Spotlight on … The Watcher (Fellwarden).

*When did you really get involved into music in general and into metal specific? Who was responsable for your interest in (metal) music?

It all started when I was around thirteen or fourteen years old which I think is a fairly typical age for when people start to ‘descend’ into the world of rock and metal music. Up until that point, I had mainly been listening to chart music, pop and some electronic stuff here and there, though had never really plunged particularly deeply into any one sound or genre. It was just there in the background, something to make some noise whilst I played video games or we went on a car journey or whatever else was happening.

I have my father to thank for opening the metal doors – he brought a rock compilation tape that we started listening to in the car when going on family trips. It was pretty safe, typical stuff – Boston, Bad Company, that sort of thing – but it pricked my ears up somewhat and I felt especially drawn to Whitensnake’s ‘Here I Go Again’ which of course was also on the compilation. So, my father went out and got 1987 on cassette one day, slapped it into the car stereo and… bang. That was it. As ‘Still Of The Night’ raged out of the car speakers in a frenzy of riffing, Coverdale screamed and then the epic, atmospheric mid-song breakdown unfurled, it smashed my child-like brain into pieces. I literally couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

From then on, it was a swift, voracious descent into the heavy music rabbit hole. I consumed whatever I could get my hands on – which, living in the depths of the fens with no cities or record shops nearby and with the internet still a distant concept on the horizon – was pretty minimal. I’d scour local tape shops in small towns to pick up whatever I could afford on my limited pocket money and buy Metal Hammer magazine to immerse my brain in this whole new world of heavy metal music. So many bands to discover! So much history to absorb! Within the space of two years I had plunged deep through the layers of metal – through thrash, doom, death and black metal – and it was the latter that really caught my attention at that point. The unique atmosphere, the mystery, the aesthetics, the extremity… it was bewitching and intoxicating.

*Which artists or bands did influence you the most?

In those early days, there were definitely some key waypoints that pushed me further along in terms of discovering new scenes and helping explore the myriad offshots that the metal scene has to offer. You have to realise this was quite an ‘unstructured’ exploration of the scene – with no internet and very few like-minded peers, it was often fuelled by sifting through CD racks in small record stores or reading through the pages of the occasional copy of Metal Hammer and (later) Terrorizer magazine. Covermount tapes and CDs were always useful but a lot of it was simply taking a punt on something that looked vaguely cool in Andy’s Records or ordering something that had had a good review in Terrorizer.

Those early waypoints were absolutely key and much of it, I still hold in very high regard – Whitesnake ‘1987’, WASP’s ‘First Blood – Last Cuts’ compilation, Manowar’s ‘Triumph of Steel’ and Iron Maiden’s ‘Seventh Son’ really lit the fire. Then I discovered Paradise Lost through ‘Icon’ and then ‘Draconian Times’ – My Dying Bride also were important – and then swiftly fell into death metal. Cannibal Corpse were a big deal as well as Deicide. Then black metal landed – Cradle of Filth, Dark Funeral, Emperor, Enslaved, Gehenna, Immortal – and it really snowballed from there. These were all huge influences in the early days – bands describing a totally unique atmosphere. Cold, haunting, shot through with underlying melody and weaving truly captivating ambiences. I was also big into fantasy gaming (D&D, Games Workshop e.t.c.) and – as we now know – that was a big thing for a lot of those old second wave Scandivian acts. You could pretty much feel that creeping into the music which was of huge appeal also.

In terms of specific influences for Fellwarden, I’m looking to draw upon that more epic, sweeping approach to extreme metal – Moonsorrow, Abigor/Summoning, early Emperor, Enslaved, ‘viking’ Bathory – and meld some of the classic epic metal influences with this also (mid-period Blind Guardian, Manowar, Atlantean Kodex) to really create something engaging and transportive. I know escapism is something of a ‘dirty’ word these days but it’s important for me that Fellwarden takes the listener away into another realm – to create that captivating sense of place, time and mysterious energy that intoxicated me a quarter of a century ago.

*Which instrument do you play and how and when did you learn to play? Did you had lessons in school or private lessons? If so, was that because your parents expected that from you? Or did you learn to play the instruments by yourself? Do yo still follow some lessons?

