Woven Hand – For heaven’s sake

Crossroads #28, January 2005

translated by Magali Surcin

Interview by Guillaume Nicolas

photographer: Emmy Etié

On November 28th (nearly exactly a year after he last played in Paris, in the Bataclan with 16HP), DEE is about to take the stage of the very beautiful venue of the “Théâtre de l’Européen” to present songs from his fantastic new album, Consider the birds. He’s come straight from the Netherlands, where he played the night before as a duo, and is obviously quite tired (let’s not forget that at the time of this interview, he’d been playing 13 dates in 15 days and 5 different countries), but as always, he remains constantly kind and approachable throughout our meeting...



Woven Hand



First of all, how’s the tour going so far?

DEE: Very well. We’ve now been in Europe for 2 weeks, Ordy (Garrisson, the drummer) and myself. We’ve already played in the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, Belgium ; tonight, we’re in Paris, France, and tomorrow we’ll conclude the tour in Haarlem (Netherlands). We have received an excellent welcome everywhere, which is great. I’m very satisfied with this tour.


Can you tell us where your mysterious album title, Consider the birds, comes from?

DEE: “Consider the birds” is a quotation from the Bible. It’s rather difficult to explain offhand. Basically, let’s say that the expression means that you shouldn’t worry or be anxious about the essential, elementary things of life, about existence and our needs, like eating, clothing yourself, having a roof above your head, that sort of things. God takes care of this for us, everyday. You have to learn to distance yourself from that.


“Consider the birds” is without a doubt your most intense and intimate work, but also the least accessible at first… First of all, because of the nature of the lyrics, which are richer and stronger than ever, and quite complex, but also because of the musical tones, which are more and more intense and powerful, and differ from 16HP's loud energy, but rather stand out through the underlying intentions behind the music, the colours and the sounds… How do you describe the evolution of your music since the first album you released? 

DEE: I never really thought about the way it evolved, I don’t know… I think that the main difference between 16HP and Woven Hand lies in the sound rather than in the songwriting. Actually, the sound is more acoustic, more muffled and also maybe more experimental as well with Woven Hand, but you’re right, there is in itself the same intensity and sense of urgency in the songwriting process. When I write, I don’t ever really think in terms of “big sound”. I write, and then the song progresses and develops, and takes off. Unsurprisingly, 16HP has a bigger sound, more electric and heavier, since there are 3 of us to create and shape the songs, and we have more of a “rock band” approach as a trio, whereas with Woven Hand, I do nearly everything by myself, from start to finish. But strictly speaking, I don’t think there is a big difference as far as the writing process is concerned. Personally, it doesn’t make a difference to me…  


The lyrics of “Oil on panel” are astounding, especially the passage in the end; they combine Latin and English, references to the deadly sins (Ira, Gula, Luxuria), painting (“the colour has left you, your colours fall, I paint them roughly, I paint them in my sleep”), Jesus of course (“heavy as their holes are deep”, “Yeshua, where you go, take me with you”), but also lines that are more difficult to understand (“Roma, Roma where is my country”)… Can you tell us a bit more about this fantastic song and its different themes?

DEE: It’s quite an old song. The basic theme is painting, as the title implies. By the way, the title came to me very quickly and very naturally, for once. I love religious paintings. The starting point for the song came from a painting by one of my favourite painters, Jérôme Bosch. It was painted between 1475 and 1480. It’s an absolutely amazing painting, complex and impressive, representing an immense circle with separate parts inside of it, and inside each of those smaller parts, one of the deadly sins is written in Latin. Around the bigger circle, there are 4 more circles, showing the different destinations of man after death: heaven and hell are at the bottom, death and judgement on top. This outstanding painting was the starting point for the song. I feel a lot of emotions when I look at it and I wanted to “translate” this into a song. There are several very different parts and many themes, it’s rather complex and sinuous. For the second part of the song, I chose the sins of Wrath (Ira), Gluttony (Gula) and Luxury (Luxuria), because they were strongly connected with what I wanted to express in that song, and I love singing that part. The rest, and the line “Roma, Roma, where is my country?” in particular, is a reference to the gipsy culture, and to all those people who have been displaced and lost, and their nomadic lifestyle, always wondering where they come from and where they’re going. The end of the song refers to Jesus of course. It really is a complex song… Then all the parts fall together, so the song becomes a whole, consistent from beginning to end. It is like a story made up of different parts.



