Interview: When Saints Go Machine

When Saints Go Machine - Photo courtesy of When Saints Go Machine

When Saints Go Machine – Photo courtesy of When Saints Go Machine

Seated along the waterfront, just steps away from Vooruit–site of this year’s 10 Days Off festival in Ghent, Belgium–the members of When Saints Go Machine spent some time tackling the question of how national identity forms certain styles of music.

The band–a Danish electropop foursome, consisting of Silas Moldenhawer (drums), Jonas Kenton (synth), Simon Muschinsky (keys), and Nikolaj Manuel Vonsild (vocals)–hails from Copenhagen. With slightly more than 1 million residents, the capital city has a lot of musical movement, but as Moldenhawer shared, the scene is very much intertwined on a personal level. This close-knit feeling, when combined with various overlapping scenes, creates an interesting scenario, in which a major city seems to lack a musical focal point.

However, Moldenhawer doesn’t feel this is necessarily a band thing–variety never is. However, he did note that regardless of the musical climate in Copenhagen, outsiders still have the tendency to group not only the city, but the entire country, under an umbrella of Scandinavian pop music.

“People talk about the Scandinavian sound. I don’t know what it is but I think they say it’s like pop melodies,” he said. “They always talk about that we Scandinavians have a tendency to focus on melodies. Maybe that’s true.”

Outsiders adopt this viewpoint largely due to the exportability of Scandinavian music’s sound, but also because it is in English, arguably the language of pop music. And more than many other countries, Scandinavians are praised for their English language skills, argued to be the result of subtitles, as opposed to dubbing, in movies and television.

But as true as this might be, Moldenhawer shared there is still a tradition of Danish bands singing in their native tongue. However, their audience is naturally limited to Danish-speaking individuals, of which there are only 6 million in the world. He referenced the Danish band, Nephew, as one which increasingly uses more Danish than English lyrics. He also cited many pop and R&B artists as singing in Danish.

“In every country, when a band or artist [sings] in their own language…it’s easier for the home country to connect to the music,” he said, explaining why bands would choose to limit the possibility of places they could reach, play, or be understood. “You have to be very commercial if you want to make it big in Denmark, and if you have such a small market…[you] have to play a lot of shows in a very small country.”

So naturally the decision for When Saints Go Machine to not sing in Danish had many factors going into it, such as the electropop tradition, as well as the fact that the members themselves identify musically with the English lyric world.

“We don’t, like, listen to Danish music ourselves, so it’d be weird to make something Danish,” Moldenhawer said.

Muschinsky agreed, sharing that there wasn’t much discussion about it, as all the members were basically on the same page from the get-go.

“It came pretty natural,” he said. “And I guess that’s why we decided to do something in English.”

This summer, the band has kept busy, playing around 10-15 festivals, although last year the members were even busier, having just released the second full-length, “Konkylie,” in April 2011.

Festivals can be tricky, because sometimes the band is placed in daylight time-slots, which the members find isn’t always conducive to the mood of the music, even though in theory, the band isn’t full-on electronic. However, festivals like 10 Days Off, or Berlin Festival, which the band played last night, feature late night or early morning performances, which are more to When Saints Go Machines’ liking.

“I like that, because it’s very atmosphere based, our music,” Muschinsky said. “So when it’s dark, it’s easier to get into that emotion.”

Of course, being in an electronic band can have its hassles, namely revolving around the apparent limitlessness of technology and determining a way to harness it.

At the beginning of the band’s tenure, some five years ago, the four experienced some disagreement revolving around not only what elements to include in a song, but also when to consider it finished.

“It’s always difficult when you have both different people who [are] all inspired by different genres,” Muschinsky explained.

But now, they have fallen into a pattern working together that extends beyond self-interest of each member, but rather thought as to what they aim to sound like collectively.

“We all have…something that’s important to [each of] us..it’s not like we have a lead singer that says ‘I wrote the lyrics…I need the song to be like this.’ He’s always been like, ‘If you guys don’t feel it yet, there’s something wrong, we need to change it up,'” Moldenhawer said. “So we don’t have, like, a king. [Instead] we are a normal family.”

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