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We, on doom-metal hold Evoken as one of the leaders of the Extreme Doom scene, each of their album has brought a new stone, dark and heavy, in the history of Doom. Time for a "status report".

Interview with Evoken.
Evoken. That’s a name. Taken from a Thergothon ‘s song. It indicates the genre of music and kind of dedication the US band can show to its roots. Evoken is a hugely respected band in the whole Metal scene. Some traditionalists, some True-Doom followers even admit they listen to them! Isn’t it some sort of a holy blessing?!
We, on doom-metal hold Evoken as one of the leaders of the Extreme Doom scene, each of their album has brought a new stone, dark and heavy, in the history of Doom. Time for a "status report".

Vince Verkay, the band’s drummer, answered the questions.

Hello Vince! First and foremost, I want to thank you for doing this interview with doom-metal; maybe you’ll drop the whole thing after a couple of hours trying to answer all the questions! I won’t blame you for that! (In fact I’ll hate you, haha!)
Let’s try to cut short a recurring debate: are you a Funeral Doom band or a Death Doom band?

Hello right back. I thank you for the interview, I have a hair appointment this afternoon so, let’s get this done okay..

Nice to see you dive right in with a straight to the point question. I know there is cliché answer most bands give “we don’t like labels” but, to be labelled is part of playing music. From day one, we have always considered ourselves a Death/Doom band. I have read many of review that classifies us as a Funeral Doom band, and of course they have their rights to an opinion but, we never felt we fall under this classification. I’m not sure when that started, maybe it was ‘Quietus” but, even though we have some Funeral Doom aspects, I don’t believe we are.

Evoken took some time before releasing the first full-length: Embrace The Emptiness. It took 3 demos and 4 years of activity or so... Why that? You felt you weren’t ready or just too busy to compose enough material for a proper album?

Indeed, it took quite some time but, that was not the result of not having enough time. First, you’re correct in your question. Part of it was we didn’t feel the material was ready. Plus, at the time, both Dario and Steve (old bass player and keyboardist) just joined the band so, there was the aspect of them learning the songs we had, adding to those songs, writing new songs, and making sure the songs were 100 percent complete in our eyes.

With that, we also had a problem just finding a label to sign with. We would demo the material, send them to various labels only to be told those labels already had their scheduled releases set for the entire year on, or we did not fit what those labels were looking for. A few letters we received back claimed we simply were not “original” enough, which was a laugh since the bands they had were FAR from original. So, those combined elements just caused a massive delay in releasing a full-length.

During all these formative years, did you keep an eye on what was coming on the extreme doom field? I’m thinking here particularly about Esoteric and Morgion which started at about the same time.

A: Well, even to this day we keep an eye on what’s out there. We are fans of this genre so, when anything comes along, we’re always interested in hearing it. In those days, we were aware of the aforementioned bands, and even kept in touch with them (ie Esoteric, Skepticism, dISEMBOWELMENT, Thergothon etc). I know plenty of bands try to avoid hearing other bands in the same genre for fear of them being influenced consciously or sub-consciously but, we never had this fear. We have our own influences, and our own path to follow. It’s silly to think you cannot listen to the same genre you play in due to this fear. With that said, it was an exciting time for the genre, you could see something was happening, something that could very well become a force to be dealt with.

How do you consider the influence of the Peaceville Three on the whole scene? Did they influence you in a way or another? And what do you think of their evolution?

I think those bands serve an extremely important influence in the development of the genre. All three bands served as a massive influence on us during our creation. You can hear it on our first release ‘Shades of Night Descending’, just listen to “Towers of Frozen Dusk”....hahah

I can respect the evolution of each band since it’s what those bands felt they needed to do. I definitely don’t find any interest in their evolution, directed toward Paradise Lost and Anathema. Although, even though I respect the decision, I also think those changes are in no way genuine. My Dying Bride I personally have always enjoyed, some releases more than others but, for the most part they have stayed sincere to the music. Their new album, I cannot say I’m an absolute fan of. For me, the violin came across as “annoying”. A nasally sound that I felt took away from the music itself. I kind of wish there were more growls involved but, I respect them tremendously.

