Edmond ‘Hupogrammos’ Karban: “When I was writing ‘Om’ for Negura Bunget, I rented a house close to a lake and I was the only one in the house and everything I did was meditating, writing music and eating. That is probably the best environment for me, but this time it was completely not like that. I had a lot of restrictions from my mundane life, yet it is the most relaxed record I made”
In 2009 verlieten Edmond ‘Hupogrammos’ Karban en Cristian ‘Sol Faur’ Popescu de moederband Negură Bunget en richtten een nieuwe band op, Dordeduh. Na het debuutalbum ‘Dar De Duh’ vernamen we echter niets meer van de veelbelovende Roemeense outfit die black metal met inheemse etnische elementen versmolt. Daar is nu eindelijk verandering in gekomen met de fantastische opvolger ‘Har’. We stonden dan ook te popelen om Hupogrammos uitgebreid te spreken over wat hem al die tijd bezig gehouden heeft en wat hem inspireerde om zo’n rijkgeschakeerd album te maken. Het resultaat van meer dan een uur keuvelen lees je in het onderstaande interview.
Vera Matthijssens Ι 26 mei 20217
I am glad that your second album ‘Har’ is finally there. In 2012 you released ‘Dar De Duh’, but what happened after that release?
Well, there were happening many things, but probably you are asking why it took us nine years to release the next album?
Yep, that is the next question…
There happened many things, but the delay is due to the fact that I became a father. I have now three small boys. That became my priority in life until I got used to my new status. I let things evolving, because I found out pretty quickly that parenting is a never ending learning process. But after things got cooled down a bit I talked to Sol Faur and started to write new stuff and this is how it turned into a new album.
You had a lot of time to concentrate on that, because I guess after such a long time, deadlines are vanishing in a haze as well?
Actually, not really. In this time I released an album, in 2015, with my other project Sunset In The 12th House, that is more postrock music. For Dordeduh I actually started writing music three or four years ago, so not that long ago. All this mostly happened after I put my kids to sleep, mostly after 10pm I had some free time and I started to write a little bit of music. So it was not plenty of time and all the possibilities and freedom to do music. I have to say that I had to adapt a bit to the new conditions and the new environment for myself.
I can understand, because it might not be easy to switch from the task of being a father to the more spiritual approach you need for Dordeduh…
Yes, for example, I am not the kind of writer who sits down, snaps his fingers and writes. I like to take the time and I have to admit that I need time to get into the right mood and start to write music. For example, when I was writing ‘Om’ for Negura Bunget, I rented a house close to a lake and I was the only one in the house and everything I did was meditating and writing music and eating. That is probably the best environment for me, but this time it was completely not like that. I had a lot of restrictions from my mundane life and I also have to say that probably I was forced somehow to have determination to pursue my goals and be focused on what I am doing. This album came more from that kind of environment, even if it is probably the most relaxed album I ever wrote.
Still I think life in Romania is a bit slower than in Germany or the Netherlands?
I must say in this regard, where I am coming from, it is probably fully westernized. Life is really fast. For me it is too fast, sometimes I feel I am not able to catch up with anything anymore. I don’t have time for anything anymore. It is not like it used to be in the nineties, when I had plenty of time for rehearsals, to read a book, to follow my heart somehow… Nowadays… of course I have much more responsibilities, but I would probably need 40 hour days to be able to do everything what I want. Many people complain that the perception of time changed completely. Everything happens faster. My mom is born in 1941 and she told me that a day was never shorter than it is now.
But Romania has a very beautiful nature to relax and be spiritual…
It used to have virgin woods. We still have some of them, but these super big companies are cutting a lot of wood, illegal wood as well. I am sorry to say, but most of the things you buy in Ikea come from Carpathian mountains from Romania. The main problem is that – okay, you cut the wood – but it would be fair to put something back. Not just leave deserted hills… I don’t have the statistics before me now, but I think at least half of all capacity of woods and forests from Romania disappeared.
