It is difficult to summarize the work of Otrebor, as tossed off descriptions like "dulcimer-based black metal" belay the complexity and thoughtful nature of his project Botanist. There is no gimmickry on display, but instead a deeply considered approach to making complex and layered music, with a nuanced and wry mythology incorporated into the lyrics. This thoughtfulness extended to his answers to our questions, which were answered in exacting detail. We thank him for his time, and his thoughts.
The botanist is an interesting character, as he exists to create the downfall of his own species. he's been promised a sort of elevation to the plant hive-mind when his task is completed, when the Budding Dawn has been realized. this Faustian riff is intriguing to me, because it implies an aggression and impatience within the Chlorophyllic Continuum that one doesn't traditionally associate with flora. can you talk a bit more about the nature of the collaboration between the botanist and the continuum? what makes their collusion possible, while the rest of humanity is painted as a scourge? or is this collusion the product of a fevered mind?
Otrebor: What indeed is going on in the universe of Botanist? Is Azalea a veritable entity, or merely the reflection of schizophrenia? Is the Verdant Realm an actual place, or a state of mind? The truth is not intended to be explicit and it is up to you to form your own perceptions. That reality will then become true for you.
Your correlation between the Chlorophyllic Continnum and the story of Faust is interesting and valid. Like in Goethe's story, the main character in Botanist is promised a better, transcendental existence should he comply with the wishes of a demonic entity, Azalea. The nuance intended, though, is that the transcendence in Botanist's would-be afterlife is sublime: After witnessing the end of mankind, all that will be left is the humanity of The Botanist, who must also be erased according to Azalea's plan. Rather than be reduced to dust, The Botanist is promised a place within the energetic continuum that ties all flora together -- essentially, The Botanist's final reward is to become a plant himself. The intended sublimity, the contrast between the Faustian one, is that the final reward is not an eternity of servitude, but rather a throwing off of the limitations of flesh and the mundane realities of human existence; to become part of a collective entity that exists not as thinking, tumultuous individuals, but as an eternal, harmonious whole -- a kind of perpetual state of floral enlightenment bliss. In contrast to Faust's, the period of suffering and servitude is now, it is limited, and what that experience is like is reflected in the music of Botanist.
Is there an ending in place for the story of the botanist, a termination point for this project, or do you see Botanist as an open-ended project?
The intention is to make each Botanist full-length remarkably different from what came before it. "I/II" will never be made again, as neither will "III," and so on. These progressions have come to be called "antitheses" or "inversions," and there is a series of inversions planned through nine full-length albums, which, if the plan remains, would make the tenth full-length the final one. That final number may change depending on if inspiration for further exploration arises between now and the years that it will take to record these albums, but I quite like the image, at least, of Botanist "X" being the final chapter. For sure, the title and thematic end for the final album (whenever that may be) is clear, although the sonic presentation is not.
Along the way, a number of EPs are also planned, which will not necessarily adhere to the rule of being inversions of what came before. I want to allow myself the opportunity to write and record material in a vein that would please me to explore again, and making shorter, non-Roman numeral-ed recordings would allow for that indulgence. However, knowing how I have a hard time doing the same thing twice, even the EPs that have been completed or are in the works have something distinct about how they were approached, though those distinctions are more like variations of the progressions in the full-length albums.
Is humanity entirely apart from the natural order now, in your opinion? can the two be reconciled?
In botany, you will come across plants qualified as "invasive," meaning that the species' nature is to take over the environment where it exists in an over-reaching, generally detrimental way... (which often times seems to be as a result of human bungling, poor research and hastiness in introducing foreign plants into areas they don't belong, and then leaving it to Nature to pick up the pieces.)
One of my favorite examples of this is the introduction of Pampas Grass (Cortaderia Selloana) into the ecosystems of Northern California. Pampas Grass, which is a lovely plant, of course belongs in the plains of Argentina, where it's an important, sustainable part of the ecosystem. But it looked nice so idiots brought it here to decorate the sides of highways and their gardens, for example. It was only after the point of no return that it was discovered that Pampas Grass is essentially a giant, beautiful, nasty, tough-as-nails weed. Once you plant it, you can't get rid of it, even if you dig out all the roots, because it's extremely resilient and even the smallest bit of it can cause a whole new, badass plant to grow again. What's more, the specie tends to be what's known as a "runner," which means its nature is to propagate and multiply from the spot where it's planted, and quickly. The only reliable way people found to rid themselves of the plant was to burn it, which has led to people accidentally burning their houses down in their efforts. What a bunch of assholes.
