Interview with Tom Phillips (guitar)
Interview conducted by MetalMike
Date online: April 30, 2011
MetalMike: Congratulations on the new album, Fear of Infinity! It's great to have new While Heaven Wept music.
Tom: Mike, thank you so much for both your congratulations and for once again giving us the opportunity to talk on The Metal Crypt! It's just a shame that for the first time in a long time you guys weren't the first review or interview for a new WHW release!
MetalMike: Fear of Infinity sounds like both a close relative of its predecessor, Vast Oceans Lachrymose, and yet there are some significant moves away from that album. Are you getting closer to the "While Heaven Wept" metal you discuss on your website? Are you able to be fully forward-looking at this point in your career or are there still some ideas from early in your career that you feel need to be expressed?
Tom: You're absolutely right that "Fear Of Infinity" is both a progression and regression simultaneously as well as being very much related to "Vast Oceans Lachrymose"; with this latest batch of material we're still experimenting with different ratios of existing influences as well as drawing upon our own past experiences with different bands and genres. In the past, for whatever reason I always tended to keep the different aspects of my musical personalities separated from each other (i.e. Twisted Tower Dire – pure, classic Metal, Brave – Neo-Progressive Rock, Parasitic Infestation – Death Metal, etc.) but since "Of Empires Forlorn" I've been more comfortable with all of these elements fusing together to form something completely different from anything else. Thus, some of my Black Metal and Experimental past surfaces on "Fear Of Infinity" for one example, yet a lot of the material harkens back to the hopeless Doom of "Sorrow Of The Angels" – which makes sense considering a couple of the songs were originally intended for that album. That said, I think we've always been "While Heaven Wept Music" because it's always taken 25 adjectives or multiple genres to accurately describe what we are. With "Fear Of Infinity" the vast majority of the "WHW archives" has been cleared out, apart from a couple ancient songs that will either surface soon or be dissected for parts; where we're standing now is 95% of the material "waiting in the wings" currently was channeled in 2009-2010...so we're ALMOST caught up! Not sure if we'll ever manage to do this though as the music just comes when it does!
MetalMike: With a stable lineup since Vast Oceans Lachrymose was it easier to record Fear of Infinity? Were you able to achieve the "organic" sound the band strives for and does that mean playing live in the studio?
Tom: Actually the recording sessions for "Fear Of Infinity" were surely the most brutal ever for the vast majority of the band; the hours were insanely long, numerous takes were the status quo (so as to insure that organic sound and the right feel), and tempers definitely flared. The main reason for all of the aforementioned is because we didn't rehearse this material as a band even once before going in to record the album; everyone learned their parts via sheet music and MIDI mp3 files...but this surely is a testament to the caliber of musicians I've surrounded myself with. We really didn't have time to adequately prepare as a band because only 4 weeks prior to beginning these sessions, I was still in the studio mastering "Triumph:Tragedy:Transcendence" and Nuclear Blast had a very strict release date that we needed to adhere to. Of course, in true WHW fashion we ended up spending almost an extra month on the mixing and mastering, but why anyone would expect otherwise is beyond me! I thought it was universally known that both Chris Salamone and I are obsessive and meticulous...perfectionists even! In the end, I never want to do an album under such conditions again; we put enough pressure on ourselves when we have years to work on an album...and I rather not throw gasoline on this fire to attempt to do what we do in a fraction of that time...fortunately we were successful (in realizing the exact album that I personally needed to make), but we'll take a different path in the future for sure.
MetalMike: There are several shorter songs like "Destroyer of Solace" and "Hour of Reprisal" on Fear of Infinity, which is certainly different from past albums. Why the shorter song length?
Tom: There's really no rhyme nor reason when it comes to the music of WHW; essentially the songs write themselves, and we just channel them. Everything is the direct result of real emotional catalysts and nothing else; we never sit down and force this music into existence...it HAS to come from the heart and soul or I cannot and will not perform it. As for these shorter songs, the fact is in the case of "Fear Of Infinity" all of the music was revealed before the lyrics therefore there wasn't a need to hammer on the same riffs countless times – in the case of the earlier While Heaven Wept songs generally the lyrics (which are equally important in this band) came first which equated to more repetitions (or more accurately theme and variations). I think also with maturity we've managed to condense things down and say everything we need to say in a shorter amount of time; by no means are "Hour Of Reprisal" and "Destroyer Of Solace" any less dense harmonically than past material – in fact they are more so, but they're also faster tempos as well. The truth is the first six songs of the album really are one suite anyway, hence the rapid succession in terms of the album's "flow". This isn't to say that "Finality" didn't grow to become part of this journey ultimately, but it came into being much later than the other songs. Lastly, I'm quite sure the long, drawn-out epics we're most known for won't be left to the back catalog; if we naturally channel something monolithic then it is totally welcome of course!
MetalMike: One thing (of many) that has drawn me to While Heaven Wept's music is how the songs are both melancholy and uplifting at the same time. Is it challenging to write music with that kind of emotional intensity?
