes and ears, and as I said: It’s never been easier to dive into a wide spectrum of different musical genres.

Usually, it is considered that it is the job of the artist to win over an audience. But listening is also an active, rather than just a passive process. How do you see the role of the listener in the musical communication process?

Phil: Every listener has different goals when he or she listens to music, so his “role” is different too. Listening to music CAN be an active process, but for many people it is rather passive, for example easy listening music in an elevator etc. I think such questions are interesting, but still do not lead to anything useful. As an artist, I try to give my 101 % on stage and when writing. Everything (!) else is up to the listener. When I play a show and feel that I do not reach the audience, I would never try to convince them otherwise. I know I gave everything I have to offer. If it still does not get through to them, it can have 1000 reasons, but I can not change those. I can only try what I have. If that is not enough, it is their loss, not mine.

Reaching audiences usually involves reaching out to the press and possibly working with a PR company. What’s your perspective on the promo system? In which way do music journalism and PR companies change the way music is perceived by the public?

Phil: I think this is something that did not change much since the 80s. The impact and the role of PR companies and campaigns are definitely there and definitely important, but they have also been extremely overrated by the music industry all the time. And still are today. The real trends are still made on the streets, by the public itself. The very best PR agency in the world can not make an artist break through, if the public does not perceive him as something fitting to their images. No chance. The same goes the other way: even without any PR campaign, an artist can get huge, even though it rarely happens. PR is important, but many major companies tend to rely too much on it. This is one of the main reasons which led to the current crisis of the industry.

Please recommend two artists to our readers which you feel deserve their attention.

Martin: The first band I want to recommend are 777, which is an occult rock band in the vein of The Devil’s Blood. The second one actually fits to the question above, with the cultural influence, it’s Zeal & Ardor from Switzerland, an band that mixes extreme blackmetal-style music with satanic versions of African American spirituals and gospels in the style of the 18th and 19th century, combining two totally different cultures into a completely new experience which wouldn’t have been able to flourish in a system where cultures are autarkic.

Thank you for your time!

Simon: Thank you for having us and for the interesting questions!