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Interviews   

Shining (Norway) shows great clarity of purpose


Creating something completely new is not a common thing anymore in the metal genre (just as in most other musical genres actually). However, that’s something the musicians from Shining have been able to manage with the release of Blackjazz which, landing like a UFO in the landscape, had a detonating effect in the ears of thrill-seeking music lovers. In fact, Shining is perfectly aware that what it created is something unique. This is the reason why Jørgen Munkeby and his pack of mad musicians decided to tap this opportunity. It wasn’t so they could ride on the wave of some success – Munkeby himself recognises that it’s quite impossible to forecast – but so that, as artist, they could exploit and try out new ventures. Hence was born the Blackjazz trilogy, composed of an initial album, a recorded live experience and the latest One One One recently released.

« If I’m making something, I want it to be great. If it’s not going to be great, I don’t want to spend time on it. »

Radio Metal: The songs on One One One are more concise and to-the-point compared to Blackjazz. Was there a conscious effort to make things a bit easier for the listener this time?

Jørgen Munkeby: I don’t spend that much time thinking about how the listener… Basically, the only thing I think about when deciding what to do with our music is what I personally think would make the music better, and also what I personally want to do. Trying to plan and trying to figure out what the audience might like or not like, or what might sell or be popular – that’s very hard. So the only thing I can do as an artist is to follow what I personally feel is right and how I think I could make the music better. That’s what I did this time also. You’re right, the songs are shorter and more concise this time, but it’s only because that’s what I wanted to do. That’s how I felt I could make the music better. The two songs I liked the most on Blackjazz were the first two : “The Madness And The Damage Done” and “Fisheye”. Those have an almost ordinary song structure. You can hear where the chorus is and where the verses are, and I really liked that. I wanted to see if I could make more songs like that, trim it down a bit, see if we could get straight to the point and not have too many parts that are unnecessary. Blackjazz and the live DVD we did were very conceptual albums. They were long, they had long songs and there were also songs that were there mainly to give variations and transition parts. This time, I wanted to see if we could cut away those to get straight to the point. But if people find it easier to listen to, or harder, that’s fine with me. There’s not much I can do about that. I just need to follow what I feel is correct.

The title of the album reflects how you made stand-alone songs one after the other. Was this how the title was meant?

“One One One” kind of has three meanings. One of them is that, this time, I wanted to focus on making great songs. I wanted to have a series of great songs, see if that’s possible. I still think that it’s important to have a great album; the big picture in the album is important, just as it’s important in a classical symphony that the whole thing works great together. But this time, the new thing for me was to focus on getting every song to be strong enough to stand on its own if that’s needed. That’s one of the meaning of this series of “ones”. Another meaning is the Roman numeral “III”, because to me, it could be viewed as Blackjazz number three. It’s our third release since Blackjazz, it has somewhat of the same sound. We worked with the same producer and mixer. To me, One One One is closer to Blackjazz than it is to any of our previous albums. The third meaning is that 1 1 1 in the binary system is number 7 in the ordinary decimal system. I thought it was cool, because it’s our seventh release if you count the live album. So those are the three meanings, but the most important of them is the meaning of single songs. It’s something I’ve never done before. It’s a new thing for us.

You include Blackjazz Live as part of a trilogy. It sounds like this album is important for you…

Yeah, to me it was really important. A lot of people think that live albums are just something made by the label, that nobody cares about and doesn’t want to spend time on. That’s probably right but, to me, that live album was really important. It’s a film, it’s a concert. We spent so much time and money on that, more than any other album before. That’s because I felt that the whole idea of Blackjazz as a phenomenon or as a new genre, or what you want to call it, deserved to have some video footage. We actually played the music and I wanted people to see that. It’s physically demanding and we played as a punk band would play it, with the whole body, instead of staying with our guitars up here below the arms. We gave it all. That way you can also see the whole aesthetics behind the band: you can see the backdrop, you can see the lights… I think it makes it more unique. To me, it’s definitely one of our releases. It’s not something that we just did for fun or that we didn’t care about. We really cared about it. If I’m making something, I want it to be great. If it’s not going to be great, I don’t want to spend time on it. I wouldn’t want to make it if it wasn’t good. In the future, I think it’ll be a great thing for people to look back on. If they’re interested in getting to know our band, that’s a great starting point. You can see how we look, you can see that we’re playing and not programming everything; you can really see how jazz and metal can be combined, basically. That’s what it’s about.

There are some pretty famous live albums in the history of rock and heavy metal, like Live After Death from Iron Maiden or Made In Japan from Deep Purple. Do you see your live album as such?

