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Interview: Clemens Wijers of Carach Angren

Clemens Wijers is a musician and composer hailing from the Netherlands. His adeptness on the piano was established in early childhood, leading his parents to enroll him in regular lessons. By his late teens, Wijers, this time classically trained, would fully immerse himself in the black metal music scene, under the notion that keyboards could prove a powerful instrumentational asset. In the early 2000s, following his one-year stint at Tilburg Conservatory, he’d eventually form Carach Angren with brother Ivo on drums and singer-guitarist Dennis Droomers. The trio (under the artist names Ardek, Namtar, and Seregor, respectively), has persisted nearly two decades strong.

Carach Angren is currently on a European tour which will continue through July. On July 26th, Wijers will release Parasite Twin, the second solo effort that follows his 2017 debut album, Worlds. I caught up with Clemens, who was in Italy at the time, to discuss his formative years, his new solo EP, and what he can assess about his career as a whole.

ME: How’s the tour going so far?

Clemens: Really good! We just came from Hellfest, and now we’re in Italy. We’ve spent two weeks on the road now with a lot to do. This has been a very long tour, but we’re excited!

ME: What do you look forward to the most about these shows?

Clemens: It’s nice to be able to play different kinds of stages. We’ve played small clubs, but we’re also part of bigger festivals. I think it’s good to have that variation and I like that a lot.

ME: Taking it back a bit, you started learning piano at around seven years old. Did you enjoy that?

Clemens: Yeah! We’d sing songs in primary school and I’d memorize them. When I’d come home, I’d have this little toy keyboard that I tried to play those melodies on. Then, I’d always try to figure other songs out, and I really did enjoy that. My parents recognized that, and I feel very lucky for them to have motivated me in that direction.

ME: Later on, did you start with rock, and then gradually gravitate toward metal?

Clemens: It’s a bit strange because when I was a young teenager, I was into a lot of dance music, actually (laughs)! But then when I was 15, I met someone in a CD shop and he introduced me to metal. He told me, “Hey, I listen to this kind of stuff, you should check it out,” and I thought, “Why not?” That’s how it started. Within a couple of months, I discovered black metal and a whole world opened up. What was cool for me was that I found out you could actually play keyboards in metal. At first, I thought you mainly had to be a drummer or guitar player, but then I discovered some of the more narcotic-type of black metal bands which really excited me in getting into it.

ME: I’m not very much into black metal, to be honest, but I still appreciate and like to learn about the history of different scenes. I notice that in the early days, there was a very cult-like influence about it, and it had a very barebones, rough presentation. But as time went on, bands were keener on the musical aspect and incorporating more expansive, symphonic influences. In your own experience, what do you notice about black metal as it’s evolved?

Clemens: It’s exactly as you said. When black metal started in Scandinavia, it was a kind of cultural movement – youth against religion. That’s a very different thing to what we’re doing; we never intended for Carach Angren to go in that extreme direction. A lot of black metal artists indeed began to include symphonic influences over time. These days, I think the younger generation doesn’t care about its origins so much anymore, because now, you have a lot more subgenres and so many new bands. As humans, we like to categorize stuff, so it makes sense to include some kind of label, but we never pretend to have the influence of ‘true’ black metal, whatever that means. That’s why we call ourselves ‘horror metal’ these days.

ME: In 2002, you went to Tilburg Conservatory, which really solidified your classical training. How did that come about?

Clemens: I’d had private piano and keyboard lessons for eight years, so the next logical step was to go to the conservatory. I played a lot of Bach exercises and learned a lot. It was a mixed experience for me, though, because, as a 17 and 18-year-old, I told myself, “Once I finish with this, I’ll be a professional and the doors will open.” Then, I remember one teacher telling me, “Whether you finish here or you don’t, it won’t mean anything,” so that was a shock to me. But then he said, “If you want to put your album in the shops, you can do it; you don’t need to be here.”

I didn’t continue in that direction; in fact, I pursued another career to be on the safe side because I know music can be a challenge. But in the meanwhile, I started developing Carach Angren, and soon told myself that I was going to go for it.

ME: I understand. Initially, you thought your instructor was telling you that you’re just wasting your time, but he was actually saying you’ve learned enough of the skills already, in order to do your own thing.

Clemens: Yeah, exactly. And what I noticed was that there were a lot of great instructors in that world. Also, many of them were, at one stage, planning to be professional musicians, but for whatever reason, it didn’t work out and they became teachers. It goes to show that in this kind of school system, you never know who you’re going to run into.

ME: You mention developing Carach Angren around this time. At what point did you integrate Ivo and Seregor?

Clemens: I started first with Seregor, and I always looked up to him from his time in another band. He’s a little older than I am, and I knew he was very talented. I thought if I could ever work with him, it would be really awesome. By the time he left that band, I was forming another band with a friend. He was doing studio vocals for a band called Vaultage, and we would play some black metal riffs during those rehearsals. Meanwhile, my brother was getting really good at drums. He was just starting out at the time, but he had a lot of talent. So, the three of us put together this little project that would become Carach Angren.

