Witherfall’s overall third full-length effort, Curse of Autumn, arrives this Friday (5th) via Century Media Records (pre-order here). The follow-up to 2018’s A Prelude To Sorrow introduces listeners to a more personal, dark, and emotional side of the group. We caught up with vocalist Joseph Michael to discuss the album.
I really enjoyed Curse of Autumn, it’s definitely a huge jump in terms of style from Prelude to Sorrow. What was the process like creating this album compared to your prior efforts?
It’s actually the same process. Jake [Dreyer] and I just get together and start writing. The difference is the subject matter, really. Prelude to Sorrow was all about Adam [Sagan] and dealing with Adam’s death, and this record was more personal. A lot of the subject matter is about stuff we had to deal with, trying to get the band to the level that it’s at, and songs like “The River,” about my father dying and me not being able to go to his grave site when it happened. Stuff like that. The process never really changes. It’s just where we are in our lives is the real difference.
I was just going to say, you guys seem to face a lot of difficult challenges after each album. What do you do to push ahead from the unexpected obstacles?
We like to say that every record has casualties, whenever we do a record. And it’s weird, but it’s true. I mean, Nocturnes and Requiems, we lost our engineer. He kind of screwed us over, so we never worked with him again. And then Adam died. Then Prelude was about Adam, and then within like a month of that finishing, the engineer on that record died of a massive heart attack. He was younger than me. And the studio we recorded it in was blown away by Hurricane Michael. And now, obviously, Curse of Autumn, has certain casualties. So we don’t really consider ourselves a van. We’re like a wandering trove of musicians that people jump on the train and fall off at random stops.
I noticed that having this trail of bad luck, your music continues to strengthen despite the downfalls.
Yeah, I mean, I’m sure Jake would agree. Our favorite thing in the world is to write, so we take a lot of pleasure in the writing process. And it doesn’t hurt much that we just basically hang out with each other and drink a ton of wine and stay up all night like we’re little kids.
You definitely experimented with this album. There’s quite the range in styles, which I heard in songs such as “Another Face,” “Tempest,” “As I Lie Awake,” “The River,”and “…and They All Blew Away.” I could probably list all tracks on this album as well as there’s so much flexibility with the overall sound. Can you talk more about having such diversity?
Well, that’s the thing. We don’t decide. We honestly do just sit down and write whatever the hell comes to us. The only song that was already somewhat written was “The Other Side of Fear.” Jake and I had started working on that before Prelude to Sorrow. And in the middle of writing Prelude to Sorrow, that’s when it struck us what the album was about and what all the songs kept pointing to. And “The Other Side of Fear” wasn’t really about that, so we just set it aside and picked it back up on this record. They’re all concept records. Nocturnes is more of an old Stephen King compilation type. The stories have an interwoven theme or at least some binding element or backstory. That’s what Nocturnes was, hence the title. It’s our take on nightmares and dreamscapes, Prelude obviously being about Adam. And this one is like an Anton LaVeyan wish fantasy where you’re compelling the forces of nature to come and wash away all of your enemies from the face of the earth. But yeah, I guess to get back to what you were saying, we don’t really try to do anything on purpose. It just happens. We put in a lot of hours. We start writing around 5:00 PM, and we don’t get done till around 6:00 or 7:00 AM when we’re together.
Keep doing what you’re doing then because it’s just getting stronger after each album. I mean, when I heard the song “Tempest” for the first time, I just got really excited about it. It’s a really good song. It’s heavy. It’s emotional. There’s a lot to it. Usually, some albums die down towards the end, but Curse of Autumn continues to move with great music. Another thing that I noticed about this album, I feel like it challenges your vocal style. It showcases what you can do as a singer. Are there any particular songs for you that were more challenging?
No, nothing I do is challenging. It’s all within the realm of my abilities. Some stuff, you just aren’t used to hearing, like some of the lower guttural fry that’s going on in “The Other Side of Fear.” If you listen closely, you’ll hear it on songs like “We are Nothing” on the last record, but it’s a little more obvious on that song. It’s just stuff I’ve been doing for quite a while. Just with Witherfall, we get to put it all into one piece of music.
Aside from your own music, what has helped you get through these crazy times?
Ironically, politics. For some people, it’s been their downfall. But I don’t want to get into some sermon, but I have my ideas and beliefs. And I’ve gotten a little more active behind the scenes. I did a lot with Senator Jacky Rosen for the GRAMMY Foundation to get some of that relief funding for unemployment benefits for gig workers and such. I’ve been pretty active behind the scenes when it comes to all that. But a lot of people this year, they didn’t quite know what to do with themselves, and they kind of blew their shit up.
It’s definitely been a crazy year. And with us not knowing when concerts are really going to pick up and be normal again, do you guys have any plans for any livestream events?
