Winter and Göden interview with Stephen Flam
Formed in New York circa 1988, Winter played slow, deep and hard nuclear doom with a crust punk rawness, that came across like Hellhammer jamming with Amebix. Their penchant for mammoth sized and funeral-paced, wasteland droning has become a touchstone reference for bands across the whole spectrum of underground metal. Göden is the spiritual successor to Winter, a band that has been heavily influential and highly revered in the metal underground since its inception and treasured demos. A long-awaited continuation of what Winter would have been from co-founder Stephen Flam’s vision, the new album Beyond Darkness throws us into an existential voyage out of the past and into the future.
“We set out to be the slowest and heaviest we could be!!!”
We’re currently experiencing a very strange situation. How are you and yours during this widespread pandemic?
Stephen Flam: Thank you for the interview. New York City where Vas and I live is now under full quarantine lockdown for next 40 days…. It is a complete ghost town…. Life is good…
“We always felt more comfortable in the punk scene.”
How was it to grow up in New York City? Did the local music scene influence you or inspire you to play music? What sort of venues did Winter early on? Where were they located? How was the band accepted by the underground audience?
Stephen: New York had a thriving hardcore, punk, metal scene back then. It was an interesting time, and much different than it is now. Back then NYC was a place you could live and feel free to express yourself and live on modest means. Now it is overpriced and overcrowded. Winter played with punk groups like Nausea at squat shows on NYC’s Lower East Side. We also played with groups like Sepultura and Death in places like Sundance on Long Island NY. We always felt more comfortable in the punk scene. Our head was more into punk state of mind but metallic sound so we played in both scenes. We kind of stood out in both because we were playing super slow. In 1990 Into Darkness was released and it seemed as if people were not sure of what they felt about it. Everyone was playing hard and fast. NYHC and metal scene in NY was on fire and thriving with music. Winter were on the other side of the spectrum playing super slow and sludgy. We separated because it seemed as if people were not interested. I started a new group with Ray Mayorga & John John Jesse of Nausea called Thorn. Thorn released Bitter Potion on Roadrunner Records in 1995.
When did you begin playing music?
Stephen: I started playing guitar when I was 16 and was self-taught. A few years later I started to play bass and at that point I studied with Chuck Alder in NY.
Were you in any bands before forming Winter?
Stephen: Yes I had a group called Meltdown around 1986. It was me and some local hardcore/punk/thrash heads.
Can you elaborate the formation of Winter?
Stephen: John Alman and I started Winter in 1988. We set out to be the slowest and heaviest we could be!!! We worked hard to make Into Darkness. Worked day jobs and rehearsed most nights. We were always looked for ways to make the sound more animated and heavy.
Our first video. Good friend Bob Barry made it for us. “Servants of The Warsmen” demo version.
Can you tell us about Thorn,What was that about?
Stephen: Winter and Nausea played gigs together. One of the gigs in Canada called ‘Rock Against Racism’, Roy filled in for our drummer and I liked his style. Roy was one of the best drummers I ever played with…. Winter and Nausea broke up about the same time. Roy, John John and I started Thorn. Thorn was different than Winter and Nausea and was a fresh start for everyone. We incorporated electronics and had more of an industrial metal vibe. Thorn and Hanzel und Gretyl did gigs together and that’s how I met Vas. Vas was in Cycle Sluts From Hell and vocalist/bass of Hanzel und Gretyl. Vas and I know each other since 1992.
After Winter and Nausea broke up we started Thorn
Everything was rolling and we were starting to get ready to tour until my father was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. I packed my stuff up and moved home to help my family. Roy went to play with Soulfly and John John started a project called Devlin. I felt like I had my shot at music and was grateful to have put out two solid records.
“Punk state of mind with a metal sound.”
What influenced the Winter sound?
Stephen: We never considered Winter death or doom metal. John and I were both huge Amebix fans. Amebix were a big influence. We felt like we were of the same breed. Punk state of mind with a metal sound. I always liked Amebix lyrics, song writing and feel. Death/doom lyrics of the time did not resonate with us. At that point in time Hellhammer, Celtic Frost, Carnivore, Discharge as well as earlier groups like Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath, King Crimson.
Crusty Punk show on Lower East Side of Manhattan. Scott Lewis of Brutal Truth playing drums. This was our last live show in 1990.
