POST-MONOLITIC: An inteview with Greg Anderson of Sunn O)))
Regarding the inspiration of Jazz music
TBR: During my interview with Dylan Carlson, he reminded me that you are a big Jazz fiend. Being raised in a house where John Coltrane and Yousef Lateef were in regular rotation probably bridged my appreciation for things like Sunn O))) so I’m curious: How were you first introduced to Jazz and what about it caught your interest?
GA O))): I got into Jazz in the early 90’s. Before that, I was really into underground and independent music: Hardcore, Punk and Metal in the mid-80’s and kind of went thru different phases and tastes thru the years after that. Other than stuff you’d hear in coffee shops and restaurants – stuff like “A Kind Of Blue” – the first record that I connected with was “A Love Supreme” by John Coltrane. I bought the record in the early 90’s. I think it was a recommendation and a lot of the bands that I’d been listing to always mentioned it as a favourite. It’s such an important record, a classic and a milestone for Jazz. That was my fist introduction. I thought that the record was so intense and incredibly emotional without screaming at you, you know? (laughs)
To me, my experience with emotional music was through bands that were screaming at you: A singer expressing it thru Punk Rock or Hardcore or Metal. So to hear somebody express this really intense and deep emotion (through their instrument), it was really an eye opener for me. Being a huge fan of music in general and really pretty obsessive about it, that introduction through Coltrane opened the floodgates and it made me want to search out other stuff like it. I wanted to follow the path of where (Jazz) had come from and who else was doing it.
It was the same thing with when I discovered and first got into Hardcore music – American Hardcore. I happened to go to a record store that was recommended to me where you could actually find underground records and I bought DRI and 7 Seconds and Septic Death and from those records, I needed to know everything about this music. It was the same thing with Jazz. When I heard “A Love Supreme”, I needed to know everything about what John Coltrane had done and who else was doing this style.
Unfortunately one of the things that’s interesting about Jazz music is that it seems to be I’m pretty focused on a pretty specific time period of Jazz from you know like 1962 until about 1973 or ‘74. And then everything after that, there have been a few records or artists that have done some interesting things but either I haven found the right things or it’s just not for me, you know what I mean? (laughs)
TBR: Yeah! Being that my tastes in Jazz are from the same era, I know exactly what you mean.
GA: I think that Jazz took a softer, more commercial bent during the mid-70’s, into the 80’s and (that continues) today. I think a lot of it is that some of these artists got older and the records that they made when they were younger had a different urgency to them – a different feeling. There are definitely some incredible musicians that are playing Jazz right now but the period that I’m most interested in is from about ‘62 to ’74. That’s the period for me. Everything after that, it’s like there’s a few things but during that period there were just so many good things happening. I mean there was the Hard Bop stuff happening, the Blue Note Stuff, the free Jazz Movement and then of course, the Fusion movement especially electric Jazz and what Miles Davis was doing and Mahavishnu Orchestra and things like this I really like.
TBR: I think the fact that maybe everyone stopped doing heroin might have had something to do with it too.
GA O))): (laughs) Maybe it was just because it was the first time that it has happened. There are a lot of people who that argue that the same thing happened in the 80’s with Hardcore – that there will never be anything quite as good and I think there’s a lot of truth to that. It’s just kind of this honeymoon period where that’s the first thing that got to you and there’s this special connection. Anything outside of that is you’re not going to get that same feeling. It’s like drugs – you’re always chasing that first high and it’s never gonna be the same. (laughs)
I think you can say the same with a lot of genres of music. That’s something that’s really come to me head-on with Hardcore music lately. I kind of wrote Hardcore off after about 1990. That’s when my tastes started changing and I started getting into different stuff and two or three years ago, I discovered a few bands that I was like, “Oh my God – this band is AMAZING!” There’s this band actually from Canada this band Cursed and another band called His Hero Is Gone. There was some amazing stuff that I missed out on! I got really into those bands it was like, “OK, I’ve got to know about everything that I missed and everything that’s going on now”.
These days, with so much music and so many artists and so many labels, it’s overwhelming. It can get very discouraging and it becomes easy to turn off and hold onto the familiar and what’s comfortable. Long story short, I’ve really been rejuvenated and almost like “born again” in my excitement for new music because of what’s going on in the underground: Hardcore Crust Punk and even underground Metal stuff too you know? There’s a lot of great bands – you just have to dig for it!
