Sunday, October 22, 2017
GIK Acoustics - Europe
GIK Acoustics - Europe
The Moshville Times

Shining: Interview with Jørgen Munkeby

Jørgen Munkeby – sax-master! [image by Maria Jefferis of Shot2Bits.net]

Just to clarify, this is the Norwegian “blackjazz” band as opposed to the Swedish black metal crew.

As ever when doing an interview, I was hugely impressed with how much time and effort Jørgen was prepared to put into his answers and the time just flew by. Thanks to him and to Andy Turner for organising things. My apologies for taking so long to get it online, though (almost a week afterwards). It takes some time to get these things typed up around “real life”!

MT: Shining, to me and to quite a lot of people in the UK, are a new band especially with the new sound and the new album. So if it’s alright, I’d like to jump right the way back to the beginning and get a bit of a history of the band and yourself?

JM: That’s fine. I mean, it’s being viewed as a new band. And a new and interesting band is a great start because then we have something to achieve.

MT: “Interesting” is certainly a good word. It’s not often you hear a genuinely new sound from a band these days and Shining have managed it with the material I’ve heard recently.

JM: Thanks!

MT: Right back in the beginning you started out as an acoustic jazz quartet. No metal sounds, no electrical instruments… this was back in 1999?

JM: Yep, that’s correct.

MT: And you yourself was on saxophone and a few other instruments…

JM: Yes – sax, flute and bass clarinet.

MT: So were you actually schooled in anything in particular, or are you self-taught?

JM: I’m an educated jazz musician, and saxophone player. I also studied classical and contemporary composition as well as jazz composition, but when it comes to flute and bass clarinet that’s kind of self taught… the same with guitar. Everything’s self-taught, even if you learn from somebody else. I had friends that played classical flute and jazz flute. I went to the Norwegian State Academy of Music, and most students there are classical students so I just tried to learn and pick up things from everybody. So to me the difference between having a teacher and not having a teacher isn’t that different because if I don’t have a teacher I try to find teachers – even if it’s books or people on YouTube or friends of mine. But to make it simple, I’m a jazz saxophonist and composer and the rest is “picked up”.

MT: That’s what it says on the certificate is it?

JM: Yes, that’s right! I actually have the certificate, but I’ve not looked at it for a lot of years! I know I have it, but I don’t know where it is… but nobody really asks. As a musician, people are interested in how you play. It’s something else if  you want to have a job as a teacher, I think.

MT: I’m actually a teacher myself. My degree’s in Information Technology with Computing and the last time I was asked for my certificate was to prove I’d passed it so that I could go on a teacher training course. Actually, a story that came to light today as a coincidence… there’s a new course being offered in Nottingham. The big news story is that it’s a “pointless course”, not of any use to anyone. It’s a 2-year foundation degree in Heavy Metal. It covers heavy metal music, its roots, how to compose it, how to play it. In the second year you actually play at venues around the country. You can then take these two years and put them towards a full degree – so you have a base in metal and a full degree in music theory and so forth. So what would your view be on having this kind of course – what with you being a past music student?

JM: I think it’s great and I don’t think it’s weird. It’s a natural development. We have a term “New Wave of British heavy Metal” – and there’s a “B” in there for British, so it’s not weird that the first time I hear about this it’s from the UK. One upon a time jazz music was new, was frowned upon, was something vulgar. The people who played jazz music were heroin addicts, they were drug users, they were pimps. They were black people in a segregated America. And now, many years later, jazz has gone through a process of becoming an established and respected art form. That happened a long time ago and that’s what’s about to happen with metal music. That’s what’s about to happen with hip-hop music. That’s what’s happening with any new art form after a while if it proves that it has the right to live. You’ll eventually get rid of a lot of the “extra-musical” stuff – like in metal music or black metal music, you’ll eventually get rid of the satanic associations, the face paint and you’ll end up with the music as a musical art form. Obviously the satanic parts will go into the history books for people interested in the society. For hip-hop the breakdance will go into the dancing schools – in fact it already has. From the music you’ll be able to study scratching in the musical schools. It might feel weird in the beginning – it might need some time to find its right form in the academic world, but I think it’s a development that’s bound to happen. I think it’s really cool, it’s brave. It’s a great story! Send me the link! [Which I did! – Mosh]

MT: Jumping back to your own post-academic days around 2000, your first two albums as we said were acoustic – Where the Ragged People Go and Sweet Shanghai Devil. A fair mix of instruments, but traditional ones – the sax, bass, piano, drums and so forth. 2005 and you had one of the wierdest and most wonderful album titles I have ever heard: In the Kingdom of the Kitsch You Will be a Monster. First of all, where did that title come from? It’s amazing.

