Rheia is the third studio album by Belgian band Oathbreaker. It was released in September 2016. After a year, I met the band in Berlin at Musik and Frieden and I talked with Caro about how things have changed for Oathbreaker since the release of this album and the choice to take some time off from touring for a while.
Win a pair of tickets to their last show until 2019 on Dec. 201th, 2017 – enter HERE!
Oathbreaker played in Berlin last year on 11 December. One year later, it’s almost like déjà vu, right?
The same thing happened in Leipzig at the Connewitz, which is a really nice venue. They said the same thing. Everyone was just like, “Oh, you guys played here a year ago almost exactly to the day!” We were on tour with Wife then, so we had a really good time on that tour.
How has this past year been for Oathbreaker?
It’s been a really long and exhausting year. We’ve toured a lot. We toured Europe twice, the US twice, we did Russia and then some loose shows all over the place. So yeah, it’s been a pretty intense year. But I’m super happy we were able to do all these things. And I guess none of us thought that Rheia would pack out like it did, and so it has turned out great. We’ve done all the things we wanted to do. I’m very pleased with that.
Do you have a particularly great memory or any really bad one from this past year?
It’s not really a memory, just something that we were able to do that I never thought that we would do: playing the Audio Tree live session in Chicago. I have followed Audio Tree for a long time and they always put out great things. The videos they do all look very intimate and personal, but it’s a live studio session, which usually isn’t that private. So it was really cool when they asked us to do it.
We were on tour when we got the request. It was kind of crazy because we had to play a show the night itself, so we did the session during daytime. We had to drive overnight to get there on time. So we were all super exhausted. But once we got to the studio, everyone was so friendly and they set it up so professionally. I was kind of nervous and I hadn’t been nervous in a long time. I mean, you always get a little bit nervous, but a live studio session is different than a live performance because it’s so naked. It’s so bare; people will see everything you do. They’ll hear every little sound that is a tiny bit off. Everything is very nicely mixed and the sound has to be perfect. But it turned out great. We started playing and I was shaking a little bit at the beginning but once the first song was done, it felt like we were just playing in our practice space. It felt really good and was a really nice experience. After that, I was like, “Can we only do studio things from now on?”
We had done another studio session, the BBC studio session. It’s such a crazy studio because so many bands have been there. Maida Vale is such an important place for music in London. And it was really cool, but the experience was so different. We played live but it wasn’t streamed live so we had to do it over and over, then they mixed it a little bit. It was very different than the Audio Tree session. That was definitely one of the highlights of my year.
Rheia was released in September 2016. It’s been more than a year. How have things changed for Oathbreaker since the release of this album?
Change is so hard to define. It doesn’t feel like a lot changed, except that we noticed that playing was a little bit different because we reached so many more people with Rheia than we had ever before. So we noticed while playing shows that a lot more people came. The shows were really good; we had a lot of opportunities that we didn’t have before. So that was definitely one of the biggest changes. Besides that, we were still touring in a van, trying to play as much as possible in as little time possible and working very hard. Not a lot changed. We did—which before I didn’t think we would be able to do—go on tour with a couple of really great bands.
How was playing with King Woman for the first time?
It was awesome. The thing is, we had done a couple of headlining tours but none to the same extent as these. So that was one of the coolest things. We could choose who we wanted to come with us. King Woman and Jaye Jayle were amazing. Being on tour with Wife, for example, no one really expected, but it turned out so good and we got along so well, and we met so many new people that I really appreciated it a lot. And we actually still have a lot of contact. The other bands we’ve toured with asked us to join them and it was always a little bit weird, but when you’re the headliner, you have the freedom to do what you want. So that was really cool.
Speaking of the US tour: what’s playing in the US like in comparison to playing in Europe?
The show itself is very similar. The people coming to the shows are also very similar. Like it or not, we’re playing an underground type of music. Underground people from anywhere are very much alike and have the same interests.
Was that your first time in the US?
