This interview was conducted in 2002
Q1: I promised not to ask you why you changed your name from Abraxas to Endura, but perhaps you could tell us how you first met Stephen Pennick and consequently decided to embark upon your dark musical voyage back in 1993?
CW: I met Stephen in early 1993 via a mutual friend. I had done a magazine in 1992 called “Wisconsin Death Trip” – a sort of industrial culture thing that interviewed Eyehategod, Smell & Quim, Pitch Shifter, Drill, etc and had articles on satanic cults, necrophilia, gay serial killers (the title of the mag was a reference to Jeffrey Dahmar) and I was sending copies out to people and flogging it around – I sent a copy to a bloke called Hassni who knew Stephen and that’s how we met. I was initially quite suspicious of Stephen as he came from West Cornforth and I came from Ferryhill, the childhood fear of being caught down the woods by a bunch of Doggy kids made me quite nervous but we arranged to meet, found out that we had lots in common musically and socially and just drifted into recording. Of course it helped that Stephen already had a fairly good home recording set up and knew how to use it.
Q2: Your material has indisputable connections with Occult and ritualistic concepts such as Thelema (‘The Call of the First Aethyr’) and Mithraism (‘The Bull & The East Wind Blowing’). Do you approach these matters from a purely voyeuristic perspective, or have you been personally involved in such practices?
CW: I have been “personally involved” in these things for a very long time. I think Anton LaVey was probably a better sociologist that he was a magician but one of his aphorisms that struck a cord with me was “Satanists are born not made”. I would like to point out here and now that I am not a “Satanist” but I agree with his general point, that people either have this innate connection with the strange and alien or they do not. I’m sure we have all seen the “occultniks” moping around dressed in their black trench coats and silver jewellery, that is not where I’m coming from at all.
It started with me in childhood. I was a very precocious and curious kid, I just lusted after knowledge and experience and I really was not happy kicking a football around. This led me to isolation and introspection which in turn lead me read books. From there it was a short step to actually living my life is this way.
For me Thelema was a starting point. I still read Crowley from time to time and I have immense respect for his work (especially his smutty limericks) but I do not think AC is the be-all and end-all of magick. I am a “Gnostic” in the sense that I value personal experience much higher than theory. The Great Work is not some arcane ritual carried out in strict observance of some mumbo jumbo written down long ago, it is our lives – our lives and how we live them are our magnum opus, that is the purpose of magick and mysticism – to teach us how to enjoy life. I wrote a lyric on our “Great God Pan” album that says.. “the man who lives must love his life, the truth is a sharp knife!”. I see a lot of people who are not truly alive and I have no wish to join them.
I was aware of Mithraism on an academic and theoretical level a long time ago but it was Kadmon of the Austrian band Allerseelen who awoke a deeper interest in the mysteries about 10 years ago. I used to write to Kadmon and he mentioned that he was researching the Mithraic remains in central Europe and I realised that here in North East England we have one of the best Roman archaeological records anywhere in the world – especially concerning the Imperial Legions. I was literally sitting on a treasure mound of Mithraic sites, artefacts and texts in the area of Hadrian’s Wall and Newcastle.
The attraction of Mithraism for me is the practicality of the thought behind the mystery. It is a system that exalts the best aspects of human life – truth, honour, strength and endurance.
Q3: The track ‘Bio Mechanical Soul Journey’ includes a vocal loop in which a man is consistently recounting the story of having been strapped to a bed as part of some kind of systematic brain-washing operation involving the use of strobe-lighting. What is the story behind this recording and where did the voice sample come from originally?
CW: This was one of the very early tracks from the summer of 1993. We got the sample from a TV programme that one of us taped; it was about a black operation conducted by the US Government, or clandestine branches of the US Government in the 1960’s to research the use of LSD and other similar psychoactive hallucinogens against an enemy. Being the USA they tested the drugs on unsuspecting GI’s who had no idea what was happening – they just dosed up with very large quantities of acid and subjected them to traumatic stimuli such as intense flashing lights and electronic noise. Not surprisingly many of the subjects of these experiments ended up mad as hatters but they did provide useful samples for us, so it’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good. We used samples from the same programme for the track “Colours” on the “Dreams of Dark Waters” as well.
Q4: ‘The Last Pylon’ contains some amazing choral chant which I found rather similar to music used in the 1979 version of ‘Nosferatu’, starring Klaus Kinski. Are the two connected in any way?
