Shining, the wolf in the sheepfold : has reached Jazz integrity

For a good many of us in the Radio Metal staff, Norwegian industrial/jazz/metal band Shining is without a doubt this year’s big discovery. After a quick snack and starters, here comes the plat de résistance: the Radio Metal interview.

We met Jørgen Munkeby (vocals, guitars and saxophone, among others), Tor Egil Kreken (bass) and Torstein Lofthus (drums) on March 16th, just a few hours before the band’s show. It all started in the dressing rooms, where we could get to know one another, and then, what with our growing affinities and a need for privacy, we all five of us moved to Shining’s cramped but highly comfortable tour bus.

The main goal of this interview was to understand what Shining exactly is, and how they could ever release such a crazy and intense industrial metal album as Blakjazz, when the band’s first two albums revolved around acoustic jazz. The other goal was to talk about all the surprising and intriguing things that sprinkle the band’s music, and about various other subjects that really tormented yours truly. Which is why we talked for a solid 45 minutes.

This, dear reader, is a raw transcription of a very stimulating conversation. We will, however, keep the more carnal outcome of this encounter to ourselves.

« Yes, it does not sound like jazz, but that does not mean that it is not jazz. The sounds of jazz have changed a lot. I think we still call Miles Davis’ album Bitches Brew jazz, even though that does not sound like Benny Goodman, for instance. »

Metal’O Phil : Up to now we hadn’t really heard much about your band, but suddenly, with the release of your new album Blackjazz, most of the specialized press and media began to praise the band. What happened? Did you change the person in charge of your Public Relations?

Munkeby : We’ve been doing this for ten years so maybe that’s what happens when a band continues doing what they usually do. Suddenly, something happens and people start getting interested in it. We changed our record label, that has maybe played a role too. It’s not easy to just pinpoint what happened and to tell who’s responsible for it, it’s a combination of everything. But like I said, we just released our fifth album and I think our whole history justifies the attention we are now getting.

Spaceman : The instrumentation on Blackjazz seems to be much simpler than on your previous albums. Is it because up to now you had to adapt your songs in order to be able to play them live?

Munkeby : We had to adapt them because of the way they were made in the studio. This time we don’t need to adapt them that much because we had time to rehearse them before recording them. But that’s not the reason why the album sounds more « speed down ». We actually wanted it to sound that way, there is no practical reason why we did these musical choices. We just wanted to have more of the playing energy on the album. We wanted to sound like a rock band more than a studio project.

Metal’O Phil : Is it somehow frustrating for you not to be able to reproduce live some songs of your old repertoire just the way they were recorded, because of their richness?

Lofthus : No, actually (laughs)! It’s not frustrating, because playing live is a different thing anyway. We always have to prepare live versions of our songs. Whatever way they are on the records, you need to change them a little bit when you play them live. Since we have this great live band, it’s never a problem. In any case, the songs always get more energy when we play them live.

Kreken : We might take a song that is in a certain way on the album and do it completely different live, because we like it more this way.

Lofthus : For example « Aleister Explains Everything » is a bit different live than it is on the studio record, we reworked it. The live version would not have been that cool if we had managed to reproduce exactly the studio version. I think it would have somehow been unnatural. So I think it’s not frustrating, it is actually a good thing (laughs).

Spaceman : The album is called Blackjazz, but how jazz is it? It actually sounds much more industrial and metal than your previous efforts…

Munkeby : Yes, it does not sound like jazz, but that does not mean that it is not jazz. The sounds of jazz have changed a lot. I think we still call Miles Davis’ album Bitches Brew jazz, even though that does not sound like Benny Goodman, for instance. On that record, he used electric instruments and a lot of studio instrumentation. I think we call Michael Brackenbury (?) and all those 90s bands jazz although they don’t sound like Miles Davis either. So maybe the jazz on Blackjazz is not in the sound. The sound is clearly metal and industrial. Maybe it is the way we play, that is jazz. That’s just as important as the sound. Music consists of all sorts of things. It is not only about the overall mixing, the instrumentation, it is also about the songs, the lyrics, the speed, the way it is played, etc…

Spaceman : You do a lot more vocals on Blackjazz than on your previous albums. Is your singing something you want to develop in the future?

