Will Haven – The Science of Noise

Thursday, 15th March 2018

One of metal’s more perpetually underrated bands, Will Haven has had to prove their worth repeatedly over the years. Sure, they had some help in the beginning due to some friendship with the Deftones, but personal connections can only bring a band so far without the chops to back it up. While things have been at a slower pace than their first three releases, they’ve played the long game and stuck it out for over 20 years at this point, which brings us to their sixth album Muerte.

Taking the band’s alternative/noise/etc sound and enhancing it with more atmospheric landscapes, Muerte is a portrait of Will Haven at the top of their game. It also may be the last album seen from the band (which is discussed below). With that sort of concept in the air, it seemed a good time to chat with guitarist Jeff Irwin to get a more in-depth look at Muerte, songwriting, Deftones connections, and the role of emotion in the band’s music, amongst other topics of course.

Dead Rhetoric: It’s really hard to put the music of Will Haven into a box and categorize it. After being around for over 20 years at this point, where do you feel the band fits in to the scene?

Jeff Irwin: People ask me, “What do you guys sound like?” I don’t even know; I can’t even really describe it besides being a metal band basically. To me, I don’t even know if it’s metal. There’s so many genres now; I can’t really categorize what we sound like. But for us, I don’t think our music is sound based, it’s more emotionally based. When I listen to music, I listen for certain riffs, but when I write I don’t think about certain riffs that I have heard before and try to duplicate them. Whatever flows out of my body is what happens. There’s not a lot of inspiration – there are certain things like Neurosis that sort of started the idea of Will Haven, but other than that, it’s whatever flows. I don’t even know how to describe what our sound would be because it’s not really a certain kind of music, it’s just emotion to me.

Dead Rhetoric: That makes sense, and if you are working off of emotion…how do you really classify that anyway?

Irwin: You can kind of describe love or hate, but you can’t really tell someone. They have to feel it. It’s kind of the same thing. You listen to it and make your own thoughts/opinion on it.

Dead Rhetoric: In what areas do you feel that Muerte continues the band’s progression?

Irwin: Personally, for me, it’s a huge progression over the older stuff. When we started Will Haven, we were learning our instruments. I played drums my whole life, and I had just started playing guitar before our first EP. Mike [Martin] had never played bass before joining Will Haven. Grady [Avenell] had sang for a little while, but he was new at it too. Even Wayne [Morse], he had switched from bass to drums to be in the band. So we were all starting fresh. We always wanted to play heavy music, but we had no idea how to write songs. A lot of it was on a whim. So as a musician, it took a long time to progress. I didn’t have my feet wet yet, we were writing songs but I didn’t know how to make them better or make them a certain way. I had an idea, but I could never do it.

So now that I’m 44 years old, I’ve finally put out a record that I envisioned for what the band would be a long time ago. For me, it’s a huge progression because it’s not so ‘elementary school.’ Our older stuff, for me, was repetitious and kind of simplistic. Some people might think that’s crazy, but for me, that’s what it felt like. It felt like I could have put more into it in terms of soundscapes and dynamics. So with Muerte, I had finally reached the point where I could incorporate those things and still keep it heavier. As you get older, you get better at certain things, and for music, it seems like it has been that way for me.

Dead Rhetoric: So is it cool to reach that point where you had envisioned the band to be?

Irwin: This record for me is like the pinnacle of our existence as a band as far as songwriting goes. But at the same time, we’ve opened a new door – we’ve started this, now we can go from here. So either it’s the end of Will Haven and we’ve reached our pinnacle, or it’s the beginning of something that we can branch off of even more and get crazy with. It’s an accomplishment for me, we’ve finally reached that point. Where do we go from here? Do we break up or do we keep something going on this venture? It’s one of the two, either or [laughs].

Dead Rhetoric: So is there a serious discussion at this point about what to do with the band – whether to stop because you’ve reached this pinnacle or continuing to elevate?

Irwin: I think ever since Will Haven has been a band, we have never known what we were going to do with it. It’s kind of a hobby. It’s not our full-time job, it’s just something we do on the outside of our normal, everyday lives. Whatever happens, happens. If we get a rad tour, we’ll do it. If people care, we’ll still put out music. If no one cares, we’d still put out music but we won’t be doing interviews and stuff. We have always talked about whether it’s the end – it doesn’t pay our bills. If it doesn’t make money, it’s harder to take it seriously. It’s more like a hobby and we just do it whenever we feel like doing it. So there’s never a ‘for sure’ outcome. We take it day by day.