Unbelievable, you don’t hear anything about it in the news!
Of course, these are all big corporations, supported by Romanian and also Austrian government. I don’t want to point a finger, because I am not modest in this domain, but at least in Romania in the media there were some huge scandals and everybody knows. If you go with a drone over the Carpathian mountains, you see that huge amounts of woods are not on the map anymore. This is not a joke, this is really serious and I think an ecological foundation or stuff like this, should point a finger, should say something globally. Like I said, all the stuff goes to the highest level of politicians.
So naïve of me… the dream is gone…
It used to be, you are right, not anymore. I think Romanian forests are in huge, huge danger. If you have the interest, please check, after this interview, to see what is actually happening. I don’t have now updated information what is happening now, but I know it is a really dangerous thing that is happening, not only from this point of view, but of course when you leave a mountain or a hill without forest, that mountain is starting to go down and sometimes there were some cases when entire villages got covered by rocks and everything. It is just an ecological disaster. I am sorry to bring up such negative information, but it is also a good way to spread this kind of thing, because people start to learn about this situation.
This is important. People should learn from it. I know that Dordeduh mostly works with concepts. What can we see as a kind of red thread through this album?
Most of the time, I study for a concept. I gather information, and I put things together, generating the concept, but this time I did things a bit differently. The whole album has a unitary concept, but each song is more or less a concept. It was not that songs needed to be integrated into a certain concept, it was more that each song has its own particularity, like a self-standing concept. You can see that also musically, because the songs are very different from each other and each one somehow tells a side of the story and that story you can see somehow through the whole concept of the album. This is some of the basic structure of the album.
But the central point you start from is mostly spiritual feelings, isn’t it?
That is true. For this album I was focusing a bit more on the ritualistic side of the music and I feel that the rhythms, even if it is on subconscious level, it is a part of the music. The beat that is moving your soul and you start to vibrate in a certain way. On purpose I wanted to work more from this perspective and probably it is also a bit more audible on the album.
Indeed, your music is absolutely unique, but one moment it reminded me of Rotting Christ on their ‘Rituals’ album, more precisely in the song ‘Desferecat’…
Unfortunately, the last time I was listening to Rotting Christ was in the nineties. I am really not familiar with their newer albums. I saw them many times live, because we often played on common stages, but I was not listening at home to their albums and stuff like that. Probably I should check them out.
Isn’t it funny to hear what people say about the album? I mean, you have created it in isolation and now it goes around the world?
Everything I say about the album and what I talk about, my impressions or my intentions, it is just meant at informal level, because I would definitely invite people to less think and more feel about the music and to find their own resonance with it and their own story and journey. I am very happy if they take it as a part of their being. I don’t pretend that my music should be interpreted or listened to in a certain way, no. Everybody is free to take whatever works with them.
What about the evolution and the development of the traditional ethnic instruments? Did you use new instruments?
I don’t think that we use new instruments. I think we always put them in our music, it has been before as well. I probably would say that some of them were used in traditional music and some of them were even not used in a musical context, like for instance this hammered wood. This is mostly used in churches and it is probably a pre Christian thing that was adapted by the Christians. It was used to evoke people for a certain event. Also the long pipes that we sometimes use (tulnic) were normally not meant for musical context, it was meant for communication from hill to hill, for instance if someone was approaching, they had different signals. Stuff like that. On the other hand there is a choir of these instruments used to be played in our mountains. It is called choir of tulnic or tulnicaressen. I think there are a couple of really old records about those things, but that was already an extent of those instruments, so we are not necessary using the instruments in the original context, we more like to experiment and improvise and even approach it with different techniques of playing and stuff like that. It is more the experimental level that fascinates us. For instance we don’t use medieval scales or not even Romanian scales.
In the meantime you have your own studio. Was that built during the calm years after the first record?
