Interviews : On Trial
For a band that has been together since the late 80's and is widely known and revered throughout Europe, On Trial is criminally underappreciated within the US stoner rock scene. But, with the band's brand new album, Blinded by the Sun, finally seeing a US release through Tee Pee Records, I have a feeling that things are about to change for these five Danes.
The band's bassist, Nik, was nice enough to answer my rather simple email questions. Yet, what came out is one of the better interviews we currently have on Deadtide. Read on!
Nik, as banal as the band's history questions have become, On Trial is only known within a small circle of music lovers in America. Would you mind talking briefly about the circumstances that gave rise to On Trial and your original motivation to start a band?
Well, we got together under this name in high school ca 1987. our motivation back then was the usual - getting laid, famous & rich and a full-on conviction that if we got up on stage we'd actually be Iggy & the Stooges, Sonics, Nomads, Leather Nun or whoever occupied our record players that month.
The band started taking shape for real in the mid-90s, after we'd been through a coupla handfuls of styles & directions & lots of jams in thick clouds of smoke. In the end we'd bred & nurtured our own musical core, and found it rich enough to be explored and maintained. Motivation, apart from that, is touching souls, moving hearts, blasting off skulls, and smash the tv screen?
Not knowing much about the band, I was pleasantly surprised with how good Blinded by the Sun is. These songs sound melodic and powerful. How drastic has been the change in On Trail's sound since the band's inception?
Counting from ca '95, the music's become straighter, maybe slightly happpier. The songs have become shorter, more to the point. Go buy the records and find out, hehe?
The opening notes of Blinded by the Sun were barely heard coming out of my speakers. The band perfectly captures a vintage sound that is very authentic and almost takes the listener back into the whole Woodstock period. What type of equipment do you use for recording? Do you use newer instruments/pedals during your live performances?
The main recording elements that set us apart from the rest of the pack are 2 inch tape, space echo (analogue echo thingy), and recording live at full volume without fussing too much about separating the instruments - you can hear the results of that in for example the quiet part of the solo in Downer: the bass was turned all the way down in the mix, but it's still pretty much there in all the drum microphones. Then we top it all off with manual mixing by ourselves - for better or worse.
Words of Advice for Young Guitar Players - Rasmus' guitar setup: Gibson firebird 1991 Ibanez Custom Les Paul 1973 Roland RE-301 Tape delay Jimi Hendrix Wah (by Dunlop) Loud setup: Fender Concert Amp 1964 Colorsound Tonebender (70'ies reissue) Boss OD1 (the classic w?th only two knobs) Louder setup: Selmer Treble & Bass 50 Snakeskin version (Mid 60'ies) Carl Martin "The Fuzz" Big Muff Basically I use whatever I can get my hands on that sounds outta this world. What i go for is a warm tube-driven clean sound with just a touch of amp-distortion. Fuzz-pedals should in my opinion sound like your entire amp and cabinet is just about to collaps. Tapedelay because it really sounds outta this world. And my beloved Hendrix Wah which is a high hi-frequency gained type of wah. For extra squeaks and more pain.
Judging by some of my European traveling experience, I could imagine a band like On Trial playing in a smoky club with lights dimmed, while the majority of spectators are enjoying a cold beverage and a mind altering substance or two. Fact or fiction? How and where most of On Trial's performances take place?
Fact ? we don't need a smoke machine, the audience takes care of that. Goddamn hippies? there's always some chick or other dancing to the most spaced out songs, and I've noticed they're looking & dancing better and better (public service announcement: that's a very good incentive to make us play better). When we start playing the droney impro stuff they're hypnotized, they look so receptive and gone that you feel really tempted to tell them to go buy two copies of each our albums? then we go into overdrive, and the guys lose their heads and throw beer all over the place. Then again, sometimes they all look like they're on strooong ... tran ... qui .... liii ...... zzzzzers.
The band's sound is quite different from a majority of American bands that play similar style of music. Blinded by the Sun contains compositions that are quite relaxing and memorable. Yet, On Trial has yet to attain a bigger status in United States. What would you attribute such a paradox to?
American consumer culture. So far, we haven't put very much effort into the PR side of things ? videos, big promo budgets, image consciousness and all that - in other words we've never really developed the strong brand identity that's necessary to penetrate the market. As for airplay - first off, we don't fit very well into any of the slots in the very heavily formatted radio landscape of today; second, as you noticed, we don't at all compress our sound enough to fit into a radio dj's (or do they call them content programmers nowadays?) idea of a neat music machine... (heck, what do I know? I'm making this up as I go along...)
The album art for Blinded by the Sun is rather interesting. It looks like a Lego puzzle, yet, with a sun piece as the main focus of the cover. What was the idea about doing something like that? Simply striving to make it look different or did you have a certain idea behind it?