TBR: Yeah, you bought up Cursed and I completely agree – what an amazing band! I regret not seeing them live before they broke up.
GA O))): (laughs) Well that’s what I’m saying! I tell people that often these days because people are like “Ah, there’s nothing good! There’s nothing new! Just the classics are good. There’s too much and everyone’s doing it for the wrong reasons” et cetera. But a band like Cursed – they were unbelievable! His Hero Is Gone is another great band. Those guys have gone on to a ton of other bands and spawned other bands, most namely, Tragedy – another phenomenal band. There’s this lineage with all of these bands: The Cursed guys are doing something new stuff. Their band Burning Love is great as well. Of course, they’ve influenced a ton of bands and I’m actually listening to a lot of them, too! (laughs)
It kinds of reminds me of a kid when I first discovered Hardcore and I was trading tapes with people. It was like “Oh my god” you know? Having a major discovery or your first love – you got so exited about it . I kinda feel that way again because I feel like there’s just so much great music and I missed out on it or stuff that’s happening now because it’s getting overlooked because there’s so much stuff.
TBR: Would you draw any parallels from the creative process employed by Jazz musicians and in the creative process between you and Steven?
GA O))): Maybe not compositionally, but yeah, the spirit of Jazz and the freedom of it – I think that’s where we draw our inspiration from. However, I’m always quick to point out that the level of our musicianship is nowhere near these people who we claim as our influences. We love the music, of course, but it’s not necessarily their skill or their technique or the execution of that music that inspires Sunn O))) directly – it’s more about the spirit of it and the openness of it. It’s trying to transcend boundaries and that’s what we’re attempting with what we do as well.
As far as Steven and I together, it definitely needs to be mentioned that the process is based on years of chemistry and friendship together – we’ve been playing music together for a very long time and lot of what happens is very natural and organic. When we step into a room together, not only do we have a good chemistry but we’ve been playing together so long that we have almost this kind of telepathy with what the other person is doing or how to create something that works with something that is typical or often played by that person.
TBR: Tell us a bit about working with Julian Priester. How did you guys hook up? What sorts of things did you guys talk about during your time together?
GA O))): Well, unfortunately, I wasn’t there for that because my wife and I were having a child. Steve was in the studio with him tough. The way that things came about is that there’s a keyboard player and trombone player that we work with named Steve Moore. He’s played with Earth, he plays with Sunn O))) and he’s a very important part of the “Monoliths” album – not only because he plays on it but because he’s a great person and he’s inspiring and he’s an amazing trombone player, and his teacher and mentor is Julian Priester.
He (Moore) found out that we knew who Julian is and that we’re really into his work. He’s one of those people (Priester) who I had obsessively collected his works, his solo records, which aren’t easy to come by. He was amazed that we knew about him and that we were into him. So (Moore) told Juilan and basically since he was friends and had been studying trombone with him, they had a relationship where Steve knew exactly how to communicate with Julain exactly what Sunn O))) is about.
For a lot of people – especially with the internet these days – if you look up Sunn O)), the first thing that might come across your computer might not make sense – especially if you’re Julian Priester who’s a Jazz legend and in his 60’s – he might just think it’s some noise that’s made by a bunch of Heavy Metal long-hairs that may or may not be involved in Satanism. (laughs) Of course, that’s not at all what we’re about but first impressions are important.
So Steve (Moore) was able to explain how Sunn O))) affected him and then translate it and use languae that he thought Julian would understand and thankfully, Julian was interested. So then Steve said ,“I’m going to do some overdubs and working on this record, would you like to come in and check it out?” and Julian was really interested in the music and inspired and that’s where his playing (on the album) comes from. He really thought that it was interesting and different, so he played on it.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to be at the actual session where that stuff was tracked but I was very close of course with Steve (Moore) and O’Malley and talking to them about it and the process. So it was very cool – it was a great experience and really an honour. Since the record has come out, Julian has gotten some attention from it that he might not have gotten before. He’s really fascinated by it and the final product of the album – he really enjoys it. So that was a really cool and unexpected meeting and collaboration.
TBR: I want to talk more about Southern Lord a little later, but have you ever considered releasing anything along the lines of straight Jazz on the label?
