Dig into Folk-based Music
Interview with Wandering Oak
It has been a long hard road to get to this point for Wandering Oak. This US based act has finally unleashed their first full length “Passage Elemental” after a 4-year process since their debut EP “Advent” in 2015. If you think you will hear “traditional” folk metal, think again as there are more twists and turns on this album than an amusement park filled with roller coasters. Vocalist/guitarist Robert Pollard tackled some questions for us regarding the new album, the lineup, the writing, the tour and a few other items…. check it out…..
Congrats on your debut album “Passage Elemental”….how has the reaction been to it so far? Thank you! So far, the response has been really positive. We haven’t put anything out in a long time, so we had a lot of people chomping at the bit to finally get some new music from us – me included!
“Let us go back to your initial EP “Advent” from 2015……did you have ideas of what your first full length would be that far ahead or did it take these last 4 years to get to this point to be able to create it? Did you already have the foundations of some of the tracks even back then? Yes, I had a lot of the ideas that wound up on ‘Passage’ composed back then, albeit in an embryonic state. ‘The Iron Horde’ goes back quite far, although it was subsequently polished.”
As the founder and remaining original member, how has the lineup changes and change of locale impacted Wandering Oak as a whole if at all? Was it hard to “stay the course” with such flux going on?
“The lineup we have now is the strongest the band has ever had. The mixture of musical ability, mutual influences, personality, and experience has made us into a more balanced, cohesive unit.”
I am not sure if a simple folk metal tag works in describing your sound…..is there some combination of sub-genres in metal that work to describe what your sound is or relatable to? “This has always been a point of contention. On one hand, I feel like the definition of folk that is attached to folk metal in general is a very narrow, and tends to only refer to sing-songy Tavern Folk, or Viking stuff. To me, that does a disservice to the rich history and repertoire of folk music. That being said, I do ultimately view Wandering Oak as a progressive metal band, that simply digs deeply into folk-based music and aesthetic, much like how Jethro Tull did. We blend in a lot of thrash, black, traditional, etc. because I don’t believe in limiting myself or attempting to draw imaginary lines across stylistic borders. I do support and understand the use of sub-genres, but I also believe that there is a serious schism in metal.”
The album cover really fits the title and is definitely one of my favs for 2019…. how did the title of the album and album cover come about?
“Glad you liked it! The concept of the elements came about when I realized that all of the songs had their own stylistic bent to them, and sort of encapsulated the elements to which they correspond. I was a little worried that we’d be accused of ripping off Mastodon, but I think this album does it in a much more condensed way that is different from how they did it. The album art was done by our friend Autumn, who is a local artist. Our drummer Monica suggested her, we pitched the concept that I had, which was a piece comprising a four panels, and she just ran with it and knocked it out of the park. I highly recommend that anyone who needs album art contact her at Autonomous Foxfire Art.”
How does the song writing process work if there is a process? Do lyrics and music get married together after the fact or are they both worked on at parallel times? How do you balance writing/practice with the other band members?
“I tend to write music and lyrics independently from one another. When it comes down to actually creating the song, the music almost always comes first. Sometimes I’ll have a set of lyrics that matches, and sometimes I’ll have to write lyrics specifically for the piece of music.”
You can successfully pull off clean and heavy vocals…. do you feel comfortable doing one over the other? Did you consciously decide to pursue both knowing you would utilize them for the songs?
“At first I felt more comfortable doing harsh vocals, but I feel that I have improved as a singer in the past couple of years. I was honestly concerned that my voice would blow out over the tour, but by the end of it I felt like I was a stronger vocalist than I’ve ever been on both fronts. I was actually more of a clean vocalist in my earlier days as a musician, but I wasn’t very good at it haha. I used to play in a folk band for about a year around the time Wandering Oak was starting, and that gave me the impetus to try being a good singer. Also, as soon as I got into Opeth, I gained the impetus to try and do both.”
Besides Wandering Oak
You are involved in other projects, most notably your work in the epic Goblin Hovel and the upcoming Shrine Of Burls….. how does your work in these other projects help your direction with Wandering Oak? Do you know while writing music whether it belongs to one project or another?
“Goblin Hovel is a great compliment to my work in Oak because Derek is the main songwriter, and I act as a sideman. My input is welcome, both creatively and in other regards, but at the end of the day I can ultimately let certain things go because it’s not my baby. On the other hand, Shrine of Burls is my creation. Both projects force me to do things differently because I don’t have any distortion to cover my ass, and acoustic instruments are not as easy to play aggressively. Having multiple Outlets does allow me to better organize the ideas I come up with, although I have been guilty of moving certain things from one project to another. Maybe one day I’ll start a project where I just throw in the kitchen sink, haha.
What bands/albums from your perspective are your biggest influences for this album? Did you have a template in mind?
“Firstly, I knew that I had to outdo Advent. One thing about the EP is I felt that it wasn’t aggressive enough, that it didn’t have enough fast parts. But also, it needed to sound thicker. As far as my influences, they were so all over the place. From technical thrash like Coroner, to prog metal like Opeth and Hammers of Misfortune, to wacked-out trad metal like Slough Feg and Manilla Road, to Epic Doom like Solstice, to dark folk metal like Primordial, prog rock like Jethro Tull and King Crimson.”
In terms of the folk metal scene in the US, do you feel there actually is a folk metal scene? Or do you have to musically cross into other genres or tour with non-folk metal acts to get some exposure?
“I do feel that folk metal is gaining popularity in America. If anything, I feel like we have to venture outside of folk metal audiences because we’re a little too weird for some haha. Eventually we want to get on more progressive oriented lineups, along with more audacious trad metal shows.”
You recently toured with the mighty Wilderun for the releases of your respective albums…. how did this come about? How were the shows? Were some towns more receptive than others?
“Oak has played with Wilderun multiple times in the past, with previous lineups. We’re both from Massachusetts, so it was inevitable that we’d hook up eventually. When the time came to decide how to tour the material, we concluded that we would fare far better on the road if we were supporting a better known band. It was a case of pure Serendipity that Wilderun were thinking of playing some live dates to promote their album around the same time we were. It was a natural fit, and every show we played with them was a great time. If I could pick a few Choice dates, I’d say that the shows in Philly, Florence, and Cambridge were the best. Most everyone came out to see Wilderun, but I think we turned a few heads. In my opinion the two bands complemented each other well because they are a more orchestrated, majestic entity whereas we are more raw and violent, though we ultimately share common influences.”
Do you have any plan for what Wandering Oak does for the next few months/year? Tour plans….. studio/writing? No specific plans?
“The band as a whole is taking a little bit of time off. That being said, I’ve already begun revisiting material I’d been developing for the next release. I believe Monica and I are going to resume jamming in a week as of this writing, but after the new year Dee will be meeting up with us when she can. Joe is off working with his full-time bands and focusing on his job and other things. We don’t plan on doing any live shows in the near future, unless we get offered to play a really cool festival or something. We have talked about doing a tour run of Canada and the Midwest next year, but nothing has been set in stone. One thing at a time.”
Favorite albums from 2019? Music you are looking forward to in 2020?
“I haven’t been able to listen to a lot of new music this year, but the new Atlantean Kodex album slaps, the new Terminus and Crypt Sermon are solid, and I’m still holding out for the new Obsequiae album. And of course, the new Wilderun Album rules! As far as next year, looking forward to the next Solstice release. That’s about all I can think of right now.”
“Just wanted to say thanks for all of your help and support these past few years. Hopefully another Pocono style festival can happen. Thanks to anyone that has purchased our album, given us a listen, or even seen us live. We hope to come back with an even stronger album next year!”