Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Interview with Stephan Wolff of TATIUS WOLFF by Dave Wolff

Interview with Stephan Wolff of TATIUS WOLFF

Why did you decide to found Tatius Wolff as a solo project instead of seeking musicians to form a complete band? Was it a matter of creative freedom or wanting to manage things independently, or both?
When I returned to Australia from Malta in 1998, I unsuccessfully tried to find a metal band to join. Eventually I gave up and stopped playing music for 17 years. In 2015, I wanted to learn bass and soon after, my first band from Malta, melodic doom death metal outfit Oblique Visions, asked me to start writing songs with them again. This kick started my passion but the distance made it difficult, and so eventually I found the courage to start a solo project. To this day, I am still looking for a band to join primarily to play live again.
I do like the creative freedom as a solo musician, my own creative outlet - and it means I'm a bit more relaxed style-wise if I do play in another band. Having complete control is a positive and negative. It's very easy to overdo certain aspects of your music if you are not careful and aware of your own personal flaws.
As an older 90's metal head, I do enjoy mentoring upcoming bands and solo artists, sharing my experiences and knowledge.

How many releases did you release with Oblique Visions while you were working with them? Are those releases still available? Is the band still recording and releasing new material?
We recorded a demo in our garage in 1994 called The Fallen. We played songs from this demo that never made it to our CD in a 20 year reunion gig in 2017, and they still sounded great 23 years later. That gig and the original demo songs can be found on YouTube.
In 1995 we self-financed 1000 CD's, Seas Of Serenity full length album. We spent two weeks recording and mixing it. It was well received and I still discover comments about how much people enjoy it two decades later.
We've discussed releasing the songs again on modern platforms, but I don't think we made a decision. Oblique Visions are still together, and they've found an excellent replacement for me, so they're busy writing new material - hopefully they'll release something in the near future.

How long were you an active musician in Malta and why did you decide to move to Australia? What led you to taking up music again after your seventeen year absence?
I was born and grew up in Australia and moved to Malta in 1990. I met the drummer from Oblique Visions at school and I played with them until 1998. My father had since returned to Australia and I still considered it my home at the time, so I decided to move back. It was a real cross-roads moment for me, I've had a few moments of regret because we could have done well as Oblique Visions but I was just blinded by family and personal priorities, so I chose a different route.
In 2014 I decided I wanted to play bass, so I bought a cheap one (the one you hear on the album) and started playing again. Then Oblique Visions asked me to start writing music with them and it just snowballed from there.

What aspects of alternative and gothic metal do you mix when writing compositions for this project? How do you define alternative and gothic metal and apply that definition to your songwriting, making it melodic and progressive?
I don't do it consciously - it just happens. I've always had a melancholic streak, so bands like Type O Negative just incredibly impressed me. Before I was a fan of Tool, I listened to Pink Floyd endlessly, especially The Wall. I just hear the music in my head and work out a way to play it.
I'm not a fan of genres, although I get why they exist. To be honest, I just recycled the genres of my favourite bands and said they were the genres of my music. Alternative metal (Tool), gothic metal (Type O Negative), industrial metal (Nine Inch Nails) and progressive metal (Tool/NIN). Please don't take this seriously, but I would define them simplistically like this - alternative metal is not brutal, not extreme metal vocals, gothic metal is pretty much doom metal (I don't know the difference personally), industrial has synths and sound samples of machines. While progressive is ... well ... not like what everyone else is doing.

Are you involved in other bands at present, or is Tatius Wolff your sole project? Do you produce each of your releases independently?
I would love to play live again and have tried to join bands, but I think I'm too intense as a band member. I think about this stuff 24x7, I have my methods, my shortcuts and I'm pretty sure I come across as controlling when for me, it's just me putting it out there that I have a way I do stuff. So yes, Tatius Wolff is my only project at the moment - and I'm already working on my next 15 track concept project, so I've got plenty to do.
Yeah, to date I've done everything without any real budget. I'm an IT engineer by trade and love to do stuff DIY. Even if it isn't perfect, I'm ok with that. It would be wonderful to get a deal where I could do my stuff professionally, but the likelihood of that happening is pretty slim.