What kind of equipment did you use and how did you come up with such a massive sound?
Stephen: I have been making my own guitars since 1988. If you go to www.goden.net you will see my collection of custom made guitars and basses. I never used standard factory made guitars with Winter or Göden. I have been using proprietary guitars and drop tuning for decades. This was a challenge back then but I had some talented friends/guitar techs that helped with my vision. My father had a car stereo shop called Sound Unlimited that did custom stereo systems for hip hop artist like Kool G Rap, Biz Marky and others. I worked as a stereo and security installer. I would bring my gear to work and hot rod pedal boards, heads, cabinets make all of the band members cables and fix things when they broke. Back then I had two Marshall 100watt 2210 heads and two Marshall 2×15 bass cabinets for my guitar. I used a parametric EQ, various chorus, delays, flangers in the effects loop. Guitar always plugged straight in the front. Bass was a massive Peavey head with two Peavey cabinets each with 2×18 and 2×10. I had the good fortune to store all this in road case for 25 years. I still own this same equipment and Winter used these for the reunion shows. Göden used this equipment to record Beyond Darkness.
This is Winters last show. Tony is of keyboards.
In 1989 you recorded a demo tape that you probably sent to Future Shock Recordings? What do you remember from working on that demo tape?
Stephen: Winter recorded the demo and Into Darkness at Speed of Sound Studios in NY with Greg Marchek. Greg was older than us with a ton of recording experience and understood our vision. Greg was masterful at capturing the sound in our head. We worked hard to make the demo and album. Worked day jobs and rehearsed most nights thinking of ways to make the sound more animated and heavy.
How did you get signed to Future Shock Recordings?
Stephen: Future Shock was a local independent label that went bankrupt after the release of Into Darkness. They believed in us but had money problems.
Into Darkness was released in 1990 on tape and CD. Was there a certain concept behind it?
Stephen: Winter had a punk state of mind but felt the music needed lyrics that could give the listeners mind a place to go. Joe Goncalves the drummer on the demo was great at writing lyrics that conveyed the feeling of the music.
The cover art is stunning and it perfectly captures the music.
Stephen: The cover was from a history book and capture the music. Veronica Cross did all the artwork. Veronica was amazing to work with, she was a close friend of ours who understood the vibe we wanted.
“Göden is a continuation of Winter from my vision.”
What’s the story behind your Göden debut album? Where did you record it? What kind of equipment did you use and who was the producer? How many hours did you spend in the studio?
Stephen: Göden is a continuation of Winter from my vision. I write, record and produce the music. I wrote new music for Winter that was recorded and completed in 2003. We started to work on those songs during rehearsals for Winter shows with intentions of using them for the follow up to Into Darkness. When those gigs where cancelled due to my hearing loss issues, I broke the news to the group and everyone was extremely bummed. Twenty five years later to have a second chance and finally perform and play out especially since Winter broke up right after the release of Into Darkness. Everyone knew I was suffering with crippling tinnitus. This was a major setback and depressing time for everyone. The group chose to not do the shows without me. Everyone removed their equipment from Tony’s place and that was the end.
After everyone removed gear from Winter rehearsal space at Tony’s place, I was packing up the last few things I had at Tony’s. he said “so this is how it ends”? I responded the only way I could continue would be to build an isolation booth to stand in so sound would not affect me and I could see everyone through the glass. Tony said “so build the iso-booth and let’s move forward and see how it goes. I explained to the Winter members what Tony and I wanted to do. This sounded like a tremendous undertaking, and it was! Some members joined on and some decided not to join this recording project. My brother Chris Flam is a recording engineer, I explained what I wanted to do and he was down. Tony, Chris and I converted Winter’s rehearsal space into a recording studio. I purchased drum kit, mics, interfaces, cables and whatever Chris recommended. We started work on the songs from the 2003 Winter demo. Those songs where “Glowing Red Sun”, “Night”, “Dark Nebula” and various riffs from that demo as well as new music I had. Tony was a godsend for opening his home to me for this five year long recording process.
