The right name can say a hell of a lot. The right name can say it all, really. Take Mythic Sunship, for example. That’s a name that leaves its mark. When it rolls off the tongue it feels as if it’s a statement of defining purpose. I imagine if there was an actual Mythic Sunship scooting across the galaxy that it would hold Gods and super beings with the secrets of the universe. They’d be traveling from world to world attempting to right wrongs and espouse knowledge that could help beings make their worlds better places.
As it happens, there really is a Mythic Sunship. They’re a four-piece improvisational rock outfit from Copenhagen, Denmark. The band consists of Emil Thorenfeldt, Frederik Denning, Kasper Andersen, and Rasmus “Cleaver” Christensen. They fly high on a wave of snarling, atmospheric noise that brings to mind both early Mogwai, Blue Cheer, and Black Sabbath; to free-thinking jazz Gods like John Coltrane, Pharaoh Sanders, and Sun Ra. They lay the riffage on thick, but leave room for mind expansion and serious inner exploration. From their debut Ouroboros to last year’s Land Between Rivers the band expanded and honed their sound exponentially. Now with their newest record(and third release for El Paraiso Records) Upheaval, Mythic Sunship seem to have reached a newfound high when it comes to their brand of molten improvisational post/doom rock.
I got the chance to talk to the guys about the band, their music, and how after 500 titles they finally arrived on Mythic Sunship for a name.
J. Hubner: So tell me about Mythic Sunship? How did you guys get together?
Frederik: I think that back then, Rasmus was the only one playing in another band. Coincidentally he didn’t join Mythic Sunship until much later, when his other band was no more. Originally it was just Emil, Kasper and me jamming. Our first time together must have been 2009 or 2010. Our debut concert was in 2010 at least. As anyone who’s heard our first CD-R will be able to testify we were horrible back then.
Emil: I still have a soft spot for ‘Colour out of Space’, the cassette we released in 2011. Fittingly enough, the two jams on that tape were the two very first 100% improvised tracks we ever recorded.
Frederik: We were just back jamming yesterday and something actually struck me, while we were playing: I think all of us have developed a lot as instrumentalists while playing in Mythic Sunship. Before playing in the band, I had never played drums, and I basically learned playing drums by playing with Emil, Kasper and later Rasmus. I think the same goes for Emil and – to some extent – Rasmus too. Kasper was already a very good guitarist when we started out, but would likely also say that he has developed a lot in Mythic Sunship. So what this boils down to is that we’ve basically learned to play our instruments playing in Mythic Sunship. When people tell me that they think I’m a good drummer (it does actually happen), I just shake my head in disbelief. I imagine myself playing in any other band, and I would probably suck. I don’t think I’ll ever play drums in any other band, so I’ll never know, but I really think that our situation in that sense is very unique. We’ve developed this style of playing our instruments that is so significantly Mythic Sunship that it fits very well in the band and together, but would probably fit very poorly in other bands. This is also the reason that if you took anyone in the band and replaced them with a far better musician, the band would get significantly worse.
Rasmus: Yeah, so I joined the Sunship in late 2014. And I think Frederik is right about our evolution as a band. I picked up playing music very late in my youth and wasn’t a very good bass player in my first band. Mythic Sunship was only the second band I joined. I guess growing as musicians simultaneously and together probably makes for a more cohesive band in the end.
J. Hubner: Can you tell me how you decided upon the name Mythic Sunship? Has a real “out there” feel to it. Free jazz, acid, and very freak scene.
Frederik: Honestly, I don’t think anyone remembers. Emil has said before that we went through probably 500 names until we came up with Mythic Sunship which none of us particularly hated. At that time that was a huge success. El Paraiso made up a great story about the name stemming from Coltrane and Sun Ra titles. In retrospect that sounds perfect.
J. Hubner: Your records are all instrumental. There’s a lot of that coming out of Denmark which I love. As I get older I find myself gravitating towards instrumental music. Seems to be more room for interpretation for the listener. Was it a conscious decision to go the instrumental route, or was it that no one wanted to sing?
