The new NADJA album, Sonnborner, is coming out in September on LP with Broken Spine and Daymare Recordings, and even though no full track was unveiled thus far, we’re already kind of mesmerized by its dual nature, amazing cover art by Le Nevralgie Constanti and the general aura of its non-verbal communication. We caught up with Aidan Baker to talk about the new record, its inspirations, NADJA’s live performances, and more. Read the full piece below.
Sonnborner is Nadja’s 20th full-length release. The title track showcases their habitual slow-motion, atmospheric, ambient doom, with guest string players Julia Kent (Antony & The Johnsons), Agathe Max (Kuro, Mésange), and Simon Goff (Molecular) lending a certain neo-classical element to the song. The album closes with four faster, more aggressive tracks in the band’s so-called ‘grindgaze’ style, as previously explored on their 2014 ep Tangled (Broken Spine/Tokyo Jupiter). A CD version of Sonnborner is also forthcoming with the Japanese label, Daymare Recordings.
Nadja is a duo of multi-instrumentalist Aidan Baker and bassist Leah Buckareff, active since 2005 and credited as one of the progenitors of the genres ‘drone doom’ or ‘metalgaze’—heavy atmospheric music which combines the darkness and volume of doom metal and industrial with the textures and melodicism of shoegaze and ambient/electronic music.
The band has released numerous albums on many different underground labels—Alien8 Recordings, Daymare Records, Robotic Empire, Hydrahead Records, Gizeh Records, and Important Records, to name a few—and have toured extensively with performances in Europe, Japan, Russia, North and South America, and Australia/New Zealand, including appearances at such festivals as SXSW, FIMAV, Roadburn, Le Guess Who, Incubate, and Unsound.
Hey Aidan, thanks so much for taking some time with us. Congratulations on yet another massive offering from your creative mind! Please give us an overview on Sonnborner, the main idea behind it and how are you pleased with the final effect.
The idea of contrast or juxtaposition is fairly integral to our methods and aesthetics and, while we have often explored the contrasts of loud/quiet or beautiful/ugly, we have never really applied this to the media, or the structure of the songs, themselves. As such, Sonnborner is divided into two, contrasting parts — one long, slow, sprawling composition juxtaposed with four shorter, faster tracks — which difference is made literal, in the case of the LP version of the album, with side A meant to be played at 33 1/3 and side B at 45. This is also meant to challenge the listener, in part, and make the listening process a bit more interactive or demanding process — which we also did with our previous release, The Stone Is Not Hit By The Sun… on Gizeh Records, by including a lock-groove in the middle of side B such that the listener had to get up and lift the needle to hear the entirety of the track.
With so many records under your belt, would you say there is still some room for changes and upgrades in your songwriting process? Has it gotten easier over the years? How was it in this case?
I think because we have done so much already, we are somewhat forced to look back at the same time as we move forward. In the case of Sonnborner, the shorter, faster tracks harken back to our (so-called) ‘grindgaze’ 7″ Tangled (Broken Spine/Tokyo Jupiter) from 2014, which was both a very limited release (so maybe not heard by so many people) and a style we don’t often pursue and wanted to do again. And while the title track might be considered a ‘classic’ Nadja track, structurally/sonically, the addition of strings (performed by our friends Julia Kent, Simon Goff, and Agathe Max) is something new and perhaps a more obvious example of our interest in contemporary classical minimalist music, which has not really been represented in our music before.
I don’t think ‘ease’ really factors (or should) into songwriting, or for listening. We try to challenge ourselves as much as we try to challenge our listeners.
What’s the first step in your process of musical creation while approaching new record? Don’t get me wrong on that, but as a new composition a desire, a revelation, or a necessity, driven by some inner force?
There’s no hard and fast rule — it could be any or all of those! Sometimes the process is more intellectual and a desire to explore some specific technique or structure, sometimes it’s more about trying to capture and share a certain sound — and the origin of that sound could be external or internal…Sometimes it’s more about wanting to explore and share a certain idea or theme and how one might represent that musically…
So what keeps your creative juices flowing? What are you musical inspirations these days?
I don’t think my musical inspirations have really changed over the years. As I mentioned before, it can be an intellectual process — exploring technique/structure or trying to capture/emulate a certain sound. I guess a more intuitive or emotional form of inspiration comes from consumption of other media — books, films, other music…
Tell us about the visual part of your art and, in particular, the concept behind this amazig artwork designed by Le Nevralgie Constanti.
