Six Feet of Earth and All that it Contains

feature image

Now this was a fun and interesting interview. Well, we think so anyway and hope that you’ll agree. Considering Scott Alisoglu and myself both found the music of Wooden Stake – particularly new full-length Dungeon Prayers & Tombyard Serenades – to be an intelligently constructed (lyrically and musically), compellingly horrific, and rather unique brand of doom metal, we thought it a smashing idea to conduct a joint interview with bassist/vocalist/lyricist Vanessa Nocera. Vanessa constitutes exactly one half of the prolific pair and also runs the mighty Razorback Records with husband Billy. Wooden Stake’s other equally important half is ubiquitous guitarist/drummer Wayne Sarantopoulos, about whom you may have heard because of his membership in a multitude of other acts, including Decrepitaph, Festered, Encoffination, and Beyond Hell. All that’s left to do now is unleash the hounds, open the gates, let the games begin, and get this party started. Do it!

Jodi Michael: How cool is it to be releasing albums on your own label Razorback Recordings?

Vanessa: It’s been a great accomplishment! To think I was considering giving up on music for the past couple of years, and now I’m helping run a record label and I’m writing and performing music again! I’ve been working overtime the past few months.

Scott Alisoglu: Can you take us back to the origins of Wooden Stake? The feeling I get is that the band’s formation was the realization of a vision you had for the complete musical/lyrical horror/doom package.

Vanessa: Wayne had a song that he was working on and sent it my way. I really liked the feel of the music and heard a vocal pattern right away. The lyrical theme formed instantly, so I wrote lyrics, did my vocals and bass, and the next thing we knew we had the track “Forbidden Oath,” which is still one of my favorite songs that we’ve done. From there we started working on more songs and it formed into an occult/horror doom metal band!

Scott Alisoglu: Wayne Sarantopoulos is no stranger to Razorback Recordings, so I can’t say I’m surprised to find him as one half of Wooden Stake.  The guy is nothing short of a riff machine.  How does this partnership work with regard to the writing and recording of Wooden Stake music?

Vanessa: Wayne is one of the easiest musicians I’ve worked with – and that’s saying a lot because I’ve been jamming in and out of bands and with friends since I was 13. Sometimes it’s hard to get on the same page with people and this creates conflicts within the creative process. When we recorded Scaremaker’s What Evil Have They Summoned… album and the Grim Reaping MCD I learned that we could create ass kicking songs with very little communication. I played the riffs that I wrote and then he put the beats to it.

Wooden Stake is different in the way that he writes the music and I learn the bass by ear, and create the vocal arrangements. Basically, he writes the music, records it, and then he sends it to me to do my part. We communicate through email, but most of the time the songs are in my hands after he writes them. It’s a total 50/50 contribution with this band.

Scott Alisoglu: What I find especially impressive about Wooden Stake is the compositional diversity, albeit within a doom metal framework. Sometimes that may just mean vocal variation or certain musical nuances, but there is always plenty involved to keep one’s interest. Is this a conscious consideration for you and Wayne during the writing/recording process?

Vanessa: Well, I can’t speak for Wayne, but he and I both have influences outside of the metal genre. I think this helps in some ways add variation and spontaneity with the arranging of the music. My inspiration and influence come from so many styles of music whether it’s Bauhaus, Stevie Nicks, or Morbid Angel. I like having the dichotomy of all vocal styles in one song because I think it conveys more than just one emotion and tells more than one side of a story. I think Wayne and I both wanted that in the music and vocals for this band as it allows us to stretch out our talents beyond what we do in other bands.

Scott Alisoglu: Along those same lines, your bass playing truly stands out here, not to mention the monolithic, earth shaking tone you got on this sucker. The role of the bass guitar in Wooden Stake is definitely integral to the style.

Vanessa: Thanks for the compliments! I have always thought bass players do not get the respect they deserve, especially when they’re really good, and I see the bass guitar as an instrument that is too often ignored. The bass should stand out, especially in a band like Wooden Stake. I tried to write bass lines that moved around the guitar, as well as harmonies in some parts. I’ll be getting a better bass soon and a better set-up, so next time it will be even more pulsating!