Frederik: Very conscious. We always knew that we wanted to play music with a certain element of improvisation to it, and we have been 100% improv almost from day one. We used to plan out our jams a bit more, discussing how and when we wanted it to peak for example. Maybe we had a simple riff we wanted to play halfway through. It was horrendous. A big part of it probably was due to the fact that we (except for Kasper) couldn’t really play our instruments back then, but largely it’s just not what the band is about. We’ve found that every time we try to write something down or make some kind of agreement before we start it always ends up sucking. We tried “writing” a riff once, when we recorded ‘Ouroboros’ and it’s as painful to listen to as it was to play. It ended up being the worst recording from the entire session by a very wide margin.
Rasmus: If you want to make music, and you’re not a songwriter, and you don’t have anything in particular you want to express with words, I don’t see a reason not to just play instrumental music. I find it so hard to write lyrics, and most of the music I listen to is instrumental anyway, so for me it’s the most natural thing.
J. Hubner: Who are some artists you guys are pulling inspiration from; be it bands, musicians, writers, filmmakers, or painters.
Frederik: One of the things that is great about the dynamic in the band is that we are all huge music nerds, but with slightly different preferences. Personally, I’ve listened to a lot of jazz the past 10 years. In some periods exclusively. So for me I actually find much more inspiration in jazz than rock. What I like about the band is that there is no idea of: “Let’s play something that sounds like Black Sabbath, but jazzy” or anything like that. When we rehearse, of course we have discussions about how we can evolve our musical expression, but in the end, we just start playing, and all we’ve agreed upon is the key we play in. This means that it’s basically just the four of us bringing whatever musical inspirations we have to the table. We don’t overthink it, we just play some rock. And yeah, that’s what I like about this band. It always feels fresh and very pure in some sense. I’ve played in other bands were we have played more traditional songs, like indie-rock bands and that sort, and in those bands it never really made sense to play if it wasn’t targeting an audience in the end. With Mythic Sunship it would still be great to play in the band even if we didn’t play another concert ever. Though of course, specifically playing live is the best thing about the band by far.
Emil: In addition to what Frederik said, some of my specific references would be Can, Grateful Dead, Bardo Pond, Sonny Sharrock, and noisy Japrock like Mainliner or Fushitsusha.
Rasmus: Yeah, what Frederik and Emil Said. Also, It’s hard for me to play improvised rock without being just a little influenced by especially Grateful Dead and some of the Japanese and German 70’s jam bands of the Japrock and Kraut scenes, as Emil suggests. I also dig a lot of classic rock and draw inspiration for bass licks and styles of playing from that. But mostly I would compare our way of structuring the music and the interplay between the instruments to that branch of jazz, that’s built around collective improvisation but still holds on to a groovy, bluesy feeling – Charles Mingus, Ornette Coleman, mid-60’s Coltrane, that sort of thing.
Frederik: I never listened to a Grateful Dead record in my life, so there you go.
Rasmus: That’s not true. We’ve listened to it many times in the cabin. So maybe you are under the influence…
J. Hubner: I suppose we’ll have to leave the Grateful Dead mystery for the next interview, though I wouldn’t mind hearing you guys cover “New Speedway Boogie” at some point. But about the Sunship’s sound, I feel that it’s this massive wall of noise that just engulfs you. Part punk rock, part post-rock, and all sonic devastation. The band has been dubbed as “anaconda rock”. For the person not in-the-know, can you describe Sunship’s sound? And where did the “anaconda rock” moniker come from?
Frederik: I can understand that experience, and it somehow relates a lot to my answer above. You know, just four guys playing whatever they feel with whatever inspirations they have at the moment. I think you are very right that what makes up our sound is super eclectic – meaning at least the elements that make it up are eclectic, the end result, I find to be fairly consistent. There are some elements in our sound that we are trying to stay away from. Never using a Wah pedal has actually been a conscious choice to avoid the typical “psych”-jam sound, and we know when we go too much in the post-rock or prog-rock direction. We’re all music nerds, so we’ve all been at the edges of music, from Merzbow to Mayhem to Stockhausen. When you listen to a lot of music, its natural to seek out the extremes, to continually be challenged. I think everyone can recognize this, whether they listen to a lot of music, drink a lot of whisky or go to a lot of art exhibitions. Mythic Sunship to me is not extreme music in any sense of the word, and it’s not something we are trying to achieve. But when you describe that feeling of noise that engulfs you, I think that is simply something that is “built in” to all of us. I think it’s just a natural part of who we are as musicians and music-lovers, so there has never been a conscious choice to go: “Let’s be a noisy band”. I actually find that we are fairly straight rock music, but when my mother tells me that it sounds like noise, I also get where she is coming from. It’s all a matter of perspective.
