Members: Aidan Baker, Leah Buckareff
Occupation: Drummer, composer, songwriter, bookbinder (Leah Buckareff), guitarist, composer, songwriter (Aidan Baker)
Current release: Nadja are joined by Ángela Muñoz Martínez on their latest full-length Nalepa, available via Midira.
If you enjoyed this interview with Nadja and would like to find out more, visit the band on tumblr, Instagram, and bandcamp.
Where does the impulse to create something come from for you? What role do often-quoted sources of inspiration like dreams, other forms of art, personal relationships, politics etc play?
Generally speaking, we are most often inspired to create by other forms of art—films, sometimes, and sometimes other musical works, but most often novels that speak to or have a strong emotional impact on us.
Our last album, Luminous Rot, was inspired by various 'first contact' science fiction books like Cixin Liu's Three Body Problem and Stanislaw Lem's Solaris.
Or, as earlier example, our album Radiance of Shadows was inspired by the post-apocalyptic / nuclear / irradiated themes of Shelley Jackson's Half Life and Lydia Millet's Oh Pure & Radiant Heart.
On the other hand, sometimes simply making music, making sound, is an inspiration itself—sound engenders sound. This is true of Nalepa, as we had never played together before as a trio, so going into the studio was an experiment and a novelty for all three of us and the simple process of playing was inspiring itself.
For you to get started, do there need to be concrete ideas – or what some have called a 'visualisation' of the finished work? What does the balance between planning and chance look like for you?
Not necessarily, no. Sometimes we do have an idea of a certain mood or atmosphere we would like to try and capture and share—as with our album Seemannsgarn, for example, which was a specific attempt to sonically embody the sense or experience a physical space.
But even with this album the process of creating it informs the final shape of the piece ... as above, sound engenders sound. So, we may have some very simple or basic plans or structures in mind, but we normally allow the process of creating, allow the sound itself to lead the way to the final form.
Is there a preparation phase for your process? Do you require your tools to be laid out in a particular way, for example, do you need to do 'research' or create 'early versions'?
We do sometimes make sketches as something to start with, which one might consider demos, but normally they become the backbone of a song. In the end, they're still part of the finished work, so shouldn't really be considered a 'demo' as one might normally think of one.
Do you have certain rituals to get you into the right mindset for creating? What role do certain foods or stimulants like coffee, lighting, scents, exercise or reading poetry play?
No, we don't really have any such rituals. For us, it's simply a question of sitting down, strapping on an instrument, and hitting record ...
What do you start with? How difficult is that first line of text, the first note?
That depends on the album or project … if it's something more inspired by external work, we might write lyrics or song-titles out first. If the work is more exploratory, it's more about starting with a riff or backbone for a song … or simply some sort of textural sound/noise which we might build a song around.
Once you've started, how does the work gradually emerge?
We like to work fast. We sort of compose and record our music simultaneously, such that we are writing as we perform / record, so to speak, trying to capture the spontaneity of the moment.
Our album Queller, for example, was written and recorded over the course of a weekend—and was something of a direct response to an earlier failed attempt … we had been trying to write something with a more post-punk / coldwave / Killing Joke sort of sound. We found ourselves labouring over the material, trying to fix it or salvage it, which only seemed to make it worse …
In the end we simply discarded those songs, started fresh, and quickly recorded the four songs on Queller.
Many writers have claimed that as soon as they enter into the process, certain aspects of the narrative are out of their hands. Do you like to keep strict control over the process or is there a sense of following things where they lead you?
As we've answered above, we can be inspired by the process … which arguably demands a certain surrender.
Perhaps it's more a sense of balancing the chaos with control—allowing the music to lead, but not letting it take over completely … taming it, but allowing its freedom, its wildness.
Often, while writing, new ideas and alternative roads will open themselves up, pulling and pushing the creator in a different direction. Does this happen to you, too, and how do you deal with it? What do you do with these ideas?
Certainly this happens, and it can be often quite exciting. The unexpected should always be embraced in the hope that it might lead somewhere unexpected or surprising.
There are many descriptions of the creative state. How would you describe it for you personally? Is there an element of spirituality to what you do?
There is certainly a sense of a communal experience—which arguably extends across physical media and not just concert situations—with music.
Sharing space (whether virtual or physical) in an auditory environment can certainly be rewarding, on a physical and emotional level, which might be considered spiritual, in a way.
Especially in the digital age, the writing and production process tends towards the infinite. What marks the end of the process? How do you finish a work?
As mentioned above, we like to work quickly. When something becomes overly belaboured, we often take that as a sign that something is not working and either step back and finish the work or abandon it entirely and move on.
Once a piece is finished, how important is it for you to let it lie and evaluate it later on? How much improvement and refinement do you personally allow until you're satisfied with a piece? What does this process look like in practise?
Normally, we take a break after making a first mix of an album and then come back to it after a few days to see if we are still happy with it and / or whether it needs changes.
This can get problematic, of course, if one keeps going back and making change after change, so normally our first assessments are based on whether there are audible errors or mistakes that need attention, then secondly we listen on a more aesthetic level to ensure the mix has captured what we want the album to sound like.
Coming back to an album some time—years, even—later can always be difficult and the urge to remix or rework does take some self-control. Whenever we have remixed older albums we try to stay true to the original feel of the songs so that they are not necessarily changed, just improved.
Perhaps the most extreme examples of remixing/-working we have done are for some recent vinyl edition of albums that were previously only on CD and had to be altered to fit the format—Desire In Uneasiness, Autopergamene, and Skin Turns To Glass, for example.
What's your take on the role and importance of production, including mixing and mastering for you personally? How involved do you get in this?
We are very hands on and involved with production and mixing—it can be a challenge letting go and allowing other people mix one's work.
Mastering, on the other hand, seems to make more sense done by someone else—if only because it is another set of ears listening to the work before the album is released.
We have most often worked with James Plotkin as a mastering engineer—not only because we trust his ears, but also his aesthetics, as we've been fans of his music as well for a long time.
After finishing a piece or album and releasing something into the world, there can be a sense of emptiness. Can you relate to this – and how do you return to the state of creativity after experiencing it?
Yes. Post-album-release-blues … it can be difficult to get out of … though of course moving onto the next project often helps!
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you personally feel as though writing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?
Of course it is different.
Sure, music is a 'consumable' but it doesn't nourish in the same way as a cup of coffee might … music is about something more than physicality. Even if one might experience it only on a physical level (simply hearing it), the possibilities of music to take one 'higher' are much more so than, say, the bodily response to caffeine ...