Interview W/ Terra Tenebrosa (2012)
Terra Tenebrosa is a “young” band that comes from Sweden. Young, because it only exists since a bit more than a year and it doesn’t really had time to make speak about him in a formal way. The band just spread a thick mysterious mist on the midst of loud and extreme music with a first LP, totally disconcerting and devastating, “The Tunnels”. The mystery comes mostly from the fact that the band is devoid from a real identity. Its members, who are three, incarnate into masked characters progressing into a distant and imaginary world which seems to belong only to them, with its own atmosphere, its own references, its mythology and mainly its own darkness, unfathomable and infinitely cold.
But the band is not that young in a certain way. A breach didn’t take much time to appear on the surface of their wall of secret. From The Cuckoo, Hibernal and Risperdal, the three avatars who initiated this unearthly act that Terra Tenebrosa, two guys used to belong to the blast that once was Breach and which started to ignite the senses of a few risky minds almost twenty years ago. Breach is dead now but the fire is still burning.
The obstinacy and the virulence of Terra Tenebrosa take all its sense as soon as you know this. The inheritance is hefty…
- Now that the information has crossed the internet like the lightning, I allow myself to speak about it: does the fact that you hid your identity behind masks and pseudonyms reveal a wish to prevent any link or comparison with Breach? How do you consider the fact that people end up, anyway, to make this parallel between the two bands? Personally, I wouldn’t have made the link spontaneously, by listening, but when I have been informed of it, I’ve had the impression of hearing a nightmarish and botched version of the band, a resigned Breach, full of disgust and with its rage lost for despair. But under no circumstances I think that the band turns out to be unchained to its heritage or disadvantaged by its past; you can recognize the hand which creates the music but the inspiration is totally innovative and fresh to me.
A: The connection to Breach was no secret. The record company wanted to out the connection to trigger interest. I just felt that I didn´t want anyone to have any preconceptions about the project. If people were to know of all bands we´ve been involved with they might have expectations about what we would sound like. If people think they´re going to get a continuation of what Breach was doing they will be disappointed. I have seen some stupid comments on the internet like “where´s the Breach-sound??” . I wrote and I played the guitar in Breach so of course there might be some similarities but this is not Breach. That is the kind of thing I wanted to avoid but had we had a completely blank history maybe we wouldn´t have gotten the attention we now had.
- Terra Tenebrosa seems to be full of references, like a kind of marginal cult, a hybrid religion, made out of elements gleaned here and there in your subconscious or your personal culture. The name of the band, of the album, the title of the songs, the sampled voices, the evocation of an unknown language through misshapen words, the masks, your pseudonyms, the album art and all the imagery around the band, where does all this comes from? Is there a link between all these elements, a consistency to this enigmatic whole?
A: The name Terra Tenebrosa I picked from a book on Dr Faustus, apparently a part of hell but in my mind a reflection of the world we live in, a dark place full of miseries and torment. Also it kind of suggests the other side, the world behind the backdrops, a dark world as it is obscure, a world where spirits and ghosts dwell. The Tunnels is the tunnels of our own mind, those dark places deep down in our subconscious where one might find both beautiful treasures and unpleasant things, tunnels you have to travel through in order to evolve into perfection, the compressing of the soul into a diamond. The mask I wear is a mimicry of a creature I have seen in dreams and visions. I don’t know if it is something outside of my mind or something moving through those tunnels or even some archetype out of the collective unconscious but I have seen it ever since I was a child. Everytime I had the fevers as a child I had the same dream and in that dream I saw that creature. I have seen it in visions induced by psychoactives or meditation and I see it in dreams. I chose the name The Cuckoo because of a creature in the Sandman series that haunts peoples dreams and also because the name usually denotes someone who doesn’t really fit into the molds dictaded by a conformist society. Can’t say much about the cover. I was clear on that I wanted it to depict nature and no man made structures, nature as in the untamed, the obscure and the spiritual. But the idea about the horn became so far-fetched I don’t even know how to begin to explain it.
- Do you recognize yourself a kinship with other bands? You manage to sublimate your influences into something formless and unfathomable, something far richer and more complex than a simple musical style or membership so that any attempt to append a label on you seems futile. However, while listening to you I thought of Blut Aus Nord, Swans, Deathspell Omega, Maninkari. Are they bands that you might listen to or that you know?
