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19th December 2014
Norway's Shining have progressed in the most exciting and unpredictable of ways from their humble, acousto-instrumental jazz origins. Self-styled Blackjazz Rebels, they're wholly unique within the subgenre they've both coined and created. Idiomatically refreshing through their innovative fusion of disparate musical elements, while simultaneously exciting in their unique approach, their sonic iconoclasm is much needed to challenge the listening proclivities of those who are all too happy dwelling within the comfort zone of metal's self-imitative stagnation. And with their slot as opening band on the UK leg of Kreator and Arch Enemy's 2014 tour, this bunch of forward thinking Norwegians were afforded an opportunity to bring their avant-garde fusion to such an audience. Not only that, but they were being joined at each of the shows by legendary fretboard maestro Marty Friedman. Metal Discovery met up with the band's frontman, Jørgen Munkeby, a few hours before their set, to discuss this collaboration as well as all things Blackjazz...
METAL DISCOVERY: A very interesting pairing with yourselves and Marty at these shows, so how have the performances been so far from your perspective?
JØRGEN: Yeah, really well. We went on stage, the first day, in Birmingham, and we hadn’t played together before, ever. We hadn’t rehearsed. I’ve played on his album but we hadn’t played together. We’d spent some time emailing and Skyping, and me and my band had been rehearsing in Oslo, and just trying to organise it so it’s kind of good to go. But that was exciting and then, after that, we made a few changes here and there to make it better and yesterday was the best show on this tour so far. It’s a fun mix.
(Jørgen Munkeby on the appropriation of his self-coined Blackjazz branding)
"I’ve seen other bands and other musicians label themselves as Blackjazz. It’s not a huge phenomenon but people are starting to do that."
Jørgen Munkeby in the Academy, Manchester, UK, 19th December 2014
Interview & Photography by Mark Holmes
Photograph copyright © 2014 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com
Shining Official Website:
Thanks to Andy Turner for arranging the interview
Shining Official Facebook:
Where the Ragged People Go (2001)
Sweet Shanghai Devil (2003)
In the Kingdom of Kitsch You Will Be a Monster (2005)
Grindstone (2007)
Blackjazz (2010)
One One One (2013)
MD: So it’s gone very well then, considering there were no rehearsals at all…
JØRGEN: Yeah, but if people do their homework then you can do the rest pretty efficiently. You know, meeting six people in a room and then figuring out what to play is not the most efficient way of doing it. So if everyone does that at home, figuring out what to do, and also Marty and me talking through the set and making sure, “you will get that guy there, and that guy there”, and then it works.
MD: How have you gone down with Kreator and Arch Enemy fans; have they been open-minded towards your stuff?
JØRGEN: Yeah, they have. To me, our fanbase is pretty wide and varied; you know, we have the metal side, and we have the mainstream in the middle, and we also have the leftfield in a kind of a… well, the jazz side. This is obviously on the metal side of it. We have played at straight-up metal festivals a lot of the time also, but festivals are a little bit different because people expect to see a lot of different stuff. Obviously, there are probably a lot of people who don’t like it but still there’s a lot of people who like it and Bristol and London were amazing. Often, you see that a lot of people haven’t heard anything like that and you see that they don’t know what to think, and sometimes I find that amusing too. But, obviously, the point of doing such a tour is to get to people who are potential fans. I feel like there are a lot of those and, like I say, it’s also good for us to… we’ve toured with Dillinger Escape Plan; we’ve toured with Devin Townsend… I like to do different stuff, you know.
MD: So you’re broadening people’s musical horizons.
JØRGEN: Yeah, yeah. And our fanbase is a broad fanbase so it would be a pity only doing… then again, I can’t come up with one huge band that sounds exactly like us. If there were, then that would be an easy pairing, but I don’t think there are. But there are bands that have some similarities.
MD: I think it’s better when you go to a gig and see bands who have very different styles to each other anyway.
JØRGEN: Me, I would prefer such a billing, but there are people who are into one thing and one thing only.
MD: I guess promoters need to sell tickets so it’s in their interest to match bands of similar styles that most people would want to pay to see.
JØRGEN: Yes but, then again, I would rather pay for a ticket to see three interesting, different bands, rather than see Meshuggah and two bands copying Meshuggah. I mean, what the fuck? Why would I want to see two bands copying Meshuggah? [Laughs]
MD: Yeah, and too many bands out there have copied Meshuggah anyway! Obviously, Shining’s roots are in jazz, but you’ve gradually moved more into avant-garde, fusion territory, and have got progressively heavier, so would you say that jazz, as a genre, is quite a naturally fertile springboard from which to evolve into these other areas of musical expression?
