In Conversation with Aidan Baker and Leah Buckareff (Nadja)
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In Conversation with Aidan Baker and Leah Buckareff (Nadja)

While speaking to the members of Nadja, I notice how well the music of the project reflect personalities of Aidan Baker and Leah Buckareff. Both abstract thinkers. Getting together in the early 2000’s, they kept on exploring the musical landscapes on the crossroads of shoegaze and ambient – combined with post-metallic blood-like-aftertaste.

The newest Luminous Rot is not that different. The duo did their best, getting from 41 minutes-long instrumental Seemannsgarn to something more structural, masterfully combining the elements of improvisational with the well-known structural patterns of the music of Nadja.

In the interview for Louder Than War, Aidan Baker and Leah Buckareff speak about their beginnings and improvisational component of their music, about fragility of DIY and working with David Pajo on Luminous Rot, about Berlin and artistic mentality.

LTW: I find it interesting that dealing with certain compositional structure – parts, introductions, codas, you manage to get from notes and chords exploring music on a textural level. With noises, sound-landscapes etc. And you still manage to keep it structural. What pushes this transition from actual parts to textures?

Aidan: “I guess, the songs start from the very basic structures. So, there’s always that sort of root-progression or chord-progression that’s like a backbone of a song. As we add textures and sounds – that can change the direction of a song. The texture can’t affect the way songs ends up. But, there’s always that root simple structure in the basis that’s isn’t always audible sometimes but other-times depending on what we add to it, it’s more parent.”

LTW: What’s the natural way for you two to work on something ?

Aidan: “It depends on a project, really. Some projects are very quick and fast and intuitive and it’s there. With others – we take more time and work like building up song-structures or re-arranging different parts in more-composed work. Less instinctive, I suppose.”

LTW: You were asked quite a lot about your relocation to Berlin from Toronto. How much of this transition affected you, creatively ?

Leah: “I think, increased, since we moved here…”

Aidan: “Yeah. I think we have more freedom to be musicians here. Back in Toronto…Toronto is a much more expensive city than Berlin. [Where] we always had to have other jobs. But here, in Berlin we’re able to live from our music and art. That allows us more freedom, to be more creative. More time and more possibilities”.

Leah: “It’s incredibly easy to collaborate with people here. There are so many people that are either come to stay for a while or live here, from all over. For musicians it’s very easy to produce music here”.

LTW: Initially, it was you Aidan, who set up the foundation for Nadja in the 90’s. Experimenting with sounds and loops. But if back then your approach was extremely minimal, later on you get to writing songs like Luminous Rot. How much has your approaches involved since you decided to make this transition – from sound-searching to something more concrete ?

Aidan: “I don’t really know that it’s changed so much. I think that element has always been there. Or both elements have always been a part of my musical expression. So again, it depends on the nature of a project. What I want to achieve. How much concrete and how much abstract is mixed in the process”.

LTW: At the same time you’ve always tried to write intuitively. Does it presuppose the presence of a certain distance from any particular ideas or there are still some concepts you’d work ?

Aidan: “Again, I think, that’s the combination. Depending on the project and what we want to be active. Sometimes, if we have a very specific idea in our heads – then it becomes a much more structured and focused methodology-work. And if we’re more trying to express less of a concept/idea and more of a feeling and emotion or something like this – then it becomes more intuitive work”.

LTW: Previously, you released Seemannsgarn – a 40-minute long instrumental piece. When you set the foundation for something as massive as this one composition, what do you have in mind ? A feeling you want to express, sound-texture you want to explore or something else ?

Aidan: “This is a very good example of a very intuitive piece. Cause, it’s mostly improvised. It’s more of a try to capture an atmosphere and a feeling then trying to express a specific kind of concept or more focused-structured kind of song. And we wrote this piece as meditation on a part of the city where we live. [That is] under threat of development and gentrification. It’s a very peaceful natural space. We try to express a bit of what that environment means to us. Sentiments that it brings to mind for us. We find it a very peaceful and meditative space within the city. So we try to make a song that reflects that in a way. But also, because there’s a certain darkness in the song – the idea of a conflict between the urban environment and the human environment, how they come together, how they clash, how they might work together, how they might struggle…”

LTW: Leah, I couldn’t but ask you: when you have more song-structural, it’s easier to understand where and how you should contribute to, being a bass-player. But how much does the lack of a drummer in your interaction affect you ?

Leah: “There were a few times when we played with the drummer, a live-drummer. Where it was more of a strict bass-playing kind of thing. But I think, in general, with Nadja, I’m very often playing the same chords Aidan is playing. It’s more of heavier…Sometimes, more prolonged with beats and stuff with the drums…But really, it’s a lot like an extension of the guitar. Particularly with most of our stuff”.

LTW: And when you played with the drummers – like you did for “Dagdrøm” getting Mac McNeilly of The Jesus Lizard to play drums. What it was like to get to this band-type of interaction ?

Leah: “That’s actually wouldn’t be one I’d consider be one of the ones we’d played with the live-drummer ( laughter )! ‘Cause, that one – it was done all online…”

Aidan: “…Through file-sharing…”

Leah: “Yeah. I didn’t actually play with Mac McNeilly AT ALL. We did tried to re-create a few records live with a drummer. And it really made the whole atmosphere SO DIFFERENT. Concert, the songs, everything – quite different. So there’s a place for it. For sure. I think, my experience as the bass-player with Nadja is not in any traditional real-bass-playing-way”.