We’ve talked about this one being our last one for a while. Before we started making it, we had talked about doing just one more – the four of us together. After we were done, we thought the product was really cool. It’s not so much carrying on the band legacy – it’s just jamming with the 4 guys that are in Will Haven now. We don’t want to keep it going because it’s Will Haven, we want to keep it going because we like playing with each other and we feel like we can do some cool stuff with the four of us. It’s that more than anything.

Dead Rhetoric: You mentioned the band being a hobby. With that perspective in mind, does it allow you to make something more genuine, knowing you aren’t going to be relying on it financially?

Irwin: More so now. I think back in the earlier days like El Diablo, there was such a growing support for us. We were new and fresh, and had some attention. Back then, we wanted to make a new record but not get too crazy with it and piss our fans off. I think it was more calculated. Now, with this brand new record, we don’t even care. I don’t know if anyone knows who we are anymore. We had no record label, we hadn’t done anything since the EP, which didn’t get much press. It didn’t really put our name back out there. So we had no pressure, no label, no one was really caring about us all that much – we might have gotten 1 like on our Facebook page every two months.

So we wrote a record for us. We wanted to make something that we were proud of, and if it was really good, people will react. There’s still a fan base, but we wanted to make something that we were happy with and that we can listen to. If we were on Spotify, and this pops up, it would be something we would want to hear. We also did the record for the fans that still love Will Haven, we wanted to keep them happy and keep their respect. We wanted to make them happy to still be a Will Haven fan, but still write something that we could be proud of and push our limits. So it was a mixture of those ideas going into it.

Dead Rhetoric: So what does go into your approach when it comes time to write music?

Irwin: On our old records, we would just start jamming. I might have an idea and bring it to practice. We might have a song in a day or two. But with this album, we actually had a lot of time. Between the EP and writing this record, we didn’t think Will Haven would be around anymore. We thought it was done. So me, our bassist, and our drummer, we still kept jamming and we were writing music, but it wasn’t really Will Haven stuff. We didn’t know what we wanted to do. It was more soundscape-y, Pink Floyd kind of stuff, but it was a lot of fun to just jam with it.

When we decided to do the new Will Haven record, we had so much stuff done for that side project, we figured we would try to incorporate them into the new Will Haven record. That was when I started trying to do my homework and putting these pieces together – putting heavy riffs on top of these soundscapes so they mended together and fit really well. It was a big puzzle that we had to fit together. So there were a lot of different ideas that came in on this album on accident. It was a different writing process for Muerte; it inspired me because a lot of that stuff was really mellow and soundscape-y and I thought that if I could put some of the heavy riff stuff together with it, it would work out well. It worked out perfectly.

Dead Rhetoric: You can hear that contrast, which is pretty awesome. Was it more engaging to take that sort of approach this time?

Irwin: It was more fun for me. Before, we had old Will Haven songs, even stuff on Carpe Diem, I had that vision in my mind of being able to write more soundscape-like stuff over it but I had already the album written. It was harder for me to lay that soundscape stuff over what I had already written. It felt hard to get my point across. But by taking the ambient stuff first and adding the heavy stuff on top, it worked out perfectly that way. I didn’t have to worry about writing a heavy riff and incorporating a soundscape over it. The heavier stuff is way easier for me to write than the soundscape stuff. So it I can get that out of the way first, it makes for a better formula for me. The stuff we had was really cool – it wasn’t cheesy soundscape stuff, it had a dark edge to it. It fit perfect for me. I wish we had done that in the past that way [laughs] but it just sort of happened by accident.

Dead Rhetoric: I really like the cover, I’m not sure if minimalist is the right word, but there’s very much a focus to it. Could you talk about the cover of Muerte itself?

Irwin: Will Haven is a very simplistic band. We don’t like flashy or glitz and glam. We come from a straight-edge/hardcore scene where everything was more simple. So that’s our roots, and we’ve always been that way. Some of our stuff got a little crazy, but our mindset is to keep things simple. For this record, the title was Muerte [Death] but we didn’t know exactly what to do with it. We had a lot of ideas, but this art director that works for Brad at Minus Head had come up with a bunch of concepts. We saw the hands. Originally it was a bunch of hands. But there was one with just the one hand reaching for the other.

I thought it was kind of cool because to me, it represented a living person letting go of themselves. The black hand represents death, so it’s basically the separation between life and death. I thought it was a striking image, and I didn’t know if people would get it, but there’s life and then there’s death. You are letting go of death basically. We had Will Haven written on the cover at one point, but Brad and I looked it over and he thought it would be cooler with no writing on it. We agreed that it would be iconic with just the hands. It was even more powerful with nothing on it. We are an artsy band, and we like art. To me, the cover looked like art and that’s what I liked about it.

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