Novembers Doom has been making their own brand of death/doom since 1995, and 2014 sees them even stronger than ever. In fact, Bled White might very well be one of their strongest and most emotionally crushing efforts yet, showing the band at their most fragile… and bled white. I spoke with frontman Paul Kuhr about the album, as well as inquiring on his thoughts towards an afterlife, his work with Anneke Von Giersbergen and some of the dramatic life changes that led up to the writing and recording of this album.
Tell me a little bit about Bled White. After one of the most melodic records in your career with Aphotic, it certainly seems like a mix between the previous record and possibly The Pale Haunt Departure. Was this the idea?
We usually begin thinking about the next album as soon as we finish recording the previous one, so once we finished in the studio recording APHOTIC, we took a short mental rest, and started talking about BLED WHITE. We do a lot of discussing in the beginning, in order to try to see where everyone’s head is at, and to try to get us all on the same page so that the material is cohesive. This time, we knew from the start that we wanted to focus on vocal melody and leave more room for the vocals to “sing” in the music. It’s always a personal challenge to never repeat the same album twice, and we always try to outdo and push ourselves. We don’t really look back to older albums for inspiration. We take what we do and try to add new elements to it.
How do you think the band has progressed since your debut? Do you find this to truly be one of the strongest eras of November’s Doom in recent memory?
With the goal to never repeat the same album twice, it’s all about progression. We started out as a pure doom/death band and after the debut AMID ITS HALLOWED MIRTH, we moved away from that and added in so much more melody and influence. Today, we are better than we have ever been, both in musicianship and song writing. We’ve never rested on our laurels so it’s been more difficult to top ourselves, but I think we continue to push ourselves and I say without trying to sound arrogant, that we try to raise the bar for the entire genre.
Tell me about the writing process for Bled White. How long did it take to write the material? Did you have some of these songs already in some skeletal form or another from past sessions, or are these all completely brand new writings from the ground up?
It was a bit more challenging this time around, as our personal lives got in the way of band life. In the past, we would all collaborate in the same room together and this time it was more separated, as we brought in ideas every few weeks to try new things out. It took longer to complete, but the end result was something quite beautiful. As long as we’re all on the same page, coming together to complete the common goal is easy for us. Of course, there are hiccups along the way, but we always manage to work them out in the end. It’s always a long process, with much discarding and re-writing, until we as a band are happy.
What were the recording sessions like for the album? Where did you record it and how long did that take? What was the atmosphere like in the studio?
We recorded in Racine, Wisconsin with Chris Wisco once again. We holed up there for about three weeks. Once the recording and edits were complete, the files were digitally sent to Dan Swanö for the mixing and mastering. We’re always a bunch of goofballs, so the atmosphere in the studio goes from silly to serious depending on what’s happening at the time.
What is this album about? It seems like there’s a lot of loss and heartbreak on the record. But the band has always dealt with relationships and the pain of loss throughout many of your releases. Unlike the emo, screamo and core guys that whine and cry about their girlfriends breaking up with them, you gentlemen seem to communicate human emotion with a much more mature and relatable touch that adults can actually relate to.
I went through a lot of changes in the past year of my life and BLED WHITE is a metaphor for that. I have noting left, no life left, and I’ve been bled white of all my energy and soul, and it was time for some major changes for the sake of both my health and my sanity. I changed much in my life. Divorce, weight loss… BLED WHITE is more or less the last two years of my life, good and bad.
That being said, tell me a little bit about some of these songs. What is the concept behind “The Memory Room”, “The Grand Circle” and “Animus?” These songs almost have mid-era Opeth titles, which leads me to believe there might be an influence there.
I can say, with a hundred percent certainty, that there is no Opeth influence in any of this. Not a knock against them, but seriously; I’ve been doing the same thing and writing the same way since 1985, which is long before I knew who many of these bands are or were. That being said, as far as what certain songs are about,the meanings are quite lengthy and require much explaining. I plan on updating the Wayfaring Chronicles app on iOS and Android to reveal all of the meanings for the new album. In short, “The Memory Room” is something written for Nikki, “The Grand Circle” is about the circle of life and karma, and “Animus” is about someone specific after I was told an unsettling story. “Heartfelt” is that way as well.
Paul, how is your health these days? From recent images, you’re looking as fit as a fiddle. Please explain how you achieved your recent life changes. Do you have any advice?
I am doing very well. Fourteen months ago I made the decision to drastically change my life, and take control of what I COULD control. I changed my eating habits and removed all sugar and carbs from my diet. I switched to clean eating, nothing processed. Lots of vegetables and chicken, and lowered my calorie intake. In ten months, I lost a total of 185 pounds and I’ve never felt better overall. I do have this pesky spine disease and that pain is exactly the same, but the rest of me feels great. (Laughs) The only advice I can give is this: You have to be ready to make the change and be ready to commit to it completely. No one can do it for you. When you’re ready, you’ll know. I was heavy for half my life, when I was diagnosed with Spinal Stenosis and I sort of gave up on much of life. Take control of what you can, and make the very best of this life. Anyone who says they can’t lose weight isn’t trying hard enough. I did this with diet alone. I didn’t add in exercise, and that is only walking until I shed the first 100 pounds. If I can do this, anyone can.
