An aura of mystery surrounds this creature from Sweden. Nothing is certain when it comes to Terra Tenebrosa. Here, a long interview with the mastermind of this project, The Cuckoo, walking on the thin line between sanity and madness.
You have no names, no defined roles, no “official” background. We respect that choice, but I’m very curious: what lies behind Terra Tenebrosa? Rumors say you emerge out of Breach (and actually you stated that in an italian interview), but Terra Tenebrosa is definitely something more, something further… How would you define the project?
The Cuckoo: If we begin with the identities, I wanted to have imagery that corresponded to the mood of the music, and since we at first didn’t have any intentions of playing live I considered this more of an art project than an actual band. The Cuckoo’s mask is of great importance to the music, we’ll come to that later, but that is not the only reason we ended up in masks. I wanted photos that could have been art in itself, I wanted us to provoke as many senses as we could and if we were to stand in front of the camera wearing our regular clothes and looking gloomy it would just rob the music of some of its glamour. And since we now hid our faces why use our real names? The taken names add another dimension to it all. About our roles in the band, the only constant is that I do the vocals. Apart from that we switch instruments back and forth. If I have an idea I feel I must record at this very instant I do all the instruments if the others aren’t around. And if one of the others have an idea for a guitar part or a bass line, instead of wasting time trying to communicate what to play and how to play it, he records it. It is only now that we’ve started to play live we had to decide who’s going to do what on stage. And yes, two of us used to play in Breach. Terra Tenebrosa is, in the eyes of others, just a band and what we do is to play music. But to me it’s so much more. I always get overly pretentious when trying to explain this but I can’t explain it in any other way. I do all the core writing and almost always every track recorded is my way of expressing emotions and sensations I have while meditating or dreaming, or while provoking myself into altered states of consciousness be it by fasting, sleep deprivation or any other way. Often it is also my way of exorcising myself of negative thoughts and feelings. If I were a good writer I could have written about it but to me these things are not easily expressed in any other way than through music.
Following The Tunnels, The Purging sounded like a concept album once again to me, even though there are no clear details about it. I found a kind of “inverted” concept of life, starting from a redeeming cancer, ending with a disintegration (I talked about this in the review). Though, everything sounded linked to the idea of purging, the natural fil rouge of the whole work. Am I completely wrong?
The Purging is more so than The Tunnels. The Tunnels is sort of a concept album but more on the emotional level. I think of The Tunnels as a pathworking of sorts, not lyrically, but I wanted the music to be coherent and take the listener on a journey through the dark, uncharted territories of his/hers mind. All lyrics on that album put together could be to one single track. Lyrically it is only an invitation to a grand excursion of the mind, opening the door and welcoming you to a world far more important and interesting than this physical one. The Purging has more of a “story” lyrically. The Purging is kind of an inverted The Tunnels come to think of it. On The Tunnels we wanted to lure the listener into a trance with the aid of the music and the lyrics were secondary. Initially we weren’t going to have any vocals at all apart from the sampled stuff but one of the tracks felt kind of dull so we tried some vocals with a lot of effects on it and ended up putting vocals on the lot. The Purging starts with “The Redeeming Teratoma” being nothing as destructive as cancer, but a slumbering part of ourselves that we can awaken in order to complete ourselves. This is only a metaphor, I don’t actually think that there’s anything organic about it, but I think we as humans are only using a fragment of our potential and that by systematically exploring the more obscure parts of our psyche we can find the tools to take the next evolutionary step, transforming ourselves into something better. The process continues throughout the album and ends with “Disintegration” where we take the step out of this physical world into the wondrous worlds within, and “The Reave”, man now transformed into a god, slamming the door in the face of the world we have turned our backs on.
Conceptually, is there any relation between this album and the previous one? I speculated about the chance of purification once out of the darkness (the tunnels), but again, it’s just speculation…
Everything about Terra Tenebrosa is related since everything revolves around the exploration of the suppressed parts of the mind and psyche, finding hidden treasures and exorcising the unwanted, sublimating the negative impulses and the transformation into something better. But your speculation is correct. I have no idea where this project will take me, now I´m not talking about Terra Tenebrosa, but the working on myself that spills over into Terra Tenebrosa, but it is in the darkness we can find the keys, we just have to meander The Tunnels first, fighting off whatever negative elements hides in there and find the treasures. It is in The Tunnels of your mind/soul/psyche you do The Purging.
Once you said the cuckoo had to do with madness. This leads me to think about One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest on the one hand, and Nattramn and his musical (so-said therapeutic) project Diagnose: Lebensgefahr on the other. Madness and quotes seem part of Terra Tenebrosa imagery: why such an interest?
