Walpyrgus – Night CrawlersWednesday, 14th June 2017
The merger of unsung bastions of American metal Twisted Tower Dire and Widow, deathly dark doom Daylight Dies and gallant, beyond-epic metal While Heaven Wept, Walpyrgus is just as much of an all-star band as it is a celebration of metal’s fun and animated side. Now, “fun” is not a word that should be thrown around lightly; only a certain few can make our fabled style of music appear free-wheeling and easy, but on their sophomore foray Walpyrgus Nights (Cruz del Sur Music), Walpyrgus do it quite well. The combination of Jonny Aune’s vocals, Maiden-on-punk melodies and a lyrical bent that is chalk-full of horror stories certainly drives home that point. Walpyrgus Nights is simply an unabashed throwback listen, devoid of pretense and seriousness.
Situated in the Raleigh, North Carolina region, there’s a perfectly good reason why these gents came together, something guitarist Scott Waldrop was more than willing to explain, along with the band’s approach, the accompanying 56-page comic book that comes with the album and their future plans. Read on…
Dead Rhetoric: All of you have “serious,” long-running bands. What kind of outlet does Walpyrgus provide?
Scott Waldrop: Walpyrgus is specifically my writing style of hard rock/horror punk/metal. With pre-Make it Dark Twisted Tower Dire, you were hearing a mixture of Marc and Dave’s thrash influence with Tony Taylor’s “seriousness” lyrically. In While Heaven Wept, you’re hearing Tom’s brand of progressive neo-classical doom which is also of a very serious nature lyrically. I can’t really speak for Daylight Dies as I don’t know the main songwriter well, but, of course, they’re a very technical, very depressive doom band that’s rather humorless. That said – with Walpyrgus (again) you’re really getting a picture of my songwriting style: Hard Rrock with often “uplifting” and almost old country style chord progressions, and with rather dark yet humorous lyrics. Musically you’re looking at a hybrid baby of Thin Lizzy, old Slayer and The Sex Pistols. Lyrically you’re getting another weird hybrid baby birthed by the sardonic humor of The Ramones, The Misfits, Dead Kennedys, old Slayer (again) and a healthy dose of 25-plus years of Lovecraftian nerdery on my behalf. I would say moreover – that Walpyrgus is an entire band dedicated to the sound TTD left off at after Make it Dark, punctuated by Peter’s rock and roll style drumming, Charley’s uber 80’s Van Halen solos, Tom’s grand keyboard orchestrations, tied together by a very distinct vision of the band’s overall aesthetic centered around an almost cartoon perspective on the occult.
Dead Rhetoric: Is it the kind of band where since there’s no pressure, it becomes even more enjoyable?
Scott Waldrop: Yes, but only in the sense that there have been no expectations. It’s not While Heaven Wept or TTD, so there are no preconceived notions of how it should sound; no long-time hardcore fans to disappoint. Juxtapose to that, though – we do collectively come from a legacy where our music is rather well known in the underground so there is a certain expectation as to the quality of music that fans of our other bands expect us to put out, and pour our hearts into. Given that there have been no TTD or While Heaven Wept records in years, people are expecting us NOT to put out a piece of garbage. While there was no external pressure, we placed a lot of internal pressure to do right by our fans by being extremely mindful of every decision we made in the production of this album. Every word, every note, the production, the performances – they were all executed with as much thought as we could muster without falling into obsessive compulsion and getting too lost with over-thinking. I think me working with Tom again for the first time since we were (basically) kids, coupled with the very stylized playing of Peter and Charley, lent this whole project to a very fresh and energetic atmosphere as we knew at the time we all had great synergy.
Dead Rhetoric: The word “fun” is used in your bio. Sometimes that’s a bad word in metal, but it applies here. Is there a genuine sense of love and appreciation among one another in the band?
Waldrop: I know metalheads like to take themselves too seriously quite often, but we prefer to keep it real and be ourselves musically and in dealing with one another. You only live once and you’re going to die, so if you’re not having fun and finding fulfillment in whatever it is that you’re doing – flipping hamburgers or writing songs about witches and warlocks – you should seriously consider changing your life’s trajectory. Why do you go to metal shows? To have “fun” or be entertained (same thing). What’s the most “serious” metal band you can think of? There’s humor in there somewhere – guarantee it, you just need to look. And to really get to the crux of your question, yes – we’re all great old friends who got together to write music solely out of mutual admiration for each other’s talents. That was the entire point of this band and album – and it was fun as hell putting it together. Each of those guys is like a brother to me.
