One man has driven Philadelphia, Pennsylvania's Woe forward since its inception in 2007. That man – guitarist, vocalist and founder Chris Grigg – has worked tirelessly at realizing his own brand of cathartic heavy metal. The latest result of such struggles is this year's Quietly, Undramatically, an album which assembles a who's who of underground American metal masters and combines their efforts into one bleak whole. I e-mailed Mr. Grigg and sought insight into what makes Woe work.
Mark Hensch of Thrashpit.com: Thank you for taking time out of your schedule and writing back responses to my questions. Quietly, Undramatically has been blaring out of my speakers quite a bit lately.
Chris Grigg (vocals/guitars): I'm glad to hear that. Thank you for your questions.
Thrashpit.com: Take me back to the beginning. How did Woe first come into existence?
Grigg: In the beginning, there was frustration. I wanted full control over a project. I wanted to move at my own rapid pace, free from others' opinions and egos. I wrote a song and recorded it. I drank a bottle of absinthe and wrote more. These were released in 2007 as a demo entitled Absinthe Invocation: Five Spells Against God. Things went from there: a split CD with Infernal Stronghold that same year (Land of Piss & Poison) and a full-length (2008's A Spell for the Death of Man), both recorded as a solo project. I put a full band together at the end of 2008 and we performed live shows from then on. We signed with Candlelight Records at the end of 2009 and our new album Quietly, Undramatically was released in late October.
Thrashpit.com: You've played or collaborated with a number of other bands such as The Green Evening Requiem, Krieg and Algol. How is your work in Woe different from other bands you're involved with?
Grigg: I've been in a lot of different band situations. Others call the shots in The Green Evening Requiem, though I contribute to the songwriting. Krieg is also another's project and I have been fortunate enough to be a part of it lately; hopefully that will continue. I've been in a lot of bands but only a very small number had releases that I'd count as being more than demos. I drummed for Algol but never played on a recording, drummed for Near Dark who released a 7" album and played guitar with The Green Evening Requiem on their most recent full-length (this year's Decomposer). I was also the original live drummer for Mose Giganticus. Woe has been my child with me doing all the songwriting and handling everything, though we approach all aspects of our shows democratically.
Thrashpit.com: Woe now contains musicians from bands like Woods of Ypres, Infernal Stronghold and The Green Evening Requiem. How did such a group come together?
Grigg: I don't see anyone as a "former" member. Nobody ever leaves Woe. It's like being in prison – once a con, always a con.
All four of us play in The Green Evening Reqiuem. Our drummer Evan Madden joined Woods of Ypres shortly after entering Woe and then our bassist Shane Madden signed up after that. Our guitarists Grzesiek Czapla (of Infernal Stronghold) and Matt Moore (of Rumpelstiltskin Grinder) are the two whose roles are a bit different. We had a rotating guitarist position for a while.
Matt was originally Woe's second guitarist but his schedule wouldn't always allow him to play regularly, which was where Grzesiek came in. Unfortunately, he has been busy with Infernal Stronghold and school so we kept finding ourselves in a situation where neither was available. Our latest guitarist, Ben Brand, joined a few months ago, solving the problem.
Grzesiek and Matt both play on the new album. Grzesiek is the first guitar you hear on Quietly, Undramatically – he is one of the two guitars on the first two tracks, the title track and the last song. Matt played for Woe at the end of the recording process. We each had some ideas for little things to add and then we experimented with parts until we found things that fit. He only makes a few appearances but they are all crucial to the songs and the album.
Thrashpit.com: Before Woe's current lineup you played under the name "Xos." What made you decide to jettison the moniker and play under your real name?
Grigg: It was when I realized that I was only using the fake name through Internet communication with strangers. As soon as I got to know someone, I'd say "hey man, I'm Chris." It felt phony. I wouldn't call myself Xos in person so why attach it to my music? I'm sort of embarrassed by it now.
Thrashpit.com: Quietly, Undramatically is your first full-length album since 2008's A Spell for the Death of Man. How do you think your band's sound has changed since then?
Grigg: The new album has a focus on dynamics whereas the first album has a focus on speed. A Spell for the Death of Man was a mash-up of my favorite ideas from my favorite black metal bands and I thus wore my influences on my sleeve. There were plenty of instances where I'd say "OK, now I'm going put an Emperor part here and an Ulver part there and now a Darkthrone part." In the course of writing it, I developed a songwriting style that was my own, something I think of as the "Woe sound," and that's what I pushed on the new album.
