Røsenkøpf (due tonight at Rhinoceropolis) is a trio whose membership came out of punk but didn't bother with trying to shed the ideas or trappings of punk. Even sonically, there is a bit of punk's edge to the band's darker moods and atmosphere. But the dark to be found here isn't built on feelings of melancholia and despair at the state of things.
The New York band's raw sound of voice and guitar contrasted with sinuous bass and slow arcs of synth swell together to suggest an embrace of life on its own terms rather than a rejection of that which one finds immediately objectionable. The group's newest release is a self-titled album that sounds like an alchemical blend of post-punk, early '80s synth composition and black metal into one consistent whole. We recently spoke with Søren Roi, Emil Bognar-Nasdor and Saira Huff about the band's formation, its focus on a positive vibe in its music and its largely unclassifiable music.
Westword: It sounds like everyone in your band comes from a kind of punk musical background. How did you get involved in that world?
Søren Roi: For all of us, we just grew up in it, I guess. It's what was going on. I don't think it was an intentional effort to get into anything. In New York, there was always ABC No Rio. That was the most common DIY venue that I was going to. Then there were shows at CBGBs and house shows going on. House shows, when I was younger, was probably the biggest DIY scene I was going to.
That's surprising to hear there would be house shows in New York City.
When I was younger, there were more, and as I got older, when I was eighteen and into my twenties, that was when they started to die down because of police presence and everybody was cracking down on that kind of stuff. But I remember when I was younger, like fourteen to sixteen, there would be a lot of house shows out in Bushwick and stuff like that.
Have you always been a percussionist since you've been playing in bands, and what about percussion do you find more interesting than perhaps other instruments you've tried playing?
Oh, Emil Bognar-Nasdor is our percussionist. He's mainly a percussionist, but he also has a band he sings in called Dawn Of Humans. Other than that, I think he mainly plays percussion in bands, but on his own he does multi-instrumental stuff. But he studied drums, so I would say that's the main thing he does.
This is the first band for which I've done both vocals and guitar. So I've mainly been a vocalist. I learned a little bit of guitar when I was a kid and just always messed around with it. So when I got sick of singing in punk bands -- it seemed a little too easy -- I wanted to do something more involved so I started playing guitar in this band. Me doing vocals actually came later after figuring out the guitar parts.
Are you a self-taught player?
I would say so. When I was younger, a lot of Nirvana I remember playing along to. But when I recently started playing guitar more, so for this band, I may have listened to more acoustic stuff to learn chords to. But I didn't learn to playing along to music. I think I learned mostly by experimenting.
Your vocals are reminiscent of something you'd hear out of a black metal band. What about that style of vocals allows you to express or convey that something more conventional doesn't?
I think the reason I started doing the vocals like that is because that's kind of what I'd always done with other bands. Maybe my vocals in other bands were a little less harsh. I think I wanted the vocals in this band to be a little more removed from the human element. When you hear me speak, you can't really connect me to the vocals in a way because it doesn't sound like my voice. Even though it's extreme and severe, it's a little more generic in a way, maybe, than if I had been singing in my natural voice.
It's also an interesting contrast with the rest of the music.
Yeah, that too. I mean honestly, when we started playing I had tried doing more musical singing but I just don't really know how to so it was a really natural thing.
What brought you and your bandmates together to make a band like this? What did you talk about that maybe you wanted to do with the band or was it a different process entirely of coming together with a sound you enjoyed creating together?
I had played in bands with Emil before, and I felt he would be into doing what we were doing. He offered because he wanted to do it. Me and Saira [Huff] had been living together at the time, so we just started jamming together working on stuff. Me and her actually got together first.
I think at the time when Emil joined, I think it change our sound a lot so we didn't really ever discuss so much what we wanted to sound like or what we wanted to do. Maybe before Emil joined, me and Saira had an idea or maybe even I had an idea and I was trying to go in a direction. But when Emil joined I think it took off in many directions.
You have some synth in your music. Is there someone that plays that live?
I program it, and then it's all triggered live. I sequence it all out along with a drum machine we also have. I trigger it live while we play. It's all hardware, no computer.
Some of the aesthetic of your artwork is reminiscent of something Crass might have done many years ago. What is it about that look do you feel reflects well your own artistic and musical interests?
