They are the discovery of the year. Belligerently intellectual, and still devoted to the roots of rock, they give the perfect thrill of innovative music. Nothing is, like NIOWT is: tricky, eccentric, seductive, agile, fragile, brute. After our preview in the last issue and before the upcoming Zillo-Festivals, for which we won this exciting Slovenian super-group, here is the detailed interview with the impressing singer and guitarist Mojca Krevel.
Zillo: How does a linguist and translator become a singer and front woman in a rock band? And can you tell us some more about the foundation of the band?
Mojca: A better way of putting that question would maybe be: how does a singer and a frontwoman of a rock band become a linguist and a translator. When I was about 12, I was pretty certain I was going to play guitar in a rock band sooner or later. I never thought of becoming a singer, though, because I was pretty uncertain about my voice for a long time. The studying at the university was sort of a natural step in my life since I’m coming from a long line of people involved with the university and academism this way or other. The reason I studied English and Comparative Literature was that I’ve always been a bit of an Anglophile plus I always loved books. It is rather unusual for a rock singer to get involved with the more scholarly matters but I really need as broad a field of expression as possible. If I only had my music (or my studies, for that matter), I’d probably grow to hate it very soon.
The NIOWT thing started five years ago when I met Peter Senk and we started collaborating on a theatre project. His views on music were and still are very close to mine and we have very similar personalities. After the project was finished, we decided to continue working together. Robert joined in 1994 and Bostjan (13 at the time) came a year later. From 1994 on we’ve also had our very own sound technician, Matej, who is now a full-time-member of the band as well. Before the present line-up was formed, there had been so many cadre changes that I can no longer remember their names. But this is it, I suppose.
Zillo: How did you come to Chrom Records and what were your reasons for signing there? Was it for some importance for your decision that Chrom is a German label?
Mojca: When we finished the record, we sent the tapes to a number of labels. We got a few serious offers and since Chrom’s was the most promising, plus we really liked the people there, we decided for Chrom. It had nothing to do with the fact that they are German, all we wanted at the time was to get a label outside Slovenia - a rather hostile environment for our kind of music, I might add…
But it is rather practical to have a label in Munich since it is only a five hour drive from Ljubljana and we do go there often for concerts and stuff, so we are within each other’s reach all the time.
Zillo: What do you mean by “rock” when you describe your - very exceptional - music as “rock”? I mean, your music isn’t a very good example for rock music, isn’t it?
Mojca: I’m tired of putting labels on our music, I’m tired of being put within that musical drawer or other - one of the journalists here described our music as “new wave art epic rock with Goth overtones” - I mean, please!!! That is why I’m quite happy to be placed within rock. Rock as opposed to other generic terms such as jazz or classical music. It is so simple. If anyone feels the need to concoct a more precise and complicated description of what we do, that’s fine with me. I even find it somewhat amusing.
Rock thus defined is the area of expression I find the most challenging. It is the only art-form that is broad enough to allow expression of the untarnished complexity of being. I think rock is the last possibility for the creation or simulation of the so-called “Gesamtkunstwerk” - film closely follows but it lacks what Wagner - who was trying to do the same thing - lacked: ritualism of a cult. In rock, one is not only able to combine a desired number of different artistic practices. A much more intriguing property of rock, at least in my book, is the fact that a rock concert functions almost by the same principles as the old Attic tragedy. The band on stage represents an instant simulation of the transcendence; the musical, textual and visual impact have the function of the surrogate mythology that provides the god-like status of their bearers - the band. The unavoidable catharsis takes place when the audience realizes they entered the reality of the myth - so when the icon and the worshipper coexist within the same reality. That is the rock that I have in mind when describing what I do.
Zillo: Can you give us an impression of how your songs are created? What comes usually first and how does the creative process of developing a song go on? Are there particular patterns how your songs come into being, are there particular roles NIOWT -members play in this process?
Mojca: I do the texts and about half the music. The other half of music is done by Peter. Musically, we both take into account the meaning of the text, so the music gives an extra dimension to the words. But we never come with a finished song and say, now, this is how you gotta play it. We usually have what we call a musical skeleton of the song and the concept of how it should sound like. The rest is done by the whole band and it usually takes ages to get it just right.
