Prior to this interview with Paul Kuhr [PK], vocalist of Novembers Doom, I’ve had the privilege of listening to the upcoming Novembers Doom record Hamartia, which will be released on April 14th 2017. I also got the chance to ask their engineer and long time friend of the band, Chris Wisco [CW], engineer at Belle City Sound Studio a few questions regarding the new record and Novembers Doom in general.
First off congratulations on the new album! I’ve had the privilege of hearing it before it’s released and I must say I’m very impressed. It sounds like Novembers Doom as we know it but still assures us all that you’ve still got a lot to offer sound wise. It’s recognizable for the Novembers Doom fans out there as well as a show of growth and innovation. Well done, and thank you for the music!
[PK] Thank you for the kind words! The one thing we have built over the years is our “Sound” and no matter if we’re full on death metal or a soft and mellow ballad, we still sound like “US.” I think this one trait we have been able to keep consistent from early on.
[CW] I’m glad you liked it!
Tell me about Novembers Doom in short terms, imagine I’ve never heard of you guys before.
[PK] We started in 1989, and have been pigeon holed into the Doom Metal genre, but we don’t feel that accurately describes what we do. We have elements of doom for sure, but so much more. The best way to describe what we do is “Dark Metal”.
Hamartia will be out on April 14th 2017, it’s your 10th studio album since you started out as Novembers Doom in 1992… and for the first time in the history of the band, the lineup hasn’t changed since your former release, Bled White (2014).
What is it about this lineup that makes it work out for you?
[PK] We’ve managed to find five people who are finally on the same page, and with the common understanding of what needs to be done. Everyone knows exactly what will enhance a song, without overstepping, or over playing to shine. No one in the band wants to stand out on the recordings, we all want things to work in harmony to create GOOD songs, and GOOD music. Working with the same line up the second time in a row, it’s allowed more comfort, and allowed us to focus on ourselves rather than on a new member trying to keep them within the boundaries needed. It’s a very enjoyable place to be.
[CW] My experience with these guys is for the most part as members move in and out of the band, we all pretty much stay friendly with each other. I think every lineup is special for that moment… and the current group of guys all seem to get along quite well.
Chris, how are they to work with in the studio?
[CW] They’re insufferable pricks! Haha! But so am I, that’s why we get along so well… Ah well it’s all in good fun…
Would you say there are many similarities between these two albums sound wise? What about when it comes to the lyrics?
[PK] I think with each album we record, it’s always been a natural progression forward. If we went too far off the path, people would not be happy. From album one, to now, the progression has been a little each time. This is why we can keep sounding like the same band over and over, but consistently putting out better quality music. We’re a band that learns from our mistakes, and corrects them for the next time.
Lyrically, I approached this differently. I wrote some of the lyrics through the eyes of other people in my life. I think it worked out well. It remains personal, but allows other subjects to take the spotlight.
Chris, from a sound geek’s point of view, what is it that makes Novembers Doom sound like Novembers Doom? Because even after all the lineup changes they’ve still got something recognizable going on that is hard to point out.
[CW] In some ways when we work on the record, it feels almost like a gathering of friends. I think since The Knowing (Ed. album, 2000) the Paul-Larry duo (Ed. Paul Kuhr, vocals and Larry Roberts, guitars) all has been the main backbone. Not to discount the contributions of the other members, because they certainly influence the way the songs sound as well… as well off course as my contributions to the overall picture, the tones we choose, that sort of thing. I think a part of the sound definitely is Paul’s singing… I’ve always encouraged him to be adventurous, to try new things… and he has embraced that increasingly over the years to where he seems pretty much unafraid to try anything at this point, which is awesome.
Where does the title Hamartia come from? What can you tell us about this title? The term Hamartia, what does it mean to you and in which ways does it fit this album?
[PK] This album is about relationships. The Greek word “Hamartia” means a tragic flaw in one’s character that could lead to their demise. Relationships are like a plague, and they affect us all in life. The tragic flaw is our ability to love. The plague doctor (Ed. the album cover of Hamartia) image shows no matter how much you attempt to protect yourself from this plague, your heart is always exposed, and it’s showing you our flaw. There’s no avoiding a broken heart.
The first single that was released off of Hamartia was the song “Plague Bird”. Sound wise and maybe even lyrically this song could have been on Bled White (2014). Why was this song your choice for your first single?
[PK] This was the standout track for The End (ed. The End Records, label) when they heard the mixes, and wanted to use this as the first single. We agreed it’s a nice “middle” ground song, meaning that it has a little bit of everything in it, and represents the overall album well. There are several songs we could have used, but… There can be only one!
