Interview with guitarist and songwriter Tom Phillips
Interview conducted by MetalMike
Date online: December 13, 2014
While Heaven Wept's career has been one of extremes. Still almost entirely unknown in their native United States, the band enjoys enormous popularity in Europe with their unique style of Doomy/Epic Heavy Metal. Slaves to an unseen muse, the band have steadfastly released the music they've wanted to, with very little concern for what is popular at the time. Over the years albums like Of Empires Forlorn and Vast Oceans Lachrymose have vaulted the band to the top of a lot of fans' list of favorites with their sad themes and hauntingly beautiful melodies.
The band finally signed a deal with Nuclear Blast records that saw their 2011 album, Fear of Infinity, see a true U.S. release, one that fans didn't have to buy as an import. That album was a bridge between some of the older material the band had in the vaults and some of the new material the muse had sent their way. It was an album that divided the fan base, something founder Tom Phillips has said he was not surprised by, given the music's diverse dates of origin.
Most fans have been anticipating While Heaven Wept's next release, which turns out to be 2014's Suspended At Aphelion, essentially one album-length song in 11 parts. Featuring some well-known guests, like Warlord/Fates Warning drummer Mark Zonder and original Fates Warning guitarist Victor Arduini, fans expected a return to form but got something entirely unexpected. The Metal Crypt asked Tom if he would take some time to let our readers know some of the inspirations for and reasons behind the direction While Heaven Wept has taken on Suspended At Aphelion and he graciously agreed. He also treated us to some of what to expect from the band in terms of live shows and even the NEXT WHW album. Dig in.
MetalMike: Hi Tom, congratulations on While Heaven Wept's latest album, Suspended at Aphelion! Here's the first question and it's an easy one; there are two accepted pronunciations of the word "aphelion" according to my dictionary, "ap-HE-lee-on" and "a-PHEE-lee-on" both with a short "a" at the beginning. Which is correct in the context of this album? How do YOU pronounce it is what I'm driving at ☺
Tom: Thanks for reaching out Mike, it's appreciated! We pronounce "aphelion" as heard in Part 10: "a-PHEE-lee-on". The important thing is "hellion," which refers to the sun, and "ap" meaning "away".
MetalMike: From past conversations, I know you don't necessarily "write" music but "channel" it (hope I'm summarizing that correctly) but can you clarify if the songs on Suspended at Aphelion are 11 separate songs that just happen to flow together or just one long song? Do you have any insight as to why the album turned out the way it did, with respect the song(s)?
Tom: That's right, we really don't "write" music; it's not a conscious decision, isn't planned/pre-conceived, nor is any force exerted as far as the basic structure and musical progressions, all of that just "happens". I tend to refer to it as "channeling" but perhaps there's a better term for it...stream of consciousness maybe...something like that...the bottom line is, the music simply manifests when it does. Sometimes it comes in a deluge and other times, there's nothing at all...drought and dust for years...which is of course, alarming, but being that it stems from the heart, spirit, and who knows where, I figure when it demands to be heard, when there is a necessity, it will transpire.
We do put "pen to paper" when it comes to distributing the harmonic content, counterpoint, etc. or when it comes to detailing, nuances or minutia, but it's necessary to be cognizant of the rules of music theory. We could either adhere to or break those rules but the idea is to ensure the individual instruments have logical and independent melodies or countermelodies so they may stand on their own but also realize to the fullest extent possible the foundations that were born via revelation.
Anyway, SAA is no exception to any of this; what you hear on the album is essentially what manifested itself between the last week of December 2011 and March 2012. The only exceptions being Part 4 developing beyond the solo piano part in late 2013 and Part 10 being newly channeled in February 2014 after Mark Zonder had already tracked the original version. You see, one of the reasons we try to avoid writing forcibly is it tends to come across as such and the original "finale," while sufficient and in character with WHW (a la the end of "The Furthest Shore), it never felt "right" to me as I tried to supersede the muse and, in the end, it sounded like WHW, but was...I don't know...less inspired. I think if we actually wrote music in a traditional sense, or by force, it would be dreadful, empty, bereft of soul and is not ever a path we will tread. We've tried and failed so, if it doesn't come naturally, it's never going to amount to anything worth playing. Anyway, in a "hail Mary" at the eleventh hour I went back to Part 9 and just started playing from there, closed my eyes, and let the music flow wherever it did. That is why you have the maze of key changes and lack of any semblance of traditional structure but the music is absolutely inspired by and brimming with emotion.
