Interview with guitarist Wacław “Vogg” Kieltyka
By Peter Atkinson
All promo photos from pl-pl.facebook.com/decapitated
The comeback of Poland’s Decapitated has been as triumphant as it is inspiring. Following their re-emergence in 2009, led by guitarist Wacław “Vogg” Kiełtyka, the lone remaining original member, what had been one of death metal’s most promising up-and-coming bands have reclaimed their former stature and then some.
As many will no doubt recall, their career was derailed in October 2007 by a tour bus accident in Russia that led to the death of Vogg’s brother, drummer Witold “Vitek” Kiełtyka, and left frontmanAdrian “Covan” Kowanek in a coma from which he is still recovering. After several years of soul-searching, working a regular job and performing as a hired-gun guitarist, Vogg decided to continue a legacy that began in 1996, when his brother was only 12 and he himself was 15.
With new frontman Rafal “Rasta” Piotrowski, bassist Filip “Heinrich” Hałucha and Austrian drummer Kerim “Krimh” Lechner joining Vogg, Decapitated began touring sporadically in 2010, leading up to their run as the headliner of the Summer Slaughter tour in the states. In 2012, the band truly re-established themselves with the release of the excellent Carnival Is Forever album – which featured a number of riffs Vitek had written with Vogg prior to his death.
More intensive touring followed and Decapitated continued to gain momentum that not even a series of lineup changes -Hałucha and Lechner both left after Carnival was released – or a potentially way-more-catastrophic travel mishap could slow. On Sept. 24, the band – Vogg, Rasta and new bassist and drummer Pawel Pasek and Michał Łysejko, respectively – release their much anticipated sixth album, Blood Mantra, that will almost certainly take things to another level for Decapitated.
On the phone from Poland, Vogg graciously indulged my rather rudimentary Polish and offered his thoughts on the band’s long road back from what seemed like a tragic end, his metamorphosis from band member to band leader and the butt-clenching experience of landing without landing gear.
Cześć Vogg. Jak się masz [Hello Vogg, how are you]?
Vogg: Good, good. Dobrze. (laughs) I wasn’t expecting Polish. Jak się masz? I have a little bit of free time after the festivals we just finished up in Europe, so I’m just chilling a little bit at home.
Are you still in Krosno, or do you live somewhere else now?
Vogg: No, I live in Krakow. It’s a really nice city, my favorite city in Poland. It’s like two hours driving from Krosno, my home town.
My wife is from Nowy Sącz [90 minutes south of Krakow, 45 minutes west of Krosno]. We were just there a couple weeks ago. Her parents are still there, I’ve been there twice now. I love Krakow too, it’s a beautiful city.
Vogg: Oh really? That’s cool. Wow. Yeah, it’s a wonderful part of the country, southern Poland.
We actually almost made it out to Krosno, we got as far as Biecz. We took a Sunday drive out there to see “Little Krakow,” the old city walls and the town square there.
Vogg: Yeah, that town is really something special. Krosno is a nice town too, man. It’s small, but it’s a really, really unique place. Maybe you can catch the town next time.
I would like to. We didn’t have much time to travel around on this trip. Next time, probably next year, hopefully we’ll have some more.
Vogg: That’s cool. At least you will have more chances. There’s a lot of history around there and a lot of cool places to see.
Do those old buildings in your new press photos have any historical significance? It’s a creepy looking place?
Vogg: This place basically is the place where we have our rehearsal room. It’s a really, really old factory. They make vodka, it’s the biggest factory of vodka in Poland. It’s an evil place, it makes so much evil that it puts into the country (laughs).
Krosno’s a fairly isolated town, and at the time Decapitated was getting started Poland was really still just reassimilating into Europe. It’s amazing you guys were able to get the band up and running from there and have an impact on the world stage?
Vogg: It’s not really important what kind of place you come from, if it’s small or if it’s a big city. If you have passion, if you want to play, if you want to do something, that’s all that you need. We were just kids when the band started, and that’s really all we had.
Since this is the second go-round for Decapitated, you have to be pleased with the response to Carnival Is Forever and the way things have gone over the last couple years. It seems like everything went about as well as it could have?
Vogg: Oh yeah. The last couple of years, it was everything to us, to be honest. After the Carnival Is Forever release we had so many stories, many tours of course. We played with awesome bands like Meshuggah, Lamb of God, Children of Bodom, many, many bands all over the world. We saw places like Nepal, Singapore during this Asian part of the tour. We got to play in places we had never been before and make many new fans. It was great. And we had some crazy stories from the road, like the emergency landing in Warsaw [on Nov. 11, 2011] when we were coming back from America.
I was going to ask you about that, you’ve had some terrible experiences while traveling?
Vogg: That was so scary. The worst feeling in the world. We thought that we would all die, when they came on half an hour before landing and told us that we don’t have landing gear [it failed to extend]. That was one of the worst parts of promoting Carnival Is Forever, as you can imagine (laughs). We can look back on it now and laugh about it, but at the time we were terrified.
I remember seeing the video of landing, it looked picture perfect, just with no wheels. It was so smooth.
Vogg: Yeah. That’s the thing. It was the best, most comfortable landing in my life. There was no bumps or bounces, no noise, nothing, it was so smooth. But I prefer a normal landing over that (laughs).
Yeah, wheels are good.
Vogg: I agree.
You have had a few lineup changes since the band reformed. Is that just part of getting the right people in, getting the right feel, since the band was essentially starting over?
