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Interview: Green Uncle & The Black Hole Surfers / Зелёный Дядя u Сёрферы Чёрной Дыры

Music transcends borders, boundaries, politics, big mouthed opinions, and a current state of affairs. Art is art, and people are people (just ask Depeche Mode). So when I recently browsed the Danish label Virkelighedsfjern‘s discography and found a Russian band called зелёный дядя u сёрферы чёрной дыры (Green Uncle and the Blackhole Surfers) I decided I wanted to know more. The crazy artwork is what drew me at first, the even crazier music is what made me stay. The music consists of a nonconformist mixture of postpunk, spacey synthesizers, heavy galloping drums, and reverb puking vocals, all in Russian and absolutely unintelligible to these ears. I saw the Finnish band Circle once at Roadburn in their “heavy metal” period, and they came close to the madness these Russians have on display.

But there was more, lots more. In The Animal World was just a snippet of what these guys had in store for us. While their country ruthlessly bombed the shit out of their neighbouring countries, these guys were holed up in their psychedelic venue in Nizhniy Novgorod by the illustrious name of Tago Mago. There they worked on their creative psycho outlet, all the while with nowhere else to go than to express themselves artistically.

They released a more straightforward and smoothly produced album called Delight In Octaves (the “crazy cat” album pictured above-the cover depicts a popular motif in medieval iconography-the mouth of hell), which showed a more ambitious side to their music with a slightly more approachable sound. They are still way too weird for their own country, and so they are planning on heading over the border one day to show the more psychedelic minded people of this world what they are capable of.

If only for the horrible godforsaken war that leaves artists in Russia to be pariahs in the world and cut off from most communication methods and ways to reach out (PayPal and Facebook for instance). The band was pretty desperate and fed up with their own country and its stupid war they started on their own anti war statement, their new album Collective Irresponsibility, which will see the light of day digitally at the end of this month. The artwork is featured below. It might not be a literal upfront political album, but the lyrics leave nothing to be guessed:

“God be with you//go ahead! //straight into a fresh graveyard!//best will gesture-negative growth”

Cover art for the new album “Collective Irresponsibility” out on March 28.

Collective Irresponsibility is the best produced recording of the band so far. They might have lost a bit of their wild fuzzy ferociousness along the way, but they bring a cool and freaky progressive post punk side in return. And still they can rage like a bunch mouth frothing lunatics, just check out Negative Growth, it is heavy and characteristic like nothing you have heard before…

Their absolute uniqueness is why it is such a damn shame that they find themselves in such a shitty situation. While everyone should be able to enjoy their stubborn self-minded anti-war anti-Putin anthem, they are being cast out and regarded with apprehension at best. I must admit I thought for a minute about writing this too, but especially after contacting the band and hearing them out I understood that in the end it is still just a matter of people being people. These Russians are people, pretty cool people actually, and some badd ass must-listen musicians while we’re at it too.

I contacted the band through their Bandcamp, and found singer/guitarist Vova Sokolow very much inclined to reach out. Reaching out and contacting the outside has been more and more difficult for normal Russians these days, and the boycotts see Black Hole Surfers and their underground scene in hometown Nizhny Novgorod in absolute tatters. Their dreams of releasing an international record and touring extensively crushed, they have very little to look forward to these days. Like the people on the other side in Ukraine they find themselves only cogs in a machine, played by powers much bigger than themselves….

Hi guys, how are you these days? 

Hi! First of all, I would like to thank you for your attention. We sit in this depressive country and look at colleagues in psychedelic rock, we see how they go on big tours, play on big venues – and we only give concerts in our city and somewhere else around once every six months, without having absolutely no possibility of being heard outside this close circle. building a tour of russia with our music is very difficult, as these are huge distances and, most often, terrible venues with a disgusting sound. the music we play is not popular here – young people prefer rap, pop punk and midwest emo. I follow many bands from different countries and envy them, because they were not born in Russia, not in this terrible time. We dream of the same venues and tours, but so far everything is not going as we would like.

Can you introduce your band to the Weirdo Shrine audience, who are you, when did you meet, what style do you play, etc…

Our band consists of 4 people, we play a mixture of garage, psychedelic and kraut rock, but lately we are moving into other directions, such as post-punk and goth stuff. We live in Nizhny Novgorod and run the coolest underground club in the city – Tago Mago. We live with music from morning to evening, despite the fact that we very rarely play concerts. My name is Vova and I am the author of Black Hole Surfers music and the owner of the club. My friend Misha plays the drums – and this is the best drummer in Nizhny Novgorod, he is crazy for drums. Nastya plays the keyboards – she is a musicologist by profession, but alas, the education system in Russia is terrible and a diploma is worth nothing, yet she is passionate about her profession and classical composers. Kostya plays bass – he is a virtuoso and is known far beyond the borders of Nizhny Novgorod, especially in metal circles. He plays in a huge variety of teams, some of which are international, and he is the only one of us who has had the opportunity to tour all over the continent.

Last year you released the amazing In The Animal World which was released by the Danish label Virkelighedsfjern, what can you tell me about that album and its creation process?

In The Animal World came out 2 years ago, but on physical media it appeared only last year, when we had already released the first full-length (Octave Delight). It was the last release recorded somewhere other than our practice space. I wrote almost all the material at home in Ableton, we rehearsed it (then still three of us) and recorded it in a couple of weeks. Back then there was no bassist in the band and I played with an octaver and created my own playing technique – without solos, but with a lot of rhythmic patterns. I played both bass and guitar all my life and I wanted to combine them, but, alas, this drove me into certain limits, so we decided that the group should have a bass player.

The album came out on a Danish label and it’s a miracle for us. the first EP was released on the same label, but on cassettes. Despite the fact that the next release, Delight in Octaves, in material is head and shoulders above that of In The Animal World, no one has published it yet, and I no longer hope that someone will. There are 2 factors here – it’s not popular music and it’s hard to find a label in Europe/USA that wants to release this kind of music, also from a Russian band.

Can you describe what it is like to live in Russia right now for an independent artist like you?

It’s a complete ass! You have a million ambitions and you realize that your life and musical career is actually ruined by your government. Russia had a great music scene in the 13-18s. Now, after the start of the war, all the cool promoters have left here and are working in other countries, for example, in Serbia. We have all become hostages and victims because of the actions of these terrible people at the helm. Of course, we can go on a tour of 10-15 cities in Russia, play in small bars for 50 people, but this is not what we dreamed about and what we want to come to. We should be in the lineups of all these cool European and American festivals. It’s just that it’s a million times more difficult for us to break through there than for foreign colleagues. The music scene in Russia is now experiencing many problems, it has simply been erased from history. despite this, there are many young people in our city who go to concerts and appreciate what we do. Before Covid, a huge number of foreign groups came to us and there was a feeling that you were in the same reality with them. After Covid, the war began and now we seem to be in different worlds, they live in the real one – and we are in a backwards and parallel one.

What has been the biggest change since the war? Do you for instance notice much from the boycotts in daily life?

I feel a little out of touch with civilization. I can’t use Paypal. I can’t sell my releases at Bandcamp. Despite the fact that I have always been against the war and against our regime, I fall on the same wavelength with the rest. About boycotts – I don’t know, we never went on tours in other countries. but earlier it was at least possible, but now I can’t imagine how to do it, getting a Schengen visa has become much more difficult. We were cut off from civilization, but there are pluses in this – we have to create our own reality – without McDonald’s and Ikea.

You speak out against the war openly, and you are about the release an EP against it called (translation) “Collective Irresponsibility”, what can you tell me about it?

To speak openly against the war is to go to a single picket in the center of the city. In this case, you are guaranteed to be detained by the police and can go to jail for it. I don’t want to go to jail, but I can’t remain silent either, so I speak out with the help of my art. There are no slogans in it, but after reading the texts, you understand what it is about. This album is about the four generations that surround me now. Old people – Putin’s only real electorate, like himself, support all this horror. I feel very sorry for them, they live on a beggarly pension, despite the fact that these people survived the Second World War and it would seem that they should understand the horror of the war – but over the past 20 years they have been brainwashed so much that they really believe that NATO and America they want harm. The younger generation – my parents, live under the anthem “we did not live well – don’t fucking start.” They do not have a civil position, it is because of them that a bloody dictator was in power. Many representatives of my generation have now left Russia – there are many creative and intelligent people among them. well, the generation of Zoomers just sits and looks at all this darkness. They can’t go anywhere. They have lived all their lives under Putin and I sincerely feel sorry for them.

If we talk about the music on the album – it’s garage rock, dirty, raw and heavy. but there are also psychedelic elements in it, I grew up on this music.

What can you tell me about the city of “Gorky” where you live? How is the music scene for instance?

