Yes, my name is Thomas Watkiss and at this time I am developing a project called Whote. Whote has two records so far. The first, Align, came out in 2010 and our second, Moons, was just released. The project was intended to only be one record of minimal guitar noise and to be released on vinyl but after doing a
few live shows, the decision was made to continue. In comparison to my previous work, it was an opportunity to move away from the heavily electronic-based Ancestor records (mid-2007 to late-2009) and begin something new based on guitar. I got started early in 2010, invited a friend to contribute some additional textures and the results were brought to form later that year. There is a focus on artwork and visuals, which are arranged and screen printed by myself for each record as well as a video. It was a rather large amount of time and work getting this ship in the water, but here we are.
2. So far you have released 2 albums, how would you describe the musical sound that is presented on both recordings and also how do they differ from each other?
Align can be briefly described as a stirring and dense mirage of guitar textures—confrontational in its appearance yet skeletal in production. In the spirit of making an energetic debut like Kill ‘Em All or Battle Hymns, it has its anthems. It is a commanding listen for eight tracks and then it enters its own funeral with ‘Asleep in the Last Years of Light’. It was made from the need to focus on guitar, which prior to the record was only used on a few moments in making Silence. After releasing two records prior that were over an hour each and an e.p. which everyone said was too long. I saw a need to work with shorter time frames in
delivering a sense of immediacy. I felt that some of the metal, thrash and rock records that inspired me from a young age mostly clocked in under 30 minutes, and at the time that seemed like a good challenge for a new record. I wanted to “eclipse” the expectation for the second release and I knew it was going to be a length of time until I could, if ever, release it so of course the term ‘Moons’ came to mind. There was a range of sounds from the field recordings that indicated this could be an antithesis of the sonically bright nature of Align by means of dismal atmospheres and but have a similar enough sound that a listener could make an association with the previous record (i.e. ‘Vapors’ and ‘Ocean Burial’). Different than taking the approach of layering sounds as on Align, tried out a few strings and decided on a heavier gauge (17 - 74, meant for
an 8 string guitar) which produced a really dense tone and opened up the range of possibilities. I ended up scrapping the 4.5 hours worth of studio material. Both guitar and bass were recorded through my Acoustic BH600 and a 15” cabinet (the same set-up I use live). Basing the record on feedback, delay and open
notes, the result is very spacious and cryptic and still remains the raw and minimal aesthetic of what Whote centers around. Recording for Whote II started in January 2013 in a small studio over in Brooklyn.
Initially I wanted to build off of a similar framework as Align and I was able to afford a half-day and just plug in and record. However, for reasons unnecessary to share, I had to hold off working until later in the year which, in turn, allowed me time to regroup, re-write, gather more field recordings and integrate sound from
live shows. Being that the production was done with very few resources it had to be done in phases so this became a record that reflects the timespan in which it was worked on: late 2013, early 2014 and finally autumn 2014. The brass chime sound on ‘Necropolis’ is from the apartment I was in at the time. The bird-sounds were from a field recording I did out close to were I grew up. The shrill sound on ‘An Instrument of Mars’ is from a contact mic on a radial saw blade that was performed live. As for the title, I have always liked how we use the term ‘moons’ as a metaphor in measuring time, ‘many moons ago’ etc. Ironically, Moons took the longest to develop from concept to completion and had to be recorded and released in phases: digital previews, the video, artwork, the black box, the cd and then finally the vinyl. It is largest scale production of my discography.
3.What are some of the themes and concepts you bring out with your musical sound?
All themes evolve from the artwork. With Align the art was inspired by the 2010 storms that summer in New York City. It was the summer that year when ideas for tracks came to mind that included ’Losing the Saved’, ‘Asleep…’ and ‘Son of the Morning’. Ideas like human futility, the loss of relationship with nature, the weakened presence of man in the display of natural phenomena, etc. Tornados touching down on the coast seemed unusual (thats is something only heard of in the mid-west) and I felt that unprecedented moment required artwork to somehow reflect that and in my mind, inspire the basis of a recording. Align
worked from the element of Air and the following years in New York, with the Hurricanes, again, more unprecedented natural phenomena inspired the development of our ‘Water’ record, if you will, Moons.
