PILLARS OF THE 90S: AN INTERVIEW WITH WINTER
This is the Tenth installment of the Pillars interview series. You can check out the rest here]
Album: Into Darkness
Label: Future Shock Records
Favorite Song: "Eternal Frost"
The Bare Bones: Into Darkness is the only full length released by New York death-doom band Winter, which included Stephen Flam on guitar, vocalist/bass player John Alman, and drummer Joe Goncalves.
The Beating Heart: Pulling from the various poles of the artistic explosion that was the New York scene in the late 80s, Winter created a sound that was uniquely their own. Equal parts hardcore's passionate urgency the pummeling immensity of metal their masterful debut – and only – album Into Darkness was doomy, sludgy, and atmospheric, and helped set the blueprint for what would later called death-doom. And yet Into Darkness was also the story of an album slightly too ahead of its time, with the band calling it quits following its initial lukewarm reception only to be celebrated decades later as trailblazing metal pioneers. But like other visionary albums its style and sombre aggression would elude the frameworks set by later artists, with Into Darkness retaining its status as one of the most unique death metal albums ever.
All of which was more than ample reason for us to want to discuss this groundbreaking recording with Winter guitarist Stephen Flam, especially given two recent landmark events in Winter's ongoing legacy: the amazing 30-year-anniversary reissue by Svart Records that was released last year, and the excellent 2020 debut album by Flam's Göden, named for one of Winter's signature tracks, featuring some familiar Winter faces, and which serves as the long-awaited continuation to Winter's abruptly severed history. On a more personal note this interview proved more than the usual blessing of being able to discuss the music that has meant the most to be from the decade that probably did more than any other in shaping my musical outlook in the privilege of talking to a real bona New York legend such as Flam about such a dynamic and influential era in American metal. It was a real joy and an honor.
Before that, however, a few words about what this all is, and what I hope to achieve in an investigation of the great albums of the 1990s. I feel like what happened, inadvertently with the Albums of the Decade project was a documentation and to an extent consolidation of what it is that I have loved an admired about the music of the past 10 years or so. I began writing this blog as a way back into music and heavy music after something of a hiatus from metal in the early 2000s and it was for me an investigation not only of what I love but also why I love it. And those interviews were instrumental in my own understanding of my appreciation of music and, really of art more generally. However, having gone through that series as long as I have has also pitted me face to face with the understanding that the wellspring of my own musical inspiration as well as that of many of the artists I admire today – that weird, unique confluence of inspirations that made up the musical scene of the 1990s – had to be tackled in some way.
So, now that that's out of the way, follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Spotify (now also on Twitter!) and support whatever it is that we do on Patreon, and check out our kinda-sorta podcast, MATEKHET (YouTube, Spotify and all that). On to the interview with Stephen.
Do you remember a moment, probably as a younger person, when you heard a song or an album, or went to a show, and you felt that your brain was being rewired when you were listening to it? That you were completely shocked by what you were listening to, or elated, or surprised, and it kind of made you want to investigate further and maybe even become a musician yourself? With the added caveat, of course, that musicians probably experience this more than once in their lives, so I guess I’m asking for that one early moment you can think of.
I grew up in a musical family, my father was an avid record collector with over 50,000 records in my home, and he had his own record label called Bim Bam Boom Records.
What did he release?
He had about 30 releases, mostly 45s, black-vocal du-wop music, a lot of reissues from the 50s and mid 60s. So I grew up with…. My mother was pregnant with me at Woodstock. So, growing up me and my brother would go to shows every weekend, jazz festivals, and just whatever was happening at the time. New York was a music Mecca, especially in the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s and so we were going to shows constantly. When I became a teenager I remember my father giving me Led Zeppelin II, this was in 1978 maybe, somewhere around that period, and that resonated with me. I grew up in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, which is kind of an Italian neighborhood, it was a disco town but that never really did it for me. But when he gave me Zeppelin II and I heard that solo on “Whole Lotta Love” I was like: “Whoa, this is pretty cool!” And my father, being a record collector, was like: “What is it that you like about this?” And so we told him and he would literally give us 10 records at a time “Check these out, let me know what you want.” And obviously I was into the heavier stuff, and so the next record he gave me was Black Sabbath and he played “War Pigs” – that was game over for me. When I heard “War Pigs”…. I mean, I was already kind of a wild kid at the time, I was competing at BMX – I used to compete at Woodward, which is where all the X-Games kids compete – and so music like that went along with the lifestyle. And then that kind of grew, and as time went on I pointed out what elements I like and he would give me more and more records.
