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A Metamorphosis: Willow Ryan of BODY VOID Breaks Down Ecological Collapse and the Motives Behind Bury Me Beneath This Rotting Earth

Read an in-depth interview with the band's vocalist/guitarist and watch the first for the opening track, "Wound" from the impending album.

Body Void
Photo by Benjamin Collins

Transformation has been a central tenet of Body Void's music since its inception. The now Vermont-based doom duo has been growing and evolving since 2014 when they were known as Devoid. The sludge-laden, droning doom continues to morph into a diverse collage of DIY, oppressive music that takes the shape of long-form, double-digit-minute tracks. That growth further unfurls on their impending album, Bury Me Beneath This Rotting Earth.

The new record is the band's first with major label Prosthetic Records and signifies brand new steps for Body Void. Willow Ryan (vocals, guitars) and Eddie Holgerson (drums) built four brand-new tracks targeting the issues of ecological collapse and the current status of racial justice and more in the United States. Sociopolitical and economic issues have become a well of source material for the duo. It's a change from the band's debut, I Live Inside A Burning House, which dealt with Ryan living as a queer, nonbinary individual living with mental illness.

Their 2019 EP, You Will Know The Fear You Forced Upon Us saw the lens shift towards more national and international issues. Bury Me Beneath This Rotting Earth pulls out even farther to some extent. The album is equal parts a call to action and an homage to a planet Ryan loves—flaws and all. Within this subject matter, the duo also expands on their sonic ideas. Added noise layers and atypical inclusions in doom metal like blast beats surface as well.

Ryan and Holgerson made a conscious effort to be more focused and concise in their arrangements—shaving 20-minute songs down to 12 or 13. It is all part of growth for bands and for Body Void, this growth and these trials shows a pair of musicians creating some of their heaviest and most exciting music yet. Bury Me Beneath This Rotting Earth is a stellar display of enthralling doom metal. It's the kind of doom that makes minutes feel like seconds and single guitar notes or cymbal crashes feel like earth-shaking forces.

Watch the exclusive premiere of the official video for the album's opening track, "Wound" now. Preorders for the record are available through Prosthetic Records ahead of its release on April 23. Cassette versions will be available through Tridroid Records.

Body Void is on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

We've talked in the past about Body Void's music and your life as a whole. When we spoke about I Live Inside A Burning House a couple of years ago, you mentioned Body Void started around the time you came out to yourself as non-binary. For that album, in particular, you wanted to write about existing as a queer individual with mental illness. Recently, you announced you're taking steps to start hormone replacement therapy. How does it feel to finally be taking those steps?

WILLOW RYAN: It's interesting, especially looking back on that time, so much has changed—it's evolved, I guess. I think as time goes on I just keep understanding more about myself in that context. One of the things about HRT for me and transitioning more traditionally and more physically is the concept of understanding myself as a trans person.

As a trans person, I don't always know what I'm yearning for, I guess. It's like, “What can I do to unravel that for myself?”

That's how I'm approaching it. I don't have a real solid goal for what that looks like on the other side. As far as the album and how that all exists together, on one hand, the way I was writing lyrics back then was so internal and inward-looking. Moving on from that, we did an EP right after, and it wasn't that internal at all. I guess part of me is willing to move past that mindset of I Live Inside A Burning House.

Music, as far as Body Void goes, isn't the outlet for mental illness and gender that it was back then. A lot of that has helped me get to this place where I'm more confident in being able to understand myself.

Music has become much more of this outward-facing thing. I think a big part of that is we haven't been able to think of anything else other than Donald Trump for the past four years. I felt maybe now's not the time to write lyrics about myself.

It sounds like early on you started to find your confidence in yourself and it didn't necessarily need to be this outlet to write lyrics about yourself so much. Now that you had this confidence, you can start to look outward a little bit and really challenge some of the things that you see going on in the world around you.

RYAN: Yeah, I think it just depends. Everything sucks about the pandemic, but it's clarified a lot of things in relation to music and how it intersected with talking about myself. Music felt less like the arena to do that, I guess.

A Metamorphosis: Willow Ryan of BODY VOID Breaks Down Ecological Collapse and the Motives Behind Bury Me Beneath This Rotting Earth

Artwork by Ibay Arifin Suradi

Yeah, absolutely. Speaking of the pandemic and having that time with music, now, your new album, Bury Me Beneath This Rotting Earth, was written in the summer of last year. It features four tracks, all of which are spanning at least 12 minutes long. What were some big goals or aspirations that you and Eddie had going into this record?

RYAN: Musically, I mean, the songs are still long by anyone's standard, but for us it was very much about focusing on what we do best and writing songs around that. I feel like our past stuff, our last album, I Live Inside a Burning House, and the EP after that were very sprawling. This is still definitely sprawling, but we really focused it and not have it be so meandering. As far as the lyrics and themes, it started as "I want to write about ecological collapse."

Then as I was writing the lyrics, George Floyd was murdered and that whole summer kicked off protests and fighting against police brutality. It was this moment of being in that and being really frustrated by it to where I write about it.

