Wednesday, May 4, 2011

God Is An Astronaut

I recently checked in with God Is An Astronaut's Niels Kinsella - currently on the road in support of Age Of the Fih Sun and seemingly going from strength to strength, their success is remarkable considering they have always done their own thing and their way.............

Ghostie: You have experienced a couple of line up changes recently, Jamie Dean is in on Piano/Synth and Lloyd Hanney (Drums) has left recently, can you tell us something of the reasons for both?

Jamie joined the band last year, initially we recruited him to play piano on some tracks on a live radio session. We got on very well together and he is a really talented musician so we asked him to become a full time member of the band. We were always looking to expand the live sound and perform more of the piano based tracks we couldn't as a 3 piece.
Lloyd left the band in March due to long term work commitments. Lloyd, Torsten and I have been playing music for a very long time, since the early 90s and unfortunately priorities can change over that length of time, we wish him the very best. Michael Fenton is now taking care of the drumming duties and we had some of the best reactions ever to the live shows we played on our European tour in May . We are all excited about the new lineup, it's basically an injection of youth and raw energy.

G:As far as the Piano/Synth goes will Jamie be involved in the writing for the next record?

N:Yes, we have already started working on some piano based songs with Jamie.

G: Speaking of the next record how is that progressing? Can you comment on sound or direction?

N:It is still very early stages but it will be a slight departure from the last releases, we want to try some new ideas. It will be more of an experimental record, we don't want to use normal guitar, drum sounds etc... or make them recognizable to the listener, it will be a heavily processed record.

G: God is An Astronaut seems to be eternally on the road, your hard work has clearly paid off, some of your recent tour photos have been stunning, it mustn’t be easy though, how do you find life on the road and what advice do you have for a young band wanting to get out there and tour beyond their locality?

N:We haven't toured as much as most of the bands in our genre. I think we have paced ourselves quite nicely. For us its been about quality over quantity. We really put in 100% effort into the live shows which have been getting better from each year to the next.

As for advice for young bands, take your time, there is no point undertaking huge tours when there is no demand. Touring is only a part of the overall strategy, you need to work on all areas whether it be press, internet, music videos etc... It's all about flying your flag as high as you can so the public can get to hear your music and decide whether they like it or not.

G: What have been your most memorable/least memorable touring experiences to date?

There is so many amazing experiences, recently we played for the first time in the Ukraine in an open air theatre to 2000 fans, that was something else. They even had 2 train carriages reserved for GIAA fans who travelled from the capital Kiev. There is never really a dull moment but some of the drives can be quite long, it's not uncommon to be stuck in the van/tour bus up to 14 hours at a time on your day off

G :Going for the overall package here, if you could hand pick the bill who would your ideal touring partners be?

N: That's a hard one. We actually prefer to play shows without a support or other bands but playing with NIN would be awesome.

G: If we can divert back to Age of the Fifth Sun for a minute, most of the reviews I read for that record were lukewarm, do you pay attention to critique at all, what is your opinion of the record and more importantly how was fan reaction to it?

Thats always the case, we don't pay much attention to the critics. The current album "Age of the Fifth Sun" faired pretty well with the critics, even a good review in Uncut. I think the more popular you get the more the public hate you at the same time. The fan reaction has been great overall, is fast becoming our biggest selling album and for us I think it is our best overall work to date. We will be remastering and remixing all the past albums and EP to bring it up to the same audio quality to celebrate our 10 year anniversary next year.

G: I get the impression a lot of critics don’t know how to categorise God Is an Astronaut. I see the word(s) Post- Rock applied liberally but I don’t think your music quite fits that description.  Can you tell us about your influences initially and now, and how you would describe your music?

N: Well anything instrumental that uses guitar, bass and drums is automatically categorized as post-rock. When we started GIAA back in 2002 we weren't really familiar with the term or the bands associated with it.

We came from an electronic background, our first album "The End of the Beginning" is pretty much an electronic record. As for our influences, I think it's more the different styles of music we played in various bands since the early 90's that make up the sound you hear today which ranged from heavy metal, rock, electronic/dance and ambient music.

I guess we would describe GIAA as space rock.

G: You have quite the back catalogue at this stage, how do you find picking the set lists these days, it must be impossible to please everyone?