Munkeby :I just want more attention to myself (laughs)! I want to have more pictures of myself and less of the other guys (laughs)… No, sorry… (laughs)

Metal’O Phil: You just want to pick up some chicks…

Munkeby : No, no (laughs)…

Spaceman : Please be honest (laughs)

Munkeby : What was the question again?

« All the others in the band have had experiences with all sorts of other genres. That might have contributed to the fact that it felt natural to do it in this band. Maybe we’re all tired of doing the same thing…There are all sorts of reasons! »

Spaceman : (laughs) There is a lot more vocals on this album than on the previous ones, do you want to develop your singing…?

Munkeby : We thought about having other singers on the album, and we contacted a few. I wanted to learn how to sing, because I’ve always been interested in learning new things. I tried to learn how to play the flute, guitar, and things like that. I have never felt I was good at singing, so I wanted to see what I could do. I was not sure if my singing was good enough to be on an album like that, that pronounced, and that much of it. The songs began to take form and they were usually difficult. Everything had to be perfect timing-wise. Because we did not manage to contact some of the singers we had thought of, and because on second thought the other singers were just not good enough, I tried doing it myself. And it somehow worked. So it was a combination of me wanting to try out to sing more, and the fact that we were having a hard time getting people to sing on our album.

Spaceman : One of the riffs in the song “Exit Sun” really sounds like the main riff of the Muse song called Hysteria. Is it just a coincidence?

Munkeby : No, that’s correct, the riff as it is on « Exit Sun » is a development from that riff. There is actually another riff which sounds like « Electric red » by Meshuggah, the last part of that song (sings the riff). That rhythm at the end of the Meshuggah song, it’s what we’ve build up the whole middle part of the song on. But we’ve changed it around, and we also did that with the Muse riff. It’s the third bass line on the Muse song, and it’s half as long as the one that we use there. It is also in another key. So that is the beginning, to which we have added another half which descends. That is a common thing which many people use in jazz, or in classical music. So it is nothing new, we’ve also done that before. We’ve quoted Beethoven, […] we’ve quoted Messiah on the chorus in The Smoking Dog, and many others. In our music, there are lots of hidden and not so hidden links to other artists.

Spaceman : And you do this as a tribute, because you appreciate the artist? Or what are the reasons?

Munkeby : Yes, I really like Muse.

Spaceman : Shining collaborated with Enslaved on a concerto called Nine Nights in Nothingness – Glimpses of Downfall, also know as the Armageddon Concerto, written and performed by both bands at the Moldejazz in 2008. Can you tell us what is the Moldejazz, and where did the idea of this concerto come from?

Kreken : Moldejazz in one of the largest annual jazz festivals in Norway, it takes place in this small town called Molde.

Munkeby : It’s Norway’s biggest jazz festival, and it’s been going on for about 40 years. They asked us to do the main festival concert and we agreed to do it. They also asked if we wanted to collaborate with another band, but we refused to do so. The festival got back to us at the beginning of 2008. At that time, we just came home from a tour with Enslaved, with whom we shared a stage from August to October 2007. During three of our German dates, we had performed 21st Century Schizoid Man with them. After this, we thought that it might actually be a cool thing to work with them on that Molde concert. So we contacted them, and they really wanted to do it. Someone filmed the performance of 21st Century Schizoid Man in Berlin or Munich and put it on Youtube, so we sent that link to the Jazz Festival, as an example of a possible collaboration. They saw it, were really interested, and that is how all that came into being. We then decided that each band was to compose half of the music, and that this concert was to be 90 minutes long. So we composed a little bit more than 45 minutes each, exclusively for that concert. Each of the bands sent emails here and there to ask about the ideas, what to do, etc. We ended up rehearsing together for a week in Bergen and finally went to Molde to perform it for the first time. That was a really nice time. We’re actually playing it again next month at the Roadburn Festival in Tilburg. That is the second time it is performed, and probably the last chance ever to hear it. It will probably not be released either, so that will maybe be the end of the whole project.

