originally posted on You Aren't Cool on December 7, 2012. Interview by J. Air.
Botanist is without doubt one of the most interesting and unique black metal acts currently operating within the US. In this lengthy interview J. Air talked to sole member Otrebor about the rich mythology behind his work, the black metal scene and the pros and cons of the increased exposure and acceptance of metal as a whole.
Thank you for taking your time to do this. I'm always slightly apprehensive when approaching more specialist or esoteric artists in cause they balk at the wide-range of music we cover. I know some of the more 'kvlt' artists might not be too happy at sitting alongside a review of Nicki Minaj.
I believe it doesn’t have to be metal to be good, but it does have to be good.
First of all I want to ask about your musical background. How long have you been playing and creating music?
The Botanist project began its recorded beginning in the Fall of 2009. I had been involved in various projects and bands for years prior to that, and continue to do so.
The hammered-dulcimer is quite an esoteric instrument. How did you first come to play it? And when did you first decide to use it to create black metal?
Since doing the interview on Full Metal Attorney, the official story of the dulcimer’s origins are as such: “I found a creepy old music shop, and hidden in the corner of their basement there was a cobweb-covered dulcimer. The shop owner warned me that it was cursed -- but I bought it anyway. After I left the shop and started playing it, strange things started happening. I tried to return and learn more about the curse, but the shop was empty, and looked as if it had been deserted for years.”
Are you engaged with the USBM scene? I've seen some people refer to the explosion in USBM's popularity and exposure over the past five to six years as it's 'third wave' and while I disagree with the label, I concede a lot of the really interesting, provocative and challenging stuff does seem to originate in America. Do you think there's a particularly reason for this?
The first I had heard about this being referred to as the “third wave” was on that Vice “One Man Metal” documentary that I finally watched yesterday after a bunch of people asked me if I had seen it. Now your mention of that is literally the second time I’ve heard that. My reaction to that is that people will say whatever to spin something, and, as always, to think for yourself. Whatever has happened in the US is a wave, sure, but calling it THE third wave seems ignorant, as it greatly discounts all the awesome movements that have happened and continue to happen in places like France, Germany, Finland, Ukraine... (and if my one of my bandmates in Ophidian Forest were here, he’d say Greece).
Do I see a particular reason for this? No. I do believe that once one person does something, once a bar has been set, it makes it easier for the next person to do something similar or better. Look at the barrier of breaking the 4-minute mile. It seemed impossible until someone did it, and then lots of people did it.
Back to music, when Dave Lombardo hit the scene, he is remembered as being THE metal drummer, the guy who was head and shoulders above everyone else in his field, a guy who revolutionized his style and genre. Until him, no one could conceive of playing like him. Not to take away from the man’s talent, style and legacy, but since his fiercest heyday, tons of drummers have been able to play as good or even better than Dave Lombardo, and I believe it was because they were able to conceive what that was like and that it was possible.
I think whatever metal explosion is occurring in the US is as much due to the discovery of the knowledge of possibility as anything else. One band does something, some other bands see the possibility, discover the concept, and re-create/adapt it for themselves.
Regarding your question about my involvement: not much, really. The only thing substantial other than my own projects is playing drums on the second Ordo Obsidium record, which turned out great and is supposed to be coming out soon, one would think.
What are your thoughts on the increasing interest non-metal publications have in the genre? In my opinion a lot of the best coverage and journalism on the genre has actually come from 'outsider' sources. For all it's detractors Pitchfork has had some great reviews and interviews and Vice's recent One Man Metal series was one of the best documentaries I've seen on the subject.
Right. That documentary. Again, I finally watched it after it seemed mandatory I do so, particularly when another interviewer had just asked me about it and how he deemed it “disrespectful,” specifically what the camera-work chose to focus on. Anyway, I was interested to watch it, I didn’t feel it was particularly disrespectful, and although it didn’t set my world on fire, I think it was entertaining and well done for what it is.
Regarding your question about increased interest by non-metal publications (and thus a wider spread popularity/knowledge of metal)... I have highly conflicting views. One one hand, I believe that metal as a genre makes its best stuff when it is underground, when none except the initiated -- the people who dug and sought it out for themselves - know about it. I have this view because I see periods when the world at large dumped on or were simply oblivious to metal as being periods when some of the best stuff was made.
