DEATHWHITE is heavily influenced by Katatonia and is committed to playing dark metal while remaining anonymous. They are back in full force with a new intense and awesome album titled “Grave Image”. Their interesting musical approach has granted them some attention but they do deserve so much more… Pest Webzine thought it would be a great idea to catch up with the whole band to find out more about the new release and so much more. Read on…
First off, congratulations for releasing such a wonderful album. I have been listening to it repeatedly! Thank you so much for the awesome music! It was a great start to 2020! I’d also like to thank you for taking some of your time to answer our questions. Since its formation, DEATHWHITE has remained committed to playing dark metal while remaining anonymous. Why doesn’t the band provide line-up information? For people not to be influenced by the musicians’ fame and let music work its magic?
We formed as a studio band in 2012 and wanted an angle, if you will, that presented Deathwhite in a unique light. Since we never had any intentions of playing live, it never made sense to include our names, plus, we wanted people to approach the band with an entirely clean slate. The goal was to have listeners leave any preconceived notions about us at the door upon their initial listen and the only way to do that was by not including our lineup information. The music should be the only thing that matters when it comes to Deathwhite — nothing else. You could also make the argument that we, as individuals, aren’t terribly interesting either, so it has always felt more natural to present Deathwhite as a united, albeit personality-less front. We are the true definition of a band being greater than the sum of its parts. Now, some of us have enjoyed varying degrees of success within the metal scene, but in no way should the word “fame” ever be associated with Deathwhite.
DEATHWHITE remains a vehicle for its members to create new music and convey their unflinching sense of despair as humanity continues its rapid descent to the bottom. Wasn’t it possible to do in the other projects you’re involved in?
The four of us have played virtually every kind of metal possible, from black to death to stoner to metalcore to thrash to progressive to retro rock and surely a few others worth including. Deathwhite, though, is the first time any of us has played metal of this variety, therefore, it’s not that it wasn’t possible in our previous bands, it just feels proper to do so in this one. The band started with a stated direction and has worked toward building upon that sound in the ensuing years. To that point, Deathwhite occupies a unique place for all four of us — we hold the band with the highest regard and truly cherish the time we spend together. It affords us the opportunity to express ourselves in ways that we have never before, both musically and lyrically.
The band’s been active ever since 2012 but only in 2018 was the first full-length “For A Black Tomorrow” released … however you have 2 Eps, released in 2014 and 2015, and they’re rather long… why not consider them as full-length?
The EPs that came before “For a Black Tomorrow”, “Ethereal” (2014) and “Solitary Martyr” (2015) were recorded with different lineups and represent two distinctly different eras of Deathwhite. It wouldn’t make sense to make them into one full-length for that reason alone. We have a different singer and drummer between the two recordings, which, upon listening to the two, represents the biggest sonic jump the band has made. We, however, did release a CD version of “Solitary Martyr” that includes the songs from “Ethereal”, but, they are clearly separate recordings and eras of the band and should be treated as such.
The album was recorded during April and May 2019 at Cerebral Audio Productions… why only release it in January 2020? Why did it take so long to be released?
By the time “Grave Image” was mixed and mastered, it was late summer 2019. Our label, Season of Mist, has a release schedule they need to plan and it’s often based on when albums are complete and the priority of the release. They wanted to release it this January, to which we readily agreed to. Since it was released in late January, the hangover from 2019 releases was over, allowing journalists and fans alike to dive into new music. We consider this timing to be fortuitous.
“Grave Image” was unleashed on the 31st January and most reviews and comments have been extremely positive. How do you feel when you realize your music has an intense impact on the listener?
It is, of course, a wonderful feeling to know that our music has resonated with those who are kind enough to take the time to listen to us. There are countless bands in the scene, so any scrap of time and attention we can get, whether from a reviewer or listener, we are grateful for. We have received quite a few emails and direct messages from fans expressing their appreciation for the album, too, which is all you can ask for. Any feedback — whether positive or feedback — is valuable. But the nice words from listeners are the ones we truly cherish.
The album was produced by Shane Mayer and mastered by Dan Swanö. You have worked with a lot of great artists… did “Grave Image” turn out exactly the way you imagined it?
