Machine Music's Albums of the Decade: An Interview with Aidan Baker and Leah Buckareff of Najda
This is the 45th installment of the Albums of the Decade series of interviews. For the rest of the series go HERE.]
Label: Broken Spine Productions / Daymare Recordings
Favorite Song: "Sonnborner/Aten"
The Bare Bones: Sonnborner is the 22nd (depends how you count, I guess) full length album from Canadian, Berlin-based shoegaze/doom/experimental duo Nadja, consisting of Aidan Baker and Leah Buckareff.
The Beating Heart: If I am to self-reference this series' recurrent categories, the "beating heart" of Nadja is something of an elusive entity. For the better part of two decades the Canadian project has insistently, and stubbornly, evaded any easy categorization, shifting their sounds from the abstract and ethereal to the menacing and sinister. If there is a constant in in the incessant movement that is the hallmark of Nadja's work it would probably consist, in a nice little writerly full-circle, of heart. Beyond the haze of guitars and droning sounds there's always this sense of humans pushing themselves and their music, not to hide their own humanity but to further present it. Within that oeuvre of heart and sound 2018's Sonnborner holds a special place. It is that rare moment where the shifting coalesces around what feels like a center, a vector, a journey. For that reason it is, for my money, one of the most human statements in a very human catalogue, and that extremely rare moment in an artist's life where the work is at its most personal while still insisting on abstraction and change.
It is for those reasons, and many more, that I have added Sonnborner to this series of in-depth interviews about the greatest, most challenging albums of the 2010s. This has to be one of my favorite conversations, just because it was everything I just wrote about Aidan and Leah's music – beautiful and human.
As always, before we get to my exchange with Matt this is my chance to encourage you to check out the rest of the Albums of the Decade series (and the rest of our interviews, including a news series about the great albums of the 90s) as well our new podcast (YouTube, Spotify and all that) and/or our latest compilation album MILIM KASHOT VOL.2. Also follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Spotify, Tiktok and support whatever it is that we do on Patreon, if you like what you see here (for whatever reason). Thank you for your time and support. On to the lovely Aidan and Leah.
So, I’ll begin with the question I always begin with, which is do you remember a moment you had – a song, an album, a show, whatever the case may be – that completely altered the chemistry of your brain. Either it scared you or shocked you, just this watershed moment where you go: “Oh, that’s what I like”? I’ll qualify this by saying that this is something that obviously happens quite a bit throughout one’s life, so I guess I’m aiming for one of those earlier experiences.
Aidan: I could say that has happened to me a lot. So trying to pinpoint one in particular…
Leah: I think I could probably pinpoint one.
Aidan: Alright, let Leah go first then.
Leah: I don’t know when this was, it would have been sometime in the early to mid 90s, when I heard Fugazi on the local college radio station. I was like: “Is that music? I’m pretty into it” and it opened up this whole other area for me. I was maybe 14 or 15.
Do you remember which Fugazi song it was?
Leah: No, not right now. I just remember them saying the band’s name and me having to research it until I found it.
And what was it about it that attracted you?
Leah: It was this a-linear, angular…. Stuff that my piano teacher would really not call “music” at the time [laughs].
OK, that’s a great definition. And what would your piano teacher call “music”?
Leah: Oh god, I don’t know [laughs], Mozart?
So not the Pederecki piano player?
Leah: No, no, no.
So a classical piano teacher with pretty set ideas about what it is a song could do and Fugazi was not that?
Leah: Yeah, exactly.
OK, so while Aidan thinks of his I’ll latch on to yours a bit longer. Obviously when you’re younger and something kind of hits you then it just does, it’s like opening a door into a whole new space. And obviously it isn’t like you’ve spent the last almost 30 years of your life making Fugazi songs.
Leah: No. I had a lot of friends in bands, straight-edge bands, and then that started to take off anyway. But I had no interest in being in a band when I was younger. I had stage fright, I couldn’t get on stage. I had enough trouble with piano recitals. Aidan somehow convinced me to get on stage. I actually never thought anyone was going to sign Nadja and I just wouldn’t have to [perform], we would just have fun making records and there would be absolutely zero obligation from me to go on stage.
Aidan: Our very first show was in Montreal, opening for Khanate, it was about 200 people.
Leah: Yeah, I was really terrified. I had to drink a lot before that show.
Going back to Fugazi, obviously, like I said you’re not trying to make Fugazi-like music, but that there was something about them that spoke to you. But I guess I’m asking the older Leah whether there was something you took from that moment that still informs what you do. Doesn’t have to be the genre, but maybe the attitude.
Leah: Yeah, sure. I think it’s…. When I heard it for the first time it was really free-sounding. There was a real freedom in what was happening. And I do definitely take a lot from that even to this day when we play. In improvising, in a real appreciation of angular noise. That’s what it really bred in me, I think.
Leah: Yeah. Freedom to abuse your instrument, a little bit.
It’s interesting because one of the recurring themes of this series has become me talking to bands about Fugazi.
There are other narratives too, but they’re just one of those bands – like Neurosis, for example – that gets mentioned quite a bit. I love Fugazi – I talked to Ian a couple of times – but I wonder why it is that they come up as often as they do. And I think “freedom” is one big factor, because they just feel free, which is such a rare thing. But also what you just said, “to abuse your instrument,” is very interesting. Because one of the foundations of punk is that you don't have to be good at your instrument in order to start playing it.
So a lot of kids start out with punk because it’s an easy way in, you just learn a couple of chords and you're good to do. And that way. And in that way also, getting back to your piano teacher, that’s one way of abusing your instrument.
Leah: For sure.
You’re not learning notation, you’re not a student of melody, you just go with something. But with Fugazi there’s also this sense that they’re actually, literally, abusing their instruments. Not just abusing music, but they’re also “not playing it right.” I don’t know, did that make any sense?
Leah: For sure
Aidan: For me it did.
It’s such a cool thing, to discover that you can be disrespectful toward your instrument. Anyhow. You’ve had enough time Aidan, do you have one example?
Aidan: Well, one of those was Neurosis, since we’ve already brought them up.
So when did Neurosis enter your life?
Aidan: With Through Silver in Blood. Yeah, it was definitely a gateway. But I won’t talk about them. It’s funny because I’ve been thinking about a band lately that I haven’t talked about in a while. A lot of people have been asking me for formative records lately and I’ve always talked about either Big Black or Godflesh. Which is still true, but I want to talk about Devo instead. And I don’t know how old I was when I first heard them, maybe 10 or 11 I guess. At the time I started digging through my dad’s record collection for stuff that he wasn’t listening to as much and a lot of that was more abstract stuff Pierre Henry or Jean-Michel Jarre, more ambient experimental stuff, and some Schonberg and stuff, which was pretty intense for a 10 year old.
It’s pretty intense for a 40 year old.
Aidan: [Laughs] For sure. But then I came across Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! in his record collection. I’m pretty sure he hated it. And I’m pretty sure it was a gift from an ex-relative, but as soon as I put it on – it was this purple, swirly vinyl press – it was like “I love this, this is great! This is exactly what I have been looking for!” I don’t know if I can articulate exactly why, but I haven’t heard any punk until then, so it was my introduction to punk, definitely. But at the same time it’s very not-punk in a lot of ways. I had no idea at the time that it was produced by Brian Eno, I didn’t know who Brian Eno was.
I actually only discovered that relatively recently.
Aidan: It’s weird, because it doesn’t sound like a Brian Eno album in many ways.
Yeah. And it has that David Bowie connection too. You said you weren’t sure you could articulate what it was that drew you to that album, so I’m going to ask a bunch of questions. And the first thing that comes to mind is that while Devo is very punk and post-punk at the same kind, it’s very catchy music.
I can’t tell you how many times I caught myself singing “Mongoloid” out loud before realizing what I was doing.
Aidan: That’s the trouble sometimes. But I do think this was around the time I was teaching myself to play guitar, so a lot of those songs were the first songs I learned how to play. So there is that element of not knowing how to play your instrument and taking that punk ethos and adapting that style and methodology, rather than learning how to do anything. That was definitely a big appeal for me. And they were very serious, in a way, with their De-evolution theory, but it was also kind of a joke. And I think I liked that contradiction of humor and nihilism at the same time.