In the absence of being able to record between 2011 and 2012 I had no other way of developing this project other than visually. I spent the time re-drawing and developing the font, screen printing shirts, developing banners and putting some effort into more of a stage presence.
4. What is the meaning and inspiration behind the name ‘Whote’?
I was living/working on E. 5th St. before the release of Machine and the phrase “white hour of the end” came to mind. Earlier that year a close relative was found dead on New Years Day and I was just thinking about the incredible sunrise the morning of the incident, of which I did not find out about until later in the evening. I internalize death and try to manifest my understanding through creative means and the track ‘Asleep in the Last Years of Light’ was a direct reflection of this moment and the beginning of the record project itself. But, I did’t want to have the phrase used in communication or have it take up the width of a record cover, plus I thought the abbreviation as moniker was sufficient; one syllable, the h is silent,
rhymes with goat.
5. With this project, you record everything solo, are you open to working
with other musicians?
Whote is a channel for embracing personal darkness and isolation and that premise makes it very difficult to employ others. I sit down and sketch out a diagram of what I envision being the actual item in the hands of the listener and work with sounds until that experience is ready to go to format. Align was a practice of layering and construction where Moons was a exercise in creating a diverse range of atmospheres. I’ve worked with other musicians in the past and working on Whote is a far different approach. I see the bass, guitar and whatever else as instruments as to what is necessary for the track and how it can develop the recording as a whole so its not as if I need to use one to accompany the other. If the moment requires drums or an oboe or whatever, then I will put out a call, but that time has not come yet. Some really exceptional musicians have come forward recently and I’ve considered how to involve them in the future with live shows or maybe contributing to a recording, but I do not see the need to turn this into a band anytime soon. Or ever. On the other hand, the video that was shot for Moons is a realm that is open for future collaborations. I want the next video to work off the sequence of scenes that were revealed in the video and build from the range of ideas presented. It was after the video was shot that I got the inspiration to sequence the record and track titles. With what I’ve sketched so far it is going to take a lot of work in terms of site location, logistics and equipment but I want to produce the next video with as little limitation (and budget) as possible, so I will be taking less control and opening more invitations for the the next one.
6. What are some of the best shows you have done so far and how would you describe your stage presence?
The show in Vienna, Austria a few years ago was perhaps one of my best. Everything just came together and it was a really good night. Otherwise, I think the last show in New York was up there, measured by the feedback received afterwards. That was a show where I had a video playing behind me of footage taken on recent travels. The last show focused on tracks from Moons of course with one track each from Silence and Machine. The stage presence is accompanied with visuals I’ve tried out over the years, and most recently using banners, screen prints and even making some effort at showmanship and costume. Trying to perform the Ancestor works live was a very desk-bound chore and it is of no interest to me to be behind a desk if I have the opportunity to be on stage. I will usually generate some of the electronic sounds and begin with tracks written for guitar, re-build a of prepared or delayed sound mix and then perform a few tracks on the bass. The last show closed with a new and still untitled piece I’m working on that is done with bass and, surprisingly, an Arturia micro-brute. I will arrange set-lists and rehearse, but I really enjoy having the freedom to work with some level of improvisation and work with the performance as a specific occasion with a given audience in a given space.
7. Do you have any touring or show plans for the future?
I had initially set a schedule for the release of Moons that would allow for a handful of shows that would ideally work in between the release and the next recording, but being that Moons got pushed back that window closed so, no, I will be getting right back to recording again and will pursue shows after a solid 7”
worth of material is ready. Having been spoiled with a few residency programs, I would prefer if I could work from a satellite location whether it be France, Reno, Rome or whatever and do region-specific clusters of shows with regional artists. There are invites to play new cities and its getting there that is the difficulty. After some new material is formalized, I will be seeking out opportunities to play live and be able to travel again. Until then, I am just looking forward to getting the vinyls of Moons shipped out and getting back to work on new material.