No, we have our studio since 2003. I think the first thing we recorded over there for Negura Bunget was ‘Inarborat Kosmos’, which was already in 2001. Back then I only had a home kind of studio. We just moved from one place to another, but in 2003 we already had a kind of professional studio, but nowadays it is a full working studio with employers and everything.
And it is well-known that you are a very good producer, so why did you ask Jens Bogren – who is doing work for everybody – to do the mix and the mastering?
It was interesting. From the beginning of this process, I said that I was not going through the nightmare anymore that I was going through with ‘Dar De Duh’. I think it took us more than one year to mix that album and I was still not happy with it. Maybe I should not say this, but right before the end, I just went out of the country and I told my colleagues so far: please, just finish this master, because I am just going insane with it. I could not have an objective view about it and I felt pretty unsure about it. I think the result in the end came out nice and it is an organic sounding album, but I see a lot of mistakes because I am probably too critical about my work, but it is very, very difficult to mix your own music. This time I wanted to have somebody that is completely outside of our realm to have an objective view about it. As sound engineer, of course I was already familiar with the work Jens Bogren is doing. I think he probably has the highest rate of sound engineer nowadays, probably he is one of the most famous sound engineers for metal music in the world. I kind of knew what to expect, knowing his style of mixing and his approach. But to be honest I was also nicely surprised that he understood very well our demand. Jens is used to work with bands who are straight forward, like Sepultura, Arch Enemy… you have to hear that music in your face. He is also well-known for… we call it the ‘reverb’ guy. Our music needs a lot of space and he understood that immediately. We sent him some preproduction stuff of course, so he could already see hat we aimed through our music. But he understood it very well. Probably this is why he is so good (chuckles). That he understands what an artist desires. But he also had surprises. For example, I was expecting to have my voice mixed in a different way, but he had a completely different approach. For example, if I am honest, I probably would have mixed my vocals more in a black metal way, more a bit behind, not in front of the music. First time I heard my music, I felt that my vocals were mixed very poppish, because it was very much in the front, very audible, but I have to say that it suits the album a lot and he did a great job, but this is why we wanted somebody else. I think he also explored some things that I probably would never do. Yet I have no problem with that. The problem was that I am insecure about my vocals and I don’t want to have them so in front, but he managed to make my vocals reign.
The global sound is very good, amazing!
Yes, I think nobody can complain about that. Maybe they don’t like the music, but nobody can say that the sound is bad.
For us the music of Dordeduh always opens a kind of mysterious world of Transylvanian culture. Do you feel that those cultures still prevail in your country or not?
It depends very much from the perspective that you see things. For example, for somebody who is spiritually inclined, like myself, you can probably see some particularities that are not present in other parts. I personally feel that every land and even every geological formation, has its own vibration. If someone is sensible for those kinds of things of course you can see that when you go through Transylvanian mountains, you have a certain feeling. When you go to Tatra mountains, you will have another feeling. These kinds of things are a part of each culture’s particularity. It depends a lot on someone’s perspective. If someone does not pay attention to these kinds of things, things should probably look like everywhere else.
You think so? I think one of the nicest things in life is travelling and if the places or cultures are destroyed or equalized, I think the big charm of travelling is gone…
I don’t think that is possible: equalize everything. Of course you can impose certain rules or certain restrictions or categories upon people or measures upon people, but I don’t think that people react in the same way. There are ethno psychological studies where it shows that people from the mountains have a tendency to think in a certain way. People from the hills have a tendency to think in another way. People from the shore have a tendency to think another way. That kind of things I think cannot be regulated from laws or governments. It is a nature born tendency. You will react in a different way in different environments and different impulses from the outside world.
