Interview by Lys Mayo
One-man, eco-terrorist black metal. Within this domain we find The Botanist, a man living among nature in isolation, observing the downfall of humanity. Such a story is told through four full-length records and one EP, and has recently been adapted into a multi-person stage show. Botanist is far more than a skull-crushing, soul-bending black metal band. It is a message to the people of the earth. Otrebor himself sat down to shed a little light on this world, and discuss the masterpiece that is Botanist.
Can you tell us a little about Verdant Realm, and the other aspects of this world you’ve created surrounding Botanist?
Beyond the picture painted by the official description of the main concept of Botanist, the Verdant Realm is a notion of utopia. It’s not the utopia where life is sweet and carefree, but rather a utopia in which life in all its forms is in perfect balance. Unlike the less focused-on meaning of “utopia,” in which that place is in fact nowhere, non-existent, the utopia of the Natural world is out there at this very moment for any of us to behold. Its greatest lesson is that of humility, that there is a power at work that will forever be bigger than anything we could ever create or even fathom.
According to the mythology of Botanist, the Verdant Realm‘s greatest triumph and rebirth will occur after the fall of Humanity, when every living thing on the surface of the planet has been eradicated. From that wasteland, the natural world will grow anew, perhaps in entirely different forms than we know it now, but out of nothing something will always spring naturally. This rebirth is known as The Budding Dawn, the floral apocalypse. While it heralds utter annihilation, it is also a message of hope, that even if species are irrevocably erased from existence, Nature will always prevail and a new utopia will rise in their stead. This message is transmitted to The Botanist by the voices he hears in his head from the floral demon, Azalea, who gives instructions on the grand plan that is in store for The Botanist and what his role is in bringing about The Budding Dawn.
In your written word you refer to Nature and Humanity, much like one would capitalize Him in reference to God. Can you describe your intentions or beliefs behind this?
The true nature and entity of God is fundamentally unknowable to us. However, what Botanist is saying is that the divine is tangible, and that is most the case in the presence of the Natural world. The existence of plants and ecosystems is proof that there is an occult force at work, whose main objective is to create and maintain a perfect balance amongst all living things. When that balance is upset, Nature corrects it, often in violent ways.
Botanist sees mankind as a whole on the path of self-destruction that it is bringing upon itself as it increasingly upsets the Natural balance. The retribution is already tangible today. In order to save ourselves, Botanist is saying that what we identify as “Nature” must be revered in the holiest of capacities. We must collectively understand that we are far from the omnipotent beings of the planet, and that we must have humility in the face of the unknowable entity that creates everything that is. If we cannot amend our path of misuse and selfishness, we will be swept away and replaced by something else.
While you often play shows as a one-man band, when I saw you in Sacramento, you had others on stage with you. How did this group come about, and is it the first time you have incorporated others into your live show?
Botanist has become a live incarnation as of the summer of 2013. The roots began in an interview conducted by Louis Pattison for The Quietus, an outstanding music site in Britain. One D. Neal read the interview, and upon seeing the bit about how I was open to taking Botanist live, contacted me, as he was a black metal enthusiast who also happened to play hammered dulcimer. The final essential piece came when Neal recruited R. Chiang, whom he was in a band with, to play the other dulcimer parts. With the triumvirate of drums and double dulcimer in place, it was relatively easy to fill whatever remaining spots were needed, namely A. Lindo on vocals and harmonium, and Bezaelith on bass and backing vocals.
The lineup you saw in Sacramento did not in fact comprise D. Neal, who could not make the tour for personal reasons. Luckily, we got Balan from Bay Area one-man black metal project Palace Of Worms to fill in for Neal. It worked out very well and we are happy to announce that Balan will be staying on with the band, replacing Bezaelith on bass.
Your live show includes robes, fogs, and a drum kit facing the back corner. Can you please discuss this, and what a person should expect when coming to a Botanist show?
The intent on the project’s studio recordings is for the dulcimers and other instruments to represent the sound of the floral kingdom, and for the voice to represent the faceless persona of The Botanist within that environment. This is one of the more important concepts of the band’s atmosphere and sound. Pulling that off live is a question of choosing the best and most feasible options at the time, so camouflaging the human element as much as possible and practical, while increasing the atmospheric strengths of the music and the droning, reverberating decay of the dulcimers and harmonium seemed to be the natural direction to take. And why do I face the wrong way? It is out of the conceptual statement of The Botanist turning his back on humanity.
How long have you been playing drums and percussion? It sounded as though your kit now includes a marching snare. How has your set-up evolved over the years?
Sharp of you to notice, Lys. It was amusing to read various opinions of how “crappy and triggered” the drums sound on the records, the first two records in particular. What people were likely attributing to an unpleasant triggered sound was in fact as acoustic a snare as one can get. Of course, crappiness is subjective, but I can assure you that the snare on the first two records was recorded only with a single microphone. One of the underlying tenets that Botanist is run by is “figure out what others are not doing, and do that.” While it’s not a major element, the usage of a marching snare, and the particular one that I have which has come to be known as the Panzersnare, is a reflection of that tenet. The Panzersnare is called that because of how it looks like an armored beast, which was particularly the case when it still had all the hardware used to mount in onto a marching human. It’s not on all of the recorded material, and won’t be again until Botanist “VIII,” but its inclusion is conscious and meaningful.
I became obsessed with marching snares years ago after I saw one used as a side-snare in a product photo for Pearl drums. I had heard bits of a solo marching snare before, and was blown away and a little appalled at how sharp and thin it sounded. It was quite extreme! It’s by far the loudest drum I have. It’s like someone hitting a plastic garbage can lid, but magnified 1,000,000 times. That a marching snare was developed to be heard over the sounds of battle in an open field meant it was about the most metal snare possible, which was also highly inspirational. The Panzersnare in particular is the most extreme marching snare of marching snares, as it has not one, but two snares, one under the bottom head (as every snare has) and one under the top head as well, to give the sound an even further extreme earsplitting firecracker crack. There is absolutely no decay or resonance on that thing. It’s all attack, like those little spitwad-on-a-stick firecrackers you get from Chinatown that pop when you throw them on the ground. This is partially why the Botanist kit also features a side snare, which for the tour (and on “IV”) was a 12″ x 7″ Tempus fiberglass snare, to play the parts where a popping spitwad didn’t fit.
The set-up changed from “I/II” to “III” to reflect that album’s doom-oriented intent — far fewer drum shells and larger shells and cymbals overall. The setup didn’t change too much until recently, partially to make playing live easier, but also to accommodate a new development of using double hi-hat stands, which is something that will be developed a lot more in future recordings. The live kit is a Tempus carbon fiber set, which is about as great a choice as one can hope for, as those drums are extremely light and also extremely resilient. They sounded great on stage, too. Listen for them when Botanist “VII” is released.
What is your favorite record that you’ve created, and why?
While each full-length has something unique that sets it positively apart from the others, out of the published works, “IV” is probably my favorite. I feel it tells a good musical story that’s succinct. Its musical chapters flow well. I’m personally partial to droning, fuzzy music, and so the tones on that record appeal to me. It was also the first record to have the harmonium as a major element. However, out of the works to come, “VI” is the one that I find myself listening to simply for pleasure. We’re thinking about skipping “V” and publishing “VI” next, as everyone in the band feels it’s the strongest finished, unpublished material, and perhaps a more strong progression from “IV” than “V” would be. Personally, I feel the music on “VI” better reflects the spiritual and philosophical space that I feel Botanist is in, and better communicates what the project is trying to say. There’s also an EP in a rough recorded state that will be called “Green Metal,” to be released some day, that turned out very well indeed, at least pre-mixing.
Why black metal? Is this the style you began listening to as a young lad, or has the love for it developed over the years?
Black metal is not the only such music, but it is the musical embodiment of opposition that most fiercely resonates within myself. It is simultaneously music that has channeled the awe of the Natural world, of throwing off the mundane shackles of everyday life and taking refuge in that ideal place. Now, many have made the case that Botanist is perhaps not even metal, which I am ambivalent to. I can honestly attest that much of the compositions came from channeling what resonated most with me in my interpretation of black metal. However, Botanist will not limit itself to being inspired by that genre, and will deviate as it pleases or as it seems appropriate.
If there were one thing you want your audiences to take from Botanist, what would it be?
For today, that one thing is that there is something that is bigger than all of us. While it can be fearsome, it is also beautiful, and most importantly, the most essential aspect to our continued existence. Understanding its true lesson is great, that with respect to the Natural world and of humility of our place within it, it is not only we who can live better, but so can every other living thing on Earth.
And the inevitable closing question… What is next for Botanist?
The split with Palace of Worms should be officially released around the time of this interview. You’ll be able to listen to it in full at the Botanist bandcamp, at verdant-realm-botanist.bandcamp.com. Botanist will tour again in 2014. In the meantime, we are writing and recording new ideas and demos, and refining some technical aspects of our still newborn live show. Thank you for your time, interest, and support.