Interview: God Is An Astronaut

God Is An Astronaut - Photo by Derval Freeman

God Is An Astronaut – Photo by Derval Freeman

Exactly a decade ago, twin brothers Niels and Torsten Kinsella formed an instrumental rock band. Not wanting to succumb to the pressures of the music industry, they turned down offers from labels who liked the sound but insisted on the addition of vocals. Instead, they released their debut as God Is An Astronaut on a self-formed label, Revive Records. Ten years later, and the two haven’t looked back.

That’s not to say it has all been smooth-going for the group, as the decision to not give in to conventional ideas of what a band should sound like has made it so the four have had to fight for what they want.

“It’s been a real struggle to keep everything going from a financial level without compromising what we do,” Niels said.

Yet here they are, still a band. In the first part of the year, the four-piece (which also includes members Lloyd Hanney and Jamie Dean) played a string of shows to celebrate its 10-year anniversary. To make it particularly special, the band opted to forego the oft-traveled Western European route and play instead in the countries of Slovenia, Slovakia, Croatia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Serbia and Romania, before heading on to Italy, Austria, Switzerland and Spain.

“There was a huge demand to see us there, and some of the places were new territories for us,” Niels said, explaining the justification for this way of doing things.

In fact, the band didn’t even play its own native Ireland until May. And interestingly enough, historically the group hasn’t experienced much of a local demand, nor has it received much press from its own country.

“Ireland is a very commercial, pop music orientated country, so it is true that the more alternative bands are generally ignored by the press,” Niels said. “[However] there have been some exceptions for us in recent times; we were asked to represent Ireland at the Eurosonic Festival this year. I guess after 10 years and worldwide recognition they can’t really ignore us as they once did.”

While God Is An Astronaut has been devoting much of this year to touring, there is admittedly also a new album – the band’s sixth – in the works, and set for release in the first half of 2013.

The core sound defining the group has remained largely unchanged through the years, yet each album brings with it new ideas and influences. For this one in particular, the band has talked about incorporating vocals, and not just as part of the soundscape, but rather as something more prominent, as an instrument and not simply an additive.

“We will be adding some background vocals, but this time in the form of lyrics and not just layers,” Niels said, citing it not as giving into external pressure, but rather as part of the natural progression of the band. “For the new album we wanted to incorporate some ideas we haven’t tried before.”

And while it is the tendency of some bands to get carried away with the sound, Niels was very specific about God Is An Astronaut’s sense of controlled and efficient songwriting.

“Keeping the song in check has never been an issue,” he said. “Generally we prefer to keep our songs to a more traditional structure and not a meandering 15 minute song, which we think is quite boring.”

For the forthcoming album, Niels also shared that Torsten has built up a collection of boutique guitar pedals which will also be used to manipulate the sound. On that note, he said that Torsten is the member with the most concrete idea of how he specifically envisions the new album. But although he is considered the “driving force” behind it, the other three still have specific ideas and parts that they too contribute.

“We pretty much write how we feel and the albums always represent us as people and reflect our emotions at that time,” Niels said, sharing how the music carries with it a part of each member.

In contrast to not wanting to write songs that go on and on, Niels explained that the music still has a certain kind of aesthetic to it, which is communicated both in the way the songs are organized on an album, and also in how they are played live.

“We…use visuals at some of the shows but they are…more of an atmospheric mood setter than anything else,” he said. “We always prefer to play [our] live sets in a continuous flow and try not to have an interruption.”

And in turn, when audience members are added to that equation, it only reinforces all the reasons God Is An Astronaut does what it does.

“The most rewarding thing is writing and recording songs we love,” Niels said. “[And] when the fans listen to our music and come to our shows, it makes it all worthwhile for us.”

God Is An Astronaut plays tonight at Bi Nuu in Berlin. The show begins at 21.00.

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