SOLITUDE AETURNUS "In Times of Solitude"

Interview with John Perez by Earthdog

It is a great honor to present to you an interview with John Perez from Solitude Aeturnus. They are my favorite American doom act and have been since I very first heard them so this interview means a lot to me. Yes, I am biased when it comes to the band but in my view I rate them just above Saint Vitus as the most important US doom-metal band. Hope you enjoy this interview with John as I tried to fit in something about their entire career in just 18 questions. Doom On ....

WORMWOOD CHRONICLES:  Hello, John, thanks for allowing me this interview. Let me start by giving you a very overdue congrats on the "Alone" album. Without a doubt in my opinion one of the very best Doom Metal albums ever recorded. This brings me to the obvious question: it was 8 years between " Adagio" and "Alone" albums and it's now been 4 years since the release of "Alone". I hope this doesn't mean we still have another 4 years to wait for the next Solitude Aeturnus album! So please can you give us a clue at least when the next album will be released?

JOHN PEREZ: Thanks for the kind words, Ed!  I really appreciate your high opinion of "Alone" and glad to hear it as we were all quite satisfied with this release.  Yes, it's already been 4 years, but we just operate at a slower pace.  We all live far apart and as you get older, it gets more difficult to make time for a band.  We still love what we do but it's just slowed down in recent years.  We don't make a living or career out of SA, and I just prefer to release HIGH quality albums rather than just fill in the space with mediocre songwriting and mediocre albums.  No clue as to next album at this stage.  I've got about 5 songs working and more ideas but I've learned to never predict when we're going in the studio, because we can't and/or wont' just force it.  It just has to happen naturally.

WC:  Solitude Aeturnus are such a hugely influential band. Is it very satisfying knowing you have inspired and influenced so many?

JP: Thank you again.  I don't realize that we are that influential to other bands.  I mean, I am aware that some bands have listed us as influences or look up to us, but honestly, I'm not aware of that many that do. I 'm flattered if this is the case and yes, I would feel very satisfied and proud if other bands use us to draw inspiration for their own sound.  I think the perception of us being influential is partly due the fact that we've been around nearly 25 years, so it's nearly impossible to not have at least heard of our name and/or at least be aware of SA.

WC: This was covered in the interview on the "Hour Of Despair" DVD but what is it about Doom Metal that made you as a musician head in that direction?

JP: I've always preferred the ominous sound of slow-paced crushing guitars and wicked melodies drawing up the darkest and strangest corners of the mind.  Sabbath were (are) of course the kings of this and have always been my favorite band.  Although I was swept up in the early and just beginning thrash/death/extreme metal of the early 80's my hardcore preference has always been the doomier side of metal.  That's why I latched on to the early bands like Witchfinder General, Pentagram, Trouble and Vitus as these were basically the ONLY doomy bands in existence at the time.  I love all forms of metal and I like to play all kinds of metal but when it comes to what I wanted to focus my energies and efforts I prefer the heavier side of things.  There's more to absorb and it takes more effort to soak up the mental side of heavier music.  It's where my head has been at since I was really young so doom metal is a natural disposition for me.

WC:  The "Into the Depths of Sorrow" album is one album that has really stood the test of time, I think this is largely due to timeless melodies  while remaining very heavy. The album really has everything anyone could want in Doom Metal album. When you look back on it now, would you have done anything differently?

JP: I have to give a stock answer but it's true.  Of course ,I wish we could have made the album sound heavier and thicker.  I know more about recording these days and we could probably greatly improve the recording of that début, but I'd have to say that I can't really hear the old songs any other way than they way they were recorded.  The particular "sound" and feel of that album is majestic, cosmic and ethereal and that's what we were going for.  It wasn't perfect but it captured us during this time and our efforts. A few minor things bugged me on the album. The lead section of "Mirror of Sorrow" didn't turn out quite right and the beginning intro piece was nothing like I envisioned but otherwise I'm nearly 100% happy with this album. So the long-winded answer is that I wouldn't change a thing!

WC:  Has Solitude Aeturnus got many songs lying around that were never or recorded but never released and would you ever consider releasing an album of those rarer tracks? ( Editors Note: After sending this question I realized that is exactly what they are doing - see John's answer )

JP:  We've got a release coming out in a few weeks called "In Times of Solitude" and it contains the entire 30+ minute début demo "Justice For All" and some rare unreleased tracks.  This release showcases the very beginnings of the band with a totally different line-up.  It's meant for the die-hard fan only since it's early and demo material. Some of the live tracks sound like crap but these were some of the only song that were never recorded so I decided to put them in any way. The demo has very good quality to it and the feel of the songs were quite different with Gabehart on vocals. I'm very happy with this new release and there' a huge story written by me on the early days of the band. Other than these tracks , there's really nothing else lying around. We've released everything we've recorded.

WC: Just like you, I grew up listening to metal in the 70's and 80's but Doom Metal was largely an unknown genre back then. What was the very first Doom Metal bands you heard that inspire you to form a Doom Metal band... apart from Black Sabbath, of course?