What do you feel when looking back on your career and all your releases? Do you enjoy listening to your own stuff (i mean once the recording and production is done; months, years after)?

Ahaha, you pegged it, it sometimes take months to years before I can go back to a release. I do enjoy going back and listening to the older material. Of course, there are things we could have done MUCH better, and majority of the time we feel that way immediately after we complete an album. I’m VERY proud of our career. We have stayed true to what we initially set out to do, and will always continue to do so. I’m sure plenty of reviews will say we never change, nothing absolutely surprises you. Well, fuck that, they are absolutely correct, we don’t change. We write and record what we like to hear ourselves. We’re not interested in breaking barriers or changing for the sake of it. If one enjoys slow, dark, and heavy music, and you pick up an Evoken album that is exactly what you will get.

Which Evoken’s song do you like the most and why?

Tough question to answer, not because we are a bunch of hams, because we are closet hams. Each song has a different meaning for me for various reasons. Plus, the answer I give now will probably change as time passes, which is normally the case. But, I would have to say the song “Embrace the Emptiness”. Reasons being are: when Dario first joined the band, it was one of the first songs we worked on, adding in the keyboards. Once those keyboards were added, the song itself took on a whole new meaning and atmosphere. I still remember listening back to the first rehearsals for that song with the keyboards, and the hair on the back of my neck standing up. Fast forward to actually recording the song for the ‘Quietus” album, hearing the cello being recorded, again the goose bumps I got. When I listen to it now, it still holds just a tremendous amount of feeling. It’s crushing from beginning to end, an atmosphere of true hopelessness that does not let up.

Are you satisfied, technically speaking, with your life performance? I mean, I bet it must take you nights and days to capture the deep sound that gives Evoken’s music all its atmosphere and vastness; the conditions you’re exposed to on a gig surely don’t help in that matter...

It has taken us a tremendous amount of time to find ourselves at this point with our live sound. All the guys have spent hours upon hours, with a tremendous amount of money spent trying different amps, guitars, processors etc. If I listen back to older live recordings I shake my head in amazement on how utterly shitty the sound was, something at the time, for whatever reasons one just doesn’t see until years later.

I would say we’re happier with the sound we have now live but, in no way satisfied. I don’t know if we ever will be. It’s somewhat hard to gauge our live sound for various reasons. Every place we have played, we’re exposed to different elements, different PA’s, or when we’re too far to bring our own equipment you have to make the best of what is provided, which we appreciate when those bands allow us to use their equipment, we know how nerve wracking that can be. We can only go by what we hear on stage, which normally is not what you hear in the audience. Add to that we do not have a sound-engineer of our own to bring with us, so we’re always at the mercy of who is at the board, at the time.

Another major condition we’re often exposed to is you only have so much time to setup on stage. Normally, we will get 15minutes to setup so, you have to contend with the fact that the equipment has been bounced around, things become a bit hectic so, with all those conditions it leads back to what I said, I don’t think we’ll ever be satisfied with our live sound but, can only attempt to come as close as possible to that, which we still have not.

How do you deal with the necessity of sharing your music? Is it a necessity in the first place?

We never had any issues with sharing the music. It’s why we record albums or play live. We never really had an issue of “can we top the previous album...with fans”. We simply worry about our feeling towards what we write, if we feel its better material. Of course the fans are a major importance as well, but at the end of the day, it’s the band that has to be satisfied.

Well, it depends on the individual or band. If you’re writing songs and recording rehearsals just for yourself to enjoy, without any notions of letting others hear it, then no you do not need to share it. Just like people that paint during their downtime. They embark on it has a hobby, to simply relax.