I find that a lot of the people I admire – musicians, authors – are creators who a certain kind of people just can’t take seriously. In a band like Devo it would be because of the humor and in things like writing or philosophy it can be a tendency to get “too personal.” And there’s a brand of people – I wouldn’t call them the majority, perhaps only the people who determine what counts as “serious” or not – for whom being serious is very important. An example of that is black metal, for instance.
Black metal is not a joke-prone genre.
One would be hard pressed to find a joky black metal band, it just wouldn’t work. So when you think about that era in punk there are a lot of other bands that tend to come up before Devo, and often those are the more “serious” bands. There’s a certain level of earnestness that passes for “important work.”
Aidan: Yeah, totally.
So, you mentioning Devo is not a negligible fact to me, since the punk band you did end up getting into was the one that couldn’t take itself too seriously. So, I guess I’m getting to the same question I asked Leah: Do you find yourself in your own work doing something like that? Being serious, but to a point, being professional, but only to a certain point? A way in which you’ve been informed by that lack of seriousness?
Aidan: Yeah, absolutely. I think I’ve tried to insert humor, or what I think is funny…
Aidan: …to our records lots of time, which probably most of the time has completely passed over the majority of people.
Leah: “Long Dark Twenties” is a very good example.
Aidan: Yeah, for sure. One of our first 7” records was a cover of a tune from a movie by a comedy troupe in Toronto [Kids in the Hall, MM], and the lyrics were all about a teenager getting high and hating life. But it’s a cheery pop song. So, as a reference it’s already obscure enough that only a certain subset of people are going to get it and even that subset isn’t necessarily going to recognize it because we made it our own. And if they do recognize it they would know that the words are pretty ridiculous and silly, singing about banging your head against the wall and smoking hash.
I have to say that I loved the fact that when you said: “The things that I consider funny” that made Leah laugh.
Aidan: Well, to use Sonnborner as an example, I would say that having the A side at 33 and the B side at 45 is an example of my sense of humor.
[Laughs] Well, it’s funny as a sense of humor.
Aidan: I would say that that’s a Devo-esque move to do that kind of thing.
But that begs the question: What are other ways of being funny that aren’t a kind of inside joke? Can you be funny with music? Just as long as we’re on the subject of Sonnborner, and this may not be a good example, but the first 30 minutes of the album, the title track, creates a very specific mood. And the transition into the next track, “In The Shadow Of The Wing Of The Thing Too Big To Be Seen,” that could be perceived as kind of funny, right? It erupts into an almost industrial black metal type of feel. So, is that one way of – not really being funny, but not staying too serious for too long?
Aidan: Yeah, I would agree with that.
So, a serious idea had exhausted itself and now it was time for it to end?
Leah: I think we’ve always felt like that about Nadja, though.
Leah: I mean, it was an experiment, to begin with. It was the opposite of what Aidan was doing as a solo musician and I think we thought it would give us some freedom to experiment and do weird things, like that other 7”, Tangled. That was just us really messing around. I don’t if it was always considered “funny,” we just tried to make it fun for us. We’ve been doing it for so long and… I don’t know. [To Aidan]: The first tour, you remember we played with those doom bands?
Aidan: Oh yeah.
Leah: That was very funny.
Aidan: For us, anyway.
Aidan: Yeah, exactly.
Do you remember which bands they were?
Aidan: There was this Hungarian stoner metal band that just did not understand us, both in terms of language and in terms of music.
And how in such a communicationally challenged situation were you led to believe that they didn’t get you?
Leah: We were just categorized as “doom metal” and in 2005 or 2006 in The Netherlands, where Dutch Doom Days happened, they did not understand what we were doing, what we were doing on stage. I was wearing a The Knife t-shirt, and that was really confusing. I don’t know. People have always called us “the Hobbits of doom.” It’s not a joke, the band, but we can’t possibly take it so seriously.
Sometimes I have this mental image I play around with, which is that of a very theatrical black metal musician coming off stage – makeup, fake blood everywhere – and going to wash it all off at the sink. To me that seems like a very interesting moment where you can either feel a kind of disconnect between the stage and you or in which you can admit to yourself that these are just the tools of your performance. To me if you can’t look at those fissures, either something like that or the fissure between you and those other doom bands, and laugh at it, then I can’t be your friend.
Because it’s kind of funny.