JP: Sabbath were of course always the main inspiration for me, them and early Judas Priest (plenty of doom here, check out the song Winter). I'd been listening to Sabbath since "Never Say Die" came out, I think I was 13 when I first heard them.  I've always looked for bands that played in this heavier style, so before even Candlemass came around I was listening to Witchfinder General, Witchfynde, Angel Witch (a lot of witches eh?), and then came Saint Vitus, Trouble, Pentagram.    There really were no doom bands other than these in the early 80's. I was lucky to catch Vitus in '86 with Reagers!  They played the local punk club Circle A Ranch, of which I was a frequent attendee.   After Candlemass the international doom scene was still very small with only Penance, Revelation, Mercy, Sorcerer, While Heaven Wept, Cathedral and a few others.  Doom metal was more for me as I preferred the more thinking man's approach to heavy metal, although I still like to bang that head that doesn't bang!

WC: What was it like hearing Robert sing for the first time ? I know when first heard him, I got the chills just like hearing Gillan, Dio or any other classic metal vocalist for the first time. Did you get the same feelings as me?

JP:  When Rob first came in and sang the song "Mirror of Sorrow" that I had just written I knew immediately that we had a special one of a kind vocalist. I couldn't believe how lucky I was to find him, since vocalists of his caliber are very difficult to find.  Of course, he was a little rough at the beginning but as we practiced for the next year he just got better and better.  Robert is definitely one of my favorite metal vocalists of all time, he sounds like no one else and he has such a great sense of melody. So yeah, I was blown away because I realized that we had a one of a kind with Robert.  I'm really into the song "Dream of Immorality", that and "Transcending" are my votes at this moment, although "Opaque" remains a constant favorite of mine.

WC:  "Beyond the Crimson Horizon" is another classic album. Did it match the excellence of the début album in your mind ?

JP:  Yes, it did and more.  I wanted to move into a direction on the second album that gave us more power and faster songs to be included in the live set.  I also love the production on that album.  It's more clear and focused than the début.  I love both albums equally but "Crimson" sounds better to my ears.  I still enjoy listening to "Crimson" probably even more so that the début. We were expanding our playing skills on that one, maybe trying to prove to ourselves that we could handle any and all styles wrapped in our sound.  Some more obscure songs that are some of my favorites like "Final Sin" and "Plague of Procreation".

WC: "Through the Darkest Hour" was also a great album. Did you think you were on a roll at this point?

JP:  Definitely!  It's my favorite SA album, it's just so heavy and trippy!! We had really come into stride with our songwriting.  The other members were contributing more and the style was getting heavier.  We wanted to go more simple and effective, more brutal and yet more ethereal.  I think we captured that on "Darkest".  Lots of psychedelics being ingested by myself during this period and I have no regrets as it's influence is all over that album.  Recording this album was such a great experience... all of us living in England for 3 weeks and only working on our music.  One of my great life experiences, I still cherish the making of that album and that time period. "8th Day" and "Perfect Insanity" are my choice deep cuts on this one.

WC: Does it make you mad when some people say that the "Downfall" album was a bit disappointing, because I think it's a great underrated masterpiece?

JP:  Not at all, as I would agree with them. Over the years I've come to accept the sound of the album and I just look at it as the "weird" album in our catalog.  I love the material and now I can't imagine hearing the songs any other way.  I just think the power was missing from that recording. The drums were not recorded properly and we were not in the best frame of mind during this period either, so we let a lot of stuff slip by.  A mistake I'll never make again.  But overall I really do love this album regardless of the crap ass production.  Lost favorites, "Midnight Dreams" and "Together and Wither".

WC:  Not many people know that Robert plays piano... he played piano on the track "Phantoms", for example. Would Robert ever consider playing piano or keyboards live ? I ask this because I have always thought Solitude is a band that could use a keyboard player and it wouldn't sound cheesy or anything and in fact could enhance some songs. So this is two questions in one: what's your opinion of keyboards in metal and has Solitude Aeturnus ever considered hiring a permanent keyboard player?

JP: Both Robert and I play keyboards.  The intro was actually recorded by Edgar at home!  We just brought it in and attached it to the front of the album.  The intro part to the song "Chapel of Burning", for instance, was played by both me and Robert!  I don't mind keyboards in metal to some degree, I mean, I like stuff like Heep, UFO, Dream Theater, Warlord... but for heavier stuff it's never appealed to me too much.  We've always entertained the idea of adding keyboards for effect into our sound, but I don't think traditional keyboards have much of a place in our music. We've used them to some degree on most of our albums and probably will continue to do so.  I may , however, write a song in the near future with Uriah Heep in mind so....

WC: "Adagio" was another great album but how does "Alone" compare with it? Do you see it as some kind of progression of the Solitude Aeturnus sound? I personally think Robert hit a highpoint on "Alone" with his vocals and lyrics!

