Occult Black Metal
Earlier this week I reviewed Ecorche’s new album Deep in the Ground and you can find that here. Ecorche was kind enough to answer a few questions I had for them. This is part one of two as the second band member Wolfman was not available at the time to answer the questions. However, when he is available I will bring to you the second part of the interview for your enjoyment.
When writing for Deep in the Ground, was there a certain sound/direction you were aiming for?
JGW: Deep In the Ground is more a collection of songs rather than an album. 4 of the songs are new songs and 3 are older songs. The 4 new songs were written during the last year when Écorché became a two man industrial black metal act. The other 3 songs were written in the previous year before, which was before we were using the name Écorché. We were a 5 piece metal band with the intent of playing out live. As a 2 man act, we’re much freer to experiment and just make the music we want to make rather than worrying about what someone in a bar or club thinks about our stuff. The songs are longer (occasionally much longer), noisier, and don’t really confirm to any genre in particular. I think Deep In the Ground is a transitional album, a taste of things to come. And now that we’ve got all of the old stuff out of the way, we’re finally free to create something unconstrained from scratch. The next album is going to be a concept album and we’re intent on actually making a cohesive album from start to finish.
WM: Most of the writing is JGW’s department, just as much of the production is mine. I’m self-taught and I have plenty to learn, even though I’m using software that’s most of a decade old. One of my many goals is to make the album have a more consistent beginning-to-end production tone, regardless of what’s going on musically at any given moment. Each song should be different musically, but if the production is inconsistent then the album gets a weird disjointed vibe: maybe that’s something we might want at some point for the sake of imparting a certain feeling, but if it happens now, it’s happening accidentally and in spite of my effort to the contrary. Our prior full-length definitely suffered from this: one song didn’t fit well with the others from a mixing standpoint, and our first reviewer pointed it out right away.
Adding industrial elements to metal is something that is certainly new to me. How did you come up with the idea to add those elements?
JGW: I’d say it’s the other way around really. We’re more of an industrial band that is adding metal elements to our music. Wolfman and I (plus one other) used the name Écorché from 2006-2007. Back then, Écorché had a more Goth/Industrial feel than the current version. Once we trimmed down to our current line up from the five man metal band, we decided to go back to our roots. I recently started listening to black metal again, which I hadn’t done since the mid-1990’s, so I thought it would be interesting to mix that with Industrial (plus whatever else we felt like doing), and voila, the new Écorché.
WM: I think JGW answered this well in his half of the interview, but I’d add that when you put some metal dudes together in a goth/industrial band, the metal starts poking through eventually. Pantera had their infamous first album or two, maybe it’s a similar story to that. In hindsight, though, I’m surprised we didn’t get into the metal track much earlier. Maybe that would have rescued the 2007 iteration of the band.
Before creating Écorché, what were you two doing musically?
JGW: Strictly speaking about the newest incarnation of Écorché, as noted above, we were in a “metal” band with a revolving list of members. That lasted about a year and didn’t amount to much of anything. And prior to that (2007-2013), I didn’t even pick up a guitar. I wasn’t doing anything. I’m very happy to be back to making music, and thanks to social media, it’s fairly easy to just message someone and say “I see you’re into X band or X style of music, let’s chat.” Much easier than the bad old days of standing outside of a club with a stack full of CDs to hand out to people.
WM: I was recording a few minutes of material by myself on an extremely irregular and occasional basis. I would come up with an idea, try to record it, work on it for a while, get frustrated that the recording sounded nothing like that thing in my head, and go back to doing nothing for another long while. Or I’d realize partway through the process that I was recording a song that already existed (Black Boned Angel’s The Witch Must Be Killed, for example) and I’d let that deter me.
Who/what are some of your inspirations to create this type of music?
JGW: The inspiration for the name Écorché comes from the works of Honore Fragonard, an 18th century French veterinarian who created shocking sculptures from animal carcasses and human cadavers. The term écorché, an animal or human with the skin removed for anatomical study, is the term generally used to refer to his sculptures. In general, I look to the past for inspiration. Fiction can never be stranger than the things that humans have actually done in ‘real’ life. We also like to sample from horror movies and our one odd ball futuristic song is LV-426, based on the Aliens movies. I was listening to a lot of space black metal at one point a little while back and thought this would be a fun topic to cover. And possibly we’ll do an entire album of sci-fi, future stuff…in the future.
