Redwood Hill

author AP date 05/02/13

About two weeks ago I sat down with Marco and Toby - the vocalist and guitarist of Danish metal upstarts Redwood Hill - to discuss the imminent release of their debut album "Descender", their thoughts on the Danish metal scene, and their plans for the future. A word of warning to other prospective interviewers of this band: you're going to have a bad time the morning after, following the 14 beers you'll have had come the night's end. But without further ado, I give you the transcript from the proceedings: Let's kick things off with you guys introducing yourselves.
Marco: My name is Marco - I'm the vocalist.

Toby: I'm Toby - I play the guitar. What's new with Redwood Hill?
Marco: Everything! As we are quite a new band, everything is quite new. At the moment the most new thing is probably our record, which is finally in production and ready to release. Can you tell me a little bit about how the band came together?
Toby: We've known each other for years. He [Marco, ed.] and some of the other guys were in another band, and they broke up. I think... Marco, did you call me, or did you write me or something?

Marco: I think I wrote you [Toby, ed.]. We tried to put something together with other guitarists also, but nothing worked out. As Toby said, I'd known him for years and years from other bands. I knew his input would be the right thing for the stuff we wanted to do, so I called him, and he wasn't opposed to the idea.

Toby: Marco took me for a walk around the neighborhood with a pack of cigarettes, I agreed to join them, and then we just started writing music, more or less from day one. What influenced you to start writing this kind of music?
Marco: It's tough to say. I think we tried a lot of different things. In the band, each person has a lot of different genres that he listens to, and a lot of different bands. Not all of us have the same influences. But where we came most together was the big, dark things.

Toby: We don't really listen to like only post-black metal or post-metal or something like that. We all have a very wide perspective on music, and when we play together, it just turns out as black metal, more or less.

Marco: The common interest is definitely in the more post- and black-ish metal. I remember the first time when I saw you guys live, supporting Envy, you started with the song "Dybbuk", and I recall being reminded of The Psyke Project in the beginning of that song. Have they been an influence on you at all?

Marco: Of course, yeah. It's been for years. They've been close friends of ours also for ten years, I think. So we know them, and they've, if not directly, then definitely indirectly influenced us. But we've always loved The Psyke Project - all their music. I think they're definitely the frontrunners of Danish metal, and have been for a decade now.

Toby: But I, for instance... I don't actually have any of their albums, and I've never listened to it, really. Only live. So when I googled Redwood Hill this morning... Have you tried?
Marco: Yeah!

Toby: Yeah... (chuckling) ... The first result is the homepage of a dairy farm...

Marco: But a goat dairy farm, nonetheless! That's important! ... But I'm going to go ahead and assume that's not where the band name came from. So where did it come from?

Marco: Well, the hard thing, when starting a new band, is always the name. We agreed early on that we didn't want a name that had a significant meaning to it. We didn't want to be called Corpse of Jesus Christ or Mutilation or something, you know? We wanted something that, if for some reason we decided to change genre, we didn't have to change the name - something that didn't have a meaning, so that the music would put the meaning to the name. So first of all, we just thought, "How about something to do with nature?" Then we thought, "What's the coolest tree in the world?" We got to redwood quite fast.

Toby: Then we just placed that tree on top of a hill, because that's eerie. (laughing). That was that.

Marco: And actually my family name is hill, so that matches well. But then again, the redwood tree... Afterwards we have put some meaning to it. Redwood is a big majestic tree, the biggest in the world - and it kind of represents our music pretty well. Last year you recorded your debut album "Descender". What can we expect to hear on that when it comes out [next week, ed.]?
Marco: A very cohesive record. It's a story that has a feeling from the start to the end - I think it's a record best heard from start to finish. We've put a lot of effort into making the songs flow into each other, so it's not like... I would have a hard time picking one song. It's a good, cohesive record. Tell me about the recording process. Was it smooth sailing all the way?
Marco: Never.

Toby: It was hard work, and it took a while.

