West Virginia USA’s Nechochwen have released their heaviest album to date with the recently released “Heart Of Akamon” Blending classical, folk and metal with native American subject matter has made for an incredible release. Nechochwen answered some of our questions regarding the new album, recording and writing process and their future plans….check it out…….
Congratulations on your amazing new album “Heart Of Akamon”…..how has it been received so far?
“Thank you! We have been overwhelmed with the response! Not just kind words, but people actually connecting to it, learning from it, or getting some sort of strong emotional reaction from listening to it. I’ve never been involved with an album with such a warm and exciting reception; it is satisfying because we strongly believe in the content. It’s so easy and common to quickly share info/posts online now and there has been a much stronger response online than when past albums were released. Our Bandcamp page and Youtube videos that people make give people a chance to listen to it immediately. I don’t think we even had a web page of any kind (besides Bandcamp) or a Facebook page when Oto came out. People shared the hell out of the album link and we appreciate peoples’ enthusiasm and support!”
For our readers, could you please explain the meaning of Nechochwen and where you received inspiration for the title “Heart Of Akamon”?
“Nechochwen is a Lenape word; it basically means ‘walks alone’. When the tribal group I belong to was much more active, I got to know some words from very ancient times. The root aka is original or first. I’m not even totally sure of the etymology, maybe it’s Algic, maybe it’s Hitchiti or Yuchi or something else. I do know the root ngut (first), as in nekoti or ngoti (the number one) is Algic; aka also means first. Akamon is the “original land”, North America. That’s what we always called it, that’s what we still call it, and when I’m in the Laurel Highlands, or some unpopulated part of the Ohio River, or out at Flint Ridge in Ohio or the Newark Earthworks, I feel I’m still in the heart of it, the flesh and blood of a very significant, primal, ancient spiritual centre.”
Apalači Folk Metal
What genre of metal do you consider Nechochwen or not metal at all? What describes the Nechochwen sound the best?
“We call it Apalači Folk Metal and don’t really know what else to call it. It’s kind of ambiguous and a lot of our material isn’t metal at all but has a heaviness to it anyway. We are from the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains in northern West Virginia, and much of the subject matter of our music is from the very heart of the Appalachians, in particular, the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania. Originally, I had no intention of having any metal whatsoever in Nechochwen, but I still wanted a dark, morose, even violent vibe. It was a diversion from the metal music that I was writing for Angelrust, Harvist, and Infirmary. Gradually I felt a need to express this music using metal elements. West Virginia is known for hybrid cultures and hybrid music in its history, such as mountain folk music, music brought by slaves, music of the Cherokee, Lenape, Shawnee, and Seneca. This is how I view it; we keep it interesting for ourselves and use elements of metal, Native flute music, folk, classical, and acoustic fingerstyle genres to make our songs and tell our stories. I’m honestly surprised that there aren’t many people doing the same thing.”
Two Men at Work
Being two members (Nechochwen and Pohonasin) how does the song-writing and recording process work for you?
“In the case of acoustic or classical interludes, I usually write and demo them at home and then I record them properly later on in Pohonasin’s studio. We used to do a lot of these and that was really only the case on this album with “The Impending Winter”, the underlying framework of “Traversing the Shades of Death”, the beginning of “Kišelamakong” and little parts of bigger heavy songs. That was a big departure for us; I prefer now to challenge ourselves to write more of our fuller songs that use these elements but aren’t fully defined by them. I developed a new technique when we recording Oto. I had several teaching jobs, a young son – lots of stuff going on at the time and I was very busy. I would find that Wednesday (our traditional recording day) would come around and I hadn’t worked on the parts I wanted to focus on; you know – you get caught up in life despite the best of intentions. I started writing parts in the car on the way to the studio from a teaching job or a solo gig. At first I tried to write it down on whatever was close but that’s kind of dangerous to do while driving so I had to just work on my memory and try to remember it all. I drive a lot; it felt like wasted time, a long time to just sit and listen to music for entertainment on the way to somewhere. In the course of making an album, I would have probably 50 burned CDs of partial songs as we were working on them and I used the time in the car to think of melodies, lyrics, sing harmonies, guitar leads, whatever. This is how I chose to become immersed in the album and it works for me.
