Interview with Erika Morgengrau
By Eric May
If you’re tired of death metal that lacks the heat and fuzz of yesteryear, then Morgengrau is just the sort of thing that you’ve been craving. Reminiscent of classic death metal acts like Death, Entombed and Grave, her attention to detail in regards to both music and lyrical content is unparalleled. A student of death, Erika discusses her knowledge of all things otherworldly and how they relate to the grim, yet melodic package that composes the apocalyptic sound of Morgengrau – a sound that echoes throughout the human race… An inkling that each and every one of us has the inherent need for extinction.
How did this act come together? Previously you were in Ignitor and Autumn Tears, so how is the music in those two bands different from this one?
You can’t even compare the bands. Each of them was a big change from the last – very different styles. Autumn Tears was neoclassical darkwave, while Ignitor was classic heavy metal. Morgengrau is death metal in the oldest sense, with atmospheric vocals, huge guitar riffing and an emphasis on song writing, rather than technical prowess. I used to call myself a musical chameleon but in the end, I was just lost. I’ve always been an extreme metal fan – speed, thrash, death and black are the musical forms I always return to at the end of the day. It just took me twenty years of wandering to finally get where I needed to be.
Let’s talk about the album. Explain the recording process for Extrinsic Pathway. What was it like working with Devo from the legendary black metal band Marduk? How did this interaction come about?
I recently talked about this in another interview – the recording process was difficult. Of the four of us, I’m the only one with any significant studio experience and even that was simply vocal work. I track stuff at home but it’s not the same. Up until this time last year, I’d never started an album from scratch in a pro studio which was quite humbling. I knew the process, but knowing it is much different than actually having done it. The whole deal went much slower than we had expected. Given that I am an impatient person, this was incredibly frustrating to me. We had to pause the process multiple times due to schedule conflicts. Combining those pauses with my full time job time meant we recorded the album in two- hour increments. I’m not twenty anymore (nor is our engineer) so we couldn’t blast through it all night, which was not terrifically efficient and more than a little painful. It took forever, especially because I’m super picky. Once we got to the vocals, it was fun… but that was the last six hours of what was probably sixty-five hours of recording. It was worth it though.
I needed somebody I could trust with the mixing-mastering. Countless good albums have turned to shit because the band is exhausted and can’t give the mix the right attention. Devo is a good friend, so he was a natural choice. Very easy to work with – he completely understood what we needed. I did an in depth pre-mix and then shipped the files off to Sweden through the magic of the internet. I highly recommend Endarker Studio. Some listeners don’t like the mix, calling it muddy or muffled. In this era of typewriter-drums, hyper-crunchy guitars and squealing dry vocals, I can understand that reaction. People don’t know how to react to a warm, organic sound. That’s the old school sound. If you don’t like it, then fine; you’re not the person I made the album for anyway. We’re very happy with how it came out and that’s what matters most.
Talk about the lyrical content. Though you’re not into proselytizing or preaching or whatever; there are some curious topics like “Chemosh Enlighten” and the closer “Polymorphic Communion.” What are these about?
People need to be curious and think a little bit about what they’re reading. That is why I’ve made the lyrics readily available. I like to write purposely ambiguous, occult lyrics. Most have a surface interpretation with a secondary meaning beneath them, waiting to be discovered. Mystery is a great way to retain interest and encourage self-exploration – Dio’s songs are a great example. I still have no solid idea who the “Holy Diver” is, but even after thirty years; that song still speaks to me at a level that I can barely describe. We internally personalize our favorite songs and that’s why they stick with us.
Songs like “Extrinsic Pathway,” “Chemosh Enlighten,” and “Grave of Lies” and “Antithetical” deal with the human relationship to the dark side of existence. A fan can take from them what they need, which may be different than my own personal interpretation. Antithetical, in particular; has a multilayered meaning, as it’s deeply about my own personal relationship with death. “The White Death” and “Choking Grove” are more narrative tales exploring the giving and receiving of death respectively. “Polymorphic Communion” is the anomaly -it’s 50% a reaction the colorless Municipal Waste song, “The Thing” and 50% a paen to the renouncement of self in pursuit of gaining strength from the cosmic all. A large part of it was inspired by a 2010 short story by Peter Watts, published in Clarkesworld Magazine entitled “The Things.” Among other things, the author explores the idea of communion in a very interesting way. It reminded me of being in a crowd where everyone is feeding off each other’s energy, sharing space, sweat, body heat and almost becoming a single tangled mass of screaming limbs and heads. I love that momentary loss of individuality where everyone becomes part of the roaring, violent mass. It’s what makes a metal show special.