A: We never set out to play a certain style or sound like a specific band. The only thing I was certain of was that I wanted it to be dark, dramatic and meditative. It began with me just fooling around with old ideas not knowing in what direction they would take me. I experimented a lot and when I felt I was onto something each song gave birth to the next. At the beginning I didn´t even know in what genre I would end up. The only criteria was that I had to find it exciting. The dark and dramatic mood I wanted to present is easier done with distorted guitars and that is probably the biggest reason we ended up in the “metal” genre.
When I listen to Terra Tenebrosa I hear traces of bands like Radiohead and Sonic Youth. I guess its just a blend of everything I ever listened to mixed with all the emotions stirred up while gazing into the dark.
- This difficulty to categorize you is part of the disturbing and confusing nature of your music. Difficult to know who you are, where your sound comes from, what its purpose, its message, and its real direction are. I find this very marginal. It seems to me that you have made a huge leap beyond the hardcore / metal scene and that you’re evolving lonely, in very remote areas, on the edge of avant-garde and abstract music. Do you preserve your subterranean existence, or is it the logical consequence of your enigmatic nature? Do you know who listens to your music? Are you looking to reach a specific audience or you don’t worry about it and you just let things develop without controlling them? Don’t you have acquired a form of elitism by this action? Don’t you think that your audience turns out to be very specific and reduced?
A: A lot of experimentation led to a track that in turn gave birth to the next and all of a sudden the project took on a life on its own. It kind of opened a door to a different musical landscape than what I´m used to and that´s really exciting for me. Now my head is flooding with ideas. I have already begun writing stuff for a third album and I myself don’t know in what direction the music will take us so no, we are not looking to reach a specific audience.
- Has “The Tunnels” been composed of a draft, as a basic precise and defined idea, or has it been built up gradually, with no real logical order? How do you work, how does the composition process operates? Do you have a studio where you can experiment and manipulate sounds? Did you record the album by yourselves?
A: As I said before, each track recorded gave birth to the next and when we had enough material to put together a full-length I wanted to create a conceptual feel, that each track connected to the next, so the listener would be taken on a pathworking of sorts instead of just making an album which collects the best tracks recorded. We recorded stuff that really didn´t fit The Tunnels but instead becomes the core-songs of the new album.
We have our own studio where we have time to record fragments and experiment whenever we feel like. The composition process vary. Sometimes I hear something in my head I work with, a line from a book or whatever thoughts surfacing while meditating can invoke a feeling I try to translate into music. Initially I work alone so that I can present a clear picture of what it is Im after for the others and whatever ideas they might come up with is filtered through me.
Everything up until the mastering we did by ourselves.
- The production is much elaborated, full of details, both dirty and very precise. The sound of the toms, snare drums are monstrous yet they are drowned in reverb and all the mess surrounding. Ditto for the guitars. The samples do not eat up the instruments. It must have been very long and tedious. Has it been difficult for you to get the result you wanted? Did you have a prior idea of how the album should be mixed, how the samples would overlap with the sounds, the keyboards, the guitars, etc.? Did you do it by groping and experimenting? Were you involved in the mixing process or you just entrust the recording to someone who you trusted enough not to have a hand on it?
A: It was a lot of trial and error in getting the results wanted but at the same time while experimenting old ideas gave place to new ones, so while we started working on a song with a result in mind, somewhere along the line we were aiming for something different. Also a lot of the samples and keyboards were laid down while trying to put together a homogenous album, trying to tie the songs to each other.
- How much contingency is there in Terra Tenebrosa? Is all controlled from A to Z, from the composition to the sounds of instruments and also the mixing process, fortuity also interfered with this project?
A: I have a firm grasp in mind of what Terra Tenebrosa is, but its not anything I can describe in words, only through the pictures and the music, if I could describe it in words I might have written a book instead. I have to feel the essence of Terra Tenebrosa while writing or recording even though I don’t know what it is, if I don’t I discard ideas even though they´re good songs, just not for Terra Tenebrosa.
- It takes a lot of intelligence, humility and work to help achieve something as transcendental, subversive and powerful. Your investment must have been total ... How did the production of this album take place and what place Terra Tenebrosa took in your personal lives during this time?