N: Not really, we pick the songs that work best live. Our live show is quite a bit heavier than what you hear on record. Some of the fans are quite taken back when they get a full on rock show and not a quite ambient affair. We always try to represent all the albums in the live set.

GI’ve asked a few bands this recently – What are your thoughts on playing one of your albums in it’s entirety at a show? It seems to be really popular these days and it can prove to be a real treat for fans, especially those that may have missed out on earlier tours, I’m sure All Is Violent … would go down well for example.

N: We thought about that but didn't really warm to the idea and besides an album is typically under an hour which would make for a rather short show.

G: I read somewhere recently that God Is An Astronaut had reached album sales of 100,000. Is this true? That is quite the feat considering you have achieved this on your own!

N: Yes, we have passed combined sales of over 100,000 between CD, Vinyl and legal downloads and as you said that is no mean feat being an independent band that never had mainstream promotion of any kind. It has grown very organically primarily by word of mouth through the internet and live shows.

G: God Is An Astronaut have pretty much done everything off their own back, how did you go about getting the word out about the band around the time of the first record (The Beginning Of The End)?

N: The first record was a very low key release, we had no expectations and it was originally our farewell album from the music business. We just wanted to release something we were proud of with no compromise.
The album picked up some radio airplay here in Ireland albeit in the early hours of the morning and the 2 video singles "The End of the Beginning" and "From Dust to the Beyond" made it on to MTV2 Europe.
With our second album "All is Violent, All is Bright" we sent out 100's of copies to radio stations, press and internet webzines. By the end of 2005 unknown to us at the time the album was heavily blogged and became an underground success mainly through file sharing in various music forums.

G: If I can ask respectfully, are you finding that your album sales are increasing in line with your increasing fan base or have they levelled out? If I can just push this a little further what is your stance on free downloading of your material? I’d imagine it’s not cool to see your stuff up for free as soon as the album comes out?

N: Everything is still growing from year to year. The audiences at the shows are definitely getting bigger and the record sales are still increasing. There is no real sign of a slow down or leveling out just yet which is great. As for illegal downloading its become the norm and has changed the music industry forever. We don't mind if people download our music for free as long as somewhere down the road they buy a t-shirt or come to one of our shows to give something back.
There is no doubt that it has become very difficult to make a living through music and most bands don't really get by and have to take on a day job, it's definitely not the glamour train it was in the 80's and 90's. Saying that it has definitely helped bring attention and new creativity to music and there is no longer a fat A+R man telling people what's in and what's cool.

G: Just on the topic of downloading and finding other avenues to generate revenue, I’ve noticed a lot of acts are now offering VIP tickets (Meet + Greet, Autograph, Photo Opportunities’) and it’s not just the likes of Kiss Bon Jovi etc I see it filtering right down to smaller acts. It’s understandable that they are trying to generate extra revenue but I think it’s a bit shitty to charge for an autograph or a photo, what are your thoughts on this?

N: Yes charging for an autograph or photo opportunity is pretty fucking low. We are always happy to sign autographs and take photos with the fans as we do after every show with no charges :)

G: Typically who writes the bulk of the material for God Is an Astronaut? And what is your approach to writing? Most bands I have talked to jam their material out but I’m guessing your approach is a little different.

N: Myself and Torsten have been the main composers throughout. Unlike most bands who work out their songs in a rehearsal hall, we are very much a studio band and like to develop the finished song in the studio and if necessary back engineer it to work live, this stems from our dance/electronic background were it was commonplace to write, record and produce your own records.
All of our songs start with a melody idea, whether it's a piece written on a guitar or piano and are completed usually over a period of a few months. We have had additional writers in the last few albums but we always remain the driving force behind all the compositions.

G: Which of your records are you most proud of? Is there anything you would change about any of them?

N:We are very proud of them all. As I mentioned earlier we are remixing and remastering the entire back catalogue to give the music the sound quality we couldn't a few years ago. We are really excited about this and the results so far have been super.

G: I was just looking at your Facebook page there, there are literally hundreds of requests from people all over the world looking to see the band, have you any plans to tour further afield in the near future?

N: Yes there is always tour plans in the works. We are looking to tour in Southeast Asia and we will be back to the US in August. Hopefully in the next few years we should have covered most of the globe.

Thanks again to Niels for his time. Please be sure to visit GIAA's website for tour details + merch

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