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Darren White (Sarotonal)

Interview with Darren White from Sarotonal
by Chris Manoura at 02 February 2006, 5:26 AM

Former Anathema and The Blood Divine frontman Darren White is greatly revered for his work on genre-defining gothic-metal albums such as Serenades (1993, Peaceville Records) and Mystica (1997, Peaceville Records), but when The Blood Divine split up eight years ago, just as they were realising their enormous potential, little was heard from him again. Many rightfully viewed it as a sad loss for the scene, especially with the genre's subsequent explosion in popularity. However, Darren has returned in style, with a stunning new project, complete with a fantastic demo in tow. I recently caught up with him to discuss his past achievements, the present and his hopes for the future.

First off, Darren, when exactly did you decide to form a new band and how did the line-up come together?

The deep down desire to be creative has never left me. I continued playing music after The Blood Divine split and before forming Serotonal, but the only band I worked with was Dead Men Dream, which had potential but was too much work, not enough natural passion and subsequently not enough results. So I embarked on long-term travelling and in 2003 I visited Jon (Francis-White - guitars, keyboards) in Sri Lanka while he was on holiday there. I was aware of his musical abilities and we talked about what we’d like to do. When Jon returned to Liverpool, he told Gary (Hill - guitars, programming) about what we’d spoken, so they sent me a CD of tunes they’d been working on. I was immediately excited by the music I heard and I wrote more lyrics. The first track to really hit me was a very basic version of A Soul Like Me. It was only the music, but it was catchy, dark and groovy and the lyrics came to me so quickly and easily. When I got to Liverpool at the end of 2003, we worked together and in 2004 recorded some songs, which was our first release, The End of Everything. Later in 2004, our drummer Simon (Monkhouse) joined us.

How did you decide on the musical direction, was it something you had in mind from the very beginning?

There were many different sounds on the CD that Jon and Gary originally sent to me, from melodic acoustic tracks to fast heavy tracks, but the best stuff was the cool and interesting, hard to label music in between. I intend to try and have some kind of new sound, because there is no use being just another band doing what a million others also do. Darkness, sadness, melancholia, truth, hope, paranoia, love and fear. These deepest feelings I want to communicate in lyrics and through music. That’s always with me, so you could say I’ve been waiting for the right moment to rediscover my path. How I communicate those feelings I don’t mind. If it’s just me and 1 other instrument, or if it’s me with a full band, playing down tuned, distorted guitars, I don’t mind. As long as I can fit emotional lyrics and vocals, it’s fine. So we’re happy to be free with Serotonal’s musical direction. All we must do is stay true to ourselves and write honest songs from the heart that communicate our feelings effectively.

After being away from the music scene for quite some time, how much of a challenge was it to come back and try to re-establish yourself?

I actually think I’m far off from that stage yet. Serotonal is still very much underground. It’s a challenge that’s in front of me, rather than behind and I don’t know how it’ll go. Serotonal is a new entity and even though artistically I may feel it’s simply a continuation of my past work, I know it sounds quite different from old Anathema or The Blood Divine. People who like my previous music would probably prefer me to do something ultra heavy, but I just don’t do those deep guttural roars anymore, so that could make it more of a challenge.

I have listened to the demo tracks on your website and am VERY impressed with what I’ve heard. It’s like you’ve taken what you did in previous bands to a whole new level, with further use of keyboards and an atmospheric vibe. Yet it doesn’t seem like a mere rehash of past glories, more like an exciting new beginning. So just how much are Serotonal influenced by your past legacy?

Kind words, Chris. Thanks. Although it’s not so much influenced by my past - it actually is my past! As I said, I feel I’ve continued naturally what I did before. Although the actual sound is different, I don’t think the atmosphere’s very different. We started with The End of Everything and after the end, where can you go? It has to be a new beginning. This is my thinking on The End of Everything. Everything in life is transient. Energy cannot be destroyed, it just changes from one form to another. The life and death theme has continued in a way with the new Serotonal Ep, The Futility of Trying to Avoid the Unavoidable. It’s futile in life to avoid any consideration of dying, because it’s our only guarantee. So it’s futile to avoid any consideration of quitting music, because it’s unavoidable that my desire will always be there. I cannot avoid music like I cannot avoid death. The Futility of Trying to Avoid the Unavoidable can be thought of in other ways too, but these are the principle ways I think of it.

With your work in Anathema and then Blood Divine, you were one of the early pioneers of what is now known as gothic-metal. Are you surprised at all by it’s current level of popularity, through the likes of Nightwish, Lacuna Coil, Within Temptation, etc.? Are you inspired by the contemporary scene at all?

I’m not surprised, because rock, or metal, never dies, it just changes from one form to another, and the desire for that music doesn’t die either. Another thing that stays the same is the European mainstream accepts it, while the British mainstream doesn’t know what to do with it and ridicules it, like it does most culture that’s popular in continental Europe. You watch, only if it gets accepted in American mainstream culture would the British mainstream take it seriously. That goes for most modern culture these days. Britain’s either looking up and wanting to be more American, or it’s owned by Americans and has to do what it’s told regardless. To answer the second part of your question, I’m not really into those bands. A lot of that new heavy music seems just a bit too polished and not rough enough. For heavy music, I prefer it dirtier, like Black Sabbath, Kyuss and Celtic Frost. In contemporary music I like artists like Mogwai, Massive Attack and Nick Cave.

While bands like H.I.M have really popularised (some might say watered-down?) the gothic-rock scene, there is still a valid argument that they are a potential stepping stone to bands like yourself, for a whole new generation of fans. In fact, Anathema are scheduled to tour as their support in April. How do you intend to try and break through to this audience with Serotonal?

