Sonic sculptures – Interview with ZAGROB

Athanor is rarely wrong. The last invention of this cult French label is Croatian ZAGROB which has just released its debut called “Vječni Stan”. This album in a very interesting way combines ambient, ritual and decadent atmospheres. I invite you to read the interview with Dražen Kuljiš. We talk about “Vječni Stan” and other ZAGROB related matters. Enjoy.

Hi Drazen. I just have to start with this question: Why “Vječni Stan” is so bloody short?

I like small doses. Just like my first demo “Zagrob”, “Vječni Stan” is 27 minutes long. There was more material from that period that would perfectly fit the album, but I decided never to release it for various reasons.

When did you start your musical activity? Is ZAGROB your first project?

Zagrob is my first solo project. Ever since I was a child, I liked playing with tape recorders and synths. As a teenager, I was a “singer” in black metal band called Infernal Pandemonium. Today, I only mention it merely as a funny anecdote, because music we made was “beyond terrible” – like true black metal should be.

Much later, in 2004, I explored various musical genres – like Industrial and Neofolk – along with Goran Brkić (who formed Cor Solis with his girlfriend Ana Herman) and Lovro Zlopaša, the saxophone player (formerly of Seven that Spells) – today a member of the band called Tigrova Mast.

Additionally, Petar Car and Marek Kralj of the industrial project Smrt i Čekić, would join us from time to time. In fact, when Zagrob was born, two of them asked me to play live, so I encouraged them to form Smrt i Čekić, in order to support my very first concert, together with Cor Solis.

With this concert, a new order was born – a small fragment of Zagreb underground scene, encouraged by organizations like Ušušur – today operating under the name “Krlja Ustvari” – also supported by a longtime events initiator Ivan Krželj of Muzikfantastique – our close friend and true underground music enthusiast and activist, who was an inspiration for this development.

I guess Athanor label fits pretty well to ZAGROB charactersistcs. How did you get in touch with Stephane?

I love Athanor’s discography and Stephane’s dedication to release completely obscure music. What brought me closer to Athanor is his fine selection of releases and profound aesthetic taste. I sent him my album, and obviously he was pleased with what he heard and decided to release it.

On Athanor, I found some of the projects that I really enjoyed listening to – some of them being my influences, like Ain Soph, Zero Kama and Les Joyaux De La Princesse. I also have to mention Bashin, an excellent new project, a collaboration project between Bardoseneticcube and Shinkiro. “Vječni Stan” was released at the same time as their album “Four Noble Truths” – when I heard Bashin’s album, I was instantly mesmerized. It is a must-have for any lover of such esoteric, dark ambient music.

The title of your debut (and the titles of the tracks) are in Croatian – could you enclosethe non-Croatian listeners the concept of “Vjecni Stan”? Is there any?

“Vječni Stan” translates as “Eternal Tenement” – originally, an inscription I discovered on a tombstone, in the cemetery of Komiža, on Island Vis. That same tombstone image is now used as a cover for the album.

The more obvious concept of some songs on “Vječni Stan” is to ridicule the irrational fear of death and anything related to the subject. The album indirectly tries to invoke inner peace by embracing death as inevitable part of life, receiving the knowledge and removing any taboo, superimposed by religion and society. Every song says its own story, while still remaining a part of the whole. In it are expressed some of my personal traumas, nigredo and cynicism in form of critique to modern and traditional values. The crucial element to this concept is fear that we are forced to inherit, the fear of the unknown through dogma, the fear of afterlife that conditions how we live our lives.

For me the music on “Vječni Stan” is kind of a mix between dark, drug-driven ritual (very “athanorish” I’d say) and the atmosphere of dirty bars, dangerous women, alcoholic delirium, drowning in cigarette smoke. What kind of visions or pictures you’d like to paint with your music in listener’s imagination?

Encrypting both symbols – and my personal musical rituals – in its narrative, the album is very raw yet subtle and sophisticated under the surface. There’s more to be discovered and the subcontext is vast, both – in sound and lyrical tension.

I like your description; it brushes against the given matter adding new value, which tells me the album is alive.

To speak about the album myself is rather ungrateful, as its main purpose is to make others think and bring their own conclusions. The ambiguity of sung lyrics and ambience of music is open to interpretation, so I will leave this subject matter undisclosed to public and ear open to the chosen few only.

The name “Zagrob” is very close to “Zagreb” (your hometown), yet there is that tiny, one letter difference… What does “Zagrob” mean?

