After seven years of hiding in the Norwegian underground, Monograf finally unveil their second EP to the world. With its characteristic album cover and poignant William Booth quote, the band has an aura that feels strangely fascinating. They are a band with a story to tell. In social settings, people who have something to say are generally more attractive, they attract other people, because people like to listen to a good story. But sometimes these people talk way too much, often about themselves and in the end they become annoying.
Luckily for us, the message of Monograf is not about themselves, but about the outsiders in society, the children of shame, the others. Inspired by Salvation Army-founder William Booth, they created a 15-minute epic that constitutes the first part of this EP. The music is folky, like Yndi Halda’s latest record, but the music is much darker. The fiddle playing is intensifying and tasteful, while there’s a fat, rumbling bass guitar tearing right through the layers of subdued guitars and drums.
On the other side of the EP we find a doom-rock rendition of the old Norwegian hymn Ned I Vester Soli Glader. The stylish combination of heavy guitars and folk melodies makes for a peek into an aspect of Norwegian culture that many have tried to erase from common memory.
Both songs make for a curious duo that is worth exploring and having spent the last few years writing and recording, this band is excited to get on the road, with a short Norwegian tour being planned for next year and the band are looking to be booked for a small European tour next summer. Word up!
Monograf is the solo-project of Erik Normann Aanonsen (Moddi, Ingvild Østgård, Steigtind). Hailing from Bodø in Norway, his music has undoubtedly been affected by the post-rock influences present in the music scene there since the beginning of the millennium. Moving from Bodø to study jazz at the Norwegian Academy of Music in 2008, he after a while refuted the jazz taught there, thinking it meaningless to play music if there is nothing you want to communicate (except your own skill), and found what he was seeking in the Norwegian folk music section at the Academy. Getting to know the people there he and a couple of friends started Steigtind, a acoustic folk band combining Norwegian folk music, elements of progressive music and the freer forms of jazz.
After Steigtind went on hiatus he kept the music (and fiddle player) from Steigtind and started Monograf. Originally intended to be an outlet for all he music they wrote, from modern classical to pop and even latino, he finally realised that his heart lay in Norwegian folk music and post-rock. Having never heard someone combine the two, they went on to explore this direction.
Monograf started out as a duo, then became a trio and is now a full band. While still a trio, they recorded and released an EP (entirely DIY) in December 2009 entitled Hope., and recorded it live in studio to make it sound as close to the concert setting as possible.
Usually a band, Erik also performs solo when the band can’t join, then the music naturally focuses more on the singer/songwriter aspect of the project with minimalistic well-chosen guitar melodies and the vocals and lyrics receiving a larger role.
Horde EP (2016, NO FOREVERS)
“It’s a journey from GY!BE’s “Static” atmosphere to the deep and exquisite Norwegian folk melodies.”
“(…) post-rock, progressive rock, pop and the gloomier part of Norwegian folk music intertwined.”
– Deichmans musikkblogg
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Monograf is often portrayed as being your pet. Can you introduce your band members and talk about how they contribute to Monograf’s sound?
I’ve written and arranged most of music for the EP, but I certainly don’t play all the instruments that blow life and soul into whatever I’ve written down on paper or recorded in a terrible-sounding demo!
Hanna plays the bass, and with such fierceness that it’s impossible to miss. The guitars usually only play melodies, so she has to take care of all the “aggression” in the music. No small feat to pull off!
Thomas plays guitar. His home turf is mostly jazz and RnB (which is completely incompatible with our music) but he’s SO versatile that […] he wrote maybe the coolest melody this band has ever played. That melody became the foundation of a song called Gullkalven (The Golden Calf) that’ll be on the album we’re releasing next year. Hype!
Erlend plays the drums. With a particularly nice touch. He’s usually the sunbeam in the band. Always positive, ready to work his ass off if needed. Man, that’s valuable to have!
Sunniva plays the fiddle, so maybe the most important instrument in the band (and my favorite instrument). She has experience playing “real” Norwegian folk music, so what I usually write on guitar she perfects into what it really should sound like. […] I also have to mention Ole Jørgen Reindal on guitar and Jon-Vetle on drums (both from Leonov) that played on the EP. Ole Jørgen’s magical guitar effect mastery can be heard on the beginning of Ned i Vester Soli Glader.