Would you consider yourself a studier of the occult, or is this just material that you’ve researched and thought would make great lyrics? I’m quite sure that Texas has its share of occultists as does its neighbor in Arkansas where I currently reside. This is where I first discovered witchcraft and moved up from there.
Not particularly. I’m more a student of death. I know a decent amount about black magic but I don’t feel a driving need to study it. The occult lives within all of us, and the great thing is that it allows each of us to explore it in our own way. The key tenets of personal internal exploration, of finding inner strength, of listening to your inner compass and staying true to yourself are what rings truest with me. I’ll get very interested in a particular concept or demonic figure and will read up on it like mad. A whole bunch of lyrical ideas will pour out afterward. All my life I’ve been attracted to occult iconography, which also serves as a source of inspiration. I like surrounding myself with images of unspeakable horror. People come to my house and react one of two ways: with awe or with terror. I’ve had servicemen cross themselves or run out. It’s hilarious.
What was it like growing up in Texas and playing metal? If it’s anything like what we have here, the “church on every street” community doesn’t seem to care too much for “the devil’s music.” How did you start out playing metal?
I’m a Texas transplant. My hometown is Buffalo, NY. A unique place to grow up in, as Buffalo became the epicenter of the death metal explosion in the late 80s. I’m proud to say I cut my teeth on shows at the River Rock Café and the Skyroom, where bands like Cannibal Corpse, Baphomet and Mayhemesis played almost weekly. That was an amazing time as everything was still fresh and new. There was an endless sense of excitement. The Western NY area was great for metal – it’s called the Rust Belt for a reason. It’s filled with rotting, rusting buildings, bridges, grain silos and steel plants which are great visual backdrops. I can still smell the sulphurous stink of the Bethlehem Steel plant as I write this. The South is definitely a lot more overtly religious than the Northeast, but where I live is not. Austin TX is a very youthful, multicultural city where pretty much anything goes. Music is big. Tattooed, pierced people are everywhere. I like it because I can be myself and get shit done without anyone ever getting into it with me. When we travel to a show in another area of Texas, we feel it a little; you pull over to get gas in some little Podunk town between Austin and Houston and the sidelong looks start. We’ve never had any confrontations though. Not even close. I find most people are simply curious and will actually ask decent questions if you present them in an open manner.
In heavy metal music, there’s still the obnoxious elephant in the room wherein some stubborn and insecure male metalheads believe that women have no place in extreme metal. Or metal in general, for that matter. I’ve never believed this as there have been so many great female fronted extreme bands like Astarte (who played some very worthy black metal for a number of years) and the obvious breakout in Angela Gossow when she joined Arch Enemy on their Wages Of Sin album. I think this really paved the way for women in metal, as I’ve heard some incredible performances these days in everything from doom to grindcore (Flagitious Idiosyncrasy In The Dilapidation) and there’s now even a female fronted power metal scene in Japan that has been slowly growing into popularity (Cyntia, Aldious.) What is your opinion on all this and what is it like being a female in extreme metal?
I’ve been debating how to answer this question for a couple of weeks. I’m really, really done with this subject. But it’s not your fault. I know people are curious as to my experience. Consider yourself lucky as this interview is officially the last time I will answer a question of this nature. My experience is like yours. Has anyone ever questioned your participation in the scene? No? Me either. Nobody gives a fuck that I have a vagina. I’ve always been treated as an equal. Anybody whining about being mistreated has some kind of self-confidence issue and needs counseling. I don’t conduct as a female, I conduct as metal.
Secondly, what do you think about the media’s current portrayal of women in metal? Bands like In This Moment and Butcher Babies (who utilize nipple tape instead of actual talent) are hugely hyped these days, and despite the fact that I’m a huge Iron Maiden fan, it is very hard for me to take an interest in the music of Halestorm. At least Otep had some balls when it came to their brand of rock/metal. Additionally, young women look to these bands as role models but they sing about all sorts of topics that from my personal knowledge – seem to degrade women (songs about being harlots) which I think is horrible. It’s no better than pop music.
Men like tits. Tits sell. Testosterone pulls dollar bills out of wallets. It’s always been this way. It always will be. It’s just part of the world. This is a revenue generator here, people. Nobody’s forcing these women to perform half naked and taped up. They’re making that choice. When I see bands like Butcher Babies, I want to pull my ovaries out and hand them to somebody – anybody – and say, “Take these. I don’t want them. I deny them.” Everybody’s so fucking wounded and ready to tell everyone about it. I have a theory that every chick with writing tattooed on her is basically telling the world “I’m damaged and crazy, approach with caution.” Keep your dysfunction to yourself… stop polluting our culture with your self-image issues, your lyrics about falling in love with abusive guys that you keep going back to and don’t know why, as well as your need for validation and attention because Daddy was unavailable and Uncle Joe crept into your bedroom and diddled you the night he stayed over after the Christmas party. We really don’t want to feed your dysfunction. You know what I’d like to feed you all? A fucking bullet, that’s what.
