SUNN 0)))



This interview with Greg Anderson of Sunn 0))) was done face to face by Z. D. Smith on October 17th, 2005.

I was recently afforded the pleasure of a brief chat with Greg Anderson, of Southern Lord records and Sunn 0))) (as well as others), after a Boris/The Hidden Hand show at The Knitting Factory.

Right now has got to be a pretty interesting time to be a member of Sunn 0))). You guys just put out a kind of radical album, that's in some ways unlike anything you've done before, not to mention you just got a full-color picture in the New York Times. What stage do you feel like you're in right now?
I feel really grateful, actually. I feel really thankful in a lot of ways, and it's very bizarre to me because we've been doing this for a quite a long time, and Stephen and I never, ever expected any of this. That goes for whatever we do; so when something happens for us, it's kind of like a pleasant surprise, because we never expect anything. Our expectations are nothing. Always. And so when stuff happens for us it's really cool, and I'm just really blown away that people are connecting with what we're doing. It's very strange to me, because [Sunn 0)))] is very challenging. I know this music is not for everyone; there's rarely drums, there's no song structure, no choruses; there's no verse-chorus-bridge and I realize that's challenging for a lot of people; it's experimental music, no matter how you slice it. That to me is very exciting that people are getting into it; it's kind of like, what the fuck? [Greg laughs.]

So do you feel like your audience and the way you're being perceived is expanding?
Yeah, definitely. I mean, more people are getting into it, and like I said, it's not for everybody, it's challenging. We never expected any of this, and now that it's happening, people are buying our records, coming to our shows - it's mindblowing. It's great.

So given that Sunn 0)))'s music is so experimental and in many ways not like anything else, or any other metal, do you do feel any affinity for any of the experimental or avant-garde tradition, like La Monte Young, Tony Conrad, any of those guys?
Oh, yeah, we have a lot of respect for those guys. But for me, the thing that I personally connect with is jazz. Like Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Eric Dolphy - that is to me, the experimentalism and the freedom that, although Sunn 0))) has nothing to do with them soundwise, it's the concept and theory. I always say, Sunn 0))) is my jazz band. We're into freedom and exploration of sound, and I was really inspired by what those guys were doing, and that to me is an inspiration for what we're doing in Sunn 0))).

Then with a jazz influence in mind, obviously with _Black One_ there's a black metal influence. You've got Wrest and Malefic doing vocals, the song titles are pretty black metal, and there's a certain feeling of coldness, you could say, that feels like a lot of black metal, especially American black metal. How did that come to be?
Well, Stephen and I. basically, to start with, every record that we do, we try to make it a little different from the one before it. Sometimes it's subtle differences, sometimes it's major differences, and recently, like with the _White One_ and _White Two_ records, we've really been trying to go into new territory. So with this new record, Stephen and I had been listening to a lot of black metal, and most of the stuff we were really intrigued by was stuff that was kind of pushing the boundaries of black metal, was stuff that these guys Wrest and Malefic were doing, and so we ended up just contacting them, and asking them if they'd be interested in working with us. It was very cool because our hunches were correct. We thought, these guys seem to be cool and seem to be pushing a lot of boundaries; maybe they'll be interested in playing in something that's really avant-garde, compared to what they're used to. And they were into it, and they ended up wanting to be involved in what we were doing, and what they turned in, as far as collaborations go, I think is absolutely great, really very cool.

How much of a hand did they have in writing the music, aside from the vocals?
Well, the music was written by Stephen and I, and they contributed the vocals but actually on one of the tracks, "Cry For the Weeper", Malefic added some guitar and keyboards, too. But mostly it was vocals from those two guys; they were given an open invitation for whatever they wanted to do, and Wrest decided to vocals. We said, "Hey man, play guitar, play drums, play bass, do vocals, do whatever you want." He decided to do vocals only, and that's what he did on the second track, "It Took The Night To Believe." As far as Malefic goes, he contributed to one song, recording the stuff at his house, and then we actually got to collaborate in the studio with him, he came in and he did some vocals live.

Yeah, you definitely notice a kind of expanded sonic palette, in terms of the textures that you use. When you're composing the songs, what's your approach to the sound? Is it more of an improvisation, or do pay some mind to the harmonic motion, what overtones are being sounded, something like that?
As far as what we do in the studio, it's part improvisation. Some of the sounds are completely made up on the spot and some of the songs are kind of skeletal ideas that Stephen or I will bring and say, "Hey, we've got this rough idea, let's add to it, let's expand it" [we are briefly interrupted because the lady working the door at The Knitting Factory needs us to move further away. We do so.]

