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30/11/2009 – Interview with WHILE HEAVEN WEPT

The American Epic Doom Metal band WHILE HEAVEN WEPT (official website) is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year and what better way to do so than with a new album? "Vast Oceans Lachrymose" came out early November and prooved that this band is more alive than ever. The line-up changed once again, but for the better? Rain Irving certainly showed to be a valuable addition with a strong vocal performance. You can check out my review here.

As a result of this and considering WHILE HEAVEN WEPT is a band that truly deserves to be heard and promoted, I sent a few questions. Mainman and the personification of WHILE HEAVEN WEPT Tom Phillips answered them all... at the speed of light. The next day, all came back to my mailbox. Kudos to Tom for that. This has got to be the fastest reply to date. Anyway, enjoy and do check out the band's latest release, "Vast Oceans Lachrymose" if you're into Epic Doom with a Progressive/Power touch. The first two albums will also be re-released, so keep an eye on them as well.

While Heaven Wept logo

First of all, congratulations with the splendid album that is "Vast Oceans Lachrymose". Truly a masterpiece and one of the best albums in the last few years. In those 20 years, and when reading the extensive biography on the website, it's obvious you can't live without WHILE HEAVEN WEPT and WHILE HEAVEN WEPT can't go on without you. Isn't that a bit strange? I mean, you've been to hell and back a few times and yet the symbiosis still exists. Did you never had the desire to do something else (not necessarily music)? And what made you carry on until this day?

There have indeed been times where I've questioned the whether or not I still needed WHW or if it was still was truly representative of me in the present sense, having healed, grown and evolved, but the fact remains that it's been the one constant in my life which has always helped me through tribulations, never betrayed me, nor abandoned me. The bottom line is this music is me and I am it. Just when I had reached a point where I felt as though I could walk away from it, devastating events made it clear to me that it was more necessary than ever before. At this point, I'm quite sure I'll be doing something WHW-related until my death.

Speaking of the biography: you put quite a text there on the website, which I think is a very good idea, as it teaches a lot about the hows and whys of WHW. It's an example to several bands out there. Is there a specific reason for this?

WHW has always been a very real, very personal endeavor that has gone on for many years more than I'd ever anticipated, and I suppose that in some capacity it's important for me that everything that has transpired, every decision is understood - perhaps most of all by those who really care about me as a person or this music in general. Additionally, what I hope that people who feel particularly lost or depressed get from this (as well as our music) is that despite numerous crushing blows to my heart and soul, I've always managed somehow to soldier on.

Were there ever plans (or are there any) to write a book, or have one written, about WHW?

To be honest, it isn't something that has ever crossed my mind with regards to WHW specifically, however there have been so many twists and turns in the story and that of my life, I'm quite sure it would make for an interesting read. There are a lot of REALLY insane stories and mystical events that would surely be of help or interest to even those uninterested in the music. For now, I'm just flattered that we've been included in a few reference books as it is, but if anyone wants to put pen to paper and listen to me babble for a few weeks, I'm all for it!

Speaking of reading: what sort of books/genres are of interest to you?

Unfortunately, I don't have much time for reading these days on account of the recording process and now the post-release media commitments, but I'm really more of a music aficionado than anything else. I do read a lot of reference books, especially dealing with obscure Progressive Rock bands, but also band and composer biographies. When I was younger, I devoured poetry (mostly that to the Romantic period), philosophy (Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, etc.), psychology, and tomes of the occult. I also read the dictionary and thesaurus cover-to-cover back in high school, haha!

WHW is signed to Cruz Del Sur Music. Was there interest from other labels, be them big(ger) or smal(ler)?

Oh sure, we had many offers extended to us following the release of "Empires" and we considered many of them thoroughly... and we had, in fact, signed to Black Lotus Records from Greece originally, but the label went bankrupt before we could finish the "VOL" album. The fact is, I'd developed a friendship and working relationship with Enrico of Cruz Del Sur Music over the years, so with the demise of Black Lotus, it didn't really matter who else had what to offer - I'd given him my word that the next WHW would be a WHW release, and so, it is done.

I read in some interviews the material for "Vast Oceans Lachrymose" was written at the time of "Of Empires Forlorn". Does that mean the album consists only of what was done back then and nothing new was written between these two releases? Or did you change a few things here and there for "VOL"?

The basic core of the album is in fact 8 years old or older, but most of the lyrics and final vocal melodies didn't come together until 2009, after yet another failed relationship so that makes the album "fresh" in some capacity for me. Also, most of the guitar solos were improvised in the studio, so that was quite exciting... capturing raw expressions that were truly cathartic for me.

