With Stardust Romanian progressive avantgardists The Thirteenth Sun released one of the most complete debut albums of 2017 (reviewed here), what ultimately led to an invitation for the 2018 edition of the ProgPower festival in the Netherlands. The quintet’s take on the genre that didn’t keep up with its name lately is refreshing, making them one of the bands to look for in the coming years.
Singer and guitarist Barna Radu Liviu speaks for Vinyl Sphere about the quintet’s mission, the creative process behind Stardust, and more. The album is available from Aural Music.
Define the mission of The Thirteenth Sun.
The mission is to explore our surroundings as well as ourselves and to raise as many questions as possible without searching for a specific set of answers. These answers, if they occur, will most definitely raise a different set of questions and I personally find this very intriguing. It is somehow like a never-ending story. It is also about experimenting a lot with all the tools that we have at hand in order to make this exploration as fun and interesting as it can get. We never know what the destination is, the actual trip is what is most exciting.
Tell me about the creative process that informed your debut album Stardust and the themes it captures.
During the release of our first E.P. Genesis, which as the name suggests has represented the birth of the band we were constructing along the way the basis for our first full length album entitled Stardust, so I can say that somehow the creative process has never stopped since the beginning of this musical endeavor. There is of course a frame, so to say, in which we wanted to enclose certain aspects of this process. One of the most essential themes that encompasses not only this album but also the entire concept is the universe, it is overwhelmingly inspiring and its boundaries can be set only by one’s limitations. Sometimes one can be careless and assume that the notion of the universe represents only the night sky and ignores the fact that he is also a part of this vast picture. The album encompasses mostly elemental aspects of the universe and tries to draw an overall picture of the entire landscape. Every aspect is filtered through ones view, which can be different from one viewer to another but if similar responses occur is what makes things to be even more exciting.
What is the message you are trying to give with Stardust? How does the album title effect the material presented on the record? Give me a snapshot of the topics you explore in the songs.
The overall message refers to the idea of raising and building queries regarding the universe and its most important aspects. Trying to figure out one’s place in the vastness that surrounds us and attempting to break every wall that blocks our view towards a better understanding not only of the surroundings but also of ourselves. The album title came to life only when we finished the recordings and we found it to be the most appropriate for the entire scenery that has been described. The vast fields of dust and gas are the breeding grounds for stars and planets and everything that results in the dawn of creation, which is one of the elements of the album, an element that starts a vast amount of debate compelling us to elaborate a whole spectrum of mixed thoughts about our place in time and space. During the album there are also more abstract aspects of our universe that are scrutinized, such as the notion of time and its importance in the dynamics of the universe. In counter balance with creation there is also the aspect of destruction that is also brought up and it closes a circle of life that is most present around us.
How did you document the music while it was being formulated?
Throughout the album we have tried to maintain a balance between the visionary sci-fi genre and the scientific world. A lot of inspiration came from the art of great names such as Stanley Kubrick, David Lynch, Ridley Scott, George Lucas and Gene Roddenberry. On the scientific side of things the work done by some science communicators such as Carl Sagan, Neil deGrasse Tyson and Michio Kaku has always been mindboggling and has opened a boundless terrain to explore both artistically and sensory wise.
Is the dynamic flow of the pieces carefully architected?
The basic structure of the way we wanted to construct everything was quite well thought from the beginning and we paid a lot of attention on the dynamics throughout the entire album. The idea on each song was to build step by step and release the emotions and thoughts when everything has gather enough momentum in order to put as much impact as possible on each song. There is this constant search for balance during the entire album and we have tried to reach it as far as we could have done it this time.
Describe the approach to recording the album.
First of all we took all the time in the world to do this album in particular and made no compromises regarding the amount of time it would take to finish it, because first of all it is our first full length album. We wanted to experiment as much as possible not only in writing songs and the entire concept, but also regarding the technical aspect. We started with the idea of creating the felling of breathable space in the overall sound so we wanted it to be a more “natural sound” without having to introduce for example vast amounts of triggering on the drums or having the guitars, the keyboards or the vocals overdone in any way. I think that this was made somehow easier to achieve also due to the way in which we wrote the songs, we didn’t want to overcrowd the songs too much because we wanted to let the music breathe. We tried different kinds of electric and acoustic guitars, keyboards, amplifiers and everything that was at hand and crossed our minds to use. Also during the recording of the vocal parts we tried numerous ways of doing things, not all of the initial ideas remained on the songs and some of the ones that remained we didn’t even grasp at the beginning that they were even going to be tried. All in all during these recording sessions, the band has gained a well-established conscience and that was exactly what we intended in the first place with the making of this album.
