(We present Andy Synn’s interview of Keenan Nathan Oakes, vocalist for South Africa’s Wildernessking, whose new album Andy reviewed here.)
Spoiler alert: Mystical Future, the second album by South Africa’s most majestic of Metal exports, Wildernessking, is likely to feature very prominently on either my Critical or Personal lists of favourite albums at the end of the year (if not both). I’ve loved this album since the first time I heard it, and I was lucky enough to hear it far earlier than most.
I’ve also been lucky enough to grab the band’s vocalist Keenan Nathan Oakes for this interview, where we get to go deeper into the motivation and inspirations behind Mystical Future, as well as a bunch of other topics which I’m sure you’ll find most illuminating!
Let’s not waste any time with the pleasantries, eh? Mystical Future… why that title in particular?
KNO: We felt that after the writing process of the album, the future could take us anywhere. We overcame some obstacles in our respective personal lives, and this was a new journey, an unknown one. Hence Mystical Future. It also encapsulates the lyrical content and the sound of the album quite well. It felt right, you know?
I love the album btw (as you’re no doubt aware from my review…) but, from your own perspective, what is it that separates it from your previous releases (particularly your debut album, The Writing of Gods in Sand)?
Thank you Andy. This one is a lot more focused and dynamic. We are still the same band, no doubt, but there’s something more this time, something hidden beneath the layers. It feels more resonant and alive. We’re carving our own path now, and there’s no reference point anymore. I guess that’s part of the Mystical Future we’re alluding to…
One thing that occurred to me when listening to the new album was how so much of the music sounds “Post” (as in “after” as in “outside of”) Black Metal, as opposed to fitting in neatly with the more defined genre of “Post Black Metal”… which is something I’ve tried (and failed) to elucidate before. But I’d like to know, in your own words, that if you were to speak to someone with absolutely no knowledge of the band… with no preconceptions at all… how would you choose to describe yourselves and your sound?
Definitely, and we’re glad you noticed. We’re only post in so far as forming after the fact (Black Metal) and incorporating other styles and influences. That’s where the post tag ends, post meaning after, and not an actual sound or sub-genre. We don’t see ourselves as an “atmospheric” or a “post” Black Metal band. We are a Metal band with strong black metal influences, among others. We feel that there’s a little something for everyone in Wildernessking, if you’re willing to forget about silly genre connotations and notions.
When it came to the writing and recording of the album, were there any particularly unusual or unexpected influences or inspirations which fed into the writing process and the music as a whole?
Nothing unusual, but something that was definitely different was that we were not referencing other bands anymore, or looking for musical guidance so to speak. We were doing our own thing. For the first time, we wrote in the band room, as opposed to writing together at one of our houses with just guitars and a PC. So that was refreshing, and something we continue to do. Also, during the process we found ourselves being more inspired by non-musical forms of expression, and that possibly played into the narrative and flow of the record.
Speaking of inspiration, I’m hoping you might provide a little bit of a commentary and context for each of the five songs on the album? I’m not asking you to explain every part and every lyric in detail of course, but I do think our audience might be very interested in some “behind the scenes” info regarding the writing and themes of each track, if you’re willing?
- “White Horses”
This one was written very quickly, in like a day or two. Jesse had written the two-chord intro progression, and things just took off from there. It’s a great guitar song, and Jesse and Dylan bounced ideas off each other like crazy. I fell asleep during the verse section and woke up when they were writing that final, climactic part. It was an amazing thing to witness. That really sparked the record. It was sometime in January 2012. Can you believe that this album came out four years later?! White horses refers to the white-crested waves crashing on the shore, as well as to the studio where we recorded the Writing of Gods…. Seeing as the song was written just before that album came out, it makes perfect sense that White Horses has a direct tie to the debut album. Both of our full-lengths were tracked, at least in parts, at a seaside house.
- “I Will Go To Your Tomb”
The original demo file was dated June 2012. Dylan had carved out the bulk of the song, but we only ended up using the first section/main riff. This was the first song we jammed and wrote in our band room. I remember all of us getting very excited when we wrote that middle section where the toms build up and it segues into that Enslaved-esque double-kick riff. Then it crescendos into the 12/8 section and Jason just loses himself (in the most composed way possible). It’s one of our favourite moments on the record. “I Will Go To Your Tomb” refers to the lover you eventually buried; the relationship you struggled to get out of…
- “To Transcend”
We had the first half of this song written in early 2013, and after several jams it wasn’t really going anywhere. I think we let it gather some dust while we focused on other things. We eventually came back to it, and Jesse came up with that picking section for the bridge. It was all the song needed, at least to be structured. We completed it by adding some leads, vocals and other layers. We knew we wanted to do something in that vein because of how “Morning” (Acoustic) turned out on our first EP. We didn’t expect that, and wanted to revisit a similar sound. Again, we’re happy with the result and for some reason, a lot of people say it’s their favourite song.
