Interview with Sunswitch

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Sunswitch live@Internasjonalen, Oslo
Photo: Andrea Chirulescu/studiorock.ro

I don't know how you'd react if the band on the stage in front of you had been composed of a drummer, a bass player and a tuba player, but the first time I saw this trio live I simply couldn't leave from the spot all the way in front of the stage. It was fascinating to watch, or actually to hear that mean, almost demonic, grooviness of deep sounds. That's how I first percieved Sunswitch and each listen only intensifies the first impression. The Norwegians have just released their debut album now ion November 2012, album only available on vinyl and for whose promotion they are currently travelling through Norway to either impress or scare people off through their music. When they stopped in Oslo, I sat down with the band and made an attempt at figuring out why they combined these instruments and how come it worked out so incredibly well. Hopefully the text below will help you figure it out.

Me: Sunswitch?
Trond: Why the name or why the band?

Me: Pick one of them.
Trond: Me, Trond, and Thomas started in 2010 as a duo with just bass and drums. We wanted to play something doom like, something slow. We didn't quite know which way we were going, but he had three different songs and recorded one demo. Those songs are actually on our debut album. It was more of an instrumental punk doom duo. Kristoffer: I listened to the demos last night actually. They go extremely fast and they do sound indeed more punk.

Me: Then how did you become three? Do you guys work together or did you study together?
Trond: We just started playing and recorded one demo after some rehearsals. We then decided that we needed to add something more to our sound. Kristoffer: Thomas and I studied together at the Jazz Ccnservatory in Trondheim and we have a duo together as well.

Me: So there were two duos turning into a trio
Kristoffer: Yea, something like that. They basically asked me to join in for their existing duo and I think that especially Trond didn't really know what he was getting himself into.

Me: But is your duo drums and tuba?
Kristoffer: Yes, drums and tuba.

Me: Interesting. So, from what I understand, you took the old songs that were initially composed and added the tuba sound to them. This means that you, Kristoffer, brought a change to the band sound
Kristoffer: I don't know if it was me, but we pretty fast took it to a slower tempo. The tuba isn't fit to play fast basically. It's more suitable for a slow and heavy sound. But the record is actually faster than what we play now. Trond: Yea, it is much faster. We're just taking it slow and we're already forward to the next album. Initially, we had no idea how it would work out with these three instruments together. We hoped it would be really heavy and something like the ultimate bass attack. My thought was that maybe it was a bit too much, maybe you can't separate the sounds. But that combo has worked out really well.

Me: I personally noticed that there's the classical tuba sound, but you're messing around with a lot of effects, so I guess that helps in differentiating the sounds?
Kristoffer: Yes, of course. Trond: The bass guitar is sometimes played like a guitar and other times you get a typical bass guitar sound.

Me: There's no effects that you're using on the bass, right?
Trond: Nope, just amps and turning them really loud. I guess neither the tuba nor the bass produce the typical overall sound for the instrument.

Me: That was my next question actually, for Kristoffer. You studied tuba at the Conservatory in Trondheim and how come you didn't end up in a classical orchestra, but more in a metal project like this one or all the other projects you work with?
Kristoffer: I studied classical tuba and jazz tuba. That's my education. Besides, I have much more rock and metal CDs than I have of jazz and classical CDs. For my education, I really listened a lot to jazz music, but when I ended my studies, I don't spend a lot of time hearing that. So it feels more natural with the rock and I was thinking about a way to incorporate my tuba into that music, since that's the music that I wanna play. Hence, I had started developing my sound in different bands, but joining Sunswitch was basically like the ultimate test. In a way, this is the band that shouldn't have a tuba, loudness wise and song wise. Trond: It works out really really great.

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Sunswitch album cover
Photo: Sunswitch

Me: How is it for the drummer to play with a tuba? I know that with a bass it's somehow natural that the two instruments follow each other. How does the relation with the tuba go?
Kristoffer: I think this is his wet dream. Thomas: This is the ultimate situation for me because I love bass frequencies and I love loud music. And now, as you can see, I am sitting in the middle two between two bass amps. I love it.

Me: Did you have to adjust your playing style or did it go natural to just introduce tuba sounds in the music?
Thomas: I played a couple of years with Kristoffer from before and I played quite loud since before so I don't feel that they drive me over.

Me: But if you had only started in this project now, as a 'normal' drum played, do you think you'd have to adjust a lot if all of a sudden the tuba came in the band?
Thomas: It's not the tuba per se, it's the whole sounds and especially the volume that one needs to get used to. It's like penetrating a wall of bass. It's two bass instruments crashing with each other , fucking up your drum sound because you can't hear your drums. Kristoffer: There's not much room for the bass drum for instance. You have to hit it really loud to get its sound heard. Thomas: This is actually how I want to play drums. So this is just the appropriate situation. Kristoffer: Your wet dream. Thomas: Yea, coming true!

Me: Let's go back to the other side of my question. Why Sunswitch as a band name?
Trond: As a band name, well, it's something that,a s far as we think, suits the music. The name is the result of some brainstorming and it's a mix inspired by Swedish bands such as Switchblade and Sun O)). When we came up with Sunswitch it sounded like a good idea and it's very fit for the music.