No, no, we absolutely don’t. We just don’t like those. The thing about this band, which is basically Jake and I, we guide the ship. We have to really be fans of what we’re doing. And I haven’t seen any livestreams that I would set aside time in my day to watch. It’s just not exciting. And I can’t speak for every single performance because obviously I didn’t watch them. I’ve seen a few here and there, but the energy doesn’t seem to be there. I mean, some of them had really good production, and it’s kind of like a cool-looking thing. But you’re playing to nobody. The KISS thing was like a million dollars’ worth of pyro, and they look bored as fuck. I don’t see the upside. I guess maybe a few artists made some money doing it, but I don’t know. It’s not for us.
It’s definitely been a challenging time. Bands are getting creative with some of their livestreams. Some are standard, and then some are creating films with their albums. It’s definitely an innovative time. Now for Sanctuary, is there anything that has changed, any updates from them?
We’re just working on the record. I mean, I have a whiteboard over there to list stuff. It is a weird time. Those guys, they don’t live in the same city. So when Jake and I write, we don’t need the drummer there. We write it like we’re composing music. You can see the staff paper behind me. So we don’t need the band there. Nothing is written with the band. Everything is written on paper first and then demoed into the computer. With Sanctuary, it’s completely different. Lenny [Rutledge]’s way of working, he likes to get in there with Dave and play the riffs and work the riffs. It’s a much different collaboration, so it’s very difficult because I’ll get little pieces of stuff. And then I have to come up with the verse, the chorus, and then they have to get together. And then we all have to marry it. So it’s a completely different way of working. It’s honestly not one that I’m used to. I’m more on the composer side than I am on the singer sitting there, scribbling lyrics, you know?
So it’s two different worlds between the two.
Is there anything else that you wanted to say or add about the new album?
Oh man, besides, I want everyone to buy it? I mean, I want everyone to know that we suffered in the making, in the planning and going around and trying to rearrange everything to comply with all the COVID regulations and all the rescheduling. And that might irk some people that we were working during this thing. But I could see if you work like a carwash, you might want to just stay home and ride it out. But this is our life’s work, and we put everything we have into it, a lot of time and money, effort. And so hopefully, your level of enjoyment matches our level of dedication and sacrifice because I think I got COVID twice making this fucking thing.
I was going to say, you guys flew out to New York to make a video for this.
We were supposed to start in March and in LA to do the drums and pre-production. John and Jim could not fly to LA because Jim’s brother had some really serious surgeries, and he didn’t want to not be able to visit him in the hospital. He didn’t want to get on an airplane and then ended up maybe catching COVID and then not being able to see his brother. So we did all the stuff ourselves, me and Jake, in LA, and then we flew to Indiana to do all the guitars, bass, and vocals. And then we flew to Tampa to do all the mixing, mastering, and then multiple video shoots between LA and New York. I mean, there’s a video for every song on the record.
Is the filming complete for all?
Yeah, Zev Deans, the Ghost director guy, he did “As I Lie Awake.” He’s also doing one for “Tempest,” and “…and All Blew Away.” So they’re working on those right now.
The question for “…and They All Blew Away,” is that video going to be for the long or radio version?
The radio version. I mean, it would cost like 30 grand to do the 15-plus-minute version. Yeah. Oh, we are doing, for Foreplay/Long Time … because we recorded the entire version, and we’re releasing that, I think, as a standalone single with a video with the whole band playing it. So that’s going to be a lot of fun. I grew up with Tom Scholz. I mean, he used to come to my grandfather’s lawnmower shop in upstate New York, and I bought a couple of guitars from him. But yeah, that’s a really sad thing, like when Brad Delp killed himself. If you listen to those lyrics, “It’s been such a long time. I think I should be going,” they gave it a really happy ’70s treatment. But the way we did it, it’s kind of channeling that lonely, depressed, desperate cry for help that really, the lyrics, I think, embody.
Your music always takes a dark turn.
We’re never going to write like power metal about dragons and fucking wizards and demons.
You never know. People do change over time. I’m kidding.
It could get worse.
Are there any specific tracks that are your personal favorite from this record?
I mean, it changes. With other records that aren’t your own, your favorite song on Appetite for Destruction will change or whatever. Right now, it is “Tempest,” actually. It’s a very weird song because the basic structure of the song is very … It’s traditional, almost. I mean, there’s not a lot of odd twists and turns. You have the basic first bridge, interlude, and the big grand finale ending like a lot of songs. It’s just that the melody lines are so long and drawn out that it takes a long time to get from each section. It’s almost nine minutes, but it feels like a five-minute song.
Yeah, it’s a great song. “Another Face,”I think I’ve listened to that the most.
I love the ending. I remember when we came up with that part. That was a fun night.
The ending makes you want to listen to the song again.
It’s got a little ’70s Boston, Queen type thing going on.