INTERVIEW BY DAVE HIMELFIELD
Stars in every European country except England and a couple of others where music is probably banned, Dave Himelfield chats to Robert Buras, guitarist of Norway’s biggest and blackest Madrugada.
What is a Madrugada? Dust your Spanish Dictionary that hasn’t seen the light of day since your GCSEs or when Ibiza was actually considered cool and turn to page…
Madrugada (nf)– Early morning, the small hours. That blue time in morning only experienced by those that can’t keep regular hours. Insomniacs, HGV drivers, chemical party people, the unemployed, deviants. It’s a mysterious, isolated and ambiguous time. It’s also not a bad name for a band. I ask a rather intoxicated (by beer and love for his the guitar, of course) Robert Buras why they decided on it.
Robert seems to agree. “I thought it was a very nice word. Kind of what the band was about because ‘Madrugada’ is quite wide. (It’s) everything.”
I ask about Stokmarknes, a town in the north of Norway where Madrugada grew up and formed and its atmosphere and people. Buras is either perceptive or lucky in his choice of comparison.
“It’s like the people in League of Gentlemen”. Me and my co-interviewer, both stalwart fans of the comedy laugh. It appears perhaps not surprisingly that such a TV program transcends international boundaries. While Buras says that on his return trips (Madrugada now live in Oslo) he can never stay for more than three or four days but admits that it “blows (him) away every time (he) goes back there” with bizarre things like 24hour sunlight in summer and the unsurpassed scenery. Buras also admits to the kind of small town fear inherent of communities living in isolation.
“There are some people who are afraid of the outside world. It’s (Stokmarknes) safe. This is where I live and this where I’m staying.”
Surprisingly, even small remote communities are touched by all forms of music even before the advent of the internet and digital radio. Buras claims that one of the best record shops he’s ever found is in Tromsø, a town right on the north coast.
Judging by Buras’ eclectic guitar style it isn’t unusual to find he has rather diverse musical affection included the usual suspects (Elvis, Rolling Stones, Black Sabbath, Nirvana and Nick Cave) and a few surprises (Dub Reggae). They’re appeal he claims lies primarily in the guitar sounds.
“It was really hard hitting (and had) a lot of energy. I just wanted to have control over the guitar. That triggered the whole thing. Like Keith Richards”
On forming a band his reasons follow on logically.
“I joined this band when I was 18. (There’s a) connection and chemistry you get in a band. I just wanted to be a guitar player. The noise of playing guitar you can do things that you can’t say.”
Madrugada without doubt possess a dark and often frustrated sound. Buras puts that down to the fact that “life quite can be boring. Wake up again, another day. What the fuck am I going to do?”
Despite a comparatively non-commercial sound Madrugada have enjoyed enormous success in many but not all of the European countries that you would expect. Buras amounts this to the role of the record company which is not something he’s keen to deal with.
Popularity in so many countries has not tarnished Madrugada’s thirst to spread their dark dictum. Consequently they’re forever on tour. Despite the repetition of it all Buras always enjoys it and claims that it’s Madrugada’s constant energy and inability to sit still that stops things becoming stale.
“We always change things our set list. If we’re playing well and we have the energy then we enjoy it.”
In the studio the ethos is similar. Madrugada have worked with producer kings of the underground such as John Agnello that have a knack for “twisting the mixing concept”. Though Buras declares that they “still (have) a lot of experimenting to do with the sound”. Grit’s tougher sound is a result of that mobile mindset regardless of the press and public’s reaction.
“The second album (The Nightly Disease) came out and the press gave us really good reviews and then the third (Grit) came out and the hacks said we were shit”, Buras jokes.
Madrugada have a considerable amount of new material in the wings which will as you’d expect be a progression from Grit. Buras claims that it will be somewhat “psychedelic with huge songs” and of course, “very guitar based”.
I ask why bands insist in singing in English rather than their native song and why Norwegian can’t break the Anglo-American hegemony. Buras sums up that “it doesn’t work although. There were a lot of great band in the 80s that sang in Norwegian.”
I conclude by asking if they’ve become “boys-done-good” in their towns of origin since cracking Norway and elsewhere. Buras laughs.
“No! We went on this very successful tour in Norway and sold everywhere out and we came to that place (Stokmarknes)…there were 50 people. It’s like coming back to Royston Vasey!”
words: Dave Himelfield
pix : (c) madrugada
(c)(p) july04 - musicdash / manchestermusic.co.uk 2004