Yeah, I do. I know Kiss has a very famous live album called Alive. The thing that really turned me on to Muse was the HAARP DVD. You’re right, there are examples of great live releases but, in general, I think people don’t really expect much from them. They’re used to seeing cheap live releases, because it’s really hard to make a live release that sound good and look good – really hard and really expensive.

« Maybe the reason Blackjazz was popular is because it was new, different. So if we made the same thing again, it wouldn’t be new! »

You’ve mentioned that one of your own songs that inspired this new album was “Fisheye”. Actually, the track “My Dying Drive” on the new record sounds very inspired by that song, almost like it’s some sort of sequel. Is it?

Yeah, I would say so. When I made that song, I was always conscious that it sounded a bit like “Fisheye” and I thought it was cool. It starts with a drum solo with the same tempo, then the guitars come in and there’s the synth melody that sounds somewhat like the melody in “Fisheye”. It’s a different sound, but it’s sort of the same intervals. So yes, it’s sort of like a sequel. I think that’s something we do a lot, we have other songs that are sequels in our catalogue. We have a song called “HEALTER SKELTER” from Blackjazz, which has the sax part and the rhythm part of a song called “REDRUM” from our 2005 album, In The Kingdom Of Kitsch You Will Be A Monster. It’s the same riff but it’s sped up, we’re playing it faster and harder. We also have a song called “The Red Room” on Grindstone, which also has a saxophone-driven part, so we have three of those. On Blackjazz, there are two songs called “The Madness And The Damage Done”, and two songs called “Exit Sun”. On Grindstone, in 2007, there’s a song called “In The Kingdom Of Kitsch You Will Be A Monster”, which is actually the same name as the album before. We do that a lot. I like to try and tie things together in a way.

There are also inspirations from movies in your music…

Definitely. I’m influenced a lot by movies, much than I am from book or other art forms. Our name is obviously taken from a movie. Before the movie, there was a book by Stephen King, but most people think about the movie when they hear “Shining”, although the movie is called “The Shining”. “The Red Room” I already mentioned, from Grindstone, is taken from David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. “REDRUM”, where the sax riff was originally taken from, is a phrase from the Shining movie, where the little boy is writing with his mother’s lipstick on a mirror. If you read it backwards, it spells “MURDER”. So there are a bunch of movie references. “In The Kingdom Of Kitsch You Will Be A Monster” is a book and a movie. I get really inspired by movies. For example, for our new single from One One One, the melody on the chorus was written right after seeing Prometheus. I thought the opening part of that movie was so great. That day I was wondering where the song was going and what kind of vibe I wanted the song to have. And I saw that movie and thought the opening was just great for that song. I wanted this song to be that kind of science-fiction, dystopian song. So I went to my studio, wrote this melody line and recorded it. That’s actually the very first ideas being used in the final version. Movies are great for me. Another reason that’s cool is that, when we were finished mixing – I was in Hollywood, in Laurel Canyon, mixing with Sean [Beaven] –, we went to a party with some movie friends of Sean’s. A guy called Neville told me he was actually the one working with Ridley Scott on Prometheus, who designed that very beginning of the movie. It was pretty cool for me to meet him. So you’re right, I think movies are the thing that inspired me the most to make music – except for music itself!

Filmmakers like Stanley Kubrick or David Lynch are known for their original, or even weird movies. Is this the kind of movies you like the most?

I’m a really big fan of both Stanley Kubrick and David Lynch, but I also like the more modern Hollywood movies. I liked Oblivion, the new movie with Tom Cruise. But I think in ten years, or when I die, I’ll remember Space Odyssey, Twin Peaks, Mulholland Drive and Lost Highway. I’m not sure I’ll remember Oblivion when I die, you know? But it’s cool. I think it’s great that they also make more ordinary action-packed movies. They’re also fun.

Do you think your music is the kind of thing Kubrick or Lynch would make if they were musicians?

Yeah, I think so. I’m hoping they will discover us and put some of our music in their movies! Making the soundtrack for the next David Lynch movie would be great! Like he did with Rammstein in Lost Highway.

That would make sense! Back to the album: the changes are smaller between One One One and Blackjazz than between Blackjazz and its predecessors. Is it the popular and artistic success of Blackjazz that led you to keep a similar sound?