What are the advantages of producing your material DIY instead of hiring professionals to produce your work?
While I have very little experience, the only advantage is saving money. If I had the budget to sink tens of thousands of dollars to have my music produced and promoted by professionals, then I would definitely choose that path. But I'm a big believer in learning as much as I can when you first start out, especially out of necessity. Then when you finally do have the budget to hire professionals, you'll know exactly what it's like to do what they're doing. You'll appreciate the value they bring to the project. You'll be able to describe your wishes and vision with more articulation because you've done it all before.
Now that I've got a bit of experience under my belt, I have the confidence to continue doing it all myself and hopefully an opportunity to hire professionals to do aspects of my project will happen in the future.

As someone who still prefers the term brutal when it comes to death metal/extreme metal vocals, I’ve researched videos by trained professionals who demonstrate the proper technique for those vocals so a singer does not damage his (or her) vocal cords. Would you consider branching out into those vocal styles if they could be done properly and they fit a given song?
I have tried and it requires a lot of skill. I'm sure with lots of practice I could manage to do something with brutal vocals technique - but I need to have the desire to sink the amount of time it takes to become proficient. I don't do things by halves, so it would be either commit to the long term goal of becoming really good at it or don't start at all. Time will tell if I get more into that style.

After releasing four singles for TW from 2017 to 2019 you are planning to release your debut full length The Relapse this June. The Relapse is a conceptual album about being suddenly struck with a debilitating illness and the ensuing journey from initial shock to reconciliation. What was the inspiration for this concept?
In October 2017 I found myself suddenly hospitalized with a bowel infection. After years of never being sick this was a huge shock to me. I didn't take this incident seriously enough and I didn't treat this issue with the respect I should have. Five weeks later, I was back in hospital with a bowel obstruction. I was surprised how helpless I was. I thought I wasn't going to get better for a very long time and I felt absolutely terrible, depressed, insignificant and irrelevant to the universe. I had to accept this was mostly out of my control and do what I had to, to stay out of hospital.

Some people would read your description of The Relapse and assume it’s pessimistic. How do you personally see it, having lived the experiences you write about?
Having a health issue relapse (return) will always be a significant experience to that person, and even if you've never had that happen to you, I'd hope you can relate to the themes anyway. I'm guessing that a lot of people have been suddenly hit with health issues at some point in their life, whether it's physical or mental illness. And I think we all go through a similar cycle of emotions with such an experience, telling ourselves we're fine and then finding out that's not the case.
I certainly didn't set out to make it pessimistic although I can see why someone could view it that way. For me it was just a life experience. A challenge that I had to face as much mental as physical, that in the end, I had to accept making changes to my lifestyle to get it under control.

Was it a difficult experience for you to capture those experiences in your lyrics? Looking back on the writing process, would you consider it cathartic?
For me at least, rather than trying to get the lyrics perfect the first time, the first thing I write is usually pretty crap. I try not to be critical about the lyrics initially knowing I will continue to shape them into something better every time I play the song.
So when I decided to write this album, I wanted to do something personal and expose my vulnerabilities. This is actually quite a scary thing to do. Sometimes I'd write a lyric and wonder if I'd went too far, if I'd given out too much information and what would people think of me. I guess the whole process was a bit cathartic, as I explored and unpacked my personal experience.

Having made it through your personal experiences, can you discuss how the lyrics on The Relapse reflect them?
Yeah, so the lyrics are meant to be vague and open to interpretation. Most of the songs contain two different characters of the same story. I didn't it to be specific to my experience, but rather anyone who has been in something similar would be able to relate to the emotions I was trying to convey. Each track in order takes you through an emotional roller-coaster ride, which reflects my own personal development as a musician as well as the real experience.

