Interview: Joel Violette of Thrawsunblat on “Great Brunswick Forest,” Musical Reinterpretation, and How to Spot a Moose in the Wild

thrawsunblat band photo

Over the course of three albums and a handful of EPs, Thrawsunblat have carved a space for themselves in the genre of black metal by integrating the Maritime folk of their home province of New Brunswick, Canada. With their newest album Great Brunswick Forest, which is out October 19, the trio of Joel Violette, Rae Amitay and Keegan MC immerse themselves and their listeners wholeheartedly into that Maritime folk. Careful listeners of the band’s discography should recognize the familiar elements that make Thrawsunblat what it is, and yet this does feel like a big step forward. We reached out to Joel to talk about the creative process for the new album, his fascination with re-interpreting songs and also a bit of Maritime tourism.

thrawsunblat - great brunswick forest
Has the experience of translating your writing style for Thrawsunblat to mostly acoustic instruments revealed to you something about your creative process that you hadn’t previously realized?

Indeed it has! A song’s flow depends so much on its instrumentation. Things are different with this style— blastbeats are only an occasional option, so energy has to be generated differently. The result is that these songs have more energy delivered in the vocals, like Here I Am a Fortress, and Thus Spoke the Wind.

With fewer vocal effects and quieter instrumentation, did you feel more vulnerable recording your vocals for this album in contrast to previous albums?

Absolutely. There’s nothing to hide behind. It’s easy to tuck clean vocals behind loud guitars—especially when the guitar melodies are busy. That way if the vocals are horrid, I figure people can just listen to the guitar melody and be happy. On this album, it’s just acoustic guitar and vocals, which at the outset feels almost… arrogant and smug or something, kind of like walking into a room and saying, “Okay, everyone! Drop everything! You can all listen to me sing now.” And when you release an album, in a way you’re saying to the world, “here’s something worth forty minutes of your time.” Personally, it’s Thrawsunblat’s music, melodies, and lyrics that I’m thrilled with and that I think is worth listeners’ time. That’s what I feel I’m creating here. It’s not me or my voice I’m trying to peddle to listeners. I’ve always considered myself more of a melody peddler.

Could you describe how recording all together in the same room influenced the recording process?

It greatly sped up the creative process. When stuck on something, instead of having a lengthy delay — for example corresponding through email or instant messenger or sending mp3s across — it is a instant decision with everyone in the same room on the same page. Rae helped me sand down some of the lyrics which was a huge help, and I think Rae and Siegfried Meier, our sound wizard, were able to get quick answers on any decisions they wanted feedback on.

How tricky was it to work out with Rae the acoustic blast beat section of “Thus Spoke The Wind” to get that quiet intensity?

I was a bit unsure about suggesting it at first. I said “I know these are acoustic guitars, but… how about a blastbeat here?” and Rae took it from there. It worked out smashingly because it’s this chaotic intense section which, as you say, has this quiet menacing intensity that crescendos and then resolves itself with what I think is the finest instrumental section on the album, with Rae’s intricate drum groove and Keegan’s pizzicato outro.

You’re no stranger to reinterpreting your own music, with the Vast Arboreal Sky and Fires in Mist acoustic EPs, even the Thrawsunbit EP. Do you have any interest in similarly translating songs from Great Brunswick Forest into something else?

Oh, absolutely! I have always been fascinated by the transcription of a song between genres, like punk covers of pop hits or orchestral versions of classic video game music, or the Minibosses who do a stellar job of an instrumental rock version of 8-bit game music. Even In Flames acoustic medley.

I think we will do a heavy version of a few tracks. “Fortress” and “Wind” both were written heavy and transcribed, and I feel like they have an energy this way that is different to the acoustic version — not better or worse, just a different class of energy, so I look forward to doing those heavy. Then “Green Man” lends itself nicely to a blastbeat as well, even though written with acoustic guitar and tin whistle, so that one will need a heavy version someday. Most bands do it the other way — heavy then acoustic. Curious to see what the inverse will be like for our supporters!

Thematically, Metachthonia seemed to occupy a tension between our modern existence and the natural world that surrounds us. Given the musical and lyrical direction of Great Brunswick Forest, does that album resolve any of that tension for you?

It might! Some of the core songs were written before Metachthonia was even a seed in my mind, so I think that whatever I was getting at with Metachthonia — that almost paradisiacal image of the natural world used as a contrast in Metachthonia — is perhaps what you get in Great Brunswick Forest.

There is less tension in this album than in Metachthonia, with a lot or the songs being more journeys then struggles, perhaps. The energy in the songs is more about moving and the energy of the untraveled path than it is about contrasting certain ideas.

One of my favourite Thrawsunblat listening experiences was on a road trip through Nova Scotia a few years ago. Since you mentioned wanting your music to transport people to Atlantic Canada, what experiences or places would you recommend for people who wished to visit the Maritimes?

Climb Mount Carleton, walk the Fundy Trail, camp in Fundy National Park. Drive along the Trans Canada Highway (the Via Canadensis), enjoy its long stretches with no one in sight. You’ll actually have to quite fervently watch for moose if it’s night. If you see a moose at night you probably won’t know what you’re looking at. So, instead of looking for a moose, look for a patch of utter darkness about the size of a house. Then make sure at all costs, unless you’re driving a transport, that you don’t hit it. Then go have some of our province’s dozens of new microbreweries that have sprouted up like delicious and shoots of grass in the last five or ten years.

While the long-distance nature of the band complicates the prospect of live shows, with this new album, do you have an interest in re-examining those possibilities?

Always! We’re always trying to figure out how to make a tour work, but inevitably the scheduling topples it all over. Rae and Brendan are both busy touring and recording with their own projects, so it’s fiendishly difficult to find a period of time in which we are all free that is large enough to properly rehearse a show.

What’s next on the horizon for yourself musically?

The next Thrawsunblat EP! The numbered album stream (T1: Canada 2010, T2: Wanderer… , T3: Metachthonia, and T4: GBF) are the canonical Thrawsunblat album series. The EPs are (hopefully) interesting spinoffs of these. The next EP we’ll be doing is the heavy version of three or four songs from Great Brunswick Forest. Excited as I mentioned earlier for the energy that this will bring to the songs. They’ll be able to let their hair down a bit and really unleash.

Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions, anything you’d like to add?

My pleasure! Thank you immensely for your time! GBF is out October 19th, 2018!

Many thanks to Joel for his time!

– Jon

Great Brunswick Forest will be available October 19 on Ignifera Records.  For more information on Thrawsunblat check out their website and Facebook page.

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