press photo of Jørgen Munkeby of Shining
by Pawl Schwartz
I remember, as a young hipster, a time when I shunned metal. I liked hard music, but only when it wasn’t a genre: it had to have its own reason to be heavy and do it on its own terms. Thank god that I’ve long since come off of that strange, high horse, but even if I hadn’t, Shining of Norway would have still passed the test and had me as a rabid fanboy. They are industrial (if that turns you off, open that mind up); they are metal; their first two albums were instrumental jazz. Also, they are from Norway and have not an inch of black metal in them. See, there is this nice intersection that jazz and metal both come to with the mathy stuff, but metal usually leaves out the improvisation of jazz. Shining remain tight as Michael Jackson’s pants but with the same kind of X factor that made bands like Sleepytime Gorilla Museum a crossover and cult success. UR Chicago spoke with Jørgen Munkeby in advance of their upcoming show at Metro April 11th opening for Dillinger Escape Plan.
UR Chicago: Why have you stuck with the name Shining despite the fact that there is another band with the same name and the book/movie make Googling tough? Is it important to you?
Jørgen Munkeby: Huh, I honestly never thought about it. That reminds me of this band called The Ocean, because I was trying to Google them, and what do you get when you Google ‘the ocean’? Yeah, not the band. If there was another word that was more unique that expressed the same thing, I would be ok with that, but Shining is too perfect.
UR: A lot of people probably just search Blackjazz.
Jørgen: Yeah, I considered calling the newest album Blackjazz 111 for that reason; I wanted people to be able to follow us easily.
UR: So then, what is the reason behind the name?
Jørgen: Uhh… the movie. Well, when we came up with the name, we were a jazz quartet, and in the movie, there is something called...well, you know, the shine. People have the shine. These people can see things that others can’t see, and they can also talk to each other telepathically. As musicians, all of us in the band aspire to communicate almost telepathically with one another. You need to be able to look over and know, without words, that one guy is about to go off and improvise.
press photo of the band Shining
UR: Do you still do a lot of improvisation now that you are heavier and have more of a metal sound?
Jørgen: We still do a lot of it, more live than on our albums. It’s definitely a holdover from our jazz days, but it is also the reason that we wanted to do a live Blackjazz DVD. We want to make sure that people see that there is a very organic human element, even to complicated mathy metal.
UR: Right, it isn’t all sitting around with a calculator; that kind of nonverbal communication is really what maths it up.
Jørgen: Right. There are bands who write concise songs and play them the same way every time, but we don’t want to do that exactly. We want to keep the raw, off-the-cuff energy from when we played jazz music. Leaving room for improvisation is something we will never leave behind.
UR: What do you think metal and harder music allow you to do that you couldn’t do with jazz?
Jørgen Play distorted guitars? Scream? I guess there is a lot more freedom when you come at metal with a jazz approach than when you come at jazz with a jazz approach, you know?
UR: Speaking of screaming, do you enjoy doing vocals, or would you rather be an instrumental band?
Jørgen: No. I like expanding my skills. I started out playing saxophone, and then blues harmonica, then guitar, and flute. I just like learning new stuff. Doing vocals, it’s just another area that I have fun getting better at. I don’t think I’m as good at singing as I am at saxophone, but that’s exactly why I have so much fun doing it. With the saxophone, I’m only working to maintain the level of skill that I’ve gotten to, but with singing, I’m just trying to grow.
UR: I know that you composed a piece for Enslaved called The Armageddon Concerto. I’m curious as to what the actual storyline is in the piece.
Jørgen It’s a kind of vague storyline. It’s about the Armageddon of course, or in Norwegian Ragnarok, but it focuses on the moment right after Armageddon occurs and the migration of the human race to another place.
UR: Are you interested in doing more narrative-based music like that?
Jørgen: Yeah, I mean, I love movies. I actually just wrote a piece for saxophones that an orchestra is going to play in Norway, and I just really missed the lyrics because they add another level of depth to the music, kind of give it a reason. You know, sometimes two plus two is more than four. Lyrics and music together are more than the sum of their parts. Even something like making music for movies would really intrigue me because of the narrative element, but I always come back to something where music itself is the spectacle.
UR: Why all the numbers? There’s the last album One One One, and then the 1, 3, 7, 5 from Fisheye.
Jørgen: I love numbers; I think they look beautiful. I love math. In a lot of religions, numbers have their own individual meanings, like in Kabbalah. Their symbolism intrigues me.
UR: Is there anything symbolic about One One One?
Jørgen: Yeah, there is, but I’m not going to tell you. I will tell you that I used letters instead of numbers in the album title because I didn’t want it to be too occult looking. It would be too much like 666.
UR: Don’t want to get lumped in with black metal?
Jørgen: Exactly. I want to stay clear of that. For us, One One One symbolizes a whole being more than the sum of its parts, like I was saying earlier, because One One One is 1+1+1=3; it is one hundred and eleven, and it is also three separate ones that happen to be near each other. But like I said, sometimes, as with making music, 1+1+1=4, and that unexplained extra that can’t be attributed to any of those ones, that couldn’t have come from any band member on their own — that’s the shine.