You’ve got some interesting guest stars on Hamartia, such as Ben Johnson on Piano and keys, Rhiannon Kuhr (Paul Kuhr’s daughter) providing vocal harmonies and backing vocals in the songs “Zephyr”, “Miasma” and “Ever After”, Andrew Craighan (My Dying Bride) plays the outro of “Waves in the Red Cloth” and both Dan Swanö (Witherscape, Nightingale, Edge of Sanity) and Bernt Fjellestad (Susperia) provide backing vocals in the song “Borderline”. Rhiannon has got a beautiful and very clean singing voice. She fits your voice really well! Paul, as her father, how was it to have her be a part of Hamartia?
[PK] It has been an honor to raise her, and watch her grow into the lady she is now. Her talent is amazing, and she has great pitch. I told her from the start, she can’t be on the album just because she’s my daughter. It had to fit and make the song better. She was only going to be on the song Miasma and after we worked out her part, I had her replace my harmonies on Zephyr and Ever After, and it worked out so well. It really was a good fit, and provides a new color. It was perfect.
Chris, how was it to work with Rhiannon in the studio?
[CW] That was a quick little thing we did at the end of the album, it probably took us a half hour. I’ve known her since she was a baby… So it was cute seeing her and her dad singing together on a song.
Rhiannon is also in the lyric video for “Zephyr”, which by the way is one of the most creative yet simple music videos I’ve ever seen. Well done! How did you get the idea for that video?
[PK] I cannot take the credit for the lyric video idea. I completely “Borrowed” this idea from Greg Laswell. He’s a singer / songwriter who helped me out with writing the falsetto harmonies on Heartfelt on Bled White. I saw the lyric videos he’s created, and said “I have to do that, only more… Metal!” so in the beginning of the video, you see me pull one of his buttons out of the folder, as my “nod” to him for “Borrowing” his idea! Haha
How did you hook up with Andrew Craighan, Dan Swanö and Bernt Fjellestad? And why those choices?
[PK] Andy has been a friend of mine for many, many years. I traded demos with him with My Dying Bride and Novembers Doom we’re both starting out. We stay in contact all the time, and when the opportunity came up, I proposed the guest spot, and wouldn’t allow him to say “No.” It was great, it worked out perfectly. Dan has made a guest appearance on almost every album he’s mixed for us. He’s such an amazing guy, and he adds the perfect element for us where it’s needed!
Bernt I met on the 70,000 Tons cruise we did with Susperia. He did a KILLER rendition of Black Dog in their Karaoke lounge, and blew me away. We hit that moment in Borderline while mixing, where it felt flat, and needed to be more epic. I knew I didn’t have the capabilities to pull off what was needed, and I reached out to Bernt, and in a day, he delivered the perfect attack! Fantastic job!
I’m honored to work with everyone of these people!
I’d say there is more singing and less growling on Hamartia compared to your previous releases and you’ve been experimenting more with your voice. For example on the song ”Waves in the Red Cloth”, if I had heard that one on the radio without presentation, I wouldn’t be 100% sure it was you singing those first few lines, because I don’t believe I’ve heard you sing quite like that before. Also by far the heaviest song on Hamartia.
Any comments on that? Would you say you’ve been experimenting more and pushing yourself?
[PK] I have never been trained vocally, and to this day, second guess myself and my abilities. I always try to do something different and push myself when creating melodies, and I feel I’ve grown with each album we do. I approached this differently this time, and wrote what I felt the song needed, and didn’t think as much about my comfort zone, and figured I’d work it out with Chris (ed. Chris Wisco, producer) in the studio. I think it worked out perfectly this time around, and I’m pretty proud of what I’ve pulled off this time around.
No matter which Novembers Doom album you choose to put on, you’ll get a mix of heavy doom, death metal and melodic dark metal as well as a mix of growling and singing. Even though your lineup has changed a lot over the years, the band has managed to stay recognizable, in my opinion. This is also true for Hamartia, even from first listen it sounds like Novembers Doom. How do you manage staying Novembers Doom after so many years and so many lineup changes?
[PK] I think it comes down to my voice, and the style of Larry and Vito’s playing. These guys have their own “signature” feel in their playing, if it’s heavy or mellow. It’s Novembers Doom. It’s simply the same guys on the same page.
[CW] Personally, when we do these projects I do not chase my tail with comparing to anything we have done in the past… I always just try to focus on the songs and the tones that we are working with on the current project. Obviously the influences of the guys and their writing style make the band sound how it does, but I don’t think that we necessarily think about any of the previous projects while we are working.