And then I started playing in some local groups. The first one was a thrash group. I was into thrash and all that stuff while it was being born – I literally have the Metallica No Life Til Leather demo cassette right here somewhere. So I was just basically getting into stuff as it was happening, New York was a cool place then – ride my skateboard, go on the subway, go to CBGB’s, check out the shows. The biggest influence was probably…. I had already been into all the metal stuff, but when Slayer’s Haunting the Chapel and that Hellhammer records came out….I bought that Hellhammer record when it came out, and then slowly all the other stuff started happening as well. And then I became really good friends with John Alman, the singer for Winter, he came into my neighborhood. I was more into the metal stuff and he was more into punk stuff like Amebix, Discharge and those kinds of groups. And so I got introduced to those while telling him “Check out Hellhammer, check out Carnivore” and all that and we just became good friends – we went to high school together. We started a group during high school and then right after high school – I finished high school in 1988. But to get back to your question, when I became friends with John I started going to all the hardcore shows and when I saw the Cro-Mags in CBGB’s….Age of Quarrel, it was fucking mayhem. It was nuts. New York was fire, it was insane, I would go to CBGB’s for every single show. It was a good vibe, there was a lot going on at the time – Brooklyn had its own scene with bands like Carnivore – Age of Retaliation was a big influence for me. A lot was going on. The newspapers for that kind of music were Maximumrocknroll, Thrasher magazine, and I was a part of BMX culture already so it all kind of came together.
You mentioned “War Pigs” before, it being an impactful moment…. And, by the way, that story about your dad asking you those questions and then giving you records to check out is absolutely amazing.
Yeah, I was very fortunate.
It makes it obvious that it wasn’t that he was in music, he loved music.
But you kind of paced you way from Led Zeppelin II where your ears are kind of pricking up, like “This is more my taste,” and then it gets incrementally heavier until you get to “War Pigs.” And I guess I was interested, other than the fact that you said the heavier music fit your lifestyle as a teenager, could you say what it was about that song that gripped you? Or even think about it now as a musician and try to figure out what it was that drew you toward that track?
Well, it was darker than anything that was out there at the time. I mean, just listen to the lyrics: “Generals gathered in their masses, just like witches at black masses”? Conceptually it was far from pop music, and when you put that in front of a rebellious teenager then obviously it’ll do something. And it builds on that and goes further and further. There was something about Black Sabbath, the key signatures they were playing in, their note selection, the arrangements. And it was raw, it was just raw. Ozzy’s vocals, they weren’t like some pop singer’s, do you know what I mean? Something about it was different. So I became less interested in Led Zeppelin, since they were basically falling back on a blues format, but Black Sabbath…. Master of Reality is still in my all-time top 10 albums. There was something about Sabbath that drew me in, and obviously to anyone in the doom genre, that’s kind of the overlord.
So the darkness is in the lyrics? The music? The whole package? Because Ozzy’s voice is such an unusual thing. When you think about metal, especially today, even Winter, it’s very guttural, it’s very low-end, and here you have this guy with this almost shrill, high-pitched voice and it’s somehow scarier. He’s not a “I’m scary because I’m a demon from hell” scary but he’s just an eerie presence, and the way he’s placed in those songs. So, was it a darkness of the subject matter or something beyond? The sound?
I’ve got to be honest with you, I love bands like Slayer or Celtic Frost, but lyrically they don’t do anything for me and they didn’t do that much for me back then, either. Black Sabbath was a big influence because sonically it pulled me in, and I thought it felt lyrically different than pop music. But lyrics from the more extreme metal genres really don’t do anything for me. When I got influenced by groups like Discharge or Amebix, those groups resonated with me lyrically. To me those groups had a little bit more to say, it wasn’t just like watching a horror movie. I’m not into the occult or any of those things and never was so those things were never important to me. That’s why I guess I related to the punk stuff, it was more about what was happening in the streets, what was happening in New York. It wasn’t always this nice safe place where one-bedroom apartments cost over 1 million dollars, it was a shit hole – spray-paint over everything, you kept your head down so that no would could say to you “Hey, what the fuck are you looking at!?” It was a different place. So the lyrics in hardcore resonated with me but musically the heavier stuff called out to me and so we kind of welded those things together.
