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Saturday, October 1, 2011

Heavy Planet interviews Rwake's Jeff Morgan

This week saw the release of one of 2011's most eagerly-anticipated metal albums, Rwake's Rest. Delivering sonically, spiritually, and painfully, the album deserves every accolade it accrues. Heavy Planet reviewed the beautiful brutality last month and couldn't resist the urge to go just a little deeper. We had the opportunity to speak with Rwake's Jeff Morgan about Rest's recording, the band's history, the band's future, and that silent R. Here goes...

HP: Rest was just released yesterday on Relapse records and the reviews have been real positive. What's different on this album from 2007's Voices of Omens and what's the same about Rwake's sound?

JM: "Since our inception, we've always wanted to be the kind of band that creates more of an atmosphere with the music. I mean, we love rock and roll, we love just rockin' out. We're just kind of a different creature when it comes to Rwake. We realized a long time ago that we could play stuff that would actually create a nightmarish dream mode instead of just getting up there and having a great time. In a lot of ways, we love rockin' out, but it's just not something Rwake does. And we've always had that and it seems like it's getting more and more in-depth throughout every record. We spent four years writing this one and a lot of that time was just refining and fine-tuning everything. The songs are already really long but they were even longer when we wrote 'em, and we've actually scaled 'em down to make 'em more action-packed and not quite so drone-y. We definitely like to use the maximum amount of dynamics as far as ups and downs and quiet and loud and we do a lot of tempo changes. Stuff like subtle tempo changes where it's just a little bit, y'know? We did that on the last one and it seems like on this one there's even more of that, where it's like shifting gears throughout the song."

HP: The new album is really complex and it seems like every member of the band takes their instrument, takes their element of the sound into a different direction. What's the recording process like when there's so much talent there and there are so many different elements? How do you get it to all come together into that final end product?

JM: "We're very lucky to have found an engineer that is perfect for us when we found Sanford Parker on the If You Walk Before You Crawl... album. Because we've worked with him so much, we kind of know what's it's gonna sound like before we go into the studio and we know what he's gonna be able to pull out of it. As we're writing it, we know that we can get away with doin' the slow, doomier stuff for a little bit longer because it's so thick when he records it and we can add layers, he's real good with guitar-layering and stuff like that. I don't know if you ever heard the Buried At Sea demo that he did, it was probably one of the greatest recordings I've ever heard; it was frightening, the guitar tone on it. That's what sold us on him. Because we've worked with him so much, when we're in the songwriting process we kind of have foresight into what it's gonna sound like in the finished product, so that's really helpful to us."

HP: You guys balance gorgeous, heavy soundscapes with dark themes like suicide and loss and the end times. Where do you guys draw from when you're writing with such heavy subject matter?

JM: "I think it's very serious times right now. Being isolated in the woods how we are, Arkansas is pretty cut-off. Generally, we have to work really hard to keep up with the outside world. But it also gives us a place where we're in tune with nature and we're in tune with the Earth a lot more here, too. It seems like it's more of a primitive-type mindset out here. We're kind of finely-tuned in that aspect."

HP: Rwake has played together for fifteen years. I know you guys have your lives outside of the band and some of you have kids. How do you manage to remain inventive and promising when a lot of other bands would just throw in the towel and call it a day?

JM: "Being a band so long and being older and having our lives set up, we've had to turn down a lot of opportunities and we missed a lot of things that we really wished we could've done. And dealing with that and having survived that, once we got past that we realized that we're gonna be a band forever and we're more like a family than a band. Once you get past a lot of that stuff and your expectations are based on what you can do as opposed to what you always wished you could do, it's a lot easier to be a band for a long period of time. The older we get, the more happy we are with each other and the more we know what our limitations are as far as touring. Of course, we wish we could tour just as much as anybody else, but it's just not something that's possible with our lives and we're all okay with it."

HP: How have the songs been playing out live? You recently just did a few dates in the midwest, a kind-of mini-tour. What's the reaction from the crowd and how are the band members responding the crowd's reaction...?

JM: "Oh, it's been great. Because the new songs are so dynamic, even though more people haven't heard the songs before, it reminds me of when we first started playing; how the crowd was just deer in the headlights, kinda captivated, they're just kinda frozen. Once people become familiar with the songs, like when we play the older songs, then of course people put their heads down and their beers up and it's more of a rockin' environment. But for the new stuff, it just seems to be more of everyone just soaking it in. I'm anxious to see, with the album being released and them becoming more familiar with it, how their reactions will change."

HP: You guys are set to play Maryland Death Fest in May. Of some of the other acts that are there, St. Vitus, Electric Wizard, Eyehategod, Noothgrush... Who of those bands or any of the others, there are tons of them, are you guys really excited to share a stage with?

