God Is an Astronaut on latest album Epitaph and their debut concert in India at NH7 Weekender

Prahlad Srihari

Dec 04, 2018 19:04:07 IST

Whether you're creating or listening, music has the ability to soothe all kinds of pain. Even when grief renders words inadequate, music can help us heal. It can have a profoundly positive impact on your mood, purging all the negative emotions you're feeling — and bringing a sense of harmony back into your life.

God Is an Astronaut

God Is an Astronaut

In the aftermath of a family tragedy, God Is an Astronaut founders Niels and Torsten Kinsella took all their grief and anguish and turned them into something profoundly beautiful in their eighth studio album, Epitaph. Since 2002, the post-rock pioneers have created some of the most expansive soundscapes — combining their talent for lush, atmospheric music with the drive and energy required of live performances.

Epitaph, a follow-up to 2015’s Helios | Erebus, has an engulfing, cinematic quality to it similar to their previous albums. But it possesses a poignant intimacy that the others lacked.

The Irish trio — the Kinsellas and drummer Lloyd Hanney (+ touring keyboardist Robert Murphy) will be performing in India for the first time at NH7 Weekender in Pune. In an interview with Firstpost, GIAA frontman Torsten Kinsella opened up about their new album, the inspiration and creative process behind it and how the music landscape has changed in the 16 years since the band's inception.

Would it be fair to call Epitaph your most personal album to date?

It’s subjective. You know it depends on what you're looking for. I see Epitaph as an album about the darkest chapter of our family. So, it's obviously a very personal record, a very dark record and a record of a lot of anguish. It was a record that had to be made.

Describe the creative process behind Epitaph. Was it any different from your previous albums?

Emotively, it's obviously about something a lot darker than what we have written before. It was about my seven-year-old cousin, whose life was tragically taken. For me, it was a case of documenting each of the experiences that we we've gone through from the moment we received the news to carrying his coffin into the church. And it just left me in a place where a lot of feelings that had nowhere to go except into the music. Technically, there were a few differences. I had written these pieces of music and I wanted to use production to try and enhance the feelings of the music —and further enhance the production. One of the things that we definitely we wanted was to get the piano to sound a little bit more broken rather than this pristine polished piano that you normally get. So, we went through to great deal to try to lo-fi the pianos to give it a more broken sound. We even tried analog mastering just to capture that. We wanted the sound to be dark as well because of the subject matter.

Torsten and Niels Kinsella performing at a concert. Image via Twitter

Torsten and Niels Kinsella performing at a concert. Image via Twitter

Were there any particular records that helped shape your approach to the songwriting on Epitaph?

I think that's kind of something that stopped for me in the early to mid-90s. Because when you begin a career in music, you're learning and you're very influenced by the groups that were coming up and at that time, it was Nirvana. You say to yourself: ‘I’d love to be in a band like Nirvana’ and you know you start that process.

At the same time for me, there was a second underlying thing and one of our primary objectives — to make music that was about us and about what we like, not making music that we think people want us to make. That's why I would never be able to cheat myself and take another person's concept and try to apply it to our music because it wouldn't be honest.

Obviously, we use similar technology as some groups. It’s not like we have different equipment. You know we are human beings and there's going to be similar crossovers. I'm not going to deny that but all the ideas and all the production techniques that we used enhance the emotions that we ourselves wanted to express.

Over the band’s career, your music has been referred to as space-rock, post-rock, kraut-rock, ambient-rock and everything in between. Do you care for these labels at all?

I don't particularly care for them too much. I understand the need for genres and for journalists and music fans alike to be able to put things into categories to make it easier to digest. But you know there's positives and negatives to that. A lot of times, I find when someone calls us post-rock, for example, they then try to look for anything that's remotely in common with another post-rock band. This makes no sense at all to me and it really annoys me. On Epitaph, for example, people mentioned nearly 20 different bands to describe our sound. ‘The heavy parts sounded like Russian Circles’ and my vocals apparently sounded like Slowdive. It was just silly. It was essentially about the announcement of my cousin's death and his funeral. I used an Earthquaker Rainbow pedal which pushes the guitars in and out of tune and we were trying to accomplish something unique. And I would see someone comparing us to what Massive Attack and Russian Circles did. I think people forget that we have been around longer than many of these groups too.

Each of those bands that they mentioned have their own integrity and so do we. It's not the way music should be judged. It should be judged on its own merits. You know, is it musically speaking to you on some level? Usually, it's stylistically discussed over and over again where the content is kind of seen as maybe a 10-percent factor. The style is not as important as content. It never was and never will be. To me, it's a 20 percent versus 80 percent. A good piece of music can be adopted in any amount of styles. And I think when people start to use style as the main thing to be discussed, they lost my respect right there.

Torsten Kinsella. Image via Twitter

Torsten Kinsella. Image via Twitter

GIAA has always been a band that has been more instrument-focused. Is it because you feel instruments speak louder than words?

I would say that it's what we're better at. There are some who are able to express themselves better musically than lyrically, which is a different skill set and not one that I'm particularly good at. So I just keep my vocals and my melodies more as part of an instrument and keep it more to the background. It's just different methods to execute what people are trying to say. I’ve just as much respect for lyrics as I do for music.

Until now, you have released all your albums under the self-formed Revive Records label. Is it because you didn’t want to succumb to the pressures of the music industry?

First of all, when we began, no record label was interested in our music whatsoever. I mean we were born obviously in the industry in the '90s where record labels had control of everything. To me, these were the gatekeepers — the people that you have to go through before you get to the audience. It was very frustrating for us. So, with the advent of the Internet, we were straight on it and it was an avenue to release our music and it made sense to have our own label to be in complete control. Finally, the audience could decide for themselves whether this is music that should be heard or not. Lucky for us, they did.

I think record companies, with their greed, created their own self-destruction. We signed with Napalm Records so that they could focus on distribution while we focused on recording. But one of the things that we've never compromised on was to make sure that there was no artistic integrity taken away from all the music. We told them: ‘Whatever we give, you take.’ We're not listening to one word with anybody telling us what to do. That was very important.


What do you feel has changed over the course of these 16 years since the band’s inception in 2002?

A couple of things. You haven't got the same the same sharks now on the Internet that were dominating the music industry pre-2000s. But I also think the Internet now has hit a saturation point for young bands that are trying to get some exposure. It's next to impossible because there’s just so much music out there. The internet has also become toxic. Some will argue it always was but not to the degree that it is today. When I was growing up, if you didn't like something, you didn’t talk about it and you didn’t care. But today, you've got audiences who if they don’t like heavy metal or  post-rock music, they have the platform to start talking about it like they were an expert on the field. You’ve got the audience saying we understand music better than the artists and professional critics. So now, when a record gets released, you've got to deal with two swords — the professional critic, which is to be expected, and then you've got the audience. You're dealing with so many different perspectives right now that I don't even know what's good or bad. I know what I like but I don't know what the hell people want and I never care. It just can be quite off-putting for people putting out music today because you can be destroyed overnight.

What are you most looking forward to on your first tour of India?

India is completely new for us and we really don't know what to expect. We just want to go over there and bring our world to India. We hope that the audience will be happy with the experience that we deliver.

God Is an Astronaut will perform live on Friday, 7 December, at Bacardi NH7 Weekender 2018 in Pune.

Updated Date: Dec 04, 2018 19:16:11 IST