Irish post-rock giants God Is An Astronaut have – perhaps quietly – been one of the pioneering forces in atmospheric and genre bending sonic-mind-numbery for nearly two decades.
Anchored by twin brothers Torsten and Niels Kinsella, GIAA (acronyms! we’ve got them!) drop their 10th studio album Ghost Tapes #10 this February, one that demands listener submission with an entirely more uptempo and aggressive feel.
The brothers caught up with Metal Injection to navigate 20 years of sonic pathways, family bonds, trials and tribulations of the music industry and personal loss, and the new beginning brought on from their newest studio effort.
On Nearing the Band’s 20 Year Anniversary
Torsten: For me I just keep on moving forward. You know, I do obviously think about it from time to time, the length of time that we’ve been in this business. And it’s very difficult to stay relevant with so many different trends coming in and out all the time. And the only thing we can do is keep our head down and just keep listening to what we have inside ourselves. Just keep doing it that way and try to kind of shut out what’s happening around us sometimes. Over the years post-rock, whatever they want to call it, we fell into that whole genre quite by accident.
What’s kind of frustrating is the ebb and flow of trends that come in and out. We kind of seem to swim with it more so than I wish we were. I’d rather we were kind of more outside it. And all we can do when we write our own music is just try to keep our heads focused on our own feelings and our own emotions. I think the other thing about lasting 20 years, there’s a lot of baggage, good and bad, that kind of sticks with you for every record that you put out. So that kind of works for and against you all at the same time. I don’t know if it gets easier as the years go on. That’s one thing that I feel. I feel maybe we don’t have 20 years ahead of us either at this point. I know most of the years are behind us.
Niels: It’s kind of ironic because like when we released The End of the Beginning in 2002, we had already spent nearly 10 years in other bands trying to have something stick. The End of the Beginning was kind of like a farewell to the music business. It was like we tried to put out something that we genuinely like. Doesn’t matter if it fails or no one likes it because at least we could say we left the music business with a piece of music we liked. But I suppose the rest is kind of history. We didn’t really expect it to be (the beginning). We thought that was the end. That’s why it was called The End of the Beginning.
Torsten: I can remember at that time when we made The End of the Beginning, I remember Niels just sitting in the room I’m sitting in right now. And we were talking about if this doesn’t work, we’re going to have to (get a job with) shit carpets or do something horrible. And it was really kind of the reality that we’re living in. And the realities we’re living in right now is hoping that the record is well received by our fanbase. So I guess we’ve come on a good bit from those years. But saying that, it was definitely easier back then because there’s no expectations. You’re just putting out a record and it’s just a pleasant discovery, I guess, at that point. But now you’re kind of hoping that everybody’s going to really like the record and it’s going to be a good year for the band despite not being able to tour. So that’s kind of the mindset at the moment.
On Lack of Touring/Rough Times for Artists
Niels: The last show we did was in Boston. That was September 2019. So yeah, we’ve been sitting around and it probably will be two years before we step on a stage, maybe longer. And that’s definitely the longest time for us. And it is very strange. I mean, even when we release music, you release music to suit the touring cycle almost. That’s how important playing live was. It was almost monetizing your release. The release itself doesn’t make much money, but you put a record out and you hope people come to watch you perform the new record live. And that was the whole mindset, really. And it was going further that way with each release. The live thing took precedence nearly over making records because you would gain more from a live show than you would almost releasing records. You release records to get people to come back to the shows.
Torsten: Spotify and all the streaming services, they’re not paying the bands proper money whatsoever. And it really just forces bands to get out there and play live. And it’s been a big hit. It’s been tough because most of our money definitely was 70 percent from live touring. And this record that we made definitely had that in mind as well. We wanted to make a record that really was going to be a special treat for the audience live as well. And I’m sure we’ll get there at some point to play it. But I really think that had we been able to tour ahead of time of the album coming out, I think it would even be bigger hype for the record again. And I just think the biggest problem at the moment is streaming. It may fix the piracy problem, but it hasn’t really. They’re paying the artists just too little. It doesn’t make sense. I think we have like millions of plays a year and you get a couple of thousand euros out of it. It doesn’t make sense.
On Music Mirroring Personal Life
Torsten: My main inspiration behind music is essentially like a snapshot in time about what we’re going through. That’s what kind of really ruled whatever we’re going to make next, whatever kind of mindset that we’re in. I can remember it, it was a horrible thing to happen on Epitaph when our seven year old cousin’s life was taken away. We had some music written, but it all went out the door because it didn’t represent what we wanted to say at that point. And no words can really express how sad that really was. We wrote Epitaph in memory of Oisín. I’ve always said this, when the record is kind of finished, our feelings still lingered on with this one. And there was an aftermath to it.
“Burial” was kind of the aftermath of what we were feeling, which is kind of anger at this point starting to set in after the initial shock and sadness. And the next two years were kind of difficult enough for us because I remember we didn’t even tour for the entire year nearly, barring the US tour. The Scandinavian tour fell through, and we thought we were kind of in limbo land at that point. And just before the U.S. tour Niel’s mother-in-law passed away to cancer and Niels couldn’t make the first shows. And it was just heartache after heartache trying to move forward. So this album really is a struggle for us to try and just beat the odds and just come out on top and head down and work as hard as we can and get to the other side. There’s kind of negativity, but also positivity bursting through. And I think that’s something that this record represents is kind of part of the healing process for us to try to move forward into a better place.