We use a little bit of both aspects in the recording. Some improvisation, some preconceived ideas that we bring in.

So, talking about the recording process, you say that you are always expanding and changing things. Do you have any idea what's coming up next? Do you have anybody you'd like to work with, maybe?
Actually, the very next thing we're doing is a collaboration record with Boris. We're recording it, actually, next week, in Seattle. It's gonna be before we start our West Coast tour with them; it's gonna be a Sunn 0)))/Boris collaboration record, and we have no idea what's going to happen. Stephen and I have a few ideas for stuff we'd like to put in there but I don't know as far as what's going to happen. So there's that, and then beyond that Stephen and I have been talking about working with more percussion, actually, and working with some drummers. There's nothing planned, but there's been talk.

Obviously in some ways things are really going well for Sunn 0))) right now, but you and Stephen are also both involved in half a dozen other very vital projects [Goatsnake, Teeth of Lions Rule the Divine, Khanate, Burning Witch, Khanate, Ginnungagap, Lotus Eaters]. Any ideas on what's coming up outside of Sunn 0)))?
I dunno, man. Actually, I'm kind of working on some solo stuff, that may see the light of day, just pounding it out right now, and really experimenting but there's actually talk right now of maybe another Goatsnake recording happening next year, I don't know if it's going to happen or not, but there's been talk and Steve of course has a lot of different projects going on. For me, personally, it's really difficult to do a lot of stuff because of the label [Southern Lord Recordings]. It takes a lot of my attention, to do things correct, and the way that I envision them turning out, it requires pretty much all of my attention. It's really hard for me to focus on [musical side projects], and that's one of the reasons that Goatsnake has kind of fallen by the wayside a little bit, or one of the reasons that I don't do much else outside of Sunn 0))) because Southern Lord requires a majority of my attention. But Steve's involvement with Southern Lord is on a design basis. He does all the design so he has a lot more time to do that stuff, and I think that's awesome, I think it's killer that he's doing all this other stuff.

Following up on that, Goatsnake has obviously been around for a little while. But something like Teeth of Lions Rule The Divine: with that sort of collaboration, do you usually have a specific musical idea that you want develop through that, or is it more of an excuse just to play music with people you'd like to play music with?
Kind of a little bit of both. Teeth of Lions, actually, was just Stephen has been jamming with this guy from the UK, Justin [Greaves]. And Justin is a fucking amazing drummer, and Steve is like, "Hey, I've been jamming with this guy Justin, he wants to jam with you," and we happened to be going over to the UK at that point, and we were really good friends with Lee Dorrian, and into the same stuff, so we just said, "Let's make a really super-heavy record." To me, Teeth of Lions is kind of like a Sunn 0))) record, with drums. A lot of riffs are very similar to what Stephen and I would try to do in Sunn 0))). But a lot of stuff we do, we try not to analyze it too much. We try to let it happen. I think that's the fun and joy of doing it; it keeps it fun and exciting and fresh, you just do it and if it's something you think is valid you put out on a CD or a record.

People certainly seem to be responding to it.
Yeah! I'm grateful. I think it's amazing.

So what do you think of the new Earth record?
I think it's absolutely amazing. Of course, I put it out, so I might have a kind of biased opinion [laughs], but I think on so many different levels it is a really incredible record, because it would be so easy for those guys to say, "Ok, the climate is right for us to make a super-heavy drone record. People are into this kind of stuff, Sunn has kind of set the table for us, we could do that." Instead, they make the absolute, most different record that you could possibly think of. However, it's still slow, it's still heavy, and it's still dark, just in a completely different context. They're injecting this country, sort of Neil Young atmosphere to it, which I think is genius, man! And it's so dark, which is always what attracted me to Earth, whether it's _Earth 2_, or _Pentastar_, or the later stuff, after Dylan came back, it's still dark, and it still has. I connect with it because it's really dark, and it's great; I think that this album is the pinnacle of Earth. It's as dark as _Earth 2_, it's as heavy, but it's not distorted! It's fucking genius, man. It blew me away when I first heard it. I was speechless, I didn't know to say. I thought it was the most amazing album. And to be able to put it out, and help those guys out now, and that people are appreciating what they're doing now, it's a blessing, man. It's just great.

Well, that's about it. Do you have any final message for our readers, outside of the music, of course?
[laughs] No, no message, man. Just: thanks for the support, and hope you enjoy it now, and in the future. That's about it.

I'd like to thank Greg for a heroic interview in the face of a night's worth of bourbon and other delights, as well as Dave from Earsplit PR for his dilligence in making this talk happen.

Links of interest:

Sunn 0)))
Southern Lord Records