GA O))): Yeah, I obviously considered working with Julian, maybe releasing some of his stuff or re-issuing some of his records that I really liked. There’s this record called “Love Love” that I think was really good. It’s a difficult thing, twofold: One is a lot of those guys are used to a certain way of doing business and it’s extremely unorthodox for a label that has a lot of ties to heavy music and underground music to be involved in something like that, so it’s a difficult sell for the musician, I think. And then on the other hand, I don’t know if it’s the right fit for the music on our side because we have a particular fan-base. I don’t want to pigeonhole the fans and I definitely don’t want to restrict the label on what we can release, but I just think that it’s a little bit over the heads of some of the people.
I think that having the honour of having those guys on the record, hopefully, for the die-hards, there’s going to be a certain group of people that are going to check out the people who played on the record. That’s how I see my involvement with that stuff – rather than getting involved with the business side and releasing things, I see their involvement on our actual Sunn O))) record – that’s how I want my involvement to be with this. The other thing is that music sales for this kind of stuff are really, really small and it’s difficult to pull it off financially – especially with CD sales. It would probably be something that loses money and that’s not always easy to do.
I know that there have been people that have looked at the players and the credits on the record and checked their stuff out. Especially over the years with Sunn O))) with all of the various different collaborators we’ve had, many of these artists have seen more interest in their music after we’ve done something together. Perfect example is Jesse Sykes – she’s an amazing vocalist and did some vocals on “Altar” – the Sunn O))) Boris collaboration album. She was just blown away because guys that were into Metal and Black Metal were showing up at her shows, wanting to talk to her and asking her for her autograph on this “Altar” record. She was like, “These people never would have shown up before, but working together with Sunn O))) turned these people on to the band”. Stuff like that, I think, is very cool. Anything to give back at all is great and it’s cool to see that this kind of thing is happening with the artists that we’re collaborating with.
GA O))): Definitely John Coltraine, “A Love Supreme” is a beautiful and very important album and then, Miles Davis “Bitches Brew”. I think that people who are especially into Punk Rock and Hardcore would appreciate something like, Eric Dolphy’s “Out To Lunch” which I think is a very strange, dark and great album.
I don’t really abandon music. Things change and there are some things I liked 20 years ago that I listen to now that don’t really stand the test of time for me – there is a handful of things like that – but for the most part it’s like I’m listening to today, I’m listening to a lot of the stuff that I was listening to back then and this includes some of the Jazz stuff too.
On musical instruments
TBR: Let’s talk a bit about your live rig: What’s your main axe these days? Everybody assumes you’ve a sub-octave beneath the brown note…
GA O))): I use a Gibson Victory bass – I’ve got two of them. From the beginning of Sunn O))), Steven and I were both playing guitars. It kinda switched a couple of years ago, primarily around “Altar” and again on “Monoliths”. On “Altar”, I played some bass and that’s mainly because we were collaborating with Boris and they’ve already got Wata playing guitar. Takeshi, their bass player also plays guitar sometimes so when we were in the room together creating music, it was kinda like, “Well, there’s a lot of guitar players… I want to play bass”.
With “Monoliths”, we wanted to add even more bass to what we were doing and see how it would work out. Some of the songs on “Monoliths”, I played bass, some of them I played guitar, some of them I played both.
As far as the touring we did around the record, which was a lot of shows by our standards, starting from the Summer of 2009 and ending the Summer of 2010, on those shows I was playing both, half and half.
The live rig I set up was basically something I intended to be effective for both bass and guitar. Really, it was more about the choice of cabinets. I would have a stack or two using 4×12 cabinets but the overlap as far as the amplifiers went was similar. I was using two 4×12’s, four 8×10’s and two 2×15’s.
I really like using bass amps for guitars as well. For heads, I was using a lot of Sunn Model-T heads, which can be good for bass or guitar. I also used Ampeg SVT’s – they can also be used for guitar. In Europe, I got really into using the Orange bass heads – the AD200B. I used a pair of those as well, which can also be used for guitar. (laughs).
So (my guitar rig) is kind of interchangeable as far as that goes. The only thing when using the guitars, I would maybe just tweak the setting of my pedals a bit to make it a little less muddy. The gauge of the strings comes into play as well – a six-string guitar like a Les Paul is gonna have some bite that the bass doesn’t have, of course.
We played a show last week in Holland for Roadburn. I was going to play bass for that too and we were going to do something kind of similar to “Monoliths” but I just decided to play guitar in the end as far. As moving forward, I’m not sure what we’re going to do with that stuff.
