Interview by Demitri Levantis
Interview with Sonny Stark, vocals
Following the release of their fourth studio album, “Envenom”, Metal-Rules caught up with Swedish Death Metal/Sludge/Crust Punk outfit Age of Woe to see what the band has been up to, and has planned for the future.
Thanks for joining us, let’s begin with the band itself: your press release for Envenom says you’re for fans of Martyrdod, Disfear, Rotten Sound and Ancst; are there any other bands you’d personally add to that list?
Cheers, Demitri and thanks for doing this. I think it is always a bit tricky to name bands that people can relate to and as inspirations. Although the likes of the bands you just mentioned might give you an idea of what we are about, I think we draw inspiration from a lot of different genres and bands Both new and old. Obviously, the early 90’s Swedish death metal has influenced us a lot as well as bands like Hooded Menace, High on Fire, Breach and some classic Doom as well.
What makes Age of Woe different from the other bands in Sweden’s scene in your opinion?
Our sound. I think that we started 10 years ago is very unique in relying on fuzz instead of distortion was a very rare thing. I know it might have caught on a bit more now and I am in no way saying that we were groundbreaking in any way, but I think we managed to build our own sound that is really gritty and in your face but at the same time huge with a lot of room and atmosphere in it. It is a unique blend of components which creates a very rare experience. The fact that we, apart from the obvious death metal and doom metal elements, are inspired by a lot of progressive bands as well creates a very different dynamic.
Does Envenom cover any themes or topics not seen in your previous releases?
Both yes and no. On this album, we wanted to build an album using the word “Envenom” as the main building block and create a universe around it that we could work in. It made the writing process more conceptual and thematic and it was a very interesting way of creating this album. So in terms of theme and topic, I would say it is familiar but it is more bound to the idea of a portrait of the toxicity in our behaviour towards each other on a personal level but more generally as well.
Does Age of Woe follow any particular ideology, and why?
I would not say that, no. I mean, we are all leaning heavily to the left but we are not as a group affiliated with a specific ideology or anything like that.
Why did you wait five years to release a new album since “An Ill Wind Blowing”?
This is a big question to answer because there are so many factors as to why that is. But I will try to keep it short. When we released “An Ill Wind Blowing” we really wanted to make the most out of that album cycle so we toured heavily and played a lot of shows following the release. During all this, our guitarist, Carlos Ibarra, was diagnosed with MS and that was something that we had a hard time dealing with. Not least for Carlos. In the end, he decided that he needed a break from music and the band for a while to get his life back on track and just cope with the reality of the situation he found himself in.
We picked up where we left off and started touring again, this time with Gyða Hrund Þorvaldsdóttir (Angist) on session guitar. At the same time we started working on our 3rd album and Carlos, who’s always been an important part of the music and writing, could not find his way back properly which led to him ultimately leave the band. That left us in a difficult situation. Not only did we lose a huge part of the band but also a unique musician and guitarist that we knew would be hard to replace. After a lot of time spent talking about where we wanted to go and how to move on, we took our time to really see if keeping going was the right thing for us. In the end, we felt confident in what we wanted to do and the album we already started writing had to be completed. We decided to finally go public with Carlos’ departure and at the same time announce that we were looking for a new guitarist. Luckily for us, Keijo Niinimaa (Rotten Sound) contacted us and was interested. We then needed to try him out and integrate him into the band as we were finalizing the new album. And now, here we are.
You recently signed to Lifeforce Records, why did you choose that label and how has it fared for the band?
It was an easy choice, really. Lifeforce Records has always been a quality label with so many fantastic releases over the years. It just felt that what we are doing would fit the profile as well and would be a great home for us. They are really professional in everything they are doing as well and really easy to deal with in every aspect. We also wanted to move up to a bigger label at this point so, as I said, the decision was a no brainer. I think it will be a very beneficial move for us in many ways since it is a label that breaches the gap between the mainstream and the underground and has a great reputation. I think it will help us reach new fans and hopefully, when the situation grants it, we can book some really interesting tours and gigs.
Your line-up has members from Sweden, Germany and Finland, does this have an impact on the music you play and the band’s purpose?
Well, it certainly can make things more complicated at times. But in general, I don’t think it affects us that much. We have just had to adapt to it and find a way to write and work together. In a way, it has almost made us more productive.
What have the newest members of the band like Keijo Niinimaa brought to Age of Woe, have they made the band different at all?
In Keijo, we have found a very dedicated member that quickly understood what Age of Woe is about. He’s a fast learner and is a creative force that works very well in the band. Another thing he has brought to the band is as a studio engineer. Keijo has his own mobile studio. This has been a great addition for us and made the recording of “Envenom” so much easier to do. He also mixed the album and he did a fantastic job with it. So in many ways, we have become even more self-sufficient.
For any fans who don’t speak the band’s native language(s) can you translate the foreign song titles for us and tell us what they care about?
