Interview: Reiziger & Witte Wieven

Come April 13, the Maalstroom event will take place at Roadburn festival in the Patronaat venue. During that day, not only will an array of creative Dutch black metal musicians perform the eponymous commissioned piece, but there will be individual performances by Dodecahedron, Laster, Terzij de Horde, Turia, and Witte Wieven. The event then spills over onto the Sunday with performances by Grey Aura and Nusquama. This historical day for the Dutch black metal scene will include two first-time live performances from Witte Wieven and Nusquama.

With this in mind, last February, we sat down at the Foeders bar in Amsterdam with Witte Wieven’s singer, guitarist, bassist, and composer Carmen and Reiziger’s sole member N., who also plays in Laster and Nusquama. In the conversation’s background stood «Vlucht», the split between the two bands released on December 14, 2018, by Babylon Doom Cult Recordings.

From an outside perspective, it seems surprising that Reiziger is even active these days. The project’s first demo «De Dromer» was followed by almost ten years of apparent silence. “I’ve only briefly stopped recording for Reiziger,” N. tells us, before expanding on the project’s history. “Between 2008 and 2013, I’ve written and recorded a lot of material, but it never felt cohesive enough. During that period there were a lot of different types of music resonating with me, resulting in this trainwreck of ideas that I couldn’t seem to merge together under the Reiziger moniker. When we started Laster in 2012, I could challenge a lot of those ideas to Laster and through Laster, which naturally silenced Reiziger.” The project’s silence would be broken in 2016 when a split with Alruin was released by Nebular Carcoma. “Back in 2015, I revisited some recordings and I found this particular track, «…en met de zon in ‘t hart, omarm ik de nacht», which renewed my interest in the project. It had a darker quality to it that I was no longer exploring through Laster, but which still intrigued me a creator.

The song became Reiziger’s contribution to «Hertovenarij», the aforementioned split. Reiziger had not only ceased its seeming inactivity, but something more general about the band had been found, as N. explains about how the two splits came to be. “I contacted Aurora after we met each other a few times at the now infamous Violence Action events,” a since discontinued series of incendiary performances at a rehearsal room in Utrecht, which included concerts ranging from sheer noise to the most fucked-up black metal one can find. “It seemed very clear to me that, if I wanted to do something with Reiziger, it had to be co-operational. Years of meddling around on my own didn’t spark much joy – and I liked the parallel between a traveler constantly meeting new faces, sharing short moments and a solo-project that solely focuses on split releases. After the release of «Hertovenarij» I contacted Carmen and was delighted to hear she’d be willing to co-operate on a new release.” The Witte Wieven frontwoman had been working as Laster’s live sound engineer for a few years. “I knew him for a long time and I liked what he did with Reiziger, and Laster of course,” she says, a compliment which is soon returned.

By the time «Vlucht» was conceptualised, Witte Wieven had released their debut EP, «Silhouettes of an Imprisoned Mind». “The thing with Carmen’s EP was that it was a mesh-up of several genres, but still bringing forth one type of atmosphere – a very pleasant dreamlike one – without restricting itself to a certain format. It felt really free, which intrigued me. I’ve always associated Reiziger with the same dreamlike kind of music, raw but also dreamy and welcoming.” This idea of freedom ends up provoking an interesting response from Carmen, “It’s really fun that he said that, because when at first I had the ideas for the EP, I really didn’t feel free, because I was very restricted by my own criticism and I had the ideas for years. Finally there was an EP of fifteen minutes that I could throw into the world.”

Witte Wieven’s guitar tone has shifted considerably from the EP to the split. Carmen explains first the sound of the EP, saying that that “it’s not so much that I had a specific idea about how the songs should sound, but that I wanted to create an atmosphere, dreamy and a bit threatening.” While one could perceive a change in direction in the split, it’s more the case of a change of means and a natural progression, or as Carmen tells it, “I didn’t have enough tools to search for the guitar tone that I liked. I’ve been searching for a nice guitar tone for a few years now and this is what I’m sticking to now. It might change in the future, as I’m never happy with the guitar sound. This is an Orange rockreverb sound, which I like a lot.” The sound thus presented is reminiscent of a song like «Earth: As A Furnace» from Altar Of Plagues‘s «White Tomb» or some of the Church Of Ra associated acts. We mentioned this comparison and the latter names indeed provoked a resonance, “I’m quite a fan of the sound of some Church Of Ra bands, it’s very blunt but also very fragile sometimes. Like Amenra or Wiegedood, I really like their guitar sound. I never had the idea of sticking to traditional [black metal] sounds. I like the dreamy and very blunt, the extremes between the very beautiful, fragile sounds and the very heavy, low, and massive sounds.

In the website of Witte Wieven, one finds a tab named folktale, where the story behind the duo’s name is revealed. There is a Dutch legend of beings called Witte Wieven, whose spirits roam the Earth after they have passed away and tend to hang as mists above graveyards and other holy sites. Essentially, they represent an idea of something alluring leading one to a dangerous, doomed fate. This brings us to a classic chicken and egg question and, like that classic example, an unequivocal answer quickly arises, with Carmen stating that “the idea of Witte Wieven came a bit later. I had a few ideas but I was still searching for how I would mould it, how I would structure them. I was thinking of finding a symbol to capture my feelings about music.” We further inquire as to the concept’s influence in Witte Wieven’s lyrics. “I mainly use it as a symbol and a metaphor for my own development. The split track is about the feeling of not being in reality and being enveloped by thoughts that you cannot stop.” If this sounds to you like something about anxiety, the same happened to us, and she confirms that it indeed plays a role. Returning one final time to the folk-like nature of the story, she concludes by saying that “it’s not actually about the myth, we’re not a folklore band.