A: The album was recorded in periods and if it wasn´t I might have gone truly insane in the process. Whenever I´m doing something, whatever it is, I get totally consumed by it and so it was while doing this album. While the other guys were only involved in laying down their parts I was stuck with the songs until I thought they were finished, laying down guitarparts, keyboards, samples, vocals or just doing a hundred different mixes. I´m a perfectionist even though it might not sound like it while listening to the results. There was a lot of sleepless nights, a lot of self-neglect and, unfortunately, I also neglected my family, because I get so consumed by the work I also let those emotions and thoughts I try to translate into music get to me.
- Are there “defined” ideas in Terra Tenebrosa? Does the music means something special, does it have an implicit message, or is it an abstract tangle of images and blurred thoughts, a chaotic expression of undefined feelings that you can interpret and feel to your own measure?
A: I think you pinpointed it with “abstract tangle of images and blurred thoughts”. Like I said before, I know what Terra Tenebrosa is, I just cant express it in words. I know it sounds really pretensious but that’s the way it is. If I had the words to describe it I might have written a book instead. Or started a sect. The only thing I really can say is that most of the songs revolves around the exploration of the soul and psyche.
- Apart from "Through the eyes of the Maninkari", which I find very emotional and carrying certain sadness, “The Tunnels” contains very little melodies and parts letting out sensitivity but lot of violence and noise. Yet the melodies are everywhere but they are like "sabotaged". Anything that evokes a feeling, something understandable and a bit human is muffled by the layers of synth, the voice samples and all the distortion tracks, as if these feelings were intentionally hidden, covered by a monolith of impassivity, stifled by a cottony cacophony that paralyzes them and prevents them to exist. The choice not to put vocals on music, hide your faces, to distort and pitch the voices participates to a desire to erase all traces of human in your music to let out only monsters? Do you consider your music as nihilistic? Is it the reflect of a negative and pessimistic way of considering life in general?
A: The masks is really just an extension of the music. The visual aspect is as important as the music in this project. We could have lined up in jeans and t-shirts looking bleak but I wanted to create physical representations of the emotions conjured up in the music. It is true with the visuals that I wanted to erase the human traces. Instead I wanted something archetypical representing the music, creatures out of the depths of the soul or manifestations of the chaotic nature.
I think Terra Tenebrosa is a very spiritual project. It goes hand in hand with my magickal outlook on life. Humanity in its present form fills me with disgust but I think there is a higher meaning. Im not looking to change the world. Of course I get sad, angry, frustrated and what not while reading the papers and watching the news, but I don’t think there is much we can do about. We can ease the pain but we cannot cure the disease. The materialistic outlook in man is too great. We are on a crash course and soon we have reached the end of the line. Its not the end of the world, I think we´re about to take the next step on the evolutionary ladder
- You are definitely a band that doesn’t make concessions, a cat among the pigeons that’s sacking right-thinking culture and sterile bland modern music, corroded by the market and fashion. The sound is "dirty", the music is disturbing. There are very few bands left that are really free, evolving away from their influences, who don’t care about pleasing, being recognized, appreciated by the majority and who don’t sell themselves as products. You let the time to music to evolve and settle down atmospheres. The listener must wait and make himself violence to understand this music and to get into it. How does it feel to sacrifice your time, your money, your energy, your family, maybe your mind and your mood, to spend so much time to produce something, to put everything you have inside you only to get very little recognition as your music is not very “accessible” and not to be able to earn money from it? Are you getting earnings from Terra tenebrosa?
A: I dont do this for the money, I´ve never been in any band that could make a living out of the music. After Breach did the reunion I thought I would never pick up playing again. So much time and effort was put into those two hours on stage and afterwards nothing. But not playing became like an itch, becoming worse and worse, until I started recording some stuff I had in the back of my mind, stuff that ended up on The Tunnels, and I felt so relieved while doing so. Even though I sometimes feel overpowered by negative emotions due to recording these songs it is something that in the end gives me great pleasure and it is something I have to do. I cant stop making music and if I dont document it my mind will shortsync itself. And being acknowleged for it also makes up for a lot of the pains. I dont even think I could stand making a living out of music. At least for me it would kill a lot of the creativity, having to come up with something in order to make money.
