Interview: The Zenmenn on their new album, the Zeitgeist & eradicating the ultra rich

Music From Memory‘s output as a label has been unparalleled in recent years. You can never predict the next release from the Amsterdam-based imprint, who, through unknown methods of sonic espionage, have managed to unveil and reissue some of the rarest, most obscure music around.

Their latest offering continues in this vain, sharing the debut LP from The Zenmenn. Little is known about the group, who have described their work as an “experiment in harmonic convergence emerging from a deep respect for cosmic symmetry and a resistance to the prevailing Zeitgeist.”

Every so often, there are records that remind you why you like music. These sort of checkpoints are few and far between, but when they arrive, you can’t miss them. Enter The Zenmenn sits comfortably in this category – a sonically rich album with a panel of sounds that traverses cultures.

Each cut has its place on the release, and its difficult to put your finger on why. The sound is warm, pensive and full, and guides the listener on an aural path seldom travelled. We were struck still when we first heard it, and so we had to find out who was behind it.

Enjoy our conversation with The Zenmenn:

Enter The Zenmenn by The Zenmenn

We’re going to say this outright – Enter The Zenmenn is one of the best debut albums we’ve heard in a long time. Where have you been hiding? Who are you?  

Well thank you! That’s a flattering way of you to open this interview. 

We are Magnus Bang Olsen and Ben Anderson and we’ve been hiding in plain sight this whole time, you just needed to know where to look.  

The record has been described as acknowledging “cosmic convergence” and “a resistance to the prevailing Zeitgeist” – is Enter The Zenmenn an aural antidote to a broken world?

Yes

Sonically, the album fuses a range of genres, moods, identities and tempos – steel drums, ethereally flanging guitar lines, shoegazey vocals – all covering elements of both traditional Western and Eastern sounds. How did you go about planning the production of the album? Were there certain principles you held in the creative process?

Honestly there hasn’t been much planning involved; we more or less began to jam and after flirting around with different ideas such as medieval funk, and conga driven dad rock we ended up with this heavenly gumbo of wellness music. 

We were not purposefully dogmatic about anything, we found our methods as we went along. 

Mostly we develop a song while jamming on keyboard and drums and when we have a general idea about melody and groove we try to put it down. All the songs has improvised parts and we try to leave space and feel the musical cues rather than decide how long a passage should be before we record. It hopefully gives the sound a more loose human feel.

Sound aesthetically we have developed a taste for digital synthesizers over the years and gathered a semi impressive collection of cheap 80s 90s hardware. The whole analog synth trend has passed us by, partly because it’s more expensive and partly because the digital synths often are more expressive. synths like yamahas djx or Casio ctk-900, both obtainable for round 50 euros, are awesome machines with beautiful presets such as koto, steel drum, human voice, breath Sax, etc. In many ways they are preferable over moogs, junos and the rest of the usual suspects. 

We’re into country as well, especially when it meets the Hawaiian sound. The guitar sounds are definitely influenced from that. 

‘Homage To A Friendship’

Your incredible track ‘Homage To A Friendship’ features Berlin artist John Moods — who else was involved in the creation of the album and what was the recording process like?

Homage To A Friendship started as a sorta Phil Collins-style jam, and we finished it pretty fast after putting it on a hard drive and more or less forgetting about it. We met up some time later, to listen through a pile of stuff we recorded and see if anything was worth pursuing.

This one still sounded kinda good, but it was a vocal song and we didn’t really have any convincing vocal ideas ourselves, so we asked our beloved friend John Moods if he would put his angel voice on top, and that was that really. 

Meanwhile we had lost the hard drive with the session (and other sessions) so we only had an mp3 bounce with a lot of ornaments but he managed to drizzle his voice in between the phaser guitars and dx7 harps. You won’t hear it from Johnny himself; but he’s a stone cold professional. 

We in turn played on Johnny’s upcoming album, and generally like to hang out with him and chat about afterlife, the universe and that sort of stuff. 

We had Norwegian communist-synth enthusiast Kari (ultra flex, farao) in on extra vocals sometimes, and we’ve been working on some songs featuring our friend Jaakko Eino Kalevi; they didn’t end up on the album, we are planing a separate release. Next to that we play everything on the album between the two of us. 

There are clear psychedelic and utopian elements that run through this record — how would The Zenmenn like the world to be?

There’s a place up in the sun, where the borders will be gone, and the plebs will rule the Rex. 

Eradicate the ultra rich. 

If you could soundtrack the next Harmonic Convergence, which 3 records would you choose? Yours is on the list already.

Hard to choose 3 winners, but here’s a list of nominees:

1. Emahoy tsegué Maryam guèbrou (Ethiopics)

2. Gram Parsons – GP

3. Ryuichi Sakamoto – Ongaku Zukan 

3. Charles Mingus – The Jazz Experiments of Charlie Mingus 

3. Fred Frith – Gravity

3. Silver Jews  – American Water

Do you have any live plans for 2021?

We come from playing live music and have been playing behind many different artists over the years, so live music has a special place in our hearts, but playing live in the digital space is kinda off putting. Too much of life is experienced behind a screen already.

We’ll be hiding in plain sight with a Casio keyboard on a green spot somewhere in Berlin enjoying the summer; maybe you’ll find us. Hint: look for a lanky dandy and a bumblebee with rollerblades appearing behind a gentle sativa fog for mystical effect.

Special thanks to Ben & Magnus of The Zenmenn and Music From Memory.

You can listen to and buy Enter The Zenmenn here.

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