JØRGEN: Yeah. What is good about jazz, being proficient in the jazz world, is that it gives you a good foundation in music. It gives you a good foundation technically and theoretically. I grew up with metal music when I was a kid and I started playing the sax long before I started listening to jazz. So I would say the reason I started playing jazz wasn’t because I thought I liked jazz, I actually thought I didn’t like jazz, but I was interested in chords and scales and the music theory, and how things are built up and how they work. To me, jazz felt like a natural place to learn that stuff. And then, when I started studying it and learning it, I did it to learn, and then I discovered parts of jazz that I really liked. I started studying bebop and the traditional jazz even though that’s not… you know, I liked the music, but I think one big reason was to learn rather than liking it. Then I discovered John Coltrane and a lot of stuff that I really liked. So I found the music that I liked and then I studied jazz for fifteen years; you know, I went to the Norwegian Academy of Music. So I eventually found the jazz that I liked, but what I’m saying is studying jazz gives you a really great foundation to do a lot of stuff.
MD: You hear a lot of people say that once you learn jazz, you can play anything.
JØRGEN: You can play anything but it doesn’t mean that you can play anything well. And that’s the thing with metal – you kind of need to have an understanding, and it has a lot to do with the right attitude, and you need to write good sounds; that takes a lot of time to understand. But, at the same time, metal bands trying to incorporate jazz elements, that’s also hard. It’s not something you just jump into.
MD: Would you say the jazz elements in your sound and compositions have become more instinctive and, as a result, more subtle, particularly on ‘One One One’?
JØRGEN: Yeah… during our evolution, we’ve had a lot of influences from other things than jazz and metal. We’ve had contemporary classical influences… so much stuff but, with the ‘Blackjazz’ album, I felt like we focussed it, so we focussed it on the metal side and we focussed it on the energetic, free jazz type of thing. And, like you’re saying, some songs have more and some songs have less, and on ‘One One One’… to sum up what I feel are the most important jazz elements in our music, when people think of jazz, they usually think of a band playing some chord structures and somebody improvising over those chords, but there are other ways of improvising. So we do have a lot of improvisation; we have less on the album than in a live setting, and I feel that’s just because albums and shows are a different nature. To make a great album and a great concert are two different things. We do improvise a lot and there are jazz elements in our writing, and there are jazz elements in just making things swing; having musicians who are focussed on… you can play a groove and make it swing or you can play the same groove and not make it swing. It’s just a matter of tiny things… you know, how you place the hi-hat in relation to the snare; having ghost notes or not. So there are a lot of jazz elements but it doesn’t necessarily sound like jazz. You see what I’m saying?
MD: Yeah. The jazz elements are there to be heard if you want to hear them.
JØRGEN: But I think live, there’s more of it. It fits better.
MD: Would you ever want to tip the balance back towards jazz, and make an album that has more of a pronounced jazz bias? You could maybe call it ‘Whitejazz’!
JØRGEN: [Laughs] White supremacy jazz! When I practice the sax, I sometimes practice jazz stuff and jazz scales, and it’s always gonna be part of me. It’s always hard to foresee the future for Shining as we’ve done so much different stuff. Right now, I just feel like… I just do what I feel is right and I can’t really change that. So if I feel like I have to do something, I have to do it musically. But, still, I kind of hope that I’d be happy staying somewhat close to the Blackjazz thing that we’ve established, because I like that thing. I think it’s unique and I think it’s great that somebody’s doing it, and we might as well do it ourselves. But, you never know, I’m working on a new album now and there are some songs that are sort of like ‘One One One’, like focussed, and there are some songs that are a little bit more adventurous, like on ‘Blackjazz’.
MD: People, including most journalists, have a natural tendency to try and pigeon-hole every single piece of music they hear. So with a genuinely innovative, unclassifiable band like Shining, unless you want to call it Blackjazz, as you have, what are some of the more amusing descriptions or genre labels you’ve read in relation to your music?
JØRGEN: Since we called the album ‘Blackjazz’, since that time, I’ve stopped noticing those things because people… you know, it was an invitation to just call the fucking music Blackjazz!
MD: [Laughs] To make it easier for journalists!