Needless to say, I really haven't answered your question directly, but as you may have surmised by now, SAA is indeed one long epic song that developed chronologically as you hear it on the actual release and it is meant to be heard ONLY that way. There are no individual songs, definitely no "singles", and if taken any other way than as a whole, it will not yield the same results, nor would the journey be complete. All of our albums are like this; journeys, meant to be taken in full. With SAA in particular, being that it is one album length song, as opposed to an album composed of multiple songs, it's crucial that listeners understand this and take heed or it will never make sense, even if it's a challenge to digest in many ways.
As for why it turned out this way...your guess is as good as mine! All I can say is that I'd just recently finished channeling the final piece of another album and the music just kept coming. Considering those times of drought I just mentioned, I wasn't going to shun or stave it off! I have no idea where these chords and changes came from but it was clear they wanted to be heard so I just followed the map I was given!
MetalMike: How do you envision recreating Suspended at Aphelion in the live setting? Are there songs/sections that you think will be better suited to playing live or will you play the album from start to finish, the way it is presented on the album? I'm sure set times will have an impact on that as well.
Tom: We learned some valuable lessons with "The Furthest Shore," which was also a single song with multiple sections. Initially, we only did Parts 1-3, the segment we'd put on MySpace and so forth, and the end result for most people was a sensation of incompleteness; tantalization and no climax. SAA presents us with a similar quandary. In both cases it could be argued that there are "songs within songs" but most of the parts really only make sense in the context of the larger whole. Yet your point about set times is certainly an issue, one that also factored in with "Shore." In a support slot, where we only have 45-50 minutes, or a typical festival or headline spot, where we get maybe an hour, I don't think we could get away with doing a 40-minute song, especially a 40-minute NEW song. We're not Iron Maiden or Rush and even in those cases I'm not convinced the entire audience would be keen on that approach every other tour (personally, I AM when it comes the the latter more so than the former). My point here is, after 25 years, we've got a lot of material over several eras to consider and represent and there are some things we basically HAVE to play every show, like "Vessel" or "The Drowning Years," and there's the deeper cuts that we like to air as well. Considering that many of our songs clock in around 10 minutes (especially with improvisational embellishments), there's just not a lot of space for something like SAA in every instance so I think what is most likely is that we'll save the complete work for special events where it has been specifically requested or on headlining runs where we're playing 90 minutes plus. If I had my way and was totally selfish, I would do nothing but the epics on a regular basis; SAA, "Shore," "Finality" and "Thus," with "Vessel" or "Void" tacked on the end!
MetalMike: The lyrics, as befitting a WHW album, are deeply introspective and, in some ways, allegorical. As the primary songwriter, I have to ask you (hopefully without making you feel like you're in therapy!); how personal are the lyrics on Suspended at Aphelion? Is there a particular message the listeners should take away or is it truly open to each individual's interpretation?
Tom: Oh, they are EXTREMELY personal, but then again, ALL of them are and I mean the entire discography. It is, after all, my "therapy," catharsis, vehicle for healing and expressing things that I cannot otherwise say. The WHW albums really are just chapters in my ongoing "aural diary." The events, stories, emotions, etc. have all transpired and the people are all real but I don't reveal any personal information or specific details so as to protect their privacy. I wear my heart on my sleeve when it comes to WHW, but that doesn't mean everything is completely transparent, rather a murky opaque transparency (like the LP itself) to protect said identities. And really, most of these songs are A-B conversations that the world is privy to.
That said, at least since the time of "Empires" the lyrics have tended to be riddled with dualities, hidden meanings (literal, implied, metaphoric) so it is very much open to the interpretation of the individual listener. If one is listening from a perspective of faith, for example, you could take most of our albums as the plight of a certain antagonist or, in other cases, one could perceive warnings and reminders of how irrelevant wars/religion/politics are in the face of nature or the cosmos without conscience.