Fauna of course can also be deemed as "invasive," and again, myriad examples of species' extinctions have been documented by, again, mankind's profound bumbling by introducing creatures where they didn't belong and then wondering where it all went wrong. Again.
No matter how much we people are disgusted by "invasive" species of "vermin," be in roaches, rats, weeds, locusts or whatever you want, there is not a specie that is so invasive as humans, whose intrinsic nature is to over-reach and over-consume -- devouring and destroying the natural space that they occupy until it is ruined, at which point a new space is needed.
To come to an answer to your question, The Botanist's answer is no. Humankind cannot help its overwhelming nature of careless, mindless consumption any more than puppies' propensity to chew up and destroy everything in your home, or goats' nature to mindlessly devour everything in a field until there is nothing left to eat, which leads to the starvation of the devourers. It's just what humans do, except humanity's version is far beyond the scope of a few destroyed slippers, ravaged furniture or barren fields. Down to the most primal level, humans are, as a whole, careless consumers. The big problem is our ability to destroy is exponentially greater than any other specie, and likely more than every other specie combined.
Compounding this problem is the sheer amount of humans around. The overwhelming root of the problems widespread throughout the world, and that even includes the issues within human society, is that there are too many people, which is exacerbated by people's nature in general is to be greedy and destructive. The destruction of the environment, the lack of space in cities, the lack of opportunities, the dwindling of resources, the increasing division between rich and poor, the increasing complication of basic life, is all due to there being too many fucking people. Whenever I see some news source lamenting how some place has a too-high death rate vs. birth rate, I laugh. The entire world should be so lucky. Or what? Should the human population continue to climb into the tens of billions, with not enough room for the people that exist as it is? As it was 10 years ago? Twenty years ago?
When there is an overpopulation of a specie, when there are too many trees in a forest, nature corrects it, be it via plague, swarms, floods, fires, etc... This is the same for plants, animals and humans alike. When left to its own devices, Nature makes the best balance possible. However, mankind, under the guise of progress, humanitarianism, ego, compassion, morals, and so on, tries to save every human being and eradicate all diseases. Compassion is a good thing, good morals are to be applauded over bad ones, and I would want help for me and my loved ones if I were in trouble, but I have to wonder: If we eradicate all diseases, if we become immortal, then who will die, and how will that impact the planet and the quality of life for every living entity?
The good news in all of this is humanity is not so powerfully destructive that it can break the planet for good. Even if humanity ruins it all, if every resource is consumed, and every living thing in the world is killed, it is only temporary, as Nature will bounce back eventually and new life will spring up (as we've seen in the aftermaths of natural / man-made disasters, most recently the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico)... whether that includes humanity or not. That is the notion of The Budding Dawn -- one of hope, of a greater sense of peace and harmony and balance. In that sense, yes, The Botanist would tell you humanity and the natural order can be reconciled.
Some of your ideas seem close to anarcho-primitivism, with a more apocalyptic bent. has that movement of philosophy influenced this project at all?
Not at all. All views in Botanist are as a result of the way he and I see the world.
There is something I'd like to say about the term "anarchist." I generally think people's notions of what that means are incorrect. I think that people at large believe "anarchy" is supposed to mean an existence "without rules." If we're going by the roots of the word, I strongly disagree. If "mon" (solo) "arch" (ruler) means "one ruler," and different prefixes qualify the ruler -- like "patri" (father), "olig" (a group), "matri" (mother), et al -- and the "y" is the existence of such, than "anarchy" -- "an" (not, none), "arch" (ruler) -- would be the state of having no ruler... not no rules!
Of course the inherent contradiction of living in a society with no rules is problematic! It's impossible. I think that got twisted around by idiots who distorted the core meaning of the word, which originally arose from criticism of a system in which one person ruled unquestionably over everyone else. Now people at large associate "anarchy" with a bunch of hooligan punks with no concept or interest in deodorant, running around spray-painting red As with circles around them, and generally causing mayhem. I highly doubt that's what people like Pierre Joseph Proudhon had in mind.