Woven Hand



I imagine that it's not easy to play such a song on stage, especially as a duo...

DEE: Yes, it's a rather peculiar song. In the beginning of the tour, for the first few dates, it wasn't on the set-list, then we included it progressively, and for the last few concerts, we've been playing it every night, towards the end of the set, generally before the encore. The version we play is quite different from the album's, it's more simplified and more focused on the voice and the lyrics. We'll actually play it tonight. (editor's note: indeed, the version they played that night was very different, the vocals were even more intense and powerful, with a lot of beautiful vocal improvisations which added to the mystical aspect of the song)


Although both bands obviously have a lot in common, there are many differences between 16Horsepower and Woven Hand. So it is difficult to imagine songs such as “I seen what I saw” and “Clogger” performed by Woven Hand, and the other way around: “Chest of drawers” performed by 16HP. When you write a song, do you make a difference between 16HP and Woven Hand yourself?

I think you're right... But as I said before, when I write, I don't think about it so much, I don't “intellectualize” it, I won't try to analyse anything on the spot. I let things come out of me naturally. I never think “I have to write a 16HP-stamped song” or “I have to write a song in the  spirit of Woven Hand”. I absolutely do not keep the 2 bands separate when I am in the process of writing, I write and I let the lyrics, melodies and structures develop naturally by themselves, and it's only afterwards, with a bit of distance, that I “choose” which songs will belong to 16HP's repertoire, and which belong to Woven Hand's. The choice happens naturally after the songs are written, but never before, or even during the writing process.


While you were working with Woven Hand, your 16HP bandmates, Pascal Humbert and Jean-Yves Tola, started the Lilium project and released the album “Short Stories”, on which you have been invited to sing one of the most beautiful songs you've ever performed, “Whitewashed”. Have you ever had the opportunity to sing it on stage and if not, would you like to?

No, unfortunately, we never got the chance to play it on stage, although I am very much attached to that song. We've only ever played it once altogether, in the studio, for the album. We recorded it quickly, I wrote the lyrics while Pascal and Jean-Yves were taking care of the music. I think it's a beautiful song, that deserves to be played on stage. Maybe later, who knows? Anyway, it would be a pleasure to play it on stage. I'll keep the idea at the back of my mind (smiling).


What do you think of your experience with Blush? (editor's note: Woven Hand toured with dance company Ultima Vez, with a show entitled Blush) I was lucky enough to see the show many times, in London and Rouen amongst others, and I must say that I was very impressed with the outstanding cohesion of dance and music... I imagine that the work you did was quite different from a “traditional” concert. What did that new experience bring you?

It was an unbelievable, exciting experience, yet one that required a considerable amount of work. It was very different from a “normal” concert. You have to completely review your work methods, your points of reference, your approach to the stage. You saw the show many times, as well as the rehearsal in London, so you could see for yourself how much work was involved. The day before the shows, and even the very afternoon before the shows, we were rehearsing non-stop in order to work on the cohesion, again and again. The most difficult was for me to stay permanently focused, I couldn't really close my eyes or let myself go while singing, but I had to concentrate and look at the choreography, always pay attention to the dancers, their moves and rhythm, etc. I had to question myself all the time. It was a very different experience from anything I'd ever known musically so far. I hope, and I think that it made me a better musician. We'll be playing the final shows in Barcelona and then Brussels at the end of January. A DVD should also be released next year.