Spaceman : So you will never release the concert.

Munkeby : There are no plans about that, except fans’ bootlegs, eventually. There will probably be someone there with a hidden recorder. We’re not going to record it and release it.

Spaceman : I know that the song Fisheye is kind of a newer version of the concerto’s seventh movement. Will you reuse some of the bass again?

Munkeby : We have reused Fisheye on Blackjazz, and we did record the first movement which was released on the vinyl edition of Blackjazz, under the name Blackjazz Death Trance (?). We have used some of it but there are no definite plans. Maybe we’ll use some of it, maybe not…now we’re just going to perform that whole thing…

Spaceman: Why did you choose not to record it?

Munkeby : There are many reasons for that. We are ten musicians and two bands with busy schedules. When we are releasing a new album, they are in a studio recording one, and vice versa. It’s hard to agree on when to do things like that. If we were bands that did not tour, did not release their own albums then it would be much easier to find a spot to release it.

Spaceman : Or at least, record the performance you are going to do at the Roadburn Festival.

Munkeby : We have thought about this, but it won’t be recorded.

Spaceman : Ok ! (laughs) Blackjazz ends with King Crimson song 21st Century Schizoid Man, possibly the most covered song from King Crimson. What does it represent to you? Why did you choose this specific song?

Munkeby : That is also a weird story. We did not sit down to talk about a song we wanted to cover. Actually, a radio station wanted us to be part of a programme where we would present a band that we liked and cover of one of their songs. That was the idea, we just wanted to play that song our way, on radio, that one time. Our guitarist suggested King Crimson, to which I had never listened that much, and we started thinking about different songs. I think everybody thought that 21st Century Schizoid Man was a little bit too much blues rock, so we decided to fuck it up a little bit (laughs). We were pretty happy with that version, and we’ve been playing it live. It has developed more and more, and as while recording it for this album we were not sure whether it would really fit, we fucked it up even more. Now I think that it perfectly fits the album, even though it somehow stands out. But all this was originally due to a national radio asking us to record a song, we seldom sit down and talk about covering songs.

Metal’O Phil : The band members appear masked on the Myspace page and on the website. Why?

Munkeby : Because I want all the attention (laughs), and I don’t want them to be recognised.

Kreken : Originally he wanted all of us to have masks with his picture …

Munkeby : Of myself! (laughs)

Kreken : It’s more of an art thing maybe?

Lofthus : It’s because it’s cooler with the masks than without! Yes, it’s an Art thing

Munkeby : Everybody keeps blinking their eyes, so we’ve never managed to make a photo without a mask, like that! (laughs) no, I’m just kidding, it’s what Torstein said.

Lofthus : It looks kind of cool and tough without wearing body paint or whatever… it’s still a cool picture, it’s still hard in a way.

Spaceman : Have you thought about playing live with these masks?

Kreken : Yes, we tried that when we did the video for the Madness and the Damage Done, but I don’t think we would be able to play an entire concert like that (laughs).

Munkeby : You can hardly breathe! It would be really cool if we could do that sometime, but we cannot do that easily. The music we play is already hard without the mask, so with the mask… it would be impossible. At the end of the day, it’s just a picture, one should not give too much importance.

Spaceman : What about Slipknot, they actually play with their masks…

Munkeby : Yeah, they’re better than us

« No, I think that should be everyone’s choice. If they don’t feel like taking their time to listen to our music and understand it, then that’s fine. We all are the same way. We really like to expand our musical limits all the time, but that’s not for everyone. »

Spaceman : The first two Shining albums were mostly acoustic jazz records. What led you to evolve in such a drastic way?

