Interview with guitarist and composer Erik Ravn, Wuthering Height (October 1st 2006)

Erik Ravn and his compatriots in Wuthering Heights have recorded yet another great progressive metal album, and in the end of October itíll be unleashed to the metal community. We have put a few questions together for themÖ

ďThe Shadow CabinetĒ is album number four from you, and once more I think youíve delivered a great album, but what kind of expectations do you have for this album?
Erik - I think most people consider our last album as a kind of breakthrough, at least in artistic terms, so this is sort of the "difficult follow-up". So my basic hope is of course that people like the new one as well, so that it wasnít just pure luck the last time. Also I hope that some of the endless comparisons with certain other bands will end, and people will consider us as a band that sets our own terms - but time will tell, of course. And a bit of commercial success wouldnít hurt either, if the sales would at least cover the recording expenses my situation would improve a lot...he he.

What do you consider to be biggest different between ďThe Shadow CabinetĒ and ďFrom the Madding CrowdĒ? I think youíve integrated more symphonic parts as well as put a lot more on emphasis on harmoniesÖ
Erik - I donít know if there will be a huge difference for the listener. But to me itís definitely more fresh and spontaneous, because I havenít lived with the new songs for years, waiting for a chance to record them. So it was quite exciting to do something that hadnít been written ages ago. I guess the main difference from an outside perspective must be that itís a bit more mean and heavy. It deals with darker subjects and the music is consequently darker as well. But the main goal is the same - to have strong songs that are exciting to listen to.

If you should choose one song, which represents the essence of Wuthering Heights on the new album, which one would that be and why? I would pick ďCarpe NoctemĒ, which I think captures your style in one song pretty goodÖ
Erik - Thatís probably a good choice. Also I think the song "Beautifool" is a good example. It was the first song we mixed, because it was very representative. It has almost everything within one song - acoustic ballad-type stuff, those heavy folk-riffs, speed solos and a lot of other stuff. I donít necessarily think itís the best song on the album, but itís definitely very Wuthering Heights - oh yeah, and it probably has some of the more accomplished lyrics as well.

The trilogy of the lonely wanderer ended with your last album, so what story are you telling us this time around? Is the album another concept album, and what does the Raven represent in the story and what is the shadow cabinet?
Erik - The new album displays the shadow side of being human, those dark forces that rule much of our existence and govern our ways of behaviour. And itís about learning to deal with those shadows, accepting them and maybe even turning them to your own advantage. So I would say that itís as much conceptual as anything weíve done, but the songs stand on their own - thereís no continuous narrative as such. There never really was, actually. I think that whole concept thing was pretty over-emphasized in the past. About the Raven - well, itís me, isnít it? Itís funny - when we did the song "Tree" on the last album, people had all kinds of theories that it was about ents and shit - I mean, itís called "TREE" - itís about a TREE...ha-ha! And "The Raven" is about - you guessed it....! No, seriously, besides telling a bit about ravens and how they were feared in the past for their supposed connection with dark powers, itís about this character that is sort of a shadow himself - a person with a very dominant dark side and how people shun him because of it. But it also says that you shouldnít always look down on people that are different - you might not like them, but then be happy that youíre not like that and leave them least I think, that are what itís about.

On the last album you included a cover version, did you at any stage of this recording consider doing another one, or wasnít there any song that would fit into the concept?
Erik - We did one, actually. We recorded "Shadow of a Gipsy" by Danish progressive rock heroes Ache, but it will unfortunately only be available on the Japanese CD. And thatís a shame 'cause itís such a cool song. It was originally recorded in 1970, but we havenít really changed anything, itís so heavy in the original version - blast beats and all.

Four albums, limited success Ė where is Wuthering Heights in 3 years? I mean you could end up having released 4 very strong albums that outside of power and progressive metal circles have gone almost unnoticed. Must be very frustrating to get outstanding reviews and nothing seems to happen for the bandÖ I know both your management and record labels around the globe do their best to push the bandÖ
Erik - Good question - very good. I really donít know, I hope something will happen this time. I am getting older, and I guess thereís a limit to how long you can spend all your time and limited finances on producing something "for the fun of it". But then again, quality isnít something thatís very highly regarded in this day and age, is it? But of course itís frustrating to see what sells and what doesnít. I guess what keeps it going is the response we get from the fans - we get a lot of nice emails and stuff from people who have nothing to gain from telling you that they like your stuff - they just want to show their support. And thatís so important. I mean, the business is fucked, we all know that, and most media are as well (sorry!), but if the fans are there, I guess we will continue to supply them with metal! But of course, the more fans, the easier it will be - it all goes in circles.

The cooperation between you and Tommy Hansen has once more resulted in an excellent sound on the album; he seems to be capable to bring your ideas to life. Was there ever any doubt that he would be producing the album? And how is it to work with such an ďinstitutionĒ in the Danish metal scene?
Erik - No, no doubt there. Itís part of the process of bringing the album to life that I spend some weeks at Tommyís place, concentrating on the music without any outside disturbance. We work really well together and his skills are just amazing. So heís important, both technically but also because of the fact, that he makes the recording such a pleasant experience - which otherwise can be a daunting task. So as long as there is Tommy to tell bad jokes and serving rotten herrings, there will be Wuthering Heights music...hahaha!! But sure itís strange working with such a "legend". I mean, Iím such a huge Helloween fan - and back when we started playing it was always: "when we become rock stars Tommy Hansen is going to produce our albums" - and he was this far away divine character. And itís like, now I sit with this guy and we tell bad jokes and talk about music and I know in the back of my mind: "this is the guy that did the Keepers"...itís very strange. But most importantly heís just so damn good - there is a reason for his reputation.

