Interview: Deathwhite

Katatonia being one of my all-time favorite bands, it was inevitable that I would flip out over Deathwhite's sleek new self-released EP, Solitary Martyr. That's certainly not to say they're a copycat act by any means—far from it, in fact—but there's an undeniable stylistic connection in their dark, impossible-to-pigeonhole metal... with absolutely gorgeous singing (right up there with Opeth's Mikael Åkerfeldt in terms of quality and emotional impact, I'd say) and surprisingly catchy songwriting in tow. So, I decided to ask the band about their anonymity, their process, and their listening habits, among other topics...

I'm intrigued by your stance on "secretive" anonymity. Rather than keep every sliver of biographical information under wraps, you'll reveal certain tidbits—such as the fact that at least two of you were previously in a "long-running group" together, and that one of the band's members "currently plays in a pretty heavy band in and around town"—but little else. You've discussed that you don't want such trivialities to detract from the music, or simply feel that such information bears no relevance. You don't think these things have the opportunity to strengthen connections and provide listeners with even more to identify with than the music alone?

You are correct, these things certainly have the ability to increase the connection between us and whoever the listener might be. However, we as individuals aren't terribly interesting, and sometimes back information such as "so-and-so used to be in Band X" can override the music itself. That can become the main narrative, and no matter how good an album/band could be, that's what the listener will associate first and foremost. We thought it was more important for those kind enough to listen to Deathwhite to approach us with a clean slate. By not having general knowledge as to who we are, where we came from, what our favorite cereal is, etc., the music will become front and center. Nothing else.

Given that anonymity, I haven't seen any credits indicating who does what in the group. Does everyone in the band contribute to all instruments; or does Person A handle guitar and bass, Person B handle drums, Person C handle vocals, etc.?

Your assumption is spot-on: everyone's role in the band is clearly defined. One individual handles all vocals, another takes care of guitars and bass, and the third mans the drums. This doesn't mean there's a silo of creativity. During the recording of Solitary Martyr, many ideas were tossed around to enhance the final product. It's a very positive and encouraging working environment.

When Deathwhite began, you were trying to branch out from the more overtly extreme niche of your previous band. What was the catalyst for that shift? Did you feel things were getting too one-sided? Were you looking to explore a more emotionally diverse palette?

Playing extreme metal—or some variation of it—was certainly fulfilling, but you're often not the same person in your 30s as you are in your 20s. For each of us, our musical tastes evolved and drifted towards bands who favored darker elements. Plus, it's very challenging to write music in this style. We still enjoy and play extreme metal in other outlets, yet the creation of Deathwhite was spurred largely by the urge to play some form of dark metal. Oddly enough, some of our very early songs contained some thrash and death metal elements, so that well wasn't totally dry when we started. Who knows... maybe a polka beat will end up in a new song.

Since your lineup is spread across the US, you don't play live, and seem to have no interest in doing so. Do you feel like playing live is overrated? I personally have found myself often wishing that bands would focus more on writing and documenting new material as opposed to touring, etc.

Playing live can be an amazing experience, or it can be thoroughly demoralizing. Our primary locale doesn't have a music scene suitable for a band like ours, so it's simply not necessary to put a full band together, rehearse, etc. It's not necessarily an overrated pursuit—some bands are better live than on record—however, you could look at it from the angle that the live arena can sometimes dictate the end result of the material. If you dumb down your material so it translates better live, then there's a chance you may shortchange the audience who may never get to see you live. It's a catch-22. Each of us have played an abundance of shows (some far more than others in the band), so playing live with Deathwhite is not an itch we're looking to scratch at the moment, or possibly ever. There is no guarantee we could properly replicate our sound live anyway. And, what if the shows are a bust?

I believe you've mentioned that your songwriting process is handled remotely by sharing files and such. Do you travel to record together in the studio, or is that done remotely as well?

All three of us were together in the studio while recording Solitary Martyr. We did spend a handful of days rehearsing the songs to ensure we were all on the same page. It was quite the effortless process, to be honest. The songs were in development for a significant period of time, and some underwent major overhauls ("Suffer Abandonment" being one of them) prior to recording. Thankfully, none of these were a hindrance to the recording process. File-sharing and working remotely gave us the chance to really critique the songs.

In terms of songwriting, there's a certain degree of immediacy and "hooks" within the compositions, though not necessarily in an undisguised manner. Is that an organic outcome of your writing process, or something that you take specific measures to achieve in your work?