Also, was it a fruitful writing period back then, considering you had material for two albums?

Actually, by the time we finished the recording of "Empires" I had enough material for not only "VOL" but an additional album that is to come next, so I'd say it was a particularly fruitful time compared to some of the "droughts" I've experienced at various points. The fact is that I don't write in a traditional sense - it all comes to me via revelation... so, inspiration only comes when it does, and usually following a strong emotional catalyst; I cannot in good conscience forcibly write anything, if it's even possible at all.

Vast Oceans Lachrymose coverThe cover of "VOL" looks very nice. Is it an existing painting you used or was it one that was created especially for this new album?

It's a very old painting by the UK artist John Martin (1789-1854), entitled "Christ Stilleth The Tempest" that I discovered browsing a BBC article. Instantly, the drama, turmoil, and despair depicted struck me, and I literally looked upon it for the first time thinking "Vast...Oceans...Lachrymose". Originally, I had planned since 1995 to use a photograph of the ocean enraged, but this seemed so timeless and appropriate, it was just obvious, perhaps even iconic.

Rain Irving is the new vocalist. And he has done a tremendous job on "VOL", in my humble opinion. You two had talks about how this or that part should be sung, or at least how you would do it. Was there a rapid mutual understanding? Did he easily accept your suggestions, or was he allowed to add more of his ideas?

When we first discussed the idea of him having a go at the lead vocal position, I sent him a few completed lyrics and long list of disjointed ideas/scattered thoughts that came throughout the years (which I'd jotted down on bar napkins, packs of cigarettes, the backs of receipts, etc.) but nothing more. I certainly had most of the melodies that ended up on "VOL" in mind, but I gave him free reign (no pun intended) to experiment with whatever came to him naturally... in case he were able to bring something better than I'd imagined (or otherwise overlooked) to the table. It's not that what he sent was poor or anything, rather I'd just grown so accustomed to hearing these songs a certain way in my head, that I couldn't really hear otherwise in the end, so we used 99% of my ideas ultimately. That said, I have to mention that at least 2 of his demo ideas were in fact used, albeit re-arranged by yours truly. I was certainly open to his ideas and he was definitely open to mine, so together we decided upon which was the stronger approach... it was rather gratifying really, and him being so easy-going made it a very enjoyable process. It was really important in terms of continuity that he implemented as much of my vocal "style" as possible, so worked very closely with him in terms of diction, accents, vowel sounds... and he did a smashing job, but what's even more incredible is that he didn't lose his own identity in the process (which is very important obviously).

Did Rain have a hand in the lyrics or do you still (and will you always) fulfill that role?

No, Rain did not contribute anything lyrically, and it's highly unlikely that he ever will within the context of WHW (but not impossible); WHW remains the story of my life, and again in terms of continuity from "Empires" it was very important that the words came from the same author - it's one of the things that separates WHW from all other bands - my specific experiences, emotions, thoughts.

You're going to tour to support the release of "VOL". Does that mean there will be a CD/DVD, maybe with footage from back in the days, interviews and other stuff? Or is that a bridge too far, considering the financial climate?

I absolutely have ambitions for a DVD someday, but I'm thinking of something a bit more cinematic, yet still a concert.... that would be a massive undertaking, but it's definitely something I want to do before all is said and done. I'm all for live recordings in general, but I think it's very important, especially for WHW that it's a professional, multi-track scenario. If not during the shows in support of "VOL" perhaps soon after we'll tackle these concepts - but first and foremost, the mission is to record the next studio album "Fear Of Infinity."

"Sorrow Of The Angels" and "Of Empires Forlorn" will be re-released soon. As they are or will you add bonus tracks (or a bonus CD, like the "Lovesongs Of The Forsaken" EP?), maybe remaster the albums ?

That's correct, both "Sorrow" and "Empires" will be re-released on CD via Cruz Del Sur Music, January 29th, 2010 with updated packaging and some new liner notes, but ultimately they will be the same as the original releases in terms of audio content. For a long time I've had ambitions to revisit both albums to do re-mixes, re-masters, and even re-recording, but plans for these re-issues came about so fast, there was neither time nor money to do them the way I really want to. That said, despite having some reservations about these albums for personal reasons, I feel like given the fact that these CD's will be limited to 1000 hand-numbered copies, it's ok that they're not what I ultimately envision. Beyond that, there's something to be said for maintaining the integrity of the originals for the benefit of all those who missed them the first time around - however, make no mistake, this will be the LAST time these will ever be available officially in this form. Additionally, I want to mention that both albums will be released on vinyl for the first time via Iron Kodex/High Roller Records on February 6th, 2010 in limited editions of 500 copies, 180gm vinyl, with 350gm gatefold sleeves! Not only that but we'll be seeing a 2nd and final edition of "Vast Oceans Lachrymose" as a 2LP set, with the same qualities I just mentioned, released simultaneously (given that the original Maniacal Records LP is already sold out!). Sometime after "Fear Of Infinity" I'll finally sort out those older albums as I always envisioned them, but given our propensity for taking years between albums, this could be quite a ways away (but hopefully not!).