I had a specific pedal – a boutique pedal that someone gave me that I only used for bass and when I had the guitar on, it was a bit too much. That was kinda cool – to have two different sounds happening, but the key to it was to have our soundman, Randall. He knows when it’s time to switch instruments so he could compensate for it in the mix as well.
TBR: I’m not sure you wanna tell me but you know I gotta ask about that pedal! Is it a “secret weapon” or what?
GA O))): Yeah! It’s made by some dude in Maryland, I think. It was given to me by Wino, actually. Some guy gave it to Wino and he couldn’t find any use for it so he gave it to me, which is pretty cool.
TBR: That IS fucking cool!!
GA O))): (laughs) Yeah, it was something that some guy made tinkering in his garage. You can’t get it anywhere else – there’s only one of them. He just makes special pedals for people that he knows here and there as a hobby.
TBR: You guys have been seen with an ARP 2500 which is a synthesizer of singular beauty. Has it made appearances on any SUNN recordings? Which other synths do you own?
GA O))): That’s a question for Steven (O’Malley). He’s really interested and fascinated with synths. I have, maybe, a Taurus? I’d have to look in my storage. I’m not as interested in synths as Steven or Steve Moore who’s actually a trained pianist. Ano, of course (trombone) knows a lot more about keyboards. Also, our soundman who also records our records, Randall Dunn, he’s got an amazing collection of synths. He actually played some synths on “Monoliths” and also on “Altar”. He knows a lot about that stuff but it’s not really my area of expertise.
On early influences
GA O))): I had a group called Engine Kid – it was dudes that had played in Hardcore bands but we were looking for a new sound. We were really into Melvins but were really into Slint and you know… Rapeman and Big Black and stuff that was happening in Chicago and that was dubbed the “Post-Rock” scene and really exploring the dynamics in music to compliment and work within the song.
TBR: What was the first concert you saw and the last one you saw that blew your mind?
GA O))): First concert I saw was KISS on the “Dynasty” tour at the Seattle Center Arena. My mom took me. The last show that blew my mind was last week on Friday night at Roadburn – Caspar Brötzmann Massaker.
On the influence of Earth and Dylan Carlson
TBR: Tell us a bit about your relationship with Dylan Carlson. He’s traversed quite an immense distance… What would you say his greatest contribution would be – either from his musical output or from a conceptual standpoint.
GA O))): Well, a good story… Earth played at my wedding! They did the wedding march, they did a couple of wedding songs, then they played an original and then they played a Willie Nelson song. They did the music for the first dance and a friend of mine Bill Herzog that actually plays with Jesse Sykes, sang.
Dylan’s a very amazing person. He’s a very sweet guy who’s had a pretty rough and intense life. Unfortunately his reputation was pretty negative in some circles for a time. His legacy is kind of two-sided: on one side, he’s an incredible musician and he’s obviously influenced a lot of people, including Sunn O))) and on the other side, it’s the drugs and his relationship with Kurt Cobain and all that.
I think the amazing thing is to talk about him now – that’s he’s clean and sober and making interesting and challenging and beautiful music still. Not only was he the inspiration for Sunn O))) to start in the first place with his early recordings from the late 80’s and early 90’s, but fast forward 20 years: He’s still making music that is inspiring and great but in a totally different mode and style of music. That to me, is amazing and a testament to how important he is and how great he is – he’s still inspiring to me and Steven from Sunn O))) in a completely different style of music.
To be able to release his records on Southern Lord, it’s really an honour. I’m doing my best to respect and honour him and what he does by promoting each release and work the records with that respect in mind.
TBR: During our interview with him – not unlike the one we are doing now – he was very generous with his time but also incredibly thoughtful in his answers.
GA O))): I’ve been reading some of the things he has to say and it’s mind-blowing, really. Deep and thoughtful and really interesting and intellectual (laughs). It’s not a side that people get to see of him very often because he’s so quiet. A lot of times when you see Dylan, he’s a little intimidating because he can be so quiet. When you see him in person, you don’t often get to see him open up and go off on a topic so that’s what’s really cool about reading these interviews. It’s like another dimension of Dylan that I haven’t gotten to see yet.