Our songs are formatted conventionally and for that purpose alone: to have "hooks" and immediate melodies. There's a current trend at the moment where bands are writing exceptionally long songs. These songs may have no less than seven or eight really good ideas, but since the song in question is so long, those ideas run the risk of being forgotten altogether. Rather than stretching out the songs, we make at least one or two riffs/melodies/ideas the focal point, and build the song around that. It's hardly a novel approach—some could even call it "commercial," if they'd like. It makes no difference to us. The goal with every Deathwhite song is to make them as memorable as possible. Now, that doesn't mean we won't write long(er) songs down the line. They simply won't be 17-minute epics with 38 riffs, that's all.

In previous interviews, you've expressed hesitation towards ever utilizing growled or "aggressive" vocals in Deathwhite, which I actually think is a great decision, especially considering how strong the singing is.

It's very unlikely that growled vocals will ever become a part of our sound. We have debated the idea of using them, but in the end, clear, well-enunciated singing performed with passion is our chosen route. There are countless bands who do growled/death metal vocals quite well. It would be a mistake on our end to try to force them into our sound just for the sake of having them. And, we've sometimes struggled with growled vocals and their conveyance of lyrics. There are some utterly incredible lyricists in metal with elaborate concepts and grasp of the English language, yet you can't understand a word they're saying. Why go through all that effort when no one can grasp what you're saying? It's a double-edged sword.

It's curious to me that the contrast between the heaviness of the music and the beauty of the vocals/catchiness of the writing seems to be causing some listeners to interpret the band to be "not quite metal." What's your take on that?

We are aware of that sentiment, too. It's interesting to see how people interpret music, especially metal. Everyone has a different definition of what metal is. The average Joe down the street might think Korn or Limp Bizkit are metal, while others will immediately dismiss such an idea. Some have debated whether Iron Maiden is truly a metal band as well. Is Katatonia a metal band as of 2015? It's all in the ear of the beholder. From a truly foundational standpoint, we believe Deathwhite to be a metal band. We may not have searing growls, over-the-top blast beats, or Slayer-like tremolo picking, but the attitude, purpose, and conviction is certainly that of a metal band. However, there are far worse things to be called than "dark pop."

For a short time, your new EP, Solitary Martyr, was originally to be titled Corporeal. What signified the need for the change?

Earlier in the year, we were working with a different vocalist, a gentleman of fantastic talent with an obvious gift for writing lyrics and developing concepts. It didn't work out for various reasons, none of which need to be delved into here. Corporeal was meant to be the companion title to our first EP, Ethereal. When that didn't pan out, the title of Solitary Martyr was suggested and agreed upon.

The physical pressing of Solitary Martyr is limited to just 200 copies. Do you still hold a personal attachment to physical copies of recordings?

There is a certain degree of ownership that comes with physical product. It's great to stockpile albums in digital form—it's certainly much more space-friendly. However, nothing quite tops having the actual CD/vinyl/cassette in your hands. We initially thought it was pretentious to print 200 copies of the album. Who buys CDs these days anyway? Thankfully, album sales have totally exceeded our expectations. Stock is running a bit low of late, which was a welcomed surprise for the band. If/when this run of 200 sells out, we will not have any more albums made.

When discussing your listening habits and influences, I've been surprised to see a fairly consistent strain of dark, gloomy, atmospheric types of metal (and related) acts pop up—Alcest, Anathema, Katatonia, Green Carnation... Of course these artists make complete sense, but I'm curious how far, if at all, your listening habits may branch out beyond various forms of metal?

The great thing about metal is that there are so many options. We are tremendous fans of tree branch metal bands à la Antimatter and Se Delan. And to go a step further, non-metal bands like The Cure, Fields of the Nephilim, and The Sisters of Mercy are spun fairly often. But for all intents and purposes, metal and its various spinoffs—whether it be '70s-inspired rock or the above-mentioned bands—are what constitute our listening habits.

You've been asked a lot of the same questions over and over again in interviews, and I'd like to avoid that, so I'll close with a couple of (hopefully) simple and fun exercises. What are five albums that you think every fan of Deathwhite should absolutely hear at all costs?

  1. Katatonia, Viva Emptiness
  2. Sentenced, Amok
  3. In Flames, Whoracle
  4. Paradise Lost, Draconian Times
  5. Anathema, Eternity

Conversely, what are five albums that have absolutely nothing to do with any influence on Deathwhite that you would still enthusiastically recommend to any music fan?

  1. Megadeth, Rust in Peace
  2. Death, Symbolic
  3. Helloween, Keeper of the Seven Keys Part II
  4. Mercyful Fate, Don't Break the Oath
  5. Blind Guardian, Imaginations From the Other Side


Solitary Martyr is now available via Bandcamp, digitally or on limited edition CD (including 2014's Ethereal EP as bonus tracks). Follow updates from Deathwhite through their website.