Shining interview (Jorgen Munkeby)

"We are jazz musicians, not metal musicians that want to learn how to play jazz"

25/06/2013 @ 12:17
When the experimental extremity of "Blackjazz" has preceded, the adaptation to 'normal' molds could be the next boldest step. That's what Shining attempt this year within their new album, "One One One"; covering their paranoid musical mix with a commercial cloak. Jørgen Munkeby is determined to give the mainstream its lesson like another Jack with an axe in his hand, has the gift of insight -the one that some call 'shining'- like Danny had, a mind that generates perversions just like master Stephen's and a talent in the orchestration of chaos that's comparable with Stanley's. The conversation with the mastermind of the Norsemen was enjoyable, even when towards its end the roles were reversed and the interview took a different turn. All you blackjazz rebels, step inside...

ShiningSince this is our first interview with Shining, would you be kind enough to introduce yourself and your band to our readers?
Yeah, we are from Norway, we started out in 1999 as a jazz quartet. We have released seven releases, that’s six studio albums and one live album / DVD. We started out as a jazz band but now we’re playing more metal oriented jazz that we call ‘blackjazz’.

It’s been three years since your breakthrough album "Blackjazz" came out and these days you are releasing new album, which I must say is absolutely brilliant. First of all, where did the recording process take place? And are you happy with the result?
Thank you! I’m really happy with the result, really happy. There are many more songs on this one that are my favourite songs than I’ve had with our previous albums when they were released, so that’s a very good sign. I spent about a year making the album and I wrote and recorded a lot of the demos here in Los Angeles, where I am now, in this house where there’s a studio and a garden. And I was here writing and recording demos and working with our cool producer who lives in Laurel Canyon, which is 20 minutes west from here. And I also worked in my own studio in Oslo, Norway where I live and we, the band, recorded in Norway. Then we sent the recordings back and forth across the ocean to Sean Beavan who works here. And then when we felt that the album was done I produced it in Norway, making rough mixes that we were happy with, and I went to Los Angeles again to mix it with Sean.

Shining - One One OneWe can hear many different musical instruments in the album. Would you like to tell us how many they actually were?
I don’t think it’s that many. There’s drums and bass and two guitars -one in the left side and one in the right- and there are also synthesizers, saxophone and vocals. We’ve had many more instruments in the past, so now it’s definitely less than before. But that’s how the band is on stage.

What are the biggest differences between "One One One" and "Blackjazz"? Can "One One One" be considered as a logical continuation of your previous album?
Yeah, definitely, I think it’s a logical development. On "One One One" the songs are shorter, more precise and more focused, while on "Blackjazz" they were longer and more experimental in their structures. The reason I am saying that it’s a natural development is that I think it’s natural to develop anyhow, because everything changes, our lives are changing. So to me it feels very natural and there might be another development again on our next album, we never know.

Jørgen Munkeby (Shining)The one question that comes to mind when I listen to "One One One" is the following: How did you manage to fit your highly unconventional and extreme blend of music into ‘conventional’ song structures?
That’s the essence of what we wanted to do. And how we did it? We just worked at doing that. I mean there was no pre-made solution, we just wanted to do that and we did it. We just made choruses that are good and placed them between the verses and removed stuff that was unnecessary. We tried to remove the boring parts, because usually the songs started out as seven or eight minutes long. So we cut out the stuff that might not need to be there and tried to cut it down to a length where everything is interesting. That’s really how we did it.

So this was completely intentional...

"Paint The Sky Black" reminded me a lot of Strapping Young Lad, whereas in the whole album I can hear elements from The Dillinger Escape Plan or even Marilyn Manson. Would you say that these bands are among Shining’s influences?
Dillinger Escape Plan is definitely one of our influences, Marilyn Manson and Nine Inch Nails are both also. I haven’t really listened to Strapping Young Lad, though. I’m a good friend of Devin Townsend but I discovered him in the last couple of years, so I just listened to his solo stuff. I listened to some Strapping Young Lad but that was just from time to time. So if it sounds like Strapping Young Lad then it’s because we might be inspired by the same things, so it might sound the same.

