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Dark Passage: In Conversation with Nadja’s Aidan Baker

We talk to the Nadja mastermind about the band’s latest recording, ‘Nalepa’.

Whether it’s a part of Nadja or his wide array of other projects, Aidan Baker is a world builder.

Baker has spent an existence constantly creating on his own terms, long before the Bandcamp age where artists can now release as much music as they wish without going through the standard industry gatekeepers.

Spending the ’00s releasing a series of CD-Rs under the Nadja banner, firstly as a solo project and later with addition of bassist/vocalist, Leah Buckareff, crate-digging through Baker’s body of work is journey worth considering for anyone led by curiosity.

While Baker has spent the last decade continuing to go about his business, first with Nadja then via a vast number of collaborations – both under his own label, Broken Spine Productions, and others – last year Nadja turned up the pressure with their Southern Lord release, Luminous Rot.

A rhino charge deep into the dark vortexes once explored by the likes of Godflesh and Bauhaus, Luminous Rot saw Nadja at their searing, scintillating best.

And that continues on the band’s latest release, Nalepa via Midira Records.

Recorded live at Berlin’s Funkhaus Studio, Nalepa sees Nadja expanding their own creative boundaries with sinister variations and tone. With the addition of an ambient-inspired set of recordings under Baker’s own name, Napela is heavily hypnotic, sinking deep into the grooves of composition with sounds that are visceral and primal.

Joining Baker and Buckareff for Nalepa is drummer, Angela Muñoz Martinez (Nunofyrbeeswax), whose beautiful percussive dynamics add new weight to the Nadja canon. The result is yet another fascinating episode in the band’s chronicle.

Since the release of Nalepa in the final week of February, Baker welcomed in March with the release of the soundtrack to the 1972 John Brunner novel, The Sheep Look Up. Another journey far removed from Napela, The Sheep Look Up reaches beyond the realms of the humid post-apocalyptic sound worlds Baker has forever occupied.

Last week, in the lead-up to Nadja’s U.K. tour in July – which includes an appearance at Birmingham’s Supersonic Festival – we caught up with Baker from his Berlin base via Zoom.  

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Sun 13: Nalepa is an absolute beast of a record. Can you tell us the ideas behind it?

Aidan Baker: “It was pretty spontaneous, actually, to begin with. We had an opportunity to go into the studios at in the Funkhaus in Berlin, and wanted to do something a little different, or spontaneous, I guess. So I invited Angela to come in on drums. I’ve worked with her before on some other projects, but we’ve never worked together. She never worked together with Nadja like this, so that was a new experience for all of us. And really [it] was just like an attempt to capture a little spontaneous afternoon in the studio to see what would happen.”

S13: Ángela’s drums really underpin these recordings, I think. How long have you known her for?

AB: I’ve known her for a few years now. She also plays with me in a group I have called Hypnodrone Ensemble, which was started by myself and Eric Quach from thisquietarmy. It’s kind of a rotating cast of people, but we always try to have at least three drummers, and then the two of us on guitar. And so Angela didn’t play in that group from the outset, but the last record she played on and so she’s played live with us for a couple of years now.”

Nadja - Nalepa

S13: I was going to ask about Luminous Rot, I’m assuming it was recorded before Nalepa?

AB: “Actually, they might have been around the same time. Time’s a bit blurry given the situation, of course (laughs). The live session was February 2020, and then I think we started working on Luminous Rot in like, March 2020, around that time. So actually, it probably post-dated the Nalepa recording.”

S13: Listening to Luminous Rot and the first part of Nalepa, aesthetically they feel connected. Was that something you were thinking about going into the studio?

AB: “I don’t know if it was so conscious. But a lot of the songs on Luminous Rot started with more drum patterns than with riffs and chord progressions. Those were drum patterns that I played myself on a live kit rather than a drum machine. So maybe that’s that kind of live feel, or live rhythms which kind of informed both records in a similar kind of way.”

S13: The second part of Nalepa, which is under your own name, provides a really nice foil – it’s less abrasive and more spatial. Was the plan from the outset to release those two together?

