Here at Don't Count On It Reviews, you can read reviews from different artists from different styles.
Friday, May 13, 2011
Interview - Njiqahdda's /
Over the course of this past weekend, I was finally able to interview one of my new favorites, Njiqahdda. /, or E, was very respectful and his answers both thought provoking and simplistic. I really have to thank him for answering all my questions (this is probably the longest interview I've ever done, and will probably ever do).
Ian: I'm sure a lot of people are curious about how Njiqahdda first formed, would be willing to divulge a little bit into the humble beginnings of this project?
/: We started in January of 2005. We were both playing in other projects, but none that satisfied what we truly wanted to do, both musically and ideologically. We wanted to play music that was both a nod to our musical heritage, but also doing something new and different, that would only be unique to us. So we recorded two demos and here we are now. Kind of strange to think that we have been doing Njiqahdda for 6 years so far, it does not seem that long at all.
Ian: How did Njiijn come to be separated from Njiqahdda? Would you be willing to explain how the approach between the two is different from one another?
/: This separation rooted in the beginning of our artistic journey. We consider Njiqahdda and Njiijn to be one in the same, just materialized through different means. Njiqahdda is the exploration of mind and spirit through music, Njiijn is the exploration of mind and spirit through sound. Sound and music are much different entities. Most easily explained; Music/Njiqahdda: sounds created using specific pitches and sound quality in a structured pattern consisting of consonance/dissonance. Sound/Noise/Njiijn: sound with no regular pattern or definite pitch.
Ian: Could you explain how Oaks of Bethel and Funeral Eclipse both came to be. Both are quite different from Njiqahdda, but retain a certain high quality nature about them, how do you see both bands sounding compared to your main band and do you approach them differently (musically, lyrically, ideally, conceptually)?
/: Both Oaks Of Bethel and Funeral Eclipse came into being after the formation of Njiqahdda. As the sound of Njiqahdda progressed more and more, we felt compelled to have outlets for more 'restrained' musical compositions. We consider them both entirely different entities from Njiqahdda; they are different in almost every way. While there will always be cross-sections with Njiqahdda and our other projects, especially considering the same two people compose all things for all three projects, we try to keep them separate as much as possible. Sound, ideal and concepts are all different from each other.
Ian: I find it interesting that you say that Funeral Eclipse and Oaks of Bethel are more "restrained" outlets for you as they both seem much more adventurous than over half of the black metal, or maybe half of the metal scene, in general. Oaks especially seems to pop out, as most of the songs written for that project are long and winding journeys into various sub-genres. Would you say that Oaks is a project that is perhaps a bit more forward thinking than you intended it to be when it started?
/: Not entirely. To us, we are not doing the most innovative things in Oaks Of Bethel as we are in Njiqahdda. As fans of long songs (and winding journeys) to us it happens naturally; we just write and record. The result is what it is. It also does not hurt that we listen to many different styles of music regularly, I think all of this manifests subconsciously and erupts during writing/recording sessions. We try to be as devoid of structure as possible and just let the music, ideas and spiritualism guide us.
Ian: Being only a duo, is the writing process pretty evenly divided between you or does one of you usually bring in the basis of the songs?
/: I compose almost all of the material for our projects (I am /, by the way). We discuss structure, harmonization, polyphonics and such, but I am the main writer of the material. But without the help of my brother (actual blood-brother, who is the other half of Nji, OoB and FE), I do not think things would flow as freely/smoothly as they have. None of these projects could function as they do with anyone else.
Ian: Back when you first started, what was the original focus for the band and does it differ from what it is now?
/: The original focus was to create music unrestrained from any genre, style, ideology or anything at all. This has not changed whatsoever. It has all progressed a great deal, but never strayed from the 'path', so to speak. It has been as it was and shall always be.
Ian: One of the things you two are most known for is your large discography, how do you retain such a high level of quality among your releases despite putting out albums quite frequently?
/: Truthfully, we do not know. A large part is not being involved with the creative process. We let the energy guide us and just go whatever it does. It also helps to be familiar with our respective instruments, music theory, etc. But to also be completely dedicated to our art and craft is worth mentioning, nothing could ever compare to it. We never question the energy that is channeled while writing or recording.