The name Zagrob has indeed derived in the form of wordplay, referring to my hometown of Zagreb – at the time, as critique to the environment from which I decided to bring out to surface the most beautiful and hidden parts covered with dust and patine of history – thus “Zagrob” demo was born. “Venustas in spectatoris oculo est.” (“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”)

“Grob” means ‘’grave’’ and ‘’Za grob’’ should translate as ‘’For the grave’’ – however, this is a very clumsy, literary translation, ungrateful to be put directly into English. “Zagrob” is a more poetic expression, referring to ‘’Zagrobni život’’, which means “The Afterlife”.

I’m guessing that your hometown is one of your main influences, isn’t it? I’d like to ask you what makes Zagreb so unique for you?

Well, first of all, it is my hometown, very inspirational to me, so hence the name. It is the most non-pretentious name, even though I have nothing against pretentiousness in art (except vague and shallow conceptual art). It’s the rawest name which turns bleak and grey into silver and gold. I learned to love Zagreb, by building an inner city of my own – a parallel cosmos, called Zagrob.

I’ve noticed that ZAGROB is always mentioned as one man’s project, but on several pictures you’re accompanied by a beautiful lady. Who is she and what’s her contribution in the Zagrob enterprise?

That is not entirely true – Karla, my muse and partner in life, is mentioned in most biographies of Zagrob throughout the Internet. Even though she does not participate as a musician in most of my opus, I consider her to be of great importance to Zagrob; sometimes, she contributes with her vocals and provides me with opinion and ideas. She gives me great inspiration and creative criticism.

In the year 2007, after the demo and “Vječni Stan” were made, I met Karla and not long after, we recorded the song called “Le Soleil Noir”. This collaboration inspired an entire French album, as yet to see the light of day. Apart from Zagrob, in 2010 I helped Karla record and produced her very first album under the name of DaevaDoll – called “Poupée Périmée”.

I’d like to ask you about the process of composing your music. How does it look like? What comes first? A piece of melody born somewhere in your mind? Some interesting sample heard somewhere? A title around which you build the track, its atmosphere etc?

Sometimes, the music ideas arrive by pure accident and sometimes these ideas are more concrete – a new song is born when I find time to explore what is already inside of me and above me, waiting to be unveiled.

I could find inspiration in an old forgotten movie and sometimes a bizarre dream needs to be portrayed – mostly it is based on playing around with sounds to create a perfect sound for the moment trapped in time, hence the repetition. I try to capture the mood of a dream – for me it’s like a sonic photograph, a diary which tells the intricate story, indescribable by words.

There is no way to form a general recipe, as every song has a life of its own… the technique of recording and processing varies greatly. Sometimes, I borrow segments from films or make field recordings and process them until they are unrecognizable. I like to massacre the sound, to reach to its ancestry, rooted deep back to the beginning of time.

“You make sonic sculptures” – my former art school professor once told me, when we ran into each other after many years.

Tell me about your musical influences.

I find great deal of inspiration in various sounds: Non, Novy Svet, Psychic TV, Zoviet France, Zdenek Liška, The Moon Lay Hidden Beneath the Cloud, Land, Joy Division, Claude Debussy, Beethoven, Brian Eno, Ain Soph, Luc Ferrari, Eliane Radigue, Suicide, Death in June, Mushroom’s Patience, Derniere Volonte, Caesar Romero, Throbbing Gristle, Current 93 and many more…

I think my major influences derive from film rather than music. Directors like Švankmajer, Arrabal, Kenneth Anger and Jodorowsky to name a few. “Santa Sangre” gets an honorable mention in this part.

Could you recommend any interesting places in Zagreb, but not necessarily those which can be found in every tourist guide? I’m thinking more about that not-so-known, mysterious side of Zagreb?

Zagreb is not a big city and I could never picture it with the eye of a tourist, so maybe things that are evident to me are unknown to mainstream tourist guides. If you ever come here, contact me and I’ll show you some memorable sights.

Are there any interesting projects or bands on Croatian underground scene that we should pay attention to?

Firstly, I have to mention Narrow and its sister manifestos – Umrijeti za Strojem and ˝. Also, I greatly admire Shaita and various other individuals of the electronic/wave genre – like Popsimonova, Zarkoff, Le Chocolat Noir, Florence Foster Fan Club, Leifert, Microslav… I also feel obliged to mention some legendary Punk icons – Paraf, Termiti, Satan Panonski…

Do you already have any idea for another ZAGROB album?

Of course. Sometimes I get too cautious about releasing my music – be it because of purely sentimental or selfish reasons, or because of my high self-criticism threshold, developed over the years. It is a pleasure making people want to hear a new album even more than the previous one and not just for the sake of releasing something.

Thank you for the interview. Last words are yours.

Thanks to all my friends and enemies who have inspired me; your souls are woven into strings of my instruments which shall always be a part of me.

ZAGROB official website

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