Gorky is the pseudonym of the world famous writer Maksim Gorky, who was born and raised here. In English it is translated as “bitter”. In the Soviet Union, Nizhny Novgorod was renamed Gorky, and in the 90s back to Nizhny Novgorod. If we talk about the music scene, it is now in bad shape, it is practically non-existent. Its heyday was at the beginning of the 10’s, then there was a very large and powerful community here, Nizhny Novgorod bands went on European tours and created their own labels. Now there are few really interesting bands here, but those that exist are unique and it is difficult to compare them with anyone. You know, people here make music very honestly – they generally have a shitty life and for us it’s not entertainment, for us it’s survival. I think there is no such honest scene anywhere else, since we are really creating it in terrible conditions, we have something to sing about. If we talk about specific groups that now regularly perform with us – «Yazva“, “the July days» , «Pospish Potom“, «Nochnaya Igroteka»,  «Orwell’s magazine“, «Magnitola“, «Apodemus“, «Passeisme“. they are all worth seeing!

What are your immediate future plans? And long term?

No sane person in Russia can make long-term plans. We live in one month, already in the summer everything could change. It becomes more and more difficult to survive here, it is difficult to realize one’s ambitions here. There is one good Russian proverb – a holy place is never empty. Now we are a mouthpiece, a voice in the gray crowd and many appreciate it. But everything is stagnant, there is no sense of growth, so sometimes I seriously think about moving to another country. Speaking of our band, we really want to go on a European tour next year. Right now it is very difficult, it is practically unrealistic – first of all financially. Even if you get a visa, it is very difficult to save enough money to recoup all the costs. I want to be where there is a potential listener, and in our case, these are the so-called countries of the “Western world”. Many Russian bands now go to Georgia, Armenia and Kazakhstan, but most of the locals just don’t understand this music.

What should the Weirdo Shrine readers do immediately after reading this interview?

Of course, listen to all of the above bands! You can also subscribe to us on social networks, but this is not necessary!

@blackh0lesurfer – music, guitars, vocals

@nyanogen – drums (apodemus)

@highbrow_blockhead – bass (Passeisme, Wombripper, ex-7H.Target)

@nosok_v_polosochku – keys

Review + Q&A: PNEM – Circadian Rhythms In Public Spaces and FM/AM (2023, self-released)

PNEM are a Dutch collective of artisan craftsmen who have focussed their skills and creativity on bringing us the finest semi-electronic kraut rock possible on this side of the 1970s. They wear their love for Neu!, Cluster, Kraftwerk and Harmonia on their sleeves, and take a modern run with it. The result can best be described as artful and reverend.

Artful, because the music is so incredibly well constructed, and PNEM obviously takes a meticulous care of details and execution. Reverend because the music lives and breathes a deep respect for their musical ancestors. Both in terms of artwork and musical references. These guys know their classics, and they respectfully use the influences from the past to recreate it and add their personalities to it.

So far they have released two (digital) EPs; Circadian Rhythms and Public Spaces, which they combined for a physical release on Circadian Rhythms In Public Spaces, which was released on cassette last year by Fuzzed Up & Astromoon Records, and on vinyl this year by the band themselves. Those EPs show a more human side to this mostly instrumental quartet, featuring more frontal guitars, serving synths, and even some sparse vocals.

For the new full-length tape AM/FM the band has opted for a more synth heavy approach, pushing themselves ever further into electro kraut territories. The robotic character of the music fits the bleak dystopian times in which we live, and offer a cool retro-futuristic soundtrack to it. Considering the full current spectrum of 70s kraut inspired bands, PNEM are perhaps the best representation around right now.

I found guitarist Niels Buijks on Instagram, and of course he was ready to tell us more about PNEM and what the band is all about. It turns out they are a more international operating entity than I thought…

How are you? How has the pandemic period been for PNEM?

We are doing good. The pandemic did slow some things down which was great. There was a bit of less in everything and less is often more. 

Can you introduce the band, and how did you meet, etc.?

We grew up in the same town and know each other since we were young. We have played music together for quite some time, I do not even remember how long, but I guess around 7 years. We were not so efficient in finishing tracks but since our synth player is involved our writing process is much smoother. 

What can you tell me about your musical backgrounds?

We listen to a big variety of music styles. From psych to piano and from electronic to world music. Music with improvisational and experimental character we find most exciting…

What does a regular day in your lives look like?

All just have regular jobs.

What is the best thing about FM/AM?

Fauna, Mecari, Amer I, II and III are all improvised during recording. We had some ideas of what to do with the tracks but did not structure anything. These tracks we had to record 1 or 2 times which was enough. Because of this the tracks feel natural and exciting.

The new cassette tape FM/AM

What can you tell us about your love for the cassette tape?

Our record Circadian Rhythms in Public Spaces, which is just released on vinyl, was quite expensive in recording and pressing. Pressing plants were full in orders and it took one year! until the album finally arrived. Also vinyl is especially expensive in small quantities which makes it difficult or impossible to return all costs. 

With FM/AM we tried to limit all costs and so we will still be able to bring out new music.

Where do you live and what is the environment like for musicians like you?

We all live in different city or even countries (Rotterdam, Antwerp and Amsterdam). With the music we play we experience it as a difficult environment for performances. Somehow we get more orders and requests from other countries.

Who are some contemporary musical heroes of yours?

Stereolab, James Holden, Infuso Giallo, Loscil, Björn Torske, Tommy Guerrero, Battles, Nik Bartsch and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.

Can you tell me about how you go about composing and recording songs?

As said, we play together for already a long time, but we’re never able to finish stuff. All of our music is based upon improvisational jam sessions and so it was difficult to finish and record tracks. We have our own rehearsal room and record everything when we play together. We then load all potential sessions or tracks upon a cloud server. Everyone can listen the songs back, discover sick parts and leave comments for ideas. 

What are your immediate and long term future plans?

We lately improved our recording gear and can make good quality recordings now at our studio. The idea is to release more often online in the form of single tracks or something. We are also planning to organize a small tour begin October in the UK.

What should the Weirdo Shrine reader do after reading this interview?

Jump in the car, drive fast and listen to our music.

Review + Q&A: Los Kowalski – El Ocaso Del Oni (2023, Echodelick/Weird Beard Records)

I always ask a band where they are from and whether they think their surroundings in any way influence their music. That is some sort of a trick question I guess, because when you have lived in a certain place, how do you know it affects you in any way if you have nothing else to compare it to? Oftentimes though it does give me a good idea of where the band comes from, lyrically, but also sonically.

Take Los Kowalski. They are from Mérida, Mexico, close to paradisiacal beaches (it is also close to Cancún), but also to beautiful ancient forests and mystical Mayan temples. Picturing the psychedelic electrified dream music in this exotic environment definitely gives it in extra dimension when you listen to it.

reserva estatal geohidrológica anillo de cenotes, near Mérida

Just picture these kaleidoscopic synthesizer sounds emanating from a warm and damp rain forest, swimming in a cave lake, or vibing mystically from an ancient Mayan ruin. It is where this piece of music actually originates from. Los Kowalski take up all that ancient heritage and transports it into the music of their contemporary heroes; the psychedelic indie kraut of Primal Scream (hence the name Kowalski), the artful indie psych of The Horrors, and the hazy shoe gaze of My Bloody Valentine.

Maya temple ruins of Uxmal, near Mérida

It is this added contextual depth that to me lifts El Ocaso Del Oni from “just a very good psychedelic indie album” into something deeper, a spiritual journey if you will. A trip you can take with your eyes closed. Be transported to these ancient lands, take a walk through a rainforest, hear the sun rays peep through the trees and hit the water. Or just dance around while gazing at your shoes. It is all possible, it is all here. And a lot more too, just open your third eye and see.

Of course I did not just made all of that up…I talked to Los Kowalski from their home in paradise, to provide this context. Let’s meet them, multi-instrumentalists Pablo Fuentes and Manuel Guttierez are here to tell us everything you need to know about this new musical revelation from Mexico…

How are you? How has the pandemic period been for Los Kowalski?
Hello, here we are, Pablo and Manuel from Los Kowalski. We are very well, happy for this interview and grateful for the opportunity. The pandemic brought us the difficulty of having to postpone and delay plans for the release of this album, as well as promotion plans and shows, but it also brought us three important changes such as the establishment of a recording studio, the departure of our brother Arturo to undertake other goals and the arrival of new members at the same time those two years have helped us to work on new musical ideas.

Can you introduce the band, and how did you meet, etc, where does the band name come from?
Los Kowalski was formed in 2011 by Pablo Fuentes, Manuel Gutiérrez and Arturo Ponce. We met through an internet ad posted by Pablo who was looking for members to form a group. We got together and without talking much we started to improvise and that’s how our music began. For the name, we were inspired by the song “Kowalski” by Primal Scream, from the Vanishing Point album, which is one of our favorite albums and an essential part of our formation. As a curious fact, we took the name practically due to the urgency of performing a small series of shows in a new art venue in the city at that time.

What can you tell me about your musical backgrounds?
I think that punk ideology is one of the pillars of our music, and the alternative music that arose from it, we don’t have academic knowledge, we have been moved by the desire of making music. One of the important points in our musical development was listening to Primary Colors and Skying by The Horrors, those records combined the sounds we already liked and introduced us to other alternative rock and electronic genres, such as shoegaze, krautrock, ambient, dub and idm . I think there has been a search to forge our own sound with these influences instead of looking to fit into a genre.

