Exclusive Blackjazz creators Jørgen Munkeby of Shining
In this complex and confusing era of post modernity, it’s difficult to predict what’s around the corner, especially where music is concerned. As more and more genres are fired out by schizophrenic cannons claiming the rights to all kinds of vague new takes on whatever-cores and something-beats, it’s hard to imagine what kind of quasi headfuck you’re going to hear of next. But by all accounts do not be alarmed when you are confronted with the term Black Jazz, a marriage of Jazz and Metal that has created a brand new genre in the increasingly ambiguous world of heavy music.
Norway’s Shining has spent the last 20 years meticulously crafting Black Jazz from a terrifying idea into the pet monster they own today, “The fact that I grew up with metal music makes it easier to believe our metal elements because if I didn’t grow up with metal music we might sound like a jazz band that are just pretending to play metal. So I think it was healthy in that it took a lot of time” explains vocalist Jorgen Munkeby. It is a genre which cannot be passed off as yet another slapdash musical chemistry experiment; it has required integrity, dedication and massive testicles to make it work.
Shining is currently exploding onto the metal scene, their new full length One One One was released last month and if you’re lucky you just might get to have your balls blown off by them when they embark on a European tour in November. HMA caught up with Jogen to talk about their progressive attitude in everything from album artwork to music of unknown territories…
HMA: The album cover for ‘111’, that’s a very relatively simple cover isn’t it so what’s the concept behind that?
It’s very stripped down, and I’ve always been fond of making brave and uncompromising choices when it comes to music and art in general. So with this we wanted to take the risk and see if we could make it monumental in a way by removing a bunch of details and see if we could make it pop. And we spent a lot of time looking for the right colour, Black Jazz of 2010 was very black and the next album I wanted to have a change. The live album that came out in 2011 I also wanted to have a change so I suggested doing that in a white way. I wanted to keep the essence, to keep the general Shining style we had on our previous ones with the futuristic hard graphics and the logo and stuff. We started out with the red colour and that worked great on the stream but when printing that out it really lost a lot of the punch. On the screen it glows because the screen glows but when you print it on paper it lost a lot of that punch or that glowing thing. So we slowly pulled it towards orange and also to get more contrast between the black logo in the middle and the remaining part of the cover. So as a printing thing we landed on a fluorescent pantone colour called PMS804 which was the colour I found that I felt was the most aggressive colour I could find. That’s the kind of colour if you work in the traffics, like building works, that’s the colour that you have on your jacket.
HMA: Right. Yeah, a safety colour.
Yeah it’s just aggressive and it grabs the attention so that was the idea and the cover it’s not really much, there’s not many elements, it’s the logo and we use that, we’ve written the type, the song types in the same kind of logos.
HMA: Yeah. You’ve taken the nouns out of the band name as well…
Oh yeah, yeah well we’re not doing that in the song titles, we’re only doing that with the main logo. I wanted a logo that gave you the feeling of being from outer space in a way. Do you remember the plaque thing that they put in the Pioneer spaceship that the scientists drew some people and they drew the spaceship and they put in some information about human rights before they sent the Pioneer ship out in space?
HMA: Yeah I know.
Well, I wanted our logo to resemble that in a way and I wanted it to have a certain element inside the logo that could be extracted and used only as a symbol without the remaining stuff. So that’s how, where the ‘I’ and the ‘N’, that’s how that was made and the ‘I’ has a long thing downwards, which has been taken away from the newer version. But anyway that’s an older thing and we have the logo and we have the titles and we have some text and we have some kind of masked type of image in the booklet which on every page there’s one top level for every song, so there’s the mask and then you have the first song and then on the next page the mask is exploding, it’s falling apart. Apart from that there’s nothing so basically the orange colour is the main thing and I’m happy that we managed to not fall for the natural temptation to fill the artwork with a bunch of details, although it’s pretty scary stripping away that much.
HMA: Do you feel like, ironically, a lot of detail maybe makes a cover less noticeable in a way because so many metal album covers are full of detail?
Yeah definitely. I think filling it with details makes it blend more into the background. Like you’re saying especially since most album covers nowadays are filled with little details, especially rock and metal albums.
HMA: Yeah sure. So you were saying you wanted to incorporate connotations of futuristic elements, do you think that has a direct parallel with the progressive nature of your music?
