Interviews : Winds
With Andy Winter
Andy, the obvious question is how did four such accomplished musicians come together to form Winds?
Winds started out as my vision of something that I wanted to do, and at the beginning it was a bit unclear... I just knew what kind of music I liked to listen to and I liked to write. A friend of my is a musician as well, who has a lot of contacts with a studio that is very popular in Norway, so I got to know the producer that works there and basically I wanted to work with him...and basically it was through him that I got to know Hellhammer. We talked and he got to know about the project and was really curious about the music. He knew that this was something that was different from what he has done before.
How did you describe the music to Hellhammer?
I didn't. I actually played him a tape. So when he heard that, he was very, very enthusiastic and he really liked it, which was the basic material for the mini-CD [The Entity of Mind]. Then we decided that he was going to help me with it, and it started out like a project, really, it was not a... specific band at that time. I was already working with Lars, our singer. We have already decided to work together on some things. I basically wanted to have him do something with me, so it was three of us, plus the guitar player who did the mini-CD, and also the bass player who did the mini-CD... Basically, we were kinda far into the process already and we were thinking about how we were gonna work on music. [So] we were working together at the time when Carl came into the picture. I knew him also through a common friend of ours, and he was invited to do it. I also played him a tape and he thought it was really good, so he came in and did some solos for the mini-CD, and when we were done with that...
It's a long story, you know! I hope you are not getting bored...
No, no. I am patiently listening. Please go on...
Great! So when we were done with the mini-CD, we were pretty happy with the experience, especially the chemistry between Carl and me...and Hellhammer, and Lars. We had lots of things in common, both personally and musically and decided to make this into a band, and at the same time to cut down on the staff a little bit, because we thought that it would be a better solution in the end for Winds.
Andy, it seems to me that when Lars became a singer of Winds, it was not just something spontaneous, like "Hey, we need a singer, letís go find one." Just from listening to how perfectly his vocals fit the music, I am able to say that it was a careful process.
I had actually been a big, big fan of his vocals for many years. Even before I knew him really well, Iíve listened to his old band Jack in a Box quite a bit, and itís a little different from what I am used to listening to...
What type of music was that?
Itís like... hard to describe. Kinda like hard rock... Little bit, popular, trendy hard rock. But not like modern hard rock, itís more like...You know itís really hard for me to describe it. You have to hear it, because itís a little unique actually. So I always liked his vocals and I always used to go whenever he played shows in Oslo with his other bands. I used to go see them...and we started talking more and things like that...and I was thinking about Winds, imagining what kind of vocals and how everything would come together, and there was no doubt of course that his vocals were absolutely perfect for Winds...
So it was not more about finding experienced musicians, but rather finding people that you could work with?
Yeah, absolutely. You hear a lot about super-groups who are just put together because of the big names. Winds is nothing like that at all! I have to point that out, because some people like to "witchhunt" certain things. So we are completely opposite of that and the reason why we work together is because we found that we work really well together, and we have common interests...
After the first few listens, it might seem that there are some classical composers or inspirations behind the music, yet, after a further listen, I don't think the music follows any specific formula. It definitely stands out on its own as itís the music from the heart and soul. That's how I want to describe it when I listen to it.
Thank you for some positive comments. Yeah, basically that's what it is. Itís the music that come form our creativity, from our minds and heart and soul, you can say. Itís not like "OK, let's get together and make a cool record." It basically comes from our passion.
How democratic is the song-writing process for the Winds? Do you consider yourself a perfectionist, meaning that everything has to go your way, or do other band members have lots to say about the music?
I am very, very, very much a perfectionist, and the other three guys give me pretty hard time about that. Even to the point where they make fun of me in the interviews... [laughing]
But it really depends on what stage in the band's history you are asking about, because we are the band that has very much changed over the past...
I guess I am asking more about the new album Reflections of the I.
Well, I can say in the beginning, it was me...I was kinda the boss. On Reflections of the I, everyone is involved very much in the whole creative process...I would not say that it is necessarily a democracy, because in the [conventional sense], in democracy everybody is [at the same place] at the same time and they vote, and its not like that, but itís more about whoever is there right there and then make decisions. We also have a very mutual respect. We can make decisions [where] I trust the other people and they trust me...
How long did it take you to record Reflections of the I?