Marco: It took us three days to get the right snare drum sound, for instance. Our producer David is very anal with the sound. When he's got an idea, he puts his head to it. He knows what he wants, and he doesn't stop until he gets that. So it was a very long process. But this has always been my experience with recording music; I think this is how women have it with giving birth every time. You know, you hate each other, you hate your music, you hate the band - you hate everything. But when you've got the product afterwards, you love it unconditionally. You wouldn't live without it. Were there any funny stories or interesting things that happened during the recording that you'd like to share?

Marco: The only thing is, some guy offered us an international contract without hearing our music.

Toby: Oh yeah, that was awesome!

Marco: But I could tell he was on cocaine, so I don't think... He didn't call back, so. And he never heard the music. Actually, another funny story: the vocals were recorded in David's own studio, which is a shared studio with some known Danish hip-hop artists. I was recording my vocals, which are maybe a bit harsh, and I remember while I was recording the song "Tristesse" - which is a German song - so I was screaming black metal in German in the studio box. And when I came out, there was a bunch of hip-hoppers looking with jaws to the floor, looking a bit scared. That was quite funny. (laughing) I can imagine! So how would you describe the album in terms of the style and genre of music?
Marco: It's hard...

Toby: Some kind of post-metal, I guess.

Marco: Sometimes post-metal, in the slow parts and the more epic parts. But there's definitely also a lot of black metal influence on there, and sludge metal also. Are there some specific bands that you listen to that you think may have influenced the style?

Marco: No. I think the influences come to mind after you hear the music. It's not like we had some bands before that, where we thought "Okay, this is what we want". Because, as we said, we have such diverse music tastes; we would never agree on anything.

Toby: Usually when we have a busy schedule with the band, if I listen to music at home it's stuff like Talk Talk or something like that, because I'm just fed up with metal at that point.

Marco: But definitely you can hear some Cult of Luna on there. And I think a band that we referenced ourselves, but weren't as mindful of it during recording as we are now, is a band called Trenches. I think maybe that's a band that, if I would set us in a box, that would probably be it. What are some of the key lyrical and musical themes that you explore on the album?
Marco: Well, as far as the lyrical themes go, it's very dark-minded. It's my kind of trying to explain the dark sides of the mind, you know? How far you can come, psychologically - the full point of it being suicide, and everything in between.

Toby: Musically... I don't know. I can't really come up with a big picture.

Marco: We're thinking big, and we're thinking dirty, and we're thinking epic.

Toby: Writing the musical parts of a song in this band is a long process. I maybe have a riff, and take it out to the rehearsal room, and the others just completely re-arrange it, and we come up with something else.

Marco: We write music in jam sessions. So it's not like you write some lyrics, and say "Hey, I've got this idea and..."?

Marco: No. The lyrics always come last. We'll have an idea of the atmosphere; we can sense it, and then we try to jam it up.

Toby: I don't think we had so much of a direction on there, because it was more or less about finding our sound and finding a good expression.

Marco: Actually, a funny thing, when you ask about genres and influences, is an influence we first discovered when we got the record back - and it's an influence we all agree on, actually: Will Haven. And we've never actually talked about this, because Will Haven is such a 90s band. But everybody loves them, and we can actually hear that in places. So you all listen to them?

Marco: Yeah, and I've seen Will Haven live in Denmark, as one of the few! Must have been a long time ago...

Marco: Yeah, they supported Deftones back in 96 or something. I've heard a lot of those songs live on multiple occasions - I think four times now - and I think there's this distinct Scandinavian feel to the music. It's dark, depressing, and sounds very cold. Is that something you were trying to do from the outset?
Toby: I think it's just a part of us.

Marco: Yeah. When we do the music, all the riffs and all the ideas are always in that direction, so it's what we do from the get-go. It's definitely something we strive for as a feeling: that coldness, darkness and despair. And Scandinavia is known for, and has a history of that type of aesthetic.

Toby: It would be wrong to write a song about going to the beach in boardshorts... It's just not Scandinavian at all. But arguably, Great Britain has much worse social problems than Scandinavian countries, and yet the post-metal that comes from there is always positive and uplifting, and sounds very grand.

Marco: Yeah, but then again, they have a big movement now with post-black metal actually - which they do very well. A band like Winterfylleth, we really love that. I think they have a lot of despair. But sometimes I don't think that the darkness and despair come from the social conditions. It can also depend on... in a country like Denmark, where we have socialism, there's very far to the bottom for everybody. But that can also be like a sleeping pill for some people.