For the most part, it did, although there are some elements we’d like to improve upon for the next album. All the credit goes to Shane for how the album sounds — he spent tireless hours not only recording us, but on the mix as well, and was always receptive to our ideas, no matter how elaborate they may have seemed at the time. Shane is an invaluable partner and is one of the few people we outright trust to record us. We enjoy a very easy-going working relationship with him, one that includes a relaxed studio environment. We cannot say enough about working with Shane. He is not only a tremendous producer and engineer but a great person as well. This was our first time working with Swanö and true to his legendary reputation, he delivered a masterful — no pun intended — final product. Like Shane, Dan is a joy to work with, even though we are separated by an ocean. To have his name on our album was a dream come true.
Does the band have an established way of writing songs? How do you usually do it?
We do, yes. One member is usually responsible for creating the foundation of the songs, although, on “Grave Image”, we received a finished song from another member of the band. The process is meticulous and often wrought with second-guessing and over-thinking, if only as a measure to ensure the best possible product. Our songs are demoed at home, then we trade files, compile ideas, then get together to create what would be considered “final demos.” You could argue the demos we created for “Grave Image” were good enough for release on their own, such the level of detail and home recording expertise we are lucky to have in the band. Once all the instrumentation is complete, we apply vocals, which is always the finishing touch. A Deathwhite song is not a Deathwhite song until vocals are applied, and there are many instances of songs getting left on the cutting room floor because we didn’t feel like we leveraged our vocalist to the fullest extent.
“Return to Silence” is a fitting way to end “Grave Image”, however it was initially thought out to be the album opener… how do you decide the order of the songs? By importance? By personal taste?
Several elements determine the order of our songs. We tend to not prioritize them, but, rather, go on our gut instinct as to where they should be placed in the tracklisting. In the case of “Grave Image”, the only two songs that were interchanged were the aforementioned “Return to Silence” and “Funeral Ground.” As you properly noted, “Return to Silence” was originally determined to be the album’s opening song, but after we demoed “Funeral Ground,” it made sense to place it first. The album’s demos were largely complete by that point, so it was an easy call to change the two. Sequencing is important to an album — it’s impossible to imagine certain LPs having the effect they do without their stated running orders. For instance, would Megadeth’s “Rust in Peace” be as great as it is without “Holy Wars” and “Hangar 18” occupying the first two song slots? Probably not.
The band added a second guitarist and his playing is reflected in the final result as the guitars seem to be more present in this album than in the previous one. Did you detect a “flaw” in the first album, thus decided another guitarist was needed? What changed in the band’s dynamics, if anything at all?
It wasn’t so much of a “flaw” as it was wanting to have a fuller sound. When we started preparing for our first show as a band in 2018, we added the aforementioned second guitarist as well as a live bass player. It was clear to everyone that the second guitarist would become a permanent member of the band so we could do more solos, harmonies and melodies — things we had on “For a Black Tomorrow” but did not exploit to their fullest extent. Now that we have two guitarists, we have a lot more flexibility and a way to get heavier in the process. It was our top priority when writing for “Grave Image” — we wanted to achieve a heavier sound and feel as though we did. The band’s dynamics, if anything, have improved since we became a quartet. We now have four members who can bring their own ideas to the table while staying true to Deathwhite’s sound. Furthermore, inter-band relations have never been better. It has made being in Deathwhite all the more enjoyable.
The lyrics and titles of the songs in this album seem to make allusions to death, sadness, regret and despair. What’s so attractive in these topics?
On the surface, “Grave Image” addresses those topics on a worldly, outward-looking scale, meaning, this particular album is less personal than “For a Black Tomorrow”, which, across the board, was filled with songs about sadness and regret. The operative term for “Grave Image” is “despair” and that’s simply because when we read or watch the news, or speak with people who are invested in efforts to preserve the planet or engaged in human rights platforms, we feel as such. The world, by and large, is clearly in a downward spiral, all at the hands of the human race. We have done this to ourselves, despite a wealth of resources and knowledge on climate and human rights. Hypocrisy and hubris have now become the norm, if not celebrated, while polarization has thwarted any chances for thoughtful dialogue. The fact we are in the year 2020 and have yet to figure these things out is truly disappointing. It just goes to show that the human race is its own worst enemy. It’s unlikely this will ever change.
