Shining: No laughing matter


Shining at Oya Festival, Norway

Another year, another round of cultural re-evaluation. Disco, no-wave, new jack swing and country; now for the music journo cliché that punk came along and overturned a bloated “70s rock scene.

Norwegian prog-metal-jazz-electro-rockers Shining are as well placed as any to lead the charge. New album In The Kingdom of Kitsch You Will Be a Monster shifts direction, discarding the acoustic jazz of previous album Where The Ragged People Go, taking on new members, including Andreas Hessen, and embracing a wilfully eclectic, heavier sound.

Jørgen Munkeby, prodigy and Shining main-man, whose first taste of recognition was with Norwegian supergroup and Ninja Tunes crossover Jaga Jazzist, is flighty, full of ideas, truly exciting to talk to, but has a frustratingly short attention span and seems anxious for critical approval.

After a terrifically accessible gig from his band, I connive my way backstage for an interview with him and Hessen. Munkeby constantly compares his work to the pantheon of his heroes, he’ uncertain of what makes music good and bad, and if such a thing exists, if his stuff fits into the good bit.

At odds with his desperation for approval, he’ condescending and sees his music as serious music and definitely no laughing matter, if they seem to be having fun on stage, it’s because that’s the best way to keep less serious people listening.

Munkeby gorged himself on bananas throughout the interview, sometimes to the point that he can’t speak, and along with the constant hubbub of crashing chairs, sound from the nearby main stage and celebratory mood backstage, it made for tough listening back to my Dictaphone a few months later.

Your music is fun live, very different to the albums, which strike me as quite serious. Are you having fun on stage?

JØRGEN: Definitely, and maybe that’s something that appeals to less serious people. For people who are taking things less seriously, it seems like fun.

Your music appeals to people who are serious about their technical playing. How important is having fun and it being fun?

JØRGEN: I don’ really care if everybody else has fun. When I made the record, I was thinking about me and us having fun and us liking the music. If other people could have fun listening to that music, that’s great, and as you say maybe it’s easier to have fun listening to it when you see it live because you can see more what’s happening.

My priority is to make music that we like and that usually ends up being music that the majority of people don’ like because it’s hard to listen to. You have to listen carefully and you have to concentrate and you can’ do the dishes while you, oh you can if you want to, but it’s kind of a demanding music.

ANDREAS: It’s important to show that we’re having fun on stage. It’s easier for people that don’ know to get into the music if they see we’re having fun. How we act on stage is a big thing, not that we really talk much about it, but it’s important for people in the audience and I don’ think it destroys anything for the people that want to take it more seriously.

JØRGEN: I think the majority of our audience is kind of nerd-like so they don’ really care about how fun it looks; they listen to our music because they are bored with all other music and that’s the same for me. I get bored in three seconds by almost every concert I go to, except for very special things.

What kinds of artists don’ bore you?

JØRGEN: I listen to all sorts of music, I listen to rock and metal music, I grew up with that. Some of the music I grew up with bores me now, of course, but it was demanding for me then and interesting. I listen to pop music that’s advanced in some kind of way.

Pop music means a lot of things; can you give me some examples?

JØRGEN: Yeah, but it’s the same thing in all kinds of music. It has to sound good, it has to be good music, but it also has to give me some kind of thrill, some kind of new thing, like “wow, did that happen now!’ That’s the same with Bach, he did like everyone else did, but he did the harmonic things way out there, he just gave you things like, so that’s what I like. I like modern contemporary music, Olivier Messi, he’ one of my favourites. I like Rushedgar (?) the Swedish kinda mock metal/black metal thing, they do extremely rhythmical things that go here and there. I like pop music, what kind of pop music do I like…?

ANDREAS: (quietly) Radiohead?

JØRGEN: Yeah Radiohead, maybe, I look for the same thing in all kinds of music. But it doesn’ have to be crazy or advanced or way out there on all the parts at once, some music is very interesting rhythmically, some is very interesting in just sound, something is very interesting melodically and something is interesting in the way they combine parts of difference… Just give me something interesting please! (he asks desperately) that’s all I’m asking for.

What led you to concentrate on Shining, rather than sticking with Jaga Jazzist?

JØRGEN: It was the possibility to be free, to do whatever I wanted to explore my ideas to the fullest, go all the way if I wanted to.

