Nick Thornbury, Chris Alfieri & Casey Aylward (Vattnet Viskar) interviewed

Vattnet Viskar

** New Hampshire's Vattnet Viskar aren't your typical black metal act. Actually, they're not black metal at all, but they're rather informed by the genre that pivots on darkness and evil. Listen to the riffs on debut album Sky Swallower and tell us you don't hear shades of Burzum or Emperor. Listen to the repetition on new album Settler and tell us you don't hear vintage Enslaved or Wolves in the Throne Room. Certainly, Vattnet Viskar revolve around a different, non-Satanic set of principles, the deepest of which can be heard and felt on Settler, with its hope-filled (but the light of inspiration dies) cover art. Let's dig deep with Vattnet Viskar!

Sky Swallower was received very well. What did you want to do differently, without alienating new fans, on Settler?
Nick Thornbury: These aren’t thoughts that had really crossed my mind. The only goal was to create an album that we’re proud of, and leave nothing on the table.  If you make an album that alienates some fans, and gains others, you’ve done something right.  Progress.
Chris Alfieri: Personally, I felt Sky Swallower was a very safe album in comparison to Settler. I wanted us to take as many chances as we possibly could leaving nothing off limits for our sophomore effort. We also took a much more live approach to song writing. We’re a pretty active and chaotic live band, and this album is definitely more suited for that.
Casey Aylward: Honestly, I don’t think alienating anyone was a real concern of ours. We knew that we needed to write a really good record, and we knew that it was going to be a departure from Sky Swallower in some ways. As we started writing, it became apparent quickly that the record was going to be aggressive, short, and really translate well live. My personal feeling is that the two records work great live together. Sky Swallower has more of the drawn-out/droning heavy parts as well as long ambient passages. Settler is more condensed and to the point, unrelenting in ways.

What was the writing process like for Settler? Sky Swallower had a very condensed writing session, right?
Nick Thornbury: I am still very proud of Sky Swallower, but I’ve said from day one that I know we have more in us.  This whole process was very natural and unforced.  Thankfully, we were much more on top of everything, and had plenty of time to sit with ideas and build on them this time around.  Opening ourselves up to branch out a little further brought a whole new wave of material with it.  We felt very good about everything when we went into the studio.
Chris Alfieri: We wrote the majority of Sky Swallower in about two weeks with two new members. Because we had more time and a much clearer head, Settler was a lot more relaxed and we were able to really hone in every part in every song. Seamus put his personality into the drum parts much more on this record, and The addition of Casey Aylward on bass proved to be a huge advantage in the writing phase. They both bring ideas to the table that I would’ve never thought of, that end up ruling.
Casey Aylward: I personally wasn’t involved in the writing process for SS. To me, this record was written in three separate time frames. We wrote two full songs (Impact and Heirs) before leaving for the Pallbearer tour. Nick returned to Austin, TX after that tour and Chris, Shay and I continued writing. I think we did "Cold War", "Colony" and a song called the "Hoof" that we left off the record. When Nick returned it was crunch time and we did "Settler", "Yearn", "Glory" and "Dawnlands". This is definitely a practice space record! Typically, Chris or Nick come with shells, or complete songs and we shed them out during practice. Some songs were finished when they were brought in, and some were definitely a labor of love. Either way we deconstructed the songs and made sure that everything made “sense.” Not gonna lie, there was a lot of second guessing as were dive into different territory on a lot of this record. In the end we stuck to our guns and back the fuck out of everything that made it onto the record.

The new songs feel deeper, more detailed. Was that the idea going or did that unfold naturally?
Nick Thornbury: Everything about this record is more personal.  The lyrics speak for themselves, but it’s always our goal to create a feeling with the music itself, the lyrics are just there to compliment that.  Just spending more time on everything and really focusing in allowed us to fine-tune that a lot more on this album.
Chris Alfieri: We definitely made a conscious effort to up our songwriting game from the beginning, but the outcome was the result of a natural occurrence. Once we were all in the space writing it just flowed out. Any little parts we hadn’t figured out by the time we were in the studio just ended up coming together with little effort. Adding Sanford Parker into the mix to record was a huge plus as well. He brought all the pedals.
Casey Aylward: Conceptually speaking, we knew that this record was going to have a lot of emotional weight behind it. We all had a lot of strange and life-altering things going on around the time of writing and working out the songs. Naturally, I think those circumstances have really permeated through in what is heard on Settler. Aside from that, we had a good amount of time to analyze and rehearse the songs so they were at a point where we were very confident going in to record. As a result I think we had a lot of time in the studio to mess around with details and textures. Deep, man.

Was there a particular song that directed the rest of the album? Sign post-type song?
Nick Thornbury: “Yearn” was one of the last few songs we wrote, but I think once that was down, we had a much more clear vision for the record overall.  Allowing ourselves to explore a sort of grungy, sinister place I’ve been looking for.
Chris Alfieri: For me the first song, "Dawnlands", once we wrote that the record felt like it had a feel. That song encompasses everything we do on the album into one song.
Casey Aylward: In my opinion, finishing the songs "Settler", "Yearn" and "Dawnlands" was the point where I realized that we really had something. Until then we were kind of just trying to write really good songs. In terms of directing the album, Impact was the first song we finished and it has this really sweeping/triumphant chorus. A chorus in general was a strange thing for this band, so I knew that it was on from there, we were down to just lay it on the line and take some risks.

