Interview – Wolvserpent

Boise duo Wolvserpent are one of the most unique sounding drone/doom bands to emerge in recent years, combining guitarist/vocalist Blake Green’s crushing riffs with drummer Brittany McConnell’s beautiful violin playing to evoke an enthralling atmosphere that could be likened to Phillip Glass enlisting Sunn O))) to help him provide the soundtrack for some sort of occult ritual. M3 got in touch with Blake to discuss their experiments with giving away their music for free…

M3 – First of all, could you tell us a bit about yourself, and what it is that you do?
Blake – My name is Blake Green and I am one-half of the underground musical duo Wolvserpent. I also try my hand at graphic design, tour booking, mail order, live/studio engineering, producing and sometimes releasing our tapes/LPs. I was born and raised in Boise, Idaho USA. For most of my youth I was surrounded by farmland, lakes, rivers, deserts, mountains and an overwhelmingly conservative/republican social and political climate.

What inspired you to start Wolvserpent? What are your own musical backgrounds?
Wolvserpent is the creative outlet for me and my partner’s spiritual, philosophical and musical connection. Wolvserpent is a way to express what we see and feel in this life while having no musical boundaries beyond our own imagination and abilities.

I learned to play guitar, bass and drums by listening to punk/early hardcore and d-beat records and figuring out the riffs by ear. At 16 I started working and saved up money for a Roland digital 8 track… I think it was $1200 (as much as my last computer)! Brittany (Wolvserpent) and I began playing together in our early 20s. Much of my musical growth took place during that time. She is classically trained and we spent a lot of time listening to say….Rite of Spring, Phillip Glass or Villa Lobos and then listening to Carcass’s Reek of Putrefaction or Mayhem. :)

What was the reasoning behind making some of your recent releases available for free or ‘pay-as-you-please’ download?
I have many reasons for doing this. There is a lot of discussion and theory on this subject right now and a big part of taking this leap was to find out what the reaction would be in practice vs theory. People say this type of thing could be good for promotion, or that free downloads turn into LP sales… I mean you’ve probably heard it all.

Basically I was sick of hearing theories and wanted to find out for myself how this would work and what it might or might not do for us.

Second I was getting tired of having no control over whatever random crappy uploads some blogger decided to make available on their site. I wanted to take back a little bit of my art and offer a decent quality guilt-free download. This way my music would not be heard under 320k and hopefully fans will find our website instead of someone else’s and keep track of us instead of the entity that runs a blog.

It’s kind of strange logic to think “I can’t keep people from stealing my material so I am just going to give it away” but it was also kind of a backward “fuck off” to our current music culture.

Lastly, being poor ourselves, we understand that not everybody can find or afford our material. So this effort offers an artist-endorsed alternative to digital theft. If you don’t have the money, don’t worry about it. Download the record, tape a copy for a friend, come to our shows or buy a t-shirt someday. If you do have money, and our art affects your life in a positive way, you can give back by paying us in cash. Money helps us repair equipment, make another record and, to put it simply…. live.

What benefits and/or disadvantages have arisen from this distribution method?
It may be a little too early to say what advantages or disadvantages have arisen. As of now things seem the same on the financial end. Some people have been very kind and reached out to express their gratitude, either through words, donations or t-shirt/LP sales. In this uphill battle, it is good for us to know that people appreciate what we are doing and that our art means something in this world.

On average, how many people would you say still pay for a release when given the option to download for free?
I would say that LP sales have stayed roughly the same. Maybe they have gone down but we don’t have a long enough history of selling our own merch to make a proper estimate.

I do know that if everyone who downloaded our releases also bought a copy of the record we could quit our day jobs and focus on music full time. This is a fact.

Would you say this method is a realistic possibility for the future of music distribution?
I do think it is extremely realistic but I do not think it is ideal. This is especially true for smaller bands. Radiohead seemed to do okay using this method. But I see a future where, instead of trying to find people to buy their records, bands are trying to find people to download their records for free. How demeaning is that? So many people listen to music and it is such a huge part of our lives. I wonder why it  is music and artists are so undervalued in this way? Why should an album cost less than a candy bar? Why are artists and musicians merely providers of content?

I really don’t feel very positive about any of our current digital options: iTunes, Spotify, Amazon. I am trying as hard as I can to keep my music off of these sites. They are all a joke for the artist. iTunes downloads are so low quality and they invest nothing into the artist. I would rather give away my music than offer my support to these companies. What is the difference between 00.000000000001 dollars and $0.00 dollars to me? There is none. It’s just another scam. I think for the most part the industry is trying to figure out how to save itself and their investors’ paychecks, not how to save the musician. The less money we will work for and the less we get paid, the happier everyone is at the top. Spotify is a great idea for users but from everything I have heard or read BAD BAD BAD for the artist. The artist is the final number to be considered in this equation of USER PAYS = COMPANY PROFITS. Artists love what they do and companies have been taking, and will continue to take, advantage of this love as long as they can. Everybody has figured out that content will be provided for free. So why pay for it?

Plus, let’s face it…how many iTunes shoppers are looking for underground, avant, blackened, western, chamber, dark-adult-contemporary gothic doom metal anyway? :)

What would be your preferred medium to listen to music (eg. Vinyl, CD, tape, MP3 etc.), and why?
I prefer vinyl. I like the way it sounds. I like having nicer and larger artwork. I like the album as a package. The vinyl LP brings the listener and artist closer together. As a listener, it brings you closer to the music. You can hold and smell the music. Physical sense and memories begin to play a part in the music. Remember what was happening in your life last time you broke out this record? The listener needs to pay attention to when the record ends and flip it over. It is engaging.

