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Review + Q&A: The Black Cat’s Eye – The Empty Space Between A Seamount And Shock​-​Headed Julia (2023, Tonzonen Records)

When you start out your debut album with a twenty minute instrumental song I think it is safe to say you have some Godzilla size balls. Germany’s The Black Cat’s Eye make it clear from the start that they do not give a damn about their reputation, or about conventions. They do exactly what they feel like doing, just like the cats that lend their eyes for the band’s moniker.

Whether it is the weird sentence of the title, the unpredictability of the songs, or the strange artwork, even before you’ve heard a note of music it is clear that there is something special going on here. Most importantly though; there is some very good music on here too. Opener Kill The Sun And The Moon And The Stars is a Pandora’s box of beautiful secrets for latter day Pink Floyd fans, with an instrumental palette that unfolds itself majestically for twenty plus minutes without boring the listener for a second.

But there is more. On the other half of this shiny blue vinyl platter The Black Cat’s Eye proves they have more sides to them. There is Porcupine Tree echoing songwriting, soothing vocal harmonies, and expert musicianship. It is striking to note that whether the band decides to use vocals hardly seems to matter when it comes to the entertainment value.

The Empty Space Between A Seamount And Shock​-​Headed Julia is a quirky and impressive debut album that defies all logic and comes out on top winning. Adventurous prog and psych heads better watch out!

I talked to Jens Cappel (bass) and Christian Glaser (multi-instrumentalist and vocals) of the band. They kindly and elaborately informed me about their ways, from their various contemporary influences, to the way they created their enigmatic debut album.

How are you? How has the pandemic period been for The Black Cat’s Eye?

Thank you, we’re doing fine. During the pandemic we spent most of the time with our families, watching mediocre up to  good tv series, having long walks, but also working on compositions for the band. Many of the ideas for the songs on the album were already written before the pandemic. We didn’t play any online concerts, because in our opinion it needs two poles for a real concert experience: Band and audience.

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

Jens and Christian had the most special first meeting:

Jens: “Oli, in whose studio we finally did our first recordings in 2018, had linked us. For our first get-together we wanted to meet at his studio. However, Jens and I were then faced with a closed door at the agreed time. Oli had already finished his workday and forgotten about us (apart from that, Oli is a very reliable guy ;). So we had to look for another place and ended up at the side of a forest nearby, where we chatted endlessly about our favourite bands having a beer or two and found out that we liked the same bands and musicians.”

But first things first:
Christian: “The beginnings of the band go back to 2016. At that time my two children had left the cradle and I had more time to bring ideas to life that I had had in mind for a long time. The years before I was guitarist for the Hamburg singer-songwriter Robert Carl Blank, recorded several albums with him, toured and played concerts. In 2016, I finally had more free time to work on compositions for an own band project. Wolfi is a long-time friend of mine, he was the first person I asked to join. Steffen, on the other hand, is a good friend of Wolfi’s. We have met from time to time at parties and jammed together, he was the second to join. And finally I came to know Stefan and Jens through recommendations from music colleagues.”

A special thing about the band is the line-up with three electric guitars, played by Wolfi, Steffen and Christian. Jens is the bass player, Stefan plays drums. Our music is mainly instrumental. Christian is doing the singing on some of the songs. Apart from that, he is the one who does the compositions and arrangements for the band. The mastermind of the band, so to speak.

What can you tell me about your musical backgrounds?

Our musical roots are wide ranged. From metal, jazz, indie and psychedelic rock to avant-garde and modern classical music. The guitarists all studied classical and jazz guitar at the Frankfurt University of Music and Performing Arts (Hochschule für Musik Frankfurt) at separate times. Steffen is now a guitar teacher there as well. Stefan studied jazz drums. Our bass player Jens has no academic musical background, but is nevertheless a fantastic bass player and very creative musician who has played in many interesting bands since his teens, and has been active as a musician throughout.

What does a regular day in your lives look like?

With three of us (Christian, Wolfi and Jens) having families with young kids, our day usually starts with making breakfast and taking the kids to kindergarten or school. Or taking a check on their fever and putting out a puke bucket (those are the days we would rather do without :)) Jens works in a regular job. The others are full-time musicians, teaching their instruments and playing gigs with various other projects. Steffen, for example, is involved in numerous projects in the modern classical scene, such as the Ensemble Modern (which has worked with Frank Zappa and Steve Reich, among others). Stefan has several other band projects. Christian does the main work for the band. Besides the compositions he also does the graphics, social media, and booking.

What is the best thing about the new album?

To have put the album together with limited means. We only had a small budget, and for reasons of time and money we recorded the basic tracks live with the whole band in two days. Of course you need a bit of luck and a good hand. And you also need good musicians and sound engineers who can achieve the best possible results in a very short time.
We are happy that on 24.03.23 the album will finally be released on vinyl, and that with Tonzonen Records we have a very ambitious label behind us. 

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

We all live in Frankfurt am Main. Frankfurt and the Rhein-Main area are quite good places to be active as a musician. Frankfurt has only about 760.000 permanent residents. But other cities like Offenbach, Mainz, Wiesbaden and Darmstadt are only a few kilometres away. A great breeding ground for new projects and networking. Unfortunately Frankfurt in particular has very few gig venues for underground bands. And there are even fewer after Covid.

