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Band Interviews Features Interviews

An Interview With Sean Deth (Witchhelm, Osi and the Jupiter, Burial Oath, Ulven)

If you’re a regular reader of this site, then you know we’ve written about Ohio-based musician Sean Deth and his various projects several times before on these (virtual) pages. There’s a very good reason for that, beyond just the that fact that he’s a good dude (which he totally is). Deth is also one of the hardest working, most prolific musicians in all of extreme music. With every new release by one of his projects, he sets the bar higher and higher for whatever he does next, and this far he’s always managed to top himself. I have no fucking clue how he does it.

His latest and greatest is Uthuling Hyl, the second full-length from his Northern/Pagan folk project Osi and the Jupiter. Named after his beloved German Shepherds, the project sees Deth delve deep into the Norse musical traditions, learning how to play numerous traditional instruments in the process so that he could handle the majority of the recording himself. I think it’s easily the best thing he’s ever done, but I say that about almost everything he releases until the next album comes out.

Deth is also now the first musician we’ve interviewed twice here at the Vault, and with the number of great projects he has going I doubt it will be the last time we chat. This time around, we talk about the new Osi record and his last release, Witchhelm‘s acoustic All Hail…and Death EP.

Indy Metal Vault: Hey, man. Thanks for agreeing to chat with us again. It’s been a little over a year since the last time we talked. So what have you been up to? Anything new in the world of Sean Deth?

Of course, I’m kidding…you’re one of the busiest musicians in all of extreme music. Since I know I’ll probably miss at least one if I try to run them all down myself, can you give a recap of what all you’ve released since we talked last August?

Sean Deth: Hello, Nothing too new coming up, Im just working a lot and playing shows with Burial Oath. Burial Oath is also writing new material, so keep your eyes peeled. I’ve been mainly tied up with the label that will be releasing the Osi and the Jupiter stuff.

IMV: Speaking of new things and the label releasing the Osi stuff, you just signed with Eisenwald for the physical release of Uthuling Hyl. That’s a huge deal, and puts you in some pretty good company (Agalloch, Fen, Forefather and Drudkh have all released albums on Eisenwald, just to name a few). How did that come about? I see that the CD version is up for pre-order – will other formats (like cassette) follow? Are any of your other bands included in the deal as well?

SD: I think it was luck? I don’t really know, but I am very excited about working with them. they are very good people and they are already doing a lot for me, they contacted me with an offer. No other of my bands were included in the deal.

IMV: How are you able to maintain that level high a level of productivity? I mean, not only do you release a lot of music, it’s all of exceptionally high quality. When the Burial Oath record came out, I was like ‘this is the best thing he’s ever done.’ And then the Witchhelm EP came out and topped it. And then the Osi and the Jupiter record topped both of those. Do you have a giant backlog of riffs or something that you pull from, or do you write more in the moment for each release?

SD: Thanks for the compliment. Kind of both, I do have a lot of riffs backlogged, but half the time it is in the moment type of stuff, like the “Oh damn I got this song idea in my head, Welp lets go home to jot everything down and start constructing.” There’s also a lot of stuff I come up with when I can’t come home right away, Sometimes I’ll hum into my phone recorder too make sure I remember.

IMV: Along those same lines, how rigorously do you self-edit when you’re writing? For every song that appears on an album, roughly how many ideas or partial songs get abandoned along the way? Or do you keep working each idea until you can use it for something?

SD: About 30 % gets scraped. Sometimes I’ll come back to an old idea and refurbish it. Sometimes I get so engulfed in an idea that I like and just stay with it. The good thing about Burial Oath is that we all write together as a band. All three of us have a lot of material and riffs to work off of.

IMV: I remembered you were talking about an acoustic project the last time you spoke to the Vault, so when Witchhelm’s All Hail…and Death EP appeared earlier this year, I thought that must have been the record you were working on. Looking back at that interview to prep for this one, though, it turns out you were actually discussing the first Osi record. So where did the idea to do a dark folk-esque Witchhelm EP come from? Was that something that was in the works at the time as well?

SD: Both of those albums were kind of all songs I had in the works for a long time. I was planing on doing a completely new project but I decided not. I had a bunch of riffs I wrote as a teen in the 90’s acoustically that I revamped as well. Also a lot of people liked my acoustic stuff off all the Witchhelm albums, so that made me want to use certain songs for an acoustic Witchhelm album as well.

