Tuesday, May 28, 2024

An Interview With Sykofant – Pavements of Color and Monuments of Old

A couple of months ago this scribe received a rather intriguing e-mail from a Norwegian band sporting the moniker Sykofant, and while the description of their music listed in said e-mail sounded promising and full of potential, nothing could have prepared me for what came out of the speakers in the living room once I began to absorb and immerse myself in their colorful and highly potent cocktail of dynamic prog rock. Eclectic, brimming with energy, hard-hitting, and full of wonderful surprises, this is one release that you do not want to miss out on! With the debut offering being as utterly gripping, musically adventurous, and outright addictive as it was, the only thing that made sense for us was to reach out to one of the four brilliant masterminds behind one of the year’s most alluring and interesting musical creations and have him give us the lowdown on the record. We caught up with Emil Moen (guitars and vocals) for what turned out to be a most pleasant and interesting talk.    

Greetings Emil, how are we feeling today and how are Sykofant doing in general these days? You guys must be psyched about your deftly executed and superbly written debut album and eager to get it out there to the masses. It is a wonderful record in every sense of the word.  

Emil: Hello! We’re feeling fantastic, thanks for asking. With the first week of summer finally arriving in Norway, we’ve been basking in the sun and cooling off with some cold ones. Your kind words about our debut album really means a lot to us. We’ve put our hearts and souls into creating it, and we’re super pumped to finally share it with everyone. Thus far, the reviews have been overwhelmingly positive, and we’re thrilled to see the record striking a chord with listeners of all ages. We’ve really tried to make music that feels both familiar and fresh, which I’d like to think that we did successfully.

Could you tell us a bit about the beginning and conception of the fabulous outfit that is Sykofant and how that came into being? How did you all meet and where/when did the idea of doing this particular brand of eclectic music come about?  

Emil: Absolutely! Our musical journey actually began quite some time ago. It all kicked off when Per (the other guitarist) and I were playing in a metal band. Eventually, we both felt a bit fatigued with writing metal and simultaneously decided to start jamming together. This was back in late 2019 if memory serves me right. Additionally, we were both navigating through some personal challenges. Having someone to jam with during that time was important to both of us. In the early days, we experimented with all sorts of sounds, creating some truly bizarre and experimental pieces. But over time, something clicked, and we found ourselves crafting a couple of songs that we were genuinely proud of — those ended up being the first two tracks on our upcoming album.

At that point, it was just Per and me. As luck would have it, I crossed paths with our drummer, Melvin Treider, during my university years. The three of us started jamming together for several months until Melvin mentioned that he had a friend who might be interested in playing bass. Before we knew it, Sindre became an indispensable part of our band. Since that moment, we’ve spent countless hours jamming, talking, and playing together, and have over time become quite a close-knit group. We did try incorporating a keyboardist for a while, but we quickly realized that it took our sound in a direction that felt a bit too retro for our liking. So, for the time being, we decided to stick with our core lineup.

As for our sound, it’s just kind of evolved naturally, you know? We didn’t really set out with a specific style in mind; we just wanted to make music without any rules or boundaries. It’s like our own little creative playground where we can try out whatever feels right. And who knows, maybe our next project will take us even further into uncharted territory! We’re just gonna keep following the fun and see where it takes us.

What are some of the band’s shared influences, and your own musical sources of inspiration for that matter? Stylistically and musically speaking, you seem to draw inspiration from many different genres.

Emil: Oh, that’s a great question! Well, let me tell you, we’ve got some pretty diverse tastes when it comes to music. We actually created a playlist when we started playing together, that just kept growing as we jammed and wrote music together. This playlist spans across various genres, from jazz and funk, featuring artists like Herbie Hancock and Earth, Wind & Fire, to blues with acts like Old Man’s Will and Philip Sayce, to folk with Stein Torleif Bjella and The Tallest Man on Earth, and of course, prog with classics like Popol Ace, Rush, and Yes, among others. The list is endless really. I think what unites us within the band is our love for exploring diverse musical landscapes. You could say we’re all quite enthusiastic about music, ha-ha.

For instance, during the songwriting process, particularly when we were working on ‘Strangers,’ which has a desert theme, we were deeply immersed in African rock, delving into the whole Zamrock scene with bands like WITCH and Blackfoot, not to mention the incredible Mdou Moctar. I could honestly go on forever about our influences, but to sum it up, we’re especially drawn to anything that sounds fresh and challenges our preconceptions of music.

Another crucial aspect of our creative sphere was our approach to the lyrical and thematic elements of the album. Personally, I’ve always been drawn to music that weaves a coherent narrative thread, so we crafted the entire album as a seamless musical journey with a clear conceptual arc.

I don’t want to give away too much, as there are plenty of surprises in store for those who delve into it, but I can share that the album’s themes are a blend of classic 70s sci-fi motifs—think space travel and the exploration of new worlds—while at its core, it serves as a metaphor for the human condition. It delves into themes of loss, self-discovery amidst adversity, and the unending quest for personal meaning in our lives.

Basically, the lyrical themes and core concepts of the album dive into the complexities of human choice and fate. It’s all about how we grapple with our circumstances, try to shape our lives, and ultimately, come to grips with the fact that life doesn’t always have a meaning.

How did you put together the music that constitutes your sparkling and dynamic debut offering? Did you arrange and write the material in rehearsals?

Emil: As I mentioned earlier, one aspect that contributed to both Per and me growing weary of the metal writing process was its individualistic nature. It often involved one member composing something in isolation, followed by rehearsals where minor adjustments were made, and then straight to the studio. Sykofant, on the other hand, was founded on the principle of collaborative songwriting between me and Per. Most of our material stems from marathon jam sessions that stretch into the early hours of the morning. Some nights yielded remarkable results, while others led us down dead ends of experimentation.