I also like tapes for a lot of the same reasons. They can also be abused and fixed and doctored, you can repair the tape or transfer the recording to a new case. A lot of my favorite albums sound so much better on tape. It is the only format that can degrade and break but still work.

I also listen to a lot of WAV files in my car or at work. Having my entire digital library at hand, especially on a big tour is absolutely wonderful.

I pretty much regret almost every CD I’ve purchased. With the exception of small run CD’s or CDRs that were only available in this format. Or if the artwork is astonishing. CDRs are also very affordable option for the underground musician and I get a physical product and the opportunity to support an artist.

Do you feel the idea of an album, as a piece of art that people will listen to from start to finish, has been undermined or forgotten about in the digital age?
I know this answer. YES and NO. Many of the people I spend my time with and many of our fans are deeply devoted to the album as a work of art. From what I have seen in underground music, there are still people that will only listen to music on vinyl or tape cassette.

Our songs are generally 15-45 minutes long and our albums are organized in a way that makes more sense when listened to in it’s entirety. The progression from song to song is equally as important as the songs themselves. Part of the overall meaning of our project is to promote focus, stillness and concentration. This society we live in seems to be more and more focused on multi-tasking and instant gratification.

You are extremely unlikely to gain any instant gratification from Wolvserpent. I have heard it said that you have 2-15 seconds to make an impression with your music online. Well guess what….nothing happens in 2-15 seconds with our music and if a listener can’t handle that, then they need to go somewhere else. Maybe we will loose a potential listener because of this, maybe not. To me this overall philosophy is a greater goal than selling more records or getting more listens.

Stress is a huge cause of physical and mental illness. From what I have noticed, instant gratification, loss of focus, multitasking, not taking time out in your day to sit and breath and instead letting technology become the user, all attribute to stress. One of the gifts that music and art give us is the ability to take us away from our daily tasks and problems. I believe that if we continue to absorb music, as we would fast food, the emotional and spiritual nutrients that music can give us become equally as shallow and harmful. I don’t mean to sound preachy. But this is how I think of things.

The single is back in fashion. Many young people, unless their parents or peers have taught them otherwise, have no idea what an album is. They have an MP3 player full of single tracks. How much time in the day is there to listen to an album when you are expected to be doing 10 things at once all the time and do them well?

At the same time, it seems the mainstream is craving something real. Adele has been doing great with the mainstream. I am not saying I am particularly fond of what she is doing. But her music expresses real emotion and she is singing about something besides getting laid and making money. Black Keys, a once underground dirty blues two piece, charted in the Billboard top 10 in 2011. The machine that is the mainstream media industry needs to stop pushing shit down peoples throats. They might be even more successful if they tried a different approach.

Much has been made of the supposed death of the record store in recent years. Do you believe the digital age has killed the record store, and if so, do you think that this is a necessary part of progression, or a tragic loss?
I believe the digital age has taken a great toll on record stores and album sales in general. The Record store owners and employees that I know have noticed significant drops in sales since the internet became a resource for music. The few that I have talked to say CDs are a loss year over year but Vinyl is a gain. This is not, however, enough to make up for the overall loss. With a little research you can see that many record stores have closed over the last few years. I think this is a tragic loss. I like going to a record store and looking through physical products, running into other nerds and making smart-ass jokes with the clerks. The record store is a place for fans of music to congregate and get out of the house. I feel the same way about independent book stores, movie stores and theaters. First they had giant chains to compete with and now the internet. I can almost say that I would prefer the internet not exist at all. There is not a thing it has to offer me that I can’t get through other avenues. Just because it’s quicker doesn’t mean it’s better.

I think the number one thing to remember is that, like any tool, technology is inherently inert (for now) until it is used by a person. The internet itself isn’t stealing music and media. People are. We need to ask… why are people choosing this? Is it the path of least resistance? Convenience? Do people realize how hard it is to be in a band and do the things necessary to share your soul with others?

Nothing in this world is free, and the price we pay for cheaper goods and free art is the loss of real life value of locally owned businesses, artists and craftsmen. Every time we download an album for free an artist is not getting paid, every time we buy cheap clothes at Wal-mart a locally owned store is laying off an employee. I believe that we as human beings have some very, very serious decisions to make over the next few years about what kind of world we want to live in and how our daily actions affect the greater picture. We all have so many choices now but with these choices should come the responsibility of seeing how they affect the greater picture. In an instantaneous world how do you think long term? I don’t know…. just my opinion.

What is your take on the current SOPA/ACTA controversy?
Well governments are full of corruption and bureaucracy. I can’t imagine that they will get this right.

Finally, what does the future have in store for Wolvserpent?
I honestly don’t know. It’s a tough time to be a band. I will always play music in one form or another, whether for myself or others. Sound, music and emotion are my passion. Hopefully over the next few years a couple albums and tours will see the light of day. Just depends on if people want to see us and hear us.

Thank you for the opportunity to have this discussion.

If any readers have a response to what I have said, different points of view and/or experiences they can share on these subjects. I would love to hear your input in the comments section!

For more information about Wolvserpent, you can visit their official website to download and purchase their music, and also find them on Facebook.

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About M3 Event

The music industry is rapidly changing. The internet has enabled widespread piracy, as well as a variety of new business and distribution models. We want to offer an engaged audience in and around the Euregion an opportunity to develop a coherent and detailed picture of the future of music distribution. On the 31st of May 2012 a music conference in Maastricht, consisting of oppositional debates, creative workshops and lectures, will provoke opportunities for intellectual stimulation, debate, as well as networking. We hope to utilise the skills and ideas of some of most forward thinking minds and operators in the industry in order to highlight some promising new ideas and areas which can be improved upon.

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