Interview with Krallar

Photo by Ipek Odbaasi

Q: Hi, krallar, on your soundcloud page you describe yourself in minimal fashion as a “drone noise outfit from Sofia, Bulgaria”. Whilst you do have an online presence, I’d say your music is shrouded with mystery. So, let’s start from the beginning. How did you get into music?

A: My father was into heavy metal, that’s where it starts. So we had a lot of tapes with heavy metal, like Judas Priest, Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath, lots of Black Sabbath. So my introduction to music was through my father’s tapes. And after that, maybe at 10 years of age, I discovered Nirvana. That was a revelation for me. I read in some magazine that it was punk, so I thought, “This is my kind of music,” but later I discovered that punk is lots of different things, but it was the first type of music that I embraced as my music, with all the subgenres and the stuff that comes along with the term punk. By the time I picked up a guitar, it was a huge thing for me. I ended up playing in a couple of bands connected with the punk and hardcore scene, and I still do to this day, in one way or the another.

Q: What was it like to be listening to metal in communist Bulgaria?

A: From what I know from my father, acquiring heavy metal tapes, or any kind of western hard rock music, back in the late 70s, early 80s was an adventure in Bulgaria. It was like an underground thing back then. People were exchanging tapes, and sometimes vinyl, coming from Serbia, where, to my knowledge, they had a more relaxed attitude towards Western Music, but it really wasn’t easy. Things probably only became easier in Bulgaria at the end of the 80s, just before the fall of communism. Still, this created a sense of community for people who listened to this kind of music, with friendships and stuff like that. I’ve heard some stories from older people who had their hair cut in the middle of the street or had patches on their jackets torn off from the police back in the 80s. My father wasn’t the type to dress like that, though, he only listened to the music.

Q: What about experimental music?

A: There was access to experimental music in the early 80s. Well, I am not sure about “experimental”, but punk and post-punk and new wave and also heavy metal music. The music was there, but I believe it was harder to acquire the tapes or the LPs. It wasn’t like you went to a shop and bought what you wanted, or listened to some stuff and chose what you liked. Some music did get into Bulgaria and that was pretty much the only music available, so sometimes you had these older guys listen to some pretty obscure bands that no one outside Bulgaria listened to, like Uriah Heep, for example. Many people from my parents’ generation are really into this band and I don’t believe they are that big outside of Bulgaria, or maybe they are, I don’t know, but I never hear anyone talk about them.

Q: So, how did you get from punk into drone and experimental music as krallar?

A: There was a period in my life that I wasn’t making any music at all, like a transition period, and krallar was my attempt to get back into making music by myself and experimental music was like, I don’t know, an easy choice, because there were no limitations for what I was going to do with this project. I had some basic gear at home, some pedals, synths and a laptop so I tried something I’d never tried before. I had done noise music in the past, but it was guitar based. With krallar I didn’t want to use that much guitars. So I tried some software stuff and some effects pedals and stuff like that and just recorded something one night at home. I thought, “This is pretty cool, I am going to uploaded it to bandcamp,” and I thought of a name really fast and did artwork for like five minutes and yeah, this is how it began.

Q: Where does your moniker come from then?

A: krallar is a Turkish word, it means Kings and it is a song by Erkin Koray a really famous rock’n’roll guy from the 60s/70s like a superstar in Turkey. I once made a trip to see Sonic Youth in Istanbul and I met some Turkish guys and we talked about music, and after that I became interested in Turkish music. I’d never heard any Turkish band before and there was this band Replikas who opened for Sonic Youth and they were really, really good. I was way impressed so I searched for more Turkish bands. And found out this guy Erkin Koray, he is really big in the rock’n’roll scene there. I checked out his songs and one of the songs is called krallar. So I thought, this is a word that sounds really cool and obscure.

Q: How long have you been going as krallar?

A: I started my project krallar in 2015, I think. I am not sure exactly how many releases I have put out to date, but they’re more than three. In November of 2017, I have released a new tape via Mahorka label, a really good netlabel based in Bulgaria.

