The latest album from the California progressive/power metal band Witherfall is The Curse Of Autumn. I caught up with frontman Joseph Michael, who fills us in on the album, how it was affected by the pandemic, the latest on his other band Sanctuary, the arrest of Iced Earth’s Jon Schaffer, and other topics.
Chad Bowar: How did drummer Marco Minneman (Steven Wilson, ex-Ephel Duath) come to join the band?
Joseph Michael: Originally Gergo Borlai was slated to play drums on The Curse of Autumn, but due to the madness of the pandemic and uncertainty for travel, Gergo was unable to fulfill the dates. I contacted Marco and he just happened to be able to get a flight back from Germany in time. We were huge fans of his work and are very glad he was able to do the album.
How did the songwriting process for The Curse Of Autumn compare to your first two albums?
For Jake (Dreyer, guitar) and I the process is always the same. We just sit down together with our instruments and staff paper, drink some wine and write. It’s very Lennon & McCartney-esque.
How was the recording process affected by the pandemic?
Obviously, with all of the health and political strife that was going on over the summer of 2020 it was very tense. Jake and I had to go it alone for the drum recordings (we enlisted Bradley Cook of Slash and Foo Fighters fame) to engineer the drum recordings. Jon and Jim could not make the L.A. sessions due to health issues. All in all we did not lose any time. We finished tracking in Indiana with Jon and Jim, then flew to Tampa (Morrisound) to mix and master. The biggest roadblock
was re-booking flights and hotels.
How has the pandemic affected you personally?
I have had more time to write. I’ve seen so much stupidity this year, that I personally cannot believe the state of the human condition. Between the conspiracy theories running rampant and affecting peoples’ judgement to the fact that the government and corporate elites (with a few exceptions) have not only abandoned the American people and small businesses but have shown outright disdain and contempt towards the citizenry.
What will be your strongest memory of the recording of the album?
Probably recording “The River.” The song is about my father who passed a few years back. When Jon and I discussed the song and how to approach it he told me he wanted to cry when I sang the final take. Let’s just say many tears were shed recording that song.
How has the band’s sound evolved from A Prelude To Sorrow?
I am not sure. I don’t think we go into any particular record with any intent other than to write great songs. Obviously this record is less sad and more angry and regretful.
What inspired your lyrics this time around?
Anger. Contempt. Regret.
What has the response been to the songs you’ve already released from the album?
You know, when Jake and I started Witherfall, we had no real champions in the industry. We ended up self-releasing the album Nocturnes and Requiems because no serious label made an offer. We had some laughable comments as well. No one believed in a “Dark Melodic Metal” concept where the music could be dark but the songs both melodic and intense. No one wanted to hear clean vocals at all. Finally, Philipp Shulte at Century Media contacted us. He actually got what we were going for and it’s been great since. Personally, every release has vindicated us more and more. We are gaining fans with every release and it’s only getting better. Every new record gets a better response both from fans and critics.
These days videos are not played on music TV, but on social media. How important are they in the promotion process?
Very. For The Curse of Autumn we have a video for every song. We brought in some great directors for this album. Zev Deans (Ghost), Brad Cooper, Cig Neutron…
You have some touring planned for later this year. How confident are you that the shows will happen?
We aren’t in control, so we don’t think about it much. We actually will start writing next week and will have another album for 2021 ready to go if the tours are stalled.
How did you become a member of Sanctuary a few years back?
Jon Schaffer. He heard my singing on the first Witherfall record and convinced Lenny to continue the tour as a tribute to Warrel Dane.
How do you approach singing their songs in terms of keeping to the original style vs putting your own spin on them?
The thing is I just sing the songs. I have some similar quirks that Warrel had and the older Refuge Denied stuff is very high falsetto, which is very much in my wheel house.
Can you give us an update on the upcoming Sanctuary studio album?
We have the bones of about 4-5 songs done. We have been talking about who will produce and the signs are pointing to Zeuss. He produced The Year The Sun Died and mixed the first three Witherfall records (Nocturnes and Requiems, A Prelude To Sorrow, Vintage), so it’s kind of a no brainer. We should have an idea soon about when the actual recording will start.
How are you progressing on your solo album, and how has the Patreon response been?
I am always writing for others and have hundreds of songs. I have been so busy the last 7 years I haven’t really put anything of my own out other than older unreleased stuff. I started working on a new album that fills the gaps for me musically between Witherfall, Sanctuary and my songwriting stuff. Patreon was started so when I have the material I will have an established route directly to fans. The Patreon supporters will hear the album first. It’s just kind of an experiment at the moment.
You’ve known and worked with Jon Schaffer for a while. What was your reaction to his arrest in the aftermath of the U.S. Capitol riot?
None of us could have predicted what happened on the 6th at the capitol. Jon obviously has his own beliefs, but we were all surprised that he took the actions he did. No one in Witherfall agrees with using violence to further a political aim, especially when there is no immediate threat to your loved ones. Personally, I hope Jon is ok, I count him as a friend, but in the end we are all adults and responsible for our actions.
What’s currently in your heavy musical rotation?
I have been checking out the new Evergrey singles and they are fantastic. That should be a great tour! Other than that and listening to Into The Mirror Black to prepare for the upcoming tour (30th anniversary) I don’t have much time to listen to music. I spend most of my time writing and recording or marketing my compositions.
Anything else you’d like to mention or promote?
Well, now that you mention it. The 2020 Vintage of “Witherfall Tempest Red Blend” by Charlie & Echo is on presale now. Buy yourself a bottle and listen to The Curse Of Autumn.
(interview published March 4, 2021)