CW: No. Again “The Last Pylon” is a very old track, from 1994 I think? We recorded it for a French label who had planned to release a 16-band compilation but done on 8 x 7″ singles housed in a box. Obviously this never happened and the release ended up as a crumby self-produced cassette. I can’t recall where we got that choral chant from – I think I taped it from a Radio 3 concert broadcast circa 1993/4. I’ve never seen the 1979 version of Nosferatu but it is interesting that you link the two – many other people make similar links with our music, links that we really never considered. Maybe our music has a universal affect on listeners.
Q5: Your contribution to the ‘Mysteria Mithrae’ CD was entitled ‘The Bull & The East Wind Blowing’. How did you manage to create those stunning Arabesque melodies?
CW: Stephen did this track after his holiday in Crete in 1995 – I suppose it was all that ouzo and olive-oil that brought out the eastern promise in him! I agree with you that it is a very good song, almost too good to give it to a compilation album, in retrospect we should have kept it for “Great God Pan” but that’s life; we were never very focused, we just did what ever we wanted with very little thought for the long term.
Q6: Songs like ‘When I Was Dead’ and ‘Dark Face of Eve’ are rather unusual for Endura in that they are actually comprised of clean vocals. Who provides the voice for these tracks, you or Stephen?
CW: All of the good singing is done by Stephen. I can remember recording “When I Was Dead”, I had written the lyrics after reading the story of the same title by 19th century Irish writer Vincent O’Sullivan and I think both Stephen and I were going through a very big Brendan Perry/Dead Can Dance phase at the time. I made Stephen do take after take until his voice was sore and croaking, I could see he was getting pissed off with me but I kept pushing him to hit these notes, which to be fair he did. Then I did the vocals for the track “The Dark is Light Enough” in one take and said, “OK, that’s it!”. I could see the look of his face as he thought, “Hang on a minute…” “Dark Face of Eve” was another track from the first “Great God Pan” sessions in 1993/4 – again the DCD influence is pretty strong on this track.
Q7: One of Endura’s most hypnotic tracks of all is the excellent ‘Fall of Amor’. Who composed the tune and how was it achieved?
CW: “The Fall of Amor” was a joint effort by me and Stephen. I had a tune in my head, a sort of image of 12th/13th century Provence and Languedoc – and we just bashed it out. Back in them days we recorded everything on a 4-track desk bouncing track after track down to a metal tape. It was quite crude compared to today’s PC recording software but it was very hands-on and “live” – we did a lot of very quick, spontaneous work that way. The title of track is a reference to the destruction of the Cathars and the Courts of Love of the Languedoc by the knights of the Albigensian crusade. I wanted something that expressed the sadness and regret of the loss of this flourishing medieval culture.
Q8: You also have a strong interest in Metal. Which groups do you find most inspiring and have they influenced your musical progression in any significant way? Was the title ‘Back In Black’, for example, taken from AC/DC?
CW: I want to state here and now that there is no truth in the rumour that we have a live album waiting to be released called “No Sleep ’til Spennymoor”. Yeah, I love metal. I got into music via the NWBHM about 1980/1 and I still listen to a lot of that stuff – Angel Witch, Diamond Head, Tygers of Pan Tang, Jaguar, Blitzkrieg, Witchfinder General, Venom, early Maiden, etc etc. I also listen to a lot of 1970’s heavy rock/metal – you name it I probably like it. The worse the better. I particularly enjoy the music of Sabbath, Lynyrd Skynyrd, UFO, Mountain, Thin Lizzy, AC/DC, Rush, Rainbow, Motorhead, Deep Purple, Whitesnake – before Coverdale moved to LA and morphed into Gloria Huniford!
I think heavy rock/metal has had a huge influence on Endura. We both have a very wide taste in music but our common denominator is 1970’s guitar heroes like Ritchie Blackmore and Leslie West – we have nicked loads of ideas from old Rainbow and Mountain songs. The track “Back In Black” was done for a compilation CD produced by the German magazine “Black”. We had recently done an interview for the magazine so we were, literally, “Back In Black”, but it was a homage to AC/DC. We also once had a drunken idea to call an album “Endura Rising” as a homage to the Rainbow album of the same name, complete with a pastiche of the cover; luckily we thought better of it when we sobered up.
