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INTERVIEW: U.S. Black Metal Band Woe

Woe- Hope Attrition

It has been close to four years since Woe released ‘Withdrawal’, and in the time that passed since then the band has been fairly quiet.  While some groups take time between full lengths and still tour, Woe went completely quiet for a significant period of time.  The U.S. black metal band resurfaced last month with ‘Hope Attrition’, showcasing a new lineup and some of the most abrasive and memorable material yet.  While still adopting a dynamic approach to songwriting, there’s a noticeable emphasis on aggression and bleak tonality.  It’s easily the darkest and in your face Woe has ever been, and an early highlight of this already standout year.  To find out more about the work that went into the album, we had the chance to ask singer/guitarist Chris Grigg some questions.

Transcending Obscurity (Chris Dahlberg/Peter K): Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions.  You spent the majority of last year intensively writing what would become ‘Hope Attrition’.  Now that the album has been out for a couple of weeks, how does it feel to have it out for public consumption?

Woe (Chris Grigg): It’s business as usual, for the most part. We have the same routines, same jobs, same obligations. We finished recording and handed in all the files many months ago, reviews have been popping up for a while, so we had a lot of time to get used to the idea of it being done and out there. Response was strong, stronger than we really expected, if I’m being honest, so it’s a good feeling to push forward with a clear head and a strong momentum.

TO: Woe’s lineup has changed a bit since ‘Withdrawal’.  You now have Matt Mewton (Belus) on guitar and Lev Weinstein (Anicon, Krallice) on drums.  How do these two add to the dynamic of the band and what made them the right people when re-assembling the band?

Woe: Matt and Lev continue a long line of positively minded Woe members who want to hang the fuck out and play fast shit. Aside from “can they play the stuff,” the crucial element was just how well we’d all get along, and that wasn’t really a question because of our histories with them. Lev has been playing with us since 2013 when he did the last tours for ‘Withdrawal’; Matt and I have another band together, he works with my wife, and we’ve just known him from around town.

Being in a band is maybe 20% playing music, 80% waiting for things to happen and planning and hanging out, so knowing that they could deliver on all fronts was key. They’re both very opinionated guys when it comes to music and being aware of their preferences informed a lot decisions during writing. I knew that if I presented them with riffs that sucked, they’d be honest and call me out on my bullshit. Accountability is good. Trusting the people you work with is good. These guys rule.

TO: ‘Hope Attrition’ is the result of some of the most intensive writing you’ve done to date, with some of your earlier ideas ending up completely scrapped in favor of others.  Since you’ve been writing songs as Woe for ten years, what personal standards do you hold yourself to?  What makes you feel a particular riff or idea is ready to send to your band mates for feedback, and once they’ve given their thoughts how does a song reach its final incarnation?

Woe: With ‘Hope Attrition’, we wanted every song to feel like it belonged on an album of that name. This meant that it wasn’t enough for things to work on a technical level, they had to have the right vibe and feel purposeful. It’s hard to put it into words but there are certain qualities to Woe songs that we’ve come to recognize as belonging to us. Everything has to fit correctly.

When writing and demoing for this album, I actually took a bit of influence from some software development practices. In particular, I tried to iterate quickly, stay focused on the goal of each song, and allowed some things to be imperfect and corrected later. The guys got new version of songs almost daily when I was in the middle of it, feedback came in quickly, and we kept looping through songs until we were satisfied with everything.

TO: Unending Call Of Woe is one hell of a way to start the album off.  To me it feels a bit like a battle cry, as if to say “We’re back and more aggressive and bleak than ever before”.  Tell us more about where this song fits in with the rest of the material writing wise.  Did you plan it to be the opener early on or was this a decision you made later in the process?

This song was the very last one written for the album, the 17th song attempt. It was always written to be an opener, though I think we did experiment with it in a few different places just to be sure that nothing else fit better. I’m a fan of songs that open deliberately and wanted this one to demonstrate the full range of the album, particularly the focus on low vocals, which I think have a more primitive, confrontational impact that makes sense given Hope Attrition’s material and production.

Thematically, it acts as not only an introduction to the album but also a reintroduction to the Woe worldview. It outlines where we stand after such a long time away from playing and becomes our opening salvo against the world. It’s all quite melodramatic and makes the right statements.

TO: The Metal Underground interview mentions this was the smoothest recording process yet, as you limited your role to performing and producing and let Stephen DeAcutis handle the recording.  What impact do you feel DeAcutis had on shaping the final record?  Was it a difficult decision to take a bit of a step back and let someone else take control of some of the process after having handled much of it yourself in the past?

Woe: Man, I can’t say enough good things about Stevie D. He really just gets it. I don’t think anyone mixes extreme metal like him, especially where low end is concerned, and I am positive that it would not feel nearly as aggressively mean if anyone else had done it. In particular, I want to point out the power of the drums, the relative placement of kick and bass, the force of the snare, that insane guitar tone, and the mix of the vocals a bit more up front than what you typically find in records like this. God damn.

Stepping back a bit was a welcome change. I was still present throughout the entire process, except some of the mixing at the end, which he did and sent to me for final approval. Everything works out better when individuals can focus on their core competencies. We’ll be doing it like this again next time, too.

