Unorthodox is generally a derogatory term, used to describe someone doing something badly. In the case of Serena Maneesh, unorthodox is analogous to the sense of vertigo your average pop music listener experiences upon listening to their works of genius. The premise of verse/chorus/verse is like a foreign language to them. The voice is an instrument. The instruments are tools, used to create a cacophony of sound meant to entice and enrapture, your ears happily bleeding all along.
Frankly, any band that sites Velvet Underground, Sonic Youth, Spiritualized and George Gershwin as influences, deserves your undivided attention.
Underneath the facade of mystery, was main protagonist and songwriter Emil Nikolaisen who was friendly and generous with his time while sitting down to talk to us about his music. As you would expect, their words are filled with passion and mystery. Not spelling out their path in clearly defined, conventional thoughts, but leaving you to interpret his genius. Just as it should be…..
TDOA: Your new record, Abyss in B Minor, was recorded in a cave/subterranean lair. I have to admit, that sounds awesome. But besides adding to your mystique, was there a specific sonic texture or ambiance that you were trying to achieve by recording in such an unconventional environment?
EN: Yes. This as much as using “unconventional environments”. You know, I get freaked out if I’m in a too much of a nice place where I can literally hear the clock ticking and money just rolling out of the bank. Some people work well under such a pressure, (but) not me. But first and foremost, you enter a raw, untouched and unexploited territory, where anything can happen: failure and magic. Hand in hand, of course. I tend to wanna think something lives and breathes within the walls, and we were yet to find out. To my knowledge, this was the first time ever for a “high- end” recording to take place there. We basically rolled in the 24-track 2-inch, the pre’s, the mikes, everything. Spent three days(!) setting up and BOOOOM! The sound was there without no further adjustments. explosive, exciting moment. No pre-installed mike-positions, no frequency measuring. Just plain-straight up stone and concrete, 6m ceiling majestic BLAST of sound. Down in those catacombs. Wow, what a place. I always feel there is something of like a kid’ s exploration or adventure need… like exploring the wilderness.. (!!!) Healthy mindgame and a serious eye- opening pallet for the soul and for your head to get into unknown places.
TDOA: Compared to your self-titled debut, this album seems to set a darker, less sunny psychedelic tone. What inspired this transition?
EN: It is, at least, more twisted, in contradictions’ ways. On many levels, which shows in many ways. I guess it mirrors a place I’ve been in, somehow. Sometimes contradictions flow from different angles. The sunniest part of town might appear as the darkest, and the real sour and bitter one might be dressed as a dancing meadow, but you might be right. However I might interpret some kind of transition. This album is a true reflection of who I am, maybe not all, but in moments of living with this album, so.. the words are quite self-confrontational and the urge to not stay in the dark hole in life is the true essence and underlying wish behind this little creation for people to sense. Even how dark or less sunny it might seem.
TDOA: Where did the songs originate from? Were they written on a one instrument and then crafted in production? Or did they originate from sonic experiments or jams?
EN: More than ever, from many different angles. Still there was always a deep need for the ideas to be originated from a solid crafted foundation in rhythm and chords. But sounds or accidental moments often direct a certain perspective or generate a distinct wave, themselves. I tried to kind of take every seed of these little ideas and spin further on, bringing in other people’s touch to take things into new territory where I wouldn’t or couldn’t get to by myself.
TDOA: There will be critics who will say you guys sound like My Bloody Valentine. These people are stupid and/or lazy. To set the record straight, could you talk about some of the other music you were listening to while making this album and would like to recommend to our readers?
EN: Jimmy Webb’ s great songs that so many great artists adopted, like Glen Campbell and Sergio Mendes’ Brasil ’66. On to Brazilian music. I grew up on Jobim and Bonfa, even learned playing bossa guitar with this. Check out duo Joyce, too. Gal Costa, Menescal, Nascimento. 60s flamboyant light- sun- psychedelia, eccentric french pop, overdoses of German progressive stuff, Miles- 70s electric stuff, Thelonious Monk, Sun Ra.. Life is wide and rich and wells of great stuff is close at hand.
TDOA: The album seems to have a “tape” feel, as if instruments were recorded on bits and pieces of tape then densely layered, cut together, sped up, reversed, warped, etc. At the end of the first track, “Ayisha Abyss”, we even hear the squeal of a tape recorder rewinding. Was this the case? Were you using actual tape? And if not, how were you able to create this interesting sonic collage?
EN: Haaaaa… It’ s all about tape!!! Well, all the fundamentals were done to tape. So were lots of overdubs. Experiments. Sounds and accidents that can only happen working with tape. But most later- process editing and even overdubs were done through a cool little digital setup that some friends helped me put together. People who build all valve-units based on classic analog design, some others who do these crazy mods of digidesign units, hugely upgraded, custom-made to mimick an analog tape machine. It would never have been possible with money, time and logistics to do everything to tape. Even many things would not have been possible to do solely on tape. We already spent way too much of all of this. Frankly speaking, I really, really like this formula of working, combining the two. I really am excited about this new horizon.
TDOA: Even though the album has a “tape” feel, compared to your previous effort, Abyss has a fuller, more stereo “hi-fi” sound. Was this your intent? And what’s your opinion of the dearth of new bands adopting the “lo-fi” aesthetic?
