VADER – “When We Started Music Nobody Thought We Would Survive Two or Three Years”
May 26, 2020, 2 months ago
Polish death metal legends Vader have been at the forefront of extreme music for nearly four decades. They’ve seen it all – the fall of the Iron Curtain in their home country, the dawn of the social media, digital era of music, and metal’s evolution from underground passion to worldwide juggernaut. In the wake of the release of their whopping 12th studio album Solitude in Madness, longtime guitarist and frontman and founding member Piotr “Peter” Wiwczarek caught up with BraveWords for a candid and in-depth one-on-one interview.
BraveWords: Releasing your 12th studio album is a massive achievement on its own, but doing so during a global pandemic presents certain challenges. We’re all in unprecedented times here. How is the band adjusting to this ‘new normal’ for the time being?
Wiwczarek: “Our life was just one huge rush. This situation is a pretty shitty one, so all in all we may slow down a bit and maybe just think a little bit more about our life and just give a little more time for people. We love all our foreign friends and our family. That’s actually something I try to use this opportunity, for myself, because I’m a busy guy for years and never had enough time to spend with family, even just to spend in my house to enjoy life. I’m not trying to just to cry out loud that I’m not enjoying my life. I do. But you know what? There’s life besides touring and life besides a band, that’s what I’m thinking. It’s time to give a little bit of myself for my house, for my garden, for my cats and now for my family.”
BraveWords: Given the circumstances we doubt fans would have faulted the band for pushing back the album release. Yet at the same time it has been a fantastic distraction against the grimness of the situation. Did you feel now was the right time to release Solitude In Madness?
Wiwczarek: “We can’t play shows, and it hurts. For me metal music, and of course Vader as a representative of that music, the stage is where we lead. And just to be isolated from touring, it’s not really nice. However, a good thing is that at least all the music we love – and I’m speaking not just as a musician, I’m speaking as a fan of music – we have more time just to enjoy the music. Not just do this parallel in the meantime, in the background, do this like we did when I remember I was a teenage boy and we are meeting together just to listen to new music. And that was so nice and so good. And sometimes I think that people forget how it is just to sit and to enjoy the music itself. The good thing is that we have that technology that helps us to stay and communicate. We are isolated, but we can stay connected. And of course we can stream the music.
“I hope that we can easily survive that time, these months. We have to stay home because that’s the only way, and I strongly believe that everybody understands the situation. If we really want to get back to our real life and hit the road again, and sooner than later, it’s better to follow the orders and to stay home and enjoy life.”
BraveWords: Solitude In Madness examines our technological world, how despite how connected we are, we’re more alone and cut off than ever before. From the days of death metal records being about brutality of a different kind, this is quite the emotional pivot.
Wiwczarek: “I wanted to keep the feel that actually we can feel alone in a world and the world is pretty crazy around us, pretty mad. Solitude In Madness is like us and this world. Sometimes we feel isolated like an alien in this world. But sometimes we want to be separated because we can’t just accept or understand the world. The title gives you opportunity to think about. Just to think it over. And that’s what I like in the music we do, because we give stories, we give some themes to think about and push everybody to use one of the best gift we have which is called imagination. And that’s all about metal. That’s why if we do stories, talking straight using the same language, the stories are pretty much symbolic. Now being a much more experienced guy, I have much more to say. And of course I use the stories to talk about my emotions, but there’s still real things behind the story. This is just a way I like to express myself. That’s one of the characteristics in Vader.”
BraveWords: The band was fortunate enough to be able to finish their long-awaited and highly anticipated North American tour before the virus spread globally. That alone is a silver lining.
Wiwczarek: “I’m absolutely happy that we were able to make it until the end. That was actually the last tour we did. And from what I know this is also one of the last tours in U.S. for metal bands. We were waiting years to get back to the continent. And finally we started the cooperation with the Continental Music, Continental Concerts, a new agency. It was absolutely a crazy and great tour. The metal music, it’s small like it was in the ‘80s and ‘90s. People started to enjoy the live music again. You can see more people enjoying that and having fun. They even look more like thrashers, heavy metal fans in the ‘80s with the denim jackets, leather jackets and long hair. That’s nice. Nice to me. I am old school. When I see some something like that I know that it’s still worthy to give that music and to take that music.
“The four weeks we spent in U.S. and Canada, we were about to prepare for the next one. Because of the pandemic everything’s gonna be delayed probably. We will see how that’s going to be? The plan is come back to the U.S. and Canada with a new album at the beginning of 2021. We will see, maybe we can do that. But the last one was really good, and I’m sure that people just deserve more now from us. And we have more, and we are ready just to come back and to give more, the big new album and some of the classic songs. That’s why we’re here, to go on tour.
BraveWords: You mention the feel of the audiences today for tours. Obviously from when you guys started in the early ‘80s to being established now as death metal pioneers, the game has changed. Does the entire industry – from releasing records to tours – feel different, either good or bad?