But, if you intend on being in a full-band you’re going to have to find other individuals that share that same idea. Simply because if you have 2 members content with simply writing and recording rehearsals, with 3 members who want to play live etc...then of course, it will never work. If you set out with the goal of playing live, well then or course you have to share the music. If you’re looking for a label to release your music, then you better resign to the fact you have to share your music, why would any label even bother with you?

The USA are renowned for their Stoner – Stoner Doom scene (Yob, Soulpreacher, High on Fire....). How do you see them? Have you any feedback on your work from them? And generally speaking, what are your views on the US Doom scene?

Hmmm, I have such mixed opinions on these. I do enjoy Stoner and or Stoner Doom, as well as other elements of the Doom genre. There are bands that do it extremely well. At the same time, I think it also has become so diluted with sub-par bands, that it has diminished the genre. It almost feels as if everyone and their grandmother has a band like this. There are bigger bands of other genres that have side bands in this genre, which is fine but, it starts to become watered down. But, this could apply for any form of music.

We have received feed-back from bands of that nature, all of which are positive, or so I know of. Which must seem a bit odd to those who are traditionalist when it comes to Doom.

The US Doom scene is quite small for such a big country. Basically, Doom is the small penis, while the US is the big vagina. In the end, neither is satisfied! The fans can be just as passionate toward the music as their European counterparts just, there are less of them. It also depends on the form of Doom. So, it’s somewhat difficult to gauge. Right now, you have an immense amount of trend infesting the Drone Doom scene and in some cases the Stoner Doom scene. One night you can have a Stoner Doom band playing with the attendance being “high” (which has a couple of meanings) then, the next night a Doom/Death band playing with only a handful of attendees. It is what it is I guess. I would rather have 10 cult fans who stick with the band rather than 100 fly-by-night fans that inside a couple of years will have disappeared. I will say that it definitely has improved over the years though.

Tell us about your “labels issues”: you changed a few times! Are you happy with your relations with I Hate Records? Have you at last found a home? And, on a side note: how did you met the guys from Adipocere for the release of Shades..?

Oh, we have changed labels NUMEROUS times and for various reasons which would take quite some time to explain. But, in a condensed explanation we have changed labels simply to do what was best for us. Aside from the Avantgarde signing, all the agreements have been for one release. Which then allows us to re-evaluate if the label works for us or not. We would much rather it that way instead of being stuck somewhere we’re not happy with.

Regarding I Hate Records, we were VERY happy with them. Ola did an absolutely fantastic job with the release of ‘A Caress of the Void’. They supported us 100 percent and worked VERY hard in getting the album out there. With that said, we are going to move on with regards to the next full-length. With Ola leaving the label, it has put a slight dent in the relationship with I Hate Records. We felt comfortable working with Ola, we knew Evoken was a priority. Now with Ola gone, we feel it would be best for us to move on. There is to be a split EP with the band ‘Beneath the Frozen Soil’ to be released by I Hate Records. But, when that will be is simply unknown. We recorded the songs for this EP close to 2 years now. So, that material for us is quite old. I know one of the issues was the artwork/layout. Some ideas were provided by BtFS but, we figured we would try to have something done on our end. Which has taken way more time then I would like. But, at the same time, I haven’t seen anything come from I Hate regarding anything with this release. It’s been some months since I have heard from them, for whatever reasons.

Actually, prior to licensing ‘Shades of Night Descending’ to Adipocere, I had been in contact with them through purchases made via their distro. I told him, if he did not license the recording, I would cease buying things from him......just kidding. A few letters went back and forth and I mentioned I was in a band etc etc. He wrote back he would be interested in hearing what we had. I believe he had read a few reviews on the release, since we originally put SoND out on our own. I sent him the CD, in which a few weeks later, I received the contract from them to license the recording

I’ve heard you’ve had a hard time trying to find places to play live. Is it still the case? Did your different labels ever help you in that matter?