Tom: Not at all; this music is based entirely upon real-life events, actual relationships, and genuine emotions therefore it's completely natural. The real challenge is LIVING through the heartbreaks, disappointments, and tribulations...but that's the whole point of WHW really; without this music I don't know if I ever would have healed from the very real tragedies of my life. The truth is, I didn't even realize exactly what "Vast Oceans Lachrymose" and "Fear Of Infinity" were until the completion of the latter (and Rain pointing this out); both albums are very much part of the same process...the very real stages of my own bereavement after an incredibly traumatic heartbreak. "Vast Oceans Lachrymose" is filled with disbelief and delusion while "Fear Of Infinity" continues on through rage, despair, and finally – at the very end – acceptance.
MetalMike: The keyboards seem more up front on Fear of Infinity. Was that by design?
Tom: That's an interesting question you pose because in actuality, the keyboards are not nearly as present as I'd like them to be haha! I think what the reality is here is that there is a delicate balance between the instruments, which is VERY hard to achieve given the complexity of the arrangements but in the end, every instrument does have its own space in the EQ curve. There really isn't anything trampling upon anything else, though we did generally push the vocals to the forefront. Really, it probably depends on the speakers people listen through – the mix was designed to hold up in any sonic scenario, but the ratio of instrumentation may shift a bit depending upon low-end response and personal EQ settings.
MetalMike: Where do your lyrical inspirations come from?
Tom: As I've intimated a couple times here, this is all real life...that which I've lived through, and all of our albums are like this. In the case of "Fear Of Infinity" the entire album revolves around the demise of a particular relationship and the emotions experienced in the aftermath of this. Like I said, the process of healing began with "Vast Oceans Lachrymose" and I've reached a closure with "Fear Of Infinity" now, so that I may move on with my life and not be a miserable bastard. Any fantastic or religious imagery is strictly metaphoric, therefore make no mistake, WHW is 100% about really life...it's like my aural diary so to speak.
MetalMike: You have handled much of the writing in the past. Was it that way for Fear of Infinity or was the rest of the band more involved this time?
Tom: Being that the majority of the album was originally intended to be included as part of "Vast Oceans Lachrymose" (but set aside when "The Furthest Shore" developed into the colossus that it did), ultimately I'm responsible for channeling 90% of this album. That said, there are some notable exceptions in the form of "Saturn And Sacrifice", "Obsessions Now Effigies", and "Unplenitude": Scott Loose brought the 1st section of "Saturn" to the table some time ago, and I just took his original idea, reconfigured it slightly and rolled on to complete the song. The origin of "Effigies" lies in Athens, Greece; back in 2004 I participated in an impromptu jam at a recording studio with a couple guys from Battleroar using some fragments of riffs I had – by the end of the jam we'd created the blueprint for what ultimately became "Obsessions Now Effigies". Lastly, though "Unplenitude" is one of the oldest songs on the album, it features a brand new arrangement, that was subsequently further elevated by the piano lines Jason Lingle brought to the table. All that said, we still have yet to truly collaborate as a band properly, so this not only means there is a vast untapped potential, but it also insures we'll continue to create albums that are entities unto themselves (versus creating V.2 of anything...that will never happen).
MetalMike: You've mentioned that some of the songs on Vast Oceans Lachrymose had existed since the 90s. Was that the case with any of the tracks on Fear of Infinity?
Tom: Yes, actually both "Unplenitude" and "To Grieve Forever" date back to the early-to-mid 90's and were originally recorded during the "Sorrow Of The Angels" sessions, but ultimately not included on that album. "Unplenitude" did however surface in its original form on the 2002 Metal Supremacy release "Chapter One: 1989-1999" and more recently on the High Roller Records 2LP compilation "The Arcane Unearthed" in a remastered form this year. Of course the arrangement that has "officially" been released on "Fear Of Infinity" is significantly different from the original version with me singing.
MetalMike: What prompted the move to Nuclear Blast? Will you still be putting out special vinyl editions, like those on High Roller, for the vinyl junkies out there?
Tom: After 21 years of doing it ourselves and working with smaller labels on the basis of "gentlemen's agreements" we had reached a crossroads where we simply could not afford to continue along the same path for one thing; the industry has changed significantly over the years and being that we've never recouped that which has been invested, to go on we required a stronger backing. Also being that people have always had trouble locating our releases due to limited distribution or short-run pressings and subsequently had to resort to online auction sites, often paying extortionate prices...the deal with Nuclear Blast absolutely resolves this and I couldn't feel better about that aspect...it breaks my heart to see people paying outrageous prices for our music. As for the vinyl...we've always supported this format and have released more vinyl than CD's...literally 3 times as many vinyl releases, so there's no way we'd stray from that course now! For me, a record isn't really an ALBUM unless it is an LP, and "Fear Of Infinity" is certainly no exception; part of the deal with Nuclear Blast involved insuring the highest quality LP's possible: 180 gram virgin vinyl, exclusive 24-bit mastering, 45 rpm whenever possible...in other words, true audiophile quality. "Fear Of Infinity" has been released as an exclusive limited purple vinyl edition (available from NB Germany only), a black vinyl edition, and High Roller Records has an exclusive blue vinyl edition as well. Gotta say the purple vinyl pressing is one of the most beautiful LP's I've ever seen!
