Originally done as a news piece for Iron Fist Magazine founding member of Negura Bunget Negru had plenty to say in regards to new album Tău, the first part of a planned trilogy. One of his answers alone would have taken up the entire word count I had at my disposal. Fear not, anyone wanting to read the entire in depth interview here it is presented in complete form.
Q: Although this is not the first time you have worked on a multi-platform series of albums conceptually it cannot be that easy an undertaking to record an album that is part of a trilogy. How do you work in this respect, do you have firm ideas for the three completed albums before you start them or are the developed along the way.
Negru: It was as bit more difficult to put all the pieces together at the very beginning. But once I figured out the main ideas things started evolving slowly on their own, and I get new perspectives all the time. This is without a doubt by far the most ambitious plan we undertook as a band, not just conceptually, it goes on all levels, musically, lyrically, visually, logistically… Believe it or not, we have it all pretty much figured out already. Of course, new ideas come all the time, but those only expand what we have already. In the end things somehow shape in a result that is sometimes a surprise even for us. It is a balance we always seek between vision, planning and possibilities.
Q: Have you already got music for parts two and three recorded and how long is the whole project likely to take release wise?
Negru: We don’t have anything recorded for the following parts of the trilogy. We have some bits and pieces of music already done, same with the lyrics, but it’s still in an early stage. What we have is conceptual core skeleton to build everything on. The plan for the moment is to have the second part out in 2016 and the third one in 2018.
Q: Where have you recorded and who has done the mixing and mastering this time around. How long did the whole process take and did everything go more or less to plan?
Negru: We recorded the album in our studio, with our friend Mihai MTZ Neagoe as sound man and producer, and then the mastering was done by another friend, Alin Luculescu, again locally. This approach, which we took on our latest albums as well, takes the pressure from having a limited studio time, we can always go back and change things if we’re not satisfied, so has lots of advantages. All together it took almost a year, but we’ve been working on it with breaks. It worked to plan, as we always leave a lot of space for the unplanned…
Q: The band has not been without its fair share of upheavals of late and you have practically a whole new line up since 2013. How easy has it been to find new musicians that fit in with the spirit of the band and work at achieving things the way you want them to be. Do you consider the current line-up to be stable or do you expect further transitions with people coming and going in the future?
Negru: It’s kind of strange to talk about a new line-up when pretty much all the members are very old friends, as it is the case here. I’ve known most of them for over 10 years already, they all worked with Negura one way or the other in the past, and were quite familiar with everything. This allowed us to get straight ahead intro everything, like performing live and writing new music, and now, two years and over 200 gigs later, we’re naturally inclined to take things to an even higher level. The current line-up is for sure one of the strongest we ever had, and there’s lots of plans ahead of us.
Q: Indeed would you consider that with new people joining the group things are kept fresh both musically and with the narrative and ideas behind the band?
Negru: I think it all depends on the people. Everybody reacts differently, especially under pressure, and everybody has a different endurance level. Being in Negura Bunget is for sure not an easy job. Fortunately we managed to find the right people to keep our journey, no matter if they lasted a few months or a few years in the band, they all worked hard while inside the band. But sometimes being in a band like Negura Bunget requires also a lot of sacrifices that not all are willing to take.
Q: Has it been a collaborative process in writing the new album? Who has been responsible for both the music and lyrics this time around?
Negru: I did the whole concept of the album, but the music was a collective effort. It was the same on every Negura album, each member comes with his input, no matter if it’s a couple of parts or a couple of songs, it’s not at all about quantity, it’s about quality.
Q: We are told that “TĂU focuses on the natural landscapes, exploring marvelous places, with their myths, legends and traditions, opening a window to the past of these legendary lands.” So I am assuming that nature is very much at the forefront of things thematically? Can you expand upon things a bit? What sort of myths and legends are the songs representing anything that you can share with us as any historical insight would be very interesting?
Negru: I think I should explain first a bit the concept of the whole trilogy, as then everything will make more sense. Coming from such a controversial place as Transilvania we noticed people are asking us all the time about it, and also have all kinds of ideas in their mind about it. As we’ve also explore the local history and spirituality since our very beginnings as a band, we felt somehow we owe it to present a personal vision on what all this means to us. And hence we came up with the trilogy concept, which explores the Transilvanian concept not only through music and lyrics, but also visually. The first part of the trilogy focuses on the natural elements, by exploring some symbolic places. The second part of the trilogy will focus on the human element, on the traditions, practices and beliefs that shaped the spiritual horizon of the people living on these lands. Finally, the third and final part will focus on the idea and concept that made those lands immortal. Each part is quite different, but put all together should offer a pretty detailed view.
