She, Arboreal

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If you go and find the review I wrote for Thrawsunblat’s second opus Thrawsunblat II: Wanderer on the Continent of Saplings you will ascertain how enamored I was with the trio’s eloquent take on folky, misty black metal. A project that once involved Woods of Ypres’ David Gold, it has been kept alive by Joel Violette, who performed on the tragedy stricken Woods V: Grey Skies & Electric Light.

However, another reason to be enamored with the band—beyond their elegant, regal music—is drummer Rae Amitay, a former co-scribe over at (formerly The diminutive Amitay has proven to be not only a respected metal journalist, she is also a formidable drummer for hire, serving with the likes of sludgsters Mares of Thrace and dark thrash metalers Castle. She’s also an absolute sweetheart and I could not resist the chance to interview a close friend and genre shattering, metal femme fatale to not only talk about the deep emotional connection with Thrawsunblat and Woods of Ypres, but also the world of ladies and metal in general…

So, tell me how you became involved with Joel and Thrawsunblat? As I understand it, your were about to join Woods of Ypres before Gold’s tragic death…

After Joel and I performed at the Ypres Metal Fest, we realized how much we liked playing music together. He asked me if I’d listened to his band, Thrawsunblat, and I said that I hadn’t. So, while we were on the plane heading home from Sault Ste Marie to Toronto, he showed me a couple of songs and they blew me away. About a month later, he had me record a YouTube “audition” of sorts, I got the gig, and the rest is history.

Was it difficult at all to perform the Woods of Ypres tribute material? I imagine it was an emotional experience and you were quite honored?

I think the hardest part wasn’t performing in Sault Ste Marie, it was the listening party in Toronto that took place beforehand. Sitting next to Joel, listening to Woods 5, and knowing that we wouldn’t be able to perform it with David was extremely painful. When we played our Woods tribute, it was cathartic and almost overwhelming to be surrounded by so much support and love from David’s family, friends, and fans. It was an honor to be in their presence and to be welcomed into their lives. I’m still in touch with the vast majority of the people I met there, and I think that we’re forever bonded by our shared experience.

Do you think David would have been proud of with Joel’s continuation of the project and how the new album came out? Is is safe to say there is some of his influence in the album?

As for if David would be proud, I can’t answer that. I feel deeply uncomfortable speaking for the departed. I didn’t know David as well as I would have liked, but I do know he had a great sense of humor and was an unbelievably good drummer. Having said that, maybe he’d wish there were some more blast beats. He kicked my ass at those. But I know that he had a tremendous amount of respect for Joel as a musician and a friend, and I can’t imagine that he wouldn’t have supported the continuation of Thrawsunblat.

The recordings were done in different countries right? How difficult was that and what was the process like?

Brendan (Hayter-bassist)  and I recorded our bass and drum parts in Massachusetts. Joel recorded his vocals and guitars in Canada. We had some great people helping us out in both countries, and they made the process as smooth as possible. Siegfried Meier and Dan Gonzalez deserve gold medals. Dan engineered my drums and I believe he handled Brendan’s bass recording as well. My guest vocals were engineered by Evan Berry. The album was produced by Joel [Violette] and Siegfried Meier. They also engineered it along with Dan’s contribution. Siegfried mixed and mastered the record.

Tell me a little about the online fundraising process that helped you release the album? It must be warming to know that actual fans of the band—and music—helped make this album possible.

Right, of course. Well, our fundraising platform was a little unconventional, but I came up with it after realizing that Kickstarter would end up taking 10% of our proceeds. So we basically went with the Kickstarter template but we designed a Facebook-page for it, and used PayPal instead. We weren’t sure how it was going to work out, but the almost instantaneous show of support had me floored. And for the record, none of our parents or family members had to donate in order for us to make our goal! It was all made possible by incredibly generous people who wanted to see our album and band succeed. It means the world to me, especially when metal can be so competitive and close-fisted. This was the exact opposite.

Did Joel have the material written and you record the drum tracks or did you have some creative input in the writing process?

Joel had mostly all of his guitar parts written, and had a bunch of drum ideas already. He gave me a lot of freedom though, which was a lot of fun. After I recorded drums, he recorded his guitars and ended up changing some things around in order to better rhythmically fit what I was playing. So, I had a bunch of creative input when it came to my drums, but the riff writing, song structures, etc. all came from him.

The other bands I know you have played with are more sludgy, hardcore or thrashy. Was it a change to play a more back metal style or have you dabbled in the style before?

Well after David asked me to join Woods of Ypres, I majorly stepped up my black metal game. Anyone familiar with Woods knows that there’s a lot of blasts and rapid-fire fills going on, so I had to strengthen and develop those skills in order to prep for our Canadian rehearsals and subsequent European tour. Even though those plans never ended up being fulfilled, the hours I poured into building those chops gave me the ability to drum for Thrawsunblat down the road.

There are a few songs on the album that stand out mood/texture wise; “Lifelore Revelation” and the two ‘shanties’ “Goose River” and “Maritime Shores”. What are your thoughts on those drastic temp and mood changes?

