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Stereoboard Chat With God Is An Astronaut At Their Recent Glasgow Gig (Interview)

Tuesday, 18 December 2012 Written by Jonny Rimmer
Stereoboard Chat With God Is An Astronaut At Their Recent Glasgow Gig (Interview)

One of the most respected instrumental bands in the British Isles, if not globally, God Is An Astronaut continue to win admirers ten years into their career. Now a four-piece, who are also augmented by a second guitarist when playing live, they continue to dazzle audiences with their transcendental live performances. As their huge European tour came to a close, I spoke to Torsten and Jamie from the band at their penultimate leg in Oran Mor, Glasgow.

ImageHey guys, first of all, welcome to Scotland. Thanks for taking time out to speak to me.
Torsten: Yeah, no problem, great to be here!

When was the last time you played in Glasgow?
Torsten: We were last here about two years ago, playing King Tuts. I know Tuts has a huge reputation obviously, but I think we already prefer this place.

Jamie: I suppose our memories are somewhat tarnished by a fire alarm going off in the middle of that show!

Torsten: Yes, we had a somewhat over-eager lighting engineer, let's say. Hopefully tonight, the Scots can actually see a full show.

Are these latest shows in support of a new record? (Last record was 'Age of the Fifth Sun' in 2010)
Torsten: Not really. These shows are essentially a celebration of the fact that God Is An Astronaut have been a band for a decade now. We've released six records, and I'd like to think that we've been pretty consistent in quality throughout that period.

Do we have a new album on the way? Yes, and it'll be out at some point next year; hopefully by the summer. We have about nine tracks written for it so far. Stylistically, I'd say this is the biggest modification we've ever made in our song writing. It'll be a much more experimental record, and yet will also have some pretty pop-orientated stuff on it. I've been playing around with guitar effects in particular – telling apart guitar and synths will be a fun challenge for some people I think.

As you alluded to before, God Is An Astronaut have been a band for, what, ten years now (more)? What have you found is the key to longevity when it comes to playing in a band?
Torsten: A lot of bands are obviously put off by the lack of money involved. I'd say one key way to stay relevant is to have a good live show – that is extremely important. When there is so much music out there, a strong live show will stick in people's memories.

Jamie: Releasing music regularly is definitely key as well.

Torsten: Yeah, it helps to stay in the loop, and again, consistency is key. That leads back to the live thing as well, actually: keep your back catalogue alive. Keep the fans you've gained. Tonight, we're playing songs from each of the records we've released. We definitely want older fans to enjoy the show as much as the newer fans.

Your live show is notable for your use of striking visuals to accompany the setlist. Is it someone in the band that produces this work or do you have an editor that tours with you?
Torsten: It was my brother Niels that installed all the footage, but we've actually abandoned the visual element for these shows. The visuals were great, but we want people focusing on the music rather than just staring at what is behind us.

Jamie: It's also not ideal for a fan if they go to the same show twice. There's a degree of expectancy, like the “Oh, it's that image, so we know that song is coming” kind of thing.

Torsten: We wanted to make our show more performance-based really. We have Gaz playing the extra guitar parts now, augmenting what I do and playing all those little phrases that I can't do live.

Your music is regularly categorised by critics as progressive rock, post-rock, space rock etc; and obviously you have an instrumental style. Are you happy to accept these sort of terms? And as the number of instrumental “post-rock” bands increases, do you think the style is in danger of become stagnant?
Torsten: I'd call us an instrumental rock band, with a hint of electronics, and leave it there. I can honestly say that, hand in heart, we have no problem with the term “post-rock”. However, when you look at other bands labelled with the tag, we're absolutely nothing like them stylistically. We sound nothing like Explosions in the Sky; we sound nothing like Mogwai. Only a handful of our songs conform to the crescendo-based song structures that are associated with bands of that genre. Years ago, I remember one fan telling me that we must be copying Godspeed You! Black Emperor because we used visuals, even though we'd been doing so for years. The term post-rock seems to bring unnecessary quandaries – look at metal: if Machine Head and Slayer use the same guitar effects, do they get compared?

At the end of the day, we would not be here if we were a copycat. I won't name names obviously, but, if anybody has made instrumental rock stagnant, I'd argue that it is the legions of “imitators”, of which there are plenty. If we're part of that scene, we'd like to be leading it and inspiring new bands, but at the end of the day, we're doing our own thing and going on with that.

Would you say that fans are more receptive to the style in mainland Europe, or America even, than over here?
Jamie: In Eastern Europe, there are numerous instrumental bands emerging, and their fans really go crazy for it.

Torsten: We toured America a few years ago, and sold out shows in LA and Toronto, amongst others. Clearly, there are fans over there that want to see our show. It ultimately was very difficult though – the cost of it is ridiculous, we were taxed 60% for everything we earned or something crazy like that.

There's been a rise in the number of bands performing experimental/progressive rock in Ireland recently, with bands like And So I Watch You From Afar making a name for themselves over here in the UK. How do you feel about the current Irish rock scene?
Torsten: To be honest, bands like And So I Watch You From Afar and Mojo Fury are lucky in that they're from Northern Ireland, and so get a lot more in-roads than we do down here. They can get press coverage and whatnot from British radio and publications than we do. They do have a very healthy scene though, don't get me wrong.

Jamie: Bands in the Republic don't have a lot of opportunities that will bounce onto something greater. You might get a slot on RTE's 2FM, but what then, you know?

Torsten: Both scenes are pretty supportive of each other. I just think that bands from the south get a bit of a raw deal. Bands like Adebisi Shank and the like deserve a lot more attention than they receive.

Perhaps this is a bit of a generic question, but what about your own musical touchstones? GIAA definitely have a distinctive style where influences are hard to pinpoint.
Torsten: Each member has a different musical background, as clichéd as that sounds. We're all on the same wavelength when it comes to our song writing approach though. Our music is all about writing melodies that mean something, songs that represent different emotions. Writing is definitely a therapeutic process.

Our style is really a result of a process of elimination, in some ways. We keep in the stuff we're good at, and leave out the stuff we're not. I can't sing, obviously, so we have no vocals.

Jamie: I'd say that the music we make breaks language barriers anyway, being instrumental and all. People tend to get it when they come to our shows.

Torsten: Definitely. If you're wanting particular touchstones, I suppose that there were a lot of electronic influences when we started out, or even in the band that pre-empted God Is An Astronaut. I was definitely a fan of Massive Attack, Orbital, the Chemical Brothers etc. There are metal fans in the band as well. I'd say that these days, we just tend to each listen to our things. We don't listen as much because we're focused on making our own.

Finally, this is the penultimate date of your European tour – what have been the highlights?
Torsten: London was unbelievable. About 1000 people came to see us in Club Heaven, and Maybeshewill and Nordic Giants were great as well.

Jamie: Latvia was great. I loved Finland actually, and the ferry across from Stockholm was just beautiful. It was about 12 hours, and it was dark and foggy, but we love the travelling.

Torsten: Plus it means I can watch my box set of Spartacus!

Jamie: And Breaking Bad haha! The only thing to say is I guess we're just absolutely honoured and grateful that we can interact with fans of our music from all over the globe. It's an experience that you can't replace.



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