| Sputnikmusic

There’s less than 24 hours left until God Is An Astronaut go live at my hometown Tallinn, and I couldn’t be more pumped. GIAA is one of those bands that constantly brings it, every night, every year, any time of the day (though dark is duly recommended). I remember their last year’s show like it was literally yesterday, because it was that memorable. And indeed, why shouldn’t it have been, because as GIAA guitarist Torsten Kinsella puts it, they really focus on bringing their world to the audience and immersing them in it. They’re one of those rare bands who can draw hundreds, if not thousands of people, from all walks of life, into the same room, and give them something truly uniting. No one will leave that room feeling indifferent tomorrow, I can guarantee it beforehand. Even though the timing could have been better, I was lucky enough to get Torsten (big thanks go out to Roman Demchenko from Urban Culture Entertainment here for being the mediator) to give this interview on the fly, while traveling towards Estonia, to share some of his feelings regarding the new album, the 21st century, where God Is An Astronaut is as a band, and what music means to him, among other things. Read on, and if you live in Europe, then don’t forget to catch GIAA on the road this fall, as they’re actively promoting their new album Helios | Erebus, which came out on June 21.

Hey! My name’s Magnus Altküla, from Sputnikmusic, and I am very anxious to (once again) see you at your Tallinn gig. How has the “Helios | Erebus” tour/experience been thus far?

It’s been going well so far, much higher attendances at the shows this time which is very encouraging. We are looking forward to playing Tallinn again.

This is already the third time that you are visiting Estonia (in four years, no less). With foreign places that you’ve already played at a few times, do you develop certain expectations for new shows there as well, or is the mindset going in pretty much the same each time around, regardless where you perform?

We try not to focus to much on the audience, it’s important for us to bring our world to them and not the reverse. We have a vibe that we like to bring, it makes no difference whether they stand still or move to the music.

You’ve probably been asked something along the lines of “why did you decide to be an instrumental band/why not hire a vocalist” a thousand times during the years, and I won’t be the one to make it 1001. But what would you say to people who haven’t heard an instrumental-only rock concert before and are on the fence about attending one of your shows, because they are used to vocal acts, to encourage them to come?

You know it’s hard to deprogram some people’s mindset and I usually wouldn’t even try but if I did I would say that music can move you in ways that vocal led bands can’t, that the music tells the story instead of lyrics and takes you on a dramatic roller coaster journey. It’s more of a personal show where you get to tap into a zone where with vocal led bands, everybody is singing along. Truth is instrumental music has been around for a very long time ( classical ) so it shouldn’t be that hard for people to comprehend and accept. I would say radio pop fans would have the hardest time with the format, but I don’t care about people who like easy, accessible, disposable, cheesy pop tunes.

You’re an awfully busy band, one who always seems to be touring, and if you’re not touring, you’re probably writing new material. What keeps the inspiration wells from drying up?

Music to me is therapeutic, it’s how we express ourselves. Life is a journey and our music documents our ups and downs, so we will always have that inspiration as far as the content is concerned. Style is a little more tricky, but I feel it’s important to stay true to your identity and what you do best, and to widen the palette a little each time too, in order to keep things as interesting as possible.

The new album that you are exhibiting here in Tallinn on the 14th of September, Helios | Erebus, is sonically your most dense work to date, which in a way isn’t surprising since you became a fourpiece before “Origins,” your 2013 effort. Was the shift towards a bit heavier sound something that you decided you desired, or was it something that happened very organically?

In the aftermath of “Origins” we were in a dark place, and we do feel that the world today is in a depressive state from beheadings, people being burned alive in cages, ethnic cleansing etc. So writing a darker, heavier record came very naturally. Origins was an experimental album but it wasn’t what we do best. I do believe Helios | Erebus is what we do best and we will be exploring further into darker regions with the next release. I feel that this record is the true “Origins” of the band, especially now with Jamie heavily involved in the writing process.

Not only is Helios | Erebus heavier than any of its preceding works, it’s also your first album, in my opinion at least, that has a super distinct space vibe and -sound going for it. Sure, your earlier albums were spacey, but this new one, it sounds like a soundtrack to an outer-space exploration movie. What led you on this trail and what inspired you during or before the writing of Helios | Erebus?

Again with Origins, we distanced ourselves from the whole space theme, but that was a mistake. In this record we embraced it again and I’m glad we did. We may not be able to explore space itself like real life astronauts can, but we can do it through our music, and there is nothing more vast than our own imagination and feelings. Escapism has been a major influence in our writing and space really is the ultimate escape from all the bullshit and mediocrity that we go through daily in our own tragically insignificant lives.

You use a lot of Latin in your song titles on Helios | Erebus, which is something that you haven’t done before. The album name comes from Greek mythology, and then there’s the album cover, which looks like it was made 3000 years ago. Did you think that this more mythological approach was fitting for an album that deals with the relationship between darkness and light, since astrology and astronomy come from Ancient Greece, or is there another reason for this atavistic approach?

Yes we felt it was fitting for the album and it tied in with the name of the band too. We are very inspired by mysterious ancient civilizations like the Greeks, Vikings, Mayas, Aztecs, Egyptians etc.

I love the name of the last track, which is “Sea of Trees.” Just the imagery that it provides, trees towering endlessly for as far as the eye can see, brings tranquility to me. Is there a place that you know and go to in your spare time that actually features this natural phenomenon? If not, where do you got or what do you do to achieve tranquility?