We did that for our first demo. That style of art has been used by hundreds of bands. We just kind of felt like carrying on the tradition of utilizing that style of art. Sort of using it for something it hadn't traditionally been used for -- like the style of music. There is a lot of early anarcho music either on Crass Records or just influenced by Crass that is very stark and minimal sounding. I don't know if you've heard our first demo tape, but it's very bleak and minimal sounding. I think in a way it fit in really well while still contrasting the normal Crass stuff.
Yeah, like Crass has that song "Reality Asylum" that isn't even a rock song.
Yeah, pretty experimental.
Where does that sample at the beginning of "Human Love Song" come from, and why did you want to use it for that song?
That comes from an old Charlie Chaplin movie, The Great Dictator. It's a satire on a fascist regime. It's just a beautiful speech. We actually laid the sample over after we wrote and recorded the whole song, and it fit in perfectly. Every aspect of it worked really well.
We wanted to use that sample because it's super positive. It's powerful and positive about humanity. The song, I feel, is very uplifting, too. So they sort of just fit together really well. It was an instrumental song that was also on our first demo tape. But of a much lower fidelity. When we re-recorded it, it was still an instrumental song, and we wanted to add something new to it to make it different from the older recording.
We thought it was a message we wanted to support. I don't think many bands, or many darker bands, are really trying to put out a very positive message for humanity, and I think that's important. I love bands that are all about being depressed and hating, but I think there's enough of that right now. There's always been enough of that.
Too much nihilism lately.
Do you write the tour diary for the band? It seems like an obviously important thing to do but why did you want to do that?
Yeah, I just started writing it. Part of it is out of boredom. We're doing a kind of weird tour route where every day so far has had extremely long drives because we're kind of cutting up America and then over to the West Coast and then going down. Part of it is this is the first tour I've ever been on. Just wanting to document it. Trying to learn something out of life from being on tour, I guess, by writing about it.
Why did the name "Burning Spirits" suggest itself to you as the appropriate title for a song?
That's something that's been used by punk bands before. I think, again, we wanted to take it and put it into a different context. Kind of the opposite of how it's been used before. I think a lot of the music we make is very spiritual so I wanted to utilize it in a different way and make it into something uplifting.
At a time when a lot of people might turn up their nose at the term "goth," why did you kind of embrace it?
I've always been into weird, darker stuff since I was a kid. I think all of us have. So there's no choice but to embrace it. That doesn't mean I only wear black though I do wear black a lot. I don't know it's how I grew up, sort of. I think we all just grew up on the weirder side of things and I think when you do that, there's not much of a choice but to not embrace goth per se, just embracing what you enjoy. We're all many other things besides goth like industrial or electronic. Maybe out of the three of us I'm the most involved in goth and industrial. It all just worked out that way because we all just like weird shit.
Not that we're out of the punk aesthetic but I also think we were coming off of that in a way. That aesthetic is even harsher and even more about what you look like and dressing a certain way. A lot of what we're doing seems kind of dumbed down from what we did in the past. The music to me seems more accessible than anything I've ever done and less aesthetically charged than anything I've ever done. Less extreme than anything I've done before.
Your band seems to be more of a synthesis rather than a hybrid of sounds. What do you think are the biggest misconceptions you've heard or read about Røsenkøpf's music?
SR: I like that what you said about a synthesis instead of a hybrid. I do agree with that. I don't know if I said that or someone wrote that somewhere, but it's a synthesis because we weren't saying, "Okay let's take this element of this, this element of this, that element of that and mix it all together." It was just playing music, and the intrinsic influences in us came out, I think.
Some people might think we're trying to mix this element of this and mix it with that. It's not really what's happening. We're not really trying to mix anything. We're just trying to play music. Maybe a lot of bands now are trying to go for a certain sound or mimic a certain band or make their influences very apparent. Maybe in some ways we make our influences very apparent but in some ways I think we try to disguise them a lot too or have influences that not many people are catching.
Emil Bognar-Nasdor: Sometimes it's not about trying to do this or not trying to do that. You just do something and it happens that your subconscious thinks of all the shit you've listened to.
Saira Huff: I haven't seen a lot things saying we're a hybrid. It's more that people don't know exactly how to label what we're doing. I think that's probably the coolest thing. I haven't really been unhappy with anything people have said specifically, because the most common review is that no one really knows how to label it. That's probably the best compliment you could ever receive. Which is great.
Follow Backbeat on Twitter: @westword_music