We took it easy at first, putting out a small demo, sending it to local shops, and playing small gigs for a couple of bucks and a crate of beer. We enjoyed it, and other people also seemed to have enjoyed it a lot. Some people laughed at us as we stuck it through, like, “Oh, why are you still doing this?” but we believed in the project and in ourselves, and that’s how we expanded.

ME: You’d recently started a solo project, putting out Worlds in 2017. What went on during the transition into your new release, Parasite Twin?

Clemens: It’s cool because, during that time, I started working for other artists. I did orchestration on the first Lindermann album [Skills in Pills], Ex Deo, and Pain. That experience opened the world for me because it gave me an idea of how to write more commercially-oriented music, and I’d been writing for publishers of short films. When I came home last December from touring, I started writing for Carach Angren, but also, all these other songs came out. I initially put them aside for some other project, and there was a point in either February or March when I eventually had as many as 30 songs! Some of them I even started singing on, with the mindset of, “I don’t know if it sounds great, but I want an idea of what it would sound like anyway.” With each one, I thought, “Sounds cool, let’s do another one!” and I planned to include them on a possible solo release. But then, I had these super orchestral and industrial tracks which I felt didn’t fit on one album, so I thought of doing an EP instead. I was a little doubtful at first because I don’t usually sing, so it was like a new experiment for me. The more I worked on it, the more I started mixing and producing it myself. As I grew more confident, I set out to make a lyric video for “Parasite Twin,” and then eventually, a regular music video.

ME: During the process of this EP, was there an initial hesitance that you had to overcome before gaining your confidence?

Clemens: I think, when I worked on this particular release, most of that hesitance came from doing this completely by myself. There was a risk involved in showing it to other people, because some were like, “I don’t know, I don’t know…” but others said, “This is fucking amazing!” That always happens when you’re an artist showing your work to people in an early stage. It could be a trap sometimes because you’d end up dwelling a lot on someone else’s opinion. But because the EP started sounding really good while I was mixing, I was able to become more confident in my abilities, and thought of just releasing it myself.

ME: What inspired you to make “Machine” the opening track?

Clemens: I’d been reading a lot of books about how influenced we are by social media – for instance, how people tend to scroll through internet pages more versus reading physical books. I also saw an interesting point that if one group of people was shown information digitally, and then another was presented that same information on hard copy, those with hard copies have a better understanding of what they read. This was actual scientific research, and I was very intrigued by it. It seems that as we evolve online, we become trapped in our own cages. We’re all connected, but at the same time, contained within our own bubbles. This inspired me in a lyrical sense. “Machine” talks about memoirs of an algorithm, that maybe, 50 years later, this algorithm will be able to show what it has done to humanity.

ME: Two other tracks that stood out to me were “Nightmare” and “Fucked Up.” Even though they sound quite abstract, they’re also catchy with a kind of pop feel.

Clemens: Yeah, thank you! With “Nightmare,” I wrote the music, and then I wrote the lyrics in five minutes (laughs). I tried to tweak it after, and with every attempt, I felt bad, so I just said, “No, that’s it.” Usually, in Carach Angren, I put in so many layers of sounds, whereas with this project, I want to keep it simple, without having to show off or create these deep, dramatic symphonies. I implemented little elements that, when you listen on headphones, affect my voice as it moves around each ear. It’s more based on catchy parts of the atmosphere, as well as intuition – not too much editing. “Fucked Up” is the same way, with almost no lyrics, but I feel that it worked out very well.

ME: You mentioned that you’ve gotten more confident with producing the music yourself. What do you notice about your involvement now, from a self-production perspective?

Clemens: I’ve always done pre-production in some form with Carach Angren, but now, over the past few years, I feel that I’ve been able to focus a lot more on mixing. Part of that comes from working on arrangements and compositions for other artists, so that has helped a lot. I also updated my set of equipment. I’m noticing that I’m appreciating my songs for what they are without changing their compositions too much so that I’m able to direct more attention to what I personally want out of the sound. It’s a really cool thing to do because you approach music from a different side.

ME: Considering your influences, your success with Carach Angren, and your new solo stuff, what do you take away from it all?

Clemens: It goes back to what I said before, having a clear image of getting my CD in the shop. I remember putting small quantities of our demo into shops in Eindhoven, where I lived at the time, and checking every so often to see if any copies had sold. I still try to have a vision of where I want to go in life, but also be excited about where I’m going. With this release, I know that I got excited about turning the material I had into a solo EP. Then once I followed that up with a video clip, all these good things started falling into place. I believe that when you have that mindset, you can make it happen.

ME: Lastly, anything you’d like to say to your fans?

Clemens: Thanks a lot for your support, because you’ve always made this possible, and I hope you like the experimental direction of this new solo venture.

Clemens Wijers Socials:

Official Website|Facebook|Bandcamp|YouTube

About Jake Kussmaul

I come from a family who is passionate about all things music. I learned to sing at an early age, and by 13, had my very own Fender Strat guitar. I tried my hardest at learning all that I could. Because I was born with cerebral palsy, I had to teach myself an adaptive playing style. I learned to write and record my own music, despite these difficulties. In college, I started making great use of my writing abilities by reviewing music, as well as copy editing. I guess it's best to stick with what you know, while welcoming a fair challenge at the same time.

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