 Woven Hand



In one of your first interviews for the French press, you said: “I think that we're on the brink of the abyss. Man must get ready to disppear, something awful is about to happen, something much worse than both world wars put together, I don't know what exactly, but there are no other options... However, God will recognise his people”... 8 years after that statement, where do you think the world is going? How do you see the evolution of man's faith and religion in the next few years and decades?

I simply think that Man has no control or power over this. All of this only comes from God and depends on God. Only the Almighty can make those decisions. Faith is something that God offers you, and you can't make it up, imagine it or create it according to your wishes. Everything comes from the Lord. Only Him has the power to choose. Only Him has control. I deeply believe in the Bible, and I have hope and confidence in the Lord. Everything is under his control. He has power over all elements.


We know that all of your lyrics, whether with 16HP or Woven Hand, deal with the fight between Good and Evil, with Faith, God and religion. How are your lyrics perceived in the USA? Are you seen as a “religious singer” in spite of your dark universe?

It's a good question, but it's difficult for me to answer you, because it's not easy for me to see how my lyrics are perceived in the USA. I don't really know if people understand what I'm on about... I have a feeling that I am seen as a “tormented religious rock singer” (laughing), but to be completely honest, I'm not really worried about all that, about my image and how people perceive my lyrics, and honestly, I guess I don't really care what they think, it doesn't make a difference to me. The most important is that the lyrics may mean something to them and inform them, regardless of how they perceive them. There are so many ways to understand the lyrics of a song, you know... Even for me, even though I do write them... (smiling, then pauses)... One day I'll understand them one way, and the following week, another way, you see? I write them, I sing them and I deeply feel them within myself, but the perception of such and such word, line or metaphor can vary from one night to the other, or every time you listen to it.  


16HP has now been active for more than 12 years (they band started in 1992, toured intensively for 3 years, before releasing their first album in 1996). With 7 official albums under your belt (4 studio albums, 1 EP, a live album, a compilation of rarities from the first few years of the band) and non-stop touring, how do you see those 12 years?

12 years? You're right... I'd never really thought about that. 12 years? Wow! (laughing) I'm not really one to look back, but with the distance, I can say that I'm extremely proud and happy with our achievements. I wouldn't change anything at all if I had to do it all over again. First of all I'm proud because I think that we recorded good albums, and also and above all happy because we've always done whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted, following our wishes. We've never been talked into doing something that didn't suit us. We always worked without compromise, and always did what we felt like doing. I think we've been very lucky in that regard.


Are you sometimes tired to be touring nearly constantly for the last 10 years? Do you consider giving it all up one day and lead a quieter life, closer to your family in Denver?

I don't know, it's an interesting question. On the one hand, it is my job, and it's always been, so it is natural for me to be on the road so often. Of course, it's not always easy for my family, but it's been going on for years, it's my job, and this is how I support my family. The Woven Hand project actually started when 16HP took a break. Jean Yves breeds horses on a ranch and wanted to dedicate more time to that, and Pascal wanted to focus on other projects, and in a nutshell, after all those years spent together, we took a break, and as far as I'm concerned, I couldn't afford financially to just sit at home and wait. I had to record an album and tour, so I started Woven Hand. Music is my job, this is how I make a living, even if sometimes, I'm actually somewhat tired to be touring so intensely. On the other hand, it's much more than just that: it's also my way to “talk” to people through my songs, and communicate with them thanks to music. It's a joy and a great pleasure to play on stage, and to create an echo reaching the audience. That's the way my life has been for years now.


When you go back to Denver after this tour, do you have projects? Will there be a 16HP DVD? And a new album next year?

That's right, a DVD should be released soon, early next year, it will be a 2-disc set and will include many live sequences, music and promotional videos and interviews. It should have been released at the end of the year, but it was postponed. Then, in February, Pascal, Jean-Yves and myself will start working on 16HP's new studio album. I've already written quite a lot of new material lately, especially lyrics, and we will get together and shape things up very soon. To answer your question, yes, a new album is indeed to be announced for next year.