Aidan: It also requires a certain level of self awareness that maybe a lot of people don’t have. Or if they do have it they are not willing to explore it. And I think that a lot of our artistic choices – which is already a pretty loaded phrase – have definitely been playing on our own awareness of self or at least trying to poke a stick at it somehow.
But, as you might know, that might not be a popular strategy.
Aidan: No, of course not.
Obviously everyone who has been a part of that sphere, of making something that is both serious and unserious at the same time, a lot of those people feel like strangers in a lot of different spaces. \
For instance, you guys in that doom festival, obviously that was a bad fit, but it would have been an equally bad fit had it been an IDM show. So, this feeling of being a stranger or uncomfortable everywhere has its artistic bounties but it doesn’t always make for the happiest life. So, did you ever feel like you were being held back, in some way, by the poking of the stick? That if you could just focus on one idea you would be Lars Ulrich or something.
Aidan: We were talking about the capitalistic societal drive to constantly strive “more” just a few days ago. We don’t need to be superstars, we’re pretty content doing what we’re doing. Of course we want to be able to play for more people and keep putting out more records, but we don’t have to be Lars Ulrich. We’re content not being Lars Ulrich.
Leah: And I also think that the uncategorizable aspect of us – whether it be metal or experimental or whatever – I think it has helped us to keep playing and make records all this time, because we straddled these different scenes. And the metal scene has definitely changed in the last decade.
Aidan: Yeah, absolutely.
Leah: It has opened up and accepted us. But so did the experimental scene and different underground scenes across Europe, and I think that these sorts of things actually helped us.
Aidan: Yeah, I think straddling genres has been beneficial for our career but also our mental states. Because if we were constantly playing metal festivals I think we’d become bored with music. We get to play different kinds of festivals all the time – from audio-visual installation pieces to experimental, metal, industrial, just whatever. And having that variety keeps it fresh and interesting for us.
I’d maybe just add that this variety is important to you, while maybe other people don’t need that variety. They’re happy doing something that falls into a general lane.
I only say this because I deeply empathize with what you’re saying. One of the many embarrassing facts about me is that I grew up a huge Megadeth fan, and to a large extent remain so. And one of the things that’s interesting about them is that they’re this big, mainstream band, but they never really gained that iconic status as some of their contemporaries. I think Slayer is the obvious example here, becoming a very iconic band for being the American precursor to a lot of the extreme stuff that would come later. So, a lot of bands are bands today because they listened to Slayer, and very few bands, at least from my experience, are bands today because they listened to Megadeth. And that’s a very interesting thing for me. And so I don’t encounter bands that were influenced by them as much, and when I do I make note of it. And a few months ago I spoke with Ben Weinman from The Dillinger Escape Plan, who I knew was a big Megadeth-head.
Aidan: Yeah, that makes sense to me.
Really? How come?
Aidan: Well, I can see Dillinger as being an extension of what Megadeth were doing, to a certain degree.
Yeah, in a way I think that’s true and I think he would agree. Anyway I asked him what he found in their music and he basically said something along the lines of this current discussion – that his brain needed the variety, otherwise it would get bored and zone out. And Megadeth had that for him. It was the kind of metal he needed. And that made me realize that was also in a way the reason I love Megadeth – I’m that spastic guy that does 12 things at once, and can’t keep his head on one thing. So, coming back to you guys – maybe you need that variety. Sorry. That was a huge rant about Megadeth.
But does any of that make sense?
Aidan: Yeah, absolutely. I have read that people say that, and I don’t remember if this was in a review or a comment, that we keep making the same album, but that the next one is always a continuation of the previous one. So, it’s not necessarily the same album, it’s just continuing on. And I kind of like that. So, in theory you could listen to all the albums in a row and it would be one giant piece.
So the idea of “again, with a difference”?
I guess some people might not see that as variety, though, since it’s “the same thing” every time.
Aidan: I think the sense of continuity is a sonic one, so we continually make the same or similar-sounding albums with variations in how we arrange or present that sound. I wouldn't say this is especially a conscious decision in the way we work, apart from the idea that we have a “signature” sound that we – almost always – work with.