LTW: While re-listening to your discography, I was thinking that a lot of your work touches different polarities of one emotional spectrum. Having both these oppositions involved in what you’re doing. Are there any emotional tonalities you’re strict to ?

Aidan: “I suppose, we have a very expected sound. People expect a certain sound from us. But I wouldn’t say we’re locked into that. Because, certainly we’ve done things that are outside of that sound. Whether people expect that – it’s their own choice. And I think, we tried to get away from that sometimes. Because, we don’t want to be confined by anything. And we want to have a freedom to express how we want to express. Regardless of ourselves trying to make it “sound like us”. Or something else”.

In Conversation with Aidan Baker and Leah Buckareff (Nadja)

LTW: Was it organic to work on Luminous Rot ?

Aidan: “I guess, it was pretty organic. It started out quite organic. Intuitive. Instinctive. As we created sort of backtracks of what the album would be. And then, as we went back to work on the first parts we recorded, it became more structured and more focused. If we have two distinct working methods, than Luminous Rot is an example of both. We started with an intuitive way and then turned to a more structured and focused way using the material that we recorded intuitively to begin with”.

LTW: With Luminous Rot it’s interesting how one song goes into another. So you’d listen to it like one big piece. Even though the songs are pretty different. How did you manage to reach such contiguity ?

Aidan: “That was the part of building the record essentially. The songs were separate. Or mostly separate as we were working on. And then, we kind of pieced them together as they sort of felt to go together appropriately…”

Leah:”…It actually felt they were very different.”

Aidan: “Yeah?”

Leah: “( laughs ). Now, when you say that – this album in particular seems like classic Nadja in a way. But also, the songs seem to be very different to me. Or varied somehow. Even more then usual. I guess, we’ve been composing a lot of these long big pieces that maybe feel more organic to me. And so, with this one – with songs and some of them…I guess, it’s similar to some of our last records where we have shorter, tighter songs involved. And maybe that’s just more organic for us now. It’s just an evolution, I guess”.

In Conversation with Aidan Baker and Leah Buckareff (Nadja)

LTW: And when you work, basically experimenting with the sounds – when does your work usually come to an end ? Or does the finished piece just resonate with you?

Aidan: “I think, resonating is a big part of it. And it can be tempting to just add more and more. A part of a craft of working on a record is knowing when to stop. If you’d pile so much on and you’re not gonna hear certain things…So it’s about letting voices have their voice. So, if there are different guitar- voices in there and you don’t want them to come up too much, you want to have a nice balance between density and airiness and simplicities”.

LTW: You Leah, once mentioned that it was very difficult for you to get into an improvisational part of your work, at the beginning of Nadja. How long did it take for you to get comfortable with immediate creation ?

Leah: I don’t know…It’s a good question! At the beginning, it was probably quite difficult for me. That was 15 years ago…(laughs). I guess, with Nadja, we were kind of thrown into performing live quite quickly and I think, our first couple of years – we were pretty strict with playing songs and records. We didn’t improvise as much. I think we probably started improvising more on stage and then translated more and more into the records. I think it took a couple of years. And I think you could already see it with albums like Thaumogenesis“.

LTW: Previously, you spoke about the fragility of DIY-scene. At the same time, releasing your LP on Southern Lord you still follow the norms of DIY, the same principles. So what causes this fragility you spoke about previously ?

Aidan: “I think, that’s just an uncertainty in general. Because, the pandemic is a very good example. As soon as it hit, the fragility of DIY-scene was suddenly really apparent. Because the venues and the bands, promoters – everybody was suddenly really struggling. Their lifestyle was taken away completely. So the DIY-scene has existed and has been very strong. But when you throw in a factor like a pandemic – it really shows how fragile it is in my mind”.

Leah: “Yeah, in a DIY-scene people are generally not financed in the same way. Of course, it becomes a little more difficult. But it’s also a community. I think it will survive! I think more then anything, the DIY-scene will survive”.

Aidan: “I think people would maintain some sort of existence coming through. Once this would be over and we’d be able to tour and play again…Obviously, there would be people who aren’t able to maintain, unfortunately. But I think there are enough people working together so the network will still exist”.

Leah: “Actually, speaking about Russia. The DIY-touring scene there is incredible. We’ve been going there close to 10 years. Doing these DIY-tours where, sometimes once we did five shows in Russia, all through this network…The people are so spread out. But so well-connected. At least for us to witness somehow. I feel like if anything would come out of the ashes of this – it would be this DIY-connectivity. It would survive somehow”.

LTW: You’ve been asked a lot about your cooperation with Slint’s David Pajo, who mixed Luminous Rot. What according to your opinion David brough to the record ?

Aidan: “I think he definitely highlighted elements of the mix we wouldn’t have. So it changed the sound significantly. At the same time, it still sounds like us. And that was a part of our back-and-forth. When we were talking about mixing. Cause he asked what we wanted out of it, how we wanted to be presented etc. We sent him a bunch of our older albums to compare. So he was aware of the aesthetics we had with our sound and I think, he respected that in the process. But at the same time, he added things from his own personal aesthetic to make it sound the way he thought it should sound”.

Leah: “He was a very sensitive to what we wanted and at the same time, added something…Kind of new, we’d never have done before. So, having these fresh ears on it was like a good mirror for us, in a way”.

Luminous Rot is out now on Southern Lord.

Photo credits: Janina-Gallert.

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Interview by Dan Volohov. Find his author’s archive here.

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