Interview with Bernd Sievers for Eclipsed magazine
1) At first congratulation for your excellent new album "Muzak". I really
like "The Glitter Odd" and "Hydrophonic Gardening", but I think "Muzak" is
even better. What makes it better? What are the differences to the earlier albums?
Luis Simões-Thank you very much, i know it is common place to say this but I'm very
glad you liked it, it's great to have your own music being enjoyed, and hopefully understood, by someone else.
Although there are several differences between Muzak and the previous
records I think that the main one is that this time, although keeping the
usual musical approach of Saturnia, the whole musical, technical and
production side of it was much more straight to the point. Muzak is a more objective perspective of Saturnia, if you like.
2) I think "Muzak" has the same style as the earlier albums. Maybe it's
more rocky, more straight forward. Would you agree? Don't you want to change
the direction? Or is this kind of mellow psychedelic exactly "your favourite music"?
LS-To me it is just a Saturnia album with all the musical, conceptual,
instrumental ingredients that Saturnia has always had; but I also agree with
you because it was built to be more understandable and effective and you can
really hear that happening on it. This is also a result of my decision to
really take as much time as necessary to finish the album.
Although I like all kinds of music, the type of psychedelia Saturnia does is
the kind of music that is closer to my heart and mind.
Our records are the records I would buy without hesitation.
3) Daevid Allen and Nik Turner are guests on "Muzak". How did you get in
contact with them? How was it like to work and record with them?
LS-The contact between us was made through the web, basically we never met personally.
I initially sent an e-mail to their websites asking if they if they would do it, than,
sometime later, I got answers from themselves. I sent them the songs
explaining what the idea and mood of the pieces was. They did their thing, sent it back to me and that was it.
Daevid Allen did an amazing job, he sent me three or four takes, each one
better than the other, it was really hard to choose. When I first heard it I
just tripped, it was exactly what I had dreamed for that piece, amazing.
Nik Turner was great too, I love classic Hawkwind and am an admirer of the
whole Nik Turner vibe so it is great to get a cd from someone you sort of
idolize with an hand written note saying something like "hope its ok, use as you wish, Nik".
It is an honour to have them both featuring on Muzak.
4) Now you are singing more. Are the lyrics more important now?
LS-The lyrics are now as important as they were in "Saturnia", "The Glitter Odd" and "Hydrophonic Gardening".
They are a magnificent way to solidify a conceptual structure or idea.
The thing about Muzak is that I wanted to do a more vocal record, as I
always thought that vocals were never used as much as they could, or should,in Saturnia.
At the moment of creation I saw them as an underused resource.
Music is communication and words are a very good tool to do just that.
5) Your lyrics are quite abstract, spiritual, esoteric. Are their any
hidden meanings in them? Any message? Or are there any concret (daily?) things in it? Are you a spiritual person?
LS-Yes all my lyrics are full of encrypted ideas and concepts, I fuse
magic and incantation with more empiric sources, viewed from a philosophical
and perhaps more metaphorical angle as I am not very fond of "reality" and love escapism.
I see the universe and everything in it as a magical-material phenomenon,
so, for me, both sides are part of a whole and never really separate things.
I'll write about anything that is meaningful in my own bubble. Muzak, for
instance, approaches themes like love, god, alienation, alchemy, ecology, drugs, pantheism and sex.
I can't see myself in terms of "am I a spiritual person?" but I would
imagine that, by watching me from the outside, it would be natural to get to that conclusion.
6) Please tell me something on your intentions to start Saturnia. What is
the Saturnalia concept? What has become out of free art communal project
as which you started Saturnia originally?
LS-Well, basically Saturnia is a concept that had been lurking in my
subconscious since the early nineties, while I was playing in other bands.
Musically, I wanted to do something that would provide the continuation to
classical psychedelia and space rock music but in a modern framework, in
essence; bring the grandeur of days past to the present. But dreaming is
free, so I didn't stop there and wanted to make it a multi/media-multi/art
form project. Soon enough that proved extremely complicated to do with the
resources I had both from a technical and human point of view, so I returned
to the essential aspect of it, which is music. That gave me freedom and
independence, which are two of the main foundation bricks of Saturnia.
The name came from a word play between words in a list of possible names.
Two of the most striking ones were Saturn and Saturnalia (which is a synonym
of orgy). I wanted it to be cosmic and spacey but also to have some sort
sensual hedonistic vibe to it, so, in a blend, the word Saturnia just popped
up and I realized that there is a moth named Saturnia so that tied it up in
a natural, ecological and organic way.
6) Now Saturnia is your one-man-band. What are the differences to the
earlier albums when Francisco Rebelo was a fulltime-member?
LS-Well...Saturnia albums have always been a "one man band", I played all
instruments in both "The Glitter Odd" and "Hydrophonic Gardening", it is
just that I never wanted to give the idea of some sort of solo project
because that is not what Saturnia is. If I were to do music under my own
name it would be something slightly different. That is why the information on who
played what was never very clearly shown on those album's credits, but if you check
them carefully, you'll find something like "words and music written and performed by Luis Simões".
When Francisco got in, "The Glitter Odd" was nearly finished; I was never
satisfied with Vasco's playing and started doing things on my own. The thing
with Francisco is that he got together with me mainly to play live, on his
own will. He has several musical projects of his own and also works as a
session musician and producer, and also has an insane private agenda, so,
for him, Saturnia is something that enables him to play a music style that
he loves with someone else taking care of everything else.
