Q&A: Black Salvation’s Paul Schlesier, Birger Schwidop & Uno Bruniusson Issue A Jaw Dropper

Black Salvation

The A&R folk at Relapse Records have had a very long history of pulling obscure artifacts–artists, actually–out of the proverbial abyss. Bands with little to no history, releasing essentially first-label masterpieces. Bands like Amorphis, Nile, Nasum, Pig Destroyer, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Mastodon, Baroness, and new darlings Black Salvation have joined the ranks of artists who occupied the vastness of the unknown but are now underground, if (underground) household names. Formed in Leipzig, Germany in 2009, Black Salvation initially were entranced by the heavy doom of UK doom purveyors Electric Wizard. A few years later, the members of Black Salvation realized the need for a wider, deeper palette, while also maintaining the ‘heavy.’ Of course, the Germans, over time, also refactored their vision of ‘heavy’ from things informed by Jus Oborn (and his predecessors) to things less concrete, like the way Jimmy Page felt his riffs rather than played them. This viewpoint change resulted in debut album, In Deep Circles, a self release in 2014.

Now four years later, the Germans have yet again reconfigured things, like their lineup, their sound, and their newly inked contract with Relapse Records. Foundational members Paul Schlesier and Birger Schwidop are now joined by ex-In Solitude drummer Uno Bruniusson. The duo of Schlesier and Schwidop wrote new album, Uncertainty is Bliss, without a drummer, however. This forced Black Salvation to simply the structure and the sound of the band, whereby new doors opened. No longer beholden to the standards of a genres restrictive, Schlesier and Schwidop expanded Black Salvation to the heavies of psychedelic hard rock. The deal was sealed when Bruniusson joined. The material immediately formed into the mind-blowers that are “In a Casket’s Ride,” “Breathing Hands,” “A Direction Is Futile,” and “Getting Slowly Lost.”

Decibel sits down with Paul Schlesier, Birger Schwidop and Uno Bruniusson to better understand Black Salvation’s transformative journey into Uncertainty is Bliss.

Black Salvation aren’t a new band, but you’re relatively unknown outside Germany. OK, to Americans. Tell me a little about how the band formed, your super-influences, and what your goals are.
Paul Schlesier: I used to jam around with our old drummer, often doing Electric Wizard-like slow psychedelic influenced stuff. We had a few really intense moments while doing so and from that point on the band was born. We felt like this is a good spot to explore more. That’s also what its ‘goals’ are if you ask, so: exploring the unknown, searching for certain unexplainable magic, drawing as much as possible from it. I think that’s what Rock music is all about, ever was. That kind of ‘free’ feeling. Super-influences? Everything getting access to our doors of perception!

Is there anything specifically German or Leipzig about Black Salvation? I mean, Bach and Wagner were from Leipzig, not that there’s a connection to modern day other than cultural.
Paul Schlesier: I don’t think we could point out a specifically German or Leipzig aspect in our music. Of course, we live here and what we’re forced to see, hear, and feel each day gives you the inspiration for our art. Historically, we have great writers like Hesse, who may have inspired our thinking about various things; musically, of course there’s also good classical stuff, although Chopin or Schostakowitsch are more my cup of tea–but all nothing I would relate directly to Black Salvation. Anyway, we have this circle of Leipzig bands called Into Endless Chaos, which consists mostly of more extreme music and artists. Of all kinds. The way this group of people approaches their art inspires us each other a lot, which may be the ‘special Leipzig’-thing about Black Salvation.

How is new album, Uncertainty is Bliss, different from your debut, In Deep Circles, in your opinion?
Paul Schlesier: In Deep Circles was mostly a snapshot in time, searching for our approach to rock music, in general, when we got tired from the doom metal kind of stuff we did in the beginning. Almost feels like a demo record to me. Uncertainty is Bliss is a whole another step in expressing ourselves through music and lyrics. We had different circumstances than before, so we wrote most of the record as a duo. Actually it feels way more like the first real record for us after a long search. It’s definitely a fundamental [passage] for a more profound involvement into all the good, floating, unknown poisoning fruits music has to offer.

What did you want to do differently or change from the debut to the new album?
Paul Schlesier: Enlighten more aspects of the record, like visually, letting a song breathe the way it was supposed to when we wrote it. Grow into it with the new lineup. It’s hard to compare though. In Deep Circles was a very early state, not knowing where it’s going or what we wanted at all. Now that it feels like a really good direction it’s on to explore and getting deeper into it more and more.

Did anything specifically inspire you musically on Uncertainty is Bliss?
Paul Schlesier: Hard to put the finger on specific records or artists. We’re inspired by a wide variety of music as there’s so much different music that can hit every state of emotion that you are in. The list would be endlessly long. But I always find myself coming back to classics like Led Zeppelin, The Doors, Creedence Clearwater Revival. I guess the non-compromised passion they had combined with basic ways to bind that on tape definitely influenced our idea of what a recording process should be.