As for SAA specifically, again, "aphelion" refers to the furthest point from the sun. In this case, the sun represents anything that we aspire towards, dream of, wish for to our very bones, something that is pursued with passion, vigor and using all of the strength, faith, hope, and resources that we have. This is really what the first couple parts of the song pertain to. The reality is sometimes beyond reach despite everything, despite doing our best, despite sacrifice, good intentions and heart. Sometimes things are simply untouchable and the remainder of the album is a journey through the emotions subsequent to this very sobering realization, similar in nature to the journey through the stages of bereavement that bridge "Vast Oceans Lachrymose" with "Fear Of Infinity," but with a different set of circumstances. Still, the end goal is acceptance of the aforementioned reality (hopefully) and this was successful in the case of SAA, albeit rather bittersweet. Here's the caveat; despite being fully cognizant of that which is impossible, unreachable, knowing something will never happen and moving on, there is still a yearning that remains, however foolish, illogical - human. And that's the deal; there isn't a person on earth who doesn't have their own "sun" in the context of this album but it will certainly be different for everyone.
MetalMike: The sound of Suspended at Aphelion is somewhat different than what fans were treated to on albums like Vast Oceans Lachrymose or Fear of Infinity. As I said in my review, this isn't VastER Oceans Lachrymose and bands naturally evolve over time. Do you view SAA as a logical progression or a left turn that may seem out of character today but will make sense as time passes?
Tom: Well, it will certainly make more sense when the album we passed over in favor of SAA is released as it is the musical bridge between Fear Of Infinity and SAA. And indeed, SAA is a natural progression from "Finality," as well as a couple songs on this other album, in a harmonic sense. It's not based upon power chords or "riffs" rather extended chord structures and forms seldom found in Rock or Metal, but typical of late 20th Century Classical Music (particularly Eastern European) or even some dark Jazz that you might hear via the ECM label.
That said, SAA is an entity unto itself like all of our albums; we'll never release the same thing twice and this one is no exception. I know it's shocking for some people who have been following us awhile but that's due in part to the "missing bridge" and by the same token, I think people have a tendency to associate us with particular musical genres which we have NEVER ascribed to (whatever people relate it to is fine by us) rather than the constants throughout the past 25 years; sincere emotion (predominantly melancholic), symphonic orchestration, epic qualities (and often song lengths), heavy atmospheres and strong melodic content. There's always been a progressive edge and each album IS a true progression on all fronts (production, performance, musicianship, etc) but SAA is the first truly "Prog" album. Further, our influences remain the same as the day we started; early Fates Warning, early Candlemass, Viking-era Bathory, Rush, Holy Terror, Coroner, King Crimson, Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath, Rainbow, early Queensrÿche, Crimson Glory but there's ALWAYS been others; 4AD and "shoegazer" stuff like Dead Can Dance, This Mortal Coil, The Cocteau Twins, Slowdive, the darker ambient things like Caul or even Black Tape For A Blue Girl and then there's the Kosmiche Musik of Klaus Schulze, Tangerine Dream up to about 1977 and even 70's Kitaro and Vangelis. Include some Jazz Fusion and an array of Classical Music from the Franco-Flemish school all the way through George Crumb and you'll have most of the elements of WHW. The point here is all we have EVER done is experiment with and embrace different ratios of existing elements! And they're ALL love songs of the forsaken so if anyone thinks we've "changed" then they have never really grasped who or what we are to begin with, you know what I mean? There hasn't really been a "new" music influence since the early 90's when Arcturus and Devin Townsend crept in and later on there was Mono too, but that's not really so distant from what we've been doing anyway. I do think SAA and even Fear Of Infinity and VOL will make more sense down the road, in the grand scheme of things. There IS a "big picture" that only the band, or a couple of us anyway, can see. It's all about insuring the live shows are adventures, journeys, experiences beyond the albums and then we'll be better able to draw the perpendiculars to all the parallels.
MetalMike: You co-produced SAA with Kevin"131" Gutierrez. Where you are so close to the music, from beginning to end, what role did Kevin play in the studio? Does he mainly handle technical things, like the levels, mix, etc. or does he have input into arrangements, melodies, etc.? Does the rest of the band feel like they can contribute?
Tom: Besides handling a lot of the technical things, Kevin would throw out ideas while we were tracking, both in terms of arrangements and performances and occasionally, he'd even play a line or two himself (hence the performance credits on the album). We really experienced a great synchronicity during the realization of this album, often reaching simultaneous conclusions about a take or idea and without a word implementing or rejecting. It was pretty refreshing after the tedium that was Fear Of Infinity.