Munkeby : Well, the same reason as all the other decisions we’ve made. We just feel that we want to do something, and we decide that we’re going to do it. Perhaps we just take a couple more steps than other bands, or just longer ones. Not so many bands take such a long stretch in just ten years, but it’s been natural for us.

Lofthus : And as we have said before, in other interviews, the next record always sounds totally different from the previous. It is not that we woke up one day and it was totally different. No, it came gradually. It is just « more » with us than with any other band, I guess.

Munkeby : There is no real answer to the question « why did you change. » It felt better, and I’m really happy with it, but there is in fact no real reason. Many things happened: people quit the band, I quit another band with which I did a lot of other genres. All the others in the band have had experiences with all sorts of other genres. That might have contributed to the fact that it felt natural to do it in this band. Maybe we’re all tired of doing the same thing…There are all sorts of reasons!

Kreken : And we develop in all sorts of possible ways. In the way you compose, you develop all the time as well. Naturally, you want to try new stuff. We all contribute to creation, with what we’re listening to, with what we do at the moment, etc.

Metal’O Phil : So you say that it was very natural for you, but did it feel natural to your first fans? Was it hard for the jazz community and your very first fans in particular to understand this evolution?

Munkeby : Yes. I don’t think that they are still here

Lofthus : Yes… but there are some of them who followed us, because we already had many fans. When we started as a jazz band, we did it well in all ways, and we got some attention. Being in this jazz environment, a lot of people who were into classical music listened to us, and a lot of rock people too. There was something in our jazz that they liked, I think it was the energy and the structure of the whole thing.

Munkeby : We did it with the rock attitude…

Lofthus : And they had a shock when they came out of our first concert after our biggest step, for the release of the King of Kitsch record, when we had gone electric. They had never heard us playing electric before, we were just playing jazz in Oslo. But it was a positive shock, because we had many fans who were not typically jazz purists. And they loved the new thing (laughs)… that was even better for them…

Munkeby : Up their asses (laughs)

Spaceman : Today, Shining’s music really goes all over the place. Does it have any limits?

Kreken : Hopefully not, maybe?

Lofthus : It has of course the limits of our capabilities… we want to get better as musicians, and better at what we do. It is difficult to say. So no … it has no limits! (laughs) There are definitely things we cannot do yet, but that we’ll be able to do, at some point.

Munkeby : And there are also things we do not want to do, right now.

Metal’O Phil : For example?

Munkeby : For instance, in 1998, 2000, we did not want to play electric. So it means that if there are things we do not want to do now, it does not necessarily mean that we will not do them in the future. For the moment we do not want to wear body paint, for example… we do not want to make music only to provoke. There are bands that make music mostly to provoke, without focusing that much on making music for the sake of making music! That, we do not want to do. We still want to raise attention and to be extreme in the music but we don’t do it to provoke.

Lofthus : There are really lots of things we do not want to do…

Munkeby : It’s a lot of decisions, and that’s part of the game, to choose what you don’t want. I don’t play flute. We don’t play with masks. You don’t play percussions (to Lofthus), you don’t play (sings a jazz percussion rhythm)

Spaceman : Because of the complexity of it, your music can be considered quite elitist. Does that somehow bother you or is it something you actually claim?

Munkeby : No, it does not bother me. If people think it’s elitist, I don’t care. We don’t care what people think in that manner. But the reason why we make music is that we want to make music that we like ourselves. A lot of us think that a lot of less elitist music is boring, because it is not complex enough… so that’s the reason why we make that type of music. It appeals to smarter people, the more intelligent people, the more educated ones, which is indeed elitist. But that’s how it is.

Lofthus : But I don’t think that only that kind of people like our music, because it has a feel in addition to its elitist aspect. The difficult bits also have a feel and an energy that anyone could understand. I am not a big fan of the elitism concept. If anyone means that our music is elitist, I take that as a compliment, of course. But I think anyone could appreciate our music, because you don’t have to understand everything, just to like it.

