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Narcosatanicos interview with Victor Kim and Tobias Holmbeck

Narcosatanicos seem to take a distinct pleasure in a clinical dissection of people’s expectations of what music should sound like.  They toy with the concepts of a lot of different styles, while tying themselves down to none of them.  The first thing that you’re likely to hear is the menacing wall of distorted guitars meting out heavy dosages of stoner, doom, and sludge followed by the full-tilt drums that pop and jump like frogs in a dynamite pond and a bass that sounds like the rumbling echoes of a distant clap of thunder.  The one thing that you likely didn’t expect to hear is the mind bending saxophone work on the album.  It’s strange how well the horn blends into the maddening cacophony of distortion and heady riff stew that Narcosatanicos is quickly becoming world-famous for dishing out in epic proportions.  I have to admit that even as a veteran explorer of music Narcosatanicos through me for a loop the first time I heard them.  Oblique vocals mixed nearly into oblivion, steadfast heady metal riff worship, and all of that teamed with a saxophonist?  It took me a while to get sold on the prospect, but there was something about the music that kept drawing me back in for another listen, and that’s when I decided that there had to be something to them, something I was missing or ignoring.  I’m admittedly not hot on horn sections and it takes a lot for me to look past that, I am my father’s son and if it’s not good old-fashioned guitar driven psych I’m likely to shut off.  Narcosatanicos is anything but old-fashioned and while, at times they can be a challenging listen, this is some starkly original music to say the very least.  Turning heads and garnering attention after the release of their Self-Titled debut album on Mastermind Records two of the three guitarists responsible for the afore mentioned wall of guitar work, Victor Kim and Tobias Holmbeck, took time to talk all things Narcosatanicos with me recently and I’m totally stoked to be able to share the fruits of that conversation with you all below.  Read on for tons of info on how the band got started and some clues about upcoming recording sessions, plus everything else under the moon, you know me by now…
Listen while you read:  

Who’s in Narcosatanicos right now and what do you all play?  Is this the original lineup or have there been any changes since you all started playing together?

Tobias:  The band consists of Johannes Krøyer on drums, Zeki Jindyl on Saxophone, Mikkel Stenholt on bass, and Victor Kim, Kasper Skotte and myself on guitars.  All of us also play various other instruments in the band when appropriate.  Zeki, Victor and I perform vocals.  The lineup has essentially been the same from the beginning.

Are any of you involved in any other active bands at this point or do you have any side projects going or anything?  Have you released any material with anyone in the past?  If so, can you tell us a bit about that?

Tobias:  All of us play in various other bands/projects, either whoring ourselves out as session musicians or as permanent fixtures.  Stylistically these are pretty all over the place... from bare-bones folk music to black metal to jazz ensembles to harsh noise to Hindustani classical music.  A few active examples include Ærkenbrand, Hahn Kult, and Fallen Men.

How old are you and where are you originally from?

Tobias:  All of us are in our early twenties.  The others are from Denmark, I'm originally from the States, but have lived here for many years.

What was the local music scene like where you grew up?  Did you see a lot of shows or were you very involved in the local scene?  Did that scene play an important role in shaping your musical tastes or informing the way that you perform at this point?

Tobias:  I don't know...  It's really only in the last six years or so that I've developed any kind of interest in the musical community.  Before that, I tended towards local disinterest and seeking out music that seemed far removed from what was around me.  However, a kind of convergence of the underground in Århus has occurred in recent years, in the form of unifying DIY booking groups like Raum Eins and the like, and many of the most interesting active bands sort of formed in the wake of that.  I think the focus on independence and integrity was certainly an influence.

What about your home when you were young?  Were either your parents or any of your close relatives musicians or maybe just extremely interested or involved in music?

Tobias:  I believe most of us, besides Victor, come from families largely devoid of musicians, actually.

Victor:  My father is a guitarist and fortunately one with good taste.  I had the privilege of borrowing a lot of decent gear early on.

What do you consider your first real exposure to music to be?