- I guess that many people don’t understand your music. Do you sometimes feel obliged to justify yourself about it? I am thinking about your family. Do you have children? Have they ever listened to The Tunnels?
A: I really dont care what people think of the music. Terra Tenebrosa comes from the heart of my soul and I cant compromise with that. I was quite amazed that it was recieved as well as it was. My kid only cares about Lightning McQueen
- What role does music play in your lives today? How is it possible to still go to work, to have beliefs, convictions, and dreams when you have spent so much time composing a real plea for chaos, monstrosity, misery, madness? In the same way that a band like Khanate, who is on your label, Trust No One Recordings, who constantly plays with the most unhealthy ideas, how can you set apart all that fills your music to get back to the everyday life and be around people, have responsibilities, duties, etc.. ? Can music turn out to be a threat for your mental and social life or on the contrary, it's a way to get your defects and failures out of yourselves, into a harmless form that you can control?
A: Music I guess is what keeps me balanced or sane, its a platform where I can lay out parts of myself and construct something that makes sense. While working on Tunnels for instance I feel I have been working on myself equally as much as I have been working on the music. Almost like an alchemical process. And I think also that Terra Tenebrosa becomes like a cleansing because I pour so much emotion into it its almost like I dump portions of the darkness I carry inside into the music. Even though it sometimes kills me, if I for instance get stuck with a song and I cant get it right, I have to stay in that dark place until I do.
And the ideas with the masks and the made-up names enables me to draw a distinct line between Terra Tenebrosa and my everyday self. Whenever I feel an idea starting to crave attention I can go into “Terra Tenebrosa-mode” and work with it and when satisfied I can “shut The Cuckoo off” and go play with my kid.
- Are you involved in other projects than Terra Tenebrosa, whether it’s music or not?
A: ) No. I wish I had the time to write but I don’t with a full time job, a kid and Terra Tenebrosa.
- I read that you wanted to take Terra tenebrosa to the stage. Some bands like Blut Aus Nord have chosen not to play live because they want their music to stay a lonely experience, where every detail and every roughness can be appreciated, understood, and not to betray the production. Other bands, notably black metal, do not play on stage because it is technically too complicated to reproduce their music live. How do you intend to restore the depth and thickness of the atmosphere of “The Tunnels” on stage? Do you want to make the live something different, with another intention and another effect on the audience or do you want at any costs to preserve the atmosphere of the recording? How do you plan to handle the instruments, synth, sampler, drums, guitar, bass, vocals and all the effects? Will you have to involve other persons in the project? Do you plan to work the visual aspect of the live? (masks, costumes, lighting, installations, projections, ...) Do you think about bands with whom to tour? A band of your label maybe? Do you have an idea of the routing of your hypothetical tour? Will we have the chance to see you in France?
A: We cant do the music live as it sounds on record. It will be something different but still Terra Tenebrosa. Like with The Tunnels I wanted the album to be meditative. Picturing a live show with Terra Tenebrosa I want it to be the opposite of meditative. We could use backing tracks and stuff like that but I dont really like those things. If you want it to sound like it does on record just stay home listen to it. A live show would be more of a visual presentation with music to accompany it. I dont know how many people we will have to involve. We have started to rehearse for the stage and as for know we are four people.
The masks I made for the photos I made in papier maiche, not very suitable for the stage. I hade a friend of mine make a Cuckoos mask in latex for me and the other guys will have some other designs.
About bands to go on tour with I havent given it that much thought and as for a route, France would be nice. Maybe Germany.
- What’s up with your second album? You announced a few months ago that it was already recorded, have you started to mix it or to master it? Can you tell us in how many time we’ll be able to hear it? How does your music evolves, is it the same intent as "The Tunnels" or you headed to something different? Do you have the name of the album?
A: The new album is mixed. The only work left is mastering it and the photos. Hopefully it will be released this fall.
Our intent with The Tunnels was that it would be meditative so it is a very monotonous record and I think we took that as far as we could or wanted to anyway. I think the new album is a lot dirtier than The Tunnels and maybe theres less of that “post” stuff. Dont know really because the new album and The Tunnels kind of gets entangled for me. Cant say where The Tunnels end and the new album starts.
We have a title for the album but I dont want to give it away yet.