Interview with guitarist Garret | By Hutch
“Unless you’re getting paid to write hits in Nashville or commercial jingles, writing music should not be work,” Garret Morris, guitarist of Richmond, Va.’s Windhand, muses about finishing their new album. Seven years after beginning, it seems Windhand are shaking the stoner doom metal world with their third full-length Grief’s Infernal Flower—out now via Relapse Records—but Morris quashes the hyperbole: “It’d be incredibly narcissistic and just plain ridiculous for us to even think about things in those terms. We’re a band and we write songs.”
Fans may take exception to Morris’ modesty, yet it’s understandable. The band are not redefining any genre; they just do it so damn well. After releasing their self-titled debut, they were immediately signed to Relapse. A split 12” with Cough, and then 2013’s Soma quickly attracted attention beyond the underground. Windhand soon cultivated acclaim from both critics and fans, the majority proclaiming the band were getting better with each release. Soma sat atop a litany of “best of the year” lists. Grief’s Infernal Flower is better than Soma while continuing the formula, as noted by Morris’ humble declarations. “[Our] songs usually represent where we’ve been personally and creatively during the time period in which they were written.”
The split with Cough had two songs spanning over 18 minutes. Grief’s… first two tracks are eight and nine minutes, respectively. Despite people claiming the depletion of the true meaning of the word “awesome” in contemporary times, it seems safe to use it here. “It’s incredibly flattering that anyone would even consider any of our albums ‘awesome,’” says Morris, “but again, we don’t think in terms of writing ‘awesome’ records. We just write songs for ourselves. We’d be writing the same songs even if no one out there was listening.”
“Hesperus” and “Kingfisher” are back to back and each over 14 minutes. Morris explains these as natural, organic manifestations of what Windhand wish to relay to their audience. “We never think about writing long songs,” he assures. “Whatever the natural feel of the song is will determine its length. We don’t think about time when it comes to writing. I think the tempo and length of songs is just the natural heartbeat of the band.”
Morris’ and guitarist Asechiah Bogdan’s riffs are thick, slow, and hypnotic. Their pace is tumultuous and churning. To match the haunting and dismal grind of say, “Hyperion,” and all of their dark material, vocalist Dorthia Cottrel croons in a smoky vapor. Her voice commands power, while illustrating a somber atmosphere of melancholy and regret. The rhythms emitted from drummer Ryan Wolfe and bassist Parker Chandler ebb and crash into the audience’s psyche while still gripping the listener viscerally. The solo woven into “Hyperion” is not that of a technical showcase, but simply an elaboration on the songs’ feel.
A concise speaker, Morris eschews any notion of hype or pressure impacting the writing of Grief’s Infernal Flower. Despite the universal lauding of Soma, Morris claims that fans’ anticipations and critics’ expectations did not shape the band’s mindset. “I think success for anyone is just getting through the day, to be honest,” he says. “We’ve done three records, a couple split EPs, and dozens of tours. I definitely don’t think we’re an overnight sensation or have experienced ‘success’ quickly. These are the songs we had collectively accumulated over several months. The only pressure was to make sure we had everything the way we wanted it.”
The middle four songs are each four and five minutes. How much scrutiny goes into the song order on the album? Windhand didn’t choose to open with a four minute track or alleviate the listener by interspersing short songs amongst the longer tracks. Morris again, with passivity, explains his approach: “Coming up with a track sequence for a record is essentially like trying to make a good mix tape for someone. You may have a theme in mind. You want the songs to transition nicely from one mood to the next.”
The nine track album was produced by Jack Endino. Morris explains, despite the initial songwriting process being the same as prior albums, Grief’s Infernal Flower demanded an objective participant. “It was just time for a change. We recorded all the previous records ourselves at our rehearsal space,” he recalls. “We wanted to leave Richmond and not be distracted by anything. Jack Endino has made records we all love. We have enormous respect for his work. We booked three weeks with him in Seattle, flew out there with a bunch of equipment, and did the record. Everything was written during the five month period while we were home between tours and recording. We were ready to start tracking the day we got to Seattle.”
Having a platform like Relapse Records has allowed Windhand to tour as much as they are willing. And they are willing. They have toured fervently since before their first album. From large fests to art spaces, Windhand has seduced many denim-vested longhairs and regular rock ‘n’ roll fans alike. They are celebrating the record’s release with a full U.S. tour—with Danava and Monolord—beginning in October and running until the end of November.