Emil: My mom thinks ‘Ouroboros’ sounds like Santana, for what it’s worth. I think it’s funny that we tend to get pigeonholed into being a doom or stoner rock band, because I don’t get that feeling at all.
Frederik: The term anaconda rock is pretty simple to grasp. Just like an actual anaconda, it’s long, it’s heavy, and it’s a metaphor for a big, fat dick.
Rasmus: Not fully embracing the big, fat dick part, I think the anaconda moniker fits the brutal, monolithic feeling that our wall-of-sound-type music can have. Also the tracks are fairly long, like anacondas are long.
J. Hubner: You just released your newest record, ‘Upheaval’. Before that it was ‘Land Between Rivers’ last year and ‘Ouroboros’ in 2016. Three albums in two years I think qualifies as prolific. What’s the writing process like in Mythic Sunship? Do you fill the fridges with plenty of lagers and then just see what happens when you hit record? Do you start with a riff and go from there? How do you know when a song is done?
Frederik: I touched a bit upon this above, but we’re 100% improvisational. When we record, we usually have a couple of ideas for how a track can start out, but it’s always more of a mode than a riff or a fleshed-out idea. An example could be that we know we’re playing in A, we know that it starts with guitar and we know that we want it to be “cosmic” for example. So maybe we play with that in mind 10 times when we rehearse, and in the end we have a good idea about the mode. It never starts with the same riff, in the same tempo or anything, but we kinda know how we want the track to feel. I think a fair guess is that 50% of the stuff that ends up on the records, we have never played before going to the studio in any sense, the other 50% are tracks where we had a general idea of the feeling. For ‘Ouroboros’, ‘Land Between Rivers’ and ‘Upheaval’ we isolated ourself along with our good friend and engineer Jesper Bagger Hviid in a cabin north of Copenhagen. We drink a lot of beers, cook some nice food and have a good time. We also play rock music 10-12 hours for two days straight. It’s intense, but it works. Three records might seem like a lot, but honestly when you work like we do, it has felt natural. We record ‘Ouroboros’ and then, the week after we’re back in our rehearsal space thinking: “Now what?”. Then we try to challenge ourselves, try new directions out, we play concerts. A LOT happens in just a few months, when you’re an improv band. Imagine what happens in a year. You can hear the change simply by listening to the openers of the first two records: “Ophidian Rising” and “Nishapur” from ‘Ouroboros’ and ‘Land Between Rivers’ respectively. Even though I believe that we have been consistent in our sound, we are actively trying to evolve it, and then three records in two and a half years doesn’t feel like that much.
Emil: It helps that we don’t spend ages tracking guitars, making sure the levels and tone are just right and so on – we set everything up, make sure all the instruments are properly plugged in and start playing.
Rasmus: Exactly. In relation to what I said earlier, when you’re not writing songs nor composing, but do everything instantaneously, you don’t really need to be in control of the situation, and you don’t need much time to make an album. Of course we couldn’t record a new album every week. It’s a culmination on months of rehearsing and finding a form and a sound that we want to document for prosperity. But most of the time between the first three records has been put into mixing, artwork, making up titles, pressing vinyls etc. That’s a much longer process. After these three records, we’re also ditching the cabin for a real recording studio.
Frederik: As Rasmus jokingly put it the other day: For us, deciding on titles is an equal task to creating the album, haha.
Rasmus: Who said I was joking?
J. Hubner: Let’s talk a bit about the new album ‘Upheaval’. Going into record it, were you guys wanting to achieve something different than the last two records? There seems to be more contemplative moments this time around. More dynamics going on, especially in both “Aether Flux” and in the last track “Into Oblivion”. What were some influences going into this new album? I think it’s your best work yet.