Still I can enjoy crossing the border to France, the houses and atmosphere is different…
I had the same thing with the Netherlands. My girlfriend was living for a while in the Netherlands and I spent plenty of time over there. To be honest, cities like Groningen or Eindhoven or – Amsterdam is probably too touristic – for example, near to Amsterdam is a small city that is called Alkmaar and that is a very nice and pretty small city, where we always go when we travel over there. Actually what we learned about the Netherlands is the rural landscape. I think what people over there did, it has a – I don’t know how to explain – I guess a good taste. Well, they don’t have too much nature over there, but with the little nature they have, they did something. They were not interfering too much with nature, but on the other side it was not like a wilderness. So it was a bit of interference, but done in a very nice way. This is what I like. With all those canals, windmills, it looks a bit like a fairyland. People are very nice. I felt always very welcome over there. It is a nice environment. It is just a personal approach, something that we don’t have here, Romanian villages are so very different than villages from Holland.
Another question in that vein: what were the things that struck you when you first toured abroad and visited all the different countries in Europe, while coming from Romania?
That is a very nice question, but that happened a very long time ago. I think our first show was in 1996 when we managed to go out of our country and that was the time before internet, without mobile phones and everything. To be honest – if I am allowed to speak honestly – people had no idea where Romania was on the map (laughs). They only knew Transylvania, Hagi a football player, and Ceausescu which is a dictator. This is everything that people knew, but they did not know where it is situated in Europe. Someone I remember at the show in Germany, he said: ah it is near Portugal and Spain. He was so wrong, it is completely on the other side (laughs). Back then it was quite usual that people did not know about all these things. It was actually very, very difficult. We had problems with the borders. If you were not in Schengen, there were some embarrassing things. You had to show money on the border that you have enough money to survive a couple of days and that you don’t want to escape in other countries. It happened that we were stuck on the border for 28 hours, in Slovakia. There were some extreme things and the promoter from the show had to travel to the border and say: ‘Yes, these guys do not have fake papers and they have an invitation. They really will play at this show. Can you please let them go, because we are fucking late with everything and you are ruining our festival.’ Stuff like that, really embarrassing things. It was really not easy to come from Eastern block and try to play in the Western block. I don’t want to complain, but some things back then were pretty unequal so to say and I also don’t want to point at politics, because I hate politics. There was also another thing. People probably don’t know about this issue, because they have no source to know about it, but before 1989, during the communist regime, we had no equipment. There was only one company that was doing musical instruments and mostly the instruments went out for export. For example, I am from that generation that I was doing my own pick ups, I built a couple of guitars. Most of them were failures, but for the beginning it was kind of good. I built my own effects and my own amplifiers. I even did once a mixing desk and stuff like this. It was very much a DIY scene in the early nineties. Of course when you were going abroad and you had to meet the standards,…. Maybe it is pathetic to say, but we were yearning to have a shirt from our favourite band. For example in 1994, when we started to play black metal, black metal in Romania was unique. I don’t want to sound arrogant, but many people in Romania were introduced to black metal through our music. They didn’t even know that this genre was existing. Of course we were not having furs, we were not having all that spikes on our hands. Also on festivals, being from Romania, having poor instruments, it looked pretty bad. It all had a certain impact on that, you know. We felt a bit like not fitting in the scene and so forth, but we tried to follow more or less our own way, because we were used to have this DIY approach and we just started to play and play and play. And we managed to do that with Negura Bunget. I did not count it, but I think we easily played 1000 shows with Negura Bunget. This was our main goal. We played everywhere and we learned a lot during the travel and we started to make contacts. This is how things started to grow for us. But in the beginning it was hard work and difficult.
In the end, if you are from a young age and in an environment which is not supportive, then you learn a lot of things that you should not learn in a comfortable situation. I mean, in the western side nobody starts to build his own guitar at young age, because the shops are full of guitars. It is a totally different approach, but you learn to do it yourself as you said.
Yes, a certain moment… a good friend of mine, he is called Michael Zech, he is now playing with Secrets Of The Moon, Dark Fortress, The Ruins Of Beverast, a quite well known musician… but for a while he was playing bass for Negura Bunget and he told me that in 1994 he had a guitar like Sepultura, bought by his parents as a birthday present, it was a completely different story for us. And again, I am not saying this out of complaints, because honestly, I would not want to change anything about it, because I learned a lot. I learned how to do things and how to pursuit things in my life. Nobody could do it without perseverance. If you really wanted something, coming from Romania, having all these difficulties, you have to have perseverance and really be focused on what you want to do.