JM: "I've always wanted to see Autopsy. I'm really looking forward to it. There are just so many great bands. I got lucky enough to see St. Vitus on their reunion tour, the first one they did, in Chicago. There are so many good bands, it's insane. We're just glad to be a part of it. We wanted to be a part of it last year and we just couldn't make it. There are so many bands we're excited about seeing, the international bands too."

HP: What's next for the band until then?

JM: "We're just gonna let the album spread and do as much as we can. I think we're gonna fly out to New York and play one show. Fly out and do regional things, we're talking about flying out to L.A. and just doing a couple shows that way. Because we can't do extensive touring, but we can do a couple days in a row. We're kind of in a position now where we can just fly out and do it."

HP: Rwake's sound is so hard to pinpoint and identifying influences is just not an easy task because of the layered sound and the distinct nature of where the music goes. Who would you say are some of the influences of the band, whether it's the band as a whole or just some of your influences as a drummer?

JM: "I write a lot of the riffs, too, and I definitely remember when I was into music... Of course early Metallica, Master of Puppets-era and stuff like that, Slayer. Then when I heard Melvins' Bullhead for the first time and then fell into Neurosis' Enemy of the Sun and all that stuff. It just became this spiral of learning about darkness in music and the power of spiritual, dark, sonic music. Definitely Melvins' Bullhead was a life-changer for me and even Melvins' Gluey Porch Treatments, so a lot of early Melvins. Then the mid-era Neurosis stuff, of course. Big influence to me, big influence to everybody who does doom/sludge stuff, I think."

HP: Tell me a little about what's goin' on in Little Rock with the metal scene there and how that's helping to contribute and expand the entire sludge/doom genre. It seems to be blowing up a little bit.

JM: "Yeah, it's always been kind-of a smaller scene, but it's super-loyal and super-creative. We've been lucky to always have at least two or three super-good bands to play with Rwake. Any point in the past fifteen years, you came to Little Rock, there was always at least two or three super-good stoner/doom-type bands that were playing a lot o' shows. Right now we've got Seahag, Seahag rules! There's a band from Fayetteville called Deadbird which some of the old members of Rwake are in, too. And there's a band called Pallbearer right now that's doin' very well. It is a smaller scene, but creative-wise... It's probably one of the better scenes I've seen with the quality level of the bands. It seems like there are specific areas all over the country where there are hotspots for good, creative music. Atlanta's always been one, and Savannah, too. Nashville's always got good stuff, y'know? Little Rock, even though it's smaller, creative-wise it's definitely up there."

HP: Do you guys get out to places like Atlanta and Savannah and play with bands like Black Tusk, Baroness, Kylesa, all those Georgia bands?

JM: "Because we've been around for so long and touring for so long, we've become friends with these people, a lot of them even before the bands they're in now. Buried At Sea, they played their first show ever with us. We played with Mastodon in Memphis before anyone even knew who they were, really. Right when they got on Relapse and I think fourteen people paid to get in or something ridiculous. There was like nobody there, nobody knew who they were. We definitely have been in the scene and progressing alongside a lot of these other bands, y'know? We all influence each other, we all hang out with each other, we all like the same things. It's a really good scene, really. Nationwide, y'know?"

HP: The name "Rwake," I've heard a couple ridiculous stories about how you guys came up with the name, especially with the silent R in front of it. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

JM: "We were called Wake and we just liked it because it was a funeral reference and we thought it was really cool. And this was in '96, I think, maybe '97, it was a long time ago. There were already like three bands called Wake and Wake with other extensions on it. We just didn't feel like getting into a hassle with a band, because we knew we were gonna be a band for a long time, we just felt it. We were gonna change the name entirely to something totally different and we threw out names, we had names that were in the works. It just didn't really seem like we came up with anything. We were partyin' hard and it was a late night. CT was really inebriated and he was trying to say "Wake" and he just slurred it and said "Rrrwake" and we were like "that's it! That's what we're gonna be." It's hard to say that in general conversation, y'know... It's hard to just be like, when people are like "Hey, what band are you in?" "Rrrwake!" It's hard to say that and not sound like you're wasted, so we just put the R on there. And we tried to get people to say it like that for awhile, but it just wasn't practical. So we just said it's gonna be silent to make it easier on everybody. People, rightfully so, have always asked us about that. And what's really funny is when I tell people we're in a band called "Wake with an R," people are just like "What? Where does the R go?" Then I tell 'em it's on the front and they're even more confused. Looking back, I'm not sure if it was the smartest idea but it made sense at the time."

HP: I think it's cool, I like it. Thanks for doin' this, Jeff! I can't wait to see what this record does. Good luck to you guys!

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