Jul 10, 2012
The Doom Enclave: A Interview With Mart Kalvet of TAAK ...
Today you have a chance to know about Estonian traditional doom band Taak. It’s professional formation works since 2005 and they released their third full-length album “Rist viletsuse teel” just two months ago. I see them as quiet unique band though Taak reminds me a bit of Finnish proto doom band Lyijykomppania due to singing in their native language. Indeed Taak was something close since 1993th because all members of the band came from similar doom-act Dawn of Gehenna but Mark Kalvet (vocals) can tell this story much better – heed his speech and feel a weight of Heavy Burden.
Hi Mart! How are you? Mate, right now I’m listening to the latest release of Taak “Rist viletsuse teel” and of course I’ll ask you about the title’s meaning, but first of all — what’s with the angry Martian frog art-work?!
Cheers! I’m fine, thanks for asking.
The entity on the front cover is a depiction of the so-called North Frog (Põhja konn) — a mythical monster in an Estonian folk-tale. It was originally described as a dragon, but the writer who wrote it down (Friedrich Reinhold Kreutzwald) in 1866 considered the giant lizard too pedestrian, so he made up this giant frog-like beast instead. On the other hand I’m sure some of your readers (those better versed in Lovecraftian Mythos) might recognize in this batrachian representation a wholly different kind of hyperborean fiend: the sinister Tsathoggua, also known as the Sleeper of N’kai…
You can take it any way you want: the frog might be the North Frog, or Tsathoggua — or both.
You’ve played in a lot of bands before Taak, have you ever used Lovecraftian subjects in your lyrics before?
Not that much. Herald has at least one — “Summon Us”. I think the title speaks for itself, but you can find the lyrics online, I’m sure. Taak’s second album features a song called “Lahkuja kustutab tule” (“The One Who Leaves, Kills the Lights”), which references some Mythos motifs — stuff like “when the stars are right” and such.
What do you think about the lyrical aspects of modern and old doom bands?
I find some solace in the fact that psychedelic, stoner, doom, post-rock, neo-krautrock, fuzz-rock, drone, etc. subgenres have successfully “undermined” the overall metal scene, making it more vibrant and evolution-prone. Metal lyrics in general seem to have become more high-brow than they used to be in the 1980s or even the 1990s. I’m not sure whether one would want to call this approach “postmodern”, but whatever it is, I like it. I like music that makes me think and I like lyrics that inspire me to write other lyrics.
And then there’s brilliantly crass stuff like Black Sabbath or Electric Wizard — the lyrics of their best songs are, at best, banal, yet suit the music, the mood and the mindset perfectly. Sometimes “bad” lyrics can be such a trip that I want to take back everything I just said about high-brow metal poetry and simply groove to barely literate phrases like “heavy boots of lead, fills his victims full of dread”…
Can you name bands which lyrics you like most?
Motörhead’s Lemmy, J.M.K.E.’s Villu Tamme and Nick Cave have been strong influences (among other, more prose-fictiony ones). I like most of the lyrics by The Doors’ Jim Morrison, but that might just be nostalgia (after all, I still like most of early Metallica’s lyrics, which are often pretty simplistic, if not downright stupid).
The most interesting lyrics I’ve encountered recently were by the alternative hip-hop outfit Death Grips; check out their so-called mixtape “Exmilitary”, which is freely downloadable. Oh, and I just remembered “Handlebars” by Flobots — just reading the lyrics still makes me cringe a bit, but in a good way.
How do Nailboard Records spread your new release? Does the band take part in promotional and organizational activities?
Nailboard takes care of most of our promotion, which, of course, often involves the band itself. Like recently, when they organised for us a one-day-tour of four cities in Estonia. They came up with the idea and the resources for playing four gigs in four cities in a single day, but we were still the ones who had to do it. Also, obviously, it’s me answering this interview (and others), not the label, so there’s that, too.
It’s a well known fact that Dawn of Gehenna preceded the origin of Taak and right now you’re concentrated on the latter. What are the differences between both bands besides English and Estonian lyrics?
Nothing, really. DoG has the same line-up and plays the same tunes, only I sing in English.
The lyrics of Taak are written in your native language and it seems a brilliant solution for me, because the scene strongly needs original bands which possess their native characteristics. Doesn’t that decision hinder your band’s promotional efforts? How often do you play abroad?