Who are some contemporary musical heroes of yours?

Jens is a huge Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and The Mars Volta fan. We also like Motorpsycho and other bands related to this genre. Chris loves the music of Pink Floyd and King Crimson since his teenage years. 

Recent music we’ve come across:

Baulta: A Finnish post rock band with a beautiful spherical and wide sound. 

Thundercat: Very wild prog/jazz/funk. 

Airbag: They sound like Pink Floyd at The Division Bell stage

Mono Neon: Freaky and cool funk music. 

Bruit≤: A great French post rock project. Check out their videos.

But there are also a lot of interesting bands on the Tonzonen label: Gong Wah is a pretty cool rock band. Glasgow Coma Scale is playing some awesome post rock.

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

Christian is the one who composes and arranges the music. He sets the musical direction. His demos are quite developed when he presents them to the band, and many of the drum grooves and guitar riffs are already set very precise. The demos are worked out on the computer. Except for the programmed drums, all demos are recorded with real instruments. For official releases we want the music sounding in the best possible way. That’s why The Black Cat’s Eye tends to release rather less material than worse recorded material.

What are your immediate and long term future plans?

It would be great to make more recordings and albums with this line-up in the future. But for now it’s about playing shows and promoting the record.

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

They should immediately listen to Keiji Haino‘s “My lord Music, I most humbly beg your indulgence in the hope that you will do me the honour of permitting this seed called Keiji Haino be planted within you“, repeat the Album title a hundred times and then fall asleep…

Oh, but first check out the Tonzonen web-shop for interesting releases from other bands on the label.

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.

Interview with Santtu Laakso (DJ Astro, Astral Magic, Astral Zone)

Excuse me, can I perhaps borrow five hours of your time? That’s how long it will take you to let everything that Santtu”Astro” Laakso has created this year wash over you and take your head into deep space and beyond. The pandemic has been a double edged sword for many musicians. For some it meant postponing tours and album releases, for others the discovery of hidden wells of creativity and of course the time to do something with it. Laakso definitely falls into the latter category, being extremely prolific and releasing album after album non stop with his Astral Magic project. Of course it is cool that Laakso has found a muse so endlessly generous, but it has its downsides too. For instance, where do you find the record labels to release all of your work on in these times of financial turbulence and vinyl pressing depression? I talked about this and more with this Finish space rock composer, and added links to all his 2022 releases in between, so enjoy, and if you hear anything you like please support!

How are you? How has the past year been for you as a musician, and how have you “survived” the pandemic?

I’m pretty okay, thank you! Actually, I have the pandemic to thank for even starting this project. In March 2020 I decided that it was time to start home-recording and making music again after a long hiatus. My old, psychedelic space rock band Dark Sun has stopped in 2007 and since then I had only played a little bit in Octopus Syng and UFO-tutkimuksia and a few jams with friends. Now I had a lot of time in my hands because of the lock-down and I had to keep sane somehow. This was the best (and healthiest…) way I could think of! So I got myself some recording gear, new synths, first ever electric guitar and here we are now.

In 2022 I have just kept on going, making connections with new collaborators, producing and releasing more music and so on. It’s been great! If only people had more money to actually buy my releases… Then I could do more! But I have made some new fans over the world, which is cool. I’m always looking for labels to release my music on vinyl (or in any other format), since I can only afford to put it occasionally out on CD or CD-R. I have no intention of playing live, but there have been some requests, so who knows…

Our all family had the virus once this year, but it was luckily pretty mild (all had several vaccinations, thankfully).

Can you introduce yourself?

I’m Santtu Laakso, a 51-year old Finnish guy. I’m into a lot of different music, mostly space/psych/kraut/prog rock but also (old) metal, doom, stoner, ambient, electronic, experimental stuff. I have a master’s degree in theology and I was supposed to become a priest, but I decided otherwise and realized how organized christianity (or any other religion, for that matter) is fake. All you need you can find inside. I love sci-fi and fantasy literature and films, am very interested in human psyche, the (pre-)history of mankind, magic, extraterrestrials, parallel universes, other worlds, altered states of the mind etc.

What can you tell me about your musical background?

As a kid, I used to first listen to Elvis/rock’n’roll, then all kinds of rock, pop and punk etc., you name it. I have teenager’s background in heavy metal, joined my first band Oppression as a singer in 1986. Other band’s worth mentioning include Exitus (a short-lived doom metal band, a post-humous LP was released on Svart Records a few years back) and Dark Sun (1991-2007, I played bass and some synths, several releases out there). I used to also organize gigs (mostly in the psych/stoner genre) and write album and gig/festival reviews and interviews for several magazines and web sites. Some people know me as Dj Astro and I still do occasional dj gigs if it suits me. I used to play at Roadburn Festival for many years, for example.

What does a regular day in your life look like?