What do you consider to be the biggest accomplishment for you and Wuthering Heights, not necessarily sales wise? What are the strengths and where can Wuthering Heights improve?
Erik - I think itís quite an achievement that we have now done four rather good albums without straying from our own path - despite all the adversity we have faced. Thatís at least something - success would just be a bonus. I think our strength is that we do not limit ourselves. We will do whatever it takes to deliver our songs in the strongest possible way, regardless of narrow genre-definitions. We have never ourselves proclaimed that we are anything but a heavy metal band, and because of that we can do whatever we like within the metal framework. But then again, you can always improve your song writing. I always strive for that perfect song structure, or that really moving lyric, but I think thereís a long way until we peak in that respect. I mean, if you constantly try to improve, you probably will. My goal is to get that certain flow in the music - like Jethro Tull or Pink Floyd, that can do really strange, complicated music, and yet it doesnít seem complicated because itís so beautiful and every note makes sense. And the journey down that road is probably endless.

I am a huge fan of Nils Patrik, and it seems like it doesnít matter with which band he is currently recording, the result is always top notch. To me he is a match made in heaven for Wuthering Heights. How is to work with such an outstanding professional?
Erik - Itís great, because he is so good, yet doesnít have the attitude of someone who has been in the business for a long time. He hasnít been recording for very long, but he has played in cover bands and a lot of other diverse stuff for ages. So he really knows what heís capable of, but he doesnít have the huge ego that usually goes with that. Still, I think Iíve been able to push him further that ever before - like I always do with people...he can be tough doing a WH album. And yeah, I think he fits perfectly in WH, because he can really bring the drama to life - and I try to give him a stage for showing his great talent and also his diversity - whereas in some of his other projects it almost feels like overkill to have a singer like that - sorry... Anyway, heís the best there is, and I feel so privileged to work with him.

On your 2 last albums David Wyatt has created the cover art work, but this time around youíve chosen a new direction and have worked together with Annika Von Holdt. I like the outcome, which is a bit more gloomy and dark, and the raven is represented. But why the change and did you feel a change was needed?
Erik - Yes, it was a very deliberate change. With the music we have tried to distance ourselves from this whole "fantasy-euro-so-called-power-metal" thing, 'cause that was never what we were about, and so the cover had to go in a different direction as well. It didnít turn out quite as radical as we wanted - we have these discussions with the record labels every time - but I think it turned out OK. It fits the atmosphere of the album and itís not so typically metal.

With band members involved in other bands and projects it must be hard to tour? Any touring plans for 2006?
Erik - As usual, I donít think we will be able to go on tour as such, we simply donít have the funds. But I think there will definitely be more selected shows. We are quite keen to get out there and blow the roof off. So our management is working on arranging something, but I have no details yet.

The opening guitar sound on the European bonus track made me think: Queensrˇche immediately! Coincidence? Have your ever considered doing a Queensrˇche cover version; you have in another interview stated bands like Pink Floyd, Sweet, Helloween and Gamma Ray as huge influences on your musical career, so maybe they are more obvious?
Erik - I donít know that much about Queensrˇche. I recently bought their remastered early albums. And itís great, but not something I consider an influence. On the last album I had another clean guitar part that was distinctly Floyd, and there are numerous other small hints at my heroes to be found in the songs. But itís usually just small ideas - like a certain break or a certain effect, I rarely base anything "important" on other artists, I try to go with the flow of the single song and listen to what it demands. But naturally, the way you access song writing stems from your favourites - I like the complex storytelling of Roger Waters and the emotional drama of Jim Steinman, I like the lush vocals of Sweet and Styx, I like the double bass attack and soaring choruses of Helloween and so on. So that is of course the backbone - but I rarely build anything on any particular song or stuff like that.

I was wondering Ė could you name an album, person or event that has had a huge influence on your life - and why
Erik - hehehe...The Final Countdown. Seriously, it started it all for me, until that, I thought heavy rock was just wild men making noise. But if it hadnít been that album it would probably have been something similar, so I donít know if that counts. Also Martin Walkyier has been hugely important for me. He really opened my eyes to a lot of things, and of course set an impossibly high standard of lyricism to strive for. But maybe the most important thing - I donít think Iíve actually mentioned this before, and it will sound immensely corny - was when I watched the movie "La Bamba" about Ritchie Valens. The movie is OK, but it was the concept of this dude always carrying his guitar around, being totally consumed with rock Ďní roll - I wanted to be that guy, and that was really a turning point. That was when I decided to become a rock star...hahaha!! And it has worked perfectly, as you know...HAHAA!!

Which album(s) have put a big smile on you face and has made you bang your head in 2006?
Erik - Definitely the works of Onkel Tom. I mean, this guy probably makes more gold singing German drinking songs than he does playing in Sodom. Itís so fantastically entertaining and cool in every way. But generally I have a growing respect for the many "silly" bands out there, because the metal scene could really use a dose of humour sometimes. Bands like Korpiklaani, Finntroll, Die Apokalyptischen Reiter, Knorkator and many others that donít take the whole thing too seriously and still manage to make great hit records. I like that. Itís good to have really serious bands, but a bit of balance in everything is preferable. Oh yeah, and Terrasbetoni...that is great stuff! Itís like "the best of Manowar" only in Finnish - gotta love it!!

I thank you very much for participating in this interview and sharing this information and your thoughts with us - these last lines are entirely for you. Any final words you would like to round off with?
Erik - Donít let them tell you what music you like - use your own ears. And if you like the new Wuthering Heights - play it loud!

Interviewed by Kenn Jensen

Wuthering Heights - The Shadow Cabinet

Album available on Locomotive Music.

For more info on Wuthering Heights - click on the album cover.