What does a regular day in your lives look like?
We spent the day trying to survive the heat and humidity of Yucatan. We live from regular jobs during the day and at night we relax making music at the home studio, which we also rent to earn income. In general, the day is full of ideas, laughter and love for music, i it is what’s most in our day to day, a deep need for music

What is the best thing about El Ocaso Del Oni?
That it came out in a beautiful physical format and that marks us as an important transition stage as a band and as a family. El Ocaso del Oni responds to our desire to listen to an album with the electronic psychedelia of synthesizers and hybrid acoustic electronic drums, but giving it the organic life of highly distorted and noisy guitars. Sort of like wanting to listen to Four Tet but also wanting to listen to My Bloody Valentine.

Where do you live and what is the environment like for musicians like you?
We live in Mérida, an average city in Mexico, surrounded by jungle, Mayan pyramids and cenotes (natural pits filled with water). For a few years the city has experienced growth in all senses, but especially in its artistic culture; there are more and more promoters, studios and forums for musicians and bands with a certain trajectory but also new proposals. That same thing has generated that the offer in styles is varied and interesting, it is a good moment for original music.

Who are some contemporary musical heroes of yours?
We are currently in constant search of “heroes”, I think that we are very seduced by those bands or artists who went far under “the radar”, without much relevance and that with the passage of time when these albums emerge one finds true treasures. When thinking of contemporary heroes, The Horrors, My Bloody Valentine, Cocteau Twins, Seefeel, The Durutti Column, The Stone Roses, Joy División come to mind.

Can you tell me about how you go about composing and recording songs?
We do not have a defined order or method, at least in the composition or first approaches, it depends a lot on being able to identify the central idea or that axis in the sense that we want to hear and capture it. For El Ocaso Del Oni the process consisted of programming beats on the computer and improvising on top of it with bass, electric guitar, synthesizers, sampler and vocals. We are giving shape to these ideas until we solidify the song. Sometimes the process is a little different from song to song since in the studio our role is not focused on a single instrument, we play with the possibilities and sometimes it gives a different development to the song that can result in a classical structure or something more fluid and experimental.

What are your immediate and long term future plans?
Immediately, continue to share our recent album in physical form, get more shows and make more people aware of our music. Also continue to consolidate the new lineup and new roles, relearn old songs and lean new ones. In the long term we will be preparing our next releases, perhaps in the format of EPs, since we have compiled during these years of pandemic: ideas, songs and demos that little by little we will share, of course with our friends Weirdo Shrine. We also hope to be able to tour the country and hopefully outside of it.

What should the Weirdo Shrine reader do after reading this interview?
Of course, listen to our new album El Ocaso del Oni, if you haven’t already done so, and indulge in a journey through musical paths, familiar and new sounds, lights and shadows of cities we all know, a journey that begins in twilight and which aims to end with the first rays of the sun. We also invite you to immerse yourself in our compilation called Lovell 20 that includes some of our favorite songs from our previous album Dejarte Ir, the same songs that are now part of our live sets. And of course, and very important, continue to listen and be on the lookout for the excellent proposals from the Weirdo Shrine, to whom we give all our thanks for reaching out to you and making this possible!

Review + Q&A: Lotus Emperor – Syneidesis (2022, Sound Effect Records)

Syneidesis is a Greek word that translates to consciousness in English. It alludes to mindfulness, and being in the “now” in this world. I have found this way of thinking many times when diving into psychedelic music, but mostly within genres like drone and instrumental post rock. Doom metal might be a further cry from meditation, but Lotus Emperor builds that bridge, and gloriously walks it.

On their second album the Athens, Greece band draws some long lengthy breathes of heavy psychedelic doom with female vocals, that add a densely dreamy dimension. On the doom spectrum they find themselves somewhere in the twilight zone between weirdo super psychedelic bands like Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard, and Mammatus, and ultra heavy psych doom shamans YOB. It is music to completely lose your marbles to, to just open your third eye to, and dive into the ten-plus minute trip each song have on offer. What is the worst thing that can happen? That you wake up in your own schizophrenic mouth froth? Or licking a toad, while drawing a pentagram on your naked body? you gotta live a little, right?

Just live in the moment. Clean your weekend schedule, and let Lotus Emperor be your travel guide. There is some deep wisdom to be found here, and if you don’t, at least it was one hell of a ride.

I talked to drummer Nikos Antzoulatos, who kindly enlightened me in the world of Lotus Emperor. For all its ethereal wisdom and life lessons that may or not be learned here, it sounds like that being in this band is a lot of fun first before anything, and that is very healthy.

How are you? How has the pandemic period been for Lotus Emperor? 

The pandemic was a truly dystopian and unprecedented experience for the world. We managed to survive! We also tried and turned this whole difficult situation into a creative process for Lotus Emperor, which resulted in our new album entitled Syneidesis

Can you introduce the band, and how did you meet? 

The band originally started in 2013 by Stasinos, Kon/na, Fotis and Andreas based on our love for psychedelic music. After the departure of two members (Fotis and Andreas), we met our new bassist Panos. In a lucky twist of faith, he run into his childhood friend, Nikos, who became our new drummer and that is how we have been traveling together since 2015 

What can you tell me about your musical backgrounds? 

Stassinos, our guitar player, is also a member of one of the longest running bands in Athens, Screaming Fly, and he has also played in Allison in the past. Panos, our bassist, got the germ of collective music creation in 1998 in the company of his classmates. Since then he has followed this path from time to time, and today he is also a member of Data Fragments. Nikos (our drummer) used to play in Demented, a promising thrash-band, and has joined various bands with multiple music styles, such as jazz and rock and roll. 

What does a regular day in your life look like?

Well, everyone experiences their day in a different way but one common thing is that our reality is intense during the day-time, so we look forward to our time in the studio to release some steam! We could summarize it as ” an ordinary day within a non-ordinary world”. 

What is the best thing about Syneidesis (and what does the title mean)? 

First of all, we recorded most parts live in our studio and that makes us proud for capturing the raw energy of the band that, if one listens carefully, they can distinguish in each song. Secondly, Syneidesis is a concept album that narrates a quite spiritual and self-transcending story, if we may say so. The word is Greek and can be translated as “consciousness”: Awareness; being fully present in the now. And if you think about it, that is a disease of the modern human condition, isn’t it? We have alienated ourselves from the present moment, the here and now. The present has been reduced to a mere moment for the next moment. Regretting the past, fearing the future, missing the now. So, we wanted to honour this need for mindfulness through which one can embrace universal truths, such as impermanence.

Where do you live and what is the environment like for musicians like you? 

We all live in the urban dystopia of Athens city, the capital of Greece (also known as “Hell-Ass”, haha!). Unfortunately, inclusive art & culture was never really in the priorities of this country and that makes being part of the underground scene more difficult, nevertheless we are happy to experience a collective change of mindset which has grown steadily in recent years. We are sure that with solidarity, perseverance, and “meraki”, our music as well as the underground scene will reach more ears. 

Who are some contemporary musical heroes of yours? 

We do love the stoner/psychedelic scene, like Sleep, OM, Kyuss, All Them Witches, Black Angels, Electric Wizard, Magma, Hawkwind, Killing Joke, Cardiacs, Stereolab, Nurse With Wound, etc. But like all creative creatures we are influenced by a plethora of genres like Rock ‘n Roll, Post Punk, Greek Folk, Classical music, you name it…! 

Can you tell me about how you go about composing and recording songs? 

We are lucky enough to have our own place in the centre of Athens, next to the central market…. So, after we buy some local wine, we like to turn lights off, turn on our LED rotating lights, hit the record button on our Tascam recorder, and start jamming..! Then, the next days we hear the recording, we highlight the cool parts, and we start taking notes in order to synthesise them into a more solid structure. The secret sauce in all of what we do is playing from the heart. 

What are your immediate and long term future plans? 

At this stage, we want to schedule enough shows to play our music live and promote our album. At the same time we are working on new ideas, and investigating the introduction of a more traditional-folk instrument in our compositions, maybe a Cretan lute. 

What should the Weirdo Shrine reader do after reading this interview?

Listen to our album, discover us and join us in our musical journey. All on board, haha!

Review + Q&A: Lay Llamas & JuJu- Flag Of Breeze (2023, Backwards)

In warm and humid Sicily, the deep, deep south of Italy, two men find each other again and again in waves of symbiotic creativity. The chemistry between Gioele Valenti (JuJu) and Nicola Giunta is strong. Together they are Lay Llamas, and Flag Of Breeze is their new EP of dreamy psychedelia. If one thing is clear, it is that their common electricity has not lost any of its power.

Flag Of Breeze is a short affair, consisting of four new songs, intermixed by short weird sounds, described by the duo as ” like a sort of radio tuning listening session among FM stations and misterious shortwaves transmissions”. The songs are very varied, from the dreamy post wave of Flag Of Breeze, to the tribal surf pop of Bury Me Tonight, the gothic witch dance of Mixtures And Potions, and the psychedelic dark cabaret of Underwater Jungle.

