Usually when I write about a band with a mysterious background and members who prefer to keep their identities a secret, I’m talking about kvlt black metal. After all, they do seem to have the market cornered on the whole obscured faces and nonexistent bios thing. Or at least that’s what I thought, right until the moment I encountered Deathwhite. The Pittsburgh-based trio may look like the latest Portuguese exports that may or may not have just finished recording their latest demo inside of a cave, but then you hit play on their debut full-length For a Black Tomorrow and are greeted by something that sounds a lot like…Katatonia? 40 Watt Sun? The Peaceville Three?
Don’t adjust your sets, Vault Hunters. There’s nothing wrong with your picture.
For a Black Tomorrow is one of the more pleasantly surprising albums I’ve heard in a long while, in no small part because I adore most of Deathwhite’s most obvious influences. And with Katatonia on hiatus for the for seeable future, I welcome any and all albums that owe a clear stylistic debt to Night is the New Day. Fortunately, though, Deathwhite are much more than simply the sum of their influences. They may be Gothic doom af, but they certainly approach the genre in their own distinctive way – heavy, overflowing with memorable hooks and catchy riffs, and featuring thoughtful, emotionally complex lyrics.
I will admit, though, that when I was approached about interviewing Deathwhite, I was a bit hesitant. I love the album, but based on previous experiences with these anonymous bands, I’ve found them to be a bit on the reticent side as well. Fortunately, that couldn’t be further from the case with Deathwhite. They–unsurprisingly, the band opted to answer my questions collectively–proved to be surprisingly open and engaging interview subjects, even if they don’t want anyone to know their identities.
For a Black Tomorrow will be available on February 23 via Season of Mist. Follow the link and get your preorder in, and then check out my interview with Deathwhite below.
Indy Metal Vault: So I’ve spent quite a bit of time with For a Black Tomorrow over the last couple of days while prepping to write this interview, and it’s an absolutely stunning record. From what I’ve been able to gather, you’ve been sitting on the finished version of it for a while now – recorded in late 2016, originally slated for independent release in March of 2017, then pushed back to October, and now it will finally see release via Season of Mist in February. That’s a long time to live with an album before it comes out. Have your feelings towards it changed at all in the last sixteen months or so?
Deathwhite: Somewhat, but that’s a natural occurrence after you’ve put an album to bed, so to speak. We don’t rehearse frequently and are only in the planning stages for our first live appearances, so the songs haven’t been played to death. Therefore, we’ve yet to fully flesh them out. It is our belief they may be even heavier in the live arena, so as you could imagine, we are eager to find out how they translate. We still are very pleased with the album and remain confident in its overall execution. That probably won’t change for the foreseeable future. We just encountered a unique situation regarding its release, that’s all, but are fortunate that Season of Mist is very supportive of us and have gone above and beyond.
IMV: How did you end up hooking up with Season of Mist? Were you actively looking for a label to release For a Black Tomorrow, or was it something more serendipitous? Did they ask you to make any changes to the album—remixing or rerecording parts of it, or something else—after you signed?
D: We approached them. There was some contact with them after the release of our 2015 Solitary Martyr EP, but things didn’t take shape until February of 2017. As it so happened, this was a week before we were to release For a Black Tomorrow ourselves. We had to pull the album from all digital outlets and refund those who were kind enough to place a pre-order, which, isn’t an optimal situation but was necessary if we wanted the album to have a global release with Season of Mist. In a perfect world, we would have signed with Season of Mist immediately after finishing the album, but we are happy with how things turned out. And yes, we went back into the studio last April and updated the vocals on the song “Death and the Master.” There may have been minor embellishments to the songs, but nothing of vast significance. Not very many bands get to go back into the studio to make changes to an album they recorded, so we consider ourselves lucky we were able to do so.
IMV: One of the things that I find so striking about For a Black Tomorrow is how polished (for lack of a better word) it sounds. The performances, the songwriting, the different textures throughout the album – it all points towards the members of Deathwhite being more seasoned musicians than just the two EPs the band self-released previous to this album. Am I correct in guessing that you’ve all been in actively recording and/or touring bands previous to (or even concurrent with) playing in Deathwhite? Possibly even with each other?
D: We do have the benefit of experience in Deathwhite. Each of us, in one way or the other, has been active in bands of varying degrees of success. Some of us have toured the globe, while others have enjoyed mildly successful careers on a regional level. In Deathwhite, we each have a shared, common goal, which perhaps reflects in the way we sound. The “polished” element of our sound is one we are proud of, actually, for it wouldn’t make sense for a band like ours to sound rough and raw; it would defeat the purpose of writing compact songs with a clean vocalist. There is a fine line between sounding “polished” and “processed,” of which we hope is distinguishable.