While you can have existence without a defined ruler, you cannot have life without rules, even in an "anarchy," and Nature is the perfect example. Nature very much has a highly stringent set of rules. So even if you threw off the shackles of human society and lived alone, you would still very much have to adhere to a highly rigid set of rules whose breaking would often result in brutal consequences. I argue that in an anarcho-primitivist existence, there very much is a ruler, and that ruler is Nature itself.
There seems to be a bit of an arch sensibility behind some of your presentation. I'm thinking particularly of song titles like "rhodendoom", or the transposition of Faustian/Satanic imagery to a secular ideology. Is this meant as a sly critique of po-faced environmentalist black metal bands, or just a playful riff on metal's bombastic sensibilities?
Yes to all your questions. While Botanist is a serious project, it is not above me allowing myself to be amused.
You've said that the first two albums were written in an way that allowed for spontaneity. There appears to be a shift to more structured song writing on the third. Is this accurate, and if so, what prompted that shift?
It's partially accurate that there is less spontaneity and more structured songwriting on "III," but then again, it isn't. It is in the sense that most of the material on "I/II" was made with the starting point of drum tracks recorded to a specific tempo, with a few rhythmic ideas -- call them "drum riffs" -- in mind, and allowing for whatever else to happen, and with the intention of making the songs largely grindcore track length. The most intentionally structured track was "A Rose From the Dead," but even those drums were recorded to no particular music in mind.
"III" was also the approach of writing songs to drum tracks. As stated in the liner notes, the drums for "III" were recorded in 2008 for a doom project that never materialized. Instead of throwing away a great-sounding recording session, it was used for Botanist. So the non-drum parts had to be made to conform to the recorded drums. In that sense, it isn't different at all.
I think the perception of the tracks being more structured is in part an illusion that is partially attributable to the songs' lengths. Really, it's the same kind of stuff on "III" that is on "I/II," but the music, the compositions, the changes on "III" stick around longer, they take their time. They breathe more. But that's inherently the nature of the approach. It isn't better or worse. On top of the structures, there's a remarkable difference in sound treatment and in recording technique, as well as some added instruments and vocal approaches to give the music more depth.
You have mentioned that Arvo Part is a big influence on you, there are many examples of recent in extreme music that owe a great deal not only to Part, but other Modern Composers as well. Besides the movements and intensity, do you see any connections between the two? Why does it seem like this influence is fairly new?
Every album I've ever heard, even to the smallest degree, has been an influence on the music I've been a part of. That scope of influence ranges from giving ideas of what to do, to giving insight on what absolutely not to do. I can't speak for others' appreciation, but I can say that of the work of Pärt that has resonated with me the most, it is simple, powerfully emotional pieces like "Fratres." It goes to show that a well-written and paced melody, repeated over and over with variations, can go a long way -- a lot longer way than an ultra-complex piece with tons of theoretically genius compositions and twiddling all over the place, it would seem. My Naxos release of "Fratres," made up of many versions of the same piece, is one of the favorite albums in my collection.
Pieces like that reinforce the value of doing simple things well. Doing the complicated well is also a skill, but for sure doing the simple well is far preferable than doing something complicated badly. If works like Arvo Pärt's "Fratres" are any indication, sometimes, when done well, the simple is better than the complicated... and the Natural world is the perfect reflection of that: It can seem aesthetically simple if one wants to view it casually, or impossibly complicated if one looks at the workings of what makes up its initial simplicity.
It seems like you're creating material at a staggering rate, even allowing for the long time between the creation and release of the first double album. can you talk about the process of creation for this project in general? i imagine you do a tremendous amount of research.
If your point of reference is bands who wait till the last minute and write their lyrics in the studio right before recording their songs, then, yes, Botanist is tremendously researched.