Tobias:  For myself, I have these very early memories of hearing Gregorian and liturgical choirs on a shitty car stereo.  And like, Enya or something…

Victor:  My father played me Jimi Hendrix early on.  I originally thought he was this old skinny white guy because my dad told me he was a junkie.

If you were to pick a moment, a moment that seemed to change everything for you, inspired you and opened your eyes to the infinite possibilities that music presents, what would it be?

Tobias:  Hard to answer.  To me, music discovery and appreciation usually seems more like climbing a stair than jumping off a cliff.

When did you decide that you wanted to start writing and performing your own music and what brought that decision about for you?

Tobias:  Like many others, shambling early attempts at wringing something out of instruments together with a few equally musically stunted acquaintances...  I think it was fucking terrible, but it was apparent that you could be doing a great many things in crude and repugnant ways and still enjoy it, still find value there.

Victor:  Essentially the same.  I found some people who were into good music and it was just a natural progression to start writing and recording.

What was your first instrument?  When and how did you get that?

Tobias:  I bought a piece of shit guitar when I was twelve.  It's pretty mangled now, but it's been of great use.

Victor:  Again, my father helped me out and bought me this little guitarlele when I was a kid.  Then, I started receiving musical education in school and was so traumatized by how dry and boring it was that I basically didn't want to play music again until years later.

How and when did you all originally meet?

Tobias:  A few of us know one another from childhood.  Others are somewhat more recent acquaintances.

What led to the formation of Narcosatanicos and when would that have been at?

Tobias:  We originally formed in 2012, when Victor and Kasper decided to drink and jam Brainbombs riffs.  They asked Johannes and I to join them.  Days like that became recurring, and it almost immediately warped into this other thing...  Zeki and Mikkel joined soon thereafter and we ended up finding a bit more clarity of expression.

Is there any sort of creed, code, ideal or mantra that the band shares or lives by?

Tobias:  There is no overt mission statement...  Our own common sense and understanding of one another is usually enough to keep us on track.  It's important to us to minimize blatantly negative compromises, though.

Let’s talk about your name a little bit.  I can guess at the amalgamation of words that led to it, but what does Narcosatanicos mean or refer to?  Who came up with it and how did you go about coming up with it?  Were there any close seconds or runners up that you can think of?

Tobias:  The name was the local term for a drug-worshipping murder cult in Matamoros.  It was led by a charming individual named Adolfo Constanzo and was essentially a church of fanatical addicts and dealers, enthusiastically playing God through the use of narcotics and violence.  The name sounded primitive and fucked, and sort of fit with what we were playing, being a bastardization of violent and psychedelic music.

Victor:  As mentioned, the band wasn't exactly the most serious thing in the beginning, so any alternatives that we came up were mostly fucking stupid.

Where are you all located at right now?

Tobias:  We are based in Århus, Denmark.

How would you describe the local music scene where you’re at?

Tobias:  Alive and breathing, I think.  Many bands/performers that have been around for a while are doing some of their best work, and various newer bands continue to push things forward.  There's a strong culture for mutual support, largely regardless of genre, and in general, the underground isn't particularly relegated to genre exclusivity.

Victor:  Lots of the country's best punk and psychedelic groups have sort of spawned from it.  It's hard to see where it's going exactly, but it's always interesting to follow and see new bands.

Are you very involved in the local scene in your opinion?  Do you book or attend a lot of local shows or anything?

Tobias:  Well, all of us go to shows when we can and we’re good friends and collaborators with many excellent bands here.  We occasionally organize shows under various monikers, most notably events like Doom Under Ringgadebroen and Skovgilde Festival.

Are you involved in recording or releasing any local music at all?  If so, can you tell us briefly about that now?

Tobias:  While there are some venerable sound people and smaller record labels here, we’re primarily involved as musicians, and if we release any music personally, it’s usually our own.  It's more than enough work for now!

Has the local scene played an important or integral part in the sound, history or evolution of Narcosatanicos in your opinion?  Or do you all feel like you all could be doing what you’re doing and sound like you do regardless of your location or surroundings?

Tobias:  It's hard to say to what degree we’re influenced by our immediate surroundings, honestly.