On one hand, of course the lyrics are important in creating a certain kind of atmosphere, but on the other hand I understand that a lot of people don’t bother about the lyrics one way or the other, and just consider vocals a type of musical instrument — for them, lyrics are mostly irrelevant. Then again, if you only sing in you native language, how are you supposed to relay the “native characteristics” to foreign audiences?
I have no definite answer to that. I consider lyrics profoundly important for Taak, but enjoy a lot of bands that I don’t understand the lyrics of. My latest new discovery is a folkish-doom-rock band Stangala from France, and they sing in the Breton language. I have no idea what they’re saying, but it sounds cool.
Our more recent shows abroad have been in Finland, and apparently the Finns like the sound of Estonian language, even if they don’t get all of the nuances (our languages are somewhat similar). We’ve also played in Lithuania, but the last time was several years ago.
We’ve always tried to accommodate our non-Estonian-speaking audiences by including short descriptions of the main lyrical points in English; I’m sure you can find them online.
Estonian language is from the Finno-Ugric language group, so I see a lot of common between Taak and Finnish proto doom band Lyijykomppania. Do you have “brothers in arms” in the global doom scene? Do you communicate with them and plan some gigs, for example?
Well, we’ve toured together with Finnish bands Carnival and Heavy Metal Perse, but neither of them is doom (one is hardcore, the other classic heavy metal). I’m sad to admit I haven’t heard Lyijykomppania yet, but will fix this post-haste. Thank you for the tip!
New musical friends and acquaintances are always welcome, of course. We’d love to gig with fellow doomsters in Estonia and abroad.
But what does stop Taak from playing abroad more often? Have you no time or money or desire to make a tour with some friendly doom bands? Or is it a question of good and effective promotion?
Having seen from the example of the Estonian doom duo Talbot what effective touring actually necessitates — endless planning, smart financing, being self-employed whenever you’re not touring, gladly investing all of your time and effort into promoting your band, fulfilling the tasks of a long distance driver, an ad hoc car mechanic, a sound engineer and a stagehand whenever needed —, I must sadly admit that we simply don’t have that. We have jobs and families and can’t just take off for several weeks in a row to play shows abroad. I mean, it would probably be a lot of great fun — the short tours I’ve been on have always been that—, but we can’t afford it; we’re too old and tied down for that.
So we have to settle for short stints in neighbouring countries, preferably during a weekend. I’m aware that that’s not a sustainable model for most bands in the long run, but for some reason I’m not too worried. Most bands won’t make it to their third album anyway, you know…
Please tell us few words about the “Rist viletsuse teel” conception.
The album is not really a concept album, but we’ve made a conscious effort to present the whole package — the music, the lyrics, the artwork and the science fiction short story that’s included in the limited edition book-album — in a way that would hint at some codifying ontological undercurrents that permeate them all to an extent.
The name of the album is a folk-saying in Estonian, an ancient colloquial comparison that involves a euphemism. It was said of insurmountable difficulties in one’s way — something hindered somebody “like a cross on misery’s way” (“…nagu rist viletsuse teel”), where “misery” refers to the devil and “the cross” to the superstition that the mark of a (Christian) cross would deny entry to the devil. Our bassist Ott came up with it as the name for the album when we accidentally discovered that not very many people know the saying. But it’s more a reference to the band’s name (a “cross” can also mean one’s metaphorical “burden to bear” — a “taak”, in other words) than a reflection on any of the overarching mystical themes in the songs themselves.
Are you an atheist or you have some creed that helps you through your life?
I am mostly an anti-theist — I’m opposed to the idea of the “existence” of personified “deities”. But at the same time I’m mildly agnostic: all things given, I simply don’t know. I don’t like the term “creed”, but if I have one, it’s that of a sceptic: doubt everything, especially your own perceptions and cognitive representations of reality. In practical terms, I’m simply a freethinker — I won’t disrespect any person for their religion, and even if I do make fun of their beliefs, I won’t mind them making fun of mine. And last but not least, I’m a tentative discordian — at least that’s what I filed under “religion” in the most recent census form. Ave Discordia, all hail Eris!
How has Taak developed from album to album?
That’s for others to say, I’m afraid. I hope we’ve gotten better, or at least a little bit different over time, while maintaining the attributes that make us unique (if there are any).
Don’t you ever meddle in the compositional part of the song-writing process?
