Interview: with Joel, April 2013

(Translated to German for here.)

Andreas Schiffmann of had a few incisive questions for Joel about Thrawsunblat II and its lyrics:

AS: What was the intent of starting Thrawsunblat in the first place, given that David used to be a member in the beginning?

JV: Originally Thrawsunblat was the only band David and I were in together. I had sent him several demos between 2005-2008, and he offered to play drums for those demos. It was only after we’d released the first Thrawsunblat album that David asked me to join Woods of Ypres. Woods was very much David’s— his creative vision, his lyrics. And Thrawsunblat is my own– my creative vision and lyrics.

AS: “Lifelore Revelation” is overt criticism of Zeitgeist, but do you see a possibility to retreat from the internet and the rushed lifestyle of these days in general without becoming a complete failure.

JV: Lifelore Revelation is actually more of a exultation/celebration of mythology and what it truly is for humans, rather than criticism of the Zeitgeist or internet. The only criticism is of the belief that we can understand everything through digital, logical means. Or more accurately, the belief that anything that we don’t understand through these means can be discarded. There are some things that the “digital” hasn’t quite calculated, and there’s a massive value in this. For example, dreams are something our current scientific scope doesn’t quite understand yet. Not to mention the human mind itself.

In this song, I specifically mean mythology and folklore. Why do we enjoy these things? That’s not something we have yet fully understood scientifically. I argue that this enjoyment of myth and folklore is to be valued and pursued, rather than discarded, disregarded, or disparaged simply because they aren’t scientific.

And so, Lifelore Revelation is more of an overture to the album, both musically and thematically, in that it introduces mythology’s role in the album, and introduces the power that mythology can have in all our lives. And introduces Joseph Campbell’s concept that we can find some spiritual fulfillment in these modern times through mythology, as well as give a brief sort of synopsis of the manner through which we can do this.

AS: You hold the “mythical” in high regard, but isn’t that just as dubious as giving ourselves into the hands of a god we merely believe in but don’t know for sure? Where do you draw the line between religious idiocy and constructive faith in the “unknown”?

JV: I’d instead say I hold the power of myth in high regard, or the power that myth can have for us, in our individual lives. And this is independent of any deity. It’s independent of deities in general. As Joseph Campbell writes, as humans we have a sort of “subconscious machinery” that deals with these types of mythological entities, archetypes, universally recognizable plot points and structures. And these things are present in all myth, and even in today’s books, movies, and television. Campbell’s “monomyth”, and the universal archetypes therein are convincing evidence of this. We, for all intents and purposes, have storytelling with all its tools for characters and plots, built into us. For example, we all have the tools to distinguish between a bad story and a good one. What allows us to do this? There’s some sort of innate sense for what makes a story pleasing. And it’s not something we’re taught. It’s automatic.

There’s an axiom that holds true for every mythology: for a person to truly buy into a mythology, that mythology must agree with the a person’s contemporary set of accepted knowledge. Religions themselves may provide their own set of current accepted knowledge, but if a person does not agree with that set of knowledge, then they can not be not fully invested in that religion’s mythology.

But obviously today our set of scientific knowledge surpasses and negates any religion or mythology that claims the existence of anthropomorphized (or otherwise) gods who have any claim or interest in the individual lives of humans.

Joseph Campbell wrote about a way to reap the benefits of the mythological structures without having to buy into any antiquated religion. Our own lives are full of these. We can see ourselves in the myths of old. We can connect with their struggles and solutions. They are age-old problems. And humans don’t really change. Just our environment.

AS: Are you prone to the concept of reincarnation? Some of your lyrics hint to this.

JV: No, I don’t believe in or promote the concept of reincarnation. I mention life/death cycles, but these do not refer to physical reincarnation. These are wholly symbolic. Our physical body isn’t changed by them. They have to do with cycles of growth in our lives. In the world’s mythologies, from ancient Greeks to Celts to Polynesians we have represented our important personal transitory moments with events, ceremonies, and rituals. Take, for example, womanhood and manhood rituals. These all, in some variation or another deal with the symbolic death of the person as a child, and the subsequent rebirth of the person as a woman or man. Take the following for a more modern example. Think of someone you know who is, say, a math teacher. There was a point in this person’s life when they were pulling out hair to learn basic algebra. Many years later, they are now teaching hundreds of students integral calculus. This is not, for all intents and purposes, the same person. There was a point when this person ceased to be a student of math, and became a teacher of math. We have so many of these milestones in our lives, in everything we do.

So no, not reincarnation, just personal renovation or spiritual development.

AS: “Once Fireveined” stresses the importance of hardship for a fulfilled life. Are people who go for an easy way of life really smug and despicable?

JV: Haha! No, if these people are happy, then that is absolutely fantastic! It’s rather the concept that fulfilment can be found in struggling for a goal. If a person is unhappy, then this could be a solution for them.

And it’s less the importance of hardship itself, but more the importance of pushing through hardship, as that is how we grow.

AS: With “We, The Torchbearers”, you hint at legacies to be defended and some obscure destination to be found. With this, you take on the role of martyrs that are suppressed, deprived of their alleged “roots” and suffering. Please elaborate on that.

JV: In 2011 two people very close to me passed away within a span of two months. Then two more before the year ended. A big theme of the album is death and how we deal with it.