Toby: I think that as a Scandinavian you can actually feel like you're not doing very well, because all you know is your own kind of society. In Britain it's the same thing. They don't all know about Scandinavian society. In liberal countries, they just tend to drop their jaw when you explain them how Scandinavia works.

Marco: And maybe what's special in Denmark is that artists are a bit frowned upon. The artistic vibe is you're good if you make money - not if you make a good artistic work. Whereas in a country like England, I think there's much more of a scene for artistic development. Bands don't have to make money. Or they'll make money even if they stay in their own little genre. I guess what I was getting to is if you feel like your music is a product of your surroundings in some way, like Scandinavian nature and society and so on?

Marco: Yeah, definitely. I think the upbringing and the surroundings you have, being from Scandinavia definitely has an influence on the coldness and darkness that we are presenting on this album.

Toby: I get some nature references when we play, often. The woods, or the sea.

Marco: When I think of music, I always think in pictures in my head. And there's definitely a lot of dark woods with fog in those. You've had the opportunity to test your music on some pretty big audiences at Copenhell and Roskilde Festival last year. How did you feel those shows went?
Marco: I think it went great. First of all, it was a big thing for us, as we'd only played two concerts before that [Roskilde Festival show, ed.]. So, for that to happen was a bit overwhelming. I think we did a good job; we played as well as we did at the other two shows. On those two occasions, we felt more pressure from the audience though. That was a bit scary, too, because we could feel that we didn't have a record out. People didn't know our music. I think there's a big difference to having played at the small clubs before that, because people there are maybe engaged in another band and you have the element of surprise. You don't have that in these big festival shows because people expect something more. So how did it actually come to be that you got to play at those festivals? Did they make contact with you to offer the gigs?

Marco: Yeah! You guys do some pretty unique stuff visually when you play live. Is that something you do consciously?
Marco: Yes, and no. To an extent, everything I do live, I think about. But we don't have any moves planned or anything...

Toby: Dancing and shit. (laughing)

Marco: It's conscious that we don't want too much light on us. We're more like an experience, not a band. Like we're not the persons in the band, we're more like the music and the band as a whole. It's almost like you depersonify yourselves on stage, often appearing as mere silhouettes on stage. I noticed that same thing on the "Poseidon" music video you recently released.

Marco: That's conscious. I don't think we've ever had any press release where we've shown our faces. It's not like we want to be anonymous or something; we just want the emphasis to be on the music, and not us. What's the best show you've done so far?
Marco: Oh, for me it definitely has to be Roskilde. But on a personal level, just because it's something you dream of since you were a little kid in Denmark. It's mecca for us.

Toby: I really liked the Envy gig. I'm a big fan of Envy, so that was huge for me. Was that your first show ever?

Marco: Yeah! Envy is a band that we all have been fans of for a long time. We saw the show and we just wrote Beta and said if they were interested, then we were very interested. Then they called us, and we were like, "Oh, shit!" There were some gusy from The Psyke Project there, and later they said that show was the reason they handpicked you guys as support at The Rock some months later.

Marco: We had a great day, actually!

Toby: When Envy was soundchecking... There is a kindergarten upstairs, and they coudn't sleep because Envy was soundchecking. Then all the kids came down, and Envy started playing J-pop for 20 minutes. It was magic! And then we ended up going out with them after.

Marco: With them and The Psyke Project. It was a great night, crazy night. And since then we've had a lot of support from The Psyke Project; they have really shown us a lot of love. What's your favorite venue to play at so far?
Toby: Well, so far it's Roskilde.

Marco: I think Beta, probably. I'm going to say Beta. They've had the best sound, but one thing I don't like is that there we can't use the fog machine. But most of the venues we've played, we haven't been able to do that. Actually Stengade was also a good place, but there were no people.

Toby: I like Beta as well, if you can't play Roskilde every time.

Marco: Beta and Stengade! Are you more interested in building a large following here in Denmark, or are you targeting foreign audiences as well?
Marco: I don't think we have a specific plan for that. I feel, personally, that I don't have any plans for an audience in Europe. Obviously if overseas listeners come, then it's fantastic, but it's not something we target specifically. We want to go to Germany - I'm born there - so I have interest in getting some following there. But it's easier for us in Denmark.

