Interview: Peter Verwimp (Emptiness/Ashtoreth)
A few days ago I had a pleasant talk with the member of Emptiness and leader of Ashtoreth, Peter Verwimp (Belgium), where he tells me more intimate details of his vision of music and life in general. I leave this pleasant conversation I had with Peter and as an advance I tell you that we will have a project with Peter, I hope to have some news soon.
By Manuel Knwell
Do not you think that songs like Lefth Hand Path of Entombed are much more avant-garde than the current death metal?
He, he, good question, i`m a big Entombed fan and you could say that in their approach on that particular album their is a hint of the avant-garde, but to say it is more avant garde is a bridge too far for me Anyway, the term `avant-garde` is a much used but even more abused term that one should be careful of using because people have different connotations to it depending on the genre of music they mostly listen to. But without question, `Left Hand Path` is a classic for sure !
When I say that it is avant-garde is because the structure and especially the end of the song that comes out of all the extreme metal schemes, in those days the death metal groups dared to experience more and nowadays it is everything more square and inside of more formal schemes.
Yes, in that sense i can certainly agree with your statement, although there`s always some small lights burning in the dark, I think of Portal, Oranssi Pazuzu for example. Bands and musicians who dare to explore different fields and make connections to other genres and incorporate them.
A bit like what you do in Emptiness as well of course Portal is, certainly Bolzer, bands that are giving a respite to death metal and what role Emptiness plays in all this?
Well I think Emptiness has always been a band that did things out of the box, they steer away from trends or genre limitations. I only joined them 3 years ago, but to my opinion they`ve always done things in their own way, which stems from the concepts that are behind their music.
The same with what i do with ASHTORETH, the shamanic intention behind the music allows me to blend in different styles of music and it still makes sense.
And you feel necessary to be able to create music with other styles so that you can feel comfortable and comfortable within your musical ideas?
Yes indeed, like there are different emotions their is different ways of expressing them. Heavy music in general has a lot of energy, it can be aggressive, it`s dark and loud. Those elements are interesting to translate certain feelings, but there is other genres that highlight other emotions better. So why not have them be a part of your music? and play around with that to me there are no limitations to what music can be.
What do you think of the legacy that Celtic frost left on the album into the pandemonium and what you tell me in the last answer?
When talking of avant garde in metal i immediately think about Celtic Frost. Into the pandemonium is a landmark in that respect. I suppose they also just followed their gut feeling in how to approach music in their own special way without following trends or fashion it was so different from anything else what they were doing back in the day.
Does not feel that its label season of mist a decade ago was quite out of the common with bands like Atrox and that of a certain form now became but a cliche signing to the bands old school that did not have fit in labels like century media, metal blade The earache?
I don`t really have an opinion about that because i know too little about that side of things. I would say they still put out stuff that is extraordinary and give young bands a chance to grow in what they are developing. There`s a strong tie with progressive music as well i`d say. And they highlight an important part of the European scene too.
What role does the world play for you in your music and what do you think of Carl Jung?
In Emptiness the world in all it`s absurdity and the fact that we are walking around on a speck of dust floating around in space is a source of inspiration. For Ashtoreth that is everything I want to shut out. There it`s the natural world, the world of old tales and folklore, the magical world that inspires me. Our connection to the cosmos. In that sense jung fits right in i suppose, the explanation of dreams, his work around the archetypes, to me it stands very close to what i interpret in shamanism. Where there is a connection to animal and plant spirits.
Have not you read Carl Jung’s red book?
No But i`m interested in some of his ideas for sure, synchronicity for example
How do you deal with true shamanism in Europe? Do you feel identified with Celtic or Viking cultures or more with other cultures that are outside of Europe?
To me the true strength of shamanism lies in the fact that it has survived for thousands of years just because it has the ability to be flexible and adapt itself to new circumstances. So in that regard I can identify with many different shamanic traditions as they all have similar concepts at their base. So to me all these traditions have an equal validity and I respect them in that way. For me personally i was drawn to shamanism just because of that. Every individual can form it`s own approach and ways of handling thing. This allows for a very personal connection to all things around us.
And do you feel that somehow the way you see life and your music has been a source of healing for your ills?
I approach this in the same way as we talked about music earlier on, we blend in those things that are of interest to us to express ourselves in our truest self.
What do you think of the political and social moment that we are currently living in the world? Do you think of Trump?
I don`t concern myself much with politics, but of course i try to keep up a bit with what`s going on in the world these days. I try to have a broad view on all the things that are happening. I have the feeling we live in an important time of transition. In that sense my view on Trump is a bit different from most people i guess.
Penderecki said “to reach the light you have to go through the darkness”, tell me what you think of that mythical phrase?
To me he represents Heyoka, a figure from the Lakota tradition. It`s trickster spirit, who teaches life lessons by showing us the opposite, a clown who speaks, moves and reacts in an opposite fashion to the people around them. And he also is a mirror for a lot of folks on this planet, power hungry, selfish, materialistically driven, everything to please the ego. I can only hope people start becoming more aware of things and make different choices from themselves, that`s the only politics i really believe in well, i can only but agree to this quote, as i`ve made a very similar journey in my life or to use another quote `there is wisdom in our pain.
Western culture always tries to see the dark side as a bad thing, but do oriental cultures have a balance of energies, how have you confronted your own demons and how have you exorcised them?
I guess i`ve tried that in many different ways; drugs, auto mutilation and so on, until i realized those are ways of trying to repress the dark side. It`s all about looking your demons in the eye and making peace with it. It`s of great importance to get to know your shadow, embrace it and integrate it. And in doing so you balance the energies and get a lot closer to your true self. And there is strength in that for sure
Inside the extreme metal the first to mutilate were King diamond with Mercyful fate and Trey of Morbid angel, these practices with the black metal suicide have been more common, also I come to mind Maniac ex Mayhem, who thinks of King diamond, Trey And all the movement sucide black metal?