And that is what they call ‘being true’ as a matter of facts…
Yes, but I don’t take it as a diploma or a medal on my chest. It is what it is. It is my story, my story of my life and I am happy the way it went because I actually learned a lot.
I was always attracted by bands from that area… for instance in Hungary it was Sear Bliss that leaped to the eye…
Yes, actually they used to live not very far away from us, 80 kilometres from us. We played many shows together.
Let us shine a light on the songs for which you created video clips… Firstly ‘Desferecat’, that should be about transformation. In the video we see these colours coming upon your body…
There are a lot of symbolic things happening in that video. I think that everybody noticed that in the beginning of the video, we start meditating and this is also the way the video ends. It is a journey throughout an inside journey that we have, during the whole video. These colours are actually colours from our tarot cards. Sol Faur’s personal tarot card is The Hangman. I will not go now into all the details what The Hangman represents, it also deals a lot with inner transformation and so on and so forth and his tarot place is the ankle, that is why he is hung by the ankle, so everybody who has interest to study this specific part, can go and search through the whole internet. I also should mention that we use the Tarot of Marseille, which is probably one of the oldest tarot cards and the most known as well. They should also look up on that signification, because that is what we meant with the video. It is about inner transformation and you see that we destroy a couple of figures over there, through fire, through smashing, through a sphere as well. Of course these are all metaphors, but it is all about tearing down different phrases of your ego and so on. Everything is about an inner journey of transformation.
One of the other videos is ‘Descānt’. It should be about disenchantment…
Yeah, it was really difficult to do a video about disenchantment, so my dear colleague Sol Faur did this video all by himself. He took elements from our cover and transformed it into a lyric video. It is not a video per se, but it turned out a bit like one. He took things from the cover which Costin Chioreanu designed and tried to fit it somehow to the music and to give it a certain story to it. That video is mainly about disenchantment and like I said, the whole album is part of a concept and disenchantment is also a part of transformation. Sometimes when you are not able to transform some of the things by your own, you need some outside help to disenchant some of your things to transform or go away or mutate or whatever you want to call it. For us this video was the first time where we also provide English lyrics. The translation is more like an adaptation to the lyrics. It is not a translation mot a mot, because that is impossible. We also have rhymes, it is not possible to do a proper translation, it is more like an adaptation. It is not the best one, but it was the best that we could come up with.
Is Sunset In The 12th House still active?
(sighs) Theoretical yes, practically we did not rehearse for a long, long time, but this is also due to this pandemic situation, because we actually intended to start writing the new material. I started to compose a bit for this project. We have about the structure for two new songs, but we had quite a lot lockdowns and we were not allowed to meet and to do rehearsals. It was a bit difficult. I also moved unto a village during this pandemic, I thought my kids are better running on the hills than staying locked in the house. It was a bit more difficult to be able to connect with our band members and probably we will release something soon, but it is a bit depending on the global state of this pandemic. I cannot predict, but yes, we are still active.
In that respect I hope that September will be okay for organizing Prophecy Fest, otherwise there will be a live stream… It is one of my favourite festivals! You will play two sets, one with Negura Bunget songs and one as Dordeduh…
Yes, for me two sets on different days. I hope it will be the last time that I play those NB songs, because I am looking more towards the future than towards the past. I don’t want to promise that we will never ever play them, but most probably it will be one of the last times that we are going to play these songs.
You have the rights, you are the creator of ‘Om’…
Till 2009 I was the creator of everything that happened musically over there, this creation I shared with my colleague Sol Faur. That is our part of the band.
Well, freedom is lurking at the horizon for you, because I am out of questions and I can write a long and interesting article, thank you!
Yes, I also think I covered more than I expected to this interview (chuckles). Wow, now I see it is getting dark already.