With the lockdown playing a major part in affecting the world’s economy, businesses, travel restrictions, and tons of other areas, it has severely hit the music industry in numerous ways too. People in the industry from artists to event managers are surely undergoing a lot of pressure and have experienced extreme hardship in the past few months, especially everything surrounding the live industry.
However, music finds a way and plenty of acts have emerged over the last twelve months, some that even had a great 2020 despite lockdown, canceled shows, and very little else to do. For Gothenburg’s Woven Hand-esque four-piece Orochen 2020 started with the release of their second EP “Mechanical Eyes” and ended up signing to Suicide Records and releasing a third EP, “Thylacine”, that drew accolades from music media and was listed as one of the best records of the year at influential post-rock/post-metal/post-everything website Arctic Drones.
In December we met up Orochen twice, first to film a live session, and a week later we sat down with the lads for a chat about being a band in 2020. After guitarist Emil Gustavsson vividly reveals a childhood Christmas trauma when he got a Carola record [Swedish schlager artist], we plunged into a chat with Jonas, Hampus, Emil and Rasmus about a very successful year, concepts and ideas that govern their releases and working with Crippled Black Phoenix producer Karl Daniel Lidén on the “Thylacine” EP.
2020 in retrospect: Two EP’s, record deal and best of-listed
2020 turned out to be a great year for Orochen despite the pandemic. It started with the release of the “Mechanical Eyes” EP and ended up being signed to Suicide Records and releasing a second EP, “Thylacine”, an EP that ended up on the “Best of albums” list at influential website Arctic Drones.
Jonas: It’s just insane! I love the recommendations on their website and to see us turn up there was just awesome.
Rasmus: We never planned to release two EP’s in 2020, it just happened because there was time to finish four new songs and then someone said “Hey, we have four songs ready for a release. Are they good enough? Can we release them this year?”. Now, at the end of the year, we’ve reached way beyond what we ever would’ve imagined.
Jonas: And for being us, the whole process of writing and recording “Thylacine” was kind of quick (laugh). It usually takes some time to put together an EP for us.
Rasmus: Probably because the pandemic stopped us from doing much else after “Mechanical Eyes”. We couldn’t do live shows or anything else in life, and since we had these four songs it was easier to put all focus on getting finish them off and to release another EP.
Emil: I still try to comprehend the fact that people like what we do and that we end up on “Best of” lists. We’re not used to doing interviews or being reviewed – and we got some great reviews. For me it’s just insane when people get in touch and say “Thanks for some great music”.
We’re having a momentum since the release of “Thylacine” which makes band life quite fun at the moment.
What’s different after signing to a label? Up until “Thylacine” you released everything yourself and now you’re signed on Suicide Records.
Emil: It’s about reaching out, to get help with the promotion we need and the stuff we can’t do ourselves, but it’s also about working with someone who believes in us. That combination, getting support and promotion, is the reason we’ve had a better outreach with “Thylacine”. And Roger [Sucide Records labelboss] is just awesome to work with.
Hampus: It’s a sort of quality control when you’re on a label. If you like other bands on Suicide you may start to listen to our music as well, and suddenly we have more listeners. That’s what’s really hard when you do it yourself.
Emil: And knowledge! Roger has a lot of experience and a huge network in the scene which already has paid off and been of great help for us.
You said that the “Thylacine” EP was a quick process for being you. Was it songs that were leftover from “Mechanical Eyes” and didn’t fit on the EP or did you start from the beginning and did something completely new?
Jonas: We had a few basic ideas, far from any finished songs, and we just continued working on those ideas until we had four songs ready for a release.
Emil: We worked on ”Mechanical Eyes” for well over a year, a long time for being just a four-song EP, and it was recorded live in Lund because we wanted to try out recording it live. On the back of the EP we started to write new songs.
While we worked on ”Mechanical Eyes” some new ideas came up like it always does when you work on something and force yourself to be creative. Jonas had recorded vocals on some of the songs but we had to add a few layers of guitars and tracks and work on the whole project in a studio before it was done. But it’s not leftovers from “Mechanical Eyes”, it’s something we started doing when we had released the EP.
The “Thylacine” success
Drawing from a wide variety of dark and heavy music, and citing bands as Woven Hands and Crippled Black Phoenix, Orochen are one of a special breed of bands for whom genre classifications feel inadequate. They will never let themselves become pigeonholed, but one thing is for sure: they’re in a dark place at the moment making “pitch black” music.
Working with “Thylacine” they brought in stoner/sludge producer Karl Johan Lidén whose production credits also include albums by Crippled Black Phoenix and Dozer. Lidén’s experience was an important element of the recording process as he both intervened in the creative process and “sorted and organized ideas” the band brought into his studio. The result launches the listener into thumping black riffs and a bombardment of relentless drum rhythms which brought the band onto the “The Best Post-Rock/Ambient Albums” of 2020 at Arctic Drones.
And they may have a debut record in the works, hopefully released in late 2021.
Sound-wise you’ve changed over the course of three EP’s and you alternate between your Woven Hand-esque sound to post-rock based songs. Have you found some sort of Orochen sound with the latest EP?
Jonas: Let’s see in a year (laugh), but I’m quite sure we won’t be pigeonholed and end up playing just one type of music.