So the way you describe it it was John coming in with the punk stuff, you’re coming in with the metal stuff, and it appears like the kind of story of a cross fertilization of the metal and hardcore scenes in New York, which is kind of a familiar story – Carnivore/Type O Negative, you guys, Biohazard. Obviously Winter didn’t last long as a band, but when you were writing those songs or playing them to your friends, did you have the sense that you belonged in a defined scene? That you were a punk band or that you were a metal band? Or were you in some weird space in the middle?
I think we had a metal sound with a punk state of mind. Our state of mind was to be socially aware of what was going on at the time. We played in both scenes. We lived on Long Island at the time and we got a lot of love on Long Island in a place called Sundance, which was a larger venue, and we opened for Sepultura, Death and a lot of other groups that passed through there. But then while this was going on we also played a lot in the lower east side of Manhattan, playing a lot of benefits, rock-against-racism shows, shows in squat buildings, and usually those benefits were for social causes. So we played both scenes, but to be honest with you I preferred the punk shows, I preferred playing in those squats and in those shows because I felt like the people that were there were actually trying to do something at the time. People were homesteading, they were squatting, the city, like I said, was a shit hole, and people were taking over abandoned buildings and living in them. They had nothing, they were poor. I was involved with that and I thought that was important. We played with groups like Nausea and that gang – “Squat or Rot!” [a collective and later a record label, MM] which was Ralphy’s [Ralph “Ralphy Boy” Lantigua] thing, he was in Slaughter and Disassociate and a bunch of other groups. And we played in that scene and I felt like those were our actual friends, they were the people we hung out with. But we were also into metal and they heavier stuff, and we would go to L'Amour in Brooklyn to see the metal shows. So, we kind of went between both.
And how did the punk scene respond to your music?
It’s funny because at that point in time everyone was playing hard and fast, raw energy, and we were on the other side of the spectrum, trying to play it as slow and as sludgy as we possibly could and constantly trying to mutate the music. When we were playing with certain groups, like Sepultura we sped it up a little bit and they dug it. I think people were really bored with us, there wasn’t that much interest. People didn’t really have an interest for what we were doing in the metal scene. The musicians loved it. When we were playing with Sepultura and those groups they would say: “Yo man, that’s cool!” and those guys were actively touring! So when we played it with them, they got it. But I think that the general audience, it was probably too slow for them and it wasn’t any real interest. When we played with the punk groups I think it was a bit of the same because when you go to a show you wanted to jump around, to jump off the stage or slam – you’re not really doing that with Winter. It’s more of a trippy, head thing. We didn’t get a negative vibe like “You guys suck!” it was more like “Wow, these guys are weird. It’s heavy, but it’s really slow.” It never really felt like we took off. And we were signed to a record label, Future Shock, that went bankrupt the second the record came out. So it was a lot of big hopes and then they pulled the rug out from under us. At that point, when the record label went bankrupt, and the drummer quit even before the record was done being recorded, we just meandered for a while and it just never really went into anything and the record lay dormant.
Before we get to the dormant part, because…. You know, the bands who I am interviewing for this project, some of them don’t last very long but were influential, and some of those bands are still around, but I think you guys are one of the more extreme versions in terms of longevity, or lack thereof. But before I get to that I’m trying to understand how it was that when take a kid who listens to Slayer and Hellhammer and then take a kid who listens to Discharge and Amebix and put those two together – that doesn’t sound like the making of a doom record.
Well, we listened to a lot of other music beside that.
Oh, yeah, of course, but I’m trying to figure out how that happened. Because one of the things that make Into Darkness so interesting for me is that I get why it’s labelled death-doom but to me it doesn’t sound like a death-doom album, it sounds like a slowed-down hardcore record. And I think that has to do with the sounds of the time as well as your influences and all that but I guess I’m wondering how that sound evolved form what you’re describing as your influences which seems like it should have gone to some crossover thrash thing but ends up being this slow-spaced metal?