WM: My contributions are primarily in the “world music” side of our work. That’s not to say I’m influenced by world music itself, but rather by others who’ve incorporated the same sort of stuff. On our self-titled release, I brought a bunch of Tuvan throat-singing into the latter half of the song; I think I was channeling White Zombie’s Blood Milk & Sky and Ministry’s Khyber Pass. If Rob and Al can make it work, I speculate we can too. I’ve also tried to tell stories via samples in the songs. Grotesque III, the last song on our latest album, has no lyrics other than some poetry samples, but I’ve tried to communicate Honore Fragonard’s everyday experience working in the grime of a 17th-century dissection room as he struggled against the stench and flies to make his ecorches (after which we took our name).
Overall, what has been the response like toward your music?
JGW: Pretty positive amongst fans, (MOST) critics, and some other bands. We had one bad review recently where the reviewer was just completely baffled by us. I was amused really. He didn’t make any comments like ‘these guys can’t play, the singer can’t sing,’ it more just ‘I don’t know what this is, one song is black metal, and the next song is atmospheric noise, what is going on???’ People are either going to get it or they’re not. We’re just making music that we want to make.
WM: Is it bad to say that I’m really not sure? All I know is it’s getting some downloads and we’re getting more than zero attention as a result.
What are some things that you changed between your first record and Deep in the Ground?
JGW: I think the overall sound has gotten more Écorché-sounding, which is 100% thanks to Wolfman. He does all the mixing. We record everything ‘clean,’ but when he mixes it, he basically maxes everything out. It’s super raw-sounding, so much so that sometimes even the drum get distorted. It’s like a slap in the face.
WM: To take it back a step further, we put out our first EP, Revelation, at the very end of 2014. It was three songs, all of which were four-and-a-half to five minutes long or thereabout. A 15-minute total run time was a good way to ease back into recording and mixing, which neither of us have done much of in the past few years. Since then, we’ve become much more comfortable with the process and our songs have evolved to match, even if you rule out our more experimental pieces and just look at the “traditional” “metal” output, the songs are getting lengthier and more complicated, with an increasingly greater number of elements. Now on Deep In The Ground we’re looking at seven tracks with a 50-minute run time, which would have been too intimidating to even contemplate one year ago.
When adding all of the different elements that you do to your music, does that enable you to experiment freely and eventually experiment further with your music?
JGW: I think adding different sounds and samples to the songs isn’t so much experimentation as just trying to create a certain feeling that you don’t get when you just have guitar, bass and drums. I don’t know what it is, maybe that every time you listen or if you change the EQ on your music player, you will hear something new that maybe you didn’t hear before. I think it makes the music stay fresh that way and creates a sort of landscape in the same way that you get through painting a lot of layers one on top of the other that you can stare at for hours.
WM: Absolutely. With nothing really off-limits, we’re not running up against “we can’t do that because doesn’t sound like us.” That said, we’ll also flavor everything our way, and try to come up with some sort of flow so that the album’s not headed off in dozens of directions and lacking coherence.
When listening to Deep in the Ground, it’s pretty difficult to pigeonhole you in one specific genre. Did you want to make music where you couldn’t be defined by one genre, or did the music just happen naturally?
JGW: I’m just making music that I like. I like a lot of different genres and I think they’re all represented, probably not equally, but at least a little bit in each of our songs.
WM: A certain amount of that is deliberate. We didn’t have a formula on our first full-length, but in hindsight we enjoyed the way that one progressed from start to finish – metal to sparse gothy/ambient to noise/drone. We made a conscious decision to try replicating that on Deep In The Ground, but it because apparent pretty early on that things were taking a different trajectory. We had the option to force them back into adherence with the original plan, but it was more interesting to see where they went of their own accord. We want the albums to have moods, and if we do things reasonably well then that won’t simply come across as being inconsistent.
I have three standard questions. The first being: Out of your band shirts which one is your most coveted?
JGW: I mostly just wear black T-shirts that come three to a pack. I haven’t really bought a band shirt in about 10 years or more. Though going back, my favorite band shirt was probably my Skinny Puppy Last Rights shirt.
WM: The oldest shirt I have that I still wear is a gray T from Death’s album Symbolic (I saw them on their Sound Of Perseverance tour, but the Symbolic shirt came from a stand on the New Jersey boardwalk a few years prior to that). The ones that make it into rotation most frequently, on the other hand, are Buried At Sea and Iron Monkey.
The second is: Growing up, what was your favorite record?
Just 1 is tough…how about my 3 favorite? 1) Carcass – Necroticism: Descanting the Insulubrious 2) Cradle of Filth – The Principle of Evil Made Flesh 3) Type O Negative – October Rust
WM: Killing Is My Business… by Megadeth was huge for me, it’s too bad the band couldn’t keep that feel in their music. I remember listening to the cassette on a tiny mono player while raking leaves from the front of our house back when I was 12 or so. The neighbors probably considered this behavior unusual.
If you were able to work with anyone alive or deceased who would it be?
