Strange Illusions And Travellers – An Interview With Shaman Elephant

A while back, the psychedelic Norwegian prog-rockers known as Shaman Elephant released their sophomore effort, the evocative and brilliantly conceived Wide Awake but Still Asleep, which is easily one of the year’s best and most memorable releases. RAMzine caught up with bass player Ole-Andreas Sæbø Jensen to learn more about the outfit itself, the importance of musical freedom, and where the melancholy within the music stems from. Wide Awake but Still Asleep is out via Karisma Records, so make sure you grab a copy of the marvelous thing while it is still available or at the very least check the digital version out – you will not regret it.

Shaman Elephant
Shaman Elephant

Greetings, and thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to talk to RAMzine. First of all, let me just say that I love and cherish your new album, Wide Awake but Still Asleep, but before we get to that one, could you please outline your band history for us and perhaps throw in a few words about your releases as well?

O: The band was formed back in 2014/2015. The drummer, keyboard player and I had played together in several different bands – but never with a proper guitar player. We wanted to do something new, and we knew that Eirik (the guitar player and lead vocalist of Shaman Elephant) was a great musician. So, we met up and started practicing. Things were really slow at first; we were kind of struggling to figure things out. But after a weekend at Eirik’s family cabin with lots of jamming and just hanging out, we made our first song – a song called ‘More’, which can be found on our debut EP bearing the same title. After the More EP, we recorded our first full-length album entitled Crystals in 2016. The album got great reviews and we were able to play lots of shows in Norway and some in the UK and Germany. Great times, for sure! And now, as you obviously know already, we´ve just released our second full-length album, which is titled Wide Awake but Still Asleep. Hopefully, we´ll be able to tour after this pandemic situation has eased down a bit.

Musically and lyrically speaking, Shaman Elephant is not exactly what one would call a predictable entity, which is one of many reasons why the band is so exciting to follow. Was the desire to experiment and continually push the musical envelope present from the very inception of the band?

O: We never sat down and made a conscious decision on what our sound should be – we just wrote songs together and the sound was found through this process.We love the idea of musical freedom and that we never have to play a certain way in order to be accepted by our fans and our record company. It’s hard to tame four hungry elephants!

I was listening to Crystals and Wide Awake but Still Asleep back-to-back yesterday, and as much as I like the former, you guys have matured a lot in terms of writing and arranging songs. You have always had that wonderfully strange, psychedelic quality to your songs, but your latest offering is truly a focused and disciplined affair without losing any of the playfulness or eccentricities that one associates with Shaman Elephant. Would you agree? And speaking of Crystals, how do you look back on that record and does it still resonate with you?

O: We share that perception of the new album – and this was our goal as well i.e. to write something that was more coherent and mature. With this album we also played with melodic concepts that appear in different places on the album. For instance, the main melody from the first track is found in many of the other tracks as well. It was both challenging and a lot of fun to try to weave this melody into the other tracks. As to the Crystals album, it still resonates with us, for sure! We´ve played those songs so many times now that it´s very refreshing to have a new album out, but Crystals will always have a special place in our hearts seeing that it was our first full-length album.

Shaman Elephant have released their sophomore effort, the evocative and brilliantly conceived Wide Awake but Still Asleep, which is easily one of the year’s best and most memorable releases.

Does the title of the new record connote or signify something specific and what does it mean to you on a personal and/or philosophical level? Is there a deeper meaning to it?

O: We would like our listeners to make up their own minds when it comes to our lyrics and the meaning behind them. In our opinion this is one of the greatest values of art and especially literature/written art in general: It can mean very different things to different people.

In terms of crafting a composition for Shaman Elephant, how do you guys go about that? Do you arrange everything collectively in rehearsals? Could you guide us through the process? Who/what inspires you to come up with your surreal and immersive musical landscapes?

O: The process varies from track to track. Some of them were made 100% in the rehearsal room while others were written in advance. Whenever someone writes a riff, a verse or whatever it might be, that person brings it to the rehearsal space, and we play around with it to make it work. Shaman Elephant has always been a project where everyone gets to contribute to the sound and songs.

Wide Awake but Still Asleep is somewhat melancholy in places, which is also mirrored by the bleak yet evocative album artwork to a certain extent. Where does that melancholy stem from and what inspires it?

O: To be honest, we´ve never really thought about this. I don´t think that anyone of us in the band are especially melancholy types. Then again if you as a listener hears something then we can´t deny it either. Easy answer: The melancholy stems from living in a city where it´s raining 242 days every year.

Shaman Elephant

Song titles ala ‘Strange Illusions’ and the ‘Traveller’ trilogy come across as both intriguing and poetic in my opinion, but what are they actually about?

O: As we mentioned earlier, that is for the listener to decide! Listen to the lyrics and find out what they mean to you.

What are you guys currently up to in terms of band activities? 

O: Right now, there´s not a lot happening because of the Covid-19 pandemic. All our international shows have been cancelled and playing shows in Norway isn´t easy either. We have some Norwegian gigs planned for the fall. Hopefully, these shows will go as planned. And as soon as it´s a possibility, we will be playing internationally again! While we´re waiting for this, we´re slowly easing our way into making new music.

What albums/artists are you currently listening to and immersing yourself in at home?

O: I don´t know what the other three guys are listening to at home, but right now I´m listening to a lot of relaxing, beautiful music. I´m listening to Steely Dan, James Taylor, and Richard Hawley. I also love the Brazilian classics like Jorge Ben Jor and Gilberto Gil. Also, I know all of us are looking forward to the new Motorpsycho album that will be released at the end of August.

Thanks once again for your time. Any final words or comments?

O: Just the usual stuff: listen to our album, like our Facebook page, follow us on Instagram, and stay safe and sane in these strange times. Listen to some great music, make some delicious food, and try to make the best of the situation!

https://shamanelephant.bandcamp.com

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