Interview originally by Johannes Niederhauser for Noisey Germany, who translated and ran a German version only. The original English version was edited and expanded on for Cvlt Nation's Cheryl Prime, who asked an extra question and removed another. Originally posted in English on November 13, 2013, here.
CVLT Nation: Hi Otrebor, thanks for talking to us. Can you tell us a little about how the split with Palace of Worms came about?
Otrebor: The Hanging Gardens of Hell’s origins began when I approached Balan in 2011 with the idea of doing a split record. It was my intention to make an album that represented some of the new wave of Bay Area black metal (bands like Mamaleek, Mastery, or Pale Chalice also came to mind). The album was originally about twice as long, but Balan and I either cut our song lists down or re-recorded material outright so the lot could fit neatly on a single vinyl disk. We all think it was the right choice.
I was also honoured to have Balan filling in at the last minute on dulcimer for our first tour, in October of 2013. We played seven dates with the mighty Behold… The Arctopus through the west coast of The USA and Canada, culminating in our performance at the Fall Into Darknessfestival in Portland. This show was beyond any of our expectations and we are grateful for the opportunity.
CVLT Nation: Who is “The Botanist” and how does the other person, Otrebor, fit into the grand scheme of the project?
Otrebor: The Botanist is the project’s titular character from whose point of view all the songs are told. From the band website: “The songs of Botanist are told from the perspective of The Botanist, a crazed man of science who lives in self-imposed exile, as far away from Humanity and its crimes against Nature as possible. In his sanctuary of fantasy and wonder, which he calls the Verdant Realm, he surrounds himself with plants and flowers, finding solace in the company of the Natural world, and envisioning the destruction of man. There, seated upon his throne of Veltheimia, The Botanist awaits the time of humanity’s self-eradication, which will allow plants to make the Earth green once again.”
Otrebor is my stage name. It’s the name I chose when I began my involvement in Ophidian Forest, the name I use when doing studio work (like for Ordo Obsidium), and it is the name of the musician who channels the essence of The Botanist, who in turn is channelling the essence of the divinity of the Natural World and acts as the speaker for its vengeful spirit. When you read a Botanist interview, it is with me, Otrebor. The Botanist speaks only on the records and during the performance of the material on stage.
CVLT Nation: Following on from that, how do those sides of the project reflect upon your own, “real world” persona?
Otrebor: I am not The Botanist, but he speaks through me. For this to be, there must necessarily be an intrinsic aspect to my outlook on the world and mankind’s place in it that has led this expression to emanate from my being.
CVLT Nation: Does The Hanging Gardens of Hell have any overarching themes and if so, how they fit into the flow of Botanist releases?
Otrebor: The concept/theme of this recording is hanging plants. Tillandsia, Senecio, and Tradescantia Pallida are all such plants, or are used as such. The Hanging Gardens of Hell was the original intended title for the first Botanist full length, which was then changed to The Suicide Tree based on the strength of the image of the Cerbera Odollam. It was fitting and exalting to name the first EP with this original name, and to do it further justice by giving all the plants mentioned in it a unifying characteristic.
CVLT Nation: Your songs and philosophy seem to suggest that mankind itself is doomed, is that something that you hold a powerful belief in?
Otrebor: If by doomed, you mean mankind is on a path of waste, misuse, arrogance and unconsciousness that will knock the natural order off balance, resulting in scarring of the environment and the ultimate eradication of the human species, then, yes, we are. It is already well underway.
CVLT Nation: What then does The Botanist suggest we do in order to save ourselves?
Otrebor: Everything we know will at some point cease to exist, with our own existences being some of the first in line. Saving the world is intrinsically linked to our cessation of unconsciousness, of self-entitlement, of self-importance, of the notion that we are islands that live on a separate plane from plants and animals. It is intrinsically linked with the perception of the Natural world as being our most tangible manifestation of the divine, and as such, it must be revered, or at least respected. If it is not respected, it will destroy us and move on unhindered.
CVLT Nation: Isn’t it too much of a moral statement though to say that we should save the world? Isn’t the world or nature fundamentally indifferent?
Otrebor: The world simply does not need saving. Fundamentally, Nature is not a defenceless child. Humanity, in all its bumbling, destructive power, will never be able to do so much damage to destroy the world — it can only mar it temporarily. Nothing that humanity can come up with and throw at Nature will ever equal the fundamentally superior power of Nature itself. Just as we do not have the power to destroy it, we likewise do not have the power to save it.
When the damage to Nature becomes great enough, Nature will simply rise up in its own way and sweep away the merely annoying oppressors, and eventually reset its natural balance again. From destruction will be rebirth. This notion is the basis for The Budding Dawn, and is the underlying sentiment of the title track of the second record, A Rose from the Dead.