Ian: Kind of going off the last question, I know when I first found out about you guys I was quite put off by your large discography and not knowing where to start, what albums would you suggest to new listeners who don't know where to begin with Njiqahdda?
/: We would always say our newest material, but only for the fact that it is closest to complete development and what we wish to express. As the (partial) creators of the art we make, it is impossible to be objective OR subjective to our work, we create and it exists far beyond us as people. After we release it, it is no longer ours to speak of or take credit for. I suppose the best bet is by taking the advice of our listeners; get the major full-lengths first, if one can stomach those, explore further.
Ian: I guess it's time to get into the grit at this point. When you originally started writing for your debut full-length "Njimajikal Arts", what did you attempt to accomplish and do you believe that you did it? Why did you decide to make it a double album?
/: We attempted to create an album unlike anything else we knew of at the time. That was the only real intention for the album. Most of our full-lengths are/were intended to be double albums, the only exception is the newest "The Path...". True artistic albums should be an experience, not just fodder for the background.
Ian: For me, it was albums like "Yrg Alms" and "Divisionals" that first really turned me onto you guys, but it was "Ints | Nji | Verfatu" that really got me interested in your stuff. What do you remember about that album and what do you think of it now? Personally, I think it's cover is still one of your best.
/: Ints | Nji | Verfatu was and is still very shining in our memories. We still believe it is a very important and exceptional part of our history. The recording process was the same as everything we have ever done. The process of recording has not differed much in our six year existence, with the exception of our demos. The krautrock influence was more prominent in this album than probably any other album in our catalog, but that was more of a matter of randomness than anything.
Ian: At what point did you decide to go into a more, or include a more, krautrock sort of influence in your music, which for me was very present on an album like " Taegnuub - Ishnji Angma." What made you go for a more, I guess, song sort of approach to that album?
/: There is never a distinct process to do one thing or another. It completely happens on its own. The influence of bands like Tangerine Dream, Faust, Can, Popol Vuh and the like are always apparent in our art, just not as easily in certain segments as others. We always write songs, we are song writers. This is completely apparent in Njiqahdda.
Ian: I don't mean to offend with this next question, but what were you thinking when you made " Alkas Nortii Maane Solbaartu - Aski." The reviews I have read for this album have mentioned that the opening and closing songs are great but the ambient centerpiece felt a out of place. What made that piece stick out as more of a Njiqahdda track rather than a Njijn one?
/: We thought the same as everything else we have ever done. No thought, just feeling. The ANMS-A album was originally supposed to be the second disc of the Nji. Njiijn. Njiiijn. album. It did not happen due to label constraints. When listened to properly (NNN and then ANMS-A) the process makes sense, at least to us. If people cannot appreciate the ambient/experimental portions of our music as much as the metallic side, then they have no business listening to us at all. Every piece is equally important to our sound. What people think or say about our music is not important. If they think they can do better, let them go ahead and do it. Otherwise its just worthless, nonconstructive criticism from unskilled regular folk.
Ian: I know "Nji. Njiijn. Njiiijn." is still one of your highest regarded albums, for good reason I might add, but what do you think it was about this particular album that makes it stick out to so many of your fans?
/: No idea. Could be the fact that it was our first outing on a label other than our own. Could also be the more rock oriented basis of the album. For all its fuzz and buzz, there is a very 'rock' styled core to the album. I think this is the album that introduced most of our current listener base to our band, so it holds some kind of special place in their hearts.
Ian: Now for the bigger ones, "Yrg Alms" and "Divisionals" differ from most of your other material quite a bit, I know you've even said that you expected fans to hate them when they were released, what do you think it was about these, potential critical failures, that made them the exact opposite? What do you think it was about these albums that make them standouts in your discography, and often gateways into your band, as they were for me?
