INTERVIEW: ERIK WAGONBLOTT (THEATRE NOCTURNE)

I always say that this band was the equivalent of having DISSECTION in our backyard, and I mean it every time. THEATRE NOCTURNE were conjurers of spooky sounding melodic death metal riffs and harmonies, all blackened to perfection, and eerily reminiscent of Norwegian winters. The vocals were hauntingly raspy, the drums were chaotic, yet reining, and it was all just a perfectly orchestrated cacophony of nocturnal metal sounds. I loved this band, and still listen to them to this day. And on a sidenote, their love of cassette tapes, and their pressing of their earlier records on cassette was solely responsible for my currently outrageous tape collection!

I recently got together with Erik Wagonblott (guitars, founding member), who was more than happy to chat with me about the old days.

1. I’ve always been super curious about the band name. Theatre Nocturne is pretty straight forward as a name, and it definitely fits the band members’ love for the horror genre, but do you remember who came up with the name, or if it was forged collectively?

I believe Justin Foley came up with the name! He’s quite the wordsmith and his vocabulary was Gothic and grand. Like, the guy actually reads books. I think at one point he had an idea for some crazy live show involving actors and stuff but we never made it to that point (laughs). And yeah, we liked the spooky vibe it brought to mind.

2. When did you guys officially start and was a sort of blackened melodic death metal sound always the goal?

I don’t one hundred percent remember when we started (I wish I did) but I’m gonna guess 2011. That sounds about right. After THE RED SILENCE I took a little break from playing metal and when I first got back into it I just wanted to start a straight up ridiculous death metal band that wouldn’t take itself too seriously. I remember a potential name was Fleshpipe! Still could be a fun name for a different project someday. However, once we all met up and the music started coming together it started taking on a more melodic and spooky vibe. Everyone brought their own influences to the table and Justin’s vocals certainly had a darker, more theatrical black metal vibe than the typical death metal grunter. The name THEATRE NOCTURNE may have even steered the sound a little bit. It became a balance between writing music that was catchy and fun to play while still having some more extreme ingredients and influences. At that point I was fully into black metal and death metal and mathcore and all this crazy shit but I’ve always had a soft spot for the catchy melodic stuff. Melodic death metal was my gateway into this whole world back in the late 90’s/early 2000’s.

3. You guys are actually responsible for my cassette craze. I remember buying one of your albums on cassette at Broadway Joe’s back in maybe 2015, and my collection just sort of snowballed from there. What prompted your decision to do tapes? Was it just because they’re cheaper, or did you have a nostalgic need to do it?

A little of both! Obviously a vinyl release would have been cool but we simply couldn’t afford it at the time without label support or anything like that. Cassettes had a similar nostalgic novelty while being MUCH cheaper to produce. It made for a pretty fun piece of merch. On that note, I see a lot of artists selling tapes nowadays. They’ve made a comeback of sorts. Not on the same level as vinyl but still pretty cool. Somewhat akin to collecting VHS tapes?

4. Did you guys ever do much out of town? Were there many weekend warrior excursions, mini tours, or anything of the sort? I don’t really recall.

Not as much as I would have liked to, unfortunately. We talked about setting up a little mini tour but it never became more than the occasional out of town show. Nothing too crazy. Finding the right artists to tour with was one thing. We would be too melodic and catchy for one crowd and too extreme for another (laughs).

5. What are 5-10 of your top live show experiences with Theatre Nocturne?

I’m gonna cheat and lump these in with THE RED SILENCE shows because it really felt like a continuation of that band. One that really sticks out in my mind was opening for Psyopus and I Wrestled A Bear Once. Super fun show and both of those bands were incredibly good. We once played a show inside of a barn that was pretty freakin’ wild. We once played a hall show where someone put a hole in the wall. Playing The Funeral Home was always a freaking blast. Opening for Skeletonwitch was really cool. Honestly, every show was pretty damn fun. We always had incense going and Justin always brought a bottle of wine that we would all take a swig from right before we started playing, and usually during the show as well. It set the mood, like we were partaking in unholy communion or something.

6. Talk about the bands that inspired you to start playing guitar.

I started playing guitar at almost exactly the same time I started really getting into metal but a huge one for me was David Gilmour of Pink Floyd. I heard lots of other lead guitarists before I started playing but his stuff was just so tasty and emotional and epic. Of course, Nu-metal was the popular music of the time and I was totally one of those kids with the big ass JNCOs and wallet chain listening to Korn and System Of A Down and whatever else. Around the same time I was introduced to melodic death metal from Europe. Slaughter Of The Soul and Clayman were big time formative albums for me. I probably latched onto that stuff because it made extreme metal accessible to newbies like me. That was my gateway to the hard, dark and scary shores of death metal and black metal and the multitude of subgenres within. But really, the single biggest thing that actually made me start playing was seeing my buddy Damien play guitar. It turned playing guitar from this lofty goal into something that seemed achievable. I thought “hey, maybe I can really do this!”

7. Following that up, talk about some other underground Buffalo bands from the Theatre Nocturne days you always enjoyed playing with.

Again, I’m gonna cheat and include some Red Silence era bands as well. Seplophile were always great. Sons Of Azrael too. Dredneks are super fun. Weapon Ex was always a party. Ancalagon always stole the show. My all time favorite local band to play with would probably be From This Day. Love that shit! They always got me so pumped. I still have their CD kicking around. Great band, great dudes.

8. What was your very first guitar setup (amps as well, etc.)?

Oh boy (laughs). Like many guitarists, my first instrument was a cheap Squire strat paired with the dinky little Squire practice amp. It was good enough to learn on but not ideal for playing in a metal band. After that I had a Radio Shack amp that eventually started smoking and died. My first “real” amp, and the one that got me through all those years was a Peavey 5150 II. That thing is built like a tank. I’ve dropped it countless times, spilled beer into it, it’s been rained on, a minivan drove over the power cord, one time the entire half stack fell over face-first in a parking lot, etc. Nothing could stop it. I still own the thing and to this day I’ve never had a single issue. I also played Jackson guitars. I love how their necks feel and I always thought they looked cool too.

9. When we first met, you were doing The White Silence, which morphed into The Red Silence. Did anything you’d written in those days survive long enough to make it into Theatre Nocturne’s song arsenal?

No, but perhaps we should have recycled some stuff. Some good tunes in there that have been somewhat lost to the sands of time.

10. As sort of a “Where are they now?” segment, talk about your current project. How is everything progressing with Cemetery Echo?

Ah yes, my spooky goth-rock band mixed with a little bit of metal. It’s been really fun! We’re actually recording again in the very, very near future so keep an ear out for that. We’re on Facebook and all that crap but our Instagram is the active one where all the fun happens. The whole thing started when Liber Ivonis (which is what Theatre Nocturne eventually became) didn’t have drums at one point and we asked ourselves “what kind of music can we do in the meantime that doesn’t require a human drummer?” Goth rock was the answer. But of course a little bit of metal crept into the sound as well because that’s where we’re all coming from. It’s hard to get away from that when you’ve been doing it for so long. It’s funny, every band I’ve been a part of has been more horror-focused than the one before. It’s come full circle and now I’m playing in a band that straight up embraces horror and Halloween themes and imagery. Perhaps it’s a wee bit gimmicky but it’s an honest gimmick. We all love that stuff. Our practice space was decorated like a Halloween party long before this project was a thing. Halloween shows are always a ton of fun and with Cemetery Echo EVERY show is a Halloween show!

P.S. I can’t give you any kind of time estimate but the plan is to get together and record some Liber Ivonis stuff someday too! It’s not exactly dead, just lying dormant like Cthulhu.

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