JGW: Brendon Perry and Lisa Girard of Dead Can Dance.
WM: I’d be intimidated to work with anyone I respect enough to name here, but sharing stage time with Sunn and using their gear at full blast – that would be amazing.
Thank you for your time and for the interview!
Can you give us an update on what has been going on with the band since the recording and release of the new album?
JGW: After releasing the album “Deep In the Ground” we put out a single for “My Dead Lover” and we also just recorded a video for “A Necrotic Mind,” (a track off the “Necrotic Minds” LP that was released earlier this year). Necrotic Minds, if anyone reading this hasn’t heard the album, is half extreme black metal and half ambient music. “A Necrotic Mind” is one of the dark ambient tracks that was inspired by actual letters written by patients in an asylum in Great Britain in the 19th century. The title of the song refers not only to the patients living there, but also to the ‘doctors’ treating them. In many cases, the symptoms of the treatments were far worse than the disease itself. The video can be seen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sc7Z4itPOEI
W: We spent the past 8 months recording a backlog of material that was written a year or two ago, mixed in with a few newer songs along the way. Field Of The Impaled, which appears on DitG, is the final track of that lot. Now, for the first time in a while, we need to write some new stuff before we can get back to the studio phase.
In July you had released an album, how would you describe the musical sound that is presented on the recording and also how does it differ from the stuff you have released in the past?
JGW: “Deep In the Ground” is a mix of new and old songs, so I think it is a taste of where we are going in the future and also it was a chance for us to finally put the “Kunstkammer” demo to rest. “The Grotesque (II and III)”, “LV-426”, and “I Am In Hell Help Me” are completely new songs, and I think they show where we’re going. The songs are longer and more experimental. The “Kunstkammer” songs are all shorter and more straightforward metal, but we had an opportunity to re-work them to make them more in line with what we’re doing now. For example, “My Dead Lover,” was updated to include not only new lyrics and guitar parts since the original demo version, but also a female voice reciting poems by Emily Dickinson.
W: The easiest way to tell our newer music from the older, even on the same album, is to look at the track length. Anything old is in the 4-5 minute range. The newer stuff has consistently ended up clocking in at 7-20 minutes. We’re not going to rule out something that sounds good just because it’s short, but that’s definitely the direction we’ve been headed. And a 10-minute track, if it’s interesting, can’t just be verse/chorus/verse/chorus indefinitely, so along with more time comes more complexity: different movements, more storytelling, and so on.
The band was formed in 2006 but you also had split up for awhile, what was the cause of the split and also the decision to reform the band?
JGW: We were a three man industrial metal band (including myself and Wolfman) that lasted for about a year sometime around 2006. We played some shows in Philadelphia, recorded one demo on CD, and started recording a second demo, but never finished it. Not sure what happened really. Things just sort of ended. In 2014, a friend of mine wanted to start playing music, and we needed a bassist so I called up Wolfman. The new band was a five man metal band and A LOT of people came and went for a while. By about a year ago, it finally ended up just being myself and Wolfman and we continued on at that point as the ‘new’ Écorché.
W: I think our priorities just went in different directions for a while. There weren’t any creative differences or big arguments or anything exciting.
Since 2014 the band has released 3 full lengths and 2 ep's, do you put a great amount of time and effort in creating and writing new music?
JGW: We don’t play live shows this time around, so all we do is create music. I like it this way – no carrying tube amps and stacks to shows. Life is much easier!
W: As I mentioned earlier, we’ve spent the past few months recording all the stuff that we worked on with our rotating lineup of other band members. Once they were out of the picture, we decided to go ahead with recording all the songs that the two of us already knew forwards and backwards, with an occasional new one mixed in. If we’re going to keep up that recording pace, we’re going to have to buckle down and get seriously creative for the first time in a while.
What are some of the lyrical topics and subjects the band explores with the newer music?
JGW: Some of the songs have been inspired by Honore Fragonard’s écorchés (Écorché and The Grotesque series of songs) and that will probably continue to be an inspiration now and again. So, historical figures and events have been an influence, along with sci fi and horror films, such as the Alien movies and Hellraiser.
W: All I can really account for beyond that is the samples I’ve added during production. There’s a lot from the Hellraiser and Alien series in there, of course, in addition to religious revival preachers, folk music from various places, industrial and natural sounds, poetry, generic horror movie sound effects, and clips from films such as Solaris, The Prophecy and What Dreams May Come.
I know that the band’s name means "cut away" in French, how does this name fit in with the musical style that you play?
