deVour Magazine: There seems to be a movement, in extreme metal, towards experimentation and genre blending. Metal bands are becoming more avant-garde and progressive but you guys, on the other hand, seem to have done the opposite, starting out as a jazz ensemble and then moving to incorporate a harsher more metal sound. How did this come about?
Jørgen Munkeby: First of all, I agree with what you’re saying. That it seems like there’s a movement in the metal scene towards more experimental stuff, or at least the last five years. I’ve seen loads of bands going that direction. Bands that experiment with jazz elements in their music. We have, like you’re saying, gone the other direction and it might seem weird. To me it’s not that weird because I personally grew up with metal music before I was into jazz music. When I was young I listened to Pantera, Sepultura, and the Swedish band, Entombed, and all that kind of music. I listened to them long before I listened to jazz music. Then I eventually started playing jazz music and spent fifteen years playing and studying jazz music.
dM: Who were your influence and inspirations in jazz?
JM: I wasn’t really into jazz or what my idea of jazz was. Obviously jazz, like many other genres, has a wide variety of types. As there are different types of hip hop. You know metal might be the world champion in sub genres. I thought I didn’t like jazz because I, obviously I hadn’t heard that much jazz but I wasn’t really into checking it out either. After a while, I started playing the saxophone. I have no idea why I chose that instrument. It was not because of jazz music. I was still listening to metal music at that time. I was nine years old. Then I started playing the blues harmonica a bit. Then I played in some rock bands while also playing some guitar. Part of my education, my natural saxophone education, would be to study jazz music even though I wasn’t really into it then. I studied Charlie Parker and one time I bought an album by John Coltrane. Honestly, I didn’t really get it. I tried to understand it and then, after half a year, I bought another album. That new album really opened my eyes. From that point on, John Coltrane was my kind of leading star, my biggest idol for ten years. So it was John Coltrane, Miles Davis, and Michael Brecker from the 90’s. A New York guy called George Scarzone, and a bunch of people, but John Coltrane was my main guy.
dM: So how has it been going from music, with no words for the most part in your early career, to having to write? How is that transition?
JM: I choose what to write. But, I also feel that since I have focused so much on the words, it’s been a very slow transition. On the newest album there are a lot of words. We might focus a bit more on the instrumental parts on the next one. I don’t know. I recently wrote a piece for saxophone and string ensemble. It is for twenty-one string players and I am going to perform that piece for a festival in Norway. That piece was purely instrumental. While creating that piece, I found myself missing the lyrics because, to me, words and music, if done correctly, can elevate each other. It’s an interesting thing to be able to put music to lyrics or vice versa. It can also be very awkward. That’s the thing with words. A bad piece of music isn’t really that awkward, but bad lyrics can be very awkward. So there is some risk to it also. I feel when it’s done correctly it makes the whole thing better.
dM: The right lyric can create a movement. Some people are moved to acts of greatness just by music alone, which makes the combination of music and lyrics a more grand concept.
JM: Yes. It’s very natural because we use words all the time. I’m not saying that music has to have lyrics, but to me I’m in the frame of mind now that I find it really positive to have words-lyrics within the music.
dM: It could just be a natural progression for you. A lot of people evolve into something bigger and greater. I mean, this is just your journey.
JM: Yeah, yeah.
dM: Where do you draw your inspiration from lyrically?
JM: The themes are from my every day life. Some people have lyrics about dragons and shit.. I’m not really into that personally. So the themes I pick are important to me. I have studied other bands and other lyrics just see how it works. For instance, Dave Grohl, he’s a great lyricist in the way he twists words, repeats words, and has words that sound kind of similar but are not similar. I find that really fun; to sit and twist the sentences. But that’s more on the technical side of things.
dM: Are you an avid reader?
JM: I do read a lot, but read mostly manuals.
dM: A lot of people, don’t read as much since the invention of the internet. I haven’t actually read a real book in maybe a year and a half to two years. Which is sad.
JM: There is a lot of good writing on the internet. I read more than manuals. I kind of tend to read more of the… What’s it called..?
JM: Non-fiction, yeah. Mainly about music, composition, philosophy, and whatever else interests me. I have tried to read the most important pieces of literature in our history but that’s more to fill in the holes and to make sure that I understand certain references in other writings.
dM: That’s good. Is your personal music collection as eclectic as your sound?
JM: More I think. It depends on what you think our sound is. I’ve tried to kind of limit the eclecticism of it in our newest album. I’ve tried not to throw in too many different things. That’s just because I feel it needed some kind of enhanced focus. If you look at Shining’s total output, even with the first two albums, which were acoustic jazz albums, I would say my musical taste is even wider than that. I listen to everything from Brad Paisley to Jay-Z and there’s not much country in our music and there is not much hip-hop either. It’s pretty, pretty…
dM: Pretty broad?
JM: Pretty broad, yeah
dM: That’s good though. So you listen to Brad Paisley and Jay-Z. Who else would you listen to? What’s your guilty pleasure?
JM: I don’t want my music to be guilty pleasures. If there is something I like I don’t want to feel guilty about it. So that’s why I have no problem saying that I really like Brad Paisley. I also listen to anything that comes out of pop, like Rihanna and Britney Spears. Everything. Part of the reason why I listen to them is also to update myself on what’s going on with current production techniques and sounds. I don’t really like the idea of feeling guilty about something. Especially something musical.
dM: I think that sometimes people get the wrong impression when you use the term guilty pleasure. I have a seven year- old daughter, we’ll sit in the car and we’ll listen to something on Disney Radio. I find myself singing and dancing along to it, and I just stop for a second. You have this moment where you pause and you’re just like, Oh I can’t believe I like that, but I really do.