I have this view because I believe that as something becomes more popular, people that want to emulate that purely for fame or monetary gain are more enabled to do so, and those with the ability to propel those people into neatly packaged, easily consumed bands are more wont to spend their resources on a more commercially attractive product... without necessarily being interested in that product in the first place. Hey, it happened in the ‘80s, when metal had its biggest time in the sun -- it got popular, a lot of bands surfaced purely due to the commercial appeal of having a metal band, and had a career until the corporate machine had adulterated it, bled it dry and/or the dabbler, casual, bandwagon-riding fan-base (meaning, most everyone) got bored, wanted something else, or outgrew it.
I’ve seen metal grow gradually more popular since the turn of the millennium, and frankly, I’ve seen it decline in quality overall rather than increase. Sure, amazing acts continue to release phenomenal albums, but overall, I feel the soul of the genre is shallower, more trite. The bigger the label, the more available for public consumption the bands are who have perfect, bloated, plastic production, with everything in place and all done seemingly flawlessly. Like the bit earlier about the 100 meter dash, there are more and more amazing players all the time, and the bar is constantly raised, but regardless, there is something that is not legitimate about the bulk of this, (you can say the same about nowadays pop music as well), something that is not human, something that is rigid synthesis of what paradoxically one would think one is seeking, namely music played by a group of people.
I also have this view due to my own bias that metal is elite music. Whether that’s because it can be extremely difficult to play technically or physically, that it can be high concept, that it always seems to be extremely something (fast, slow, dissonant, melodic, whatever... metal seems to find whatever it’s about and push it to the extreme), or that it’s simply difficult to listen to makes it fundamentally exclusive of the majority of people that could support it... which is a form of elitism.
On the other hand, I see more awareness, respect and acceptance for the genre resulting in better potential creation. Sure, there will be more generic, “me too” bands, but that also means that the overall pool of talent is more likely to attract genius creativity, who will push the genre into new and interesting places. I believe this is what we are seeing with the concurrent explosion of bands you asked about and the outlets that promote them. And in general, better publications are going to be staffed by better journalists who know how to do a proper job (like, actually researching their topic before entering into an interview, and who can write a proper sentence.)
For me, it is my goal to see the music of Botanist become as successful as it can get, and therefore I view coverage in publications not exclusive to metal as an excellent opportunity as it has the potential to reach a larger audience... and the fact that such publications want to cover Botanist in the first place means that the music’s ability to reach a larger audience is innate. Also, any exposure at the hands of people that know their audience and how to reach them is going to be good for the subject matter.
Regardless of who covers what and who consumes the albums, the further creation of Botanist will stick to a clearly outlined plan. The first six Botanist records were written before anyone had even heard the first one, so we’re locked into a path for at least the next couple years, with the path for the couple years after that already having been scripted out. We’ll see how it goes.
There's a rich mythology behind your music. I understand the character Botanist's ultimate goal is to destroy mankind. How serious are you about this? Is it storytelling or a new way of channelling the misanthropy and loathing often present in black metal?
I need to correct your statement slightly. The Botanist is awaiting the eradication of mankind, yes, but that is specifically mankind’s *self*-eradication. The Botanist believes that humanity as a whole is well on its way to extinguishing itself. So rather than phrasing The Botanist’s ultimate goal being “to destroy mankind,” it’s actually more like “to see mankind destroyed.”
Now, he is glad to help. This is particularly the case on “IV: Mandragora,” the most violent and insidious Botanist record to date. The character of Azalea had already been introduced on “I: The Suicide Tree,” and further developed on “III: Doom in Bloom,” as the deity in Botanist’s pantheon that directly speaks to him and directs his actions. While Azalea’s overarching plan was stated on “Quoth Azalea, the Demon,” his instructions to The Botanist on “IV” are more specific: Raise an army of Mandrakes to wipe out humanity. This is about the most overtly misanthropic Botanist is likely to get, and future albums will generally concentrate more on the glorification of the forms of the Plantae Kingdom.
How serious is this project? Entirely serious. Botanist is fundamentally about the glorification of the Natural world. Secondarily, it’s about mankind’s continued destruction of the Natural world, and in Botanist’s extreme way, to help raise awareness to fight against the forces that do so. One of the core messages is act now, before it is too late... with “too late” being in reference to mankind, for humanity is as many fleas on the back of the great big animal that is Nature. If Nature becomes annoyed enough, it will shake the fleas off and continue on.
You stated an important detail in your question. The Botanist is a character. I am not he, but he exists within me. I channel him. He speaks through the music. His is the voice that transmits the concept, the story. And what in fact is going on in that story, whether The Botanist’s tale is to be taken fantastically or concretely, is entirely up to you.
I was reading some other interviews you'd done and you talk as passionately about plants and botany as you do about your music. Are you actually a botanist? Have you studied the subject formally?