As far as the texts go, there is no universal pattern, except maybe that I cannot write when I am at peace with myself and the world around me. But that can change very quickly since I think I am a rather emotional and sensitive person. So when something is not right, I sit down behind my computer and just let the words flow. The harsher the words the greater the relief. I never read the lyrics before printing them and when I eventually do, I am often surprised at how much hatred I can accumulate within me, not to mention my friends who simply cannot understand my material.
Musically, I cannot think of a direct influence. When I was a teenager, I used to change my favourite bands every month. I remember being a Cure fan for about a year or so, and I cannot seem to get rid of all the black stuff I equipped myself with at that time. If there is one constant element throughout the years, it would be David Bowie. I must say his influence is not directly reflected in my music but he was probably one of the most important elements in the creation of my general “Weltanschau”. Probably the most fascinating figure in rock.
But primarily, everyone in the band is a music fan. Peter, for example, is an expert on classical music, his renditions of Bach and Rachmaninov are amazing. We love any kind of music as long as it makes sense. I think we have outgrown the teenage fascination with one particular band or singer or music style.
Zillo: Let’s talk about some possible influences on your music. NIOWTs band members have studied or are studying several arts and sciences like music, literature, linguistics, architecture, and even theology. Do these studies have any influence on your music, and if yes, do you use this influence knowingly for developing your music? Can you give some examples?
Mojca: The more that I study, the more I realize how important this is for the music. I am really happy that everybody, except Bostjan, who is still at high school, studies something. The concept we have developed over the years demands nothing less. It would be impossible to work with people without a certain artistic and philosophical spectrum that our studies provide. The music is far too important to us, we would never dare to ridicule it with charlatanism. On the other hand, it is great to be able to have long conversations on art or literature or philosophy with everyone in the band. You have to understand that a band is a very special social construct - somewhere between family and marriage… ha ha… The tensions that evolve musically are very well neutralized by nights, sitting together, drinking and talking. It is probably because it is such a different media of expression, so new and different poles can be thus established within the band.
Zillo: What about other bands or musical influences? What kind of music, which bands do you like and get inspiration from?
Mojca: Although we have been compared to almost everyone, we have never really understood on what basis. As I said, we are all music fans and we get influenced by so many different things that it is really hard to draw a line. Plus all the influences are further infected with other influences and what you get in the end is a conglomerate of loads of stuff. There is actually one band now that, strangely enough, Peter, Robert and I all like at the same time - Placebo. Got knows, why.
Zillo: What about the Bosnian war, does it possibly affect your music or lyrics?
Mojca: There is this constant misunderstanding when it comes to the ex-Yugoslav states. It is hard to understand what the situation was really like back then for anyone who was not directly involved. Slovenes were never considered to be truly Yugoslav by other nations; we have a different language and a wholly different history, well, the feeling was mutual. That is why the war in Slovenia lasted for only ten days and not more - they had no big interest in keeping us within the federation anyway. When the war in Bosnia started, I was shocked, of course, but no more shocked than everyone else around the globe. We saw the reports on the TV but to my great shame I have to admit that they were, to me, no more shocking than any other war that I can see on the news every day. People from other countries maybe feel that there was a special bonding between peoples in Yugoslavia - it was not like that. We were not directly involved, so, no, it had no effect on me creatively or the band’s music for that matter.
Zillo: I thought your art might have been to some extent a way of digesting the experiences you have made in the war.
Mojca: I am fascinated by television, the very idea of it. Naturally, the things that I see there, have a certain effect on me. Not only the war in Bosnia, all the wars everywhere, all the things that make television what it is. Two of the songs on the album deal with the phenomenon of television - TV’s OUT and THEY. Although war is not directly mentioned in them, there is a certain feeling of frustration one gets when watching any given programme (“they’re all over me now / I’m nailed to my bed / reduced to a breathing bowels / digesting what they feed me with…”).
Zillo: Do you think your music could make a contribution towards the efforts to achieve peace?
Mojca: I have very little hope that anything could contribute to peace in ex-Yugoslavia, let alone our music, which, anyway, never pretended to have a message or an intention to save the world.
