The Botanist, aka Otrebor, Talks Dulcimer-Fueled Metal and Nature’s Retaking of Mother Earth
Potentially the only self-aware human inhabitant of the “Verdant Realm,” his own “sanctuary of fantasy and wonder,” as one website called it, one-man band the Botanist has just released his fourth LP, ‘IV: Mandragora,’ to a wealth of critical praise. To the untrained ear, Botanist’s brash music might be indistinguishable from that of other contemporary black metal acts, but Otrebor — the aforementioned “one man” — approaches the genre from a highly unique vantage point, deriving his melodies from a hammered dulcimer, an instrument born in the Middle Ages whose strings are pulled taught over a trapezoid-shaped sound board.
Similarly unique are the lyrical motifs found throughout the Botanist discography. Focusing on the theory that mankind has been Mother Earth’s pitfall, Otrebor explores the possibilities of a Judgement Day-style botanical retaking of the world as a territory, and “the glorification of the Plantae Kingdom,” et al. In an email interview with Diffuser.fm, the complex musician and thinker explained his art and worldview.
For starters, would you mind distinguishing Otrebor from the Botanist for me? I’ve noticed in interviews that you refer to the Botanist in the third person.
Andrew, thank you for asking this question. There’s been some confusion on this point, and it’s good to be able to clear this up.
Botanist is the name of the band. The Botanist is the titular character from whose perspective all the songs are written. You can read more about that [on my biography page] and [my lore page]. Otrebor is my artist’s name. When I appear on other bands’ albums, it is as Otrebor. When I speak publicly, like in this interview, it is also as Otrebor. This is important, as I am not the Botanist. Rather, the Botanist is an entity whom I channel to make the music of Botanist. I am like a conduit for him. Sometimes, I feel he exists within me; sometimes it’s like he is somewhere beyond, and I act as his medium. Some days, I feel like he is more present than others, and when I get glimpses into my own potential descent into madness, complete transformation into the Botanist is what it often looks like. If that happens, for sure I, as the permanent incarnation of the Botanist, will stop giving interviews.
Other interviews have focused on the music of Botanist. I’m curious about The Botanist’s agenda. Do you genuinely welcome the end of man to mark the beginning of Mother Earth’s rejuvenation?
As the story goes, a botanist goes mad at mankind’s destruction of the natural world. He swears revenge, but his perception of vengeance is more as a witness to the natural world standing up for itself, and his knowing that it is only a matter of time before the human race brings about its own eradication, at which point the Earth can be green once again.
This tale endeavors to be mystical, spiritual, fantastic. It is also an allegory. It is about what is really happening in our world, how humanity is destroying the most important thing we have on Earth — the Earth itself. The story Botanist is telling is not only one of the beauty of plants and flowers, but also of how essential they are to life for all beings, including the destroyers. The tale is told though an extreme perspective on purpose. It is up to each individual member of the human race to decide whether the Natural world is worth saving for his or her benefit, or for the benefit of his or her descendants. It is up to each individual member to decide this is important to fight for as even if humanity brings about the destruction of every living thing on the planet, life will go on, whether that includes humanity or not.
The above is another important aspect to the Otrebor/the Botanist distinction made in the previous question. The importance of the Natural world, the feelings of peace and clarity that it imparts to me, the profound beauty I feel from my contact with it — and the way it resets my own perspective of my relative place in the universe — are all things that resonate deeply with me. While my contempt for mankind can come and go, this veneration of the natural world is something that has and will always remain constant and is the primary inspiration to making these albums.
Does your affinity for botany permeate other areas of your life? For instance, do you follow or have convictions about a plant-based diet or study botanical science?
Above, I talked about the important impact, the grounding influence that interacting with and learning about the Natural world has given me. The aspect of these experiences as perspective resetters have profound effect on my life and world view in that it affords me greater clarity of what is actually important and what is merely noise meant to distract us; that what global human culture in general seems to be striving for is hollow and destructive, that it does not serve us as a whole; that we are in fact not the omnipotent beings of the universe, and if we can slow down and learn to live more simply and mindfully, it will positively impact the quality of life for all living things.
Right, and I understand that. But on a more basic, fundamental level, for instance, is your drum kit made of wood? And if so, does that bother you?
The drum kit pictured in the initial promo photos is made of hammered brass. It was made by a boutique company in Southern California called DC California, who has strangely never advertised the availability of the kit. As far as I know, Botanist is the only band to have one. It looks incredible, like a giant bee hive.
If you ever see me on stage, it will be with my carbon-fiber Tempus kit, which was made to my specs by the congenial Paul Mason, who has since retired. That kit is the ideal touring set, as it is very light, is not affected by weather conditions, and is practically bullet-proof.
That’s hardly the answer I anticipated. Fascinating, though. I wasn’t aware that a good tone could be derived from a shell made of metal … Music this inspired, or with this much vision, doesn’t come along very often. What are some other artists you feel have achieved the kind of clarity in scope that you have with Botanist?
Thank you for that. Since I’m not intimately involved with every other project, I can’t accurately speak for how clear those artists’ visions are with respect to their creations.
I can speak for my own, though. I can speak for how deeply meaningful Botanist’s mission statement is to me, how everything about it — from the project’s beginning and through to its conceptual end — resonates with the development of that sentiment. I know this to be true as the more I am involved in this, the more of a sense I get that what I am speaking for is far bigger than who I am. That is the single most powerful thing I have felt from doing this project.
But to answer your question more directly, I am inspired and influenced by the music of Eluvium. What inspires me about Eluvium is how its music is recreated from album to album, yet there is an intrinsic element that gives it an Eluvium-ness. I love all of this project’s works. I think Eluvium possesses an acute sense of loveliness and delicacy; it is able to convey emotions in a unique manner. The parallel I see with Botanist is how I intend each successive full-length to be in some important way unlike any other Botanist album that came before it, while always retaining an intrinsic aspect of Botanist-ness to tie it all together. Some rules will change from album to album, but the ones that are fundamental are the music will always be centered on the dulcimer, the records will always be limited to what I can personally record, and the music will always be about The Botanist’s chronicling of plants and flowers. I hope you will enjoy listening to the forthcoming explorations as much as I enjoyed being a part of them.