When he worked for Boise Weekly, Blake Green was a study in contradictions. He didn't look much like a salesman. He often wore a button-down shirt tucked into a pair of faded jeans, with worn boots and long reddish hair pulled back in a ponytail or piled on the back of his head. Green always looked more like a hesher than a guy who sold advertising.
So when his BW colleagues learned that he played music, and when he left BW last year to pursue it full time, we weren't surprised. On Wednesday, May 11, after nearly 10 years of performing, Green and his partner/bandmate Brittany McConnell, will take another big career step when they kick off a 37-show tour across the United States.
Green was only 20 years old when he started working for BW in 2003, but even then, his resemblance to Lemmy Kilmister added to the dichotomy of what he did during the day and what he did at night. The first time many of us went to see what was then PussyGutt (which he and McConnell formed around 2001), we arrived at the show expecting to see Green and maybe two or three other guys banging their heads as they crushed through speed metal riffs. What we found instead--both in sight and sound--surprised us.
We found Green behind the drums and 6-foot-tall McConnell with a bass slung low or a violin tucked into the hollow of her long neck. And not a microphone in sight. What we heard was gloomy 15- to 20-minute suites sans vocals, created by plodding, heavy, tribal beats and impossibly heart-breaking violin strains languorously spreading like a bead of black ink dropped in a bucket full of milk.
The duo has since changed its name to Wolvserpent, thickened its recordings with more instrumentation (clarinet, chimes, viola and more), and McConnell can often be seen behind the drum kit while Green plays guitar and shouts soul-wrenching howls into a microphone--with his back turned to the audience.
Nothing about Wolvserpent is simple. Even the format for the kickoff show is complicated, layered like a 17th century orchestral piece. Green and McConnell will share the evening with their longtime Seattle-based collaborator Garek Druss, who performs as A Story of Rats and who will be releasing his debut LP (he's also opening for them on this tour). Local doom band Uzala will also perform.
The show is a release party of sorts for Wolvserpent. The group will release a double CD of re-mastered versions of its last two releases: Gathering Strengths, which was the last album under the PussyGutt name, and Blood Seed, which is Wolvserpent's first, both of which were on vinyl only. And last but not least, the duo will release a cassette tape that will have one song by Green, McConnell and Druss' side project Mezektet on one side and A Story of Rats song on the other. Green will also have CDs and vinyl of his solo side project, Aelter, available.
Trying to describe Wolvserpent's atmospheric metal is no less convoluted. Respected metal 'zine hailsandhorns.com nailed it--without nailing it: "Wolvserpent is a duo that defies the typical genre identifiers (read: crutches) most journalists fall back on when trumpeting as to why you should like 'this' band or 'this album,' and if you don't, well you just don't 'get it.' Instead of 'sounds like insert album name mixed with insert band name,' Wolvserpent lends itself more to the visceral. Adjectives such as 'caustic' and 'caterwaul' come to mind, as do 'soothing' and 'subtle.'"
Even for Wolvserpent the definitions don't come easily.
"It kind of depends on if someone is familiar with metal or not," Green said when asked how he explains Wolvserpent's sound.
"My favorite descriptions are chamber doom metal and dark adult contemporary," McConnell said with a laugh.
"We've also been called funeral drone, which is interesting because there's funeral doom, which has been going on for awhile," Green added.
But those descriptions may only work for people familiar with drone, doom or any other kind of avant garde metal. For everyone else, Green and McConnell try to bring it down to its basics.
"I usually say it's scary sad music," Green said, to which McConnell added: "Cinematic."
To describe Gathering Strengths, they also bandied about "Western doom metal," "blackened doom" and, believe it or not, folk, though that description has more to do with the quality and aesthetic of the broad soundscapes.
In the decade that Green and McConnell have been honing and refining a sound that would be well suited to a psychological thriller set it Siberia, they have also worked to transcend it--and they've grown up. In five years, the band name may not be Wolvserpent, but Green and McConnell will still be the force behind the music.
"I think we've decided that we're going to do whatever we want to do and the importance would be to be more widely recognized as the two of us instead of whatever moniker we choose," Green said.
But they also don't want it to be "the Blake and Brittany show," and that causes them to think long and hard about the image they project.
"Even deciding to do interviews was a big deal," McConnell said. "Then we had to decide if we were going to do them as us or Wolvserpent."
"The band name definitely has significance and we're sort of underneath it," Green said. "You know, like it's the boss."
It may be the boss, but Green and McConnell don't consider Wolvserpent a job.
"It's our work," McConnell said.
"Yeah, it's our work. It doesn't pay the bills, but any job you have is really in support of the grand scheme of your life's work," Green added.