There is probably no other band on this planet who deserves its current success more than While Heaven Wept. Unlike with fakes like Manowar, their music definitely comes from the heart. Guitarist, vocalist and keyboarder Tom Phililips has been through some bleak periods in his life (and that's an understatement), music in general and his band While Heaven Wept in particular have saved his life: "If you included the caveat of my real friends being there for me too, then I’d say without them and music, I wouldn’t be here today. The thing is, when this band started I was dealing with a lot of heavy issues that I was too young to know how to deal with, so I was extremely fatalist for many years … it was only through the music that I managed to find my way out. I think it’s natural for many people who find themselves emotionally destroyed, who have lost everything, to want to give up … but thankfully, I never did … I would’ve missed out on so much. Ironically, it wasn’t much more than a year ago, that I found myself once again at the lowest point of my life … and once again it was the music of While Heaven Wept that saved me … that is exactly what 'Vast Oceans Lachrymose' was: a lifeline."
Tom Phillips once mentioned that "While Heaven Wept became his mission, his religion and the whole of his existence." Heavy words! Does this still hold true for today? The mainman of While Heaven Wept reflects: "There have been times in my life when I prioritized other things, people, etc … largely because doing While Heaven Wept has come with a very heavy price for me personally. I’ve sacrificed so much, lost so many friends and loves in doing this band … despite the fact it is because I needed to do it to live a relatively 'normal' life … not carrying the burdens on my heart and soul, making it possible for me to achieve some form of peace and balance. In the end, I’ve always come back to While Heaven Wept, finding that every time that I think I can live without it, some tragedy reminds me of just how vital it really is to me. So, yes, While Heaven Wept remains my mission, my religion … perhaps not the 'whole' of my existence … but it certainly makes my ongoing existence possible."
As mentioned earlier, the music of the band is REAL. Does Tom think that While Heaven Wept today is so popular because people recognize and even feel that their songs come from the heart? He wonders: "While Heaven Wept is popular? Really, I have no idea about this, and I don’t think I’m qualified to respond to that notion. What I can say is that we are extremely blessed to have the wonderful, devoted friends and fans that we do. I would like to think the fact that our music IS real … from the heart and soul … that it does separate us from a lot of other artists that are coming from a different place."
Apart from being real and from the heart, While Heaven Wept's music is also totally unique: It's not Doom, it's not Goth and it's not Metal. It's a highly original mix. It seems as if this wonderfull music, this mix of different influences, comes deep from within the soul. Tom agrees: "It does indeed come from the soul, but all of us in the band have extremely diverse tastes in music … though it’s primarily Metal-based. We don’t want to have any boundaries musically … the one concrete parameter is that it has to be sincere, genuine and from the heart. I simply cannot perform any music that I don’t feel or sing/write any words that aren’t real to me. Otherwise, some general traits of While Heaven Wept are consistent: epic, heavy, melodic … mostly melancholic, but not without contrasts either. That being said, you can be sure there will never be any plastic top 40, rap, or gospel heard on a While Heaven Wept release! And being that most of what we listen to is from the 80’s or before, I doubt there will ever be anything trendy for that matter either." That is good to hear!
The latest While Heaven Wept release on High Roller Records is the re-issue of "Lovesongs Of The Forsaken". The album features the three numbers "In Aeturnum", "La Mort D'Amour" and "Sorrow Of The Angels" in two different versions. Tom Phillips explains where the different versions are
from and in which respect they are different.: "Side A features the 1995 mix, whereas the B-Side consists of the 1994 version. The 1995 version is much heavier in terms of the bass frequencies, and there are a few different things going on instrumentally as well (for example, one version of 'In Aeturnum' has 12-string guitars in the midsection). We also re-recorded some of the vocals and bass parts between the two editions."
If I am not mistaken, "Lovesongs of the Forsaken" was first released in 1994 as a promo tape with a circulation of only 50 copies. Is that true? Tom confrims: "That’s correct … we did an extremely limited cassette promo in 1994, which was primarily done for tape-trading purposes, but also to send to the handful of labels we thought were doing interesting things at the time. It was indeed limited to 50 copies only … and if memory serves me correctly, only 40 of those ever went anywhere outside of Virginia! The B-Side of this album is the first time since then that this version of our debut has ever been available to the public, and while the differences may be subtle for some, for the die-hards, this is about as rare as it gets!"
Then the band pressed another 1,000 copies on CD a little while later in 1995, as Tom Phillips explains: "We actually did some additional recording as aforementioned, and completely remixed the release before the Sinistrari Records CD pressing. Back in those days, there was no 'total recall' or any of the conveniences of digital recording … at least not at the studio we were working in. So all of this music was mixed by hand each time from the multitrack reel-to-reels. Sinistrari produced only 1,000 copies on CD, and it was sold out within the year more or less.
Both, the cassette and CD, featured the same program, despite the fact that we had recorded many more songs during these sessions; originally the intention was to realize the 'Sorrow Of The Angels' album from the very beginning, but due to our own eccentricities, high standards, as well as the challenges we faced in the studio, we elected to unveil the material over a series of releases. The songs selected for the 'Lovesongs' release were intended to demonstrate a cross-section of the styles that defined While Heaven Wept. Little did we know at that time that it also was the template for all the albums that followed, in the sense that there has always been a very intentional 'flow' between songs on every release since then. I guess we’ve always approached our releases as larger entities as opposed to collections of single songs."
