This piece was originally featured in our fourth issue, available here
Pijn have been making waves across Europe for a few years now, with a wealth of tours and festival appearances under their belt off the back of 2017’s Floodlit EP. The Manchester-based collective have since taken things to the next level with the release of their debut full-length, Loss, on Holy Roar Records.
When Pijn perform live – as they will as part of Holy Roar X Roadburn next month – every show is different, right down to the amount of performers and the instruments used on stage – each show brings a unique new dimension to their sound. “We want more of the people who are part of the band to perform live,” they tell us. “But this isn’t always practical. So as we tour with fewer members, the songs and parts have to evolve to accommodate that. We want to get the same emotions across whether there are three people on stage or whether there are nine.” Pijn can be considered more of a collective than a strictly regimented band. One that is able to shift and adapt, whether they appear as a guitar, bass and drums trio or with the addition of strings and lap guitar. “The record is more of a complete sound, how we want to be perceived, and features as many people as we felt it needed to.”
Conceived in the heart of Manchester at Pijn’s own home base No Studio, the band’s debut full-length Loss was easily among the most gargantuan albums of 2018. Bursting to life with majestic string work that weaves around post-hardcore on opener ‘Denial’, right through to the dying whispers and gentle strings of closer ‘Squander’, Loss is an overwhelming and achingly beautiful journey. But what also shines through is the sheer depth and density of sonic detail in Pijn’s craft. 2017’s debut EP Floodlit featured fifteen performers, and yet Loss sounds even more expansive despite being stripped down to less than half of that number. “Since the start, we’ve always wanted to play with a lot of musicians. More is definitely more for us. Making Floodlit was a sort of happy chaos. We were keen to streamline things this time around, with only six musicians, but a greatly expanded number of contributors in a less ‘musical’ sense.”
For Pijn, being collaborative isn’t just limited to having a lot of band members and guest appearances. During the writing of Loss, the collective reached out to their fans through social media asking them to contribute stories of their own loss to be used as ambient textures on the record, as well as being tucked away in the artwork. “We have always said that Pijn should be the sort of project that anyone should be able to contribute to. As the concept for the album became more definite, we realised it was such an important thing for us all to be able to express experiences of loss. That sort of feeling shouldn’t be limited to those fortunate enough to be in a band, it is an important part of everyone’s experiences through life, we just wanted to open our doors to let anyone talk.”
Every detail on Loss counts towards something, from buried spoken word samples to effects-treated piano. “There are a lot of samples within the record, all designed to pull together the overriding theme. One track features a heavily cut-up sample from Sister Rosetta Tharpe playing in Manchester in 1964.”
Pijn are not a band that settle easily, pushing boundaries of genre, instrumental setup and sonic diversity, resulting in one of the most ambitious debut albums of this decade. It’s truly one of those records where each subsequent listen reveals new intricacies, with enough emotional depth to become malleable and tailored to each individual listener. “Limiting ourselves to fewer aspects, we spent more time concentrating on creating more unorthodox sounds. Making a piano sound like an organ or a guitar, or making a cello sound like a world-ending bass.”
Loss was mastered by Cult Of Luna‘s Magnus Lindberg, who has a proven track record for making sense of densely-layered records. “To have someone with a discography like his lend their ears to our project was incredible, and really buoyed our confidence with the production.” Even though Pijn are so open to collaboration they also maintain a strong independence, having chosen to record and produce the album themselves. “Keeping production in-house is partly down to convenience and cost, and we haven’t considered bringing in another producer at this point. This was really tested during the mixing of the album. We tracked through most of winter, blew up four amps in the process, and nearly deleted the whole thing several times. But the support of all the members of the band made sure we finished it ourselves. There is a certain degree of pride seeing a project of this scale come together, knowing it was created by a group of friends doing what they love.”
The huge array of sounds on Loss really breach genre pigeonholing to the point where it isn’t obvious whether Pijn are coming from a post-rock, post-hardcore or post-metal background. Perhaps all three, perhaps none. Loss takes the band further away from their hardcore upbringings and into braver, more expansive territories. “Only some of us are rooted in hardcore and heavier music, and so it wouldn’t be reflective of the group as a whole to have heavy vocals all the way through. Whilst there are less vocals on this than the previous record, we agonised over the lyrics even more, trying to create the most devastating feelings with as few words as possible.”
One of the tracks that really stands out on the record, ‘Detached’ is actually the softest and simplest, featuring sublime harmonised vocals and ghostly piano. Yet with such eclecticism on show, this comfortably sits alongside the jaw-dropping nineteen-minute progressive juggernaut ‘Unspoken’. “Loud and long-winded is definitely how we all agree Pijn comes across!”
Collaboration will continue to play a part in Pijn’s future, forming a special bond with Holy Roar labelmates and touring partners Conjurer. The two have come together for special joint sets under the name Curse These Metal Hands (surely a Peep Show reference). “Conjurer made the least sense to collaborate with musically, and so of course we chose them. They’re also lovely humans, and brilliant performers that make us look better by association!” Pijn are always keen to hit the road, with multiple European tours under their wings already. “Tours are almost everyone’s favourite part of Pijn, and being able to play more and more countries to bigger and bigger crowds still feels unreal for us.”
Pijn play Roadburn festival in Tilburg next month. This piece was originally featured in our fourth issue, available here.
Words: Chris “Frenchie” French