Wednesday 3 January 2018

An Interview With Ralf W. Garcia From WOLF COUNSEL

Wolf Counsel’s second full-length ‘Ironclad’ represented how this Zurich-based band amazingly precisely deliver traditional doom metal in its pure form. Ralf Winzer Garcia gathered a pack of excellent musicians around him, he had proper tunes to lay foundation of the album and non-trivial themes for lyrics. Thus ‘Ironcald’ was almost invulnerable for critics, and it took just one year to return with new album ‘Age Of Madness / Reign Of Chaos’ which sounds like the next level of Wolf Counsel’s evolution. I asked Ralf few questions about the band and new stuff and wasn’t surprised with deep and thoughtful answers.

Hello Ralf! Honestly I didn't expect that, we have a talk just one year ago when Czar of Crickets just released “Ironclad”, and you already have new album. So how can you explain that it happened so swift?

Hello Aleks, yes time flies by I guess. Well the reason for releasing another album just 14 months after “Ironclad” is very simple. I constantly write little pieces of music, single riffs etc. and lyrics as well. So in the course of a couple of months we usually have a lot of new material to work with. Creativity to me is not dependent on a particular time in general. It’s something that I tried to blend into our daily life. Naturally we do not release albums for the sake of it. A new full length only sees the light of day when we’re content with the song material of course. This time it just took us a little bit over a year. So we’ll see what comes next.

I guess that recording albums on such speed means that you have enough inspiration and you're sure that the material is strong, that it deserves to be recorded and released. Am I right in this suggestion?

Oh yes absolutely. As I pointed out above inspiration and a general creative process can happen at any given time. It’s not that I plan on writing a song on a drawing board. At least not the whole time. I typically record (or write down) ideas that come to me in the weirdest moments. It just happens while watching TV or cooking or sitting in public transport for example. In addition to that I’m very self-critical. A lot of times I delete stuff because I think it’s not good enough or just not right. Usually when I record demo versions of new songs I can feel if it’s something worth to pursue or not. I have to experience a certain feeling when a new song evolves from scratch. If that’s not the case I won’t work on it any further.

Certainly that’s just me. Sometimes I show new stuff to Reto our drummer to just get a second opinion but 9 out of 10 times we agree on what should get on a new record and what’s not.

All of us have been playing in bands for like 30 years, touring, recording, writing etc. So I guess it’s only a consequence of that experience that we have quite a routine regarding songrwriting.

I believe that you received enough reviews to make a conclusion if people dig into Ironclad or don't. So what do people say about the album?

The reception of “Ironclad” was fantastic by far. We honestly didn’t expect anything. In this day and age with ten-thousands of new releases every month it’s quite difficult to stick out from the masses. Reviews are always personal views and opinions of course but the number of positive and detailed feedbacks gave us the impression that we had done something right or at least something that other people (besides ourselves) wanted to listen to. Some writers said things like that we reached our potential very early in our career and that it was clear from this album and its songs that we could only go even further up etc. That’s just an example. Meanwhile we have feedbacks for our new and third album “Age Of Madness / Reign Of Chaos” as well that points nearly in the same direction. The new album is more diverse by far and so it naturally polarizes which is a very good thing in our view meaning that we weren’t recording the same thing twice.

Ironclad” and “Age Of Madness / Reign Of Chaos” are pretty good recorded and produced, so technically Wolf Counsel are on top. But recording the album isn't a cheap thing, how do you solve this issue? Or do you know the way how to record the album both qualitatively and swiftly?

It was always important to us to deliver the best possible material both from a creative point of view as well as regarding the sound quality. Nowadays there are a lot of ways to do things yourself and our decades of playing and recording helps as well of course. We don’t have a big company in our back that puts money and effort into new albums so we figured out a very pragmatic approach to achieve the desired output. Some parts and instruments are recorded in my own studio and some (for example the drums) are recorded at Little Creek Studio which belongs to our very good friend V.O. Pulver, a very experienced producer, mixer and sound wizard. That’s how “Ironclad” and “Age Of Madness/Reign Of Chaos” was done and we’ll probably proceed like this for at least the next album as well.

How much time did you actually spend into the studio? Which way and how intensively do you usually work there?

As a rough estimate I’d say something like 5 to 6 days - not including the time that I spent in my own studio beforehand. These 5 or 6 days are just the time for the drums and the overall mixing and mastering process which is very intense. Overall a complete new Wolf Counsel album takes about 2-3 weeks to be finished if you count the time that I spend on recording stuff at my own place. Naturally the time in my own place is limitless whereas the time at Little Creek Studio counts every day – even every hour. For the final process we usually spent like 8 to 9 hours in studio each day until the final master version is done.

Wolf Counsel – Age Of Madness / Reign Of Chaos

Did you search for some changes after “Ironclad”? Did you have some innovative ideas on your mind which you want to achieve with “Age Of Madness / Reign Of Chaos”?