8. Currently you are unsigned, are you looking for a label?
Since the release of the Ancestor 7”, I have put zero effort in approaching labels, galleries, or any stable-system based on representation in bringing these works to physical form. Prior to the 7” I spent a few years just making CD-Rs and trading them with friends and after a while, I felt it was time to get serious and press to vinyl. My only interest was in how to get that done exactly and for me, I became very interested in the engineering involved with the process. I just wanted the two tracks “Ancestor” and “Southern Venom/Trail” to be galvanized in the holy format, rather than working this into a sound installation or a picture book as a medium in sharing this work to the world. I understand that is not the approach that is taken by bands or artists and I know that galleries would have just shrugged their shoulders at the idea, but I remembered my DIY values from punk rock prep-school and applied them. That following spring with the mammoth
Gatefold 2LP that I had in my hands, I just got on the phone to distributors, walked them to stores and shipped out copies to the press. Ancestor : Silence got a great response and I just kept releasing records working with the network and system I developed. I’ve traded with labels and have maintained a good
relationship with those I know personally and I am comfortable with that. I am not sure how a label could help in any of the creative vision (you would be paying to press your own release anyway) so I don’t seek that conversation.
9. On a worldwide level, how has the feedback been to your music by dark ambient and drone?
Good, and for several reasons. One is I feel that the artists involved with these fields often times have similar personalities and similar backgrounds. These are artists that are relatively experienced having dealt with and have been in bands from a multitude of genres over the years, primarily orbiting around metal or noise or goth. There is an unspoken but aesthetic common-ground that works outside of limitations set by so many other genres and I think it sets a stage for healthy competition as these fields are constantly evolving whether it be with synthetic or organic instruments. I don’t like, however, how drone/DA bands are immediately taken, or represented even, as being someones “side project” which implies a half-assed hobby when in all actuality the creators are earnestly passionate about, unlike their day job bands. There is something to be said about that. And certainly, for me, that is what I want to hear and be around. The other reason is that there is a growing audience for this music and even though it may not be on the forefront of what the average person is exposed to. When people are turned on to it, they get interested and become supportive. Its an appealing conversation. There is a place for drone in almost every playlist, but at the same time, its not for everyone.
10. Are you also involved with any other musical projects?
Once or twice a year it seems and its really diverse. I will work with colleagues that range from contemporary artists and electronic musicians for settings that involve format-only collaborations, gallery shows, etc. The good thing about the difficulty to pigeonhole this work is that it opens up invitation to new opportunities, and for me that is exciting. I enjoy being presented an idea and will work with someone in developing a concept. Whote is my only project that is developing an audience and a solid foundation. The momentum with Whote and the motivation I have to develop it, tells me that it is time to focus and keep building. My approach to the creative process is very long and split into blocks of time; one to create preliminary recordings from sketches and ideas and then after a few months of severance from the process I will edit, re-record, determine formats and how to go about the release. This can go on for a 6 - 8 months. If I am doing two projects, which requires two different sets of gear and pretty much two minds and twice the time, then logistically it doesn’t leave much room for other musical endeavors. Its one thing to show up and jam, but its another to really focus on a project and producing something with any lasting quality. But hopefully some clearings in the calendar will arise in the not-too-distant future to collaborate on something new.
