‘In old sci-fi movies I see and hear a sort of romantic, naive idea of what they imagined the future to be like, and I like that.’
After almost a year of silence, Rasabasa, one of my favorite bands in Lithuania, released their new song “Interstellar” and the video for it this week. If you haven’t seen it yet, you really should, especially if you are a fan of movies like Blade Runner or of nostalgic synthpop music.
As I’ve already written in my first Lithuanian feature on Rasabasa two years ago, their story is pretty unique, both in a Lithuanian and European music context. The band consists of three Norwegian musicians, producers Snorre Bergerud and Bjørn Holmesland, drummer Sindre Skeie and Lithuanian singer Rasa Bubulytė. They started playing together while studying at Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (LIPA), one of the UK’s leading institutions for music studies, but instead of staying in Britain or moving back to Norway, they took a much less predictable, and I would say risky, path and came to Vilnius. The band have established their own studio Ymir Audio there and set a new quality standard in the local music scene.
Snorre Bergerud, a former metal musician, who now can produce a catchy pop tune one week and apocalyptic metal song another, is mostly responsible for all of this. I’ve been wanting to do a proper interview with him for a long time and now, after the release of the new single, I finally have it. We talked about everything from the new, more electronic sound of Rasabasa to the ridiculousness of the term ‘gay propaganda’, which some people claim to have witnessed in the “Interstellar” video.
And the best news is that already this year there’s gonna be two new albums, one by Rasabasa and one by a new metal band consisting of the same members, only without Rasa on vocals.
We talked in English, so I decided to keep the interview in its original form. I know that if you are still reading, it means you do understand this language.
So the new Rasabasa video got 10,000 views in less than 2 days. I think that’s a lot having in mind that the band has been silent for almost a year. Congrats with that! How does it feel to be back on track?
Thank you! It’s nice to see that people like the video, or at least that people are interested in watching the video. And we are really happy to be releasing new music again. After a long time of writing and recording, it feels like a bit of a release to start putting new music out there. At least for me, the songs keep buzzing around in my head until they are released, only then do they feel completely done, so it’s great to get at least one of them out. It makes room for new ideas.
“Interstellar” sounds very different compared to your older songs, especially those from the very first album, the one with a pig on the cover – I still have it in my CD collection hoping that one day I’ll be able to sell it on eBay for a high price. Rasabasa sounded more like a rock band then, now it’s mostly electronic music with a lot of vintage synths and almost no guitars. Is this a new direction that you are in? Or is it just this one particular song?
That album you are referring to isn’t really an album, as far as we are concerned, it was the first 8 songs we made, and it was actually made as a student project. We were then offered to release it in Lithuania, which we did, but it was still just a demo, really.
Regarding “Interstellar”, as a song, purely from a melodic and harmonic perspective, it’s not very different from our other songs, I don’t think. The melodies we write, the vocal lines Rasa writes, are how they are no matter what. I have written with Bjørn for 15 years now, he is the most talented producer and musician I know, and we have developed our own way of writing and of working together. But from a production perspective it is of course different. We got really bored of playing slow, reverby music live, especially after playing a lot of festivals, so that’s one reason why this song is a lot faster than the older ones. Also, we try to challenge ourselves by using different approaches to the songwriting process, cause it’s really easy to repeat yourself when writing. And that’s not only boring for us, but for the audience as well. We have been writing more and more on synths and less on guitars, and as we got kept getting more synths, we kept writing more with them. And since Bjørn and I, who do the production in the band, are much less adept at playing synths than guitars, we get more happy accidents, and we delve into more unknown territory when we use them for writing. This helps us to keep things fresh, I think.
And yeah, the whole album will sound closer to the new song than to the old stuff.
The music video for “Interstellar” is really cool. What I liked most about it is how convincing it is. I’m not an expert on these things, but for me the video doesn’t look cheap or amateurish though the idea to film it as if everything is happening in space must have been challenging. How did you make it?
Thanks, I’m glad you like it. Actually, the idea of the video was to make a bit of a homage to seventies and early eighties science fiction. The song obviously has a lot of influences from old synth music, and specifically old synth soundtracks, so it was really just an extension of this idea to also make the video like that.
So we tried to, as far as it was practically and financially possible, make everything by hand. The space ship, for example, is just a small model, made with electrical and plumbing parts that we found in Ermitažas, plus a ping pong ball and some other stuff. The planets are made with different sized balls that we covered in glue and sand, then spray painted. And the background in the scene where the two girls meet in the video is made from styrofoam. The cockpit of the space ship is all cardboard and plexiglass. Of course we also used computer effects, but they are all in 2D, no 3D animation or anything like that. It’s basically a DIY video, where we did everything ourselves, or with help from friends, built everything ourselves, were very lucky to find talented people who wanted to be in the video, and were lucky that Saulius wanted to direct and actually had time.