How long Stardust was in the making?
The recordings and the mixing and mastering took several months to finish but this was done over an extended period of time. We started to write some of the songs for this album right after the release of Genesis and in a couple of months almost half of the songs for Stardust were finalized. We recorded the album in Timisoara at Edmond Karban from DorDeDuh/Sunset in the 12th House (ex-Negura Bunget) and we took a lot of trips to the studio back and forward in order to finish the recordings and I can say that most of the trips where done mostly for the vocal parts. As I said we took our time and didn’t want to put any time pressure on ourselves in order to finish this album in particular, unlike our first EP where everything was done quite fast, in almost a couple of months Genesis was finished.
What were the biggest challenges you faced when making Stardust? Tell me about the technical side of the album.
One of the biggest challenges was to find the sound that we wanted. It was not only about the way in which we recorded but also, most importantly the final touches such as the mixing and the mastering. We went through different masterings until we reached the final result that we wanted. We also did the reamping for the guitars twice all over again and went back in the studio a couple of times for the vocal parts. I guess that even if you are very sure of what you want for an album sound wise, it sometimes can be challenging to reach exactly what you aim for, especially if you aim for a more natural sounding album which is quite difficult to obtain because it takes some time to do it.
Which bands or artists influenced your work on the release?
There a lot of different bands and artists that have and still are inspiring us, mostly because each of us come from somehow different musical genre backgrounds, some of them being common and we try to create music together through shared experiences. Most of the common influences that we have in the band come more often from the metal scenery in general and they tend to lean to the experimental, progressive and avant-garde side of this genre in particular from bands such as Enslaved, Opeth, Arcturus, Porcupine Tree, Mastodon. But there are also bands such as Ulver that we find to be very inspiring, a band that has left the metal scenery long ago but never seizes to amaze me when it comes to what they manage to create with every new album that they come up with.
You grab inspiration from many distinctive musical genres. How do you go about channeling this inspiration into writing?
We try to get somehow the most out of every different musical genre that we explore and fit it into our own musical experience. I find this to be also extremely fun and uplifting because with every part that comes from a certain genre and fits with another it is like discovering somehow a new combination that makes things develop differently than by staying enclosed into one frame. The source of the inspiration is not so relevant as long as it gets us goosebumps and blows our minds. So I can say that we tend to be quite open minded when it comes to different genres but of course that, when it comes to the writing stage, we also want to have everything coming together into a coherent form.
What is your view on technology in music?
It depends about which side of technology we are talking about, if we refer strictly to the gear aspect I can definitely say that there are a lot of new gadgets so to say that tend to make your day easier when you want to put one of your ideas on some format as fast as possible so as not to forget it, which for me happens quite often, but some parts of the gear for me personally remain somehow the same, for example when it comes to the guitar amplifier I am a fan of the tube amplifiers. The warmth in the sound of a tube amplifier feels very natural to me. The idea of a more organic sound is also one of the reasons why we also wanted to put both of our first two recordings on a vinyl format and the fact that people are still looking for this format I find it to be quite wonderful. If, on the other hand, we were to talk about the World Wide Web, things can get a little bit murky I guess. There is definitely a good side to it because it has gotten extremely easy to share your music and to communicate but it is also contributed to a vast quantity of music that it is out there and unfortunately sometimes it just comes to the fact that there isn’t enough time to go through all that comes up every day. I personally like to listen to an entire album rather than skipping from one song to another that comes from a different album, because every album has its own story and I get the feeling that if I skip from song to song it is like reading several books at a time and skipping entire chapters in each one so in a way I would love to have all the time in the world to be able to give a more careful listen to every great album that is out there. But this is of course only a personal note and I try to maintain the idea of savoring albums and taking my time with them because music grows from day to day and a good album is like a good wine, it gets even better with age. And I think that this is also because we also grow in time and evolve and the albums that marked a certain period in our lives can sometimes help us to figure out a lot about ourselves as time passes by.
Do you see your music as serving a purpose beyond music?
I do hope so because in general music does serve a purpose that is beyond its general sense. Music encompasses a great deal about each one of us and is not only sound, it is also ideas, thoughts, emotions and so on, that are shared through its medium. If our music is able to give birth to different sets of questions, feelings and emotions that helps one see the universe around us from a different perspective and if it also induces a sense of breaking out of the routine then part of our music’s purpose is accomplished.
What are your plans for the future?
For the near future we are focusing on live events mostly but in the meantime we are also going along with the creative process for an upcoming album. For the coming year we are very excited to be playing at ProgPower Europe Festival in The Netherlands and we are looking forward to settling future gigs and we hope to bring news regarding this aspect as soon as possible.