Well, we started at one point in March of last year and finished sometime in April. So I think it took like the greater part of one month.
Would you say that the band enjoys being in the studio more than other bands, mainly because the majority of other projects that other guys in the band are involved in are mostly studio bands, maybe except for Mayhem?
eah, we really like the creative process of being in the studio. Itís really what we thrive on. For Reflections, though it was a really stressful process, because weíve never done it that way before, the way that we basically went into the studio and recorded everything in one session, because on the mini-CD we would basically start with the drums and I had also done some keyboard parts to begin with, and then we did guitars, and everything in order, which basically took over a year to record the mini-CD [I thought Opeth was slow - Mike]. While this time, we did do everything all together in one big session, so there was really not a lot of time in between to take a break and look at what we were doing. We had to trust our instincts. Very stressful, but in the end, I think it worked out.
One of the main differences between Of Entity and Mind and The Reflections of the I is that Reflections... is much more guitar driven record. Was it intentional to bring out more guitar melodies this time, or do you think that it was a natural transition?
Probably it was a natural transition due to everyone's involvement, while on the min-CD...mostly I had everything created...For the new one, the way everything turned out is the fact that the mini-CD started out as being a project and now we have evolved into a band that works together...Also, the other thing is, we did not use any acoustic guitars for this album, because we instead used strings and piano, and we wanted to go for a more "symphonic" feel of the album.
Did you mention that you wrote most of the guitar parts on this record?
No. Actually, I did not write most of them; I hardly wrote any. In fact, I donít think I really wrote any, because I just had ideas and then Carl came up with [most of the guitars]. I just gave him little pointers and stuff just like he would remind me. Iíve written a lot of the vocal melodies for this album.
Carlís guitar work on this album is so overwhelming. Some of his solos send chills up and down my spine, like the solos on "Passionís Quest." [2:21-3:07]
[laughing] Carl is a really, really accomplished guitar player. Especially the last year he has evolved. He was always great, but I think over the last year, he says is himself [that] he has evolved drastically in a good direction, and he can do things now that he could not do before. Without trying to be flaunting or to show off...
I think the record speaks for itself...
I think so too, and for those who have not heard it yet, at the point of everything, it is not to try and show off our technical skill as musicians, but try to combine everything that we can [to create] a really emotional record. He [Carl] is a really great guitar player. He went to study, actually, in the Hollywood at the Guitar Institute of Technology, and has been trained by some of the greatest guitar players in Norway.
Hellhammerís drumming is superb. Before hearing the album, I was not sure whether the music would put a constraint on him in any ways, because he is such a technical drummer.
A lot of people donít realize that he actually can play very many different styles. Although he mostly known for his metal drumming and blasting, speed, and things like that, he is a very creative drummer. What really makes him stand out from any other drummer in any different genre that I can think of is that he is really creative. I think a lot of people are gonna be a little bit surprised if they have not heard us before.
Yes, but there's plenty of his signature double bass work on this album.
This record more than any of the records he has ever played on shows his diversity as a drummer.
There are actually some great headbanging parts during his double-bass moments in songs like "Realization," "Of Divine Nature," and "Remnants of Beauty," to name a few.
Especially the way he plays really, really fast is "Passionís Quest."
In the lyrics, there is a vivid contrast between the 'esoteric' [which is inner] and the 'exoteric' [which is outer], yet, I think the band approaches it on a more on a theosophical level, where the soul dominates the body's existence.
Yeah, the lyrics are very philosophical and existential. Existentialism is a very big theme in the lyrics. Iíve been asked this question a lot before and itís hard for me to answer that...At the concept is the follow-up to the mini-CD, where the lyrics are tied together with the artwork, you will see that it makes sense, its all connected...I think for those who are also interested in lyrics as well, they can take the appreciation of the album to a higher level.
Absolutely, because it makes the emotional parts of the album much more emotional.
Exactly! And thatís kinda of the essence of it, because thatís the point. When I work on the basic ideas, I try to keep everything in mind... One of the things I am really happy with is how the story flows in the lyrics [and] how the music suits that. In my opinion, thatís one of the things that I am really happy with.
The band has two Grammy winners in the line-up. Did Hellhammer win a Grammy for his work with Mayhem?
No, the Kovenant. He won twice in a row.
And what did Lars win one for?
