In September WUTHERING HEIGHTS announced that they were back in the studio, but as it turned out there is not a new album in the making. We’ll let founder and guitarist ERIK RAVN explain.
Digging into the history of Wuthering Heights while planning this interview I noticed that there is an anniversary this year. The band was founded in 1989, right? When founded, how did Wuthering Heights fit in in the average (metal) music scene? I mean, did you invent something new, a new genre so to say, and was that intentionally?
Ravn: Oh, it’s so long ago, so it’s a bit hard to get back into our frame of mind back then. First thing is of course, that we were not called Wuthering Heights back then, that name didn’t come until around
1997 when we started working on the first album. But anyway, we were of course very young in 1989, basically just a bunch of school buddies, who wanted to be the hardest and biggest metal band in the world – like everyone does.
We really wanted to be like Helloween, but it quickly turned out that my songwriting was somewhat unorthodox. I started writing my own songs straight away, so we never really went through the usual method of covering your favorite bands. This has proved both a good and a bad thing over the years. Good, because we ended up with a pretty original sound. And bad, because it’s been a lot of work developing my own writing and playing methods, where it might have been quicker to study other musicians a bit closer. Especially when it comes to playing guitar properly. But, of course there were no internet back then, so it was a lot more difficult to find out how things were actually done. Besides, Denmark was not exactly the center of things – and we weren’t even in Copenhagen – so you really only had your favorite records and your imagination to help you make things up. But maybe it was also a good thing that we had to try a bit harder.
The young musicians today have amazing skills, but I don’t think their music is necessarily always better because of it. But anyway, about genres – we were pretty early with the folk influences. I started getting into folk music not much later than I got into metal, so it just came naturally to mix them up. But you must imagine a world where «folk metal» as a genre didn’t exist yet. There was Thin Lizzy and Gary Moore, and then about the same time as we were doing our thing, Skyclad came around, and Blind Guardian. So, I think we were originators in some respect, but because we never made it big, not many people may realize this.
As your bio states Wuthering Heights has never gained more than a cult status; why is that you think, and have ever, during those years, thought for yourself that you’ve deserved more?
Ravn: Of course, I think WH was an amazing band and could have been more successful – I mean, if I didn’t believe it, how could I expect anyone else to do so? But the odds were kind of against us all along. It was always a struggle finding capable musicians, then we’ve had a lot of record label troubles, plus the period was just really bad for metal.
We didn’t really stand a chance with our kind of sound until HammerFall came along and sort of turned the tides. It actually went pretty fast from then on, but of course we had already existed for many years at that time. Then as we were becoming a bit established, the whole music landscape changed, with downloading and all that, so you just stopped selling records. But maybe, all in all, the geography has been the main thing. Few metal acts from Denmark has made it, so, I guess we made the most of it that we could.
From the debut in 1999 (another anniversary?!) until your latest album in 2010, Wuthering Heights have released 5 albums. How would you say the band have developed during those years? And why has the band developed; is it you as a person and songwriter that has changed, is it external factors, lineup changes, or a mix?
Ravn: It’s of course a mix of a lot of things. But actually, because it took so long for us to get the debut out, I more or less had the next two albums written before we even started recording the first one. So, I had a pretty clear vision from the beginning. What has changed is really us becoming better at turning that vision into reality. That of course, has a lot to do with the actual players. Without Morten [Gade Sørensen] on the drums, we could never have done some of the more technical stuff we do. He enables me to write without having to think about what’s possible or not. And of course, Patrik’s [Nils Patrik Johansson] voice raised our sound to another level with his dramatic delivery. So, for all my line-up troubles I have definitely struck gold a few times in that respect. But also, I think that over the years you sort of distill you sound – it may not change but it becomes more precise and focused. You learn what your strengths are, and you become less inclined to include absolutely every one of your musical influences. You tend to become better at focusing on what benefits the song, and not so much about what you as a player would like to do.
You latest album was released 9 years ago. Everyone who follows the band knows the reason why it has been 9 years since Salt. I guess your back problems have improved. What can you say about that; what has changed since the band is back?
Ravn: Well, actually it hasn’t really changed. The thing is, my health issues are chronic and are unlikely to change. As this prevents me from keeping a job, I have no means of financing a band like WH. So, as I’ve tried to explain on numerous occasions, the band is not back as such. But we also were never really gone. Only the circumstances, and the possibilities of what we are able to do, have changed. My main concern is to secure the legacy of the band’s music. To this end, I am working on reissuing the back catalogue with improved sound and a lot of bonus material. In connection with this we are re-recording a few classic tracks in improved arrangements as well as one (long) new song. This is the kind of studio work we are still able to do. And there should really be a lot of stuff in there that the fans have asked for over the years.
In September you published a studio report stating that the band is back in the studio, but if I understand you correctly there is not a new WH album in the horizon?
Ravn: I have never stated that we are working on a new album, I guess people are reading too much into my statements. But I take it to mean that people still care about the band. I’m really sorry this is causing so much confusion as I hate to disappoint the fans. Really, the fans are the reason I’m still doing this. The new stuff we’re working on is the bonus material for the reissues, and this include some re-recorded tracks and a new track. But of course, it also adds to the confusion that I’ve said I’m working on a solo album. And that is a fact. That album is written and mostly recorded. But it’s not a WH album, although it should hopefully appeal to most WH fans.
We will talk more about the solo album later, but that means you are still writing?
Ravn: Of course, I’m always writing bits and pieces. But I don’t always know whether it’s going to be WH or something else. That only becomes clear later on in the process – and my songs take a lot of time to ripe.
But, I don’t know what the future would hold. I put the band on hold, because I couldn’t see things changing anytime soon, and that is more or less still the case. But a minstrel can’t stop playing, you know.