The rest of the band also offered their opinions, insights and ideas and we tried every one of them. If something elevated a passage or changed things in a good way, it was used. If not, we voted democratically but I admittedly have "executive override" authority. Again, the credits in the liner notes are very detailed and specific and credit is given everywhere it is due. But when it comes to mixing, you can't have "too many cooks in the kitchen." In fact, I even removed myself from the process initially and let Kevin tackle it solo first so as to not influence anything too much one way or another. I was comfortable with this considering we saw eye to eye throughout the process up to that point. After his first pass, I went back through and changed everything I heard differently, plus I got much deeper into the details, as I tend to do. There are still a few things I intend to address, actually, and while this would make the album slightly "heavier," it won't change the overall results enough to change anyone's opinion. I'll just be doing it for personal satisfaction/inner peace.
MetalMike: The lineup of WHW seems to be shifting in recent years, another type of "progression" bands go through, no doubt. On SAA you've employed some guest musicians, seemingly to the near-exclusion of long-time drummer Trevor Schrotz, to mention one notable change. I know it is hard to turn down the participation of someone as accomplished as Fates Warning drummer Mark Zonder but can you give some insight behind the personnel alterations?
Tom: First off, let me say that Trevor is still "the" drummer of While Heaven Wept. The reality here is everyone involved has careers, families and other very real responsibilities. In Trevor's case he'd just finished an MBA program, accepted a promotion to a vice presidential position at work and is also trying to balance two bands with two young children so, in the end, it was just bad timing as far as our 25th Anniversary was concerned. It was really important to all of us to release something truly monolithic in commemoration of this plus, you have to consider that Nuclear Blast is often planning their release schedules a year ahead of time (and this means concrete deadlines, promo timelines, coordination with partners worldwide). Needless to say, when Mark Zonder offered his services, it was discussed amongst all of the band members, including Trevor, and he was the one who said "if Eric Clapton offered to play on your album, what would YOU do?" (being that Zonder is one of his biggest influences, etc)!
Anyway, most of the members go back together more than 20 years and, in some cases, more. Scott and Michelle are siblings, she's married to Trevor, we all went to High School together/grew up in the same area and, later on, we were all involved with their other band Brave. The core line-up of WHW has remained intact since the "Sorrow Of The Angels" live dates back in 1998. We've had a couple changes, as far as drummers are concerned, but Trevor's been hitting the skins for 10 years already. Really, all we've been doing for some time now is ADDING members. We're way past the point of people quitting or being fired; people do what they can do, when they can do it.
All that said, I am not opposed to doing whatever a particular piece of music calls for, kind of like calling in a "specialist" for surgery or an expert consultant. For example, I felt like SAA, especially some of the parts that Jason had channeled for Part 6, really NEEDED to have genuine strings, with the markings of the bow and expressive vibrato. That's why I brought in my colleague Mark Shuping. The same thing applies to having Christopher Ladd play classical guitars; he's got a doctorate in classical guitar performance, is a professor at a university teaching the instrument, and is a world-renowned performer in his own right. I could've played the parts sufficiently but I don't even own a nylon string guitar, let alone with the tonal qualities we needed. I certainly do not have the technical skills of someone of that caliber (plus, in that case, it was fulfilling a vow also from 20+ years ago, that we'd perform on each others' albums).
Beyond all of that, it's invigorating to bring in "fresh blood" and it elevates the music. I am sure that we'll be seeing more of this in the future. In fact, I'd like to assemble a "pool" of musicians to insure that we can perform more regularly worldwide when all is said and done. Don't be surprised if you see many of the same guests making additional appearances in the future!
MetalMike: Speaking of Mark Zonder and founding Fates Warning guitarist Victor Arduini, who plays on "Reminiscence of Strangers" and "Lifelines Lost," how did their participation in SAA come about?
Tom: Over the years I've become friends with most of my musical heroes and this includes Fates Warning, Cirith Ungol and Holy Terror alumni, amongst others. This blows my mind thinking back to those teenage years. I mean, I would never have thought guys like this would be playing on MY albums, you know? It's the wonder of social media, I suppose!
With Mark, I was kind of "behind the scenes" during the recent Warlord reformation and subsequent live activity, mostly talking with Bill, however Mark and I chatted quite a bit regarding different promoters overseas, which festivals would be worth pursuing and, of course, Fates Warning, so we bonded over that a bit. Like I said, he basically offered his services when Trevor's availability had changed, and it was as simple as that.