The band considered "Lovesongs Of The Forsaken" their first "proper" release. Is their a special reason for this? Here comes the explanation: "It was definitely the proper introduction to the music of While Heaven Wept for sure; prior to this we circulated a few rehearsal recordings, appeared on a local compilation tape, and did a 7" single, but I never really felt those were truly representative of While Heaven Wept for a plethora of reasons (mostly sonic, but also ideologically and emotionally). For example, the first 7" was more of a 'gift' for our friends around Woodbridge, Virginia, who had waited five years for something they could listen to at home. It wasn’t even a serious release per se, as it featured some Death Metal vocals that I did to blow off steam in the studio one day … a style we only briefly implemented back around 1991-92, but ultimately declined to pursue as it obscured the emotional content of the music (But it was the best I could do in the immediate aftermath of our second vocalist leaving … the 'real' singing required quite a few lessons, and probably still does!)."
Tom Phillips once mentioned that "there are probably over 100 rehearsal recordings from the 1989 to 1992 period". So does he go back to those tapes regularly for inspiration or search of riffs? As it seems, he does: "Most of the old material is 'cataloged' in my memory actually, so I’ve been able to travel back through those old riffs anytime I’ve needed to. In fact, sometimes a new melody or idea instantly leads to a recollection of something that was shelved long ago, as if completing itself without a thought on my part. That said, there are some very early songs, including one 20 minute epic that someday I really do need to revisit, that one is one of the 'lost'. I figure by the time of our 25th Anniversary we will have finally realized all of the ancient songs left in the archives … at this point we’re primarily working on brand new material. There’s only a handful of the arcane left at this point!"
So the fans can hope for a brand new studio album by While Heaven Wept? "For certain, I can tell you 'Fear Of Infinity' is coming in 2011. This is a landmark occasion being that we’ve taken four to six years between albums in the past, but in this case, what 'Fear' is really, is the other half of 'Vast Oceans Lachrymose', so all the material was already written even before we recorded that album. It’s an altogether darker and more aggressive affair, at times recalling the 'Sorrow Of The Angels' album (especially since some songs were originally intended to be included as part of that album), but very clearly While Heaven Wept nonetheless. We’ll never release the same album twice, but the signature 'While Heaven Wept sound' will remain intact."
A lot of While Heaven Wept's fantastic back catalogue has been re-releases on glorious vinyl via High Roller Records. How satisfied is Mister Phillips with the While Heaven Wept vinyl re-release
campaign of High Roller Records? There could have been only one answer: "We’re incredibly satisfied with the vinyl re-releases! Not only are they resolving any previous flaws, the quality of the vinyl, sleeves, everything is as good as it gets! We’ve been intimately involved with every detail to insure they are 'collector’s quality' – not least of which because we are collectors ourselves! But you’ll notice that we’re not getting caught up in the whole 'die-hard' frenzy … for us, the single most important aspect was insuring the audio sounds fucking incredible. I think that we have succeeded and in many ways, I prefer these vinyl releases to the CD counterparts. Most of all you’ll notice that all of the releases on High Roller Records have commonalities graphically. This is an important detail, because in essence, everything we’re releasing in this series actually represents our 20th Anniversary … that’s what these are all about."
All of the While Heaven Wept releases on High Roller, apart from the 7" single, were already
sold-out during pre-sales. This has never been the case on this label before and big bands like Trouble or Razor also feature in the catalogue. This is nothing short of amazing! Tom Phillips finds this also: "Well, first let me say, Razor and Trouble SHOULD be selling out instantly … apparently the youth of today need to do some serious musical archaeology! Otherwise, I have no idea why the While Heaven Wept releases were so successful … perhaps it has to do with the fact that they were out-of-print for so long or simply due to the attention 'Vast Oceans Lachrymose' was receiving. Either way, we’re very happy that they were good investments for High Roller Records, and like I said, we’re very proud to have these versions in our own collections!"
The band has released so many records on different labels and have dealt with people like Mike Pritchard, Rich Walker, Mauro Berchi and Steffen Böhm. I know all four. It seems that there are still very honest people working in the Metal underground. Tom reflects: "Unfortunately, the 'true' are in fact few and far between. We’ve always been fortunate to work with people that are truly friends, that really care about and believe in what we’re doing … but there are a lot of bastards out there as well. We make every effort to establish ongoing working relationships with the select few we choose to work with. I’d defend the individuals that you mentioned to the death, plus Rebecca from Iron Kodex (who was very instrumental in the vinyl re-releases too) and Enrico from Cruz Del Sur Music as well. No band could go wrong working with any of these folks." But there have been disappointments as well: "Absolutely, but not because our experiences with While Heaven Wept, rather what we’ve seen done or not done for our friends. Further, there are some labels that we thought would totally understand what we were doing and be in our corner that totally let us down as well, but it’s all good … everything happens for a reason, and we’re honored to have the partners that we do in this often cold and impersonal industry. Our gratitude is boundless with regards to everyone who has helped us in any way … and our fans mean the world to us. I hope to see you all in Germany again very soon!"
The last European tour While Heaven Wept did was back in 2003. And the memories of this trek are still very much vital today: "Ahhh … it was a rollercoaster of emotions. We’d waited so long to come over, where our music has always been embraced, but yet we were touring with only half of the actual line-up (we brought in Fred from Whispering Gallery and Angelo from Cold Mourning/Slough Feg for this run of dates). It was a really complicated time, with a great many things going on behind the scenes back at home and on the road that totally impacted the morale on that tour. Not to mention the heavy consumption of alcohol but I don’t think anyone really knows what we were dealing with on a personal level. At the time, the band was more or less breaking up right in front of me, so it was tough. That said, some of our absolute best and very worst shows took place during that tour. It was an experience for sure, but we’re far more prepared to come back and do it 'right' next time! It was great meeting all of our longtime friends in person for the first time though!"