So, the album became half ecological disaster and half white supremacy and the state of the US at the time—and obviously, those two things are connected. Writing the lyrics for this album was like very all at once and very like of the moment. Writing them and then recording them happened very quickly.

The way I usually write lyrics is I'll just think about it for a long, long, long time and what it's about. Then I accumulate what I want to say, and then it kind of vomits out onto the page. That was definitely true for this. It was a way to vent about what was happening.

Thinking of how last summer transpired and honestly, the news over the last four to even 10 years with some of the stuff that's been going on, everything is very apparent. It's very in your face. There's a lot of source material to go off of for a lot of this stuff. I've got to imagine sitting there brainstorming these ideas on ecological collapse and then simultaneously seeing Black Lives Matter protests begin as a result of George Floyd's murder. It has to provide this deep well of ideas to build off of.

Continuing in this thematic idea, you mentioned the current status of the United States and combining it with climate change and mentioned Floyd's murder and the protests, but are there any other specific instances, maybe more, in the climate change side of things that really made you shift Body Void's lens to this subject matter?

RYAN: I don't know if there's a specific event. It's the way the country has struggled to do anything about climate change.

As we're talking right now, everything that's happening in Texas is just another—I feel like this is the world we live in now. Where basically, one part of the world or another is being ravaged directly because of climate change. The US especially doesn't want to take responsibility and doesn't want to do anything about it, and I think it's the issue that encompasses almost everything that is wrong with, the U.S. especially, but global capitalism, white supremacy, and all of these systems that we live under.

When you when you're writing about ecological collapse, you're really writing about white supremacy and capitalism. All of these issues affect the US especially.

I think a big part of the album is very much reflecting on myself as an American and what that means in that context. It's weird talking about this because I wrote this is all under Donald Trump. Now behind this president, there's been a lot of gestures at change, but we have yet to see any real difference in policy or action.

We live with this over our heads and we're in a unique position when it comes to this. I feel like this is the defining issue of our time and will be for the rest of our lives. The pandemic exposes all these ways the system is unjust and broken—or designed to be broken.

A Metamorphosis: Willow Ryan of BODY VOID Breaks Down Ecological Collapse and the Motives Behind Bury Me Beneath This Rotting Earth

Photo by Benjamin Collins

I agree. Going back to the comment you made about how climate change and the ecological collapse we're witnessing encompasses a lot of these other things, like white supremacy and capitalism. We see examples of this everywhere, right? The rainforests of Brazil being leveled so we can continue to have beef cattle or things like Standing Rock. White companies are driving out these indigenous peoples to lay pipelines through the Dakotas.

These nuances become more and more apparent and they're glaring under this umbrella of climate change. I think that's partly why climate change has been considered the greatest problem we're facing in our generation. That's a really good point there.

RYAN: This is what the first song on the record is about. When you think about capitalism as just a rush to hoard natural resources—it is just unsustainable. The people in power don't care about how this affects generations, they only care about right now and what power they have now, and how much money they can make and.

When you mentioned Standing Rock, it's an extension of colonialism and it's all the same enterprise. You can draw a line from centuries-old colonialism to white supremacy, and this need for land and resources

You said a lot of the album was written when Donald Trump was still president, but now we sit here with Joe Biden and there have been talks to try and right the ship or at least stall the inevitable. Yet, we look at things today, the weather in Texas recently, every summer seems to be hotter than the last one. Are you able to find any hope that we can fix or stall these changes to the planet?

RYAN: Oh, that's a tough one right now, for sure. We're not at the "righting the ship" part in my opinion. This is the issue: I don't think there's a way to right the ship without a fundamental change in our economic system and a system that prioritizes human life over capital—and the Earth as well.

We view the Earth as a resource to be taken, whereas it's something we're supposed to be living in balance with and we have a responsibility to maintain it, and we just don't. All we know how to do is feast on it.

I think Biden as a reaction to Donald Trump made sense. I mean, we were headed towards fascist insurrection, and now we're kind of back at neo-liberal centrism. How do we get from that to racial justice-minded and environmental justice at the forefront? It's a hard question to answer.

I guess I do have hope because if I didn't then what else is there? Right now, it feels like we're really in the thick of it and it's just one day at a time—especially with the pandemic. We're trying to keep our head above water and we're also trying to fight for a better world. I don't know if I have the luxury of thinking about if I have hope or not. You have to keep going or else. It's a weird, dark time.

Shifting towards the record, still present in Body Void's music are these long-form compositions, and compared to the 19- and 20-minute songs on your previous EP, these 12-to-13-minute songs, almost seem like a cakewalk on paper.

What challenges or advantages does writing songs of these lengths provide? Why do you choose to continue this trend instead of classic, shorter compositions?

RYAN: I think I just don't know how to write these short songs. One part is because it’s slow music, it's going to be kind of lengthy. A big thing with Body Void is we don't want to be just one thing. We want there to be a variation of dynamics and moods across one song. With the music being that slow, we want to get to a point where we can go fast and then change it up and all of that. The course of our career has been, "How can we make that happen in the most focused way?"

I wouldn't be surprised if the next releases were even shorter. It's a process of getting this down to its various forms without sacrificing that kind of variation and dynamic sound.

