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Since 2002, Nadja — the Toronto-based duo of Aidan Baker and Leah Buckareff — have released over 40 full length LPs, split records, singles, CD-Rs and a live DVD. Nadja began as an offshoot of Aidan Baker’s solo career — a place for the darker and heavier sounds he wanted to explore.
Nadja create music that is brutally slow, heavy and deliberate, but with multiple layers of sound — swaths of ethereal shimmer, various reverbed tonalities and feedback. The effect is extremely hypnotic and even downright pretty at times. Like watching a little blue butterfly landing on your wrist as you watch a tall building collapsing over your head.
This year looks to be their most prolific yet, including When I See the Sun Always Shines on TV, a covers album featuring everything from Slayer’s “Dead Skin Mask” to a-ha’s “The Sun Always Shines on TV.” There’s even a cover of “Long Dark Twenties,” a Paul Bellini-penned song that originally appeared on the Kids in the Hall Brain Candy soundtrack.
A double album entitled Under the Jaguar Sun has just been released on Beta-lactam Ring Records. Named after a short story by Italian author Italo Calvino, the set is divided into two parts: “Tezcatlipoca (Darkness)” and “Quetzalcoatl (Wind).” A special double vinyl edition, re-titled Chalchiuhtlicue, features an exclusive remix by Edward Ka-Spel of the Legendary Pink Dots.
Nadja – “Fiery Rain” from Under the Jaguar Sun
After being so enthralled and fascinated by this band, I conducted a brief interview over email with Aidan Baker to talk about Nadja’s origins and their recent projects…
When did you start playing music?
My parents are both musicians, so music was always around when I was a kid. I started taking piano lessons when I was 6, I think, but switched to flute around the age of 10, which I studied for a good few years. I taught myself guitar and drums as a teenager.
Leah and I met in 2001 at a Toronto bookstore where we both worked. Leah had taken violin lessons as a child, but it had been many years since she’d done anything musical before I asked her to join Nadja.
How did Nadja begin? Was it just an extension of your solo work that took on a life of its own?
I started Nadja in 2003 as sort of a flipside to my solo work — same methodology and equipment (more or less), but exploring heavier, harsher, and noisier textures. I recorded and released a few 4-track demos before signing with Alien8 Recordings in 2005. Leah also joined at this time so we could bring the project out of the studio and perform live.
What sort of musical and non-musical inspirations shape your sound?
Musically, we take inspiration from bands like ambiguously metal bands like Swans, Godflesh, Neurosis, etc. and ambient/shoegaze acts like Flying Saucer Attack, My Bloody Valentine, Coil, etc. Non-musical inspirations tend to be film or literature…we’re both fans of such directors as David Lynch, David Cronenberg, Jim Jarmusch, Peter Greenaway, etc. and such authors as William Vollmann, Matthew Sharpe, Angela Carter, JG Ballard, Shelley Jackson, Lydia Millet, etc.
Have you scored any soundtracks? What would be your ideal soundtrack project?
My music has been used in a few films, but I’ve never actually scored a movie. I think it would be interesting to do something like Neil Young did for Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man and just play along to the movie and record it live.
You are so prolific. By my calculations, you release a new album every twenty minutes or so. It’s difficult for us to track down all of your catalog. Is it hard for you to keep track of as well? I mean, working with so many different labels? Will there be a comprehensive Nadja box set one day?
Yes, it’s hard to keep track ourselves. I suppose if we worked with a single label, it would be easier…but we’ve yet to find a label willing to keep up with our output. Plus, we like working with different people with different aesthetics/audiences/methods etc. I suppose there should be a box set some day, yes, but who knows when or what exactly will be in it…
Is there a label you haven’t worked with yet that you would like to?
Sure, there are a number of labels I’d like to work with that I haven’t: Kranky, Table of the Elements, Ipecac, Southern Lord, Temporary Residence…the list could go on.
Can you tell me a bit about the album of covers you released this year on The End records?
We had been performing the Swans’ ‘No Cure for the Lonely’ and Paul Bellini/KiTH’s ‘Long Dark Twenties’ live for a while, so we wanted to document them, which spawned the idea to do a full album of covers. Both as a way to sort of illustrate our musical roots (maybe people don’t hear the a-ha influence, but Hunting High and Low was one of the first albums I bought as a kid) and to have a bit of fun (in a genre that isn’t really known for humor).
Your upcoming double 12” version of Under the Jaguar Sun (Chalchiuhtlicue) contains a mix by Edward Ka-Spell. How did he get involved with Nadja?
We played with the Legendary Pink Dots a few years ago at the Brainwashed festival, so Edward was familiar with our music, and Beta-Lactam has released a few of his albums, so they asked him to do a remix. I suppose it may seem an unexpected or not so obvious an influence, but the Legendary Pink Dots were one of the bands that first got me into experimental music.
Of your “peers,” who are some of your favorite bands?
Here’re a few whom we’ve toured or played with: Picastro, Thisquietarmy, Troum, Menace Ruine, Orn, OvO, Gray Daturas, Fear Falls Burning, Tarentel, etc. Others, whom I don’t know if we can call peers, exactly, although we have played with them: Khanate, Earth, Neurosis, Isis, Jesu, etc.
Where are your favorite places to perform? What audiences are most receptive to Nadja live?
We just spent the last year in Europe, where audiences in general seemed more receptive. I know Leah’s particularly fond of the UT Connewitz in Leipzig…and the Vera in Groningen which we recently played is really nice. As for North America, Montreal and New York generally treat us well. Toronto is our hometown, but we don’t play so often here…although we do have a lot of musician friends here.
Do you have a particular Nadja song that you’re most proud of?
Hmm…”Thaumogenesis” comes to mind first, so I guess I’ll go with that one…
Thanks to Aidan Baker and Matt Smith for taking the time out for all my questions and fanboy ramblings!