Standard state-school musical eductation in the UK is pretty pitiful I have to say. Chronically under-funded and disregarded as a ‘serious’ curricular subject, there was very little input or support from that direction. I had piano lessons for a year or so as a younger child (maybe 10 or 11 years old) which gave me some basic grounding in theory and being able to play very rudimentary keyboards. It wasn’t until I got my hands on an electric guitar when I was 14-15 years old however that music really took hold of me. Again, I have my father to thank for this – he could see that the call of rock was flowing through me so offered to get me a guitar for my fifteenth birthday. As a man not adverse to the concept of distorted guitar himself, he had no issue with going straight in on an electric guitar – a lot of parents insist upon their offspring on getting to grips with an acoustic guitar before they’ll bit the bullet and go down the electric route but I fear this is misguided. Why take the fun out of it? A teenager who wants to rock out is going to have their enthusiasm blunted by a bulky acoustic with stiff strings – you can get a half-decent electric guitar and a practice amp for peanuts right now. So many parents struggle to get their kids away from screens or games consoles these days, if they’re showing a real interest in something, harness that energy, capture that momentum – who knows where it will lead?

So I got a basic (black) electric guitar, a tiny amp and some WASP/Whitesnake tab books and just started hacking away in my room. I only wanted to play hard rock or metal – I had no interest in theory, major chords, scales. RIFFS were all that counted. The day I first chugged out some power chord passages was life changing… true, this clumsy, limited, self-taught route of course cemented terrible technique and stunted theory. Problems that persist to this day. I mean, I did actually do some lessons after I’d been playing for a couple of years which were quite useful in terms of opening my eyes to jazz, other styles, different approaches but apart from that, it’s been all the self-taught road. And I’m OK with that – I have long accepted that I will never be an all-rounder, a ‘session’ player, a technician or the next Steve Vai. And I’m fine with that. My priority is to create – to write and scuplt song ideas, motifs, riffs, ambiences and use the guitar as a vessel to deliver this.

*Do you follow other or are you intrested in other styles of music beside metal? If so, what is the music you prefer to listen to?

Most definitely. I think it’s incredibly important to embrace as wide a variety of styles as possible within the palette of one’s musical appreciation. Indeed, metal only makes up a part of what I generally listen to on a daily basis. Don’t misunderstand me – metal is my primary passion and certainly my ‘go-to’ genre but there are plenty of other styles that I spend time exploring also. Shoegaze is a big one for me of course – and I personally do feel there is an overlap there with a lot of the tenets of metal despite superficial/aesthetic disparities (the noise, atmosphere, a sense of ‘over-the-topness’). I listen to a fair bit of post-rock also, plenty of prog (particularly the classic Yes/Genesis/Rush/King Crimson stuff, not so much the newer outfits), early 80s new-wave/guitarwave like The Chameleons, goth (Fields of the Nephilim, The Cure, Clan of Xymox), some of the darker 80s pop acts like Tears for Fears, lots of the more ambient side of electronica also (Black Dog, Global Communication, Boards of Canada)… the list goes on, really.

For me, the differentiator isn’t so much style or genre, it is about quality. Quality expression which can only ever come from authenticity, a genuine and committed drive to create and that intagible ‘x-factor’ that just makes good music. It’s something that resonates at a spiritual level and if I can feel this connection with an artist then it goes on onto the turntable – irrespective of genre.

*Is music a full time job for you now or do you have a job beside music? If so, what kind of job are you doing? If you would be really succesful with music, would you quit your other job?

Music is sadly a long, long way away from being a full-time career for me I’m afraid. I do indeed have a normal, 9-5 ‘day’ job – I don’t want to dispel too much of the mystery around myself at this stage so suffice to say, it’s office work that simply enables me to pay my way, put a roof over my head and occasionally buy some musical equipment. I’m relatively senior where I am now which does bring it’s own intrigues, challenges and has actually helped equip me with some experience/skills for dealing with the business side of the music industry which is becoming increasingly important.

But lets face it – who wouldn’t want to make a living from doing something that they actually love, that they have a genuine, all-consuming drive and focus for? I think I am old enough now to know that music as a job will doubtless come with it’s own pressures and pitfalls – it wouldn’t simply be a ‘magic ticket’ to endless halcyon days of noodling around on my guitar, indulging whatever creative whims take my fancy and raking in the coin as a result. It would take dedication, commitment, work and focus. And as people have warned me in the past, there’s always a danger that the ‘music as job’ approach would mean a dimishing of the joy of creativity, that it could tarnish the purity and spirit of the process by turning it into something ‘procedural’. ‘Necessary product’ as opposed to the outcome of inspiration.