JM: I first discovered it in a film. It’s a book by Milan Kundera called The Unbearable Lightness of Being. [at this point, Jørgen started Googling like hell to check his facts. I work in exactly the same way! – Mosh] The girl in the movie who is played by the Swedish Actress Olin [Lena Olin- Mosh] – beautiful woman – she says in that movie, to her lover or husband, “In the kingdom of kitcsh, you will be a monster”. Then she takes a hat and puts it on his head. I just saw the movie and that phrase stuck! I get really inspired by movies. I think, aside from other music, movies are my main inspirational source.

MT: Coincidentally, you started to bring a bit of prog rock and electric guitar in the band’s sound at that time as well. What let you down that route? Why metal and rock? Does it fit with the jazz “ethos”?

JM: I can see why you ask that. The fact of the matter is that, yes, I am a jazz musician. I started as a jazz musician. The band started as a jazz band. But I grew up with metal music, so as a kid, as a listener, as a lover of music I listened to metal music and only to metal music. I listened to Death, Sepultura, Pantera, Entombed… Long before I listened to jazz music. That’s my upbringing. Well, my parents didn’t listen to it but I did! I played the saxophone at that time also. I remember I rehearsed my saxophone to Pantera’s Vulgar Display of Power, but I didn’t find a way to make those things go well together. That was in 1990, but fast forward 20 years from then and I had spent ten years studying jazz music, playing jazz music, experimenting with electronic stuff. Twenty years from when I was in my living room playing with that Pantera album, I had finally figured out a way that I felt comfortable with – how to pay the sax with metal music. After that whole stretch from jazz music to studio-oriented art rock to a more metal-ish blend of metal and jazz with Blackjazz… At that time it felt like coming home again, to my metal roots with a new set of knowledge from my travel around the world and studying jazz music. That’s the story. That’s what people don’t really know. Obviously I had a history before I started the band, but people wouldn’t know.

MT: You mentioned an electronic sound, and that started to come through at that point. As well as  the saxophone on that album you had the church organ, clavinet, celesta… There’s an unusual instrument called the EWI [promounced “Ee-wee” – Mosh], which is an electronic wind instrument. Apparently the fingering on this is similar to a soprano saxophone. Is that one of the reasons you picked it up and decided to try it?

JM: It is more similar to play then it would be to play a piano. But the reason to pick it up is the same reason as anything else – it tickled my interest! I had an idea that maybe I could take that thing somewhere it hasn’t been before. But the approach to that instrument was as a saxophone player because it is quite similar.

MT: The sound was obviously very experimental and the list of instruments is incredible. Was it difficult to fit everything into the album that you wanted?

JM: I think it’s the opposite. To me it felt it would be difficult not to fit it in. I had listened to so much different music and I had so many different sounds in my mind that I wanted to do. That was one way of doing it – putting all those sounds on the album. Trying to limit myself at that particular time would be harder than going with the flow and just doing what I felt was interesting. After those albums – towards Blackjazz – we started stripping away to a rock/metal band kind of instrumentation. It definitely wasn’t hard putting all those instruments in there. When I was composing the music I was thinking in those kinds of sounds, and trying to rearrange the sounds in my head to fit a rock band instrumentation with guitars, sax, vocals, bass, drums and keyboards would be harder.

MT: Another change around then was in recording the music. The first couple of albums were recorded with the full band in the studio, playing together as live. With this album you went with a more “modern” approach of recording individual tracks and mixing them. What were the reasons for this change?

JM: Well, the reason for the first way of doing it is that that’s how the classical jazz albums were made, and that’s what we were into at that time. It was easy. We just put up two mics in a room and we placed the instruments closer or farther from the mics to balance the levels. So when I played the flute I was quite close to the mics, when I played the sax I was a bit further away, the drums were farthest away. That was just the easiest way. The reason why we changed… Everything just starts with an idea of what we want to do, and with the music. The idea here was a certain type of music that couldn’t be done by putting up a band in a room with two mics. We had to have a bunch of different mics, a bunch of different tracks and produce it in the studio. It’s all about “what do we want to do now, what’s right? What inspires us or me personally?”. That’s obviously coloured by what I have done, what other people have done, what other people are doing now. Maybe I want to do the same, maybe I want to do the opposite. Another factor is that I quit another band that I was working with called Jaga Jazzist which is a Norwegian band that I composed music for, and played the flute and sax in. We experimented a lot with electronica combined with jazz. Having both of those bands active at the same time made it natural for me to have one band – Shining – as a straight acoustic jazz band, while Jaga Jazzist could experiment with electronic stuff. When I quit that band it opened up for me to have Shining start experimenting with other types of instruments.

