PART THREE 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 second part which you can read below.
On One One One your voice is decidedly a lot less harsh than on previous releases. Was that a conscious decision? Or were there other factors surrounding it?
There were no surrounding factors, in fact I’m not really sure what would count as surrounding factors…
Sore throat? (laughs)
(laughs) Yeah. Or some kind of sickness? No, it was something I wanted to do. I thought that maybe the music would be better if the vocals were a little more varied. That was the idea, y’know?
Yeah, I think that definitely did help make the album a little more dynamic actually. At first, I was a little taken aback at how different you sounded, but after repeated listens it really settled in and I ended up preferring the variety.
Well, yeah, that’s the idea and it’s a bit early for me to evaluate it, y’know? I mean, I don’t know if that will be that way on the next album.
There’s much more vocals on this one than any album before and if they were one dimensional it would probably get very boring. But I try to stay away from the too clean and sleazy stuff.
Quite a while ago you wrote an article for The Monolith about dissonance in music…
When looking at One One One how do you think it compares to Blackjazz in terms of dissonance and also due to the fact that your album release has made it into the Norwegian charts – Do you believe that Norway’s mainstream has internalized that dissonance?
In regards to the first question I would say that One One One is slightly less dissonant than Blackjazz, even though it’s still more dissonant than average music. Again, we’re back to the fact that my article was about the average development in music, it doesn’t mean that every artist is doing the same thing or that everybody has a linear development. Waves come in bursts and then some movements go backwards instead of forwards and some take two steps forward.
Contrary to what I said our development in that fashion has temporarily stalled, or maybe even taken half a step back, but that doesn’t mean our next album will be less aggressive. In fact, the next album may be more aggressive than even Blackjazz. That’s how I view One One One, a slightly more moderate, more refined version of the sound we originally created with Blackjazz.
In regards to the second question, I would say yes. People in Norway have internalized the dissonance on a mainstream level, but at the same time I think you’ll be surprised at how many people around the world have done the same. I’m not sure that the radio charts are the best representation of people’s tastes – maybe it’s biased by the fact that they’re afraid of driving people away because they need listeners to stick around and listen to the commercials between the songs, so that they can keep their doors open. Because that’s the role of a radio station, to play music interspersed with commercials, which is why they play it safe all the time.
I’ve been surprised again and again by just how much dissonance people have internalized, so it might just be that the Norwegian radio chart is more representative of people’s tastes than the charts in other countries. Maybe that’s the answer? I’m not sure.
We’ve talked a lot about how One One One is less dissonant than Blackjazz, but for example the song “How Your Story Ends” has a great opening clean saxophone passage that’s weirdly almost sensual and soft, yet when the rest of the music kicks in it becomes really cluttered, frantic and aggressive… It actually reminds me of a much more urgent “Healter Skelter”.
One One One always feels like it’s in a rush, but in a good way…
It’s a very tight album.
It’s pretty hectic!
Which is in total opposition to the more free flowing Blazkjazz…
Yeah! It’s a lot longer… The music’s a lot more stretched out.
But at the same time, as you mentioned earlier, when you play live… the last time I saw you guys live was in 2011, but obviously, watching your live DVD, you guys have evolved so much, but still, you guys as musicians always used to just interlock and then you would just freestyle jam… You’d have your songs, but around them you would just play free-form music, blending them all together and the amazing thing is that you would all be perfectly in sync with one another. It was pretty incredible for me to see, because that’s the kind of style that’s far more commonplace in jazz rather than metal, where performances are often much more rigid because they’ve been rehearsed to death…
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah! (laughs)
My question then, is do you think that the release of One One One, is almost more succumbing to metal than jazz? Is it the signal of a big change?
Hmm, it’s not a signal of a big change.
But it is a difference. The word “succumb” has more of a negative definition than a word I would use.
But I would say that the free-er type of music is not as prevalent on One One One as it was Blackjazz. I would say that is correct, but it doesn’t necessarily signal a big change within the band. It signals that we wanted to make that kind of music right now. But of course, now we’ve done that; this is how this album is. That might mean that the next album might be more tonally similar to Blackjazz with longer, free-er stuff. That’s how I view it, each album is somewhat isolated from one another.
