AIRBAG: Sleepwalking through sorrow. Interviews

The longeve neo-prog rock band from Oslo (Karisma Records) has just delivered a marvel of a record titled Disconnected, drenched in dazzling, sorrowful melody matched by intimate lyrics that will resonate with all heartbroken, lost souls. Bjorn Riis (guitars, vocals) talks extensively about the band’s wonderful accomplishment which will arguably appeal to both Katatonia and Pink Floyd fans.

 

Your label says the songs on “Disconnected” revolves around a specific concept. Could you elaborate on that a bit?

There are six songs on the album and each are given a title and theme, reflecting different ways of being alienated or disconnected from our society. It’s about what’s expected of each of us and how we fail to meet or live up to those expectations. It’s not a concept album as such but more of a theme running through.

As far as the artwork and production are concerned, you keep playing it safely by working with the same people and procedures: no will to experiment at all?

I guess you can say that about a lot of bands and artists but it depends on how you look at it. Back in the days, you would go into a studio, write and record, in many cases, with a hot shot producer. That costs an insane amount of money and you can’t justify that today.
Bringing in new people can be an inspiration but they can also completely ruin what you’ve tried to achieve. We’re very much hands-on everything we do and it wouldn’t be natural for us to bring in a new producer. At least not at this point. We use other musicians and have people listen to the material along the way but the production is very much up to me and Asle and mainly because we pretty much produce and mix as we go along writing and recording. It’s pretty much a seamless process. I think you need to be aware of the boundaries and pitfalls of not introducing a new producer and I certainly think we’ve achieved things this time that, for us at least, are a huge step forward.

When you are set to write and record another album, do you think about a concept beforehand, or does the thematic content just happens spontaneously?

A bit of both, I guess. I usually start with two or three songs and go with the direction they’ve started in. We then focus on that topic or theme and write around that.

‘Killer’ to me sounds like the words of a reckless hedonist who is just in “for the fun of it” and doesn’t mind hurting others; am I mistaken?

That’s pretty much it. I had this idea of this ruthless guy using, and abusing, everyone in his path to gain success and wealth. Sort of American Psycho meets Gordon Gekko. There are too many of those out there and you see them, or meet them, every day.

‘Broken’ is clearly a song about a broken relationship that speaks of regret; is it part of an overall narrative or is it to be understood in more general terms?

We write a lot about politics and the destructive forces in our society but for me, it’s always been fascinating trying to understand what these forces do to the individual. I’m not sure Broken is about two people falling out of love but rather one person being alienated from society and sort of tries to correct his mistakes but fails to do so. I think we all have that feeling or experience.

‘Slave’ seems like a psychological profile of another odd person, a sucker for recognition who needs to be dependent and subordinate to others; where did this idea stem from?

The idea was to write a story about an addict who has a love affair with his addictions, which I guess all addicts do. You can hate the situation but you can’t really get out of it.

‘Sleepwalker’ must be meant in a figurative sense, maybe as a metaphor for somebody who is so restrained in everyday life that he or she escapes into a dream state or something like that; how correct is that?

Yep, that’s correct.

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What made ‘Disconnect’ fit for being the title track of the album? Does is summarise an overarching topic of alienation and isolation?

I think it does. It was one of the first lyrics I wrote and at the time, I felt really disoriented and alienated from my own life. I had a job that I hated and nothing else seemed to work out and the daily meaningless routines made me make some changes. Disconnected is very much a reflection on that meaningless everyday routine and self-destruction.

‘Returned’ seems to end the record on a reconciling note; do we hear a happy ending here?

Perhaps. The idea came more from wanting to end with something different than a long epic piece. We though a short, intimate song would conclude the whole piece and it did.

At least in central Europe, you have a low profile when it comes to live concerts. Can and are you going to change that?

We’ve never been a touring band. Partly because we have jobs and families with children, but also because although we enjoy playing live, we’ve always been a recording band and I guess we prefer working in the studio and writing and producing. But, sure, we’d love to see new places and meet old friends.

Airbag concerts scream for a visual component; how would they look like if you had an unlimited budget?

I don’t know. We use projection, films and lights but I think what Massive Attack, U2 and Radiohead has done on their last tours are very inspiring. It depends on the setting. I’d love to do an intimate, stripped down thing with Airbag as well.

The band often draws comparisons to Pink Floyd; does this bother you in any way? How would you counter critics that pass you off as a tribute band or something like that?

Well, for it to be a tribute band, you’d have to do covers, which we don’t. I think what we do and always have done, is to embrace our roots and musical influences. All bands do that and when they claim they don’t, they’re not telling you the truth.

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What does your band name mean to you now as opposed to your beginnings, if the meaning has changed at all?

I don’t think it’s changes much. For us at least.

Your compositions are typically long; when writing, how do you know when a song is finished, or do you meticulously plan them in advance?

You never know until it’s finished. I can’t really explain it better than that. You just know.

As a band from the contemporary progressive rock field, where do you see yourselves in the grander scheme of things, be it at present or in the near and distant future?

World domination? No, there’s so much great stuff going on right now and prog, or whatever you want to call it, has probably never been bigger. We’re lucky because our fans still buy records. That’s not the case if you’re a pop or rap act. New bands are emerging every day and bands that have been around for awhile are still doing inspiring things. We’re certainly not going to stop.


Andreas Schiffmann

Andreas Schiffmann is a translator, music label assistant, journalist and bass player from Germany. In his spare time, he is simply does all the above...