As for Victor, we'd been chatting over the years after I hooked him up with a complete WHW vinyl discography and I always had questions about Fates Warning, haha! I brought his band, Freedoms Reign, over to Cruz Del Sur Music as I had done with Twisted Tower Dire and Argus before (sometimes I serve as an "unofficial" A&R rep for Enrico). Anyway, I had already asked Vic to do some solos on the other album as there are some tracks very much in that "To Wander The Void"/"The Spectre Within" vein, but when we set that aside, I didn't want to set aside his involvement, being quite sure he'd elevate anything we had him on and, for me, his epic solo bridging Parts 9 and 10 may be the highlight of the album! If not that, in and of itself, perhaps the idea that he and I trade leads at one point during that madness!
When all is said and done, what SAA is in terms of personnel is a group of friends playing music together.
MetalMike: In the credits you are listed as sharing the drum arrangements with Mark. Was he part of the creative process for the songs themselves or were they basically written and presented to him with some basic drum tracks added and then he fleshed them out? What was it like to work with someone who has been such a huge part of the Heavy Metal scene here in the United States, from his time in Warlord in the early 80s (and today) and his work with Fates Warning?
Tom: Regarding the drums on SAA, and the last 3 albums really, I've been providing very basic outlines (though in some cases fairly elaborate parts) along with the arrangements for the other instruments with the belief and understanding that anyone who is interpreting them will add their own touch and personality, especially in the fills and the details. But I usually have a pretty strong vision of what a part calls for in my head. When I am channeling music, playing guitar by myself, I hear the whole band in my head; "the big picture."
Anyway, Mark basically said there were two approaches to tackling this material; one being to essentially recreate my ideas note-for-note, the other to do "something more interesting," and we ended up splitting the difference. There's a certain character that I strive to maintain with WHW, as far as that Viking Bathory/Primordial triplet feel, like "Of Empires Forlorn" or "The Furthest Shore Part 3." At the same time, I don't want to have the same beats all of the time. There ARE so many possibilities with syncopation, accents, metric modulation, and ethnic colors that there's no need to play "Children Of The Grave" 100 times over. So, I gave Mark some mp3's and sheet music with the drum notation and he really had a strong impact upon Parts 2-3, 8, and 10. The rest is pretty close to what I had sent over.
The experience was GREAT. Mark was a true professional, committed to getting the best performance possible, contributing ideas as well as being open to mine. As a fan, I was hoping to unite the heaviness of his playing, the "Thunderchild" aspect of Warlord, with the intricacy of "Perfect Symmetry" and I believe that we achieved this. It was important to me, as a fan, to push him into some places that he's never been before. I mean, have you ever heard Mark Zonder break out some Black Metal action like he does at the end of Part 5 before? Yeah, it was fantastic. I'm sure we'll do some more work together in the future!
MetalMike: How about Victor's contributions to SAA? You've told me previously that you shared lead duties with him on those tracks toward the end of the album. Did you just play the song and let him improvise or were those leads worked out between the two of you?
Tom: I'm not exactly sure of his process, honestly. I just sent him the passages from the album that had "gaps" left for solos but it sounds to me like some combination of improv and composition, considering the harmony layers. I think I only told him he should change two notes in one of the harmony parts as his original ideas colored the vibe in a way which was different than intended during that part. Other than that, I had this idea for another short passage, which I tried to explain to him via Email or a phone call, but it wasn't translating, so I just played it myself. I don't want to point out exactly where that part transpires as I want listeners to see if they can figure it out themselves! Otherwise, yeah, 95% of that solo is Victor's "baby"!
MetalMike: Since, as we previously discussed in this interview, SAA ISN'T VastER Oceans Lachrymose or any other WHW album, the critical reaction seems to have been more varied. Before we delve into the response let me ask, and I don't mean this to sound flip, but why not continue to mine the ground that has produced some of the band's most memorable and well-loved material?
Tom: We have to play from the heart and soul, heed the music itself and I refuse to do anything that isn't truly inspired. I think to retread old ground would not only be redundant, it would also be spirit crushing. Further, we're not AC/DC, Motorhead or The Ramones. Only a handful of bands can actually get away with releasing the same album over and over, usually because they are truly great songwriters. We don't fall into that category. I'm not saying we couldn't replicate any previous album if we wanted to, but that isn't what we're about; we grow as people, musicians and arrangers with time, experience and age. We have to represent who we are at the moment of recording to remain viable; this is true for ANY band.