Frederik: First of all: Thank you. I can tell you that it means a lot to hear, because we do put a lot of effort into not stagnating as a band. Being an improv band I think it’s very easy to fall into the trap of being good at jamming in a specific way and then just doing that 50 times. With ‘Upheaval’ we’ve tried to explore some new territory, though it falls very naturally in line with ‘Land Between Rivers’. I don’t think we had any specific influences in terms of other bands, but I definitely think that you’ve caught onto something with regards to the dynamic. Especially “Aether Flux” represents a mode that we’ve been playing a lot, but that just hasn’t felt natural on a recording so far. It’s not that far from something like “Year of The Serpent” from ‘Ouroboros’, but as you say, it’s a bit more dynamic and contemplative. “Into Oblivion” was a very specific idea of exploring a much heavier sound. We’re tuned in drop C, and the whole feeling of the track is like we’re almost dragging every note behind the beat like four cavemen returning from a hunt.
Rasmus: Yes, thanks so much! I feel like the whole A-side of ‘Upheaval’ is a kind of Other Sides of Mythic Sunship concept that has – as you say – a more contemplative and in the case of “Aether Flux” almost laid back feel to it (as laid back as it gets around here). We felt that we could do that on this album, whereas on the first two… we mostly wanted to move some speaker cones. “Into Oblivion” was an attempt to take that vibe and channel it downwards and get real earthy, heavy, doomy even.
J. Hubner: Your guitar sound is immense. What are your guitar/amps of choice? Are there any pedals you can’t live without, or do you go straight into the amp? Also, your rhythm section is very tight. That allows the guitars to really go interstellar.
Emil: I’ve never been obsessed with guitar tone so I’ve gotten by playing on beat up, cheap guitars and mostly shitty pedals plus whatever I could borrow from friends whenever we’ve had recording sessions. I quite like not being completely in control of the tone and having to work with what I’ve got. I think Kasper’s pretty much the opposite which makes sense given that he’s the brains and I’m the brawn when it comes to the guitar section, haha. I don’t think I could live without a delay pedal and a couple of overdrive/distortion/gain pedals, though.
And definitely, having a tight, forward-moving rhythm section allows us the freedom to mix it up and kind of go back and forth between playing melodic, airy bits and digging into the groove. I don’t think you can underestimate how much the drums lead the way, Frederik can change the complexion of a jam completely whenever he wants to just by varying his intensity or pattern.
J. Hubner: Production-wise, are you guys producing yourselves or is there someone guiding you in the studio? Where do you typically record?
Frederik: The first three records are recorded by our friend Jesper Bagger Hviid. He also mixed ‘Ouroboros’, while the two latest are mixed and mastered by Jonas Munk. We have been going to a cabin for the first three recordings, but now we’re trying out other methods.
Rasmus: I’ve really liked doing the cabin recording sessions. Going there in the summer time, creating a really nice, friendly, and relaxed atmosphere around recording. But taking that with us to a real recording studio, I’m sure the music only benefits from the sonic possibilities the studio gives us.
J. Hubner: Are you guys touring to promote ‘Upheaval’?
Frederik: There will in fact be a tour in April. For now that tour will be in (most of) Europe, but in the future we are looking to possibly tour the US as well. However, it goes without saying that touring within the EU is one big logistical puzzle, going outside to the US would be a completely different and even more complicated story.
Emil: This will be our first foray into Europe, so that should be a blast. Massive shout-out to Jonas Gonçalves from Ya Ya Yeah for organising everything!
J. Hubner: How did you guys get hooked up with El Paraiso Records? Seems like a pretty solid group of dudes to make records with.
Frederik: El Paraiso is an amazing label, yes. I’ve known Jonas and Jakob for a long time, and when ‘Ouroboros’ was done and being mixed they were the only label we sent it to. We knew they were perfect for us, and to be honest, it had been a dream signing with them since we started the band in 2010. The fact that they were actually up for putting the album out was great, and we’ve continued to have a great relationship with them in the couple of years since.
J. Hubner: So what’s 2018 looking like for Mythic Sunship? More improvising and maybe another album?
Frederik: It’s probably a bit too early to share details, but I can say that 2018 will very likely be the most prolific year for Mythic Sunship so far, and that people can expect something significantly different than what they’ve heard on first three records.
If you’re in Europe make sure to get out and see these guys live. It’s gonna be a face melter, for sure. And if you haven’t yet snag a copy of Upheaval right here. Can’t say enough about the record, or the band. Good dudes all around.