This song came about when a close friend of mine had a family member pass away, and I wondered to myself, what can I say to my friend to help him deal with this? And this lyric came from that. You are so disoriented when a person near you passes away, and you don’t know what to do, or how to begin to understand it. There is now a void in your life where that person once was. A void that must be filled. The only way to move forward is to accept that it has happened, and accept that there is nothing to be done to change it. And to know that you must press on. And that you can press on. And soon you will find your bearings and direction, and solid footing.

And our loved ones are not forgotten. We carry on their legacies. We are the torchbearers of what they stood for, we are the torchbearers of their memory.

AS: The lyrics of “Goose River” are a bit vague to me; I guess it refers to one of two rivers with that name that flow in Maine, respectively New Brunswick where you come from. Also, there’s too many more or less prominent people named Sloan to guess whom you mean, so does the name simply stand for a person sorely missed?

JV: The second person to pass away in 2011 was a close friend of mine with the last name Sloan. When he passed, all of our friends were hit terribly hard, and wanted to have a commemorative hike out to Goose River, one of his favourite spots in a National park near us, and this is a song about that.

AS: Your band name is David Gold’s invention and to be taken rather humorously. Are you still happy with it?

JV: Well if a person wants to take it humorously, that’s great! I think it’s actually just a unique name that came about in circumstances that can be told in humorous story. As far as humorous band names go, my favourite one is this: Tony Danza Tapdance Extravaganza. I love that.

But I’ve always been happy with the name. It’s unique, and has a meaning. The humour is just an added by-product that shouldn’t say much about the music, but should say something about the people in the band, and their ability to find humour in a lot of things.

AS: You succeeded in raising funds for your record; do you see a future in this concept, or are you looking for a supportive label?

JV: The generosity of the fans was immense. And it was a one-time thing. People were so generous, I could never ask them to do it again. It also ended up being a tremendous amount of work to complete, with setting things up, producing the incentives, promoting things, on top of writing and recording the best album possible. We’re definitely looking for a supportive label. I enjoy corresponding with fans, and I enjoy writing and recording music. I enjoy the rest of the stuff a bit less!

AS: With your demo, I guess you paid hommage to your country. In which way does your stance towards Canada differ from that of, say, the patriotic black metal scene of Québec?

JV: I’m not sure! I’ve got no interest in anything political. The stance I have toward Canada is not in some sort of nationalistic identity, but in a celebration of the beauty of the land and its people. I’ve listened to so much European music that really takes the listener to, say, Germany, or Finland, for example. I wanted something that takes the listener to Canada, or Atlantic Canada.

AS: There is a certain movement within the North American music scene that harks back rather to a European tradition (you, too, refer to a “New World Rhine” in “Bones”) than searching for substance within their own soil. How do you explain that? Is there really not much to glean from your own culture? Given that you draw from Joseph Campbell’s work, who explored the archetypes and similarities that all humans have in common this doesn’t quite seem to fit …

JV: The New World Rhine is actually a name for the Saint John River, which runs through the heart of New Brunswick. It has actually long been named the Rhine of North America, by the early settlers here. It’s just a far more poetic term than “Saint John River”. Saint John River also just plain didn’t fit into that line of lyrics! Hah! And oh yes, there is a great amount to glean from Atlantic Canadian culture. The song Maritime Shores is a song celebrating just that.

And actually, the entire album is about this very thing you’re mentioning! Many of us in North America are certainly descended from a European tradition, or Asian, or African, or Aboriginal, or what have you. But the fact of the matter is that we are all North Americans. And no matter how much we may want or try to be like the people from our mother countries, we simply are not. We are from North America, and its culture has made us what we are! While we may look similar to our ancestors–like a sapling will eventually resemble its parent oak– if a sapling is planted in a completely different forest, it will respond to different stimuli and a different environment, and will turn out quite differently.

And we are all similar. We have so much in common. So much in common that it’s easy to overlook. One thing that we differentiates us is what culture we are a part of, and what subculture we choose to adhere to. But this tendency of differentiating ourselves is actually something we all have in common, which is quite interesting.

AS: The image the title track evokes is one of a young and inexperienced continent as opposed to a better place in the East across the sea. As you claim to dethrone the nihilist, I am reminded of the thesis that Western empires, like ancient Rome, must collapse one day. Please explain.

JV: The Continent of Saplings simply refers to the fact that, the cultures we have here on North America are of African, Asian, European, or other descent, and that every city and culture is a sapling of an African, Asian, European, or other culture. So we are saplings in culture, in that we’ve been planted here for a few centuries, and are influenced by the different neighbour cultures that make up our landscape, whereas these “mother cultures” are full grown trees.

AS: “Maritime Shores” is the most clear-cut example of your adulation of nature, but also sets the sea against the comfort of domestic living (the British way again, I guess, given the pipes, strings and drums). Why this dichotymy?

JV: Pipes, strings, and drums merely refer to musical instruments. And that I enjoy the music of the Maritimes. The “pipes, strings and drums” is a universal thing, actually. It really has little to do with Britain, since every culture in the world that has music will also have some form of pipe instrument, string instrument, or drum!

AS: “I Am The Viator” is as strong a statement as it remains nebulous; do you see yourselves on a constant journey, or can you imagine ever arriving anywhere?

JV: Life is, I would say, a never-ending cycle of journeys. When we arrive at a destination, whether physical or spiritual, or otherwise, we enjoy it for a while, but soon enough we turn our gaze to the horizon, and seek another goal. We are goal-oriented creatures, no matter how small or large the goal, and we thrive on the journey to the next one. We enjoy the journey as much as the destination, but often we long for one while experiencing the other! Constant cycles of aspiration and achievement.