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The new giants of progressive death come back on Music Waves to talk about their fourth album, "Epigone"!
DARIALYS - 05.01.2022 -
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In these troubled times, touring has become as rare as it is vital for artists. So when the health situation temporarily calms down, you have to jump on the opportunity... This is what the American quartet Wilderun did, by signing their longest American tour with Swallow The Sun. And to crown it all, the Boston natives have come to present their fourth album, "Epigone", released after the thunderous "Veil Of Imagination" which had stirred up a lot of noise at the time. Dan Müller, the band's bassist, has once again indulged in the Music Waves interview for our greatest pleasure.

Hello Dan, and nice to see you again one year after our first interview! First of all, your American tour is over (the band toured for a month in the United States supporting Swallow The Sun, editor's note). I looked at your dates, and I saw that you had played up to 12 nights in a row!

Dan Müller: Actually, we played 28 shows in 30 days, I think! So we only had two days off, and we didn't play on those days because we were between two cities more than 12 hours apart! (Laughs). The workload on this tour has been incredible! Until now we had only played 2 or 3 weeks in a row. But it was great! We know why we're doing all this, and the audience has reminded us of that.

And opening for Swallow The Sun was a great opportunity for you!

Dan: Absolutely! And it was a great line-up on top of that. Usually we go on tour with bands that are quite melodic, each in their own style. We were more on the symphonic side, Abigail Williams is more black metal, while Swallow The Sun is more on the doom side with a dark universe. Some people came especially for one of the three bands, but generally speaking, I feel like people have adhered to the set as a whole!

I've followed your Instagram posts a bit and I've seen that you play 3 songs a night. Wasn't that a bit frustrating for you? (Laughs).

Dan: Honestly it's fine, although of course we would have liked to play more! But in a way, we're used to this kind of format. We've performed for a lot of bands in the past. We had 35 minutes. The difficulty was more how many songs we could fit in!

We're going to talk about your new album "Epigone" which will be released in January 2022. But to finish on the tour, I was surprised to see that you were going on tour before the release of "Epigone". Was it a long planned tour that was supposed to happen earlier this year but was postponed until late 2021?

Dan: No, actually this tour has been booked for a while. Swallow The Sun released an album just before this tour started. I believe this was Swallow The Sun's first US tour as headlining. Ideally, it would have been better for us if the tour had happened right after our album was released. In a way, it was an opportunity to do a real tour for our previous album, "Veil Of Imagination", since we didn't really have the opportunity to do a real tour. Basically, we played two songs from "Veil", and we played 'Passenger' from the new album because it had been released a month earlier as a single, so people had been listening to it.


Let's talk about your album "Epigone" if you like! Music Waves received a press kit in which Evan says that an "epigone" is a copycat. It also says that this album is about his "personal sense of failure" and then about the "distress of an artist". How are we supposed to interpret this? Does he mean that as an artist he feels like an imitator who copies the work of others? Because if so, I would say that Wilderun has created a world of his own.

Dan: That's great to hear! I think everyone interprets the lyrics differently. Evan wrote the lyrics. I had the opportunity to think about it with him without focusing too much on the lyrics and that's something I didn't really do on the previous albums. Of course, I'm only speaking for myself, but I think what he means by that is that as an artist, you're always questioning yourself. We're looking to explore new ideas. After we released our first albums, we could ask ourselves what more we could tell. How do we keep going forward without repeating ourselves and without upsetting the people who follow us? It's a very metaphysical album in that sense, I would say.

This sentence from Evan. Can we put it in perspective with the anguish of the blank page?

Dan: Absolutely, yes! The anguish of the blank sheet of paper, or the sheet of paper already written by someone else before realizing: "oh! I wrote the same thing as him! (Laughs). I would say it's a very introspective album. We are trying to analyse ourselves as a band and as creative people.

Beyond the blank sheet of paper, when Evan mentions the "distress" experienced by the artist, isn't there somewhere a link with the precarious status of the artist, often underestimated, not taken seriously enough or poorly paid, as Mike Portnoy has pointed out again when he regularly denounces Spotify for generating millions of dollars without paying the artists decently?

Dan: The album is all about the emotional side of things. We've never really been a band that claims to be political, but that doesn't mean we don't have our own opinions that we can express individually. Besides, I can only agree with Mike Portnoy's speech on this subject because the music industry is quite dark! (Laughs). But I think at the end of the day, we do this job because we love it! I try to stay optimistic. Even though our albums often end up very dark and desperate, we're more optimistic than our music suggests! (Laughs).

The artwork for this album was done by Kim Keever. It's very nice, but I'd like to know what it represents for you?

