Their Satanic Majesties
Dark knowledge and Jäger shots with Austin’s Ancient VVisdom
By Kevin Curtin, 11:07AM, Thu. Jul. 25, 2013
Ancient VVisdom are the nicest Satanists I’ve ever met; nothing like the four guys from my hometown who were sent to prison for digging up corpses in the cemetery and keeping the skulls for some sort of invisibility ritual.
The local doom troupe’s singer Nathan Opposition, his brother, guitarist Mike Jochum, and bassist TA joined me in the dark corner booth of Eastside burger joint Sputnik last week to discuss their band, which, with their gloomy, down-tempo riffs and dramatic vocals expounding dark knowledge, sounds a little like Alice in Chains if Layne Staley replaced heroin with a stack of banned philosophy books.
Since breaking out in 2011 with Inner Earth Inferno, a 12-inch split recorded with murderous cult leader Charles Manson, AVV has made its mark by touring with cream of the crop metal talent and cutting two LPs, the latest of which, Deathlike, emerged this February on Prosthetic Records.
Next Friday, the band opens for the great Pentagram at Emo’s. We caught up with them before the dawn.
Austin Chronicle: Is Ancient VVisdom a metal band?
Nathan Opposition: Absolutely not. People give us this rep like we’re a metal band, but sonically, if you listen to our music, it’s not metal at all. It has ties into occultism and things that are involved with heavy music in terms of content, but musically and sonically, we don’t know where the comparison comes from. It’s partly because we’re friends and peers with a lot of metal bands.
Michael Jochum: We grew up in the metal and hardcore scene.
NO: That’s a stigma that follows us. And a lot of our fan base are metal fans, but I would not consider us a metal band.
AC: I guess it’s a similar situation with Pentagram.
NO: I think they’re more of a hard rock band. Their stuff is mid-paced. The vocals are clear. I really like their lyrical content. I was reading some of [singer Bobby Leibling’s] lyrics last night and feeling parallels, like it’s something I would say. That’s where we connect with bands like that; more content-wise than sound-wise. That’s the common ground. But we’re fans of metal music and we have band members with Mercyful Fate tattoos. [Bassist TA holds up his arm to prove just that.] We all love metal, but we all listen to different stuff.
AC: What elements of music are involved in your sound?
NO: I like to write what comes naturally. I’ve been inspired by David Bowie and the Doors – bands with a classic feel. Then I try to take it to a more modern setting. People call us occult rock. That’s where we fall in.
TA: We fit into several genres and don’t want to get pigeonholed into one. Things have continued to take turns and sound different, which I credit to Nate evolving as a songwriter. Both records have sounded different, and the new one will, too.
AC: What’s the Ancient VVisdom writing process like?
NO: I do the majority of the lyrics and arrangement. It depends on the song. Most of them I’ll write from just a single thought that’s interesting or inspiring and elaborate from there. Sometimes it’s a riff. Recently, Mike’s presented music to me that I’ve written lyrics over.
MJ: We’ve got the brother chemistry going: natural harmonies. We never have to ask each other how we’re going to work the harmony. We just know.
AC: You’re each coming with something different. Nathan’s voice is very clean, and your guitar is the sound’s heaviest aspect.
MJ: The duality of the heavy and light makes it catch different moods, and it makes the heavier songs stand out a lot more.
AC: What are some other bands with brothers?
NO: Stone Temple Pilots.
TA: Black Crows.
MJ: They have to hate each other!
AC: Back in Cleveland you both played in the well-known hardcore band Integrity.
NO: Five years for me, seven for Mike. We did some tours in Japan and Europe. It was a lot of fun. I’m still friends with Dwid. He built me a slide box guitar recently. It’s his new thing: building guitars.
MJ: I was playing guitar and Nathan was playing drums.
AC: You play drums, too! Are you any good?
NO: I’m awesome at drums. I played on the first AVV recordings, but that’s meant to be very rudimentary. Integrity was double bass and really fast. I don’t play drums in a band right now, but I’m still on par.
AC: Is Ancient VVisdom your first attempt at being a vocalist?
NO: I sang in some hardcore bands when I was younger, but this was my first stab at doing my own songs. It was nice to see it become something.
MJ: It’s only growing, too. We’ve been getting hit up by people in Brazil asking us to play there recently. It’s mind blowing.
NO: I’m shipping records to Germany, Brazil, Norway, and the UK all the time, and we try to keep up with the people who like our band. If someone messages me on Facebook, I always message them back personally. Often, they’re surprised that I did.
MJ: A lot of bands blow people off, and we don’t want to just refer them to someone who runs our Facebook page. We want to say “Thank you.”
AC: Music is all about making connections.
TA: If you make enough of an impact on someone that they want to seek you out and speak to you, holy crap, it takes a lot. And then you have a fan for life.
NO: What does it take out of my day to say, “Thank you for writing. I appreciate that you like the record. How is your day?”
AC: It’s the opposite, too. When I was a kid, I’d meet bands and they’d turn out to be total dicks, and it would kill me. Then for the rest of my life, if I see someone wearing their back patch or t-shirt I say, “Hey man, those guys are fucking assholes! Fuck them.”
TA: I’ve turned down opportunities to meet members of my favorite bands – my absolute idols – because I don’t want anything to ruin their music for me.
AC: It’s like looking behind the curtain at a magic show and seeing it’s all bullshit. In the end, you wish you didn’t know. What year did you move to Austin?
NO: I was doing some stuff in Cleveland before I left.
MJ: We had a band. It was more melodic, like the Cure.