He won for his vocal performances on Sensa Anima. Itís an industrial metal band. They all won in the hard-rock category. Carl and I are now trying to keep in mind, that since they won one and we havenít, we would really like one with Winds. [laughing] Because I feel, at least from my personal musical opinion is that the kind of music that we write is more preferable to me than both of those two bands. I like more eclectic stuff, more emotional things. Not to say anything bad, because all the records that all of us have ever done have qualities of their own. But we would really like to get one too. [laughing]
So were you ever present at the Grammy ceremonies or did you watch them on TV? I am a bit fascinated with the Norwegian Grammys, because thatís one of the handful countries in the world, where the metal artists can actually win a Grammy.
Yeah, I know. I was not there, because it is really, really hard to get invited if you are not nominated. Lars was there when he won, but he actually got sick during the whole thing, so he had to leave [before] coming up on stage to receive the award. So he never got to experience the whole thing.
How different is the whole process from the US Grammies [apart from talent-less musicians winning the majority of US Grammies]?
It is not as big and glamorous and grand scale. A lot of people really discredited the whole process, because there were a lot of albums that came out during the year that Lars won the Grammy, [when] a lot of people, especially in the metal scene didnít appreciate that they were not nominated. For example, there were a lot of writings about Satyricon, [and] how they were totally overlooked.
Was that for Rebel Extravaganza?
es. And to me it is both good and bad, because the way that it works [from what Iíve been explained] is: first, you have a professional metal jury that nominates and when the metal jury has nominated, then everyone decides who is going to win. And I think thatís a good thing., because then youíll actually get people, who are not really into metal, that can objectively review what of this is actually good quality and not just what is being hyped in the metal world.
Well, if Satyricon were to win a Grammy, that should have been for Nemesis Divina.
I don't think they did Grammys when that album came out.
I liked that one much better than Rebel Extravaganza.
Oh yeah? Iíve been in contact with the drummer of Satyricon in the past, and he gave me a promo of their new one [Rebel Extravaganza?], and I feel that Rebel Extravaganza was much better than Iíve heard [from them], simply because I am not really into this whole black metal stuff. There are some good things that I really like, but on the whole, it is a bit too boring for me. I like more progressive, innovative stuff.
Like what? What is in your CD player right now?
Hmmm, whatís in my CD player right now? Oh, Winds, wow! [laughing] To tell you the truth, I really donít listen much to music. The reason for that is a lot of musicians will [find] themselves in that situation.
Is it the originality factor?
No, I work so much with music that when I donít work with music, my ears need rest. I sit and work the whole day with something and [when I] take a break, Iíd like to have a piece of mind. Instead of listening to music, I spend most of my time writing. Also, I never buy CDs. I have a very peculiar taste, so I can like something and then something can be relatively similar and I will totally not like it.
Have you heard some of the latest signings by The End Records?
I hadnít heard anything before The End Records and we started to cooperate, and basically Andreas gave me most of their releases, and I listened to most if it once or twice and it hasnít been something that really stuck with me. Most of the things I think are good in their own way, but it is not really my... For me to like something, it has to be extraordinarily unique and for metal albums, in particular, I donít think that there are very metal albums that I think are extremely great. There are a few bands that I really think are excellent...
What are some of those?
Common Andy, I am trying to get more out of you here!
[laughing] I know. Arcturus is one of the best metal bands of all time in my opinion. I think they have really accomplished some things. Everything they have has been great. Aspera Hiems Symfonia has really, really excellent melodies. I am not too keen about the vocals, because some of them are a bit too tiring, but musically, it is really great! And the second one, La Masquerade Infernale contains some really extraordinary pieces of work. I like it. And the new one [The Sham Mirrors], actually, took me quite a while to get into, because I thought it was very different. The only bad thing that I can say about Arcturus is that sometimes, especially in this new one, I wish that would have had a different production...
Other band, which I also think are really great, is Opeth. [For the next ten minutes or so, Andy and I discuss every Opeth album in detail]
Have you had a chance to see Opeth live?
eah, actually I have. I did see them live twice. The first time, I saw them in Los Angeles. What happened is I came late and they were also playing in San Francisco the next day, and I actually had some time off, and I figured since I am on vacation anyway, I might as well go an see them in San Francisco, so I did.
Did you introduce yourself?
