When a band achieves the perfect balance in every way on their music, only great things come out of it. Rheia is Oathbreaker‘s third album and it’s their most ambitious, in-depth effort to date. Just before they released this outstanding album, we caught up with Caro and Gilles to know deeper how was it like to work on Rheia.
It’s been three years since you released your brutally amazing album, Eros|Anteros (2013), and now you’re going to release your third full-length. Each album showcased your growth as a band and as musicians. With Rheia, it feels like you achieved the perfect balance between heavy and soft music. What was your mindset while going into writing it?
Gilles: I know that with Eros|Anteros it was the first time we tried clean vocals and after we recorded it, it was stuck in my mind like “Do something with clean vocals and do more of this combination.” It had been two years of just thinking about how to approach this and not sound like a Nightwish cover band, you know? [laughs] It basically took us so long to figure out a way to do it. I knew I liked the combination, but didn’t know how to make it sound like Oathbreaker, like us and not like anyone else. I didn’t want to try to sound like something that already existed, so we just did so much demos and wrote a lot of stuff. It took us a while, but we got there and I think it’s an interesting combination. I feel like this is where Oathbreaker needs to be… Since the start that it has been something missing. After every record, I was kind of bummed out [laughs] like “Oh fuck, we could have done this a lot better” and this is the first time ever in 15 years of making music that I’m like “Yes! Yes! I’m fucking excited about everything on this record.”
Caro: Yeah, this is basically the same to me. We tried out so many things and it took us so long to figure out how to make that work, and now that it did, I’m just super excited to hear that people are also excited about what we’ve worked on for so long.
What records or artists were you listening to during the creative process of this album?
Caro: That’s so hard because we listen to so many bands. What I feel that is more important to this record is that our influences or for some reason we’ve succeed it to translate what we were listening to at the time more than we did before… I would be listening to some bands and Gilles would be listening to some other bands and I’m pretty sure that Lennart listened to other bands and Ivo as well. To me, what was really important creatively was that I was listening to a lot more electronic bands, for example Gazelle Twin to older bands like Angels of Light… There’s so many things and it’s so hard. [laughs]
Gilles: Lyrical wise, it was kind of inspiring to me. I didn’t write the lyrics, but everything like Mark Kozelek – like Sun Kil Moon related – basically what’s really interesting is that it’s so honest. Lyrical wise, Eros|Anteros and Mælstrøm (debut album, 2011) are beating around the bush a lot.
Caro: It’s like the feelings that I had when I wrote Eros|Anteros or Mælstrøm, I wouldn’t say they were the same as with this record. It’s very similar, but it’s a whole different to write the lyrics. It wasn’t hard to be honest, but just writing down what you feel can be very straightforward and I think I was really scared about doing that because you expose yourself and it’s really hard to do that just like that. I think it asked for a lot of courage to try and be as honest as possible, and I think writing lyrics for Rheia… If you read the lyrics, they’re very straightforward and honest. I put myself out there, which was the first time to me and so I’m very excited that it worked out. Like Gilles said, Mark Kozelek is one of the persons that succeeds doing that and I’m very humbled by how he writes his lyrics. The mindset to write the lyrics on this record was just that I felt like in my entire life I kept looking around in circles and always arriving in the same point in the time where I’m like “How the fuck did I end up being here again? It’s the same as it was a year ago and two years ago…” I think that was kind of a breakthrough to me right before we started writing Rheia. I talked a lot about things, which is also very new to me. I usually tend to keep things to myself. I lost my grandmother in that year and that was the first time ever I lost someone really close to me. Some of my relationships ended really badly and these are things that I just wondered like “What am I doing wrong? What is going on that I keep ending up the same way as I did before?” Me and Gilles actually talked a lot about this for almost a year, talking and talking about my childhood, how I was raised, how my relationship with my parents is, how this influenced me and being who I am… This record is so self-reflective because for the first time ever I thought about all these things and I actually talked about them to someone that is really close to me – Gilles for example. He pushed me kind of into like “Hey, all these things that you’re being so honest about right now, you can write this down. If you stop trying to write down nice words and just make this a very self-reflective kind of ‘this is who I am’ record, then this is going to be amazing.” I tried to do that and it’s not easy, but it’s how Rheia ended up being.
Gilles: It makes people really uncomfortable if you tell the truth. It’s so easy to be in a band and just talk about real stuff, it’s easy to like “Hey, this song is about blablabla” but not in those words and it’s a lot harder and people get really weird if you tell them the truth, like “You know, this happened and I felt this way.” The stuff that Caro wrote down is the stuff that she told me. I’ve known Caro for 16 years or more and that’s stuff that I’ve never known about her and I’m pretty sure that people close to her will read her lyrics of this new record that they don’t even know about Caro. In a way, it will be like a really eye opening record for people who know her.
Caro: This record feels much more personal than Eros|Anteros and Mælstrøm did, that’s why I think in a way it’s personal to each and every one of us of course because we made it, but writing down what you feel it has made it really close to my heart.
