BOONE: “My God… My God, it’s true…” PELOQUIN: “Of course it’s true. Everything’s true… God’s an astronaut, Oz is over the rainbow and Midian is where the monsters live. And you came to die.”
This scene out of Clive Barker’s 1990 cult horror film Nightbreed is what inspired twin brothers Niels and Torsten Kinsella to name their newfound band GOD IS AN ASTRONAUT in 2002. This name-choosing process is typical of the spontaneity of the creative path of GOD IS AN ASTRONAUT. “We pretty much write how we feel and the albums always represent us as people and reflect our emotions at that time,” Niels said in an earlier interview this year. Apparently, some things never change, as the band now states in the recent interview with NOTHING BUT HOPE AND PASSION that “this is music with strong sentiments that emotionally describes our experiences over the past three years.” They will be releasing their latest album Origins this September. Aside from an introduction on what inspires GOD IS AN ASTRONAUT, this interview will also tell you all you need to know about the new album, record labels, Ireland and moving to mars.
I would describe a large part of the new album as “MOGWAI on happy pills.” I know you guys don’t like the MOGWAI reference, but there are a lot of similarities. The general build-up and atmosphere of some songs, the arpeggiated chords, the distorted vocals, the unusual arrangement of melodies. It’s a flattering comparison. Why don’t you like it?
TORSTEN: We do have a lot of respect for MOGWAI and have no problem with any comparisons. Perhaps we have similar techniques in the writing process, in the sense there is no lead vocalist and we use not dissimilar instrumentation. Our approach to song writing is organic and our influences are far and wide.
Another part of the album is edgier, more dynamic. The sped-up, complex rhythms and heavy metal riffs remind me of math rock bands like MAYBESHEWILL, RUSSIAN CIRCLES or 65DAYSOFSTATIC. Is it correct to say that the increasing popularity of these more complex post-rock genres has had a significant impact on the song-writing for the new album?
TORSTEN: No, the popularity of this music has not influenced the writing of the album. We have been developing our style since 2002 and stylistically have remained true to our sound. If you listen to our previous albums you will see that we have always had that side to us, for example on the tracks Point Pleasant, Route 666 and Suicide by Star. It is true, though, that on this new record we experimented and pushed the rhythms and riffs a step further. Lots of the sounds on this album were inspired by the use of unusual guitar effects pedals, so overall the album is a little less keyboard orientated than previous ones. This is music with strong sentiments that emotionally describes our experiences over the past 3 years.
In a December 2012 interview, you said that for a band, a new album is a means to reinvent itself. On Origins there are some new features: specific vocal arrangements, punchy rhythms, the electronic brass instrument sounds… On the other hand, there are also many elements from the All Is Violent, All Is Bright record. The single Spiral Code, for example, seems to tap directly into the Fireflies and Empty Skies energy. When combined with the album title, it reads like an effort to go back to the basics, the core of the band. Is that the case? Do you feel the new album has turned out completely the way you had planned?
TORSTEN: This new album feels fresh to us. It’s not a complete reinvention but an album that expands on our sound. We feel we have pushed it to new level by introducing real live brass players (not electronic), vocals with lyrics, experimental guitar lines/sounds, different rhythms and more positive emotions overall. The name Origins signifies why we got into music in the first place, which is to express ourselves, have fun doing it and make music we would listen to ourselves. It’s important to note we changed our writing technique on this record, it felt more like sculpting. We threw a lot of different experimental guitar sounds down and sculpted the sounds into songs rather than writing the song and try to make it experimental. In that sense it was a reinvention. Also collaborating with Pat O’Donnell (ex – THE FOUNTAINHEAD) brought different influences and ideas into the writing. You know the truth is writing this album was much more of an innocent process than I’m able to convey. We just switched on our equipment and had fun; we wrote what came naturally to us without ever having any meetings about directions etc. The new album brought creative people together, even the artwork of the album, a painting by Derval Freeman, was influenced by the music.
After the first few listen sessions, I quickly became addicted to the gorgeous “above-the- clouds” sound in The Last March and especially Light Years from Home. Is it a coincidence that these are the opening and closing tracks?
TORSTEN: The Last March was the first track we wrote for this album, so it was always first on every listening copy, and I felt it would be wrong to put it anywhere else. I wasn’t in a positive place when I wrote it, so it felt like a funeral song. Thinking about it; Light Years from Home was the last track we wrote. To me, it feels like a big departure with all those vocals. I felt it only worked at the end of the album as it didn’t seem to blend in quite right anywhere else.
GOD IS AN ASTRONAUT: “We felt it was time to give this album a bigger promotional push”
Origins is the first album that was recorded with the five current band members. Were song writing and other creative responsibilities shared with the newcomers (Jamie Dean, Gazz Carr)?
TORSTEN: I collaborated with Pat O’Donnell a lot on this record, and Niels (Kinsella, bass and vocals) and Lloyd (Hanney, drums) helped us bring these tracks to reality. Jamie played keys and co-wrote Strange Steps. Gazz (guitar) came up with a great vocal line on Reverse World. The album also features lots of other musicians like Thomas Kinsella (bass), Donal McGuinness (trombone) and Kevin Foran (trumpet). Brass played a significant role on this record.
Up to now, all albums have been released under the self-formed Revive Records label because you didn’t want to succumb to the pressure of the music industry. Recently, it was announced that GIAA signed to the Rocket Girl label. Why? Has it impacted the record- making process for Origins significantly?
TORSTEN: We re-released All is Violent, All is Bright and A Moment of Stillness with Rocket Girl in 2006 which worked out really well for us. Vinita (Rocket Girl) always understood what we were about and puts a lot of personal energy and passion into each release. We felt it was time to give this album a bigger promotional push than the last 3 releases. We sent the first draft of the album to Vinita last December and she was very excited with what we had so far. We worked tirelessly for the next 6 months to finish the album. I surrounded myself with a lot of talented and knowledgeable people that I trust and it was very helpful getting good constructive criticism before it was released.
In other interviews, it was insinuated that you thought about relocating to the USA, for the tax break. Do you guys feel an emotional connection to Wicklow, or Ireland more in general? (I’m asking this question because a lot of post-rock music seems to have strong roots in nature and scenery).
TORSTEN: I think that was said in reference to the fact that when European bands play in the USA, it’s almost impossible to make a profit due to the outrageous taxes and work visas we have to pay. US groups are not subjected to the same treatment in Europe, and in most cases they actually get tax breaks that European acts are not entitled to. We have a strong emotional connection to where we come from and it does influence our writing. I would not want to live anywhere else.
On a lighter note; my favourite track on the new album, Light Years from Home, reminded me of the “Mars One” project, which aims to establish a permanent human colony on Mars by 2023. Would you guys be candidates to become one of the four people to become the first residents on Mars? Why (not)?
TORSTEN: To set foot on another planet would be unreal, but to live there permanently would make commuting for rehearsals in Wicklow very hard.