Back to the TĂU album now, we focused on presenting some key places, which are not only relevant on their own, but can also stand for a wider view. Like we focused on the Focul Viu on the song “Picur Viu Foc” (Pouring Drops of Living Fire), which is an actual name of a glacier cave from Apuseni Mountains, but we used it as a symbol for the whole underworld. This place has various meanings for the locals but the personal approach is more important. Descending on the glacier it is like gods put there the living fire. As the light entered the cave it creates a unique glacier that at its peak your feel like the ice is on fire. It is sad that Zamolxe, the old Dacian god, set on that fire and communicate to the locals. A place like this unifies the skies, man and earth in a unique feeling that can’t be described into words. In Romanian folklore “focul viu” is also a purifying custom that is set every spring. All living souls from the house are passed over this living fire in order to gain health and wellbeing. It is a ritual against evil with ancient roots in Romanian tradition. Fire vibrates with its warmth everything, cleaning and establishing the right measure of the equilibrium.
On another song, “Tărîm Vîlhovnicesc” (Sorcerous Realm) we explored the intricate world of the hill-valley-mountain, rock-water-wind system, focusing among other on the legend of Detunatele – the thunder rocks from Buciumani village, Transylvania reveals an enchanted landscape where giants and fairies lived. It is said that the son of giant leader slept at a shadow of a fir tree and soddenly he was awaken by a beautiful chant of a fairy, the mortal enemy of his father. The giant’s leader killed the fairy with a spear and in return the young lover with the same spear killed his father. From the depths of the earth two flames appears and swallowed all giants and the two lovers were turned into rocks – Detunatele. The name of the rocks is given from the noise made by the waterfall and the wind creating mixed sensations, the beauty of the rocks is troubled by the noise of the water like a warning.
These are just some small examples, covering parts of two songs on the album. For us nature itself became a personage that reveal all its beauty – mountains, waterfalls, caves, stones, hills, forests, shades, colours, textures if only we had the “right eyes” to capture it. Transilvania is the land where immortality was born and mysteries are still “alive” that may come into your path and TĂU is only an introduction to this universe that becomes “yours”.
Q: You also mention that the albums will be part of a visual trilogy as well as a musical one. I am assuming that you will be working on a series of videos to go with some of the songs or are you also meaning that they will be represented somehow in this respect live as well? What can we expect here?
Negru: We already have the visual part for the TĂU album complete and working already on the following part of the trilogy. It’s almost half an hour of visual elements, and I think it came out really nice. We’ll expand this into our live shows as well, though in a slight different way. Cause album visual concept and live visual concept are more like complementary than identical. We have some really big ideas to expand the visual parts of our gigs, and the first elements will be present already on our upcoming tour this spring. But this is again a very complex and expensive endeavor, as our goal, in the end, is to have a visual bleeding throughout the whole stage, combining pre-programed projections with live context elements rendered on the spot. It will take us some time, but we’ll get there!
Q: It’s been a while since Vîrstele Pămîntului but since the line up has shifted you seem to have been on the road constantly and are just about to embark on a massive tour again. Do you write on the road when on tour or do you need to completely separate yourselves from this scenario in order to create new music?
Negru: Writing while on tour is more of a wishful thinking, at least for us. We’ve never done that so far. Although our schedule might seem busy at first look, we’ve always had plenty of time to work on the music while being home. You need to put a bit of distance after the craziness of a tour before you can work on the music. Also things have to align together naturally, each album creation becomes a unique experience which enriches us. I am happy to be part on so many already, and eager to undertake even more.
Q: Apart from the epic opening track I felt that there has been a bit more restraint on the tracks this time around, they are just a bit shorter overall than seen on previous albums. Was this a conscious effort, were you maybe looking to make things a bit more accessible this time around or was this simply the way things worked out.
Negru: It was not a conscious effort either way (to have the tracks longer or shorter). Everything just shaped like this naturally. But I think is was somehow normal considering the ideas we explored on the album, which are rather abundant and intricate. Things go hand in hand most of the times. Still, one of the main tracks of the album, the one we did our most spectacular video so far as well, is over 10 minutes in length. So it’s not like we held back on that.
Q: Perhaps by doing so overall the impact is slightly less transcendental, would you agree and maybe will focus shift back this way with other parts of the trilogy?
Negru: As the concepts for each album are different, it’s quite likely the musical side of each album will be different accordingly. The third part of the trilogy for example will focus more on the concepts and ideas that made our lands famous… so it’s like that part will have the more transcendental and abstract sound as well. For this first part I think we also shifted a bit the transcendental elements into the visual parts, this will become clearer in the time left until the official release of the album.
Q: There are normally some special editions of your albums made available. I take it you work very much in conjunction with your label to provide these? What can the die hard fans expect this time around?
Negru: Yes, we’ve always put a lot of effort into making some special editions of our albums. TĂU comes from the beginning in 3 formats: 4 panel digipak, a gatefold LP, and a 2 CD + DVD 72 pages artbook. It’s pretty clear the artbook is the most spectacular edition, and we put a lot of work into it. Apart of the original lyrics we have there some English translation, and even background stories on some of the tracks. The artbook goes hand in hand with the album flow, offering a more visual perspective into the album. I’ve done myself all the photos and the layout of the artbook. We will also be doing a very limited wood box for the digipak, hand carved and painted, with maple leaves and spectacular forests seeds inside. It offers more of a sensitive experience for the album. That will be done in 50 copies only, and we’ll do it by ourselves, not through our label Prophecy.
(Interview Pete Woods)