We don't come from, or take influence from, bands that are genre specific for the most part. There's always been a unique blend of diverse influences as far as WHW is concerned even if no one outside of the band was aware of this. Considering the majority of our releases are archival in nature, songs like "Vessel" and "To Wander The Void" were concurrent with things like "Thus With A Kiss I Die" and "Into The Wells Of Sorrow," we just didn't release them at the time because the music told us to do otherwise. I mean, perhaps people aren't cognizant that the only new material that we've released in the past decade is SAA and "Finality"!
Anyway, we also don't concern ourselves with what our contemporaries are doing nor the band down the street or whatever the flavor of the month is right now. We play what feels right and is sincere at the time of recording. We look to the REAL gods of music; Floyd, Zeppelin, Queen, Crimson, hell, even Sabbath, these bands never released the same album twice, and I'm quite sure their approach wasn't for naught. It was certainly more gratifying than spinning in circles.
I get that certain albums and eras resonate with people and they want more of the same sometimes, but those albums already exist and it would be dismissive of people to think we could do the "same thing, but better" years on, having grown as I mentioned. I still don't think we've gone THAT far from where we started, honestly. I still hear the parallels from Lovesongs all the way through SAA and those things I mentioned previously permeate everything we've ever done, yet it always has a different result. We certainly haven't pulled a "Cold Lake" or "Illud" anyway!
MetalMike: Getting back to the response from the public, you've stated on Facebook that you expected a certain segment of the Heavy Metal community to not be as open to SAA for a variety of reasons. Heavy Metal fans can be fiercely loyal as well as notoriously fickle but have you been surprised by the feedback to the album or is it about what you expected?
Tom: You know, it's really not wise for anyone to anticipate what people will think or say, how an album will be received or anything along those lines so we just don't worry about that, and we definitely don't allow it to have an impact upon what we're doing anymore than past criticisms or accolades. There's no interest in "poisoning the well" here. All we can ever do is hope that some people "get it" and expect that many people will not; that's ok. What's not ok is when people levy accusations or assume things that are contrary to the very virtues of what we stand for and why we exist in the first place. I'm not going off on that tangent now, just saying...
Anyway, there have been some surprises indeed. For example, Decibel have never been in our corner, the way Metal Maniacs and BW&BK were 10 years before, but suddenly SAA is not only heralded, we're also "criminally underrated"? Wow! That wasn't anything I saw coming. I didn't see people championing Fear Of Infinity after it was maligned three years ago, either! In the end, like I said, there are always going to be those who evolve with us and those who remain suspended in the past, and that's fine, too. We're still playing all of that music live and the albums are out there for people to return to again and again.
MetalMike: I really like SAA but some of that can certainly be attributed to the Prog Rock aspects of the music. I grew up on Rush, Pink Floyd, Genesis, etc. so a lot of that stuff is in my musical DNA but maybe not so much in that of other Heavy Metal fans. Do you think this is something that could be behind the challenges some listeners may be having with SAA?
Tom: Sure! The irony is that some of the biggest Metal bands that exist, from Maiden to Metallica, Priest to Sabbath, were listening to other things including the bands you mentioned in the former cases, and proper jazz or blues in the latter cases. Any serious musician knows that the more you listen to, the more colors you have to paint with. This doesn't mean that the average listener will always appreciate what you are doing but, you know, there are some places in the world where music is cherished in all of its forms, even by the fiercest Metalheads. Hopefully, just the fact we're talking about bands like King Crimson, Rush and Pink Floyd, let alone covering bands like Jane, will help them find a new audience.
I also think the heavy 20th Century Classical influences and unconventional structure of SAA is catching some people off guard, but my best suggestion is to try listening multiple times. It's not like this is Free Jazz! Not yet, anyway! I'd say the majority of people DO "get it," even if they don't like it. The reality is that more people seem to enjoy it than those who don't and it's certainly had a warmer reception than Fear Of Infinity (though I stand by that album too, except perhaps "Destroyer Of Solace"...ugh...).
MetalMike: How have the influences you grew up with changed with respect to their impact on WHW's music over the years? Why are some influences that were there at the beginning maybe just starting to show up now? Have you gotten to the point where you are just letting the music flow where perhaps in the past you made some conscious effort to alter it once it was "born," as it were?
Tom: I think I already covered a lot of this, but the gist is our influences really haven't changed since the beginning. I mean, apart from Arcturus coming along and some of the Devin Townsend solo records, Mono; everything else is the same as it was in 1988-89 for me. Some of the things like Holy Terror or Artillery probably weren't as obvious on Sorrow Of The Angels or Empires, but they were there on the other songs from that time period that are only seeing release now (or in the past 5 years). Again, best to hold on for the ride, it will all become clearer in time, even how SAA fits into the grand scheme of things (but don't expect another album so "mellow" anytime in the foreseeable future. I say this because what's coming is heavy!).