MT: The album tickled a few people’s fancies – it won the the Alarm Award for Best Jazz Album in 2006. You followed it up a year later with Grindstone which had a slight classical overtone to it. That won the same award the following year. Is it fairly unusual for someone to win that award in back to back years?

JM: Where do you get all this info from?!

MT: Trade secret! [*cough*Wikipedia*cough* – Mosh]

JM: Your question – I don’t know. I don’t pay that much attention to the awards. If we win it, I put it in one hand, put my bike in the other and… go home. Put it on the shelf somewhere. I mean, I’m proud of it! But… I don’t know.

MT: I just thought that it was good to see that something so experimental and new was still… valid enough to merit winning an award. And to then win it for a second year in a row…

JM: That award… at that time in Norway we had two awards. The Spellemannprisen – the older one and the more established one, and the Alarm award which was a newer one and fresher. It was more modern and had a fresher approach. So I think that award made an effort, trying to be current. Now it’s gone again and we’re stuck with the older awards… and they’re still a bit behind. The same with the Grammys. They’re a bit slow. I’m fine with that, but it was really cool when that award was happening because they made an effort to stay current or ahead of time.

MT: Slightly after that you worked on the Armageddon Concerto with Enslaved who I think you’d toured with. How did that come about? You started off with acoustic studio stuff and fairly regular band material to a concerto with a huge production. What was the impetus for that?

JM: It was Enslaved that contacted us. They loved our 2007 album Grindstone. They’d listened to that and In The Kingdom of Kitsch… and they were heading towards jazz, incorporating jazz elements into their music. They probably felt that we were an interesting band and they could learn something from us, and that we might be interested in doing stuff with them. They asked us if we wanted to tour with them, and we said yes. Right before that tour we had been part of a radio show in Norway where the bands talked about all sorts of stuff. The band were to choose another band and play a cover of another band and talk about them. We chose King Crimson and to do a cover of “21st Century Schizoid Man” during that radio show. That song had become part of our regular live show. We played it during the European tour and during the last couple of shows we included a bunch of people from Enslaved on that song and they really loved it. After that we were asked by the Molde Jazz Festival, that’s the oldest and biggest jazz festival in Norway, to headline. They asked us if we had an idea, if we wanted to collaborate with another band. We thought about that song and maybe Enslaved and us could collaborate to make something special, and we asked them. They were happy to do that so Ivar from Enslaved wrote 45 minutes, and I wrote 45 minutes. We stitched it together and that’s what became the Armageddon Concerto.

MT: The sound from Blackjazz, another change in direction, was influenced by that. In fact, I gather that one or two of the songs on Blackjazz are reworkings of songs from the Armageddon Concerto?

JM: Yes, that’s correct.

MT: That’s a little closer to the sound we’re expecting on One One One. More of a metal band with jazz roots opposed to a jazz with a smattering of metal as you started off.

JM: I agree. That doesn’t mean that we’ll continue. We might turn around and stay in the middle. Or we might continue. It’s hard to predict the future, but I think you’re right. I think for now we might be closer to the metal side than we are to the jazz side. With One One One that might be correct.

MT: The album itself is already out in Norway, is that right?

JM: Yes, it’s out in Norway now and Europe on June 4th, except Germany and Austria it’s the 7th of June. In the US they have the CD available on the 28th of May and the vinyl available on the 4th of June.

MT: It’s good to see vinyl making a comeback these days.

JM: Yeah, I think a lot of us want to keep it simple. In Norway people listen to music through streaming services almost exclusively, like Spotify and stuff like that. I love that technology. I think that it’s so great that you can find all the music that you remember from back in the days, you can find new music, you can do anything. And you don’t have to lug it around when you move. I love that tech.

MT: I’m the same. I have something like 1500 mp3s at a time on my phone and a lot of them are from bands I put on my blog as a “New Band of the Day”. I’ll be driving along when a song comes on random and I think “Who the hell is that? It’s good.” Oh, incidentally, Shining were NBotD a couple of weeks ago. At that point you were a new band to me, and I had an email through about the “You Won’t Forget” video. I watched it and enjoyed it, and thought it was very “in your face”. I think I likened it to Ministry with a saxophone if you don’t mind being pigeon-holed!

JM: I’m fine with pigeon-holing! As long as I’m pigeon-holed differently by everybody! Lots of people tend to think of Lemmy when it comes to the vocals.

MT: Talking about the video, it’s got a very obvious sci-fi theme. The Matrix sprang to mind, and I know you mentioned that movies were a big influence on you. Was the video concept something you came up with, or was it a suggestion from the director?