Dan: What I like about the cover is that it's almost like a Rorschach test, it's cloudy and ambiguous. We were looking for artworks and I remember scanning Instagram for ideas. We're more of a band that looks for ready-made artworks that we're going to use for our albums and that speak to us immediately. I came across Kim's work a while back and really liked it. Trying to understand his process. Basically, he s s of paint into an aquarium and takes pictures of the paint spreading in the water. It creates very beautiful landscapes. There's a kind of loss of control in that that I find fascinating. I like the idea of thinking that it's not all from you. Sometimes, when I'm playing the synth myself, I'll try random ideas and come up with a good idea, but it's not really coming from me. I just put my finger in the right place at the right time!


It's very interesting! This cover, I see it as a kind of storm. Like on "Veil Of Imagination", I think there's this subtle mix between something beautiful and disturbing at the same time.

Dan: Yes, that's something I feel when I look at our covers too. There's an element of beauty and an element of fear as well. I would say there's this feeling of magnitude that we try to instill in everything we do. It's a whole bunch of emotions coming together at the same time. It's something we try to embody musically as well. And so that's what we're looking for in the artworks, we want to connect to that kind of atmosphere.

And precisely, in the case of the storm, I think it goes well with the music as you say. When I listen to your album, I have the impression that there is a kind of internal conflict, especially on the last track, 'Distraction'. At the end of the first movement in particular, there's this blastbeat with a very malevolent melody, and a lot of sudden and unexpected transitions that are quite disorienting for the listener. In fact, there's a schizophrenic, ambivalent side to it I guess, especially on the fourth movement of this track, 'Nulla', which is a kind of dissonant apocalyptic storm. Was that the intention, to distract the listener?

Dan: 'Distraction Nulla', I see it as an epilogue. The third part is the resolution of the whole song, it's kind of the ending that you expect. But there's this end that you don't expect afterwards. It's a kind of dichotomy between a resolution and an exploration. We talked about this a while ago, and our albums often end with this aftertaste where you think: it's not over. It creates a tension. I want to do that until the last album!

If we compare "Epigone" to your previous works, one of the most significant evolutions is the development of more ambient and experimental sections. This is the case on the end of 'Woolgatherer', on the instrumental piece 'Ambition' which is closer to drone than to progressive death metal, or on 'Distraction Nulla' as I said before. Where does this willingness to evolve come from?

Dan: Those moments especially come from me. On the previous albums, Wayne and I worked together on the orchestrations. But on this album, we wanted to work differently and we wanted to develop the synths. So we agreed to divide the tasks: Wayne took care of the orchestral part, and I took care of the synths. This allowed me to focus on my synths. It opened up a whole new palette of sounds. There are a lot of metal bands that use synths. I like electronic music, and I have been listening to a lot of it on a daily basis, but there are a lot of elements of electro music that I don't find in metal. The challenge was to integrate them into our music, and that's what we did on the parts you describe.

And since you have talking about Wayne, the presskit mentions both of you as composers in the band, whereas I thought Evan was the only composer in the band.  Is this a new thing for you? To what extent was the writing of this album collective?

Dan: It's actually the most collaborative album we've ever written. Evan is still the main songwriter because he's been drawing the skeleton of the songs since the beginning. There are a lot of songs on this album that were written before Wilderun even existed. Some of the songs were intended for a folk metal project and were not meant to be in the band's repertoire. So Evan showed the demos of the songs to John (Teachey, the drummer). There weren't even any drums on the demos. He said, "Write something, do what you want". John did a great job that sometimes really changed the rhythmic flow of the songs. I then added my bass parts to go with the drums. We added the orchestrations and the synth at the end. Evan starts with the melodies and harmonies only. It all starts with him, but it really takes shape through us working together.

You say that a lot of the songs were written before Wilderun even existed. Why did you try to give new life to old songs that you had never used, rather than trying to write new stuff?

Dan: We'd had these songs in memory for a while and Evan was proud of them. We were in a situation where "Veil Of Imagination" was over, we were in the middle of a pandemic, everyone was a bit worried. Writing new material was difficult at that time. We wanted to explore again these songs that were already there by reworking them. So there were these harmonies and melodies that we could use, explore new ideas. If it sounded good, we were going to use it for the next album. If it didn't, we would have given up on the idea. So it all started like that and we were quickly excited about what was happening. We quickly made the decision to use these ideas for our next album. I'm glad we made that decision. It also gives us a better idea of what we want to write in the future.

But still, you say in the presskit that this album was the hardest to write for you. Was it due to the fact that with the covid, you were all separated from each other, which didn't allow you to rehearse in the same room, arrange the songs, etc.? Or was it related to the covid, or other factors?