AB: “No, that just sort of happened. I mean, it was recorded in the same studio with the same engineers, although the sessions were about two to three months apart. Originally, the second session that I had booked was going to be with a drummer and myself, a duo. Thomas Jarmyr, who’s a Swedish drummer that I play with in a duo called Werl. He was supposed to come to Berlin, and we were going to do some shows and we wanted to record, but then the pandemic hit. I still had the session booked and, actually, I don’t think I would have been allowed to play with any other musicians at that time, because of the restrictions in place.”

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S13: Yeah, because looking at the recording date, I thought, ‘Oh, you must have had a very small timeframe to get that stuff down’.

AB: “Yeah. And I had to wear a mask the entire session, and the engineers were in the other room, of course, masked. So because I was just doing a solo set, I could be in the live room by myself and it was okay.”

S13: The artworks to both pieces are lovely too. What was the inspiration behind them?

AB: “That was a suggestion from the label, Midira Records. The images are a collage done by a Danish artist, øjeRum, who is also a musician and has released music on Midira as well. And yeah, that was a suggestion from the label and we thought, ‘Yeah, it seems appropriate and seems interesting’, so we went with that. I’ve since been in contact with Pavel from øjeRum a bit more directly, and so we’ll probably work on another record with him. I’ve done some mastering for him, actually, so there’s more connections in place now beyond just artwork.”

Aidan Baker - The Sheep Look Up

S13: Speaking of another connection, you’ve recorded The Sheep Look Up, which is the soundtrack to the John Brunner novel. Do you like to have themes to expand your ideas of sound, given that you’ve covered a vast sonic range over the years?

AB: “Not necessarily. I mean, that really depends on the project. With this particular release, The Sheep Look Up, the label doing it is called Bibliotapes. They do a series of soundtracks to books released on tape. I’ve liked what they’ve done so far and wanted to work with them, so I pitched this to them and they were into the idea. This is a book that, I don’t know, I first read when I was 15, or something like that. I was pretty blown away by it, and even though it’s pretty dated, because it was written in the ’60s, and the language is very ’60s-ish, the basic themes behind it are actually still disturbingly relevant.”

S13: That’s the thing with a lot of science fiction. There’s a lot of prescience. I think sonically, your music has always sort of fed into that sci-fi vibe.

AB: “Sure.”

S13: You’re someone that’s always collaborated, obviously with the latest soundtrack. But from an engineering point of view, David Pajo did the Luminous Rot record. It’s like drifting into different sound worlds…

AB: “Yeah. That was a new experience for us, because we hadn’t… maybe one other Nadja record was mixed by somebody else, and normally that’s something we’d take on ourselves. So it was a novel experience. I feel like it was a bit frustrating by the pandemic, actually, that we didn’t necessarily get to spend enough time on it or be able to sort of commonly communicate with David. So looking back, it feels a bit rushed. It would be nice to have another chance to work with him again in slightly more calmer circumstances.”

S13: Are you always actively seeking out artists to collaborate with when you get the chance?

AB: “Yeah. Sometimes more actively than other times. Other times, it’s just, you know, something comes along, or somebody introduces us and says, ‘Hey, you guys should do something together’. Other times, I hear a record and think, ‘Oh, I want to work with that person’. So it really varies on the circumstances. I’m actually working on something with Cremation Lily right now, and that was… he just randomly tweeted at me and said, ‘Do you want to work on something?’ And I said, ‘Sure’. So you know, it can be just as simple as that, these days.”

Aidan Baker (photo credit: Janina Gallert)

S13: Even before the days of social media, your creative output was very widespread. Before Bandcamp, you were constantly putting out records, and now you’re still doing that, but now there’s the vehicle that is Bandcamp.

AB: “Yeah, I mean, it’s a pretty drastic change. I’ve always been pretty DIY to a certain extent, but Bandcamp has really facilitated that and allowed me to control a lot more than I would have been normally under the typical label musician relationship. Of course, there are lots of labels that I like working with and appreciate working with, but [being] able to have a whole Bandcamp reservoir at my fingertips is really refreshing, when you look back at how it used to be.”

