Monolord – Interview with Esben Willems

Date: May 2018
Interview & Photography By: Beandog

The Independent Voice had a fantastic night out recently at the Green Door Store in Brighton. We watched Monolord co-headline with Conan and deliver some live renditions of their crushing, melancholy riffs. You can read our review of that evening here.

We were also lucky enough to share some words with their supremely powerful sticksman, Esben Willems.

It seems to be an exciting time for Monolord at the moment. You guys released Rust in September last year, to what seemed like unanimous acclaim. You’ve since been out on the road playing shows fairly consistently. You appear to be the warhorses of Doom right now, crusading through Europe!

Esben Willems: There’s been a lot of touring, yes. As always, though, getting up on stage and playing these songs live is the core of what we do, that’s the reason we do it. The waiting, the lack of sleep, the bad food, the continued lack of sleep, the bad coffee, the even worse instant coffee, the endless van travels, all of that is less than exiting. But when the venue doors are open, the buzz from the crowd starts to build and the intro music goes on, that feeling is incomparable. It never gets old.

Just with regard to your current circumstances, what does it take to keep a band like Monolord on the road? Do you guys have to balance this with other commitments outside of the band or are you full time Monolords? How does it all work?

EW: It takes a lot of work. It might look like we’re only active when we’re on tour, but this is constant work. 7 days a week, all year, there’s something band related that needs attention, for all of us. We try to take days off now and then, but that usually just means working a little less, haha. Complete insanity.
Our commitments outside of the band are family and day jobs. Real life Tetris, only three dimensional. Somehow we make it work, though. We have a relentless manager – Daniel Hall of RidingEasy Records – who works at least as hard as we do and is always there to sort out whatever surfaces.

It’s a really good question and describing it sounds like trying to control a massive ball of fire rolling down a mountain during an earthquake. And that’s kind of what it’s like, but in a rewarding way, absurd as it sounds. The circumstances are everchanging, random issues constantly appear out of nowhere and everything – EVERYTHING – should have been done yesterday, even the stuff that’s way ahead of deadline. This is intense, on every level.

For a band to be on tour for such an extended period, I have no doubt you have had some amazing experiences coupled with some more challenging moments. What have been your best and worst moments of the tour so far?

EW: Every tour has highs and lows, but we always try to focus on the next show. We got to play some amazing venues on the two last tours – Royal Albert Hall and The Roundhouse in London, for example – but I don’t want to rank that above playing a sold out show in a 150 capacity basement club. Different experiences, both great in their own way.
On several occasions people have come up to us after shows and told us that our music helped them through a rough or dark time in their lives. To me that is one of the nicest compliments you can get. I’m still overwhelmed by that.

The low points on tours is usually just boring practicalities; cancelled flights, support bands stealing your beer, paranoid border controls, when the vegan option is chicken, when the vegan option is yelling even louder in German after you politely explained that you don’t speak or scream German! Festival backline that is a malfunctional wreckage kept alive by duct tape, when two single beds are one “double” bed, when the van heating doesn’t work during a Finnish ice age… and the constant lack of sleep as the ever present spice, haha! But, all of that is hilarious in its absurdity after a while. I’m sitting here smiling telling you about all of this.

You’re currently promoting your newest record, Rust, which to my ears is a gigantic slab of riff worship that I’d recommend to any Sabbath disciple. Can you tell us a bit about your approach to creating something like Rust? Do you start with a specific vision or is it more of a free form experience that develops along the way? What is your writing/recording process?

EW: First of all, thank you! Regarding how we make and record music, it’s an ongoing process. We usually try to find time in between tours to try out new material, regardless if there’s another release planned at the moment. When a release IS planned, we collect and refine what we have at that moment and work with it until it feels unified, like it all fits on the same album. There’s always the live approach present when we work with it; although there are always overdubs and added instrumentation on an album, we always want to keep the live feeling, we want to be able to play the songs live with the same atmosphere, even though a live setting is far more raw and minimalistic than in the studio.
There’s no specific individual vision on each album; we let the songs dictate. For us, Rust is just a natural step forward, it’s not a decided move in any specific direction.

You’ve included some guest musicians on the new record. A particular highlight for me is Salome Kent, whose violin draws out the melancholy timbre on Wormland. But you’ve also used additional guitar players and keyboards. How do these collaborations come about? Do you plan to use additional players in advance or is it more of a casual situation?

EW: It’s more of a casual situation. When the songs for an album are almost done, we discuss what could be added and if guests would be interesting.

Is there anyone you would like to collaborate with, but have not yet had the opportunity? What if you could literally bring in anyone you wanted to? What would be your ultimate dream collaboration?

EW: One would be Kathleen Brennan and Tom Waits producing an album and David Lynch making a recording documentary, one that balances just on the edge of where you’re constantly unsure about what’s reality and what’s fantasy. But that’s just a thought experiment. I think that collaborations that happens naturally are the best. Numerous constructed super groups over the years are perfect examples of the opposite.

That’s sometimes very true! Monolord seems to have a very solid and credible reputation. I’ve seen a lot of favourable reviews and Rust was included on a few 2017 “end of year” lists Do you have any general thoughts about how people have responded to the album?

EW: Releasing an album is always nerve-wracking, so when we got the beautiful response we did on Rust it was a very sweet relief. There are no fiercer critics than ourselves, so getting the approval of our fans is rewarding, to say the least. We don’t make music to adapt to any preconceived notion of what any imagined audience would like, but that doesn’t mean that we’re not excited about it when fans like what we do. Or become new fans because of what we do. It happens quite often at shows that someone was brought there by their friends and then tells us that they were blown away by the show. That’s inspiring.

How are people reacting to the new music live? Have there been any surprises?

EW: The reactions are mostly that our fans tell us that they love how the live shows are an even better version of the album, that they also love. That’s when I feel we’ve really succeeded with what we aimed at during the recording process.

And, thinking about things outside of recent activities, what would you want Monolord’s legacy to be? How would you like the band to be remembered?

EW: Legacy is a big word. Assuming we would even be remembered, I personally hope that it would be as a band that always delivered an intense and honest show, and that our fans thought of us as nice people. It might sound deliberately humble, but those two things are key to me, also as a fan of other bands.

Finally, I’ve been saving my hard earned pay and I want to buy some records. Can you give me some recommendations? What are the essential albums you think should be in every collection?

EW: I’m sorry to be blunt, but I don’t believe in canonizing music, books or any other cultural expression. What’s iconic to me can be completely bland to someone else. For example, when someone tells me I have to see the grandeur in Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles or insert-random-dictated-icon I feel they completely missed the point of enjoying music. It’s great to admire any artists and it’s also equally fine to be uninterested or even dislike the same artists. The essential albums that should be in your collection are the ones that you love. Get rid of the rest. You don’t have to love them.

Sorry about the rant and with that said, I would happily tell you about what bands or albums I like. Lately, I’ve been listening a lot to the new album from Yob, Our Raw Heart. It’s fantastic, I really can’t stop listening. Great band, great songs, great production. I think this is one I’ll be returning to through the years. And just today I discovered From The Mouth Of The Sun, beautifully mellow and drone-like soundscapes, which is something I listen to a lot. And also Zeal & Ardor, Brant Bjork, Sleep, Rotten Sound, Daniel Norgren, High On Fire, Motörhead, Bohren & Der Club Of Gore, Robert Plant, Sunn 0))), Firebreather, Monolord rehearsal demos and so on. The list is ever-changing and ever-building.

Excellent! Good luck with the upcoming shows and many thanks!

EW: Thank you so much! I really enjoyed your questions, looking forward to next time.

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