WOODS OF YPRES – Rae Amitay: The Family Tree

By Carl Begai

David Gold was Woods Of Ypres, but there’s no discounting the long list of musicians that helped him bring the music to life during the band’s 10 year career. One of the last names on that list is twentysomething-on-the-younger-side drummer Rae Amitay, and it wasn’t until the tribute shows held in David’s honour back in April – in Toronto and his home town of Sault Ste Marie respectively – that fans were truly aware of her connection to the band. Conscripted for a European tour planned for early 2012 in support of Woods 5: Grey Skies And Electric Light, she had yet to be tested as a full card-carrying band member, but those plans and expectations were tragically derailed when David passed away on December 21st, 2011.

It was a small but necessary consolation for Rae to be able to attend the tribute shows and pay her respects both as a performer and a fan.

“Unfortunately, with everything that happened we didn’t have time to make a proper announcement about the new line-up,” says Rae. “I thought I was going to get completely lost in the shuffle when the tribute shows happened, so it was so nice of Joel (Violette / guitars) when he brought me and Brendan Hayter (bass) up because we were really looking forward to being in the band. I started hearing rumours about tribute shows and I wanted to be a part of them, but there was no way unless I could do something with Joel, and I really wanted to. So, I approached him and asked him if he’d be interested, and he was like ‘Wait, there are tribute shows?’ People just assumed Joel was going to know about them, but he didn’t. We got some basic information and started planning a tentative set, and it all came together from there.”

“I think Joel had to be there, because he played such a massive role in the writing and recording of Woods 5. I felt that if he hadn’t been a part of those shows it would have detracted from the whole thing because there needed to be some semblance of Woods Of Ypres present. It was very important that Joel got to take part in it.”

Rae posted an overview of the tribute show experience on Metal Review (found here) back in April, and months later it still holds a lasting impact for her. It’s a safe bet that any future tributes to David – such as the planned annual Ypres Metal Fest – will be at the top of her to-do list.

“It was great. I got into Toronto and met Joel for the first time, he grabbed his guitar and we just sat in this little park at the foot of the CN Tower and we practiced our set. It was a lot of fun. I actually did more singing than drumming during our set, which was kind of nerve-wracking, but people were really receptive. My whole time in Canada was memorable. If I had to namedrop, Gypsy Chief Goliath’s cover of ‘Suicide Cargoload’ was the heaviest fucking thing I’ve ever heard in my life, and the fact I got to hear them do it twice… man, it was so awesome (laughs). And Kittie’s cover of ‘Everything I Touch Turns To Gold (Then To Coal)’ was incredible.”

For those that are wondering how she managed to score the post as Woods Of Ypres’ intended new drummer, chalk it up to the convenient magic of social media.

“We were friends on Facebook and I had been a fan of Woods Of Ypres for a long time. David posted an open announcement about needing a drummer and I didn’t even flinch; I just said ‘Yeah, I’ll do it’ (laughs). I was in the middle of school and everything but I didn’t really care. I messaged him and said that I wanted the job, so David watched some video clips of me playing and we got to talking. He told me that I had to be prepared to pretty much drop everything and come to Sault Ste Marie, and I had no problem with that.”

“Brendan and I are both from Massachusetts and we were going to road trip up there in January of this year, but we obviously never ended up doing that. I never got the chance to go to The Soo until the tribute shows. I never had the chance to even meet David. The one chance I would have had was when he did a show with Novembers Doom, but I wasn’t 21 yet and couldn’t get in. We chatted a lot online, there was Facebook and email and one phone call, but I didn’t get to know him as well as I wanted to. Getting to go to the tribute shows and hear all of these stories about him from his friends and his family – especially from his mom – it was staggering. All his siblings are so beautiful and blonde with those blue eyes; it was like looking at other versions of David (laughs).”