You’ve hit the nail on the head! “Meddling” is exactly what I do. I don’t compose, but I sometimes try to nudge the process to better suit my taste — tell the guitarist to try to play a riff longer, or less aggressively, or suggesting a faster or a slower tempo… Small touches like that, which don’t always work well and often get turned down by the rest of the band. But we all do that to each others’ songs; that doesn’t make me a co-composer.
Mart, how do you sing when you’re drunk?
I’ve been inebriated onstage, but I don’t remember ever being drunk enough to fuck up the show… Then again — I probably wouldn’t, would I? Seriously speaking, alcohol doesn’t help the voice and I have trouble remembering the lyrics even when I’m stone cold sober, so I try not to get too toasted before a gig.
What new does “Rist viletsuse teel” have compared to the previous two releases?
Well, we recorded this one in a new studio with a different producer/sound engineer, so the process was quite different (no more vintage analogue tech for us, at least for now!). Also, the lyrics have less to do with all things Ugric and more with the sense of mystery and wonder in all sorts of universal extreme cognitive experiences. The tempo has sped up a little, I believe, so you can’t really call us a “doom” band anymore. Now we’re simply Estonian hard rock — with traditional doom influences, should one feel the need to be more specific.
From which countries do Taak get more intensive feedback? It’s obvious that metalheads from Estonia support you more actively than others, but what’s about other countries?
There was a brief spike in interest from Japan; several albums were ordered within a week. I guess this had to do with our hazy association with the MKDK scene (check out http://records.mkdk.org/). I mean, we don’t play fusion jazz like most MKDK bands, but we’ve recorded in the MKDK studio several times, and some of MKDK artists have been featured as our guests here and there, and I know that there’s an international fusion collectors’ scene in Japan, so that might explain that.
Also, we recently had an avalanche of Facebook friend requests from Poland, almost exclusively by teenage girls. We have no idea what that was about — some regional meme thing, maybe. We’re not complaining, though.
All in all, yeah, you’re right. Most of our support seems to be local.
Is public acceptance necessary to you as a musician?
Define public acceptance… I mean, I don’t care much what a random person on the street thinks of my musical pursuits or any of my bands, but it must be important for me to have at least some people interested in and excited about what I’m doing, because otherwise I probably wouldn’t be doing it.
Probably. I’m not sure.
Mart, you’ve been in a middle of the Estonian doom scene since its very beginning, can you tell us about what you did before arriving at Taak?
I’ve heard of a semi-mythical band that was supposed to have been the first doom band in Estonia called Bloody Sunrise, active some time in the '80s, but I haven’t heard their music, so I don’t really know if they were actually doom. But Mystique, which later changed its name into Dawn of Gehenna, was active already in 1989, maybe even earlier, at which time I was a pimply-faced school kid with absolutely no knowledge of doom metal.
I joined Mystique/DoG in 1993, having previously only vocalised in a death metal band by the name of Mortified. After the first iteration of DoG waned, I joined Whispering Forest — a melodic, one might even say gothic doom metal band. That was fun for a whole lot of time; we released some stuff and toured a little, most notably in the Netherlands and Belgium together with Officium Triste (eternal hails!), but then I joined the classic heavy metal band Herald and the drag-racing thrash quartet Nitrous, and also DoG came out of its long hiatus and morphed into Taak, and I had less and less time for WF, which I then chose to quit. By now I’ve also left Nitrous and Herald in order to concentrate more on Taak and also my family.
What are your most pleasant memories connected with playing in the band?
We’ve opened twice for Reverend Bizarre, once for their last ever show abroad; both of these events were crazy adventures in themselves. All gigs abroad have been extremely enjoyable simply because of the indescribable kick one gets from being on the road. And the feeling I get after a new album’s been recorded and mixed and I’m happy with the result — not much can beat that, except maybe for a really good, sweaty, mind-blowing live gig.
Being almost happy with what I do musically is a constant, shadowy “altered state”, like a single very long memory of being high for the first time. I can’t really pinpoint the peaks; it’s more of a plateau — I enjoy being in a band that enjoys making music together. With Taak, that state is reached exceptionally often.
Thank you Mart for your time and this interview, I would like to ask you a last question about the band’s plans and let’s finish it… till your next release :-) Good luck man!
We plan to keep on trucking. I hear it gets easier after your fifth album, so that’s a good goal to set one’s eyes on.
Best of the best in these interesting times to your readers!
Interview By Aleks Evdokimov
Taak Official Website
Taak | Myspace
Taak | Facebook