Nadja interview (10/2023)
|Conducted by:||Auntie Sahar (e-mail)|
Nadja should require little introduction for fans of drone music, whether metal or non. Founding a bit later than the big names in Boris and Sunn O))), the Canadian duo of Aidan Baker and Leah Buckareff have still nonetheless come to be very contemporaneous with these predecessors. Much like the aforementioned bands, Nadja have developed a habit of doing something noticeably different with each of their releases, whether LPs or EPs, and also of collaborating with numerous other artists with whom they feel capable of achieving a synthesis of sounds. The Nadja discography is thus a significantly large one, the band having amassed well over 50 releases in their two decades of life, and considerably intimidating to the newcomer to the duo, who may understandably be glancing at it from the perspective of "Jesus H, where do I start?!"
I reached out to Aidan Baker not long ago to request an interview to discuss his and Leah's multifaceted child in greater detail. I too scratched my head and gave a good "Jesus H, where do I start?" with respect to the questions I would pose. There seemed to be so much to cover! After re-familiarizing myself a bit, however, with the Nadja releases of the past 6-7 years (plus others), I was ready, and Aidan provided insightful commentary and revelations into what is easily one of the most formidable drone projects the genre has to offer.
Sahar: Hello, Aidan, and thank you very much for taking the time out for this interview. There’s much I’d like to discuss, so I’d rather not start off slow with the trivialities of asking after the band history, what inspired you to start, etc. We can get to that later. First off, then, looking at the context of Nadja within, say, the latter half of the 2010s to now, what do you feel has been your most significant development with the music and your vision?
Aidan: We relocated from Toronto to Berlin in 2010 which was quite a significant change, both for the band and ourselves, personally. Being in Europe allows us to subsist as musicians, which was not possible for us in Canada, so we have had much more freedom in the last decade to focus on music and artistic projects. We have also toured and performed live much more than we did while still based in Toronto—not just in Europe, but around the world—and this certainly helped evolve both our sound and our abilities and our approach to live performances.
Sahar: Looking at the Nadja discography, you and Leah alternate a lot between doing everything on your own, and recruiting guests for a bit more oomph and embellishment to the music. How do you really decide which direction you’re interested in going in from one release to the next?
Aidan: That really depends on the nature of the project. Sometimes we go into a new project with the specific idea of working with other people on it, with that idea of collaboration as central to the project itself—other times it comes up in the process of working on something. So, there is no definite answer to that question.
Sahar: You and Leah are quite the powerful pair, as the sizable discography of Nadja can testify! When you’re first proceeding with songwriting for a new release, do you feel as though one of you all exerts more influence than the other, or as though this sense of leadership itself shifts a lot as well? What’s the compositional process often look like?
Aidan: Again, this depends on the nature of the project and what we are hoping to achieve, whether it might be more about the process—a more technical exercise of exploring a certain genre or methodology, for example—of about trying to capture a certain mood or thematic expression.
Sahar: Our information on Metal Storm indicates that Nadja was founded in 2002, but that Leah did not get involved until 2005. So initially, it was all you. How did she come into the picture?
Aidan: On the first few releases under the Nadja moniker I played everything. I now consider these demos, but based on this material we were signed to Alien8 Recordings in Montreal, after which there was call for the project to perform live. I did attempt to do so by myself but soon realized that I couldn't probably represent the project live playing solo, so I asked Leah to join the project. Initially, this was mainly about live performances, but as soon as she joined, the project changed and it became much more of a collaboration between the two of us, than just a solo project of mine.
Sahar: You and Leah are both highly talented multi – instrumentalists, and your roles vary across a lot of Nadja’s albums with regards to exactly who is playing what. How is this decided, exactly? Is it as simple as “OK, you got X last time, this time I’m doing it”? *laughs*
Aidan: We have our set roles and guitarist and bassist respectively, so we almost always start with those instruments. Then it becomes a question of what else, what other instrumentation, might benefit the project as we are in the process of working on it. So again, less a conscious decision, and more intuiting what would benefit the project we are currently working on—who performs what, in that instance, doesn't really matter.
Sahar: I also see that while Nadja originated in Toronto, you are now currently based and active in Berlin. When did this transition occur, and what really fueled it?
Aidan: We re-located to Berlin in 2010, as I previously mentioned. This move was mainly for music, as there are considerably more opportunities to tour and perform—and live and work as artists—in Europe than there are in Canada, specifically, and North America in general. This isn't necessarily just about the acceptance and importance of art/music's role in general society (though that is part of it)—it's also about something as seemingly trivial as population density. Germany has almost three times as many people as Canada—in a much smaller space—so, as a fairly niche, underground band, it is much easier to find, and perform for, an audience here.