EN: I spent several hours trying to answer your question over and over again and didn’t get anywhere. Lets say it is all about telling your own story and capture it in whatever form available: weird or adventurous, or take it to another planet. If you have to spend all your time and all your money on it, you’ ll be sure there are probably worse ways of spending everything you have. Parts of the “indie” world has somehow developed a seemingly negative approach to so called “slick sound nerds or “snobs” or to “big studio production”, which in many cases is something lots of people don’ t have access to or don’t want to invest in. And if one does, you realize, this is transparent stuff so you reveal a lot of weaknesses about your self. Going through this is humbling, but can eventually be really rewarding. You know, old and new ways of “lo-fi” haven’t really changed. If you were talking ’81 it could be such a statement, but today you still have the ones acting loudly about it. You have the ones who shut up and simply use it for the good and those who make it a “thing” and do it silently to cover up for boring songwriting or general ideas. My attempt of childish adventure into the fog of crossfire between so called pop culture and avant perspective had us take everything we had available and go far down into it. Gathering what we had of own supplies and what our friends could borrow, we went on a journey from there, collecting sounds and moments. I got help from my friend and amazing engineer Christian Engfelt for really precise and solid basic framework to build upon, making sure the setup was there, ready to capture the moments when they happened. Kind of on our own terms, without being stressed by a clicking clock money swallowing studio rate hour by hour. We spent three days setting up in a huge bunker, rolled in tape recorders, got in old and new ribbon mikes, preamps and other outboard and so on. (We) finally put up the faders and.. boom! the sound was there. like in the old days, capturing what was there. That is how recording should be, ultimately. Music is the music in the end and I guess everyone has their own way of making things work. We had our way of doing it, the way i like it, new and old world hand in hand. Months and months of trying and failing. (It) would be a shame if the future for so called hi- fi recordings solely would become something exclusively held for some kind of elite, which means either the commercial, numbing stuff or the ones already heavily established. Seeing all so-called experiment based stuff having to remain in bedroom and laptop environments. Hi-fidelity recording is almost an art form itself in many ways. It’ s cultural heritage when pronounced right, and good music is good music still. So, I feel this probably all is just one monster going off on a tangent.
TDOA: Songs like “Reprobate” and “D.I.W.S.W.T.T.D.” sound like an evolution for the band in terms of rhythm. Was a conscious effort made to incorporate more rhythmic elements this time around, or was your drummer just really pushy?
EN: Ha ha. We’ve gotten rhythm in our blood since last! We wanted to celebrate it, since we have this machine gun of a drummer (Tommy on Reprobate). Yeah he was pushy, got to let the beast go loose. Have had all these amazing drum machines for some time so finally hooking up with Ådne (singer of Norwegian band 120 Days who recently joined the band) who is excellent making beats. And the love for a whole tribe of percussion.
TDOA: What role did Nick Terry and Rene Tinner [of Can fame] play in the final stages of recording?
EN: Nick saved the project. He kept me in a sane harbor and focused to the task before I almost tilted into free floating figure in space. He is one excellent craftsman, and when pushed we were able to articulate the ideas together in the mix. My experience working with René was also an inspirational one in the sense that his approach is very laid back and musical. His main effort is to be heard on “Call- Back From A Dream” which is on the “Ayisha Abyss 12″.
These gentlemen both added a flavor to the project that the record couldn’t be without.
TDOA: How do you plan on translating the songs live? Will there be a reinterpretation the songs for the live setting?
EN: YES O YES. These are two different worlds to be interpreted as two different languages. Kind of a new story every night of performance, told by whoever tells it! That’ s what makes the story go forwards and makes it exciting!
TDOA: Here at TDOA, we have covered and continue to discover a number of extraordinary psychedelic rock bands from Scandinavia, such as Bolywool and Mono Stereo. Do you pay attention to the music coming out of your nick of the woods and are there any local acts that are you favorites?
EN: Aura Noir, Obliteration, Årabrot, Lydia Laska, Pirate Love, Lindstrøm, Svarte Greiner, Altaar, Virus……………………. Yeah, probably more from our beautiful little village in the corner of the world!!!
To learn more about Serena Maneesh, check out their MySpace page here.
Catch Serena Maneesh on tour!
Apr 1 2010 Magic Stick Detroit, Michigan
Apr 2 2010 Great Hall Toronto, Ontario
Apr 3 2010 Il Motore Montreal, Quebec
Apr 4 2010 T.T. the Bears Cambridge, Massachusetts
Apr 5 2010 Daniel Street Milford, Connecticut
Apr 6 2010 Kung Fu Necktie Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Apr 7 2010 DC9 Washington, Washington DC
Apr 8 2010 Le Poisson Rouge New York, New York
Apr 30 2010 BergenFest: The Fix @ Logen Teater Bergen, Hordaland
May 1 2010 Tou Scene Rogaland
May 2 2010 Kick Kristiansand, Vest-Agder
May 6 2010 Rockefeller Oslo, Oslo
Jun 30 2010 Hovefestivalen Tromøya, Aust-Agder
Jul 1 2010 Roskilde Festival Roskilde, Denmark
Aug 10 2010 Øyafestivalen Oslo, Oslo