Interview with guitarist/vocalist
Rob “The Witch” Tremblay
By Peter Atkinson
With their symphonic black/death metal bluster and ashen, war-painted/leather-cloaked appearance, it’s easy to see how Montreal’s Necronomicon draw comparisons to Behemoth and Dimmu Borgir – at least from a musical and aesthetic standpoint. But from a philosophical perspective – not to mention their panda-face makeup and three-person lineup – Necronomion have much more in common with Immortal.
Yet where Immortal long have reveled in tales of battles and demons in their mythical frozen kingdom on Blashyrkh, Necronomicon embarked on a more mystical, transcendent journey through the cosmos – and man’s place within the greater whole of the universe – with their 1999 full-length debut Pharoah of Gods. That voyage continues with their fifth and latest effort Advent of the Human God, due out March 25 on Season Of Mist.
During an interview via Skype from Montreal – and later via e-mail – founder/frontman/guitarist/songwriter/producer Rob “The Witch” Tremblay spoke, among other things, about Necronomicon’s unique, often otherworldly, take on death/black metal and how the band’s origins in the wilds of Northeast Canada play into that, the challenges of trying to pull of such ambitious music as a three-piece – the band is rounded out by long-time drummer Rick and newish bassist Mars – and the uncomfortable run-in with the German thrash band they have shared the Necronomicon moniker with for more than 20 years.
Good evening Rob, how are you?
Rob “The Witch” Tremblay: Good, staying busy, I’m in the studio.
You aren’t doing more recording are you? Your album isn’t even out yet.
Tremblay: No (laughs). We’re getting tracks ready for the live show. When we play live, we have all the orchestration on backing tracks. We have to transpose the tracks for doing that.
Yeah, I’d imagine you guys don’t travel with an orchestra.
Tremblay: Not yet anyway (laughs). Maybe someday. We have really good quality sampling that we can use live, but they all have to be re-adjusted to function live. They have to be remixed a little bit and set to a metronome. Necronomicon play with a metronome live, we don’t have a choice, to be able to play with all the orchestration and the ambiance, we need to do that.
Do you have shows coming up?
Tremblay: Our agents are working on it now. We have nothing we can announce for now. Everything is in the process. We have some offers, but nothing is done 100 percent yet, so we have to wait for the moment.
Do you at least have some plans for an album launch show or party or anything like that?
Tremblay: We are working on that. I started last week, actually, to plan some stuff, but there are some complications with some venues in Montreal and I don’t know how I going to do it. After this interview, I’m going back to our practice studio to test some of the tracks I’ve been working with these last days and later tonight I’m going to visit a club to see about a release party.
With the last album, we had a kind of release party where we didn’t play. We invited people, there’s freebies and stuff, food and drinks and the presentation of the album and interviews, interactive stuff. And we want to do it again, but it looks like some venues, they don’t like it. They’re like “Oh no, we want you to do a show.” And I said, “No, we want to do something for the media, for the people, people of the industry who just want to come and enjoy the album and talk and then leave.”
Sounds like you might end up having to have it at your house?
Tremblay: Yeah, well, I have a big place, but not that big (laughs).
The video for “Crown of Thorns” was issued today – or went out on the Internet. I guess nowadays they don’t premiere on MTV or anything, you see an announcement on Blabbermouth or get a publicist’s e-mail that it’s out there.
Tremblay: Yeah. After I woke up this morning, I received an e-mail from my promotional agent saying “the video clip is out” with them working with Revolver magazine, blah, blah, blah. I said “OK,” and then I left. That’s it, so I’m not sure what’s happening now. I posted a link on my personal page, I shared it and that’s it. The label told me another date, so I thought it was going to be out a bit later, but whatever, man.
Since the band has bounced around with a few labels, do you end up being responsible for a lot of your promotional efforts?
Tremblay: The label does some stuff, but we have people working for Necronomicon. We have some people who are working directly with the band for the promotion and all that stuff. We do hire people who can work exactly the way we want. It’s really different these days. If you want to do something properly, you need to do it.
You’ve been around for a while, does the process seem easier nowadays because everything is so instantaneous or does everything you have at your disposal – social media and technology-wise – actually make it more difficult to manage?
Tremblay: It is easier from some aspects and other stuff is more complicated. The Internet and everything is so fantastic as a medium for promotion. That and the fact that anyone can record an album at home on your own computer or whatever, it facilitates stuff. But at the same time, there’s so many bands that if we were still working the old ways, they would not do anything, there would be no album or nothing. So, in a certain way, it over-saturated the market.
