‘The Bridge Between Life & Death’ is the second long-play album from Barcelona (via Bristol) based producer Zoon Van Snook.
Van Snook is a mercurial talent, everything about his second album is unconventional; reecorded partly in Iceland, partly in Bristol, the album features 11 tracks of ambient electronica, found sounds, field recordings and collaborations with Icelandic artists Amiina, Benni Hemm Hemm and Sin Fang and will be released on June 10th via Lo Recordings in the UK/Europe and !K7 in the US.
Fuelled by influences from the likes of Björk, Sigur Rós and múm, ‘The Bridge Between Life & Death’ is the result of a Zoon’s long-standing fascination with Iceland; a fascination that finally led the producer to make the pilgrimage to Europe’s most interesting volcanic rocky outpost armed with his sound recorder to create a brand-new album.
As you could imagine we were really keen to speak to Zoon and pick his brain about his new album, how he ended up in Barcelona and the signifcance of Greek/Nordic poetry on the album’s themes and concept.
HBF: For those of us who don’t know you, what’s your name and where are you from?
I’m Zoon and I’m from Bristol, but currently living in Barcelona.
HBF: So Barcelona via Bristol – how did that come about?
Barcelona has a very healthy electronic music scene, with great festivals on the door step. I’d really love to play some shows in South America and thought Barcelona would be a great place to pick up some Spanish on the way.
HBF: Your second album includes a lot of field recordings from Iceland – what was the reason behind this?
I had always loved music with recorded dialogue and interviews interwoven into it, like ‘Voices of Old People’ on Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘Bookends’ or the recordings on ‘Dark Side of the Moon’, but I became fascinated by field recordings when I learned about John and Alan Lomax and what they had done to preserve indigenous folk music around the world.
The first record ‘(Falling from) The Nutty Tree’ had a healthy dose of field recordings, but I really wanted to build a whole album with each song constructed around a separate field recording that would make up one overall narrative whole. Icelandic music has, and continues to inspire me immeasurably and so as soon as I was able, I booked a trip to Iceland. It seemed an obvious and organic step to take the field recordings whilst I was in Iceland.
HBF: How would you say your new album differs from your debut – did you do anything differently the second time around?
I lost about 75% of the original ‘…Nutty Tree’ album in a massive hard drive failure – many songs of which I didn’t feel I could replicate again even if I had wanted to. The individual songs and theme as a whole was always about the loss of my uncle, certain aspects of whose life were paralleling mine.
I was trying to cope with the sudden and painful breakdown of my marriage at the same time which I think makes for a bit of a Frankenstein’s Monster of an album. I was trying piece myself AND the album back together simultaneously, starting again but having the relics of the first album at various places throughout.
The new album was much more smoothly constructed – songs coming to me in banks of three at a time and being finished relatively quickly.
HBF: Do you think it’s really important for artists to leave the confines of their studios to kickstart the creative process?
Everyone’s different, but I personally like to be able to bring the outside into my studio and into the recording process as a whole. You’re cooped up in the studio for a long time – which I genuinely don’t mind, if things are going well there’s nothing more exciting, if things aren’t going well you just take yourself away from the situation for a bit, and things will invariably be much better when you revisit it.
HBF: There are collaborations on the album – tell us how they came about, where they just happenstance or did you already have a wish list in your mind?
The idea to collaborate with other artists came to me very early on, the whole picture and narrative unfurled in front of me as we travelled around the country. I have many favourite Icelandic artists and I have been amazingly lucky to be able to work with most of them on this project. I met Jónsi from Sigur Rós at the Múm concert in Reykjavik, he was busy finishing up his solo record – maybe one day in the future our musical paths will cross.
HBF: Explain the link to Greek/Nordic epic poetry and the album’s themes – was that, too, pre-planned or just a moment of inspiration?
The title came almost as soon as we landed, it was the taxi ride from Keflavik through Kópavogur where we saw and were told about the bridge between life and death, named so because it has the nursing home on one side and the cemetery on the other. As soon as I heard that story, I knew that was the name of the album – the individual ‘chapters’ and plot line were then building as we visited places and met people around Iceland.
The Nordic influence comes in the form of ‘Snorri’s Saga’ (Snorri is considered the writer of ‘Egil’s Saga’ which I was reading during the making of the LP). Egil is a poet, farmer and murderer who kills his first victim at the age of only 7; it’s at the start of the album which represents the early years of life – the song has a lullaby quality it. ‘Inclementine’ I imagine as the Norse godess of bad weather and ‘Magret the Outlaw’ was a huge marauding woman for whom no man was a match, that I THOUGHT I had read about somewhere along the journey, but when I returned to England to research her properly, there was absolutely NO mention of her anywhere on the internet!! – I must have dreamt her up!! (which I actually prefer).
The Greek influence is found in the songs towards the end of the album, which reflect the end of life. ‘Lyre! Lyre!!’ a nod to Orpheus who tried to reclaim his wife from the underworld and ‘Tjörnin Side’ – which is the big pond in the middle of Reykjavik – which I relate to the river styx (or Acheron) from the afterworld, where a ferryman carries the souls across the river into the underworld.
There is one biblical reference with regards to the song ‘The Potter’s Garden’. There is a sculpture garden outside the church where the field recording was taken, but the title is a reference to the ‘Potter’s Field’ from Matthew, in the New Testament. Judas returns the 30 pieces of silver for betraying Jesus because he is wracked with guilt, the priests decide they can not do anything meaningful with it because it is blood money, so they buy a field that is largely clay and therefore no good for agriculture – it serves only as a place to bury the unknown and unloved.
HBF: Try and explain the creative process of making the album’s songs – did you have songs prepared before you got the field recordings – or was it the other way round?
A lot of the songs were written over the field recording playing, with the chords being written on the piano. Sometimes I started with a guitar, glockenspiel or lyre part and then played the field recordings over the top. The collaborations were dealt with differently – the Sin Fang contribution was chopped into individual chords and then rearranged into a new progression. The Amiina guys gave me lots of one-hits on various stringed instruments and I played the field recording whilst building up the song from there – the organ recorded in the church is in the same key as the one-hits so it fits together wonderfully. Benni Hemm Hemm contributed a field recording of is own, it’s a recording of his family on holiday in the mountains of Iceland.
HBF: If your studio was on fire and you could go back and save one thing – what would it be and why?
My Korg Triton. It’s my multi-purpose baby.
HBF: Tell us a secret about yourself that nobody knows?
I’m too emotionally expulsive to keep secrets!!
HBF: How did you come to be known as Zoon van SnooK?
I was born in Belgium, staying there for only two years before coming to Bristol. On the birth certificate it has ‘Zoon van……………’ printed in the corner (meaning ‘son of………………’) and you then write the surname in the space = Snook