You may not have known When Saints Go Machine before but if you see them live they will become one of your favourite bands. They’re a phenomenon, though they modestly claim that they are always surprised by the positive reaction of the audiences. I had a chance to meet the frontman of When Saints Go Machine during PKO Off Camera Festival in Kraków and just as I expected we had a very pleasant conversation about how it’s like to be in a band and not get fed up with your fellow band mates. I also asked Nikolaj Vonsild if they would ever like to be more popular and he shared his opinion on Rihanna as well as Nick Cave and Leonard Cohen.
Are you touring now?
Nikolaj Vonsild: Not really, next we have a couple of gigs in Copenhagen and we’re doing different projects together and without each other, this is a slow summer for us which is really nice.
So you’re always busy?
NV: We have been busy during the last 3 or 4 years, so it’s nice to be able to go to the beach now or do something else which is not touring.
You have different side projects like Cancer for example, do they influence the stuff you do with WSGM or do you try to keep it separate?
NV: It is a lot different so I try to keep it separate, it’s fun to work with different sounds and voice, but on the other hand it does something to WSGM, because you take something from whatever you’re doing, you learn something and when we work together it works on us.
Haven’t you ever been tempted to make more songs like Kelly? You could be huge then.
NV: It can still happen but sometimes it’s just not the way it comes out. Whatever we do it’s supposed to feel good and if it does then it means that it’s the right thing. Also it must be something we enjoy and are proud of. I like it when stuff comes out naturally, it’s not that I don’t like to work hard, but it’s stupid when you have to spend too long on one song when you can write twenty.
What do you think of artists who record these really popular pop songs like Rihanna or Beyonce?
NV: Yeah, I’m interested in anything, it’s weird because this type of music is not something I’d buy. It’s something I only listen to in a club or at someone’s party, but I still like it. Rihanna sounds amazing, the songwriters and producers behind it do a great job.
Sleep Party People are playing this festival too, are there any other Danish bands you’d recommend? I feel we still don’t know enough Danish music.
NV: Yes, for example some guys from Ice Age and Lower have a band called Marching Church which I really like. I also enjoy Kentaur, generally there’s a lot of stuff going on in Denmark right now, there are plenty of amazing bands.
Do you go to concerts a lot?
NV: Yes, but rather small concerts, for example when you have a night when five bands are playing, I’m always late when trying to get tickets for the big concerts and before I manage to do anything they’re sold out (laughs).
You’re one of the best live bands I’ve ever seen, you have incredible energy, how do you prepare for the show?
NV: To me playing live is something I need, all these songs are about things that are important to me. It also feels very liberating, I don’t talk much while being on stage because it seems weird when I’m so much inside my head.
Do you still get stressed out before going onstage?
NV: Yes, I still do and it’s so annoying when we’re on tour and I think „Is it going to be like this every night, when is it going to end?” if it’s going to end at all. (laughs)
Does it ever happen that during a long tour you walk onstage and feel that you’re bored and need a break?
NV: Yes, but when I’m already on the stage I forget about it. Everything up to a concert might be bullshit, you may be tired or ill, you may even have fever, but as soon as you are on stage everything is ok.
So it’s a nice cure!
NV: Yeah, but afterwards it may get even worse (laughs).
I’ve always wanted to ask you about lyrics, they’re so dark and twisted, so I’d like to know what inspires you.
NV: Sometimes I think that this is some kind of exorcism, you need to get some stuff out to relax. I also think that if you sing enough about something it might eventually drag you down, however, I like to think about it as not all being dark and twisted but also beautiful.
What I love about your lyrics is that they aren’t obvious and not very direct.
NV: I like it when there’s big vacuum between something unclear and literal, I always find lyrics which are spread between these two poles interesting, I also appreciate other artists who can write in this way. Writing lyrics is a completely different process than for example writing a story, instead of saying what happened from A to B, you need to write down a thought, a feeling.
Who do you admire in terms of writing lyrics?
NV: I admire Nick Cave because what he does is so weird and dark, but at the same time there’s so much humour in it, dark humour. I also like David Berman from the band Silver Jews, Scott Walker and Leonard Cohen. At the same time, whoever writes Adele’s or Rihanna’s songs also does a great job, it’s not the same as listening to Leonard Cohen, however, it’s still something I enjoy.
Ok, so that’s the last question, do you feel that you need to record a new album every few years in order to feel close to each other?
NV: No, I think we don’t have to make and album to feel close to each other. Sometimes we need a break from touring or recording but we still hang out with each other. It’s nice not to have a project together where we all have to agree on something for a change and to be able help each other out without having a say in something. There is a power structure in a band and from time to time you need to change something, if it was a normal job and you got tired of it you could always quit, in the same way we could also kill the band, but if we’re still good friends and still feel inspired we should continue working together.
Ok, I was just curious because Blur have just reunited after 13 years or so…
NV: Yeah, that’s what I mean, they had to stop working together because of some weird power structure, or touring too much. I wouldn’t like this to happen to us, of course one day it will happen, but not yet, I think we still have a couple of albums to do before we call it quits [laughs].
I hope so!