He’s pretty isolated in a lot of ways. He’s pretty focused on his music and his sobriety so when I come to Seattle and hang, we’ll go out for a nice meal but we won’t be talking about the things that he talks about in his interviews. We’re just catching up on old friends and who’s doing what and what TV shows we’re watching these days (laughs) you know? So it’s nice to read those interviews – there’s so much more about him that’s incredible in addition to his music.
Side projects / Skeletons in the closet
TBR: Are you currently working on any side-projects that you’d like to share? New Burial Chamber Trio or Goatsnake coming in 2011?
GA O))): No, unfortunately. It’s tough with everything that I’ve got on my plate with the label and having a family and then playing a little music here and there with Sunn O))) and a few dates with Goatsnake.
Sunn O))) just played last week in Holland at the Roadburn festival which we were asked to curate which meant choosing the bands for one of the days. It was a lot of work that we’ve been working on for the last six months or so. Then of course, Sunn O))) headlined. We hadn’t played for a very long time so it was like, “What are we going to do?” There were so many different ways to do it – are we gonna collaborate with other people at the festival? What are we going to play?
There was a lot of work and time that went into that so as far as anything new, the answers is unfortunately no, there’s nothing new. No new Goatsnake, unfortunately – haven’t really had time to work on that.
But you know, Steven and I are already discussing briefly and throwing out ideas of what the next move we’re going to make will be. After “Monoliths”, there was just so much time and energy that went into that record it was really exhausting and afterwards, I felt like we really jut needed to take a break from making music in the studio and that’s what we’ve done. We haven’t been in the studio since January of 2009 with Sunn O))) so we’re still just talking about it.
TBR: For what it’s worth, it really seems to be the culmination of everything that you guys have learned and done in the past and for that reason, it’s probably my favourite Sunn O))) album.
GA O))): Thank you. It’s my favourite too, actually looking at the whole catalog, it’s definitely my favorite. It was a really difficult record because it was so challenging – mentally, physically, financially… it was the biggest challenge for us. The fact that we’re still speaking to each other, the fact that I’m not living in a gutter, the fact that we made our money back on the record – it’s pretty unbelievable. That accomplishment and success is unparalleled in my life (laughs). There was so much going into it – it could have been like My Bloody Valentine’s “Loveless”. It could have sunk the ship – both the band and the label – very easily. Thankfully, people liked the record and we worked really hard on the other end with supporting it with live shows. We did OK and we lived to tell about it (laughs).
TBR: If someone were to ask me who had the coolest record collection out there, your name may well be the first that comes to my mind. That said, everybody’s got some musical skeletons in their closet.
GA O))): Uh, hmm… I recently purchased a Kingdom of Sorrow Record! (laughs) I’m really into Kirk Windstein’s playing, actually. Uhh… Pantera?
TBR: Come on, that’s not embarrassing! Fuck! (laughs)
GA O))): Ah, sure… I dunno… XTC? I owned a record or two of theirs at one point. I’m not really embarrassed by music the way that some people are. Some people think that Down is embarrassing but I think they’re great! Anything that Phil Anselmo’s involved in, some people don’t dig it but I like some of that stuff. I don’t get embarrassed by music. I can see the cheesy aspects of some things, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t like it. (laughs)
On Southern Lord
TBR: Man, I’m not here to try and kiss anybody’s ass, but I dunno what’s more exciting: talking to Greg Anderson of Sunn O))) or Greg Anderson, the man behind Southern Lord.
So let’s talk a bit more about the label. Outside of any releases by Sunn, give me three of the releases by newer or undiscovered artists that you are most proud of on the label and why.
GA O))): Black Breath would definitely be on the list in terms of a newer band. Wolves In The Throneroom are kind of newer even though a lot of people are familiar with them now. I think they’re incredible and I think that they embody a lot of the spirit of the Pacific Northwest where I grew up – same with Black Breath as they’re from Seattle, as well – but they (Black Breath) have some elements of the Seattle music like the Accused, Melvins and even Nirvana, because I think they know how to write a good song and a good hook. Those two come to mind right away.
There’s a new band we’re working with – we’re putting out their debut album this Summer called All Pigs Must Die. It’s an amazing band from the Boston area. The drummer is from Converge and he’s phenomenal but the band as a whole is just incredible, really, taking elements of Hardcore and even Black Metal. It’s really, really cool. Really well executed.
TBR: As a label owner, I’m interested to know your perspective on “sharing” music. Nobody wants to come off like a fucking Lars about it but to be honest, I’ve been somewhat surprised by the reaction of some artists who take the high road about it and don’t seem to get upset.