It’s funny because many people are actually already complaining because they find it too much different! But you’re absolutely right, it’s the smallest difference between two Shining albums, as we made some radical changes in the past. As a matter of fact, we started as an acoustic jazz outfit… In my mind, a financial or popular success wouldn’t be a reason or a good basis to make a decision on where to go. Maybe the reason Blackjazz was popular is because it was new, different. So if we made the same thing again, it wouldn’t be new! That’s one way to look at it. Another way to look at it is that, if Blackjazz was popular, maybe making another one like it would make sense. What I’m saying is that it’s impossible to know. It’s impossible – or maybe not impossible, but really hard – to predict what will be popular or not. The best thing for an artist to do, in my mind, is just to focus on what they want to do. I focus on what inspires me and how I feel I could make our music better. That’s the only thing that was on my mind. But I do agree that One One One is closer to Blackjazz than our previous albums.

« I’m a big fan of mathematics, you know! […] I’m not obsessed. But… almost! »

You worked with producer Sean Beaven once again. How is your collaboration with him? Has it evolved compared to Blackjazz?

The first time we worked together was on Blackjazz in 2009. One of the most important choices in our career was to have him involved in Blackjazz, because he really made that album sound unique. It wouldn’t have sounded anything like it does if we’d had someone else. We really worked well together on that. I wanted him to be involved on Live Blackjazz again and that also worked great. So this time, I wanted him to be even more involved. He was a co-producer; he was involved in the process much earlier. We talked about where the general direction of the album might go, I sent him demos. I was in L.A. for six weeks in April and May 2012 and we talked about the songs. Then I came back and he suggested we send stuff back and forth over the Atlantic. He suggested to remove some parts, add another drum groove here and there, stuff like that. So he was involved all along and then, of course, he also mixed it at the end of the process. That was great, really. The songs I’m most happy with are usually the songs he was most involved in. That tells me it was a good thing.

Do you think the changes he made were for the best?

Yeah, obviously. If I didn’t think that, we wouldn’t have done those changes. They were only suggestions; in the end, I decide what to do with our album. We totally agreed on those things. If we didn’t agree, we would discuss it, and either I would be convinced that something else was good, or I would decide we wouldn’t do it. That’s how a good relationship works. But in the end, I’m the artist, so I decide!

Did you want to have some sort of cohesion between those albums? Is that why you worked with him again?

Yeah. I was really happy with Blackjazz. I think we came up with a very unique thing. We came up with a unique genre combination and a unique sound. I wanted to continue with that for a few albums, so we could expand the whole universe of Blackjazz. I consciously tried to produce the whole thing in a similar way. The guitars on this one sound a little bit more organic than before, but it’s still like the Blackjazz sound. The drums are almost identical, although a bit more organic also. He mixed it in the same place and it was the same guy who mastered it. So yes, we really tried to make it sound somewhat the same.

Do you think the sound you created with Sean on Blackjazz and One One One could be a basis for your future productions?

Yes, it could. But maybe we’ll want to change in the future. It’s really hard to know. I’m getting better at playing and producing. If I want to make a certain kind of sound, or a certain kind of melody, or a certain kind of song, I’m usually able to do that. I’m getting better at that. So the technical problems are getting smaller. As for the rest, there’s something inside of me that really decides what I can and cannot do, and there’s not much I can do with that. So next time, if I feel I should do the exact same album again, that’s what I’m gonna do. But if I feel I want to do a totally different one, that’s what’s going to happen. It’s really hard to know.

So it means we have to see Shining as an unpredictable band; maybe that’s what makes it so exciting!

Yeah, it is unpredictable. Everybody’s getting older, my life’s changing. I think it’s only natural that the music is also changing. If the music didn’t change, that would be wrong. My life is changing, my tastes are changing – everything’s changing. That’s also why we were able to make Blackjazz: we were not afraid of changing. We were not afraid of trying something new. That’s the only thing that’s not changing: we are not afraid of change!

So we could hear any kind of radical changes from Shining?

Maybe. And maybe not! It’s hard to know.

The singing has evolved on One One One: it’s not always saturated, as it was on Blackjazz, and it’s more modulated. Did you want to expand your vocals? Did you work on your voice for this album?

In the past I’ve praticed a lot my saxophone. Then at some point I wanted to practice more my guitar playing and now its my vocal. If I had to choose now to pratice only one instrument, it would be my vocals. Because I have already so much practiced my saxophone and my vocals is what I think I can and want to improve. I’ve spent a lot of time rehearsing my singing, trying to see if I could become a better singer. I also wanted to see how… Two songs I mentioned from Blackjazz, “The Madness And The Damage Done” and “Fisheye”, have quite a bit of vocals. And those were the songs I wanted to use as a starting point. This album has a lot of vocals, but maybe the next one won’t have as much. This time, the vocals and the lyrics were more important.

« I don’t go to parties! I love to be invited, but I’m not gonna come. »

There’s a song called “Blackjazz Rebels”. Is this song meant to be a Shining anthem?