Me: Your album has just been released and you've been touring a little in order to promote it…
Trond: This concerts in Oslo is the third in the tour. We played in Røros and we had a release party in our own town, in Trondheim. After Oslo we're going to Kristiansand, Stavanger and Porsgrunn. There's not that many gigs, but I don't think we're the easiest band to book.

Me: Because people don't know you or?
Trond: I guess some promoters would like to see us maybe at some sort of show case before they decide. Kristoffer: It's probably also hard to explain what Sunswitch is. Besides, just listening to the record is not enough to get the whole image of how it is live. The physical impact of bass, drum and tuba, just to feel that in your chest is not easy to put in words. Trond: If you review and album or if you're a promoter, you most likely need to give the album some time in order to be able to digest it and see what it's all about. I hope people do that, but I'm not so sure everyone really does it.

Me: What's the craziest thing you heard from anyone talking about your album?
Trond: We had some great reviews so far and especially in a magazine called Ninehertz. The review can be found here - http://www.ninehertz.co.uk/viewitem/4053 - and we're quoting “Imagine if you will, three men of the apocalypse, tucked away in a dark Norwegian castle huddled around a melting pot like the witches in Macbeth, throwing in a bit of Sunno)), with a pinch of Neurosis, flavoured by Sleep and for added taste a smattering of Black Sabbath. The pot boils away whilst Kristoffer, Trond and Tomas stir it up slowly waiting for the potion to be completed. When it's ready, howls of dark laughter immerse the castle; it is ready my children, ready to be unleashed upon the miserable and unsuspecting public. You can almost imagine the high lord of evil himself sat on his fiery throne, listening to this and acclaiming that his work on earth is now complete. This really is THAT GOOD!” Kristoffer: It also started with these words: “It's such a shame didn't listen to this on the day that I was sent it, which was All Hallow's Evening, as I could have wired it up to my door bell and scared the crap out of the little buggers that dared to darken my door.”

Me: If someone should present you further to their friends for example, should they go and say it's a doom band? As people today need to categorise everything..
Trond: Doom is more where the inspiration comes from. Doom and post rock and space rock. I think it's an easy band where you can name references and that makes it a dream for reviewers. You can write a lot about instruments 'this is Hawkwind like', 'this is an old Sabbath song'. Kristoffer: But still, it doesn't sound like anything else alltogether.

Me: What was the most challenging musical thing in your compositions together? Some rhythms or..?
Trond: Some timing stuff that we work with. Sometimes it's not a beat at all, it's just free time. We had to work a bit on that. And also the sounds, finding our own pace and getting used to it.

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Sunswitch live@Internasjonalen, Oslo
Photo: Andrea Chirulescu/studiorock.ro

Me: Like which one gets to use the deepest notes?
Kristoffer: Yea, it's a combination of those. Thomas: We also had to get comfortable to play as slow as we do sometimes just to get the groove and the point where everybody has the same feeling about time. Making sure that nobody's rushing nor staying behind too much. At the beginning everybody was having different 'feelings', but by now we have found a common ground. It's really hard, and I'm not sure if this applies mostly to drummers, but generally playing slower is much more difficult than playing fast. That's the biggest challenge when it comes to performing.

Me: Based on what you just told me, do you think the next album will be a smoother experience since you guys found the same tempo by now?
Trond: Most likely. We have to do something else on the next album. Or well, we could keep the same idea, but try to add new elements. Right now we only have some new ideas for songs but we need to carve them out. Hopefully we'll have an album out in a year.

Me: You told me that there's improvised parts in your live performances. Do you have someone in the band leading at those moments, someone who everyone tries to follow or…?
Trond: I guess that when we notice one of us wanting to play something, the rest is just trying to follow and play together with that part. On a song called 'Imaginary skull' there's a part that's improvised and during which anything can happen. We played it differently for each gig and it will probably be something else tonight as well. It can be very loud and powerful or way softer. Kristoffer: It gives us a lot of energy as well just knowing that there's such open parts coming up. We don't know what will happen, we just find out in that moment and I really like that idea.

Me: How do you know when to stop improvising? I think I heard you saying you could turn a song into a 40 minutes performance.
Thomas: We have some pre defined sort of signals. Like for example, on the song we previously mentioned, Trond is supposed to start a certain riff and then we know that we're going back to the song. But we don't know when that will happen, it can be after two or ten minutes. Some evenings we simply notice that it doesn't work at all, so you'd hear that riff after some 30 seconds.

Me: Why did you stop at a trio and didn't add more instruments? Was it because of the 'low sounds' of the instruments you guys play? Trond: It's mainly because of the challenge to get a lot out of three instruments. We like that challenge.
Kristoffer: We really don't want a guitar players. There's enough of them in other bands. This way we can be critical among ourselves. Except the drummer. He's actually starting to get closer to the front of the stage so we have to push him back.

Me: Why did you choose to release this on vinyl only?
Trond: We love the format. I think the vinyl sound and the artwork you can put on it, plus the gatefold, they all suits the music rather well. I think the album really sounds better on vinyl. When people buy CDs today, they RIP the songs on their computers and that's it. The physical product ends up full of dust in a shelf somewhere. Kristoffer: We listened to this product ourselves on the computer through mp3s and such. But first time I heard it on vinyl, it simply blew my mind. It was so different.

Me: Then I hope I find someone with a vinyl player so I can have a similar experience.