“Grave Image” is heavier and more orchestrated than “For a Black Tomorrow” and the clean, emotive vocals contrast with the harsher style of singing present in the metal scene… was all this intentional or did it just turn out like this?
This was entirely intentional. We’ve had clean vocals since our inception and have used them exclusively ever since. While we are fans of bands who employ a harsher style of vocals, clean, well-enunciated singing suits Deathwhite best since it gives us the ability to convey our thoughts and feelings in the most palatable of forms. We are fortunate to have a singer who is wonderfully skilled and can employ a variety of singing styles. He gets better with every release and we have often stated that vocals, not guitars, drums or bass, is the point of focus for Deathwhite. We are quite aware of what a unique commodity this is in the metal scene — growled vocals remain in flavor, or, bands will use clean vocals to complement growled vocals. There is no right or wrong approach; we are simply of the mind that clean vocals are best suited for Deathwhite.
The band stated that ““Grave Image” represents the months of hard work that went into its creation. It is our hope it will resonate long after we’ve outlived our usefulness.” What are your biggest hopes for this album?
We don’t have any grand or major hopes for “Grave Image” — it is simply our wish that its lyrical themes and music stand the test of time. The topics explored on the album do not appear to be going away any time soon, so it is our belief that “Grave Image” is not a contemporary album in that sense. Like any band, we hope it will reach a wider audience, but, we remain quite realistic about the whole thing — we do not ever expect to reach the level of the bands that so inspired us. Being in Deathwhite is akin to running a marathon, not a race, and we hope to improve with every release.
The video for “Funeral Ground” is really beautiful and the track is awesome! Shane Mayer shot and edited the video… but who came up with the “story”?
The narrative for the “Funeral Ground” video was created by the band. We wanted to have a few clues that tied back to the “Grave Image” album cover. If you pay close attention, you can spot them. The lyrics behind “Funeral Ground” is open to interpretation — like all of our songs. However, the song is not as dreary or self-defeating as it may appear. There is a silver lining, after all. We were quite pleased with the finished cut of the “Funeral Ground” video. Shane did a masterful job shooting and editing it, and we lucked out by having an idyllic autumn day in the Pennsylvania wilderness in which to shoot.
As with the band’s previous two efforts, the artwork and design were handled by Jérôme Comentale. Do you give him total freedom to interpret your music and create the artwork or do you give him hints and ideas of your vision?
Jérôme has complete and total freedom to create the cover art. For all three covers he’s created for Deathwhite, he was given the album title and the lyrics. He does the rest. That’s the beauty of working with someone as talented as Jérôme — he does not need a lot of instruction, nor does he require a greater explanation than what was provided to him. He understands our aesthetic, largely because he is responsible for it. Since “Solitary Martyr”, he is the only one we would entrust with our visuals. Each time we’ve worked with Jérôme he has produced covers that needed little alterations or suggestions on our end. We are often amazed by what he comes up with. He is crucial to what we do and we are very fortunate to work with him.
All of the covers of your releases are basically in black/white/grey shades… why?
At the moment, it’s an appropriate shade for our releases. We’re not quite sure how our covers would convey, if, for instance, they were yellow or green, if you want to go that far. Music of our variety and tone probably deserve to have darker colours to fit the music. “Grave Image”, though, has some blue hues, which marked a first for us. All credit for that goes to Jerome.
“Ethereal” and “Solitary Martyr” were released independently and, in 2017, you signed a deal with Season Of Mist and they were responsible for the release of “For a Black Tomorrow” and “Grave Image”. What’s the main difference between releasing albums independently and through a label?
Releasing albums independently requires the band to do all of the work and, in many respects, to be able to self-fund the recordings and the pressing of the CDs. We did that for “Ethereal” and “Solitary Martyr” and quite enjoyed the process — it is liberating to be doing all of that on your own and not have to rely upon other people. But, there are limitations to this approach, especially when trying to reach a wider audience. We realized this after “Solitary Martyr”. Even though we had a great promotional team behind us, we wanted to find a suitable label partner. Thankfully, Season of Mist took an interest in us and we became a part of the label in 2017. Now, they handle everything and we can simply focus on writing and recording. That’s a tremendous load off our backs and we’re grateful for all of the work Season of Mist has done for us thus far. We are a unique band with somewhat of a different approach, but they’ve never shied away from promoting us and trying to get us in front of the right audiences.