Many times when someone is labeled insane in modern society, unless you run around stabbing people, it is most probably someone who would be revered as someone enlightened or holy in the past. Sure there are crazies but however, I think their craziness comes from a society impinging on us and stifling us. We’re bombarded with demands and musts and with the fast pace increasing many fall behind. There is no time to stop and catch your breath. There is no time for spiritual endeavours. Whatever we were meant to be we had to suppress at an early age. And I sometimes find myself in dark places where I can’t cope with day to day life, where I can’t really get out of bed. But even though my physical body is lying In bed throughout the day there’s a lot more going on within. I can lay like that for days drifting in and out of very vivid dreams, some very dark and other less dark, but after these periods I always feel refreshed. It’s not like depression, I just have the need to retreat from the world occasionally. I am not insane but I guess many would consider me weird. So The Cuckoo has more to do with spirituality and nonconformism.
Moreover, in both the examples I mentioned, there is no clear proof about the madness of the protagonist, be it Jack Nicholson or the unknown swedish musician. How shall we consider the cuckoo in Terra Tenebrosa? What is his message?
The Cuckoo is both a beacon of hope and an instrument of destruction. He is an outstretched hand and he welcomes you into his open arms but he will also whip you to shreds unless you move forward. Since I was a child I’ve had dreams where I have seen this figure. As a kid I of course was frightened and as I got older I was more annoyed by it. When I was younger I thought it was all negative aspects of myself presented by my subconscious in the form of this character and after every encounter came a period of depression. For about ten years there were no such dreams and then on one occasion when I was ingesting psychotropics there him/she/it was again. Since then I have actively trying to have visions not only in dreams, but I actively seek out other altered states of consciousness where I can communicate with this character. I do believe that this is that redeeming teratoma I spoke about. The original mask for The Cuckoo I made as an effigy to be hung on the wall over my bed and when writing the first material for Terra Tenebrosa I had that image in mind. Therefore that mask. The others designs were just something I made in a haste so that they too would wear masks. I was never that happy with those designs so I turned them into gnomes for this release. Anyway, I named this character The Cuckoo after a figure in the comic book Sandman, being an entity appearing in dreams. Now The Cuckoo has returned from oblivion to find a voice and I am that voice. And I said The Cuckoo is a whip, because when I stray too much from the path I have set foot upon I feel like I get punished. I might get disoriented and not able to keep a clear mind, I might even fall into a depression or other weird things might happen. Needless to say that The Cuckoo is with me almost all the time. The Cuckoo is a friend and a parasite but we’re in a kind of symbiosis. Like I said before, this gets pretty pretensious and pompous but that´s what The Cuckoo is. Others can perceive it purely as entertainment and that is fine with me, but this is a really big part of my life.
In your works, music goes beyond its pure entertaining form, becoming something shamanic, a medium I would say. What is music, and specifically Terra Tenebrosa music, to you, in your own terms?
Almost all of my ideas comes to me when I provoke my mind and body in various ways and whatever emotions or pictures emerging I translate into music. I try to express the sensation I have through the music, be it pleasant or unpleasant. Even if I might end up in quite frightening situations I try to stay in those moments for as long as I endure, trying to experience every aspect of it. It is necessary in order to truly be at one with yourself. You can’t deny or suppress everything. It eventually surfaces anyway. That is why some of the tracks might be a bit disturbing.
This time, a more “practical” question: how do you come up with these experiments, in the studio? How do you even conceive how Terra Tenebrosa material shall sound? And how do you put all this on a stage? Do you think there is one “better way” through which the message of Terra Tenebrosa is brought (I mean either the studio or the stage dimension)?
I know before I go into the studio what I want but I might not know how to achieve it. Sometimes it is a lot of experimenting, playing around with various instruments and effects and at other times I might know beforehand what instrument to pick up and what to play. “Black Pearl…” I heard playing in my head before I took up the guitar, at other times, like with the track “Terra Tenebrosa” I had an idea of how I wanted the organ to sound like, not what melody to be played but the sound and feeling of it. That track started with that organ and then came the guitars. At other times I have a finished song in my head and at other times it might be the drums that comes first. Always different. We’ve been discussing back and forth on how to do this live and I decided early that I didn’t want to use backing tracks. I wouldn’t feel comfortable if we were to play to a click. There is no room for improvisation then. At the same time I didn’t want to cut back too much on all the samples so I’m controlling them on stage. We don’t use all of them because I don’t want to toe tap through the set. Those really essential we use and the distant background noises we might use on record we discard. And all the different voices is hard to do on stage. Once again, the essential effects is used. I don’t know how much different we are live or if it’s different at all. We put more focus on the songs with a faster pace than on ten minute instrumentals. I think the faster ones do better on stage and the more trance inducing ones are better on record.
I think I’ve asked enough; if you want to add something, this is the right time. Yours is the chance to conclude.
Does Terra Tenebrosa sound as silly in Italian as I’ve heard it does in Portuguese? Sounds great in Swedish though. “Terra” is childrens slang for terrorizing. Thank you!