Sahar: As far as the local music scenes are concerned, especially with regards to other drone and ambient artists, have you and Leah found something different in Berlin that you feel was lacking back in Toronto? How would you compare the two?
Aidan: There are a lot of great musicians and a pretty good scene in Toronto. But while Toronto is very much an international city, it still feels somewhat isolated or disconnected from the larger, international music scene compared to Berlin. I suppose Berlin is more of a destination than Toronto for artists and musicians, either as a place to re-locate or just visit or spend some time, so it feels like there is more activity here—or at least, more of a constantly refreshing, constantly changing hub of activity. There always seems to be something new happening, or someone new in town, which helps to keep the local scene vital and active, which is in turn inspiring for us, both as music makers and listeners.
Sahar: I would like to backtrack a bit to some albums within the Nadja discography, roughly within the last 8 years or so, that stick out to me as crucial steps in your sonic evolution. Most recently, at least as far as LPs, we have 2022’s Labyrinthine. This was a very special one. Not only did it include guest vocalists on all four tracks, but those in question, particularly Alan Dubin (Khanate) and Dylan Walker (Full Of<br /> Hell) seemed on paper to be a bit ill – suited for Nadja’s more chillaxed atmosphere. But you all nailed it! Could you touch upon how you and Leah got involved with them, and what the collaboration process looked like?
Aidan: Alan Dubin we have known for many years, as our first two shows as a band proper, back in 2005, we got to open for Khanate. Khanate was a big influence on us, as well Dubin's previous project with James Plotkin, OLD, so playing with them and getting to know them a bit was a great experience. We had sort of generally talked with Alan about working together for some time, but it wasn't until we started working on the songs for Labyrinthine that we realized we had something appropriate to collaborate on with him. We only just recently met Dylan from Full Of Hell in person this summer when they were playing here in Berlin—Labyrinthine was a pandemic record, so everything was done via file-sharing, even with Rachel Davies who lived in Berlin at that time—but we had read in an interview somewhere that Dylan was a fan of Nadja, so we simply reached out to see if he was interested and his response was quite immediately enthusiastic. We gave all the vocalists free reign to do as they liked with the tracks we sent them, so it was a relatively easy or effortless collaboration, as we were immediately happy with—and especially appreciated the contrasting styles—what each singer sent back to us.
Sahar: Do you see things like this continuing in the future, collaborating with other musicians whose work is considerably darker and more menacing compared to the standards of Nadja?
Aidan: Anything is possible!
Sahar: How do you all determine whether or not an album will include vocals or be purely instrumental?
Aidan: That also depends on the nature or impetus of the project—sometimes we go into a new recording with the specific intent of 'saying' something, which might necessitate vocals. Other times, the need for vocals comes up in the process of working on something.
Sahar: Another recent album of yours that felt noticeably “different” by Nadja standards was 2018’s Sonnborner. The opening track was a mammoth slab of drone, nothing too unusual, but then the rest of the album went into some riff – heavy, almost sludge – like territory. How did that approach come about, and do you think you’d ever explore it again?
Aidan: We released an EP, Tangled, in 2014 which was of a similar style—what we semi-jokingly call 'grindgaze'—and wanted to further explore that more faster, aggressive style in an album setting. Sonnborner seemed a good opportunity to do so precisely because it was such a contrast with the more long-form, almost symphonic style of the title track. We don't exclusively listen to slow or drony music, so this was simply a way of incorporating our other listening habits into the kind of music we make ourselves. We may well explore it again—we have already sort of explored this direction, to a certain degree, in a recent, forthcoming collaboration with the grindcore band Fawn Limbs.
Sahar: The artwork that adorns the covers of the various Nadja albums, much like your music itself, morphs a lot with regard to color, imagery, etc. Who is most often doing your covers, if anyone? Is there any person you all have connected with over the years who’s become something of a go to regular for artwork?
Aidan: For the most part, we do our own artwork, sometimes collaboratively, sometimes individually, depending who has what idea and what we both think might work for the respective cover. When we do invite someone else to contribute artwork, it might simply be because we are fans of their work—or we want something specific for the album in question that we do not feel we can produce ourselves—or someone might simply offer their services. We often get offers from artists to use their artwork, though, as we have a fairly specific sense of aesthetics, not all of what is offered feels quite appropriate or fitting for our music.
Sahar: I was always drawn to the cover of Queller particularly, from 2014. Something about that owl and the surrounding design is just so perfectly hypnotizing, almost like it’s beckoning you to “come inside, have a listen!” Who did that one, and could you point to any more of their work for those interested?
