Part 2 of a conversation with Tom G. Warrior: Celtic Frost’s dissolution, what’s in his future

Triptykon 1Tom G. Warrior’s place in metal lore is cemented, even if the adulation heaped upon him sometimes makes him uncomfortable. This is an incredibly humble man, who deflects any thoughts that what he touches these days turns to gold, and who shows an amazing amount of vulnerability. This is a human being, after all, and that fact has not been lost on him. He may be a world-famous musician, but he’s not a rock star. He rejects that notion. Perhaps that’s what keeps him a tireless worker, the man who helped pioneer black metal with Hellhammer and Celtic Frost and keeps the fires burning with Triptyon. Here, on this second installment of the conversation I had with Warrior the day after Triptykon played Maryland Deathfest, he opens up about the dissolution of Celtic Frost, what kind of relationship he has with the members of that band, and how he feels about his own future. Once again, many thanks to the folks at Century Media for arranging the interview, my incredible wife Christina for transcribing this, and for Warrior himself for his honesty and amazing contributions to the world of metal. Long may he run.

Meat Mead Metal: You mentioned that there is conceptually a third (Triptykon) album?

Tom G. Warrior: Conceptually, there are many more albums. Writing a good album is infinitely difficult. Many times, I’m fortunate enough that people bestow titles upon me that are huge in their meaning. I personally don’t think that I deserve all of this. People think I have some sort of secret recipe, but I don’t. I’m a human being, and it’s a struggle. A good album is a struggle. A good album is difficult to create, otherwise everybody all the time would create good albums. Me, too. I’ve created terrible albums. But it’s difficult, very, very difficult to create a good album. I am fortunate enough, in my humble opinion, to have had three albums that are very strong. The last Celtic Frost and the first two Triptykon albums. I have no idea if I can replicate that. It’s a challenge, it’s a daunting challenge. I will do, of course, my best. But who am I to say whether the next album’s going to be strong? I don’t know.

MMM: Do you feel that whole idea that people do bestow these titles and these ways of thinking about you and your art, does that make you work harder to prove that you deserve these things that people say about you?

TGW: No, and I don’t mean that arrogantly. I say no, because I make myself work really hard. I don’t think it’s possible to apply a more critical person to me than myself. I’ve created at least one disastrous album at the end the 1980s, and it has changed my entire outlook on everything. I’ve become a far more self-critical musician, a far more detailed producer, a far more merciless producer. I’ve vowed to myself that I’m never going to release an album of such truly terrible quality again. When I go to the studio nowadays, of course I want to release a good album, a strong album, which is also the reason why the last album was difficult for me. I felt the album was strong, but I felt it could be much stronger, much, much stronger. I have certain quality standards that I apply rigorously. No, I don’t like to work under pressure. The only pressure upon me is my own. I think the rest of the band also wants to achieve that kind of quality.

I know what Triptykon needs to sound like, and so do the others, and I’m very fortunate that our guitar player’s (V. Santura) a very accomplished co-producer and engineer, and we work fantastically together. Sometimes in studio, we hear something, we look at each other, and we don’t even have to communicate, we know exactly what it needs. We are intellectually aware that there’s a certain expectation, a certain pressure, but in all honesty, it doesn’t impact us because that pressure existed within ourselves to begin with. You have a certain responsibility. People pay for your work, and the more time progresses, the more difficult it seems to be for everybody, including musicians, to earn that money. I want to have a good album when I buy an album by another band. If I spend my money, I want to have a good album. Our audience has a right to get some value for their money, when it comes down to it. It being art and everything, but at the end of the day, they’re spending money on it. They’re spending their hard-earned money to come to concerts, and they deserve something good. So, yes, of course you want to apply quality to it.

MMM: You have been in the metal scene for three decades, now. How do you view the state of metal right now? Are there any young bands that excite you?

TGW: There are a few young bands, yeah. I hardly listen to metal, personally. I’ve been a musician for 33 years, and I’ve been listening to hard rock, and later metal, since 1973. If I listened to this music constantly, I’d be utterly burned out. I have a very wide horizon. I listen to all kinds of music. I’m trying to do that to remain a little fresh, and not to be turned off by an overload. More than ever in the history of metal there’s a saturation.

MMM: As a writer, trust me, it’s tough to keep up!

