March 9-15, 2006
Serena Maneesh releases one bloody valentine of a record.
City Paper: This record was recorded in four cities with a ridiculously talented, rotating group of producers. I assume you went into this trying to achieve the ever-elusive "great rock album"?
Emil Nikolaisen: Well, the people helping us capture/consolidate things was a pure adventure in trying to make as much possible out of every step and refine it from there according to the grand master plan. I was curious to see what would happen when playing, with risks being taken along the way. I was tired of sitting around in a safe Norwegian environment, just stuck in rock 'n' roll moderation.
CP: What unique talent did everyone bring to the album?
EN: Greg Norman [at Steve Albini's Electrical Audio studio] is one of Albini's longer-going companions and of the same school aesthetically. I knew he would capture our drumming moments for a great foundation. I also knew [Sonic Youth/Swans mixer] Martin Bisi would be the man to place things together. Daniel [Smith, of the Danielson Famile], on the other side, always goes for an interesting approach in the mapping-out phase. To treat songs like special individuals, he dares to push to the edges and I get very inspired. Eventually, we brought the tapes home to Norway to do some fine tone speculation for months. We headed back to Brooklyn to mix, but only got four done in the time we were supposed to have the full album done. I soon realized seeing some songs take a week to mix individually that this was what we were up against. I could go on and on about the impact of each and every character from the core of the Serena sound kingdom. I think the album speaks for all those characters, if you listen closely.
CP: Did you feel like Kevin Shields by the end of the sessions completely drained and a tad mad?
EN: [Laughs] If I only knew what it feels like giving birth.
CP: Did it seem like you'd never get it done at some points?
EN: You have to stop and look at yourself at a certain moment and say, "This is it." There's so many ways to go with a song or a sound. As long as your vision is highlighted, you can focus through the haze to go anywhere. It is probably more a question on how far you can push it physically because you know you're heading for madness at some point anyway. Although, as a little trick, I try to document a song from each and every stage recording fragments so I can look back and be able to remind myself about its origin, its nature. Of course, sometimes you wander off, charmed by sounds that take you away from the pure, simple, great idea. These are tensions that I find incredibly fascinating again and again.
CP: Your songs certainly are great at utilizing the contrasting forces of melody and noise, like in the jarring transitions during "Don't Come Down Here." Can you elaborate on the importance of these dynamics?
EN: Fighting between opposite elements has always interested me and been the way I've gone about [music]. The constant, teasing danger of breakdown is to be exposed on many different levels. I love it. It has to be continuously hunted for.
CP: You're obsessed with the possibilities of sound, aren't you?
EN: In a rock 'n' roll context: furry robes, peacocks wailing
CP: Have you been more into writing aggressive or dreamy songs lately?
EN: Out of the haze, the pure chaos, the Norwegian blizzards, something will definitely happen.
Serena Maneesh plays Thu., March 9, 8 p.m., $10, with Relay, Mahogany and Psychic Ills, First Unitarian Church, 2125 Chestnut St., 866-468-7619, www.r5productions.com.