I wake up, make some breakfast, walk the dog, and go to work unless I can work at home or have a day off. If I’m not at work I listen to music all the time, usually on headphones. Nowadays, I tend to listen to my own stuff the most: I have several albums I’m working on all the time and I need to figure out what more they need etc. I also collect a lot of LPs and listen to them when I can and have time. I like to cook and I make all the food for my three kids and my wife. Most of my free time I make more Astral Magic music… Sometimes I go to see bands live but not that much lately. I try to see some friends once a week and discuss and listen to music mostly and have a few beers and relax… Sometimes I read or watch Netflix or something, but only if I know there is something really interesting there. I don’t watch TV at all. I like to walk in the nature, so I do that quite a lot too, now often with our dog (an Irish Terrier, one year and nine months old).

What is the best thing about Astral Magic?

It’s my own project so I can do anything I want with it! I’m tired of fighting band members with their own agendas and problems. For other people I think the best thing is that Astral Magic makes some pretty great music with cool, trippy vibes!

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

I’m now living in Espoo, Finland. This is close to the capital Helsinki, where I have lived most of my life. It only takes 30 minutes to get to Helsinki, and there are quite a lot of places for bands to play there. Nowadays, I think it is also quite easy to find rehearsal places, but I don’t need one at the moment. Needs money, though. There is no way I could support my family as a musician, so I’m forced to work full-time. I like my work, so it is okay, but I would prefer to devote myself just to music. The state could support underground artists more, like they do in Sweden, but the situation is pretty okay, I think. Most people listen to different kinds of stuff that I make, though… But there is also a small scene for psych around here and we get some foreign acts to play live as well.

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

Both, really! My main aim is to make music that might have healing and/or mind-expanding effects on people. I know it has for me! Since Astral Magic is a solo project with guest musicians, I have full control of what I can do with it. And I do a lot of different things! Of course I also listen to my collaborators and ask opinions, if they have any. Music is a great escape from all troubles and stress of the every day life, it’s maybe the biggest blessing we have after love. It means so much to me. I could not live without music and I like to spread my own music to as many people as possible so they might enjoy and benefit from it as well.

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

I just sit on the computer, open the DAW and start playing synths, bass or guitar and the music comes out by itself from some other dimension. I always compose and record right away simultaneously. I might change some things later, but not often. I tend to keep everything fresh and as it fist came out, not too complex or rational. With other musicians I always loved to jam and improvise, I think I sort of do that now on my own as well. I just play and record something and usually keep that and add overdubs later. If a track or a full album needs something else, I’ll just ask some of my many international musician friends to add their parts which is just amazing! In Dark Sun we had almost all the guys writing songs and it was much more complicated and needed much more compromising.

I do miss working together with other musicians, so I recorded two songs in a totally analogue studio with members of a Finnish space rock band Kultti-25 which was really fun! Should be out  on 7″ next year. We might do some more.

What are your immediate and long term future plans?

Just make more Astral Magic music for as long as I live and can hold my body and mind together! I hope I can find more labels to get interested in my music (so far I have worked with Sleep Fuse, Space Rock Productions, Weird Beard Records, Tonzonen Records, Clostridium Records, NoiseAgonyMayhem, Fruits De Mer Records and We Don’t Need No Stinking Badges). I’d still keep on making more music even if no-one else would be interested in it, but it is always nice to notice others enjoying it as well. Astral Magic is also a cool, big experiment for me, I’d like to see how far I can go with it.

 I also started a Hawkwind tribute album this year which I hope to continue and finish in 2023. Hawkwind is my favourite band, so… It will be a full CD/2LP if I can find some one to release it.

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

They should ALL go to my Bandcamp site and check all my releases and buy those they like if they are still available! All releases are limited editions, some are already gone. LP’s, CD’s, CD-R’s, tapes or just digital downloads, they are all there. Then they should put out the lights, put the music on, close their eyes and relax and let the music take them for a magical journey and heal them. Everything is also available on Spotify, iTunes, YouTube etc.

Thanks a lot for your interest, I hope we will meet in some reality sooner or later!

All Peace to You, Galactic Brothers and Sisters…

Review + Q&A: Solitär- Bus Driver Immigrant Mechanic (2022, Tonzonen Records)

Listeners that tune into Solitär‘s album Bus Driver Immigrant Mechanic need a short disclaimer perhaps: this album does not sound anything like Mikael Tuominen’s main band Kungens Män, or his other band Automatism. Not even close. Like his moniker may give away, Solitär is Tuominen’s solo project. And all by himself he made a beautiful dreamy indie pop album with a crystal clear production and a collection of great, moody songs.

It seems a bit counter intuitive for a master jammer and improviser as Tuominen, but Bus Driver Immigrant Mechanic is an immaculately plannend and orchestrated affair. With a melancholic pop sound that reminds of the melodic progressive indie of Midlake, or the arty pop of The Notwist, Solitär in fact nestles itself quite high in the ranks of the international indie scene. The compositions are tastefully layered, dynamic, and constantly keep the listener wondering what the next move might be.

It is refreshing to hear Tuominen take a break from psychedelic jamming and fully expanding his personal horizons on this solo album. If you shake off before risen expectations on what you might expect, you might well be positively surprised what you will find here…

I talked to Mikael Tuominen about his new outlet, and his many other musical projects. Who knew this Stockholm librarian had so many sonic tricks up his sleeve…?

How are you? How has the pandemic period been for you as a musician?