There is a forest called the Djouce Forest in Wickow, Ireland, which inspired the title and song. It has the most amazing waterfall. It’s a place where I find tranquility, a place to clear my mind. I’m very lucky to live close by.

Helios | Erebus also sounds very autumn-y to me, regarding tonality – the guitars and the soundscapes are warm, but also somewhat dark, like early autumn. Do seasons play a role for you when it comes to feeling more inspired, for example? Also, outside of music, is there a season you prefer over others and why?

Yes, seasons always play a big role, and the album was mainly written in the autumn and winter seasons. I like to write usually from 10pm to 4am, when the country is asleep. No distractions, and hearing the trees blowing in the wind outside instead of cars and traffic is always more inspirational. Outside of music I must admit I love the summer when it’s a good one lol, which can be rare in Ireland. It’s a great time to go hiking etc.

Do you often find out new things about yourself whilst writing music, or is the process more about penning down ideas that you have had for a while, but haven’t put on paper yet?

We usually prefer to move forward and write new ideas. It’s more exciting and relevant to write something that captures that moment in time. “Lost Kingdom” from the Age of the Fifth Sun album was the only time we took an older idea. “Lost Kingdom” was written during the All is Violent, All is Bright album cycle, but we were unable to finish that idea at that time.

You describe your records as photographs or snapshots of who you are at the time of a specific record’s release, which I find delightfully poetic. Can you define who you are in this cycle, as a person, or as a group?

There is a healthy combative spirit in the camp, we are focused and determined to really make a statement with this record and at the live shows.

Has there ever been an album cycle where you’ve felt that you were more or less the same as you were during the cycle that preceded that one?

Yes I guess so, sometimes it takes dramatic events in your life to inspire to change the subject matter, that can take a bit of time.

This is me being speculative to the max, but since I already used the word „poetic“ before, then I might as well go fishing. You guys seem like the kind of people who would probably be really into poetry. Is that true and do you have a favorite author or a favorite line?

Yes I love poetry :). Robert Frost would be a favourite, especially his poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening:”

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Your music is very atmospheric and follows its own pace (as with post-rock at large), with it building towards massive releases and going through delicate meandering periods. It’s very contrary to the lives we, as a species at large, live in 2015 – hectic, busy, noisy, draining lives where taking it slow means lost time to a lot of people. Why, do you think, are a lot of us unable to properly kick back? Why is the Posterperson of 2015 someone who always has to be on the move, has to be occupied with something, has to be in the loop with everything going on?

I think this is the modern lifestyle, where everything is based on making money and not about our own health and well being. I always found it curious that when we were children, sports for example was a very important part of our lives and a subject that was a daily occurrence in school. But the older we get it becomes less and less (a part of our lives), until we get a 9-5 PM job with absolutely no time allocated for exercise at all. People are continuously stressed with no time for escape, especially with smart phones, there is no escape. We must make time for ourselves for a healthy mind and body. I feel listening and writing atmospheric/ambient music really helps me unwind.

Furthermore, I don’t want to project my own personal views onto other people, so do you think it (always being busy with something) verges heavily either to the positive or negative side? Is it something that you see as progressive, or as a negative phenomenon? Or is the truth (and the solution, if there’s a need for one) , like it so often is, somewhere in the middle?

I feel everything in moderation is good, being too busy is unhealthy and doing very little gets you nowhere. We need to make time for our own well being but also work at what we would like to achieve.

When you’re back home and actually have some spare time, what are the kinds of shows you yourself like to attend?

The last few shows we went to were Nils Frahm, Queens of the Stone Age and Mogwai.
All were excellent.

Continuing on that note, what are some of your favorite non-music related pastimes?

I love to run through the Djouce forest and hike up the Wicklow mountains.
I’m also a big movie fan so I make regular trips to the cinema.

During your thirteen years in God Is An Astronaut, what is the one thing that has surprised you the most? Something that you never saw coming or never thought was possible?

I guess playing in Moscow many years ago in front of approximately 2000 people, when at that time we were playing in front of 150 people max everywhere else.

Moscow in action

Moscow in action

Last question(s): what is the greatest thing about being a musician and how has being one changed you as a person?

I love to write and play music, so doing it for a living really is a privilege. It gives us a sense of purpose and has helped define who we are today.

I thank you very much for the interview (while hoping that it wasn’t too long, taking into account your extensive touring schedule) and wish you the best of luck with everything you set out to do!

Thanks for the interview. Much appreciated.

Related clicking:
Tour dates
Urban Culture Entertainment

Great review, very insightful

Cool read

Great interview! Congrats!

Excellent read. Seems like a really down-to-earth musician. I liked his answer (and your humor in the question) about how instrumental acts can still captivate audiences, and I certainly concur in music being therapeutic.

Excellent interview. Very much enjoyed reading this.

Very cool interview. Thx for doing this.

interview is great, good job with that magnus, but honestly when i saw these guys a few years ago in helsinki their show was actually quite dull

I saw them in Warsaw on Thursday. Such a great live band!

Thanks man, as you can see, I'm quietly getting back into the swing of things around here!

I think they've gotten a lot better live, and with them being a solidified fourpiece nowadays really adds to their live show. The two times I've seen them here have both been great, very, indeed, therapeutic.

Cool, yeah they brought out a solid amount of people for the Tallinn gig as well. Was a really nice evening

@Everyone else
Thanks guys, appreciate the kind words.

I truly hope they keep leaning towards the "darker" themes. Helios was excellent

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