But yes, there's no question that the music is indeed just flowing and that truly is the best way. It's natural, organic and reflecting the fact that our pedigree is as varied as the influences you hear on the records. You've got to remember that everyone involved has been in or is STILL in other bands running the gamut from Classic Metal, Prog Metal, Prog Rock to Jazz and Classical ensembles to Death/Black/Doom/Thrash. All of this is in our DNA and I've long given up the notion that different facets of our musical personalities should be segregated. Including my own!
And by the way, we've never altered anything from its initial conception beyond small details; it's just that some things have sat on the shelves of the "archives" for decades. And some things still are.
MetalMike: Has the response been different here in the U.S. vs. the rest of the world? Even if the response is the same here as elsewhere, why do you think Europe and the Far East are so much more into Heavy Metal these days?
Tom: The thing is, so few people know or care who we are in the U.S., that those who do, even if not particularly receptive to SAA, still find a lot to grasp onto within it, or so it appears. I'd liken the response to SAA as something very similar to that of VOL ; it's ALMOST universal. I mean look, as of today there are 107 reviews, 98 are fantastic and then there are a couple of folks that fall into that territory that I described where they appreciate certain aspects of the album but wish it were more like old WHW. Finally, there are those that just loathe it, which is fine. I just take umbrage when people claim to have some insight into our heads and hearts when they pan it versus just articulating what issues they have with what's on their stereo.
As for the rest of the world compared to the U.S., when it comes to Metal I guess the bottom line is there's less of an "MTV"/corporate/"Flavor Of The Month" influence. I mean, it's there but not like it is here. What passes for Metal in terms of the general public here has about as much to do with Metal in my world as a Justin Bieber album. Not even the "extreme" stuff that is often heralded here is even remotely close to my tastes. I suppose there is just better representation of everything from Sabbath and Maiden to Autopsy and Entombed in the rest of world, via the media, including radio and TV. Man, I wish I knew, but whatever the reason, in 25 years of existence, we've never toured the States fully and didn't release any albums here after the first demo until Fear Of Infinity in 2011 yet there are over 30 vinyl releases in the EU and otherwise. That's not all by choice, rather demand, so your guess is as good as mine!
MetalMike: What is next for WHW? On your website you've announced a 25th anniversary show in Atlanta, GA on Sept. 9th, 2015. Any other shows/tours lined up for 2015 and beyond? Are there any places WHW has yet to play that you really want to get to?
Tom: We already did one 25th Anniversary show in Germany last November, a headlining set at Hammer Of Doom 8 in Würzburg, that was over 2 hours in length and spanned the entire existence of the band including some songs we've never performed before! I imagine our return to Atlanta for the ProgPower USA opening night show will be similar to that, albeit surely closer to 75-80 minutes in length.
There was some talk about European action in 2015 and our agency is looking into options but, quite frankly, I've been rather distracted with album-release press and the U.S. release to have any definitive answers at this time. We are working on it though, and we do intend to do at least one proper run of the States when the time comes. We'll keep everyone posted!
Regarding where we'd REALLY like to play? Basically anywhere that we have been requested but have yet to reach. It's more about our fans than our own ambitions; we want to reach them and visit directly. Personally though, I'd love to crack the Asian market myself especially considering how big of an influence Kitaro and Mono are on WHW.
MetalMike: Have you floated the possibility to Mark Zonder or Victor Arduini of joining the band for any live dates? That would be a treat for the fans! Since Victor is from Connecticut, maybe he could join for a short East Coast tour that certain Metal Crypt personnel could attend LOL!
I have and I do have ambitions to have all of the musicians who are on the album performing it at least once but this would have to be a special event of some kind, I'm sure. It takes a lot to coordinate schedules between 12 musicians especially when there are 12 other bands - literally! And as far as getting Vic out for some shows, it'll happen I'm sure. We'll talk about it again soon and, considering most of us live on the East Coast, that's more likely than anywhere else in the U.S.!
MetalMike: So here is maybe the toughest question I have for you. You have someone who has never heard WHW before. Why should that person start with SAA and not one of the band's previous albums? Or maybe that person should follow the band's output in chronological order...
Tom: I don't know if I would suggest starting with SAA alone, actually. I mean, it does encapsulate a lot of what we're about and who are today as well as who we've always been, but I'd probably suggest something more along the lines of Vast Oceans Lachrymose AND SAA both (incidentally, I do recommend people listen to those back to back for a rather gratifying experience when you've got 80 minutes to kill). Or better yet, try my personal "best of" and listen to "Suspended At Aphelion," "Finality," "The Furthest Shore," "Thus With A Kiss I Die" and "Vessel" then maybe throw in "Soulsadness" and "The Drowning Years" or "Voice In The Wind" and that would sum up everything that we are and have ever been. Or just start with SAA haha. I think you said it best in your review; if it had a few more heavy passages or some of the old bombast in a couple places it would be 100% "there" for me, but it's damn close, about 98%, and I'll soon resolve a few small details for my personal copy and I'll try to get it out there for the Metalheads, but it's not going to eliminate to 20+ minutes of chamber music!
MetalMike: You've mentioned in past interviews that there is another WHW album already brewing, perhaps one that was "meant" to follow Fear of Infinity. Am I correct in this and, if so, why SAA now and not the album intended to follow FOI? If I have this wrong, what IS next for WHW, musically?
Tom: You've got it right; we "skipped" the album that came chronologically after "Finality" and Fear Of Infinity in favor of SAA. We're talking material from 2009-2011, whereas SAA is mostly 2011-2012. The only reason we "skipped" the other one is because SAA was obviously something very different and very special, something on an epic scale that would better commemorate a quarter of a century than a "standard" album. Furthermore, SAA does, in fact, represent every era of the band in one song, even if it's not bone crushing throughout. It's just as gutting as "Thus With A Kiss I Die," as dark as "To Grieve Forever" and as poignant as "Finality," it's all in there. But I digress...
The one we passed over temporarily is a Metal album proper, more so than either FOI or SAA in some ways; no ballads, riffs for days, guitar-centric, 10 shorter songs, thematic/flowing but not conceptual at all, etc. Like I mentioned before, there's a few more Progressive aspects harmonically speaking, but it's MUCH more straight ahead; just Epic Metal, you know? I'd say it's 1/3 "To Wander The Void," 1/3 "Hour Of Reprisal" and 1/3, hmm... "Other," but ranging from Holy Terror to Merciful Fate. There's one clean piece, but it's dark, an instrumental, most of it is ideal for head banging I'd say. It's fun as hell to play and I love those songs. We're going to knock that out as soon as we can to insure its still something we're relating to and feeling; it's not THAT old, but I don't want it to sit around for 16 years like "Vessel" and "To Wander The Void" did!
It's also crucial to realize that album sooner rather than later because there's brand new material from 2014 also gestating right now and it is indeed a logical progression from SAA, but maybe not in the way people might suspect. It's even more fucked up harmonically, in a Voivod/"Larks' Tongues In Aspic" kind of way, more 20th Century Classical, but this time, heavy fucking riffing again. Not without the "beautiful" parts but lots of "ugly" ones. We'll see where it goes!
MetalMike: Last question; what should all WHW fans know about SAA as they begin the musical journey that is the album?
Tom: Keep in mind it was mastered to 1982 levels, not 2014, so you might have to turn your stereo volume a touch to match some other discs, but this was intentional. Also, it might be worth noting, most of the people that really "get" the album have spun it literally 10+ times so if it doesn't resonate immediately, give it at least a couple passes. Even if it never does, but other albums of ours did, hang in there. Surely something else coming down the road will be closer to what you fancy being that we still worship Arch-era Fates, Cirith Ungol, Witchfinder General, etc...
MetalMike: Congratulations again on Suspended at Aphelion and I really look forward to you taking the album on the road and hopefully getting to hear it live. Thanks for taking some time to let the readers of The Metal Crypt know a little bit more about the album and I wish you and the band great success! Any last comments?
Tom: Thanks again for the opportunity Mike! We really appreciate it and hope that all of this sheds some light on SAA. I know it's kind of a "WTF?" album for 2014 but it's still 100% WHW. And I know we did this particular piece of music justice. Not bad for a bunch of High School friends and siblings!
|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 Tom Phillips (guitar) on April 30, 2011 (Interviewed by MetalMike)|
|Video: The Furthest Shore (Parts 1-3)|
Copyright © 1999-2018, Michel Renaud / The Metal Crypt. All Rights Reserved.