Well, that really applies locally, and for the US in general. It’s easier for us to play in Europe then it is to play 15 minutes from here (ie NYC). This was not always the case. It has only been the past few years in which majority of the clubs in and around NYC shut-down. Now, it is mostly corporate owned locations, who are only interested in bringing big tours through, catering to the flavour-of-the-month. In addition, it seems what few festivals we do have here in the US, we’re excluded from, for whatever reasons, and definitely not through a lack of effort on our part. They either run as a “Doom fest” but, avoid the more extreme side of the genre OR it’s an extreme metalfest where I almost feel as if we’re “too extreme”. So, essentially I have given up even trying with the festivals here. If we play them...great, if not I really won’t lose sleep over it either.

Regarding playing live, we NEVER received help from any of the labels. I think only recently, Displeased Records are the only label who has even bothered to put upcoming live shows on their site. I think we may have to take some of the blame for this since we never addressed label support when touring etc. Normally, and rightfully so, we concentrated on studio budgets and promotion toward a release, neglecting the fact that this day and age, the purchase of CD’s has fallen, where the emphasis needs to be put on playing live as much as you can to properly promote the band or release. .

A tricky one: if you could resurect one of those two? Which would you save? Thergothon or Disembowelment?

Wow, you have put me in quite the bind here. Personally, I would save diSEMBOWELMENT. I say this because I believe some bands contribute more to their legacy by having such a short life. Thergothon had such a large impact, and the recordings are so revered, looking back they were a band that I couldn’t see releasing additional albums. They accomplished what they have with their limited releases then if they had continued. I compare it to certain great musicians. Can anyone see a Jim Morrison still being around? Hendrix, or Janis Joplin? I’m in now way implying Thergothon are on the same level as these greats but, I use this as an example to my point.

What makes Doom special? How comes it’s still so underrated – or ignored- by most of the Metal addicts?

Doom is a form of music that those who are fans, hold very dear. Because it is underrated and ignored, that those who do enjoy it hold it very close.

The way Death Metal or Back Metal have grown to such a large extent, it’s hard for someone to feel as if the music is theirs. You’re far hard pressed to find someone randomly listening to Doom/Death than you are anything else. You don’t feel intruded by thousands of others listening to the same music, diminishing it’s meaning to you. That’s just one small portion as to why I think fans of this genre are so passionate

Those who do ignore it maybe it’s simply they do not understand it, or never will. Majority of metal fans listen to other genres exclusively because they seek a different form of release. When you venture out to see a death metal band live, you have a way to release the frustration and anger. With Doom, it’s a form of music you don’t release; its music you absorb.

What do you think of Black Metal, the music and all the imagery?

The imagery has become a parody; it’s very Spinal Tap now. The intended original concept has completely lost its significance. You’re far more expected to go into a fit of laughter looking at it then anything. Wearing corpse paint now is equal to the comedies of long ago, where an individual is hit in the face with a cream-pie.

The music itself I still listen to but, the majority of them older bands, older releases. Nothing jumps out at me as being impressive nowadays. I’m sure there are a few but, to think of them off the top of my head I couldn’t immediately come up with.

Tell us about the way an Evoken’s song is given birth to. You write the lyrics; do they come first? Do they have a special meaning to you? And are they discussed by the whole band?

Everyone puts their name into a hat, and we pick one name and if it’s your name, you write the riff. Actually, we never had a situated pattern in writing a song. They happen in many ways. For example, one of the guys will come into practice with a riff. Play it, show the notes to everyone, in which each person will either add to it or play along. Everyone has their input into a song. If we all feel it’s solid, we’ll move onto another riff or suggest that a certain riff be placed at the end of a song, or middle etc.. Plenty of times a riff or song has been written purely accidental, trying different things during a break. Some of our best songs have been written this way.

