Oslo Grooves : Norway’s Kanaan Explore New Musical Ground

Oslo, Norway three-piece Kanaan have recently been on a tour of Europe. Playing in small clubs, in front of record shops, and any open space that will have them, most of these crowds have no idea who this loud and precise rock trio are, but by the end of each show they’ve made new fans, young and old. That’s because Kanaan explore through improvisation much like classic electric Miles, or prog rock, or Krautrock bands from the early 70s did. There’s a spirit in that music exploration that opens the borders between generations, allowing some cat with a long, graying beard that watched Mahavishnu Orchestra in ’72 connect just as easily as a 22-year old University student that saw Tame Impala just last year. There’s no minimum or maximum to Kanaan’s trip. It’s all-encompassing.

Last year Kanaan, which consists of Ask Vatn Strøm(guitars), Ingvald André Vassbø(drums), and Eskild Myrvoll(bass), released their excellent El Paraiso Records debut Windborne. Any serious music fan with a pulse pulled some genuine beauty from that album. Hitting sounds as diverse as fusion, prog rock, and classic doom in the key of Sabbath, Windborne was has melodic and melancholy as chugging and mind-melting.

Though out on the road, the guys made some time to answer a few questions from Complex Distractions. Bassist Eskild Myrvoll pulled the shortest straw and relayed the answers to me. Enjoy.

J. Hubner: What’s the history of Kanaan? How did you three come together?

Eskild: We started our jazz studies together at the Norwegian Academy of Music, without really knowing each other beforehand. Ingvald, the drummer, came up to Ask and I pretty early on and asked us “Ska me jamma, ellår?”, which roughly translates to “Wanna jam and hang out some time” in his distinct Egersund dialect. It was clear from the beginning that the musical chemistry was really good, and we started rehearsing regularly, wrote songs and booked a few short tours in Norway the following six months. 

J. Hubner: Who or what are some influences on the sound of Kanaan?

Eskild: We’re really inspired by a lot of what’s coming out of the contemporary jazz scene in Norway. Elephant9, Bushman’S Revenge and Møster! are all bands with jazz musicians making great records with a strong psych and rock influence. Needlepoint and guitar hero Bjørn Klakegg has also been an inspiration. We admire bands like Motorpsycho for being able to encompass so many different styles and still maintaining a strong band identity during their entire career. The seventies jazz scene in Norway has also been an inspiration – Terje Rypdal, Jon Eberson, Jan Garbarek and Jon Christensen have all made or contributed to records we admire greatly.

Psych and krautrock has also been major influences for us, especially in the approach to music and improvisation in many of those legendary bands. There’s definitely a difference in how jazz groups and psych bands improvise and jam. We try to take the best of both worlds and both improvise with a focus on a soloist and responsive interplay. And on the other hand play more collectively, with a stronger focus on vibe and direction.

J. Hubner: Someone looking for some albums to blow their minds, what would you guys recommend?

Eskild: Some albums that made a major impact on some or all of us (in no particular order) are John Coltrane’s “Live at the Village Vanguard Again!”(1966), Miles Davis’ “Agartha”(1975), Needlepoint’s “Outside the Screen”(2012), Jimi Hendrix’ “Freedom: Atlanta Pop Festival”(1970), Motorpsycho’s“Roadwork vol. 4: Intrepid Skronk”(2011), Agitation Free’s “At the Cliffs of River Rhine”(1972), Neu! “Neu! 2”(1973), Geir Sundstøl’s “Furulund” (2015), Suzanne Ciani’s “Buchla Concerts 1975”, Dukes of Stratosphear’s “Psonic Psunspot”(1987), and Hawkwind’s “Space Ritual”(1972).

J. Hubner: Tell me a little bit about the writing process in Kanaan. Did the songs on ‘Windborne’ start out as studio improvisations, or were there very specific ideas going into the songs?

Eskild: In the process leading up to the recording of “Windborne” we worked out a set of composed tunes, but our tunes always have an improvisatory aspect. That means that there is a lot of spontaneous improvisation going on in the tunes, and they always sound different when we play them live as well. The structure of the songs are agreed upon, but the length of the different parts vary greatly.

Even in the open or jammy parts of our songs we often have specific ideas about the vibe, or adhere to the overall style of the song. Each song is often motivated by a specific approach, aesthetically or soundwise, and we’ll try to build the improvisation upon the groundwork laid by the composed parts.