I have another release by a German label also, but most of the stuff I release myself with my own label, Kontingent Records, a DIY label I am running together with my wife. It began somewhere like in 2006, because we needed a name to write on a CDr for one of my bands and I thought of some made up name to make it look like the album was actually released by some label. This word came up and I wrote it on the cover. In fact, Kontingent wasn’t like a real label until maybe 2014 when I decided I could put out experimental music as well as punk music as a netlabel. After that, I started doing tapes as well, and now we have both tapes and digital downloads. We’ve also released some other artists as well and music that is not made by me, so it is changing, it is evolving.

Q: There’s something about your music as krallar that makes me think of absence, I’m thinking specifically of Cities I Have Never Been To and Music for Abandoned Homes.

A: I never thought about it this way, but now that you’ve said it, it appears so. Music for absence, maybe. What I am looking to do as krallar is to create a certain sound that I am hear in my head or that sometimes is present in the environment, really repetitive and bleak sounds, if you know what I mean. And as a concept, I found myself looking for a way to translate the physical feeling of opiate withdrawal into sound. I am not sure how to describe this, but I am trying to convey the physical feeling of sickness.

Q: Is that why you also picked Sylvia Plath reading her poems?

A: I think Sylvia Plath reading her poems is one the most… cathartic things I have ever heard in my life. When I found those recordings, I caught myself listening to them over and over for days on end and then one day I combined them with some drones I’d been recording the day before and it sounded really good so I made a whole album out of it, over an hour and half of music with different pieces, different poems. And I think she nailed it pretty much, the feeling of absence that you mentioned earlier.

Q: Could you tell me something about the way you integrate field recordings into your work?

A: Field recordings make the music stand out for me, they make it more personal, and more relatable when I listen back to a track, they make it unique. Most of the time I record various sounds with a better recorder, but sometimes I just use my phone. They are really low quality recordings but sometimes these low quality recordings make for the best sound material.

Q: You also use field recordings as a kind of sound diary. Could you give me the back story to your MultiRAID 2016 track?

A: When I went to Istanbul to play a set as krallar at MultiRAID, I was in a very strange state of mind. I was really frustrated for some reason and a bit depressed. I’d been to Istanbul a couple of times before and I always enjoyed, but this time it was different. There was a terrorist attack and people were pretty afraid and I was afraid too. It was a strange time to be there and I recorded a lot of sounds from the street with my phone, as you can tell from the recordings, which are pretty lo-fi. I didn’t mean to do anything with these sounds, like a track or something, I just wanted to keep some small samples from the sounds on the street. After that, when I got home it was really hard for me to think back to my experience, because I did have a really good time there but at the same time it was a very strange and frustrating time for me, as I was all alone there and couldn’t make much human contact. So, I combined these recordings to try and recreate that time and to try and understand why I felt the way that I did. It was something like therapy for me and it helped me, to be honest.

Q: So is music a way for you to make connections?

A: Sometimes it is music for my inability to make connections. Most of the time I appear as an easy-going person, but sometimes communication is a struggle for me. And ambient and drone music is a way for me to connect with myself, not so much a way of connecting with other people. And what is good for me with drone music is that I can be in a room playing drones and stay connected with myself while other people can be in the same room and be connected with themselves and we can all just enjoy being with ourselves. ‘Cause most of the time, when I am playing live… actually, I am not playing live much as krallar, but when I do, most people would just stare at their feet or somewhere else and they don’t do much, they don’t dance, they don’t physically enjoy the music, which is kind of the goal with this, to stay still for a moment or 20 minutes. I believe that sometimes it is frustrating for people to listen to the sounds that I make ‘cause they are mentally and sometimes physically exhausting to listen to. At least, for me, sometimes it is like this.

Q: What does your actual live set up look like?

A: It is hard for me to recreate most of my older recordings because much of what is in there is field recordings and digital stuff which I cannot recreate live, but nowadays I am using an analogue synth as a sound source and some guitar effects pedals for the live set. I am looking for a certain change in the way I create music as krallar, because I don’t want to relay that much on digital data anymore. I am trying different things with a new set up to play live and record live, but it is a bit of a challenge.