When listening to many of your songs, old and new, there’s something that I can’t really point my finger on but it reminds me very much of Pink Floyd. It’s just the feel of the song, the mood… would you say that’s intentional or is it a coincidence? Would you say Pink Floyd is an influence?
[PK] Intentional. 100%. Pink Floyd is a HUGE influence on Larry (ed. Larry Roberts, guitarist) and on my vocals.
[CW] I don’t recall specific song titles but absolutely yes. We would all proudly admit that. It’s the mood I think. It can be really hard to pinpoint it but you can feel it.
You recorded Hamartia at Belle City Sound Studio with engineer Chris Wisco. Safe to say this wasn’t his first encounter with Novembers Doom. He’s been recording albums for you since the album The Novella Resevoir (2007) and he’s played bass on the albums The Novella Resevoir (2007) and Into Night’s Requiem Infernal (2009) and he’s sung backup vocals. To what extent and in which ways would you say Chris Wisco influences your sound and style?
[CW] I’ve known the band members since 1999-2000.
[PK] He’s actually recorded us since The Knowing (Ed. album, 2000)! We’ve been with Chris for 7 of our 10 albums. He is and has always been the 6th member of the band. He knows us, knows exactly what we need, and we all work very well together, and effectively. Vocally, I only like working with Chris. He brings the best out of me, and we collaborate on harmonies well together. He’s top notch in every way.
Dan Swanö has mixed and mastered Hamartia. Why did you pick him? Why a guy from Sweden and not some local dude?
[PK] Because like Chris, Dan understands us. He has some sort of magic quality that makes us sound better! haha! There is a very “professional” quality I hear in Dan’s mixes, that I miss from other people. There’s a “Sheen” on top of everything, if that makes sense. It’s always been about finding the right pieces of the puzzle that allow us to sound the very best we can sound. Whenever there’s a glass ceiling on our music, Dan smashes through it and blows us away. I guess my question would be, Why doesn’t EVERYBODY use Dan Swanö instead of some local guy?
What else can you tell about the production of Hamartia?
[PK] It is by far, another step forward in quality from Bled White and prior. I feel we keep getting better and better at what we do, and fixing any mistake we’ve made previously, it just makes a better product in the end.
Which songs off of Hamartia are band favorites? Which do you presume will be fan favorites? Which is your favorite song to sing off Hamartia?
[PK] Each band member has a different favorite. This album, more so than any other one we’ve recorded, we feel have no “B” songs. Any song on this album can be a single and stand strong on its own. It’s very hard to pick one favorite as they are different songs, and I like them for different reasons. I think, for me… Zephyr, Ghost and Borderline are my favorites. That will certainly change over time, I'm sure.
Where do we go buy Hamartia on April 14th? I know it can be pre-ordered already along with some awesome merch bundles through Pledge Music.
[PK] Right now, that is the best place to get it. You can always find them through Amazon, itunes and Google play. Always check out The End Records and also check out the band’s official Facebook Page.
You’ll be doing your record release show at Metro, Chicago on April 14th, opening for Katatonia. That’s not bad at all! How did that happen?
[PK] It just made sense. Instead of planning our own local show, why not add to the bill, and make an outstanding show a little bit better? We’re honored to be a part of that locally, and we look forward to seeing our old friends in Katatonia.
Where will you be going next? Where will we be seeing Novembers Doom play in 2017?
[PK] We’re always looking for opportunities to get in front of as many people as we can. The most bang for the buck. Festivals, and higher profile shows are always priority, but we’re also planning a couple shorter runs in the USA. You never know, if the right promoter wants us to perform, and we can work out all the logistics, then we’ll be there! We’re a long way from slowing down.
Thank you so much for answering my questions, I really appreciate it!
[PK] You’re very welcome
Tracklisting on Hamartia:
01. Devils Light
02. Plague Bird
04. Ever After
09. Waves in the Red Cloth
Hamartia is a very strong release; every track stands strong on it’s own, yet they all suit each other. No time is wasted, it seems like every little detail needs to be exactly where it is. I really love the overall impression, the mood and the feel of this album.
Paul Kuhr asked me after the interview which song is my favorite. Truth is I love every song on there for exactly what it is. If I really have to pick one favorite, “Borderline” is the song that first comes to mind. I also very much love the two singles “Plague Bird” and “Zephyr”. Then again “Miasma” is another favorite… there simply isn’t a weak song on there. I’m a long time fan of Novembers Doom and I’m proud to see how they grow better and stronger for each record they put out.
I’ll highly recommend this album! I’d give it top score.
Novembers Doom is: