Interview with vocalist Paul Kuhr | By Brandon Ringo
There aren’t many American doom metal bands that have been together as long as November’s Doom (nearly 25 years now), nor are there many quite as legendary. Led by founding member and vocalist Paul Kuhr, the band has been on a winning streak of incredible records over the last two decades. With the release of Bled White, their ninth album, the band is certainly showing no signs of stopping.
When did you begin writing Bled White? What was your mindset going into that process?
We usually begin thinking about the next album as soon as we finish recording the previous one, so once we finished recording Aphotic, we took a short mental rest, and started talking about Bled White. We do a lot of discussing things in the beginning, to try to see where everyone’s head is at, and try to get us all on the same page, so the material is cohesive. This time, we knew from the start we wanted to focus on vocal melody and to leave more room for the vocals to “sing” in the music. It’s always a personal challenge to never repeat the same album twice, and always try to outdo and push ourselves.
The record has a nice ebb and flow of lighter and darker elements. Was that your aim or is it organic?
I would say it’s a bit of both. The dynamics have always been a part of November’s Doom, so we know they need to be there, but at the same time, this is just how we write. It is very organic for us to create the mood and flow the way we do, because that’s who we are as musicians. We never claim to reinvent the wheel as some bands in our genre do, but we do like to think we write good songs and songs that will catch your attention, and hold solid in your memory. If you’re humming one of our songs later in the day, we did our job.
What is your process for writing lyrics?
I usually just write. I need to be in a specific mind space to write, and when I start, it just comes out naturally. Once I have the words written, I listen to the music and I can feel what belongs where. Sometimes I’ll listen to all the music, and realize that a specific song has a feel that I don’t have the words for, so I will write a song that will fit that mood. It goes both ways, but for the majority, I have words and then I fit them into the arranged music. Sometimes this works perfectly, and sometimes, even the end result never sits well with me, but I’m never 100% satisfied with my material anyway.
Do you write lyrics from an autobiographical standpoint?
All of my lyrics come from a personal place. I’ve written like this since the beginning, but more so from Welcome to the Fade on. Everyday life has more inspiration in it than any fictional story could. It’s hard to make the decision to wear your heart on your sleeve, and put yourself out there emotionally like that, but I think the connection to the listener is greater. I think I’ve reached more people, in a more relatable way because of this. These past couple of years have been difficult for sure, and the lyrics convey that well. It’s also had some grand moments, so there are songs of positivity as well.
Is it painful re-living those experiences, or is it cathartic to exorcise them lyrically?
I have always used the lyric writing as my therapy and my outlet. It’s very cathartic to write. Sometimes, I do write things too personal and performing these songs later become more difficult for me. Certain songs we won’t perform live because of this, or rarely. I use the emotion to write. It helps get my point across, and makes the words more organic, and less poetic. Some people don’t like the “simple” approach, but I’m not pretending to be some famous poet. I’m a regular guy from the Chicago ‘burbs who goes through the same shit as everyone else. I just have the ability and am lucky enough to have November’s Doom to help me through it, instead of the bottom of a bottle.
As an Edge Of Sanity fan, it seems like working with Dan Swanö just once would be a dream come true, much less five times like you have. At this point, do you even have to tell him what you want, or do you just send the tracks over and say “make it loud” and wait patiently?
We have worked with Dan so much, he knows us now. He knows what we like. We will give him a reference CD that we are shooting for, dynamically, and once he’s worked on this for weeks, we end up telling him to start over and do what he does, and then he nails it. We like making him work twice as hard as he needs to. [Laughs] It always ends up this way. We need to trust him from the start. We have that syndrome, where we need to hear it wrong, before we can hear it right. I know we drive him nuts, even though he doesn’t admit that. We love working with him, and don’t see any reason to move to someone else anytime soon.
Is there any concern about how fans will perceive your material?
First and foremost, we need to like what we do. It’s pleasing ourselves, and we are our own worst critics. No one is harder on us than we are. So, we have a grand vision in our minds on how the final song should sound, and we have to make sure that foundation is strong before we continue building on it. We hate wasting time on a song that no one is feeling, so we discard it, and write something better. Once all is said and done, then we start to second-guess if the fans will like it or not. Luckily, we’ve been able to continue doing what we do, and people seem to enjoy it!
Do you ever have writer’s block? Are there records, books, or movies that help inspire you?
We struggle from writer’s block all the time, musically and lyrically. Sometimes, a song or a lyric doesn’t come out until the final hour. Other times, it flows out naturally. If I’m not in the right headspace to write, I can try to force myself there, but I end up tossing out have the things I write, or only using a line or two. I have lots of unused paragraphs of garbage; I may pick something from here and there. Writer’s block is always a challenge. I find inspiration from many things. Sometimes is the theme of a TV show, or a book, or even a comic book theme. Anything I can draw a connection to in my personal life is free game, as long as it’s not too clear where the inspiration comes from. If you can tell, then it’s more stealing than inspiring. But, for me, my inspiration is all my life, 100%.
Purchase Bled White here: http://www.theomegaorder.com/NOVEMBERS-DOOM
Novembers Doom have their album release show this Saturday (August 9th). RSVP to the show here.