Dead Rhetoric: Because each of you have other bands, how do you work Walpyrgus into your schedule?
Waldrop: Yes, we have to because there are so many other bands in our gene pool. If there are shows booked we treat it as a “first come first serve” situation. So, if I text Jim, “Can you play July 22?” and he comes back saying there’s an October 31 gig that night – it’s no sweat and we don’t worry about it. Besides, all the other people in all the other bands we play in are (almost) all good friends, so we want the best for each other. We’re too old to have egos and get upset about petty stuff as no ones’ individual success is really hampering the others’
Dead Rhetoric: With so many seasoned veterans in the band, who takes the lead when it comes to songwriting? Or, is it a group effort?
Waldrop: I write the first draft of all the songs myself. I’ll usually start with an acoustic guitar and some open chords while scribbling a first version of the lyrics in a notebook. Then I’ll go into Sonar and convert that simple open chord country-like song into one with basic metal riffs with some drum beats I find in my keyboard. I’ll record the song with me singing so Jonny gets and idea of the phrasing and vocal melodies. Then if the band likes the demo, we learn it and start deconstructing it at practice. Charley will make the riffs more polished and add some technical things that he wants to lock in with the drums. Peter and Jim would often add all sorts of very fine details to songs during practice. So really – all those layers and details you’re hearing in these songs – most of it is not on my original demo. For instances: The “Black Sabbath” riff at the end of “Palmystry” where the keyboards get crazy – that was Charley’s riff and everyone working together adding small details to it. So in essence, we take these simple folk songs I write and sort of “Slayerize” them as I say.
Dead Rhetoric: While you could be described as a classic metal band, there’s an obvious punk influence, which most metal bands rarely let shine through. Who and/or where does the punk influence come from?
Waldrop: I was a punk/metal skater kid from the 1980’s in Washington DC. I didn’t grow up in England listening to Saxon/Maiden nor did I grow in California listening to Motley Crue/Van Halen although I love all those bands. When I was a kid the skate subculture was inextricably linked to the music scene. My sister was really into the Ramones too and so, I had albums like Pleasant Dreams (my favorite) going through my head as a very small child. When I was about 12 I started getting into stuff like Maiden, Ozzy, AC/DC and the metal of those times as I was picking up the guitar because that music was so awesomely guitar-driven. Then, around ’88 or so I had cousins that turned me on to the local punk/hardcore scene that was brewing right in our backyard: stuff like Bad Brains, Cro-Mags, Minor Threat etc. They were also into the “harder” metal like Slayer, Voivod, Dark Angel etc. They turned me on to this whole world as well as the underground zines & tape-trading, so that completely opened my world up. But being a DC kid, that punk stuff is so in my blood I have no problem letting it shine through. We live in a post-punk era and metal has so many schizophrenic off-shoots that (for me), going back to the Sex Pistols is a lot cooler and tougher than trying to be assimilated into the “Vans Warped Tour” ironic metal aesthetic. This old music is part of me, there’s nothing ironic or fake about it to me. I love old punk, it still fills me with adrenaline, and letting this shine through is the most authentic version of myself I can give to people. You know – at the same time I’m a metal musician so it’s not like a see it as a license to play the guitar sloppily or put out music which is poorly recorded.
Dead Rhetoric: Can you describe the 56-page comic book? Will it become an ongoing thing for Walpyrgus?
Waldrop. In a word, “insane,” because that’s what I went drawing it. Most of it was done stippling pictures of witches and zombies for about three years. No – I doubt I’ll make another because it was extremely time-consuming. If I do another it will be drawn much quicker and the art quality will (maybe not suffer so much) as it will be a more “scribbled” version of my drawing style. So, I got the idea while I was running a few years ago that if I started (that day) to begin working on a graphic novel for Walpyrgus Nights, I could probably have it done by the time the album came out and this might be the one chance left in life that I have to fulfill this life-long dream I’ve had of creating a comic book. So, I began – I took the pictures with me everywhere and worked on them in my spare time. I’d stand in line at the post office with a clipboard drawing some “demon woman” while I was standing next to little old ladies. What it is, is the visions I see (or saw) in my head while writing the lyrics. So, I think you’re getting a unique experience by seeing what the lyric-writer was thinking through their own drawings. I know Away [Michel Langevin] from Voivod does it so I’m not busting down any paradigms completely, but I still thought it was a cool thing to give to the fans.