Let us focus for a second on that “we” from Carmen’s last answer, as we had so far not mentioned the band’s drummer, Sarban. Both members of the band are also credited with providing samples. “On the EP we have recorded kalimba,” she explains, “I just recorded some tones that matched the atmosphere and I put a lot of reverb on it, I always put a lot of reverb on everything. [laughs] I like to get some traditional instruments, just put a lot of reverb on it and just blend it in.” Sarban’s role, however, extends beyond playing the drums, “he really structures and organizes things. Of course he also writes the drums, but he helps me with the ideas I have. He’s a great filter, because I just have ideas and over criticize everything and nothing gets done. I might have a great idea but it never sees the light because I criticize it until it dies.” As with many artistic endeavours, creating something might be the main focus, but personal growth is attained throughout the process. In that sense, Witte Wieven is no exception. She states, regarding a further acceptance of her own ideas that therein lies “the main thing that I learned through writing for Witte Wieven.” This idea of just “writing more and more and developing” traces back to the band’s inception, “that’s the main reason I started Witte Wieven, to get a bit more free and to get a creative outlet.” This brings us back to that exchange between the two musicians at the beginning of this piece. As Carmen confirms, freedom might not have been there at the start, but it’s slowly arising, “I really feel very much a progress within myself, also because of the teamwork with Sarban. He really helps. That’s changing, which is really good. It feels good.

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As mentioned in the introduction, Witte Wieven will soon play their first set at this year’s Roadburn festival. When asked what can people expect from their live debut, she states that “I think we’ll play three new songs. It’s also a bit of an experiment for me, to see how it feels on stage,” which of course leads us to ask what to expect from those songs. “The newer songs are more developed, maybe even more searching in between extremes.” For their upcoming live appearance, the duo will be augmented by two other Tilburg musicians, namely, guitarist Joris Bonis, who plays at Dodecahedron and Ulsect, and bassist Dave van Beek, of Ggu:ll fame. “I actually chose them based on how I feel about them as people,” Carmen tells us, “I find it very important to be able to click with people. Of course, sound is very important, so sound and personality were the most important things for me.” The rehearsals so far have been promising, “it feels very good, my intuition about it was correct I think. When we play the split song, we have a very good feeling and get into a sort of state when playing it, where we can interact with each other. The EP is a bit more fixed, it feels like old material since my feelings for those songs are also dated. I’ve got more of a connection with the split song and the new ones.

With both artists having mentioned the importance of releasing material with people they admire, we ask about the communication between them during the writing of «Vlucht». Carmen tells us that “in the end, we composed separately. There were some ideas about doing vocals on each others tracks but that didn’t happen,” with N. elaborating on the significance of the record’s title, “we did share previous versions of the tracks with each other, to get a general idea about how it would sound and the general direction we were going in. We discussed the connecting theme being flight. In Dutch, vlucht can be the literal act of flying, but it can also be a fleeing type of attitude.” The idea also appears reflected in the record’s artwork, which N. explains is the result of a photo-manipulation of three different images, one in which “the central image is a documentation of one of the earliest flights – and I found that to be very fitting for the record, because in that image we have a literal human flight, but also the brief and somewhat naive fleeing of mankind from its earthly grasp.” The fact that it’s the first flight and how primitive it is, certainly fits very well with the lo-fi nature of the split’s sound.

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Carmen then tells us that the general connection between the two songs “is this feeling of having no ground underneath, the symbolic feeling of not being in reality.” When it comes to the Reiziger song, N. reflects back upon the dual meaning of the split’s title, “musically I aim to create a grandeur feeling of take-off, of actual flight, while, as the creator, I am simultaneously being pulled back down by acknowledging it is merely through the escapist form that is black metal, resulting in an honest, but unstable situation.

We tell N. that Reiziger seems to fluctuate between different degrees of lo-fi and that the layering in this last release is perhaps even more overt than in the past. “I really wanted this song to be blatantly escapist. Lo-fi productions are an escape from reality in themselves, since they’re letting us hear things that are not really there – and simultaneously hide elements that are actually played. The excessive use of layering enhances this, since the sounds seem to blur together, hide behind another, creating a mash that’s more difficult to pick apart – thus easier to succumb to.

We further inquire about Reiziger’s writing method, which appears to be the result of two seemingly antagonistic approaches. N. tells us that with every Reiziger composition, he tells himself “we’re going Dada with the next one. The next one will be full-on Dada, childlike, no thinking, just go with it.” The process always begins with him improvising all the drums and rhythm guitars. “After that my previous intentions derail, because I start to feel responsible for the mess I made. I start over-thinking guitar melodies, bass lines and vocal lines. That’s when I start layering and layering and layering and layering until I feel like I can’t layer any more.

«Vlucht» was released on December 14, 2018 by Babylon Doom Cult in digital and vinyl formats, which can be found here and here, respectively.

«Silhouettes of an Imprisoned Mind» was originally released in digital and cd formats (available here) by the band on January 10, 2016. The EP was subsequently released in 12” vinyl format through New Era Productions on April 27, 2018, a version which is can be obtained at this location.

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