11. Where do you see your music heading into the future?
For the immediate: I am looking forward to getting back to recording. Just sitting down and reconnecting with my instruments. After putting out work on format over the course of seven years I’ve decided that in moving forward, I will not be writing with any consideration of format whether it be LP, CD, clay 78rpm, digital etc. Its whatever serves the moment of recording at this point, and if that is 6 minute or 60 minute pieces, so be it. I’ve taken time off, just so I can prepare to start the process again and just hammer it out. I don’t work from inspiration, I get inspired from the work itself and wherever that leads is the exciting and keeps it always feeling like a new frontier. None of the material on any previous record was written with any real interest of playing live, but the majority of the new record had that concern in mind, so I will continue to work in that manner. I imagine the recordings as a larger whole where at some point I have to just stop recording and separate what was going to be on this record at the moment, and reserve material for what can be considered on the next one. Anyone who was at the last show in New York may remember what the last 5 minutes of the set, so they are the most qualified to attest to what an hour will feel like with the next recording, and what the next live shows will feel like.
12. What are some of the bands or musical styles that have had an influence on your music and also what are you listening to nowadays?
Punk music was core to both my development in youth, just getting into music through skateboarding and reading Thrasher magazine. From the entry-level stuff, I got into Crass, The Exploited, Amebix, Discharge, etc. I got introduced to Punk at a really good moment. Was just going through the remains of my collection a few weeks ago when listening to the test pressings for Moons: Bands like Warcollapse, the first Wolfpack 7”, Counterblast, I still have most of everything released by Profane Existence and Havoc up to the mid-nineties. Nothing will ever replace that era of basement shows and campus auditoriums and I’m happy to have been some part of that then. But, I needed a greater challenge musically and that brings you to Metal. Growing up in Pennsylvania in the early 90s, every small town felt like Death Metal capital of the world, and they would challenge you but you earned your jacket. You couldn’t just like something, you had to defend it. And good things happened: I was introduced to records that changed how I wanted to pursue music that included Beherit’s Oath of Black Blood and Bathory’s Under the Sign… I remember getting those half-size
Relapse magazine/catalogs in the mail, right around the time Mortician’s House By The Cemetery came out and tuning into bands based on their interviews or the 4 word description in the catalog. Records that I got at that time that stood out were In the Woods…Omnio, Amorphis’ Tales and Emperor’s Reverence 7”. I
didn’t pursue music for several years, but when I finally did, the accumulation of those records and experiences were the underlying influence. For determining what I will listen to nowadays I have this criteria:
If the album cover/promotion does not:
a). Look like a Bev Doolittle ripoff.
b). Have a triangle on/in/anywhere near it.
c). Portray a demon-figure with some sort of fire/explosion originating from in/or around its crotch.
d). Its ok to use the Bathory-font, but not if you also steal their song titles. - then I will consider tuning in.
I go to as many shows as possible but I prefer to just stay in and work. When I do listen to music, its old thrash or 90’s black metal. Celtic Frost, Venom, Mercyful Fate and Bathory get over-referenced as influences, but I think its the lack of production quality and imagination with that stuff is what we all really value at the end of the day. The new Earth record is one of my favorites of recent. Triptykon, Grave Upheaval, Tombs, Nile’s first few records. I heard Pallbearer in the car not too long ago and am getting in to them. Xasthur is/was one of my favorites of recent history, because it brought something authentic to Black Metal from here in America. I went between listening to Bestial Warlust’s Vengance War till Death
and Roxy Music’s Avalon this summer when finishing up Moons. Thats about it.
13. What are some of your non-musical interests?
Making Art and Cooking. Art is work and produced with a similar aesthetic to how I approach sound, but cooking is my way of relaxing and core to my zen. I’ve had the fortune to live elsewhere in the world for a good portion of my adult life and have always put a focus on the kitchen, absorbing culture at the stove. Its the most enjoyable form of non-work I know of and its something to share with others, when I get the opportunity to host.
14. Before we wrap up this interview, do you have any final words or
I think that’s about it! It has been a very busy season, more than ever especially in the past few weeks, but thank you for reviewing ‘Moons’ and offering this interview for your readers. Feel free to check us out on www.whote.org and www.thomaswatkiss.net We are sledging forward with this animal.