Sure. That makes perfect sense.
Definitely the “free-er” stuff is still a big part of the identity of Shining and plays an even bigger part in our live shows than it did when we recorded Blackjazz in the studio. As a band, our music exists on albums differently to how it exists in live shows. They’re two very different things and with our live shows we will always maintain that jazz free-flowing style.
Yeah. Just because we’re friends doesn’t mean I won’t ask you tough questions! (laughs)
So, you spent a while shopping around for a new label with One One One, but if I’m right did you end up signing with Indie Recordings again?
We ended up with Indie Recordings in Europe, but we’re actually with Universal in Norway and Prosthetic Records in the US. So the set-up is quite different from last time. We spent a lot of time figuring out what we thought was best for our music and the band. The record industry is in a bad place at the moment, we all know that, and for a band like us, it was hard trying to figure out a good set-up.
Often times I felt it would be a lot easier if we were a band that sounded exactly like another band that sold a bunch of albums ten years ago. If we sounded like Nine Inch Nails on With Teeth, or if we sounded like The Dillinger Escape Plan, or Meshuggah, or if we sounded like fucking Led Zeppelin (laughs) it would be easier for us, because it seems to me that the people on record labels working in that business, even though they personally like new, interesting and innovative music; they have to ask themselves the difficult question of “how do we sell this music?”
“Do we have an example of another band that sounds the same and how much have they sold? “And if they do have an example of that “ok Metallica has sold that much of that album” then they think “ok, we know how to sell this”, but the problem is that they forget the reason why… Elvis became big not because he was an exact replica of someone who came before him, but the reason being that he was something different, which is the same reason why The Beatles became big, because they were not like Elvis, the same reason why Black Sabbath became big because they were not like The Beatles, the same with Led Zeppelin, Nirvana, Meshuggah, Skrillex. All these artists were something different in a time where everyone’s busy replicating the previous big guy. But a lot of labels seem to forget this while they’re in the middle of this economic crisis that labels are going through…and I don’t really blame them, because they have a hard time making money, but that also made it harder for us. Unfortunately, I can’t really come up with one band that sounds exactly like us, obviously, I think that’s good, but when you’re looking for label representation it’s not ideal.
Sure. It’s hard to be first. In business people want something that’s proven to work. Nobody likes taking the risk at being first.
Yeah. And if we’re first at this style then that’s cool, but I’m not necessarily trying to say that we’re “first”.
No of course.
(laughs) I mean, I hope we’re first! (laughs), but it doesn’t really matter so much. It’s cool to be unique, to have something that doesn’t exist at the moment, of course it is, but first makes it seem like you’re going to start a revolution, when really I just make the music I want to make. There’s probably a better word for it than “first”…
Sure. Do you think that in today’s industry some bands are drawn into bad record deals because they prioritize the wrong things?
Oh yeah, obviously! (laughs) Obviously there are a lot of bands like that, but it’s a hard place to navigate. I don’t blame people for making bad decisions, I don’t blame people for choosing to release it themselves, I don’t blame people who choose to sell everything and sign a 360 deal with a label. It’s all well and good to talk about it from an outside perspective, but when you’re in the moment it’s very hard to know what the “right” thing is, and I’m not sure that anyone can even say that there is a single “right” way of doing things.
This time, as you probably know, our release dates are just scattered all over the place.
It’s not one single release date because of all the different companies and that’s not the way that people prefer to do things and I didn’t really plan it to be that way either, but I made a decision when I saw the way that we had it set up and I was not happy with it, so I said “fuck it”. I’m not going to release this album in that manner, so I’ll just put Europe and the US on hold and that I would continue with the planned Norwegian release, because the plan was also to win a certain award on a festival. If we hadn’t have won that award… It was a risk that I decided to take and it could have worked out badly, but then actually we won the money and I feel like overall, it was worth it. We’ll see how it works out.
What I’m saying is, it’s hard to know what’s “correct”. If you do it “by the book” and have one single release date throughout the world then it’ll be easier, that’s the way you’re supposed to do it, but then also you could just have an activity spike for 2 weeks before fading away. At least with a delayed release you’re still popping up in different places over a staggered period of time.
I suppose I should say, I’m not saying what’s right or wrong,. I know that a lot of other people claim that they know what’s right and I’ve heard a lot of people who don’t agree what I’ve done (laughs), but as with anything there are several versions and in the end it’s just a work in progress and things are always changing for everyone. Our set-up right now is much better than before, but it’s still not perfect, so we’ll see how it goes.
With the dominance of the internet and downloading though, do you think that staggered release dates are a little outmoded? Your album may only be available in Norway to buy, but that doesn’t stop anyone in the world downloading it from the internet when it inevitably makes its way on there.
(laughs) Oh man, I don’t know. I’m from Norway. People from Norway listen to music almost exclusively on streaming services, so nobody really think s about piracy in Norway, but I know it does exist pretty heavily in other parts of the world; so me coming from Norway makes me a little blind to how the rest of the world interacts with their music in the online space.
Yes, I can see what you’re saying, but still I like to think that the people who get the pirated copy are the people that already know about us. The fact is, most people in the world have never heard of us, so our biggest challenge is not to fight the people who download, but to get more people to hear our album, through whichever means they choose. We’re talking about the minority here. The people who actually know about us, and know that we have an album out and go through the time and energy to find an illegal copy and download it. I mean, obviously it would be better if they would buy it (laughs), but in the end it happens. It’s something that needs to be thought about and it’s a bad thing for the labels who invest all of the money into helping bands make these great records, in return they need all the help they can get, so that they can then help other bands continue to release great music. It’s better that people buy the album because it allows the label to get paid to do their job properly and as an artist, I want them to do their job properly (laughs)!
But, for me personally, we could play one show in Norway and I will make more money from that show than we will make from an entire album’s life cycle, in fact, more money than almost all of our albums combined.
(laughs) Seriously man, it’s fucking crazy!
You know what they say, you need to pick your battles. Choose the things to focus on. It’s a small problem when compared to some of the other stuff that we have to deal with, for instance, winning 110,000 British pounds that we won on that festival.
Yes you did. Congratulations, by the way.
Thank you man!
What are you going to use the money for?
We’re going to use it to travel across the ocean and tour the US and give all of our fans over there the first opportunity to see us live. If we didn’t have that money, unfortunately we wouldn’t be able to go in the first place.
Eh, I wouldn’t bother. America sucks (laughs)
Just kidding, mostly.
(laughs) Anyway, those are the big decisions we’ve made.
How is the planning of that coming along? What timeframe are you thinking?
I don’t have any details about that yet, because we’re looking at support tours in the US and we are not booking those tours. Now we have a management and they are working on it so we’ll see how it works out. I’m really not sure. The European tour is something that we book ourselves, so we know more about that, but at the moment I don’t know anything.
If you’re doing support tours what kind of bands would you ideally like to open for?
I have a list of about 20 names (laughs) . Not that I’ve been thinking about it much…(laughs).
Want to share a few?
Obviously we want to tour with the biggest bands possible for maximum exposure, but we also want to tour with different styles of music. We want to tour with bands like Nine Inch Nails, Metallica, Deftones, Muse etc. That kind of crowd, so basically metal, but more open. I’d also like to tour with Skrillex, but I don’t think that would ever happen anywhere that isn’t inside my head (laughs)
Would be cool though!
Devin Townsend… Meshuggah! We’ve been in contact with Meshuggah for quite a while now, we were actually supposed to do their last US tour with them, but it didn’t pan out. They also wanted us to join them on their European tour half a year ago, but that got cancelled, but Meshuggah’s been on the top of our list for a long time. But we don’t want to tour with only metal bands, we like to think our music is flexible enough to do more than that.
Sure. Well you actually play jazz shows and festivals in Norway don’t you?
Yeah, and some in Europe!
You even actually opened for A-ha once right?
Yeah, but that was part of this scholarship thing that we were doing. It wasn’t something…
That was a regular occurrence.
How did their fans take that?
That was…something special (laughs)
(laughs) What does that mean?
That means that some of them felt that it was really weird and some thought it was kinda ok and some found it interesting, but it came as a shock to a lot of them, I think.
Yes, I can imagine.
It’s interesting because there’s that performance of “Fisheye” on Youtube that looks like it was recorded on a chat show…
That’s very different than what you would find in America or somewhere else. America still tends to have more of a rigid divide between music genres.