What is about early sci-fi movies and the music from the same time that inspired you to make “Interstellar”?
First of all, I grew up watching those types of movies, so I feel a stronger emotional connection to those than I do to newer movies, as everyone does with what they remember from when they were kids. I was a small boy in the the late eighties and early nineties, but in Norway, they showed American movies that were at from at least ten years earlier than that, so I would watch E.T. and Alien all the time on cable TV.
We see our music as pop music, or maybe some sort of cinematic pop music, and when I think of pop I think of escapism. And watching sci fi as a kid, and listening to this old synth music, I was dreaming of other worlds, of traveling through space, stuff like that. So to me there’s a connection, between escapist music and escapist film, which is what a lot of sci fi is. And even the more dystopic movies like Blade Runner had the most amazing soundtracks, soundtracks that really tried to create a different kind of atmosphere. In old sci fi movies I see and hear a sort of romantic, naive idea of what they imagined the future to be like, and I like that.
From a songwriting perspective, when you use old equipment like analog synths and tape echoes, you have certain limitations, and those limitations really force you to think in different ways, which can help creativity. Having a framework, a border to work within, can really make you come up with interesting things. Secondly, when you create sounds, it’s a lot more inspiring to have a physical object to interact with, like a hardware synth, so that’s part of my reason for preferring them to their software counterparts.
The video was shared by LGBT Friendly Vilnius Facebook page and some people called it ‘Gay propaganda’ just because it has two girls who are not even kissing, only shaking hands! I found this crazy. What do you think about such reaction?
Well first of all, there is no such thing as gay propaganda. What a ridiculous term that is. I reject the idea completely. If something like gay propaganda were a real thing, it would follow that people change their sexual preferences based on what they see around them. And since we live in a highly heterosexual society, it would mean that all gay people would see straight people on the street, or in music videos, or in films, and think “hey, that’s a man and a woman being in love. I will stop being gay right now.” But of course, that doesn’t happen. In the same way that straight people don’t “turn gay” just by seeing someone being gay. And even if they did, so what? It doesn’t affect you that someone else is gay. Being gay is only a problem when someone decides to make it a problem, in the same way that being black was never a problem for black people until white people decided to make it really really difficult.
Secondly, we didn’t see anything gay in the video, but if that’s how people choose to interpret it, sure, why not. We have no problems with that. There was an overarching idea behind the video, but we are not going to say what it was, because firstly it’s really pretentious to try to put big philosophical ideas into a four-minute video, and knowing the original idea might make people stop interpreting it for themselves. We used that idea as a reference for ourselves, but the main purpose of the video was just to make something visually interesting.
And of course, if the LGBT community embraces the video, that is only a good thing. Gay rights are human rights, and it shouldn’t be necessary to state that we support human rights.
“Interstellar” sounds retro and nostalgic, yet very fresh at the same time. I’d say it’s because in the past few years there have been quite a lot of new bands that draw their inspiration from 80’s synthpop and new wave music. Chvrches and Austra are probably my favorite ones, but there are many others. Do you see Rasabasa as part of this 80’s revival, if we can call it a revival?
When I produce for other artists, I see it as part of my job to find out what the artist sees as their market and target audience, and then I make sure that the music and production fits into the parameters of that market at that time. But when it comes to our own music, which we first and foremost make for our own enjoyment, we really just make it sound the way we like at the time. If guitars make us excited, that’s what we will use. If synths make us excited, that’s what we will use. Right now we are really into the synth thing, but I’m pretty sure we will get bored of that and try something else again soon. The album we will release this year will be pretty synth heavy, but the next one after that might be only guitars, or maybe a mix of other things, I really don’t know.
Since you mention Chvrches I will say that they are very eighties sounding to my ears, and I don’t think “Interstellar” sounds like the eighties really, apart from that DX7 stab at the beginning of the choruses. To me there’s a distinct difference between synth music from the seventies and synth music from the eighties, in the same way that Led Zeppelin and Guns N’Roses sound really different, and are clearly from the seventies and eighties, respectively, even though they are both rock bands with distorted guitars.
If you want to know some of the specific influences behind the song, I can tell you that the drums aren’t programmed, they are played live, and they sound quite disco-ish to our ears. I hear early Michael Jackson in the percussion of the song, and Vangelis and Tangerine Dream in the synths, for example. But of course, this is just how we view the song, and I realize that when we release it, we are allowing other people’s interpretation of it. Which means that there will be a lot of people bleating “Chvrches” or “Depeche Mode” or “David Guetta” or whatever. But it’s not our job to deal with that, or to react to that musically.