We would rehearse the song till it was crushing, then record the song, put it on the self. When ten songs were completed, I reached out to Vas Kallas, an old friend from Hanzel und Gretyl. We had many drinks and I explained my vision. She was down, Vas spent the next year working on lyrics and a few different vocal styles. She sang in German, Greek, English and had a few ethereal female styles. I would say that the main members are Vas Kallas (Hanzel und Gretyl), Tony Pinnisi (Winter keys), Scott Wojno (drums), Jason Franz (Christian Death), Vic Pullen (Winter drummer).
“My concept was a fiction story of the light and the dark set to a soundtrack of heavy music.”
Winter’s original spirit was reclaimed from the ashes and reconfigured.
Stephen: I had a concept to make the album a story/soundtrack with artwork that would take the listener to a different place. My concept was a fiction story of the light and the dark set to a soundtrack of heavy music. It was obvious that Vas (NYXTA-Goddess of Night) with her menacing vocal style and lyrics was the darkness. Tony (Prophet of Göden) and I spent countless hours creating a character that would be the polar opposite to Vas. Tony (Prophet of Göden) became the light, he speaks in the name of Göden. “Manifestation 1-8” are recitations where they guide the listener on a journey. “The Manifestations” became a home for some of my ambient and spacey side of music creation. Vas nicknamed me Spacewinds because the Manifestations music reminded her of spacewind. I am time and space in which these characters’ dwell.
How pleased was the band with the sound of the album? What, if anything, would you like to have been different from the finished product?
Stephen: Modern work flow of making music with today’s recording technology is pure freedom. Even if a record label wanted to lend me a large recording budget I would not take it. Göden is 100% DIY…. I play guitar, bass, keys, drum programming, recording, editing and music writing in my studio. Tony’s place is where rehearsal, live drums and amps are setup 24/7 so we can retain the live real feel. I usually write everything myself then re-track drums, amps and Hammond Leslie at Tony’s place. Göden has taken on a life of its own with some interesting players. Tony plays Hammond Organ, Moog, Arp String, Fender Roads, K2000 Kurzweil. Margret Murphy plays violin on “Glowing Red Sun”, “Komm Susser Tod” and “Manifestation IV ‘The Progeny of Göden'”. Joey Lodes plays guitar leads on “Glowing Red Sun” and “Twilight”. I had a vision to fill the sonic space with some of the ambient music I create. “The Manifestations” became the home for those creations. I feel “Beyond Darkness” is the strongest album I have ever done.
Göden’s first single
Southern Lord issued a very special issue of Into Darkness on vinyl in 2011 along with a 30-page booklet with fliers, photos, and more. Also shortly after that you released a Serpentine Path record on Relapse. Tell us about these releases?
Stephen: Greg Anderson of Southern Lord Recordings reissued Into Darkness and put the jumper cables on us! He was curating Roadburn and invited us to play the prestigious festival. We could not decline! That was the resurrection of Winter after 25 years. After Winter did Roadburn we felt it was successful and people finally dug what we were doing 25 years later. We decided to do a few shows MDF, Power of The Riff etc. Winter was renting gear from SIR to play with Sleep at Terminal 5 in NYC. Jay Newman of Unearthly Trance was a manager at SIR and also a fan of Winter. We became friends and he mentioned that they just finished the first Serpentine Path record and he gave me a copy. Long story short I joined on for the second album Emanations. We worked on that album for about a year. After it was released we did a record release show in a tiny night club. The stage was so small that my head was about one foot away from the drummers crash cymbal for an hour long set. I walked out of that show with massive hearing loss and tinnitus that was like a tea kettle 24/7. I had PTS and was not able to sleep, work and almost lost my marriage of 20 years. This lasted four years following that show… Anyone who reads this, wear hearing protection!!!!
Svart Records will be doing another edition of Into Darkness with the 89 Demo, but what’s so special about it is that they will also release Göden, the successor to Winter.
Stephen: Winter’s Into Darkness will have its 30 year anniversary and Göden will be born the same day… Past and present… Göden is to Winter, what Triptykon is to Celtic Frost….
The artwork was conceived by Eva Petric, a Slovene multimedia artist based in Vienna, Austria and New York. Would you like to tell us more about the concept behind it?
