Hexvessel's Mat McNerney Talks Lemmy, Survivalism, and Getting Naked for Rock'n'Roll
"People say black metal has to be Satanic, but for me, the black metal feeling doesn't come without there being some pine trees."
And so it comes to pass that a tree-hugging, psychedelic rock band are signed to heavy metal stable Century Media, home to grinding godfathers Napalm Death and rabid Satanists Watain. Formed in the wilderness just beyond Tampere, the cultural capital of Finland, Hexvessel are wyrd folk, the outsiders of society, of music and of this world. Having already found an outlet for his artistic catharsis in avant garde black metal outlets in Great Britain, where he was born and raised, and again in his adopted Norwegian homeland, Mat "Kvhost" McNerney found his “kin” in the land of the midnight sun.
Challenging his very British sensibilities, he was soon embracing gnostic saunas and woodland rituals that paved the way for a musical project that was as in touch with the earth beneath him as the cosmos above. Weaving English folk, lilting Americana, and mushroom-induced psychedelia, Hexvessel are The Doors misplaced and found wandering the vast forests of Finland. Similarly to Sabbath Assembly—perhaps one of their foremost contemporaries—Hexvessel have taken a path away from creating pure ritual music, and added more rock to their role as high priests and priestesses of the terra firma temple. However, with McNerney also holding court in his Sony-signed, 80s-excess-tinged gothic pop combo Grave Pleasures (formerly known as Beastmilk), Hexvessel has become its antithesis—a complete lack of arrogance and rock star bravado. Hexvessel is the id to Grave Pleasure's ego.
Noisey met with McNerney as he returned from spending Christmas in England with his wife and Hevessel collaborator, Marja Konttinen, and the couple's newborn son. They live in the middle of nowhere in a house he has painstakingly renovated, where he and Marja grow their own food and have learned the skills of foraging and woodland survival, able to cut themselves off completely from the stresses of modern life. Knowing the difference between which mushrooms go nicely on a slice of toast and which go nice as part of a moonlight adventure with friends or making a pot roast from produce from your own garden is hardly sex, drugs and rock'n'roll, is it?
McNerney disagrees. “That's why so many idolized Lemmy,” he says, himself an obvious admirer of the Born To Lose, Live To Win legend. Motörhead's MO is at the very heart of Grave Pleasures' DNA, after all. “He really did live it, against all the odds. He never gave up. He died in front of his favourite pinball machine. But then I do think it's sad, in a way. It's sad thing to die with your manager.”
As he prepares for Hexvessel's upcoming new album, When We Are Death(out January 29 on Century Media), and describes himself as a father, a husband and a nature mystic before a musician, is rock'n'roll a faded dream for Mat McNerney?
Noisey: It seems apt in the wake of Lemmy's passing to talk about how rock'n'roll is defined by his lifestyle. With raising a child, growing your own vegetables and playing in a “forest folk” band, have you put your days of rock'n'roll exploits behind you?
McNerney: [laughs]It's really hard because there's so many sides to doing a band. You're not doing it all the time these days, I think that's the difference with how it used to be and how it is now. A band was a band, they'd be hanging out together, living in a shared flat, it's so different now. You have people who have this life, even if you're doing a band full-time, most people are doing a band as a side thing and then their life at home with their family is their main thing. So, how do you be "rock'n'roll"? What is rock'n'roll anymore? It's weird.
You started off as the vocalist for UK-based death metal band Vomitorium in 1994, and then fronted late-'90s black thrash band, Scythe before forming avant black metal project
. Your love of Dødheimsgard's bonkers black metal saw you do a Tim "Ripper" Owens when you became their vocalist in 2005, putting you in the same orbit as extreme metal musicians you'd admired as a teenager like Fenriz, Vicotnik and Czral. Were those days perhaps the height of your rock'n'roll excess?
I think that was me trying to be rock'n'roll. I tried really hard at one point, but unless you're gonna go all the way... I don't think I've ever been that. I'm quite comfortable being who I am and I think within that you can get to some kind of rock'n'roll place just by being honest. I sat down for the first time this Christmas and told my parents what being on tour was like, and I realized I had never done that before. I'd never told my parents what happens when you're in a band, and they were in hysterics. My mum was crying with laughter at people not being able to walk into the toilet on the tour bus—having to stand at the door and pee at a certain angle so it would land in the toilet because the toilet is an inch of urine spilling out of it. They didn't realize that was what it was like even for a band like us, who are playing music that they can actually listen to these days.
It's not like were going to be suddenly able to afford to live how we would like to, you know. We don't drive around with a forest in our tour bus. It's always going to be rock'n'roll in some way and you have to embrace it. You can't craft your own world, all bands who go on the road experience the same shit.