I would take these ideas to Pohonasin and he was like the editor and idea enhancer. Bouncing ideas off him is like turning a piece of coal into a diamond. I would sit at the control desk and track my own leads while he would sit on the couch off to the side and complete a set of lyrics I’d gotten stuck on while I was driving there. Fifteen minutes later, the lyrics would be written and the solo would be written and recorded. The immediacy of doing things this way gives some spontaneity to balance the guitar parts I’d actually taken a while to compose.
Are songs written specifically with Nechochwen in mind (as you are involved in other projects) or do you write and then decide which project name it should be recorded under?
“They used to fall into two categories – Forest of the Soul and Nechochwen. We haven’t written any music for Forest of the Soul in four or five years now and Nechochwen has a much more focused identity now – this is basically the only music I write these days.”
The songs on this release are drastically heavier than previous Nechochwen releases…..why the change? Is it just a natural progression or was the content/meaning of the tracks making the heaviness a necessity?
“I’m not sure. I never said, “This song’s gotta be really HEAVY man, people are in battle here!” Usually the music comes first and those riffs were just the way I was writing at the time. I’d just gone through the most difficult time in my adult life. I wouldn’t say I had an excess of aggression built up, I would say that I had intense reserves of lots of different emotions both negative and positive and I don’t know for sure if it prompted the aggressive nature or not. It probably did! This album was largely unplanned, disorganized, chaotic, and had no concrete themes at first, just like all the other Nechochwen albums. We write in a strange way I guess and take our time and it always works out in the end, the albums more or less materialize whatever way they are supposed to as we work on them. It must be a natural progression for us.”
Who are some of your main influences (specifically musicians/bands) that have influenced your style of vocals, guitar, and song style?
“Vocally, I’d say Anathema, Absu, older Katatonia, Rotting Christ, and of course traditional Shawnee/Lenape/Cherokee/Mi’kmaq etc. songs that have been sung for generations by many people. Guitar influences include Iron Maiden, Phil Keaggy, Michael Hedges, Anathema, Mournful Congregation, My Dying Bride, Absu, Guthrie Govan, Candlemass, Tiamat, and Satyricon. Our song-writing style is influenced by so many artists that I don’t know where to start. From old Pink Floyd to Edge of Sanity to diSEMBOWELMENT to Satyricon and Enslaved to Jose Gonzalez and Porcupine Tree. I’ve always loved the flow and power of the song-writing of Amorphis.”
How far do you take your Native American ancestry/traditions/ideology into the music? What I mean to say is that do you feel that you need to write exclusively within the “confines” of Native American culture for this project? (ex. Viking metal bands only writing songs about Viking related subjects)
“Not all of our songs have been specifically within the confines of this. Some could be taken as just songs about humans and civilizations in general, and are very heavily about nature in general like Cultivation, Confluence, Song of the White-Tailed Deer, and Winterstrife. It’s not that we feel each song must fit within the confines of American Indian culture; it’s more that it would be very out of place to do songs about unrelated things. The topic we focus on deserves all the attention to detail that it can get from us. We try to be very careful to factor a specific approach into our music: our goal is not to preach or complain or to rewrite history or anything like that; it is to create musical pictures and use them as ways to learn more about what was once the predominant way of life where we live. It’s a way of life that was once very, very close to nature. Maybe Viking metal bands can heavily relate to that. There was once a culture that is considered heathen and very close to and respectful of nature and now there is a completely different culture in its place. Same here in West Virginia and elsewhere; it’s not a gradual shift to modern times, it’s a completely different, entirely unrelated culture now that has replaced the one that was here for many thousands of years. If those thousands of years don’t deserve a few metal albums of intense respect and quest for knowledge, I don’t know what does. We can’t be the only people that think like that, yet, the only other metal band I ever knew about that made songs with Algonquian themes was Mi’Gauss, and one of the band members was the person who taught me most of what I know about our tribe’s history! We’re not setting out to be pioneers of some genre, we are just writing about what we are interested in and this is a way to make it a deeper part of our lives.”
“West Virginia is not the first place I think of when it comes to metal…..are there other acts locally that you have seen or played with?