J. Hubner: Was Kanaan always a 3-piece instrumental band, or was there ever a time where you had vocals? Was the vision of the band always to be instrumental music?

Eskild: Yes, the idea was always to make instrumental music, but we have always sought to be a band open for collaborating with other musicians. Vegard Lien Bjerkan who plays Rhodes on the track “A. Hausenbecken” on our album is an amazing keyboard player and composer and a good friend of ours. We’ve also played a couple times with our friend and saxophone player Lauritz Lyster Skeidsvoll (check out his jazz rock band Master Oogway!).

We’ve also recently done a project which wasn’t purely instrumental, with the accomplished Norwegian actress Sunniva Du Mond Nordal. We performed a newly written piece based on Harry Martinsons sci-fi epic “Aniara” from 1957. The concert took place in Oslo and hopefully we’ll be able to work more with Sunniva in the future. 

J. Hubner: So how did Kanaan get hooked up with El Paraiso Records? You guys are a perfect fit over there, by the way.

Eskild: Thank you so much! Ingvald has been a fan of Causa Sui, Papir, Psicomagia and the other amazing bands there for a long time. We recorded a couple of demos in the spring of 2017, and sent it to Jonas and Jakob who run the label. They liked it, and told us to mail them back when we had more music recorded. 

When we had finished recording “Windborne” in February 2018 we passed it over to them and the rest of the process was pretty straightforward. We’ve been really happy to work with Jonas and Jakob and we are grateful to be on a label with so many bands whom we look up to.

J. Hubner: Norway is known more for black metal than psych/prog/free rock. Is there an underground rock culture filled with kids blowing their minds to 70s fusion and Krautrock, as well as Sabbath and Hawkwind records in Oslo? What did you guys grow up listening to? 

Eskild: There’s definitely fans of underground rock music in Norway, but not in the numbers as we’ve experienced in Europe. The good thing is that there’s lots of people putting on concerts with experimental rock music, for example our friends in Progkjeller, who organise and promote great underground concerts with prog and psych rock.

J. Hubner: What did you three grow up listening to?

Eskild: We all come from diverse musical backgrounds, and we think of that as a strength for the band. We’re also drawing a lot of inspiration from other genres, such as electronic music, pop and Ask grew up listening to jazz, especially ECM, the cool jazz period of Miles Davis and of course rock acts such as Hendrix and Zeppelin. Ingvald’s father is really into 70’s krautrock and prog, so Ingvald has been brought up drowning in that stuff. I had my musical start with the Beatles, but I later disappeared into noise and well-crafted pop music.

J. Hubner: Kanaan is currently touring Europe. What have the responses been like? Are Kanaan taking over Europe, one gig at a time?

Eskild: The overall response has been great! We’ve been pleasantly surprised by the size of the audiences, and we’ve met so many kind people! Driving all day and playing shows every night is exhausting, but the people we’re meeting and the experiences we have as a band makes it worth all the hassle. We really feel like we’re gaining a lot from this, both as musicians and friends.

J. Hubner: What’s one of the big takeaways from this current run of shows?

Eskild: What has been really great about playing concerts in both Norway and Europe, is that we’ve experienced our music appealing to people who usually aren’t into heavy, improvisational rock music. We’ve had both pop enthusiasts, punkers and people who come from completely other musical backgrounds coming up to us after concerts buying CDs and telling us they really enjoyed our show.

J. Hubner: What’s the progress been like for a follow-up to Windborne?

Eskild: Since the release of Windborne we’ve been writing lots of new material and spent lots of time gathering new inspiration. It´s really fun to do, but as we are striving to make the process as democratic as possible it also takes a lot of time. But we are sure all the hard work and hours in the rehearsal room will pay off in the end!

J. Hubner: What’s the vibe of the new music like?

Eskild: Some of the new material has a more collective approach to the improvisation, and might end up being more krautrock/psych-oriented and minimalistic than “Windborne”. We’ll be recording the album in Sugar Road Studios together with Bjørn Klakegg (of Needlepoint) and Roar Nilsen.

J. Hubner: What’s the rest of 2019 look like for Kanaan?

Eskild: After finishing this tour we’ll be playing a handful of concerts in Norway and Denmark, including the great Høstsabbat festival in Oslo. We’ll also be releasing a couple more videos from our “Live from Øra” session. Apart from that we will be working on new material for the third album, and try to listen to as much crazy music as possible.

Grab a copy of Kanaan’s Windborne here.

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