Caro, I must say that your vocal approach for this album is beautifully sharp, you balance perfectly your melodic and scream parts with such strength and elegance. How was the process for you to create these vocal dynamics so well?
Caro: I think most of all it was really hard and tough. [laughs] I’ve been just screaming in bands since I was 13 years old, and so it’s like your comfort zone and it’s something that you’re so comfortable with that there’s nothing that really can go wrong, you know? It’s just what you do with what you do and then you feel comfortable doing that. So, pushing out of that zone was really challenging. We tried really hard and long, I even took some singing classes just to make sure that I knew I could do that, but I didn’t know how to be able to combine it with screaming. It was very hard. [laughs] But I think it worked out really well.
Gilles: Yeah! The live shows will be challenging. [laughs]
“The main theme around the whole record was that my conclusion that from my entire life I kind of took care of people a lot and everyone that is close to me knows that I always take care of everyone, but no one has ever really taken care of me…” Caro
Can you tell me the meaning behind the word Rheia and its connection to the album?
Caro: Actually it has a Greek methodology reference to it, but it doesn’t have to mean that we’re obsessed with Greek methodology because Eros|Anteros is obviously also in that same vibe. Rheia is basically the mother of Gods, but she didn’t get any credits for it for being that. Basically what it has to do with the record is that when I wrote all the lyrics and the whole vibe of the record, the main theme around the whole record was that my conclusion that from my entire life I kind of took care of people a lot and everyone that is close to me knows that I always take care of everyone, but no one has ever really taken care of me…
Gilles: Like you’re always on your own.
Caro: Yeah, that’s basically it and so Rheia is the same thing in her story. It fit on the record really well, so why not go with that, you know?
Gilles: I was just looking for stuff and suddenly Rheia was in the corner of my eye, “Hey, this is really nice” and then I read it and it was like “Holy shit, this makes so much sense.” It wasn’t even supposed to be the title or anything, but it made so much sense after everything that we went with that.
Caro: It had to be that.
Rheia has dense atmosphere sounds, but there’s always room to breathe between songs, like in the acoustic track “Stay Here / Accroche-Moi”. How did you come up with that song?
Caro: Gilles wrote this song completely acoustically and honestly in the recording process it was one of the most beautiful things that we’ve ever done, but we recorded it in the same room. He recorded his acoustic guitar live in the same room and so we were facing each other doing this with one mic in the middle, one with me and one with him. Me and Gilles have been together for a very long time and this song is kind of about that. When I wrote the lyrics I felt like “This is me and him doing this song and it’s probably just going to be me and him performing the song live as well, if we can do that.” The lyrics are about that he can hang on to me and I’ll just carry him around whenever he wants it or needs it, I’ll just take care of his burdens and I’ll take it with me. How down I am at the time it doesn’t really matter, I’ll just take care of him for always.
Gilles: And because we were the only ones left, it was one of the last things we did in the recording process and even Lennart had to go home because he had to play with Amenra and Ivo had to work. They had to leave early and so it was basically just us in the studio, in one room with one mic in the middle without any other pedals and stuff. It was just us as honest as we could be. There are little mistakes in the guitar parts and it’s not all good. It’s like this is just as naked as Oathbreaker can get.
Caro: Also in the recording process, I think this is the second take or something. I think we tried it three times and we didn’t go for the perfectness of playing the guitar parts or singing, that atmosphere was so important. We went with the take that when we listen to it there’s an actual feeling and that’s basically the thread through the whole record. Every take that we did, every song that we recorded is different from Eros|Anteros in a way that we didn’t want to perform perfectly, but we concentrated on how the music felt – the ambience and atmosphere – instead of trying to nail every hit, every pitch and every note.
Gilles: And that’s basically Jack’s [Shirley, producer]. We recorded with Jack, who worked with Deafheaven and Loma Prieta, and he has such a different approach to recording than we’re used to. Instead of doing everything perfectly, he was like “Yeah, whatever, this feels good, just learn to love it. This is the take and you shouldn’t do 10 more, because all the feelings get bumped out if you play that a million times.” It was like “This is the take, let’s do this and every little scratch just leave it there.” I’m really glad that we did that because we just started recording with my other band and this is the way I like to do it. It’s a lot less stressful and it’s honest. That’s basically in all parts of this record, we wanted it to be clear and honest instead of just covering everything up, you know?
The tracks “I’m Sorry, This Is”, “Where I Live”, and “Where I Leave” seem in a way connect as a sequence. What can you tell me about that?
Gilles: Music wise, “Where I Live” was the first song of those three songs that we wrote for Rheia and so we were still kind of searching for what we wanted and where we wanted to go. The first idea for this record was doing a three-piece song. I didn’t know how or what we would do, but the basic idea was having an electronic song that goes into a fast song that goes into a slower song and everything is based around one chord. I don’t know if that makes sense, but you can basically pick that one chord through a 15-minute of music or I don’t know how long a three-piece thing is, and that was just kind of a thing that I’ve been wanting to do for a long time. It took a while because you’re stuck in that one chord and so I asked Dehn Sora from Treha Sektori to help me out with all the electronic stuff. I showed him what we play and he came up with this amazing Haxan Cloak folk style thing and that’s the first song and all the intermezzo in between.