Jørgen Munkeby (Shining)I would like you to tell us who are the "Blackjazz Rebels" that you refer to.
That’s just us -the band- and our fans.

Do you believe that music can be qualitative and popular at the same time? And I would like you to give us some examples of the best popular music that you enjoy listening to.
First of all, yes, I think it’s possible to have great music and popular music. And I like a lot of different kinds of music, I listen to everything, the most commercial music that exists and I also listen to extreme instrumental music. So when there’s a new Nicki Minaj single or a new Rihanna single I listen to it, to get updated on how the new production techniques are and how current pop music sounds. And some of the songs I love, some I don’t like that much. But when it comes to bands that have really combined quality and popularity, I think that for instance Nine Inch Nails is a very good example, and Muse is also a good example. I would say that Meshuggah is really a quality oriented band but they’re not as big as Nine Inch Nails or Muse. Those are just two examples, but I think there’s very many great bands that are also popular.

ShiningThis leads us to the next question: Are there any musical styles that you like but that you intentionally leave out of Shining’s palette?
Oh yes! We’ve included a lot more different things in our music before. We have included contemporary music, classical music like Olivier Messiaen, Schönberg, Penderecki, this kind of 21st century classical composers. And we have left out a lot of electronica based stuff that we had before. In our two albums of 2005 and 2007 ("In The Kingdom Of Kitsch You Will Be A Monster" and "Grindstone") we included some electrical drums and stuff like that, but we’re not using that anymore. We are intentionally leaving out some of the more bebop or hard bop type of jazz elements and rather focusing on the free jazz and the late Coltrane -  Pharaoh Sanders type of free jazz from ’66 up to the early 70s, instead of bebop or Michael Brecker kind of stuff. We’re basically trying to leave out a lot of the stuff that we’ve included before. "Blackjazz" was more focused on free jazz and metal and now we have some rock elements and less jazz elements. So yeah, we try to limit ourselves a little bit.

Jørgen Munkeby (Shining)Jazz isn’t new to rock or metal music; there are other bands that have also tried to incorporate elements. Do you have anyone in mind that you think they have done it successfully, even if it is a modern band or from the 70s, 80s or whenever?
Yeah, there was a lot of bands that has successfully combined those things in the 70s, King Crimson is one of those. And there are a lot of bands that are doing that now in the metal scene, metal bands that have slowly incorporated jazz elements. But I think that many of those bands are still new to the jazz world, so that’s how it sounds, like they have just discovered something but don’t really have it in their blood. But some of them are great, for instance I would say Dillinger Escape Plan and Meshuggah, even though it doesn’t sound very jazzy but their attitude is jazzy. So I think that those two bands are the best when it comes to combining those elements in a good way. But we, as a band, are jazz musicians, not metal musicians that want to learn how to play jazz. We started out as a jazz band, but we all grew up with metal music when we were young so we really are as comfortable with both genres. I think we sound different since we’re coming from the jazz world and going the other direction.

ShiningYeah, it definitely comes out that you are jazz musicians. So, who is your absolute jazz hero, your favourite musician? From John Coltrane to Miles Davis, anyone...
John Coltrane has been my biggest inspiration in my whole life. I would say that the second is probably Michael Brecker, but Coltrane is much more important to me.

Are you working on any other projects at the time? Has your collaboration with Melissa Auf Der Maur come to fruition?
We did a project with Melissa in the beginning of 2012. I went to New York to play with her and to make our own versions of a lot of songs that especially she was really inspired by. She grew up listening to Killing Joke, Type O Negative and stuff like that. So we played a few shows in New York and in Montreal and it sounded great. We were thinking about making an album, or at least an EP. But then I was busy, I had to write this new album of Shining and she got her first daughter that of course took a lot of her time. So no, we haven’t managed to do that but it would be cool to do it sometime in the future. As for other projects, there is always something. I am now in Los Angeles writing a 20 minute piece for saxophone and string ensembles for a Norwegian festival. Also about a week ago Devin Townsend sent me two tracks and I played saxophone on those in my studio here and sent them back to him, so I’ll be in the new Devin Townsend album called "Casualties Of Cool". And Marty Friedman, the old guitar player for Megadeth who now lives in Japan, just sent me a track that he wants saxophone on and he really wanted me to write the music but I’m not sure if I have time for it. But there’s always stuff, you know...

