SPINNING BLACK CIRCLE
TARTAREAN DESIRE WEBZINE
This interview with Dennis Buhr of Spinning Black Circle was done face to face by Maud on October 2nd, 2005. Photos courtesy of Johan Sundin and Johan Ameyr.
When the six members of Spinning Black Circle took the stage last October at Studion, in the Folkets Hus of their hometown, Umeň, Sweden, it was as though a single, complex organism suddenly came to life and sprang into artful, skillful functionality. "Tight" and "professional" are understatements for the way they played their distinctive blend of progressive rock/metal with elements of grunge and hints of stonerrock, music whose sound dynamics are even more wide spectrum than its combination of genres. "Stage presence" is an inadequate description of the effect created by SBC's extraordinarily charismatic frontman, Joakim "Jocke" ┼str÷m (who also fills that role in Bloody April, formerly Starfuck), as he went to work, flanked by guitarists Olle Sj÷lund, Anders Nyberg and Peter Norstedt, and bassist Dennis Buhr, all aligned in front of the amazing Valter Koivunen's drum throne. And that was just the soundcheck.
The band more than lived up to those initial impressions in their performance that night at the inaugural Umeň Underground 2005, which featured two other local bands, Lithany and Coine (whose drummer is SBC's seemingly indefatigable Koivunen), along with Poue, from Piteň. Closing out the concert, SBC's set included selections from their latest demo, Hymnus Ira, and earlier songs, among which was "Muteness," on which they were joined by Cult of Luna's Klas Rydberg. A video clip can currently be viewed at SBC's website, a sneak peak from their upcoming dvd. As if SBC's performance wasn't inspiring enough itself, awareness that there were multiple video cameramen and at least one photographer officially capturing the show reinforced the conviction that this wasn't just any unsigned (for the moment) band, but a very special group whose path to major success is sure to be a short one. The day after the show Dennis Buhr, one of SBC's founding members, was gracious enough to get together with me for this interview, in which he relates details about SBC's formation and essence, sharing his thoughts about what has made this band a growing sensation.
Spinning Black Circle started out with an idea to play stonerrock in a new way, as your bio explains. Can you tell me what that meant, what kind of an idea you had, and how that idea evolved as more members gradually joined the band?
In the beginning we all listened a lot to stonerrock. Especially Olle. This Swedish band Mustasch released a great album that year called Ratsafari which we listened a lot to. Have you heard Mustasch?
Yes, I've heard a little of their music.
When we hooked up with Valter [Koivunen] from Coine, he was also really into Mustach. And he said, let's play stonerrock, like classic stonerrock. At the same time, Olle and Peter [Norstedt], who had been playing together in Mighty Woof, also had plans going on for a new band. So really the band was started in two directions!
Olle and Peter talked a lot, and me and Olle talked a lot. After awhile, when Olle and Peter had made some riffs, we hooked up in the rehearsal. Anders [Nyberg] joined at the same time. Anders does not listen to stonerrock at all; he's more into Deftones and Tool, A Perfect Circle, and that sort of music. And he works as a sound engineer, so he made his own guitar amp that sounds really weird. And I think that was the start, the main thing that made Spinning Black Circle less like stonerrock, because of Anders' guitar sound. We thought, well we've made something out of stonerrock. So Anders' grunge and metal influences colored our stonerrock idea. And what we play now, I don't think anyone really says, "Oh, this sounds stoner." I don't think anyone does that anymore. Some of the writers for papers and fanzines call it "post-grunge." The grunge of the 21st century kind of thing. [Some details of this response were supplied later, via email.]
Had you listened to a lot of Tool yourself?
No. I don't own a Tool album at all. I listen to a lot of Neurosis, Isis, Cult of Luna, that sort of music.
Do you think some of that is present in Spinning Black Circle?
Yeah. I think some of our new songs, like "The Charlatans" and "Muteness," have a lot of influences from that kind of music in the rhythms and the riffs.
You have three guitarists. Can you talk about the differences in their styles and techniques, and what they each contribute to the sound?
You really have to speak to them; I can't answer for their techniques and such. But they all play in their own way and with three different sounds: Olle with his massive distortion Peavy 5150 amp; Peter got this classic Marshall amp, and Anders' home-built pod-thingy. . . . So it's really three different guitars, all for the dynamics.
But if I would anyhow try to explain the three, it would be Anders the metal guy; he had played in a Swedish band called Disorge, as supporting act for Dark Tranquility, In Flames, Meshuggah, Therion, and Refused. Peter is like a Monster Magnet kind of guitarist. And Olle I guess is more like the solo guitarist.