IMV: The other thing that really surprises me is that—assuming your Metal Archives page is correct, which I realize can be a bit of a crapshoot—Deathwhite is an American band. I would have bet (and apparently lost) that you were either Swedish or British. It’s fairly rare to hear an American band playing music with that kind of Katatonia/Peaceville Three influence. What drew you to that particular style? When you came together as Deathwhite, did you know from the start that you wanted to do something in a death/dark/gothic vein, or was that something that evolved as you settled into being a band?
D: Metal Archives is correct, although we never publicly stated our primary locale, which as of this writing is Pittsburgh, PA. But yes, we are devotees to the Peaceville sound of Anathema, Katatonia, My Dying Bride and Paradise Lost, although it’s debatable whether we’re an actual composite of those bands. We’re simply influenced by them, which doesn’t necessary mean we sound like them. The Gothic doom style is held with the highest regard in Deathwhite primarily because it’s one that is capable of channeling heaviness, melody and emotion. You can find such elements spread across the metal sphere, but rarely so often does it appear in singular bands. We draw from all eras of the aforementioned bands, but in no way can we can hold a candle to any of them, nor do we deliberately try to write songs that a reflection the Peaceville sound. It was determined from the onset we would play metal of this variety. Our sound has evolved from our first recording, but the purpose has remained the same.
IMV: Near as I can tell, the three (I think?) members of Deathwhite are scattered across the US. It’s not exactly difficult at this point to collaborate on songwriting via the Internet, but what was the recording process for For a Black Tomorrow like? Were the three of you ever together in one room at any point before heading in to Cerebral Audio Productions to record the album? For that matter, were you all together in a room at any point while recording?
D: There was a stretch of time where the three of us did not live in the same metropolitan area, but that has since changed to where we each live close to one another. Nevertheless, we have a primary songwriter in the band who is responsible for the riffs, arrangements and lyrics. The songs endure somewhat of a long gestation period before they are brought to the other members. Once they are introduced to the rest of the band, they ultimately start to take shape and develop and identity. It’s truly a collaborative effort in the end. We did rehearse as a group prior to recording the album, which was certainly beneficial. Most of the work was done with the use of home studio software, but all of the parts on For a Black Tomorrow were tracked at Cerebral Audio.
IMV: Okay, I held out until the sixth question to bring up the band’s image, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask at least one question about it. Between the band’s choice to remain anonymous as musicians and the way you appear in the “Dreaming in Inverse” video (assuming that’s even the actual band), I would have pegged Deathwhite as a Portuguese kvlt black metal band. Anyone who sees the band before hearing your music is probably going to experience a bit of cognitive dissonance upon hitting play on For a Black Tomorrow. What was the original impetus for staying anonymous? And what made you decide to appear in the “Dreaming” video, considering you don’t perform live? Did you create those visual personae expressly for the video, or did they exist prior to that?
D: The original idea behind staying anonymous was simple: We were to be a studio band and nothing more. We weren’t to engage in live performances, so it wasn’t appealing to present ourselves in the way a traditional band would. If Deathwhite were to have any identity, we would need to be identity-less, which understandably sounds backward, but works for us. Furthermore, we wanted to avoid giving potential listeners a predisposed idea of how we should sound by listing our names and the bands we were previously associated with. We wanted to reduce that element as much as possible. We are, expressively, intended to be presented as a singular unit rather than a batch of individuals; i.e. the sum being greater than the parts.
The director of “Dreaming the Inverse,” a fine gentleman by the name of David Brodsky, suggested we appear in the video in order to distinguish it as an actual Deathwhite video. Videos without band members, he explained, can be affixed to any song; it can be done in a complete and totally arbitrary fashion. So he asked us to play in the video, which we agreed to. And yes, we created the personas in the video simply for that reason alone. It’s very likely we will change our appearance when we move into playing live shows. Our faces, however, will remain covered as well as they can be without affecting our live performance.
IMV: I’m curious about the lyrical themes of the album, though I prefer to avoid the more straightforward “what’s this song about” kind of questions – not only do they feel like bad form, no one wants to answer them anyway. So I’ll ask this instead: there’s a really interesting mix of what seems like theologically and/or philosophically-influenced lyrics, at least in terms of their language—“Contrition,” “Eden,” “Poisoned”—and others that feel far more poetically inclined like “The Grace of the Dark” and ‘For a Black Tomorrow.” And even if I’m wrong about the influences, there’s no denying that the lyrics are far more thoughtful than one usually encounters in this style of music. Does the band’s lyricist perhaps have some kind of a literary or academic background?