There are always new ideas or influences I want to include when a new album starts to develop. One thing for example was the addition of more dominating guitar harmonies and epic melodies in minor scales and to even include at least one mid-tempo song just to expand and diversify our stylistic range. Another part was my voice or rather the way I was singing. I began to embrace the fact that I liked my voice better in a higher register. Now this is something that has to be trained and worked on so I guess I’ll be reaching an even better level on the next album regarding traditional higher vocals. Of course I can’t compete with people like Rob Lowe or Messiah Marcolin or Mats Leven but I’ll do it somehow in my own personal way.

During the song (-and lyrics) writing period of “Age Of Madness / Reign Of Chaos” I sensed a new path for Wolf Counsel that we’ll pursue on the next two albums or so. It’s not new in a sense of music theory but a style we’d like to follow for now. “Age Of Madness / Reign Of Chaos” is only the beginning of Wolf Counsel getting more epic and prolific.

I'd say that the material sounds different: there's classic doom track “Wolven Earth” – it’s slow and low, faster track “Semper Occultus” brings the rocking doom vibe from 80s and the title song for example is 10 minutes long monumental, pretty epic, voyage. How did you work over the album’s structure?

We wanted to widen our stylistic range in general. The title track for example is probably the epitome of our current state as a band. It includes everything the band stands for at the moment. By comparison this band is relatively young even though we’re all active musicians for nearly 30 years. We’re still in the process of defining ourselves which makes our progress really exciting and interesting. Rather than repeating the formula that can be heard on “Ironclad” we wanted to experiment and include even more stylistic ways that can be found in Doom Metal. Doom in our view is one of the (or maybe even the) most diverse styles that’s out there in rock music. So we wanted to follow that path of exploring even though we are quite aware that we didn’t reinvent the wheel. We just wanted to write great songs. Songs that we wanted to listen to ourselves. Songs that were really honest, emotional and derived from our own human inner sanctum.

All of that just happened. It wasn’t planned at all. What we did in the end was just to create a track list that made sense in a structural way.

This time we also can hear a lady on vocals in the song “O Death”, who is it? And why did you decide to use female vocals for this song?

Originally that song was just a very bare and simple acoustic song that I had written with Daniel Venegas the singer that can be heard on O `Death. That song was just too catchy and intriguing to let it wither in a drawer somewhere. Additionally the lyrics of that song were suitable for the topics of the other songs on the album. So we rearranged that song and created a proper Doom Metal version besides the reason that I think that female vocals enhance the overall atmosphere and feeling of a song or a full album. The intent for using her vocals and this song was all about diversification as well even if it’s only a little part on the album.

What did you want to express this time through your lyrics? You told that “Age Of Madness / Reign Of Chaos” is a reflection of human life and it's inevitable finite existence, so can you tell in details what did inspire to write some of these songs?

Well most songs have their very own topics like for example in WolvenEarth there’s the current decaying state of this planet or in the title track the downfall of humankind whereas Eternal Solitude covers a situation that probably a lot of us know ourselves – being alone and desperate and questioning hope for salvation of whatever problems you’re in at the moment. Remembrance is about all those names on cold stone or marble walls that remind us of the people that we have lost all along the way and the hole that it leaves behind in our lives.

When I finished all the lyrics and felt that there was a underlying common topic throughout the songs but I only became really aware of that in the studio when we were mixing the album.

All songs cover the topic of our very finite existence. It’s not an album about death in general but about the very truth that we are merely mortal beings. That’s something a lot of people just try to push aside or try to avoid thinking about but in my view it’s something to accept and to embrace because it is really inevitable. In embracing this fact a lot of things in our daily lives become redundant or at least the value of some things change for sure. I find that a very interesting thing if one is willing to really engage in thinking about it.

That may sound philosophical or to some it may even sound like something from the ivory-tower but it’s one of the few very common things that we as humans all share alike.

What were Wolf Counsel highlights in 2017 and what are your plans for the next year?

We had the pleasure and honor to play nearly 25 shows in Germany, Austria, Ireland and Switzerland which was really great for us considering the fact that we’re still very unknown and do all of the booking ourselves. The shows in Ireland were for sure one of the highlights of the whole year due to the fact that the reaction and feedback of the crowd was overwhelming. We never take something like that for granted. Imagine an relatively unknown band playing in front of approx. 350 people at the Siege Of Limerick Festival alongside bands like Orange Goblin and people screaming and applauding very loud in between our songs is something that you never forget. Almost all of the shows had something special in one way or another. We were lucky that we could support bands like Procession, Epitaph, The Order Of Israfel, Castle SF, Year Of The Goat and Obelyskkh for example that helped with the number of attending people of course.

So we’re working on a continuing live presence which is not that easy nowadays. So with a little luck we may be can announce great news in January or February regarding a first European tour for us but we’ll see. Anyways we will play more live shows in 2018 – the only question is when and where. Apart from that we will record another album at the end of next year for a release in spring 2019. That’d be the current plan but I guess there’ll be even more surprises in store than this year. However we naturally hope that people will pick up the new album and will enjoy listening to these songs. That’s probably the best we could hope for as an underground Doom Metal band.

Wolf Counsel – Pure As The Driven Snow

Words by Aleks Evdokimov and Ralf W. Garcia