I hear bits of Kosmische Musik in Black Salvation, like Amon Düül II and Can. But I also hear bits of Michigan rock, like MC5 and The Stooges. Maybe even some Echo & the Bunnymen, from an indie rock perspective. What role, if any do these types of music play in Black Salvation?
Paul Schlesier: Can and The Stooges are really great. We even played The Stooges covers a few times at shows. But from a songwriting perspective I wouldn’t say that it had an influence. And I personally haven’t really listened to Amon Düül II, MC5, or Echo & The Bunnymen. I’m rather influenced and inspired in certain musicians who have a special confrontation playing an instrument or thinking about music, who search for the struggle and the little details. That might be a Jimmy Page talking about the magical tremolo-effect on Link Wray’s “Rumble,” or several blues guitarists who just get the essence out of a few chords on a scabby old guitar. You find those details a lot.
Birger Schwidop: Can, MC5, and The Stooges definitely shaped my approach on making music. I’m very into repetitive stuff that sucks you in more and more with every iteration whilst sneaking in details that may disturb you from time to time. Also having a rough and dirty rock ‘n’ roll attitude is the best way to get the right amount of energy in the music. It has to be dangerous to a certain extent! So, from my perspective you’re right if you think these types of music play a role in forming our aesthetics. Kind of. I think I can talk for us all when I say we’re all enthusiastic about sound effects. That may be the Kosmische Musik reference you interpret. Even if I don’t listen to Amon Düül II so much (gave it a few tries, but didn’t really get me) maybe we share a similar kind of excitement about effects and that stuff, even if we’re only at the beginning of exploring this aspect.

At what point did Uno Bruniusson join Black Salvation?
Paul Schlesier: The first time we really met Uno was at a show where we played with In Solitude (really intense show!) here in Leipzig. We had huge problems findindg a drummer at that time, still we felt the urge to go on and write all the songs as a duo, somehow putting together skeletons of drumbeats on our own piece by piece. When we met Uno again in Berlin at a concert we talked about our stuff and he offered to help us out by recording Uncertainty is Bliss. So it happened!
Uno Bruniusson: We met a night out in Berlin and talked a lot about music. We found out we shared a common understanding of what powers it can hold and what you can do with it… We talked about how to approach it and from what center within you gotta shake from, in order to align with this power. Paul then sent over demos and I fell in love with the songs instantly. I knew the band before but this was material on another level. We started to meet in Leipzig for rehearsals and we reached results quickly but more so, the vibe between the three of us was so fun and silly, almost comparable to the one between lovers. We mixed free jams with the structures in a blurry but sweet way and reached a state of boiling connection which transferred itself outside of the rehearsal space into the rest of our day and night. We were high as fuck on this throughout rehearsals and the recording.

What were the songwriting sessions like?
Paul Schlesier: As we came from a pretty jam-based background when it comes to songwriting, we had to find a new way to work on songs without a regular drummer. It almost seemed impossible to find someone who suited the vision we had. So Birger and I put those songs together with some more imagination, back to the more substantial aspects, just keeping it a bit more simple but effective. I wrote a lot ideas at home on guitar, Birger handled the drums and then we worked on those ideas in the rehearsal room. In the end, we had a bunch of demos with puzzle-like drums on tape and overdubbed bass and vocals to see how it works all together. As Uno got into the process we rehearsed once to see how we play together. It worked exceedingly great. It instantly felt like we had found what we have searched for years. A bit later we rehearsed a week without a break putting all the pieces together, working on details expanding or cutting down the songs and went straight into recording after that.

Where did you record Uncertainty is Bliss?
Paul Schlesier: We recorded in a friend’s rehearsal room. Because they were the only band in this building we basically could record as long as we wanted to. They told us about the size and stuff but as soon as we arrived and plugged in our guitars we realized that it was the most inappropriate place for a recording session. It was small, everything clacked and made noises with every tone and we had to build walls out of everything we could find to have suitable acoustics. In total we had eight days straight for the setup and recording.

What were those sessions like? Did you record on vintage gear, to tape, etc.
Paul Schlesier: We definitely wanted to make choices during the recording process and we wanted to keep it as natural and true to what we sound like as possible. So we collected a bunch of good microphones (that we could find) and rented a tired and bitchy old 8-track Fostex tape machine, figured out how to outsmart and handle its issues and started recording. This old lady was so tired that we had to give her her 20-30 minutes every morning to record and play back in the right speed. We basically got one tape for each song, so we were forced to make the decision if we want to go with the take we just recorded or to re-record over it. I really loved that approach, sometimes it was pretty nerve-wracking to waste good takes in order to get a better one, but it was definitely the right approach to capture the moment and the feeling that brought us together. We played the songs together at the same time and after about one week we had the basic tracks on tape. We dubbed them to a computer and recorded the overdubs and vocals afterwards.

Who produced and engineered Uncertainty is Bliss?
Paul Schlesier: We produced the recording mostly on our own. Mixing was done by Martin ‘Konie’ Ehrencrona, who really did a great job to tickle out the right details and always adapted it to our wishes and thoughts. The mastering, which gave the record the space, color, and finishing touch it needed, was done by Pieter Kloos.

Is there a lyrical center to Uncertainty is Bliss?
Paul Schlesier: I write all the lyrics. Those words describe often a kind of search for the search, drifting in uncertainty and what to draw out of that ‘between the things’-being. It is about letting yourself fall free into momentum of the indescribable unknown, lately a lot about longing and the force and magic of relationships. I try to be as honest and personal about my topics as this gives the music more substance but still like to give it a certain veil to explore. And I guess the music opens up the feeling behind those words a bit more as well.

Now that you’ve signed to Relapse, what are your plans? More touring, more of everything?
Paul Schlesier: Definitely as much touring as possible. The signing gives us also some possibilities we hadn’t before. So, I hope we will have more time to focus on the essential things instead of finding ways to work around every struggle all the time.

What are your next steps?
Paul Schlesier: We’re on getting tour plans together and working on the visual aspects of the music which are hungry to crawl out of the unknown. So, there will come a few videos.

** Black Salvation’s new album, Uncertainty is Bliss, hits stores on April 6th, 2018 on Relapse Records. Pre-order bundles are now live (HERE) for the sonically intrepid! Explore, journey, venture into Black Salvation’s uncertainty.