Victor:  There's always a strong enthusiasm and openness towards new bands here I think.  A persistent interest in what we do is motivating, of course.  It goes both ways as well.  It's nice that there’s never any agenda, people show up and lend a hand when needed purely out of mutual enthusiasm.

You all have an extremely interesting and unique sound to say the least.  While there’s some elements of stuff that I can recognize you all kind of took stuff apart like a Lego set and put it back together in the way that best suited you.  I’m really interpreted to hear who you’d cite as your major musical influences as I can pick some stuff out, but I get the feel there’s a lot going on that I’m not wrapping my head around quite yet.  What about influences on the band as a whole rather than just individually?

Tobias:  Well, some musical influences we all have in common, other things come more from individual sources of inspiration.  Major musical influences we tend to cite include The Stooges, Brainbombs, Can, Swans, Glenn Branca, Electric Wizard, Suicide, Amon Düül, Huun Huur Tu, Krzysztof Penderecki, Chrome, etcetera.  Beyond that, I'd say we’re influenced to varying degrees by certain kinds of literature, ritualism, surrealism and the pitfalls of mind expansion.  Generally though, we don't consider any particular source of inspiration to be something to aim for.

Victor:  Generally, we have a lot of influences in common, but as individuals we naturally also have different preferences and ways to contribute to a song.  Ultimately, it all blends together in the end and we think it works.  We don't really question each other when it comes to what influences the way we play.

Speaking of being original and having a unique sound.  How would you describe Narcosatanicos’ sound to our readers who might not have ever heard you all before?

Tobias:  A cacophonous mess, really.  Genre-wise it's a kind of noise rock, I think.  This guy in Copenhagen told me he thought it sounded like something involving “Hammers, LSD, Amphetamines, and degenerate intercourse”.  I think I'll go with that.

Victor:  That sort of proto-punk weird energy is there, but it draws a lot on various kinds of surreal/psychedelic music as well as different kind of massive-sounding music; doom and the like.

What’s the songwriting process with Narcosatanicos like?  Is there a lot of jamming that takes place where you all just get together and kick ideas back and forth until you all kind of work out a song together as a cohesive unit?  Or is there someone who usually comes in with a riff or a more complete idea for a song to work out with the rest of the band?

Tobias:  Typically, one of us will bring a single riff or segment of some kind in and then we collectively beat the shit out of it until we're fairly satisfied.  We work out the general shape and improvise within that.  We very rarely spend time on completely open jams in this group; our rehearsals are grueling enough that we usually lack the patience for too much meandering...

Victor:  Sometimes ideas are more abstract, sometimes they're more concrete.  Generally though, I prefer to start with a stripped down but understandable starting point and then see what people bring to it individually, rather than starting with telling the others what to play specifically.  Often enough, some people arrive later than others and a few of us flesh it out a bit first.

What’s recording like for Narcosatanicos?  I’m a musician myself and I think that at least most of us can appreciate the end result of all the time, hard work and effort that goes into making an album when you’re finally holding that finished product in your hands.  But getting to that point though, getting stuff recorded and sounding the way that you want it to, especially as a band can be extremely difficult to say the least.  What’s it like recording for Narcosatanicos?

Tobias:  Hard work, typically.  As much as possible, we want it to be indicative of the live experience, which is a difficult sound to nail down while retaining clarity.  All of us being face to face during recording is essential, recording individually would be useless, there's just no connection.

Victor:  We are not a band who enjoys doing very many takes of the same track.  Usually, three is the absolute maximum…  It's important for it to feel spontaneous and intuitive to us.  It loses a lot of vigor if it starts to get too clinical.

Do you all prefer to take a more DIY approach to recording where you all handle the technical aspects of things more on your own time and turf than having to compromise or work with anyone else’s ear?  Or do you all like to head into the studio to record and let someone else handle everything else, so you can just concentrate on getting the best performance out of yourself and things sounding the way that you want them?

Tobias:  A middle ground I think.  The sound engineers we've recorded with have been good friends of ours that have seen us live many times.  They know their respective studios well and are essential in an optimal recording setup.  We are entirely involved with everything throughout the process, though.