Perhaps we should instead view “saving” the world as “preserving” it, and in particular, preserving it for ourselves, as it is the most essential piece of our very existence as a species. Think of a simple analogy of a group of creatures living on a plot of land that yields edible plants. If the creatures misuse the resources, and consume them to the point where the plants can not renew themselves, the creatures will die. Their remains will help renew the soil, which will eventually give rise to something new and balanced, as Nature intends. Witnessing the clear-cutting of a forest or the extinction of a species is tragic and a crime against Nature. But it is a crime also against us, for without Nature’s balance, our most basic means of survival is taken away. It is only when mankind as a whole can put aside its detrimental sense of self-importance and can learn the true lesson of Nature — that we are all but humble parts of its grand scheme — which every living being will benefit.
CVLT Nation: Where does your inspiration come from in terms of reading and research? Do you spend a great deal of time learning about the things you write about and how did that passion come about?
Otrebor: I’m not entirely sure where this all comes from. It just comes from somewhere, and it is of the highest importance that I do this work. Botanist is not the first or only entity to champion the importance of the Natural environment. There is more and more of them all the time. Just as we have automatic biological systems to help combat sickness and wounds, it is as if Nature has its own set as well, and that is manifesting itself in an increasing amount of people feeling a primordial need to do something to fight the good fight, to at least go down swinging while the bulk of humanity brings about its own downfall.
photo credit: MS Waldron
CVLT Nation: You recently completed your first run of live shows, as you mentioned previously, could you tell us a little more about how you found translating your work on record into a live performance and how you found the musicians you worked with? How was it collaborating with other people as you’re someone who usually works alone?
Otrebor: The biggest thrill I’ve felt while working with others in this project was the initial time of our running through any given song in practice — that the sense of urgency and the importance of the artistic message of Botanist’s music was so powerful to manifest four other individuals (two of whom must travel 400 miles each way to practice with the band) to learn the music’s intricacies and alien idiosyncrasies. This was a humbling, touching experience; important moments that help to strengthen my belief that Botanist goes beyond remarkable, creatively progressive music, to something whose artistic statement has a clear, powerful message that applies to the world.
You’ll commonly read how one-man bands don’t work with other people because they loathe it. While working as a one-man band for sure is less stressful and allows for a certain artistic freedom of flow, Botanist was more a one-man band out of necessity than choice. The story needed to be told, and it wasn’t going to happen unless I did it all myself. Now that the world is increasingly feeling the importance of the creation, more and more people are being drawn to it.
As to how I met the other live musicians, The Quietus ran an interview in which I said making Botanist a live band was a scenario I welcomed. One D. Neal read that interview and contacted me, as he was a black metal enthusiast who also played dulcimer. When we met, it became clear that there was an underlying strong energetic alignment that we shared. But it wasn’t until Neal found the second dulcimer player, R. Chiang that the live plan was truly in motion. Chiang’s dedication and gusto in the pursuit of being a career musician and of creating and promoting revolutionary art is an inspiration.
With the main core of dulcimers and drums in place, it was then a question of finding a bass player and harmonium player. Bezaelith, aka Elizabeth Gladding, and I go back years, and Botanist fans may recognize her name from the Lotus Thief track she contributed to the Alliesdisc. That she has a remarkable singing voice was a nice added bonus. A. Lindo’s name is as familiar from Allies too, as he did the vocals on the opening song, by Cult of Linnaeus. He’s turned into a fine frontman, as his physical presence and energy, particularly while playing his atypical instrument, provides a fierce and alien impact to the live shows.
Neal couldn’t make the tour, so Balan worked hard and filled in. He did a great job. It worked out well and then when Bezaelith was unable to continue touring, Balan stepped up to fill her duties on bass which is a more natural instrument for him. He and I have been talking about some ideas to make the bass more eerie and esoteric, more buzzing and baffling… more fitting with the tagline from tUMULt’s description of Botanist.
Translating the recorded work to live took some adaptation. For example, the first two records feature no bass guitar, but three dulcimer parts. So the bass guitar plays the lowest of the three parts. “Quoth Azalea, the Demon (Rhododendoom II)” features a lot of bowing, but pulling that off live is more problematic than it’s worth, so those parts are reproduced on harmonium. Then there’s the issue of what vocals I can actually do while simultaneously playing the drums, which was resolved by Lindo’s excellent competency and performance ability.
CVLT Nation: How do you view the political situation in the US? PRISM, drone wars, the economic situation and so on?
Otrebor: Everything is of some importance, like my having lunch today or whether the garbage gets picked up or not. However, if mankind’s actions lead to a world where Nature revolts and takes action against us, all of these issues will be swept away just as easily.