I mean, saying that, last year Coheed & Cambria and Between The Buried & Me toured together much to the confusion of everyone except a small subsect of people. Wait, was that this year?
I’m not sure.
This year’s just gone so fast… But anyway, that’s probably the most disparate example I can think of in recent memory of a big tour over there that was “progressive” in that manner.
Yeah, but it’s still not say, if Dillinger Escape Plan announced a tour with Muse, though that would also be a better show.
Yeah, but that’s what I’m saying that it’s more rigid over there.
I’ve been over there quite a lot and more often than not, if it’s a thrash show they’ll all be thrash bands etc.
Yeah, and I honestly think that’s fucking stupid, if you ask me (laughs) . Putting 5 or 6 thrash bands on the same bill is like… just no.
Yeah, but that’s what they do over there, so it’ll be really interesting to see who Shining ends up getting matched with.
Yeah, it’s kind of the same thing that I was saying earlier when we talked about labels. I feel that a lot of people like our music, but there are people out there that are still more comfortable just putting together a bill comprised of identical bands, but I know that Meshuggah were looking at diversifying their line-up with bands that are not djent or play that style of syncopation that they do. Then again, Meshuggah are from Sweden, so maybe they just think differently than the Americans.
True enough. Almost done (laughs)
What other music do you guys listen to? I’ve noticed on Facebook that you posted a few Polish composers, which is interesting, so you’ll probably have some light to shed on unusual suspects for other people. What music do you take influences from?
Oh man, so much!
I had a period where I listened to contemporary classical composers a lot, obviously those three Polish composers, but also Olivier Messiaen from France and stuff like that. I don’t really listen to it that much now, and I’ve had my time listening to a lot of jazz music, now I listen to a lot of rap and country stuff and listen to some metal, as well as even Skrillex. Honestly man, so much. I don’t think we should even start on that list because it would be neverending! (laughs)
(laughs) Maybe you should email me a list.
(laughs) I don’t want to write that list.
Do you listen to much underground metal?
No, not really. At the moment anyway.
That’s fair enough. What are some of your biggest pet peeves about music? What do you look for when you listen to new music?
Tough one…If I like it? I mean, that’s what I listen for! (laughs)
Well, are their particular things you look for?
But you know, it actually is that easy. There are so many different reasons for liking music that it’s hard to just distill it down to a few key reasons. One type of music I might listen to because it gives me an emotion that I like, another just might be interesting, if it’s thought provoking, another reason could just be that it has a great groove, or maybe it has a great melody, or great lyrics. It might be new and innovative, there’s just so many things that music can be that It’s just endless. You could love the overall evocative power of a song or in particular single out a great guitar player, singer or drummer. Or even, it’s a great production, it could sound huge or be really stripped down, but really it’s going to depend on which one of those prefer and what style of music you’re listening to at the time.
Sometimes it’s super stripped back and you’re like “this is cool” other times everything is happening at once and you’re like “Woah, there’s all these fucking instruments doing crazy things, this is really cool!” There’s just no one single reason for me to like music, the variables are endless.
Obviously, it’s still very early days, but have you thought about where you’re taking Shining next?
Honestly, no not really. Right now I just want to focus on touring and promoting One One One. I don’t want to have to think about the future just yet! (laughs)
Ok, this has gone on long enough! (laughs) One last silly question. “I Won’t Forget” is your first single from One One One, what’s one thing you’ve forgotten that you told someone you wouldn’t?
Well… I forgot. (laughs)
Not that it matters, but the lyrics for “I Won’t Forget” are more like “I always remember stuff that people do, especially when it comes to people with a broken moral compass. I see people do stuff that I think is not right, and if people lie once, and it might not even be to me, it might be to someone else and I see it; but if they lie that kinda sticks with me and I always remember that they’re liars, which means they’ll have trouble getting me to trust them on anything. That’s the kind of thing that the lyrics are about, so that’s the stuff I won’t forget. (laughs) I forget stuff all the time, unfortunately.
(laughs) So do I. Who are you again?
Thanks for your time Jorgen, sorry that ran so long. Your time has been greatly valued. Take care.
Thanks Quigs! You take care and I’ll see you next time we land in London!