Interview with vocalist and guitarist Tom G. Warrior
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: July 17, 2016
Live pictures by Luxi Lahtinen
Thanks to Elmar Packwitz for setting up this interview.
Triptykon, the Swiss flag bearers of everything doomy, gloomy, heavy and dark, was born out of the grey ashes of Celtic Frost in May 2008 after Tom G. Warrior's departure from the Frost camp. No Tom G. Warrior, no Celtic Frost, simple as that.
Mr. Warrior did not want to rest on his laurels too long so he formed Triptykon soon after Celtic Frost was put into its dark and icy grave. The band's debut album, Eparistera Daimones saw the light of the full moon in 2010, receiving flattering reviews everywhere. At the end of the same year, Triptykon's 5-song EP Shatter followed and it including a couple of Celtic Frost live covers. In the summer of 2011 Triptykon concentrated on doing a set of festival shows, including Hellfest and Wacken. They also co-headlined the Hatefest European tour with Canadian Death Metal squadron Kataklysm.
It took four years for Triptykon to get their follow-up album, Melana Chastama, release due in part to some negative experiences that Tom G. faced in his personal life. What does not kill you makes you stronger and Melana Chastama was definitely a strong, artistic and experimental Triptykon record, even if not so easily approached.
It's the 10th of June, 2016 and I am sitting in a hotel lobby in Tampere, Finland, waiting for Tom. G. Warrior to come for an interview that I booked via their manager, Elmar Packwitz. Triptykon are preparing for their show at South Park festival with a slot on the main stage just before Slayer. More about the South Park festival and other matters in this interview with the one and only Tom G. Warrior...
Luxi: How are you doing Tom anyway?
Tom G. Warrior: How am I doing?
Tom: That's the most complex question of all.
Luxi: Ha ha, I happen to know that. This is one of those run-of-the-mill questions and I fire them away first, trying to open the game nicely, you know.
Tom: Not for me. Let's just say I'm doing really well. That's much easier. So we don't have to get into a one-hour explanation.
Luxi: Ha ha, I hear you. This is your fourth time in Finland with Triptykon. How has Finland treated you and Triptykon so far?
Tom: This is actually my seventh or eighth time in Finland since Celtic Frost reunited. Finland is becoming almost like a second home.
Luxi: Do you still remember when you played at the Finnish Metal Expo during the winter of 2011? It was a great show from you guys...
Tom: That was fantastic!
Luxi: There were also bands like Accept and Sabaton playing at the Finnish Metal Expo...
Tom: I have to say, and I said it in a different interview up here, it's not because I'm talking to somebody from Finland, but the experiences we have had up here are fantastic. We are so welcomed here. It's a huge pleasure for us to come here. Jalometalli festival that we played at the beginning of Triptykon ranks among one of the best concerts I've ever experienced, including all of Celtic Frost. Also, the Metal Expo was fantastic. We feel very much at home here. I don't know why this is, but for some reason—
Luxi: Maybe it has something to do with our drinking water. We are kind of a melancholic people, you know, enjoying dark, doomy, and gloomy stuff. So maybe that's part of the reason.
Tom: That's perfect then.
Luxi: Now you are here in Tampere getting ready to perform at South Park festival so my question is what else do you expect from this festival experience besides lousy Finnish summer weather, lots of drunken people and even more crazy Finnish Metalheads going nuts in front of Triptykon?
Tom: Ha ha... I don't really expect anything. I don't come to concerts with any expectations. I'm completely open for anything. I come here to see what's going to happen. I don't come with any preconceived notion or expectation.
Luxi: Indeed. So come what may.
Tom: Yes, exactly. I'm going to be 53 years old. I've done I don't know how many shows and I'm no longer crazily driven by testosterone and all that stuff; "I need this or need that". I just let it happen. It's perfectly fine. I love the music that we are playing. I feel very strongly about our band and that's good enough for me. If you get invited here, that's an honor, but I don't have any expectations. I come here and I see what's going to happen.
Luxi: Yes, and it's an honor to see Triptykon here in Tampere as well. I am really looking forward to see your show.
Tom: It's actually beautiful here. It's actually very beautiful here. I'm very glad to come back to Finland.
