The Oath’s Johanna Sadonis discusses occult, dark themes of debut album

Posted on April 15, 2014

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(Photos by Joe Dilworth)

(Photos by Joe Dilworth)

 

By Rachael Mattice

Finding a compatible soul that shares the same beliefs, desires and ambitions as another can be seen as cosmic fate or sheer coincidence. Once the relationship is discovered, it can open a valve of opportunities to your deepest potential.

German vocalist Johanna Sadonis and Swedish guitarist Linnea Olsson found this synchronicity and identity in one another, and used their musical compatibility to forge The Oath in 2012.

The Oath’s collaboration of doom-laden, ‘70s hard rock, ‘80s metal and punk enthusiasm creates a haunting, occult-themed, diversified sound. Meshing Sadonis’ vocal style reflecting Coven, Heart and Stevie Nicks with Olsson’s Black Sabbath, Motorhead, Hammer and Angel Witch instrumental influences, The Oath’s underworld archetypes created the nine-song debut album out in North America today via Rise Above Records.

The duo’s eclectic and international circle of friends and musicians aided in the development of the debut, including Henke Palm of In Solitude that not only contributed guitar solos, but introduced the pair to one another. French bassist Simon Bouteloup (Kadavar) and American drummer Andrew Prestige (Angel Witch, Winters) worked and recorded the rhythm section on the album. The group traveled to Studio Cobra in Stockholm for a 10-day recording session with producer Konie Ehrencrona. The band’s use of live recording gives their style a rough, minimalistic and vintage signature sound.

From the rattling and Satanic “All Must Die” to the gassed and punk-infused “Black Rainbow” to the closing seven-minute magical “Psalm 7,” The Oath’s powerful riffs, driving rhythms and dark lyrics bond for an ageless style and enticing album no matter the decade. The spirituality and sorcery of The Oath’s entity is even woven symbolically into the logo designed by Watain’s Erik Danielson.

Vocalist Johanna Sadonis talked about her band’s, her sister-like connection with Olsson, the internationalism of The Oath and the darkness that provokes her lyrics.

Question: In your press release, it talks about Linnea’s move from Stockholm to Berlin. Can you give me a little background on yourself?

Answer: I was actually born and raised in Berlin. I lived in California for three years, but returned to Berlin because I realized I was still in love with Europe.

More musicians started moving here because there is so much going on culturally in the music and arts scene. There are so many clubs and restaurants opening all the time, it’s just really exciting here.

If you ever get a chance to come over, you should stop by in Berlin. You will be sure to love it. I have a lot of American friends, English and Australian that all live here. It’s very cheap to live here also. Everybody speaks English so you don’t have to know German to get around here.

I didn’t know Linnea before she moved here, but she moved here for the same reason.

Q: Synchronicity is how your bond with Linnea is described. Do you think you both always longed for one another in need for such a strong friendship, or do you think you both were looking for this creative alignment in another musician? Was it intentional that you wanted to find a female guitarist?

A: I founded the band with the original drummer, one of my friends, when we were working nightclubs together. Every night we would speak about metal and get all excited like little kids. We were both in metal bands in the ‘90s.

The next step was to look for a guitar player. Henke Palm, the guitarist from In Solitude, played with Linnea in Sonic Ritual and wrote me a message that she was looking for a band to play with.

We sat down at a bar together and talked about music. It’s funny because we look very much alike, too. We were both looking for the same thing at the same time without knowing each other.

We weren’t looking for a female guitarist at all. I was always one of the boys. There weren’t many girls around that liked similar things. The chance of meeting a girl that you are on the same page with is so small. I didn’t really want to be in a chick band either so it just worked out in unexpected ways.

Q: Is your album also released in other languages? If not, why did you choose to write your album lyrics in English?

A: No it’s just in English. I lived in the United States for three years, I was married to an American guy at one point; most of my friends I speak English to; I dream in English even though I have this heavy German accent so it’s a very natural language for me as well.

We want people to understand the lyrics. We don’t consider ourselves a German band; we are very international. Our bassist and drummer are both from the U.K., we used to have an American drummer and a French bassist. I’m the only German.

Q: Why do you think recording live is so important to the sound and entity of The Oath?