So, this is a very good introduction to our discussion of the album. And when I re-listened to it a couple of times in preparation for our talk the word that came to mind was “narrative.” One does not listen to Nadja with narrative in mind, at least in my experience. Often it feels abstract, aggressive, or aggressiveness out of a mist of abstraction. Nonlinear, and it’s an experience. But it’s not an experience I often think of in terms of a narrative. But when I listen to Sonnborner I do think of narrative. Almost like listening to a soundtrack. Even when you start things off with the title track – it’s long and there are many different parts, but it feels like one story. So I guess the first question is whether or not you guys felt, while working on the album, that there was a common thread that you purposely or unpurposely were working with? Something that has a drive to it?
Aidan: I think more often than not we kind of have a basic theme in the back of our minds. And with Luminous Rot we made that more explicit, and so even if it doesn’t inform the music in and of itself it’s what we were thinking of when we were writing it. With Sonnborner I don’t really know if we had that theme. I took the title from a highway in Western Germany. Because we live in Berlin we’re always driving west and the sun is always in our eyes, and on this highway in particular the sun was always in our eyes, and it was called Sonnborner – born from the sun. I don't actually think that word means anything in German, but if you sort of parse it into English that’s the meaning you can take from it. So what we had was “journey into the west, blinded by the sun.” If there was a theme to the album that would be it.
It’s interesting because I wanted to get to Luminous Rot later, because, subjectively, obviously, Sonnborner felt like a cloud coalescing into matter and Luminous Rot is the matter. I think it’s interesting you said that Luminous Rot is more explicit in terms of theme, and it definitely has more “songs” than you would usually have on a Nadja album, to me it feels like Sonnborner is where that impetus was born.
Leah: It’s funny because I was thinking about what you were saying and I kind of thought that while we were making Sonnborner that it was less “themed” or soundtrack-like than our previous stuff. Somehow it was riffier, more song-oriented, and more closely related to Luminous Rot than nearly anything else we’ve made. I never thought of it as a soundtrack necessarily, that’s interesting.
I guess soundtrack might be the wrong word, but I think that some of the stuff you guys made in the past is the kind of music you listen to in a room and Sonnborner, and maybe this is following what Aidan just said, is the kind of music you listen to in a car. As in it’s going somewhere.
Leah: Yeah. OK, I can see that.
Not necessarily as a theme, but a kind of drive. Propulsion. It goes from point A to point B. And even if point B is very chaotic…
The journey there, even if it is very abstract, feels very purpose-driven.
Leah: Yeah, I do agree with that.
And in a very weird way that quality made me think of Moby Dick.
Because it’s a very simple story: a dude got his leg chewed off, he’s pissed about it, and he would like to avenge the whale who had done it. That’s it. You don’t need 800 pages to tell that story.
So in a way what Melville does is dangling the story over your head, like a carrot. Like he’s saying: “This is the story, this is the core of all stories, someone’s quest to do something.” And you’re in the boat with them, you’re invested, because you want to know what’s going to happen. But most of what goes on in the novel is actually not allowing you to get to that point. The book is in the way, all the time. So Sonnborner and Moby Dick are alike in that they’re both about narrative but also kind of resist narrative, or mess around with it. As if someone told you: “Aidan and Leah, write a simple song!” and you turn in a 30-minute abstract symphony.
Aidan. Yeah. Does that then return to our sense of humor, then?
It does [laughs]. It indeed does. But does any of that make sense to you guys?
Leah: Yeah, that’s just about right.
Aidan: Yeah, definitely. It’s that cliche, what is it? “The journey is the destination”?
Yeah, completely. I guess I didn’t necessarily take you guys to be as journey-oriented as you are on Sonnborner.
Aidan: Yeah, OK, I agree. It has a very – maybe not concrete – but a tangible structure and form. An upwards moment, and then down again. It is quite journey-like, yeah.
Did you guys notice that while you were making it?
Leah: I don’t know that we were conscious of it at the time.
Aidan: Yeah. I’m pretty sure that I wanted to do one side 33 and one side 45 before we started the record, so that at least was in the back of my mind. And that gave us the idea of contrasting sides so that might have been a slight preconception we had going in.
[at this point Leah had to leave]
So I wanted to ask about the last part of the 30-minute track. I grew up in a classical-music-loving home which then turned me into a classical-music-hating teenager. And I only grew out of that about six months ago with stuff like Ligeti and Bartok. And the end of that piece sounds super classical. Was that something you wanted to try out? Because I know you’ve had that in your background, but it’s not like you’ve used that in your music that often.