You're also in Grave Pleasures, who are about to go on tour with your labelmates Tribulation and Vampire—is that where you can live out your rock'n'roll fantasies in a way you can't with Hexvessel?
It's really similar to Hexvessel as far as the lifestyle's concerned with the rock and the rolling, but as far as being on stage, I think what Grave Pleasures does appeals to that more classic sense of what rock'n'roll is. In Hexvessel, it's more about a performance and getting into the atmosphere. It's a different agenda as far as what were doing with the music conceptually.
But because the Hexvessel guys are from a more isolated place in Finland there's a little bit more "guys abroad'" vibe going on, because they don't get on the road that much, and the Grave Pleasures guys are much tour-ready. They know what to do on a tour, whereas the Hexvessel guys, every time we tour, it's like their first time they've toured in their lives. They're a little bit off the wall, which is maybe not what you'd expect from listening to our music but our violin player is always getting naked and playing his violin while sitting on people. It's very funny.
Oh, the Finns; they love being naked as much as they love being absolutely drunk out of their minds. How does a nice English boy like you cope?
They love it. And there's nothing like touring with an English band where those cultures really clash, because English people don't like being naked and can't stand it if other people are naked around them. It's like, "Oh my god, it's so awkward, where do I look?'" That's part of what makes it so funny, I think.
I had a trial by fire when I moved here as the first party, literally the first weekend I was here, everyone was going to the sauna. It was all my wife's friends, mixed boys and girls, and I was like, "Oh fuck, what am I gonna do? How am I going to cope with this?" It's just a bit odd, but that thing is a good microcosm of what it's like on tour with Finns. We're constantly looking at things from a different angle. It's probably why we're such an anomaly in a good way, Hexvessel doesn't really fit into any mold. It's probably largely due to the fact that everything we're approaching musically is a culture clash in itself.
Getting your kit off is perhaps the ultimate rock'n'roll experience—you have these photos doing the rounds of Lemmy, arms around some topless models, and that is what's viewed as rock'n'roll, but it's a very sexualized kind of rock'n'roll. The Finns lietrally strip that sexuality away. Nudity is natural and therefore the ultimate rebellion, do you think?
Yes. One of the first things I heard when I met my wife was about these guys that do gnostic saunas, getting together in the evening to practise occult magick while having a sauna and getting together to jam. For me, that was such a taboo that it became occult in the sense that it's something we just don't know about in England and I found it so rebellious in a way, this idea you would do that with your friends.
For some reason, getting naked with strangers isn't half as embarrassing as getting naked with people you know. The idea of going to school and getting naked is terrible, but when you think about the Finnish people, they've been naked with their school teacher, and that's weird. In England that would be an immediate arrest. It's a different way of looking at it, and when you ask what rock'n'roll is— a band that drink a load of Jack Daniels and pass out and puke or whatever their imagination of rock'n'roll is, if they can't get naked together, then I would say they're not really rock'n'roll.
So, what do you think the ultimate rock'n'roll is?
I'm really into survivalism, I follow all the prepping shows and I had a conversation with some friends recently and they asked, "Well, where is all this leading to? Are you going to hide out in a cabin with a bunch of machine guns?" No, but I wouldn't let these situations fuck with me. I'm not going to allow a power cut to mean that I'm not going to survive. I'm a die-hard survivor and for me, that feels very rock'n'roll, but for them it's not rock'n'roll because you can't live the cliche lifestyle. You can't go to a bar and listen to Slayer on a jukebox, because the world has come to an end. I'm more into the idea of saying, "Fuck that," and let's go into the forest and make our own way of living. I think that's the ultimate way of rebelling against society. It always more my way, like when I joined the Scouts when I was a kid. That was the place I got into heavy metal, so for me, outdoor living and rock'n'roll are fused because it was freedom.
And that is where Darkthrone helped when I got into black metal because they were always championing the forest. They had forest pictures on their album covers, and you meet Fenriz and he just wants to go on a forest walk, you know. I thought that was so cool, way cooler that the Dimmu Borgir guys who were just drinking beer and had no interest in the nature around Oslo. I don't see it as a contrary lifestyle, I see it as part and parcel of the whole feeling, whatever that feeling is. People start to describe that feeling they get from Hexvessel in exactly the same terms as I do when I'm describing the black metal feeling. People say black metal has to be Satanic or it's not black metal, but for me, the black metal feeling doesn't come without there being some pine trees.
10.26 Leipzig - UT Connewitz * - https://www.facebook.com/events/410626352478712
10.27 Dortmund - FZW (Leafmeal Festival) - https://www.facebook.com/leafmealfestival -
10.29 Berlin - Urban Spree ** - https://www.facebook.com/events/153726504966780 -
* with UR
** with (DOLCH)
Louise Brown is dreaming of saunas on Twitter.