Even though you’ve been active ever since 2012, only in September 2018 did you play your first live show. How was it? How did the crowd react? Were you eager to play live more?
The show was with a band we respect immensely, Argus. They are also from Pittsburgh and we’ve been fortunate to share a great relationship with several of the guys in the band. We were very well-rehearsed leading up to the show and to our luck, there were no technical issues or live flubs. The crowd reacted as we hoped — enthusiastically, and there was a great sense of relief among the band when the show was over. It left us wanting to do more, but at the same time, it gave us a greater understanding of how our songs translate live. If anything, the show helped push the songwriting for “Grave Image” over the finish line.
Have you got any plans to do more shows, or even a tour, in order to promote “Grave Image”?
We are currently weighing the possibility of 2020 shows at the moment. We would like to support “Grave Image” in the best manner possible, but we are quite particular about shows. It has to be the right environment and with the right bands. If not, then it’s likely we will not play. We are primarily a studio band that may occasionally play live. If the right opportunities present themselves, then we will jump at the chance. We have a full lineup ready to go in the event something crosses our plate that is enticing. For now, we are carefully planning our next live dates. Whether they will occur in 2020 remains to be seen, as some of us have “life” priorities that will take precedence as the calendar unfolds.
Performing live and keeping your anonymity might be a complicated task. Have you thought out how exactly will you present yourselves? Wearing masks? Or are you considering the idea of unveiling your identities at last? For how long will you keep the secret?
We wore corpse paint for our only live appearance. It seemed like the necessary route since none of us wanted to wear masks, particularly our singer, who would need a way to breathe, and, of course, “sing.” We will likely go this route for future live endeavors, but with some enhancements to our stage presentation. It’s not too often a band of our sound wears corpse paint, but we felt it was a necessary visual accompaniment and suited the overall mood and atmosphere of the proceedings. To that point, there are no plans to unveil our identities, even with future live performances. So far, audiences have been respectful of our approach, to which we are grateful. It’s possible people understand our anonymity is coming from a place of sincerity and is not a gimmick. How long it lasts remains to be seen, but we will continue to keep our names private for as long as possible, or, until it no longer feels right to do so.
Katatonia’s album “Discouraged ones” was of immense influence and one of the reasons for Deathwhite’s formation. What did you feel when you first listened to that album? What was so special about it?
“Discouraged Ones” was the first Katatonia album a few of us had ever listened to. The album is so distinctly cold and forlorn — you cannot replicate the atmosphere they created, even though it’s a fairly simple album. There’s something about how Jonas’s vocals carry over Anders’s now-patented guitar layering technique that is so magical and touching…it’s hard to put into words. It’s a truly beloved album within the ranks of Deathwhite. We could try and copy it a thousand times but we’d fall short every time. Its brilliance cannot be understated.
“Plague of Virtue” is undeniably a “tribute” to Katatonia… would it be a dream come true to tour with them?
Of course. Whether we will actually do a full tour or not remains to be seen, but, to share the stage with a band like Katatonia would be ideal.
How would you feel if, in a few years, some bands refer to Deathwhite as a huge influence for them, as you mention Katatonia and others? Is pride the right word?
“Pride” may not necessarily be the right word. We’d feel honoured if anything else. We play in Deathwhite for our own benefit, first and foremost, but, whenever we learn our music has affected people it has all the more impact. Keep in mind that we are light-years removed from the likes of Katatonia and Paradise Lost — they have achieved more than we could ever dream. To even be mentioned in the same sentence as them is nice, but make no mistake — we have a long way to go as a band.
Any final words you’d like to share with Pest Webzine?
Thank you for the in-depth, detailed and informative interview, Sónia. We cannot thank you enough for the support and interest in Deathwhite and look forward to doing this again for future releases.
Interview by Sonia Fonseca