Lyrically, where is the band coming from on Settler? The imagery points to hope or positivity… Yet there’s darkness in advancement…
Nick Thornbury: The lyrics are much more personal on this album, I really wanted to convey some raw, real emotion.  It was a rough year, and that’s reflected here.  I went through a divorce that crushed me and sent me into multiple mental breakdowns.  We’ve lost family members.  The list goes on.  And let’s not forget  all the other random petty bullshit that everyone deals with on a regular basis.  Overall, I would say Settler is about the huge highs and lows of life, and that nothing in life is as simple as everyone tells you.
Chris Alfieri: Much more introspective on this record than the last. I hear themes of overpowering loss and isolation but in an almost reluctantly hopeful way.
Casey Aylward: The lyrics are 100% Nick. Very proud of him for digging deep and writing some very personal and hopefully relatable lyrics. We all were on the same page that these new songs were different and would need very good lyrics to make the album feel substantial, not just the run-of-the-mill metal nonsense about wizards and dragons and shit, hard pass! Nick would show us lines and ideas along the way as he was writing and I was just bugging out sometimes over the stuff he was showing me. The lyrics and concepts that shine through to me on Settler is how your most happy moment in life can be immediately followed by the most paralyzing low moment in your life. And that there is nothing wrong with that, you deal with it and try to find a silver lining, and you move on.

The cover art is pretty interesting. How did that shape into the image that it is?
Nick Thornbury: It’s a recreation of a photo of Christa McAuliffe, a teacher from New Hampshire that was aboard the shuttle Challenger.  I saw it and thought it was one of the most conflicted things I’ve ever seen.  To be so happy, at the peak of life, only to have it all gone right after.  I used that a lot for inspiration, lyrically and musically, and it symbolizes the album perfectly.  Life rarely goes as planned, and this is an extreme example of that.
Chris Alfieri: Nick found this Christa McAuliffe photo that ended up being the basis for the entire album. I literally stared at that photo for months playing guitar. Its a photo of her in a zero gravity chamber and she looks so alive and glowing. The cover is an interpretation of that photo. I take from it that being meant to do something meaningful in your life isn’t always going to go the way it’s planned. Being on a path that you cannot stray from, even though you know that the end of the path is your destruction and the destruction of everything you know, you must do it, and you would choose no other way to live. Christa was from Concord, New Hampshire, the town that i live in. One of my first memories is the Challenger mission’s demise, so it’s a personal thing for me. But the album isn’t about the explosion, its about everything else. Pushing to become something else, something better. A transformation, and touching the divine.
Casey Aylward: I’m sure the other guys will tell the story behind the image itself, but I will just say that we fought our asses off to keep this artwork. We believe it perfectly encapsulates the record into an image, and we know it is fucking weird, it’s striking, it’s awkward in a way, but it works...at least in our opinion. We took a chance on the record, so why wouldn’t we take a chance with the artwork?

What was like work with Sanford?
Nick Thornbury: Sanford was so great.  At no point did we even have to have a discussion about the sound we wanted for the record, he just got it.  The man is a master.  The whole recording experience for this album was one of the highlights of my life, for sure.
Chris Alfieri: Incredible. Working and living at Matt Talbot’s (Hum) studio was one of the best experiences of my life. Sanford’s a talented guy and added so many new dimensions to our music. Stuff i heard in my head but could never actually translate down into music he would effortlessly come up with and add into the mix. Synths, pedals, we used whatever. no limits.
Casey Aylward: I had no idea what to expect going into working with Sanford. He has produced very beloved metal records, and I didn’t know how we were going to fit into that equation, especially considering the songs we brought in. I have to say it was probably one of the best experiences I’ve ever had in my life, period. We got to live in this strange brick building for a week in Tolono, IL, in a studio (Earth Analog Studios) owned by Matt Talbot from Hum (a dream come true) Sanford really enabled us to try anything we wanted! And I do mean anything [Laughs],  including clean vocals in "Dawnlands" that we ultimately cut out, which was for the best, but he let us try! Chris has a fucking guitar solo in "Cold War"! There were many whiskey and red wine-filled late nights, chaining up as many effects pedals as we had power and patch cables for and just creating walls of sounds/textures. Dude is funny as hell, has incredible stories, and just guided the process perfectly. He let us try anything, but always knew what served the song. Big thanks to Sanford, fuck a job!

What do you want fans to walk away with after experiencing Settler?
Nick Thornbury: I hope it’s something different for everyone.  It’s all very personal for me, but I hope it can feel the same for people listening to it, that maybe they can see a part of themselves in there.  Mostly I just want people to feel something, whatever that may be.
Chris Alfieri: that they have to see us live ASAP. I want them to hear the record and get that feel that they need to experience this in person. I always clung to records that would overtake me, and thus, id have to go see if the band can have the same effect live.
Casey Aylward: I am really hoping people approach this record with an open mind. That said, I obviously want as many people to love it as possible, but I understand that it is very unreasonable to expect people to have this record mean as much to them as it does to us. We poured so much into this whole process, that regardless of what happens it already feels like a success to me. Besides that, I implore people to come see a live show. I am beyond satisfied with the outcome that will permanently be trapped into some audio medium that is Settler, but bringing it to life every night is going to be the real reward for me.

You got a Swedish language band name… Think kids are used to odd metal band names by now?
Nick Thornbury: Yeah for sure.  The translation of ours still speaks volumes to me though, “the water is whispering”.  I could write an entire album on that.
Chris Alfieri: Yeah, for sure. there’s bands out there with way harder names to pronounce than ours.
Casey Aylward: Yeah... I think metal kids are used to it, but you roll into a Starbucks in “X” place, 4-5 dudes deep, all wearing black and everyone asks the dreaded question... “So are you in a band? What’s your band name? Oh I’ve never heard of them...” At which point I ask to see their phone or a piece of paper with a pen, because I’ve never had anyone catch the name on the first try.

** Vattnet Viskar's new album, Settler, is out now on Century Media Records. It's available HERE in a few rad configs.

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