Rasmus: It’s not all about the music. Every EP is built around a concept or an idea. Our first EP is a product of us spending time in a cabin in the forest; the second EP was based on the idea that we wanted to do it all live, and with “Thylacine” we wanted to work on the production and try to build a heavier and darker sound. We’ll probably continue like that, to have an idea or a concept that permeates through the whole record.
Emil: Everything we write at the moment is so dark, it’s pitch black and very little is played in a major key. It’s a lot of details in the music and a lot darker (laugh).
I can’t really say what type of music it is but whatever we bring in gear-wise – it can banjos, didgeridoos, guitars, or even wine glasses – it will in the end boil down to something dark and melancholic. But I still think we’ll be crossing genres quite much in the future as well.
Jonas: It’s just a natural process for us to work like that. We have a few demo songs and coat them in a concept inspired by the present, the things we experience in that moment.
You also worked with Crippled Black Phoenix producer Karl Daniel Lidén on “Thylacine” and I guess you picked him for a reason, maybe to get a certain sound.
Hampus: I would say a little bit of both. After “Mechanical Eyes” we talked about what was good and not with the EP and we wanted “Thylacine” to be this dark underground heavy bass-sounding record, and put a few names on the table who we wanted to work with. As it turned out Karl Daniel didn’t have much in his schedule at the beginning of the summer – perfect for us!
Jonas: Just listen to the records he’s been involved in, they’re all amazingly well-produced. But we may stand out a bit among the bands he has produced save for Crippled Black Phoenix; he’s mostly doing sludge and stoner. On the back of that, we were quite curious about what he would do with our stuff.
Rasmus: What I really like with Karl Daniel is that he intervenes in the creative process and sort among our ideas, he’s not just a studio technician turning knobs around but part of our creative process.
Emil: When you have too many layers and tracks on your songs it’s hard to sort out what is good and not, and what works on record, and that’s where Karl Daniel plays an important role in organizing it all. It’s easy to get blind for what you’re doing when you’ve worked on the same songs for months, that’s all too much for me at least.
I haven’t really listened to the full “Thylacine” EP yet because of how meticulously we worked on the songs in the studio (laugh). You grow tired when you work too much on something.
Jonas: (laugh) You can’t stop listening to tiny elements – technical stuff – in the songs when you’ve worked with something as much as we did. I just recently started to listen to it again.
Karl Daniel was very important for the end result and changed a few things we were about to throw in the can. Some of it even turned out to be striking features in some songs on the EP. That’s what’s great when you have someone with experience and know-how about sorting and organizing ideas in the creative process.
Emil: It was also really important for me to release it on vinyl, I just love the format. The last time I listened to it was actually when it arrived from the vinyl factory, and because of the lockdown we [the band] met up on Facetime with a few beers to celebrate. It’s hard to explain the feeling you get when you’ve released something on vinyl for the first time, put it on your record player and have a beer or two while listening to it – it’s just awesome!
Which probably means that you will release your debut album on vinyl as well?
Rasmus: We’ve talked a lot about the concept on the next record and we want it to be released as a physical product, not just on Spotify. For now, we know a bit about the concept and we’ve also discussed the artwork and what we could fit it on the cover and the inner sleeve. That’s where we are at the moment.
Jonas: But don’t forget to print the RPM on the record (laugh). Someone sent us a mail saying “Hey guys, you have to write the RPM because it sounds funny when I put it on 45 RPM”. Let’s not forget that (laugh).
So far you’ve just released EP’s. Are you working on a debut album or is the EP a better format for you?
Emil: That’s something we’ve discussed at great length and we’re quite sure that our next release will be our debut album, which hopefully will be released at the end of 2021. That’s our goal at the moment.
We’re working on some new songs and may have a demo ready soon, and at the moment we’re discussing the concept of the record. Things are set in motion (laugh).
Rasmus: And we have discussed pros and cons of releasing an album. It has been great for us to release EP’s so far because you can release music more often, but every band want to release a full album, that’s a childhood dream.
Emil: But we don’t want to release an album and just have three or four good songs on it. That’s the problem with full albums, you need to make it interesting over ten songs. For us it’s super important to pull that through and make sure that the album passes through our own quality control.
”Thylacine” drew accolades from international music press. Is it in the plans to play live in Europe when it’s possible again?
Emil: That would be to fulfill a dream I’ve had since I was a child and started to listen to music. We just need to work out a plan for it and find the time and money to pull it off. But it would be awesome do to some sort of stress test of what we’ve done so far in front of an international audience.
Jonas: We have discussed live shows in Germany, usually it happens after too many beers (laugh), and it would be awesome to play in Hamburg and Berlin.
Emil: This year (2020) we’ve tried to make the best of the situation and did a live stream at Kulturlagret [venue] at the start of the summer and an acoustic live stream in December, but nothing else because it hasn’t been possible. With that in mind, to get five gigs in Europe or find money to do two full weeks would be amazing and a compensation for lost shows the last year. I don’t want anything else than play live at the moment.
Rasmus: That’s the tricky part and the reason we work on parallel plans at the moment because we don’t know yet what is possible to do and not in 2021. I guess we’ll see an increase in live streams during the spring if nothing changes soon and we need to keep an eye on the opportunities to be ready to catch the moment.
Emil: If the lockdown continues, and it looks like it, and if there’s a digital format that works out for everyone and is embraced by an audience, you can do a digital tour and reach out to people everywhere. That would be exciting to work with as well when there’s no other opportunity to play live.