God Is An Astronaut – Interview
Reaching only moderate levels of success in Dublin, but selling out huge venues in far flung corners of Eastern Europe, Russia and (increasingly) New York, there’s a real argument for God Is An Astronaut being Ireland’s most ‘underappreciated at home’ band. Not that it bothers songwriter, guitarist and occasional instrumental-style vocalist Torsten Kinsella – “We don’t do as well in Ireland as we do in places like Eastern Europe,” he explains, “It’s hard to say why, really, aside from that Ireland’s radio tends to be very commercial, but I don’t have a chip on my shoulder about it. It’s just the way things are.”
It’s been ten years since Torsten and co. started up, releasing the aptly titled ‘The End Of The Beginning’ as “a farewell to the music industry”, and soon found that what had been a studio-only project took off in a big way. As international tour offers came in, the band decided to carry on. “It came as a surprise to us”, Torsten recalls, “but it worked out really well. If I was to give any advice to bands now, I’d say don’t sign to a label. We had to seriously consider whether we wanted to carry on when all our gear – €25,000 worth – was stolen on our first New York trip in 2008. But we decided to follow our hearts and carry on, and it paid off. We’ve had some very successful American tours since then, particularly in New York, with the Bowery Ballroom.”
Given the global success, there must always have been a temptation to head out of Ireland and base themselves elsewhere, but God Is An Astronaut remain pretty loyal to their Wicklow base. “If we were to relocate anywhere it would probably be the US, simply because things seem to be taking off there, and when we go over there to tour we have to pay 60% tax on all our income”, Torsten suggests. “If we were based over there we’d have to pay a lot less. But we like the European lifestyle so I can’t see it happening. My favourite place to tour, though, is probably New York.”
God Is An Astronaut’s current tour – which comes to an end at Dublin’s Vicar Street this weekend – is to celebrate a decade of the band, and has been accompanied by a re-mastering of the band’s entire back-catalogue. “We’re delighted with the remastered versions”, Torsten explains, “they sound so fresh to us, even ‘The End Of The Beginning’ sounds like a new record. It’s amazing the work Tim Young, the producer, put in. He also worked on The Beatles remastered series and on Massive Attack, and his work is incredible. ”
As well as celebrating, though, God Is An Astronaut are using the ten year mark as a turning point, and heading off in a new direction, with Torsten defining the time as “a chance to reinvent ourselves”. With a new album due “probably around April or May of next year”, Torsten is writing heavily, and “in a way that’s different to what we’ve done before. It’s hard to explain, in some ways it’s more commercial than our previous stuff, but in others more obscure. I’m writing with the more off-the-wall moments included from the start, rather than layering them over the top, and there are a few vocal elements that have been added in a different way to before. It’s pretty hard to describe, but all will be revealed.” What that won’t lead to, though, is hefty changes to the live set up. “We’ve always been a band that plays career-spanning live sets. These ten year anniversary gigs obviously fall in that category, but it’s not going to change with the new material, either. It’s what people who come to see us want to see.”
God Is An Astronaut have always walked the line between rock and ambient music, and Torsten seems to be pointing towards a rockier next album, as well as edging in that direction generally. “If I had to pick, I probably see myself as slightly more of a rock musician”, he concludes, “though obviously there are large elements of both that and electronic/ ambient styles. The last album ‘Age Of The Fifth Sun’ was more ambient. My song writing this time is really reflecting my mood, so if I’m up or down when I write you’ll really hear that in the music that comes out at the far end.”
Perhaps there’s an element of that emotional delivery that led to the dropping of the band’s once infamous live visuals, but Torsten eyes more practical concerns: “We let go of the visuals because we felt too many people were doing it, it was a bit too cliché. We’re a different band now, with five members instead of three, and there isn’t the same need to add to the stage set up. It also gives us more spontaneity than we had with the visuals in place.”
Not many bands start with a last hurrah of an album and end up touring the world to hundreds of thousands of people. Far fewer can headline at the Bowery Ballroom and still find themselves so far from a household name back home. God Is An Astronaut, admittedly, operate in a niche area of music – ambient and instrumental styles have almost never found huge pop audiences in Ireland – but their touring record and global acclaim speaks for itself. So, as it happens, do their records; after all the early fears, a decade looks like only the start.
God Is An Astronaut play their final 10th anniversary celebration show at Vicar Street this Saturday, the 15th of December.