I’m doing fine, thanks! The pandemic was a weird time for sure, but I wasn’t affected too hard since I’m not a full-time musician. I have a day job as well. But of course it was strange to not be able to play live and tour and not knowing whether it would be possible to do it again. Actually this Solitär record was made during the pandemic, maybe even thanks to it in a way – I’m not sure if I would have had the focus to make it if it would have been normal circumstances.

Can you introduce yourself and your musical enterprises?

I am Mikael Tuominen and I was born in 1973. Solitär is my solo project where I do everything and Bus Driver Immigrant Mechanic is my new album. I have previously released the album ‘1989’ under the Solitär moniker. I’m also in a bunch of bands – I play guitar in the psychedelic improv rock band Kungens Män, as well as in the free rock/no wave/free jazz group Eye Make The Horizon. And I play bass in the instrumental rock/jazz rock band Automatism, the psych/classic rock band Fanatism and the avant garde doom metal act Maulén. I also play bass regularly with Per Wiberg’s band (Kamchatka, ex-Opeth etc). I sing as well to a various degree in the different bands.

What can you tell me about your musical background?

I began playing bass in 1985 after I had fallen in love with heavy metal. Then I started my first band in 1986 with Hans Hjelm who I still play with today in Kungens Män and Automatism. My dedication was all consuming from the first moment and shaped a one track mind in many ways, and years and years of musical struggle and occasional insights have followed. I have played a lot of rock, punk and metal, but also jazz, free improvisation, funk, cover bands and whatnot. However I always gravitated towards the outskirts of popular music for some reason. I have always been extremely eclectic and have found different pleasures from different kinds of music, but never took the easiest way out. I guess it has been a way to keep the music fresh to myself.

What does a regular day in your life look like?

I wish I could say every day was an outburst of free spirited creativity, but unfortunately it’s not. On the contrary I have to be really disciplined and heavily structured to be able to do everything I do. So much for the rock myth… A regular day means going to work, which is that I am a coordinator for all matters regarding the premises of Stockholm Public Library. After work I spend time with my family, rehearse, record or mix music or work out to keep sane and in decent shape. Then there’s all the admin for the bands – booking gigs, managing social media, PR, talking to business partners and such. I also try to consume as much culture as possible, going to concerts, cinema and theater. 

What is the best thing about Bus Driver Immigrant Mechanic?

Probably that I stepped out of my comfort zone. I have never written this personal or even private lyrics before, and I have never pushed my vocals up in the mix the way I did with this record. I don’t know if it was a good decision, but it is what it is, and the process of making this album was very important to me. It came from a deeply honest place and is all about connecting with things that matter for real – emotions, politics, death, family. No posing or fancy rock moves. It’s basically a diary of what was going on inside of me during the time I made the record. It also includes what I feel is the best song I have ever written – ‘Ship of Excitement’. I found something in that song that I would like to explore more in the future. 

There’s something about the combination of the flow, vibe and melancholy of that song that feels very special to me. I think I would like to do more of that, but go deeper into shoegaze and dream rock land. 

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

I live in Stockholm, Sweden. There certainly is a need for improvement here. A lot of venues have closed down over the last years and it’s always a struggle for alternative culture. It is generally very neo liberal and money driven, plus the fact that a lot of people that live in the middle of the city expect it to be quiet, which means they have rock clubs closing down after complaints. That’s how you create a dead city folks! We’re also geographically quite far from the continent, so touring is costly for us – just driving down to Hamburg takes 12 hours. However, it’s not all black and gloomy. It is the biggest city and capital of Sweden after all and that means there’s a lot of creative people here and you can always find a way to do interesting stuff even if it sometimes is unnecessarily hard. What I’m saying is that it takes dedication and energy to keep on doing this.

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

It is definitely not an escape, it IS my everyday world. I have been playing music for almost ⅘ of my life and it’s so deeply integrated with my neural and emotional system that I can’t imagine what life would be like without it. I think about music or music related stuff every day. Artistically it’s basically a constant ongoing process, a patchwork of things that happen. I don’t have a clear vision of where I am heading – it often presents itself through improvisation and circumstances. A great example is Maulén where I play bass – I’m so happy to be a part of that band which I consider to do great art – it wasn’t something I could have imagined would happen. I mean, this last summer we were in Morocco recording a desert doom version of Oum Kalthoum’s Enta Omri, meeting and playing with fantastic Moroccan musicians and sleeping under the stars in the Sahara desert. The same goes for Kungens Män. That shit wasn’t planned! We were just hanging out and suddenly our primitively recorded jams took off. Now we are already ten years into that band. It’s like being presented with new lumps of clay non-stop – you just have to understand what you can make out of it in the given situation. And everything you create leads to something else, often unexpected. The conclusion is that I want to keep on following this path that keeps unfolding in front of me. As a matter of fact that’s what the song Spegel Spegel on the Solitär album is about. 

Can you tell me about how you go about composing and recording songs? And what is the main difference from when you are in a band?

I almost always start with the drums and bass. That’s where I come from musically, from the rhythm section. I build a skeleton from there and actually assemble the parts with those instruments first. Then there’s generally a rhythm guitar and then everything else, in various order depending on where the song leads me. For Solitär I compose and record at the same time – I use the studio as a composition tool, so composition and recording are completely integrated. I sometimes wish I could be more “professional” and make demos, but I don’t. When a song is finished, it is what it is. I don’t paint the same painting twice. As for lyrics they almost always come last. Usually I start off with a phrase or something I might have stolen and then write pretty abstract things around that, but with this record I was very methodical and decided beforehand what I wanted to write about for every song. I made an outline for the lyrics and then worked pretty hard on finding the right phrases and to say things that actually meant something.