Wiwczarek: “Of course, it is different. We are from the ‘80s, and we came from Poland. Poland was still behind the Iron Curtain in the ‘80s. So actually, when we started to listen to the music it was really hard to get even the albums. There were not any record stores and the source of the music was the radio one in Poland, which was like the official radio. Sometimes like once or twice a week they played the whole albums. There were some famous dude’s, famous for us, those who love hard rock and heavy metal. They would just give the whole album with names, titles and some emotional statements about the albums. Nobody cared about legal or not legal. We’re behind the Iron Curtain so nobody really cared. We were happy that we can listen to music. That was kind of like streaming is today, because that was the only source. So we’re happy. Nobody was asking about the legality of stuff. We could record it. We could have it. Music was the most important priority. The other source was like the black market. So you could just go to flea market or if some friends had family outside of Poland, Germany West or whatever. They had the album that was shipped to them and then they were sources for everybody else. So every month we’re traveling hours to other parts of the country just to tape some demo tapes or records. Anything that was like about brutality. We wanted to play metal, which is like extreme. And Vader was among those guys in Poland. And we started something we call extreme metal underground.
“The opportunity for the music business, which is like, absolutely not for us. No one really cared about the music we play. Nobody wanted to understand it. From the other side it was easy because the censorship and government did not touch us because we were not talking about politics. We’re talking about some supernatural demons and things. And they didn’t even understand it since we turned the music and started to sing in English. So there was absolutely no danger to citizens of Poland. From this part, at least, it was easier. There wasn’t really a threat from government or censorship. But all the rest was a problem. No instruments, no magazines, no nothing. So the passion was huge. And that was actually all we had, and that made us go on. No problem was enough to stop us from doing the music. Just passion, that’s the biggest drug if you really want to do something.”
BraveWords: I suppose we can view it as a double edged sword, the accessibility of streaming models and social media. Music can hit anyone, anywhere at any time, but at the same time perhaps genres have become more diluted. Any thoughts on those major industry changes?
Wiwczarek: “Today each band has proper tools. To record, to show themselves, to promote themselves. Everything is just by hand. I can’t even compare this to the days when we started. Today you can use even your iPhone to record a good demo tape, better than the one we recorded in the studio back in ‘89. And you don’t need to spend money for sending letters and packages around the world and waiting months just to have a reply. You put the music on the Internet and spread it in seconds and everybody can hear it. But the only problem is everything is so easy, much easier. People do not have that passion. They give up pretty easily, and that’s not good. Or from the other side there is like a huge business, huge metal business existing today, and there was nothing like that in the past. All these companies like Meal Blade, Nuclear Blast, they were just about to start. They were like a bunch of fans who want to make some demos or some records for the bands they loved, you know? That was all passion.”
“We have huge businesses, hundreds of magazines, millions of bands. But, you know, in all this crucible, it’s really hard to find a diamond and the passion for somebody to really enjoy it when they do it. Too many young people starting bands think about the success and career and us? Not really. It’s not right in the beginning. When we started to play music nobody even thought that we may survive two or three years. That was absolutely out of the question. We just want to play what we love, and of course, if we succeed with something, the first demo or the first big show, after we sign a deal and we recorded and release the first album, it was like almost 10 years after we started to be a band. So we were like, wow, unbelievable ... We needed years just to take a decision to be professional, let’s say death metal player. It’s a really nice life and you enjoy something. You meet people, you travel the world, but absolutely it is not an easy life. This is something you need to sacrifice yourself. And probably that was a reason why the lineup of Vader was not that stable all the time. Sometimes people just were here two to three years. They just couldn’t stand up on tour. And not everybody’s crazy like me or has absolutely great, partners in life, like my wife, my kids. So we couldn’t just exist together and that wouldn’t be a cooperation and understanding. So from this side I’m absolutely the happiest person in the world. I could do music and still have a happy family and am proud of my kids. And it’s good, but if you really want to do something you still can do it, just never give up.”
BraveWords: After nearly forty years and a dozen records and counting, what’s your thoughts on Vader in 2020 and what a record like Solitude In Madness says about the band at this stage?
Wiwczarek: “I know we love what we do, and so we do what we love. I think that’s the best you can do. Whenever we look at the trends around and success, of course we musicians want to make our record company proud just to feel better, to know that people enjoy it. But you know, the respect we have after that many years and still there are new fans coming out, it’s more than we ever expected. It’s more than the thousands of gold albums recorded. This is the best gift for us for what we do. Sometimes I can’t believe that this is that many albums and that many years ago and we’re still active. We have no time just to get old and then forget about what you do and not much time for life outside of tour and band. And that’s probably the sacrifice. But whatever, it’s a good thing. You see the lineup, it’s pretty stable for almost 10 years. And that’s not a common thing, because it’s very hard just to keep people longer when you’re that busy a band. We have some different character people and different ages. James could be my son. You can just enjoy on stage, enjoy the studio and do some good things, you know? That’s nice.”