Zillo: I would like to learn more about your lyrics…
Mojca: I already explained how I do my lyrics. It is very hard for me to interpret things that I intentionally ciphered in metaphors in order to conceal them. The things on the album have been written throughout the last seven years. They are a reflection of my fascination with television functioning as a surrogate mythology, dealing with the religious, sexual, social and philosophical aspects of such mythology. The outcome, the myth, is materialized in the idea of “city” as an icon, NIOWT. The record is a creation and a survey of a bizarre and often out-focused caricature of a modern city.
The texts that I am writing now are different. I am older, more down to earth and more fragile in a way. I have developed an immense interest in the functioning of erotics, of course within the already established context of the simulated NIOWT habitat.
Zillo: …who is “he” in the song MOUNTAINS? And who are “they” in THEY?
Mojca: Lots of people think that MOUNTAINS is about suicide and that “he” is either God or the Devil. Sorry, folks, it is about sex…
Mr. Nick Cave would probably say it is one and the same thing, sex and suicide, well, whatever. “He” is just a given sexual partner, a he, a she, an it, a fantasy… God or Devil, depends on how perverse you can get.
THEY is about television. They are those who are not us - they are being watched and we are watching, a chiastic situation, if you like. Just the other day I saw NIOWT on a musical programme on Slovene television and I said, well, here we go.
Zillo: Your lyrics seem rather pessimistic to me. Don’t you see any hope in our times and our way of living, or why is it you don’t mention that more often?
Mojca: Hope, boys, is a cheap thing, Bowie sang in Sweet Thing. These days I write a lot about hope, believe it or not. Not in connection with our times or our way of life, but about my personal vision and consequences of it. Actually, I think we live in a quite hopeful world and time and according to some philosophers, the postmodern age will be Heaven on Earth, so there is plenty to hope for.
But I never write about people in general, I always write about myself. Writing lyrics is the only occasion when I feel that there is no need to hide my original egotism. It is a very intimate experience. I know loads of people who are generally convinced I am the most optimistic and cheerful person on the face of the earth. I am rather happy they see me like that.
Zillo: The lyrics of CITY are very critical, also impressing. Do you think city life is obsolete? Do you think, society will emanate new and better ways of living together?
Mojca: As I already stated, I have no interest in making the world a better place. I have no social message whatsoever. My lyrics are merely observations from a displaced, out-of-focus perspective. If they help to create the smallest amount of oblivion when they are being played, our goal is achieved.
I got the inspiration for CITY after going to a very trendy bar in Ljubljana and the situation was pretty much as described in the last couple of stanzas. The general aversion to the people in that club was just extended to the whole meaningless situation that represents the normal every-day life to most people. Unfortunately, I cannot subscribe to that. But they are evidently quite happy in what they do, so there is no need for changing anything. Maybe just get me a shrink to try to socialize me into a wife and a mother, doing nine-to-five and feel happy about it, ha ha…
Zillo: Reports of your live performances without exception mention that you shock your audience, paralyze them and then finally delight and thrill them. What is your secret on stage? What can our readers expect on the Zillo Xmas Festivals in December?
Mojca: I could never understand why people were so fascinated after seeing us live. We do not do any special stuff in that regard, no fireworks, no multiple video screens, no GoGo-dancers or male strippers… It is just the purest variant of a rock concert, that’s all. I have to say, though, that I love playing live, it is sort of an ego-trip for me. There is a kind of a high that starts evolving after the first couple of songs. I never remember the gigs, what I was doing or what the response was. I just remember the over-all state of satisfaction, not unlike the one you have after a good lay.
We take all the concerts very seriously, avoiding surprises to the maximum level. That is why we can relax during the show, because the music comes out automatically, so we can concentrate on everything else that is going on. Especially the audience.
I think my “secret” on stage is just devoting myself to the audience to the maximum level, playing out in the manner that says “I’m doing it just for you, I’m doing it just for me, and we all enjoy it one hundred percent.” Which is true, I suppose. But as I said, I have problems remembering the shows, so I am just assuming that this is it.
I’m looking forward to those Christmas gigs, especially because we are going to play some of the material we haven’t played live before. This is always a challenge. And it will be an absolute thrill to play for the audience that we do not know yet.
Zillo 12 /1997