That’s not to say we never write material alone, but everything that makes it onto our record must pass the litmus test of feeling right in the room, if you catch my drift. When a particular section or idea resonates during a jam, the process of building upon it becomes significantly smoother. Throughout our songwriting process, we’ve been focused on paying homage to our rock heroes without sticking too closely to their established formulas. I believe we’ve achieved our goal. In our album, you’ll hear plenty of influences, but there’s also a fresh, new vibe that sets it apart.

What did you learn and take away from the creative process that unfolded in the studio, and would you approach your next opus differently?

Emil: When we entered the studio, the majority of our musical ideas had already taken shape, allowing us to hone in on the auditory aspects of the recording process. Luckily, we got in touch with Ole Øvstedal, the owner of Chaka Khan Studios in Oslo. While Per and I were determined to be involved in both production and mixing duties for the album, we recognized the value of having an outside perspective to inject fresh ideas. In Ole, we found exactly what we needed—he had a knack for knowing when to push us, when to give us space to work our magic, and when to challenge us.

We spent endless hours experimenting, trying out a wide range of microphones, drum tunings, preamps, compressors, and beyond. No avenue was left unexplored as we tested every conceivable combination of equipment within our reach. One notable example is the guitar sound featured throughout the album, a source of great pride for us. It’s a fusion of Hi-Watt, Two Rock, Bad Cat, and Mad Professor amplifiers, complemented by an original clone. Naturally, we ensured that these exquisite tones were captured by the highest quality microphones available, such as Royer and Neumann. All in all, we are quite happy with the sound of the album. We have used the bare minimum of dubbing, most instruments are tracked only once, and no quantizing the drums. It sounds human, organic, and warm, close to what you can expect from us live.

What does 2024 hold for Sykofant? I can imagine that you have a bunch of gigs lined up and that the promotion of your sparkling new offering is your main priority.  

Emil: Exciting question indeed! At the moment, our schedule isn’t overflowing with events, but we do have some exciting plans in the works. We’re gearing up for a release gig in Oslo on June 8th, and we’re eyeing potential Scandinavian gigs throughout the autumn season. However, our primary focus lies in the creation and release of new material.

We’re currently in the final stages of completing an EP, which serves as an expansion of the story told in track 5, ‘Strangers’, of our album. This EP delves deeper into the narrative explored in that song, offering listeners a more immersive experience. If all goes according to plan, we aim to release this EP sometime in late 2024 or early 2025. We’re also thinking about recording and dropping some live studio sessions, though we’re still figuring out the timeline for that.

Looking ahead, our ambitions include hopefully playing some festivals next year, which gives us the opportunity to reach larger audiences.

What was the first prog-related record you bought?

Emil: I actually grew up surrounded by a lot of rock bands, thanks to my dad’s deep love for British 60s and 70s rock. However, I’ll admit, I didn’t pay much attention to it at the time, as I was more into metal as I was growing up. That all changed when I stumbled upon Deadwing by Porcupine Tree. It was around 2007 or 2008, and I was about 14 or 15 years old, pretty deep into my metal phase. The album left a profound impact on me. The intricate compositions, catchy melodies, and the heartfelt lyrics really hit home. That moment sparked my curiosity in progressive music, and from then on, I was hooked. After that, I delved back into a lot of the music I grew up listening to with my dad, especially Pink Floyd, which has since become one of my all-time favorites. I particularly adore their work from the whole Ummagumma, Meddle, and Dark Side era.

What is the best concert you have ever attended and witnessed and why?

Emil: Ah, now that’s a tough one. I’ve had the pleasure of attending numerous incredible shows over the years. Yet, if I had to pinpoint a standout experience, it would have to be catching a performance by a local band called Gunerius & Verdensveven at the Høstsabbat festival in Oslo back in 2022. It was a mesmerizing blend of the bizarre, psychedelic, and groovy. It was one of those unexpectedly delightful surprises that stick with you long after the show ends.

Tell us a bit about some of your latest musical discoveries. What you’re currently listening to at home?

Emil: One standout release that immediately comes to mind is the latest album from Crowned Lands. It’s an absolute gem, showcasing not only exceptional musicianship but also impeccable songwriting and production. Without a doubt, it’s my favourite prog album from last year. Of course, I can’t overlook other noteworthy releases like Harmony Codex by Steven Wilson, Prima Materia by Augusa, and Mirror to the Sky by Yes.

Additionally, I’ve been thoroughly enjoying the album Hortelã by Maro, especially the song “Ha-de sarar.” I discovered her through her fantastic Tiny Desk Concert she did last year. Speaking of Tiny Desk, let’s not forget the mesmerizing concert that Hania Rani delivered a couple of months back. She’s truly an amazing musician. I could listen to her concerts for hours.

What are you into outside of music?

Emil: Right now, my days are jam-packed with writing, rehearsing, and all sorts of promo stuff. But whenever I get a chance, there are two things I love to do: hiking and getting lost in a good book. There’s just something so relaxing about being out in nature, being somewhat isolated from the fast pace of life. I also really enjoy books. I don’t read as much as I used to, but I still love the escape that a good book provides. It’s like a little everyday getaway.

Thanks once again and best of luck with your future musical endeavors.

Emil: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us!

Jens Nepper
Jens Nepperhttps://floodgatemoodsproductions.bandcamp.com/
Born and raised in Denmark, currently living in Norway, and hopelessly addicted to coffee and Black Sabbath.

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