When a song goes down, to have this kind of calm, floating sound, we need three guitars. And when we play the hard parts in the songs, it fills up with three different sounds and makes it awesome, I think. So I think of course we need the three guitarists. Without them, like if we take Olle away, if Olle's not at the rehearsal we can't play, and if Anders is missing it sounds [like] crap [with a little laugh]. So it's the key of Spinning Black Circle, the three guitars. [Some details of this response were supplied later, via email.]
Is the songwriting spread out across the band, or is one person in particular responsible?
As far as the lyrics and melodies, it's always Jocke [┼str÷m], the singer: he writes all the lyrics and makes up all the melodies. The songs are always made by either Peter and Olle together or by Anders alone or Valter alone. So it's kind of spread out, yeah. But the melodies and the lyrics are always Jocke.
There's an interesting story in the bio about how when you were looking for a vocalist and had sent Jocke the material you had, you were all blown away by the lyrics he wrote for "Dire Show" because it had been conceived purely as an instrumental, but he had turned that "7-minute instrumental mayhem" into "a 7-minute hymn." Did that pretty much sell you guys on having him in the band, or were you already sure you wanted him to be the vocalist?
Well, I had never heard him sing at all before he sang on the two songs that we sent him. And when I first heard it, I was like, "Well, this is kind of lame" [laughter]. And the second time I listened to it, it was like . . . I just . . . you know when the hair on . . .
Yeah. So I alone said "We need this guy." And I think all the other members were sure as well. We didn't listen to any other singer. We took him to the rehearsal room, and [pauses] it was amazing. He's a really good singer.
Incredibly good. He does really really great screams.
Has he talked to you about his approach to writing lyrics? Is there any kind of message that he tries to convey through them?
Well, we have this rule in Spinning Black Circle that we will not participate in anything. We're not against anything. Well, the song "Dire Show" is written against Bush: "Don't command with he who runs the show!" But that was not obvious to us until it was recorded. So the songs always refer to a statement or something, but it's not like we have sat down as a group and said, like "Well, we have to do a song against George Bush." It's not that at all.
Well, there are all different types of messages.
Yes. It's always a message in the songs, but not really like weeks of planning beforehand or something.
Would you say that this band has a special chemistry?
Yeah [emphatically]. It really has. Because it's six persons, and six persons with different music styles. This band is not six friends who started a band. It's more like a "we need him, and we need him, and we need him" kind of a band. Like the show last night [Umeň Underground 2005], that was the fourth that we made at all, and we have been around for this very short time, but I think that we have come really far in a year, and this is the start of something really good.
It's quite odd that we rehearsed four times, recorded four songs, made one video, four months later we made this live dvd. And [when] we sent out the live dvd to all the record companies, they were like, "wow, you're a demo band with a live dvd? That's kind of odd." So I think the live dvd was a great thing to do, and I would suggest to other bands to do it. Because first we sent this studio material; we heard nothing. Sent the same songs live [and then got responses]. And they can play the live versions and they can play the studio versions. Because I think record companies are always like "Well, can you do this live?"
And of course the 16-channel recording on the live dvd kicked ass, I think. So it sounded really good. And that is one of the things we have always said in Spinning Black Circle, that we have not dubbed anything. All the recordings in the studio are made kind of live, with Valter playing the drums with no click in his ears, no metronomes. So I would swear that we will never make a song that we can't play live, because I think this music is best live. I think it sounds less dyanmic when we play it in the studio.
Valter has doing double-duty, playing with Spinning Black Circle and Coine [At present, the latter's current status is, alas, uncertain.]. Has it been a challenge for him so far, or is he managing to juggle the two bands pretty easily?
Yeah, there's never been any arguments. The people in Coine are fantastic, and as for the drum play, he always wants to play really hard and lots of crash and ride. So we have like held him back a little [laughing], like "Hey Valter, ease up, ease up." He's a REALLY great drummer. Amazing.
There's some video footage at the Coine website of Valter drumming on what looks like a ledge or a counter top. I don't know if you've seen it -
It's really amazing to watch, because there's people around him while he's doing it and it goes on for some time, and they're mezmerized. It's like he has the whole room under some kind of spell.
So do you think he's getting to be his more aggressive self with Coine, and then is more content to do the style that's more suitable for Spinning Black Circle when he's working with you?
Well, we never say how he should play; he always comes up with his "Well I can try to do it like this," and it always sounds good. But I think that he plays a lot more aggressive in Coine than he does with us. So I think it's quite pleasing for him to . . .