Kreken : I think that a lot of people who for instance have never listened to metal music may listen to Blackjazz and like it because it has a lot of elements. It also has this energy which is so important to us, and which makes it understandable to anyone. People can get something out of it even though they don’t really relate to the genre that we play.

Munkeby : Basically, we don’t think about this when we make music. We just try to make music the way we like it. But I agree with those guys also. We’ve played concerts in all sorts of places, and our music appeals to all sorts of people. That’s the good thing about it. Like Torstein said, people can say things, and call things what they want, we don’t really care about that. (sings « I don’t really care about that » on the tune of Michael Jackson’s They don’t really care about us)

Spaceman : Would you blame people for not taking the time to really listen to music thus orientating themselves towards more immediate and easy listening music?

Kreken : No, I think that should be everyone’s choice. If they don’t feel like taking their time to listen to our music and understand it, then that’s fine. We all are the same way. We really like to expand our musical limits all the time, but that’s not for everyone.

Lofthus : So we are elitist! (laughs) no, but I agree with you…

Munkeby : if people can spend their time in any way they want, if they want to spend their life doing something else, swimming…

Kreken : Playing banjo?

Munkeby : Then please do! We don’t really care about that (singing on MJ’s tune again (rires)

Kreken : But what is really cool, although there are people who really don’t like our music at all, it seems that if they do like it, then they really like it.

Munkeby : And if they don’t like it, then they really don’t like it! (laughs)

Lofthus : But that is so much cooler for us, having people showing up after the show and telling us they really like it… it’s better than having a lot people thinking it’s just « ok ».


 » He’s doing the same thing as us, although he’s coming from the other direction. He’s coming from old school black metal scene and going towards progressive music and jazz. And we, as a band, started out as a jazz band and we’re now going the opposite way. But we’re in the same area now, although he’s quite softer than us. So we actually passed each other. But we’re still doing the same thing, mixing either metal and jazz, or black metal and free jazz. So it was perfect timing, and it was as good for us as for him. » (Munkeby talking about Ihsahn)

Spaceman to Munkeby : You have collaborated with Ihsahn on his latest album After. When we hear the album, we can notice that he gave you a lot of space for your saxophone lines. How did you live this collaboration?

Munkeby : That was a really nice experience, I was happy that he asked me to do that. But I thought also that it was a natural thing for him to ask me, because of what we were doing with Shining, and what he was doing with his band. He’s a really nice guy, and everything worked well. I think the album is great. There is nothing more to be said about that, other that it was a really nice thing. I’m actually playing with him on some selected concerts and we will probably continue doing some things together. He’s just like us, he’s moved forward, although there are so many people who would have liked him to continue making the same music he did when he was 15 years old. He would sell loads of albums if he did that, but he doesn’t want to. It’s a very courageous decision, which proves that he’s into this because he wants to make music, just like us. He’s like a soulmate in that respect.

Spaceman : We actually talked with Ihsahn and he did admit that he wasn’t totally sure…

Munkeby : And he did not really like it…? (laughs) he paid for it and he thought that, ok… (laughs)

Spaceman : (laughs) Well, he did admit that he wasn’t totally sure that the sound of the saxophone would fit Metal music. Do you think any instruments can serve any type of music? Is it just a matter of how you do it?

Munkeby : It’s a matter of how you play, mostly. Of course, some instruments have some stronger associations to them. When people hear saxophone, they associate it with black African musicians playing in a bar or in front of a full moon. When you hear a pan-pipe, the association is quite obvious, and when you hear bagpipes, you think about something like Braveheart. Some instruments don’t have such strong associations so they’re easier to insert in different kinds of music. Some instruments are harder to incorporate into some musical genres, because they are always associated to something specific. That is the same thing with saxophone, that’s probably what Ihsahn thought about. Everybody think they know what a saxophone is…although they maybe think it’s a trumpet. Some instruments are harder to move from their natural place than others, but it is a matter of how you play it. He chose me to play on that album, and I played it the way I felt it should be played. It would not sound that way if some other person would play it.