When I’m in a band it is different from band to band. Kungens Män and Eye Make The Horizon are doing completely improvised music. Automatism is part improvised. We only use “themes” in a jazz way with a harmonic framework, so it’s not as heavy on the composition side either. For Fanatism I sometimes compose in a way that’s quite close to Solitär, but I always leave it open for the other members to change things around and add new stuff. We also compose together a lot of the time, often using the studio as a tool as well. So the main difference when doing Solitär is that it is more structured and there is no musical compromise or dialogue involved. And that’s not entirely a good thing since it’s easy to get lost in your own stuff. But I do enjoy it.

What are your immediate and long term future plans?

Right now I’m just happy if someone listens to the album and finds a way to connect with the music. It’s not very easy to reach out with a solo project like this. I am often a bit skeptical about solo projects myself, don’t know why really. It seems like the brain is programmed to like rock bands more than just a random dude. However, I hope that a few people will listen and would like to hear this music live. I promise I will have an awesome live band in tow, I would even dare to say some of the finest musicians in Sweden. Apart from that I’m starting to feel the urge to compose and record more music, I’m beginning to hear a sound ringing in my head. What happens after that is too early to say.

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

Have an orange, they are really delicious right now.

Review + Q&A: Dead Man’s Eyes- III (2022, Tonzonen Records)

There are few records I have been looking forward to more this year than Cologne’s Dead Man’s Eyes and their third album, simply called III. For one thing they seem to grow with every output, and their previous album 2018’s Word Of Prey already showed an uncanny skill to bend all kinds of (psychedelic) rock out of shape and into something completely new and yet strangely familiar.

III kickstarts the record like a moped on a bumpy country road. It’s an easy going earworm that somehow reminds me of a Coen Brother’s movie, with its jailmen’s choir and jangly harmonica. I’ll Stay Around gives off a completely different vibe, feeling more like taking a walk outside on a warm and breezy day, the jazzy trumpet and beautiful Rhodes passages battling for attention in the background. A couple of spins will reveal a painter’s palette of layers that shows you the skill and song-craftsmanship these guys have developed over the years. It is this use of layers and little quirks that makes this record so extremely playable, a trait it does need with its meagre 30 minutes.

My favorite song has to be In My Fishbowl, a weird little thing, reminding of Blur at their blurriest. The lyrics in particular shine a strange light within singer Simon Mead’s brain; they are strange and yet you feel exactly what he is singing about.

With Time And Space Dead Man’s Eyes then show they don’t even need lyrics or vocals to draw and keep your attention with this smooth instrumental nu-jazzy intermezzo. Then Take Off Soon fuses Balthazar‘s Belgian pop rock with Arctic Monkey‘s British bravoure. On The Wire has the band driving the ol’ country on a moped again, with a joyful swagger that is extremely infectious and will be the shaker of hips on many barn dances in the German countryside. Into The Madness will do well at those dances too, boogying the night away with its flaming harmonica solos and great sped up barnburner finale at the end.

Two songs remain; the catchy uptempo pop rocker Never Grow Up displaying the band’s love of 60s rock like The Kinks or The Beatles, and Nobody At All, which feels like Dead Man’s Eyes version of a stadium rocker, complete with anthemic shouting and pumping rock drumming. It is a proper bang to end this great collection of songs.

Once again this band has grown, and proven themselves to be proper songsmiths. It can only be a matter of time until the world outside their hometown will recognize this prowess as well and throngs of people will be spinning III over and over again complaining about the shortness of this album while probably playing it more than any other record this year…

I tried to contact the band through email but had no luck, so I had to write my questions on a piece of of paper which I put into a bottle and threw upstream in the river Rhine. Well over a month later this is what returned to me on the neck of a skillfully navigating pigeon…all things considered it did not even take the band that much time to respond!

Hi guys, how have you been these days?
We’re feeling pretty excited about how people will react to this record. This time we tried something new: Three different vibes were what we aimed for. We spoke of ‘bundles’. One that feels you’re in a barn, one with songs you can nod your head to in an old smelly car and one that feels a bit dirty and not too overproduced. It was a bit of a challenge to write and eventually choose the right songs to fit those specific terms, or most importantly to overall make it feel like one record.

How has the pandemic been like for DME? Did it bring any upsides
next to the obvious downsides?
what are you going to do as a band if you can’t meet to make music anymore? it was and is a shitty situation but we are lucky that it didn’t hit us as hard as others. we tried to make the best out of it, found a way to still be productive and write new songs. One upside is the artistic freedom this band allows to each member in bringing songs to the table. Usually we end up working on ideas together. Sometimes one guy knows best what the song needs in terms of instrumentation. There are two songs on this record that were recorded almost entirely by one person. We were happy with the outcome and didn’t hear the need to rerecord any instruments over it. Other than that the record has been done with most of us exchanging ideas and shaping the songs.

