An interview with Norway’s most fuzz-loving geniuses KANAAN.

Written by Featured, Interview

When the first track from “Earthbound” came out, it was pretty obvious we were about to hear one of the best releases of the year. Because Kanaan’s riffs clash and knock you out as their fuzz tackles you to the ground under a thick layer of molten lava. “This might be the work of riffsmiths seasoned in cast iron”, you say. Actually, “Earthbound” is just the statement of a band that wants to go wild crank it to 11 and see what happens. Well, those dudes outran everybody with one album! Kanaan raises an altar of divine fuzz in the temple of noise and chaos in between Lowrider and Slift. How did this trio more familiar with jazzy improvisations tinged with kraut and psych — manage to catch us off guard and turn our heads? Chatting with Ingwald (drums) and Ask (guitar) made me realize that “Earthbound” is not a product of luck, but the proof of the musical prowess of three gifted and curious lovers of music in all its forms.

You earned a jazz background through your studies at the Norwegian Academy of Music in Oslo. With one foot in jazz and one in psychedelic rock, you seem to have a real appetence for that 70’s fusion spirit of early krautrock.

Ingwald: Definitely. We studied jazz together at the Norwegian Academy of Music. We were the ones who really liked to play loud (laughs) and loved rock music. I grew up with my father’s music. He was very fond of krautrock, so I’ve always been into that scene, as well as German bands and psychedelic music. When we started playing together, our music was more jazz-rock-oriented and we were really inspired by Norwegian bands like Elephant 9 or Hedwig Mollestad, but lately it’s been more eclectic and maybe more oriented by stoner rock bands…

In a way, this spirit of improvisation could be the expression of certain artistic freedom you seem to be committed to?

Ask: I think it comes from our jazz background because improvisation is such an important thing when you play jazz music. We adapted that into more rock-oriented music, but it’s not the same kind of improvisation as chord progression in jazz… We improvise a drone or one type of sound, then try to develop further in one direction instead of playing over chords. What we’ve learned during our studies is very important: how to be open-minded, listen to other musicians, and try to respond to how they play.

This freedom takes you to unexpected territories: I have read in your individual bios that each one of you also plays in pop or jazz bands. How do you find the time to play in so many bands?

Ask: We are workaholics! The three of us! (laughs) I play in some kind of indie hip-hop band called !Bang Bang Watergun!.

Ingwald: All of us are more or less involved in pop bands. I play in Juno which is a pop/jazz eclectic band. Eskild has another pop music band called The Mall Girl… As far as I’m concerned, I’m not interested in doing one thing only. Our curiosity has constantly led us to do something else. There are many things to learn from all kinds of music.

I feel like being in stoner rock can encourage me to check out the history of psychedelic or stoner rock music and go in-depth into that style. It’s also really important for Kanaan not to be only influenced by the sound when we play stoner rock, but also by its philosophy and feeling.

Do you partition your musical expression or, on the contrary, all these different fields blended together to nourish your participation in your respective projects?

Ask: We play in different bands to be able to express all these types of music, so we don’t have to bring everything into the same band. When I play in a pop or blues band, it’s always me. I’m not protecting what I know from jazz or pop when I play blues, for example, it’s always influenced by the other members. It’s interesting to bring that into Kanaan because we are only three, you know. There is a lot more room to express myself but I have to make it with parsimony and take care of other members’ expressions. How do you feel about that, Ingwald?

Ingwald: I feel like being in stoner rock can encourage me to check out the history of psychedelic or stoner rock music and go in-depth into that style. For example, Ask asked me to step in his blues band and I tried to check out all the Muddy Waters albums in order to go into the depth of the genre. It’s also really important for Kanaan not to be only influenced by the sound when we play stoner rock but also its philosophy and feeling… There are so many aspects of music that can influence other genres. That’s really interesting.

The first three albums were more free rock and fusion-inspired and then suddenly… Bam! You decided to go rrreeeaaallly heavy! What happened? Was it an urge at the moment or do you think it is a logical evolution of Kanaan?

Ask: I think it’s just a natural development of the band. On the first album, we were more inspired by jazz-rock bands, on the second one « Odense Sessions » — we recorded it in one afternoon — it was just free improvisation and on « Double Sun » we probably checked out more psychedelic music. On this one, we thought… “Ok let’s go! Tune the guitars down and push the knob to eleven !”

Ingwald: As we practiced and wrote the music for « Earthbound », we were wondering what would happen if we tuned down the guitars. Wow! It’s like a stoner kind of thing… And we liked being « in the mud » sonically speaking, you know? So we tried to tune the other riffs down as well, and finally thought we could make a whole album of this. That’s how it started! So why not work on an album where the fuzz is the main thing?

Your description of this new album is quite correct: “like Kyuss coming out of a jazz school”….

Ask: (laughs) We don’t know what the next thing will be. We just constantly develop and look for new directions. We are not a stoner band from now on or forever. We don’t know, and that means a lot for us. Always check out new things and talk about new music together.

Ingwald: We would be bored if we repeated ourselves. We want to expand our curiosity. We respect a lot of artists for their way of developing. David Bowie is a big hero of mine, he always did something new but you would always recognize his style on every record. There are many artists that I respect just for their way of searching for new materials.