The result may be short, but it is a sweet little adventure. And it creates a hunger for more to come from this wonderful duo.

Gioele Valenti

I gladly took on the opportunity to do a second interview with Gioele and Nicola, this time together. We talked about the creation of Flag Of Breeze, why it took so long to physically release it, and what the future might bring…

Hi Gioele and Nicola! How have you been since we spoke last year?
Very well, thanks. Lost in magic.
NG. I’m fine, thanks.

What is the main reason you two keep on finding each other in Lay Llamas? In
what way do you complement each other?

NG. I think Gioele is among the best vocals composer out there… and I’m so lucky that
he’s a very good friend of mine at the same time. So, basically when it’s about Lay Llamas
I provide to send him instrumental tracks on which he writes and performs vocals, and I
mean melody, harmony and lyrics. There’s a kind of chemistry, something magic.
GV. I personally think it’s a matter of vibrations. We have a very long-lived friendship as
Nicola said. I think me and Nicola work together in a very strange and special alchemic
way. I have this “pop” attitude… and Nicola has this very incredible taste in exotic things,
music, art, he has a great sense for aestethic… I think that is the main reason we find each

The album is listed as Lay Llamas & Juju, what is the difference from a regular
Lay Llamas release? It’s always the two of you, right?

NG. Right. But anyway we liked to add on Juju name to underline how much strong was
his work as composer. For the rest it’s basically the same thing we did in the past… with a
different typing on the sleeve maybe.
GV. Yes, basically the same process.

Can you tell me about the conception of Flag Of Breeze? What made you start
these songs, what was your intention?

NG. We recorded these tracks during the same sessions for GOUD LP (Black Sweat
Records, 2022). But too much tracks for a single LP so we did an EP for this second
release. Nothing different about creative process: I compose and record the music, send it
to Gioele that compose and record vocals, lyrics and sometimes any overdub with guitars,
synth, etc., finally I do the mix.
GV. Yes, we had a lot of stuff coming this time.

Even more than before this album is very psychedelic, hazy, dreamy. Is there an
explanation for this? Can you tell me about the specific influences for this one?

NG. Hazy and dreamy, more than psychedelic in my opinion. As always when we meet to
make music together as Lay Llamas a kind of mind-travellers music comes out.
Other(inner)worldly music I call it!
GV. I would call these songs “lazy” rather than “hazy”. Haunted more than psychedelic.
There’s this universalistic afflatus underneath. Songs for globetrotting spirits. I like to put it
this way.

What can you tell me about the release process, I heard that some people had to
wait for a long while on their orders? Can you explain what happened? It seems that
in the mean while Juju and Lay Llamas both released another record, right?

NG. Oh man, that was a real mess! The label sent the master to the pressing plant in April
2021 and it had received the vinyls one month ago or something. The Covid delay was
huge, at the same time the label could have handled it better maybe. Mainwhile a Lay
LP titled GOUD It was released in March 2022 by italian label Black Sweat
. Anyway, here we are.
GV. Very long time. Friend, let’s take it as another “long covid symptom”.

What can you tell me about the background stories behind the lyrics? What was
your inspiration for the words this time?

NG. I wrote only one lyric; Underwater Jungle. It was strongly inspired by Jules Verne
GV.I used to read a lot of quantum physics stuff while writing the songs. The collapse of
the wave function. Of how reality is an interactive process between the observed object
and the observer. Reality, basically, does not exist. Thought is everything.

Would you say that you are “typical Sicilians”? Why/why not?
Not a simple question. As I think Sicilian people are quite complex. For example,
Sicilians often use ‘maybe’ word rather than ‘yes’ or ‘no’. We talk using a layering language.
In this way I feel ‘typical’. But not if you consider ‘typical’ the sicilian guy with mustache and
shotgun on the back.
GV. I don’t like clichés, which immediately become a stigma. It depends on what you
mean by “typical”. If we mean a cultural trait, well, yes, then I feel I belong to a broad
culture, of great historical breadth, of great tradition. The other reflections on being
a typical Sicilian doesn’t make sense in my opinion. I’m no more typical than a
typical Englishman can be, these days.

What is the thing you look forward to most in 2023?
new music and art, still living with my dears, be a better human.
GV. Staying alive already seems like a great goal to me

What should the Weirdo Shrine readers do immediately after reading this

NG. go out and take a walk, breath deeply, elevate yourself.
GV. Take care of you loved ones. You will save the entire world.

Nicola Giunta

Review + Q&A: Tajak – La Sombra Del Agua (2022, Little Cloud Records/Cardinal Fuzz/The Acid Test Records/Hole Records)

Strange and exciting things happen when creative minds decide to drop everything they were doing and move to into the woods. Whether it is the falling away of urban overstimulation, the closer contact to nature, or just the increased focus on the task at hand; beautiful and meaningful things are made. Novels are written, poems are conjured out of thin air, and musicians find new sources of sound within themselves. Tajak definitely did. Their previous album Ciclos was a great album of noisy shoegaze, but it did not fully prepare of what was to come…

Hailing from Mexico, one can imagine that the forest Tajak chose for a creative hideout is rather a different affair than let’s say than Thorough’s when he wrote Walden. I recently got to see the second Avatar movie, and I feel Tajak would have done a much better job scoring the beautiful rain forest and underwater scenes. The music on La Sombre Del Agua (The Shadow Of The Water) is rich and dreamy, layered, and filled to the brim with tiny little sonic easter eggs that make it a true headphone feast. This is a studio album mind you, but one that feels organic, a living breathing thing.

The songs are set up like paintings, and can spread out often longer than twelve minutes. When there is the need for a word or two there are some sparse humanoid voices, but they mostly remain whispers or echoes of wavering guitars and synths. The roots of this psychedelic soundscape music lie in improvisation, but like the grand maesters of kraut Can, Tajak have filled in their jams in the studio for an optimal sonic experience.

And that is why La Sombre Del Agua is what it is; a wet rainforest of sound with a sonic palette as rich as the flora and fauna. Tajak dares you to put on your headphones and disappear with them, away from the hassles and speed of modern life, into the shadow of the water.

Ok, so I had to talk to this band. I needed to know where they came up with their beautiful ideas and how they worked on it. The language can sometimes be a barrier though, standing in between a short and stand offish answer, and the whole thing. I am therefore glad that Tajak gave theirs in their native tongue. I would like to send mad props to Roman Tamayo of Doomed & Stoned Latino for the translation into English so we can all follow…

How are you? How has the pandemic period been for Tajak?

We are fine, everyone surviving as they can. We live in different places so we could only see each other once in a while. During the pandemic, we were recording La Sombra del Agua, in La Orduña, and Zoncuantla, Veracruz. We spent a year over there recording and producing the album, first in a place that a friend lent us in the woods and the rest in an abandoned factory.

Can you introduce the band and how did you meet them?

Tajak are:

Alvaro Castro: Drums + FX and Synth + FX.

Carlos Arias: Electric guitar, effect pedals, and voice, he generally uses other instruments such as Sitar on the album Ciclos and LSDA, Didgeridoo on our self-titled Ep. And flutes and thunder drum on La Sombra del Agua.

Coco Badan: Bassist + Effect pedals and voice, just like Carlos he uses instruments like flutes, and ocarina on tracks like Camino.

Coco and Carlos are originally from Ensenada B.C. for what has been known for quite some time and Alvaro de La Paz B.C.S, we met at the university, and we met during out studies of Audio Engineering.

What can you tell me about your musical background?

I (Alvaro) started playing electric bass in a black/death metal band, when I was 13-14 years old, I started to be interested in drums. I played drums in a band called Orthodox. After that, I started taking classes and playing as a session musician in several bands. I went to a music university but I didn’t feel comfortable, so I left and began to study Jazz with a private teacher, this was in the city of Guadalajara.

In 2013 I moved to Mexico City to study Audio and that’s where I met Carlos and Coco, we lived together for a few months and one day we jammed at a colleague’s house. From that day we kept playing and that’s how the first songs of Tajak were born. It is safe to say that there was never the intention of starting a band, we would get together to play for pleasure.

Carlos started playing the guitar at the age of 12 and formed his first band in Ensenada at the age of 15, called Mr. Saldos (shoegaze, noise pop), Coco was part of that band for a while playing the keyboards and singing as well, it was the first time they experienced playing together.

Coco: I started studying music at an early age, taking flute classes from the age of 7, and then I went to a formal music school where I played clarinet in an orchestra, but the truth was that the whole experience was quite unhappy and I almost lost myself. They made me hate music. For me, all those years were a waste of time. It wasn’t until I dropped out of that school and started teaching myself guitar that my musical journey really began. Since then, I have continued on a self- taught path.

What is a typical day like in your life?

Alvaro: I work in a dubbing studio as a Pro Tools operator, usually, I’m recording most of the day, I come home in the afternoon, spend time with my girlfriend and play video games or read some manga or books. Sometimes I do sound design, and effects for audiovisual material such as documentaries or advertising.

