Interview with Niels of God is an Astronaut – The Parish in Austin, TX
God is an Astronaut has been together since 2002. During their 14 year stint, they have produced multiple albums and one EP. I sat down with Niels to catch up, find out about past developments in the band, and to find out what the band was up to next. With a second North American tour under their belt and a new recording contract with a global label, Niels was gracious enough to answer my questions after their gig.
Somewherecold – It’s good to see you again and I’m grateful that you’re willing to take time to talk to me.
Niels – Of course.
So how is the [North American] tour going so far?
The tour has been great. It’s been five long years since the last one. We wanted to come back sooner but, of course, the expense, the visas, the flights, and all the other bullshit, taxes, the usual stuff. But, yeah, the attendance has been up really, really good and the fans realize that, maybe, it will be another five years, maybe never, I don’t know, before we will be back [in the U.S.]. But, yeah, the shows have been really good both in Canada and in the U.S.A.
How many shows do you have left?
I think we have four shows left after tonight. Nashville, Knoxville, Washington [D.C.] and New York.
You’ve been together since 2002, so 14 years now.
Yeah, myself and Torsten have been playing music together since 1994. God is an Astronaut was our last attempt to do something that we really liked in the music business because before that, nothing really worked. Well, it seemed to work and we are here 14 years later still playing.
So how has your approach to song writing changed over the course of that 14 years?
It has a little bit. I mean, the first album was trip hop. It was more based on the electronic scene in England. So like Massive Attack, we would use a drum loop. Before that, we were doing straight up dance music like Chemical Brothers but with the first album, The End of the Beginning, we wanted to use more melody based stuff. That was the start of God is an Astronaut. Obviously, All is Violent, we have more live instrumentation in it: live drums. We kept that going up until, I suppose, Origins. Origins was slightly different from the fact that we really didn’t… all the other stuff before that was written with a guitar or a piano and we would build it from there. On Origins, we would just start off with a sound or an effect and build something out of that. And the current album, Helios \ Erebus, uses a slightly different approach again. It was more dark ambient, heavier tunings, much lower tones.
It comes across great live.
Since it’s been a while since we’ve talked to you, can you talk a little bit more in depth about the transition from your self-title disc to Age of the Fifth Sun to Origins and then to the current album, Helios | Erebus?
I think the self-titled album, right up to the period before the self-titled album, we hadn’t done much touring. Just before the self-titled album we did a lot of tours for the first time. We even played with bands like Caspian in Europe. So the self-titled was our first more kind of rock album I suppose. We brought more of the live intensity to it.
Age of the Fifth Sun kind of was, not really a progression, but more of a retrospective thing. We tried a few different things.
Origins was a totally different approach. We wanted to do a more mainstream record. The songwriting was completely different. We started with tones, guitar effects.. I mean, actually, this is the record that people said had too many synthesizers on it but there isn’t one synthesizer on it. Everything is guitar effects. So everyone thinks we were just playing with synthesizers but we actually didn’t have any synthesizers of any kind. It’s all experimental guitar effects.
With Helios | Erebus, we wanted a much darker approach. It’s probably because Origins didn’t go down too well. It kind of split the fan base. Half the fans loved it; Half the fans didn’t. So, I suppose, we were in a bad fuck’n mood. We wanted to do something much darker, much heavier, completely not commercial. Just, I suppose back to the roots.
So, the last time we talked to you, you were a threesome. Now, you have Jamie in the band.
Yeah, Jamie came in around the end of Age of the Fifth Sun. We had released the album already and he came… we were going to do a radio session in Dublin on RTÉ, which is the national station, so the idea was to get Jamie to play some piano pieces because we couldn’t do it at the same time. There was a big grand piano and we can’t play piano that well. So, we got him in and he just ended up staying. He’s really grown with the band and he’s become an integral part of the live show for sure. It’s been a very natural progression. It’s like he’s always been there.
So Helios | Erebus seems to have a theme running through it with references to various mythologies. I mean, you’ve always have referenced mythological names in your song titles but this one seems to be heavy in that regard.
Yeah. Well, this is kind of, in a loose sense, our first kind of concept album since All is Violent, All is Bright and Helios | Erebus is the struggle between light and dark, kind of a reflection of what is happening in the world. The world is pretty fucked up at the moment. Always has been but we can just see it now with Islamic terrorism, people getting their heads cut off for no reason, and the Mexican cartels using chainsaws to cut up people. You know, there’s a lot of dark shit. So, the light, the happiness…. Me having kids, it’s the happiest time in my life. And, so, it’s like a struggle between light and dark. We released the album… we announced the album on the eclipse in Europe. So that kinda coincided with our announcement. Then we released the album on the longest day of the year. So we wanted to kinda keep it a bit mysterious I suppose.
So, could you talk about what’s next for God is an Astronaut?
So, we’ve since signed a deal with Napalm Records. So the next album will be coming out with Napalm. It will be a much bigger release. Helios | Erebus was, like most of our albums, self-released on our own label. We actually, for Helios | Erebus did zero P.R. We didn’t care about the press whatsoever. We didn’t send anything out to anyone. So, what you see is all word of mouth and underground. Origins was fully serviced to every magazine but we didn’t send out anything for Helios | Erebus. So I suppose the next album will get the full treatment again. So, we will see what will happen.
Worldwide distribution, right?
On the new album, I’m drawn to “Vetus Memoria”, which you played tonight. Can you talk a little bit about writing that song and recording it?
[Someone] mentioned that it’s the most God is an Astronaut track on the album. It came together pretty quickly. We wanted to make it heavy at the end. It is what it is. I’m not sure what to say about it. We do love playing it live anyway.
So, we have a lot of gearheads that read our magazine, so they are interested in gear. How has the stage set up changed for you?
The stage set up is completely changed radically in the last couple years. We don’t use any amplification of any kind. So, when you are looking at the band, there are no amps behind us. We basically have a silent stage. We use a lot of infills. It makes it much clearer for the audience. You can turn it up a lot louder. So, a lot of people then say that they watch the show and it didn’t hurt my ears. This is because, if you have a lot of amps on stage, by the time the amp sound reaches the crowd, there’s a bit of delay. So, you are getting a total mess, especially in a small club. So, it’s much better sound now. We use Axe-FX. Bass uses a Noble preamp. It’s all gone digital. Digital and analog really, so yeah. The guitars are both on Axe. The keyboards are on Mainstage. Yeah, it’s very versatile. The Axe-FX are incredible. What Torsten does is, when he’s making sounds, you have what’s called a “tone print”. He has like effect pedals but he can take Axe, record into it, and it matches the sound exactly. So you could actually be playing a Marshall Stack up there and it would be no different because of the tone print technology. We’ve always tried to embrace technology. I can’t see the point of not embracing it. For us, it’s important to move with what technology is there and we will keep doing that for sure.
You have abandoned the film visuals in your set and have opted for a light show. Why is that?
Well, we left behind the visuals because everyone started doing it. We went to Russia and there was a band on before us. We put the visuals up, did our sound check and were happy. These guys come on and everything was the same fuck’n visuals. Every scene was the same. Bands began to copy, as they do, and we said F this.
The light show is great.
Derval Freeman is our lighting engineer and she has really brought the presentation to a whole new level.
Well, thank you so much for visiting with me Niels and safe travels on the rest of the tour. Do you have any other comments for our readers?
Thanks for listening to us for the last few years.. these last 14 years. We are still here, we’re still alive. Definitely another album coming out probably late next year or early the year after. Keep listening. We love you all.
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