/: We prepare for the worst, but hope for the best. We always think people will hate our latest outputs, the newest album is a great example. We were preparing for a marginal backlash towards the new album, yet the result has been the complete opposite. I think we underestimate our real listener base a great deal (we apologize to all of you by the way, for thinking wrongly). The longer we are around, the more we realize that the people who TRULY pay attention to our work, see the changes, see the progression coming. This is probably the most flattering thing we have ever experienced, that our true supporters know to expect the unexpected from us. Truly an amazing thing, to be honest.
Yrg Alms: This album saw us in a more 'digestible' format (as if 10+ minute songs could be digestible), this album was supposed to be released by a major independent label, but it failed due to touring obligations. So its more accessible song writing made it a 'hit' with many folks.
Divisionals: this album marked our beginning of the more progressive sounds we now pursue. More complex song structures, riffing, etc. This album was the beginning of what we would later become (aka NOW). It was the perfect mesh of old and new Njiqahdda. Nothing too crazy, but enough of a gateway for people to see the future.
Ian: How did you come to participate on the Hypnotic Dirge compilation?
/: We have known the label owner, Skog, for a few years. We (EEE) released his debut album a few years ago and built up a relationship based on mutual respect. He asked us to be a part of it, we said yes, the rest is history. Killer label by the way. Everyone should check our HDR, they release some amazing music.
Ian: Focusing on the new album now, at what point did you decide you wanted a more guitar oriented sounding album and one that was a lot more technical? I'm sure fans who've only listened to your older stuff might be surprised, and newer fans might be surprised thinking that this is an indication of what your other stuff is like.
/: We try to keep ourselves fresh and on our toes as much as possible by doing different things musically. With every release we try to incorporate new ideas and sounds. There was no specific decision to make the record the way it turned out, we just went with the flow of energy and let it guide us. We are very pleased with the result, enough so that we will be pushing the more technical direction on future releases. I think people have come to expect the unexpected from us, in one way or another.
Ian: Would you say that your influences from bands like Deathspell Omega, Gorguts, and Shai Hulud come out a bit more on this album than on your previous work?
/: Absolutely. We have both been huge fans of these bands for a long time now (I actually saw Gorguts on tour for the Obscura album, if that is any indication of my age, haha). We both listen to a large amount of technical death metal and progressive music, so it was only a matter of time before it began to manifest in our own work. But one thing we tried to fully realize was that all three bands you mentioned do something completely unique in their respective genres, we wanted to have that same kind of impact.
Ian: I remember you commenting a little while back that this new Njiqahdda album and the most recent Funeral Eclipse EP were the first where you used live drums, how did that impact the way you recorded the album and how do you think the end results turned out?
/: I think the impact of recording with acoustic drums made the recording process no different other than the fact we had to record them in a separate studio, a first for a Njiqahdda album. Almost all of our older material was recorded on an electronic kit, so while it was played by a human, it loses a bit of the edge from an acoustic set. Thus why we got a lot of comments from people claiming we use drum machines. Interestingly enough, after repeated comments about not using drum machines, people still perpetrate these rumors. Same with the idea that Njiqahdda is only one person; there are two people in this band, regardless of what people say. I personally play drums in two other bands right now, so non-believers can come watch us live when we begin to start gigging, maybe that will shut people up.
Ian: What made you want to include guest vocalists on the album?
/: We have made a lot of friends through this band, many of whom who asked to be a part of our recordings, at some point. We decided 'why not' and gave them their opportunities. Do not be surprised if there is more collaborative work in the future of this band. It adds a unique perspective considering these folk may not do what we have done.
Ian: I know you said you were reading the Bhagavad-Gita while you were working on this album, what sort of impact do you think that had on the record?
/: I read a lot of books, there were a few others around the same time that I was reading (Fight and Thus Spoke Zarathustra to name a few). I think the reoccurring themes of birth and death in the BG were a big influence, but also the way that many of the portions were worded. The execution of that book is very influential, but I also do like a great many of the ideas in the BG as well. Not enough to become a part of that religion/philosophy, but enough to try and apply certain aspects of it to my personal life.
Ian: I'm quite impressed by the shear amount of work that went into the boxset, it's really impressive, what went into planning for this sort of release?