D: Our lyricist has an academic background, but it’s probably not at the forefront when lyrics are composed. Writing lyrics can be an arduous task sometimes, but we do our best to ensure they are at least thoughtful and properly convey our feelings and thoughts without imposing them on the listener. We tend to be vague at times, while other songs have a more literal meaning, but it’s always up to the listener to decide how the song translates. We often touch upon issues with the human psyche, the general and unflinching ideas that people are often their own worst enemy, which, in turn, leads to feelings of self-doubt, betrayal and inherent laziness, of all things. On the surface, many of our lyrics appear to be dark in nature, but there generally is some type of…not necessarily “uplifting” angle, but one that demonstrates it’s not all darkness, or doom and gloom.
IMV: And after saying that I don’t like to ask specific questions about lyrics, I’m going to ask one simply because I find the line so striking. “Eden” is easily my favorite track on For a Black Tomorrow – partly because of that My Dying Bride-esque twin guitar part, but mostly because of the lyrics. The couplet at the end of the chorus goes “May you rest inside / as your inner sanctum dies.” It’s been a very long time since I’ve heard a line that affecting, though I’m not certain I could explain why it moves me the way it does. If you don’t mind my asking, what was the inspiration for that line? Where did that image come from?
D: “Eden” happens to be one of the very first songs we wrote. In fact, there’s an alternate version floating around somewhere with different vocals and drums, not to mention a different arrangement. Nevertheless, “inner sanctum” stems from the Celtic Frost song of the same name. It can be applied in many different forms and we found it to be useful on “Eden,” a song that is a bit perhaps more personal than others. But as we’ve stated before, it is up to the listener to make such interpretations.
IMV: On both Deathwhite’s Facebook and Bandcamp pages, there’s a fairly well-known line from philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche: “The future influences the present just as much as the past.” What is it about that line in particular that makes you (presumably) feel as though it represents what Deathwhite does musically or aesthetically or…? I’m mostly curious because Nietzsche was kind of nihilistic—or at least the most closely associated with nihilism of his contemporaries—and “nihilistic” is definitely not the first (or second, or probably even the fifth) word I’d use to describe your music. What Deathwhite does strikes me as being far more emotionally complex and, frankly, beautiful than that.
D: Nietzsche’s text has long been a source of inspiration for us. While we aren’t complete devotees to his work, there are some that resonate more than others. That particular line: “The future influences the present just as much as the past” ties into the For a Black Tomorrow album title. It can be interpreted in many ways, but we saw it as a reflection of how one’s premediated actions or even thoughts can be of influence in the here and now. It is, of course, loaded with metaphor, but to us it was a useful quote to use in conjunction with our related band pages. It’s more interesting than a regular band bio.
IMV: I’m always curious about how the cover art for an album comes together especially when it seems to fit an album as perfectly as the photo on the cover of For a Black Tomorrow fits your music. Who is the cover artist? How closely did you work with the artist on the concept for it?
D: The cover art was handled by a French artist by the name of Jerome Comantale. We first worked with Jerome on our 2015 Solitary Martyr EP after discovering him through a random Internet search. He was given very basic parameters for the cover and proceeded to exceed all of our expectations. Therefore, he was the obvious choice for the new album. Like Solitary Martyr, Jerome was given a basic framework, some song titles, and nothing else. The cover you see for the album was literally his first or second draft, which meant we were impressed right off the bat. He is a man of tremendous talent and was able to convey the album’s feelings of desolation and despair.
IMV: So I mentioned earlier that Deathwhite has always been a studio project, but now that you’re on Season of Mist and (presumably) wouldn’t necessarily have to completely DIY together a run of dates, is there any possibility of some live appearances in your near future, whether they just be festival dates or otherwise?
D: We are currently in the planning stages for our first live performances, actually. We have added a second guitar player and bass player for this purpose and have started rehearsals. It’s going to take some work since none of these songs have been play in front of a live audience, but we believe we can put something together worth displaying. We’ve yet to determine when and where we’ll play, although we will play sporadic dates and will not engage in long bouts of touring. The idea is to enjoy the album’s release, build up some momentum — if possible — then book some live dates. It should be a fascinating experience, one that we are looking forward to.
IMV: Okay…so thanks again for taking the time to answer a few questions. I always like to leave the last word to the artist – anything else you want to add?
D: Our sincere thanks for the interview and support. We are always grateful for those who take the time to listen to Deathwhite. It means the world to us. We are now well into the songwriting for our next album, so we hope to have a new record out sooner, rather than later.