If you really break down the chord progressions when you listen to a Discharge record or when you listen to an Amebix record these people all use the same structures – A B A B, a C section, a mid section. Everyone’s basically playing the same shit. So you have to think about a way of making it a little bit different. And with the Winter stuff, one of the things we wanted to do when we started getting pretty close to recording Into Darkness was to stop listening to a lot of current stuff. Just this tunnel vision of not listening to anything because we didn’t want to be influenced by what was going on around us. We already had enough influence in us from what we heard before that. And so we had gotten a rehearsal room that we basically lived in and we would rehearse like five days a week. It was going to work, getting home, changing from my dirty work clothes – I was doing manual labor at the time – put some clothes on and basically hung out there all night for the music. We recorded everything. We just tried to stay away from the standard things. Like, everyone was chugging and we said: “We’re not going to chug,” and if you listen to Into Darkness there isn’t a lot of chugging going on there except “Servants of the Warsmen” and maybe “Into Darkness.” That’s it. And when we would play some of the riffs, sometimes we would play them over and over until we’re almost drunk on the riff and then go back the next day and listen to it and go: “Yo, when it’s starting to go a little off there, that’s where we need to go.”
So, we tried to break away from the mould and that’s still how we did it with the Göden record. But I can tell you this – we were not really listening to Death or Sepultura or any of those groups. The only groups out of that genre that I really listened to were Slayer, Celtic Frost, Hellhammer, but I didn’t really follow that music. By the time Into Darkness came out I was listening to Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew, I was trying not to listen to anything heavy, because I didn’t really want to be influenced by all that. So things like Bitches’ Brew added all the dark ambient stuff that we wanted. People don’t realize that Into Darkness was done being recorded – had not been mixed yet – and me and John [Alman] were listening back to it and saying: “This needs something else. You have all those long chord progressions, there needs to be something else there.” So we had a friend who was the manager of a record store by the name of Tony Pinnisi – he was an older cat, probably 40 years old, and we were about 19. So he was much older and a seasoned musician through the 60s and 70s, he was like Keith Emerson, instruments and keyboards all around, he was like one of those guys who didn’t need to have a band to make music. And so someone introduced us to him. And we went to his house and his basement is filled with instruments, and he just hit a couple of keys and me and John went: “Whoa, this guy, this is what we need.” He had these two Moog synthesizers and he just started to tune that shit up and we went: “Wait! What was that!?” and he was like: “What? I’m just tuning it up” and we said: “That’s a cool sound, let’s use that!”
So John and I went back to the studio, we didn’t want to mix it yet, because we knew it needed something else to make it spacier. And that extra bit of keyboards is what adds that ambient element to the record. We went back, and the recording engineer was Greg Marchak, and he was an older cat too. And I’ll never forget when Tony went into the other room and he was looking at him through the glass and the engineer was looking at 19-year-old me and John and goes: “Where did you two find that guy?” Like, literally, this guy was a seasoned musician who experienced the whole psychedelic music era. And I went: “Hey, do you need me to write out the music?” and he went: “Nah, I don’t need any of that, start the track.” He went it, did a couple of things – it wasn’t like today where you could have 30 takes on a hard drive, he just listened to what we did and did a couple of things. He played on maybe four or five songs, Tony, and he brought that new element that brought the music to a different place. If you listen to “Oppression Freedom / Oppression (Reprise)” and take the keyboards out of that then as far as I’m concerned the song is boring. We played Roadburn [in 2011] without Tony, we couldn’t bring him with us because his mom had just passed away, and I remember we were really bummed because we always felt that he was a really important element of the group. And I listened back to the Roadburn show, which was the first show in like 25 years, and went: “Man, it really needs the keyboards.”
