Lebanese Metal band Weeping Willow will be playing at the upcoming Beirut Rock Festival 2011 with Moonspell, Katatonia and several other bands (for full info, check here). Here’s an interview with the band’s guitarist Garo Gdnanian about BRF and Weeping Willow in general.
So Garo, how are the preparations for Rockfest and what are your anticipations for the show?
It’s definitely going to be big, especially the first day. Serj Tankian’s father used to live in Beirut and it was his dream to sing and make an occupation out of it as a professional singer. But he left during the war and couldn’t accomplish what he wanted. Now, Serj is making his dad’s dream come true. Plus, he and System of a Down have a huge fan base here. Armenians from all over will go to see him. For the second day, maybe there would be less attendance, because Moonspell is generally considered an underground band, even though they’ve appeared on MTV recently. They’re not the same band as before, but they still have that raw sound in their music. Katatonia is one hell of a band. They know how to play aggressive and maintain a melodic and progressive sound. Still the first day will have a bigger crowd, because lots of people think Serj going to play System of a Down and stuff like that. But he’s not; he’s going to perform the with Lebanese National Orchestra. Some people are surely going to be disappointed, but that’s the way it works, and no one is lying about it. In general it’s interesting, and I don’t want to miss anything in the show.
How do you compare Rockfest to an international event in terms of organizing, sound, and overall quality?
Good question. I think this one and the ones before have a really high standard. We have a lot to learn, no doubt, and the whole thing still needs a few years grow. The sound is very high-standard. Fida Zalloum, a friend who handled some of the most important concerts including the one Deep Purple had a few years ago. He came with me to GBOB to check the location with his location along with his engineer to know what they’re going to deal with. Lights are also going be huge, but not for the local bands because we don’t have a light engineer. But for the international bands, there’s going to be a huge crew for each band to handle these things. Here there aren’t that many people to take care of these things, and few people really know what they’re doing. Often you see people who set up a mixer call themselves engineers, but the actual good ones are rare. I think it’s going to be big, and no one should underestimate the effort done by the crew at Rockfest, especially to the youth. I really wish that there was something like this when I was teenager. Now the kids are fuckin’ lucky, and I think they shouldn’t complain, go buy their tickets, and enjoy the show!
Weeping Willow hasn’t been on stage in a long time; so what are you guys currently working on?
We always think about big stages; simply. It’s not about ego, or the fact they’re we’re grownups or anything. It’s about enjoying it. I’m not gonna fuckin’ enjoy play in Nova anymore. Surely the place suits some bands. But our type of music needs a certain place like Tantra, or another decent place to handle this music. That’s why we always wait for the right concert to participate in. Last time we played was during Rockin’ the Woods, and I kind of had to do it because I had promised before, but I didn’t want to do it. So I thought we’d just play and leave. We went, had a few beers, played, and packed up our stuff then left. The concept of the event was good, but there weren’t that many people, and everyone was too stoned or drunk to come to the pit or at least see the bands.
For now, we have an album in the works, the 3rd one excluding the demo. We’re going to start recording right after the concert, some time in mid-September at a studio in Hamra. The guy is a friend of ours who studied in Canada, a professional who knows what time it is, not someone who has no idea what’s going on. Mixing and Mastering will be done abroad; we have some contacts outside that will help us out. It’s going to be around 7 or 8 tracks. Most of them are done now, but we’re still composing and preparing for the concert. It’s a really tough schedule. I think it’s going to higher our standards whether in terms of music or sound. For a while, Joe Khoury played guitar with us, but now Elias Njeim is back. Actually, we miss him playing with us and we got used him. Also, the guy is insanely professional, and we like what he does with us. I think he fits with us more than any other band, because he’s a good friend of ours, and the guy is a shredder! He can’t be with any other band than a fast one! From now till December the album should be out unless something fucked up happens. I have to make sure it’s out by then; so kids can buy it after the Grandma gives them money (laughs)!
Where do you record and how does your producer influence the overall process?
Well everyone thinks that recording at home is the best way, but it’s really not. We tried that and it was harder than it sounds. First, we need a lot of equipment. I mean I work at an instruments shop and can get anything I want for great prices, but that’s not the point. You need great acoustics, microphones and a lot of other things to get a good sound. The guy we’re recording with pretty much paid everything he had just to get his studio recording. Actually, we produce ourselves. We provide everything from the ideas, to all the money from our band’s saving account to make it happen. We work hard, make the money, and keep working on the album to get the best we can accomplish.
The variation from Mentally Decayed to 3rd Portal was highly noticeable; should listeners expect that big of change in the next album?