Caro: Because it was such an idea to do the three-piece, when writing the entire lyrics of this record. I always have to have a whole done to something like a basic ID for the whole record, not just writing down and we’ll see where it gets you. I need to have themes, otherwise I can’t construct a good atmosphere, you know? I basically wrote down for the first three songs things that are very self-reflected like where did I come from, what happened in my childhood, what’s going on that got me to this point… and then what other things that people know of me and that I know of myself that’s basically the first part. The second part is more what people don’t know about me and I know but I can’t share to them or I don’t know how to share to them, so it’s basically like more secrets. The last part is like this thread of three songs that are one piece, which are the things that people know about me but I don’t really see for myself, things that a lot of people around me have known for a long time but I’ve never realized and I didn’t dig deep enough to figure them out. That’s most of the lyrics on these two songs, because on the first song there’s not really lyrics, there’s just a sample on it. But the sample is very important! We figured out that it would be cool to have me just talking on this sampler and so it’s basically me and Gilles sitting in living room and I just told him two stories – one of my dad and one of my mother, who are separated and so two memories that I have of them, very harsh memories. We blended those two stories and so it becomes one story, but it’s actually two separated stories and that’s the sampler.
Gilles: I think the main thing is that… The second song is about Caro’s extreme expectations on life and then the third song is where all those expectations collapse, where they can’t be reached, and all that stuff is like rooted in her youth and so that’s why the first song has the story about her mom and the story about her dad… and the sampler underneath it we went to this local kindergarten school just to record children playing and so it’s basically the announcement of like this is the childhood part.
“It wasn’t hard to be honest, but just writing down what you feel can be very straightforward and I think I was really scared about doing that because you expose yourself and it’s really hard to do that just like that” Caro
The album ends with the mesmerizing track “Begeerte”. Was it a conscious decision to end it in such ethereal way?
Gilles: Music wise, it was definitely intentional. We kind of wanted to end the record with a mix of electronic and non-electronic, because the original idea was to have that on an electronic song too, but then working with Jack we were like “Hey, we can try and make beats with acoustic instruments.” Because we tried to do our record as a whole, we put a lot of effort in intros, outros, intermezzos… People want to listen to records like “We’re gonna listen to it from the first song to the last song and not just separated stuff” and so that’s why I felt like it needed to end with something that is an ender, like the final chapter in the book.
Caro: Lyrical wise, I started thinking about how to end this and what is the conclusion, you know? It has to be an ender… The lyrics itself are really private, it’s hard to explain to you what they’re about, but the mindset in the beginning was “Where am I going with this? Where do I go?” and that’s the mindset for this song. After being so selfish in the whole record, you need to have a certain conclusion. [laughs] That’s what this song is about.
The album’s cover art has this striking visual. What’s the concept behind that image?
Caro: The concept behind it is basically the entire thing of being honest and self-reflective. It got us thinking about working with some kind of outer layer on top of skin that you can break out of it or you can stay in it. We had this huge water tank filled with a thousand liters of water.
Gilles: Fucking ice cold water. [laughs]
Caro: We hang myself to a crane and then we dipped my body in the water, and while putting myself in the water, we poured hot candle wax on top of the surface. When the candle wax touches the surface of the water, it stays liquid but the outer shell hardens and so if it stays liquid in the middle and you dip body parts in it or skin in it, the hot wax will stick to your skin and makes crazy shapes… That’s basically what we did with putting myself in hot candle wax on a crane with a thousand liters of cold water.
Gilles: We did it twice because the first time Caro had all these burden wounds just because it was extremely hot.It’s just like putting your hand in a lit candle.
Caro: It’s really hot! [laughs] And I think the problem was that when you’re in the water you feel like “Ok, there’s some cold” and that’s a good idea and you don’t want to get out of that water, but when you pull out it starts burning again because the inside is not hot yet and so you can’t pull it off because it’s liquid, so you just have to stay in the water and hold on to it until it’s completely hard. But the shapes were really interesting, it was so beautiful and that’s how we got the whole album’s artwork.
Gilles: The interesting thing about that is we talked about “It should look like you’re tearing off skin or layers” and it did. The cover is mine and Caro’s hands together, so I had a taste of how that felt. [laughs] It’s literally like tearing off skin, it hurts so much just like tearing off all candle wax off your skin. Half of my body hair was gone. [laughs] Lyrical and musical wise, listening to the record it hurts and I wanted it to hurt, you know?
Caro: There’s a lot of almost awkward painful moments in the record and that’s exactly how that felt.
Gilles: Caro was half naked in a fucking box of thousand liters of cold water and that’s awkward and painful at the same time.
Caro: It fit the vibe of the record so well.