It’s interesting because there’s so much stuff going on in New York, and obviously having Tony is also related to the fact that you were in New York and you’re surrounded by these opportunities to even bump into these people at that time. And all these overlapping eras – he’s coming from the psychedelic/proggy era and you guys are coming from punk and metal. But I think that one of the most interesting things you mentioned was intentionally trying not to do something. And one of the things that is apparent on the album – and I didn’t know you didn’t want to chug – that there are moments in songs, like in “Power and Might” and “Destiny” or “Into Darkness” where you kind of go crazy toward the end. It’s not chugging, but it’s this rhythmic death-metal thing, and it’s so out of nowhere, because you’re so engrossed in the atmosphere, that it’s like being punched in the face. So, I wanted to ask about those parts and why you decided to speed it up in certain moments, but I guess one guess would be that at that moment you’re so out of it that when the heavy stuff comes in then it achieves the effect that much more. Is that about it?
I think that if you listen to some of the passages – we’ll just use the song “Into Darkness.” So, the middle section of the song that goes really slow, that goes on for about five minutes and at some point you’re going to have to break away from it or it would be 10 minutes of us doing the same progression. And we realized that we wanted it to develop into something and that was the highlight part, where it built up a little bit. So you just look at the different sections of the song, kind of lay them out…. And we liked the riff. But, like I said, I recorded everything, I always had a tape recorder going. I was the nerdy guy with the camera – I have hundreds of photos of everyone hanging out at CBGB’s, at squat buildings. Recorded VHS too.
All that video footage, do you still have that?
Yeah, I have everything.
And do you plan on archiving it or something?
It’s already archived, I’ve already digitized all of it. I had to preserve it, it was all stuff that was 30 years old.
Is it online somewhere?
I just keep it, I just hold on to it. With Svart Records we just reissued the Servants of the Wars demo tape, so if there’s something worthy we’l… But all the rehearsals and all the tapes, if they’re not backed up or preserved they deteriorate and the tapes break. So, yeah I preserved it, and I used some of those riffs for the Göden record, just a couple of old riffs that I saved. I think that David Bowie said that nothing gets wasted. It might not look like it but that song you wrote, ten years from now you’ll go “Oh, I remember that riff, that’s a good riff, let’s use it for something.” So I do like to hold on to those things and archive them. Sometimes it might not work for something you’re working on currently but they might work for something five years from now.
Cool. OK, so now we’re getting to the “dormant” part, “part A,” which is that a few years ago I thought about interviewing you guys and I find it kind of difficult to locate you and kind of going through what you did in the meantime, and I remember thinking that not only are you a band that released this amazing record that everyone still listens to 30 years later but it’s as if – and I know that’s not entirely accurate, because you hard Thorn after Winter and you had a stint with Serpentine Path – but basically it appeared as though once Winter was done you guys were done with music. So, obviously you were more involved then this description does justice, but what happened there?
Well, for the Winter part, after the record label went bankrupt that kind of took the wind out of our sails. That was the first hit. The drummer quitting – as soon as he was done with the drum tracks, in the studio – was another reason. And then when the record was out, there was not record label to PR it. So there’s this record that came out on Future Shock Records that was all independent, I think we were the only record on that label, from someone locally in New York who loved the group and really wanted to put our record out, and it just kind of sat dormant. Trust me, I love Into Darkness, it’s one of my favorite records, and we put a lot of energy into making that record. I mean, like I said, me and John spent five days a week – we had no girlfriends, we had no life, we were just two teenagers that were focused on writing the music. That’s what we did, that’s what we loved, music, that’s what we talked about all day long. There were no cellphones, there was no internet, there was nothing in 1989. The only thing you had going on was Maximumrocknroll.
And so, people were just not interested in Into Darkness at the time. No one thought we sucked but no one was going crazy too. It was more of a cerebral thing and people weren’t looking to be cerebral [laughs] at that time, and if they were they certainly weren’t listening to heavy music. That might not have been the genre you were going to for something heady like that. And without a record label or anything it just came out, the sale went up, the sale went done, it was game over. There was no funding, there was no PR, there was nothing. I think Kerrang was one of the only review, they gave us four Ks or something, a great review, they loved it, they thought it was different, said it was maybe a little too slow, but compared to what was going on at the time what could we even think the reaction was going to be? It just totally did not fit in, that puzzle piece did not fit in to the standard of what people were looking for in the genre. Which is fine, I didn’t write that music for an audience we did it because it was what we truly liked and enjoyed – there was zero compromise on that record. We did exactly what we wanted to do, the label didn’t tell us anything about how to do it. We even put things in the record saying it wasn’t a death metal record. Literally, if you look at the original PR flyer that came with the record and that was also there when we did the reissue, it says that we’re not into death metal and that we don’t even affiliate ourselves with that music, we’re just musicians concerned about the world and the environment in which we live. Which is really saying that we were more like a punk group than we were a metal group. We made it very clear that that was who we were. So there was no confusion about that, people weren’t that into it.
Also, we could never find a drummer to replace our drummer [Joe Goncalves]. Scott Lewis from Brutal Truth filled in and right when the record came out we did a few shows with him, and that was kind of it. Scott was cool, he was the perfect drummer to sit in, and Nausea broke up at the same time and we played gigs with them. And when we played “Rock Against Racism” in Ottawa then Roy [Mayorga] filled in, the drummer from Nausea. I remember looking back and thinking: “This guy is a good drummer,” probably the best drummer I’ve ever played with. So, at that point Nausea broke up, Winter broke up, John didn’t want to make music anymore. It was depressing. Yeah, it was a year and a half between coming together and that record but, like I said, that was a year and a half of five rehearsals a week – we lived and breathed that record, every little idiosyncrasy, where the feedback was, where that was. It was really thought out. We were pretty specific with that sonically – how we were tuned, we were tuned pretty low back then and it was hard to make the instruments stay like that. We had friends who were guitar techs for bigger groups and we explained our needs to them and really tailored our instruments. I started to build my own guitars back then – I started making my own guitars in 1988 and ever since then I’ve never used a standard guitar in my life. So, we were really looking for ways to make it sound different, literally trying to go out of the realm.
But no one was interested so I just hung out with the guys from Nausea after they broke up, having drinks with them, and they were bummed – Roy and John John [Messe] they were working hard on Nausea too and so we just went: “Why don’t we just try something new?” And that’ when we got together, I got rid of the Winter rehearsal room and got a different one in Little Italy with those guys and we wrote the Thorn record. We just moved on. We didn’t bang our heads against the wall, you just have to move on at some point.
You’re obviously right but – and this is the “Dormant Part B.” So, the first part was about you guys going away as soon as you did. But what happened over time is that the scene caught up to you and some of the things Winter had done when it did them were becoming more accepted. And actually that crossover between the scenes was becoming a prominent feature of the metal scene.
And so I guess I should be asking about the longevity that record eventually had as a work of art, but was any of that frustrating for you?
As far as what?
As far as seeing people do things that five, ten years prior would not have been understood and then suddenly people getting it and maybe thinking “Had we released now maybe things would have been different for us?”
No, not really. Like I said, we had 110 percent artistic freedom, we did everything that we wanted to do, we created the sound that we wanted to get with Greg Marchak, the engineer. Later, when that style was becoming more popular, that’s around the time Greg Anderson [of Southern Lord Recordings] approached me. I knew that people were into it, people from the underground that were into it and so on, and other groups starting to mimic it like 13, that group with Liz [Buckingham] from Electric Wizard. But it wasn’t like it is now where it’s a whole genre – no one even knew what to call us. But, no, I don’t look back and…. Like you can see I have all my records here and we all have great records in our collections where we go: “Hey, whatever happened to that group?” and no one knows what happened, just oblivion. I loved the record, but it never caught on, but then it actually did catch no so I’m grateful for that. I put a lot of time and energy into it and we all put a lot of time and energy into things that don’t work out, it doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with it, you just need to let it go. I was never bummed out about it. At that stage of my life, I would have loved to go on tour – I was 19 years old, you could have thrown me into a van and I would have lived in that fan for the next two years and I would have been happy just to do it, but that wasn’t available to us. But we did have Thorn, and that was a cool project too.