As we all know some of the members are busy with other bands/projects that affect the recording process a bit. Drummer Morten with Anubis Gate and vocalist Nils Patrik with Astral Doors and his upcoming solo album. Where you sure that they would still be around when you announced your «comeback»?
Ravn: No, I wasn’t, but I’m very happy they’re still there. I couldn’t really do it without them. But of course, the whole schedule nightmare is annoying, but we will get there. Good thing about not having a record label is you don’t have any deadlines. But of course, I want the music out there for the fans as soon as possible.
What have you personally been up to since 2010. Have you been active as a musician, or have you been occupied with other things?
Ravn: There really aren’t much other stuff in my life, at least not since I got my back issues. So, it’s what I do. I was in a cover band for a number of years, which was a lot of fun, because it was totally
unprofessional. Just four mates playing music, like in the early days. We even made an album, which was sort of a test for me as a producer.
I’ve been building my own studio and learning more about recording and producing, so that has taken some time of course. Also, I’ve been working much on my guitar sound and my playing. I don’t think I really found myself as a guitarist until after WH, actually. I’m much more confident in what I can and cannot do now. I know I’m never going to be a technically great guitar player, but I’m much more at ease with my style now – that it’s OK to rely more on melody and intensity than on flashy playing. So, I think my sound has improved a lot.
About the upcoming album, what can you tell me? I know there is only one new song, but does that represent Wuthering Heights lyrically and musically ? Or have the years on the sideline made you change completely?
Ravn: I can only speak for the one new song, and that is definitely still in the WH style. It’s really meant as a thank you to the fans, so it has some of our previous characters make a new appearance. So, its kind of rounds off the whole thing, if you like. My solo album is less metal, it’s more like Celtic heavy rock, and I think the lyrics are some of my best. I’m relying even more on the actual poetry of the words, so they are somewhat open for interpretation, but I guess my lyrical themes will always be roughly in the same area.
What are your thoughts on the future of Wuthering Heights?
Ravn: Well, as I said, my goal is to secure the legacy and make the music available again. I get a lot of questions from fans on how to get hold of our old albums. So, this is the main focus. Other than that, there are no plans at the moment.
What is the timeline regarding the upcoming reissues? When do you see the albums be released?
Ravn: I don’t know exactly how to finance it all. So, we will probably have to release them in installments. Any sales will then enable me to release further material. But these are complicated matters. There are copyright issues preventing me from just making everything available digitally, so I guess it will have to be some combination of physical and digital releases. But first of all, we need to get the material ready, and there are still both recordings, mixing and remastering that needs to be done. Good people are working on it, but as I said, making music is a matter of balancing schedules. The solo album also needs to be finished, but at least there are no business problems in doing this, so this should be released directly from me, as soon as it’s ready. So, for an inactive band, we’ve got quite a lot going on, haha!
What made you write a solo album – and not a new WH album?
Ravn: Actually, it’s not that different in terms of the writing for me, since WH is also very much a result of my personal tastes. So, it’s mainly for practical reasons. It’s sort of an experiment to see if I will be able to continue making listenable music on my limited budget. I simply don’t have the means anymore to do a full blown WH album production like we used to. So, I wanted to see how far I can get here at my own small studio.
But, having said that, I’ve always been fascinated by these self-contained producer/multi-musician-types, you know like Tom Scholz of Boston, who sat in his basement playing with tapes for years, then emerged with this monster of an album that outsold everything. I’ve always had this interest in the creative use of the studio, going right back to Alan Parsons, Pink Floyd, Beatles or Mike Oldfield. Or indeed ABBA, who were great live, but preferred the studio. I love ABBA – haha! Anyway, playing in a band is great and all, but I also really like the studio.
But most importantly, people have certain expectations about a band when it’s done a few albums. And while WH are known for being a bit unconventional, I wouldn’t want to disappoint the fans. So, since the style is somewhat of a departure, I think it’s fair to everybody to give it a different name.
As you said the solo album is quite different from WH in terms of the actual music, where the solo album is more like «Celtic heavy rock». What can you tell me about your fascination about that type of music (Celtic music); how/why did the solo album end up like a «Celtic rock album»?
Ravn: Well, actually the solo thing does contain some of the WH elements, it just doesn’t contain all of them, and so ends up being a bit different. It’s not like I’ve totally changed my approach to writing. But I think as you learn, you also learn to be more to the point and maybe not include too many different elements in one song. So, in some ways it’s a sort of more focused version of WH. It’s less symphonic and flashy, but I believe the melodic content is as strong as anything WH have done.
But anyway, I’ve just always had a thing for the Celtic lands, history and sounds, especially since I visited Scotland for the first time as a kid. As to the music, I started listening to folk music just around the same time that I started listening to metal, so it’s always been a shared journey, you know. And to me it just makes a lot of musical sense to combine it. Roughly speaking, folk music – Celtic, but also most other kinds – has two different expressions: it’s either melancholic songs or reckless happy abandon. And that’s more or less the two sides to the music of WH. The actual instrumentation does not so much define music for me as the sentiments it transports. And in that respect, I think folk and metal have more in common than you would immediately think.
And yeah, it’s a bit more rock. There’s not much speed metal on there. I generally like me some rock ‘n’ roll, but I’ve never really had the confidence to write that stuff myself. People who are not composers may not think about it, but making simple effective songs is very difficult. However, this time I’ve dared the experiment. Still, I must say it seems the usual thing always happens: I try making something like Bon Jovi, and it ends up sounding like Rush, so what do I know? HAHA!
Another thing is of course, that Gary Moore is one of my key influences. And he was working on a new folk-rock album when he died. And I was devastated that we never get to hear that. So, even though I’m of course no Gary Moore, I will at least try to make something of the kind of album that could have been. The kind of album that I would really love, but which nobody seems to make very often.