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Stephen O’Malley | Interview


Sunn O))) and Ulver are no strangers to one another, with various members working together in different projects over the years.

Though ‘Terrestrials’ is a new record, it’s been brewing between the two for a number of years and explores their most ambient and ethereal tendencies.

Meanwhile, Sunn O))) are never ones to rest with their own work, with a new EP entitled ‘La Reh 012’ just out.

Sunn O)))’s Stephen O’Malley tells Jonathan Keane how the drone stalwarts came to work with Ulver and what he’s currently working on for the new Sunn O))) full-length.

***

‘Terrestrials’ has been in gestation for some time. You even made mention of the collaboration in interviews about two years ago. How did you and Ulver come together for this record?

I’ve been friends with Kris from Ulver for many years actually, since the early to mid ‘90s and we worked on a few things together over the years.

I interviewed him back in the ‘90s for magazines and [Ulver] produced a track for us in 2003 around the ‘White1’ session and we also played in another group together called Æthenor through the mid-2000s.

So, over a period of that time Ulver changed immensely, many times of course. Sunn O))) began and we continued on our arc as well but we always kept in touch, Kris and I.

So anyway there’s a moment where Sunn O))) was invited up to Norway to play a festival in Oslo called the Øya festival, which takes place each summer in this big park next to a fjord.

We accepted that offer to go up there and Kris got in touch and suggested that we spend a few more days in Oslo, work in their studio and try and make something together. That was the genesis of this project.

It’s pretty simple actually [laughs] but also a good opportunity to try and do something cool and creative together. Ulver have a pretty nice studio called Crystal Canyon and the timing was right.
[Sunn O)))] were just doing the one concert, one-off event, so we had time around it.

The mood was right, we got together and worked on some foundations for a bunch of tracks and then went our separate ways.

Eventually the Ulver guys worked on some preliminary arrangements and mixes using the tracking. We tried to get together to work on the production.

That took a while because we don’t live in the same country and everyone’s just really busy.
I got to be honest, for a while it wasn’t a priority. It was something we were doing because we enjoyed each other’s company [laughs] and we enjoyed the music but it wasn’t like the new album of either band.

It didn’t have that urgency to it. Also, I think the music, the pacing and the feeling of the music itself kind of suggests that too.

It’s not an urgency is what I mean, it’s something you can let yourself sink into and focus. So over a couple of years I had several opportunities to go to Norway and each summer I went to Oslo.

Given that you were living in different countries, did this separation and distance affect the end product at all in your view? Was there ever a risk of the record becoming disjointed because of gaps between sessions?

No, I wouldn’t use the word disjointed at all.

It takes time but a lot of records take time too. Opposed to the idea of it being disjointed or separated, we were actually taking the time so we could work on it together rather than work on it apart from each other because we could have easily have done it in our own studios and sent each other mixes and worked on it independently but we wanted to be in the same place where it’s really important with the production.

That’s vital for making music. It’s only actual when you’re in the space together. We took the time to make sure we were together when we were working on it. Over time of course your perspective changes, your taste grows, your interests move around so it brought a lot of ideas to the table too.

The album is largely instrumental save for moments like ‘Eternal Return’ where we hear Kris’ distinct vocals. What can you tell us about the lyrics and, broadly speaking, the themes behind ‘Terrestrials’?

I’m not one to talk about the lyrics, they’re sort of the realms of Kris and Jørn form Ulver. It seems to be missed by everyone but there are vocals on the first track as well, ‘Let There Be Light’.
Kris is doing a sort of low mantra. It’s kind of working with the idea of spectralism, which is an area that Sunn O))) is interested in with ‘Monoliths & Dimensions’.

It’s also an area I’m personally interested in in a lot of my music. The lyrics that Kris is pronouncing on ‘Eternal Return’ are far palindromic and a sort of biblical theme. I’m sure I’m reducing it somehow [laughs] by misinterpreting it. Kris and Jørn are really poets.

Do you have any aspirations to get together to play material from ‘Terrestrials’ live?

Well, congratulations. You’re asking the question that every interviewer has asked [laughs].

We’d be remiss not to ask.

Which is very nice. It shows that the music is compelling. To answer you quite frankly, I don’t know.
It would obviously be a big production to put together and a challenge logistically but it’s possible, we’ve done bigger things, more complicated things before. But I don’t know, we don’t have a plan yet.

I suppose if there’s an opportunity [that] arose to help us do that, we would definitely consider it.

Outside of ‘Terrestrials’, what can you tell us about the status of Sunn O))) right now and possibly a new album?

Sunn O)))’s actually working on another record right now and we did a big tracking session in January in London, focusing just on guitars at that time. There’s actually a session going on right now.
I’m not at it. That’s going to be announced later this year, that’s going to be pretty amazing.

It’s going to be an amazing record. I can’t really talk about what it is yet but it’s a major project for us. [It’s] something we’re really enthusiastic about but I don’t want to spill the beans before it’s ready [laughs].

Even bigger than ‘Monoliths & Dimensions’? That was a pretty monumental record for you guys.

That was a monumental record for us. I don’t really want to compare records like that, it’s too complicated to do.

I can just say that this next record is extremely important for us. The people we’re working with are really on an incredible level and it’s going to be something very different too.
I think people will be excited, especially if they like the progression we’ve gone through over the years.

You have a UK solo tour coming up in April, though no Irish dates. It’s been a while since you’ve been here, whether by yourself or with Sunn O))).

I was actually trying to get some shows going in Ireland on that tour but it didn’t work for some reason.

I’m doing some solo concerts over the years, it’s really minimalist guitar stuff, it’s really loud, sort of structural drone guitar music. It would be nice to do that trip. We’re travelling together with a really great French band called Aluk Todolo, who are also instrumental but they’re a three-piece, drums, bass and guitar, and their music’s awesome.

It’s kind of black metal but it’s pretty informed by bands like Neu! or Faust, this Cologne ‘70s scene.

We’ve done a bunch of shows together over the years, in France mainly. It’s going to be a fun tour, most of the venues are definitely smaller than where Sunn O))) would play but that’s not an issue at all.

We’ve actually done shows in France in castles, caves or these kind of weird bunkers and stuff like, more obscure locations than rock venues. We’re playing in a church in London. That should be pretty cool.

I’ve actually done a couple of tours over the years where we tried to get some Irish shows.
It doesn’t come together for some reason. It’s too bad. Like playing Dublin, Sunn O))) has played over there and we’ve even played in Cork and stuff like that and Galway and that was 2004 or 5.

[That] was the last time we went over there. I played at this festival in Dublin called DEAF [Dublin Electronic Arts Festival], a sort of electronics festival.

I was playing with Nurse With Wound on the same bill. That was the last time I’ve been over there, hopefully sometime in the next couple of years [we get back].

Interview by Jonathan Keane ::: 20/02/14


2 Comments
  1. […] Stephen O’Malley interview […]

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