The thing is that, there are some changes. Sometimes we play the whole set, and I look at the other guys and think to myself “our style is changing”. I never thought to myself “I’m going write the most evil song in the world, and now let’s blast!”. It’s never about that. I just pick up my guitar and jam with my drummer. Sometimes intuition just pops in. It’s a groovy album, with some thrashy parts, and some progressive influences as well. It’s going to be a colorful album, and it’s different from our older albums for sure and I think that’s pretty cool. Every Motorhead album I buy is the same; I love Motorhead, but their sound is always the same. With Pantera for instance, each album sounds different. I’m very picky about this stuff, and I always want each album to express a different mood. So yeah, it’s going to be very different.
How did you get into music and finally come to the decision that Death Metal is the style for you?
Great question. I started listening to music when I was 8 or 9 years old. My older cousin hooked me up, and got me to listen to “Seven Churches” by Possessed and “Black Metal” by Venom, but I didn’t like it at first. Then I got into Classic Rock, but when I was 12-years old I got Obituary’s album “Slowly We Rot” and when I heard them, I knew these guys were serious. Then I started listening more to them along with bands like Deicide, Possessed, and some old-school Testament, and got hold of albums like “Reign in Blood” by Slayer and “Butchered at Birth” by Cannibal Corpse. After that, I started listening more to bands like Malevolent Creation, Napalm Death, and Suffocation with their albums like “Pierced from Within” and “Effigy of the Forgotten”. I also liked stuff like Pantera and old-school Sepultura; I remember I got the “Chaos A.D.” and “Far Beyond Driven” tapes the year they came out. Man there’s so many to mention, I can stay up till the morning just talking about it. There’s something actually, the history we made here. In fact, we were the first death metal band in Lebanon. There were a lot of black metal bands back in the 90s, and we started out playing that genre. I listened to bands like Burzum, and Abigor and I still love the genre. It was very popular back then, and you’d go to several places and have black metal playing in the background. One of the reasons we chose death metal was that we wanted to breakaway and do something new. Our first demo was pretty much death metal blended with some doom. After that, we loved it, and we knew this is what we wanted to play.
So which bands and guitarists do you cite as your main influences?
James Murphy is one of favorite guitarists. But also, Dimebag Darell; this guy is a big influence on me. Definitely not guitarists like Slash or the guitarists from Metallica. I also really like Eddie Van Halen, and Jeff Beck. I also like the stuff Chuck Schuldiner came up with. For me, it’s all about the riffs. If you have a nice riff, you’ll definitely have a good solo for it. But if the riff isn’t that tight, the solo can’t sound any good when played over it. Trey from Morbid Angel is also a big influence; he really pushed the limits with his playing. When I heard “Where the Slime Live” I was blown away. To be honest, Morbid Angel definitely had an impact on me. All their albums from “Altars of Madness” to “Gateways to Annihilation” were amazing. I didn’t hear their last album though; I heard bad things about it from a lot of people.
How has the Metal scene progressed since Weeping Willow started out?
I think some people are sort of in denial for what we gave to the scene. I spent most of my life trying to do what we do as a band today and having a good time. The idea of Death Metal and growling wasn’t very heard of before we started out. Once we had people over at our house and one of the moms tells my mom that her son is into Weeping Willow and what not and she’s worried about him. So my mom calls me and tells me “Garo, meet one of your fans’ mom.” And she started asking weird questions about sheep burning and what not (laughs)! So I’m glad more people starting getting into our music and that our work was paying off. Even though a lot of people don’t like the Death Metal scene, we’re hoping to get more people into this scene. We’re providing something to the youth and the scene as whole. We really appreciate the people that understand what we do. I did everything I could to make the scene better. It was my dream to play a B.C. Rich guitar, even if it were the worst model. Because of my band, I had the opportunity to get a job with Instruments Garage and be the first guy that brought these guitars to Lebanon. After that, I started giving ideas about what brands we should bring and who they target. I think as individuals and Weeping Willow as a band, we’ve done a lot to improve the scene, and we hope things keep going that way.
With all the big events including GBOB and Rockfest taking place, it seems as though the scene is moving in the right direction and attracting more attention to it. What do you have to say about that?
Honestly, when I was at GBOB I saw a lot of people, and loved the energy of some young bands, especially the ones that played extreme metal. When I saw Nocturna playing and there was this huge crowd moshing, I enjoyed it. There were these other bands playing commercial music, and the crowd wasn’t really reacting to it. So yeah, I think we’re definitely going in the right direction.
If you could share the stage with another Middle Eastern band, who would you choose and why?
There’s this band that I really like called Nervecell. I think it would be great to play with them and show them what we’ve got. I see them everywhere; Facebook, Myspace, and I even saw them in Desert Rock 2008, they’re everywhere. In fact, we’d love to share the stage with any good band that actually knows how to play in 4/4 tightly and not get carried away in head-banging for the sake of stage presence and forget about playing their songs well.