Q: What makes for a successful live performance, in your opinion??

A: Well, it depends. Sometimes a successful live performance is when all the people stay in the room while you play. After I play live, people come to me and tell me different things and sometimes they say, “Wow, it was good,” or, “It was pleasant,” which is nice for me, but once I had this guy come up to me and say, “This is the most scary music I’ve heard my whole life”, and I was like, “Well, sorry,” but he was like, “No, no, thank you,” so it’s… I don’t know…

Q: And how do you prepare?

A: I always start with something prepared for a live situation, but most of the time it ends up improvised. So I plan something, put up samples, make a schedule, play this one first, go to the next one, use this knob or this effect or whatever. But most of the time, the set ends up being improvised. I use bits and pieces from my recorded material to play live, but I do not want to use a laptop. So right now, my records and my live act are pretty much different. It’s a transition period for me.

Q: Why do you want to eliminate the laptop?

A: ‘Cause I am not that good with it to be honest. I feel I am in much better control with my analogue stuff or with my effects pedals. Even with the synth I am not that good, that is why I don’t want it live, because I don’t feel confident with this kind of gear for the moment. But I don’t judge people who play only digital or laptop live. I have no problem with that, I don’t care. If it sounds good, that’s good for me, but I am just not that good with computer stuff myself.

Q: Could you illustrate the use of field recordings in your work?

A: Most of my field recordings are poor quality so they are naturally used as texture, like for example the sound of the wind or the rain, but sometimes, when I catch a good sound, I try to modify it and to make it sound like something else. I have a couple of samples that are pretty much used in all my recordings that are good quality field recordings. But the use depends on the sounds. I have a certain sound that I really love, I was in my car once when suddenly it started raining really heavily with hail, so the sound in the car was really overwhelming. By chance, I had a recorder and I recorded like 10 minutes of this, and made like three or four tracks using this sound, modifying it with effects and stuff like that. So it all depends on the sound and the quality of the sound I catch.

Q: You seem to be fond of loops, is that so?

A: Repetition is really important for me and I use a lot of elements continuously. If you listen close enough, you will hear that in many tracks. In almost all of my releases as krallar I used a certain sample, which is a low hum that I use as a bass note in the mix. I don’t even remember how I recorded it, but I use it a lot, it’s a constant one-note hum. This is something I really like to be able to hear, one element in more than one track. And it makes kind of a signature sound.

Q: How do you know when to press stop while creating music?

A: I used to do a lot of editing, and a lot of deleting when making a track. Nowadays I start from a sound or a field recording and I build from that. I also try to keep tracks shorter than before. In the beginning I used to have half an hour for one track and stuff like that. Now, I try to keep focus on up to 7-8 minutes tops, so I don’t distract too much. And most of the time the track just happens. I am not editing that much anymore. I just try to combine one or two things with some samples. And if it sounds good it stays like this. I put some effects or I edit a little, but I try to keep it simple.

Q: What do you most like and dislike of the whole process?

A: I really enjoy starting a new track from scratch, like I feel I want to make something which I don’t know what it is, I don’t have an idea or a direction, and when I open the editing software it’s all blank. This is my favourite part of the process. It is great fun to start with a clean slate. My least favourite part is mastering. I really want someone else to do this for me because I am never sure whether this sounds ok or not. But I think experimental music is more forgiving about sound quality than many other genres of music. But yes, mastering is the hardest thing me, pretty much hate it.

Q: Could you describe the Sofia scene?

A: These days it’s really blooming in Sofia for experimental music, at least I think so. We have labels and artists who are really active, and there are some live gigs, so I think at the moment it’s the best time for experimental music here in Sofia. There’s Amek, a pioneering label and the oldest experimental label in Bulgaria after Mahorka. Amek is already 10 years old and Mahorka has been active for more than 15 years. They release really interesting and exciting music from Bulgaria and beyond. There are also a couple of really interesting ambient projects. One of them is Mytrip, he’s a friend of mine a really nice guy we also play in a band together.

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