Jørgen Munkeby (Shining)You really are quite busy, yeah... I would like you to tell me what would Shining be if it was i) a book? ii) ...a movie? iii) ...a food dish / drink? and iv) ...a life experience?
Ok... If it was a book it would be written by Stephen King and it would be about a hotel and a person who was going to the hotel to take care of it during the winter time in the mountain. And he would think that there would be ghosts in the hotel and things would happen... If it was a movie it would be a movie of that book probably made by Stanley Kubrick. He would use great music by Béla Bartók I guess, and maybe he would choose Jack Nicholson as the main actor, that would be good... If it was a food dish or a drink, it would probably be a drink like one they have in the US called Moonshine, which is something that they drink in the countryside. It’s like home brew spirits, really strong and they get crazy when they drink it. So the Shining drink would just be a new name for the Moonshine drink... And if it was a life experience it would probably be a Norwegian blackjazz band playing jazz and metal at the same time.

Jørgen Munkeby (Shining)So, I would like to thank you very much for this interview! I hope we will be lucky enough to experience the Shining phenomenon in Greece someday!
Thank you, that would be good!

Is there anything else you’d like to add or say to your fans in Greece?
Yeah. How is it going with the economy in Greece now?

It’s pretty rough. We are trying to manage, doing the best we can.
Is it going better or is it worse? I mean, it’s been tough for the last year, right?

Yeah, it’s been kind of steady lately but the future doesn’t seem very bright.
Do you wanna get out of the EU?

In the last elections we voted to stay but it seems that either way we are pretty much fucked. Because, you know, this is a crisis for the poor, the rich still remain rich.
So it’s not really EU’s fault, it’s basically more about how you structure your system, your whole society, right?

ShiningYeah, kind of. The only thing we know is that the upper class still doesn’t have a problem, as in other European countries. But the European Union choses t0 take money from the poor that work all day and have a very low wage. It’s a crisis that will not solve itself, the tax payer money and all that stuff aren’t going to solve the problem. We need some projects for development in order to have this problem solved.
Yeah... Norway is not part of the EU, which I think has been good for us. But the most important thing is what you’re saying, the biggest problem is that the money in every country is not divided equally, right?

Jørgen Munkeby (Shining)Yeah. Of course, you also have the oil...
Yeah, and that’s the only reason why we’re not poor, there’s nothing else. We have fish, but we’re lazy, if we wouldn’t have oil we would be fucked. Of course the oil won’t last forever, the world will hopefully find a new energy source pretty soon and then we’ll be fucked. But for me, I’m a musician, I tour nationally and sell albums all over the world, and I still felt the crisis a long time ago. When we travel around, it doesn’t matter if the Norwegian people are rich if the people in Germany or the US can’t afford to come to our shows or pay for the albums, you know... So I’ve already been a part of the international crisis for a long time. But most Norwegians that live and work in Norway haven’t felt anything. But they will feel it too in a couple of years or maybe five years from now, I’m sure that the crisis will strike us also.

And it’s something that also affects arts, because if a musician can’t do his job full time and has to have a day job, then it is more difficult for him to be creative.
Yeah, you’re right. For me, to became the saxophone player I am now, I rehearsed between five and ten hours every day for ten years. It takes time and now I’m also working all the fucking time. If I wouldn’t be able to work all the time with my music, then it simply wouldn’t be good. So it really affects the arts, yeah.

Let’s just hope that there will be a light at the end of this tunnel... Jørgen, it was a real pleasure talking to you, I hope to see you in Greece someday.
Yeah, I hope so too! Good luck with the next couple of years.

Vangelis Evangelatos - Manos Paterakis