Amidst a sea of triangle sandwiches and pop bottles ThisIsNotAScene chatted with three enigmatic fifths of the Norwegian masters of Jazz-Extreme metal fusion Shining. Refreshed and wired after a body burstingly energetic performance and maybe a lot of fizzy drink; vocalist/guitarist/saxophonist Jørgen Munkeby, keyboardist Bernt Moen and bassist Tor Egil Kreken eagerly hold forth about geekery, fitness centres, old men with ponytails and the clean lifestyle that powers the flawless musicianship.
Since 1998 you have experimented with a number of styles. What led to the fusion we see in Blackjazz?
Jørgen: What shall we say? Shall we let them know?
Tor Egil: I’ll let them know! We all come from metal and have metal backgrounds. We grew up with metal music, then we went on to study jazz for several years. Most of us have masters degrees in jazz and improvised music so it was natural for us to combine different styles, and also I think that hard metal and free jazz have a lot of things in common, mainly the energy.
Did you know each other before you formed the band?
Tor Egil: yeah, this configuration now has played together for 3 years now but the band has been around for over ten years. I think all of us have performed with the others at some time though. Jorgen and Torstein are the original members from when it started out as a jazz band. We all did a lot of session work so we knew each other musically beforehand.
What is your personal experience of both jazz and metal?
Tor Egil: I’ve been listening to both types of music since I became interested in music. I think what we all have in common is that we listen to a lot of metal stuff and then we kind of grew away from that and started playing and listening to jazz and then we picked up the metal thing again, but for me I thinks there’s a similar thing with the energy, I probably don’t know as many albums as these guys, but when I listen to free jazz it’s just incredible, its the energy that inspires me. Its the same with metal, if I put on a Meshuggah album it makes me want to run for a long time. But I don’t do that(laughs). So that’s what I listen to. I don’t listen to all types of jazz and metal, i like free jazz and certain types of metal like Meshuggah and stuff, really hard, precise, intense stuff. On to you Jørgen!
Jørgen: No I think you’ve-
Tor Egil: -But it’s OUR personal experience
Jørgen: Er OK…(laughs)
Bernt: You don’t have to if you don’t want to (laughs)
Jørgen: No, I think you made a great answer! I don’t want to fuck that up! What about you?
Bernt: Nah, I think you were so good I think I wanna hear more…
It is clear that all members of the band are highly talented musicians. Where did you gain your musical expertise?
Jørgen: Thank you. Please let me introduce the keyboard player in the band, he goes by the name of Massive Skills, he will let us mortal people know where he achieved these massive skills. Over to Massive Skills…
Bernt: (laughs) skills here! Actually, I started playing guitar when I was 10 or 11, I played metal guitar, then I went on to play keyboard when I was 12 or 13 and found out that I actually liked it so I got put really fast in a conservatoire at a very early age, then I moved the USA and studied at Berkeley College Music and Musicians Institute and I have a Masters degree in free musical improvisation and actually I am a total nerd and I used to practise 10 or 11 hours a day and had absolutely no life! Now a have a wife so I have a little bit more of a life (laughs). But that’s basically how you get good; you just practice and practice and practice! So that’s the acquisition of skills – story to go!
Tor Egil: That’s brilliant (laughs)! One thing that really inspired when joining this band is that everyone is equally eager to just improve as musicians and work at what we do all the time. We’re all total geeks when it comes to practising. It’s not really anything mysterious about it, its all about working extremely hard. Talent is about 5 or 10% and the rest is just hard work and not giving up.
Jørgen: Yeah. There’s nothing more to add (all laugh). I have no life either; I’m working at getting a wife but until then…
Bernt: Sad but true!
How much do you improvise in live shows?
Jørgen: Yeah, Ok I can do this one!
Bernt: Finally you get to say something!
Jørgen: We improvise more in live shows than on albums we have released with this type of music. I don’t know why, just we want to do it that way. We do improvise more but there super strict parts, where there’s no room for improvisation and there’s parts where we’ve decided certain instruments have certain freedoms, and then we have sections where everyone is improvising over some kind of guidelines, either strict or very loose and then we have parts where there are no rules and pre-made plan. It’s really hard to say how much, because sometimes everyone is improvising and sometimes the drummer is improvising but I’d say we improvise more than the regular metal band, pop or rock band. I guess that’s what we took from jazz. I wouldn’t say our music sounds like jazz but our attitude and way of playing and our way of communicating and freedom is the essence of jazz music, at least to me.
