Exclusive Interview: Nonsun talk writing and recording “Blood & Spirit”!

If you do not expect the unexpected you will not find it, for it is not to be reached by search or trail” ~ Heraclitus.

He didn’t know it at the time but what was being spoken of was the sophomore album “Blood & Spirit” from Ukrainian quartet Nonsun, a majestic piece of dark beauty created by calloused hands and forged from Post-Metal with elements of Drone, Sludge and Doom. We had the pleasure of a second conversation with multi instrumentalist Goatooth and bass player Alex, this time about what went in behind the scenes to make it happen…

What did you learn from the writing and recording sessions of 2018’s “Black Snow Desert“ that made creating “Blood & Spirit” easier?

Goatooth: Those sessions were very different, so I’d say not a lot have we learned 🙂

“Black Snow Desert” was basically born in our rehearsal space. We improvised quite a lot.

“Blood & Spirit” was written and arranged in my home studio. It was more of a ‘studio’ work from the very beginning. 

What was similar is the actual recording process. We used our experience from the “Black Snow Desert” recording session and took into account some previous mistakes. This time we got better instruments & gear, and better recording equipment. And hopefully better skills 🙂 But anyway a big part of it was still an experiment.

Alex: Probably we identified some basis of the sound that we like, we understood what equipment we need for this. But in the end, our every track is a continuous experiment indeed.

In the credits for “Blood & Spirit” it states the album was recorded at NonSound Studio & Pohulianka Basement Hall between 2017 and 2020; giving it a three year gestation period; was creating it something of a labour of love? Why were two recording spaces used for the purpose?

Goatooth: We recorded drums in a spacious hall that was just right next door to our rehearsal room in the same basement (Pohulianka Basement Hall). We’d always (on every record) used that big hall for recording drums because of its acoustics. That live space and that true reverberation suit our music so well and are really palpable even on raw unedited tracks, and it’s helpful later in the mixing process.

Some guitars and bass were recorded in our actual rehearsal room, and some – in my home studio (NonSound Studio). The keyboards and voices were added the last, during the mixing process in 2020, also in my home studio.

The whole creation process was certainly a labour of love, though it turned out to be longer than we had planned. 

For example, our studio drummer Alpha was no longer our permanent member, and he had a limited amount of time to work on our songs. So, from writing drum parts to learning them and finally recording was usually spent one month or even more. And that’s for one song. So you can imagine how much time it took in total. But eventually he’s done a great job, just like on all our records. 

As I’ve mentioned in the previous interview, the main reason for such a long working period is that we’ve been constantly trying, struggling to gather a stable & fully functional lineup. We had two different lineups throughout these years, and each was active for no more than half a year. It’s like starting a new band each time just to collapse soon after, meanwhile working on the new record.

In 2018 we had a vinyl and CD release of our self-released (in 2016) “Black Snow Desert”. We made a European tour in the support of the release and played other gigs and festivals. That also interrupted the creation process for the record. 

If we concentrated on being only a studio project, we would have probably released “Blood & Spirit” in 2018 or 2019. But we’ve always wanted to be a live band too, and it’s quite hard, without having a full-fledged line-up to do everything in all directions by ourselves.

How does the writing process of a new track start? Melody, riff or rhythm first? How does it evolve from there before you consider it the finished article?

Goatooth: Well, we don’t go like “Oh we have many riffs, let’s just try to ‘glue’ some of them with each other”. Though sometimes we indeed do so, but only if they truly were born for each other 🙂

The starting point of our song is always a riff or a melody. There are always plenty of ideas to choose from, but I need to pick the one in which, at that moment, I feel that inner power & depth and the potential for growth into something. Then I’m trying to follow wherever it leads. This idea should also have something hypnotic, meditative in itself, that’s why our music, despite all ‘metalness’, still sounds droney. Drone as a genre is not necessarily about only droning sounds or sustained notes, it’s also about the harmonic stasis. So the songs that contain melodies & drum rhythms and have structures can still have that meditative impact.