Anyway, we are very close friends and my creative door is always completely
open for him, maybe on the next album we'll write together.
7) You have played live several times. Is it difficult to perform your
music with just one or two person? Or how do create your sound on stage? Who is helping you?
LS-It is impossible to do it alone because Saturnia's music is made thinking
of two human elements, essentially a guitarist and a keyboardist, playing
on top of an electronic basis, that is why Saturnia has always been a duet.
Saturnia live is, basically, me and Francisco playing sitar, guitar, lap
steel, theremin, gong, organ and synthesizer on top of sequenced drums and bass lines.
If you listen to the albums you'll hear things that only four hands and four
feet just can't do, but Saturnia's music can be striped down for us to be a
real live playing band and still maintain the songs essence preserved.
Some people feel a bit confused, because it's just two guys doing that sound
but our live concept is very simple really.
8) You are playing nearly all instruments. How do you record? How are you developing and creating the tracks?
LS-Recording and creating the tracks is the same thing for me, as I record
all ideas I have as soon as I have them, so I am permanently in writing and production mode.
In what refers to the actual recording work I start laying down tracks
and improvising around initial central ideas, let's say a rhythm, a melody
or a chord, with whatever instruments or sounds I feel may work, in a very
chaotic, disorganized, and almost random way. After accumulating all that I
feel might be of use for the composition, I then start to choose things or
parts of things, cleaning up, re-recording, editing etc, sometimes starting
everything from the beginning again, basically creating a shape out of a
mass of different but symbiotic ingredients.
I work more or less in the same way as someone painting or sculpting but on a sonic level.
8) What is coming first?
LS-It depends really; sometimes it starts with a beat, sometimes with a chord.
I have no set method for writing, I've said this before but I see myself
as a butterfly hunter wandering around in the forest waiting to catch
something beautiful out of the thin air. I feel that I am a vehicle to the
energies that float around me in the ether.
9) You are a multi-instrumentalist. When did you start learning all this
instruments? What has come first? Did you learn it for yourself or did you
have a teacher? What were your early influences when you started playing music?
LS-My musical training started with classical guitar lessons, where I learned
the basics, later on I moved to electric guitar.
Around 1994 I bought a 4-track recorder and started to do home demos of
my music, but you know how it's like, then I got a drum machine to do some
beats, then I got some keyboards, then I got a gong and a theremin and so
on. It never really stopped. In this process of intimate pleasure with music
I taught myself to play all these instruments from listening to other people, reading books and just playing.
Although I can play some of these instruments relatively well, particularly
organ, I still see myself as a guitarist and the guitar and its variants, like the sitar or lap steel, are the place I call home.
The list of artists that emotionally moved me and made me want to be a
musician myself is endless. I didn't wanted to follow anyone or anything in
particular, my motivation when I was starting out was, to do music I liked
and that would be the reward itself. That hasn't really changed for me.
10) Your second album "The Glitter Odd" was released by New Zealand label
Cranium. I knew Richard Stockwell a little bit, because I have ordered many
CDs from his mail-order, which is sadly closed since several years. How
did you get in contact with Richard?
LS-Saturnia is an Internet era type of band and it was through the Internet
that I met Hardy, keyboardist of Mr Quimby's Beard who passed Cranium's contact to
me. That's how I got to Richard Stockwell and Craig Wiliamson, they liked
the record and I licensed it to them. They still owe me money.
11) Now you are a member of the very successful Blasted Mechanism. Is this
more important than Saturnia now? Is Saturnia now something like a "matter
of love and heart" for you? Is there any influence of Blasted Mechanism on "Muzak"?
LS-No, Saturnia and Blasted Mechanism are just two bands I play and write in.
Both have their own place in my heart and in my life and coexist
harmoniously, it wouldn't be true to say that, to me, one is more
important than the other, I don't see things that way, if you have ideas you just have to put them out.
Saturnia and the projects I've been in, or involved with, were all in a way
or another a "matter of love and heart" for me, because music has to move
me, and if it doesn't I don't want to be involved. Saturnia has always
been a matter of love for me, I mean, if I thought in purely practical and
materialistic logical terms, I wouldn't be doing it, but that's not what
life is all about, I feel one has to evolve and develop one's knowledge of
the inner and outer universe and the way I found to do that is music in general and Saturnia in particular.
I don't think there are any musical influences of Blasted Mechanism on
"Muzak". On the practical side of things there was an influence though,
because being in a band like Blasted Mechanism that plays a lot of shows to
lots of people and sells a significant amount of records means that the
time is short, that is one of the reasons why "Muzak" took quite a bit of time to finish.
12) You have designed the artwork of the new album. Every picture is yellow,
white, orange, brown and very mellow, smooth, pleasant. And then there is
the label of the CD with all the ciggaretes. Why did you use this harsh contrast?
LS-When I started thinking the artwork for "Muzak" with Eduardo Vasconcelos I
was decided to do something very straightforward that reflected my musical
view of what the album should be, that led me to take some of the imagery
from the lyrics and have him transform it into photographs. The result of
that are the images you see on the album's artwork. One of those images was
the ashtray, an idea that came from the piece "Analepsis". It sort of stuck
out as a harder image than the rest but it was so striking and, for me, so
personal, that I thought the contrast was entirely justified.
It is curious that you mention this part of the artwork and not the front
cover, breast photograph; I say this because I noticed that it made some
impact, I actually had two labels interested in "Muzak" that wouldn't release it with that cover.