Yellow Eyes Have a Jaundiced View of Black Metal Dogma
Black metal originating in the United States is often taken with a grain of salt by hardcore fans who look to Europe for ground rules regarding what's true and what's a product of poseurs. Despite the fact that Von — an American band from sunny California — is cited as a strong influence on Norwegian black metal, the U.S. has been relegated to second-string status. Like most scenes, black metal falls victim to orthodoxy, and oftentimes purist attitudes can lead to stagnation and, ultimately, irrelevance. Consider the blues: The genre started in a very specific culture in the U.S. with a very specific sound, but has influenced all genres of rock music. If blues purists had their way, there wouldn’t have been a Black Sabbath or Led Zeppelin.
Despite the resistance, tenacious artists like Leviathan, Krieg and Absu blazed the trail for bands like Black Anvil, Vorde, Wolves in the Throne Room and a host of other U.S. bands that draw influences from European black metal and filter them through their own experience. Yellow Eyes are part of the relatively new crop of bands that embrace the black metal aesthetic, but are more concerned with making great music, as opposed to upholding dogma.
Yellow Eyes is the creative manifestation of brothers Will and Sam Skarstad. The band formed in 2010; we asked Will about their creative tear, with releases coming out nearly every year.
What explains the fertile creative well?
Writing music is a vacation from the constraints of ordinary life.
Where is this cabin in the woods located? There aren’t too many rural areas in Brooklyn.
Are there any particular themes or influences that help craft the music?
I’ll leave themes alone. Whoever wants to spot patterns is free to do so. As influences go, there are thousands, all of them tugging in different directions. It can be a Romanian brass band or it can be a song playing at the laundromat. It can be a memory of a place. I don’t always know. What I do know is that we have taken to writing music very quickly. That way you don’t frighten the more fragile ideas into hiding. Then we spend a long time making it better. Sometimes an idea doesn’t reveal itself to be uninteresting until you’ve played it a hundred times.
You've spent some time living in Europe and had some formative experiences there. How did that influence your work in Yellow Eyes?
Living out of your home country can lead to more potent experiences. I don't bring a guitar when I travel, so I'm not actually writing any music, but looking at a war-torn field in Bosnia or feeling deeply alone in Russia are things that will naturally seep into the well.
What countries did you live in?
I've spent the most significant time in Russia, Norway and the Czech Republic. Sam in Iceland, France and Denmark.
What drew you to Eastern Europe?
We have roots in Norway, not Eastern Europe. What brought me to Prague was a job and a pretty indifferent attitude about where I was going to live for a while. I knew very little about that part of the world when I moved, but I'm very glad it's where I ended up.
Was that the first time you’ve traveled overseas?
When I was 18, I took a year off before college and spent three months in a tent in Madagascar. Our parents are in the arts and were encouraging of a different sort of lifestyle, luckily.
The term “National Socialism” was coined in the Czech Republic. Did you run into any issues with that sort of ideology?
When we played in Europe, we were guilty until proven innocent a lot of the time. It's incredibly frustrating, but reasonable considering the history.
Where did the band form?
The idea for the band came together in the Czech Republic. Shortly after returning to New York, we properly started writing.
Did you have the concept of a full band, touring and releasing records, or did you think it would be a two-man or solo project?
No concept, no expectations. If you think too hard, you can kill it. It was a strange time in our lives, and it was a salve to work on something tangible.
People in the press love to lump bands together and call it a “scene." Do you feel that Yellow Eyes are part of a USBM scene?
Someone during this tour asked me what state we represented. He was probably just asking where we were from, but when I thought about the question in the way he'd phrased it, I couldn't come up with a quick answer. We record in the woods in Connecticut. The band was born in Prague. We all live in New York currently, but certainly not permanently (although three of the four members are originally from New York). But I don't think living in New York has had any effect on the music at all. I would have had the same thought if someone asked me what country we represented. We're from the U.S., so we're inherently part of the USBM scene, but we've also spent a lot of time traveling, and I think it's safe to say we all feel real connections to (and inspiration from) places far away. For example, I have spent a lot of time in Russia. My girlfriend and I have an apartment in Siberia. Am I Russian? No. Has our music been more inspired by that place than New York City? Definitely.
Most of the European black metal bands have an ideology, be it paganism, Satanism, etc. Do Yellow Eyes have an ideology?
No. We try to make the best black metal songs we can. That's it.
Yellow Eyes have had a fair share of lineup changes. How has this impacted the band’s development?
The biggest change is having Mike [Rekevics] join us on drums. He has more of a metal sensibility than our last drummer, who had a background in jazz. He plays really hard. The guitar interplay defines the band, but the harder drums deepen the impact.
Are there any songs written, or are you starting from raw material?
We are starting from scratch.