While Heaven Wept bandHow do you see the situation with labels (in general) today? I mean, there are tons of unsigned bands out there, who make (depending on the band, of course) good to very good albums/EPs/demos, yet without proper label support they cannot survive on their own. And still... one must also be vigilant when signing to a label, in order to get the promotional support, tour support, copyright, etc.

It really all depends on the passion, honesty, and resources of a label as to whether or not it's beneficial for a band to sign with one; it's so easy and inexpensive to "do-it-yourself" there's seldom reason not to in this day and age. WHW still is 100% self-financed as far as our recordings are concerned, so we could've just as easily released "Vast Oceans Lachrymose" ourselves, but the fact is a good label tends to have more "reach" within the industry, distribution already in place, PR connections, ties to promoters, and really, in our case in particular, the funds to mass produce the album in a timely fashion. It's really important for any band to devote themselves 50% to their music and 50% to the business aspects if they want to survive, but honestly, for me, I rather just play guitar and let someone else handle all the other aspects!

You played in TWISTED TOWER DIRE and a few other bands in the past and you're still a member of SOLSTICE, from the UK. What is it like being in a band and having an own band? I take it you are more free in WHW?

In some ways, there's less pressure when playing someone else's music - not that I care less or something, but I mean, the weight of the whole doesn't fall on my shoulders, and I'm only responsible for a small contribution comparatively. It really could go either way I think, as far as where I feel more "free" - and depends largely on the parameters of the entity in question. Incidentally, I'm not exactly sure of my status within SOLSTICE, nor the state of the band in general as of the time of this writing - I'd certainly be more than happy to contribute, but I'm not really sure what Rich has in mind, if anything, right now. Ultimately, I no longer feel as if I need other outlets to express other facets of my personality, considering the way WHW has developed; there are no boundaries other than those I place upon myself in relation to what I feel emotionally.

With all these line-up changes in WHW over the years, did that affect your trust in people?

Not really... trust hasn't ever really come into play with regards to the members of the band; after so many changes, I've just come to accept that people grow, evolve, have different needs and ambitions... it's not that big of an issue, and I don't take it personally. In reality, most of the current line-up has remained intact since 1998, so I feel like things are more stable than they've ever been. Romantic relationships gone bad on the other hand have certainly made it harder to trust people sometimes, but I think it all comes down to honesty, openness, and fearless communication in that respect too.

The digital age: nowadays it's easy to exchange mp3s when wanting to know about this or that band and it saves you the hassle of having to change the CD when wanting to listen to something else. But at the same time you don't have the booklet with the artwork, lyrics and maybe liner notes. What's your view on this and do you still buy CDs or even LPs?

There are certainly pros and cons regarding mp3's and the like; I am well aware of the convenience of them in terms of portability and instant gratification, but the fact is mp3's sound like shite! All the transients in the upper end get washy and the lower end gets enhanced unnaturally... it really isn't the same sonically as a CD, and certainly as cold as ever compared to the rich warmth of vinyl. This doesn't even get into the whole downloading issue, which brings up many moral issues, not to mention financial realities for a do-it-yourself band like WHW - I'm all for sampling an album to "test the waters" but it's really important to follow that up (should one like what they hear) with a purchase of some kind - be it a CD, LP, or some merchandise item, so as to support the bands and keep them alive. Personally, I'll never settle for less than a CD, as I do want the artwork, the best sound quality possible, and to physically hold something in my hand. I still buy not only the releases of bands I like, but those of my fellow colleagues out there so as to do my part in supporting them. Recently, I had to sell off most of my LP's for financial reasons, but I still procure new ones, and there are some that I just HAVE to have forever, like that insane Lord Vicar Library book!

Well, I'm done. Many thanks for doing this interview. I want to wish you all the best with WHW and other occupations. If there's anything you wish to add, let it flow. :-)

Thank you for the opportunity to talk about "Vast Oceans Lachrymose" and WHW in general - it is very much appreciated. I also want to thank all of our friends and fans that have waited so patiently for this album - I hope you're not disappointed! And I definitely hope to see everyone out on the road sometimes soon! Cheers!

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