Northwest Terror Fest Spotlight: Aaron Weaver on the philosophy and alchemical work behind Wolves in the Throne Room
Interview by Parisa Eshrati
Wolves in the Throne Room strives to work in an alchemical state while creating music, working with the Earth's energy to uproot a primal spirit. In our in-depth interview ahead of WITTR's headlining set at Northwest Terror Fest, drummer Aaron Weaver spoke with us about working in these non-material states, creating from the shadows, and discovering the infinite within that space.
Let’s start off by delving into the philosophy behind the band. First, I want to talk about tapping into...I don’t want to say spiritual world, but the non-material world where you source your music. What’s the process for starting communication with that side? And do you feel like that communication is a two-way experience?
Yeah, that definitely makes sense. For me, there’s everyday life. This is made up of the things we regularly experience and our everyday thoughts. But then there are times when we notice we are in a different mental space. It feels like magic, or a dream, but it’s happening in your waking life. I think that’s something we all experience, but most people in the modern world just write it off as some weird anomaly that they shouldn’t think about since it will crack up their concept of reality.
We’re lucky to be artists and musicians who get to interact with this realm and explore it. As you mentioned, this is definitely a two-way communication. To begin the communication I like to get into a place where I can be receptive and listen, and notice the things that are going on around us all the time but on a very subtle level.
As a musician, do you feel like you’re more of a vessel for this kind of communication? How much of it would you say is drawn from personal experiences? Or is it not so black-and-white as this?
If you want to look at it in terms of shamanic understanding, you’d describe it as non-ordinary reality. You can refer to it as a daydream, even. It all depends on what perspective you want to look at it from.
If we’re discussing my personal experience, we can just call it non-ordinary reality. The main characteristic is the line where the self and “the other” dissolves. It’s not a matter of an entity speaking through you or you communicating with some other entity. It’s a matter of being in a space where those boundaries or lines don’t really exist anymore...or they blur to a point where it’s unclear who is the human being and who is the wind. That’s how it feels to me.
Do you feel like the more that you go into this non-material world the more you are familiar and comfortable with it, or does it keep expanding the further you go in?
At this point in my life, it feels comfortable. I remember when I was younger, this space felt so overwhelming and huge, new and unexpected. It was truly shocking. There is a certain amount of terror associated with being in that space. Especially when I’m working on music, I’ll come up on some uncomfortable places. The music that we play is dark and is working in the shadowy realms. But I like to get in those shadow spots and just abide there, just sit there, and be willing to relax and accept an uncomfortable situation, an uncomfortable or even terrifying thought, work with it, and see what arises.
In my case, what arises is music. In the end, it’s all about the music. The music is the ashes after the fire of this internal exploration. It’s a very personal, emotional and spiritual thing, and this is what comes out of that exploration.
Let’s talk about the role of music as a shamanic practice. You’ve talked about the role of repetition in your music and how that relates to repetition in shamanic drumming. I’m curious, though, about the other aspects of your music and how it could pertain to shamanic practice. How, for example, does creating a very thick wall of sound pertain to self-exploration? What do you think happens in the conscious mind when you’re fully immersed in sound like that?
Yeah man, sound is the oldest trick in the book, isn’t it? In cultures where people were not regularly using some sort of psychoactive compound to get into non-ordinary states of consciousness, music, sound and dance were the vessels or tools to get there. That’s true of our modern culture too. It’s within the realm of music where people can let loose and work on an emotional and spiritual level. It’s available to all of us.
As far as the latter half of your question, the drumming or the wall of noise helps turn off that endless fucking chatter of your brain. All the useless opinions and thoughts. It’s all garbage. It’s completely useless, especially when I’m in a musical mindset.
When I’m working on music, I tune into that voice that’s continually chattering in the back of my head that says things like, “You’re horrible. This is the worst thing anyone has ever done. You’re a horrible drummer. You’re a horrible person...etc. etc.” It’s just there all the time. At this point, it’s such a welcome friend. Like, “Oh, there you are again, self-doubting voice!” I like to take that voice as an “all-systems-go” signal. That’s a sign that things are entering an interesting space because the parts of the self that want to keep things under control are freaking out.
You’ve also stated in previous interviews how you want the music to create a potential for a primal spirit to manifest. Where do you feel like this spirit is rooted, and where does it come from?
It comes from the Earth. The way is I see is that our world and our culture is so profoundly stuck in our heads, and a lot of that is a hold-over from the trauma we’ve all experienced from Christianity. It’s this con-game telling us that everything is coming down from the Heavens and this earthly experience is poisonous, flawed and full of sin...and eventually we’ll get our reward if we’re good. It’s a most perverse lie.
What we do as musicians is to give another perspective. Instead of everything coming down from a mystical man in the sky, we listen to the Earth. We listen to the energy and voice and wisdom of where we actually are. We listen to where our life actually comes from rather than some sort of fantasy.
Do you have any grounding practices that keep you rooted in the Earth and in this reality? Some people, for example, come back from an experience on “the other side” and people think they’ve gone mad, but it’s because they didn’t stay rooted in this world. What are your practices so you can stay grounded while entering this communication…if that makes any sense.