Dan: It's a bit of both, I'd say. We're used to working remotely. We've been scattered all over the country since the band was formed. We met in school in Boston, then John moved back to North Carolina where he's from, Wayne moved back to LA because he's from there, Evan is between Chicago, Boston and LA. I'm still in Boston. So we've always worked remotely, but at least we had the opportunity to get together and work on the songs before we went back to our respective studios. This time we only met once, and Wayne wasn't even there. Also, because the album is more collaborative, it made it more difficult. Before, when Evan was writing all the songs, we would learn our parts, make our adjustments, and go into the studio. This time we really talked about it in depth, we did visios, we sent ideas to each other all the time. It took time because it makes communication harder than when we're face to face.

On the other hand, we are in a digital age where we are lucky enough to be able to use many computer tools that we would not have had on our computers twenty years ago! Some projects emerge and the musicians who are part of them have sometimes never met physically. But in a way, there is no substitute for face-to-face interaction.

Dan: Thank God Wilderun probably wouldn't exist without these technologies! So we're very used to that, and we know how to make it work, but being all spread out like that makes it more complex. When we released "Veil Of Imagination", we had a great comeback, people were very excited, and then everything stopped. Our tours were cancelled one after the other, and we couldn't even be together. For personal reasons related to covid, Wayne couldn't even get on a plane out of Los Angeles. So it's a good thing we had the technology to record! The hardest thing is token our heads up, to think that things are going to go back to normal, and then something happens and everything falls apart. I was lucky enough to be able to keep my job during the covid period, so things were more or less normal for me. It was hard for me, but we got through it!

And so much the better! As you say, your previous album allowed you to "come out of the shadows". I think the top 10 of all metalheads and webzines have elected you the best album of 2019! (Laughs). With such a masterpiece, was it difficult or stressful to work on new material that was as strong as your last album?

Dan: I would say that working on "Epigone" was indeed more stressful than usual. Up until "Veil", at the end of the recordings, I was always thinking: "ok, I know how we can do better next time! With "Veil", we finished the recordings in 2018, the album came out in 2019, but for two years I didn't know how to do better. It sounded really good and I was very happy with the result. How to do better on "Epigone"? But I'd rather do something different than try to improve something that's already very good. We opted for a change of formula.

Indeed, "Veil Of Imagination" was released in 2019, one year after it was recorded, because you tried to release it by signing with a label. When you couldn't do that, you released it on your own, before being spotted by Century Media Records, with whom you signed, which allowed you to release the album with them a few months later. This time, with "Epigone", the album was written while you had already signed with a label. Did you notice any differences between releasing an album self-produced and releasing an album with a label? In terms of time restrictions or artistic freedom for example?

Dan: We were lucky because Century Media never made us feel pressured, but maybe that's related to the fact that very quickly we had the follow-up to "Veil" in mind. Things came together quite quickly. I think it's the first time we released two albums so quickly, if I'm not wrong. So no, I didn't feel any pressure from the label. In terms of writing, we sent them our demos and they were enthusiastic. Century Media has been great, and it's great to have business professionals helping us. We're looking forward to releasing new albums with them.

Good for you! For my part, I think I can see a difference between this album and the previous ones. I'm talking about the two singles you have released for 'Passenger' and 'Identifier', for which you made a video. The clips were radio edits, so the songs that are 10 minutes long were only 5 minutes long on the radio edit. This involves changes in structure to suit mainstream radio standards when the songs are not originally written that way. As musicians, how did you experience this? Because I guess it's a label decision.

Dan: It's interesting because I was quite hesitant about it at first. I mean, these songs work really well as written, I didn't see how we were going to have to remove sections. If 5 minutes had been enough on these songs, we wouldn't have tried to make them last longer. You don't add several minutes to a song because you want your songs to be 10 minutes long. So it was a decision of the label. We thought that we were not people from this business and that we should make a compromise. At least we were able to build the radio edits ourselves, which allowed us to choose how to arrange the tracks without them exceeding 6 minutes. Beyond reducing the length, the objective was also to make clips. Clips help with promotion and get the band's name out there, and we wouldn't have had the budget to make 10 minute clips! (Laughs). So we decided to do these radio edits, and we thought we'd see how the public would respond to that decision, which would influence us on future decisions like that.

And by the way, I think these are your first two videos with Wilderun, is that right?

Dan: Yes, we've done lyric videos in the past, but these are our first real videos where we've been on camera. We were well surrounded and it was exciting to work with these crews who loved our music. It was a very interesting experience. We can't wait to shoot more videos, but we'll need a budget for that! (Laughs).