Scott Alisoglu: How long have you been playing bass? Was it your first love, instrumentally speaking?

Vanessa: I started singing when I was 3 and I started playing guitar when I was 9. I didn’t take it seriously until I was about 11 years old though, and I started writing my own songs for several fake bands that I was creating. I still have a trunk full of notebooks and tapes with lyrics, music, and art where I was plotting all of this stuff out [laughs].

I don’t think I ever picked up a bass until I was around 13 or 14. It was always an instrument that I liked and wanted to explore, but I was more into the melodic possibilities that you can have by playing guitar. My brother played bass, and still does, so I would sometimes take my guitar in his room and we would jam with my dad whom also played guitar. But, again I don’t think I played a bass seriously until I was about 14 years old. At that age it was hard for me because my hands were too small and almost still are, but I manage.

Scott Alisoglu: Vocally, you’ve outdone yourself. The changeups in style (growling, spoken, whispering, etc) and the inflectional shifts also contribute to the compositional depth. You also make special mention in the booklet that “no vocal effects were used in the recording of this album.”

Vanessa: Yes, the reason I put that in the liner notes is because people still can’t believe it’s all my vocals on these recordings. Wayne still gets recognition on backing vocals every once in a while in reviews, and it’s nothing against anyone, but I would like recognition of the work that I do. I guess there are some people who can’t imagine one person making all those crazy noises, but I have always been interested in a layered approach with music and that’s how I have always performed.

When it came time to do the album, I wanted to take what I had been doing to the next level and sharpen my vocal abilities. I wanted an even mix of singing, growling, hissing, screams, harmonies, and I liked the idea of a spoken word soliloquy somewhere on the album. Some people have said I sound really angry in some parts, and I guess I do in some ways. I have many emotions that I express and it comes out in the music. It’s easy for me to create a character almost, yet have my own personal approach to my performance.

Scott: What kind of critical reactions have you been seeing for Wooden Stake releases thus far?

Vanessa: So much great praise has come our way with this band, and I am grateful for it. We are really into the elements that make Wooden Stake, so it’s not like we’re fake and just doing it as another “side project.” Wayne and I have other bands, but we do music because we love it and I think people see that.

It’s unfortunate that we aren’t able to play live. I wish all of my bands were able to play shows, but maybe in time. I think the word would spread more and gain a little more respect if it were possible. Getting on the stage would be a great way to prove that we’re really into what we do and that it really is me singing and growling [laughs].

Jodi Michael: How would you compare the music of Dungeon Prayers & Tombyard Serenades to that of previous Wooden Stake releases, such as Black Caped Carnivore or the split with Blizaro? Would you call it a progression? An improvement? A Refinement?

Vanessa: We have definitely progressed in our sound and ideas. From Vampire Plague Exorcism on you can tell that we have more focus on what we’re doing and improved in many ways. It seems like each release we do we find a way to make it different from the predecessor, but not so different that it sounds like a completely different band.

Black Caped Carnivore was recorded around the same time as the album, so that EP is the closest thing we’ve done to sounding almost identical to the album. Our split with Blizaro was definitely nearer the beginning of when we first started recording, so it has more of a raw sound than the newer stuff.

Jodi Michael: By the way, how did the Black Caped Carnivore 7” end up getting released on Germany’s Sorcerer’s Pledge Records?

Vanessa: I have many German friends, so the up and coming label Sorcerer’s Pledge is actually run by someone that I have been in connection with for a few years since around 2006 when I was searching for a label for another band I was in at the time. We never lost contact and when she heard that Wooden Stake was gaining steam she was excited to work with me finally. The label has done well so far, so I wish her the best of luck.

Jodi: It would appear that every aspect of Wooden Stake’s existence is rooted in horror.  With that being said, was there a specific horror influence that sparked the band’s creation?

Vanessa: Some of my favorite horror movies of all time were written about in this album and our other releases; underrated movies like Crowhaven Farm, Blood Spattered Bride, and the Night Gallery movie, along with Hammer and Amicus films. Those are some of the roots of the band as well as having an interest in the occult and Satanism. The things I write about for this band are lyrical themes I have written since I was a pre-teen, so it comes pretty natural [laughs]!

