While Heaven Wept – Paparazzi Be Doomed

Saturday, 30th March 2013

(This content originally appeared on Blistering.com)

“There’s definitely not paparazzi outside my window,” quips While Heaven Wept founder/guitarist/principal songwriter when queried about the band’s move to the “big leagues” on Nuclear Blast Records. “We’re the same old motherfuckers we’ve always been.”

Few bands are more deserving of the backing of such a record label, as WHW’s 21-year run has had more than its fair share of triumphs, tragedies, and ultimately, transcendence. To their credit, WHW remains one of America’s most venerable doom metal bands, even though they’re not tried-and-true doom. And they have a pair of world-beating albums to their name in 2003’s Of Empires Forlorn and 2009’s Vast Oceans Lachrymose, but the struggle to move out of the restrictive (but comforting) doom confines has long been a trouble area for Phillips and crew. This year’s compact, but mountainous Fear of Infinityshould further distance the band from the doom tag, for all of the dirty work was performed coming off of Vast Oceans Lachrymose, something Phillips was quick to point out when we started up our chat.

“Once it was done, we all looked at each other like, ‘What have we just done?’” begins Phillips. “Coming from the Empires album, it’s a pretty big jump in terms of the songs, it was virtually doom-free. We had a new singer after 18 years [Rain Irving] and it was a different vibe, different mood compared to what we were most known [for]. We were pretty sure that the album was going to come out and everyone was going to be like, ‘What the fuck is this?’ Because we’re intimately involved with the doom metal scene, I know how strong people’s convictions can be about such things. It’s not like we ever claimed to be doom, I just know it’s as elitist as the Norwegian black metal scene was at one point and it was really a shock to have to the reaction that it did. I regret that I doubted our fans; I should have given them more credit.”

The reaction Phillips is referring to is one of wholesale approval from the doom crowd, as Vast Oceans cleaned house on both a critical and fan level. “It was such a different thing that we really didn’t know what to expect,” he says. “All I can say is that it is a very humbling thing and a reality check and I’m glad it did what it did for us. We were going to do this either way – it needed to be done on a personal level. That it reached so many people…not so much in the European scenario – they’ve been a bastion of support for us, but here, it had a pretty big impact”

Before Vast Oceans, the band endured a spate of inactivity that included two failed record labels, lineup changes, and a gear makeover. All of this resulted in a six-year wait in between studio albums.

“When we came back from the tour from Europe in 2004, we knew that things had to change and that involved a lot of change right off the bat,” adds Phillips. “We were ready to go within a couple of weeks. We immediately started to rehearse with Trevor [Schrotz] on drums and by the time we got to early 2005, we were in the studio. We spent 2005 and 2006 recording. It takes us a little bit longer because we’ve always paid out of pocket for these recordings. I made a promise to myself after Empires that I would never get to the point where I was starving and struggling to pay my bills, so we had it spread out a bit.

“In the middle of all this, Rage of Achilles went under,” he continues. “Then the next label we signed with, Black Lotus, went bankrupt, but the irony of all this is that our friends in Spiritus Mortis, did the same thing. I’m not taking the flack for this [laughs]. At some point during the recording, we were sitting around and thinking about it, but maybe we should invest in all the gear we ever dreamed of. There’s nothing worse than finishing a new album, then buying an amplifier and going ‘Fuck man, I wish I had that on the album.’ So this began a huge tone quest that went as far as us designing new guitars specifically for the music of While Heaven Wept. So this was a time-consuming process, very expensive. By the end of 2007, we sorted all of this out, but had blown all of the recording budget, so there’s no way we were getting back to the album anytime soon because all of the money we invested into all of the gear was astronomical.”

Even with the above-mentioned lineup changes and “tone quest,” the band would further be beset with delays, this time because of Phillips’ romantic endeavours. Realizing that WHW had cost him “a lot more than money,” Phillips became involved with a woman from Sweden who turned his world upside-down.

“This was a really good thing for many months,” he notes. “There was a real good connection and she became my focal point. Then all of the sudden she just vanished. Out of nowhere. It was this really complicated thing. She’d come back some weeks later after we’ve been talking all day, every day, then all of the sudden to have that stripped away was a real shock. The deal is, she would return long enough to reel me back again and reassure me that everything was cool, and I believed her. This went on for a while, but eventually culminated in a really horrific experience that I don’t wish upon anybody. I basically found myself in Sweden in January 2009 abandoned and lost in this hotel room.

“I fucking sold all of my vinyl to pay for the ticket,” Phillips adds. “It was really dark. Sitting alone in a hotel room in a boring country for a week, trapped there because you can’t afford not even a ticket for a ferry or change a plane ticket especially considering all of the other things I’ve been through. I returned home, shattered. I was in the darkest place I’ve been in for 20 years, drinking myself to sleep every night, having nightmares, totally tormented in every possible way. I can’t even begin to convey what this was like. After a couple of months of this, I was like, ‘Am I ever going to get out of this?’”

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