PART ONE OF OUR EPIC INTERVIEW WITH JØRGEN MUNKEBY OF SHINING!
Shining (Nor) are not like any other band. While that may seem like a rather bold statement to the uninitiated, one that many wish were true about their band, there’s something about the chaotic fusion between jazz and black metal that just feels so right for the Norwegian masters. Led by Jorgen Munkeby, the band have recently streamlined their sound into their most recent effort, One One One, distilling what makes Shining unique into a more palpable and digestable format.
I actually met Jorgen two years ago while conducting my first ever interview, and it was one of his first two. We’ve since remained on friendly terms, and he wrote an awesome article on dissonance in music for The Monolith. I had the opportunity to sit down with Jorgen for a full and in depth 90 minute interview, the first part which you can read below.
Hey Jorgen! How are you mate?
Quigs! I am very well thank you. I trust you are too?
That’s great to hear mate, yes, I’m very well thanks.
I last “officially” spoke to you in 2011 when you were in the UK supporting Ihsahn after releasing Blackjazz. Now you have another new album in One One One, as well as a couple of new awards under your belt. How do you feel about Shining now? And other than the arbitrary stuff, what’s changed for you guys as a band?
Since September 2011 a lot of things have happened. I seldom sit down and think about what’s happened since a certain date. But now that you asked, I think a lot of things have changed. First of all, when we spoke before we had not released our live album yet. So we had only released older stuff. I mean, Blackjazz had only been out for 1 ½ years or something like that. what I think has happened is that Blackjazz has continued to get established and make waves. I see that, especially in Norway, we’re a more established band. We are a force to be reckoned with. We’re no longer an underdog in Norway, but we are still an underdog in a lot of other countries. That, I feel, has changed.
I feel that in the three years since Blackjazz, some people consider it a classic in a way. That’s weird for me. It’s a nice compliment, but it’s weird having a “classic” in your discography. To me, that’s no different than any other album I’ve made. Even though I’m really happy with it, it’s no different. I sat down for a long time trying to make the best music I could make, and it ended up in Blackjazz. That’s what I’m doing every time I make an album. But, it’s good. Things are going better. We have a bigger set-up around us. We have bigger labels. We have management now. Everything has grown, our ambitions are bigger. But, I’m still doing the same thing; I’m still here to make great music. So, in that respect, nothing has changed.
So, obviously you guys are an exciting blend of jazz and black metal. You originally started off as a jazz band. So where did you first get the idea to start bleeding metal into your jazz music?
As you probably know, personally, I started out as a metal listener. As a kid I listened to metal music: I listened to Death, I listened to Pantera, I listened to Sepultura, Entombed, stuff like that. But as a musician, and as a band, I started out as a jazz musician, and I consider myself a jazz musician still. Sorry, what was your question again?
Where did you first get the idea where your black metal was bleeding into your jazz?
J: When I was playing jazz music when I was younger, I played the sax, but I listened to metal music. From time to time, I rehearsed my saxophone while listening to metal albums. So, that wasn’t a new combination for me, but at that time I was still experimenting and trying to figure out how to blend these things together and I don’t really think I figured that out when I was young. I think that suddenly fell into place with Blackjazz, in a way.
We’ve had quite a bit different elements in our music. We’ve had contemporary music stuff from Chaigne, Olivier Messiaen, that kind of composer. We’ve had rock elements. We’ve had electronic elements. We’ve had strings, mellotrons, timpanis, so many different things. But, with Blackjazz we stripped away a lot of those, and I think that has to do with the fact that I started getting comfortable again playing the saxophone.
I had a hard time figuring out how to get the saxophone into the kinda music that I had in my head, which was a mix of jazz and metal, or harder kind of rock. But with Blackjazz, I think I found a way that I liked. I found an approach with the saxophone that I felt worked. Instead of trying to do it as Charlie Parker would do, as a bebop saxophone player, instead of trying to do it as David Sandborn, like a 90’s slick L.A. approach, instead doing it as Michael Brecker would do it, as a New York jazz guy, late 90’s, instead of doing it as John Coltrane would do in the 1960’s, Giant Steps era, I kind of suddenly found out that doing it as a late John Coltrane would do, or Pharoah Sanders, maybe his kinda shrieking sound, with Albert Ayler’s singing approach. Then suddenly, it all fell into place, and we didn’t need all the other stuff.
So, we stripped away the other stuff and we ended up with that saxophone approach, and also with the kind of freer types of playing that our drummer had, with a certain type of metal music, and also in combination with the more American polished but still very aggressive way of mixing the sound. Then suddenly it fell in place. Basically, it’s been a long journey. When I was ten years old, I played the saxophone with Vulgar Display of Power, or with Entombed’s Clandestine. That’s 1990; then in 2010, 20 years after that, I ended up finding a way to do that that I was comfortable with. So, that’s the story, I think.
So, will you ever release a Pantera/Entombed saxophone cover album?
I didn’t record any of those. I don’t think so.
It’s never too late (laughs).
(laughs) Never too late. But they have been with me all the time, those albums. I did play sax with them, and I didn’t really figure out how to do that until 20 years after.
Speaking of your roots, your third album In the Kingdom of Kitsch is the album that is most available to someone who would go looking for earlier material.
That’s compared to the first two, right? Because they’re not available.
Yeah. They’re purely jazz albums, right?
Yeah, they are.
So, is there a reason why they’re not available? And will they be made available in the future?
The very first is available on a Norwegian streaming service called WiMP. I don’t know it’s available on Spotify. There’s no reason. I haven’t deliberately made them unavailable. The masters are still licensed to two different labels. Both labels have long, long ago broken contract, so I could, any day, claim the the masters back and say “Sorry, dudes. You can’t distribute them anymore.” But, I haven’t had time to do that. I’m always focused on the future. But I might do that. I must admit that I’m comfortable with having them unavailable. I don’t mind.
We had this talk a couple of years ago. No, last year. Sorry. Because you did say that you prefer people knowing you for the more metal influenced stuff, which I understand. But obviously, one of the coolest things about music, especially bands, is to look at how they’ve evolved by looking at their really early stuff.
Yeah, I agree. We do have, I would say, a pretty unique history as a band. Those albums kind of highlight that history, or prove that history. So, I’m happy that they exist, and I’m happy that we didn’t change our name. Because, with not changing our name we have that history. By changing our name, we wouldn’t have that history. So, I’m happy with that, and I’m glad they exist. Maybe they should have been a little bit more available; maybe they should have been totally available. I don’t know. I’m not going to make them impossible to get ahold of. At the moment, I just have too much to do, you know? But like you’re saying, it is cool for fans to be able to dive into our history. I mean, it’s interesting to dive back to 2005, but it would be cool for people to be able to go back to 2001. I agree with that. I agree. Maybe it should be available.
Speaking of rare piece of music that you’re involved in, you and Ivar Bjørnson of Enslaved did the “Armageddon Concerta”. You performed it for the first time at Moldejazz in 2008, and then again a special headlining performance at Roadburn Festival in 2010. Are there any plans to release a recording of it?
No, but there exist two recordings. Not released, but the Norwegian National Broadcasting (NRK), they recorded them all as a live performance, as a multitrack. The one that exists around on the web, or Youtube or whatever, that’s a stereo mix from that day. That was broadcast on the radio, but there exists a multitrack version of it which could be made into an album. I think also Roadburn recorded it. I know Roadburn recorded the second performance, not really with the amount of tracks that we wanted, but still with a lot of tracks. I think 32 tracks. It exists. The reason it is not released is not because it’s not possible.
We could also go in the studio and record it, but the reason it never was release was initially that it didn’t fit Enslaved’s release schedule. Initially it fit ours, but then when it would fit Enslaved’s schedule, it didn’t fit ours because then I had decided to use some of the tracks and rework them for Blackjazz. So, this is just a matter of it’s hard to sync two bands with their own schedules and their own cycles. And then, I think we’re all bands that just focus on the future and we don’t want to spend too much time on that. But it was a really cool thing. It was a really unique and cool thing, and I think in our history it’s a missing link, I would say.
Enslaved, though, are kind of rebranding themselves as the Pink Floyd of extreme metal at the moment, so..
How did that collaboration come about?
They asked us if we wanted to join their European tour with them, as a supporting band, and we did in 2008. And then at the end of a couple of shows, in Germany I think, Shining had performed a cover of “21st Century Schizoid Man” by King Crimson on national Norwegian radio, right before that tour. That song had been a part of our setlist for a few months. And, we played it on that tour, and then on the last couple of shows, we included a bunch of people from Enslaved on that song. We thought that was a cool thing to do.
And then, the tour was done, and Shining was asked by Moldejazz festival to headline the festival, and they asked us if we wanted to do something with another band, some collaboration. And, we suggested Enslaved, and that was probably because we had played that song and stuff and it would be a cool thing to to elaborate on. So that’s how it came about. And then Ivar wrote 45 minutes; I wrote 45 minutes, and we put it together as well as we could.
That’s cool. Ok, so now on to more recent history: your music videos have a strong industrial aesthetic to them, which even though your music doesn’t quite fit into that category (even though it kinda does,) what is it about that imagery that attracted you to it? And why do you want it represent your artistic endeavour?
When you say industrial, I think you’re talking about that thing that I would think of as science fiction. No, I agree with industrial, at least the last one. I’ve always liked films. I’ve always liked science fiction stuff, and science fiction stuff goes well with industrial music and with some kind of industrial aesthetics, you think?
So, I think that’s where it comes from. I love the Alien movies. I love the new Oblivion movie, Termintator 5 or 4 or 6 or, I don’t know, the last one. There’s so many of them. (laughs) So that’s where it comes from. And I think that our visual aesthetics, when it comes to our logo and our graphics, they’re all so sharp and clean, and has a slight science fiction vibe to them, and slight industrial vibe to them. So, I’ve just tried to make some kind of cohesive thing of it. Some kind of cohesive visual and musical aesthetics. But I also have been trying to stay away from some of the cliches that I don’t like that much. For instance, we’ve tried to keep it a little bit cleaner than a lot of other metal bands. We’ve tried to avoid using blood, and facepaint, and satanic symbols. Stuff like that.
I’m sure that’s pretty prevalent in Norway, especially.
That a lot of people do that?
Yeah. A lot of people still do that. I think so. But I think that a lot of people that have done it for a long time are starting to get pretty tired of it. But it’s still something that is very easy. It’s kind of like a package–a ready made identity package–that you can buy and put on. You know how to sound, you know how to talk, or what to say. You know how to paint your face, what clothes to put on, and then you’re done. You just step into black metal identity. Or you can do the same with 60’s rock ‘n roll, rockabilly. Or you can do the same with hip hop, or you can do it with the new rock kind of thing, where you kind of have tattoos, you know. You tattoo all your body with certain types of tattoos. A lot of youth culture, after 10 to 20 years, they tend to become a ready-made package that you just put on. So, that’s very easy. That’s the easy way. That’s probably why a lot of people do that.
Yeah, totally. I mean, at that same time, you guys come the same place as the king of black metal face paint in Immortal. It’s kind of where it all came from, really.
I noticed that the Torsteinator wasn’t in the I Won’t Forget video. What happened?
Nothing happened. He was in some place in Europe, playing with another band. And with so many people involved with making the video, we couldn’t really move it. People grow up. He’s got a kid now. He’s had a year that he’s been super busy with two bands that are really popular in Norway. This time he was in Europe, but he was with one of those bands. They pay a lot of money.
As a musician you have to balance between trying to make a living and playing cool music. Or both. It’s possible to do both. But, Shining, we’re not playing enough shows so that everybody can live off of that only. So people will have to find a way with other bands so that it all adds up, so they can make a living. He’s been busy with bands that are able to pay the guys much more than I do.
So, for the first time, we have had a substitute for our drummer for some shows, and that was about the time that this substitute started to step in. And we just agreed that we should just put that guy in the video. That was what happened. We played with Torstein last week in Poland, and the weekend before we played with the other guy. So, we’re going to use both of them. The same thing happened with press photos. That was taken the same weekend. Well, that was taken on a Monday, and he was supposed to be home, but his flight was cancelled and he was in Switzerland. But he was supposed to be able to get home to that photoshoot, but then I just said “fuck it.” I mean, on Blackjazz we were four people on the picture, but five on the album. In the end, I’m the only one that’s been in the band from the beginning. I love my musicians, they’re essential for the band, but still there comes a time when we’ll just have to do what we have to do. He’s still in the band. So that’s what happened, nothing really happened.
Is Bernt still one of the core group?
No, he had to go. He was unfortunately one of the people that loved the stuff the most, and he was one of the people that I kind of talked with the most about what we wanted to do musically. But, you know, then he started having trouble with sleeping, and started having trouble with his stomach a lot. He’s had a lot of other troubles, obviously. He discovered that he had bipolar disorder, and he understood that he wasn’t able to travel as we used to, and live the kind of of touring life that we do on tour. We have a very straight life on tour, but still it’s very…
It’s unpredictable. You can’t sleep when you want to, that kind of stuff. In addition, he kind of, that was the main reason, but he also wanted to play more jazz. Things change, but he’s not with us anymore. I mean, he’s with us, he’s alive.(laughs)
(laughs) That’s a shame, because obviously when I met you guys back in 2011 it was you, Torstein, and Massive. That was like the core group. The video is still on Youtube of you guys worshipping Massive. All your jokes and everything, I thought you guys were a really good core group.
Obviously it’s sad that we’re not the same core group still. But then again, things change. You just have to roll with the punches. I met him yesterday. We’re the greatest friends still. But it’s sad. Obviously, it’s sad. There’s nothing nobody can do about that. I’ve tried not to be demoralized about these changes. They come and they go. The reason Blackjazz is the way it is, it could never have been like that if we were the same people as we were in the first, kind of, version of our band.
If we had not taken a chance on going to the U.S. and mixing with Sean Beavan. When you have to deal with changes and make changes, it’s hard. It’s a bunch of work, and you never really welcome those kind of changes. But when you’re done with them, it usually is for the better.
Yeah, definitely. I’m glad that you guys are moving on. Would you say that you write all of the music?
Yeah, I do. And I’ve always done that. But, I’ve always involved all the guys in the band when it comes to what we want to do, and what they think about this and that kind of part. And we’ve rehearsed and changed stuff. I mean, they have been involved. I’m the one that writes the stuff, the material that we start from. I involve the people as much as they feel they are comfortable with being involved. And that changes. Even with the same person, it might change from album to album.