Rae readily admits that Woods Of Ypres would have been her first real high profile gig as a musician, which she refers to as “the big thing for me. I had a lot of opportunities to join bands right out of high school but I decided to go to Berklee College Of Music instead, and it took time away from touring or recording because I was a full time student. I’ve been on a few recordings but never really had the chance to tour. The Woods thing was going to be my first foray into that aspect of music.”

“Doom and melodic death metal is my favourite to play within the metal genre, but I’m all over the place. The only things I’m not huge into playing are the eternal pissing contests of ‘How many beats-per-minute can you do?’ Technical death metal like The Faceless and Obscura, I’ll leave that to them because that stuff is fucking hard to play (laughs).”

There’s plenty of documented proof that David was no slouch as a drummer, suggesting that Rae likely carries a large set of balls in her backpack. In spite of her comparative lack of experience she still pushed for the job of taking on David’s role behind the kit, fully aware that her work would be judged against his by a loyal no-nonsense fanbase.

“I was a little intimidated,” Rae admits. “It seemed like a Dave Grohl – Taylor Hawkins situation (laughs); they’re both great players, but it’s Dave Grohl, you know? I did feel like that, especially listening to Woods 5 and knowing that David recorded all the drums for it. I was nervous when I sent recordings of me playing, and he would always be really nice and complimentary and supportive, but part of me was like ‘No, just be honest, did I fuck that up?’ I loved playing along to Woods Of Ypres before any of that happened, so I figured that unless he took things to an extreme black metal direction I’d be able to play for him.”

“Woods 5 is my favourite album to play. It’s challenging but it’s got a lot of groove and cool licks David came up with. It was funny because Joel showed me footage of David tracking ‘Lightning And Snow’, which is my favourite song to play off the album, and I noticed he was doing things a little bit differently than I was. So, I learned how to play the song correctly (laughs). I think he’d be happy about that.”

For the future, Rae has a couple different irons in the fire – including a tribute album cover of the Woods song ‘Silver’ with Joel Violette that can only be described as haunting – but she makes a point of reassuring Woods fans that the band has been laid to rest, and rightly so.

“Joel’s not looking to work on anything under the Woods Of Ypres name. We’re all aware of the fact that Dave was Woods. Joel and I are working on the second Thrawsunblat album. I’ll be drumming on it, and hopefully I’ll have all my parts done this summer. And again, there are huge shoes to fill since David played drums on the first record.”

“It’s definitely an honour,” she says of being a part of the extended Woods Of Ypres family. “It’s certainly not anything I could have seen coming. I’m glad there’s some kind of connection with all those people because I was really worried that all of that was going to be lost and I’d have to go back to my pre-Woods life. A lot of people have reached out and made me a part of that whole family even though I didn’t really become a part of it until after we lost David. I’m very grateful for that.”

Following is a list of players that graced Woods Of Ypres’ ranks over the years:

David Gold – vocals, guitars, drums, vision
Brian McManus – guitars, vocals (2002–2003)
Aaron Palmer – bass, vocals (2002–2003)
Robin Cross – vocals (2003)
Dustin Black – guitars (2003)
Steve Jones – guitars (2003–2004)
Connor Sharpe – bass (2003–2004)
Jessica Rose – keyboards (2003–2008)
Dan Hulse – bass guitar, vocals (2005–2007)
Chris “Mezz” Mezzabotta – drums (2005–2007)
Shawn Stoneman – guitars (2007)
Lee Maines – guitars (2008)
Bryan Belleau – guitar (2008–2010)
Steve Furgiuele – bass (2008–2009)
Evan Madden – drums (2008–2011)
Brian Holmes – keyboards (2008)
Shane Madden – bass (2009–2011)
Joel Violette – lead guitar, studio bass (2010–2011)
Brendan Hayter – bass (2011)
Rae Amitay – drums (2011)

(And if I missed anyone, full blame goes to the monkeys on Wikipedia. Feel free to hit me back so I can fill in the blanks).

Check out the complete Toronto tribute show here.