I don’t know, really. We’ll just send out our CD to some magazines and radio stations and we’ll see how the word spreads. Then there is the internet. We have a web site, and we have a myspace site, - where people can come and see what is going on in the world of Serotonal. If enough interest is generated, then I guess a label might step in and help us communicate to more people.

It goes without saying that in the years since Blood Divine broke up, the music scene has changed dramatically. As a one-time pioneer AND someone who is now currently starting out in a new band, how do you view things from both perspectives?

It’s 10 years since I was removed from Anathema - and 15 years since I started it. It’s nearly 8 years since The Blood Divine split. Things have changed dramatically. I have more responsibilities now, so I have to think more seriously about it all. The fact that I still have that desire, despite more responsibility, means the songs I complete these days can be even more important to me. I never thought of myself as a pioneer, anyway. I think I felt I was playing catch-up with the big boys. In the words of the godly St Vitus - I always thought, I was born too late.

When you do eventually get around to recording the debut album, how many of the demo tracks available on your website will be used for the first album? Is the writing process advanced enough at this stage, that you have enough material for a whole album?

I don’t know what songs we would use that we’ve already recorded. We have enough material for an album in unreleased half-complete form, but if a deal comes along and we have the chance to do a full album, we will possibly end up writing a whole load of new material anyway.

One thing that many long-time Blood Divine fans have felt was that the break-up came at a bad time, just as the band were really showing their potential. With hindsight, do you have any regrets about the band not continuing? What lessons do you think you have learned from this?

I don’t like to have regrets. I agree that we were beginning to show our potential, but the way it worked out with The Blood Divine split meant that I was able to get other parts of my life more in order, so the split helped me in that way. Looking back, we really could have worked out a way to continue, rather than a full split. After Paul Allender \[guitars] left and subsequently rejoined Cradle of Filth, there was a really good period, but as time passed I found it less enjoyable to work with Paul (Ryan - guitars) and Ben (Ryan - keyboards). Despite their musical abilities, they seemed to put more of their energies into stressing about business, rather than focusing on music and this helped to end the band. Ben’s keyboard work was becoming more frenzied and he wasn’t focused on his abilities. Paul’s riffs were amazing, but he was in such a bad mental state that he couldn’t appreciate what talent he had and wasted it by seeming to live for stress. If there was no stress, he’d find a way to get stressed - and he’d pass it on. Individually they were great, but together as brothers, they could be a nightmare. We no longer wanted Ben, but his big brother Paul got so angry and aggressive that we just left it. I wanted to continue The Blood Divine with Was (Sarginson - drums) and Steve (Maloney - bass) and someone new, but Paul and Ben told the record label they’d prevent us and fight us legally. We knew how they loved to fight these kind of fights, after their business with Cradle of Filth and so did the record label (who would have to pay for the fight), so we were advised to avoid it and we split. Both Anathema and The Blood Divine were so life-consuming for me. I put so much into it, so my lessons are to not allow myself to be completely sucked into it all. Even though it’s best to channel and focus creative energies, I’ve learned that it’s also good to keep a perspective on things. Take breaks and you will come back stronger and better.

Hypothetically, if you had continued, where do you think you would have headed musically? How much have your tastes changed since the Mystica era?

As I say, Paul’s riffs were amazing. He’d always had the chance to bounce his ideas off Paul Allender or off Ben, but without them his confidence was lacking, despite his ability. It was a real pity, but he’s successful now anyway as a concert promoter/tour booker. To describe the direction after Mystica, I’d say more of the same, but heavier musically and more serious overall. We would’ve had less hammond organ and more contemporary sounds. We’d even experimented with a more dark, ambient groove between the heavy stuff and it would have been pretty good and probably well-received. Now with Serotonal we are finding our own dark, ambient groove and it’s the first time I’ve been this excited with the potential since Pentecost III (Anathema EP release from 1995, Peaceville Records). My tastes haven’t changed, to be quite honest. I’ve just discovered more bands.

This may sound like a throwaway question, but just out of curiosity…The tendency of metal bands to do covers of cheesy pop songs has increased immeasurably since the nu-metal explosion at the turn of the millennium. What persuaded you to cover The Osmonds Crazy Horses a number of years back?

It was a one-off, surprisingly heavy song by a band who were known for nice cheesy pop songs. It was a bit of humour for us, between all the dark stuff. Paul and Ben really liked it and I wasn’t into doing it until we tried it in rehearsal, when it sounded great and was a lot of fun to play. We played it live and it sounded really heavy and went down really well with the audience, but it sounded crap when we recorded it, because the studio we recorded in was so bad and the mix was also crap. We’d originally done Wonderful Life by Black and we should’ve recorded that instead, and we should’ve went to a decent studio, rather than the cheapest one we could find.

Getting back to the present day, what do you hope to achieve with Serotonal? Do you and the band have any long-term aspirations?

It would be great to get the chance to take it to the next level. I would like to record an album and tour with the music. It’s a long-term project, so we’ll just keep doing what we think is right and see what happens. I’m not going to stress about it though, or get carried away with delusions of grandeur.

Do you intend to tour extensively in the future, if the right opportunity arises?

You answered the question at the same time as asking it. My answer would be if the right opportunity arises. It depends how well known we become and how many promoters are prepared to take a risk. That’s why I want to focus on getting the band more established first. Some of my most memorable experiences have been on tour, and some of the experiences I have no recollection of whatsoever must have also been great.

Finally, would you like to say a few words to the readers of Metal-Temple and fans of your previous bands, both old and new?

Immense thanks, from the bottom of my heart. I hope fans of my previous work will appreciate Serotonal. I am lucky in that starting a new band, I still have people who are prepared to follow it up and have faith in Serotonal. I have no problem in capitalising on that interest. Peace & tranquillity 2u all.


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