Victor:  As much freedom as possible during recording is preferable, of course; Control is important and we honestly don't react well to being bossed around.  That can be frustrating for certain people, like the occasional disgruntled venue sound guy.  But for recording, we purposefully use good people who know how we work and that goes a long way in making it enjoyable.

Is there a lot of time and effort that goes into working out exactly how a song’s going to sound when you head into record, or is it more of a situation where you all get a good skeletal idea of how it’s going to song while allowing for some room for change and evolution during the recording process?

Tobias:  Definitely the latter.  Improvisation keeps it alive and intense, but we almost always have a framework to build on.  Some songs though, like 'Halluzinationsrausch' on the first LP, just come into being of their own accord during the recording process.

Victor:  Many times it would probably be a lot different if people didn’t play like they did during a particular take with last minute suggestions or random improvisational ideas becoming the final formula.  Of course, there’s still a lot of room for improvisation when we play live, but we also tend to lean a lot on how the “final” take goes.

Do psychoactive or illicit drugs play any role in your songwriting, recording or performance as a band?  With a band that combines the words Satan and narcotics it would stand to reason that you may perhaps intake or imbibe a little something, something to say the least.  I’m curious if you all utilize the altered states the aforementioned substances produce?

Tobias:  Not everyone in the band indulges in drugs, but for those of us who do I'd say it's a definite influence.  For myself, extreme hallucinogen use has certainly impacted the way I approach and experience the sonic, visual and conceptual aspects of a group like this.  The immersion in cacophony can, at its most potent, be an experience not altogether dissimilar from the self-annihilation attainable through the hallucinogenic state.  To me, the best of it should be sonically reminiscent of a bad trip; the realization that the experience is utterly out of control and that you are fucked.

Victor:  Drugs have definitely been involved in both making and recording a lot of songs.  At the first concert we played, we and half of the audience were tripping on mushrooms.

You all released your debut album this year, the self-titled 12” Narcosatanicos for Mastermind Records limited to 500 copies.  Can you tell us about the recording of the material for Narcosatanicos a bit?  When and where was that recorded?  Who recorded it?  What kind of equipment was used?  Was that a fun, pleasurable experience for you all?

Tobias:  It was recorded over two separate sessions in two very different studios, Cable Hell and Sonic Studio, by Jonathan Højgaard and Thomas Mee, respectively.  Both take a different approach, one recording entirely analog in a rehearsal space in Århus, the other an old WW2 bunker rebuilt into a digital recording studio.  The recording of the first LP was an addled experience...  Substance and hallucinogen use, as well as sleep deprivation, warped the process.  Not negatively, but noticeably... 

When we were talking not to long ago you mentioned that you all were recording at that point for an upcoming 12” release.  Are there any details about that you can share with us at this point?  Are you still recording that material?  Where’s that getting recorded?  Who’s recording it?  Have you all settled on a name or anything for it at this point?  Who’s going to be releasing it?

Tobias:  We were working out several of the songs that will appear on the new record before the first one was released, and have performed some of them live in recent months.  About a third of it is already recorded, again with Thomas Mee.  It will be eight songs and most likely be released on Mastermindrec, who also put out the first one.  We actually already have too much new material for the length of a vinyl LP, so we'll have to choose what fits the entirety the best.

Did you all try anything radically new or different when it came the writing or recording of the material for the upcoming 12”?  Was it very different than the session(s) for the self-tlted album?  What can our readers expect from the new LP?

Tobias:  The second LP will differ from the first one in many ways.  On the first record repetition was the central tenet.  One riff equals one song.  On this second record the songs twist and turn more, many different and often abrasive shifts.  We're also making use of a much wider range of instruments, Citera, Surbahar, fretless guitar, Esraj, and various percussion instruments to broaden the variance in the noise.

Does Narcosatanicos have any music that we haven’t talked about yet, maybe a song on a compilation or a demo that I might not know about?

Tobias:  The first LP is currently our only release.

With the release of the upcoming 12” that you all are recording coming up are there any other releases planned or in the works at this point?