How much has readjusting your life spilled over into your recording career? In what ways will it affect your song and lyric writing, compared to the singles you released previously?
None really. The singles of 2017 were political in nature, which I do feel strongly about. But I wanted this concept album to be something much more vulnerable, hence the topic I chose. For the next album, I am still trying to land on another concept, which could be anything from a dark local tragedy to a film score. I will adjust my lyrics accordingly based on the concept. The music will be very similar, but may be less industrial, more blues or more death metal.

In what ways were your first singles political? What issues did you address in each of them? Were there any specific incidents that made you want to write about them?
Thumbscrews is about our western society being driven politically by fear, and the parallel to our former enemies who found themselves in a similar position. While Green was about the military industrial complex. I don't think there were any specific incidents that drove me to write these songs. They were primarily experiments as my first singles as a solo musician, to understand what was involved in releasing music. And I didn't have the courage to do vocals yet, so the vocals are all sampled.

What do you consider the most intense songs you recorded for The Relapse? How much feeling did you channel into them?
The Tormentor carries a lot of emotion. It describes bullying from the bully's point of view and is reflective of being bullied by a sickness. I think it's the heaviest and most intense song on the album. It goes back and forth between dark brooding song and intensely manic drums and guitars. It's the only song on the album with a blast beat. But I really enjoyed writing it, especially the Type O Negative inspired gothic metal breakdown in the middle.

How often have you had to adjust your lyrics while putting a song together? When you were writing The Relapse, were there any lyrics you ended up scrapping because they were too personal?
I'll continue to modify lyrics as the song gets more mature, taking more artistic license to the truth, etc. "Never let the truth ruin a good story" they say! If a phrase doesn't sit well, I'll do what I have to do to make it work in the song. Saying that though, I can't think of anything in particular that I scrapped from the original lyrics that didn't make the final song. As I said above, I write anything on the first pass expecting to cull it later on if it's crap anyway - so even if I did cull something, it would have been simply part of my own process of writing.

Do you plan to release more singles with political themes, or will you solely concentrate on longer conceptual albums?
Very possibly both! I have an idea for a concept three EP set which I only came up with this week. If the idea continues to have legs, then I will pursue it and it will definitely have political and societal themes in it.

Is there anything you want to tell the readers about the ideas you have in mind for this three EP set? What political and societal themes are you going to write about for it?
It's still very early days yet, but the backstory is based on three characters with very different political and social views. I am still working out the details, if they meet face to face, etc. But that's the jist of it.

Are you basing those characters on today’s political climate? Will you be touching on sensitive news topics to develop these characters?
I think the characters I am working with have been around for millennia. These characters are faceless and are not based on a specific person, but many different people with similar character traits. I'll give you one example - I have a character that has a violent streak. But I'm sure to everyone's surprise I'm basing him on two very unlikely people - Nelson Mandela and Jose Mujica. Both these "terrorists" (I use this term very loosely as I have great respect for both of them) end up becoming presidents, even though they had violent beginnings as freedom fighters.

Going by how much of the storyline you presently have to work with, how do you think people will respond to the finished project?
I have no idea. I hope some people will dig deep into the details and see the story for what it is. But I suspect, the majority of listeners won't be interested in the themes, and may not even recognize the characters that I'm am trying to connect them with. As long as the music makes you move, it doesn't matter. And as long as I'm enjoying the creation of these works, it shouldn't be a problem.

Provided that you continue to develop Tatius Wolff, how much of a chance does this project have of helping redefine underground music?
Haha - none that I am aware of. I might be helping bring back a revival of 90's metal. It's all very cyclical and a fellow solo metal artist I know, Ben Bernard of Blood Stained Glass, calls it the "20 Year Resonance". Kids grow up listening to their parents’ music and then rebel against the previous decade. If that is the case, then I might have a chance to be heard with my 90's inspired metal!
Thank you for your time - it was a pleasure to be interviewed with such depth and curiosity. Keep up the great work!

-Dave Wolff

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