/: We used to do these kind of packages much more in our earlier years and we had begun to kind of stray from it. We felt this was the time to bring the elaborate packaging back to the fold. With the sheer amount of work that went into this excursion (book, dvd, cd) it only made sense to pack it all together for the most dedicated. Art should be whole; visual, sound, ideals, smells, etc.
Something I may add here is I am noticing a lot of labels now doing these kind of limited edition box-sets. The time of internet sharing and downloading has made actual physical sales decline a great deal. I think doing these kind of packages is the step in the right direction to get people to actually WANT to buy an album. This is a good thing, we believe.
Ian: The book you included with the album is quite extensive, and the topics that are discussed are very well thought out and written, I was wondering what made you decide to tackle such wide-ranging topics (racism, anti-culture, science, religion)?
/: We get a lot of questions and accusations about many things; we have been accused of being nazi's, christian, etc. Which we are not at all, I might add. But it seemed important to discuss these things in a more formal medium. Plus we have a lot of opinions regarding the world we live in, so it felt necessary to explain them. Every person has opinions on everything, we happen to enjoy writing, so it only made sense. This book is our fourth (fifth, if you count our first art/photography book) and we plan to write many more. Again, art should be whole, this includes ideology, so we understand the necessity to explain our ideals to our listeners. Especially considering how ambiguous we are in the public spectrum, why let people make up rumors and lies about us, when all we have to do is explain ourselves? If people will not listen to us about OURSELVES, then they will not take anything as truth.
Ian: What made you want to reinterpret Universal Form Replaced With Despondent Chaos for the EP/single?
/: Well, as previously stated, almost every full-length we have done was planned to be a double album. The Path...was the only exception so far. We enjoy retooling our past work to an extent, this song was the only one on the album that it made the most sense for. If we were to start chopping up/retooling the other tracks, they would have probably turned into an awful, dissonant mess. The 'Heads Smashed By Teeth' extended version is actually the original piece, but had to be edited down to fit on the full-length. So we wanted to have that out there as well.
Ian: I mentioned in my review how this album, and especially during the DVD, I had a somewhat out-of-body experience where it felt like the music just took me away from my body and my consciousness felt farther away from a physical state, if that makes any sense. What sorts of feedback have you heard from since the album was released? Was this a desired effect or something you think is more isolated?
/: Truthfully, we have not heard a whole lot of feedback about the new album. That which we have heard has been positive so far, but the album is still relatively new in the public spectrum, so only time will tell on that. We always try to create our music with the purpose of transporting the listener to another world. Our music is meant to be spiritual/metaphysical, so if someone gets that from it, our purpose is fulfilled. I can say that at times during writing/recording, that we have endured that same experience you speak of, being transported to some other place, not typically associated with the world we normally exist within. At some point isolation and inclusion become one in the same.
Ian: Something that occurred to me while I was listening through both "The Ghosts That We Are" and "The Path of Liberation From Birth and Death" was that they might be reactions to what came prior to them. With "The Path..." would you say it's more technical and progressive leanings maybe came as a result of doing the, what I guess could be called softer, sides with "Divisionals II" or "Roots to The Sky..." and "Ghosts" being a reaction to the "The Path..." with its more melodic and atmospheric tendencies?
/: If there are any reactions to speak of, they are more of a matter of coincidence than anything. We never try or try not to do something, artistically. We just go with the flow of energy that appears at the time. I think even for all its technicality, The Path...is very melodic and song-based. The more ambient and tribal facets of our sound have always been present, as have the more consonant/melodic ones. They come and go on their own will. Maybe sub/unconsciously the newest OoB and Nji albums are reactions against our last recorded outputs, but not consciously.
Ian: I'm curious if you think there's a link between the energy that fuels you in your creativity and your spirituality?
/: At some point there has to be a link between them. I mean, for two atheist personalities, we have a strong sense of spirituality, if that makes any sense. The possibility of a spirit world is not completely unrealistic, its a 50/50 chance. No one truly knows, no matter how much they think they believe in something. We see the force that drives us as something far beyond ourselves. What is that force? We do not know, nor do we care. We channel it and try to work as closely with it as possible. It has worked thus far, therefore we shall continue to do as we have done.