Yeah. Katy Perry has KatyCats, Lady Gaga has her Little Monsters and Norwegian band Turbonegro has Turbojugend. That’s what I was thinking when I wrote this song. I wasn’t sure if we were going to use that song. I mean, it’s a good idea, but it’s also a little bit pretentious. But that was the plan. I feel that song really came out great. People can call us what the hell they want, but if they like to call us Blackjazz Rebels, I’m fine with that!

At the beginning of “Blackjazz Rebels” and on “Walk Away Master”, you enumerate numbers, just like you’re doing throughout “Fisheye”, actually. Was this meant as a reference to this last song?

There’s a lot of numbers in our lyrics. I’m not sure… (long hesitation) I think “Fisheye” might be the first one where we had a lot of numbers. You’re right, that’s where it started. I’m a big fan of mathematics, you know! I’ve always been fond of numbers, that’s probably the reason why.

It reminds me of the movie “The Number 23”, where Jim Carrey has an obsession with numbers. Have you seen it?

No, I’m sorry! I’ll write it down.

Maybe you’ll recognize yourself in the character! Would you say you’re obsessed with numbers?

I’m not obsessed. But… almost! I’m pretty into numbers!

What do the numbers in “Fisheye” represent?

There’s a bunch of numbers in “Fisheye” and there’s a bunch of meanings. “1, 3, 7, 5” are odd numbers, they’re not even. I’m also saying “Never 4, never I”, and the whole drum pattern is in 7/8, which is also not an even number. So the whole song is sort of a tribute to things that are weird and odd, and not ordinary. So that’s one of the reasons I chose “1, 3, 7, 5”. “1, 3, 4, 9” is a reference to when the Black Plague came to Norway on a boat from Germany. Then there’s a bunch of other numbers in the lyrics, they have cabalistic meanings. There’s this system where numbers are being attached to letters and symbols and elements and stuff like that.

Last time we met, we talked about how Blackjazz contained references to Meshuggah and Muse. For example, the riff in “Exit Sun” sounds like the riff in Muse’s “Hysteria”. Are there other references borrowed from other bands on One One One?

On One One One, I don’t think there is anything that’s borrowed – except for a saxophone part in “The Hurting Game”, which is part of the saxophone solo in “Fisheye”. Apart from that, there’s nothing… Well, the lyrics to “My Dying Drive” start the same way as Foo Fighters’ “All My Life”. It also has the same kind of system, where the last word in one sentence is the same as the first word in the next sentence. The Foo Frighters song goes something like: “All my life I’ve been searching for something / Something never comes never leads to nothing / Nothing satisfies but I’m getting close”. My song says: “All my life, trying to keep from dying/Keep it alive, always defying”. I took the Foo Fighters lyrics and kind of used that as a starting point for this one. But apart from that… On “Exit Sun”, the riffs are almost the same; for this one, it goes further from the original. For instance, I would say that the drum groove and the guitar pattern for “I Won’t Forget” are kind of similar to Queen Of The Stone Age’s “You Think I Ain’t Worth A Dollar But I Feel Like A Millionaire”, but it’s still not that similar. It’s still pretty different.

Were these conscious influences?

Yeah.

As a saxophonist, do you feel close to John Zorn, who also worked with metal artists and did some pretty crazy things?

Nah. I actually haven’t listened a lot to John Zorn, I just listened to some of it. I saw he’s a famous saxophone player who has played with metal bands, but I haven’t listened to him, basically. I don’t know anything about him.

You worked with Ihsahn again on his latest album. It looks like the collaboration between the two of you is working out great. Do you think this is going to go further?

I don’t know. I have no idea. Maybe he doesn’t know either! (laughs)

Have you thought about inviting him on a Shining album?

Yeah, he actually recorded the vocals for “The Madness And The Damage Done”. I was thinking about releasing the song with him on vocals as a single with a few other songs. But I never had the time. It’s just somewhere on my hard drive. So there is a recording with him doing the vocals on “The Madness And The Damage Done” and nobody knows about it!

Why didn’t you include it as a bonus on the album?

It was after the album was released.

The name of the band is obviously a reference to the Shining movie, as we said earlier. A couple of weeks ago, we talked to The Dillinger Escape Plan’s singer Greg Puciato, who’s a great fan of this movie and of Stanley Kubrick. This link between the two bands actually makes sense: both are pretty crazy and have jazz influences. So you feel close to Dillinger Escape Plan’s musical vision?

Yeah, definitely. When I heard Miss Machine for the first time, I almost wanted to quit making music, because I felt that they’d made the perfect music! But after a while, I got a bit tired of it, because I think the world needs other types of music also. But yes, Dillinger Escape Plan has definitely been a really important band for me. I’ve never met them, but it would be amazing touring with them. I think it would be a great package.