No, I think that was the fourth time. We went on tour there the first time when our first record came out. We went for 10 days and then we did an east to west coast run for three weeks with Cult Leader, which is also on the same label as us. And then we did a tour with Skeleton Witch and Iron Reagan in September. That was kind of crazy, but really fun. We thought it would be a crazy match, we’re such different bands, but it was really so much fun. People that we’re interested in all these bands came to the shows. So many shows were sold out. It was great to play with them. And they’re just awesome people. We got along really well with them. So yeah, that was the fourth time.
There’s no real difference except that people in Europe, the bookers and promoters, treat you so much more nicely. The bands that tour Europe are used to that. You get a hotel or a hostel, they make you food, and they treat you well. Even when you’re the smallest band and it’s a DIY show, they’ll make you spaghetti. And that’s what you’ll always get, but at least you get that spaghetti. In the US it’s more like, “Alright, here’s the venue, and you take care of everything else.” They don’t do anything for you. You don’t get a hotel or a place to sleep and you don’t get food. You’re very lucky if you get a couple of beers. You do get water, though, which is the most important thing.
It’s harder, especially because the distances are so much longer. The first couple of tours we did were very long distance and that meant a lot of overnight driving because we played every night. And since the last tour was a month and we had more time, we tried to do little cities in between the big ones to break the trip up. That makes it more bearable. But the US is so big and different to Europe.
Do you think that touring there changed your perspective as a musician?
It’s definitely inspiring to see other cities and it’s cool to be able to play LA or San Francisco or New York City. But even in the smaller cities, it’s really cool to just walk around for a bit and try to take it all in. It’s so different than here. Europeans are so spoiled; we’re so used to history. I live in Ghent, Belgium and from the moment I step outside of my door I see like four churches. There’s a medieval castle just two minutes walking and everything is so old. Anywhere in the US, everything is new. And that’s weird. But it’s also cool. There are ugly parts in the US, of course, like there are in Europe.
Did you have a chance to visit Yosemite, for example, or some other natural park?
We tried to do something almost every day, even just one little thing. So, for example, in Florida, we went to some natural springs and went swimming in the summer, and that was really cool. We didn’t get to see Yosemite because we went through Death Valley and saw some of that.
Do you feel some kind of connection to nature?
Because we spend so much time touring and in the van, if we get to a city (because the venue is always in a city), there’s just so much city that nature is something that makes your head empty. You can just relax for a little bit and not see buildings. I’m a huge fan of cities but sometimes you need a bit of peace and quiet. And going for a swim in a natural spring in the middle of nowhere is great.
You and the other guys are sharing this experience together. What’s it like spending all that time with the same people?
It’s cool. We’re all really good friends. We’ve been playing in Oathbreaker for almost 10 years. Some of us have known each other for 15 years. For example, Gilles and Lennart, our two guitar players, and I have been playing together for about 14 years. We had a band together before Oathbreaker.
Oh, what was it called?
It doesn’t matter; it was terrible. I’m 27, so when we started that band, I was 13. It was my first band experience ever. So we’ve been playing together forever. I’ve never really had a band without them. It’s just how it is.
So it’s not difficult to spend all those hours together?
It depends. Some things are hard; some things are easy. We all get along. But because we’re in such a small space all the time, I definitely try to walk around a little bit or get a coffee just by myself, for at least an hour. When you spend so much time together, you’re going to have the same jokes every day, you pick up each other’s things and you start becoming one other. There’s no way of staying true to yourself because there’s just so much going on. And sometimes you get annoyed.
It’s like a relationship… you’re with someone but you need your space.
That’s true and it’s funny that you say that. Gilles and I were together for a while and then we broke up because we toured so much. So sometimes it has been easy and sometimes it has been hard. And you just have to continue.
Oathbreaker has accomplished the very difficult task of combining several genres at once without sounding all over the place. Did you imagine growing in this direction when you started playing in 2008?
