Issue 5: Inside Sunn O)))’s Pyroclasts with Tos Nieuwenhuizen

A name highly infamous to many – if not, probably all – of those who listen to drone and experimental music, Sunn O))) have this year released their latest album Life Metal on Southern Lord to considerable acclaim, with follow up Pyroclasts coming later this month.

With the record’s imminent arrival inbound, Astral Noize dropped in with long-standing keyboard player Tos Nieuwenhuizen to discuss Sunn O)))’s legacy, the collective’s working philosophy, working with Attilla Csihar, the legendary recently passed Scott Walker (RIP) and much more. For the full unedited interview, check out Astral Noize Issue 5 Astral Noize here.

How and when were the latest records created?

A one-day Stephen and Greg recording session in May, playback on the car stereo on the way to the rehearsal studio three days in a row at the end of June and then straight to Electrical Audio in Chicago. We had three days at 606 Studios in Northridge to dissect and structure whatever we deemed worthy enough.


Life Metal is a very positive title for the first album. What was the inspiration behind that?

It’s a very positive album but not intentionally so, we didn’t set out to do that. We tried to capture more of what a Sunn live experience can feel like, yet working with new material. I think you can hear the joy of playing. It was a blast.


What are some of your favourite memories during the recording/production process of the latest albums?

It was hard work, that session at Electrical Audio. Two weeks in a row with one day off, recording and listening back to long pieces takes a lonnnnnng time, so we’re usually done by eight or nine and then try to find something to eat and get some outdoor air. Albini knows about everything about everything and is willing to share.


How was it different to recording and producing using a digital studio? Which do you prefer?

The less tracks you can record on, the less decisions you’ll have to make later. You have to think about your approach in advance as there’s no easy ‘fixing’ as there is in digital recording. We wanted to get all instruments recorded simultaneously, that took more than half of the available tracks so the focus is more on the performance, getting the atmosphere right. Quite different from [2009’s] Monoliths & Dimensions with its many layers, or [2014’s] Soused which was more like creating pieces for a jigsaw puzzle.


At the time of this interview, Pyroclasts is soon to be released. It’s an album that has been described as ‘meditative.’ What can we expect from it that differs from Life Metal?

Less notes – four to be precise. Painting with Model Ts Jackson Pollock style. All of these drones (could) have happened during a concert when a certain note just sits right in the air and begs for exploration. We recorded these first thing in the morning when we had the whole crew together with Tim and Hildur, some freeform ear warming.


For the full lowdown on recording processes, Scott Walker and the future of Sunn O))), pick up Issue 5 of Astral Noize here.

Words: Josh Coxon

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