I’m sure that you get asked this question a lot in interviews, but who could you cite as influences for Novembers Doom, past and present? I actually feel that a little bit of David Gold’s influence on that final Woods Of Ypres album actually went into this record on some of the more somber tracks like “The Memory Room.”
The song “Unrest” on the album was written for David Gold, and the music and vocal layering was all influenced by Woods. “The Memory Room” is heavily influenced by Alice in Chains. The beauty of influence for us is we do it in a way where most people can’t directly hear it. That’s how you “borrow” with grace and not directly rip people off. Overall influences are hard to list, as each member draws from a different source, but to name a few… The Beatles, Peter Gabriel, The Doors, Coldplay, Greg Laswell, Pink Floyd, Celtic Frost, Alice in Chains… The list goes on. These are the things we listen to and draw inspiration from. There’s a ton more. But ONE thing you’ll notice… There are hardly ANY metal bands in there.
What are your top five personal favorite releases of all time?
With some bands, I need to name two albums. They both sit on equal ground for me:
Slayer – Reign in Blood / Hell Awaits
Metallica – Ride the Lighting / Master of Puppets
Alice in Chains – Facelift / Dirt
Greg Laswell – Take a Bow / I Was Going to be an Astronaut
Peter Gabriel – So
I also must ask what it was like working with Anneke Von Giersbergen on Aphotic. Hands down, she’s had one of the most mesmerizing voices in metal and is my single favorite female vocalist on the planet. I’ve always said she could sing “the phone book” so to speak.
I met Anneke when we toured with The Gathering many years ago. She quickly became a good friend and we’ve kept in close contact since. She was gracious enough to lend her voice on Aphotic, and since has performed the song live with us three times, twice in Chicago and once in Belgium at Graspop. She is easily the most talented vocalist I have even worked with and it’s intimidating singing with her, because I know that I’m nowhere near her talent wise. She’s incredible!
Out of all the concerts and tours you’ve had over the years, what could you say would be your most memorable? What could you say would be your least memorable? Who were you fortunate to meet and play with while on the road and were you able to meet or play with any of your personal inspirations? Furthermore, what were some of your craziest on the road antics?
European festivals like GRASPOP and Brutal Assault and the 70,000 Tons / Barge to Hell cruise have all been the most memorial for sure. Just the scale alone makes these highlights. We’ve had our share of bad memories too. We played a dump in Delaware that was a pure joke of a venue. We’ve been able to meet and hang out with just about everyone we’ve played with, even at festivals, so that list is plentiful too. And as far as crazy road antics, someday I’ll write a book. I’ll just say this… 5 feet.
What sorts of hobbies do you enjoy when you’re not playing music?
I collect superhero toys, comics, and I’m a tech (Apple) geek. I repair just about anything Apple related. I’m constantly on the tech news sites. I love forward thinking and technology.
Most November’s Doom fans also know that you have a progressive metal project in Subterranean Masquerade, for which you released a teaser for in the form of the Home EP back in 2013. Is a new record also on the way? Additionally, what can you say about These Are They?
I actually bowed out of Subterranean Masquerade and was replaced by Kjetil only to be asked back to record the growling vocals only. Subterranean Masquerade is Tomer’s baby, so you’d have to ask him all about it. But the new CD is coming out in August / September and its great stuff! THESE ARE THEY also have a new CD recorded and it will be released this year as well. It’s VERY heavy and western themed this time.
Could we soon see a sequel to the book, The Wayfaring Chronicles?
It’s just not cost effective to reprint the book with each new release. Perhaps when the band is all said and done a final version will be made, but until then; I’ve turned it into an iOS and Android app and I will update those with each new album!
Finally, I’ve always been curious as to what you believe in as a person. Obviously, you don’t follow modern religion as firmly referenced on The Novella Reservoir. Some could say there are occult or symbolic references to the lyrics here and there, but I would not peg you for someone of that nature.
I believe its all nonsense, but I love religious art and the stories behind it all. I have no faith, but I have hope. I HOPE there’s something better waiting for us. I don’t believe there is, but I HOPE I’m wrong. I would say I’m Agnostic because I don’t know the truth. I lean towards the Atheist side of things, but I don’t look down on people who do believe. They could be right. I guess we’ll all know someday, or we won’t. As far as the occult, well that’s even sillier to me; but I love the creativity that went into making those stories up as well. Fascinating fiction. What’s more unbelievable to me is that it’s 2014 outside and grown adults believe this crap, but completely dismiss the thought of aliens. It’s easier to believe in God than the possibility of life on other planets… The world is insane. (Laughs)
Thank you for answering my somewhat deep questions and I apologize if I’ve dug deeper than I should have in some aspects. But I feel that the music you’ve created over the years is quite cavernous and thickly layered, as my curiosity ever hungers as to the meaning behind it. This is truly a monolithic effort and I stand by every word of that review. Always looking forward to hearing more. – Eric
Thank you Eric! I enjoyed the interview very much! Sorry for the delay in getting this to you. Typed interviews take more time when things get busy in life!