Yes and no. In 2008, I was 18. So Gilles was 17, and Lennart is a bit older. But that’s the main group of people that are still playing. I think we all knew that what we were playing then and what we were starting off with wasn’t the end game. That wasn’t what we wanted to do forever. But we were a band with a metal, hard-core background and we didn’t really have the balls to try something else because we came from that background and we had these people that came to our shows. And it’s hard when you’re 18 and standing ground and trying out new stuff. I don’t think we were ready to do that then, but we all knew that we were able to do other things. I think we just needed some time to grow into it. But we knew that I really wanted to try to sing more clean and we wanted to have different influences and not just straight metal. We just needed people to believe in us and we needed to believe in ourselves to be able to do that.
With Rheia, I think we were finally ready to do that. It took some time but that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with it. You have to just grow into something like that. If we had written something like Rheia in 2008, it would have been really weird. We wouldn’t have felt it was ours. It would have been too much of a leap. We needed to grow to where it was possible to do that. And we needed the platform like we had with Death Wish supporting us and bringing out our records, building up a certain crowd and people that were into us. That was the perfect stage to say, “Now we’re just going to do what we want to do.” I really needed that confidence. We were just doing what was expected from us before. No one was telling us what to do, but we were doing whatever we felt comfortable with at the time, and I can’t even imagine doing that again now. Playing that kind of music now would be very limiting to me. Now it’s much more fun. We can experiment and that keeps it interesting. You get bored a lot when you play the same thing over and over again.
Eros/Anteros and Mælstrøm are different from Rheia in many ways. What changed your way of writing?
I think the way of writing didn’t change. The way we approach things is still the same. We just needed the confidence to expand our vision and look beyond what was possible and bring that into what we were doing. When you’re 18, what do you listen to? When you’re 28, you listen to completely different things. So everything you listen to and everything you’re into—you have waves of things that you’re into—are all brought together into what you’re going to write. It takes more time, but you bring all that together. And we found a way to make it work, which in the beginning we didn’t think we would. We knew we wanted this and that but we had to figure out how to bring all those things together and make something that was still Oathbreaker and not another band It’s really hard. But when we figured out a way to do it, it felt so much more real and everything is way more honest. I think that changed. EroslAnteros and Mælstrøm were what was expected of us. And the approach to Rheia was different in the sense that we did what we felt we had to do.
And lyrically what inspired that?
All of the lyrics I’ve ever written were very personal. But people won’t notice that they’re personal because I tended to bury that under words and things that people don’t really get. I’ll know what it’s about but people don’t get it, because there are so many layers and people just see the top layer when the meaning is in the bottom layer. So, in Rheia, it’s just very straightforward. Everything I’m saying is what I’m feeling, and Gilles really encouraged me to do that because I was scared to. It’s really hard to just put your heart on the table and say here it is, and now you all have to accept it. I can’t even do that in real life, talking to people is not really my strong suit…
Actually, when I heard the song “Mælstrøm” for the first time, I was so impressed by the honesty and the way of singing. What inspired that song?
It’s honest in the sense that it comes from what I was feeling in the moment, but it’s not at all like doing a whole record of very personal feelings. This last record is about how I grew up, what my dad is like, how my grandma died and how my relationship with Gilles was and is. There are just a lot of things that I would never even talk to my friends about. And then you put it on a record that everyone sees and listens to. There are a lot of things on that record that my best friends didn’t even know about me. So in that way it’s very personal and very honest and straightforward.
“The Second Song of R” talks about childhood. What influenced that song?
The lyrics are just about how I grew up. I had a really weird upbringing. Not that I was unhappy but if I think about it and tell the stories about how, for example, my dad and my mom were, what their relationship was like, how I was really young when I had to basically take care of myself and how I didn’t come from a happy, warm home… Thinking about that now, almost 15 or 20 years later is a lot to confront.