I think everybody that works with art, it doesn’t have to be music, it could be visual stuff or it could be writing, whatever, you have to distinguish between several reasons why you might like a certain thing. You might like a certain style and one reason might be a nostalgic reason, something you grew up with and that certain album is something you liked as a kid. It’s important to separate that from looking at stuff with current eyes and if you then manage to figure out that this album or this and that type of thing is something that you like, it gives you a good feeling mostly because it reminds you of your childhood but may not really have any other important qualities. That’s important to know and I think that attitude towards making music has made sure that I’m not a nostalgic person that drifts towards the retro style. But then the Science Fiction style is also not really that new, so you could drift towards 70s Science Fiction and it would be retro. But I think I always try to stay fresh and stay current and focused on the future so definitely I think it does, that attitude which we talked about in regards to the sign, I think that also ties to the music.
HMA: So the term ‘Black Jazz’… is this something you’ve created yourselves or are there any other bands that play ‘Black Jazz’?
There’s a bunch of bands experimenting with that kind of twilight zone between jazz and metal. But most of them are metal bands that have grown tired of being only a metal band and they get older and they want to incorporate something new. They start liking some jazz, they want to have some jazz elements in their music. I can mention a bunch of them: you could mention Opeth, Meshuggah, Dillinger Escape Plan – there’s a bunch of them. But there’s not that many bands as us, we’re coming from the other direction, we started out as a jazz band and there’s not that many bands that are coming from that side and going the other way and I’m sure you can hear it in our music in the way we play and the way we approach composing music and that we are in fact jazz musicians even though I myself and a lot of the other people all grew up with metal music. I know that as a musician when I started being a professional musician I was a jazz musician, that’s what I studied and that’s what I spent my first 10 years as a musician doing.
HMA: So would you consider yourself a pioneer of Black Jazz?
Yeah, there are other bands that are working with the same ideas, like jazz and metal, but you asked me if Black Jazz is something we invented, I don’t know if you use that word, but yes the term ‘Black Jazz’ is something we created. I was thinking about the album ‘Black Metal’ by Venom which created a genre and I was thinking about the album ‘Free Jazz’ by Ornette Coleman from the 60s, which also created a genre, it took one word from one of them and one word from the other and then put them together. We’ve been around for a long time, and even two albums before that, our 2005 album and our 2007 album, we were combining a lot of different elements in our music and people were name dropping all sorts of bands when describing our music and videos and stuff like that, so I figured maybe it would be a cool thing, and a brave thing, to just come up with a name for your own music and so that was the idea. Some people ask, “Shouldn’t it say industrial because it does have an industrial vibe”, and they’re right there are things missing in that word but it’s still a cool word and I think it does point to some of the main elements in our music. I would be happy if other people started calling their music black jazz and I think more and more young musicians want to play the kind of music we’re playing, they like jazz music and they try to learn how to play jazz music. But they also want to play jazz music that is relevant for their own generation and for their own country. In the very beginning when we started in 1999, our two first albums are just jazz music and after a while I started thinking that it was a period, that it should be possible to play cool music and play jazz music that is from my own generation and I figured the jazz music we played was belonging to another generation, it belonged to people from the 60s/70s, it belonged to a different country, it was made in the US but this was black jazz musicians in United States that made the kind of music I was playing. So I just wanted to bring it back home to be relevant for me. I think a lot of young musicians think the same and that our music doesn’t incorporate a lot of the stuff they like. They can play technical stuff, they can play if it’s got a lot of energy, it’s aggressive, so I think we’ll see more and more bands do that in the future.
HMA: As a Black Jazz band coming from a jazz background playing metal, how do you define yourself as opposed to someone who is just a metal band using elements of jazz?
I think essentially as a jazz musician you’re focused on getting things to swing, getting things to groove and there’s much more focus on that than in metal music. There’s a huge focus on tonality and pitches and chords and scales, so you try to expand the horizon when it comes to harmonic solutions. Both in melodies and chord structures and how they combine and that really translates into how you write music. So the compositions we make are different because of that. Yeah those are the main differences. The tonality and the rhythmical groove of things. I can pick out a jazz musician versus a metal musician no matter what kind of music they play, I can pick it out as easy as that, because of that.
HMA: The little things, like tiny little nuances?
