From deep within the Tasmanian wilderness, Striborg is the black metal-cum-blackwave project of solo artist Russell Menzies (aka Sin Nanna). Infamously reclusive, the veil of mystery that has traditionally shrouded his work has recently been lifted. Read on for a discussion on Striborg’s connection to Southern Lord and Sunn O))), the transition from black metal, and the embrace of the wider world.
Hi Russell, thanks for agreeing to the interview with Discipline Mag. The first thing I want to ask you about is the level of engagement you now have with your fans. This is quite a contrast to the notoriously reclusive way you conducted yourself formerly. Can you shed some light on why you’ve opened up so much in the past couple of years?
In the past I avoided all social media and rarely shared my email address. A few years ago a fan who created my Facebook page gave us (Phaedra and I) access to the FB page via connection to her FB page. We could then administer the page the way we wanted to. If someone contacted me via FB my wife would always ask if I responded. Sometimes I would after many days or even weeks. I guess it is now a case of fully embracing social media and using it to its full advantage. I then decided I would try to answer back to as many people as possible in a much quicker time frame. Live performance has also been more frequent so everything sort of coincides with itself.
On the theme of putting yourself more out there, you started performing live in 2014. How has your show developed, and what have you learnt since then?
To keep things simple in order to eliminate as much anxiety as possible. Therefore focusing on what really matters in order to execute a stronger performance.
I changed direction in 2017 and knew very well I wanted to perform live more often. First via collaboration, using synthesizers and drum machines and now using a backing track to focus more on vocal performance and dance moves / stage presence. I’m always tweaking my equipment for improved vocal delivery and feel I have improved as a vocalist over the years.
You’ve also had the good fortune of having collaborated live with Stephen O’Malley of Sunn O))). How was this experience? Was there anything to take away from sharing the stage with a figure of this magnitude?
I’ve crossed paths with Stephen 3 times now over the last 15 years. At first collaborating as Pentemple and brief guest vocalist in Sunn O))) in 2007, then supporting Sunn O))) at Dark Mofo 2014 with my side project Veil of Darkness. A couple of nights later we performed as a group collaboration entitled Mirage which had most Sunn O))) members and Marco Fusinato. In 2019 saw another Mirage performance as Mirage II with Stephen and Marco. It’s always a pleasure working with both those guys. Who knows, it may happen again in the future.
You have a rare performance coming up in Melbourne on March 11th (2022). What can we expect for the upcoming show?
Hopefully what I consider some of my strongest and more accessible work performed live. Me sort of wandering around in my own world on stage, occasionally dancing and being in the moment. Lots of psychedelic lights! It would be cool if people were dancing to my set, we’ll see what happens.
The natural world was a fundamental influence over your black metal work. However, darkwave and adjacent synth-based genres generally have more in common with urban settings. I’ve noticed small clues, such as the inclusion of street lights on recent album covers which signals an embrace of the inorganic world. But more specifically, how have urban environments come to inspire the latest iteration of your work?
It all started with the environment I was in when I had the epiphany to go in a new direction. My son was in hospital for 2 months so we were having to go up to Hobart nearly every day to be with him. The constant city night time during winter had a huge impact and inspiration for my new direction. I’m fascinated by lights and dark concrete surroundings like an empty car park or subway / underpass. There’s something so depressing, mysterious and cold about it, just like the music.
Generally speaking, major urban centres like London and New York are some of the most prominent spaces for underground synth-based music. In the spirit of putting yourself out there, would touring locales such as these be of any interest to you, or is that a step too far?
I’d love to venture overseas sometime to perform. It’s a matter of someone being genuinely interested in that happening and organising it properly.
I want to ask you about being discovered by Southern Lord. They were quite instrumental in supporting and releasing music by solo black metal artists back in the 2000s. What were the events that led to your discovery by them, and how did it go down?
Oren (Ambarchi) introduced Greg and Stephen to Striborg. What I was doing seemed to resonate with them all. After I was signed to Displeased Records and subsequent release of Embittered Darkness, Southern Lord licensed ED for a US release, including a DLP. They followed suit with Nefaria too. After that nothing more with the exception of the split 7” with Scurshahor and Pentemple releases. The financial crisis came along and things got ugly business wise. I think Displeased owed SLR money and I briefly got in the middle of it all.
You recently garnered praise from Thurston Moore who is coincidentally releasing an album for Southern Lord. How did it feel to receive an accolade from someone so distinguished, and what do you think of the pairing of Thurston Moore with Southern Lord?
I knew previously that Thurston was into Striborg as well as the Les Legions Noir etc. He was also a part of the next Twilight line up too. It makes sense that he has a release on SLR. I know Marco is in contact with him. I’ve never been in contact with him personally. He actually ordered a copy of Instrumental Trans-Communication on vinyl from me which I thought was really cool.
In the one man metal documentary, you said it would be terrible if your local community discovered your work as Striborg, adding further:
“If people were to Google.. Striborg or black metal, the negative shit comes to you.. So they’d probably absolutely hate me and throw rocks through the window”
A decade down the track, do you still feel the negative publicity of black metal would be quite so burdensome?
Not really, I don’t think people even care who I am or even know I am a musician.
Did you manage to maintain your anonymity after the release of the documentary?
Yes, no one knows who I am. It’s not like I’m famous.
What is your view on the current state of black metal? Are there any contemporary black metal artists that you feel are worthy of our attention?
Overall I’m not that interested in what’s around these days. I do like some underground artists that perform lo-fi BM, it seems to be in at the moment.
Black metal is well-known for being “resistant to change” (to put it politely). Regarding the reaction to your shift to blackwave, did your experience support or challenge the aforementioned statement?
My experience is definitely that it has challenged the former statement in more ways than one. I wanted to create a genre that has no limits but also a genre to substitute guitars for synthesizers and acoustic drums for electronic drums and drum machines. It was sort of a reaction to the guitar based blackgaze scene.
How about your audience overall. Do you feel it has grown since incorporating the darkwave element into your work?
It certainly has shifted. I’ve lost a lot of the ‘‘only bm people” in which I could not give a shit about really as it just proves they were supporting a bm band and not an artist. I have new followers who like the darkwave infusion who weren’t familiar with my bm releases and somewhere in the middle are those who have continued to follow my evolution in which I am truly grateful for.
Your black metal sensibilities still remain in your work. I point to the track The Burden Of Existence from An Existential Burden where the blast beats are straight from the black metal playbook. But just how much black metal are you going to give up in your new work? Would we ever see icy-black metal riffage appear in your blackwave output, for example?
Every now and then some form of bm DNA will appear in my future work, just as I’ll lean more to the darkwave side of things too. Nothing is planned or cemented in concrete. I’m always in conflict as to what direction to take, therefore I’ll mix it up all the time.
I have already done that. The Introverted Transparency EP is an example of the black metal / blackwave hybrid.
I feel now that I’m able to venture into even colder and more haunting territory with synthesizers as opposed to guitars and how limited they are.
I want to go back in time for a moment to the 90s, and even late 80s. You performed in at least one death metal band at the end of the 80s and continued on through the 90s. Obviously information was not as free-flowing in the pre-internet days. I’m wondering, how did you educate yourself on metal music or other genres during this era? What zines, shops, and networks were at your disposal to orientate yourself on extreme music?
Pre-internet days were exciting in the 80s and 90s.
There were lots of record stores importing stuff back then. Lots of concerts too. In addition 92.1 FM always had amazing metal shows to listen to on the radio. You were introduced to everything metal back then.
During the 90s, what methods did you employ to gain exposure for Striborg?
It wasn’t until Asgard Musik showed interest and released a pro CD in 2003. He also assisted in me releasing my first independent release simultaneously via Finsternis Productions. In the 90s I only made tapes and gave them to friends, family and band members of Baalphegor.
You have the three distinct eras of your work: black metal from 1994 – 2000, DSBM from 2000 – 2017, and blackwave from 2017 – present. For anyone looking to break into your work, what is one defining release you would recommend from each era?
That’s a hard one but I’ll do my best.
First era) A Tragic Journey Towards the Light
It may not be the most professional sounding but quite unique imo.
Second era) Spiritual Catharsis
Why? It’s a fan favourite so perhaps the best place to start.
Third era) In Deep Contemplation
Maybe my most accomplished and defining blackwave album to date.
Your career as Striborg and Sin Nanna has been an uphill battle, but you have done a lot with little. I emphasise your isolated location, beginnings in the pre-internet days, and the fact it has consistently been done solo. Despite this, you have received international praise, major label releases, and high profile collaborations. To me, I’d consider you to be somewhat accomplished. But I’m wondering whether you see things the same way, or if you take a more pessimistic view? How has time and retrospect affected your perception of your work?
It has been quite a journey over the years. I am grateful for each experience and opportunity that has come my way. I guess I am somewhat accomplished, whatever that really means. In retrospect I’m content with how I’ve managed to create music with whatever resources I have on hand, no matter how poverty stricken the equipment has been. I don’t think I could ever go into a studio to make an album. It would be way too stressful and I would get very anxious and have a panic attack or meltdown. I prefer doing it myself in my own time and creating a sonic world that I wish to share with those who are interested in doing so.
Another factor is geography, is it a problem? Well not really. Living in Tasmania and having the Mona Foma and Dark Mofo festivals have been very beneficial, not just for me but for lots of local artists. I will admit that since my change in direction I do have a desire to achieve more, carpe diem. Perform more and be prolific, eventually to be more successful during the process.
I have ASD – level 1 with OCD as a comorbidity. The positive being the creative drive and persistence it provides as a musician. My clinical psychologist suspects I may have Savant Syndrome as I have the ability to compose and practice music in my head without actually touching an instrument. For example, I did this with the tracks ‘Lost in a Dream’ & ‘The Amygdala Enigma’. These tracks are very special to me.
+++ Thank you, Russell. Discipline Mag is eternally grateful for your time. +++
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