Carlos: me and my wife own a vegan restaurant in Ensenada, we are both the chefs there, plus we do music events right there since we have a great outdoor space. Excellent projects from the independent scene in Mexico have been presented. In addition, sometimes I did work related to audio, mainly mastering, recording and production. I really like watching movies and series, playing video games, and sometimes I take the time to record new music or write.

Coco: I am currently living on my family’s ranch in Ensenada, B.C. A rather lonely life but one that I really like, especially in winter. I work in tourism, but during my free time, I paint, read, make music and walk in the countryside. I am preparing a drawing and painting exhibition that will be on February 16 in Ensenada. In Mexico City, I am managing a gallery/venue with a group of friends where we will do a small festival for our label in March.

What is the best thing about La Sombra Del Agua?

Alvaro: The whole process: we went through together recording and producing this album, for my very uncomfortable moments, where I felt that nothing was flowing, but even so, I kept looking for a way to improve the tracks. The best thing was to give ourselves the time and space to be able to work on each track carefully and be as satisfied as possible.

Coco: That such a long and arduous effort has given a very satisfactory result.

Where do you live and what is the environment like for musicians like you?

Alvaro: I live in Mexico City, and there are many places to play music of any genre, and new bands emerge very often. It is more difficult to earn enough money to live with your band: festival fees are generally very low for Mexican bands, compared to foreign bands that visit our country.

Carlos: In Ensenada (where Coco and I live) there are few places to play, there is much less public for this music than in CDMX, that is one of the reasons why I promote shows and bring projects from different parts of Mexico, to contribute this to my city.

Tajik’s previous album Ciclos

Who are some contemporary musical heroes of yours?

Alvaro: I really enjoy some Oneohtrix Point Never records, like Replica. Darkthrone has always been a band I enjoy listening to, their record A Blaze in the Northern Sky. I’m also a fan of Beherit, they recently released an album called Bardo Exist, which oscillates between black metal and dark ambient. Mabe Fratti is also a great influence in the way she uses her musical resources and presents ensembles that I have enjoyed very much live. I also admire Pedro Tirado a lot, his album SalsiPuedes, his lyrics touch me in a deep way. I also really enjoy Container. Lately I’ve been somewhat short on new music, recommendations are welcome.

Carlos: I don’t believe in heroes, but the music that has influenced me the most in my life is: Bardo Pond, Slowdive, My Bloody Valentine, Swans, Wolf Eyes, Donovan, Bhimsen Joshi, A Place To Bury Strangers, Celestial Processions, Mabe Fratti, Sunn O))), The Shangri Las, Jorge Berumen, The Ronettes, Nada, Mito Del Desierto, Coco Badan, Cloks, Jesus And Mary Chain, The Residents, Fernanda P, Oneohtrix Point Never, Silver Apples, Lorelle Meets The Obsolete, The Kowalskis, Alice Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders, Curvo, Julee Cruise, Dirty Beaches, Pedro Tirado, Manto Blanco and many others that I can’t remember right now.

Coco: It makes me very happy to be able to say that many of the projects I admire are people close to me. If Tajak has given us anything, it is the opportunity to meet all these people.

Celestial Processions, Myth of the Desert, Electrical Services, Aviation School, CCOOWWSS, Beru, Mr Saldos, Cloks, Nada, le trash can, Choco bestia, Shax, Mental Induction, gnois, José Orozco Mora, J Zunz, Concepción Huerta, Love Die, Nine Lives, Rogelio the 3rd, etc. etc.

Outside of the local scene I’ve been listening to KMRU, Lucrecia Dalt, Coby Sey, Aaron Dilloway, Lea Bertucci, Keiji Haino, Jun Konogaya, His Name is Alive, Alex Zhang Hungtai, John Tavener, Wolf Eyes, Cindy Lee, Cosey Fanni Tutti , Brin, Ryuchi Sakamoto, lots of rapping and my two biggest obsessions: Nocturnal Emissions and Coil.

Can you tell me about how you go about composing and recording songs?

Generally, we get together to improvise, we come up with something we like and we record it with our cell phone, then we record with bass, drums, and guitar microphones. On top of that we are adding more layers of other instruments such as synthesizers, flutes, etc. Then we edit and select what we like the most about what is recorded, we add effects and volume automation.

On La Sombra Del Agua, we had so much time to do it, we would sometimes spend a month without listening to the tracks, then we would listen again and when we listened again, we would think of new things to add to give each track more depth and dynamics. This was only the case on LDSA, our previous albums were recorded very quickly and mixed in a short time as well.

Being from The Netherlands, I am quite interested in the background story of Amsterdam 211, did you live here for a while?

Amsterdam 211 is the address of an apartment in Mexico City where Carlos and Coco lived. Much of the beginning of Tajak we spent a lot of time there, listening to records, talking about music, experiencing sounds, and having a good time with friends. We listened a lot to Black One by Sunn O))), Amanita by Bardo Pond, Cop, and Filth by Swans, Wolf Eyes, Boris, Barn Owl, Fuck Buttons, Oneohtrix Point Never, among others.

What are your immediate and long-term future plans?

Getting a European and American Booker to spin La Sombra Del Agua, we’ve struggled with that. Record new material in February.

Review + Q&A: Morrison Graves- Division Rising (2022, Self-released)

It’s the most depressing time of the year. Next week it will be blue Monday, the day the most people in this world feel down and out. It is the perfect setting for Morrison Graves‘ gloomy doom rock. On their debut Division Rising they perfectly channel early dark post punk like Echo and the Bunnymen, modern psychedelic rock like The Black Angels, and early psychedelica like The Doors (what’s in a name?). The album is a concept studio effort challenging the topic of gentrification and the woes of modern capitalism. That may all sound heavy and without any fun, but luckily these guys write some killer songs.

The best example is probably Demolition Man, a subdued rocker that rings a bit like The Black Angels’ Currency but bleaker and with a delightful gothic undertone that would also appeal to fans of Woven Hand or Roadburn darlings Grave Pleasures. Another favorite is the atmospheric A Puppet Dance, with a chorus that will haunt you in your sleep for many nights…

It is quite unbelievable that Morrison Graves was conceived as a studio only project, with no intentions of hitting the stage any time soon because the album is a living, breathing thing. An album that projects images of smokey basement stages and shoegazed dancing by black clad audiences. It is definitely a perfect album for these unjoyous times after the holidays, but I am delighted that they released it so the feeling becomes a shared experience, and one with a perfect soundtrack.

I wrote this Portland, Oregon threesome without any expectations or premeditation. I just liked their music. To my surprise they insisted to all collaborate on the interview, and it became a cool joint effort, shedding some light on all three their perspectives. So without further ado, here’s Gary Jimmerson, Ryan Brown, and Rob Bartleson about their studio project Morrison Graves

How are you? How has the past year(s) been for you as musicians?

Gary: I’m good, thanks for asking. The past couple of years have been rewarding, despite the isolation. I’ve been learning to play guitar (historically I’m a drummer), and focusing on songwriting. I’ve always wanted to release music on vinyl, so I was fortunate enough to rope Rob and Ryan into this project to make that happen. It’s a milestone for me to say the least.

Rob:  Unfortunately, working in music every day does not allow me to do my own creative things as often as I’d like.  Doing Morrison Graves with Gary has been a very welcome break from the day to day, and I’m very proud of how it turned out.

Ryan:  I’m doing really well. Currently, I’m working with a couple of different musicians on an industrial project (on top of working hard with Gary and Rob putting this album together), so this year has been incredibly fruitful musically.  I know that the pandemic period was very hard for many, but for me they were the most productive musical years I have experienced.  I lost my job 3 different times, so I spent all of that time making music holed up in my house.

Can you introduce yourselves?

Gary (multi-instrumentalist): I’m the founder of the project. I’ve been entrenched in the sounds of “psych rock” for the past several years, and decided I needed to make a similarly-themed album. I now live about 90 miles outside of Portland, Oregon, which is home to an incredible music scene, and most of my friends. Inspired by small-town boredom, I started demoing songs in my home, while shamelessly soliciting help to make the songs better. Rob is a close friend of about 20 years now, and is an incredible studio engineer and bass player. I knew right away that he would be an integral part of the project. Ryan is my best friend from high school, and has a powerful voice that I knew would be perfect for these songs. Miraculously, they both agreed to help out.

Rob (bass + engineer): I’ve been the owner of Haywire recording for over 2 decades now and have worked in music my entire life.  I’ve also toured extensively as a bass player, and that is how I met Gary, at a show in Montana in March of 2000.

Ryan (vocals):  I have been involved in music most of my life as well, in many different veins. I recently moved back to Portland after a six year hiatus with the intent of actualizing my dream of being in a band.  The last place that I lived was amazingly beautiful, but the music scene there was lacking in many respects.

What can you tell me about your musical backgrounds?