One of many things that distinguish Rasabasa from other bands in Lithuania is that you aren’t afraid to call your music pop music. A lot of artists here try to avoid this word as much as they can because, having in mind the history of Lithuanian pop music, it associates with a very, very bad taste. I personally think that it’s time to take this word back and restore it’s original meaning which doesn’t have such negative connotation. So I think it is a good thing that you set example that it’s OK to play pop and that pop music can actually sound good. Are you aware of all this context?
I am aware that “pop” is a word that has a lot of stigma attached to it here, but again, I just don’t see how this is our problem. I’m not going to call our music “experimental” or “krautrock” or whatever appeals to people who think they are cultured, just because they don’t like the word “pop”. I come from a background of playing noise music, extreme metal, hardcore, grindcore, jazz, experimental and everything else that is non-commercial. I love music ranging from Discordance Axis to Wu Tang Clan, from Merzbow to M83. I also like playing pop music, and in the last month I’ve been mostly listening to Chromeo. I mention this because I don’t understand why people are proud of listening to music that is unknown, or music that they think is inaccessible to most people. I only understand that people listen to what they listen to because they enjoy it, because that’s what I do myself. As much as I hate Sting’s music, for example, I don’t care that other people like it, as long as 1) I don’t have to listen to him myself and 2) as long as Sting doesn’t stop me from making my own music, which he is not doing. Who cares that people listen to One Direction? In 2014, you can make your own lo-fi black metal in your room as much as you want, without One Direction affecting you in the slightest, and they are definitely not going to steal any market shares from you either. Most chefs know how to make more than one type of food, and most people don’t like eating the same thing every day.
What’s next for Rasabasa? Can we expect the album and live shows soon?
We will release an album in autumn, which we are very excited about, and we will gig to support that album, but not sooner. There is no point in us doing gigs without having a new set to show people.
Looking at your career from a broader perspective it seems to be pretty unique: first you played death metal, now you are making synthpop which is not a typical switch for a musician. Another thing is that instead of living in Norway or in the UK you chose to come to Lithuania, the country, which do not have strong popular music tradition or strong connection with European music industry. It’s like you are doing things completely in your own way. But how does it feel for you personally? Do you feel like you are pushing boundaries in terms of how the typical career path of a musician should be like?
Well as I said earlier, most chefs know how to make more than one type of food. I’ve played music since I was 5, first violin, then later guitar from the age of 10, in many different bands, so obviously I’ve tried a lot of different things, but I think this is normal. I played metal quite actively for some years, but I got bored of doing only that, so I moved to the UK and studied music, and while there I played in loads of different bands of various styles. In the UK I met Rasa, we started playing music together, I saw an opportunity to do something in Lithuania, and now I am here. And later we will probably go somewhere else.
Also, I am still playing metal, and we will release an album with the metal project later this year. Sometimes it’s important to take a break from something to feel inspired again.
On the other hand, I’m not sure that it’s so important that a country has a strong music tradition or a strong connection to the European music industry, because most things that have to do with promo happens online anyway. A band that tours Europe will still tour Europe, no matter where they park their van after the tour, in Berlin, Oslo or Vilnius.
Regarding the issue of career paths of musicians, I don’t think I am pushing any boundaries aside from my own. Secondly, it’s really important to remember that most people who made great, famous records weren’t professional musicians when they released their breakthrough song or album. They were carpenters, teachers, students, painters. All people are different, all career paths are different.
So there will be both your new metal album and Rasabasa’s album in the next 6 months?
Yeah that’s the plan. When writing music, which we always do, songs tend to come to us in groups. We will mess around with synths for a week or two, and make a certain amount of songs or song ideas. Then creativity starts running out, so then we do something else, like for example play metal. After a while of playing distorted, depressive music, again we start wanting to play synths, or acoustic guitars, or whatever. And eventually the collection of wildly different musical ideas becomes quite large, and it’s time to structure it and release some of it.
In the metal band there will be all three guys from Rasabasa, only without Rasa on vocals, playing dark, depressive heavy music? That’s gonna be quite an experience to those who thought you are only making synthpop.
Yeah it’s only gonna be the three of us. We look forward to playing it live as well, but we are not sure how to do it yet, since we are only three people, and the songs we have so far are quite layered affairs.
You can invite Rasa to play synth, she has a long hair, just what a metal band needs.
“A long hair”. One long hair. The rest of the head is bald. Just what a metal band needs
Haha yeah, I think it’s time to finish there.