Luxi: As for tonight's show, was it easy to nail down the final set list? You have many songs to choose from across your entire career so I bet that makes it tough to decide which songs you should play and which you cannot do because of time-restrictions.
Tom: It's extremely difficult. It's even difficult if you're playing 90 or a 100 minutes. We have to choose from maybe four Celtic Frost albums and the two Triptykon albums. And there's the Hellhammer material. With every album, it becomes much more difficult.
There are some songs that we feel we have to play. We have to against our will. We want to play them and we have to play them. That fills up a lot of time and it becomes really difficult to choose which songs to leave out because we want to play so many. The last song is always "The Prolonging", which is 20 minutes. When you play 60 minutes, like today, that only leaves you 40 minutes for the rest.
It is becoming very difficult and when we do the next album it's going to become even more difficult. But what can you do? Every band that has been together for a few years will experience the same problem.
Luxi: That's so true. You have to draw the line somewhere. How much attention do you pay to your fans' hopes when they post on your Facebook page something along the lines, "I want to hear this song," and, "Can you play this song?", etc.?
Tom: If they're songs from the classic Celtic Frost albums, which to me are Morbid Tales, To Mega Therion, Into the Pandemonium and Monotheist, then I'm extremely open to it. And Triptykon of course, too. There's absolutely no chance of us playing any other Celtic Frost material, no matter what they say, or pay, or whatever.
In general, I've noticed the requests that I see online are usually the same things that we have talked about. We seem to like the same things. For example, "Ain Elohim" has been requested many times and that's a song we have wanted to add to the set for long time. We're going to play it for the first time tonight.
It usually matches pretty much what we think about ourselves. At the end of the day, we're also Heavy Metal fans in a way. I don't think there's such a conflict. It really only depends on how long can you play and how much room is in the set.
Luxi: Absolutely. Talking about making new music, how much time have you had, if any, to focus on Triptykon's new songs since your excellent Melana Chasmata came out back in April 2014?
Tom: I actually really wanted to write and finish new stuff. I've been working on new stuff for quite a while already. I have like a million sketches and stuff. But then a lot of things conflicted with it starting with my label, Prowling Death Records. I talked with Century Media Records, who is my licensing partner, and we did a Hellhammer single which is going to be released on August 19.
It's a single that we wanted to do in 1984. We had drafted a concept in 1984 but we didn't have the money at the time and nobody wanted to do a Hellhammer single. So the single never happened but I still have the detailed concept and everything. In the back of my mind, I always thought that I should do this single one day.
So Century Media said, "Okay, let's do that together", and I worked on that. I remastered two songs. They're original songs from Hellhammer times but we did a new remaster from it. The artwork was extensive so that took a lot of time. Then BMG Rights UK, who owns the rights to the old Celtic Frost material, coincidentally said they're going to reissue all the Celtic Frost material this year. And I of course requested to be involved with that and they actually said, "All right, let's do that together." that consumed months of my time and I'm still working on it.
So the Triptykon stuff had to take a backseat, which I regret. I was actually going to be in the middle of working on the new album with the band right now but it's all been pushed back a little bit. The new album will certainly slip into next year but we are working on it. I don't have the rights to the old Celtic Frost material and I had to get involved with that. That wasn't my call to do it and they wanted to, so I said, "All right, I'll collaborate. Let's do this right". I'm glad about that but it kind of screwed up my own time.
Luxi: You have also said that when you were working with the songs for Melana Chastama you were going through a difficult period in your life and that's been the reason you don't go back to that album so often, to avoid getting reminded of those bad and negative feelings from this one period of your life. Do you think you have gotten enough distance from that opus that now you see Melena Chastama from a different perspective?
Tom: Well, I don't think it's a bad album. It's just a very difficult album for me to listen to. There are songs on there that are really important to me. "Aurorae" for example is a very important song for me. But there are some songs that I can barely listen to. I don't know if that'll ever change. I have, of course, very personal feelings about the album, but it's not a bad album. It's just a very difficult album for me personally.
I'm proud that Triptykon made this album. I really hope that the next album will be easier for me to listen to.
Luxi: So you don't regularly re-visit that album anymore?