Greg got in touch with me through a mutual acquaintance – I didn’t know anything about Southern Lord Recordings or who Greg was or anything. But one of my friends told me: “There’s this guy with a record label called Southern Lord that loves your record, hasn’t stopped listening to it” and I thought that was cool. So I spoke with Greg and he was like: “I’m a huge fan, I love your record, I grew up listening to it, and I’d really like to put it out.” At that point the Nuclear Blast thing hadn’t come out, it was just sitting dormant for years, and everyone moved on in life at that point – John had kids, people had lives going on with children and stuff like that. It was something cool that we did and me and John stayed friends – we’d cycle together and do stuff together, and we didn’t really talk about Winter at that point, it was just some shit we did when we were 19. But Greg kind of put the jumper cables on us, and he said: “I want to put the record out” and I said: “Look man, if you want to put the record out, I checked out your label, it’s really cool. I’m down with it” and my friends who are really into that music said: “Southern Lord is a cool label, you should put it out through that label.” And it turned out cool – Greg did a righteous job, put it together and was super cool with us.
The whole Roadburn thing [the group reformed to play Into Darkness in the 2011 edition of the Roadburn Festival, curated that year by Greg Anderson, MM] was weird because Greg told us: “Hey, I’m curating Roadburn and I want Winter to play.” And I remember saying: “Dude, we’re not interested in playing any gigs” and he said: “Listen to me, you guys are not active, you’re not updated on what’s going on, but people like your record. Before you decline, all I ask you guys to do is just go online, take a look at the roster, take a look who has played it before. That’s all I’m asking of you. And if you still don’t want to play it at that point, I’m cool.” So we thought that was fair, and I remember the night John and myself went to take a look at it and John went: “Are you kidding me!? Look at this roster” – it had Godflesh, Swans, who I love, Sunn O))), Corrosion of Conformity. CoC was doing Animosity, Godflesh was doing Streetcleaner and so I go: “Do you want to play this!?” and John went: “Let’s do it! We can just go to Tony’s basement!” Everything was still there, he never took any of his stuff down!
So we put all the equipment in Tony’s basement and I told Greg we’d only do it on one condition that we’re on the same night Sunn O))) plays and we don’t get a crappy slot [laughs] and he was like “I can do that.” And it was great, it was like a Saturday night, right before Corrosion of Conformity, it was a great slot, they treated us really nicely and they made it worthwhile for us to do it. So, we played the show and after that show we just started getting offers everywhere to play, and we were like: “Wow, people are really interested in this record!” So we played Maryland Deathfest, and then Greg told us about The Power of the Riff West and we were like: “Shit, might as well, we rehearsed already.” So, we did that too, and then they did a The Power of the Riff East and we did that with Sunn O))) and a couple of other shows. And it was pretty cool. And around that time I met the guys in Serpentine Path, but then I ran into some health issues and so I had to take a step back. But I guess Greg Anderson put the jumper cables, I had no idea. When we played Roadburn I couldn’t believe it. The guy who runs Roadburn told us it was the first time he saw that every single door in the theater was open so that you could see the light coming in – everybody was trying to get in to see us and they were holding the doors open. And I was like: “Wow, people are really into this shit.” It was a pretty exciting moment.
It’s as if someone teleported onto another planet where you guys are celebrities.
[Laughs] One-hundred percent! We couldn’t believe it, literally. My wife came along with us to the gig, and she’s standing in the crowd right in the front and even she said that the energy in the room was just unbelievable. Everyone who was there was watching us, and I was obviously nervous, I hadn’t even stood on a stage in 25 years. And so, yeah, Greg was cool. I really think him for that.
This is more of a thought than a question – I deal with literature a lot, and one of the interesting things that happen is that culture has trends. Sometimes people like certain things and then they get tired of them and the tastes change, and every time there’s a significant switch the canon – the works that everyone has to know – it changes. Because suddenly there’s a person who is an admirer of this or that book or poet that never received adequate recognition and they go: “I think that book was ahead of its time, let’s take another look.” And actually that’s exactly what happened with Moby Dick – the book was released, was a commercial failure, and actually kind of a doom-metal of a book – very slow, very long, and so on. And it’s only until the beginning of the twentieth century that people went: “Wait, weird literature that doesn’t really get anywhere, that actually reminds me of that book that was published almost 100 years ago, maybe we should revisit that.” And because of that reaching back into history that Moby Dick is now considered the greatest American novel. And there’s something about the deal with Greg that kind of sounds like that. Knowing Greg’s work and attitude, also a person who came up through hardcore, and knowing how he came into what we’re now calling doom metal and his sensibilities – of course Greg Anderson loved Winter! And so when we became a record label person he had the opportunity of dragging you guys back into the sunlight and go: “You think that Sunn O))) and Burning Witch and Thorr’s Hammer are these innovative bands, listen to this band! It’s all there!” There’s something very heartwarming about that, that if you put yourself completely into something you believe in and that’s different then it may not be of your time but it might be of another time.”