And even if you post stuff on your page, if there’s not the proper people paying attention because your name is nowhere, you won’t go anywhere. And Facebook now filters stuff so not everything is going to be posted, and if you want the stuff to be more reachable you have to pay. And people bitch online about that, saying “this is the Internet, it should be free,” but I have to say, “you know what? It was like that back in the day. You had to pay someone, you had to pay for promotion.”
It demands real work to make a band happen, and you need to invest money. And, of course, as a band, we don’t make as much money anymore by selling albums. But people think anyone can do it and pretend to be a musician. Like I said, there are so many bands that would not be here if things were not so easy, but slowly I can see a little tendency that’s coming back. Record labels have had enough of bands that all sound the same because they all use the same plug-ins and the same programs when they record at home and the same sound replacement stuff.
Now that the release of your new album is imminent, what are your impressions of it, are you happy with the way it came out?
Tremblay: It’s kind of like what I was just talking about. We had an experience two albums ago [2010’s Return of the Witch] where we went to the modern way, recording with sound replacement and plug-ins and stuff like that, and actually I think it’s our poorest album sound-wise. It’s so sterile, it doesn’t sound like us. We finished the album, it went out and I never listen to it anymore. We’re playing some of the songs live, but that’s a different story, they sound like they should then.
Since then, we’re recording professionally. We’re going in a real big studio, of course it’s expensive, but we go in there and we do an album, and we record for real. Everything is real on the album, so I’m really satisfied with this. When I hear it, it’s not as perfect, it’s not as clinically clean, or whatever you call it, it still has some dirt and you can feel that we went into a place, set an amp up, put some mics on it and just said “blow the fucking amp as loud as possible” and played.
Yeah, there definitely is a nice rawness, a bite to the album, even with the symphonic elements.
Tremblay: It’s a really organic album, it’s the way we like to record. It gives more of the ambiance, the feel, the energy is really there. We are recording on a computer, but we’re mainly using it as a recording device, not as an entire production process. But everything else we do is the old-fashioned way, because it works best for us.
Since your albums all have a unique theme, how would you describe the theme of Advent of the Human God?
Tremblay: Every album from Necronomicon does have a different theme, but they all touch each other in the grand theme of the band because the band have one concept and everything is attached to that. It’s like a tree spreading the branches in different directions. Everything is intertwined.
So this one is a little bit like a trilogy from Return of the Witch and Rise of the Elder Ones. But, at the same time, it has its own path. It talks a lot about how to create ourself as a human being that is in perfect harmony with the entire cosmos, the universe, so we become like to the level of the gods, but maintaining your physical form and realizing that the material form is just like leaf. When the leaf falls from the tree, the branch is still there. And after a while, the leaf will grow back. You can change body, but you’re still part of the great whole.
Return of the Witch is the realization of the polarities in your bodies. To create a human being, to create electricity, you need a polarity that’s positive and negative. Whether you are a man or a woman, you need of polarity of both female and male to create what you are.
When you move to The Rise of the Elder Ones, it’s the realization of that power, but in communion with something that’s way more older, that’s been there forever and forever and forever, and you start to realize how things are intertwined and at the accomplishment of that to realize how it’s connected to the cosmos.
If you go to the new one, Advent of the Human God is the realization of the divine force directly in your physical body. I could explain for hours.
How does a song like “The Fjord” fit into that concept?
Tremblay: On this album, like every album, we have one or two songs that are totally apart. “The Fjord,” that is a song I composed specifically for my people in the north. That song is in a bubble on the side, it’s something I did because me and the drummer (Rick) come from the great north, we were raised there, so it’s about how the personality of the people there is really different from Montreal and the people in the big cities.
We also have “Unification of the Four Pillars” that is a little bit different also, it talks about how the wrath of Mother Earth could destroy the whole human race in the blink of an eye. People need to realize that everything in their normal life is an illusion because tomorrow, if the great mother, Mother Earth, decided to wipe us out, it’s over.
But it all comes back to the cosmic message of being one with the whole and understanding the energy of universe.
Something I found interesting while I was reading up on the band was how you describe Necronomicon’s overall message as being positive, which is not something one generally expects of black metal or death metal?
Tremblay: It’s the way I’m seeing it. There’s some much crap, so much shit these days, it’s pretty ridiculous. Of course I’m not happy about this, not happy about that, there’s war, there’s stupid religion. I really hate religion, myself, which sounds pretty cliché of a death metal or black metal, whatever, heavy metal guy. But when you see what’s going on in Syria and some of the other places there, it’s so stupid, and everything is because of religion.