It is also plausible to think that creativity, art and spirituality are very closely related anyway. All are manifestations of things beyond mundane normal living. A normal man cannot make supreme, chaotic and immortal art. It takes one who is close to absurd obscurity to manifest these things. That obscurity is creativity, that creativity is spirituality. They are all one in the same.
Ian: What made you decide to use English as oppose to Njiijn for Oaks of Bethel and Funeral Eclipse?
/: They are entirely separate entities, the Njiijn language would not work for any other project than Njiqahdda/Njiijn. Different energies and thought processes function for each musical project that we are a part of. Each vehicle has their own spirit and personality, or at least as much as one with the same two members can have.
Ian: Would you be willing to divulge a little bit of information about one of my favorite Oaks of Bethel songs, Glaciers In My Heart (maybe some information about its concept or how that song came together)?
/: Both song titles came from a book of poetry I was reading at the time. The name of that book is currently slipping my memory, but I was house sitting for family members while they we out of town, found this really odd book on their coffee table and read it. Never heard of or seen it before and it was really diy as far as construction/layout went, but there was some outstanding nature poetry within it. The names/lyrics of the songs from that album 'From Midnight Sun to Burning Wheel' were constructed from themes/elements in that book.
The recording process was typical for OoB. Get together and construct thematic elements and record them. Letting the energy course through us and in turn allowing the songs to shift and mutate as they wished, while we performed them.
Ian: I think "Across The Astral Macrocosm" is one of the most widely known releases from Oaks, is there something that you think people have latched onto from that record that makes it so accepted among your fans?
/: Not entirely sure, to be honest. We never know how the public will react to our work, nor do we care. It is not our problem what people think of what we do. We are a self-serving entity, with complete disregard to what others want from us. I suppose it is a bit strange considering the sonic density and length of that album, its not exactly easy listening. Then again, it is hard for us to believe that anything we do could be classified as 'easy-listening'. Again, our listeners are far more attentive and open-minded than we may initially think.
Ian: I know with "The Curse of Failure Upon Humanity", conceptually and musically, it was linked with " Il' Ijni Talii Humaantii". Was this an intentional link or did it just naturally happen and is this something that you'd like to do again in the future (the linking of two albums I mean)?
/: We had always discussed the idea of doing something like that (sharing concepts between projects) but never fully became active in doing so, until that release. It actually manifested on its own, felt like a unique idea, so we went with it. It could happen again in the future, we never try to dictate what is to come, it may, it may not. I can say that this specific release is a proud achievement for us as musicians; musically, ideally and functionally.
Ian: I know that just before the new record was released, the "I Am The Bridge..." EP really stirred up a positive reaction among your fans, was this release a sort of, excuse the pun, bridge between the more drony releases and the more "song" sound on the new album?
/: Not entirely, if that happened, then it happened purely by coincidence. I think it was more of a logical progression more than anything. Our songwriting ebbs and flows, things come and go. To what timetable? We never have an idea of that. We let the music write itself, if the songs are shorter and more accessible, they only are that way because of the direction they propel themselves to.
Ian: I think the last time you had a more "accessible" release (at least to me anyway) was the "Starfire, Chasms and Enslavement"record. Are there any sort similarities between this record and "The Ghosts That We Are"?
/: If I remember correctly, Starfire...was the first actual batch of recordings for OoB, even though it was released later. I suppose the stronger leaning towards accessibility was more of the fact of it being a debut, with less of a concrete direction. Granted the album flows like a normal one, we did not have the same mindset while doing that album than we do now. Personally I see no similarities between the two albums, other than the fact that they were released by the same project. But I think the listener would have a greater capability of discerning something like that than we would; to us, our work is a collective, adapting and growing more and more. To the listener, it would probably be more segmented, with distinct properties for each release.
Ian: Did the interludes in the new record occur naturally, or were those planned, or I guess what I'm really asking is, when you create, are more interlude based sections created along with the more metal ones, in terms of this project anyway?