ANDREAS: Jaga is some kind of a compromise band, cause there are 10 different persons wanting very much and it happens to be very like everybody can’ get all their wishes so it’…

JØRGEN: We’re four, that’s still many people but I think we have a different attitude towards making the music because we, right now at least, on the last album, are experimenting with things we didn’ allow ourselves to do on the first albums. We were trying to make acoustic jazz music that was a rule, but we were bored and said we don’ want to do that any more so we just combined everything we’d like to do. And I think that it would be a little bit hard in Jaga because there were so many and they would… aaah… maybe they’re a little bit aah more serious? Or something?

ANDREAS: That’s also why there are so many solo projects of various members of Jaga Jazzist, so everybody can do their own thing, in Jaga you just have to compromise.

JØRGEN: The first album with Jaga, I don’ think you have it, because it’s not released, it’s not possible to get it now (???) and that’s an album with all sorts of things like funk, some hip hop, some la la la and we were schizophrenic, we wanted more than anything to make one Jaga sound, to get all 10 different members into one unit. And so eventually me and Lars [Horntveth] wrote much of the music together, like we would sit in the same room and try to get one style out of it. That was very hard, but I think we did it somehow and I think they still have that attitude towards making music. We certainly decided that we didn’ want to make a style and stick to it we’d like just do whatever we would like to do. So that’s probably the main difference.

I read that Goretex Weather Report (on the latest Shining album) was supposed to be Jaga.

JØRGEN: Yeah yeah (laughs), if Jaga would do it I think they would do it a little more controlled. Make it sound like Jaga and Goretex doesn’ sound at all like Shining on the last album, so we were just deciding that we didn’ care about if it sounds like the last album.

Jaga has a more consistent sound, but maybe there’ a confidence to being happy to go out and do whatever?

JØRGEN: The problem is that I think it worked now but who knows, you could do very wrong things, very bad things because you’re just trying to have fun and then suddenly maybe the next record will release will be very bad. Because you don’ have the security of having one specific sound you want to do, if you’re still experimenting and looking around you have to be prepared to step into quicksand, sorry

(he’ apologising because the banana he’ eating is bulging out of his mouth as he tries to talk to me, there’ a constant buzz of sound coming from the main stage which is right across from me)

Is that something that worries you?

JØRGEN: I’m working on the new album, I’m not thinking about it but I am in a difficult situation because I don’ know what to do. That’s the same every time I make an album but I know that I don’ want to just do the same thing, if I was thinking that I would do the same I would at least know one thing about the music I would like to sound like the last album and I would be a little bit more secure but now I feel like I have nobody to hold me (self-conscious laugh) from fall, no? I’m not afraid of it, cause that’s what makes it fun, but…

But Jaga says the same, but it’s just about how much change in a certain kind of time you allow yourself to do and how much foreign, strange things you allow to take into your music that doesn’ really belong there, “cause I would like to take all sorts of weird things into my music, which some other people would say that I do too many things together, blend all things, and that’s just about taste. I can very much understand if it’s too much for many people, I understand that very much, because I tend to skip through albums, I hear the first minute and then I say “well, and what’s next’s because I think it’s too much the same thing all the time, that’s all down to what I like

Your music has been described in so many ways, how do you see it?

JØRGEN: Now it’s kind of art rock, because art doesn’ describe the music but it does describe our attitude towards making the music. We’d like to make music that’s art compared to music that most people would to please all different people. It’s really not about the music, we could be making any music if we think it has something to do with art and if we like it.

How important is your conservatory training (everyone in the band has formal training) in being able to actually pull it off?

JØRGEN: I think it’s very very very very very very… important because ahh

ANDREAS: I guess it’s an opener to lots of different kinds of music, like you’re listening to lots of classical music

JØRGEN: Yeah, but now I don’, I did a couple of years ago

ANDREAS: But that’s kind of linked to the conservatory?

JØRGEN: It is and it is because I like music that’s good, I like listening to musicians that can play, but not only that, though that can tend to be boring too, but so we’re all jazz educated guys, so we all have done our work with scales and music theory and that opens up a lot of doors in the playing and in the composition and in the playing of the music because we know a lot of things that non-trained musicians don’ know.

Do you ever find that forces you down a certain path?

JØRGEN: Many people are afraid of learning things because they are afraid of ending up that way or being the thing they learnt, but the thing is you shouldn’ be afraid of becoming things you learn. You learn things and everything gets assimilated and then you can decide if you want to do it or avoid it. But if you don’ know what to avoid, then you’ll have no choice. So everything I learn is good, it don’ mean I will do it, it just means I am conscious about it.

Jeff Parker (from Tortoise) said that’s one of the biggest problems with straight jazz these days, people go to jazz school, learn how to do it and then can’ really move out of it.

JØRGEN: I can understand that and also to some degree agree with it, but that’s how we learn. If you want to learn something you have to learn it the right way, correctly, to do it perfect, and then…

ANDREAS: You can do something else with it.