We need to talk about your fuzz sound. My god! It’s beautiful. Some stoner bands never achieve that sound but you scored on the first try. It sounds so natural and easy to you. How did you come to that result?

Ask: Thank you. We didn’t try to copycat any kind of stoner sound. We just put our amp on full blast and played loud. I think we just love what we do. We just love to play together.

« Bourdon » and « Mudbound » are true stoner rock gems. Paradoxically, by playing heavier, and even though it’s stretched, your music sounds more controlled, more written, less jammy, more straightforward.

Ask: The music on “Earthbound” is fully written. But don’t get me wrong, it’s never “written” on paper – we don’t write any sheet music! (laughs)

Ingwald: We could be the first sheet music stoner band! (laughs) With all those heavy riffs, structures need to be clear, because if there is too much jamming, it gets unclear and muddy. It was important for us to make something that was clear, but at the same time, we always want to keep open parts, “jammy parts” where we don’t know what can happen…

Still uplifting, like trance music.

Ingwald: Sometimes we do a lot of jamming on a drone, playing one chord for like fifteen minutes and get this hypnotic and, in the end, that kind of ecstatic thing… I really think there is a link between many of the tunes on this album. For example “Mudbound” which is full of riffs, all end on a low “C”. It’s like one chord going for ten minutes even though it’s all written. It’s the same kind of immersive feeling as a jam.

Ask: On stage, we always keep those “open parts” a lot longer than on record. When we write the setlist, we always put open sections of twenty minutes where nothing is decided beforehand. Someone just starts, we follow up and see what happens. This is an aspect we have improved as a band. We started doing that on our European tour in 2019. On the first attempts, it wasn’t that successful but after practicing, it gets better and better. It’s also a good way to know each other. That’s a really cool experience. 

“We don’t know what the next thing will be for Kanaan. We constantly develop and look for new directions. Always check out new things and talk about new music together.”

I feel like krautrock is a fundamental part of your music, especially when it comes to the rhythm. Ingwald, tell me if I’m wrong but Klaus Dinger must be a real inspiration with his metronomic and pulsating rhythm.

Ingwald: Yeah, Klaus Dinger and Klaus Schulze too! So many underrated drummers in krautrock. I like the way you can play minimal but repetitive in a way, and add one new element at a time. Like a sequencer or a drum machine would do. That’s a great inspiration.

I like the way we fall into a trance. I like how we get lost in speed and space when listening to your music. We have a band called Slift in France. In my opinion, both of you nurture the same state of mind.

Ingwald: We LOVE Slift!

Ask: I saw them in Paris in October. We discussed how it would be such a great idea to go on tour one day. So let things happen! We plan to play in Europe next year and we’ll play in France for sure.

Actually, we have something in common. Two years ago, you played in France outside a record store called The Message for the national music fest. You set the city on fire. This little city is Troyes, and it is where I live. How did you end up playing here? You seemed to enjoy it a lot, and I think you were as surprised as the crowd… Right?

Ingwald: That concert is my best gig ever. For us, it’s been such a great story to tell. Tell it, Ask…

Ask: The only thing we knew was that we were supposed to meet at five o’clock at a record store called “The Message” in Troyes. We didn’t really know where this city was on a map. We came there and asked where to put our gear because the store was very tiny without any space to play. The owner said: “No guys, you’re playing outside, on the pavement”. Wow, an outdoor gig! Okay. We understood later that it was « La Fête de la Musique ». We have the same fest in Norway. He told us that two other bands would perform before us at the same place. We set up and I was worried because ALL our gear was just on one power socket going into the store… Five amplifiers and a PA system. Everything was connected on that one socket and people in the street were walking, passing over and over on that extension cord… We started to play. I think we played a little louder than the other bands…

“Earthbound” was recorded in May 2020. I guess you haven’t been idle since. Does it mean you are going to spoil us with other releases very soon? How will 2022 look like for Kanaan?

Ask: I don’t know how much we can tell, but we have recorded more music definitely. What we can say is that a split record is coming out very soon with three other bands: one band from Sweden, Elon Musk and Electric Moon. It’s a double LP, with one band playing improvised music on each side. It will be released on Worst Bassist Records.

Ingwald: We’re also going into the studio in March. We have a lot of stuff going on.

One word about the artwork? It’s in the continuity of your first releases but from a different artist.

Ingwald: For the first three albums, we asked Jakob Skott and on “Earthbound”, we worked with Robin Gnista, a very well-known artist in the stoner sphere (The Sonic Dawn, Black Rainbows, High Reeper, Nebula, etc.). We liked the Bauhaus-inspired approach of Jakob and wanted to continue the same thing while giving Robin artistic freedom as well.

Ask: On each album, we have that spheric shape in the middle. It kind of connects the new album cover with the previous ones in a good way. You can see it’s not the same because it’s also a new musical direction, a new label.

The last word is for you guys!

Ingwald: If people like our music, we would love to see them at our shows in April. Come and see us play…

Ask: And say hi on social media because we don’t have a big management around us handling that stuff, so it’s always cool to talk with people who enjoy what we do!

New album “Earthbound” out now on Jansen Records.
Find KANAAN on Facebook, Bandcamp, Instagram, and don’t miss their upcoming European tour:

Last modified: 28 December 2021