Q9: What kind of reaction has Endura provoked in a live context?
CW: I got chased out of France in October 1995 following my poorly-received performance at the Deadly Actions II festival and have never been back since. Personally I believe that if you can’t show a video of executions, torture, government oppression, mob violence, hardcore porn, Balkan war crimes and Janis Joplin at Woodstock to an audience at a two day industrial music festival it’s a pretty bad job. Actually Nuit et Brouillard who staged the Deadly Actions festivals have recently released a video retrospective with most of the bands on it – our show is on there if anybody wants to experience the full horror of it.
Following my performance there was all sorts of rumours that the second night would be boycotted by local Arabs and Asians – I saw a few lurking about outside but not enough to prevent the performances of Dadga Mor, Predominance, In Slaughter Natives and Con-Dom taking place. I really don’t give a toss about “public opinion”, especially when the public who have the opinion are French Arabs. I’m not in this to make money so I have nothing to lose.
We get asked now and then to play live but living as we do way out in the middle of nowhere and the audience for this music being mostly in Europe it is very difficult. There is also the obstacle that this music is not very entertaining in a live environment and I have no wish to “entertain” people. I really think our music is best experience alone via CD, not in some shit-hole club in front of a few dozen drunk Goths who are only there to be seen.
Q10: Are you influenced to any great extent by literature and cinema?
CW: Lots by literature, less so by cinema. I used to live by Clark Ashton Smith’s dictum that the only justification for art is that it transports the individual beyond the mundane and into “other worlds”. Consequently for a long time my consumption of literature was based around the fantastic and escapist – writers such as CA Smith, Machen, Dunsany, RW Chambers, HP Lovecraft – the whole weird tales thing and also lots of decadent and symbolist fiction. I had an adverse reaction to contemporary literature and especially “serious” literary fiction, which I suppose was a reaction to being forced to read that stuff during my degree.
These days I read a broader cross section of literature. In the past year I’ve got into the 1950s/60s American beat writers such as Hubert Selby Jr, WS Burroughs, Charles Bukowski etc – which still has a certain hallucinatory feel to it but depicts a much grimmer urban story. One of my favourite books and once that I go back to time and time again is “Perfume” by Patrick Suskind. I was advised to read it by my tutor at University but being bone-idle I never did, a few years later a friend advised me once again to read it and when I finally got round to it I was blown away. Another book I would not hesitate to recommend is “Foucault’s Pendulum” by Umberto Eco, it satirises the occult “scene” perfectly. I once had a job interview at a vanity press publisher very much like the one in “Foucault’s Pendulum”; needless to say they didn’t give me the job!
It’s not all doom and gloom; “Young Men In Spats” is a collection of very humorous short stories by PG Wodehouse, the comic antics of the typical Wodehousian Hooray Henry’s of the 1920’s and 30’s. There is a naive charm to Wodehouse and his characters that I admire; they succeed by living in total contempt of the realities of the world. More highbrow but at times equally as funny is Evelyn Waugh’s “Brideshead Revisited”. I also enjoy James Ellroy, Vladimir Nabokov, Patrick McGrath, Iain Sinclair, Herman Hesse and Witold Gombrowicz.
I recently re-organised my library and “literature” makes up only about 15% of the several thousands of books I have, by far the largest categories are military/political history, occult and mythology and true crime. Never do a degree in English literature, it will put you off fiction for life!
Q11: You recently signed a CD deal with Justin Mitchell’s Cold Spring label and plan to release an album entitled ‘Contra Mundum’. What can you tell us about this recording and the fact that it was reputedly inspired by the well-known serial killer, Dennis Nilson?
CW: Well, we ‘aint signed nothing yet! We have an understanding with Justin that we will record an album and if he likes it he will release it. The album exists only on paper and in our minds at the moment although we both want to get cracking on it as soon as the opportunity presents itself. The material I have been working on is quite a bit darker and harsher than our previous stuff, I think the closest precedent is the material we did for “Black Eden”, and I want to capture that sense of grimness and bleak nihilism we got with that album.