The lyrics are created throughout the process. I don’t recall any lyrics written for the sole intention of one song. Nick or I will write the lyrics, and John will take over from there, adapting them to a song. Each of the lyrics I write does not reflect my personal life, but life in general, just metaphorically. Those meanings I keep to myself to avoid my personal influence getting in the way of the individual reading them. I wouldn’t say there are discussed just simply looked over by everyone in the band. If something doesn’t fit what we are about, they will usually speak-up, in which we will change them accordingly.

Do you have to put you in a certain state of mind to start composing? I mean, this is such a soul-crushing music, I guess this is some kind of a catharsis, but it involves so many dark feelings... is mustn’t be easy, on a emotional perspective, I mean....

Well, I cannot answer for each member. I have no way telling you what they may have been feeling when a riff is written on their own time. I can tell you that some of the riffs were written during a time completely outside the box.

I’m not completely sure why but, we find it quite easy writing these songs. Majority of the time, we do not struggle, we don’t have to be in a certain state of mind etc. It comes a bit natural I guess you can say. I’m definitely not attempting to diminish things. Every song written we put our souls into, without compromise. We all just have the same vision, the same goal making the writing process easier. I wish I could tell you we dwell in some dark, dank cavern, awaiting the next disturbing vision to come forth. We at least light a candle in the cavern.

Do you allow yourself some space for experimentation with Evoken? When composing and playing, are you trying new things that could make the sound drift in another direction, opening way for slightly different soundscapes, or do you refuse that at first sight?

We do allow ourselves to experiment...indeed. We try to keep anything we do attempt within the context of what we’re trying to accomplish. So, I doubt you’ll hear Evoken break into a folk song, or a tango beat. I think you do need to experiment when writing or things can become VERY stale. But, there is also a very fine line between what is genuine or what could alienate the band and fans.

In which extend do you think your life is in connection with your art?

My life is VERY connected with our music. It is what keeps me sane. It provides an outlet for everyday stress. I could not imagine myself simply living without being involved in playing music. To simply work a typical work-day, come home, eat, sleep, and then awaken to do it all over again. The monotony would kill me. All of us have been playing since we were very young, so not being able to play, would be equal to losing an arm.

I simply worship the artwork of Antithesis of Light! Where does it come from? How important is the artwork to you guys? (I admit I don’t like the Caress Of The Void One, the design of the back cover with that strange horse is very cool on the contrary!)

Antithesis of Light cover art was “borrowed” from Zdzislaw Beksinski. Who’s work has a very dark, surreal atmosphere. We essentially brought the art for this peice to a friend of ours, where we made some subtle changes.

Artwork is very important to us. In order to make any album a complete package, I believe you do require something to stimulate the visual sense, along with the audio. When you enter a record store, or see an album online, if you’re not familiar with the band and it’s visually appealing, you’ll give it a shot. The artwork should reflect the music, an extension of its intention.

Well, the positive aspect is not everyone is going to like one thing, if they did we would live in an extremely boring world. To be honest, at first I wasn’t completely sold on the cover. But, as time past and I looked at it, it started to grow on me. Which I’ve been told the music of Evoken also has this characteristic.

Can you analyse the evolution of Evoken’s sound; not in a technical aspect, but in the songwriting and the overall efficency of it? Are these ‘evolutions’ intentional or fortuitous?

I believe a little of both. It’s only natural as time goes by that you learn and grow from your experiences. Your views change on how things are created. You learn intentionally and sometimes unexpectedly in coming across different aspects of working with others. Throughout the years, we have learned a tremendous amount by just being in the studio. These are aspects that cannot be learned overnight, it’s a gradual process.

Even aside from the music itself. One learns what to do, and not to do. Making large mistakes in the past, and learning from them. The writing process itself has not changed much but, we have become harder on ourselves. There’s understanding that not every song has to be structured a certain way. By being stubborn as to how a song should be structured you essentially limit yourself. When this happens, there is nothing more to accomplish.