Gary: I am a self-taught musician. I started playing drums in middle school, jamming to The Cure and Nirvana. In high school, I played mostly in Dischord-influenced punk bands. In the early 2000s, I played drums in an instrumental post-rock band from Missoula, MT called This is a Process of a Still Life. In the mid-2000s, I played drums/vibes/keys in an electronic influenced indie band from Portland, OR called Small Sails. Those years were all about jumping in a van with your pals and criss-crossing the US. I then took a hiatus from music through most of the 2010s to establish a career as an ER veterinarian. It was really hard to play drums in apartments, and I didn’t really have the mental time/strength to play. But once I graduated from school, it wasn’t long until I was back at it.

Rob:  I started off in 3rd grade as a jazz musician playing alto saxophone.  When I was 16, one of my best friends (David Devery) needed a bass player so I talked my mom into buying me a bass. David & I went on to form Slackjaw, along with Joey Prude & Eric Schopmeyer, who are both guests on the Morrison Graves album.  Slackjaw went on to record 6 albums, and extensively tour the United States, playing over 400 shows.  I also have toured and recorded with the bands The Exhale and Southerly.

Ryan:  I started studying classical piano in the 4th grade, and started singing in choirs in middle school.  My high school choir teacher was one of the most influential people in my life, so I decided to get my undergraduate degree in music education — so I could follow in her footsteps.  That pushed me to continue studying classical piano and classical singing throughout university, and I taught myself to play guitar and bass over those years, too.  Not having any musicians to really work with over the pandemic, I sat down in front of a drum kit for the first time and taught myself some elementary drums, to have something to record and write on top of.  Playing drums feels amazing… even when you suck at it!!  I also spent those isolated years deep diving into production by watching mastering engineers divulge their depth of knowledge in Youtube videos.  It’s amazing how much one can progress by themselves, both in playing and knowledge, by studying online.

What does a regular day in your life look like?

Gary: My life is fucking great right now. I walk our dog for about 1.5hr while listening to music on my headphones. Eventually, I’ll cook up some bad-ass food with a beer in hand, and watch the day fold into night with my wonderful partner. Often we listen to the rain on our Oregon rooftop, or spin a record, as the day comes to a close. There are many dog belly rubs involved! I feel very fortunate to have that roof over my head, warm food on the table, and the bandwidth to have a luxury like music in my life. I work as an ER veterinarian which requires long shifts and a lot of weekends/nights, so most of my creative time is done on days off when my partner is at work. I don’t envy anyone who lives with a drummer/blossoming guitarist! I get a lot of days off, which is rad. Oregon is rad.

Rob:  Although I have my misgivings in life, I’m proud to say that most days in my life I do not have to get up before noon!  I work in rock & roll, so that’s the goal right?  Days off don’t exist for me because there is so much crazy shit going on in my life. At some point, I’d like to work on that and simplify it, but for now that is my reality.

Ryan:  I work as few days a week as I can (as a server), making just enough money to squeeze by so that I can make as much music as I can on my days off.  

What is the best thing about Division Rising?

Gary: I particularly love the subject matter of the album. Division Rising is a concept album about homelessness, gentrification, displacement, and socio-economic gaps. All very timely problems. Even the band and album names are based on this subject matter. Division Street (PDX) keeps going skyward, while class divisions rise. Morrison/Belmont (and other streets) are turning into condo graves. Our cities are on fire.

Rob: I’m going to completely agree with Gary on the subject matter. The album didn’t start out with that as a goal, but I’m glad it went in that direction.  Also as an engineer, I’m very happy with how experimental we were able to be with all of the sounds, especially the drum sounds. Gary: oh my, the Studer tape compression on Bent Beyond the Break is so good!

Ryan:  Finally finishing something. Anything!!  Lol!  My computer is filled with unfinished tracks….tons of them!  AND working with your best friend.  Gary was my closest person in high school, and we’ve worked on music together in many different configurations over the years.  So getting to come back together once again, after a long time away from one another, to create something of this scope was incredibly special.

Where do you live and what is the environment like for musicians like you?

Gary: Rob and Ryan will have better responses for you. I live in Corvallis, OR – a small university town with a pretty vacant music scene. Thankfully, there is a small punk collective here, but not much outside that. A few dad bands, some singer-songwriters, cover bands, etc, typical small town stuff. Portland, Oregon speaks for itself.

Rob: Portland, OR.  Where else is there in the US? We have this locked down in Portland.  The average artist’s grip on P-town may be experiencing some hardships, but right now, we’re still doing amazingly well compared to the rest of the US.  The rest of the world?  Well, we can have a different conversation about that.

Ryan:  Like I mentioned before I just moved back to Portland, OR. I moved back specifically for the music scene here. It does not disappoint in that respect. This city is brimming with artistic creativity of all types. It feels raw here. Unhinged.  Feral.

What is your main aim with your music, is it complete artistic expression, or an escape from the every day world? (or something else ;))

Gary: Morrison Graves was started as an avenue to make studio albums with friends, with a focus on sound design and studio techniques. Rob is a wizard at that stuff. Then release it on vinyl! I’ve learned over the last few years that music is an integral fabric of my existence, so it appears that I will always need an outlet.

Rob: I definitely like the sound of complete artistic expression.  Gary has pushed me creatively into an area that was new, and I feel like the result of it was pretty damn cool.

Ryan:  For me, music making is about personal exploration and growth.  Having grown up submerged in classical training, I have such an incredible foundation of technique, which has served me in so many different ways. But it also was my biggest hindrance — in that it’s so structured and formulaic.  The first time I started genuinely loving music was when I started writing my own songs, but I ran into many barriers with it because of all of that training. It really got in the way of having my own voice and expression. That’s what happens when you spend so much time learning the “proper” and “correct” way to do this and that. I have spent much of the past years breaking down those structures to find myself musically.   It’s been incredibly rewarding, and also very challenging, finding myself in it all.  It’s a continual work in progress.

Who are your influences, all time and contemporary? 

Gary: I absolutely love the garage/psych/fuzz rock from the late 60s. Some classic favorites are: The Seeds, The Eyes, Les Problemes, The Litter, The Blues Magoos, Electric Banana (Pretty Things secret project), Syd Barrett, and Billy Nicholls. Some contemporary influences are: Temples, Black Angels, Night Beats, Babe Rainbow, The Mystery Lights, Levitation Room, The Lazy Eyes, Wine Lips, etc. Radiohead and Blonde Redhead are all-time favorites for me. We recently had a vinyl release party where Joey Prude spun some pretty awesome wax. That list is below if you’re interested.

Rob:  Lately I’ve been getting into bands like Black Angels, and Crumb. Always been into old school psych like Syd Barrett & Pink Floyd. Some of my all time favorite bands are The Cure, Blonde Redhead, Afghan Whigs & the Replacements. I’ve always had somewhat of an obsession with Icelandic bands like Kaelan Mikla, Sigur Ros, & Bjork. I’ll also give a shout out to my favorite (and the best) Portland band ever, (as an influence for my distorted bass sounds):  Thirty Ought Six.

Ryan:  I grew up listening to my dad’s records. The Beatles were the first band I fell in love with, along with Led Zeppelin and Cat Stevens.  The Beatles always blew my mind because of the scope of their writing abilities and their exploration and evolution as musicians over the years.  Radiohead was also a band that blew my mind for a very same reason.  I also feel such a pull towards The Beatles and Radiohead because their music is so rich sonically.  One of my favorite composers to play growing up was Debussy – I loved his concept of tone painting where tone was like paint on a canvas that conveyed meaning and emotion through the imagery that it evoked.  Those two bands really excel at that, which is very difficult to do. 

What are your immediate and long term future plans?

Gary: I have about 8 demos started for the second record. Ryan is coming down soon to start messing around with vocal ideas. I have a lot of drum parts to write! Hopefully we can start recording those songs sometime later this year. We are also in discussions about whether or not to try this thing out as a live show. I have no idea what we will settle on for that. I also want to start a garage rock recording project. 

Rob:  We have many requests coming in to make this a live band too, and I’d be up for it, but we’d have to figure out one other person to make it happen of course. 

Ryan:  Be in a rock’n’roll band.  Stay in that band!

What should the Weirdo Shrine reader do after reading this interview?

Gary: Go walk your dog, scratch your cat’s ears, and/or cook someone dinner. And listen to some of those late 60’s songs/bands you are unfamiliar with. Obviously The Doors, Pink Floyd, The Beatles, and Led Zeppelin were smashing out worthwhile classics, but that era is deep with incredible music.

Rob:  Let’s all try to do the best we can to help solve the issues brought up by the lyrical material in this album. It won’t be easy, but change is always anything but that.

Ryan:  Pursue your dreams.  Enjoy your life.  Because it seems to pass by quicker and quicker as the time goes on.

Review + Q&A: Black Toska- Dandelions EP (2022, self-released)

When renowned Seattle radio station KEXP sings their praise about you and Gallon Drunk‘s James Johnston does your artwork you know you are doing something right. Madrid’s Black Toska plays their “bluesy, goth-tinged post-punk” (-KEXP’s Don Yates’ words) with a theatrical performance that reminds of Woven Hand, Money For Rope, and Wailin Storms. In fact, they have the songs and the presence to stand among those names as equals.