We’re usually not trying to make a song a finished article. It’s supposed to leave that continuous sustain in a listener’s head. An unanswered question. A story without morale. 

The non lyrical vocal embellishments on the album are really intriguing, enhancing the listening experience in a very real and natural way. How did you decide where use those moments to best fit within the Post-Metal soundscapes you create?

Goatooth: Thank you for your words. Well, that was a totally intuitive process. I was improvising with vocals throughout the whole song, doing my best to stay immersed and not to leave that required state of mind. I recorded a lot of different versions, and then I sat and sorted it all out, trying to choose the ‘right’ ones – Alex was also taking part at this stage. 

I recorded the vocals in 3-4 evenings, and the ‘selection’ process and working with effects took, like, months. It was our first experience working on those kinds of vocalizations, it was a total experiment. 

Alex: We did not try to follow certain canons or standards in this, everything happened purely on the level of unconsciousness.

For us gear nerds out there, can you tell us what you’re using gear wise (pedals, strings, drums etc) to get your sound?

Goatooth: Oh, we’re the gear nerds too, hah!

For the album recording, I used my Fender Blacktop Baritone Telecaster guitar with Seymour Duncan Hyperion pickup in the bridge position and Seymour Duncan SSL-5 in the neck. The strings were Stringjoy 13,5–62. 

I also used Gibson Sonex-180 Custom with Seymour Duncan SH-4 JB in the bridge and Burny Les Paul with DiMarzio SuperDistortion in the bridge.

My pedalboard is permanently changing, and on the record we mostly used post-effects, so I’ll probably tell you about my current pedalboard: 

TC Electronic Polytune 3 – Fat Fuzz Factory (replica made by Piod Effects; originally by Z.Vex) – ProCo Rat 2 Distortion (1988) – Piod Effects Overdrive (Tubescreamer-based with some mods) – Piod Effects Fuzz (Big Muff ‘Ram’s Head’-based, with mods) – XTS Atomic Overdrive – TC Electronic Flashback Delay – TC Electronic Hall of Fame Reverb. Powered by Volcano Power VP8.

Amps and cabs we own (we’re still experimenting with various methods and combinations of using them): 

Fender Silverface Bassman 50W AB165 head with a 2×12″ speaker cabinet; Music Man HD One Thirty 130W head with a 1×15″ speaker cabinet; Orange Crush Pro 120 head; Orange OB1-500 head; Ampeg G60 120W head; Sunn Model T Fender Reissue 100W (replica with mods);

Marshall JCM800 Bass-1984 120W cabinet with 4×12″ Celestion G12H Creamback (1975) speakers; Ampeg PR-410HLF 600W cabinet.

Alex: I have a 5-string bass guitar custom-made by Lviv-based guitar master Kudrytsky, with two EMG J Set active pickups. The strings are Stringjoy 50-130.

My current pedalboard: Boss TU-3, EHX Pitch Fork, Piod Effects Bass Overdrive Preamp. Powered by Volcano Power.

For recording, we used a drum set Sonar (don’t remember the exact model) and the following cymbals: 

Istanbul Mel Lewis Ride 21″ and Mel Lewis Crash Ride 18″; Paiste 14″ Signature Dark Crisp Hi-Hat; Paiste 19″ Signature Reflector Heavy Full Crash; Paiste 20″ 2002 China.

We also used different snares for different songs, but only the drummer Alpha was aware what exactly their models were 🙂

What difference would it make to you as a band if you could land an endorsement from a gear manufacturer?

Alex: Endorsement, it’s very cool, because you get access to certain exclusive models, for which are not always enough money, or the manufacturer can make certain equipment for you, according to your requirements. If we received such an offer, we would happily agree.

Blood & Spirit” by Nonsun is out now via Dunk!Records and available over at bandcamp. Vinyl is available here.

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