Aidan: Queller was designed by Error! Design out of Barcelona: https://error-design.com/. In this case, the artwork was commissioned by the label who released Queller, Essence Music.
Sahar: Moving to the subject of your live performances… when I first began exploring live Nadja videos, I was a bit surprised to see that often it’s just you and Leah onstage, considering the range of sounds. Under what circumstances would you two considering adding in other people, if at all?
Aidan: We very seldomly play live with other people. Usually, it only happens when we are trying to reproduce a collaborative record, like our albums with Uochi Toki, OvO, or Vampillia—we have played live at least a few times with these three projects.
Sahar: Have you developed any fondness for a link between audio and visual while performing, for instance a pre – made set of background visuals? If so, what do you think would be suitable for the music while you’re playing?
Aidan: We often play with background videos, but it depends on the venue and the setting of the concert whether they are appropriate or fitting. We prefer to use visuals as another component of the performance, and not a focal point in and of themselves. The material is generally abstract/ambient videos, so needs to be projected in such a way as to compliment and combine with the audio and not take over from the sound.
Sahar: If you’re doing a tour, do you look to bring other drone, doom, and/or ambient bands along, or are you open to being a part of a lineup with more “extreme” artists as well?
Aidan: We always prefer to play with diverse line-ups. It is much more interesting for us to hear a variety of music, rather than just all acts in the same genre.
Sahar: What’s been one of your most memorable tours or performances? What made it stand out?
Aidan: We toured earlier this year with Uochi Toki in the Balkans. This was quite memorable if only because we were able to play in places we had never played before...but also visit cities and countries—like Bosnia and Macedonia, for example—where touring western bands seldom go. Less-frequented, less-travelled places can be great to play, not just to visit and experience these places, but also because the people in the audience can be that much more appreciative.
Sahar: Given the free – flowing nature of drone music, do you notice the compositions of Nadja becoming a bit more improvisational when you’re performing them live, or do they tend to stay fairly as is compared against the studio originals?
Aidan: We deliberately allow for improvisational moments in our live performances. So our songs are seldom perfect renditions of what they are on an album. Even if we were technically able to do so, we think a more impressionistic approach is a more interesting way to present our songs, both for ourselves and the audience, likewise allowing for a more immediate and intimate connection during the concert.
Sahar: I’m sure this may be a matter that differs from one release to another, but overall what non musical influences would you say have contributed to the development of the Nadja sound?
Aidan: We are very much influenced by books and films and other forms of art. This might just come down to a general thematic influence, but often we try to re-create and share, musically, a mood or atmosphere that resulted from our consumption of other artforms.
Sahar: How do you feel about the reputation and ultimate legacy that Nadja has come to establish within the drone spectrum after all this time? Do you have any artists you look at and see a direct line of influence with, from yourselves to them?
Aidan: We do hear our influence in a variety of artists, yes—and often people tell us we have been direct influences on them or introduced them to 'drone metal' or however you want to label us. Both Dylan from Full Of Hell and Lane Shi Otay:onii told us, when we asked them to contribute to our album Labyrinthine, that we were important musical discoveries to them when they were younger, which was great to hear.
Sahar: I’ve seen it mentioned that the name “Nadja” itself is basically just your own name backwards, but that the “I” was replaced with a “J” in reference to a character from an André Breton novel. Could you tell us a bit more about that work and what drew you towards it for the band name?
Aidan: As I mentioned before, when I started the Nadja project it was just a studio-based, solo project and, as such, I considered it kind of the 'flipside' of the music that I was doing under my own name. Both projects were ambient/experimental music using the same set-up and equipment, more or less, just one explored more delicate, quieter sounds and the other heavier and noisier. So it seemed logical to me to use the inverse of my name for what was basically a similar, related, yet different project. While there might not be any direct correspondence between Breton's novel and the project, the book is very much about identity, which I would say relates to the same-yet-different idea. Also the general concepts and theories behind Surrealism are something I have always found interesting and appealing, which, arguably, might be reflected in the music of Nadja as well.
Sahar: Is there anything you feel has never been brought up in an interview that you’d like to take the time to address in particular?
Aidan: Not that I can think of offhand...perhaps I will wait for some interviewer to surprise me with an unexpected question, rather than try to think of something...
Sahar: That’s about it, Aidan. Thanks again for the interview and the intriguing responses. Anything you’d like to say to your MetalStorm fans as a send – off?
Aidan: Thanks for reading and listening!
||Posted on 06.10.2023 by Metal Storm’s own Babalao. Comforting the disturbed and disturbing the comfortable since 2013.|
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