Apparently, you had the opportunity to go to Marilyn Manson’s birthday party in Hollywood, along with many celebrities like Johnny Depp. How did you end up being invited?

Sean Beaven has been working with Manson for the last 20 years, so he just wanted to drop by and give him a present. We were mixing and we just went there to give him a birthday present and say happy birthday. That’s it, nothing more to it than that! That’s how it is. The world isn’t that big. Sean has been working with all the biggest guys in the industry, so he knows everybody.

What does Marilyn Manson’s birthday party look like?

It was in a big nightclub in L.A., in Hollywood, with loud music and girls in a bunny, Playboy kind of costumes, with champagne bottles as big as my bike and fireworks. That’s how it looked!

It sounds like it’s not the type of party you like!

No, I was only there for an hour or so, then we went home. I don’t remember what I did, but… It’s not usually the type of party I go to, that’s right! (laughs)

What is the type of party you go to, then?

I don’t go to parties! I love to be invited, but I’m not gonna come.

« I’m kind of tired of trying to figure out how the music business works. It’s just fucked up »

On another subject, you opened for A-Ha. That’s a pretty unusual package; how the hell did you end up to be included on that bill?!

They had this competition: they wanted to give out money to four Norwegian bands from the four different parts of Norway. We were the ones who won the competition and the money in Oslo. It was decided before that that the winner would open up for A-Ha when they played a huge arena show for 35 or 40,000 people. They didn’t know who was going to win – they didn’t know we were going to win! They were cool guys, they felt it was a cool thing to do. But obviously, there were a lot of people who thought it was weird! (laughs) And it was weird. Let’s say there were 30,000 people when we played; maybe one fourth might have thought we were cool, one fourth thought we were OK, but didn’t really want to see us, and maybe half of them felt we were just in the way and just hated us. I’m fine with people not liking our music, but it’s different when you’re on stage and you have about 17,000 people just hating you! So that was weird.

It was actually brave to go out there and play in front of people you knew would hate you. Did you really feel people hating you?

No. Some did hate us and some thought it was really cool. Obviously, a lot of people really hated it and I’m not surprised, you know! It was weird.

What did the guys from A-Ha tell you about your music?

They knew about our music, they like it.

Do you feel like coming back to pure jazz one day?

I don’t know. I have no idea. Probably not with Shining, I think. I still play jazz from time to time, not with Shining, but with other bands. I practice for myself. There’s a band called Chrome Hill, that just released an album which I’m playing on. You can check it out, it’s good.

Who are you favorite saxophonists?

John Coltrane and Michael Brecker.

How come there are different release dates for the album? It’s already out in Norway…

The plan was to release the album simultaneously around the world, but I didn’t feel that the set-up in Europe and in the US was good enough. So I wanted to put that on hold and work on it and make sure we had the right people to work with. So we postponed those releases. But I didn’t want to postpone the Norwegian release, because we were playing at a festival where we were going to play the full album from start to finish for the first time. We could make a lot of money on that festival, which would enable us to do a tour in the US we otherwise wouldn’t have been able to do. I needed our Norwegian label to be able to continue with our plan; I felt that was essential if we were going to earn the money. We made 130,000€. That kind of money would help us to two or three big tours in the US. That was the reason. You need to understand that we can play one show in Norway and earn more on that single show than we earn on the whole album – on any album we ever released. There are a lot of things we need to take into consideration when we look at the band as a whole. We’ll see how it goes. It might be bad, but it also might be good, because in this day and age, a lot of people get a lot of attention and then, suddenly, they’re gone. This way, people have a reason to talk about us for a longer time. I’m kind of tired of trying to figure out how the music business works. It’s just fucked up: they’re having a hard time, there’s no money in making albums anymore. I was so tired of being in that situation – making great albums, spending loads of time and money making album, then releasing them, and seeing all that fall to the ground. Nobody was able to work with it because labels didn’t have any money. I actually considered releasing this album for free and saying fuck it, because what we had at that time wasn’t really good. But now we have a good set-up. We have a big label in Norway, Universal, which works great; we have Prosthetics Records in the US, which are doing a great job; and we have Indie Recordings in Europe. It’s much more complicated than you would think if you’re not an artist yourself.

Are you also going to tour in Europe?

Yes, probably in October and November.

Interview conducted by phone on May, 2nd 2013
Transcription: Saff’

Shining’s official website: www.shining.no

Album One One One, out since June, 4th 2013 via Indie Recordings



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