Interview When Saints Go Machine: ‘We Would Like Our Musical Journey To Be Infinite’

DIY meets Denmark’s electronic experimentalists.

“I really hope some of this makes sense,” begins vocalist Nikolaj Manuel Vonsild. “It’s seven in the morning and I am smoking cigarettes in the airport waiting for a flight to take us to Prague to play the Electronic Beats festival.”

It comes as no surprise that When Saints Go Machine, having just played two highly anticipated London shows, are now en route to another country and another festival appearance. Considering the newfound attention that has been lavished upon the band since the release of their ‘Fail Forever’ EP in January, the Danish four-piece are certainly, and rightfully, in demand and this week’s release of their new atmospheric album ‘Konkylie’ is certain to escalate their press presence further.

DIY steals a few minutes of vocalist Nikolaj’s time to discuss recording in forests, coexisting alongside Kenton Slash Demon and how the band’s musical style has transformed since their inception in 2007…

You just played two shows in London, how were they and how did the audience react to your new material?
The first show we played was at a very small venue called Shacklewell Arms, where we had a lot of time to do a soundcheck and the show went well and was very relaxing. We like playing those small venues where you’re really close to the audience, it gives you a better sense of creating something with the crowd. This was also our longest show in the UK – we played 45 minutes. We really like playing longer sets rather than just 25 or 30-minute showcases. The second show was at XOYO. The venue is great and we would really like to play there again sometime soon. The only negative thing about that concert was the fact that we didn’t get to soundcheck because we ran out of time before we got started. It is such a joy playing all the new material because it feels like we are playing exactly what we are feeling at the moment and it seems like audiences everywhere feel that at our concerts too, or at least that’s how we see it.

There are various elements of dance, electronica and post punk within your music, and a wide range of influences and instruments on display. Was this a vision that you always held for When Saints, or has it been more of an organic progression over the years?
I think it was more of a natural progression than anything else. We would like our musical journey to be infinite and we always keep moving to stay inspired. So I guess all of the things you hear in our music is all of our influences and ideas combined and that’s what makes the sound our own, if that’s even possible nowadays.

How does your writing and recording process work, as ‘Konkylie’ was two years in the making. Are building dense layers and attention to detail an important part of the process?
Two years isn’t really that much time in our book, especially if you have to study something and really get into the details like we did with this album. A lot of the songs went through a really long process in the production of the different sounds, because we wanted them to sound special, like you shouldn’t be able to tell which instrument were playing them. Others were nearly done before we even started on them, but they needed time before we knew how to mix the different layers to get the feeling right. So the simple answer would be yes.

You recorded some of the album in both a tunnel and in the middle of a forest. Would you say that location is very important to the band in terms of influence and getting into the right state of mind when recording your music?
It’s hard to say. A lot of stuff happens when we leave the city and go to my parent’s house up north, not to be distracted by anything and I guess that helps you concentrate, but we work a lot from home as well - together and separately - when we are writing music. I think whatever the others do inspires you. The right state of mind is reaching a constant.

What was it like working with your producer Christoffer Berg [of The Knife and Fever Ray collaboration] and what did he bring to the record?
We worked with Christoffer on our first album, which was only released in Denmark two years ago, but we didn’t work with him on ‘Konkylie’. Christoffer was very cool to work with and he is such a sweet person. He was actually only supposed to mix the album, but he ended up giving us a lot of important pointers and even playing a couple of parts on it. We learned a lot about working with other people and letting them bring their ideas to the table. I guess that also helped us as a band.

Why did you decide to release a slightly different version of your debut album for the ‘Fail Forever’ EP in the UK? And for you, how does ‘Konkylie’ differ from ‘Fail Forever’?
We released an album two years ago in Scandinavia and when we signed with !K7 we felt that putting out the whole album would be misleading, since we were moving in a new direction sound wise. So we compiled what we think are the strongest cuts from our Danish debut album for our ‘Fail Forever’ EP UK release. I could spend forever describing all the ways in which ‘Konkylie’ differs from ‘Fail Forever’, but actually I think it’s easier for the listener to tell. But I will say our work with ‘Konkylie’ was a lot more intense and it feels like it’s more personal right now. Other than that ‘Konkylie’ is a full album compared to a five track EP!

Silas and Jonas are both members of Kenton Slash Demon. How do both acts work alongside and complement each other?
I know that they have said before that Simon and I also inspired their work in Kenton Slash Demon in some way. I think that whenever we reach something that we couldn’t just create ourselves working together, it also spawns new ideas in our other projects.

How does your live show set up tend to vary and differ from the way you play when you record?
We try to recreate the organic feeling from the album in the live set by using a lot of samplers constantly moving in and out of grid. We like to be able to create something new every time we play a concert and that’s what we are working towards. It has to be fun playing music live even after you have played the same song a hundred times.

Finally, what are the band’s upcoming summer plans, in terms of festival appearances and tours?
We will be touring a lot over the next year, starting with some festivals in Europe and one in the UK and then some normal gigs as well. I don’t even know where to start!

When Saints Go Machine’s new album ‘Konkylie’ is out now via !K7.

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