Yes, that totally makes sense. I was one of those people that went to the other side and got lost there. It was a terrifying initiation into this new way of thinking. It’s the same thing that our culture would call a psychotic break or episode, but I think people are catching onto the fact that that’s just one way you can look at it. There’s another way you can view a shamanic ailment or mental illness, whatever you want to call it.
I learned the hard way how to stay grounded. For me, it all comes down to the body. Where you start to lose it and spin off into never-never-land is when you get caught up in your mind. It can go wrong when your experience is becoming different than everyday reality and your mind gets involved. It’s natural for your mind to start labeling the experience and come up with all these thoughts of what is occurring. How to counter that is to stay firmly grounded in the body. Come back to the music, too. Music is an incredibly grounding force, especially the low end of music. I always like to come back to the bass and the lowest frequencies. As a drummer, I always go back to the kick drum and to feel that heart beat.
Another important aspect of shamanic practice is holding space for others, which I’d like to relate to your live shows. How you feel like you’re holding space for people in a live setting? How do you find that balance of not imposing your own ego so that people can experience whatever they personally need to experience, and not what you want them to experience?
That totally makes sense, and that’s something that I think about a lot. It’s a tricky situation because we’re not shamans. We’re not wizards. We’re just some people that play in a rock and roll band! We don’t live in small villages where we have a shared conscious experience. We’re not living like hunter-gatherers. Our world and our universe is totally different. I would never want to use the word “shaman” because it seems so specific to a way of life that we just don’t have access to. But it seems like artists and musicians are the closest things we have to shamans. There is a connection...it’s different yet it’s the same. So the question is, how do we work with that energy?
For me, it’s all about creating a space of total freedom for myself, and holding strong boundaries around myself. And I hope that the people in audience feel free too. And I hope that we can all help each other on the journey.
You’ve stated how Two Hunters and Black Cascade are mirror images in that Black Cascade is more masculine and Hunters deals with the feminine energy. Let’s talk about balancing masculine and feminine energy - and perhaps what kind of energy we can expect on future releases.
That’s the alchemical work - between the sun and the moon, there’s a space between where they become one, and that’s where the magic is. There’s a strong theme in our music of moving between the lunar and solar energy, or the masculine and feminine, or whatever you want to call it. It’s the two polarizing forces of the universe, and abiding in that strange, very tiny sliver in-between and discovering the infinite within that little sliver. It’s an ongoing process of finding out more about myself.
This reminds me of a metaphor you made in previous interview with how crystals represent this dichotomy that you're speaking of. They contain both lunar energy and that of the Earth, but they also exist in one space – so you realize that there is in fact no separation. As much as we want to think that all of these forces we’re speaking of are outside forces, they are just as much rooted within ourselves.
Yeah, you know it always come back to that alchemical maxim, “As Above, So Below”. Everything is woven into everything else, and nothing exists without everything else woven into it. At the same time, we’re all separate. We’re separate individuals and we have separate experiences. So how do we reconcile something that really can’t be reconciled? The only way is really through music. Music, art, magic, dreams...those are the spaces where this irreconcilable divide can be dissolved, and can be healed and woven together.
You debuted your new side project, Drow Elixir, at Roadburn. Can you tell us more about that project? It sounds like it was a full sensory experience, if you can elaborate on that.
The biggest news for Wolves in the Throne Room is that we have a third member. Earlier this year, we invited our friend Kody Keyworth, who has played guitar with us on the road for many years, to be fully in the group. It’s been the most wonderful transition because he’s such a brother and friend whom we really love, and he’s so in tune with what we want to do and how we want to approach our music. He’s very involved in industrial and noise music, so Drow Elixir is an opportunity to work on that realm together. We definitely plan on doing more of that kind of music in the future. Call it dark ambient or industrial or whatever. It’s all about making a space as wide and open as possible so the unexpected can occur.
I know you can’t talk too much about the new album since there isn’t a release date yet, but I’m happy to hear whatever you can reveal.
I can say that it’s unequivocally a black metal album. The last studio album was a synth-based project, and it was a good breather for us to gather inspiration for our next move. This new album, though, is going to be a proper Wolves in the Throne Room black metal album that will sit right beside Two Hunters or Celestial Lineage. An official announcement will come soon, but we’re all chomping at the bits because we’re so excited about it.
Who are you excited to see at Northwest Terror Fest?
You know, I haven’t even looked at the bill! I’m a famous non-planner. I don’t like to know what’s going to occur ahead of time because I like to be surprised. My favorite way to approach a festival is to show up and go in totally wide open and just experience whatever occurs. I’m always excited to be in a space with a lot of artists, creative people, and people who love music. Just let it unfold and see what happens! I’m very stoked about it.
Finally, one of my favorite fun facts about you is your love for Detroit techno. Let’s geek out on that for a sec - who are some of your favorite producers?
Oh hell yeah, man. It’s a little known fact that Wolves in the Throne Room is the craziest dance party as soon as the show is done. We start cranking some rap or techno and just get the dance party going.
As far as techno, I’ve been listening to some old Basic Channel 12” lately and they’ve got me super inspired. The reason I love dub and techno music is because they are spontaneously created. The whole idea is that the music arises in the moment. That’s the common thread in all the music that I love...they all create a space where spontaneity can occur and chaos can get in. With techno, It’s a matter of how these machines interact in an unpredictable way, and who can say what the result will be? It’s just making space for the trickster to get in there and cause some trouble.