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The visionary songwriter Jørgen Munkeby is best known for his work in his band Shining (NOR). The band that coined the term ‘Deathjazz’ with a trio of albums over the past year, combining metal and jazz influences into an industrial, aggressive mix. ‘Animal’, the new album, is something completely different however and sees the band abandoning much of its jazzy influences in favor of straight punchiness. We spoke to the man behind it all about his newest creation.

By: Job | Archive under hardrock / aor

Hi! Thank you so much for answering some of our questions! It’s been some time since we last spoke. Three years I think, haha! How have you been?
Hey there! Thanks for getting in touch! I actually do remember you, which is not always the case when I’ve done a lot of interviews. But this interview formula is very organized and thorough, which I like a lot, and which is what made me remember it!

Congratulations on releasing ‘Animal’ – such a bold step for Shining! Has the reception been what you expected going in?
Well, I think it’s been more than I expected, in both ends – more people showing more resistance to change, and more people showing more love for the new stuff. And our streaming numbers are through the roof! We’ve had about 913k streams on Spotify in total this year, no including December, but at least 870k of them has just been from the new album ‘Animal’, which is more than 95%. And it’s been out for just a few months! Our monthly listeners have been multiplied by more than 10, so it’s clear to see that this is just the beginning of something very interesting! I’m super stoked to see what will happen in 2019!

First things first; ‘Animal’ is way different from your previous couple of albums. It’s maybe more to the point and definitely doesn’t hold back in terms of groove and infectious hooks. What made you abandon the saxophone and the avant-garde and instead go for melodic choruses and grounded riffs?
I think it’s as easy and simple as me not wanting to repeat myself musically. I also felt that the concept ‘Blackjazz’ had been thoroughly documented and mapped out by us on three studio albums (‘Blackjazz’, ‘One One One’ and ‘International Blackjazz Society’), and one live album and DVD (‘Live Blackjazz’), so it didn’t really need another album. Right now it’s all available to everyone who wants to pick up the torch and carry it forward. Just study those albums and start your own Blackjazz band! In fact, I just discovered this band who’s doing exactly that! Go check them out here!

Personally I’ve always been driven by my need to learn new things and acquire new skills. I also need to take musical risks from time to time to feel that I’m musically alive, and this is what has kickstarted all the musical changes Shining have done before, first going from acoustic jazz to electronic art-rock. Then launching ‘Blackjazz’. And now releasing a new and different kind of ‘Animal’.

I still love all our ‘Blackjazz’ albums, and I’m super proud of how many people view them as important albums. We’re also playing a lot of those songs live and will probably going to keep playing them until the very end. I also love to play the sax, so I’m glad to have those older songs that we can play in our live sets. But when sitting down to write another album I just felt I wanted to make something new, and that’s what I did.

In addition, I’ve felt for some years that we had the songs to build a perfect in-your-face opening act set, but when we played our own and longer headline shows I felt that we were stuck in one mode for too long. It felt like all our songs had the same quick tempo and the same level of aggression, and I missed having some good songs that had a different tempo or vibe to them so that the longer concerts could be a bit more varied. That would also make the fast and aggressive songs feel even more hard and aggressive if they could be balanced out by some contrasting songs. And I think that we’ve never had a better setlist and played a better headline show than what we did on the most recent tour we did in Europe in November!

I was so excited when you played a couple of your new tracks WAY before the album was upon us, back in September 2017 in Nijmegen and now for tracks like ‘My Church’ and ‘Animal’ to be finally released. Did the songs evolve and change much during that time?
Thanks! I’m glad you got to see those songs performed live before they were recorded! The reason we did this was to try out the new songs both in the rehearsal room and on concerts before we recorded them. We also decided to record, mix and master two songs one whole year before we recorded the rest of the album, so that we could get a feeling of how we liked the new direction, and use that to finetune where we wanted the final album to go.

So we recorded ‘My Church’ and ‘Everything Dies’, then released ‘Everything Dies’ and went on tour where we almost all the new songs (except ‘When The Lights Go Out’ which we thought was not going to be on the album at that time). And I learned a lot from these experiments! First of all it made me sure that I’d rather go too far away from ‘Blackjazz’ than let myself be afraid and end of not changing enough. That would be a huge disappointment for me if I’d spent two and half years on making a “new sounding” record, only to have people feel like it was just another ‘Blackjazz’ record! But it’s actually always hard to guess what other people will think.

When I was about to release ‘One One One’ in 2013, I was actually worried that people would think that album was too similar to ‘Blackjazz’. After all we had suddenly become known all over the world because of this sudden shift to ‘Blackjazz’, and being the only band that had made these extreme musical transitions that no other bands had done, and I didn’t want to disappoint anyone by suddenly becoming a safe band that tried to repeat success. But when the ‘One One One’ album finally came out, I was surprised that most people reacted exactly the opposite way than what I expected! Most people thought that this was a huge change, and there was a looooot of whining and negativity because of this. People thought that we had sold our soul and integrity, and that we were trying to become popular by trying to make commercial music. Anyway, it’s kinda entertaining to see that people are saying the exact same thing now about ‘Animal’, except that ‘One One One’ is often used as a reference to something we should not have gone away from. It’s the same every time, and people usually take 3-5 years to come around and understand what we do, so until then I just have to sit back and wait for them to get it.