JGW: That’s not 100% accurate, though somebody put it on our Encylopaedia Metallum page. We can’t change it: you need to earn brownie points on that page (which we don’t have) before they’ll let you edit that info. The name actually refers to a human cadaver or an animal with the skin removed for anatomical study. It was inspired by the works of Honore Fragonard, an 18th century French veterinarian who did bizarre sculptures using human cadavers and animals ranging from horses to monkeys. His works are still on display today in a tiny museum in France. How does fit in with our musical style? Not sure. Just thought it was really creepy and it’s a cool sounding word.
W: It had more to do with the music we were putting out back in 2006, which is a little different from anything we’ve done lately. But we already had the name, we still had a bunch of art to go along with it, and we got the blessing of the only person who was in the band back then who isn’t still playing with us anymore.
Currently there are only 2 member in the band but you have worked with other musicians before, are you open to expanding the lineup again in the future?
JGW: Not sure. We have been a 2 man band for the past year, and in that time, as noted, we’ve put out a WHOLE LOT of albums since then. If we ever decide to play live, having a human drummer would be nice. I think bands without drummers look funny.
W: We were looking for a vocalist for a while too – someone to really front the band – but since we haven’t been trying to book shows, that hasn’t been a priority. Perhaps we’ll do a little better in that search now that we have a bandcamp page with six albums on it: we only had some rough demos when we were trying to recruit people before.
What are some of the best shows that the band has played so far and also how would you describe your stage performance?
JGW: We haven’t played a show since 2006, so, not much to add on that one.
W: Two of the three venues where we played in 2006 no longer exist. Perhaps we ruined them.
Do you have any touring or show plans for the future?
JGW: Again, not much to say.
On a worldwide level how has the feedback been to your recordings by fans of underground music?
JGW: It’s been fascinating. We have few or no fans in the United States it seems. A majority of our ‘likes’ seem to be from Central America, South America, and from Mediterranean countries in Europe. Americans (or at least people living in the USA) don’t seem to have any interest in whatever weird variation of black metal it is that we’re playing.
W: I think English-speakers are turned away by our unapologetic use of letters with accents on them.
Where do you see your music heading into during the future?
JGW: I just want to keep experimenting. I want to get weirder synth / world music instrument sounds going on and I also starting doing some more guitar solos (as I began experimenting with this past album). Maybe try to get better at the guitar, as I haven’t actually taken a lesson since I was in middle school. And now that we finally have all the ‘old’ material out of the way, I think I’d like to do a concept album. Not sure what that concept is, but we’ve discussed maybe basing it on a sci-fi movie, or a series of sci-fi movies.
W: If Austrian Death Machine hadn’t already cornered the market on Schwarzenegger-movie-metal, I’d be pushing for a Total Recall concept album. I’m sure we can think of something else, though – or come to an agreement with ADM.
What are some of the bands or musical styles that have had an influence on your newer music and also what are you listening to nowadays?
JGW: Still listen to a lot of old Industrial stuff that I’ve always liked, and I’ve recently gotten back into Black Metal, which I hadn’t really listened to since the 90’s. Some bands that I’ve been listening to lately are early Satyricon, Alrakis, Arcturus, The Beast of the Apocalypse, Behemoth, early Cradle of Filth, De Silence Et D’Ombre, Elderwind, Gorgoroth, The Horn, Immortal, Mayhem, Paradise Lost, The Ruins of Beverast, Sar Nath, Ministry, Pig, Skinny Puppy, and Nine Inch Nails. I could go on, but that’s probably enough.
W: I come at it from a somewhat different angle: I hear a lot of Monarch, Thisquietarmy, Nadja, Black Boned Angel, Monument Of Urns, and My Dying Bride figuring into my contributions.
What are some of your non musical interests?
JGW: Music takes up a lot of my time. I’d say it’s my main interest. I try to read but don’t have much time for it. Really only have time to read on the short train ride to and from work these days. And I’m enjoying making videos for the band. I’m really new to it (downloaded the free movie making software less than a year ago), so the first ones I did were pretty terrible – just stills with the music playing, but I’ve done a few ‘real’ videos now and feel like they’re starting to get almost passible.
W: JGW’s video production skills have come a long way in the past year, so I’m looking forward to seeing where he is a year from now in that regard. My own outside interests: roller derby, travel and beer. Often all three in conjunction with one another.
Before we wrap up this interview, do you have any final words or thoughts?
JGW: Thanks for interviewing us. Download our stuff for free on Bandcamp and you can buy CDs from Merdumgiriz (and also soon from our Bandcamp site). Follow us on Facebook. We’re always making new material. Hopefully we’ll have something new out this winter and we’re discussing doing a split album with fellow Merdumgiriz artist Sar Nath. That will probably be in the Spring of 2016.
W: When a band is coming halfway around the world to play a show in your country but they skip over your town, maybe you should shut up and drive a few hours to see them instead of badmouthing them on the internet.