A: We wrote the songs really fast. The band hasn’t existed for a long time anyway. We wrote two of the songs right before we were heading to Stockholm to record. Then we only had about 10 days in Stockholm.

It was also our intent to have it like that. We listen to a lot of ‘80s heavy metal and ‘70s hard rock, and I really love the sound and production. You can really keep a lot of the fire without sounding neurotic and overthinking it too much by recording live and not make it this big complicated production that is super slick.  The sound is more organic and rough with flaws. That’s the kind of music I like to listen to too. When you listen to an old Alice Cooper album, it’s not perfect, it’s the sound of it.

Q: Having a lengthy background with heavy metal, will growls or screams ever be incorporated into your vocals for The Oath?

A: No. In the ‘90s, I was part of several death metal bands, but I was the additional singer. There were guys that were growling and singing, and I had the woman’s voice. I like to play metal, but I still really like Heart, old Stevie Nicks from the ‘70s or the Runaways. I put a main focus on a hard rock sound. It wouldn’t fit me.

Q: Since your debut album is very dark and touches on some occult themes, what’s the background of inspiration in this? Is this part of the connection that really brought you and Linnea together? As the lyricist of the album, how are you personally bound to the writing?

A: Linnea and I both believe that things are supposed to happen for a reason. She’s not a very spiritual person, but I am.

When I started listening to metal, I was 13, which was over 20 years ago. I would work in an occult book store in Berlin to make some extra money. I got sucked really deep into the occult when I was a teenager.

Before Linnea moved to Berlin, she went to a psychic. A friend told her to go see one because it’s fun; that’s something she’s never done before. The psychic told her she would move someplace else, she’s going to play music and it’s going to be with another woman. This was about a year before she moved to Berlin.

In retrospective, she had forgotten about it for a long time and it came up again and realized it had actually come true. It was strange.

A lot of the lyrics are very blunt. I use a lot of words like Satan, Lucifer and demons and obviously it’s a very heavy metal motive to use. It’s very personal though, I mean what I’m singing but it’s also meant as a metaphor. You can say you had a night out using cocaine and your demons come awake or whatever. Not everything is literal, but I’m deeply spiritual.

(Photos by Kieran Behan)

(Photos by Kieran Behan)

Q: Since a lot of the music surrounds this element of darkness, was there a specific time, event or moment in your life where you struggled through your own?

A: Linnea and I are both very reckoned women. There are two songs that are references to drugs, not that we have been in extreme trouble, but things happen here and there.

There’s also one song that is about a friend of mine that committed suicide more than 10 years ago. That is a very personal song for me. It’s the ballad called “Leaving Together.”

All of the songs have some tie to my life. There’s the number seven in the last song “Psalm 7,” 6777. It’s a magical number. My name – Johanna Claudia Sadonis – has seven letters in each name, so it’s 777. I’m a huge Danzig fan so it’s funny to hear his song “777 is my name,” and it’s actually my name, too. This number just keeps reappearing. Linnea has a connection to the number, too.

All of our songs have a lot of stories about death, drugs, sex, rock n’ roll, decay and being morbid.

Q: I’ve heard some heavy metal fans say that the music exists in a way to entice, intrigue and terrify the listener. A few of Black Sabbath’s albums had this initial effect on me. Even with your darker references with demons, the occult and even Satan, do you think your album could have a similar effect on some people? Is it more difficult as women to accomplish this?

A: We are also big Black Sabbath fans. When we were on tour in November with Ghost, it’s not so eerie to me to hear my own songs that way.

I heard “Leaving Together” for the first time in the rehearsal room and it brought tears to my eyes because it was really haunting me about the death of my friend. When you play the song live, it feels very different to the musicians.  When we performed the last song on our album, “Psalm 7,” on that tour in front of the audience, everyone in the hall was very quiet and stared at us since it starts very slow. We connected with our fans in a very different way with the song. I got goose bumps.

I know what you mean though because I am a big music fan, and music of other people can really get to me. I am a very morbid person who thinks about death a lot and all things morbid so I try to put as much of it into the music. If we can do that, then our fans would have to tell me.