JØRGEN: You can do something else with it. You can’ be like a fucking child. (starts talking baby talk, nnnddd ddgggee). But there is a problem of very good musicians that only (pretends swinging down an amazing guitar or sax scale) play play, because that’s how they learn and that’s what’s correct, but I think the more we learn the better.

The “70s and “80s were fertile times for music, but now there seems to be a lot who grew up with metal or grew up with electronic music or hip hop and are trained in jazz and are starting to put out records that really marry the worlds.

JØRGEN: I agree very much, but I am not that old so I was born in 1980 so like King Crimson and Mahavishnu Orchestra, Miles Davis, they died before I, well they didn’ die, I haven’ grown up with them, so it’s hard for me to compare this time to that time, but of course I buy their records now and try to get into what happened and I totally agree that it’s happening something similar now, I don’ know why.

Do you see yourself as working a similar vein to these guys? Mahvishnu, Soft Machine, King Crimson?

JØRGEN: I think so, that’s not the bands I’ve been listening to because it’s just now that I begin to buy the records, but when I buy the records I certainly find things that’s the same thing I’m doing here and it’s very fun to, like when we release the last album, I was very anxious if it was good because I just made it, I didn’ know what the hell we made and then everybody throws CDs at me, listen to this, I think you’ll like it, and I end up like exploring a whole new world of things.

And I read in a review of our record that one of the songs, Goretex, is something between John Coltrane and Slayer, and I didn’ listen to Slayer a lot when I was young because I didn’ like the covers, I think because back then they had the Nazi eagle and I didn’ like that, but I’m starting now to buy the records and then at a concert I suddenly hear one song with the same riff from Goretex Weather Report. It’s fun to find those things after we made the record. Some of it of course is taken from music we like, actually some of the melodies on the album is almost identical to, or at least developments of things I’ve heard, like some theme from Star Wars, Anakin’ Theme, you can find, it’s not the same but it’s very similar. Some melodies from Mahler’ Sixth Symphony.

The Mahavishnu comparison, as I was listening, it had that feel to it, but the rhythm was a real metal rhythm, that was the really stark difference.

JØRGEN: Yeah and I’ve listened a lot to King Crimson, like they released a whole bunch of live albums and they do a lot of that kind of hard rhythm thing

ANDREAS: they’re also well educated

Do you think that’s really important, being really musically educated?

JØRGEN: For us it is

ANDREAS: it’s important just to have an instrument of different things you can do, but it’s not important to be educated, it’s important to have developed music sense.

JØRGEN: we couldn’ play the things we do unless we were educated. I’m not saying that our music is the only good music in the world, I know a whole lot of music that I very much like and I also get very inspired by, that’s not made by educated musicians, Motorhead, for example. I don’ think Lemmy is very educated. But they have something. But then again we can choose suddenly to play something, jazz solo or a Bach (gets a bit Spinal Tap here) but Lemmy can’, I think. So I would like to have the opportunity, but you don’ have to have the opportunity, you can make a Motorhead album or 10 of them and they could be the best albums in the world.

How do you write your records? It’s obvious how things happen live, but on the record it’s much more intricate.

JØRGEN: On the record we did, it took us a year to make the record, I think next record we make will be in a sort of different way and the first two that we just played live with two mics in the room and just recorded it. With this record we wrote some things and made some things at home and we rehearsed and went in and out of five different studios and I took it home to edit it and record other things. It was just here and there and here and there and working the whole year. So everything is done on that record, something is just cut and edited in places, other songs are played pretty much live, so everything is, but I think that maybe we’ll play a little bit more on the next one – live – a little bit. But I don’ think it will be a rock album, I very much like to be in the studio and put small details on to make the sound go here and there and to make it colourful, I like that very much.

ANDREAS: that’s just the limitations with working with four persons and we can all do only what we can do, it won’ be as much as on the album.

JØRGEN: Yes that’s a big problem, I would really like to have seven, eight guys in the band, but then we wouldn’ get any money (laughs).

ANDREAS: With Jaga it’s impossible, they play all over and there’ no money left.

It seems like an amazing scene here in Oslo.

JØRGEN: in Oslo it is, because Oslo is 600,000 inhabitants that’s a very small city, and we have very well developed socialistic government, free education for everyone and so you don’ have to be born into a rich family to study music and there are in the last few years there have been an enormous amount of music making and all these things combined makes the city because it’s so small, educated jazz musicians end up playing horns for a rock band and everybody work together because you’re neighbours, and like I said you don’ have to be a rich guy to be educated and all the rock guys in Oslo they have taken a degree in literature or the university, everybody is kind of on the same level. It doesn’ mean that everybody can play the scales but everybody works together and everbody’ interested in what the other guys are doing.