JP: Again, I'm very happy with "Adagio".  It's a well-rounded album that showcases many varieties and songwriting ideas.  Some different stuff on there and the production value is very strong.  I didn't want to include the Heaven and Hell cover as part of the album but Massacre really wanted it on there so we conceded to it.  "Adagio" was us trying to wrap everything we've done up that point and some experimenting as well. "Alone" was more of an attempt to do less experimenting and more straight up heavy doom metal songwriting with some progressive thinking on a few songs.  Robert's vocals  on our albums... I don't  really prefer one over the other but I would agree that he sounds really strong on the last album. Super trippy deep cuts with "Spiral Descent" and "Never", two of my fave SA tunes.

WC: Now how did your label Brainticket come about ? Has the business of record labels always interest you?

JP: I simply wanted to make available to everyone, some quality heavy music. I wanted it to become a career as well, but that didn't happen!  Oh well! I made up my mind in 1995 to put everything I had into a label and try to do it the right way.  But with the industry in such a state of flux at this time I don't see the ability to do it like we did in the past.  I am interested in record labels from the standpoint of knowing that a label that you can trust to release some quality heavy music.  That's what I wanted Brainticket to be about.  We're still around at this point working with some other people/labels and I intend to still keep up as long as possible.  But it seems like we've always spent more than we've made!

WC:  You also recently worked with another killer band from Texas, Elliotts Keep. How did you meet them and what was it like recording that solo?

JP: They're good friends of mine and long time SA supporters.  I've known them for a long time and they asked for a little help in spreading their recorded work around.  I like what they do, they're honest and true metal fans doing what they love to do outside of their normal lives; and that is to make and support heavy metal music.  It's such a pure vision and I'm proud to be able to support them in any way.  I loved recording the solo. I had some good ideas that popped up at the last second and we hit quick and hard in the came out great!

WC:  Along with Solitude and Brainticket, you are also a huge metal fan. Do you actually get much time to sit down and listen to other bands?

JP:  It's my favorite thing to do! I am sometimes a bit too crazy of a fan and get a little too geeked up about it but... I wish I had more time to do this and in fact I do set aside time every week to listen to music.  I'm afraid as I've gotten older I tend to rely on the old metal I grew up with.  But there's so much of it so I never get bored!  I do try to listen to as many new bands as I can, but with so much out there it's hard to give everyone the attention necessary to fully appreciate the music presented.  It's the unfortunate bi-product of too much choice in our modern-day lives.  So I prefer to slow down, find a few really choice bands and focus on that.  Our monthly Texas Doom Council meetings usually consist of healthy amounts of ale, old fanzines thrown around and VINYL turntable spinning only the HEAVIEST of metal like; Picture, Running Wild, Savatage, Mercyful Fate, SA Slayer, Tyrant, Malice, Helstar, Metal Massacre series, etc...

WC: You more than most people in the "Doom" scene would know Doom Metal has dramatically changed in the last 10 years with all the sub-genres emerging. What is your opinion of the extreme Funeral Doom, Death Doom and Drone Metal genres ?  Is it getting too far removed from the Traditional Doom Metal style?

JP:  It's only natural that bands/musicians will push a genre to it's farthest levels of extremity.  I'm all for extremes in music, but generally speaking drone doom doesn't do much for me, simply because I'm more interested in songwriting these days.  I've explored all kinds of extreme music over my years and I can appreciate the anarchy it takes to create this type of thing but I'm really beyond that these days, I just don't need it to be that slow or depressive or that noisy these days.  But again it depends on the band, some interest me more than others but in general I'm more into classic metal and classic doom sounds.  I don't pay attention to labels either, by the way, I simply listen to a band based on my own perception of their sound.  It's a simple rule to follow; no matter what it is the question remains, "do I like it?"  There are three answers, no, maybe and yes.  If maybe, then it probably warrants further investigation, put it on that pile!  If not, then discard it.... and if yes, then put it in the "play again file"!

WC:  Now back to the future of Solitude Aeturnus. What is in the works as far as album(s) and tours ? Also ...and this is a personal question seeing as I am from Seattle... has Solitude ever toured the Northwest and if so when are you going to do it again ? I have only seen Solitude once and I had to drive Texas for that one and the journey was a nightmare.

JP: Well, we're getting this comp out now and then we shut down for songwriting and hopefully recording a new album very soon.  No tours or live shows are planned until we get a new one recorded.  I think we discussed your trip down here at some point ,eh?  Wasn't it at On the Rocks you saw us play or was it Dallas City Limits?  It's a long drive from WA! I know... I've done it more than a few times!

WC:  Thanks John for your time and all the best from me  for the future for you and the band. Any last words for the readers?

JP: I'm very sorry for this interview to take so long to come to fruition.  I can be a bit slack sometimes when it comes it promoting my own band.  I truly thank everyone that has ever supported us or and encouraging words over the years.  We're lucky to have such warm-hearted people showing us their support.  Stay true to your own visions, dare to be different and always keep it heavy!