CARDINAL WYRM  “The Stranded Ones” 

By Lord Randall

In which, while waiting on a label with the foresight and chutzpah to release its fourth long-player, Bay Area doom merchants CARDINAL WYRM decide to take matters in hand, offering Devotionals independently. Lord Randall catches up with founding members, Pranjal Tiwari (drums, vocals) and Nathan A. Verrill (guitars) to discuss doom, spirituality and the (hopeful) return of live music…

WORMWOOD CHRONICLES: When CARDINAL WYRM began, was there a goal of sound in mind, something you felt was “missing” that you wanted to bring, or just to add your flavor to the dish, as it were? 

PRANJAL TIWARI: Hmmm, CARDINAL WYRM was definitely not envisioned that intentionally, I don’t think things are ever that deliberate or conscious with us. This project sort of came out of Nathan and I getting together and jamming over a couple of years and finding a speed and a sound that resonated with us, eventually deciding to formalize it as CARDINAL WYRM. The band has gone through some lineup changes over the years, but it’s still all about finding that resonance.

WC: And now, over 10 years later, do you feel you have grown beyond your influences to become something truly your own? Do you think maybe at times bands try too hard to create something they see as “original”, when what would have been better is them simply letting the music/words flow, and trusting in that? 

NATHAN A. VERRILL: I may have seen some bands trying to hard to be known, but I don’t think I’ve experienced bands trying too hard to pass up the alleged social and economic rewards that may come from staying within the firmly defined borders of a genre. 

WC: Pranjal, did you come into the band with the plan of being a drummer/vocalist simultaneously? When it’s done right, the drummer/vocalist dual duty is amazing, ala Trinidad Leal from DIXIE WITCH, for one. 

NV: Not to speak for Pranjal, just to quickly note that when we started CARDINAL WYRM in December 2011, our friend Luke was on drums, I was playing guitar, and Pranjal was on bass and vocals. Pranjal…

PT: Yeah as Nate mentioned, I switched around a bit in the early days. Drums and vocals have always been my main instruments, but I’ve generally kept them separate in other bands I’ve been in. It just worked out that the best way forward for CARDINAL WYRM was for me to do both. It took some work to get off the ground, and still takes a lot of practice to pull off live, especially as I get older haha…but I love doing both drums and vocals, pretending like I’m Phil Collins and all.

WC: Was it intentional to release “Devotionals” independently at first, or just the easiest, most affordable way for a band not making a living off music to test the waters in 2020?

NV: Even before this calendar year, the dirty large no-so-secret-secret was that it has been increasingly difficult, next to impossible, for musicians to make a living off of their music.  In a time in which your music can be easier for people to access than ever before, distributors of “content” have bullied their way into taking the majority share of the revenue that comes from streaming music. Some of the largest companies on the planet are profiting from selling commercials over completely pirated works, with no compensation going to the people who created those works.  As a musician, it feels almost crazy to talk about music as a “business” as it makes no business sense for more than ever smaller handful of us. We make music out of love for making music and sharing it with others. It is also a compulsion, which can make it a double-edge sword.  We need to make music.

PT: Well, there were practical issues in play, the biggest being that no label wanted to touch this album. Make of that what you will. We’ve been involved in the DIY music scene in the Bay Area and beyond for a number of years though, so it wasn’t too much of a jump to release “Devotionals” independently. There’s a great support system for recording and releasing independent or underground music where we are, thanks to the efforts of many people over the years. No one really makes a living off their music these days, do they? Even bigger bands have to tour constantly to sell merch in order to make money. It’s a pretty shitty situation for musicians like Nate says. I’m fine with having ‘making a living’ and ‘making music’ be two separate things, that way I can focus on the task of creating something rather than the potential reward in it. I’d love to spend all my time making the music I want, but that’s not the world we live in. 

WC: How was the album recorded? Actual sessions? Just doesn’t seem like the sort of album that comes together via 100% file sharing, if you get my drift. 

NV: “Devotionals” was written and recorded, face-to-face, in that distant pre-quarantine world.

PT: Yeah, Greg Wilkinson at Earhammer Studios here in Oakland recorded this one, and he’s recorded all our albums so far. We just happened to get “Devotionals” recorded before COVID lockdowns and quarantines became our new reality.

WC: If you could, go a bit into the lyrical inspirations behind ‘Mritunjaya’ and ‘Abbess’. Am I wrong in interpreting a bit of double meaning in ‘Abbess’/Abyss? 

PT: Lyrically and thematically, ‘Abbess’ is a loose companion track to ‘Canticle’, the track before it. ‘Mritynjaya’ sort of means 'one who is victorious over death,' in Sanskrit, it's a term associated with the story of Karna from the Hindu epic, the Mahabharata. I come from an Indian family, and there’s such a deep well of mythology from that part of the world, I sometimes like draw from that. That said, the song is only very loosely based on the path of Karna – he seems to have morphed into some sort of avenging werewolf with a pack of familiars in our version. Go figure.

NV: No, you’re not wrong about the double meaning.

WC: No one knows what happens after, or at least no one’s come back to tell us. 

NV: If you know what comes after, you might not need faith. It will come for us, either way, regardless.

WC: Except for the Epic Doom Metal style (thinking early CANDLEMASS, ISOLE, SOLITUDE AETURNUS, some MY DYING BRIDE), the genre really thrives on live shows, and on the bands’ ability to take those in attendance somewhere. It’s like “How can we transport these persons for 30-45 minutes  (or less) into this “other” place?” 

PT: I think both live shows and recorded music can have that effect. I like it when albums flow and work as a whole to create that effect of being somewhere else and of having an experience. There’s less appreciation for the whole album in the age of instant gratification and ‘bangers’ that you can skip to, but I think people who are into underground music still hold on to it.

WC: But sometimes it works in reverse, and you find the energy from the others in the room guides you, right? Have you had those nervous moments (both good and bad) where you could feel the destination changing as you played, that things were Not Going Where You Planned, but just riding the wave and something special coming forth? 

PT: If you mean during live shows then yes, definitely. Because of the music we play, we have often been put on bills with bands that are wildly different to us. When we’re on a bill with three straight-up death metal bands, people often have no idea what is going on when we start playing, but the energy often changes if you run with it. And, well, sometimes it just doesn’t, and people are left confused and annoyed and have some choice words to say about us. So it goes. 

WC: It really seems as if the material from “Devotionals” was written with the live venue in mind. On the one hand, this past year (and the early part of next year, at least) “should” result in some amazing music, if only by virtue of the fact that no one’s touring, so what else are you going to do? On the other, you’re writing an album with the thought – in the back of your mind, if nowhere else – that you may not be able to tour the material while it’s fresh. 

PT: I think there was a period of adjustment and then a different sort of creative energy which led to a lot of awesome music coming out, much of it recorded at home. It’s quite amazing what having time like this, and having our modern recording tools, can lead to. I’ve definitely been spending the time in lockdown writing and recording music at home, demos for new CARDINAL WYRM stuff, and finished albums for other projects. That and hanging with my dogs, Norma and Opie. As for live shows, we don’t really have a ‘sell by date’ for our material, I think it will stay fresh,haha, there’s no product cycle where we have to churn out new material to replace the old. There’s an itch of course, but there’s no real rush for us, like I can’t really see us doing livestreams or anything like that, it just doesn’t appeal to me. But I’d love to play live again when we’re able to.

NV: I was lucky enough to play two live shows with other ensembles at the beginning of the year before the current lockdown(s).  I’ve mourning the loss of being able to play live and in person with and for other people.  I miss the joy that can come in communion with old and new friends, sharing a space together.