JM: The director of that video is the same guy who directed our previous video. He contacted us for the previous video, Fisheye. The reason he did that is he thought we had an interesting vibe – an interesting style when it comes to both music and design and visual aesthetics. I spent some time helping him get into where I thought we were heading. Then we did the same with the “I Won’t Forget” video, but he was more familiar with our thoughts this time as we’d worked together before.  It was a lot of his work. I was involved but I don’t want to take the credit for the visual aesthetics of that. I was more giving directions and helping, trying to make it even better.

MT: It is a good video. You’re never quite sure what’s happening. Is the song itself representative of the album? Or would you say it’s a standout track and there’s a lot of variety?

JM: I would say it is pretty representative. This album is more focussed than any of our previous albums. Blackjazz and Live Blackjazz were both conceptual albums. There was a big focus on the whole of the album, like a symphony. On Blackjazz it was about the whole new blend of jazz and metal mixed with some industrial things. You had longer songs and songs that were there to give the album transitions between songs, and variation. On the Live Blackjazz album and DVD it was basically a concert from start to finish. During our live shows we improvise a lot more than on the albums. We kept all of the improvised transitions on that live album, so there are parts where we don’t stop for thirty minutes. For the new album I wanted to start with the two songs from Blackjazz that I was most fond of – that’s “The Madness and the Damage Done” and the second “Fisheye”. Both of them have a pretty straighforward song structure. You could hear when the chorus enters and there’s a groove to it; there are lyrics. I was thinking if we could get it even more concise, straight to the essence while still keeping the aesthetics we developed with Blackjazz. On One One One there are more songs like that. Every song is about four minutes long, so they are much shorter – more concise. There is a clear chorus and there is a focus on the vocals and the lyrics. It’s a small change, not a huge change. I personally wanted to remove all the filler materials. I didn’t want some things that are there only to make transitions. Most people if they had a Shining song on their playlist it would be “The Madness and the Damage Done” or “Fishete”. The other songs on Blackjazz are really cool, but  not ones that people have on their playlists. On One One One I think there are more songs that people could put on a playlist. So you should expect more concise songs, and not the longer, free-r, more outstretched stuff. We’ve done a lot of that. We released a live album full of that, and we’re still doing it during our shows. We’ve made alternative endings to five of the songs on the new album that are longer endings that end up in a place where we can make improvised transitions into other songs. But One One One is nine very concise songs which hit you in the face and that’s it!

MT: Any plans for tours? Particularly in the UK!

JM: We’re working on a European tour in October / November. I don’t have the exact dates yet, but they’ll mostly include a lot of UK dates. Then we’ll probably try to make another European tour in the springtime 2014, and then festivals in the summer.

MT: I got an email through earlier today about the remix competition that was quite interesting. I actually downloaded the stems and it’s interesting listening to the tracks all by themselves separate from the rest of the music. There’s only one band I know of who’ve provided this kind of thing before and that was Hayseed Dixie.

JM: Yes, I’ve heard of them!

MT: The competition deadline date – that you extended – is the 23rd but applications to enter closed on the 10th [the date I did the interview – Mosh]. Without giving the game away, what sort of entries have you had so far?

JM: I haven’t listened to that many but they’re very… different! A lot of people are influenced by the Skrillex way of making electronic music, but there are so many people who have shown interest. I’m probably looking at fifty remixes, but I’ve only heard about five so far. Every time I hear someone who has changed it around, I’m so happy. It reminds me of how it is to be a composer. When you hear an album you forget that in the process of making that album it has been in all different other forms. The final result is only one of several options. I remember when I heard the phone interview with Metallica when they talked about how the main riff in “Enter Sandman” was. If they didn’t change that riff, they would have been a totally different band – they wouldn’t have been as big as they are. As an artist creating stuff, it’s always interesting to hear stories about the creation of classical works of art and music that I love. The same feeling that I get when people take my music and turn it into something that I would never have imagined. It’s really cool.

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About The Author

Mosh

Father. Husband. Teacher of Computing. PADI divemaster. Krav Maga Practitioner. Geordie. Geek. Nerd. Metal nut. I also own and run a website - you may have heard of it.

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3 Comments on "Shining: Interview with Jørgen Munkeby"

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[…] last spoke to Jørgen Munkeby of Shining (the Norwegian, not Swedish one) in May last year around the time they launched their album One One One. A really, verbose and interesting guy who […]

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[…] Roux talks about how the European tour has been going. I had a great chat with Jørgen some months ago and he’s a great person to […]

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[…] interviewed frontman Jørgen Munkeby over three years ago, and we’ve covered the band a fair bit in that time… but […]

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