I love those shanties! I think the changes in mood make the album’s pace pretty unique. We have really intense and evil-sounding songs like “Borea (Pyre of a Thousand Pine)”, and then songs that channel Joel’s love for his Maritime home in a pure folk kind of way. The contrast is fairly extreme, but I enjoy how the album paces itself and doesn’t commit completely to one genre. We get to explore a lot of different styles while still creating something that (I find) cohesive.

 Joel seems to be channeling David Gold’s mournful clean vocals throughout the album was he trying to do that intentionally as an homage or did it just come out that way?

Joel has a natural, melancholy quality to his voice that I’ve always found captivating. I first heard it last year when we were sending demos back and forth in preparation for the Ypres Metal Fest. I don’t think it was an intentional homage, although he’d be able to answer that, but the album does deal with themes of loss. Joel expresses that not only lyrically, but also through his vocal performances

Musically, I hear some Borknagar, Vintersorg and in the album’s latter stages and heavier Celtic vibe, akin to Suidakra. Are those references you and the band are comfortable with, or are you guys one of those bands that say ‘we don’t sound like anyone, we have our own sound!”?

It’s funny you should say that. I actually was listening to a lot of Suidakra recently and picked up on some similarities. I asked Joel about it and he said while it was totally unintentional, he thought it was a really cool comparison and he is a big fan of theirs. I think we do have our own sound, which will only be established more as we create more material, but I’d say most every band is influenced by the other bands they listen to, whether or not they’ll admit it

Did you go back and listen to the first Thrawsunblat release, Canada 2010, to get a idea and base for this recording?

I listened to the first album a lot, because I wanted to do David’s drumming justice while still having my own unique “voice”. Like I said, Joel had a lot of the drums already planned out, and was pretty certain of the album’s direction long before we ever stepped foot in the studio.

 So whats next for you and Thrawsunblat? I imagine touring is hard with the multinational lineup. Has Joel indicated that he’d like you back for the next release? 

Well, we’re open to the idea of playing live, although it’s something that would require a great deal of planning. I think it’s safe to say that Thrawsunblat will take the stage at some point, although the time and place has yet to reveal itself. Joel and I are already bouncing ideas around. If he’s planning on replacing me, he’s being very indirect about it! I’m kidding. To me, we’re more than just a recording project, we’re a band of close friends and collaborators. I think our future together is bright.

 Whats next for you personally? You’re a drummer for hire of sorts. Anything coming up?

I’ve got some shows coming up with Castle that I’m excited for, but other than that I’m focusing a ton on my own project (details forthcoming) and working on Thrawsunblat-related material.

No hints on your own project?

Ok! I can give hints! I’m doing a lot of the songwriting on my own, which has been a challenge. But I love it. It’s a new role for me, and I’m optimistic about how things are sounding so far. I’ve assembled a tentative live lineup, and in the studio I plan on performing drums and vocals. Live, I think I’d like to spend some time behind the mic instead of the kit. We’ll see what happens.

So let’s talk a little outside of Thrawsunblat. You are a respected metal writer — does being a metal critic become a boon or a burden when writing/performing in actual bands and vice versa? Does being in a band hinder or help being a critic? Will being a writer help or hinder what you write in your upcoming project?

Well, being a music critic doesn’t specifically have any bearing on the music I create, but it has exposed me to a ton of music that has inspired me and opened my ears to new sounds. But being a metal critic has become more and more of a conflict, and I have to be careful about whose albums I review. The metal world is very close knit, and I’m fortunate enough to call a number of metal musicians my friends. So, I have to take that into consideration when choosing what to review. I would never allow personal friendship to compromise my journalistic integrity, but I’d rather avoid that kind of accusation altogether by not writing about bands I’ve played with or befriended. In the past it’s been a small issue, so I’ve learned from that

Being a female drummer in the male dominated world of metal drumming — is there any added pressure or incentive to be a role model for young girls wanting to get into drumming or metal as whole?

I actually feel a strange lack of pressure. If I’ve inspired any women to pick up a pair of sticks and start playing, I’m completely unaware of it. I think I’ve avoided addressing the whole “female” thing so vehemently that I’ve dodged that “female role model” bullet almost entirely. I was included in the most recent issue of Tom Tom Magazine, however, and that’s a magazine that sheds light on female drummers. I’m interested to see what, if any, sort of role that may create for me in that particular drumming community. I’ve exposed a lot of my female friends to metal, whether it’s through giving them albums or having them come see me play, so in that regard I’ve ‘converted’ a few ears. When I first started drumming, I can honestly say that I never once looked around for a female role model. For me, it was just about emulating the drummers I admired the most. I don’t think it registered that being a woman in this field was anything out of the ordinary, although of course I recognize that now. Still, it doesn’t affect how I go about pursuing opportunities. If anyone has felt inspired after hearing me play, male or female, that’s a huge honor.

 Any parting words for the readers of this interview?

Check out the new Thrawsunblat album. Be kind to one another. Goodnight, and good luck.


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