That’s why I’m always so grateful. Like I said, we all have other records in our collections of bands that don’t even have that opportunity of someone like Greg Anderson coming in and dragging them out to the light, like you said. It just doesn’t happen. So, are we grateful for it? Absolutely. Ultimately we had the opportunity to make Winter shine at Roadburn, is there anything that’s better than that? And Greg facilitated that for us. We wanted to turn it down! And he said: “No, don’t turn it down, look at it first.” So, yeah, we’re totally grateful for that and for even to have the opportunity to talk to someone like you. I mean, take a look around me, this is kind of my music cave. I enjoy music, I don’t do it for a living, it’s part of my soul and of who I am, I will write music probably until the day I die because it’s something that I love doing. I love creating stuff, I’m an artist. Listen, I’m in fitness, if you Google my name and fitness, that’s what I’ve been doing for the last two decades basically, but I have other things that I love too. I can’t make a living from it, but it’s something that I enjoy. And now with this new reissue, it's great.
I hate to break it to you Stephen, but everyone’s a Winter fan.
And Svart is just one other logical home for your music – forward thinking, metal but with a lot of hardcore. So, I just think it’s a great story. But now for the final question: When you look back at Into Darkness, is there anything specific about that album that you’re still very proud of? A decision you’re happy you made?
I’m very happy we didn’t rush to put the record out and put Tony Pinnisi to the record. Adding the keyboards gave the record a certain feeling, it feels different. You take the chord progressions he’s playing along to the music away…. When we rehearsed without him before Roadburn I just went: “Man, this is what it would have sounded like without the keyboards.” He was just a blessing. And also Joey Gonclaves, who wrote the lyrics. I can’t write lyrics. I’m good with the music and that element of it, I know what sounds right, but I’m not a lyricist and John wasn’t a lyricist either. And Joey was able to take concepts that we had and turn into something. Like: Instead of saying: “The system is oppressing us,” which sounds a little more hardcore, you have a line like in “Eternal Frost” that goes “Scattered ashes of kings.” I couldn’t come up with that! But Joey writes! He didn’t talk about it much because he was on the drums, but he had a poetry thing on the side, and I took a look at them and went: “Joey, these are really good!” And so I’m really proud of that fact that we have good lyrics, because you can have music that’s good but then the lyrics blow, and vice versa.
And they fit the music perfectly.
So those two elements are really important. I think everyone had something that they brought to the table and shined. Obviously I’m not going to add any wicked guitar leads or whatever, but I do the things that I do well. John’s not Jaco Pastorius on bass but he definitely knows how to keep the bass low and sludgy. He certainly ain’t no Frank Sinatra, and so on. And we all did what we did and it came across. Veronica Kross, I’m really proud of the artwork on that record. Veronica was a local friend and one of the best artists that I knew, just a natural artist, an artist that wanted to be an artist, and she was into all the punk stuff too. And when we told her: “We want a logo that’s a little bit like this and a little bit like that, take this logo and that logo put them together” and we ended up with the Winter logo, which is a cool logo. And all the artwork, she hand made all of the artwork. There wasn’t any “copy and paste,” there was no photoshop, that was all legitimate artwork that she drew just for the record.
When we did the Southern Lord release Stephen O’Malley put it together and he said: “Yeah, just send me the artwork.” Then he calls me up on the phone and said: “Bro, this is real artwork you sent me!” and I was: “Yeah, I had it in a fucking shoe box!”
And he was like: “Dude! She actually drew everything!” and I was like: “Yeah, she did the artwork in 1989, there were no computers in 1989! If you wanted to look up something you went to the microfilm at the library!” So, great artwork, Tony on the keyboards, Joey with the lyrics, and how everything came together. And having that unlimited time to do whatever we wanted, and then flopping initially but getting the gratification 25 years later – actually now with Svart it’s 30 years later.