/: They were not planned, the record is completely chronological as far as the track listing goes, so it made sense to have some kind of short break between the longer compositions. We have wanted to do an OoB double-album for over a year now, but we kind of realized that this would be much more dense and demanding for the listener than a double-album from Njiqahdda. So while it was not planned, the sense to do so (interludes between the longer tracks) was quite apparent while writing/recording the album.
Ian: Was there any plan at all to make this new record more catchy than previous ones, I said in my review that a track like Cyclic really stuck with me because of the catchy riffing in it?
/: No, we are obviously fans of catchy and consonant music, but the plan to do consonance versus dissonance is never planned. As stated above, we let the music write itself, if it wants more melody, then it shall have it. We use our talents to flesh the energy out in physical/tangible form, but the music is not ours. We are only the instruments in which it develops and flows from.
Ian: I guess last, but not least, is Funeral Eclipse. I know it's supposed to be sort of like a bridge between the aggressive Norwegian style and the Swedish melodic style, but how much stock do you actually put into making it sound that way?
/: Not a ton, to be honest. We just try to write a bit more formally and less experimentally. Granted, experimentation still seeps into FE, it is much less prominent than with OoB or Nji. We try not to adhere to typical black metal formulas, as much as possible, but I think of all the projects we do together, this is the closest to resembling a typical black metal sound.
Ian: You've said that this project is the hardest for you to write for, was that still the case for the new EP? How do you think "As Years Pass..." differs from "Among Castles and Thrones..."?
/: I think the song writing has matured quite a bit, but I think our abilities as producers has improved a great deal as well. We are much happier with the sound of 'As Years Pass...' than 'Among Castles...', not to say we dislike the album, we just did not know as much then about recording as we do now. We plan to keep FE a more regimented project, with only one release a year or so. So by the time the next FE recording arrives, our abilities as producers and song writers will develop even more.
Ian: What can fans expect from the "Parallaxis" EP? I know you've said that it's going to be a more symphonic and melodic release, but that's still quite open to interpretation, I don't think you're going to start sounding like Dimmu Borgir or Cradle of Filth on us.
/: Not at all, I will say the first few Dimmu Borgir albums remain some of our all-time favorite black metal albums and Cradle of Filth have a few decent odds and ends, but Parallaxis sounds nothing like those bands. If anything, it is more of the 'typical' Njiqahdda sound with a greater emphasis on synths. Nothing entirely out of the ordinary, just a bit of a step back from the insanity that was 'The Path...'.
Ian: I remember you mentioning that you were in the process of working on a double-album of folk/ambient material, are there any updates on that?
/: We are still writing the album as we speak. We have the album title, lyrics and song names completed, but the recording has yet to begin. We expect to have the album done in a few months. This album has been another huge undertaking for our band, to create something solely devoid of metallic sounds, in such a large capacity. The results should be amazing though, we have some brilliant material composed thus far.
Ian: I know you have some other projects that are going to happen soon or are already going on, would you care to plug them?
/: That will happen once they are closer to fruition. I am currently playing drums in two other bands who are composing material for new releases. My brother is also working some solo-project type material out as well. Again, these will be spoken of once more concrete information is available.
Ian: That's about it from me, thank you for your time and support, and of course the great music. The last words are yours!
/: Thank you for the outstanding interview. Most interviews are 'more of the same', but this is one of the biggest highlights in our existence, in regards to interviews. Deep, intellectual and well-prepared. Kudos to you for the outstanding work. Double thanks for the selfless support you have given to our music and label. We appreciate it more than you may ever know.
Thank you to our families, friends, loved ones, listeners, supporters, haters and anyone else we meet upon our path. All characters have the ability to inspire something.
"Take up one idea. Make that one idea your life - think of it, dream of it, live on that idea. Let the brain, muscles, nerves, every part of your body, be full of that idea, and just leave every other idea alone. This is the way to success, that is way great spiritual giants are produced.” - Swami Vivekananda
I really have to thank / for his responces to my MANY questions and being very patient with me. Definitely check out all of his bands, Njiqahdda, Oaks of Bethel, Njiijn, and Funeral Eclipse, and keep an eye out for those newer bands he's in.
Here are two great interviews done by a great blog: