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Sear Bliss- interview met András Nagy (vocals, bass, guitars, synths)

András Nagy: “When we started listening to heavy metal – I did in 1987 – it was so magical because it was so far and unreachable for us. Therefore our will to create something was a lot stronger than it maybe was in other countries.”

Sear Bliss heeft altijd een uitzonderlijk originele en persoonlijke interpretatie van het atmosferische black metal genre gehad. Sinds de jaren negentig vestigden zij de aandacht op zich met het debuut ‘Phantoms’ waarin de onverbiddelijke ruwheid van het genre verrijkt werd met elegante passages en vooral de trombone als unicum in de zwartgeblakerde kunst. De Hongaarse band met multi-instrumentalist András Nagy als mastermind laat zes jaar na ‘Letters From The Edge’ van zich horen met hun negende studioalbum ‘Heavenly Down’. Deze knaller van begin tot einde zetten we graag in de schijnwerpers met een bijzonder interessant en hartelijk gesprek met de bezieler van al dit fraais. 
Vera Matthijssens Ι 5 juli 2024 

Hi András. We have a long history, because the first interview we did was in 2005…
Really? Wow. That is a long time ago.

How are you doing?
Actually I am pretty busy, partly because of the new album and actually you are the first one to interview me but there are a lot to come. The album will be out next month and it was a tremendous amount of work. Not only writing the album, but also to record it. It took so long, it took much longer than usual. And there were some difficulties as well. We are not a huge band and we are used to do things with a lot of efforts. We like challenges and there were a lot of challenges during these recordings, but the only thing that matters is the result. Also we have made a video – actually two videos – we are preparing for live shows now. We all have jobs and families and things, so in short: we have been busy, but it is a very exciting period now.

Indeed, I can understand. It took six years since the previous album ‘Letters From The Edge’, but these were strange times with the pandemic. When did you actually start writing this new album ‘Heavenly Down’?
The thing was… we did not want such a huge gap between these two albums. Actually we started writing music four years ago, but the thing is that the guitar player, who was heavily involved in the writing process, he left two years ago. Attila Kovács left the band and we had to restart the whole writing process, because he was involved in each song and that was a lot of work. He was one of the main song writers, so we decided to restart the whole process. There were one or two songs written by me. Of course we kept them. We polished them and they are featured on the album, but the rest of the songs were written after his departure. The other thing was that two of my kids are born after the last album, in 2019 and 2021. They are still small and also I have a responsible job. So it meant that I cannot focus on the music as much as I want, but of course we were touring and we had a lot of live shows and the band was active, but for us, writing an album, is really a huge effort. One more factor is that both guitar players are living in Budapest which is far from us. We don’t like working in the modern way, sending files to each other… Of course, sometimes we do, but I still don’t like it. I still believe in an atmosphere which is created together in the rehearsal room.

I applaud that. Like you said, there are two pretty new guitarists. Was it difficult to find someone in the place of your active buddy Attila?
It was not so easy, because many things changed during the years and we are an old band. When we started Sear Bliss, it was completely different. The city where we live – Szombathely – was full of musicians and bands. There were even festivals, labels, studios, everything… We are old school people and it seems that it is not fashionable nowadays. So you cannot really find anyone for this kind of music. Of course we had to look for a musician in the capital city, which is a lot easier. That is how we found Zoltán Vigh who was playing in Bornholm, which is a band from Hungary. The other guy who is pretty new, Márton Kertész, he is coming from the progressive metal scene, but he is really into black metal and he’s got a project called Rivers Ablaze and he asked me to do the vocals, because he loved the first Sear Bliss album ‘Phantoms’ and I liked what we did. So we had some cooperation and when Attila left, it was obvious to ask him, because he is a cool guy and a very good guitar player. He can play anything, he is a much better musician than us and he even wrote a song for the new album, which is ‘The Upper World’, the first single with a lyric video. That song was completely written by him. That is how we found the members. Sometimes it is very difficult to rehearse, because we still live in this city with three of us and we have the rehearsal room here. Actually I am here right now as well. By night being here and just writing music and things like that. It is too bad that we are living far from each other, but that is the way how it is now. It is not easy, but it is okay.

I saw where your city is situated on the map. It is closer to Austria.
Yes, it is at the border actually, ten kilometres from Austria and actually I live in a small village which is even closer, it is five kilometres from the border. I can tell you that the city played a huge role in the life of Sear Bliss and why we became what we are, because it was a pretty exiting period in Hungary in the early nineties. After the iron curtain fell, it was such a bright future that we had in front of us and especially the Western border, it was even more… suddenly you could travel to Austria, because prior to that it was once a year or even less. We were not allowed to travel and when this happened, we discovered metal bands in Austria and metal shops and everything and it was much different. There was some kind of vibe, a very positive vibe and that is why a lot of bands started to form in the city at that time, in the early nineties. It was extremely exiting. I still like living here. It is a small city, but it has a very unusual atmosphere.

I can imagine, because the first time I went on holidays in Hungary was in 1993. Indeed there were many records shops and cheaper than in Belgium. I bought a lot of vinyl there.
(laughs) That’s good! That was the time when we formed the band. That’s what I was talking about as well. It was such a huge change. Before that, for us, it was almost impossible to own an instrument, because you could not really buy an instrument, because it was rare or it was too expensive. So when we started listening to heavy metal – I did in 1987 – it was so magical because it was so far and unreachable for us. Therefore our will to create something was a lot stronger than it maybe was in other countries. Now it is different – and of course it is much better – because now kids can ask their parents to buy an instrument, because now it is not so difficult, but in our childhood it was incredible. Unbelievable it was and therefore when we finally had the possibility to own an instrument and when we were holding it in our hands, it was like magic. Therefore we really welcomed that thing and the good thing is that we still remember this and we are still enthusiastic.

And it is a very good album. The music breathes. Maybe that is because you meet in person when creating the songs. I like it that there is a moment of tranquillity with the instrumental ‘Forgotten Deities’…
You like that? Oh that is really cool! I really did not know what to expect. I thought that people would not really understand that, but it is actually an important middle part of the album for me. The story behind the song is that I was asked to write music for a short movie and I wrote that song. It was more or less what you can hear on the album. It was a little bit different, but more or less the same. For some reason the guy did not accept it. I think it was too mysterious for him or for that short movie and he just gave it back to me. I was honestly surprised, because I thought that he would like it, but for me it was a very deep emotional expression, so I decided to use it on this album, because it really fits into the atmosphere, even though it is a different instrumentation.

There will be fans from former times, but I think you can gather new fans with it as well, because this is music which is made way too seldom these days…
That is good to hear and I think that the good thing is, that the record label Hammerheart, they are really pushing this. In the past we always had some problems with poor promotion or not enough support or anything, but this time it really seems to be a good cooperation. They are really behind us and that is good. I think with a stronger promotion, maybe more people can discover this album.

One of the brilliant features of the band is the use of trombone. Do you still remember how you ever got this idea and how come it was doable at that time?
Of course I still remember. Like I said, it was in 1993. When we formed the band, the whole band lived very close to each other, in the same street. We knew each other since we were little children and there was some kind of very strong chemistry and some strong bond between us. We grew up in the same place. Same school, same street, we knew each other like brothers. It meant that we all liked the same music. So we were into metal, but the good thing was that a friend of mine was actually a trumpet player. He was a metal head, but he was a trumpet player. It is a really rare combination and when we formed the band, I asked him; ‘Are you interested in joining the band and playing trumpet in metal?’ and he said: ‘wow, that’s a good idea, let us try it’. So he was with us from the first day and we incorporated this instrument in a very comfortable way, because we knew each other. We knew each other’s thoughts and it became really natural to involve this instrument. Of course, later he left the band, but he was a very important part of Sear Bliss. He left the band after the second album and then we had to find someone else and that is why we changed to the trombone. For me, I think it was even better, because the trombone is a more powerful instrument, because it has a louder and harsher sound. For some reason we found a guy who was a metal head and a trombone player (chuckles). They are rare, but they exist haha and he is with us for almost 25 years. So it really works. Great chemistry!

And then suddenly your first album ‘Phantoms’ was bombarded as ‘album of the month’ in Aardschok in the Netherlands for instance. Did that resonance in Hungary or Germany as well?
Yes, it was very strange, because – like I said – the Hungarian metal scene was very little and it was very fresh in the early and mid nineties. Everyone was surprised, including us, that the first album became so popular. Even in Hungary, the journalists were very surprised and it was a very, very good period. I was 17 when we recorded ‘Phantoms’ and just 18 when it was released! It was a time when you looked at the things with a different perspective, so it was even more magical. But of course, the bad thing was that we were too young and the band almost fell apart. That is why we had this line up change after the first album, because we were too crazy. We were fighting with each other and we could not handle this.

At that age…
Yeah at that age, people are a little bit more dynamic. That is a pity, because we continued on the second album and of course, we had a different line-up and it resulted in a very different album. The second album was very, very different compared to the first one, but I don’t regret it now, because many, many years later it turned out that it was, okay different, but it had also an atmosphere which caught the attention of many people.

I have seen the video clip for ‘Chasm’ and that seems to be something special, because it is a very nice location. Where was it?
Actually it was shot at three or four different locations, all in Hungary, but different parts of the country. So we travelled a lot (chuckles). It was a very long process and it was very expensive, but I loved the recording, the shooting. There are some very special locations in our country and for example, the place where the church is, it is a church in the middle of nowhere. It was built in the 12th or the 13th century and it was almost a pagan church. It has a long forgotten history. The same goes for this strange preacher in the video. It is a mythical creature in the ancient Hungarian tradition and we tried to show it. For instance the song ‘Forgotten Deities’, this song is also about those long forgotten old creatures and deities which are vanished in a haze.

Something like erasing the culture of Northern folks when Christianity came…
Exactly. They destroyed these traditions and it was a very interesting wisdom, because it was really wisdom how these things worked in ancient people’s mind. So we tried to show it and we imagined how that church looked and then, next we went to another location which is under the surface. It is a huge mine actually and it is crazy. It was so big and so surreal to be there, because when we were visiting the place, we were looking for a surreal old place and when we saw those black walls, we immediately knew that it was the right place for us. There is also some nature in the video. We filmed it in Eastern Hungary. It is a very nice location. I have never been there before, but I had heard about it. It is difficult to reach the place, because you have to walk a lot and we had a lot of cameras and everything. It was not easy, but it was a very amazing location there.

Interesting story behind that video clip! All kinds of fascinating things.
I like those things and I think it is important to look back sometimes and look how the ancestors lived and what they believed in a lot of superstitions. I find it interesting.

It is, I agree. Another person who we know for a long time is Kris Verwimp who did the artwork. That is a Belgian artist, it is nice to see work from him again. How did you come in contact with him again?
More or less we were in touch meanwhile, always, so every once in a while we wrote to each other. I deeply respect him. I love his artworks. He created incredible artworks for us in the past. For some reasons, we went into a different direction, more a-typical surreal paintings and now, with this album, we felt that it is full of energy and we needed again a fresh air. That is how it came to my mind: ‘wow, we should work with Kris again, because he did such brilliant artworks in the past.’ The two last albums, those albums were different and maybe his visionary artworks would not fit well with those albums, but the new one is completely… when I was listening to the songs in the rehearsal place, I knew that Kris would do the artwork and I am very happy that he accepted our request. For me ‘The Pagan Winter’ artwork was my favourite one that he created for us, but I am not sure, because maybe now it is the new one or at least the same level, because it has such a deep mystery to it, if you look it is brilliant and two or three days ago, we got the albums in physical format. When I held it in my hands, it was magical. It is beautiful, especially the vinyl. The first three albums, all the album covers he did for us, it was when vinyl was absolutely not popular. It was only a few years ago when they were released on vinyl. I was so happy to see those artworks in bigger format and again, like we said, in the old school way we believe, because it would have been easy to create computer artwork or AI artwork, but we still believe in the old school way.

To occlude: what are your plans to tour and play gigs?
The plan is now to play some Summer festivals. We will play four festivals in Hungary I think and then we will go to Germany to play at festivals and then we will have a tour in October, actually a headliner tour in Europe. Actually we will play in Belgium as well, in Diest. We also have a few Dutch shows and many countries. It will be a cool tour and also we will have a few shows at the end of the year. So it is looking really promising at the moment. We will be on the road!