Yeah, it looks cool, doesn't it? Dan Abbot did it (and the cover for the last album too) - we didn't see it until he was finished, so you should ask him instead. He's talked about "whiteout - being blinded by the sun", so the central parts of it are the sun and the white surface. I don't know where the Lego thing fits in. A reference to our nationality maybe, Lego being from Denmark? Ah, there's plenty of room to speculate .... here's a bit of what Dan told us when he was doing the thing:
"It IS a pretty unusual sleeve for the "kind of" music that On Trial make... but then again, you may have elements of other bands' music in your sound but the end result is very much ONLY the On Trial sound... so deep down inside, that why I feel confident in doing something that's quite un-typical."
. It seems there are no two songs on Blinded by the Sun that sound similar. There are a lot of influences ranging everywhere from Jimmy Hendrix to Pentagram to Rolling Stones, and even some Blue Oyster Cult thrown in there. What are some of your major influences current and past?
Within that '66-'72 period, we've listened much more to the layers underneath all those big names: the 60s underground psych on the Pebbles/Nuggets collections was a big force for a long time. Major influences? god, there's a million and we all have different tastes - every one of us has some special musical love that at least one of the others can't stand - but I think MC5, 13th Floor Elevators, early Monster Magnet and On Trial are the (only) ones we can all agree on as influences. From there we spread out in so many different directions that less than 50 names wouldn't make any sense. We used to cover a Pentagram song (in their former incarnation Macabre, "Be Forewarned"). So there.
How did the band hook up with Tee Pee Records? Did you actually sign a deal with that label, or are they simply releasing your album in United States?
They're only releasing. Our contract is with the English label Molten Records (who used to be Delirium Rec.), and Molten made the contact to Tee Pee. We're very satisfied with the outcome so far. Nice work, guys.
While Bo's vocals are quite easy to understand, what was the reason for not including the lyrics in the booklet?
Time pressure. We'd already waited so long for the album to come out, on top of that we had a very long argument about the cover, so in the end we were like "We don't care if it's released as cardboard singles, get the bloody thing out NOW!". Usually we print the lyrics.
Bo says: Actually, I don't know if it was due to the scedule of things that happened or didn't happen. Or? I don't think we ever concidered to include the lyrics on this one. It was never an issue. Let the music do the talking. Yeah.
Speaking of the band's lyrics, what are some of the things that On Trial concerns itself with?
Bo says: Without ever really having discussed the matter of lyrical concept , I must say that there seems to be certain dogmatic rules that applies for On Trial. Most of the lyrics have a surreal touch and often seems to be concerned with different ways of perceiving the world, or sensations, contemplation or simply state of minds. I guess thats the kind of lyrics I like to read or listen to myself, when it comes to these kinda short rock-lyrics, shot from the hip. I belive good rock-lyrics are supposed to leave the listener moved or touched relating to whatever situation or reality he or she is in. Both profound and actually very very simple at the same time.
Since there is not much known about the Danish stoner rock/hard rock scene, what are some of the bands that are worth mentioning? Is that particular genre of music remain popular in Europe, or do you feel like metal bands are 'your' biggest competitors as far as the album sales go?
Hard rock (well, hard music regardless of genre) doesn't really go down well in DK. On top of that we're only 5 milion people, so there's not really enough people to make up a scene. Gas Giant and Magnified Eye are the main hard/space/stoner rockers here (www.gasgiant.dk, www.magnifiedeye.com) - they are virtually unknown, and release their stuff on friends' labels or in Germany, where stoner is a big thing. The garage scene is much more alive ? if you wanna know about that, check out the webzine Lowcut (www.lowcut.dk), they sum it up much better than I could.
I guess our main album sales competitors are 60s re-releases, hehe? really, I have no idea who sells the most records and don't care, as long as people turn up at their local clubs foaming at the mouth and demand to see On Trial on the bill, & write frantic fan letters to any mag/webzine, etc etc. We don't measure competition by album sales, but by the number & intensity of brain waves pulsing in sync with our music.
Since the band now has a US distributor, it is feasible to start thinking about making your first US live appearance? Are there any current bands that you would like to tour with?
We were in Texas in 2000 for South by Southwest and ca. 10 more dates ? but yeah, send us some money for the air fare so we can get over to you guys in the fall as planned. Tee Pee are talking about setting something up starting in New York and then I-dont-know-where ... watch the web site closely for dates. Yes there are many current artists we'd like to tour with. Of course I can't remember any right now. The Warlocks & us would be a fun combination. Dead Meadow. Gallery of Mites. Madonna... no, seriously, we'd really like to tour with someone like Busted, so we could piss in their amplifiers.
Well, Nik, that's pretty much it from me. Thank you for your insightful answers and congratulations on an excellent album. The final words are yours...
Compliments to you too, sir. good questions, nothing left to say, except "Titties & beer!"