TGW: I don’t know how you do it now, there’s so many releases. Even with the best intentions, it’s impossible. There’s the occasional band like the Wounded Kings, and stuff like that that excites me, or Portal from Australia. But these are accidental finds. Maybe I sound old when I say that, but I tend to listen to hard music, heavy rock from the 70s or from the first half of the 1980s when metal underwent an extremely exciting phase, a revolutionary phase. I listen to a lot of New Wave from the late 70s, early 80s, because that, too, was an extremely creative phase. I am still discovering new stuff from that era. Even then, there were so many bands that it was impossible to digest it all. I listen to a lot of jazz, a lot of classical music, stuff like that.

MMM: Oh, well, with Celtic Frost during the 80s, you definitely are able to hear a bit of New Wave.

TGW: It was a major influence.

Photo by Tess Donohoe

Photo by Tess Donohoe

MMM: Going to Celtic Frost quickly, do you still have relationships with Martin (Eric Ain) and the other people in the band? Where does that stand? I’m not sure how comfortable you feel talking about that.

TGW: I feel very comfortable. You can ask me anything. Yeah, I see Martin occasionally. The last time I saw him was in March. He was part of a podium discussion on a book about art and music, and I was in the audience, and we met and we talked. We get along; we’ve known each other since 1981. It’s a cordial relationship. Martin does his best to avoid any difficult topics, of which there are, of course, many, given the nature of the second breakup of Celtic Frost. But I don’t blame him. I don’t want to argue anymore. We argued enough in Celtic Frost. That was sparked mostly by a third party. But it has impacted our friendship. And there were certain things that I was disappointed about with him, because he could’ve prevented a lot of things from happening and he didn’t, because he was very much burnt out by everything that was going on. As it is, Celtic Frost was the past, and it’s never going to exist again, so what good would it do if we would fight now? It’s the past. And nothing can rectify what happened. I’ve left the company we had formed behind Celtic Frost for all the business affairs. I’ve left that. I’ve left all of my shares to him to be able to leave. He controls the entire Celtic Frost empire. I have nothing to do with that anymore. That sounds odd, but this is why I can step up to him and talk to him like a normal human being, because I’m not tied to this bullshit anymore.

There were so many disagreements on the business side. I felt betrayed. I know it’s a hard word, but that’s how I felt. Because he and a third party made a lot of decisions I wasn’t happy with. Since we were three people, if two people sided with each other… I was very unhappy with the situation, so I left it all, which made it possible for me to have a future with Triptyon and to be happy and to create music again, and to actually focus on art rather on human issues. This is why Martin and I can meet occasionally and have a good talk about old times and music and this and that. I’m happy about that. Same goes for old members of Celtic Frost from the 80s and stuff. We have very good relationships. The only person I have no interest in seeing is, of course, the last drummer of Celtic Frost who caused all of this. If I am allowed to sound arrogant for a second, he’s irrelevant, anyway. So, there you go.

MMM: Do you ever see any creative situation where you and Martin can work together again?

TGW: No. When I left Celtic Frost for the final time, Martin and I had dinner about 1 or 2 weeks after I left Celtic Frost, and he said, “You and I are going to create music again.” And I told him, “No, Martin, this time it’s different. This time, there’s so much damage. I don’t think that’s ever going to happen again.” And he said, “Ehh, you’ll see.” But it hasn’t really changed. I’ve invested so much time and also my personal money in bringing Celtic Frost back. We’ve worked 5 1/2 years on the comeback album (“Monotheist”). I invested so much effort and finances in that and everything else. And only to have it all turn on me, I’m not going to go through that again. If Celtic Frost were to record a new album now, the expectations would be huge. Of course, we would want to live up to that. We wouldn’t know what kind of album we would have to produce. It would be an immense amount of work to live up to these expectations, our own expectations, the back catalog. That would take so much work, I don’t want to do that and face the danger of having it all implode on me yet again. The big star trips and rock star behavior and egotism. No, no, no, no. I don’t that. Triptykon operates on a completely different level. It’s almost hippie-like. We’re all like, it’s a family. Sometimes we have minute arguments that evaporate after a day. It’s ridiculous compared to Celtic Frost. We work together and we have fun playing. We don’t act to be a band on stage. We are actually a band. Why would I want to trade this? Yes, of course, one could say there’s more success attached to Celtic Frost. But there’s also much more hassle attached. If I weighed the two against each other, the choice is clear.

MMM: It’s one of those things where even if there was more money attached to that, money’s not happiness.