My dad was an alcoholic. I remember there was one night when my he came home really, really drunk. I like to drink and there’s nothing wrong with drinking. And I can even pass out drinking too. That’s all good. But if it’s every night or almost every night then it’s kind of a problem. So he would get home really early in the morning and I would work in the restaurant that my parents owned. He would be really drunk and wouldn’t get up to work and I had to do his shifts. But I was 11 or 12; I was really young. I would get so upset because I would keep calling him, trying to wake him up, and he wouldn’t. Once, I was so upset that I printed out the Alcoholics Anonymous website home page and went to his room and put it on the pillow next to him. He woke up and saw it, and it was like my revenge. I was just thinking, “Fuck you, you need to do something about this!” But he didn’t talk to me for two weeks after I did that. He just said he didn’t have a problem. It’s just stupid little things, but that song really talks about everything. I’ve picked out certain memories that stood out for me.
Me and my dad are kind of OK now. He’s putting in a lot of effort to reconcile. So that’s basically it: all the little things that upset me at the time, which I’ve made my peace with. It’s not like I’m holding any grudges. They’re just things that I had to talk about. And I wouldn’t say it was like therapy, because it wasn’t. Every night you have to play those songs you go through it again. So it’s not really therapy, but it meant a lot to me that I was I able to write these things down and sing it and give it a place somewhere in my head.
Do you feel relief after having done that?
It’s not relief, it’s just that you’ve given it a little place. You put it in a little box, and it’s there and you can talk about it. That’s more important than feeling relieved or cured. All these things are there, it’s not like you just forget about them. To me it was more important to talk about them and know that I hadn’t forgotten than trying to hold it back, forget about it and pretend nothing was going on, which is what I did for years. So that was more important.
Musically speaking, is there an album or song from your childhood or adolescence that you feel emotionally connected to?
I have a band that I’m kind of emotionally linked with. And it’s really stupid because there are so many people who are into this band. I’m a really big Sonic Youth fan. I don’t even know why or how it started. My dad used to be a DJ for weddings, playing hits and stuff. He collected a lot of records, and they were all at my grandparent’s place in the garage. I was spending a lot of time with my grandparents, and one night I was going through them and I found this Sonic Youth album and it stood out to me. So I hid it because my dad never looked at his records anymore and kept it for myself. And I still have it. That was the moment I really got into Sonic Youth. And Kim Gordon being a fucking badass was such a huge example. I’m not trying to be all feminist but she was a huge inspiration, as was Elizabeth Frasier from Cocteau Twins. What she does with her voice is fucking insane. I only realized that Cocteau Twins was a band a couple of years ago, when Gilles brought it to my attention. But damn, what she does with her voice is magnificent. It blows my mind. I wish I could sing like her.
And are you listening to anything in particular during the tour?
Not really. The tour has been going on for two days. I’ve been very into watching shows on this tour. I’m obsessed with shows. I watch a lot of series. It’s terrible. I’ve seen so many things that I’ve gotten desperate and I start watching stupid things, just because it gets me in the zone. I like it, but I get really obsessed. I just binge watch a whole season in one night and then I don’t sleep and go to work the next day. I just can’t help it.
Did you like Stranger Things, for example?
I did, I really liked the first season. But everyone was going crazy about it, and I think it’s good but it’s not the best thing I’ve ever seen. I watched the second season because I knew the first season and enjoyed it. And it lives up to the expectations. I still like it, but it’s not the best thing.
And talking about music, I’ve recently spoken with Emma Ruth Rundle, Myrkur, Zola Jesus—
Yeah, Emma is my friend! We keep missing each other. She’s on tour with Jaye Jayle, who was on tour with us in the US for one month. Emma jumped in on that tour in the middle and played a couple of songs with them each night for about half of the month. We’ve always been around but we had never really played a show together or met in person. I was a huge fan of hers and that was the first time we met and we became really good friends.
So we talked about how hard it is to be a female in the music scene. What do you think about that?