IMV: With the exception of “Death Worship,” the arrangements on the EP are pretty sparse. Did you mostly record it on your own? Was there ever any thought given to releasing it as a solo record instead of under the Witchhelm banner?

SD: Yes, I have a home studio, I call Odenic Studios since the Benighted Empire days in the late 2000’s. Like I did say though, I wanted to give the fans an acoustic album and I as well wanted to do that for Witchhelm.

IMV: What were your main songwriting influences on All Hail…? To my ears, it sounds like a fairly eclectic mix that draws just as much from Nirvana’s Unplugged record as it does from someone like Townes Van Zandt.

SD: Well, Agents of Oblivion is a big one, Tenhi, Solstifir, Ulver, Chelsea Wolfe, In Gowns Ring, Neil Young, List goes on but those are the biggest influences.

IMV: All Hail…  on cassette through Graven Earth. How did you hook up with the label? 

SD: For All Hail… Graven Earth got ahold of me to release it.  They’re very easy to work with and I would love to work with them again on any future Witchhelm stuff if they’re interested. Very good people.

IMV: I already mentioned this, but I was absolutely floored by the Osi and the Jupiter record, Uthuling Hyl – it is just flat-out fucking gorgeous from start to finish. What drew you to that particular style of music, since it’s a something of a departure from the sort of music you usually make?

SD: Benighted Empire started off as like a Pagan Black Metal Bathory worship band in the mid 2000’s, with that gritty BM recording quality, and many of my lyrics stem from a lot of nature and pagan beliefs, not all but many. I always wanted to do more of a project that comes from me spiritually and that was more primitive, so I formed Osi and the Jupiter, named it after my two german shepherds Osiris and Jupiter. This project is close too my heart, and I’ve taken the most time on everything I record and write for this. I guess patience does give little more. Bands Like Wardruna, Fordom, Tenhi, Ulver and more have been a big inspiration as well to help me even learn and play even more instruments.

IMV: How did you end up hooking up with Kakophonix to record the cello parts? Since you tend to write the bulk of the music for most of your projects, how much freedom did you give him to come up with his own parts? Did you give him rough ideas of what you were looking for, or did he essentially have free reign?

SD: Kakophonix had full reign on his parts, I just told him I needed it to have more of a surreal pagan feel, kinda like a shamanic trance. Everything else was done by me. He did an amazing job, and I’m hoping he would want to do the next one I do in the future. He was very easy too work with, Great guy. Check out his band Hvile I Kaos, very good stuff.

IMV: Did you have any other guest musicians on the record, or is all the rest of it you? And exactly how many instruments do you play at this point?

SD: I did not have any other musicians on the record, and I do play a lot of different instruments. Over the last three years I’ve learned how to play Talharpa, various Lyres, and a lot of various tribal percussion instruments. Been a fun time, I love learning new things.I’ve been playing guitar, bass, keyboards, drums, and doing vocals since the 90’s.

IMV: I’m curious about the rune that appears on both the All Hail… cassette and the cover of Uthuling Hyl. I’m not an expert on runes, but it isn’t one I think I’ve seen before. I’m guessing it must have some kind of special significance since it appears on both records? It’s kind of a bold move for someone at least partly associated with the black metal scene to be using runes at all given the current political climate – were you worried about blowback at all, or people misinterpreting your intentions in using it?

SD: It is a bindrune I made what stands for Life, Death, Rebirth among the unknown, Odin’s presence. When It comes to politics. I don’t get involved. As you can see, I have not posted or commented on anything political. My intentions are and were never malicious in any way shape or form. I’ve just always been into the Norse sagas / land tales, Celtic mythos, Native American tales, etc. since I was a child. I’m also a big fan of Tolkien’s work. This symbol is spiritual to me, to connect with nature. If people want to put a tag on it, I feel sorry for them. If not, then great. There is a lot of crazy stuff going on in the world, and  I hope everyone will stop believing everything they read on social media and start rebuilding together. Also, a lot of people wanted too know what Uthuling Hyl means, It means “Hollowing Howl.”

IMV: Thanks again for your time and willingness to answer a few questions. I’ll leave the last word to you – anything else you want to add?

SD: Thank you for the questions, and I wish the best to all you guys, both as fans and friends.

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