A Metamorphosis: Willow Ryan of BODY VOID Breaks Down Ecological Collapse and the Motives Behind Bury Me Beneath This Rotting Earth

Photo by Benjamin Collins

I noticed that. You mentioned changes in tempo, change in pace, and trying to make it a bit more focused. I've noticed as well that you have a little bit more harsh and ambient noise elements on the album as well as blast beats on the record. These are things that haven't really shown up too much on previous albums. Where did the decision to incorporate these new elements come from?

RYAN: I think it's always what we like, but I think the goal is to be as chaotic as possible. It makes sense for when it's slow for there to be a noisy aspect to create even more dissonance than we can get with just guitars and drums. Also, who doesn't want blast beats?

It was a decision to make an album that's a little bit more punk-oriented, there's still atmosphere to it, but let's just make it as chaotic as possible. I love bands that are slow, but there is still a sense of movement and a visceral feeling to it. So, we're always chasing that.

In that vein, are there moments on the album for you that stand out or other points where you thought, "OK, this is cool as hell. I'm excited we did this."?

RYAN: There is this moment in the song, "Lying Down In A Forest Fire" where everything stops. It's basically the drums hitting at random intervals, and the noise is really loud. It sounds like a noise track in the middle of a doom song. When we went into that, I didn't really have that vision, but like listening to it back, it was like, "Oh, I love this."

I think the faster parts just really gelled on this album better than they have in the past. I'm just psyched how cohesive it feels.

I've listened through the album a few times now, and it is really cool to hear some of these new dynamics to your music, having listened to your music for the last handful of years. To see this kind of change and this trend has been really fun to see so far.

RYAN: Awesome. That's good to hear. I think we also just want to make it heavy, and I think this is the heaviest we've been.

I would agree. Well, taking your personal growth over the years, the changes in sound for the band, I think it all kind of ties in neatly and nicely in some ways to the album artwork for this new record, which shows a deer mid-transformation, showing themes of metamorphosis present in the music. Where did you and Ibay, the gentleman who does the artwork for the band, come up with this idea, and how does that reflect upon Body Void's music on this new album?

RYAN: Transformation is definitely the central theme of Body Void in a really general sense. Everything we've done with Ibay has been some form of that. In the past, it's been human bodies that have been transforming.

For this, something about this image of a deer transforming—a big part of it was influenced by a movie called Annihilation. The visuals are very much the horror of nature, almost and the way it transforms and how transformation and change is just a part of nature.

I thought that was a really interesting visual and seemed to kind of represent the way I wanted to come at the issue of climate change and ecological collapse. For me, the way to write this is from a personal perspective. I don't want to be just writing, "climate change is bad…"

Something simplistic like that is less interesting than, "What is my relationship to that issue? What is my relationship to the Earth?"

Something about this image of a deer transforming felt like a way to personalize it and put a more macrocosmic climate change into this very real, personal thing. We each have an individual relationship with the Earth. It felt like a nice metaphor or image for that dynamic.

A Metamorphosis: Willow Ryan of BODY VOID Breaks Down Ecological Collapse and the Motives Behind Bury Me Beneath This Rotting Earth

Photo by Benjamin Collins

It definitely does. Climate change affects more than just you and me and our day-to-day life. It has a lot of impact on other organisms and other creatures all over the world, too.

RYAN: I'm not a super-spiritual person, but there's something to be said for the relationship that you have with nature and the Earth and all that is very finite. A huge hero of mine is Carl Sagan, and I remember watching Cosmos and having my mind blown by "We are all made of the same material."

It makes it very real that we're all part of this ecosystem. We think of ourselves as separate from it because of society and whatnot, but we're all really here. This is the only Earth that we have. That's really where the title comes from. This is the only option we have—embrace the Earth and figure out a way to live with it.

I think it would be a bit humbling for a lot of people to remember this idea that we all are part of a grander ecosystem. The things that we do, both the negative and the positive, have a larger influence than just what we have on our individual basis as well.

RYAN: Right, exactly. You can break that down beyond the issue of climate change. What we do matters whether you want it to or not. What you put into the world is going to come back to you in a literal sense—you have an impact.

That's very true and it's a good comment. Looping back in Sagan, he had a quote that was that says, "We're all like butterflies who flutter for a day and think it's forever."

It has these effects, not just in that instance to everything around it, but this creates long-term change and long-term potential disaster based on this short-sighted, narrow-minded selfishness.

RYAN: It's like a constant "looking at the trees instead of the forest." I think there's this disconnection from reality that is hard for me to wrap my head around. Yet, at the same time, I think we're all just humans in a very fast-paced society and a very modern world who lose track of what it means to be a part of these larger ecosystems–both in nature and community.

I definitely see your album conveying that message. Hearing what you've said about the meaning behind the artwork and your take on the climate change crisis and your continued search for hope, all ties beautifully together into this record. I think you convey that message really well.

RYAN: Thank you. The song "Fawn," at the time of writing it, there was a feeling it was more of a poem than what I'm used to writing in other songs for Body Void. Looking back on it, it's really about that. The dynamic that we're part of something bigger, taking responsibility for that, and rethinking what our society looks like.



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