You composed a vast instrumental song on A Caress of The Void: Mare Erythraeum. It is truly superb. Did it happen incidentally, ‘cause you didn’t have any lyrics to fit in it, or was it a new try?

If I remember correctly, initially it did not start out as an instrumental. Normally, when we begin writing a new song, there are no intentions on its eventual end. With Mare, once John created the main source of the riff, we just decided it should continue on as a pure instrumental. We have written instrumentals in the past. Usually, it’s either placed at the end of an album so; this was the first time, for us, including it in the middle of an album.

I am a complete atheist. It’s not that I don’t believe in God; I believe there is no God. Still, I need some part of spirituality and even mysticism in my life. Doom is one of the places where I can take it. What are your thoughts toward religions, God?

Religions and or gods serve the exact opposite of its hypocritical ideals. Throughout history religion has been the cause of genocide and war. Each individual religion develops the concept that “their” god is the one and only god, as all others are false and considered heresy. These religions are so naive that they essentially worship the same god.

I do not believe there is a god. The Universe is massive, and to believe that one sole being created everything is pure ignorance. Creation of the Universe “could” possibly be infinite. I believe our Universe is not the first or the last of its kind. That it simply repeats itself, creates, destroys, and re-creates.

Its pure human nature to hope there is something larger than ourselves, which “someone” has to be responsible for all things, to essentially have a purpose. The Hitlers’ and mass murders throughout life suffer a fate different then those who lived a “good” life. But, in the end their fate is the same....There is no heaven, there is no hell.

How do you explain that Beauty comes out of Darkness and Fear? Extreme Doom conveys each of these aspects.

To be honest, I actually hate the word beauty when describing anything fearful or dark, I think it diminishes its definition. Darkness, fear, and sadness are ugly. They are destructive and majority of the time is an individual’s downfall. I would not look at someone who just committed suicide and say “that’s beauty”; it’s tragic.

I do believe some extreme doom bands convey this well, while others seem to enjoy a weepy and gothic approach, which is fine but for me personally I really don’t find interesting within the doom genre. I just believe the term ‘beauty” is absolute garbage when addressing the above.

Tell us about your future releases. There's that up-coming split with Beneath the Frozen Soil.... But what about a new full-length?

As I write this we are in the writing process. We have nearly 4 songs started. I say started because as time moves forward they do change, sometimes they are subtle, sometimes they change completely.

Thus far, we are talking with a few labels about the next album, and I believe we are close to going with one particular label.

We recently had our first release “Shades of Night Descending” reissued by Displeased Records which includes previous unreleased demo tracks. Kreation Records are also going to be releasing this on vinyl later this year. We’re also speaking with a few labels on the release of our older albums on vinyl. So, things are going quite well.

I think Evoken has achieve something really big, you’ve become a cult band. Time to think to a tribute album! Haha! Really, were you ever requested for something of the kind?

Wow, which is quite a compliment.....thank you. I’ll send you the money I owe you for including that in this interview.....just kidding. We have never been approached about a tribute album, and to be honest hopefully this does not become a reality anytime soon. Tribute albums I think should be reserved for bands that no longer exist. For bands that have already written their best material. We still carry-on and have no plans on ending any time soon. Who knows, we may even be the first band to live in a nursing home that keeps playing. I just think tribute albums indicate a band is finished. They are the ultimate compliment to any bands existence. It would be rather strange for an Evoken tribute album, I just don’t think there is anything worth giving tribute too. They are bands that have since moved on and deserve a tribute album for more than us.

Thank you again for this interview, Vince, this was an honor talking with you! The final word is yours.

Just want to state my appreciation for doom-metal.com. Since their beginning they have supported us far more than any other site or publication. It’s a place for those passionate about this genre, who we appreciate in every sense of the word. The honor is completely ours. Now, I’m late for my hair appointment.

Visit the Evoken bandpage.

Interviewed on 2010-05-01 by Bertrand Marchal.
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