But to get to the question again: By trying out the new songs early, I also learned a few more things. I understood that I wanted more synths and a bit less focus on guitar riffs. I also wanted more melodic choruses and less screamo choruses. And lastly, we saw that we wanted a more polished and commercial mix to balance out the live-in-the-studio recordings. The whole new album ‘Animal’ has been recorded live in the studio, where everyone played together, although vocals were recorded afterwards. This brings a lively and organic feel to the songs, while the mix brings a more produced and polished feel. It’s the best of both worlds!

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I can only imagine that the writing process for ‘Animal’ was different from your other works. Could you tell me more about that writing process going into this album as opposed to ‘One One One’ or maybe ‘International Blackjazz Society’
Yeah, first of all it took much much longer time than I’ve ever spent on a record before! This album probably took me two and half years to write, which is pretty freaking long! Lots of different styles and directions were tried out and lots of them were scrapped. Songs were written, re-written, scrapped, re-evaluated, re-written again. More parts were deleted than I’ve ever deleted before. Also more people were involved in the writing process than before. Before Animal I’ve always written everything myself. But this time our new bass player, Ole Vistnes, has been my writing partner for all the songs. He’s written most of the music together with me, with help from our producer, Sean Beavan, and a few other song-writing friends of mine, Frederik Thaae and Øystein Greni. I’ve also had people help out with lyrics more than before, most notably Astrid Williamson from UK. So it’s been a much more collaborative process, which I’ve really enjoyed. Actually I’ve never had more fun writing an album than with ‘Animal’!

Another big change has been working with a new mixing engineer. Our producer Sean Beavan has worked closely with us from when we made ‘Blackjazz’ in 2009. He’s also mixed all our albums since them. But for ‘Animal’ we decided to switch out the mixing approach a bit, and got the young prodigy Kane Churko for twiddling the knobs! After working for years on an album, it’s easy everyone to lose perspective, so it was amazing to get Kane in with fresh ears! He took a great album and made it amazing! He also took a “new sounding” album and made it a complete BOLD STATEMENT! I absolutely loved working with him!

I’ve said in my review that this album is going to divide a lot of people for being so different from what you did before. What’s your stance on that and are you scared at all of alienating your existing fanbase?
I have a couple of thoughts about this. First of all, in the grand scheme of things I personally don’t think the change to ‘Animal’ is that huge as some people make it out to be. I listen to a lot of different music, and the distances between Emperor and Eminem, or between Muse and Meshuggah, are so much bigger than the difference between ‘International Blackjazz Society’ and ‘Animal’. In addition, if you look at Shining’s history, the fact that we started out as an acoustic jazz quartet and have morphed into several different styles since then should also make people expect musical change from us. But, on the other hand I must admit that most people discovered us with ‘Blackjazz’, or to be exact most people discovered us with ‘One One One’ or ‘International Blackjazz Society’, and then dug their way back and discovered ‘Blackjazz’. Most people actually think ‘Blackjazz’ is our first album, too. So with that in mind I can understand that some people think ‘Animal’ is a huge and surprising change.

And, no, I’m not really scared of alienating our existing fanbase. Of course, if our fanbase was enormous and was generating shitloads of money it would definitely be sad to have it all go away, but up until now our fanbase has definitely not generated any money for us. We’re still poor as dogs, so economically there’s not much to lose. And at the end of the day, the only thing that really matters is that I like what I’m doing myself. And from time to time I really need to challenge myself musically, and this is one of those. I do however think that most of our existing fans are smart, curious and open-minded people who already have a broad musical horizon, so I can’t see any problem with them joining Shining into new musical territories. After all we’re still the same band, and still play lots of the same music live.

You’re hitting up Haarlem in February 2019. What’s on the horizon for Shining?
For sure! The Netherlands has always been one of our best countries to play in, so I’m very much looking forward to coming back for another show! And especially now with such a great new album and fresh songs to add to the show! And I’ve heard great things about the Complexity Festival, so it’s going to be awesome! After that tour we’ve played 60 headline shows since the release of the album, so at that time we’re really looking for a good support slot on a bigger tour! If you know of any suitable tours in the spring or summer then let us know! Or even better, let the main band know that they should definitely bring us on tour! We always take pride in being a great band to have on tour, in addition to playing our asses off each and every night, of course! Then hopefully there’s going to be shitloads of summer festivals, and then more touring in the fall!

Do you have any favorites off of the album yourself? Songs you look forward to playing live?
Oooh, I’ve never had more songs I love on a single album than I have on ‘Animal’! In fact it was a big problem for us deciding what songs to use for singles! The first list of opening three singles were actually completely different than the three we ended up using. We basically had too many good songs! Anyway, I think my current favorites are ‘Animal’ and ‘My Church’. But ‘Hole In The Sky’ is a song that really gives depth and variation to our live set, so I’m guessing that’ll be included in almost every show we’ll ever play. Also ‘Smash It Up’ has been sailing up to become a huge live favorite, and I’m sure it’s going to become even bigger the more people get to know the new record! ‘Fight Song’ has also surprised me a lot. In the beginning I was a bit afraid that we couldn’t play it well enough live to do the song justice, but it’s become one of the best songs in our set.

Thanks so much for taking the time! I love the album and it will end up on my end-year list for sure. Is there anything you’d like to say in closing?
Thanks so much for great questions! And I’m super happy that you love the new album! All I want for Christmas is that everyone shares our new music with their friends! And come to a show too! See you in 2019!

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