Black Toska’s sound is very atmospheric. It has that serial killer blues vibe that should get them on the next Peaky Blinders soundtrack. The galloping drums, the threatening subdued songwriting style, and the caustic vocals all paint a haunting picture. This is a band you should probably see in black and white, in a sweat soaked bar somewhere rural, with too much whiskey and endless beer bottles flying all around.

Dandelions is a terrific calling card for them, but at fifteen minutes it is of course not even remotely satisfying. Let’s hope they are working their dark magic on new material, because with everything happening in the world right now it could sure use some soundtracking by Black Toska.

Victor of Black Toska

I spoke to Victor of Black Toska, the vocalist of the band. We talked about the difficulties of being an underground band in Spain, and the endless strife for new inspiration. Lucky for us, it seems that we have not seen the last of them.

How are you? How have the past year(s) been for you as musicians?

I guess we cannot complain. Black Toska was born in 2017 so it is a project that maybe it is in its best possible moment after these years of work. I think that for us, as musicians, Black Toska means a period of great artistic maturity and development. 

Can you introduce yourselves?

Nowadays Black Toska are: Diego Fernández (guitar) , Jorge Fernández (bass) , Miguel Ángel Santos (drums) & Víctor García (vocals)

What can you tell me about your musical backgrounds?

To talk about our musical background it is to talk about decades of curiosity and sometimes a compulsory search into styles and genres. The four of us have some cultural backgrounds in common but we have also our own past paths.

If we also take into account that there are two past members Hélène Caulfield (bass) and Jesús Vallejos (drums) and that they helped to build the foundations of what Black Toska is, our musical background can be as wide as the music can be. 

What does a regular day in your life look like?

A day in our lifes it is just another day in life. We are just parents, sons, lovers, friends…just people. We have needs and hopes, sorrows and pains. Anything really special.

What is the best thing about Dandelions?

The best about Dandelions it is that we did it. We gave life to these songs and now they are something real, they have an own existence and unlike us, they can be eternal. 

Where do you live and what is the environment like for musicians like you?

We live in Spain. Black Toska is based in Madrid.

Black Toska is a band from the underground, we follow our own ways down the surface. So it is difficult to fix Black Toska in a particular environment. We have the support of a bunch of people, creative lovely people who share with us a common point of view and help Black Toska to survive in different ways.

What is your main aim with your music, is it complete artistic expression, or an escape from the every day world? (or something else ;))

Definitely both. It is not possible to separate both, don’t you think so? Humans express ourselves through art and we do so to redefine life and existence . And how do we humans do so?  We escape from life and our daily routines to create a space to express artistically. 

Who are your influences, all time and contemporary? 

There is no a list of influences or particular artists that we can write down. 

Our songs are solid pieces of bluesy, goth-tinged post-punk. These are not my words, Don Yates from KEXP wrote them a few years ago. Brief and accurate, I could not describe it better myself. 

What are your immediate and long term future plans?

We have no plans at all. We are blessed to have a way to express ourselves through Black Toska and that’s all that we will do. 

What should the Weirdo Shrine reader do after reading this interview?

Well, I am not going to be the one to say…  But if they would like to give a chance to our little songs, we will really appreciate it. Means a lot.

I would like to extend our gratitude to you for giving me the chance to talk about Black Toska. Thanks so much. 

Review + Q&A: Rulaman- To Serve The Dune (2023, Tonzonen Records)

Stuttgart, Germany natives Rulaman are a progressive rock trio who’s main goal seems to be to free themselves of any shackles traditional hard rock brings with it. On To Serve The Dune they partly succeed in this. It is an album that is quite hard to pinpoint, crossing over territories like modern prog rock, heavy blues, and post rock, preferably all at the same time.

So stirring this pot of various styles definitely breaks the regular hard rock mold, and at times the album shines with refreshing takes on progressive rock. At the same time the band also stays within hard rock’s confinements, mostly in their songwriting, in which they still hesitate to let go completely. In stead they write a bunch of solid songs, sometimes based on riffs, sometimes based on vocalized storylines.

They resemble modern prog rock heroes Porcupine Tree in that aspect, but of course it would be a bit too much to ask from a debut album to already tip a similar peak of quality. The vocals for instance could use some maturing, through smoke or whiskey or otherwise. I feel the depth and adventurous nature of the music could have used a more weathered narrator.

In the end though, To Serve The Dune is mostly a very enjoyable album, made by musicians that strive towards a very noble goal. To be break out from the restraints that tie so many young rock bands to forgetfulness and mediocrity. Rulaman are almost there…keep on walking that dune boys!

I talked to guitarist and vocalist Felix Berns about band life in the South of Germany, writing songs, and musical backgrounds. I found a very well spoken and cerebral musician who seems to know exactly what he is doing…

How are you? How has the past year(s) been for you as musicians?

Thanks I’m good and it’s getting better 😀 The past years have been stressful as a band but still a lot of fun. When Corona hit Germany we all fell into a kind of shook state. We kinda took this time to reflect on us as a band and what we wanted to represent and how we wanted to make music. It was during this process that we realized we needed to take things elsewhere and downsized ourselves from a 4 pice into a trio. Which obviously brought its own new challenges but 2 years Later, well almost 3 I think we came out the right end and are thriving as musicians and bandmates more than ever. 

Can you introduce yourselves?

My Name is Felix Berns, 27 years old I am the guitarist and vocalist. On drums we have Nils Kunze 23 years of age and featured on bass and keys is 26 year old Joel Büttner.

What can you tell me about your musical backgrounds?

Well our musical backgrounds are pretty different I suppose. I personally grew up with a lot of music around me my mother being a huge Bowie fan I naturally despised Bowie early on haha. As I grew older I realized it was only a childish sentiment but my musical awakening came pretty late when I discovered Metallica. From then I dove deeper into metal eventually reaching Led Zeppelin. That opened up a whole new dimension for me.

Nils -I think- always grew up around a lot of more progressive and and psychedelic rock from the 60/70 and so own. With Pink Floyd being something his parents showed him a lot and Porcupine Tree a big influence. Much like Joel who had a teacher that we he and I shared but he introduced him to a lot of blues music from the same era like Cream and Clapton in general. But I think as we grew older we all delved into our own kind of thing where as I Like to listen to a lot of newer Doom, Metal and Psychedelic Rock Bands, Joel listens to a lot of more Jazz infused music.

What does a regular day in your life look like?

Well a regular day is pretty different when it comes to comparing our indivual lives. I personally am currently working part-time as a kindergarden teacher. But after work things are entered a lot around Rulaman. But I still do like to play video games as well. Nils is currently studying so his day to day is probably a lot different from mine and Joel is a full time musician so he basically only puts down the bass when he goes to bed 😀

What is the best thing about To Serve The Dune?

I feel like the best things about new the LP is probably the fact it is our first full length LP and a lovely green vinyl haha. But seriously I was just super fun making it. We put a lot of effort into it while recording and mixing the thing and I’m super proud of how it all came together, especially with Tonzonen and the great support we got from them.

Where do you live and what is the environment like for musicians like you?

We’re all from the south of Germany near Stuttgart. Anyone who’s ever been a creative from around there knows it’s probably not the hot bed for musicians. There’s a great and very passionate concert hall just around the corner of our recoding studio but other than that the town is pretty much a low for creatives. So that’s a kind of extra motivation to not let yourself down from the place and create something that can reach further than the cites reach.

What is your main aim with your music, is it complete artistic expression, or an escape from the every day world? (or something else ;))

Good question. I feel like the main reach here is just creating something that not only has value but means something for us and the people listening to our music. Also for me I feel like it’s necessary to make music and create. Yeah it’s kind of an escape but sometimes it can be a head on confrontation with all sorts of Things. Oneself, society, politics all kind of things around you. And for me, what really drives me is hearing your music and playing it live or in the studio and that moment when your close your eyes and just listen and flow into the music while creating it..becoming a part of it. I guess that’s the thing I’m kind of aiming for. For people to get lost in our music and find something that’s for them.

Can you tell me about how you go about composing and recording songs? And what is the main difference from last time around?

Well in the past we’ve released 2 EPs and a standalone single and especially for the last self titled EP RULAMAN things changed quite a lot.

The songs on that record were written shortly pre-covid and we were in that state of confusion were we rearranged ourselves. So RULAMAN became a concept EP telling one coherent story from front to end. Which was a lot of fun.

For To Serve The Dune we tried a different route. As with previous songs they all probably had their origins in jamming together. Most of the time come into rehearsals with a riff often even a broader vision but the pieces only really start clicking once we all get together and everyone puts their own special thing on it. And that’s what I really enjoy about the process. Sometimes I do have a very clear vision but theirs 1 or 2 pieces missing and then after a while one of these guys plays something, maybe intentional or by accident, and it all suddenly fits perfectly. And that was really a lot the case with this new record. I remember for example with the song Nomad Queen we really struggled with the verses so I went „aww screw it lets just do it vocal only” and then Joel came up with this eerie vocal line that just worked perfectly. 