Toby: I don't really think a lot about that. I only think about writing and recording a new album. Is the album going to be released outside of Denmark?

Marco: We don't know yet. Maybe at some point. Do you have a record label at this point?

Marco: Yeah, we have. We have a Danish label lead by Filip from Hexis. But as far as we know, we're the first local band he has distributed. He has released some French bands and stuff, but we're the first Danish band. It's a new label like that, but I think with his help we're going to try also to get it distributed and sold in other countries. What would you say are the advantages, disadvantages or challenges of being in a metal band in Denmark?
Toby: The scene is incredibly small.

Marco: For many years, the type of heavy metal we're playing has not been seen very often in Denmark. There's The Psyke Project, who have done that genre, sort of, for a long time, but you don't hear of that many other bands. Danish metal and the Danish metal scene has been more about the metallic hardcore stuff.

Toby: We more or less had the whole scene located at Beta in December [at the "Black Christmas" show, ed.]. So it's tiny.

Marco: It's tiny and it's hard. Everybody knows each other, and sometimes it all gets a little too much like a closed culture. And there are a lot of bands, you know? There are a lot of bands fighting for the same attention, and people in Denmark generally don't listen to a lot of metal. It's getting bigger, it's getting there. It has its ups and downs. You have more to fight for, but I think sometimes fighting harder will make you a better band.

Toby: I think mainstream metal in Denmark is doing okay. Stuff like Volbeat is doing okay. And King Diamond.

Marco: But it's like that with a lot of genres in Denmark. There's maybe one or two who do it very well, and then you have a large drop to the underground. What are your favorite Danish bands at the moment?
Marco: Well, I've always been a big fan of The Psyke Project. They're definitely one of my favorite bands, and they've continuously been a good band. And of course new artists that we've had affiliations with, like Hexis and Ajuna - we love them. I only recently discovered By the Patient. I was positively surprised, because without hearing them, I always thought they would be a different type of band. I don't know, I just saw a video and thought it sounded very cool.

Toby: I'm a fan of Kellermensch. Are there any underground bands, both Danish and international, that you'd like to recommend?

Marco: Other than those that we already mentioned? There's a whole bunch.

Toby: Amenra, Rosetta... I liked the first albums by Devil Sold His Soul, but the new albums are a bit meh, in my opinion. This Will Destroy You...

Marco: Celeste, from France. Omega Massif is a German post-metal band that I love. What are your plans if "Descender" does not become as much of a success as you hope?
Marco: We have nothing to lose with this album. We've already accomplished more than we thought we would, and for us to release it... From the start our ambition was just to make good music, and if we had the time and money, we would record and release it. But things, with the festivals last summer, just took off in a way we didn't expect. After that we of course set some higher goals, but it's not goals that have to happen. If they don't, we'll still release more music. We're in a good place in our lives where we can make the music and release it. Whether we get great success, or mediocre succes, or not success at all, the main focus for us is making the music we want, and then we'll see. So what are your future plans at the moment?

Marco: We of course want to play some shows. Not too many, actually; we don't like playing too much. We don't want to play Copenhagen every second week, for example. This is because we want to keep it a little exclusive, and also for ourselves. It would become boring.

Toby: It would just become a chore.

Marco: We're trying to plan something in Sweden in the Fall. And just trying to get some concerts - but concerts that we like. If we could play some European festivals in the summer, that would definitely be the high goal. Have you been pro-active by sending your music to festivals?

Marco: I think we're planning to see if a booking agency wants to represent us at some festivals. That's the first step in our plan. So those were the last questions. Anything you'd like to add?
Marco: Just that we are a new band now, and we're definitely going to release more than this one LP. So keep a lookout for it. If you like it, pick it up. If you don't, we won't get hurt.

Toby: I will a little bit. (laughing)

Marco: Okay, me too, but not after two beers. But of course, thanks to Rockfreaks! I think the live review that you guys wrote from the show with Envy was, I think, part of getting those large gigs for us. We'd like to think so - only us!

Marco: We'd like to thank only Rockfreaks for getting us those gigs. (chuckles)

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