Tom: I listen to my own music very rarely anyway, no matter whether it's Hellhammer, Celtic Frost, or Triptykon. I'm not somebody who sits at home thinking, "Wow, I'm so great". I hardly ever listen to my own music. For me personally, the first Triptykon album is a very important album. The first one is for me much more important because it reflected my liberation from the situation in Celtic Frost. It was a new start and for that reason it's a key album to me; the classic Triptykon album. And it will probably remain that forever. It's the first Triptykon album. That's just my personal feeling.
Luxi: It's been said that the older you get, in most cases, the wiser you become due to all these life experiences...
Tom: I'm still waiting for that.
Luxi: People tend to learn from their own mistakes. How much of your life experience is reflected in the stuff you have done for Celtic Frost and Triptykon, especially when talking about some of the negative experiences that you have faced in your life? As we all know, neither Celtic Frost nor Triptykon can be considered "happy music", right?
Tom: I would hope a lot. It would be tragic if there wasn't any life experience. You're right, as you get older you're supposed to gain some experience and reflect on your own choices and analyze these things. I really hope that is happening in my life. I also think it's probably a positive thing when you're able to put your negative experience into something constructive like music. There are probably people who don't have that release and that must be very difficult.
A lot of things in my life were complex or problematic and I was always able, at the end of the day, to somehow release it through the music and that has helped me. I think at the end of the day that's a very positive thing and I really think that, yes my music probably bears a lot of that.
Luxi: Music is great channel to put all your negative experiences through so you can release your burden as well as doing the kind of music you want to do anyway. The end result can be really liberating and relieving.
Tom: If you put something that's painful into it you are able to turn it into something creative. That's a gift and a natural relief.
Luxi: What about the world were living in nowadays? Are we all doomed? Do you see this world heading toward even worse times in light of the recent happenings in the world (the Ukraine and Syria crisis, terror attacks in Europe, etc.), people exploiting the forests and sort of enslaving each other since money was invented. It's still all about the money and power.
Tom: Absolutely, it's about greed and egotism.
Luxi: Exactly. Do you see this world and humans any differently than let's say 20 years ago when we were younger, more naive and saw things from quite a different angle?
Tom: I don't really see a difference. I gave up on humanity a long time ago and yes I realized I'm also a human being, I don't exclude myself. I know very well I'm a part if this race. I have very little hope for our race. We should have undergone a mental revolution a long time ago and changed our ways but there's absolutely nothing like that in sight and as we speak there's more and more of us.
Since my birth mankind has doubled in numbers and there are now twice as many people on this planet compared to when I was born. Considering how we conduct ourselves on this planet it's just a catastrophe. We are so greedy. We want more and more and more and we have absolutely no respect for our environment, for the other beings living on this planet.
We are destroying everything to fill our egotism and our greed. Where's that supposed to go? Do I really have to answer that? We're like a plague on this planet. I'm afraid and I don't think I'll see change in my lifetime or ever. That's a very sad thing to say and I know it sounds very negative but that's my conclusion based on my 53 years of life on this planet. I wish it was very different and I wish I could be hopeful. I grew up in a hippy household when I was very young and there was a lot of hope but that hope has vanished due to the experiences in my life. That's a shame and I wish it was different.
Luxi: When talking about perfection and trying to reach some level of that as an artist, does this cause you a lot of pain instead of pleasure? Can you recognize yourself in this picture? Has creating music and art in general become, in a way, a pain-in-the-butt in your life or do you see this constant search for ultimate musical perfection as a motivator in your journey to create something new? The way I see you is as a person who wouldn't want to release any half-assed stuff with your name all over it, right?
Tom: Yes of course it's much more work and it's a pain sometimes but I think it's very important. I didn't become a musician to just throw out stuff and not care about it. No, I think that sense of pride, that you want to release something that's as good as possible, is very important. I've had the experience where I've released at least one album that I find very difficult to leave and I've released at least one album in my life that was catastrophically bad and that has made that desire to prevent that from ever happening again even stronger.
That has completely changed me as a producer and a musician and how I approach everything in the studio and in the artwork and so on. I don't want this to happen ever again. It's enough if you do that once in a lifetime. Of course what's usually important does affect everything and yes, it means more work but I don't mind at all. I mean nobody forces me to be a musician. I do that voluntarily and I enjoy it too.