Vogg: That’s right. It’s not about myself or Rasta like to change people all the time, that’s the worst thing that can happen to the band, to change the lineup that often. But that’s looking for people who will fit perfect with the band. Sometimes when you ask someone to play in the band, from the beginning it’s OK but everything that happens after six months, maybe one year of touring, you see if the person really wants to do this or if everything that’s going on in the band is OK for all sides and stuff like that. It’s a really hard thing to find members who will stay for a really long time, especially if you didn’t grow up together in the same city, you didn’t know each other. It’s a hard thing, to be honest.
And with the old lineup, there was family and long-time mates involved. That’s a tough bond to find again?
Vogg: Oh yeah. The lineup we had before the accident, it was not only my brother, it was my best friend from school I had spent 12 years with. We had been friends our whole lives. And we spent more than 10 years together in the band and it was a great time. And then the accident happened and we couldn’t do anything about that.
When I decided to continue the band, I had to change the lineup with different people. To find those people wasn’t easy. I had to learn so much how to trust in the other people, how to talk with them and how to be the main guy in the band, which was really hard. Before the accident, there was no leader in the band. We had a democracy in the band and it was like four guys talking together and doing everything together.
Right now, the situation dictates that I am the leader of the band, I have to be the leader, I make all the final decisions. It’s cool, but it hasn’t been easy for me since the reunion, the situation is something I have had to get used to and accept. It’s not something I was comfortable with right away.
There was a stretch where you were playing with Vader, did you consider just going on and being a guitarist in other people’s bands, or did you always want to get back to having your own band, writing your own songs?
Vogg: Well when I got the offer from the guys from Vader, I didn’t think about Decapitated. I was working in a music store and studying guitar and was trying to rebuild myself after the accident. And then Peter [Piotr Wiwczarek, Vader guitarist/vocalist/frontman] called me and asked me if I wanted to play with Vader and I was thinking about it a little bit and after a few days I said “yeah, of course.”
And it helped me a lot, to come back on the stage. During that time, during those shows with Vader, I realized that if I can play with other bands maybe it’s time to come back with Decapitated. I talked with Peter about it and almost since the beginning of playing with Vader Peter knew that sooner or later I would tell him “thank you, but I will go back to Decapitated now,” and that’s what happened.
And I have to say that playing in Vader was a great time. If I had not played with them at that time, I might never have come back with Decapitated. I owe Vader a lot. It’s one of my favorite bands, I loved that band for many years and I had a great experience and a great pleasure to play with them and get inspired to start my own band again.
I know we’re short on time because they scheduled these interviews in 15-minute increments, so apologies for bouncing around with the questions, but I do want to ask about the new album. Since Carnival Is Forever was the beginning of the “new Decapitated,” were you looking to do that much different on Blood Mantra, or just pick things up where Carnival left off?
Vogg: The Blood Mantra album is definitely something new. I know we bring another new breath of fresh air into our careeer with this album and we do some things that are new for Decapitated. There are a couple of ideas, couple riffs, a couple songs like “Blindness” or the “Blood Mantra” song – the title song – or even the first song, “Exiled In Flesh,” there are things that we never did before.
What is similar to the previous albums is we make a surprise for the fans and this album is kind of like and album where you don’t know what to expect from every next song, which for me is a good thing because it makes this album more interesting when you listen to it. You can hear that it is still the same band, I am still the main composer of the songs, so that for sure you can hear that it is still Decapitated.
I’m happy that we are taking a little bit new direction. For me, it’s really important to all the time when we bring a new album to deliver something new and fresh for the people. I’m really satisfied about this album and I’m really happy that we have this kind of album ready to release as we are going out and playing these shows. I’m excited to start playing them live.
You’ve got the tour coming up here with Gwar, which should be interesting. Unfortunately, you have tragic histories to share, since they lost a singer and a guitar player, but I suspect the tour will be more about celebrating life than mourning death?
Vogg: Hell yeah. I am really happy, this tour will be something new for us. I have this feeling before the tour that it will be something special. I saw the places we will play, I saw the schedule, and I have a really good feeling about this tour. We will be able to show our music to different people, I whole different audience. I’m sure they will love it.
I never met the guy from Gwar [frontman Dave Brockie, aka Oderus Urungus, who died in March of a heroin overdose, three years after guitarist Cory Smoot, aka Flattus Maximus died of a heart attack while on tour] but of course heard about their loss. It is very sad, but I’m glad they decided to carry on.
We have never played with this kind of band. We are always looking for bands to tour with which play a different style of music than to tour with a bunch of technical or death metal bands. I find this idea is more interesting to the fans, mixing styles. When you have three bands on tour you can see three totally different worlds of music in one night.
Plus, Gwar has the whole splatter movie production, so bring a raincoat when you go, because it’s going to get messy.
Vogg: (Laughs) Yeah. I’m glad we play before them. I don’t know how anyone could go on after them. Hopefully Gwar fans will accept us, I’m sure it will be good. We’ve already done main support for Meshuggah, Lamb of God, for big names and I know we are a good support act. We really can warm up the people before the headlining bands.
OK, we’ll have to end it there because I know you’re on a tight schedule. Dziękuję bardzo and do widzenia [thank you very much and goodbye].
Vogg: Do widzenia. Dziękuję. Thank you so much, I appreciate it. All the best, cheers. Na zdrowie.