JØRGEN: Yeah, and also it’s a good branding technique. But it was really amusing to hear all the musical labels people came up with, and it usually consisted of namedropping other artists, and a lot of them. And a lot of them I hadn’t heard, but I usually used reviews for ideas of new music to check out. Because they said that “Shining sounds like…”, or “Shining are inspired by…”, and I hadn’t heard of them so I thought I might as well fucking check it out! You know, I was born in 1980 and I hadn’t listened to Mike Patton, really. So that was something that was namedropped a lot. I started listening to him. The same with King Crimson. I was probably five years, seven years, ten years too young to be growing up with King Crimson. So there’s been a lot of namedropping but it’s stopped now… or I stopped looking and reading it after ‘Blackjazz’!
MD: ‘Blackjazz’ seems to have been adopted as a genre label so do you now hear of other bands being called Blackjazz?
JØRGEN: Yeah, I’ve seen other bands and other musicians label themselves as Blackjazz. It’s not a huge phenomenon but people are starting to do that. And I also wrote a song called ‘Blackjazz Rebels’ and I’ve seen people call themselves Blackjazz Rebels, just as fans of Lady Gaga call themselves Little Monsters, and fans of Katy Perry call themselves Kitty Kats. But we’ve kind of invited people to do that also. I think that’s great. That was the thought behind it; it’s not something that I wanted to keep for myself. I felt there must be other people and other musicians that have the same interests as me.
MD: You’re going to be doing the rounds again next year in March with Devin Townsend, and Periphery too, which won’t be the first time you’ve toured with Devin, as you said earlier. Are you looking forward to being back out on the road with Dev? He’s always been very complimentary of Shining, I’ve noticed.
JØRGEN: Yeah, he likes us and I really like him and his music, and he’s great to work with. And that’s a fanbase that are really compatible with us. I don’t know much about Periphery’s fanbase but, musically, they don’t fit well, and I’m really looking forward to that.
MD: Out of interest, have you ever been into John McLaughlin? Obviously, he pioneered the whole jazz/rock fusion thing back in the day.
JØRGEN: Yeah, what was the name of that band?
MD: The Mahavishnu Orchestra.
JØRGEN: Yeah, that’s what I’ve been listening to. I like that a lot. And I think he played on some Miles Davis albums, and Miles Davis is something I’ve listened to a lot. But I’d say the music is a little bit old. Newer music than that has been more important to me. Everything after Pantera, that’s when I started.
MD: It’s ten years since Dimebag’s death this month.
JØRGEN: Oh yeah?
MD: Yeah, it was 2004 he was shot dead. Have you been inspired by his playing then?
JØRGEN: Not guitar-wise but what I liked about Pantera was their way of making it groove and swing. Dimebag and his brother had a really good groove which a lot of metal bands don’t have.
MD: My final question then - seeing as it’s the festive season, what are your guilty pleasure Christmas songs, and what Christmas song would you want to give the Shining treatment to if you had to cover one?
JØRGEN: I’ve been thinking about covering a lot of stuff but, first of all, it might be a clichéd saying, but I try to be open with what I like and don’t like. And I try to tell myself that it’s nothing to be ashamed of… to me, listening to a lot of music has been important. I think it’s better for human beings to be into too much rather than too little. You know, I love Brad Paisley, I love Foo Fighters… I love a lot of stuff in pop music with Nicki Minaj and those kind of things that I like… and there’s other stuff I don’t like. And sometimes I listen to music just figuring out if I like it or not; other times I listen to it to learn things as a producer. Sometimes I listen to jazz with a saxophone player just to be inspired by how well he’s playing, not really because I like the music. So there are different things about music you can like and not like. But Christmas songs, I don’t really like that much!
MD: Mariah Carey’s one, that’s a good one.
JØRGEN: I like that. ‘All I Want for Christmas is You’?
MD: Yeah, that’s the one.
JØRGEN: I like that song. We could speed it up. But that I haven’t thought of. I’ve thought we could possibly cover ‘Hallelujah’, the Jeff Buckley song. And I’ve thought about covering ‘My Way’ by Frank Sinatra. But I don’t think I would ever cover a Christmas song.
MD: Have you heard Sir Christopher Lee’s latest Christmas metal song? It’s the third year running he’s released one.
JØRGEN: He’s done it three times?!
MD: Yeah. They’re terrible!
JØRGEN: They’re terrible?
MD: Yeah!
JØRGEN: [Laughs]
MD: He’s 92 years old, singing metal with a baritone opera voice. I want to like it but it’s not so great.
JØRGEN: It’s great that he’s trying!
MD: At 92, yeah, exactly! On that note, thank you so much for your time.
JØRGEN: Thank you.
Live Blackjazz (2011)