Nechochwen: There are a few around in multiple styles, although most bands around my area are actually from Ohio or Pennsylvania – all three states are extremely close to each other. Check out Torrid Husk, Brimstone Coven, Disobey, and Curse the Wicked.”
Recording as a two piece has advantages and disadvantages….what are some of the pros/cons?
“So far, there have only been advantages. We are at the point now where, with the exception of friends guesting, taking pictures, or drawing artwork/logos, everything is done in-house by ourselves. Recording, mixing, mastering, album layout, etc. – we do all of this and it makes it easier and more cost effective for the labels to get a good product out there. Our writing process is very laid back and fun. We take our time and try to use the songs as a chance to learn more about what we’re writing about at the time. Decisions are much simpler between two people and it’s easier to coordinate schedules between just two people versus a bigger band with families, jobs, etc. It’s a strong, long-time friendship. Some people go to the bar with their friend, or go bowling, or watch football; we make albums and it’s gotten to the point where things are instinctive and there’s a lot of mind-reading happening all the time because it is so based in friendship and understanding.”
Playing live is just as important to some bands as releasing music….how important is it Nechochwen? How easy/difficult is it to perform live for you?
“It requires a lot of work. Sometimes I record guitar parts and it takes me a long time to remember how I played it. I record in many different tunings and I’ve kind of shot myself in the foot. It’s hard to be tuning on stage all the time. I break strings and feel like I’m taking forever on stage when I’m tuning all the time but that’s how I write music. The things that make Nechochwen unique are the things that make our music a pain in the ass to play live. There are many layers; I want to be playing five guitar parts, a flute, singing three vocal parts, and sitting down and playing a classical guitar too. All at the same time! So we need lots of competent help with this and we’ve still never really done a metal set of our songs. When we are gone, hopefully people will still listen to our albums and they will remain long after we have left this earth and we couldn’t play live anyway.”
Your music has been released thru Bandcamp typically….is this the best way you have found to get your music out there? How do you feel about the way music distribution/internet is these days?
“As far as us selling our own music, Bandcamp has absolutely been the best way to sell. Digital downloads outsell our physical releases about 20 to 1. I’m glad people can get it in the formats they want, whatever works for them. I always buy physical versions and sometimes put them on a phone for when I’m on a bike or camping or something. We just got on iTunes, Amazon, Spotify and all the others so I’m not sure about any of that, I’ve never used any of that stuff so I don’t know if it’s selling or if people are just listening to it for free on Youtube or downloading torrents – I have no clue about that. I like that I can hear the rarest of the rare stuff I had in high school at the click of a button but it’s a lot more special to me if I have the original at home. I’m thankful that for the first time, we have distribution in North America and Europe in stores and online for physical copies of our music at a reasonable price. Online, it’s so amazingly easy now to find music and pay for it with a couple clicks. You get it instantly any time of day! I honestly still get a thrill out of going to a record store though!”
Where do you see the future of Nechochwen? New music? Touring?
“We don’t really care to tour or to play live much for this music. Our focus has always been on making the best albums we can. I’ve noticed that with most of my favorite bands, the more they tour, the worse their albums become. You have to be the best of the best to make fantastic albums and tour a lot. I do think that getting your live show together and perfecting that aspect is worthwhile and will improve your abilities and chemistry in the studio but there has to be a balance. You have to have time to craft a great album. The first thing bands say when they put out a lackluster, mediocre, or just plain bad album is, “well, the label rushed us and we were touring so much…” I just don’t want to deal with any of that. Nechochwen is more about studio albums and songs. Maybe we’ll do a special occasion show here and there. Pohonasin has been remodeling his studio and when he’s done in a month or so we’ll start working on some new music for a couple of unusual releases. We’re formulating the ideas for this in the meantime so I don’t have much to report yet. The LP version of Heart of Akamon will be available in the coming months.”
Favorite music of 2015 so far?
“I don’t listen to a whole lot of albums but I really enjoyed the new Amorphis, Panopticon, Obsequiae, Infera Bruo, Iron Maiden, and the Moerae project between End, Awe, and Vacantfield. I’ve listened to these ones the most.
“Thank you for the questions and the forum to speak! Stay tuned, we will have more music for you soon and some good merch to enjoy in the meantime!”