You have played in quite a few other bands (most notably Antestor, and with Moddi). What are the strengths and limitations of this particular line-up?
This line-up took me a long time to assemble! I started this project more as a singer-songwriter project (under the name Tiny Bits of Heart after a song by The Spectacle), but at the same time I always thought of it as a post-rock band, I just hadn’t found the members. I started in 2009, but tried it out as a band in 2013, and it wasn’t until last year when all the current members came into the picture I finally felt at peace.
To summarize I’d say this line-up can really create the music I’ve always wanted this band to produce, and they are just fantastic people to spend time and play with! Our weakness is just that we haven’t played that many concerts!
As musical influences you mention Norwegian folk fiddler Nils Økland, but also musically abrasive bands like Godspeed You! Black Emperor, A Silver Mt. Zion, and Grails. How do you feel the aesthetic of these bands is channeled in your music?
Grails is maybe my favorite band for the last five years. Almost anyone that’s discussed music with me the last couple of years has heard me recommend them. Their song Burden of Hope I think is comparable to ours in mood and such, maybe just by accident, BUT: Grails is the band that has influenced me the most in writing the other songs for the album we’re releasing next year. We even have a song named after them. They do have a more american sound than us, but in a way I feel what they do with americana; weave it seamlessly into their music, we do with Norwegian folk music. Tracks to check out: Black Tar Prophecy, Burden of Hope, The Volunteer.
My affinity for spoken word samples most definitely comes from listening to GYBE and A Silver Mt. Zion. I feel a lot of other post-rock bands have cool spoken samples that they use, and they can be really atmospheric, but it doesn’t really impress me unless what’s spoken actually means something, and adds to the songs depth. I feel GYBE and ASMZ really mastered that. Not only them, of course, but they were the first I heard do it so well.
GY!BE has been a part of my life since my teens, and their album Lift your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven always for me been the epitome of what music can be. I think you can hear some likeness in our use of strings/fiddle and the atmosphere. I also intentionally made the first part of the EP similar to their EP Slow Riots… as an homage, and to kind of show where this project “comes from” musically.
If I had never heard A Silver Mt Zion I don’t think there would have been any singing in Monograf. I’m not a very good singer, but what specifically that band showed me is that it doesn’t matter how you sing, but that you mean something when you sing.
Talking about spoken word samples. Can you tell us a little more about that quote you used in Horde? Why did you choose to find inspiration for your anti-consumerism in Booth and the Salvation Army?
I really wish we all could start thinking more about helping each other, and less about our own well being. I had envisioned a more anti-consumerist sample, but when I came across William Booth’s speech it really captured my attention. It’s not so much about anti-consumerism as it is just about helping others. I don’t have a connection to The Salvation Army, but I really respect their work.
It’s a lofty (almost impossible) goal, but more than anything else, I wish the music we play can inspire people to do good unto each other.
It’s not just about giving money to charity and thinking about how ethically produced what we buy is (though I think those things are very important), but it’s also about using one’s spare time to do volunteer work or even on a smaller level including other people and just talking to individuals that may often get left out. We should ideally get our self-worth from how many people we help out and the beauty of the things we create, not what we own or how much money we make.
I feel it’s hard to live up to these goals myself. though. But I really want to. Guess that’s why I write about it. And it’s kind of a hard topic to [write] good lyrics about, and I often end [up] using a lot of metaphors, so spoken words help to kind of “ground” the lyrics and maybe make the theme of the songs more understandable.
Previously you mentioned an upcoming LP, can you tell us some more about that?
It’ll be a bit rawer in sound than the EP. Less singing and some small tendencies to metal (no cheesiness, though!). I always strive to tastefully incorporate more Norwegian folk music into the mix, and especially on the song Gullkalven we’ve accomplished that in a very satisfying way, I think. Almost all the songs that’ll be on the album can be heard on our SoundCloud in really rough-sounding live version.
It’ll also be a concept album, as in that all the songs are about the same thing, continuing on the theme of Horde. We’ve already recorded the drums, so we just have to hurry and record the rest. And we’ll press LPs. Really looking forward to that!