Do you think the fact that people aren’ necessarily coming from a wealthy background helps the fact that people are open to other kinds of music, say metal or electronic?

JØRGEN: Yes, but it’s something because of the times we’re living in also, I don’ think people that are stuck in their small community, everybody’ searching around and at least in Oslo I know it’s not like that, so it’s not only in music that people are interacting, but especially in music, because you don’ get the artificial elite of upper class and lower class, everybody in Norway is middle class or upper middle class.

Metal’ one of those kinds of music that rarely gets commercial appeal unless it’s like Poison or Warrant, it’s always kept its edge. Is that something that attracts you? The threat?

JØRGEN: And uncompromising, yes. But then again it’s not just metal it’s a whole bunch of contemporary classical music, definitely yes, but you have bands that take the metal thing and make it like popular.

But that was the really pronounced difference between Where The Ragged People Go and Kingdom of Kitsch is the edge of metal.

JØRGEN: Yes and I think there will be more of that on the next album because now I listen to metal music again, I’ve taken that interest up, I’ve had a kind of renaissance of my metal interest now I buy all sorts of metal albums. I like that now, maybe in a couple of years I will be very bored with that and will just go back to play jazz. Who knows?

Do you see what you do in the framework of jazz or something broader?

JØRGEN: The problem is that frameworks we all talk about don’ exist. It’s just a thing that somebody had to invent, because we would like to have something to get hold of just because we don’ want to be in the open.

Especially people like me who write about it…

JØRGEN: Yes, but more than you, you have the record companies and people who want to sell the music, they can’ just this is good music do you want to buy it. You have to have style and lifestyle and clothes and the way of speech and the way of walk, and all those things that don’ really exist, I can’ really see any barriers, they’re all kind of fiction.

Was Jaga your first experience of critical acclaim and big tours?

JØRGEN: Yeah it was the first, it was the biggest band I’ve been with. I’m the kind of person that gets bored with that too, I liked it very much for a month.

ANDREAS: You get used to everything so playing around and getting lots of good critics gets boring.

JØRGEN: Yeah but, there are other kinds of people who don’ get bored with that, they think it’s very fun year after year, but I don’, that doesn’ make it fun if it’s all that I have to like other things and being on tour all the time makes it very difficult to have practice. In those years I had between 4 and 10 hours each day and that was very hard for me when we were on tour, to find a place that I could just blow my saxophone, it’s hard to find something and follow it up, for years.

ANDREAS: For us that’s the same, touring is you have like two hours of working each day, it makes the hours left you don’ really get to do anything. You’re always waiting, you have to go there,

JØRGEN: be on standby all the time,

Has all that affected the way you run Shining as a band?

ANDREAS: We’d never go on tour for like six months

JØRGEN: We almost never drink alcohol, that’s not a rule, but that’s just how the people are, if you drink to get drunk then you’ll fuck up the next day and when you’re finished with the sound check you have to go and sleep and all sorts of things. So it has affected how we do things, but it’s just the people we are.

How much do you practice now?

JØRGEN: It’s hard for me to answer, because a couple of years ago I always practiced blowing on my horn and now being on tour I have started developing other ways to practice my technique without blowing on my horn, I can sit in my hotel room or bus and do things like rhythm things and now I can practice almost any part of my musical abilities without using the instrument. There are some things I can’ do but I develop other ways to practice those things so I don’ blow my horn in practice that much any more maybe there can be some days without me doing it, but still I’m practicing on musical things trying to practice my mind to be able to compose things without playing it and I’ve also discovered another thing that it helps me being a better composer making the decision to read more, I’m not talking about novels, but I’m reading a lot of scientific things and philosophical things, just things I’m interested in and it makes my mind kind of expand. That helps me get new ideas, it helps me to become a better musician. More and more my whole life, everything is going hand in hand, I’m not separating that much the time I’m practicing and the time I’m not practicing, and I’m in the shower and I suddenly come up with a great idea for a melody

ANDREAS: That’s what counts for the whole band I think, we’re used to four or five years in the conservatory, practicing all day those years, now it’s more about getting ideas and then practice those ideas.

JØRGEN: Now I’m actually practicing guitar more than saxophone because I picked up the guitar some months ago, so that’s where I have to practice.

A shortened prosaic version of this interview will be in the next episode of Cyclic Defrost. Listen to Shining at their website.


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