Dead Rhetoric: How does Tom Phillips factor into all of this? Obviously, his work in While Heaven Wept is monumental, but what was it like having him contribute?
Waldrop: Tom and I have been friends since 1991. I was recording all the keyboards myself when I stopped and thought, “Hmm, if I call Tom and see if he could do them, they would come out way better,” ha-ha. So, I called Tom and he loved the idea especially because I caught him in this weird “purgatory” moment for While Heaven Wept where that band was kind of re-collecting themselves, I suppose is the best way to put it. It was totally great having Tom work on this album. He’s incredibly detailed unlike anyone else I ever met in music. The more involved he decided to become, the more I was happy to hand over the steering wheel to him, as I know while it can take him a long time to get things the way he wants them – it is worth it. I’ve watched him comb over his productions obsessively over the years. He’s always been like that – ever since he was a teenager. I knew that him and I would inevitably argue about me cutting corners, growing inpatient and trying to save money, but of course he talked me out of all my bad decisions along the way (ha-ha) and we now have a great album. That’s what I wanted him to do. I knew I needed to be talked out of dumb half-baked decisions basically. But really – the coolest part about working with him was hearing him put his own style over the music. In the song “Walpyrgus Nights” I can tell it’s Tom who wrote those keyboard melodies. All the notes he chose are very indicative of his style. Love it!
Dead Rhetoric: What’s the live show approach going to be after the release of the album?
Waldrop: We keep the songs mainly as they were at practice in the basement when we first put them together (without keyboards) and do not attempt to replicate the keyboards live. Instead, we do different versions where they keyboard lines are swapped out for totally different guitar solos. Some of the keys I transcribed into guitar solos such as the ones in “Dead Girls” and “Walpyrgus Nights” because those melodies are important to the song’s identity, but they also come across well live and are fun for me to play. I think that’s the thing – those who are in the audience can tell if we on stage are not really enjoying ourselves, so we try to find the balance between what feels natural for us as musicians to play within our abilities, and what the audience will miss if they don’t hear it. We don’t try to recreate the huge sound on the album – instead we focus on giving the audience the best version of the songs we can recreate with our abilities and equipment. If our guitar playing suffers because a backup vocal line is messing us up at practice, then we’ll cut it out. It’s more important that when we we’re playing live, you see and hear us performing in our comfort zone – where we can still move around, bang our heads, and feel the music. If you like to watch a bunch of uptight stoic nerds looking at their fret boards the entire time whilst also getting a guitar and math lesson out of a show, then you probably won’t be coming to see us anyway. We try to give you everything we’ve got and be as professional as possible without playing and tone, but it’s not lost on our minds that we’re rocking out for metalheads drinking beer that just want to cut loose. I think it’s most important for a metal band to deliver somewhat an athletic performance rather than harp on fine details. After all – you got to see people playing loud “off the rails” music. We’re more a gang of guys playing music than we are a symphony – No?
Dead Rhetoric: Finally, what’s on your agenda for the rest of 2017?
Waldrop: We’re playing Frost and Fire III in October. Our plan for Walpyrgus is to see how well the album does and if we feel like the demand is there, then we’ll write and record more music. I already have a lot more Walpyrgus material ready to go, so I’d like to keep it going if the momentum is there. You can connect with us, hear music, and buy our swag at walpyrgus.com. As for Twisted Tower Dire, Dave and Marc have been hard at work writing a new album so that’s coming along. No real time estimate as of yet but I think we’re doing 11 new songs. As for me, I am running a rather infamous (in the running world) footrace called The Leadville 100 in Colorado this August for a charity called The Herren Project who raises money to help people with mental illness and addiction. You can check out my personal story at: www.ultrarunvegan.com. It’s a crowdrise donation platform where you can donate, but you can also just read about my persona plight with drugs & alcohol / recovery through ultra-running. If it’s insightful or helpful to anyone that’s great. If you’d care to donate a little cash towards my cause even better!