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INTERVIEW: ESBEN WILLEMS, MONOLORD – September 2016

| 29 September 2016 | Reply

INTERVIEW: ESBEN WILLEMS, MONOLORD – September 2016
By Shane Pinnegar

They may be young band, but the relentless stoner-doom of Monolord is undeniably making in-roads around the world. Next stop for the Swedish trio is New Zealand and Australia, with Italians Ufomammut as co-headliner. SHANE PINNEGAR called drummer Esben Willems to learn more about the band whose second album Vænir is scoring rave reviews for its ice cold malevolent beauty.

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Monolord & Ufomammut co-headlining tour dates:

Wellington – San Fran – October 3
Auckland – Kings Arms – October 4
Brisbane – Crowbar – October 6
Sydney – Bald Faced Stag – October 7
Melbourne – Max Watt’s – October 8
Perth – Rosemount Hotel – October 9

Esben Willems is tired. Dog tired. Talking to me from Sacramento, California towards the end of Monolord’s second visit to The States – their first as headliners – his schedule has been relentless, and there’s a lot more to do before he can rest.

“No, no time to relax at all, it’s been crazy,” he says wearily. “I think it was 32 shows in five and a half weeks, it’s been insane – but then again, fun, so yeah. But soon back home so we can get some sleep.”

Willems says that despite their best intentions it’s hard to stay fit & healthy on the road.

“Well, we don’t. I’m kind of dead right now. We do our best to get some proper sleep and eat as healthy as we can, but it’s hard. It’s really hard on the road.”

It’s really easy and a bit lazy for journalists to say that every doom or stoner or sludge or whatever you want to call it band, all come from Black Sabbath, but there is a lot of other influences out there. Willems agrees that the band have a lot of different inspiration to bring to Monolord.

“Well, that’s a big question, thanks,” he laughs. “I guess, the thing is that all three of us are all different people when it comes to music, because we come from three very different places, which I like a lot. It’s kind of a constant friction when we write music, but that friction is a good thing, I think. So, all three of us look into all kinds of music. Myself, I’m into well produced… I don’t know how to say that… I love Tom Waits – that’s beautiful, good songs, great art. And obviously AC/DC, Motorhead and old Sabbath – I like the hard rock and roll, that’s what mostly that I come from. Mika [Häkki – bass] comes from the psych rock mostly, and ‘60s garage rock. Thomas [Jäger – guitars and vocals] listens to a lot of old death metal and crusty punk. But not only, of course – we all listen to all sorts. It’s a really good cross and it’s impossible to answer!”

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At 100% ROCK we have always said that if everyone in your band only listens to Guns ‘n Roses, then your band is only going to sound like Guns ‘n Roses – you need lots of different elements in order to create a new direction and create an individual sound.

“Totally agreed,” intones Willems.

The very term ‘stoner rock’ implies a certain level of wastefulness. How important are drugs to the creation and the enjoyment of the music of Monolord?

“It’s not at all, I think. It’s just boring PR for bands,” Willems says, perhaps surprisingly. “I mean, if you want to indulge in and do it – if that makes you happy, that’s one thing, but it’s not necessary. Why should it be? It’s just one of those tired old myths to me.”

We’re glad to hear it – as a drinker and non-drug user, people have long not believed I could enjoy stoner music without getting stoned. There’s a certain trance-like vibe to Monolord’s music, how does that translate in your live show, are you recreating the album track as they’re laid down or are you using them as jump off points to jam out extended versions?

“We jam a bit, but not that much,” he says, before explaining the meticulousness of Monolord’s recording process. “All of it is perfect. It’s gruelling work, we work hard, really hard. So we have to overdub because we record in our rehearsal room that is our studio also and it’s super-tiny – it’s so small, it’s insane. So we want, if we could, we would record live, but we can’t, it doesn’t work, so we have to do overdubs. At the same time we do everything we can to keep the live vibe, because we don’t want it to be too controlled or too perfect. We want to keep the dirt and the grit in it if we can, so I hope we can.”

Mission accomplished then, as Monolord on record sound exactly like three rockers laying down glacial cliff-faced riffs organically, something which cheers the exhausted drummer incrementally.

“I love that, thank you so much.”

Having their own studio and recording constantly whilst not touring opens Monolord up to the possibility of a song from six or twelve months ago sitting next to another song that they recorded yesterday. Is it difficult to stop working on the older songs and just say they’re finished?

“Well, yes and no, depending on the song and depending on where we are, and all that,” Willems says ambivalently. “It is like you said, an ongoing process, with material that needs to be recorded and we try not to fool around too much. When we have decided, chosen a track to be on the next production, then we don’t change that much, we just rehearse them until they sound how we want them to sound, and then we record them and we try to give them a live feeling. It’s always hard to release something and say, ‘now it’s finished,’ because the songs are like little babies.”

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Monolord’s next album has been started, but their relentless touring schedule means it’s still a way from being released.

“For a long time now [we’ve been recording], but we haven’t gotten the time to look at it properly because we are on tour again,” he says, sounding more tired than ever. “We need to get some rest, but at the same time also, yeah, it’s coming along. We have no idea [when we will release it], but hopefully next year.”

With so much touring the band’s day jobs fell by the wayside months ago – but touring is expensive for an independent band. Is Monolord’s tour schedule sustainable? Do merch sales cover the travelling expenses?

“Well, it is hard financially – it’s really tough,” admits Willems. “Especially in the U.S., because European bands have to apply for visas to be able to tour the U.S. and they are insanely expensive.

“So we have to tour as much as possible under one year of visa, which especially the second time in the U.S. our fans are great, buying all kinds of merch and supporting us in every way possible, often to [let us] stay at their places to [help pay for] motels. It’s getting there. It will be financially feasible in the long run.”

When Monolord visit a new region, like the first time they visited America or their coming to Australia and New Zealand for the very first time, do they find the music has preceded them, and that fans have done their research on the band – or do they hold back a little and wait to be impressed?

“Well, that’s an interesting question,” Willems says thoughtfully. “I hadn’t thought about it. I would say that in the U.S. the fans are really into the bands, they listen to it, they drive six hours just to see us. So, yeah, mostly.”

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That’s the power of the internet! It’s a long way from the early ‘80s when the only way to find out about an underground band was to buy a 2 or 3 month old imported magazine like Kerrang! Tiring though their schedule is, Monolord are looking forward to joining Ufomammut Down Under – even if Willems isn’t sure yet how the co-headlining situation is actually going to work.

“I don’t know yet, actually – I guess we don’t know yet the specifics of the tour right now.”

And with that Esben Willems is off to get some sleep, no doubt dreaming of thunderdoom riffs raining down from on high. Don’t miss Monolord and Ufomammut when they get to town.

Shane

Category: Interviews

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Editor, 100% ROCK MAGAZINE

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