Can you introduce the band to us? How long have you been a band?
We‘ve been making music since 2010. Nima joined in 2012 when we were still uncertain how to mix Meet me in the Desert. Nima got it done in his bedroom and joined the band exactly then. Phil got in touch with us in January 2018 when we played in Cologne Music Week at the wonderful „Stadtgarten“. That was Geir Johansen’s last show with us which left Phil’s jaw dropped because of Geir’s obvious insane drumming abilities. Phil has been a profound backbone of Dead Man’s Eyes ever since, constantly chasing the best way to improve our drumsound. He is now an amazing Mixing & recording engineer on his own at Fattoria Musica Studio in Osnabrück. Check out his work!

Can you walk me through the writing/recording process? You did a
lot yourselves, right?

That’s right, basically we do the whole production ourselves, except for mastering. The basic idea for a song usually comes from Peter. If we like it, we start working on it. This could mean many things: Sometimes the song is already perfect, sometimes it needs some extra love and care. Sometimes we change the entire arrangement, change the rhythm, change key, don’t end up using an acoustic drum kit and flip on some crazy samples. Sometimes it’s just vocals and handclaps. Nothing stands in the way of making the songs shine. Not even the pandemic.

As I told you before, I freakin’ love the new album III, the only
gripe I have with it is its length! Can you explain why there is not more
of it?

Of course we had more ideas that didn’t make it onto the album. The songs that you can hear on III were the ones that fit the ‘three-ish’ concept of the record. if the album appears too short, listen to it again – you might find some hidden sounds that you didn’t notice right away. The good thing about a record that ends too soon is that it might give you the urge to replay it. The good news is, we do have more songs that can be released in the future. They just did not feel right to be put on this album.

Can you tell me about your best experiences with the band so far?
We had so many. Even after thinking about it for a while, it wouldn’t be fair to pick out one in particular. Having a song on Spotify that has reached half a million streams is pretty unusual. Other than that we have had some crazy days on the road that we would not want to trade for anything.

What are you looking forward to most in 2022? And in 2023?
New songs and the rest we will see. This year we will be releasing a few videos so we are happy to get those out in the open.

Where do your lyrics come from mostly? I really like them, they’re
quite original :))

All lyrics are written by Simon Mead. He’s got that talent to make lyrics almost visible, giving the reader & listener a lot of room to imagine what’s going on on top of what the instruments are doing.

Who did the artwork? And what is the story behind it?
The artists name is Azura Daze. Definitely check out her work!

You have just released a really cool video, tell me more about it!
The video to our latest single „Take Off Soon“ was done in collaboration with Azura Daze, Paula Paez & Lenia Friedrich. They put an incredible amount of work into this. Finally we have an animated video of our own, which represents our song in the light in which we wrote it. We could not be happier!

Azura Daze had this to add: „Even though many things collided as we were finishing the video and it was not an easy time for us, we found the necessary energy and passion to deliver on time. But for while we started believing the project was a cursed artifact, passed on to us the by some angry god (…)“

Who are your biggest musical influences these days? What music
would you play in the band bus?

Viagra Boys, Gorillaz, Atahualpa Yupanqui, ODB & Warren Ellis.

What should the Weirdo Shrine reader do after reading this

Listen to Dead Man’s Eyes – III on repeat, put your favourite song in your playlist & go buy some records. Also wash your hands.

DME, 2022

Review + Q&A: SVIN- Introducing SVIN (2022, Tonzonen Records)

And now for something completely different. Take a look at the cover of this album and tell me what you think you might expect. I bet you’re wrong, as little will be able to prepare for the weird sonic palette of Introducing SVIN.

The three -mostly instrumental- Danes of SVIN take us on a trip through sci-fi cyberspace, with heavy Bladerunner synths, dark industrial drum beats, and otherworldly saxophone solos. Their robotic polyrhythmic approach distantly remind us of math metal heavyweights Meshuggah, but metal this is not, and the brooding heaviness comes more from the overall atmosphere then from any distorted guitars or screaming.

If anything at all, the use of synths and other computer generated sounds and the sheer massiveness of it reminds of the way Genghis Tron implemented it in their latest album Dream Weapon; another weirdo angle on the krautrock genre with an exciting result. Let’s call it avant garde then, or the soundtrack of our distant future dreams. Whatever we call it it doesn’t really matter. What counts is: you need this in your ears right now.

So let’s discover who these three Danes really are! Here’s the band with all the answers to our questions:

Hi SVIN! Can you introduce yourselves to the Weirdo Shrine audience?
We are SVIN, a Danish trio out of Copenhagen – Henrik, saxophone and keyboards, Lars, guitar and keyboards, Thomas, drums. We are on the threshold of releasing our seventh release, Introducing SVIN, which, as the previous albums did at their time, seeks out new sonic landscapes for us.

Before anything else, I was wondering HOW do you make your sound? It’s hard to tell from listening to the album, I do hear some traditional instruments, but there is a lot more going on, right?

The material for Introducing SVIN was basically very rough sketches, jammed out in rehearsal, to be turned upside down, jammed upon more, tried on other keyboards etc. and the entire studioproces was left open for waaaay longer, than we have done before.
Much of the sounds are based on guitar, sax, keys and drums, but there are several electronic and analogue effects added to a lot of the drums and bass-parts, which colours the album immensely – not to forget, the extensive dubbing process, involving foot stomping, slowed down cuban bata, trumpet, vocals and much more …We’ve also worked closely together with our producer Anders Bach in this process and his ideas and sounds also play a big role in the music on this album, as well as when we are playing live, where he often does the sound.

