Sacramento’s Will Haven are a band worthy of a massive Viking funeral if they ever permanently call it quits: their influential and classic blend of noise rock, post-hardcore, ambient, and prog is immediately recognizable and uniquely captivating.
They’re your favorite band’s favorite band.
When they got the band back together for their latest—and perhaps last—release, Muerte, due out via Minus Head Records on March 23, Will Haven thought this was going to be the end of the road, the culmination of a long and storied career.
Three members of the group had been jamming together for two years—as friends are wont to do—when vocalist Grady Avenell said he wanted to do one last Will Haven record. That kicked things into gear. “We had a bunch of material that we had written,” guitarist Jeff Irwin explains. “We’d just jam, because we love playing music. There was a while where we didn’t have any future and no plans for Will Haven, so we started getting together and jamming and recording it. We had a bunch of different, crazy material that was a little different from Will Haven. Then, when Grady said he was interested in doing another record, I said we should try to use some of this quirky stuff that we jammed with and try to incorporate it into a Will Haven record.”
“When we started this record, Grady had said that he didn’t want to do any more records after this,” Irwin continues, “so I said we should call it Muerte, like the death of Will Haven—our gravestone, you know? That was the theme going into it. He pulled from that. He’s a very personal lyricist; everything he writes about is within him, so I didn’t want to talk to him about it. I just picked out meaning from it on my own. A lot of it seems to talk about life, not so much about death, just about the world we live in now where everything is kind of fake. Everyone is living a fake lifestyle, and nothing’s real or lasting. We’re just walking zombies. It’s about trying to find yourself within and not trying to worry about the outside world.”
“For me, emotionally,” he elaborates, “the music had the feeling of a sense of loss and despair and sadness. That’s where my inspiration came from: that feeling of hopelessness and losing somebody you care about who’s now gone forever.”
But is the end ever really the end? “Muerte is basically just a play on Will Haven breaking up after this record, but now that the record is done, we’re all excited, so I don’t know if this is going to be our last one,” Irwin laughs, “but going into it, that was the plan. We didn’t think the record would be this good, so that helped us change our minds. We’ll see what happens. We’re not putting it to bed yet, but that was the thought process.”
Given all this talk of the end, it’s fitting that Irwin sees Muerte as the record he’s always wanted to write for Will Haven. “We grew up in a hardcore era, but I’m more of a fan of stuff like Quicksand and Deftones, so I’ve always wanted to somehow incorporate all of those worlds together,” he explains. “I always strived for it but felt like I was off the mark a little bit. With this one, I think I was able to capture it. Everything just kind of fit really well. This is the one record that I was completely happy with when I walked away from it. Before, I always tried to incorporate more ambient and dynamic aspects. For me, I love heavy music, but I also love Radiohead and Jane’s Addiction, Pink Floyd. I always try to incorporate both worlds, and that’s hard to do without making it cheesy or sound stupid.”
Inevitably, when gravestones and tributes are involved, so are old friends. Irwin brought in his old roommate, Deftones guitarist Stephen Carpenter, to co-write the atmospheric crusher, “El Sol.” “It’s funny, because I’ve known Stephen forever,” he says. “We lived together way back in the day, and he was in Deftones, and I was always doing my own thing. There was only one time that we actually started a band together—this was 1993, I think. It was him, me, and Shaun [Lopez] from Far; we started a band called Flower, and I played drums, and Shaun and Stephen played guitar.”
“It was basically a Corrosion Of Conformity thing, just straight riffs—the whole thing was all riffs. Every practice turned into them just trying out-crunch each other,” he laughs. “We wrote a few songs that never came out, and then, we just never did anything after that.”
“Even though our bands toured together and hung out, Stephen and I never really wrote a song together,” Irwin reveals. “So, I figured this is the perfect time to do it, because we don’t know how long Will Haven is going to be around. So, I called him up, and within a week, I had a full-on song that he had written for me. I chopped it up and did my stuff over it. It turned out really awesome, which I figured it would. Stephen always writes the best riffs. It was time to do it, and we’ve been friends forever, so it was perfect.”
It’s all quite perfect, a fitting—possible—end to a legendary career. Muerte doesn’t sound like a stirring final release: it’s vital, purposeful, and vigorous like the best debuts. But if this truly is the end—and who really knows?—Muerte will forever serve as a stunning and visceral reminder of an influential band whose tunes are just as alive and kicking as they were when Will Haven formed over 20 years ago.
Will Haven are dead. Long live Will Haven.
Photo by Rocking Ryan Richardson