- “With Arms Like Wands”
This is one of my and I think our favourite songs. It showcases just about everything Wildernessking represents. Blast-beats, tempo changes, solid riffs, leads (both Dylan and Jesse’s respective guitar styles come through), melody, a little doom-y section, a refrain, and a fade out of sorts/soft section. It also features some of my favourite lyrics. Again, this is a song we wrote in the band room, a true collaborative effort, and it was the first song written after “I Will Go To Your Tomb”. The other songs were centred around those two hard-hitters and the record started to take shape.
- “If You Leave”
We had written about 6 minutes of another song, but scrapped it because we weren’t feeling it all that much. There were some good moments but we decided to start anew. We knew what kind of song we wanted to write, but we didn’t know how to get there. Eventually we went back to basics and literally chose a simple chord that we all liked, and took it from there.
The song built up nicely as we just droned on that A minor for a while, and with embellishments and nuances we wrote an entire 4 minutes before vocals would even kick in. The vocals helped to guide the song, and before we knew it, we were in that picking section that Jesse wrote, before the climactic outro. I think the clean guitar picking sections in both “To Transcend” and “If You Leave” have a very distinct sound, it’s indicative of this album. For me, the entire record is the four of us finding each other in some way, and that definitely plays into the name of the closing song. If You Leave’s title was taken from an online art exhibition/photo series.
For those of you who don’t know, everything we write is in E standard.
The video for “I Will Go To Your Tomb” is certainly as visually striking as the song is musically, but where did the inspiration and imagery for it originally come from, and how was the process of putting the whole thing together?
A big fan and good friend came to us with the concept. He is an incredible photographer and wanted to try his hand at a music video. He hooked the whole thing up and we were happy to go along with it. We’re going to do another video with him at some point. It is inspired by sangomas; local witchdoctors who perform rituals for prosperity and good health.
As perhaps the single most prominent South African band in the eyes of the global metal scene (though I’m sure someone in the comments will probably have the good grace to tell me how wrong/ignorant I’m being in saying that), Wildernessking are something of an anomaly, and the band probably carries more than its fair share of expectations and attention because of that. But you’re far from the only Metal band from South Africa, obviously, and if you’re willing, we’d love to hear some recommendations about other bands from your “scene” to check out?
Thank you. In terms of heavy bands, we recommend Nihil (nihilistic and atmospheric bm), Strage (instrumental sludge/doom), Ark Synesis (technical and progressive instrumental metal), Fuera (proggy and pretty weird death metal), Mad God (Electric Wizard worship), and Peasant (energetic crossover hardcore).
Wildernessking are also something of a rarity in another sense, in that you’re a band still comprised entirely of original members. What is it that’s kept the four of you so close over the years… is it simply a shared sense of passion and drive, or did you accidentally murder someone and were then forced to band together to keep it a secret?
Yeah, it’s interesting. We’ve definitely had our share of hard times. We’re a band comprised of strong personalities, opinionated ones. We’re very different, though we have our mutual interests and traits no doubt. I think it’s because we believe in the music we make. We have a passion for writing songs, and we tend to do it well together. There’s a special chemistry, and we hope to indulge it some more before any of us hit the hay.
Though this is only your second album, no-one could deny that you’re a surprisingly prolific band, what with the various EPs, singles, and split-releases you’ve recorded in the years between The Writing of Gods in Sand and Mystical Future… where do you find the time/energy?
Our band doesn’t demand a lot of our time. We don’t do this for a living, so when we decide that we’re going to work on something, we give ourselves a goal and a deadline. We never meet it (haha), but it’s a way of motivating ourselves. We’re always writing. We always have ideas, and when we feel strongly about one of them, we feel compelled to turn it into something. No doubt a third long player is on the way. We owe it to ourselves and our fans. Mystical Future took eons, but life got in the way. Things are great now, and tomorrow we start jamming some more new ideas.
On the topic of your various “other” releases, would you/could you explain your involvement in the Secret Ceremonies sessions (to which you contributed the track “Soundless Longing”)? How did that whole affair come about, and will it be continuing in the future?
I was actually going to say that everyone reading this should check that release out. It plays host to some of our favourite local bands. The whole idea was to showcase local talent in the heavier, alternative scene. There are some awesome things happening down here. I rounded up the troops and asked them to write a song unique to this record. I am still planning the vinyl version, but it will happen at some point. We’re really proud of our contribution to that comp. We wish more people would listen to it, haha.
Talking of being prolific, you’ve also just released another new EP, Levitate, very soon. Care to talk a little bit about it?
It’s a two-track effort that we recorded live (for the first time) in July 2015. It expands our sound a little, and we introduced some new elements like piano and guest (male) vocals. We try to push ourselves with each release, whether it’s a single or a full-length. We really just want to create completed and realised works. An EP is still an album at the end of the day, and can be conceptualised in that way.
Looking even further forward, what does the rest of 2016 (and beyond) hold for Wildernessking?
More music and hopefully some touring. We would love to come to Europe and the United States, and beyond if the world will allow and have us.
Any final words of wisdom for our audience – band recommendations, cocktail recipes, dire warnings of things to come?
Thanks so much to No Clean Singing for the incredible support you guys have shown us. We are truly humbled and grateful. Come visit our beautiful country when you get a chance and please hit us up if you do. We’ll take you wine tasting or something. Sending much love to all of our fans. You’re everything! Take care.