Woe

TO: In the few interviews I read, you’ve talked about how your lyrics tend to focus on the human condition and experience but with the way the world and the U.S. are going in particular it’s hard not to delve into some politically charged/real-world issues.  Material like Ministry’s George Bush focused albums come to mind, which were quite relevant at the time but might not have as much impact on later generations.  When writing lyrics that incorporate much of this frustration and anger over the current climate, where do you draw the lines between current problems that would resonate now and more general elements that might continue to have an impact in the coming years?

Woe: Generally speaking, I try to focus more on the human experience of a situation than the situation itself. In practice, that means writing about the feeling of being born without power instead of writing THE SYSTEMIC OPPRESSION IN AMERICA SONG. In 2017, the two might be interchangeable, but one gives the opportunity for the listener to decide how much they want to engage with the subject and the other risks becoming more about the message than the music. I don’t want someone to not listen just because of my politics, so I’d rather leave some room for interpretation and personalization. Plenty of people who object to my politics have told me that they can still get behind the Woe perspective of negativity and our unstoppable, crushing riffs, and I am glad.

TO: You were living in New Jersey when you first started Woe, spent some time in Philadelphia, then ultimately ended up in Brooklyn in 2011.  Having moved around a bit over the ten years you’ve been writing material for Woe, have your albums reflected the environment you were in during a particular time period?  How would you compare Philadelphia and Brooklyn as far as their relationship to metal and punk?

Woe: I’m not really sure that they have, since I tend to do so much writing by myself, locked away in a room. Both cities have excellent music scenes, but they’re different. Philly has a killer DIY scene thanks to all the basement venues that pop up. It seems easier to find a rehearsal space and there’s no shortage of people ready to play. Bands come and go quickly, things move fast. It’s exciting.

The Brooklyn scene is different. It seems to skew a bit older and it feels smaller. The Philadelphia universities constantly bring new faces into the scene, whereas Brooklyn seems to be a lot of people who’ve dug themselves into nice professional ruts and stick around for a while. I don’t know, this is probably confirmation bias to some extent. Both cities are big and diverse, so I am probably a bad judge of it and limited by my experience.

TO: You mentioned when we chatted briefly that you were taking more of a DIY approach for the release of this album.  I think working with Vendetta Records exemplifies that quite well, as they’ve taken a quality over quantity approach in my opinion.  I saw you were released from your contract with Candlelight following the Spinefarm sale.  Were you planning on taking a more DIY approach/working on a smaller label from the start, or had you initially planned to shop the album around to bigger metal labels again?

Woe: We weren’t really sure how we were going to do things with this album, so I put out feelers to friends and a few labels of different sizes. All we knew for sure was that we were going to be more cautious about entering into an agreement with anyone, since the Spinefarm situation led to us essentially losing all access to our second and third albums. Our situation was complicated by being out of the game for so long. Our leverage was questionable and I have a hunch that any offers from bigger labels would have amounted to indentured servitude or a “paying-your-dues” deal, which wasn’t acceptable to us.

Something we learned from the last few albums was how little being on a big label means if you aren’t a priority to them. It’s also important to have a clear picture of what each party stands to gain from the relationship and what kind of benefits exist for everyone. It seems to me that DIY-minded labels might have interests that are more closely aligned with bands like Woe who are not playing music full-time. The expectations are different on all sides.

Our top priority was having a strong relationship with decision makers and having trust that everyone was fighting the same fight and pushing in the same direction. Stefan/Vendetta had done the ‘A Spell for the Death of Man’ reissue and his attitude and enthusiasm were fantastic. We were in a place where we had to make a decision quickly, and we realized that what he was offering aligned perfectly with what we were looking for. We’d still make the same decision now, knowing what we know.

With ‘Hope Attrition’, we wanted every song to feel like it belonged on an album of that name

TO: Woe is about to hear to Europe for the first time ever, doing a run of shows with Ultha.  Did you think it would take this long to get overseas, and what factors made it unattainable until now?  What cities/countries are you most looking forward to having the opportunity to play in on this tour?

Woe: I never really thought about how long it would or should take because I don’t think we or anyone really “deserves” anything, ya know? We knew that we would do it when we were ready to put in the legwork. After ‘Withdrawal’ came out, we tried putting together a trip but it was just too much for us at that time. We weren’t prepared financially and failed early on to figure out a schedule for making the necessary decisions, so the whole thing fell apart. It was embarrassing and disheartening but we learned some valuable lessons that were invaluable this time.

We’re playing so many cities under such diverse circumstances that it’s impossible to pick favorites. There is nothing that we’re not looking forward to playing. We feel fortunate for the entire experience.

TO: You did two shows with Inter Arma to celebrate the album release, but further USA dates aren’t confirmed at this point.  With all of the members involved in other bands and life situations, would any future touring be likely to be short runs or one-off dates rather than extensive tours?

Woe: It’s all to be determined. Between the album release, the shows immediately after it, and the tour, there hasn’t been time to think about what comes next. I think we all need a little downtime once we get back. Some of the guys have some other obligations coming up, so we’ll revisit it soon. We’re already kicking around some ideas, though. We expect to visit some parts of the country that we’ve never played before the end of the year.

TO: Is there anything else you’d like to say about ‘Hope Attrition’ or Woe?

Woe: That’s all I’ve got for now, man. Really appreciate the thoughtful questions. You can find ‘Hope Attrition’ at https://woeunholy.bandcamp.com along with shirts and all kinds of shit. Reach out through https://www.facebook.com/woeunholy. We’ll see you at a show!

-CG

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