Interview – White Ward: ”It is a little more difficult now because sometimes my head is full of other things”

”During a blackout, we can just buy a diesel generator for the rehearsal space. So, don’t worry, it will not stop us!”

One of the best albums of 2022 happens to come from a band who does not play metal the way you are used to it. It is also a band whose members have had the toughest year possible – being from Ukraine, based in Odesa. White Ward and Yurii Kazaryan speak about contrasts, epicness, cliches and saxophone in metal, and, of course, let us know everything we wonder about the war from civilian perspective: mobilization, air alarms and an ordinary day that never is ordinary.

Thinking of White Ward’s music, I think of contrasts. Light/dark, heavy/soft, clean/harsh metal/jazz – is contrast an important element that you focus on when making music?

– Of course, the contrast in our music is an essential tool that serves multiple purposes. 

– Contrast is one of the good ways to make music more diverse and interesting. I often look at music from a cinematic point of view, where we have the intro part, culminating action scenes, final scenes, etc. So, I think this contrast created by dark jazz of ambient parts with samples, for example, helps to make such a cinematic atmosphere. 

How interesting! I often vision the music cinematically when I listen to metal.  

– We can go even deeper into the topic of cinematic – when you want to convey the right atmosphere and introduce the listener to the aesthetical concept, then non-metal parts with a wide spectrum of instruments, sounds, and samples really help in this case. In my perfect imagination, as a metaphor for my vision, I can say that these parts should be perceived like a movie without pictures. 

In reviews of your music, I see descriptions like “unique”, “innovative” and “experimental”. Is that how you yourself regard White Ward? 

– You know, honestly, I don’t really like all these tags and we don’t use them by ourselves. I don’t think we are really an experimental band, because for me “experimental” is something like “avantgarde” music such as Mr. Bungle, for example, in case of experimenting with genres or Gorguts’ Obscuraif to talk about experimenting with sound based on note intervals and sizes/rhythm. But it is my personal view on these things – maybe for someone else our music is experimental and I am OK with this too. I even can agree that if to compare our music to classical 90s black metal then maybe yes, we are “experimental”. 

– We personally use only the word “deviant” in relation to our music and it has a pretty simple meaning: Our music is based on black metal but it has some – or even many – deviations from most traditional representations of the genre. 

In an interview with Mykola Lebed [piano on False Light], he said that he avoided sounding “too epic” because it would make the music pathetic. So… do you also, White Ward, avoid sounding “epic”? 

– I approximately understand what Mykola means with “epic” but it again could be pretty subjective. When I think about “epic” in metal I think of music like Blind Guardian or solos by Geoge Lynch from Dokken! [here Yurii laugh] 

– We never try to avoid something, because our writing process is very natural, we just create what we like. If during the writing process of the solo I improvised and played a cool epic 80s-style bend or tapping and I hear that it fits and sounds cool then why not use it? Of course, there are some types of riffs or harmonies that I avoid in White Ward, not because of any clichés, but because I just understand that they will not fit our musical concept. But even here sometimes could be exclusions and globally I think that the question is not about any single riffs but about the whole sound of the album or band. 

Okay. So, any other metal clichés do you keep away from? 

– I am a big fan of horror, like movies, literature and games and so on, and I think horror could be a perfect example here. You know that there are a lot of different horror cliches like all these ghosts, maniacs, screamers, old houses et cetera. You can use it all in a most primitive way and you will receive an absolutely typical shitty B-movie. But at the same time, there are some absolutely awesome horrors with a unique style and atmosphere with a very high and artistic level of production. “Mandy” by Panos Cosmatos is a very good example – an awesome movie with a not-standard visual aesthetic, awesome music by Johann Johannsson and Stephen O’Malley from Sunn O))) and just an attractive magical and mystical atmosphere. But at the same time, there is an evil religious sect, pinhead-style monsters narcos, and even a chainsaw battle in the movie. And all those so called cliches are perfectly implemented and make the film even better. 

Back to the contrasts, what do you think the saxophone brings to the atmosphere of your music?

– Very simple – it is the noir vibe. But regarding the clichés: we can say that the saxophone and trumpet are cliché instruments of jazz soundtracks from noir movies, but we anyway use them. Why? Just because we like it. 

– Again and again, clichés are not bad – bad is when you use them badly. 

I recently read that a Swedish metal band after the release of their album found mistakes and flaws they regretted not having fixed. What about False Light? Is it a perfect album?

– I think it will be really difficult to find an artist who will be 100 per cent satisfied with his work. Every time when I start to listen to the album when mixed and already sent to the factory (cd/vinyl manufacturing I mean) I find moments that could be made better. Or sometimes even during mixing you want to make something better and work on it even more, but then you understand that it is already the 10th iteration of the mix and if you will continue then it will be like a perfectionist’ jerking off, so it’s time to stop.

– With every release and as we gain experience, then such moments are becoming less and less each time. So, for now, False Light is the most satisfying album for me. 

But after having played the album live and maybe gotten another feeling for the songs/the different parts in the songs – would you have done things differently today?

– For the live shows, yes, some parts we play a little differently because during rehearsals sometimes we found some better variations on how to play it. But most such cases refer to the first album and some to the second one. 

– Also, sometimes we simplify some parts, like guitar solos. Because for recording I can play some shred parts from the 20th attempt, but for live performance it is too much for me now. It is better to play it more simply instead of sounding like chaotic shit.

What is the movie sample we hear in Silence Circles?

– This sample is from “Possession” by Andrzej Żuławski. Some of the issues that are touched upon in this movie are connected to the lyrical theme of this song. Also, this sample helps to introduce the listener to the song’s theme and create the needed atmosphere. It is again about the cinematic representation I told you about earlier. 