Spaceman : Both albums, Blackjazz and Ihsahn’s After, came out at about the same time.

Munkeby : The same day!

Spaceman : And did you benefit from a kind of a curiosity effect because of Ihsahn’s album?

Munkeby : Yes, I think so, both ways actually. In most of the interviews he’s doing with big Metal magazines, they talk about that. So it definitely goes both ways, although for us it was really good. It has brought attention to the things we wanted to bring attention to, the Blackjazz idea. He’s doing the same thing as us, although he’s coming from the other direction. He’s coming from old school black metal scene and going towards progressive music and jazz. And we, as a band, started out as a jazz band and we’re now going the opposite way. But we’re in the same area now, although he’s quite softer than us. So we actually passed each other. But we’re still doing the same thing, mixing either metal and jazz, or black metal and free jazz. So it was perfect timing, and it was as good for us as for him.

Metal’O Phil : I’m sure that you’re aware that a renowned Swedish black metal band is also called Shining. Has this already caused confusion? Is it irritating that when we talk about your band it is always followed by the mention “not to be confused with the Swedish band”?

Munkeby : You’re asking several things. On the « irritation » topic, I would say that it is actually good, because it helps distinguishing the two bands. If everyone would know that there are two bands, one from Norway and one from Sweden, or one jazz metal and one suicide metal, or whatever, it would not be a problem. When you don’t realise that there are two bands, or you don’t know the difference, then it might be a problem. If we had started our band this year and released our first album in a metal style, then we would not have called the band Shining. We would have called it Nine Inch Nails, or whatever (laughs). And the same goes for them. We started almost at the same time, and there was no internet so we did not know about each other. We played jazz, they played I don’t know what… but that’s a common situation. Take for example Mayhem, there were at least five bands named like that playing black metal. There are several bands called Cynic, several others called Enslaved…it’s just a weird situation with which we have to deal, together with the fans.

Metal’O Phil : Do you think that people know you because you have the same name as Shining?

Munkeby : That might be a positive thing. Perhaps it is another reason to write about us, or to check us out, after checking them out or vice versa. We’ve been in the profession for as long as they have, we have a solid fan base… so a lot of people I meet are surprised that there is another band called Shining. It works both ways. The worst thing that can happen is that a person likes one band, and listens to the other band thinking it’s the one he normally listens to. But even that is not a big disaster. In the end, listening to a music you did not know before is probably just a good thing.

Metal’O Phil : Do you recall any funny anecdotes where people confused the two bands? People showing up to your shows, and realising it’s the wrong band?

Lofthus : Well, when we toured with Enslaved, and did their first part, we came to a festival in Germany. When we were about to play, the manager of the festival came up to me with a bucket. He actually asked me to clean the stage after the performance, because he thought we were the other Shining, whose members usually cut themselves on stage! (laughs)

Munkeby : Things also happened in London, but not because of the blood this time. That band has a lot of enemies, because they’re a bit idiot…and we are nice guys. But that’s not so big of a problem, because we’re a famous band and people know us. People are getting better at distinguishing our bands. Writing Shining Norway or Shining Sweden just serves that purpose in the end… Each band has its own discography. We’ll see how it goes, we can change our name to Nine Inch Nails if you want! (laughs)

Metal’O Phil: Would you consider collaborating with the Swedish Shining?

Munkeby : Maybe! He was actually at one of our concerts, he was really nice to us. He’s also on the same label as us. And I know he’s interested in all sorts of music. So maybe, you never know! We’re not enemies. He’s making the best music he can make, and so do we. In that area we’re just doing the same thing. And he’s also pushing the boundaries of metal, which is what we do too. So basically, we’re on the same mission.

Interview conducted by Spaceman & Metal’o Phil at Gerland’s Grrrnd Zero, in Lyon in mars 2010, the 16th.

Translation : Sandra

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