In May 2021, you announced the departure of Joe Gettler from the band. He was your lead guitarist. He chose to stop playing music to focus on his career as a tattoo artist. You then recorded the album without him and toured without him. So he was not replaced. Was it due to lack of time or was it a desire on your part to share out the work and keep the four of you together?

Dan: Actually, he did record the album with us! We recorded the album in January and February 2021. He decided to leave the band quite soon after. He was a tattoo artist as well and it became difficult for him to do both jobs. He can't tattoo from a distance, of course. He's still a very good friend and we love what he did on the album. The reason he wasn't replaced is because Wayne is also a lead guitarist. On the first album, there were only four of us and Wayne was already handling the orchestrations in addition to the guitars. So we decided to go back to that formula. It made sense for us, especially since Wayne now has the time to go on tour with us, which wasn't always the case. Now we're officially back to a band of four musicians. We're likely to stay that way, unless things change! (Laughs).

If I summarize your last years, you signed with Century Media Records two years ago and you just came back from a big one month tour in America with Swallow The Sun. This has allowed you to build something solid. What would be the next step for you?

Dan: The next step is to tour more. When "Epigone" comes out, we'll have new songs to promote. People will have got time to embrace them. I'm really looking forward to getting back on stage to see if people have enjoyed them! We're working with our management to try and tour as much as possible. We're trying to find opportunities. We just announced our show at Prog Power USA. I'm very excited about that. We should have a one hour set. At least we should be able to play three really long songs! (Laughs). We'll see! Right now we're focusing on touring. We're also working on future songs in our respective studios, although we're really at a very experimental stage at the moment. We're trying to be active all the time.

This time you were opening for Swallow The Sun, but Wilderun has been around for about ten years now. Maybe you could also do your first tours as a headliner?

Dan: Until the release of "Veil" we were headliners in small tour venues. But now we're in an interesting situation where we can still do that, but also open for bigger bands. Personally, I prefer to open for bigger bands, because it allows us to play in front of more people who will have the opportunity to see us playing there. But I would love to be able to play more than 3 songs per show! (Laughs).

Yeah, I guess you have to find the right compromise!

Dan: Definitely! On this last tour, we had more people at our shows than if we had been the headliners, so that was exciting for us. It was a very fun experience.

And I imagine that the fact that the last Swallow The Sun album was very well received helped to bring more people to the shows on the tour. I've seen some really good comebacks to that album.

Dan: Exactly, it was interesting for me because I've been a fan of Swallow The Sun for over ten years now. So when we got the opportunity to tour with them, I was really excited. A day or two before we went on tour, I had been listening to their latest album once. I thought it was really good, but I needed to make it my own. Now I've heard it in its totality each night for a month. Listening to the studio album again on the plane on my way home for the second time after hearing it live many times, it gave me a completely different perspective. Now I know this band personally, which is also really cool.


Have you ever played outside the US or not yet?

Dan: Only in the US and Canada until now. We had some plans to play in Europe that didn't work out because of the covid. We were supposed to play Prog Power Europe and Euroblast. We also had some tours planned as support acts for bigger bands in Europe, but everything was cancelled. We're discussing it with our management, but everything is on hold at the moment, unfortunately. As soon as things get better, we'll come and play in Europe. That's our top priority.

Yes, it's a difficult time for musicians who want to go on tour. Especially when you want to play abroad, when you have to get visas, when the laws change from country to country... Organising a tour takes a lot of time, so when you plan a tour, you want to make sure that it will happen, and that's why a lot of tours are cancelled or postponed now.

Dan: Yeah, and actually, we've been on several comebacks between the US and Canada, and that was very restrictive. Normally it's already a hassle, if you look at the taxes you have to pay, that kind of thing. This time, in addition, we had to test ourselves very frequently. We had to have PCR tests for a maximum of 72 hours to cross the border. The results can take 1 or 2 days to reach us, and at times we were afraid we wouldn't get the results in time. Fortunately, we didn't have to do it every time we changed states, so we told our management. But that's what we should have done if we were touring Europe. Playing there right now would be too much for us.

Anyway, I wish you all the best in 2022 if the health situation allows it, and why not in Europe for the first time! Thanks a lot Dan, I was very happy to meet you again in an interview and to have been able to listen to "Epigone" before its release. Maybe we'll meet again for the interview of your fifth album! (Laughs).

Dan: With pleasure! Thanks a lot and see you soon!

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WILDERUN: Epigone (2022)

Despite some excellent passages, "Epigone" appears somewhat marred by surprising, even unfortunate, compositional and structural choices. A nice progressive death album all the same.
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After eight long years of silence, Lalu is back in business with an album back to the roots of progressive music... It is with great pleasure that Music Waves met with its main protagonists!

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