JM: Yeah, if you define it that way as something that you like that surprises you, then I personally like that way of looking at guilty pleasures, more than it being something that you listen to and when somebody comes into the room you stop. Actually, if I had a guilty pleasure, something I sometimes can feel ashamed of, it would Facebook. I’m not really on that much. I’m more on our band’s page, but I do have to have a personal account to be able to log in to our band page. So I am on Facebook and the colors on my screen are fucking blue and white. I’m a bit ashamed because I don’t want people to look at my computer screen because they might think that I’m just fucking around looking at all my friends. It’s not music but that’s something in that aspect I kind of understand. To me that’s more of a guilty pleasure thing. Even though it’s more like I’m afraid to be misunderstood. I don’t do that to Brad Paisley. If I’m playing to him and somebody comes in the room he’s still on.
dM: You’re going to turn it up?
JM: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
dM: What was it like working with Ihsahn and how did he get involved in his project?
JM: He called me. He was making an album that was going to be called “After”. He wanted to have a saxophone player for some reason. He didn’t really know who to call so he had called a Norwegian jazz pianist, Dugel Vysaltoft, and asked if there was someone that he would recommend, and Dugel Vysaltoft knew about Shining. We had started incorporating some rock and metal elements into our music. I think we already had a collaboration where we composed a 90 minute concerto or symphonic concert. So he felt that I might be the right guy for him. Ihsahn called me and it was pretty clear, even on the phone, that it was a good match. We were getting along well. Had the same kind of references and both were really interested in studio equipment. At that time I was recording, finishing up the Shining album, Black Jazz album. So that’s what really happened. He called me and asked. He sent me some demos and short letter telling me about his ideas for some melodies here and there, and basically said that I could do whatever I wanted. If I wanted to improvise here and there, if I wanted to do other things, then I was free to do that. Then I just listened to it and went to his home studio where he lives, two hours outside of Oslo. We recorded a bit and talked for awhile about what the whole idea was. It was called, “After”. So the whole idea was that it was about the world “After” things had fallen apart. There was going to be no signs of life, pretty gray and lifeless. So that really changed my whole attitude towards the music. We did a few other takes for solos and improvisations. We were all happy at that time. It was pretty quick and he was a nice guy to work with. I went home and he finished the album and it came out the exact same day as the Black Jazz album, which is pretty cool I think.
dM: What do you envision musically for your next album?
JM: For our next album, I don’t really know. From my experience, it might change when I start working with it. I have a song on the new album called, “The One Inside”. That’s really about someone, something inside me. I think that I decide but then I discover that there is something inside me that really decides more than I do myself. I also feel in making our music, I become better at writing. I become better at hitting what I aim for when it comes to writing a melody or a song. I become better at recording. It’s easy for me to hit what I aim for. But I do feel there is still something that I don’t have control over. It’s something inside me that really dictates what I’m going to do. I might think that the next album will be this or that, but when I sit down that’s when the decisions are made. So I have no idea... Well I have some ideas but I don’t know if that’s what it’s going to be like. I have a feeling that maybe I like what we have created with Black Jazz. I think that’s a great word. It’s a great idea and I personally don’t want to change it too much. But again that’s what I feel right now. Something else might happen.
dM: Do you think that it is exciting? Or do you feel that it could be toss up of intimidation and excitement at the same time? Just letting everything flow as opposed to knowing exactly what you’re going to do?
JM: I don’t really know. I feel that there is nothing I can do about it. We have a word in Norwegian where expectations from others make you feel pressured by other people because they have expectations about what you’re going to do based upon what you have already done. That’s a problem and it’s always been a problem for me when writing, when I’m sitting down to make a new album. I always feel afraid that the new album won’t be as good as the previous one. That is something I feel every time. I’m starting to feel that now. I’m afraid to get started, but I know once I get started I just let it all go and do what I feel is right. It’s both about what other people think and about my own expectations and just afraid of not meeting those expectations.
dM: Have you done anything outside of making music? Like scoring a film? Is there any other way you express yourself?
JM: I’ve been, fortunate enough to have never had another job other than making music. I started pretty early. I’ve been a musician all of my life. That’s a good thing. The bad thing is you have to work tremendously hard. I did have another hobby when I was young. I spent a lot of time doing martial arts, Jiu Jitsu, and mixed martial arts. Fighting and music. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be a musician or a professional fighter. I ended up with music and the fighting I had to let go because I kept damaging my fingers and joints. It was hard to combine martial arts with playing music. Apart from that I haven’t done much else. I have been involved with movies, contemporary dance, and theatre. I do have a lot of interests so maybe in the future I will have time to do some other things. I am kind of involved with the Shining designs and art work. That is something I have also been interested in doing but haven’t yet.. It’s been music most of the time.
dM: What sort of movies have you been involved in making music for?
JM: I haven’t done that many movies. A couple of short films by Norwegian directors, but I have done more for contemporary dance and theatre. There is a choreographer in Norway that I have been working with for three or four of those things. So that’s something that I really enjoy.