As you've read in previous interviews, Botanist was started to allow me to produce material at my own pace, without the obstacles that being in projects with other people can present. And I do work fast and intensely. I do so because of the innate need to do so, to create, to express -- and what feeds that need is a sort of paranoid version of "seize the day." I'm afraid that although I don't think you can use up creativity by creating, extraneous life circumstances can cause it to disappear on you without warning. My art scholar friend Laura Faya once said that what an artist should be doing is creating art. Constantly. Sitting around for that art to be presented to the public, or allowing "proper space" between creations based on someone else's preferences of how things should be is total bullshit.
I've also been quite marked by an interview I once read with Max Cavalera. It was during a time long after he'd left Sepultura, after he had made some Soulfly albums, but before Cavalera Conspiracy. I'll make no bones about it, Soulfly (or anything else the man has been a part of since Sepultura) is awful, and even when he was still in Sepultura, almost anything after Arise is really not very good at all. In the interview, he essentially said that even if he wanted to, he could never write another "Beneath the Remains," which represents Sepultura, and the man's focused creativity, at its peak. I took it to mean he'd changed too much as a person, as an artist. I remember thinking at the time, "man, if only he and Sepultura hunkered down and wrote thirty songs instead of 10, or whatever, we'd have three times as much best-era Sepultura!" Of course it doesn't necessarily work in such a simple way, but the core value of "create as soon as you can, while the iron is hot" was an important life lesson that I applied to my own life as an artist. Since I started recording Botanist in 2009, I've made almost six full-length records (at the time of this writing, July, 2012) and a few EPs. Some of the records, like "I/II," which from recorded beginnings to mastered end took seven months, and others, like "VI," will have taken 2+ years to finish. I end up making something like a little more than two full-length albums worth of material a year, which is possible because I'm always working on some creative aspect of the records.
To be fair, one-man projects have a greater time luxury to go about things this way. After all, on top of not having to discuss/approve creative direction with anyone else, there are no band practices, no shows and no tours -- none of the things essential to most bands that take time away from, and contribute to burnout of writing new material.
The bad side to having albums stockpiled is that what the public hears as "the new Botanist album" is in fact old and done to me. (Case in point: "III" was completed about a year and a half before it was released, and practically started more than four years before that. By the time "IV" and "V" are released, two years will have passed since their actual completion. And that's without any further delays.) But that's ok. I believe one of the most important concepts to come to terms with as an artist whose work is disseminated is that once you present it to the public, that work ceases, on some weird but important level, to be entirely yours. It starts on some unreal but veritable level to be anyone's who listens to it. This becomes more and more the case with each person that has a profound emotional reaction to your art. That was a most important lesson learned from local metal legend John Gossard, of Weakling, Asunder, Dispirit, etc... It's a major reason why when I get questions like your first one, regarding what is going on in the story of Botanist, I make it purposefully open-ended -- it's up to your interpretation. Simply, *I* have a very clear perception of what is going on in Botanist, of what it means to me, of what it says about me and how I view the world. Just as how that unique experience is mine, anyone who consumes the albums' experience is theirs, and it is my intention to let that be different... because its very nature is that it will be anyway.
The waiting game could be worse, though. Like another friend pointed out, at least Botanist doesn't have to tour on albums that are years old while new material waits in the wings...
It's been said that the next botanist album is going to focus on mandrakes. while an actual plant, the mandrake is also supposedly created by copulation between (usually a dead) man and earth, and screams when uprooted. i'm not sure you could make up a better story to write a black metal album about. can you talk a little bit about the direction the fourth album is heading? how often do you come across plant myths that are just perfect for your purposes?
The title for the next full-length album is "IV: Mandragora." The bulk of the album is a concept work based on the alchemical process of creating a mandrake, which is applied to the Botanist universe. Although there are twists and nuances, the basic premise has Azalea telling The Botanist he must raise an army of mandrakes in order to help wipe clean the earth of humanity. It's definitely the most violent and visceral content yet written for this project.
Up until the time of this writing, "IV" is my favorite personal work. M.S. Waldron is again on board for the visual art creation, and Flenser will be releasing it. What I can promise is, like every Botanist full-length preceding and succeeding it, it will sound notably different. I believe the progression in sound is at least as impactful as the one from "I/II" to "III." While there are important slow passages on the album, the doom experiment is over. "IV" is far leaner, meaner, and has the best flow perhaps of anything I've written yet.