What are your immediate and long term future plans?

Well for now we’re totally focused on a great release and the upcoming release show. After that we really wanna go out there and play those new songs for everyone. So yeah we are really excited to hopefully play a lot of shows and spread the Rulaman gospel to all the nice folks. But speaking from experience we’ll keep working on material anyways that’s just in the nature of things I suppose 😉

And for the future I think we really just want to expand our reach visit new places and make new friends playing music and of course getting that infamous second LP out!

What should the Weirdo Shrine reader do after reading this interview?

Probably shut down their devices and go outside haha. No but seriously I’d love for people to check out the new record. Those to are probably somewhat combinable. I think this record really goes well with a nice stroll outside or a few relaxing hours.

Review + Q&A: ZOAHR- Apraxia (2022, self-released)

I met ZOAHR on the road with my band when we played a show together somewhere in the South of Germany. Good dudes, and their music stood out in total solidness, especially the vocals, that strongly reminded me of Graveyard‘s Joakim Nilsson, which is of course a total hero of modern heavy blues rock. ZOAHR’s Jessie Schmidt definitely has a throat to match though.

On Apraxia the band proves they are able to channel their sweaty psychedelic blues rock energy on tape as well. The album breathes smokey underground blues bars and whiskey soaked brawls. It’s music to drink too many beers to and then rip your throat trying to howl along the songs. It’s a varied bunch of songs as well, jumping from heavy uptempo barn burners to booze soaked bluesy power ballads.

Fans of Graveyard will have found a new favorite here, but ZOAHR will also appeal to fans of oldschool grunge bands like Soundgarden, Blind Melon, and Screaming Trees. In the end though, modern rock music is all about the blues, and ZOAHR is a band that has pinned this knowledge on their sleeves. A solid album, by three solid dudes!

Live in Landau (GER) playing in support of No Man’s Valley

I talked to singer/guitarist and songwriter Jessie Schmidt. He carefully explained what is like for an underground rocker to survive in contemporary Germany. It is no fairytale but the true musician bravely soldiers on.

How are you? How has the pandemic period and its aftermath been for ZOAHR?

Hi Jasper. First of all thank you for inviting us to do this interview. I’m doing good. A great relief, after the last couple of month with crunch time and deadlines leading towards this release. Since we are an DIY operated band I’m involved in every single step in the making process of our releases but also in the afterwork of promotion and booking. The whole pandemic thing hit us pretty hard. We just had our first album released in late 2019 and about 8-9 shows played so far to support OFF AXIS and then we had to cancel weekenders, festivals and all single shows for the rest of the year. That was pretty flattening for all of us cause we ultimately lost the whole album circle. We played one streaming Show in June 2020 and after that we went straight into pre-production for Apraxia but the lockdowns made it almost impossible to work on the songs for longer periods. Luckily we somehow made it happen to finish all songs just in time to enter the studio in October 2021. We live recorded the whole album in only five days at RAMA Studio Mannheim together with Tobias Schwarz. The mix and master took us a while and I definitely lost some years of my life there with that whole production but now it’s all good.

Can you introduce the band, and how did you meet?

Our band is called ZOAHR and we play some kind of guitar driven Blues music with Psychedelic and Stoner Rock touches as a three piece. Mostly melodic, dynamic and playful I would say. I have known Thorsten and Philipp for almost half of my life, they are both avid musicians in our local scene, it just never happend to play in a band together, Although I’ve played some standing shows with Thorsten’s prior band Ampersphere when they were without a bass player some years ago.

As my former band Colaris started to dwindle down into some kind of hiatus, over 2016/2017 I reached out to Philipp and told him that I wanted to start a new project with more blues, psychedelic & stoner rock vibes. I already had a lot of ideas pre-recorded on my laptop so we jammed around on the first couple of tunes and progressed pretty fast. Thorsten came in just a few months later in 2017. 

What can you tell me about your musical backgrounds?

My uncle and his friends introduced me to Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Tangerine Dream, RUSH, Black Sabbath and all those great bands I still adore at an early age like 8-9 years old. I always loved digging though their record collections and got totally excited about all those iconic artworks. From there I was hooked. I still have the same feelings when I dig through some of my friends’ collections nowadays. I went through a lot of Hardrock, Grunge and Metal in my teenage years, then discovered a lot of Postrock before I got occupied by bands like Graveyard. But I’m totally possessed by music in general. I’m pretty much open for everything that takes me to that special place.

Thorsten and I share a pretty similar musical background with a lot of Grunge and 90`s Bands like Kyuss, TOOL, Clutch, Alice in Chains, Monster Magnet, Helmet and Soundgarden for instance. Philipp strays away a little bit. He has a way more heavy background, with a lot of let’s call it „Extreme Metal“ stuff. But also Opeth, Porcupine Tree and Steven Wilson on the other hand. But he is the one who always wears band shirts with names on it that I`ve never heard before. 

What does a regular day in your lives look like?

Nothing fancy here. Thorsten and I both work full time Philipp studies and works jobs on the side. I`ll guess we all more or less do the same things in our daily routine. Cook, sleep, work, do yoga, listen to music, read books and try a little bit more to live healthy, eco friendly and sustainable. And most importantly coping with all the things happening in this world right now. Besides that we usually try to rehearse once a week.

What is the best thing about Apraxia?

That has to be two things:

For me the best thing is the evolution of my vocals. I never really sang before ZOAHR and only started singing because we couldn’t find a singer. On the first record I was always belting high range the whole time. Now that I have accepted my voice in some way I also try to sing lower and calmer to be more versatile. The second best thing is that I illustrated the CD artwork by myself. I mean I do flyers and stuff all the time, but never ever would have dared to work with pressing plant specifications. We only had the front and back cover for the vinyl which now is delayed to somewhere in 2023. Deadlines came so close almost to the point of postponing the release to early 2023. So I cropped and added some stuff to expand it for the CD artwork. Now I’m pretty stoked about how it turned out. But that’s only on my behalf. 

Where do you live and what is the environment like for musicians like you?

We live in three different but nearby cities. Thorsten lives in Zweibrücken where we play a lot live. Philipp is from my hometown Pirmasens but moved to Saarbücken some years ago. He has to drive 45 minutes one way for rehearsals. The music scene was pretty big in Pirmasens at one point but totally died out over the last 10 years. Almost all venues closed their doors and sadly now there is mainly boring cover music happening. Draws more audience and more money. So we decided to play our so-called hometown shows in Zweibrücken 20km away from Pirmasens. There is at least a small music scene for underground DIY music.

What are your favorite contemporary bands and albums right now?

That’s a tough one, because I’m always digging in the past. There is still so much music to discover. I don’t have Spotify so can’t tell what’s my most played songs are but I had a lot of good times this year with:

Sacri Monti, Astra, Golden Void, Slow Season, Earthless, The Grand East, Siena Root, Spidergawd, Molior Superum, Thee oh sees, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, Michael Kiwanuka, King Buffalo, Elder, Opeth, The Allman Brothers, Coogans Bluff, Khruangbin, The Budos Band. That list could go on forever. 

Can’t name any particular albums though, over the pandemic I became a heavy binge listener where I totally fanned out on one band and listened to their whole catalog back and forth to make sure I’d get into the overlooked albums and deep cuts too. And I got a lot into Soul, Funk and Jazz stuff. Brass instruments together with good grooves on guitar, bass and drums has really grown on me lately.

Can you tell me about how you go about composing and recording songs?

Mainly I write at home just doodling around. If I get stuck at some cool riffs I record them on my cell phone so they won’t get lost. From there I mostly just write in my head as silly as it sounds. I listen to the ideas on long walks on my headphones and hum vocal ideas over it. In the beginning I used to work a lot with Cubase and pre-produce a lot, but somehow I drifted away from that. When I have 2-3 good flowing parts I’ll show it to the guys at our rehearsal room and we start jamming on it. When it comes to recording we only record live together in one room. We play each song as often as we can to get a good take and run with that. So there will always be mistakes on our records but for me these flaws are charming. 

What is “the dream” when it comes to being an artist?

Writing your own music and going the whole way for the full experience wherever music drives you. Just never stop doing this. Hopefully we all can stay healthy as long as possible. I can totally see me old and grumpy playing the blues, learning to play the harp and sitting with my guitar in a crusty bar. And for my teaching to pass on something to the future generation of little musicians. I know I’m getting in full Obi-Wan mode here but I’m just in awe of music. 

What should the Weirdo Shrine reader do after reading this interview?

I’m pretty sure that all the readers of Weirdo Shrine are aware of it but please support smaller bands and artists, always try to buy music straight from the band, try to support your local music scene and go to concerts. Those bands don’t get any penny from Spotify, Youtube and all those other streaming services. Even Bandcamp is starting to get more and more complicated with taxes all over the place. Besides that, just be creative, maybe pick up an instrument, it’s never too late. And if you read this until here: Thank You! 

At their “secret” release party