On stage in the past you’ve used 2 microphones. What are these for and did you record with them too?
Jørgen: I used that on a TV program. On the last live album and DVD it might look like I used that kind of thing but that was actually a camera taped to the mic. But, I have used two on a TV recording once that has been one of the most popular Youtube videos we have (see here!). That was one pretty easy, straightforward, easily compressed SM58 beta mic, and a short green bullet harmonica mic that went through a line 6 pod with a amp simulator mic with a kinda distortion thing, adding them together to make a parallel compression thing. That’s not a standard set up, we don’t have enough people in the crew to put up all the things we would like, but perhaps in the future I would maybe like to have 2 mics, but right now we have one.
Playing live, Jorgen has vocal, guitar and sax duties, making live performances hectic. How do you make all the transitions between instruments?
Jørgen: It’s hard to manage because it’s exhausting, but then you need to practice and be in good physical and just be prepared. I never drink before I play. I wouldn’t be able to do this if I had any impairment.
Bernt: can I add then when we tour there is almost no drinking and we have on our tour rider that we get the addresses to local fitness centres, so today we had a good workout. So that’s what we do on tour, we don’t drink, eat healthily and eat out and practice. I think that’s also an example of what makes the band what it is, it’s the dedication and we’re all serious about what we do. It’s not that we consider it a job but it’s just a big part of who we are as musicians and people.
Tor Egil: I’m just going to add some wisdom (laughs). I saw this interview with Sigurd from Satyricon and he wants the audience that see the 50th show on the tour to have the same experience as the ones who saw the first one, and if you’re drinking and partying all the time you can’t do that. So we do it for ourselves, but we do it for the audience too because we want them to have the best experience they can when we play.
Do you have jobs outside Shining or is it currently your main focus?
Jørgen: Everybody has jobs outside of Shining but they’re music jobs. We’re all professional musicians. I don’t work so much outside of Shining because there’s so much to do with this band. Another thing that makes the band what it is, is that we’re all musicians. If people were working at a gas station or as a teacher or whatever then I don’t think people would be as passionate or as good as the people in this band if their career wasn’t a professional musician. I wouldn’t want a guy in this band that didn’t work with music full time.
Shining is a great example of a successful band that is both innovative and progressive. Where will your innovation lead next?
Jørgen: Thank you. I’m hoping the innovation we’ve already made will be appreciated in the future so we can build on that. That what we’ve done will live on. We will continue doing our best and hopefully that will be just as good, if not better, but there’s no way of telling.
Would you like to say anything about the live DVD you have coming out?
Jørgen: YEEEEES! We have a reeeeeally good live DVD coming out the 11th of November, that’s 11/11/11 for you guys. You should be able to remember that, its 4 ones!… Erm it’s not 4 ones, its 6! But yes, it’s one show recorded in Norway last year from beginning to end. We worked our asses off to make it sound good and look good, it’s been expensive but the results have been amazing and it’s this band presented as we want it to be presented. It’s the whole package and getting the video with the music makes it come together even more, because there’s a lot of human energy at work to play this kind of music, and these days you have no idea whether the music you’re listening to is being played by a person or not but when you see the pictures you get a feeling of that. Now I almost die on stage every day because it’s so exhausting but that’s also what I like about it and I really want the audience to get a feel of how much effort we put into making the music and I think that on this live DVD you get that. I think this works for people who don’t really care about the band or the music, it will have an effect on other people, just like watching a horror or an action movie or whatever, you get your blood pumping. I hear that it works for a lot of people and that makes me happy. I’m happy that girls like it, that ordinary pop rock kids like it, I’m happy that old people like it and young people. I don’t feel too at home when everyone is the same – dressing the same, thinking and saying the same things.
Do you see a lot of diversity in your audiences?
Bernt: play jazz festivals as well as metal and mainstream festivals so our audience base is very broad, everything from teenagers to old guys with ponytails who love punk rock music to every man in the street so that for us is an indication that our music is universal and people get it on some level. For us that means we’ve managed to communicate what we want to communicate.