Aidan: That was definitely something I just wanted to try out.
Aidan: Well, because I hadn’t done it before [laughs]. I mean, we’ve done some stuff with string players in Nadja before. I don’t want to say those were frustrated or frustrating, but I don’t think we ever kind of achieved the heights that we wanted to achieve when we did play with those people and this was an opportunity to revisit some of those ideas and try to get closer to what we were trying to grasp and/or portray. And, yeah, I would say that things like Ligeti, Pärt, Penderecki were somewhere in the back of our minds. Also I think it comes back to that whole humor thing, and that I wanted it to be a challenge. It’s a very static piece that goes on for about 10-12 minutes and really requires a lot of patience to get through it.
Playing or listening?
Aidan: Both. Maybe especially the listener, I don’t know. Maybe it’s easier on the player because you’re inside the sound more. And if we’re thinking about a journey, thinking about the Egyptian god of sun going across the sky, so there’s a moment of nothingness, night, and suddenly it's day again. And that’s something I may have had in the back of my mind when I was trying to come up with the piece.
It’s interesting because that sun thing, which obviously also goes back to the album's title and why you chose that title, is…. Cyclical, mythological paths, they don’t have a happy ending, they actually don’t have an ending at all.
Aidan: They have to be, otherwise they wouldn’t be open to interpretation.
Right. But they do represent a kind of movement. So it’s not static.
Aidan: If you look at the mythological hero paradigm, then it’s like a night sea journey. You’re journeying but because it’s dark it becomes a static journey in a way. So I think that the minimalism of those string parts was trying to move forward but stay static at the same time.
That’s absolutely fantastic and kind of related to where I was going – that the entire cycle, including the day. Even the passage from day to night and vice versa, that’s a kind of story. It’s not the same kind of story as a narrative with characters and so on, because it;s a never-ending cycle of a story.
Aidan: It’s an infinite story.
Exactly. So in a way you get the best of both worlds – you get the idea of movement – in Ahab’s case, the desire to get to the whale – but it’s not the kind of moving that’s getting you anywhere, or a moving that ends in the beginning in some way. And that’s an interesting way to involve movement without succumbing to the pop-song, the “serious black metal song,” or any simple type of narrative.
Aidan: Yeah, not a trajectory as in a straight line.
Yeah. And once that 30-minute track is over it’s basically, if we’re adhering to my Moby Dick thing, just fighting the whale all the way through. A lot of chaos, a lot of violence. And even in that metal context that Nadja found itself in, it’s a very explicitly metal moment.
And obviously I could ask you why you did that and you would say you just felt like it.
And that’s fine! But when you think of that part, what makes that into a good contrast to everything we’ve been talking about? And did you think of it in terms of contrast?
Aidan: Yeah, we definitely thought about it in terms of contrast. Contrast and juxtaposition are always things that are in the back of our minds. I think I had the idea that the B-Side was the A-Side compacted. They’re not the same chords or progressions or anything, but it’s taking the mood of what the first piece is and mashing it all up, and as you mash it it becomes something else. So if the A Side is stately and majestic then the B-Side is chaotic and violent. I guess it wasn’t just about contrast but trying to say the same thing in different ways.
Is that something you’ve tried before? Making a statement and then expanding or contracting it?
Aidan: Not that literally, I don’t think, but we’ve used that tool of reiterating certain things in different ways. Just seeing what changes if you change the method or the formula or whatever.
It’s interesting because my latest obsessions – one that is quite frustrating, and I’ll tell you why in a second – is the idea that grindcore is classical music.
Aidan: Because it’s so codified.
That too, but…. So, the way I think of classical music, because I’m new to it, is that it's abstracted movement. And that movement has parts – it has highs and lows, shifts, and so on. And all that creates a kind of narrative, but it’s abstracted. There’s no content. Just form.
And grindcore has all that, it’s just that it’s 30 seconds long. So despite the whole “anti-music” thing, I don’t feel like it is that. It’s not a “fuck you, Mozart” it’s a “here’s Mozart in 5 seconds.” All the parts are there, all the ingredients are there.
Aidan: I would say that that’s grindcore now and not grindcore at its infancy.
Fair. But even a statement like that on later grindcore would sound weird to contemporary grindcore musicians. Which, by the way, is why my obsession is so frustrating because upon trying to develop some of these themes with the musicians themselves what you get more often than not is: “We wrote that because we wanted to sound brutal.”
[Laughs] There’s a bit of a gap there. But it’s interesting because what you just described kind of fits with that, that in contracting the majestic you end up with the violent and chaotic.
Aidan: Sure, yeah.
Which kind of takes us to Luminous Rot because that’s an album basically made of such moments. More compressed, more explicitly song-like, and kinda heavy. When I found out it came out through Southern Lord that made complete sense to me, because it’s a very doomy and heavy Nadja album. So I guess I’m asking – and you’re going to say “no” to this,” but you only live once – whether even the ability to write that kind of album is related to the results of your experiment on Sonnborner?
Aidan: No [laughs].
Aidan: I don’t know if that’s the longest gap between albums that we’ve had, but it is a significant gap between the writing of Sonnborner and the writing of Luminous Rot. And I think in that time we might have missed the opportunity to do an album that continued the Sonnborner aesthetic or sound. We kind of skipped over it. Which is fine, we didn’t necessarily need to do that. And so we came into Luminous Rot with a very different headspace.
What was that headspace?
Aidan: Well, I seem to remember listening to a lot of Carcass, actually, when we started writing those tunes. I mentioned that in a few interviews and what I got was: “What!? How did you got from Carcass to that?” So, maybe nobody else hears Carcass in it but I kind of do. Not the super techy Carcass but more the sloppy Carcass, like the early sloppy grindcore stuff [laughs] that wasn’t super tight.
We return to grindcore, did you see that?
Aidan: Yeah. Everything comes back to grindcore.
For sure. There’s that famous Gustav Courbet painting, The Origin of the World, which is just a picture of Bill Steer.
Aidan: [Laughs] Yeah. Something like that.
And how has the response been? Given it’s also on a bigger label, in underground terms? And it is a more straightforward album as Nadja albums go?
Aidan: Well, I’m not sure it’s that different a response than we normally get. Some people say it’s great, some people say it’s boring. Some people say: “Oh, it’s a brand-new direction” some people say “Oh, it’s the same old stuff.” I guess that leads one to conclude that we’re a very subjective band. People hear what they want to hear in our music, which is totally fine by me. I think that’s cool. I guess if we look at some of the more mainstream media coverage that wouldn’t have normally covered us if we hadn’t been on Southern Lord there have been a lot of weird contrasts. One was comparing us to Joy Division-meets-Eyehategod, which I thought was pretty cool, actually, because Eyehategod has that Carcass-y rot-n-roll thing that I had in my head. And then there’s that whole post-punk, gothy, Joy Division element to it. So I think that’s a nice comparison, actually.
Ok. Last question before I dissipate. What I like about doing these interviews is also that they provide a chance for people to look back at albums that were released a while back and kind of revisit them. That obviously is less so the case here, since Sonnborner came out in 2018, so not that deep into the past. But, having said that, is there anything about that album that you’re proud about, when you happen to think of it?
Aidan: I am happy with the string part. I really find that satisfying, I guess, when I listen to it. I don’t listen back to my music very often and often when I do I feel critical. It’s hard not to feel critical because you always hear the mistakes and the things you’d do differently. But when I listen to that part of that song I definitely like it and appreciate it. And it does make me feel like doing more in that direction, so it is still inspiring, in a way. I would just have to figure out how I would do that, or how I could incorporate that into something and make it new or something other than we had already presented.
Yeah. Going back to what we were saying before, about how that part had that “not moving,” night voyage feeling. I think it’s very effective as just that, and that’s a very difficult thing to do. And it’s so effective that…. When the album came out I remember listening to it a lot, kind of on a loop and the heavy part that was somewhere around the middle part of the 30-minute piece made such an impression on me to the point that I became convinced that the entire song was really heavy. And I think that’s a testament to how great the string part is that to an extent you don’t actually hear it. It’s like you’re in the afterglow of something, and you’re just in it, and the music just allows you to be in that space without worrying about where you need to be or go. So to me that’s kind of like a small miracle. It becomes the album’s center or something.
Aidan: In a way. It’s that clear water/clear light idea where it becomes nothingness, you just float in it for a few brief moments.