I have seen the More Music Club (Odesa) gig on YouTube (17thsept). In the end you say that the air alarm has sounded and therefore you cannot play more songs. At home – do you go for shelter when you hear the air alarm, or are you getting used to it and keep on doing what you do? 

– It depends. First months of course me and my girlfriend went to the shelter or at least went down to the 1st or 2nd floor to the safe space near the elevator in our house. Then we started to relax and stopped going to the shelter because there were almost no missile strikes inside the city line. Then there was a moment when I heard the sound of flying missiles right above our house and one of them hit a high multi-apartment house in another district: Several people died, including a young mother with a 2-month-old baby. Or there was a moment when Russians started to use Iranian kamikaze drones. We heard them sometimes and one even hit a building that is 50 meters from our rehearsal space. After such moments, if there are alarms, then we usually go to the shelter for at least some days before the strikes period ends.

– But of course, it is not okay and I understand it because even though there is a very small risk that a missile will hit your house but it is still a risk and it can happen at any moment. We are used to such a way of life, bored of multiple alarms, 3-4 during the day sometimes, and maybe we just treat it like fatalists. But I am sure that, unfortunately, there are already a lot of people who were killed because of that fatalism.  

– But this is only my personal experience and what I know about some people around me. I am sure that there are also people who use shelter every alarm and they are absolutely right. You know, before February 24th almost everyone would had tell you that you are mad if you would like to buy a nuclear bomb shelter or make a month’s stock of provisions and water. But what would they say now? Now everything can happen at any moment. We even have no real guarantee that the next missile strike will be not nuclear, for example. 

So what is a normal day in Odesa now a days. We have little inside information. 

– Well, now it very much depends on the situation. Last week there was a big problem with electricity so sometimes we needed to find a place, a cafe or coworking, with electricity or a generator to work or finish an interview and charge your devices because there was no electricity at home for more than 50 hours. Sometimes we are just enjoying a stone age period at home reading books and playing chess or cards in the light of candles. 

– Before all these strikes on energy infrastructure, we had pretty simple days very similar to pre-war times: people working, visiting cafes, and bars, shopping, and even visiting concerts or theaters. We are not in a frontline city and don’t have everyday shelling, so people can allow themselves to live normally. And it is absolutely normal because the economic system of Ukraine must work, the business must work and people need to be active and effective to have the ability to earn money, in order to later donate it to the army and volunteers too. It is all a big mechanism where every component depends on another. In any case, we all remember and know what is happening and follow it every day. 

– But of course, when the first shock started to fade and life began to return to normal it seemed a little strange. I felt a little ashamed that I live, so to say, normal at the same time as our guys are fighting and dying in cold trenches. But then you understand that depression and apathy will not help us win the war, so we need to be full of power to work even more effectively to be the reliable rear of the army and help provide it with everything needed. 

How do you find time to focus on music with the war and the missiles and now the lack of electricity because of the terror war from Russia?

– It is a little more difficult now because sometimes my head is full of other things. But in general, we still have time and interest to work on music almost the same as before because we really like it and it is a big part of our lives. And of course, in this case, it is also our instrument in this war. 

– For example, during the last mini-tour, we earned 2000+ euros that we donated to some army units to help them buy some important equipment. 

– Technically we find solutions to work on the music even in a blackout. For example, I can play guitar with a laptop and soundcard and for rehearsal space, we can just buy a diesel generator. So, don’t worry, it will not stop us!

You recently played in Prague. How come you can leave Ukraine to play gigs outside the border? I have heard this was not allowed for men? 

– Because of the mobilization law men can’t just leave the country. But fortunately, you can send an application to our Ministry Of Culture and they can give you a permission to travel outside Ukraine with concerts if you are a musician or with another cultural mission. Of course, not 100 per cent of the applications are being approved, but if you will really prove that you are a real band that will play real shows, then you have very high chances. Even some really underground screamo and punk bands were allowed to go and play in EU countries. 

– Of course, there are some scumbags who leave Ukraine and never come back, and that undermines confidence in musicians but fortunately, it is still a pretty rare incidents. 

Could you and your friends be asked to join the forces any day, going to military training and being sent to the front? How are your thoughts about this?

– Yes, it can happen. For now, we still have a total mobilization but, fortunately, there are really a lot of people who joined the army by their own wishes so for now there are enough people. But we understand that it is possible that if the situation will become critical or just war will keep going for a long time then It may be our turn too. I still think that I am much more effective as a cultural and economic unit than as a soldier and I don’t know if will I pass the medical tests or not because I have really poor eyesight and a big titanium plate in my arm. But if yes, then I will be ready to serve for the good of Ukraine and not only – in this case I will fight for our collective future. 

Titanium? What happened?

– I seriously broke my hand during a lifting workout and needed surgery with a plate that fixes the bone. It was almost three months without a guitar at all. But even with one hand and guitar pro software, I composed almost all of the Debemur Morti EP.

What are the plans for 2023 and for a new album – despite the war? 

– Can’t tell you anything really weight about the new album – it is just in the concept creation stage. But now we work on a new single that should be very unique and important – details later. 

– Also, we hope for a couple of big tours and a lot of festivals next year. Working on it now! Keep tuned and you will see. 

Torbjörn Hallgren

* * *

Bara Metal also asked Yurii how to support Ukraine. Yurii listed three things:

  • Support our army with money;
  • Push for more military aid from your governments;
  • Oppose Russian propaganda and narratives in social media and news.
    This is the main help we need to win this war faster and defend the principles and values of the modern civilized world.
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