FeaturesWithering Surface – A Scathing Exit Plan

Withering Surface – A Scathing Exit Plan

Photo: Lena Angioni

If melodic death metal is one of your favorite genres in this scene, there’s been plenty of records as of late worthy of your attention. It’s almost as if musicians are aiming high to attain the support that bands like At the Gates, In Flames, Dark Tranquillity, and Arch Enemy have been receiving over the years. Danish act Withering Surface originally hit the scene from 1993-2004, issuing four studio albums in that time period. Reuniting in 2019, they released the comeback outing Meet Your Maker in 2020, just as the pandemic took ahold. Four years later, Exit Plan arrives – another outstanding record that embraces a lot of the aggression and tenacity of the original melodic death metal movement, but also takes into consideration some hooks and aspects of outside genres to inject a little fresh take on things.

We spoke to guitarist Allan Tvedebrink who thoughtfully answered this scribe’s questions about the new record, including the self-composed, home studio process that takes place today versus the bigger rehearsal room/studio process of the past, favorite memories of his career including touring with Dimmu Borgir and Old Man’s Child, why diverse influences help the songwriting process stay fresh, favorite melodic death metal records and concerts, plus future plans including touring Japan for the first time.

Dead Rhetoric: What can you tell me about your earliest memories surrounding music growing up in childhood? At what point did you discover heavier forms of music and eventually the desire to pick up an instrument and perform in your own bands?

Allan Tvedebrink: My dad, he was playing … some kind of brass instrument. And he wanted me to do something, so he introduced me to the trumpet when I was eight. I did that for a couple of years, then I saw a video of a pub band on tv. It was an 80s guitar solo in there, and that was what I wanted to do. That was the age of ten, I think. I vividly remember seeing that first guitar solo getting me into music. When I was thirteen, I think, I got a present from one of my friends, and it was Killers by Iron Maiden. From there on, it went from there. Bon Jovi, leading into Metallica, and the more advanced stuff.

Dead Rhetoric: Did your father also approve of you getting guitar lessons or were you self-taught?

Tvedebrink: I got lessons. My parents divorced at that point, I think I talked to my mom, and she played the cello also, so they had the same vibe about classical music. She could see that I might be more interested in guitar, so she actually took me to guitar lessons. My dad was happy that I was playing music. He went to one of my first concerts – and he admitted it was a little different than what he was used to, but he could hear some melodies and that we could play. He didn’t mind that there was some lunatic screaming (laughs). He was not used to heavy metal in any way.

Dead Rhetoric: Exit Plan is the sixth studio album for Withering Surface. How do you feel the songwriting and recording sessions went for this set of material – and where do you see the similarities or differences in this effort compared to your 2020 comeback Meet Your Maker record?

Tvedebrink: It’s almost done in the same way. The background for that is when we decided to reunite in 2019, we were only three of the original members. The drummer, the vocalist, and me. We thought about reuniting as far as we could go back to the original lineup. We decided to do some songs, I was writing everything at my home, programming drums, doing a demo bass, stuff like that. I did four or five tracks, and we decided that this was something we wanted to continue on with. We found some members as time was going, we were almost done with the writing, and we had everybody in place. That was the reunion album from 2020 as you said – and unfortunately, you know what happened. We just released the first video for the album, and two weeks later everything was shut down. Everything fell apart, all of our plans, our appearances at festivals. Almost at the same time I started writing new material.

As things started to evolve more and we had more to do, the members left the band – suddenly I found myself as the only guitarist, we were looking for a new drummer, the keyboard player left. It felt familiar, almost like the last album, I did everything myself, and now looking forward to doing this with other people. I still had some members left in the band, but it was me writing almost all the material. It went a lot like Meet Your Maker, me presenting the material and having other members record their stuff. It was pretty much the same.

Dead Rhetoric: Do you enjoy the ability to compose and record most of the demos yourself versus writing and hashing things out together in the old days in the rehearsal room?

Tvedebrink: I like to be able to sit down whenever I want and have time to zone in on the stuff. Instead of having a set date in a rehearsal room. I remember the old days, it was fun, super collaborative and creative, but it could also kill the inspiration to be five or six guys when you are arguing, is this a good riff? Is this not a good riff? Should it be two times or four times? All of that. The time is not for that kind of writing anymore. We can hardly even find the time to get in the rehearsal room to rehearse for gigs. It would be horrible to have to do things like that. The set up we have is pretty easy. We have video conferencing where you can show each other riffs, sharing ideas. I’ve done that a little bit with our new guitarist Marco, he did the solos for the album. He lives in the farthest end of the country – for every day it works. We send our ideas back and forth, we both have home studios, we can exchange files. He fits right in with the band, and exactly what I wanted. For Exit Plan, I saw the band coming together with his input. He plays in a few other bands; they are melodic, and I am looking forward to collaborating with him more. Time is precious when you get older.

