Interview with Keenan Nathan Oakes
By Oliver M.
When it comes to South African black metal, I always think about Dark Sephiroth and Blackcrowned, two very talented bands that released some great records about 10 years ago. Recently, I’ve discovered Wildernessking thanks to the French label Les Acteurs de l’Ombre Productions. They’re currently the most well-known black metal act from South Africa and did a successful European tour last month. I enjoyed a lot their recent show in Paris and so, it was time for me to have a very interesting conversation with founding member Keenan Nathan Oakes.
Hi Keenan! First of all, could you please introduce Wildernessking to our readers?
Hello, we are Wildernessking, a metal band from Cape Town, South Africa, with Jason Jardim on drums, Dylan Viljoen on guitar, Jesse Navarre Vos on guitar, and myself, Keenan Nathan Oakes on bass, handling vocal duties as well.
You were called Heathens back in 2010 but you changed your name to Wildernessking one year later. Why did you change your name suddenly?
We felt that a name change would encapsulate our new and evolved sound, and not limit our audience potentially. A different moniker could be more conceptual and progressive, and that’s what we thought and still think Wildernessking is…
You did two EPs and one single under the name of Heathens. What’s your opinion about those records? Are you planning to re-release them in the future?
We are proud of those releases, for a number of reasons. It was a complete DIY effort that managed to capture and express all of the ideas we wanted to… Grimoire Cassette Cvlture actually put out a tape with all 3 releases. We have yet to receive our copies, but they are available on the internet somewhere.
Now, let’s talk about the records you did through your current name. You’ve released two albums, three EPs and two Splits so far. How would you describe your music? Do you consider yourselves to be part of the Post-Black metal scene?
Our music is dynamic, progressive, and melodic. We are influenced by black metal (which in the beginning was a huge musical reference point), rock, ambient, psychedelic music and much more. We could be considered part of the Post-Black metal scene, but it’s not something we think about to be honest. Right now we feel that we’re carving our own path, one that doesn’t adhere to guidelines or rules. I mean, we have a lot of songs that are 4 minutes long. That’s not very Post of us! Maybe this new path will be more apparent on a future release.
From my point of view, “Mystical Future” is Wildernessking’s finest record to date. What do you think of this second album?
Thank you. We agree… We took our time with the record, making sure that each section was polished and well-rehearsed before recording. We love the way it came out with regards to the entire product. The songs, the production, the artwork, the record packages. It was a long time in the making.
In general, what are your lyrics about? What are the main themes?
The human condition, romance, escapism, and nature would all be themes that our lyrics touch on. They differ from record to record, but there’s always a poetic undertone to 90% of what we write.
What are your influences?
Musically: Enslaved, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Wolves in the Throne Room, Pink Floyd, Agalloch, Tool, Neurosis and many more… We are also influenced by the films we watch, the books we read and the people we meet.
I love your original black metal logo, designed by Steve Wilson. Why did you change your logo for the release of “Mystical Future” last year?
Thanks. We still use the logo (we used it on the 2016 “…and the Night Swept Us Away/The Devil Within” release and on some “Mystical Future” t-shirts as well), but we’re also big fans of change and progression. We always strive to push and reinvent ourselves. It’s what makes being in this band so exciting. The most recent logo is very elegant and it was actually Rouleaux’s idea to come up with a new one (he designed all formats of the “Mystical Future” packages). We love it, but we will use the old logo again. It’s nice to be able to chop and change the logo according to the album’s aesthetic.
You’re currently signed at the very good French label Les Acteurs de l’Ombre Productions. How did you get in touch with Gérald Milani for the first time? Are you satisfied with the work they’ve done for you so far?
Gérald got in touch with us via e-mail. We are very pleased with the work they’ve done. They are professional and are responsible for the execution of some of our best and most beautiful album packages (the “Mystical Future” CD and the “…and the Night Swept Us Away/The Devil Within” LP release).
Regarding South African metal, I only know three bands which are Wildernessking and Jason Jardim’s (your drummer) previous acts: Dark Sephiroth and Blackcrowned. They’re all excellent in my opinion. What’s your opinion about the South African black metal scene? What do you think of the global metal scene in your country? Are there any bands you would recommend?
The metal scene is very small, let alone the black metal scene. My favourite black metal band is Nihil, an atmospheric BM project with only a couple of songs. Child was a fantastic black metal band too (they also only released a couple of songs, sometime in 2008). Both of those bands I can recommend, though it would be hard to find all of their music online. I do think that most bands in the local scene could attempt to find more of a niche within the sound they choose to create. Seems like most of them just emulate their favourite bands, sometimes to the point of copying, and that’s not really cool or interesting in my opinion.
How metal music is considered by people in general in South Africa? Does it have a good reputation? Do you have the impression it’s getting a bit more popular there in the last 10 years or not?
It’s definitely gaining popularity, but it’s still an outsider’s realm. People are fairly conservative generally, at least where metal is concerned, but that stems from ignorance. I think metal is on the up (even globally speaking), and with the widespread coverage of the genre on blogs that are not known for their opinions on metal, it will only continue to grow, which is awesome of course.
You’re based in Cape Town. Is it easy to buy metal records there? Are there any regular metal concerts or festivals in South Africa? How often do you give shows there?
Yeah, for the most part. There have been a slew of great record shops popping up thanks to the boom in vinyl culture over the last few years. There are regular shows, even if they are just local ones, but we have seen a welcoming influx (by South African standards at least) of international bands gracing our shores. We don’t play very often here, as we’re more focused on putting on unique and memorable shows, and recording and releasing albums.
Last month, you went on tour throughout Europe and if I’m not wrong, Wildernessking is the first ever South African metal band to do a European tour. Your show in Paris was excellent despite many technical problems. Was it a great, successful experience for you? What did you enjoy the most?
There have been other South African metal bands who have toured Europe, but I don’t know if they did full European tours. We played 14 shows on this run across 7 countries, and it was great to know what it takes to be in a touring band. That experience was priceless.
Thank you. Yeah, we had some technical issues but felt that we still played well. All of the squat shows, and our performances in Belgium and Holland stand out (those were really special). It was an amazing experience and successful on many levels.
What are your projects? Have you already started writing new songs for the next album?
A new record hopefully, that we completed writing in May of this year. We hope to release it at some point, as well as many other albums.
To conclude this interview, do you have anything special to add?
Just a big thank you for the interview, and it was nice to meet you at Olympic Café in Paris. ‘Til next time!