Can you tell me about your musical backgrounds?
We are all three involved in several other bands and projects, all of them (more or less) having improvisation as a carrying pillar – its easy to say “jazz”, when hearing relatively improvised, instrumental music, but the blend of our individual backgrounds include a lot more – early rock, African folklore, metal, Japanese court-music and so on …

Are there any bands or musicians that you look up to? 
We have endless lists of inspirations, and many albums we keep as sacred, but the term “looking up”, suggests pedestals and attempts to copy – that might prevent growth and stand in the way of impulsive ideas. In the tourbus you could hear anything from Gagaku, Scott Walker, sing-along to Cranberries (mostly Lars and Thomas), bebop, Cypress Hill and…

How is the scene in Copenhagen/Denmark? Are there a lot of facilities and venues for bands like yourselves? 

The scene in Denmark is generally open to new movements, with venues and festivals that manage to support it – there is a lot of footwork necessary when trying to enter, but persistence in attempts, paired with evolvement in the music will earn you spots and recognition. Denmark has a massive offer of concerts, so if anything, its a symptom of a large number of acts and artists, fighting for stagetime. Beatiful.

Can you tell me about the writing and recording process of the new album Introducing SVIN? Anything you did different from before or collaborations you did?

The adding of the vocal features, is another example of how this album differs from our older. ”Introducing SVIN” is much heavier on decisions made in the studio, than our previous albums – we had that proces somewhat planned, but due to the virus, the dubbing/mixingphase was stretched, and opened for more thoughtful dialogue about the final shape of the music. prior recordings of ours have all had more finished, live-tested tunes, whereas some of these tunes consisted of a sparse riff and an idea of “maybe something stupid, electronic danceable on top?!“. We took more time in the studio to play around with various midi-solutions to blend in old first-batch drum modules, keyboard sounds, even sampling some parts. Mare Eline and BISSE was left to their own wants and needs, with very few, if any, guidelines from us, and they ended up colouring the entire album, in very personal ways.

I really like the artwork! What can you tell me about it?
We were looking for something that would compliment the somewhat electronic vibe from the music, and at the same time, could stand on its own, as a visual piece of art.
Lars knew of Ana Vujovic from artwork she had done for another band, and her very first attempt was very much in line, with what we tried to describe – futuristic, glitchy, retro and coherent from front to back.

Was it hard to find a label for your music? And how did you end up with Dirk and Tonzonen?
Yes – it took a while and we’ve been trying for years to find someone who could get us distributed and out beyond Denmark. There are pros and cons, when releasing your own music which we have done with several albums. The con definitely is that you only have so much time and often for us, the international distribution gets neglected. Actually Tonzonen came up in a Google search on psychedelic music. We checked out the label and really like what we heard and the vibe of the label.

What are your immediate future plans?
performing “Elegi”, our latest release before this – a piece, written for a classical ensemble and SVIN at Copenhagen JazzFestival. The release show for “Introducing SVIN” at Copenhagen JazzFestival. Summer holidays, family hangout and hopefully shipping records en masse. In the fall we are working on a small European tour and gigs en Denmark as well. We also already have plans of recording our next album end of year!

What should the Weirdo Shrine reader do immediately after this interview?
Something that would be nice, helpful or beneficial for more, than just him- or herself ❤

Grombira- Lunar Dunes (2022, Tonzonen Records)

My desert. My Arrakis. My Dune. Words from the latest movie adaptation of the sci-fi novel Dune by Frank Herbert shoot through my head while listening to Grombira‘s new album Lunar Dunes. It makes sense, the album is called after desert dunes in space, and this time around they really make it sound like that. Space dunes, Dune. The soundtrack to wandering lost into the dangerous space desert sands while the great worm Shai Hulud listens to your every move, waiting to swallow you whole.

Lunar Dunes actually sounds like a lot more fun than that bleak fata morgana vision. Aside from the characteristic Orientalisms and spacey synths it mostly sounds like four guys had a lot of fun jamming and doing what they love best. They never minded about time, just letting things flow naturally and taking the jam as it appeared. Like a Djinn, like a desert mirage, but with more bass noodlings and galloping tabla drums. Grombira has always been about free form progressive kraut rock jams, and with Lunar Dunes they have really outdone themselves in the meanwhile sounding like no one else at this time.

Much more than on their previous outing Desert Warp they feel completely in synch with each other and more focused on their sound uniformity. They combine oriental instruments and use them to conjure up robot funk, space kraut, and Middle Eastern improv dance sessions. It’s great music to zone out to, but I can easily see the band perform to sweaty crowds doing all kinds of dances too. If any of this gets your kraut rock Spidey sense tickling, make sure to check out Lunar Dunes by Grombira.