Jodi Michael: Is there a particular horror genre or time period that influences Wooden Stake the most?  Some tracks seem to take pointers from classic horror scores, while others seem more inspired by ’70s vampire flicks.

Vanessa: With Wooden Stake, I like using atmospheric movies to marriage with the moody, ominous music. I don’t like modern movies anyway, but I would prefer to not write about slasher movies or anything post-1980; it just wouldn’t fit and it would take away from the mood.

Movies aren’t the only lyrical inspiration though, like you stated. I grew up in Kentucky, so my childhood was reading and telling ghost stories. We take great interest back home in telling really spooky stories, and some of them are quit graphic. It was always inspiring to me to go to a story reading and then go home and put on my metal tapes. I would think to myself “one day I am going to tell those stories in my own album!”

Jodi Michael: What are some of your favorite or most influential horror films or books?

Vanessa: My childhood was consumed with watching horror movies, and reading horror comics and books. My mother read Stephen King’s The Stand when I was still in the womb, so that may play a small role in developing my interests. Also, my Dad would let me read his stack of horror comics anytime I wanted: Tales of Voodoo, Tales From the Tomb, Weird, Creepy, Witches Tales, etc.

I didn’t have cable when I was a kid, so I had room to expand my imagination. My choice books are: the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark trilogy, Midnight Fright, The Complete Edgar Allan Poe, Kentucky Haunts, Haunted Kentucky, The Walking Trees, Queen of the Cold-Blooded Tales, If You Want to Scare Yourself, Look of Horror, and many more! Later I found myself delving into Lovecraft, Anne Rice, Clive Barker, and Stephen King.

Some of my favorite movies were: Children of the Corn, Blood Spattered Bride, Tales from the Crypt, Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors, Black Sabbath, Bad Ronald, The Shining, Halloween, The Omen, Maniac, The Boogeyman, Hellraiser, Texas Chainsaw Massacre…this could go on forever [Laughs].

Jodi Michael: If Wooden Stake were to write the soundtrack to a horror film—either an existing film or one to be made—what would it be?

Vanessa: I have always dreamed of making my own movie. I would love to do this one day, but film is dead and so is horror. It would be interesting, yet not sure how it would fit, to do music to the movie The Omen. That’s been one of my favorites since I was a zygote [laughs]. If I ever made my own movie I would definitely do my own soundtrack.

Jodi Michael: Are there any modern horror influences for Wooden Stake?  And what’s your take on contemporary horror films?

Vanessa: I gave up on horror movies in the early 2000s. I can’t stand CGI, and the dialog is too teen drama-ish. Session 9, Ginger Snaps, and Milo are the only movies that I can think of from this past decade that I actually liked and own. There was a movie called Kolobos that I found amusing only for comedic purposes.

Jodi Michael: And here’s a very important parting question: what is, without doubt, the worst horror film you’ve ever watched?  For me personally, it’s Nail Gun Massacre.

Vanessa: Wow! [Laughs] I could list soooo many movies here. I liked Nail Gun Massacre for its stupidity, but it isn’t a movie I go out of my way to watch, so I can understand why that would be your choice. That reminds me of The Toolbox Murders, which I think is pretty lame and boring actually.

I would say Scream and all of those horrible movies that it inspired, but I’ve never even seen any of those movies, including Scream. Anything by Rob Zombie sucks. I have to be honest and say I can’t stand I Spit on Your Grave either.

Jodi Michael: Any closing comments or praise for these insightful interview questions?

Vanessa: Thanks so much for the interest and support! I appreciate the chance to open up and answer such in-depth questions! Wooden Stake still has some releases in the works, so keep your eyes peeled! Everyone can keep up with us on Myspace and Facebook, and also through the Razorback Recordings website!


Leave a Reply

Privacy notice: When you submit a comment, your creditentials, message and IP address will be logged. A cookie will also be created on your browser with your chosen name and email, so that you do not need to type them again to post a new comment. All post and details will also go through an automatic spam check via Akismet's servers and need to be manually approved (so don't wonder about the delay). We purge our logs from your meta-data at frequent intervals.