TGW: I’ve been offered so much money for Celtic Frost reunions, even most recently, and also for Hellhammer reunions. And maybe I’m stupid because I have my bills to pay, and it’s become very difficult to make some money in music nowadays. But no, I’m not creating my fucking music for money. That would be sinking to the lowest level. Suggesting to my audience, yeah, I’m here because I’m enthusiastic, and in reality, being here for a check. I know of bands that do that. Bands have told me personally that they do it for that reason. I formed Hellhammer at the tail end of the punk wave, and there was a completely different attitude prevalent at the time, and I still function according to that. I’m not creating music for capitalist reasons. I’m creating music because it screams out of me.

MMM: Maybe that is one of those reasons that people do put titles on you and give you the adulation they do, because you are coming from an honest standpoint. You’re coming to it from an artistic standpoint, and not a “you want the money” standpoint. And I think maybe people can see that. Do you think maybe that could be?

TGW: To me, it’s personal. I don’t even think so far about it. I analyze it in interviews such as yours, but I personally just create music because it’s inside of me. I wanted to become a musician because I felt that whenever I listened to albums in 70s and early 80s, it started burning inside of me. I had this inescapable feeling that I wanted to do this, too. That’s really the end of it. That’s why I became a musician, or I was hoping at the time to become a musician. Of course, I never thought it would actually work. I was very humbled. I didn’t think I would ever get the chance.

MMM: And especially to be here 30 years later…

TGW: It blows my mind. It’s now 33 years since I first formed Hellhammer. In May 82, it’s exactly 33 years.

MMM: The future of Triptykon, where do you see, if you can see it from this point? What do you hope for, what do you see?

TGW:  This might disappoint you. I have no plans whatsoever.

MMM: Are you working on new music?

TGW: Yes, of course. We are an existing band. We are a working band. I have no ambitions and no plans anymore. I’ve done everything I’ve wanted to do. I don’t want this to be perceived negatively; actually I’m fortunate to be able to say that. As I just told you in the last question, I was this tiny little kid, a complete outcast. I mean, you can’t be a more clichéd outcast than I was, in this little farm village where I grew up. I was an outcast and later I formed the band, and my band was ridiculed. Magazines ripped our EP apart, Hellhammer. And then with Celtic Frost, “Those are the guys from Hellhammer who can’t play,” and this and that. We had very difficult beginnings. The success and the cult following only started in the 1990s. So, I’m very fortunate to have done this well, and it’s gone much, much further than I ever expected when I was a little kid, a hard rock fan, and later, a little musician in a mildewy, stinky bunker that everybody laughed at. I’ve toured the world a million times. I’ve played in Japan, I’ve released two books, I’ve met all the musicians I wanted to meet, I created albums. It would preposterous to say I wanted to do more, more, more. I hate this capitalist attitude. It’s not sustainable. It’s completely counter to nature and human nature and everything. I refuse to be a part of that. My mind doesn’t work like that. I’ve been extremely fortunate to be granted all of this, given my beginnings and the background I had my in my youth. Now, I’m just playing music for my enjoyment. I’ll work on a new album, and if I’m actually managing to pull off a good album, yes, it will be released. If not, I will be honest and say, well, I can’t do it. I’ve done everything I’ve wanted to do, and everything now is basically dessert. I have no plans or ambitions whatsoever. Which feels very good. It feels very good. I have no pressure whatsoever.

MMM: Tom, this is my last question, and it’s sort of a summary question considering all we’ve talked about: How are you now?

TGW: That’s a very complex question. It’s a struggle. I’m trying to keep this simple and not keep you here for another half hour. It’s a struggle, what can I say? I’m very disenfranchised by the direction of the world, basically the human behavior on this planet, both in the big picture and the small picture. The way we treat each other, the way we treat the environment, the way we treat our fellow living beings on this planet, I don’t agree with that at all. I’ve had personally in my private life very difficult years in the past, and only due to one or two people in my life was I able to find the strength to actually say, “Alright, I’ll stick around.” But having said that, it’s not easy to stick around, because I’m not very good at burying my head in the sand. I tend to think I’m very informed of what’s going on in the world, I read, and I watch, and it doesn’t seem to get better. When I was a young teenager in the 1970s, there was a prevalent mood of advancement, of enlightenment. And me and my best friend at the time we both thought, the world is heading into a very enlightened era, where modernity and knowledge persists, and compassion. As it happens, we are now delving back into medieval times. Weapons, and war, and animal abuse, and mass killings of human beings and animals, and destruction of the environment, they’re all rampant. That doesn’t really add to make me stronger in my private life. It makes me very disenfranchised and sad. What can I say? It’s a struggle.

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