GA O))): I think that people being turned on to music by any means necessary is a good thing. I look at digital in a positive light: it’s a very quick and easy tool to use to turn people on to new music immediately. We didn’t have that back when I was getting into music.
When I was getting into new music, we traded tapes – that’s how we found out about new music or looked at print magazines. Or you simply just took your chances at a record store. My record store that I would buy all my stuff in, there was no listening stations. There was no “try before you buy”. Sometimes, the woman behind the counter, if she wasn’t busy, she might put on a record for me if the seal wasn’t broken. You couldn’t listen to stuff so you’d take a chance with your hard earned money and a lot of times, and a lot of time, you’d go home and you’d be pissed cause it wasn’t very good!
I think that with the internet, it’s an opportunity for people to listen to music and decide if they like it. I’m aware that a lot of people are just taking the music for free – there are a lot of people like that. But there’s also a lot of people, including myself, who look at the internet like one big listening station. Especially these days, there are reviews everywhere, everyone’s got a webizine. You can go a band’s MySpace page, you can go to their Bandcamp page, you can simply type their name into a Google search and find the files and download them for free. What I do is, if it’s cool, I order the record from the band or the label or the next time I go into a record store, I’ve got that in mind and I buy it or if they come to town, I’ll go see them play live and I’ll buy the record there.
I think that for this scene and for underground music and for independent music, the people that enjoy this music will support it because they know that if they don’t support it, the music is gonna go away. I think that the majority of the people who listen to this music get it.
Especially as something as specialized as Southern Lord or Deathwish Records or Nuclear War Now or Hydra Head or Profound Lore – these labels that put out extreme underground music –whether it’s Metal or Hardcore or Ambient or whatever.
I think that on a more commercial label, for the major labels, they’re shitting their pants. The people that are into that music don’t care about supporting those artists in the same way. They look at those artists on MTV, TMZ and wherever else making complete asses out of themselves, driving around in huge cars living in MTV Cribs and the image of those people is that they’re billionaires, so why should somebody care about supporting that – they’re already rich. That listener’s mentality is, “When I see that record online for free, I’m gonna take it.” I feel the same way – I can see why someone would have no problem with stealing that.
However, on the other side of the coin, for me, I think the digital method and the distribution of the music is a very inferior way to listen to the music. Not only because digital files are an inferior format but also you’re completely missing out on the packaging that goes into the record. Especially for a band like Sunn O))) where the music dwells in a specific dynamic range – a lot of sub-bass – you can’t replicate that through computer speakers or earbuds. It’s just not possible. The same thing goes for a lot of the stuff that’s released on Southern Lord. That’s the part of it that bothers me the most – I’m not worried about the financial aspect of it or people getting it for free. What bothers me is the way that people are hearing it because that’s not the way we intended for it to be listened to. We didn’t intend for it to be listened to on even an iPod. I think that listening to Sunn O))) on an iPod is a joke, you know? I’ve done it. (laughs) I’ve checked it out, of course. It’s just the inappropriate way to listen to and experience this music.
TBR: Most of the shows that you guys do are heavily curated events. Tell us about a few of the most memorable or special performances that Sunn O))) has done with respect to venue – or any other abstract criteria – that made for a memorable show?
GA O))): Well, definitely Roadburn was memorable and a great event because there were so many great artists and musicians: Earth played, Caspar Brötzmann played, we had Trap Them, we had Corrosion Of Conformity, we had The Secret, Summon The Crows, Jesse Sykes played, our friends in this old Dutch band played got back together – a band called Beaver, Winter played… It was amazing – the lineup was like a dream. It all came together – none of the bands canceled. I thought that every set that I got to see what really special – it seemed that everyone was excited and inspired to play. The conditions and the hospitality at that festival are unparalleled – they do it right. It was an honour to be a part of that and be among the list of curators that includes Tom G. Warrior and Neurosis. It was an honour. That’s in my top three for sure.
I’ve also really enjoyed a lot of the performances that Sunn O))) has been able to do in churches, because it’s very unorthodox and it puts both the audience and the band in a different mindset because you’re in a church and a lot of times it’s seated. There’s actually a church we’ve played a few times in Philadelphia, the Unitarian Church, which has an organ and we’ve actually been able to incorporate it into the set with Steven Moore, so that was really cool. There’s also, of course, the live record that we released the “Domkirke” record which was recorded in a very, very old church in Bergen, Norway. Again, they had a pipe organ there that was just unbelievably massive so we incorporated that organ into the set of music that we played.
We’re really not going to do very many festivals anymore just because they really seem to be the impersonal way to see a band that you really like. Most festivals, like Roskilde or Cochella, Waken and these kinds of things, they bring these incredible lineups but it’s pretty much the worst place to see a band. The nature of a festival is just difficult for bands – a lot of pressure, shorter timeslot, unfamiliarity with the gear and unfamiliarity with the person doing the sound is not the way to go. Sunn O))) played the Roskilde festival in Denmark in the middle of the day (laughs) which is totally inappropriate for what we’re doing. There are select festivals like Roadburn and All Tomorrow’s Parties where there’s another level of passion and creativity that’s put into it.
TBR: I imagine that for the most part, “business is business” and in many cases, the church itself may not even be owned by a religious organization, but have there been any particularly interesting interactions between the band and representatives or congregation of any of these churches?
GA O))): Well, there have been some interesting interaction between the band and the actual managers of the church. In a nutshell, the interesting thing I’ve learned from doing this stuff is that what they are interested in – and I’ve head this several times – they’re blown away by the number of young people that are coming into the church. When we played in Bergen, that was the church’s main comment.
However, the press and the media was like, “How could you let the vocalist from Mayhem (and Sunn O))) collaborator, Attila Csihar) one of the most satanic bands in the history of music and in the history of Norway, how could you let this person into your church and perform music?” especially since one of the other members of Mayhem had burned down churches that were less than two miles away from that church where we performed.
Varg Vikernes went to jail, of course and that’s what the press wanted to sensationalize. Everyone was asking “How could this happen?” but the organizers of the church, when we actually had conversations with them, they said, “We’re just very happy that there are young people coming to our church again”. (laughs) Which makes a lot of sense, you know?
Of course, (younger fans) were coming for a very different reason and who knows if they’ll get anything out of it, but just the fact that the churches were full of young people, that’s what they were enthusiastic about which I thought was amazing – that they were able to look past everything else.
Attila, as an artist and as a person, he has nothing to do with the satanic element of Mayhem and he, of course, did not condone or actually take part in the vandalism or destruction of any of the churches. He was greatly surprised and said, “I can’t believe that I don’t have to defend myself. These people are cool and actually, very accepting”.
TBR: Perhaps this is the appropriate time to ask a bit about your perspective on “the secrets of the unknown and the mysteries of the unseen” – the mystical or occult inspirations that may have influenced the music. Out of respect for such things, which are personal beliefs, I don’t mean to expose them in an interview simply for the sake of doing so, but nonetheless, it’s a point of interest: Would you say that any such interest leans more towards an academic understanding or more of an applied interest in any of these things either in the music or in your personal lives?
GA O))): No. Not really. Simply put, I’m really not a religious person. It’s not really something that I’ve delved into, to be honest with you. My passion is music. I’m a fanatic about it and obsessed with it. That’s where my interest is and I haven’t really gone into that world. Attila is more versed in those things and Steven is perhaps a little bit more than I am, but as far as the band goes – our message and our direction, it’s not really influenced by those things other than aesthetically and the creation of an atmosphere, that’s where spirituality or the occult comes into play, but it’s deliberately kept somewhat vague.
TBR: I imagine that you may have had some interesting fan experiences: reactions or other unique situations and opportunities through the years in this regard.
GA O))): The thing that’s interesting about what we do is since it’s experimental and unorthodox; people can have different experiences and interpret it in different ways. The music is very open and just the fact that they ARE interpreting it, it’s very interesting to me to hear what people think. When we first started out, nobody cared! (laughs) People either just wrote it off or repeated what was on the press release about it. To hear people get analytic with our music, it’s great – sometimes, I have to stop listening to what people are saying because it starts affecting what I think or it can taint it. Bottom line of what I’m saying is that since it is different, it is interpreted many different ways.
I’ve heard some crazy things and we’ve had people creating videos or movies around the music or writing books around it or doing interpreted dance to it (laughs all around) and doing artwork and sculptures inspired by it. Personally, I think it’s great and it’s flattering. Even a band like Motörhead – one of my favourite bands – Motörhead’s not going to have same sort of effect or draw that same sort of reaction or experience.