But I won’t start to shit on religion like everyone’s doing because I don’t see the point of doing it and just putting stuff on top of stuff. So I decided, “You know what, I think I’m going to talk about stuff that is more unconscious, that I myself have experimented with, that I’ve been living as a human being that has been reincarnating himself for many lives and experiencing stuff.” I had the chance to be raised a really different way and experience and see things that regular people don’t see and some people have never heard of.
So from my point of view, it was more important to share this, show the people there is something else, because everything else is superficial. You need to pay attention to what’s really going on, it’s more than what you can just see and touch and it’s extremely positive because we’re alive, we’re living, we’re breathing. There’s so much stuff you can accomplish just by changing your vision and how you see things.
So Necronomicon is extremely positive. Sometimes we point out something negative, like on “Crown of Thorns” which talks a lot about the native culture that has been destroyed. It’s a shame. Some people don’t realize that there’s so much culture that we’ve lost, culture that was extremely advanced, that had a vision of life that is way larger than today.
[Rob was kind enough to take a follow-up about his upbringing in the great north that I sent via e-mail after the interview through the band’s publicist in Montreal, Asher Media Relations. His response follows:]
Tremblay: Rick and I are from a northern region part called the Fjord of Saguenay, it’s around 6 hours drive north/east from Montreal. To get there you need to cross high mountains and endless forest, it’s safe these days but it used to be one of the most dangerous roads in the country. One rule is still on, don’t cross at night if you are not used to it and in winter don’t even think about it.
The fact that it is a remote region cut from any kind of big city influences made us really different in many ways, the way we think and also our dialect that can confuse anyone who’s not from there. For many years Necronomicon had a rule that none who were not from our region could join the band, maybe it sounds weird but that was it.
I have been raised in a really different context, even from the point of living in that remote region, we were living, for a long part of my life, not even in town but literally in the woods. My mother, who’s a yoga master, and my father, a sculptor/painter, had a really different vision of how life works and as a result we have been raised, my brother and I, aware of certain things than most people won’t consider or don’t event see at all.
I don’t have any native blood, from what I know, but when my parents parted away, when we still were kids, my mom married a shaman who took on himself to pass on his knowledge and medicines to us. It would be really long to explain everything here, trust me, but those are some of the reasons I am doing what I do now. Necronomicon is a band, yes, but before that it is a life project.
Growing up in such a remote area, how did you to come to get exposed to metal, especially the extreme sort of metal you play now?
Tremblay: When I was a kid, my parents would listen to music and everything that was moving faster was fascinating to me, like Elvis or whatever. But one day I went to see one of my friends who had an older sister and she was listening to Kiss and that really blew me away. I saw the cover, I think it was Destroyer, and I remember being open mouthed and totally freaking out at the energy of “Detroit Rock City” playing. From that point, I told my mom, “I’m going to be a musician.” And 40 years later, I’m still doing that.
Voivod came from up around where you did, in Jonquière, a few years before you go things going with Necronomicon. Did you take any inspiration from them, even though your music is a lot different?
Tremblay: Nope, never. I thought they did some great stuff, my favorite album, even if I don’t own it, was Killing Technology. I thought the music was really cool. My little brother was into Voivod a little bit, but I didn’t like the whole aspect of the technology that Voivod was all about. I was really into like Celtic Frost, Hellhammer, Bathory, that was my cup of tea. Venom.
I was listening to a mix of metal, Judas Priest and, of course, Mercyful Fate. That was my stuff and it’s still my stuff. And the thing where I liked the speed when it started to go faster was Kreator’s Pleasure To Kill. I still think it’s the best album ever.
I started to listen to Napalm Death and Bolt Thrower at the end of the ’80s when I started the band. I wanted to have the Celtic Frost vibe, but I wanted to be faster and still have the ambiance of To Mega Therion with the female voice. So I built Necronomicon that way, and when I heard Napalm Death I said “OK, I need blast beats” (laughs). That’s pretty much how it happened.
And now everything has come full circle, since you have Frost’s “Innocence and Wrath” on your new album. But why only do a short intro piece – even one as awesome as that – instead of a full-blown song?
Tremblay: It’s so typical and so easy for people to say “We’re going to do a Metallica song, we’re going to do a Pantera song, we’re gonna do a Judas Priest song.” Vader did “Angel of Death.” I wanted to do something that’s different as a cover, something ambient, an introduction.