There for sure are enough plant myths to sustain Botanist albums till the end. They don't even have to be myths to be mythicised. One example of this are plants like Aizoaceae Lithops, a genera of succulent that disguises itself as stones. That would be a good concept for an EP some day.
I also passively allow for the expansion of something of a pantheon of botanical gods, like Azalea. Another one that has been presented on Botanist.nu is Arctopoides, described as "The Sanicle Prince. Invisible godlike entity whose passing can only be measured by the plants known as the Footsteps of Spring, which grow out of the ground where he has trodden on his everlasting journey. With each step, the behemoth Arctopoides heals the land he comes in contact with." Arctopoides will be the subject of material I intend to record this year, which means it will be released in 2014 or later. There are a few other entities that may become part of the pantheon, but their forms have not yet become fully clear.
This is a question we've asked other bands, but i'm intrigued to hear your answer: why is sunny california such a breeding ground for powerful and interesting black metal? you've spoke about the early influence of your mother's garden, but can you speak a bit about the current influence of your environment?
Beware the tales of sunny California. Unprepared tourists innumerable get had by San Francisco every year. We're in full July Summer swing here in SF, which is cold and gray. As a good San Franciscan kid, never, ever going outside without a sweater handy was a tough habit to break when being anywhere else in the world during the summer months.
Like I've said in a previous interview, the notion of a "scene" as a bunch of people in contact, feeding off each other, gets largely romanticized by outsiders dreaming in. I can tell you for sure that's the case here.
Beyond the notion of a scene of people, I can attest that California's diversity of natural beauty is a major personal inspiration. The mountains of Yosemite, the endless horizon of the Pacific Ocean, the Pacific Coastline around Big Sur... even running around in Golden Gate Park and taking the time to appreciate the beauty of the plants growing there, or observing the tree canopies in the Presidio or on Mt. Sutro are greatly centering.
What are you listening to these days?
About as much stuff I'm not so into as stuff I am. This is mostly because I'm culling my music (and music gear) collection for items I don't want anymore, in order to use the proceeds of the sales towards something that will be another in a line of big game-changers for Botanist. If/when I do get it, its impact won't be felt till 2014, probably, as whatever I record with it this year will take that long to get to the public. But when it does, it will be awesome.
As far as stuff I have listened to lately that I've been stoked on, Pan-Thy-Monium's "Khaooos and Kon-Fus-Ion," Harold Budd's "The Pavillion of Dreams" and "In the Mist," Hilliard Ensemble's "Baltic Voices 2," Lost Horizon's "As a Flame to the Ground Beneath," and Acid Bath's "When the Kite String Pops" are standouts.
Some of my favorite bands I discovered in 2011 were Ghost (retro-now heavy metal whose songs just get better the more I know them... and seeing them live makes it even more great), Midnight Odyssey (best bedroom fantasy celestial ambient pajama metal ever) , Aurvandil (best freezing beautiful soothing black metal to come along since Coldworld), and Eldrig (super lightspeed major-key epicness, like a power metal band playing black metal, with keyboards that sound like getting a bunch of coins in the old Sonic the Hedgehog games... and I love getting coins), all of whom rock my world.
Any final thoughts? upcoming releases from Botanist our readers should be aware of?
Thank you for your time and effort reading up on Botanist before asking your questions. It reflects well on your level of journalism as well as making for a more interesting interview.
I'm often reading a number of misunderstandings about the "Allies" disk that should be cleared up. 1) The "Allies" songs are not covers of Botanist songs. Yes, I did describe them as "like covers from an alternate universe," but the key words are "alternate universe," meaning "not this one," meaning they are original songs. 2) The drums on "Allies" are not the same drum tracks from "III," they are from the same sessions, which is not the same thing. Like, you will not hear the beats from Ophidian Forest's "Cordyceps" anywhere on "Doom in Bloom." As I stated in Meat Mead Metal, there was something like two hours of drums from that 2008 recording session, and a combination of not wanting to write two hours of material + friends saying they wanted to write material to the doomy drums I had recorded led to "Allies."
The next big chapter in Botanist will be "IV: Mandragora," slated to be released early 2013 on The Flenser. It's my favorite Botanist album, but if you ask Jon Flenser, he'll tell you "V" is even better.