That may be, however it is a risk I’m willing to take – after all, the amount of time burned in a day job, the amount of energy, time and life expended on work is sure more of a compromise, is surely more likely to result in a burned-out, exhausted individual incapable of expressing themselves at their best? And whilst sometimes that juxtaposition itself can create energy and motivation, it’s a fine balance. After all, I’m not that naive to think one could make a living from atmospheric extreme metal – I’d be looking at soundtrack work, songwriting, those sorts of avenues whereby the monetisation of music is far more realistic.

*If you could start a band with other musicians on other instruments, which artist would you pick for wich instrument and why? (Something like an “All Stars Band”.) Would you still go for a atmospheric black metal band? Or would you do something completely different?

Man, now there’s an interesting question. Assuming this is limited to individuals who are still alive, I think given the mood I’m in now, I’d go for a atmospheric doom/shogaze band – I’d take Mike Scheidt on vocals & guitar, Neil Halsted on guitar, Tony Pettit on bass and Tommy Aldridge on drums (just to see what he’d do with this kind of thing). Oh, and I’d get Carl McCoy in to do some vocals as well – I think he and Scheidt would be a very interesting combination!

*If you had been banned to an uninhabited island and you may pick 5 albums to listen to, wich albums would you choose and why?

This is basically a ‘top 5’ albums question isn’t it? A tough one for sure… excluding compilations, I guess I’d have to say:

Fields Of The Nephilim – ‘The Nephilim’

Queensryche – ‘Operation Mindcrime’

The Verve – ‘Storm in Heaven’

Whitesnake – ‘1987’

Tears for Fears – ‘Songs From The Big Chair’

However, this sort of thing changes every day as I’m sure you can appreciate.

*Every new album of a band or an artist is the best one, that’s what they always say. So here is a chance to promote the album. Why should a music lover buy your album? What are the standout tracks for you on this new album and why?

Why should a music lover purchase ‘Wreathed in Mourncloud’? Because this represents the absolute distillation of two years of creativity born of genuine passion and a drive to weave an eveloping, affecting atmosphere. In terms of achieving what I set out to accomplish with an album, this is perhaps the closest I’ve come to realising a vision with a particular album – the goal was to create something absorbing, engaging, a record that quickly takes the listener away into the rugged, windswept hills and crags of England’s fell-country, that weaves tales of ancient honour and sacrifice – a record that seeks to stir something deep within.

I’d describe this as a the album I’ve always wanted to make – indeed, always wanted to hear since the day I first felt this genre resonate within me. Stirring, layered, epic and full of drama. Extreme metal it may be first and foremost, however I genuinely believe that the songs here can resonate with listeners of any genre as they speak to the spirit that dwells within all of us.

Standout tracks for me on this album are hard to define given how close I am to the record still. I guess I’d say the opener and closer to the record are significant for me – the opener, ‘Pathmaker’ is the first track written for the album and I felt at the time was daring in its simplicity and its mainly clean vocal approach. It felt like a risk to me but listening back, I think it sets the tone perfectly – it’s bold yet laced with understated melancholy. ‘Upon Stone’ meanwhile is a true epic – it took a long, long time to get this piece forged into what it is now but the results were worth the effort I feel and I’m really proud of how immersive and rich this song is.

See “CD-Review” for a review (written in Dutch) for the new Fellwarden album ‘Wreathed In Mourncloud’ (Eisenwald) –

*We know Fellwarden is a studio project but should there be a change that you play this music live? And If so, would you prefer small clubs or big festivals?

I never like to rule anything out though Fellwarden as it stands is certainly studio-only at the moment (as are most bands at this precise moment in time sadly but that’s a different matter). Once the world returns to normality and festivals, club gigs, tours and live shows start to land on people’s radars, we shall see. If we were to take Fellwarden into the live environment, it would be a considerable undertaking – I’d need to assemble a full line-up for a start which would involve at least three other musicians as a minimum for us to be able to do the material justice. It would also need intense rehearsing in order for the material to be fully sculpted, fashioned and arranged to be live-ready – don’t forget that none of these songs have ever been played in a full-band/live setting.

With that in mind, any consideration for live performance would need to be accompanied by a pretty serious offer I fear – all of the above basically means having to invest time and money to bring this music to life on the stage and as much as I enjoy performing and the desire to share my art, costs have to be covered somehow! So at present, it’s not something I can really think about. But who knows? Should ‘Wreathed in Mourncloud’ really capture people’s imaginations and appropriate, realistic offers be received, it is something I would not be adverse to exploring.