All I did in the LA show was I walked up to the stage and gave them a Winds CD. I written to him [Mikael Akerfeldt] a couple of times over E-mail and weíve talked; I asked him if he wanted to do some guest vocals on Winds, but it was right at the time when he was doing big tours and things with Opeth, so he basically replied, saying that he did not have enough time.
Maybe he could do some singing on your next album.
Yeah, but now weíve kinda decided that we are probably going to keep just the four of us in the line-up and not do so many other things with people, because we fell when "you" saw the results of Reflections of the I, and other people have said this too, they think we should not have done anything differently. So we know that we donít really need it. The reason why I asked him is not because he is in another band, which is known...
It would seem that it can just be out of mutual respect...
Yeah, I think that he really has a great voice and I would be honored if he would sing on our record.
How did you get in touch with Travis Smith?
I wrote him an E-mail, asking him, if I remember correctly, something completely different. He wrote back, saying that he was a fan of many of our bands, and I donít remember if he had actually heard Winds or not, but I think he had, and he said that he was a fan of Winds. And I have seen for he has done for Opeth too, and I have seen couple of other things that has done, and I knew that he really had talent. Well, actually, thatís not really the main reason, because Roberto, the boss of the Avangarde Music, had used him before too and was really impressed as well.
The Diabolical Masquarade cover he did is incredible.
Yeah, so Roberto has really pushed us to use Travis as well. And Iíve also seen what he has done for Opeth and I thought it was great, and I knew he had big talent, but I also knew that he would have to end up doing something completely different than Iíve seen him do before. So he sent me some ideas, and it was really, really great stuff, and I was impressed, but it was totally not Winds.
There is your perfectionist quality again.
Exactly. So it was really great, but I just could not use it with Winds. We had long talks and I tried to explain to him, and he listened to the music. Basically, it took about 30 attempts, I think, [where] he made whole lot of different things. He sent me a different version of the cover, which had really great potential, and he kinda had to rebuild it from scratch. I would point out little details of stuff, because I am very picky and I have very much to say about Winds. At times, I was a little bit afraid that he would get pissed off, because he did not have the opportunity to do what he wanted, but when we were finished, he said to me that he thought this was one of the most interesting bands and [I was] one of his favorite people to work with.
His work fits the bandís image and lyrics to perfection. It looks as if the human soul is floating in this cosmos.
Yeah, for me, itís like hard to explain too, but you can see it as a horizon of the planet and something explodes out of the planet, and you look at it, and you donít understand what it is, but you know that itís really beautiful.
Ahhh, that works perfectly with the lyrical concept of "Continuance"! "From their burst of flames I came to be And to them I shall now return Beyond all horizons."
That has to be my favorite piece of lyrics on the whole album!
And you know what, it is mine too.
Every time I hear it, I just get goosebumps.
Thatís really good to hear, because I am very proud of that. Iíve written many things and Iíve even gone to school for writing, but in my opinion, this line is my greatest writing ever!
I think itís just the most perfect ending to a magnificent album.
Oh, thank you!
Andy, please tell me a little bit about your Age of Silence project.
Oh, gee, I did not expect to hear about that. Not many people know about it. Where did you hear this from?
You know, Iíve read it somewhere. Not exactly sure where, but it could have been one of the interviews you gave before. Can you please talk about it?
Yeah, I can. Itís going to be very different than Winds. Itís going to be much more weird. Itís going to be a little bit more heavy, actually, a bit more up-tempo. Itís going to be kinda like a rock album, but its going to have influences from jazz to thrash metal. Itís going to have very many different aspects of music, and I will, of course, use my trademark, the piano, some strings, and a little bit of the same instrumentation as in Winds, but done in a completely different way.
Who is involved in this project?
[laughing] Well, itís kinda a secret [laughing]. But there are some really, really, really big names.
Can we expect Mr. Hellhammer on the drums again?
I think we can safely say that we can expect him on drums, yes. Itís kind of him and I who started this project.
Since there are no blastbeats on the Winds album, could we possibly expect some in Age of Silence?
Actually, yes! But itís going to be used in a quite different way than originally, because I hate blast beats; they are boring and agonizing to listen to. Itís gonna to be a lot of changes in the music.
So is the majority of the music written for it?
I've written about 3 songs. Itís in the works, but not finished quite yet. [We talked for about 5 more minutes. I thanked Andy for a great interview and we hung up]