Thrashpit.com: Quietly, Undramatically is also your first release for Candlelight Records. How did you end up on Candlelight and what do you think of them so far?
Grigg: A combination of good reviews for A Spell for the Death of Man, our motivation to play shows outside our area, our intense live experience, knowing the right people and working cheap made us attractive to the label. I have nothing but good things to say about them. I'm in constant contact with them, particularly their U.S. office. It's based outside of Philadelphia so I get to hang out with their staff regularly.
Thrashpit.com: One of the things I've enjoyed most about Quietly, Undramatically is how cohesive it is as an album. It sometimes seems like the songs flow into each other so seamlessly they'd be incomplete if one song was added or subtracted. Is there a unifying message or atmosphere the album in your opinion conveys?
Grigg: I'm glad to hear you say that. There certainly is a unifying message and atmosphere that I planned but they're not exactly related. Each song on Quietly, Undramatically was written as an album so the concept – which can be described in simplistic terms as a focus on the parts of ourselves that we just can't get away from – was there from the beginning. That's not to say that it's a "concept" album that tells a story – it's more that the songs fit together to explore specific ideas that were important to me at the time of their composition.
Atmosphere is an interesting thing. Each song has its own. Within each song, you might have different atmospheres created, and the songwriter's job is to manipulate them so that they flow in a way that is natural. When putting an album together, you have to consider how each song's feeling relates to the others and then arrange them so that they too feel organic, almost as if you're writing one big song. It's a delicate thing. When writing this album, I knew how I wanted it to start and what moods it should convey as a whole. I planned on ending with track six, the album's long-song "Full Circle," but decided late in the process that going out with a bang would make a stronger statement.
Thrashpit.com: They say a musician is his harshest critic. Do you have a favorite song on Quietly, Undramatically? Why or why not?
Grigg: It depends on my mood. Given each song has its own signature goals to accomplish and statements to make, they all offer me something different that I can appreciate. I think that the title track and the last track, "Hatred is Our Heart," do the best job of encapsulating everything that the album has to offer. They're the two that I find myself listening to the most.
Thrashpit.com: As someone who lives and breathes heavy metal, how would you describe black metal to someone who's unfamiliar with it?
Grigg: Black metal is particularly tough because it means so many different things to different people. Being a black metal band goes beyond having a certain sound. It's sound but also attitude, philosophy and even a general aura. I'd tell them to stop talking and put on Nyktalgia's Peisithanatos.
Thrashpit.com: I've been fascinated by the stylistic divide (real or imagined) between United States black metal and black metal overseas. How do you think American black metal bands approach the genre differently (if at all)?
Grigg: It's so hard to say, especially these days, and it's getting more complex. I think that the American bands are grittier, artier and more honest on the whole. There are fewer theatrics and more of a working class, punk rock attitude. There are plenty of exceptions overseas though.
Thrashpit.com: A recurring trend I've noticed in black metal is its tendency towards one-man bands. Do you see yourself as part of that same movement? Why or why not?
Grigg: Early on, I was very inspired by it. The whole "I can do this myself" mentality made and still makes sense to me. It also makes sense for black metal to embrace it.
My big problem with the solo "movement" is that a lot of the guys doing it seem to focus on the individualism aspect of it. There are lower standards for black metal solo projects, and they can get away with things that bands operating traditionally can't. The attention paid to the performer instead of the performance bothers me. I think that A Spell for the Death of Man was successful because I strove to recreate the full band experience and pushed the solo aspect to the background whenever possible. There are plenty of others who do this, too, and I hope to see more of it.
Thrashpit.com: Now that Woe has an expanded lineup, will there be more concert dates coming?
Grigg: We can only hope.
Thrashpit.com: Last question. What does the future hold for Woe?
Grigg: Time will tell. I'm working on some new material casually. Without a good concept, I can't focus and won't be able to write or arrange until I know what my destination is. Things are good at the moment so it's hard to dwell on the darker side of life with everything that's going on. It's my nature, though. As much as I've tried (and believe me, I have tried) to get away from it, it always comes back. Sooner than later, we'll be back in the studio.
Thrashpit.com: Thank you once again for your time. Is there anything else you'd like to add?
Grigg: I think I've already said enough. Thank you for your thoughtful questions and your support.
Mark Hensch is the editor of Thrashpit. His writing also appears on his Heavy Metal Hensch blog at The Washington Times.