Stephen: Eva Petric created all the artwork. Eva and I met by accident in NYC. Eva mentioned she had her artwork displayed at the UN and St John Divine Cathedral in New York City. I attended and was interested in collaborating with her. Eva is a talented artist and it was obvious to me after viewing her five terabit HD that I wanted her to help create the visual part of the story. Eva and I listened to all of Beyond Darkness with headphones. When we were done, she looked me in the eyes and said “let’s do this!!!”.
Eva and I have a side project called Conductors of Lightning. We recorded a few songs and also made a video for a song called “Disturbed Planet”. I played guitar, bass, keys, arranged the music, recorded and mixed. Eva wrote the lyrics and was the vocalist. Scott Wojno drummer of Göden played drums. Daniel Blafford (Dreambreeder 079) did the Göden album layout, website and video editing and animation.
Eva has permanent public art work “Rubiks Cube of Recycling Shadows &E@motions” at the Metelkova Museum Platform in Ljubljana not far from you.. Also Göden images are in this piece. This is a link to video of the making of it.
Looking back, what was the highlight of your time in the band? Which songs are you most proud of? Where and when was your most memorable gig?
Stephen: The release of Into Darkness was an unbelievable feeling, I always felt it was a special album. But the release of Beyond Darkness is a major accomplishment for me, I spent countless days making this record… Most memorable gig was Roadburn because that was the one that resurrected Winter from a deep sleep…
With your hearing issue will Göden tour?
Stephen: I think next time around things would have to be different. I am not the first musician to destroy their hearing. Roy Mayorga an old friend, fellow bandmate (Thorn) and mixing engineer of Göden record spoke about this hearing issue. Roy has been a hard hitting drummer for decades. He was in Nausea, Amebix, Soulfly, Stone Sour, Hellyeah etc. He recommended that the group all wear in ear monitors to keep the stage volume to a minimum. From his own personal perspective this has helped him preserve his hearing and that the band performances are way tighter with in ear setup. We will see what the future brings, So don’t count Göden out…
This is the making of one of my custom Göden bass. Jimmy also made me guitars for Winter and I currently use them with Göden.
Let’s end this interview with your five favorite albums.
Stephen: Top five is tough, I listen to all types of music not just metal. These records have had a strong influence.
1. Miles Davis – Bitches Brew (made me feel and think differently about music)
2. Black Sabbath – Master of Reality (changed my DNA forever at age 10)
3. Carnivore – Retaliation (heavy, brutal, raw, FU attitude)
4. Amebix – Arise (metalic sound with punk state of mind)
5. Triptykon – Eparistera Daimones (takes Celtic Frost to the next level with a modern vibe)
Vas: Impossible to summarize a lifetime of music, but the recent and outstanding ones are:
1. Bauhaus – Burning From the Inside (Gothic Spiritual Euphoria)
2. Celtic Frost – Monotheist (Dark and beautifully dismal to the core)
3. Slayer – God Hates Us All (Because Fukken SLAYER!!!!)
4. Sex Pistols – Never Mind the Bollocks (Changed the whole direction of my very young life)
5. NIN – Ghosts V (This in New! Sent me drifting on a fluffy cloud. Genius ambience from Trent)
1. Jimi Hendrix – Are You Experienced (electric guitar unlike anything, uniquely innovative)
2. Blue Cheer – Vincebus Eruptum (nascent heavy metal, Hendrix on steroids)
3. Quatermass – Quatermass (Hammond organ, my ultimate “dream band”)
4. Vanilla Fudge – All albums (masterful organ heavy, psych, soulful guitar)
5. Virgil Fox – The Virtuoso Organ (majestic tones gave me chills, in the hands of true genius)
Scott Wojno (drums):
1. Frank Zappa – Zoodle Lors (two of my favorite musicians Frank Zappa and Terry Bozzio)
2. Led Zeppelin – Physical Graffiti (inspired me as a drummer and music writing)
3. Black Sabbath – Sabbath Bloody Sabbath (changed my perspective on song writing)
4. Soundgarden – Down on the Upside (my favorite record by my peers)
5. David Bowie – Ziggy Stardust (changed the landscape of contemporary music, visually as well)
Thank you for taking your time. Last word is yours.
Stephen: Thank you for taking the time to speak with me. I am grateful to everyone that is part of Göden. The making of this record was a huge undertaking. Please listen with a free and open mind… Journey now Beyond Darkness…
– Klemen Breznikar
Svart Records Official Website