Yes, it`s quite common these days at black metal shows. I`m not here to judge, it`s everyone`s personal quest, but like i said, to me it is a suppression of things, killing pain with pain does`t work for me anymore.
What plans do you have with Emptiness during this year? And which countries they would like to play beyond the cliches of Europe, Japan and America.
We`ll be playing some festivals this summer and we are slowly starting work on new material. As far as touring there are plans and deals being negotiated, but nothing i can already speak of. And to answer the second part of your question, I think we are not really bound to think of continents or individual countries, but rather about locations. I`d love to see us play at the CERN facility in Switzerland for example, or in an abandoned theatre.
Do you have a place where you like to meditate and connect with nature? And you want to know some country in particular?
I often go on long walks in the few forests that still exist in Belgium and i`m lucky to live in a city but have a garden. During the day that is my favorite place to meditate and connect. Over the years i`ve brought seeds from wild plants, mushrooms and all sort of flowers into my garden and now it is really wonderful oasis of peace and quiet. Lots of birds and animals live there since it`s going wild. As for countries, I`ve always been drawn to South America, I`ve travelled in Mexico and Brasil and would love to see more of Chile, Peru, Argentina…I would also like to go to Jemen, Iran, Mongolia, Canada and Siberia, just to name a few!
What is your connection with literature?
Well, I used to read a lot more when i was younger. These days I don`t seem to find the time anymore. I read a lot on mythology and folklore, cosmology, quantum physics, art, spiritual matters and science fiction. And i did quite a lot of collaborations with writers and poets in the past present and future. I prefer not to use words in my own music, but i like to play to someone else`s words.
Has faith that there will be a change of mentality in a few decades and people will reconnect with themselves and nature?
I try to think so. If i look on the internet there are plenty of people starting to think different, start acting by organizing themselves, growing community gardens (the most political thing to do these days in my humble opinion). People travel a lot more, have global connections and networks…but still we all have to start in our own lives and take our own responsibilities towards change .
What has been the greatest satisfaction that has given you being a musician?
I guess what gives me the most satisfaction is that music gives me a lot of strength and courage to go on. It may sound as a cliche, but if it wasn`t for music my life would look very different i`m sure. There`s so many aspects to music that give me a good feeling, it connects to people and places, it stirs up discussions, allows me to travel…
If I name these composers with which one feels more identified and why? JS Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Wagner, Schoenberg, Bartók, Penderecki and Arvo Part.
Again, very hard to make a choice from this I grew up with Bach , Beethoven and Wagner. Bartok is very important too, Arvo Part for sure, i might add Stockhausen, John Cage, Philip Glass….and let`s not forget Satie, that`s a big influence when it comes to atmosphere and mood . I love Wagner and Beethoven because of their use of simple yet powerful parts and the dynamics they bring with more quiet parts.
And if we did something similar in the metal and named the following bands: Black sabbath, Judas priest, Metallica, Venom, Hellhammer, Celtic frost, Bathory, Darkthrone, Ulver, Manes, Mayhem, Ved buens Ende, Fleurety, Winter, Morbid angel, Which of these bands do you feel most identified and why?
Sabbath certainly had an influence, it`s one of the first heavier things i heard and when i saw their artwork i was sold! Hell Hammer and Celtic Frost yes, we discussed this earlier on, these were pioneers! Ulver for their interesting artistic path so far, it`s a band you can expect anything from. But a band that is missing here for me personally is Neurosis. That`s the band I really love and admire the most. The sheer heaviness contrasted by very quiet and beautiful parts, their use of electronics, the rawness and sincerity with with they perform their music. their songs have a journey like build up that allows the listener to really get sucked in.
What do you think of swans and what did you think of the disk that I am editing neurosis with Jarboe?
Swans is another band that is certainly somewhere in my favorites list. Again an example of a band that does exactly as they please and have a lot of integrity in what they do. Live it is pure catharsis.
It may seem weird being such a Neurosis fan and all, but i`ve never listened to that collaboration before. There`s something holding me back to dig it up and listen to it…don`t know maybe i`m afraid i won`t like it ,ha ha, ha, ha! But i do listen a lot to the Tribes of Neurot ambient side project. The power that has Michael Gira live is unique, it is too strong catharsis, when I play live, it produced in people hysteria in turn made them all warm, it is strange what manages to activate the first chakra with all his energy .
Indeed ! Another band that has that same effect in a different way is YOB, pure dooming joy when they play live!
What is your equipment configuration, tell me what amplifiers you use, effects, guitars, etc … and how do I get to your sound?
For ASHTORETH i use a small 30 watts amp and an Ampeg 500w bass amp. I run my guitar and voice signal through a small mixing board before going into the effects. I use a few different delays, reverbs, an EQ and compressor, an octaver and a chorus, and a distortion pedal and a loop station. For Emptiness i use the same effects set-up but i run it through a 3 channel Mesa Boogie dual rectifier. Oh, and a volume pedal
Excellent settings, and what effects they make are? Analogues
My musician friends always joke about me being sponsored by Boss, since i use a lot of their pedals. The reason why is that they don`t make a click sound when pressing them. it annoys me a lot when pedals make a sound by pressing them. Apart from that there is a line 6 delay, a custom audio electronics distortion and a Digitech delay. all the rest is Boss haha. Chorus, giga delay, loopstation, compression/sustainer, octaver reverb dd3 delay.
I would like to add something to the interview that I did not ask you to finish and thank you for this nice talk.
Yes, i agree, very nice talk, you certainly asked the good questions !