Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Selvhenter; Sonic Explorers.

Photo by Emil Hartvig.

Sometimes on those wandering musical journeys through the internet you come across
unexpected gems-you can't quite remember how you got there but you're glad you did! Last summer on one such journey I came across sonic explorers Selvhenter! Some months later, knowing that our laptop wasn't doing them justice, I took a punt on their second album 'Motions of Large Bodies', an extraordinarily exciting, exhilarating and atmospheric album. This was quickly followed by their first 'Frk. B. Frika- equally good but with a more raw feel. Citing influences as wide as Sunn 0))), Fela Kuti, Velvet Underground, Cluster, Harmonia, Yoko Ono, Wu Tang Clan, Steve Reich, Laurie Spiegel, Terry Riley and The Ex they explore 'the field between repetitive drone-like compositions, strong beats and free improvisation' (1), a heady mix that includes experimental rock and free jazz. Based in Copenhagen Selvhenter are a five piece comprising Jaleh Negari and Anja Jacobsen on Drums, Maria Bertel on Trombone,  Sonja LaBianca on Saxaphone and Maria Diekmann on Violin. Kindly they agreed to an interview.      

Could you give us an overview of Selvhenter? When did you start, has the personnel changed? Had any of you played together in other bands?

The band began playing as a trio in 2007 (Violin, Saxophone and Trombone). We had never played together before and were curious and wanted to amplify our instruments.  Shortly after we were invited to play a show, and for fun we asked the two drummers to join. And that just made so much sense that we continued as a quintet. 

What does Selvhenter mean? Also what is 'Eget Vaerelse' and what is the relationship between the two?

In Danish 'selvhenter' is a term used when playing ball games, when someone shoots the ball way off course and consequently has to go and bring it back into play. Eget Værelse is our working collective, from where we put out records and have a home for all the different projects the 5 of us do. 

How would you describe Selvhenter's music? What influences have you drawn on? Did you all have similar musical backgrounds?

We all come from quite different musical backgrounds, which has to do with the instruments we play on. When playing together in Selvhenter it is quite easy for us to play with the roles and sounds of each instrument since the instruments are taken out their normal context. The music is about making possibilities for the instruments and the musicians to move around take different roles, copy and paste an idea into another instrument and see how that sounds!

Did you have a clear idea of what you wanted to sound like from the start or has that sound gradually emerged?

We didn’t really have a clear idea from the start. I remember we worked really hard at the beginning. Playing, improvising it was extremely intense period for us. Now we know each other better and have created a kind of mutual language that we challenge in the rehearsal space.

What is the music scene like in Copenhagen and Denmark? Are there plenty of opportunities for bands to play? 

The music scene in DK is pretty vibrant these days. We are a part of the Mayhem venue where we played a number of times, where a lot of great musicians and artists also hang out. 

How does a piece of music take shape, does one person write a piece or does it evolve in collaboration?

We have gradually expanded our methods and strategies for composition along the way.  Initially we worked a lot with improvisation and from there evolving defined songs, riffs and grooves. Now we also bring individual ideas for a song to the rest of the band and use them as a starting point of a new composition. Sometimes we meet up in smaller groups and work on new materials. There is always a collaborative process involved.

Your first album 'Frk. B. Frika' came out in 2012, I think, and 'Motions of Large Bodies' came out in 2014 (2). Was there a sense of continuity making the two albums or were the creative processes very different? 

When we recorded Frk. B. Frika it was almost in a live setting, with some extra dubs in the end of the session. Motions of Large Bodies were more produced in the sense that we worked with the material a long the recording session. Recorded in different ways depending on the structure of the song.

In 2015 you released 'New Age' on a split single with Dutch band The Ex (2), how did that come about, did you know each other?  

We played a show together with The EX in Belgium on a tour in 2013. We knew of their music from previously and have felt an inspiration from it, but they came to know of us at this show. We got along well and they really liked what we were doing, so it was a mutual fascination. From then on we kept in touch, provided booking connections for each other and collaborated on the split.

When you are recording is it a balancing act between structure and improvisation? How about when you are playing live, do you aim to reproduce your recordings or use them as a starting point to work out from?

In the recordings we have had both very well defined songs and also quite open material to work from and evolve in the process of recording, mixing and producing. It was always a very fun and sometimes challenging process, though all together we have come to know our sounds, ideas and music with a new understanding and reflexion from it. Live it is some what similar, we have both quite well defined songs, riffs, grooves but also integrate improvisation and find that an open-minded approach to all of our material is beneficial as a ways to generate new ideas and concepts, also on stage in a live performance.

Is your music a little like abstract art, the transposing of ideas, concepts and feelings into sound?

Yes, one can definitely say that our music also is alike to abstract art; the zooming in on small fractions and structures, working with sound as material, forming and deforming it and discovering new shapes and associations in what comes out of this kind of playing with our instruments and the sounds we work with. I guess we try to reach beyond our definitions and labels of what melody, rhythms and sound can be and what they represent, so that the matching of the elements hopefully can shed new light and forms to ideas we might had in our heads.
Sometimes our starting point is a concept, sometimes a sketch one of us has brought, but I guess a common thing is to make room and space to that which can seem unclear and intangible for some time, and let it grow in it´s own speed and form.

What sort of ideas and subjects inspire your music, what sort of subjects does Selvhenter's music engage with?

We are very much inspired by lots of different things and those inspirations of course change along with our lives. But generally we share a lot of literature, films and artists, specially when we´re on tour we have loads of time to discuss stuff we´ve seen, exchange books and films, etc., but besides different artist we are of course also affected and inspired by the society and the world around us. 'Everything is a source', as Sister Corita Kent used to say... 

What are your plans for 2016? I noticed you are playing the Raw Power Festival in London this May!

Yes, we are looking very much forward to playing the Raw Power Festival. We will be in the UK for two or three more shows the days before Raw Power Festival, also visiting Exchange in Bristol the 26th and Islington Mill in Manchester the 27th.
In April we´re going to Katowice in Poland where we are going to play in a jail - also quite exciting!
Besides concert activity we are looking forward to work on new material - and we´re especially looking forward to have our second drummer Anja Jacobsen back in the band from her maternity leave.

(1) http://www.egetvaerelse.dk/?page_id=30
(2) www.discogs.com

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