Dead Rhetoric: Tell us about the videos you shot for “Where Dreamers Die”, “Finish What You Started”, and “Denial Denial Denial” – the second of which you took on filming and editing duties for? Were these obvious single choices to premiere for the record, and how do you feel the art of video has developed across the social media platforms compared to the importance of videos during the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s?

Tvedebrink: Yeah, I think we were pretty much aligned on what we wanted to do with the videos. I think the album is quite varied and complicated compared to what you hear from the videos. I believe if you want to present a video that people are going to see one time or for twenty seconds, it has to be somehow representative of what you can get. We chose some songs that were easy to digest, I think. We were discussing a lot if we should put out a video for the song “You Hurt This Child”, one of my favorite songs off the album. It’s a slow song, a little artsy so we decided to go with more similar stuff off the record.

The bigger bands, they have a lot of views on YouTube when they post their videos. I like it a lot, when I check out a band, I want to check out the video. I also like to check them out on Spotify, the video is a little extra to get you to click the link. I’m aware that for the most part people are watching this only once, and then you get a small attention grabber. I don’t think people are sitting there and analyzing the videos, if things are coherent with the lyrics, why are they doing this or that? It’s a shame, because there is a lot of video art out there, and a lot of editing tools, structures. A lot of energy is not wasted because you have a product that people don’t recognize enough. We’ve done super low budget stuff, DIY – everyone we work with in these videos, we know personally. We don’t have the big art direction set up, catering, or a full crew. The second one we did in our rehearsal rooms with three GoPro cameras and iPhones. For that attention grabbing, someone thinking it’s cool, it fits the intention because you can easily just disappear in the sea of output out there. It’s hard for a small band like us to get the attention that bigger bands have.

If you are lucky, things will spread and go viral. With the right algorithm to get out to more than a few hundred people. It’s something for us that we feel we need to do and it’s something fun for us to do. We think it’s fun to do it with the means that we have. It’s a good way for us to be together and come up with stuff.

Dead Rhetoric: You’ve mentioned in previous interviews the varied influences that help shape your songwriting – everything from progressive rock and metal to guitar-oriented and instrumental music, even catchy rock and pop. How do you apply this diversity into the riffs, arrangements, and structures for the band?

Tvedebrink: Hmm… I think it’s a little bit of picking apples and pears and oranges from the trees and putting it into a bowl. Of course, I see it as a fairground where you ride all the rides, you try everything out and see what works the best. The simplicity of a good old rock song I enjoy, as well as the complexity of Dream Theater – that’s one of my all-time favorite bands because they are so skilled on their instruments. The complexity of the orchestral set up of Fleshgod Apocalypse and Dimmu Borgir for example, that’s a super different genre but also from classical music has the same complexity that is super interesting to dive into. I try to incorporate some of that vibe into the songwriting – not that we are to compare to any of those bands. The poppy rock, pop metal, has some great hooks. When you hear a pop tune, people don’t normally recognize how a simple melody can get into your head because of the underlying chord progressions. That’s also something that’s very cool in pop music, it’s just three chords but they come in this combination, with added ninths, diminished sevenths, other stuff. Sometimes you can have an advanced chord progression underneath.

So, it’s a little bit of everything into the mix, into the boiling pot, and of course it’s a lot about the mood you are in at the moment. Listening to a lot of different music, you get a lot of different input. It somehow hangs on, the hook, and I put it into a song.

Dead Rhetoric: When looking at the long career of Withering Surface, what do you consider some of the highlights as far as albums, tours, videos, festival appearances, or other activities where you knew you were making a footprint and impact with your craft?

Tvedebrink: Yeah, it’s been a long time since we started the band the first time. We had only been together for ten years, and now since we started again there hasn’t been much to talk about. What I remember the most is going abroad to Sweden to record our debut album Scarlet Silhouettes. Someone believed in us, wanted to pay for the studio time and we just had to show up and do our stuff and go home. They took care of the rest. We had been in demo studios and rehearsal studios where you do your stuff, but suddenly being in a bigger studio with a grand piano, a room for recording drums, having a discussion with the producer about why I set up the microphones like this, achieving this in that song, let’s try this instead of this. That was a big thing. Releasing the album and being a touring band that released an album, which was cool.