Tobias:  Besides the second LP, we're also working on a 12” EP that Copenhagen's Bad Afro Records will release next Spring.

With the completely insane international shipping rates that just don’t show any signs of letting up I try and provide our readers with as many possible options for picking up music as I can.  Where’s the best place for our US readers to score your stuff?

Tobias:  Currently I think the best option is via our label's distro.

What about our international and overseas readers?

Tobias:  Probably the same.  There aren't very many of them left at this point, but I know they still have some.

Victor:  The limited red ones are definitely scarce by now.  There will be another 300 on translucent orange available at some point.

And where’s the best place for our interested readers to keep up with the latest news like upcoming shows and album releases from Narcosatanicos at?

Tobias:  Despite the limited nature of the particular outlet, our Facebook page is our main tool for communication with anyone interested in what we do.

Are there any major plans or goals that you’re looking to accomplish in the rest of 2014 or 2015?

Tobias:  We plan to finish these two records, hopefully be proud of them, and continue to chase the live high; that sort of thing.

Victor:  Hopefully some kind of tour in Europe and generally more gigs outside of Denmark.

Do you all spend a lot of time out on the road touring?  Do you enjoy being out on the road?  What’s life like touring for Narcosatanicos?

Tobias:  We rarely do extended tours, but we play a lot of individual gigs, so we're still on the road a lot every month.  Despite the obvious frustrations and drawback of traveling to and from gigs that any band could tell you about, we largely enjoy it.  There's typically a fair amount of excess and like many people, reining in the blatant self-abuse doesn't always occur to us...  Performing live is an essential experience to us though, and we always make it a point to be professional about it.

Victor:  We try not be too fucked up and make a mess of the concerts, but sometimes there’s just not much else to keep you occupied waiting to play a late gig.  Also, I’m the only one with a driver’s license, so getting at least five hours of sleep and sobering up a bit is required, for me at least.
Tobias:  …A fact the rest of us both appreciate and take hearty advantage of.

What, if anything, do you all have planned for the rest of the year (2014)?

Tobias:  Besides completion of the second LP, we'll be making a number of live appearances.  We will be busy.

In your dreams, who are you on tour with?

Tobias:  Fuck, I don't know.  There's no shortage of bands and artists I'd like to share a stage with.  Any of the above influences obviously, and a ton of others.  Mostly, I look forward to the ones we actually play with often, like Get your Gun, Fright Eye or Acid Twin.

Do you have any funny or interesting stories from live shows or performances that you’d like to share here with our readers?

Tobias:  Most of it's weird enough that it probably doesn't make sense out of context, or off substances.  Our friends tend to be the ones who wreak the most havoc and make things way fucking strange on gig nights, which probably says just as much about us as about them...

Do you all give a lot of thought to the visual aspects that represent the band to a large extent like fliers, posters, shirt designs, covers and that kind of thing?  Is there any kind of meaning or message that you’re trying to convey with your artwork?  Do you all have anyone that you usually turn to in your times of need when it comes to that kind of thing?  If so, who is that and how did you originally get hooked up with them?

Tobias:  The visual aspects are definitely important to us.  I make pretty much all of it myself, including album art, gig posters, and shirt designs.  Most notably, we utilize extensive visual projections when playing live, which I assembled out of footage from basically hundreds of sources, including everything from 70's arthouse pornography and surrealist drug imagery to visual psychiatry experiments, subliminal messages, brain surgery footage, etcetera, etcetera...  Visual noise or something, it's not epilepsy friendly.

With all of the various methods of release that are available to musicians today I’m always curious why they choose and prefer the various mediums that they do.  Do you have a preferred medium of release for your own music?  What about when you’re listening to and or purchasing music?  If you do have a preference, can you talk a little bit about why?

Tobias:  We prefer to release our music on vinyl.  It's been stated by so many of course, but besides the axiomatic, if subtle, superiority in quality, it just sort of feels like that's where the music is supposed to be sitting, you know?  But for the sake of availability we use other formats as well, of course.

Do you have a music collection at all?  If you do, can you tell us a little bit about it?