And I remember the impact it had when I first got the vinyl back in the day and it starts with the orchestration and the brass, no one ever heard that before from a metal band. It was so marchy, so dark, so heavy. My first impression of the album was “woah, I want to do that.”
I wanted to re-create the same thing, something dramatic, something dark, but with the feel of Necronomicon. When you listen, the first part is exactly like it was in ’85 and the second part, where my drummer is going with the crazy bass drums, that’s a typical trademark of Necronomicon. So we did it our way, our version.
Speaking of that, sort of, there is a German thrash band with the name Necronomicon that has been around about as long as your band has. Does that cause a lot of confusion for you guys – or do you operate in such different spheres that it really doesn’t matter?
Tremblay: I never really cared about that. The first time I heard about those guys was when I moved to Montreal. A few months after, there was a guy who said, “Eh! There’s a German Necronomicon.” And I was like, “what?” You have to remember, there wasn’t an Internet at that time.
There was a store that specialized in metal here and the guy was talking about my band, and the guy there said, “Oh, by the way, there’s a German band called Necronomicon.” So the guy bought the vinyl and was like, “Wow, it’s really not the same, it’s shit, what the fuck?” It was so different. And I was still like, “really?”
So the guy said, “Oh, you want to hear it?” And I said, “no, seriously, I’m not interested.” But then the guy who bought the vinyl said, “don’t worry about it, the band doesn’t exist anymore.” So I said, “Ah, OK, whatever.”
[The German Necronomicon was effectively in legal limbo for about six years during a dispute with their label.]
So it stayed like that, time passes and 15 years later I hear that the band is still around. And it started to create some stuff at one point, but we didn’t have much problems until one day we met them.
I was going to ask about that, I guess you both played on the Barge To Hell in 2012?
Tremblay: Yeah. I just wanted to be cool. I went to see the singer [Volker “Freddy” Fredrich], who is the founding member of the band, and I think he might have recognized me because he was really on the defensive. But I was smiling and offered him a beer and he was kind of like “what?” And I said, “it’s the least I can do because we’re in the same band.” And I started laughing, but the guy didn’t find that funny.
So he started being a little bit pissed off and he was like, “Why did you choose that band name?” I said, “Why are you still around?” I said that I’d heard forever that they were not doing anything, that they were dead, but he said they had never stopped.
If I knew, when I started the band in 1988, I would have changed the name. But it’s too late now. We’ve been playing more than them in any case. They are always playing in the same places. So I said, “Dude, we’ve been playing in your country, we have fans in your country, in Germany, we’re going in Europe, we’re going everywhere.”
So we talked a little bit, but he was really getting pissed off and he called his drummer and the drummer came to me and said, “Oh, you’re the guy I need to kill.” And at that point, he crossed the line. So, I grabbed him by the arm, because I had intended to shake his hand, and he grabbed me and started to squeeze me and I got closer to his face, and looked him right in the eye and said, “Good luck my man, because I am immortal.” And I stayed really serious and the guy saw I was not laughing and he let me go and turned around and left.
Before that, I didn’t care, I said “Oh, they do there stuff, that’s OK.” Now, I’m a little bit more bitter with what happened.
How did you end up on the Barge To Hell at the same time, was that something intentional by the promoters?
Tremblay: Well the story goes, and I don’t know if it is the truth, and I heard it from different points and from some e-mails, that they booked the German band by error. They wanted to book us.
And people started to blast on the festival site, saying that those guys were this, that, this, that, and I won’t say the names, the insults, and it was going on, going on, and the guy called my agent and said “we booked the wrong band, we need the Canadians right now.” So they sent us a plane ticket and everything and within a week we were there.
Well that’s about all I have, if you have any last words, the floor is yours.
Tremblay: Well, enjoy the video clip and the new album and we should be touring in the U.S., I don’t know when, but just watch out. We love touring the U.S., so that’s not a problem there.
I still haven’t seen you guys. I was supposed to when you toured with Septicflesh and Fleshgod Apocalypse, but it was the first night of the tour and it turned out to be a real clusterfuck. Septic’s equipment didn’t arrive, Black Crown Initiate’s van broke down and I guess you guys didn’t make it in time to play.
Tremblay: Yeah, we got there really late, by the skin of our teeth (laughs). It’s a long drive from Montreal. Hopefully, we’ll get there a little earlier next time.