To me, it’s really not hard. I hear all these people saying, “We have to stand up for ourselves,” and all that… I’ve really never had any terrible experiences. Of course I get stupid messages sometimes that I feel are unnecessary. But no one is disrespectful. And I think that whether you’re a girl or a boy you just fight for the opportunities that you want to create. And when you create that opportunity you go for it. And that’s how it has always been with Oathbreaker. I just don’t let anything happen like that. You work for something and go for it. I don’t feel disadvantaged because I’m a girl. I just take the opportunities that I get. That’s what I try to do, and that’s how I’ve always been. At the beginning of Oathbreaker, I knew what being a girl in a metal band was like but I wasn’t as in touch with my femininity at the time. I was figuring out how to stand on the stage, etc. And once I stopped trying to live up to whatever I saw—because I didn’t have a lot of examples. I mean you had Candace of Walls of Jericho at the time. She does what she does and it’s good, but it’s not like a huge example. So you have to try and find who you are as a person on the stage. But it’s not different for a girl or a boy. It’s the same for a man on the stage and I’ll always feel that way. You just have to work for it. You won’t get anything handed to you on a silver platter if you’re a girl or a guy. You just have to work hard and that’s what we try to continue to do.
I read on your Instagram about the choice to take some time off from touring for a while. What’s going on?
We’re taking a break because we’re all exhausted. We’re not going to play any shows in 2018. We made that decision for numerous reasons. One of the reasons being that Gilles and I broke up and it’s really hard to be on tour all the time together. It’s not like we don’t get along anymore, but it’s just constant confrontation, which is normal. And we’ve always been super close and we’ve known each other for so long. But sometimes you just have to take some time apart.
What also really played into this decision is the fact that Amenra just put out a new record and Wiegedood is putting out a new record too, which means our entire band except for me. The other three band members are in Wiegedood and then Lennart and Levy are in Amenra. So they’re all so very busy with other projects. After 2017, which was our year, it’s time for these other bands to tour as much as they want to. It will be good to take some time off and be able to appreciate what we were doing again. Sometimes you become very ungrateful, because you’re doing it over and over and over again. And you forget how lucky you are to be able to do this. And having to try to find a new job for a year will make what you want to do very clear very quickly. So that’s what we’re going to try to do.
We’re planning on trying to write a new record. We don’t want to force things immediately, but we definitely have some ideas about things we want to try. I was just talking to Lennart about it yesterday. We hadn’t played for three months and now we’re doing these shows as a last thing of the year and next year we won’t do anything. After taking that distance and coming back to playing these shows, we both realize we can do so much better. I mean, I love playing these songs and they’re so personal, but I think if we put all of our heads together we can write something that is even better than that. And that’s what we’re going to try to do. If it works, it works. If it doesn’t, then fine.
Besides Oathbreaker, do you have any plans?
Not really. I’ve been working on something with a friend of mine. It’s a musical project but it doesn’t really have any shape yet so I can’t really talk too much about it. But we’ll see where it goes. It’s more electronic. Gilles is working on a solo thing too—I don’t even know if that’s something that I can say, actually. But all of us are very busy doing what we want to do in 2018. So we’ll see. I want to travel a lot. And work and then spend all my money somewhere else, and then go back and work and spend it all again. I just don’t want to be attached to anything. I want a year of doing what I want to do.
What do you see in the future for Oathbreaker?
I see that we’ll try to write this new record and maybe put something out in the middle. We’ll maybe do something acoustic or maybe just some covers. Something that just breaks the space in between. We’ll see about that, we don’t know yet. And then try to write a new record and if it’s good and we feel good about it, then we’ll bring it out in 2019 and try to play some shows again.
But it’s not like we’re stopping. We’re not on a hiatus either, because that’s bullshit. Everyone who says that is back together in three months. That’s not how it works. We just need a break and that’s it. It’s just been a very exhausting year. All of the people on tour, like Emma Ruth Rundle, know exactly what I’m talking about. She’s been on tour so much this year. She’s been on the road all the time, and it’s hard work and sometimes you just need some distance, space and time.
Photos: Marika Z.
Thanks to: Landstreicher Konzerte, Musik and Frieden