Oak Pantheon Pt. 2: Band gives insight into creative process, lyrical meanings

Friday, we brought you the first part of our interview with atmospheric Minnesota black metal band Oak Pantheon, where we discussed what went into their new record “From a Whisper,” out on Broken Limbs Recordings. Tanner Swenson, Sami Sati, and their engineer Sean Golyer all took part in answering the questions, and in this final installment, the guys talk more specifically about some of the songs on the record, discuss their creative process, and take some good-natured shots at each other.

Meat Mead Metal: The artwork for “From a Whisper” is really striking. Who created the cover, and what is that image supposed to convey? It feels very forestal.

Sean Golyer: Bob Stokes at Minotaur Printing & Design painted our art on canvas. We had a few ideas for the cover art, but the one that seemed to stick was recreating the final scene from the last song of the album. We like to generate strong imagery to tell a story through our lyrics, and we wanted the art to convey that as well.

MMM: Sami and Tanner, you remain the sole creators behind Oak Pantheon’s music. How did you come to start working together? And what’s your process like?

Tanner Swenson: Sami and I have been working together since early high school, so it’s been well over five years since we started working together.  We’ve been in multiple bands together, and when each of those projects fell apart, we were the two guys that moved on together. We met Sean through a music class during our later high school years and worked a little with him on older projects. He and Sami kept working together while I was off doing other stuff and eventually recorded “Architect of the Void Pt 1.” They asked me if I could help them with the drums on that track, and I just became the other member of Oak Pantheon.

Our process mainly consists of us individually writing and demoing songs, then working together more for the final recording. Time and distance are a factor in our lack of team writing, but I think it may be for the better because we can take our time coming up with well thought-out, unique songs rather than simply jamming on a riff until we come up with the next one.

Sami Sati: Honestly, I can’t remember playing guitar much before knowing Tanner.  We’ve always been such a huge influence on each other that at this point we can be in completely different rooms, write three to five songs each, and have a cohesive album that sounds like it was all written by the same person.  And that’s exactly what “From a Whisper” and “The Void” were.  We’ll send demos back and forth and critique each other’s work, which makes the end result much better.

I think the most important thing behind the Oak Pantheon writing process is that we’re just complete dicks to each other when we need to be.  I still remember sending off the original demo for  “We Will Tear Down the Gods,” and within a few minutes Sean and Tanner just flat-out told me the song sucked.  And it definitely did, since I went back and listened to it the other day for a good laugh.  I’ve worked with a handful of artists over the past few years, and the projects that last are the ones where no one is afraid to offer or receive criticism.

MMM: Sean Golyer is credited with engineering your music. How vital is he to Oak Pantheon’s sound?

SS: Sean is a useless piece of shit, and Oak Pantheon would be better without him.  He ruins the integrity of every song by making each musical part stand out rather than letting the music speak for itself.  He also convinced us that signing with Broken Limbs would be a good idea.  Everyone knows that music takes a huge nosedive in quality once a band sells out and signs to a label.  I think if “From a Whisper” is viewed as a train-wreck by the metal community, it’s pretty much all Sean’s fault.  But if “From a Whisper” is regarded as a success I will, without hesitation, take all of the credit for it.  I mean, I did the lead vocals AND guitars.  Sean shouldn’t even be allowed to answer questions in this interview. (EDITOR’S NOTE: Sarcasm duly noted)

TS: We give Sean a lot of grief about how worthless he is, but in reality he is extremely important to the process.  He acts as a producer, engineer, and mixer and also deals with most of the business end of the band.  He does a really good job of letting Sami and I focus on making the music as good as possible while he does a lot of the hard work.  We’ve noticed that Sami and I work really hard on writing the material, then starting at the tracking process the workload shifts heavily over to Sean.  We’re very fortunate to have such a dedicated and reliable engineer for the band.  We consider him to be another member of Oak Pantheon.

SG: The feeling is mutual, boys. ❤ I receive their demos, tell them how much they suck, they tell me how much I suck, etc. It’s a vicious cycle, but it works for us, haha. They make the turds and I polish them.

MMM: One song from the new album that really stood out to me is “Aspen.” It has a black metal majesty, for sure, but it also has some old Amon Amarth-like melody. And the lyrics are some of the most affecting on the album. Talk about what went into this song and what’s behind it.

TS: Most of “Aspen” was inspired by my wife’s family dog being hit and killed by a car this past year. It really affected my wife and, in turn, me. I started to think about how attached people can get to something or someone and not realize it until something tragic happens and how deeply that tragedy affects so many others both directly and indirectly. I already had ideas for the chorus, and this new theme fit really well with the existing theme of loss.

SS: Yeah, “Aspen” was written by Tanner, so I don’t have too much to comment on.  I do think the lyrics are incredibly important however and reflect a large part of Oak Pantheon’s approach to handling difficult topics.  Tanner already described why he wrote the song, but when I first read the lyrics, I could easily relate it to experiences in my own life.  Everything dies, and as a result everyone deals with death.  This was also the first song we recorded vocals for on the album and was largely the reason for the vocal style change.

SG: It was one of the songs that even in demo form had an immediate impact on us all. Instrumentally it was really catchy, fast, and hard-hitting in comparison to our other material. Once we started getting lyrics though, the song took on a real meaning for us. We’ve all dealt with loss in our lives, whether it’s a family pet, a mother, or relatives. This song enables us to vent a little bit of that and hopefully other listeners can too.

MMM: “Descend Into Winter” is one that seems to have a grasp of the nature theme. First words on the album are, “Here comes the snow.” Is winter a time from which you draw a lot of creativity? If so, what is it about that time of year?

TS: I love the aesthetic of winter.  Being outside late at night during snowfall is one of my favorite things, and the serenity of it gives me a lot of inspiration.  Also, it’s super kvlt.

MMM: “From a Whisper” is going to be primarily a Bandcamp and limited physical release to start, is that right? Are you looking into doing something wider as far as physical release?

SG: In a perfect world where money isn’t an issue, we would’ve released on just about every physical platform out there. CD, vinyl, cassette, whatever. Whether we branch out from here depends on the label and how well this album takes off. If there’s demand for it and we have some cash, we’ll absolutely be on board for broader releases across more media in the future.

MMM: Are there any plans to tour for this album? If so, are you looking at regional stuff, or do you plan to tour the country?

SS: It’s something we want to do, but we want to do it right.  It’s not on the top of our priority list, and there’s still a lot of things that need to happen before we get a live act together.  We want our live performance to be just as polished as our recordings.  To add to that, Oak Pantheon still isn’t a full band yet.  Once we find a drummer that we think fits in with Oak Pantheon, we’ll try our hardest to play some shows.

For more on the band, go here: http://www.facebook.com/OakPantheon/info

To buy the album, go here: http://brokenlimbsrecordings.bandcamp.com/merch

For more on the label, go here: http://brokenlimbsrecordings.com/