When I release an album, it looks good. When I brought the last album to the home of H.R. Giger, the artist who created the artwork, and he looked at it together with a friend of his who was a friend since the 1960's they both looked at it and his friend, who is the founder of Switzerland's biggest concert agency and who has worked with the Stones and whatever, they both looked at it and said, "Wow, this looks fantastic." That's when I realized it was worth it putting so much work into it. I would have been embarrassed if they had said this looks thrown together.
Luxi: Creativity-wise, have you found yourself completely stuck, losing your focus on how to make a song work and getting it to where it needs to be? I mean, it must be very time-consuming to make an album full of songs that will also satisfy you for many years to come?
Tom: That's really not the problem because I have my own label and nobody tells me that I have to release an album when it's not finished. That used to be a problem in the 1980's when record companies told us the album has to be out by this and this date no matter what. If you run out of ideas, then you had a problem. Nowadays we release an album when it's finished. If it takes 20 years then it takes 20 years. If it takes one year then it takes one year.
Nobody tells me what to do anymore and I'm very happy about that. Our licensing partner Century Media have come to know that there is no way that they can influence me. They have been very patient because they know they will eventually get a very unusual record. It's never been a problem and that's the ways it's going to be. I'm never going to work any other way anymore. I don't like to be told when I have to be creative and how fast I have to be creative. That's not art.
Luxi: It must feel like getting whipped by someone if you are given a strict deadline to follow...
Tom: Some fantastic songs happen in 15 minutes, some equally good songs take a year, you cannot influence that, you know? If it's honest emotions, you have to let them happen.
Luxi: Do you have any season in your life when you try to completely "reset" or "reboot" yourself, taking a well-deserved break from any band related activities?
Tom: I have many seasons like that.
Luxi: You kind of throw all thoughts of band activities out the window and concentrate on some other areas of your life, just to let your creative side relax a little bit...
Tom: It happens all the time. Triptykon is not a band that's constantly active and there's sometimes months where we don't do anything and basically the rest of the band waits for me to become active again. Yeah, I need that. Sometimes I do completely different things. I've been in this industry for like 32 years and I really don't want this to become a routine.
I don't want to create music because I have to. I want to create music when it actually happens honestly. Yes, of course that happens. I'm working on my 14th album now. I've done enough. I don't need to put out an album every year. People know what I sound like. If I release a shitty album now, that's far worse. I've only released good albums and sometimes that takes time.
Luxi: Back in the day the underground Metal scene seemed to be more united and everyone was supporting each other, offering a helping hand whenever needed. There was this "one big family" thing, you know? Do you feel like that's something that is lacking in today's underground scene, perhaps because there's the Internet now, so you don't necessarily need any of your friends to spread the word anymore?
Tom: Maybe it is but I haven't really perceived it like that. What I see on platforms like Facebook is actually that there's quite a family and at least among the people I'm befriended with, everybody supports each other's bands. The fans, they distribute the videos. They distribute news and stuff. Actually, it does the work. It just works on a different platform.
Of course it has taken on a different shape but now I've actually noticed that there is still a family feel. It's a more modern family so to speak but it's much like that. Maybe your observation is right but I haven't really seen that.
Luxi: Do you have some words of wisdom for those young musicians who are about to start their own bands as to what kinds of things they should concentrate on if they're going to gain any sort of success and survive in this hard music business?
Tom: I'm probably the worst person to have any wisdom.
Luxi: With all those miles behind you in the biz, I am sure I can squeeze some words of wisdom out of you...
Tom: The one thing that's completely underrated is patience. Maybe that sounds like a huge cliché and a lot of people will not understand it but I've noticed even in old times people are very impatient. In reality, good work takes a lot of time. Now with instant communication and modern technology, people have become more impatient. Everything has to happen on a click and stuff. I think that's very counterproductive. At the end of the day, music is still art.
I see so many albums that sound just like other albums. It's always like one big indistinguishable mass of music. Maybe that's because people are impatient. To create something truly unique, truly good, it takes a lot of time, a lot of work. I think that the single most important advice I can give people is to take their time, not to be impatient, not to expect it to happen immediately regardless of reality shows and mass media. Something good takes time. I think that's very underrated. That's probably the only thing I could say.
Luxi: Okay, I think I got it all covered, so thank you Tom for your time. It was a pleasure to talk with you.
Tom: Thank you.
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