NO: Or Cold Cave. He was singing and I was playing guitar. It sounded pretty nice actually. We were living in Cleveland and nothing ever took off there.
MJ: Cleveland was a dead end town for us at that point.
NO: We had been doing other projects, and then we moved here and I had all these songs I’d been writing on my own, and of course Mike started working with me. Then I got that offer for doing that split with Charles Manson, and that really set the wheels in motion.
We’ve always worked really hard, and this time something about us connected with people and it cosmically worked out. I’m writing these songs, and all the way across the globe bands like Ghost BC are writing material with similar content and a creepy sound to it, and I had no idea who they were. But we naturally fell into place with other bands. The timing was interesting. It just sort of worked out in that sense.
AC: Have you played with Ghost BC?
MJ: Yeah, we played 13 shows with them on their first U.S. tour, which coincidentally was our first U.S. tour. We’re friends. We got wasted with them in Pittsburgh and ended up wrestling nameless ghouls in the street.
TA: Yeah we drank a shit-ton of Jäger with them. It was fun. They’re really good dudes.
MJ: They’re humble, talented, and because of the disguises, their fans don’t have any idea when they’re talking to them at the bar after the show, except that they have Swedish accents.
AC: That band is onto some dark knowledge, too. What interests you about using that as the lyrical imagery in your music?
NO: It’s really important for me to write something with substance. Something that inspires people to seek out and experience life from a different point of view. Maybe then they’ll write about it; maybe they’ll come to embody it. For me, content is the most important thing. I will write off a band over one line in a song I don’t like. The content in music is sacred.
AC: What about someone who hears your song “The Opposition,” where you sing, “Hail to thee Lord Lucifer/ I sing praises to thee and I suffer no longer/ Hail to thee God of the Underworld.” They might hear that message and say “Fuck these guys!”
NO: Then they shouldn’t be listening to us, I guess.
TA: You wouldn’t believe how many comments we get from people that say, “I am not into Satanism whatsoever, but I can’t stop singing these songs. I’m walking around singing the lyrics, praising Lucifer.”
MJ: We’re talking about Lucifer in a self-empowering way, not some red devil guy running around going, “I’m the devil!” No, Satanism is about being true to yourself.
AC: So it’s a deeper spiritual thing for you. I’ve read interviews with Slayer where they say it’s just their art. They’re not really Satanists.
NO: That’s because Tom [Araya, singer] is scared of going to hell because he’s Catholic.
MJ: I feel that Papa Emeritus II from Ghost BC believes his lyrics ardently.
NO: Do I sit around and worship? Absolutely not. It’s silly. But I do believe the words I’ve read and things I’ve experienced. Satanism is something so personal and individual. It’s something for yourself that you need to keep sacred. I believe that the things I sing about have empowered me and given me the ability to do what I do. Those things are real because I’ve made them real. You can will something to be. That goes for all religions, and I don’t shut any of them out. All beliefs have their positives and negatives.
MJ: I feel Satanism is one of the more open religions. No one gives a fuck if you’re gay or straight.
NO: Like all religion, there’s people that are narrow-minded and give it a bad rap. Everybody has their own version that’s unique to the individual. My beliefs are what helps me go through life’s trials and pursue what I want to do. That’s the prime directive.
TA: True Satanism has always been pure humanism. Do unto others what you want done to you, and if they don’t then you do what you have to back to them. You’re looking out for yourself as a God. The imagery has just always gone along with great music. Satan’s always had the best tunes. Anton LaVey said that, and I agree.
AC: If the message is that individualistic, can it resonate with listeners?
NO: The pinnacle of any compliment is someone loving your content. Recently, someone wrote us online saying, “Your lyrics are a big influence to me, can you help me with my lyrics?” So I’ll read some lyrics and say, “I like this, this, and this,” or, “This is all good. I’d send that to press.”
That probably empowered him, but it was just as inspirational for me that he wanted my opinion. I’ve done that to other singers that I respect – send them demos and if they enjoy it, it gives more reason to what I’m doing, because they believe in it. To inspire others to create means the world to me. That’s what it’s all about.
AC: Tell me about your upcoming tour.
NO: Kicking off with Pentagram in Austin, then doing dates with Bloody Hammers from North Carolina, and the whole run is with Saint James Society, who used to live here and now live in L.A. We’re doing mostly east coast and Midwest. We’re also hooking up with our friends Pallbearer.
TA: We’re playing at Nectar, which is the birthplace of Phish. There’s pictures of them all over the walls. It’s actually a really cool place. The food is delicious and we’re playing with Pallbearer. Those guys are our brothers, so it’s going to be a really good show.
AC: I thought you were going to say you were playing with Phish.
MJ: I’d do a show with Phish just to bum people out. We’d have to play “The Opposition” for 10 minutes with lots of noodling though.
AC: What comes after the tour?
NO: We’re recording and writing some new material, which has a sound we haven’t messed with before. We have a full drum kit. We have TA playing bass, which we’ve never had. On Deathlike, it was synth. He plays, but wasn’t on the record. On A Godlike Inferno, we had Alex from Hatred Surge playing upright bass with a bow.
MJ: This is full-on, kick you in the fucking nuts, rock. It sounds great.
NO: After a while, as a band, you really come into your own. I like to think of it as an enlightenment period. You realize you have a cool sound, then you fine tune it and you realize what you can do with it and how to take it the next level.
In a band’s career, you keep hitting these planes. It starts at the beginning and ends when you call it quits. It has nothing to do with getting a cool show offer or a record deal. It has to do with finding an enlightenment period with the individuals in your band and seeing things in a higher spectrum. We’re starting to hit those more and more.