What are some of the most memorable and more comical moments that you’ve had on the road? Have you ever run into any trouble, maybe from religious protesters?
Nothing good ever comes from tangling with protesters. The days of being able to lay somebody out with no major repercussions are long over. You lay a finger on anyone outside the context of a pit and next thing you know, you’re in bracelets and taking a ride downtown. As much as I’d like to lay a beating down on these people, I like being able to travel internationally more.
We don’t drink, so there’s not a lot of Morgengrau hijinks to tell. There’s no puking or falling down or fighting. Our friends supply that, and we happily watch. Mostly it’s us sitting around eating and waiting to play. We want to perform well then get home safely with all our gear. I can be kind of a Buzz Killington when it comes to goofing around in the live setting – onstage, you’re making an impression. You never know who’s filming or watching.
What are some of the best and worst fan interactions that you’ve had? How many idiots have you ran into that hollered the tattered “show me your tits!” while you were playing on the stage? What do you do when you hear immature shit like this?
We’ve had nothing but great experiences. Any disrespect I’ve encountered has been with previous bands which drew a cross section of metal and rock people. Rock people cause the problems, and not surprisingly, given rock’s close connection with sex and debauchery. I had one “show me your tits” guy once at an Ignitor show. This was years and years ago. He tried to climb onstage and grab me. I knocked him on his ass. He broke his tailbone and went crawling away. Death metal has never been about “show me your tits.” It’s more, “This next song is about cutting a chick’s tits off and eating them!” That’s why I love it.
What makes up the sound of Morgengrau? (Guitars, drums, bass, effects pedals, tuning exc.) It’s very authentic to death in as far as quality and I champion that. Not only that, but your vocals sound a great deal like Chuck Schuldiner’s and I was floored on the first listen.
We keep it simple. D standard. Big guitar tone through a Mesa Rectifiers with a little Ibanez Tube Screamer on top. Clear bass, very little distortion. Solid, warm drums. On the album we used a very small amount of trigger to sharpen the kick. The intros and outros are multilayered sounds of electromagnetic planetary radiation and space wind. No keyboards. Vocals have reverb and a small delay. No pitch shifting. Everything you hear is natural bellowing from the depths of our inner Hells. Jake and Reba handle the backing vocals throughout the album. Our friend Subverseraph from Vesperian Sorrow added some extra growls to “Grave of Lies.” All of them did a kick ass job.
Without getting into politics; how do you think we’re going to fare as a society in the next ten years? Is humanity fucked? What do you think is wrong with the world?
We’re screwed. It’s end-game. America more and more feels like Rome at the end of its empire. Debauchery, permissiveness, lawlessness, gluttony, sloth. “Oh my god, we’re killing the oceans. Save the rhinos! March against Monsanto!” We give it all lip service yet continue to invest unholy amounts of energy in profiteering emerging markets like China, the very markets driving the natural destruction we decry. All hail the almighty dollar and its blind pursuit of the destruction of everything unprofitable. I just read an article about how IQs in the Western world have dropped by thirteen points over the last hundred and fifty years. No shit. I have to restrain myself daily from going over the table at people who have no idea how to problem solve the simplest things. A universe of information is at our fingertips and yet we’re growing more stupid by the minute. We’re fur seals waiting for the cosmic bludgeon. The human virus is killing its host. Something to cause a major die-off of humanity is needed. Subconsciously we all know it – that’s why society is fascinated by the concept of zombie apocalypse right now. Bring it on. Start the destruction. I have no idea how this can be fixed, it’s an unsustainable model. I’m ready for Road Warrior time. Give me a shotgun, a can of Dinky-Di and my muscle car so I can run all of you over and breathe your air. I’ll last two weeks, tops.
What does Morgengrau mean? To you as a band, what does it represent? And what is an *Extrinsic Pathway?
Morgengrau is German for “gray morning.” We chose it more for the onomatopoeial nature of it than the meaning, although the meaning does fit with the dark focus of the band. A quick Google search will reveal the extrinsic pathway is part of wound healing; however, I’m likening it to walking the Left Hand Path. Extrinsic means operating from outside. In metal, we are outside normal society. Our way is often harder and full of more trials, but also one where greater rewards can be achieved. Metal people know themselves better than most. As a culture, we are very self-aware, and that is an advantage we need to leverage as the world falls down around us.
Thanks for making such an awesome record and I hope to hear many great things from you to come!
Thank you and all the readers of New Noise Magazine! You guys are the reason why we play metal. Check out Morgengrau online and live if you’re in the TX or
NYC areas. Hail Metal, Hail Death!