The world is the most beautiful thing in the world. What naturally occurs on this planet, what is as a result of the way things as ordained by the forces of creation -- these are things whose sublime perfection mankind can never hope to replicate. Botanist seeks to venerate the floral part of that universe, to venerate it because it is viewed as nothing less than our existence’s veritable divinity. That’s what Botanist is about. It isn’t about me.
When you refer to your upcoming record IV: Mandragora as more 'violent' what do you mean? Will there be an increase in the use of more traditional instruments?
That’s purely in reference to the subject matter. The intention to raise the Mandrake Legion to destroy humanity is the most active, overt act of violence by The Botanist in the body of work.
The cover art for both III: Doom in Bloom and IV: Mandragora is stunning. Who does it? What input do you have into it?
I believe a great way to make oneself look like a genius is to surround oneself with geniuses, and M.S. Waldron is one of those geniuses. Waldron is one perfect choice for Botanist as his interest greatly involves the organic, natural world, which you can see on his Facebook page here.
Generic question I know, but I'm always interested in what other musicians listen to. Do you listen primarily to metal? Who are some of your favorite bands and records?
I’m going to leave what’s been mentioned previously as something that you can discover by checking out the interviews in the press section of Botanist.nu.
There may be as many bands that I love as there are plants to write about. Here are one metal one and one non-metal one, both unique and peerless in their own right.
In the Woods: A Norwegian band that started off sort of more in the standard black metal vein, but rapidly got more progressive and avant-garde. Their best album for me is “Omnio,” a top-level work of progressive doom. The first song, “299 796 km/sec” (aka the speed of light) by itself is worth buying the album: lush, expressive cello, amazing movements, rich, organic production, excellent variety of clean vocals and meaningful, thoughtful melodies. I listened to that the other day and felt that “III: Doom in Bloom” was in oblivious retrospect maybe what I would hope would be my “Omnio,” except then I realized 10 seconds after having that thought that “Omnio” destroys my album.
Bohren & the Club of Gore: The first and last word in doom lounge music. If a band could play music to the Nth degree of languidness, of comforting tranquility, yet still somehow, impossibly fit into, in some 6th-degree-of-separation way, the metal scene, Bohren would be it. They play lounge music, but their aim for live shows is to make the audience feel “like they are inside a grave.” Their music sounds like the alternate soundtrack to The Black Lodge from “Twin Peaks,” but when they play, being in The Black Lodge is the most welcoming place in the universe. The biggest, and perhaps only, connection I can see to Botanist here is how Bohren sounds nothing like what metal acts heavily influences them, like Taake (who, by the way, made one of my all-time favorite albums. Ever).
Top Bohren albums for me are without doubt “Midnight Radio” and “Sunset Mission,” which has a chilling, wtf aspect of being on the surface soft, peaceful, bliss-out music, but in fact being about serial killers. Flip the CD over from its cover of a serene urban nightscape to see a photo of stockpiled automatic rifles and song titles like “Prowler” and “Darkstalker.” The booklet has a quote by Matt Wagner that goes “Alone in the comforting darkness the creature waits. As confusion reigns on this hellish stage, the deafening grind of machinery, the odious clot of chemical waste. Still, the trail of his ultimate prey leads through this steely maze to these, the addled offspring of the modern world.” It’s alternatively blissful and chilling, depending on what aspect of the album one looks at at any given moment, as one aspect is completely capable of making one forget the other in an instant. 10+ years after first discovering this album, it still works every time with me.
“Midnight Radio”’s theme of driving alone on the highway with only a car radio is even more subtle, but I appreciate it most of all: like with all Bohren, there is no voice on the album (don’t count the EP they did with a song with Mike Patton), and all the photos in the booklet of the nighttime depictions of urban life and the concrete jungle are, aside from like one instance of a blurry, almost ghost-like presence, utterly devoid of people. You can see lights on in the skyscrapers, but it’s like all that exists without any human intervention. There’s another parallel to a vision/source of inspiration for Botanist: the imagery of a reality with no human presence whatsoever. “Midnight Radio” is so slow and languid, it’s nothing short of catatonic. It wasn’t until maybe the 6th or 7th listen that I was able to make it all the way through without falling asleep, and that is meant in the highest regard.
Thank you very much for your time, it is very much appreciated. Any final words or thoughts?
2013 is going to be a big, busy year for Botanist. The biggest one yet for sure. “IV: Mandragora” is the first big piece. Watch www.botanist.nu, Facebook, or Twitter for other pieces as they happen. You can listen to all officially published music and view the artwork and depictions of the plants for free at Bandcamp.