Instrumental Triple feature: Noorvik vs. Der Neue Planet vs. Trigona (2022, Tonzonen Records/Echodelick Records, Worst Bassist Records)

Last time when I talked about instrumental music I discovered the German outfits Kombynat Robotron and Shem and did a double feature. Then Tonzonen Records and Echodelick Records sent me these instrumental records and I told myself it was time to do it again, but tripled this time. For instrumental music is a different kind of animal. It leaves something to be filled in at the dots for the listener. And it often invites its audience to dive into their minds, or out, which makes for a completely different listening experience than with their more, ahem, “vocal” brethren…

Der Neue Planet (The new planet in German) are an instrumental stoner prog band that takes full advantage of the fact that they don’t have to bother about stuff like verses or choruses, rhymes, or repetition. Opener Heavy Dream Prog describes their sound quite aptly in a song that shoots back and forth from heavy stoner walls to chilled out dungeon jazz, to stoner disco and everything in between in a near ten minute journey. It’s seriously heavy music, but there is room for tongue in cheek humor too, just like on their album title and cartoonish artwork. Area Fifty-Fun is exactly that; it’s a heavy psychedelic fun trip that rides like an amusement park.

Noorvik are the heavy brothers of this triplet. The music on Hamartia is serious, epic, and leans pretty close to metal at times, from massive doomed out postmetal, to more uptempo riffage and even a couple of blast beat volleys. If you picture a singer like Michael Akerfeldt fronting this band with a good deep grunt they would actually do a pretty good oldschool Opeth/Katatonia crossbreed.

Now, without human voice, the music forces you to use your own imagination for the imagery. The music becomes a painter’s palette picturing vast glacial landscapes, tall and impenetrable mountain ranges, but also peaceful ponds of calmness and serenity. Noorvik are a force of nature, conjuring up the rawness and beauty of our planet quite vividly.

The only non-German band that I will talk about here actually plays the most kraut oriented music of the three, and starts off with a song called Von Graf…but that’s pure coincidence of course. Trigona from Australia does motorik instrumentals like they were born somewhere between the 80s of Neu! and the 90s of bands like Karma To Burn with a sound that holds a pretty good middle ground between the motorik repetition of krautrock and the heaviness of stoner.

The strength of the album is that each song swirls away in a different inner mindset, taking the listener on six completely different trips, but without losing a strong band identity. I like it best when Trigona pumps out a Joy Division bass line, and then completely drives it into outer space with its gravitational reverbing guitar parts. It’s transcendental music, made for levitation and rising above the daily grind. Stuff to aspire to.

Einseinseins – Zwei (2022 Tonzonen Records)

The robots are among us! With their highly developed AI they have wormed their way into the mainframe of human conscious and are now taking over music to reprogram us through catchy electronic tunes, 80s wave, and pure and uncut krautrock that will make you shake your limbs robot style. Oh, and they sing in German of course, but that’s selbstverständlich, not?

EinsEinsEins -it’s a lovely bandname, isn’t it- from Germany have definitely embraced their inner robot and are engaging their music through a machine-built 80s mainframe, recalling Kraftwerk, Genesis, and 80s wave bands like DEVO. Total nerd music of course, but absolutely loveable and well executed. I can totally see this rocking some smoking hot chemistry students party on a Saturday night.

The songs are long, but memorable, and varied enough to hold their own separately. EinsEinseins wrote them as such, with a different approach each time, and even though they are total robots, Zwei does not sound repetitive or soulless. Especially for people that grew up listening to a lot of 80s music on the radio their will be plenty of Easter eggs to discover within.

Don’t believe me though, I have been 100% reprogrammed to write favorable things about these German machines. The music did that to me. I don’t mind it either, and neither will you. In fact, by the time you read this while playing their tunes on the bandcamp player, it is already too late!

Gong Wah – Gong Wah (2020 Tonzonen Records)

To be in love, to sing about it, to float on that pink cloud, to feel like the world ends without it. It is a feeling everyone knows, uncomplicated, relatable. Sometimes sweet, sometimes bitter and dark, always a known, always in the front or the back of your mind. Gong Wah conjures up this feeling, plays around with it, worms it inside your ear with its catchy tunes, and then leaves you for somebody else. So you spin the album again.

On their self-titled debut album for German psych label Tonzonen Gong Wah presents itself as a versatile band capable of rocking out riotgrrrl style (I Hate You), shoegazing psychedelically (With Him), catchy fuzzpopping (Sugar & Lies) and everything in between. Singer Inga Nelke has a sweet seductive voice to immediately fall in love with. Gong Wah as a collective know how to seduce the listener as well, using their catchy tunes to draw attention, only to really open its treasures in the longer psychedelic songs like the aforementioned With Him or the washed out krauter Just Sayin’.

At its core this album is a pop album, with well written songs that stay with you quickly. That might seem fleeting and superficial at first, and if you only listen to the singles that would be your impression. Gong Wah has more in store though, and some more thorough exploring of the record is highly recommended as its true power lies in the whole picture of catchy tunes versus longer trippy tracks. It is the work of a bunch of tight musicians that know exactly what they are doing. In a just world they would be doing a truckload of touring right now, preferably with a like-minded act like Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Sleater-Kinney, or Ladytron. The world, like love sometimes, is terribly cruel at the moment though, and Gong Wah will be sitting at home, waiting for you guys to pick up their album. I won’t tell you what to do, but just so you’ll know, I’ll add the links to order that sweet vinyl below.