S13: You touched on a point there with labels, because you’re always releasing things on different labels. That wasn’t always the case with a lot of artists, and it still isn’t. Again, it’s a another by-product of collaboration, I suppose.

AB: “Yeah, that changes, depending where the labels interests lie; or, you know, who’s behind the project, if it’s a collaboration. One of the big reasons is that I do have a lot of output, and it’s not easy to find a label who’d be willing to keep up with it all.”

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S13: Listening to Cut On Your Hands earlier, and it got me thinking. Do you see drone as the central idea to Nadja?

AB: “I don’t know. Yes and no. I think I label it more as sound experimentation, and that comes out as drone more often than not. Does that makes sense?”

S13: Yeah. I mean, you’ve always been lumped in with shoegaze, but more on the metal side. I think they started calling it metalgaze, but you were doing that long before. It seems like you’ve got a prescient aesthetic; your ideas arrive long before other bands pick up on them.

AB: “Well, that’s possible. But, you know, in the ’90s I listened to My Bloody Valentine and Swervedriver a lot. So that aesthetic has been with me for a while.”

S13: How much is Berlin an influence to your work these days?

AB: “Sonically, I don’t know that it makes any difference; we’re probably doing what we were doing in Toronto. I think the big differences are our personal lifestyle here and that we’re able to live as musicians, so we can focus on making music. Canada has a pretty good music scene, of course, but  the realities of touring and living as a musician in Canada is vastly different from what it is in Europe. So I think our lifestyle here has definitely influenced the way we work and what we’re able to achieve.”

Nadja (photo credit: Davide Maione)

S13: Speaking of that, you’ve got the Broken Spine record label. Are you working on anything new this year for that for that?

AB: “Yeah, we just finished up a Nadja record and we’re trying to figure out how to release it now (laughs). Given the latest vinyl, whatever you want to call it, shitstorm. We may actually just do it on CD, because it’s kind of a longer form thing that would be more appropriate on CD than vinyl, actually. So if it’s on just a CD release, we hope to have it out in the fall of this year. Maybe there’ll be a vinyl next year, but too soon to say at this point.”

S13: Over the years with progression of technology, has that fed into how your methods have changed as a songwriter?

AB: “I guess things have simplified, definitely. Now we can get by with a laptop and a sound card and that’s all we really need to make an album. I mean, we’ve been doing computer-based recording for a long time now, but when we started it was just a cassette four track. So definitely, it’s moved from very lo-fi beginnings to more hi-fi stuff now.”

S13: What about song writing challenges. Have they changed from when you started the project to how you approach things now?

AB: “I think now we need to be… we have more of a sense of self awareness of what we’ve already done. Because we have done so much already that now when we approach something, we need to think about the novelty factor. So with Nalepa, for example, bringing in a live drummer automatically changed it, so that was that was kind of an easy fix for that whole issue. I don’t want to get into that trap of repeating myself, and it can be easy to do. So finding new means of expression or expressing things in a different way, but maintaining a certain consistency is always something in the back of our minds.”

Nadja U.K. 2002 Tour Dates:

  • Thursday, July 7: Audio, Glasgow ( tickets) *
  • Friday, July 8: Gorilla, Manchester *
  • Saturday, July 9: Supersonic Festival, Birmingham (tickets)
  • Sunday, July 10: The Lexington, London (tickets) *

* With Bismuth

Nalepa is out now via Midira Records Purchase from Bandcamp.

The Sheep Loo Up is out now via Bibliotapes. Purchase from Bandcamp.

Luminous Rot is out now via Southern Lord. Purchase from Bandcamp.

By Simon Kirk

Product from the happy generation. Proud purple bin owner surviving on music, books and LFC. New book, Welcome To Charmsville, available from all major vendors.

7 replies on “Dark Passage: In Conversation with Nadja’s Aidan Baker”

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