God is an Astronaut: Plotting a Course

Before setting off on tour and finishing their next record, God is an Astronaut play Cyprus Avenue on Saturday the 23rd. Guitarist Torsten Kinsella speaks with Mike McGrath-Bryan about the future, overarching themes and genre labels.

“We are still really pleased with it and it’s working out very well live too so we couldn’t have asked for much more.” Last year saw the release of God is an Astronaut’s fifth album. Helios/Erebus was positively received, and guitarist Torsten Kinsella is positive about its place in the Glen of the Downs post-rock outfit’s increasingly storied canon. “We began writing it in late 2013, we road-tested a lot of the material live first before releasing it. It helped us gauge the reaction way before the release. We wanted this record to capture the sound of the band live, which hadn’t really been our primary aim in the past. Centralia was the first track we wrote, which set the mood for the rest of the album. While there was a lot of heavier tracks, we also wrote some ambient tracks, which is a very important side of the band too. Most of the tracks began with an electric guitar, or piano, and some began with soundscapes, and from that we carved out melodies.”

The as-yet untitled next LP will be released through Austrian metal label Napalm Records following an announcement last year. Kinsella explains how that working relationship come about, and breaks down how the new deal stands to benefit the band. “They approached us, initially we weren’t really interested but after speaking to them off and on for a few months, they seem to really understand what we’re about. They were enthusiastic for us to retain artistic control which was important. They have a big marketing budget for our next album which we hope will increase our profile substantially. They have allowed us to work as long as we want on the next record so we will take our time to ensure we write the best record we can.”

The band has, by and large, been an independent entity for its whole run, avoiding most, if not all, of the usual Irish industry pitfalls. How has the band done so while maintaining sustainability, and how does it change with the Napalm deal? “We have been lucky, and we have worked very hard and written music that resonated well with many listeners. Keeping control has enabled us to strategise wisely throughout our career. We were in a good position when Napalm approached us so we were able to get an agreement that really made a lot of sense, for example we still retain our full rights to our back catalogue outside the Napalm agreement which was hugely important to us. The deal is a fair one, with above average percentage splits, so as long we write a good album and they do a good job marketing it, I do believe we can become more successful.”

Talk turns to the band’s upcoming live excursion on the 23rd. When asked for any stories or memories of playing Leeside, one story comes to Kinsella’s mind. “The time we played in Cyprus Avenue a few years back and there was a storm raging outside, the river had burst its banks, and the rain was hammering down through a hole in the ceiling on me while we were playing. I was lucky not to get electrocuted.”

Next year will be the band’s 15th anniversary. In 2002, the term “post-rock” was a lot different, as were perceptions of the genre. Kinsella explores his relationship with the term, and contrasts perception of the band against the band’s own aims. “When we began, we were labelled as dance/trip-hop, with the release of our second album we began to hear the term post-rock, we weren’t familiar with the genre, or the other groups at the time. There were obvious differences to what we were doing compared to the rest, our tracks were considerably shorter and we had much more electronics than the other groups. Today of course, it’s all become integrated as part of the post-rock sound. I’m not really sure what post-rock fans’ perception of us is today, I keep away from online forums etc., reading positive or negative opinions pollutes our vision, so we just keep our heads down and write the best music we can, that represents who we are and how we are feeling at that time.”

In that post-rock, as a largely instrumental enterprise, lends itself to capturing moments in time and allowing listeners to interpret that through their own filters and frames of reference, how has the process of deciding what theme, or what moment, or feeling, changed? “That really depends on what’s happening to us, and around us. Right now the world is going through a dark phase with a massive amount of innocent casualties in the Middle East and in turn the continuing rise of religions extremism. That really influenced Helios/Erebus. Our front cover was largely influenced by the Aztec calendar. I believe when you look at the history of the Aztecs, we have a lot in common. The Aztecs were keen astronomers. They designed whole structures around the sun, moon, and the stars and paid special tribute to them with their buildings.But they also had a dark side to them. The Aztec religion was full of gloom and doom, as it were. They lived with such fear that they offered blood sacrifices to the Sun God, in hopes that he would assure the rising of the sun each day. So all in all, not too much has changed when you look at the world we are living in today. The immolation of innocent captives, beheadings and the mass bombings of innocent civilians in the name of religion and politics are still celebrated by many. I think we could learn something from history.

Turning an eye from the past and the bigger picture to the band’s immediate future, God is an Astronaut are in the eye of a storm of activity at present. “We are currently on tour in Italy and we finish up in Romania before coming home to do a few shows in Ireland. We’re returning to the US in late August, for a headline tour. It’s been five years since we have been there last. We will also be returning to Greece, Barcelona and Germany in November. We are also writing new material for the next album.”

God is an Astronaut play Cyprus Avenue on Saturday the 23rd of this month. Tickets available from Eventbrite and the Old Oak.

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