Yeah tiny nuances but it’s there all the time, so it’s timing but it’s there all the time, every note, everything you do, but you hear it very easily and this is the way you use the whole dynamic range, how you make one note louder than the other and to give it a push and how you place them. You could play 16 notes, you could play that on the beat, you can play it before the beat, you can play it after the beat – those nuances, that’s what really makes a difference. That’s what separates humans from… well you can get machines to do that also but you have to work a lot with machines to do that and so those things really make a huge difference and you can really hear it. Industrial music like Nine Inch Nails, they’re rhythm part of it is really tight and really machine-like and then to give it a human element the sounds themselves are very much the blocks of patterns and stuff, like it’s composed as a machine would compose because they created the music and pro tools and stuff like that. Then to give it a human feeling they usually record the vocals and guitars in a dirty and sloppy way so that gives it a human feel that gives you the human energy.
HMA: Okay. So if we turn this on its head a bit and say we separate the two genres, we’ve got jazz and metal, how would you say they relate to each other, or don’t?
Yeah. I think they do. But you need to keep in mind that the world of jazz is as varied as metal, in the world of metal you have Man O War and you have Dillinger Escape Plan and you have so many different things, you have Evanescence [laughter], you have a bunch of stuff. That’s the same in jazz. I’ve studied jazz for 10 years, I started when I was young, I started out learning how to play the sax as Charlie Parker would do in the bebop era and then I got into David Sanborn, more like 80s LA music. So there’s a bunch of different approaches, I discovered metal music and rock music, and I also played the saxophone, I remember playing the saxophone rehearsing to Pantera’s album Vulgar Display of Power and stuff like that but I never really got that together until 20 years later when we made Black Jazz and I was finally comfortable playing the sax with metal music because I figured out that there’s a strong link between a certain type of approach of playing the sax from late John Cole – he repeats sounds with rhythms, salsa rhythms and pitches and that kind of modular improvisation and other loud, screaming ways of playing and Albert Isla’s singing lines. That has a lot, that music is very much like a lot of metal music especially the Black Metal music. Black Metal has a strong focus on the spiritual side of things while the jazz music I was talking about also has a strong focus on, which is very spiritual, very religious and I would say that a lot of the Black Metal people were also. Either they were religious or they were very occupied with religion, in a way. The atmosphere is very important at this point, and the mood in black metal is very important compared to death metal where the technical side of things is more important. That’s the same with jazz music acts and the sound of the saxophone, it’s a very hearted sound, still almost like a guitar. So these two things go really well together, it’s as if they were meant to be together, that’s what I discovered when I was making Black Jazz and at the same time I was playing with Ihsahn, the former frontman of Emperor. I played on this album called ‘After’ and it was released on the same day as Black Jazz. So that period came right after we, Shining, worked with Enslaved on a one and a half hour special collaboration. This is 10 years after I was in my living room playing Vulgar Display of Power. Not 10 years, 20 years after… and then we fast forward to 2010, I figured out how I felt comfortable combining those things. So there really is a lot.
HMA: Do you think you’ve got it covered now then?
Yeah I feel I’ve got it right, to me it sounds right, to me it feels right and that has made me. It’s given me time to really dive into jazz in a proper way. I’m not on the surface, that’s what separates me and our band from a lot of the metal bands that are coming from the metal side of just adding some jazz elements because you really need a lot of time to get it internalised, to get into your blood and to breathe it, to live and breathe it. So I’ve got time to do that and that’s important. I think that really it makes it easier to believe. The fact that I grew up with metal music makes it easier to believe our metal elements because if I didn’t grow up with metal music we might sound like a jazz band that are just pretending to play metal. So I think it was healthy in that it took a lot of time, I think so.
HMA: Okay, well that’s probably about it I reckon. Is there anything else you want to say to readers of Heavy Music Artwork?
Yeah I think I just want to mention that we are planning, I don’t have the dates and details now, but we are planning a European tour in October and November and I’m pretty sure that will include UK dates in those so I really hope to come to the UK and play. I’ve been in the studio for a whole year, I was in the studio every fucking day for a year to make this album and I rarely stopped to get out to play. It’s so fun to play the new stuff and I’m really looking forward to finally tour and operate in the UK…
SHINING will be supporting THE OCEAN in Europe this fall. HACRIDE and TIDES FROM NEBULA will be opening.
Full details please check
Copyright 2013 © Interview by Chris Hind, Heavy Music Artwork.