More on what the word "green" had come to mean and why Woods IV is the Green Album...
DG: “Green” was everywhere and I couldn’t escape being reminded of everything that I lost. It knocked the breath out of my chest every time I saw it like a punch in the heart and I saw it everywhere, mostly in modern advertising. There was a time when I was on my way to work in Seoul, Korea, when I stepped out of the subway to see a huge 50-foot environmental awareness billboard that read “Love Green” in huge green block letters. Knowing I would encounter this word throughout the rest of my life often enough and knowing that I was severely attached to it enough for it to have the potential to continue to wear me down and eventually destroy me, I needed to do something for my own survival, even if it meant tricking myself by changing the meaning. At the very least, I distract myself from the love that I lost with the consolation that I am reminded instead of Woods of Ypres and the album that I wrote about the love that I lost, of the same name, Green. My little experiment was a relative success in salvaging what was left of me. It was also the source for some unique, once in a lifetime type inspiration that I would use to create something heavy, intense and convincing, as a kind of souvenir. At least now, “Green” reminds me somewhat more of the album, than the unfortunate events that inspired the album, the same way that seeing any forest reminds me of Woods of Ypres more than it does the personal tragedies that often inspired the music. We are the trees, and now we are “green,” too. However, these are still small battles won after the war had been lost, and I still long for all that was. It’s certainly not the album I ever wanted to write but it did indeed become my story and I wanted it to be told. It was also a way for me to communicate my feelings one last time, like a message in a bottle on the ocean. See track ten: “You Are Here With Me (in this sequence of dreams).” I thought that was a fitting place and a bittersweet sentiment on which to finally part ways, in song. Some warm, nostalgic class, post-reactionary-doom-metal-chaos.
How directly autobiographical is your writing?
DG: Maybe it finally borders on “too much,” but in my defence, on the right side of the border, and doesn’t go over. I imagine (hope) that this is last time I will ever write an album like this. Woods songs have always been cathartic for me, paying tribute to some terrible experience with self-satisfying song. I already knew when embarking on my adventure to Korea that I would eventually write the “Green” album, and I’m very happy that we were successful in putting it together and making it happen as quickly as it did, in less than two years since the release of Woods III. I know that the “green” album was the only album I knew how to write in the condition I was in and I felt that it was a good idea to purge all of those feelings and get them out of my system and into song all at once and asap, so those themes didn’t continue to reappear in my songwriting, or my real life, in the future. I also had to make this album before too long, to deliver myself to a place of peace and prove to the rest of the world that I didn’t die, it didn’t kill me. I guess all that experience brought me to a point where I was weak enough to call it quits, but also too tough to die, which is very characteristically “Woods of Ypres” of me.
Early copies of Woods 4 come with Necramyth’s Slaughter of the Seoul as a second disc. Why the double release? How did your experience with Necramyth impact the writing or performances on Woods 4?
DG: Necramyth, Slaughter of the Seoul, was a big part of the W4 process for me. I don’t even know if another Woods album would have happened otherwise. Necramyth saved my life. I was a wreck over there and completely lost with what to do with myself outside of teaching, alone, for a year. Playing brutal drums for a metal band again helped me get back in shape, mentally and physically, working and sweating and blast-beating my defeated, bleeding heart back to life. W4 is like a reflection on my year in Seoul and all the stages I went through in grieving, while Slaughter of the Seoul sounds like how I felt inside during that year, with all the internal violence and chaos.We wrote and rehearsed the songs on Slaughter… throughout the year, trying them out live at shows, before finally beginning the recording process in April 2008, as my contract in Seoul was nearing its end. Necramyth really was a live band. The album was recorded without a metronome or guide tracks and it resulted in a real fluid, live feel with lots of groove. I’m really proud about that album, too! I can vividly remember the feeling of riding the Seoul subway system with my double bass pedals in a case over one shoulder, my Chinese Wuhan cymbals in a bag and a backpack on my back, in my teacher clothes, going to rehearsal at one of the many different rehearsal spots we’d frequent, depending on the day of the week. Lots of sweat and love when into making that album. I felt camaraderie in that band like I had never felt before. I will always feel indebted to the Necramyth guys and I’ll always cherish that experience.
Both albums are like a different side to the same story. There was the side of me that would have to leave my emotional challenges at the door when going in to work everyday and pretend that everything was fine in order to remain professional and do my job. I was able to work out my frustrations in a physical way at night by getting back to extreme drumming while playing in Necramyth, rehearsing twice a week and playing a show almost every Saturday. The content on W4 is like the chapters of the different stages I went through while I was there and the feelings I had but couldn’t try to deal with or even try to talk about at the time. There was my work life, my personal life, my Necramyth life, and W4 is like a chronicle of the whole experience. W4 is like a cup of green tea while sitting in a dark room in personal reflection, while Slaughter of the Seoul is like slamming soju (Korean booze) and smashing the bottle in the street.
On top of the Necramyth connection, you recruited some guest performers for Woods 4, from Ottawa neofolk project Musk Ox. Why and how that did that come about?
DG: I met Nathanaël / Musk Ox through Adrian Bromley a little over a year ago. Musk Ox played Adrian’s memorial show and also opened up for Woods in Hamilton last May on our Eastern Canada Tour. While we were in the writing process we got talking about having the Musk Ox team (Nathanaël Larochette classical guitar, Raphael Weinroth-Browne cello, and Angela Schleihauf oboe) add some melodic instrumentation. They contributed the music for the track “You Are Here With Me (in this sequence of dreams)” and Angela added oboe leads on three other tracks. I recently just saw Musk Ox live in Ottawa at Club Raw Sugar and they opened the set with “You Are Here…”. We may just end up working together again in the future.
More on the irony and the multi-dimensional nature of W4...
DG: I take the risks in believing that for every young black metal kid who says, “this is not for me,” there’s a college age doom-kid totally connecting to it, relating to it, identifying with it, thinking, “this album is about me!” I wouldn’t want to write a doom album like this unless it had a point. It would be irresponsible of me to write a depressing doom album where the message from the first track is “Abandon All Hope” and the message in the last track is “Kill Yourself.” What’s the point? Instead we have “Drag that Weight,” “Don’t Open the Wounds” and “Move On!”
On the subject of musical influences...
DG: Musically, I took influence from Type O, Sentenced, Crowbar, Katatonia, other random, unnamed goth and doom metal from my past and real-time influence from whatever $100 riffs that happen to end up in my hands while playing guitar, sitting on the edge of my bed in Seoul. I didn’t have the capacity to focus or the brainpower to be conceptualizing W4 at the time, but I would play guitar and try to write “something,” simply to keep myself occupied but not knowing what would come of it. Eventually, there came moments where some casual riffing would result in thinking out loud, “That’s going to be a Green Album riff.”
And while writing and recording the Green Album...
DG: I was listening to mostly Nick Cave and The Magnetic Fields, bawling my fucking eyes out at night in the privacy of my apartment. Lyrically, I certainly pulled some lyrical irony from those two heroes of mine, Nick Cave and Stephen Merritt. Also, the “low voice” parts that most metalheads attribute to Peter Steele (Type O Negative) could just as easily be a Stephen Merritt influence for me.
One of the songs, “I Was Buried in Mount Pleasant Cemetery,” names several people – Glenn Gould, Alexander Muir, Eaton, Joseph Mulgrew. This is Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Toronto? What’s the significance of these particular individuals?
DG: The first three are real people actually buried in Mt. Pleasant Cemetery: Gould the pianist, Muir the composer and Eaton the businessman. Joseph Mulgrew is the real name of the character Joe Dick, played by Hugh Dillon in the movie Hard Core Logo. In the movie, it is said that Joe Dick (HCL frontman who shoots himself in the head in the final scene of the movie) is buried in Mt. Pleasant and that his body is later stolen and never recovered. I am a huge HCL fan, and I have always identified with Dillon’s “Joe Dick” character as well as Dillon’s character, himself as a frontman and band leader, being just as desperate as he is passionate. Before my job offer in Seoul came in, I spent a few weeks jogging after work in Mount Pleasant Cemetery, which was just behind my apartment in Toronto. It was June, already far too hot for my liking and I hate jogging but it became an outlet, to do something with myself while I tried to think about what I was going to do next. I liked the idea that the old me, the version 1.0 me was slowly ‘buried’ there over the course of a few weeks, or that I progressively faded away a little bit more each day, evaporating in the heat, under the sun, and eventually disappeared. That’s where the Toronto part of my story ended just before the part “In exile” was to begin. This might be my favourite part of the album and sure to become a classic favourite Woods song. It’s my first choice if we are so lucky to end up making a music video to support W4.
Woods of Ypres has gone through several line-up changes over the years. What effect did line-up issues, including the current cast of characters, have on the latest record?
DG: Look, no one gives Devin Townsend a hard time about line up changes these days, so why me…? (hah! Just kidding.) I’ve been doing Woods since 2002, so eight years in which the world has never stood still. Change is inevitable and a natural, healthy part of the process, in retrospect. It all ended well this time, which was refreshing. We had another guy on bass who fought for the gig, only to quit two weeks before he was to start recording, so in classic Woods fashion, we had to think fast and adapt to rearrange the recording schedule in order to meet our deadline of doing this album between an Eastern Canada tour and a Western Tour. Evan’s brother Shane came to rescue by committing himself to the project, learning and writing his parts in less than a month and producing excellent results. Evan Madden is just a monster on drums who can put himself through all the physical abuse of the classic Woods black metal blast and double bass drumming but also understood what this new album was about and how to make it work. Last but not least, fellow Sault Ste. Marie guy Bryan Belleau contributed his lead guitar skills and added solos to the album.
Playing live seems to have been an off and on activity for Woods of Ypres, recently more on than off. How has that affected what you’re doing now with the band?
DG: Well, it’s closer to where I want us to be, being able to release albums and tour to support them. In the very beginning we played lots of shows, then we played only 1-2 a year during the challenging WII and WIII years in Toronto. In the W4 era of the last 1.5 years, we’ve toured coast-to-coast across Canada, co-headlined the Noctis metalfest in Calgary and ventured into the USA to co-headline the Heathen Crusade 3. We’re planning another cross Canada tour in June 2010, and our first real tour of the USA in July. Europe is inevitable for Woods of Ypres. It’s just a matter of time. Overall, being able to tour is a dream come true. I love writing, recording and releasing music but touring and connecting with the listeners live and in person completes the process. It’s an awesome feeling to hit the stage in any town and see listeners nodding, frowning, with fists in the air, making eye contact with me and singing along to anything from “Your Ontario Town is a Burial Ground” to “The Ghosts of Summer’s Past.”
The first Woods of Ypres release, the EP Against the Seasons, came out in 2002, followed by Pursuit of the Sun and Allure of the Earth in 2004 and The Deepest Roots and Darkest Blues in 2008. What would you say has been the biggest change from what Woods was then to what the band is now?
DG: Nothing has stayed the same. I’ve moved, grown, changed, mostly abruptly and usually against my will, and as a result the music has evolved and my reasons for continuing has changed. I guess I’ve gone with the flow, even though it rarely feels like it, and by that what I mean is that we let change happen. For example, instead of trying to force that fast, youthful black metal sound of 2002 across a career, I prefer to reflect the honesty of our dark, slow doom of 2009. That’s where we were then, but this is where we are now. We’ve had blessings in disguise, too. Getting to where we are now has been a struggle, but admittedly it’s always been a voluntary labour of love. Everything else just seems to come and go but I always come back to Woods of Ypres. I will always have it and no one will ever be able to take that away from me. There have been many good opportunities to quit, namely less than two years ago. Now, there are so many good reasons to continue, reaching new heights with the band in 2009 and 2010. It’s ironic and highly entertaining to me to reflect on the absurdity that I play in a depressive, often suicidal-themed black and doom metal band, and yet, heredity suggests that I will likely live for a very long time, in which I can’t ever imagine putting the band to rest. Eventually, I would like to bring the band and myself to a good, strong, healthy place and have that strength and sense of hope reflected in the music. It would only be fair, honest.
And a few more words on staying independent...
DG: It gives me something to do until I find a greater cause. The main advantage is that we make the albums that we want to make and there’s no one to interfere. However, the major challenge is that we must do everything ourselves and there’s no one to help share the burdens. Now in 2010, when it seems all the other bands are finally going independent, it would seem backwards for me to sign to a label, when really, we could be entering into the era in which we will finally capitalize on our years of experience in the independent underground. Or, we will continue to make albums and most people will continue to download them for free from blogs, etc… We will sign a good long-term deal with a good label who is prepared to adapt with the industry. Labels have only offered us shit so far and told us to take it or leave it, and we have always left it and continued to do our own thing and grow on our own.