We had the chance to tour with Dimmu Borgir and Old Man’s Child, back in the day. That was also a huge thing, we are so used to playing small clubs in Denmark and suddenly we are going around to play with a bigger band across Europe. It was a big thing to see how they did things, their stage presence, the production of how they were doing everything. When we were signed to an international label, we went to England to play with Arch Enemy and Opeth back in 2001 or something, those were big bands for me back then and Opeth is still one of my favorites. Those have been amazing times. We also played at Wacken, a lot of great memories.

Coming back as a reunited band, everything is so different. Back then everything was about labels and recording on two-inch tapes, doing everything analog. Now suddenly everything is online, everything has a totally different pace, six hundred times as many bands present right now than there were back then. Trying to adapt that to this old band and keep that red thread that goes so far back, as we were doing other bands in between, that’s a huge achievement for us personally that we could get together and do something we are so proud of. Honoring our legacy but also earning its place in the modern music scene, it’s what I’m also very proud of. Seeing that we’ve matured and are developing still even as we get older.

Dead Rhetoric: What would you say are three melodic death metal albums that impressed you or influenced you the most as a musician – and what’s your favorite concert memory purely as a fan in the audience attending the show, plus what made this so special to you?

Tvedebrink: I think the whole melodic death metal thing is a little washed up, because the range is so huge. At the Gates – Slaughter of the Soul, that is an album I can hear all the time. I bring it out, it doesn’t get old, the songs are great. The best album in my death metal top three. And also, I think Opeth – back in the days, it was My Arms, Your Hearse. That was the first album I heard from them, I know all the songs and I put it on from time to time. I would say also, I did mention Arch Enemy – Burning Bridges. I think it’s still the best (album) they’ve ever done. Three times Swedish metal bands.

And concert-wise. There have been so many. I don’t know if we are going top three again, it would definitely be – we have a great concert hall in Denmark near where I live. Opeth ten or fifteen years ago, it was a magical concert where everything went into a higher state. The people, the band, all amazing. I saw King Diamond for the first time in many years – my first concert I went to was a King Diamond show where Candlemass opened in 1991. Then I saw them at the Copenhell Festival, and that was also awesome. They have a cool vibe in the music, the whole horror show, and it was lightning and raining, the perfect setting for that. I remember the first Dream Theater concert in Copenhagen, before they were really known, a five hundred capacity venue. I was blown away by how they were playing.

Dead Rhetoric: How would you assess your life now in your late 40s compared to how you viewed and experienced life in your 20s and 30s? Would there be any areas in retrospect you worked on or took more into consideration back then having the knowledge and insight now?

Tvedebrink: I think back when I was young, it was a lot about music, and a lot about partying. A lot about combining the two. Music meant so much to me, I spent a lot of time doing things at home. In my mid-twenties, I thought I was going to be a professional studio musician. We were rehearsing three times a week, one of them included drinking and partying. When we went to concerts and played, we got drunk. Nowadays, I’m more focused on getting the most of it in the timespan I can. Writing the music, rehearsing, videos, doing graphics for the band – I try to condense it for a bowl full of all these flavors.

What I would tell my own young me – dude, you love this so much, come on man, focus and get the most out of it. We got far the way we did it back then, but we could have gone so much further if we had taken it more seriously. We could feel it when we finally found out people were actually coming to see us play. Wait for the beers until afterwards, play a decent gig. I would have done more to pursue, maybe not a career, but more focused on getting out to play, doing more to get our music out to the masses.

Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the agenda for anything related to Withering Surface over the next twelve months or so? Is there anything you’d like to accomplish personally and professionally to check off your bucket list in the coming years?

Tvedebrink: Bucket list – ever since the first album we’ve had our albums licensed to the Japanese market. They have been with us from the beginning, so we would like to go to Japan. Now we are actually going to play three gigs there, and that is just awesome. When you are an amateur band, you don’t get paid a lot – you get paid in experiences, so all of the experiences we have had our cherished moments. That’s a cool thing to play in Asia. All of the touring we couldn’t do on the last album we are going to do on this one. We have festivals during the summer and autumn, some small tours in Sweden and the Netherlands. We have an extended Denmark tour in the beginning of next year, and we hope to also set up a European tour as a support act for another band.

We wrote a new track for the Japanese licensing of the record – which includes our new drummer. It’s exciting to see what he will participate with. We are starting to write the next album; we need to take our time and see if it can live up to our last one. When you have a job next to having a band, you need the time to do it right. I think we will start on that pretty soon as well. It’s a dream to play bigger tours, and we would love to come to America of course.

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