Tobias:  None of us are obsessive record collectors or anything, we're quite poor by Scandinavian standards, but I make a point of buying physical records from bands I feel ardently need the support.  Sometimes, you hear a record or see a band live and they just have an air of importance, of urgency, and you are compelled to help make that work for them.  The vast bulk of our respective music collections are digital for convenience, though.

I grew up around a good collection of music and my dad really encouraged me to listen to anything that I wanted to when I was growing up.  He used to take me out all the time and just puck up anything for me that I wanted and I would go back to out house, kick back with a set of headphones, read the liner notes, stare at the cover art and let this whole trip carry me off on this whole trip.  It’s something I never outgrew and in my growing age I’ve grown a bit addicted to I think.  There’s just something about having a physical release to hold in my hands and experience along with music that makes for a more complete listening experience for me.  Do you have any such connection with physically released music?

Tobias:  Yes.  It gives you a sense of having the 'finished' version of an album, or at least, the notion that the music was worth the effort of physical materialization.

There’s no denying that digital music is here, and in a big way!  When you combine it with the internet you really have something crazy on your hands.  Together they’ve allowed an unparalleled amount of communication between bands and their fan bases as well as eradicating a lot of geographic boundaries that were present only a few years ago.  However, while people may be exposed to more music than ever before, they’re not always super interested in paying for it and for a lot of people are beginning to see music as this kind of disposable entertainment to be used and then discarded and forgotten about when you’re done.  As an artist during the reign of the digital era, what’s your opinion on digital music and distribution?

Tobias:  Well, it's a conflicting subject.  I guess I mostly just feel sympathy for artists and bands who have worked hard for decades, only to see the medium change so drastically.  We’re comparatively young and only started releasing music after the mass digitization of recent years, so to me it's really just the way things are.  But to older performers and labels I imagine it's been a bitter fucking pill to swallow…  I always listen to digital music the same way I listen to physical records though; all the way through and with due enthusiasm.  The most vital thing release-wise, is that it's easily available. 

Victor:  Personally, I don’t give a shit if you download it from the Pirate Bay or pay for it in any format.  What’s important is that it’s available and if people want to support the artist then they certainly can.  It’s not just the music that has become more available.  The means of making, recording and distributing music have become far easier with digital media and even going old-school, with tape recorders and old analog mixers are options available for a fraction of the original price, is something almost everyone can manage.  For a DIY musician, times have never been better.  If making money from it is really that important to you, then you’re probably better of in another business.  

I try to keep up with as much good music as I possibly can but there’s not enough time to keep up with one percent of the amazing stuff out there right now.  Is there anyone from your local scene or area that I should be listening to that I might not have heard of?

Tobias:  We could recommend a billion things but as far as current things from Århus goes, I think diverse groups like Shiggajon, Ærkenbrand, Spökraket, Tongues, Hahn Kult, SOL, Morgan Square, Acid Twin, Space Program, Headreel, etcetera have all been interesting and compelling entities to follow.

What about nationally and internationally?

Tobias:  Fuck, I wouldn't know where to start honestly. There is just so, so, so much, past and present.

Thanks so much for taking the time to do this interview, it was awesome getting to learn so much about where the band came from and I hope to hear a lot more from you all in the future!  I swear I’m done, no more questions from me.  But, before we call it a day and sign off is there anything that I could have possibly missed or that you’d just like to take this time to talk to me or the readers?

Victor:  That’s all for now I think.  You’ve been quite thorough.

Tobias:  Thanks for the interest in what we do.  We appreciate it.

(2014)  Narcosatanicos – Narcosatanicos – digital, 12” – Mastermind Records (Red Vinyl 12” limited to 100 copies, White Vinyl 12” limited to 400 copies)
(201?)  Narcosatanicos – TBA – 12” – TBA (recording now)
(201?)  Narcosatanicos – TBA EP – 12” – TBA (writing now)

Interview made by Roman Rathert/2014
© Copyright

1 comment:

Jules said...

Amazing band. Saw them twice at Roskilde Festival this summer. Weird that they seem laid back and articulate, I imagined them as total LSD wrecks, haha!