MetalMike: How do you feel about the fact that While Heaven Wept can play huge festivals in Europe but you don't enjoy that same level of success here in the States (I know it bothers me! Haha!)
Tom: This is true for so many bands and really it doesn't bother me at all honestly. I enjoy coming home to complete anonymity quite frankly. The fact is, apart from the very first demos and 7"s, we've never even released an album in the United States until "Fear Of Infinity"! You know how "flavor of the month" it can be over here, and I doubt that "our flavor" will ever be en vogue. That being said, over the course of doing this latest round of interviews, I'm starting to realize that we do have some kind of audience here that we won't be neglecting as much in the future! If naught else, we are participating in ProgPower USA XII this September and this will most certainly be an amazing event!
MetalMike: How does the Onyx Forge SG guitar influence While Heaven Wept's sound, aside from the fact that it is manufactured with the same intensity and precision you put into creating your music?
Tom: The guitars I've collaborated on with Roy Bullis of Onyx Forge are designed specifically for the music of WHW; they are somewhere between standard and baritone guitars in scale, ideal for our tuning which is typically two whole steps down. All of the Onyx Forge guitars that we have in our arsenal offer so many tonal possibilities that we haven't even scratched the surface yet! What I mean is that all of the pickups are capable of running in series or parallel, can be split for single coil tones, and several of the guitars have piezo bridges as well. The greatest aspect of these guitars is that you can FEEL them rattling your ribcage when playing them! Also they are built to withstand the rigors of the road and hard playing, and I feel 100% comfortable knowing this. Ultimately these beautiful custom instruments further insure our sound is like no other.
MetalMike: What are your tour plans for Fear of Infinity and will you try to hit the States?
Tom: In late May we're heading out with Primordial and Alcest for a European tour, which I am positive will be one of the most amazing experiences ever; apart from the fact that we're doing all five Metalfest.eu open air festivals together, the billing is simple ingenious as its based upon an emotion rather than a genre; what unites Primordial, While Heaven Wept, and Alcest is melancholy. As for the States, we've just started talks with a prominent booking agency here, so we'll see what happens...it appears that something will ultimately, but I'm not going to make any promises; Europe is obviously our "hotspot" and has been since our inception.
MetalMike: Where has been your favorite place to play live? Where would you like to play that you haven't had a chance to yet?
Tom: Unquestionably Athens, Greece was the most amazing of all WHW concerts – we were there this past March for the Up The Hammers festival (one of the BEST in the world, that I heartily recommend to all traveling Metalheads!). The audience sang every word of every song louder than we could play! I have so many friends and connections in Athens, and it just feels like home to me; Athens is the most Metal city in the world...filled with Metal record stores, Metal cafes, and Metal pubs...it's like nothing else anywhere. Germany may be the most Metal country, but Athens is the most Metal city of anywhere. As for where we haven't yet reached, Japan has always been a huge aspiration for me, and also we're really working towards doing something in South America sooner than later – there is a voracious hunger for music down there right now and countries like Chile, Argentina, and Brazil are truly awesome places with a lot of good people, amazing food, and true passion!
MetalMike: Anything else you'd like to talk about, that we didn't cover?
Tom: I simply ask that all who will take a chance on "Fear Of Infinity" will give it a few listens before passing judgment on it; so much happens in those 37 minutes that it genuinely requires several passes to peel back the layers and have it all sink in. It is absolutely meant to be heard as a whole and singling out individual tracks defeats the purpose of the album; it has a specific flow (like all of our albums) and is very much a journey.
MetalMike: Congratulations again on the new album, Fear of Infinity, and thanks for taking some time out of your schedule to let us know what is happening with While Heaven Wept! Looking forward to catching that band live soon!
Tom: Mike, thank you once again for this opportunity...it's always a pleasure. Thanks also to everyone who has supported the band in any way over the past 21 years! We hope to catch everyone on the road soon! Cheers!
|Other information about While Heaven Wept on this site|
|Review: Of Empires Forlorn|
|Review: Of Empires Forlorn|
|Review: Vast Oceans Lachrymose|
|Review: Of Empires Forlorn|
|Review: Lovesongs of the Forsaken|
|Review: Fear of Infinity|
|Review: Fear of Infinity|
|Review: Suspended at Aphelion|
|Interview with Tom Philips on July 3, 2003 (Interviewed by Sargon the Terrible)|
|Interview with Tom Phillips on October 28, 2009 (Interviewed by Sargon the Terrible)|
|Interview with guitarist and songwriter Tom Phillips on December 13, 2014 (Interviewed by MetalMike)|
|Video: The Furthest Shore (Parts 1-3)|
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