Sonny: The only song on the album in Swedish is “Ljungeld”, which is an old word for lightning. The other 3 titles are interludes, not songs, but we felt that it was important to name them and use them to strengthen the narrative of the album. “Förpestningen” means to sour or to poison something. “Avgrunden” translates to the abyss and, finally, “förbittringen” can mean a lot of things but is a reference to “Envenom”.
How has the Covid-19 pandemic affected the band, and how big is it an influence on Envenom?
For obvious reasons, it has affected us greatly. It’s a hard blow to not be able to play shows or tour and for us, since we all live far away from each other, it’s impossible to even meet up and do something. I know it’s a very painful time for a lot of bands and musicians out there and sometimes it can feel very depressing. But we have to remember that we can still be creative and connect with people and hopefully, we will see some kind of “back to normal” sometime soon. As for “Envenom”, the album was written and recorded before we saw the true effects of the pandemic. Luckily. So we just finished recording it before all the lock-downs and restrictions. I’m not sure we could have made it otherwise, so I’m very grateful for that.
What do you think are the best things about employing a punkish DIY ethic?
I think one great thing most people learn early on is that you can do whatever you set your mind to. If you want to set up a show, just do it. If you want to start a band and tour, just do it. If you want to print merch or start a label, just do it. The spirit of independence and the adventure of learning is the heart of it all. To do things together with others is a valuable thing and as things progress you network and learn from people who are doing the same as you. It’s a healthy symbiosis.
How big an influence is the punk lifestyle on the band, for any punks reading this?
Hard to pinpoint. I’m not sure what the punk lifestyle refers to in this case but like I mentioned already, to learn from each other’s experiences is a big part of it. For Age of Woe, in the beginning, it was all about doing things we wanted to do and by doing so you expand your world and meet other bands that you exchange ideas and experiences with. It’s a community more than anything, really. It’s all about respecting each other and help each other out.
When touring resumes, where would you like to start playing?
To be honest, I’d play anywhere right now. We are so starved of it so I think we don’t really care at this point. But I’d love to go back to France and I’d want to play a sweaty intense show in Berlin or Belgium. I can’t choose. But as soon as we can, we will be back playing shows again. We can’t wait.
Are there any bands in particular whom you’d like to do a big show or festival with?
Anna von Hausswolff! I think that would be such a cool experience. Especially as a collaboration of sorts. I wouldn’t mind playing some shows with Obituary either.
Have you had to cancel any big festivals or shows due to the pandemic?
No. Since we were busy recording and mixing the album when the pandemic started to hit Europe we didn’t really have anything booked. We had a lot of plans of course, but we wanted to wait until the album was out to tour again.
Do you have any fun anecdotes from touring that you’d like to share with us?
You know, the thing with anecdotes is that you need so much of the context to make sense and it’s always hard to capture what was going on in that moment. But when you tour and meet a lot of people, see a lot of different places you always end up in situations you will always remember. Some years ago we played a couple of shows in Iceland and took the opportunity to do some sightseeing while we were there, as you should. Among all the things we did was to go and visit the Geysir area (from which every erupting hot spring has been named) to see nature’s full force in action. I guess you can never be fully prepared for this kind of things and Sven (drums) experienced that first hand. As we approached Strokkur, walking up the slope of volcanic rock plated rise and the air thick of the sulphur heavy fog, the hot spring erupted to the cheering of families with kids and foreign tourists. It startled Sven and in his moment of shock screamed “Fuck me!” of the top of his lungs in front of the cheerful crowd that got their magical experience tainted by a long-haired guy screaming profanities in front of kids and old people.
What do you guys like to do on your days off, do you have any pastimes as well as music?
If we have days off on tour we always love to do some sightseeing. There is so much to see out there and if you are even close to something worth checking out, you should do it. Old castles and medieval island cities in France. Bunkers and escape tunnels out of the city centre in a small town in the Czech Republic. Jaw-dropping nature in Switzerland. Walking around in beautiful cities. But most of all, food. I love finding great vegan food places in different cities.
Besides music and social issues, what are the other big influences on Age of Woe, like art, film, literature, etc?
I believe that as individuals we are all channelling the things we see and experience when we create music. In some cases, it can be more intentional but in general, what we are influenced by is mostly subconscious. Personally, the works of authors like Lars Norén, Noam Chomsky, George Orwell and Richard Dawkins are all inspirational. But as I said, everything that makes you feel or think something is an inspiration.
What do you enjoy most about being a musician?
There are so many things I enjoy about being a musician. Especially being in a band, you learn so much about yourself all the time. To be able to create together with people you love and respect is also a huge reward. To have the privilege to visit places you would otherwise never hear about. The connection with people who appreciate what you do and the joy it brings to be part of peoples lives. I can go on and on.
Finally, do you have anything you would like to say to our fans?
Thank you for taking the time to read this interview. I hope you enjoyed it and if you want to check out more about our new album, please visit ageofwoe.net/envenom Stay safe, be respectful and support each other through these difficult times.
Thank you so much for joining us, I wish you all the best for the future.