We were introduced to Le Nevralgie Constanti’s work through our friends Uochi Toki, an Italian hip-hop duo with whom we released a collaborative album, Cystema Solari, a few years ago. We just really liked the style and aesthetic of Le Nevralgie’s work and specifically felt his piece “Lontana Fugace Realtà” (“distant fleeting reality” in English) nicely corresponded and contrasted with the music on the album.
Artwork is of course important to us — and we quite often end up doing the artwork ourselves, since we often have a specific visual corresponding image in mind for the music. Not exclusively, of course — it is nice to work with other artists and get a different perspective/style/technique from our what we might do ourselves.
You’ve embedded this idea into the amazing video trailer produced by Chariot of Black Moth. Whose idea was that and how are you pleased with the final effect?
We asked Chariot of Black Moth to do this for us — he has been very supportive (and not just of us) and done a few trailers for us, both for albums and tours. I believe Jakob originally reached out to us, offering his services, a couple years ago.
Are you using some of his work during your live sets? Will there be some new visual elements during your upcoming August trek in Canada? Tell me a bit about your live experience and how it has evolved over the years.
We haven’t yet done any new visuals, so can’t really answer that question…but we will be collaborating with Erica Lapadat-Janzen at the Hexistential Festival in Vancouver, something the festival people arranged. Of late, though, we’ve been relying on Maya Deren films for our video accompaniment…
In recent years, we have been attempting to take ourselves, as people/performers and/or a visual focal point, out of our performances so that people can focus more exclusively on the sound…or the experience of feeling the sound…Sometimes we use video for this purpose — other times, we perform in the dark or very dim lighting. We often used to (and still do, sometimes) get complaints that we didn’t move around or ‘perform’ enough during our concerts, but we’ve always been more interested in creating a sonic environment than we have in ‘entertaining,’ so to speak.
Ok, so apart from the Canadian tour, will there be some more shows in support of the record later down the road this year?
We will be doing a few concerts in Ireland in October and then we will be touring in Japan in November. We have some tentative plans for a European tour in early 2019, but nothing definite yet.
I will also be touring with some of my other projects — my duo Werl with drummer Tomas Järmyr (of Zu, Motorpsycho, Yodok III, etc) will be playing a week of shows in Scandinavia this September. And the trio of myself, violinist Simon Goff, and drummer Thor Harris (of Swans, Thor & Friends, Shearwater, etc), nominally called the Noplace Trio (after our album recently released by Gizeh Records), will be doing three weeks of shows around Europe in September and October.
NADJA live shows:
20-07-18: Freiluftkino Pompeji, Berlin, DE
23-08-18: Copper Owl, Victoria, CA
24-08-18: The Unknown, Anacortes, WA
25-08-18: Hexistential Festival, Vancouver, CA
30-08-18: Casa del Popolo, Montreal, CA
01-09-18: Intersections Festival, Toronto, ON
Aidan Baker solo shows:
03-08-18: Freiluftkino Pompeji, Berlin, DE
10-08-18: Freiluftkino Pompeji, Berlin, DE
15-08-18: The AMBiENT PiNG, Toronto, ON (w/ Whisper Room)
16-08-18: Christ’s Church Cathedral, Hamilton, CA
17-08-18: Silence, Guelph, CA
19-08-18: Camp Wavelength, Toronto, CA
Great! Do you think experimentation and seeking new angles in music has a purpose? Is there something particular that new projects ought to do? What do you hope to gain through your new projects?
Of course it has a purpose! Doing the same thing over and over again would be boring and stagnant, both for myself and listeners — new projects allow me to keep growing and evolving as a musician and explore different genres and ways/means of performing or composing. These new projects don’t always result a new or established band, necessarily, but could just be a one-off recording session or performance that may or may not happen again. Sometimes that fleetingness or transience can be part of the appeal, the idea that it might never happen again and the session/performance is strictly of the moment and not to be repeated. Other times, the challenge of attempting to repeat or (re-)capture what was achieved in that performance can also be rewarding…
Apart from composing and performing, how else do you feed your creative souls? Can you share some of non-music works of art and things that engaged and inspired your recently?
What other artists and recent third party works have impacted your practice?
I’ve been listening to a lot of Gnod lately — I had the opportunity to play with them for one of their R&D concerts, which was a lot of fun to do. Also fellow Canadians, Big Brave, whom we recently saw live here in Berlin. And my trio Caudal recently played with the Hamburg group Halma and I’ve been listening to their album Granular a lot, which has a sort of spacier The For Carnation vibe to it…
Alright Aidan. Thanks so much for your time and honest thoughts. Is there anything else you’d like to discuss before we wrap it up? Feel free to share your last words and take care. Cheers for your time!
Thanks to you and thanks for everyone reading this!