If a man can have this effect on listeners then sure, a woman can, too. If you are furious and sincere about it, people will notice that it’s not a joke. I don’t think its attached to gender.

Q: “Black Rainbow” sounds pretty punk in the instrumentals. Which one of you is the punk enthusiast?

A: We both like a lot of death metal, doom, classic heavy metal, British heavy metal, 80s heavy metal and old hard rock. I think I listen to more 70s hard rock than Linnea, but she has more of a punk background. Then again we are big Motorhead fans and they are very punk-like, too.

My older brother was a big punk fan so naturally I wanted to rebel against him and become a big heavy metal kid. She brings in the rough, edgy parts of the band and I put in the emotional parts.

Q: “In Dreams” is an acoustic, instrumental-only, interlude track. What do you want listeners to takeaway from this track? Why do you think this track was a good fit for the album?

A: This was more Linnea’s song. This was a song I wasn’t involved in writing. She wrote this with my ex-bassist, Simone Bouteloup, a French guy who is now playing with Kadavar. She was always thinking of a Sabbath interlude. But we always liked when bands put small interludes in between songs on their album. I love the very diverse albums that tell a story.

Q: What is it about Erik Danielson from Watain that persuaded you to choose him to design your logo?

A: I love his band and everything that he is doing, and he is one of the smartest and most inspiring people that I know. He’s very hard working with Watain and is very spiritual. His eyes are very piercing.

Besides writing great music and having this band, I connected very spiritually with him. I know a lot of really good artists, but I know he would get what I wanted. I told him Linnea and I were in a band, and I trusted him blindly. Of course if I didn’t like it I wouldn’t have used it, but the first thing he sent was what we used.

He even put in my relationship to the number seven in the logo. If you look at it, it has seven dots. Everything he does has meaning and is symbolical. He also added the two crosses – one upside down to invoke the duality of Linnea and myself. I like to have his touch somehow in the band and put a bit of magic in it.

He also visited us a lot in the studio when we were recording the album and there is a guitar howl of his hidden in the album somewhere. Henke from In Solitude also played a few guitar solos in the songs.

Q: What sort of challenges does your band face as a European group when looking to draw in potential fans or concertgoers from the United States?

A: We consider ourselves a very international band because we are all from different places. The metal scene can be very small, but word will get around. It will reach me by mouth-to-mouth propaganda. We aren’t really pushing on it, but with the digital age, who knows? The metal scene keeps getting smaller.

Q: Surprisingly, I actually first heard of you because I follow the Toxic Vision clothing Facebook page. How did you discover her?

A: Sharon designed the outfits on the album cover. I found her and asked her if she would do this since I saw her stuff online.

Then I ran into David Vincent from Morbid Angel when they were playing in Berlin and we were speaking about wardrobe and so on. Linnea and I wanted to do something special for the band and Sharon seemed perfect for it since she is a big metal fan herself. She’s just a creative type like Erik that has so much to offer. She was a very smart and charming woman that was easy to work with and understood exactly what I wanted.

Q: How long has Linnea been a journalist for Sweden Rock Magazine? Does she still work and write for them in between being a musician for The Oath?

A: She does. That’s her main job and she writes for some other magazines as well. I worked for a concert industry and privately put on heavy metal shows and also written a few articles as well. It’s kind of funny for me to have this interview to talk about myself because usually I’m the one putting on the show or helping the band.

Q: What’s in line for the upcoming months? Where will you be touring and with whom?

A: Right now we are sitting back and enjoying that the album is out. We were supposed to be on a big six-week European tour right now with Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, and were suppose to go to a lot of festivals such as Roadburn.

However, we had to cancel everything last minute. It was due to personal reasons and we can’t really speak about it. Right now we have declined all live offers, but we don’t know where the journey goes.

There’s going to be a Japanese edition of the album and there will be a bonus track with a cover of Demon’s “Night of the Demon.” That edition of the album will be out in another month or two.

To learn more about The Oath, visit https://www.facebook.com/THEOATHOFFICIAL or http://theoath.bandcamp.com/.

Mattice is a music journalist for Village Voice’s OC Weekly and Metal Insider. She can be reached at rmattice125@gmail.com or on Twitter @RachaelM_JC.

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Posted in: Metal Insider