Niels: Each album just captures your mindset, your emotional mindset at the time. And when you write songs you need to put as much of that idea into the songs and that makes the songs unique. And then the hope is that once someone listens to it, they can pick up on what you were feeling, and hopefully see what you felt during that time. And it’s always a bonus when people listen to songs like “Forever Lost” and they say that really touched me and helped me through a dark time. That’s what music’s about for us anyway.
On Upping the Aggression and Intensity of Ghost Tapes #10
Niels: Epitaph was very kind of downtempo and kind of dark. We didn’t want to do that again. So we did discuss that we want to do some more uptempo stuff, and I’ve written a few kind of punk driven base lines that kept the basis of some of the styles to start some of the songs. We had written a couple of songs that we weren’t quite sure the direction on. We decided to make this more uptempo. Let’s make this maybe slightly heavier, more aggressive, almost to the opposite of what Epitaph was. We didn’t want to do Epitaph part two. We wanted to kind of break away from it and make a clear distinction between the two albums.
Torsten: I would add that emotively that’s what we were feeling. It wasn’t like a plan to say, OK, we wrote a slow record, so now we have to make a fast one. You have to understand we were like years it felt like stuck in this situation of this bubble that burst. When a child dies like that, it kind of pulls you into this place where nothing is real anymore. We just got kind of fed up feeling this way. We wanted to kind of move forward and just say, come on, we’ve got to get better. So there’s a lot of that kind of energy in there. But yeah, for sure, we wanted to kind of put that energy, that excitement back into the music and not repeat ourselves. And that’s one of the things that also plays a factor. We don’t want to kind of do something that we did before and weaken what we did before.
I know some people say we want to hear Epitaph part two or, All Is Violent, All Is Bright part two. We don’t want to do that because we feel that weakens our past material. And with 10 albums behind us I’m already conscious that we may have repeated ourselves here and there. And we don’t want to do that again. We want to make sure that everything we put out is a new chapter of some description, and emotively it always tells the story. But now we also have to worry about the style, not just the content. We have to make sure that what we put out is fresh and it’s a little bit different from what we put out before.
On the Bonds of Brotherhood in and out of the Band
Torsten: I mean, obviously for years when we started off Niels and I worked very close together. We lived in the same house and essentially we had a kind of very similar viewpoint, which is natural because you’re in each other’s company. Niels has now moved with his family down to County Wexford and I’m still living in Wicklow.
I think it’s kind of in a way better now because there’s kind of a sense of I’ve got my viewpoints and he’s got his viewpoints and they’re both really relevant. And we try to listen to each other the best we can and come up with counterpoints or whatever just to make sure that we’re making the right moves strategically and musically and all the rest of the stuff. As far as working as a band, it’s very easy. There’s less fights these days. I remember when we started off, there was definitely a lot of quarreling and Neils was always a slightly better musician than me … Neils Can play guitar better than me too. So he keeps me on my toes, but these days we don’t have too many problems.
Niels: I think all the best stuff we’ve ever written was when myself and Torsten worked very close together. I think there were a couple of albums in around 2010-13, origins and stuff. And I was a new dad, so I didn’t have the same impur. I think it definitely could have been better if we had to work closer during that time, but it just wasn’t possible. But for the last couple of albums for sure, it’s been myself and Torsten really making all the decisions again on how it should sound. I think it does benefit when we work closer together than if we didn’t. I think the albums certainly were. So I think it’s a good partnership.
On Influential Bands and Heavy Sounds
Torsten: OK, I can certainly tell you a few things. When we grew up, I remember years and years ago, just about 1990, a band Therapy?. They released an album called Babyteeth. There was such a buzz around Ireland for that group. There used to be this venue called the Attic in Dublin that was the size of someone’s bedroom. They played places like that and had Fyfe on the drums. So I remember being excited about therapy at the start. Then there was a band called Whipping Boy from Ireland as well. If you haven’t heard of Whipping Boy before you have to listen to an album called Heartworm. It’s an unbelievable album. Again, these are the kind of heroes of our youth. These are the groups that we were listening to and going to see them live at venues. Of course My Bloody Valentine as well, another Dublin group. And there’s just a lot more.
Niels: Well, I think when we were kids in the 80s, we were like thrash metal kids. That’s what kind of influenced us to take on an instrument. We wanted to be like those thrash metal bands. The band, long hair, making an absolute racket. That was definitely an influence, especially the early days and thrash metal scene in the 80s.
On Ghost Tapes #10 Signalling a New Chapter
Torsten: To us it’s kind of like a new beginning. We just went back to amplifiers and stuff. We threw away the Axe-FX because it just wasn’t as fun. It all served its purpose, playing live or whatever. But when we got back down to no gigs, nothing in front of us, it didn’t really capture the energy of what made us love music in the first place. So it was like a revitalized energy playing with amps. Niels dusted off the old Ampeg amp, and it really inspired Niels and everybody just to turn it up a bit and really have some fun again. So the sound really helped us to revitalize our energies a little bit, and with Jamie (Dean) coming back as well.
Jamie is always the character who wants to kind of make sure that everything is not too sleepy. Jamie likes it upbeat. So there was a great energy in the room. And I think for us we wanted to kind of go back to a live-sounding record, because what better time to do it when there are no live gigs during this pandemic. And we really wanted to kind of pay tribute to live energy. We kind of thought to ourselves, if we can’t see live gigs, is there a way we can somewhat bring that live energy into people’s headphones or whatever until such a time that we can go back? So that was definitely an influence.
Metal Injection – GOD IS AN ASTRONAUT’s Torsten & Niels Kinsella on New Album: “To us it’s kind of like a New Beginning.”
Author: Dillon Collins
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February 12, 2021