Have the variety?
For someone who's never heard Spinning Black Circle before, what would you most want them to know about the music?
Well, all of our songs are long, like I don't think we have any song that's under four minutes, especially not live. I think the most important thing people should know is that it's a lot of dynamics, a lot of odd guitar effects, that we work hard on making odd noises with the guitars. And of course we're being compared to Tool because our singer is like a copy of Maynard. [In another Tool parallel, SBC guitarist/percussionist Peter Norstedt looks like he could be Danny Carey's younger brother.]
Has Jocke listened to Maynard a lot?
No, I don't think he . . . of course he's listened to Tool and A Perfect Circle, but I think he's more into Chris Cornnell, that sort of type of singer. But we want him to sing these long phrases like with a wail. So of course we are being compared to Tool. But I would like to [think of SBC] more as grunge than metal. So I think "Post-Grunge" is both cool and a good expression.
Do you think you'll be adding more band members in the future?
Yes, we are always into trying new ways of making odd sounds on the guitars, and I especially listen a lot to music that has synthesizers and sound samples. We are looking for a member who . . . of course he must create the samples. I don't like to rip samples. So what we need is a member who can both sing back-up vocals and who can create and play sound samples. When I find him we're going to try it. But it's not like we NEED him. And also we've got Peter, this guitarist; he is also a drummer, so we're going to try to put two drums up on stage and play percussions; we're going to try that as well.
Will these be two full drum kits or just Valter and then some other kind of percussion?
Valter with his full drum kit of course, and someone with, like, an extra snare, something. So I think there will be a seventh member--not tomorrow, but maybe [later].
But it has to be someone that will fit in with that perfect chemistry that you want to have?
Yes, and it has to be . . . he needs to add something. It's not that easy: he'd have to be merged into it. It's not like: it's Black Circle: we're this. It can't be like that. He needs to be merged into it--into the Black Circle [with a little laugh].
Why do you feel the need to add backing vocals?
Well, we have tried . . . we have this song "Muteness" that we played live with Klas [Rydberg], the singer from Cult of Luna; he growled on it. We're going to record it with him as well. It brings more aggression, and you know Jocke's way of singing is smooth. Of course he can scream as well. But sometimes we would like to have someone who sings along with him. And we have tried this. As I said, we have had Klas from Cult of Luna. It sounds really nice, I think. And I think that is what we need. And we have tried to sing as well--I have tried to sing, Anders has tried as well, Olle has tried. Well, of course when Anders and Olle sing the back-up vocals it works, but it's not topnotch, and I think what we need is a really good back-up vocalist. So I will not be surprised if we have seven members in like a year or something.
Jocke is listed in the band member info as vocals and samples. Has he already been doing some samples but you want more of them or different kinds?
He had made samples, yes, and started playing them with an mp3 player on stage, with pedals; he got this delay and chorus with pedals. So we have got this little mp3 player and started up samples between songs. But that is not like samples made with the music; that is made after the music is done. So I think if Jocke is going to play samples live and sing it's going to be a difficult task for him.
In talking about your newest recordings, for Hymnus Ira, you've stated that they set the standard for Spinning Black Circle songs to come. Can you explain what that means?
The songs Olle made and makes now are more in "The Charlatans"/"Muteness" style: melancholy and aggressive, heavier I guess. It's always hard to put a certain song in a certain genre. Peter and Olle has been writing most of the songs out of the stonerrock ideas from the beginning of the band, but in time Anders has been writing more and more songs, me and Jocke as well. I think that's the difference: those songs tend to be more melancholy and not as stoner as it used to be. And that will affect songwriting for Peter and Olle as well. If you listen to "Remorse" and "Muteness" [both from the Live Recorded Rehearsal CD/DVD, the former also appearing on the Black Circle EP], you can tell the difference. I think we can mix the two styles up, and I think that is the kind of songs that you will hear in the future: really dynamic. [Some parts of this response were supplied later, via email.]
Many thanks to Dennis for his patience and thoughtful responses, and to the band as a whole for being so welcoming. Currently, Spinning Black Circle are recording their first album, with plans for a fall 2006 release. Projected to include 10 - 12 tracks, some of which will be rearranged and re-recorded versions of songs from their last two demos, their debut album promises to be even more tight, cohesive, and "produced" than their previous efforts, and the band will be working to perfect every detail. A visual and verbal account of the recording process can be viewed at www.myspace.com/spinningblackcircle.
Links of interest:
Spinning Black Circle