Dennis Nilson was an interesting contact we had for a while. I can’t remember exactly how Stephen came to write to Nilson, I think it was some friend of Nilson’s had got in contact with Stephen and passed the prison address on and Stephen, in for a penny in for a pound, wrote to him out of morbid curiosity. Oh how we used to laugh down the pub as we sat and read his letters and poetry/rants. Most of it was terrible, really poor doggerel but in amongst the clinkers and juvenile rhyme schemes there were a few good lines and some interesting imagery. We had a talk between us and thought it might be worthwhile incorporating some of these lines into our music and Nilson seemed quite pleased when we told him, although when he asked that we donate any profits made to an AIDS charity it became evident that his grasp of our work was not very thorough. It all got a bit too much though, I can remember reading one of the things he sent to Stephen and it was basically a not very thinly veiled piece about buggering blokes before killing them – not surprising given the form of Nilson. In the end Stephen stopped writing, it was becoming some what of a pain in the arse having to trawl through all the sordid homoerotic wank-fantasies in order to find a few usable lines of “poetry”. I doubt very much if we will use any of this material on the album, the “moment” has passed and to be frank we are better writers than him anyway.
Q12: What are Endura’s pet hates?
CW: I don’t have any pet hates, I have some very real hates. There are a few people whom, given the chance, I would not think twice about killing. It is my own desire for freedom that keeps these people alive, not a belief in the sanctity of human life, that is a fallacy I shed quite a while ago. Of all the things I hate the common factor is people. I truly am a misanthrope. I think that people, the sub-humanity that crawls and breeds in our streets, is the worst single thing that has happened in the history of the earth. I know how beautiful and life affirming this planet could be, and once was, before the plague of sub-humanity took hold and poisoned it all. Everywhere I look I see dirty, ugly, stupid, greedy people. I am an avid reader of the sci-fi writer Frank Herbert, in his “Dune” books Herbert puts forward some very radical and illiberal ideas about what is and what is not “human”, he says very clearly that not everything that walks on two legs is a human, the criteria is much more demanding than that! I see this every day, sub-humanity wallowing in a mire of it’s own creation. I believe very strongly that people should not be protected from the consequences of their own actions. It’s only when people begin to suffer the consequences of their actions that they change. Unfortunately we have a society where the opposite is true; stupidity and sloth are rewarded.
Q13: Tell us about your forthcoming solo project in the domain of power electronics.
CW: One of the things that have happened in the hiatus of Endura recording is that I have amassed many ideas for songs, music and soundscapes that have not been realised. I plan to put this right by recording and releasing some music independently of Endura. I would hesitate to label it “power electronics” as I think that quite limiting and also suggests a lack of subtlety and texture. There are some terrible power electronic projects out there, some of which are stealing a living putting out their sub-standard noise crap and I really don’t want to be allied to that but I am a fan of the work of people like Con-Dom, The Grey Wolves and Genocide Organ and I appreciate the aesthetics and atmosphere of their work.
One of the things I really liked about Endura was our ability to mix various styles of music. We never felt constrained to just do one thing – we had a go at anything we felt like and if it worked we used it – if not we still used it. I think my own solo stuff will be darker and harsher than Endura for the simple reason that Stephen did the melody and I did the darkness, but I still want to achieve that balance between dark and light that made Endura work, so don’t expect a full-on power electronics noise assault, not all of the time anyway.
Another thing I want to do with this stuff is release it in very limited handmade packages. I am very interested in the concept of narrowcasting, of making things available to a limited select audience. I would rather make 100 CD-R’s and package them well and know that they all sold than do 5000 shoddy CD’s and see them in the bargain bins.
It’s also quite encouraging that although I have not yet let anybody else hear my solo stuff a few labels have already expressed an interest on the strength of the reputation of Endura, so maybe a full commercial release along side the limited editions will be possible.
Q14: Finally, is there any realistic chance of you and Stephen getting back together in the future?
CW: Yes, there is every chance. Many things have happened in our lives since the mid-90’s, when both Stephen and I put all our effort, energy and money into Endura – we got married last year (not to each other!) and Stephen will soon be a father so the days of us locking ourselves away for 20 hours a week and recording album after album have gone but I still feel we have the creativity and will to record again – it’s just a case of fitting it in with all the other things we have to do these days. We see each other at least once a week, usually more; indeed we are going to see Blue Oyster Cult this week. We are in almost daily contact via email and phone and we have both agreed that there are certain things to be done with Endura that can not be put off much longer – such as the “Contra Mundum” album with Cold Spring – so don’t give up hope just yet!