Hailing from Sydney (Australia) the duo Warren Bones (‘BONES’) and Craig L. Saunders (‘<Sik>’) are active for more than twenty years now as NOVAkILL. They release albums at irregular basis, the newest opus “Iconoclast” being released in 2020 on RepoRecords. It’s the band’s fifth full length and without a shadow of doubt also the most accomplished one to date. It’s a great production appealing for EBM fans in search of well-crafted and intelligent body music.
(Picture credits by Virginia Young / Interview courtesy by Inferno Sound Diaries)
Q: You guys last year released your fifth album to date, which I think was meant as a search for new ideas and progression. What is this all about and in, which way(s) is “Iconoclast” different from previous works?
BONES: Not so much a search as a deliberate effort to do things a different way. Our first four albums were all done using the same software, Synapse Audio’s Orion, and we had basically approached things the same way. But Orion was discontinued quite a while ago and we ended up moving to Cubase, which led us down quite a different path, which we were keen to follow. It introduced us to a whole lot of things, many unexpected, and we wanted to explore those possibilities.
<SiK>: For us, the progression was in the process. It initially started the same way, developing a few song ideas and sharing them, though once Bones made the decision to do a song a month it gave it real impetus and a coherence. We were building on our usual style, and had a few strong EBM based tracks, that then allowed us to play more and deviate a little, and we kind of expanded the idea of what can be a NOVAkILL track.. The idea for the intermezzo tracks is something we have talked about for a couple of albums, though never did it. This time we of course did, and I feel they lend a lot to the album listening experience.
Q: One thing is for sure, this new work definitely sounds as the most accomplished and mature production to date; retro EBM elements mixed with a very own, powerful and contemporary touch! Did you handle specific references and/or criteria to achieve this work?
BONES: Not at all. The big difference for us this time around was that we put a time limit on things. We set a goal to write one new song every month in 2018 so that we would have an album’s worth by the end of the year. It worked really well, we had something like 15 songs by September, which meant that for the first time we had new songs that didn’t make it onto the album.
We did all that while we were still using Orion and by the end of March 2019, we had it finished. But during that time we had started working with Cubase and we ultimately decided to re-do all the songs in Cubase and choose the versions we liked more. That meant another year of work but, in the end, “Strike” and “Descent” were the only Orion versions that made the cut.
I don’t normally work with my influences front of mind, but it is inevitable that they will find their way into what you do. If you like the way a certain artist does something, it will always affect the way you approach the same thing. Most of my inspiration comes from the instruments we use. “Twisted”, for example, came from a beautiful pad sound I got from one of our plugin synths that I spent a whole evening just playing from one of my keyboards.
<SiK>: We have a set idea of what constitutes a NOVAkILL track, and though, as mentioned above, we expanded on that a bit there are still elements to our process and style that push us down a certain path to achieve a sound we like, so of course other artists/music we like will be reflected in that. We never think we want to sound like a particular or specific artist, we always set out to make a NOVAkILL track, but of course influences come through. I take a very Post-Modern approach, the whole ‘everything is a remix’ idea, and take influences/concepts/styles and kinda blend them together, then they go through the Bones filtering and production process.
Q: The title of the album “Iconoclast” needs some extra explanation; what or who did you’ve in mind to find the title and how does it reflect the lyrical content of the album?
BONES: To me it is an obvious title for what we do. In ancient times, iconoclasts were people who went around smashing craven idols. Today it is associated with people who speak out against the status quo, which is exactly what we try to do. I actually think “Iconoclasm” would have been a better title, but I didn’t think of it in time.
<SiK>: Our albums often go through a few titles before we settle on one.. and the word “Iconoclast” felt good, and is sorta what we do… it doesn’t relate to one specific song or idea, but reflects our basic political/ideological standpoint.. ‘don’t blindy trust icons, idols, authority etc.., question them, pull back the curtain, tear them down if you have to’.
Q: Tell us a bit more about the writing and production process of the album. What have been the different stages you’d to go through? What were the biggest challenges, the main difficulties you encountered and finally the points of satisfaction and/or improvement?
BONES: First off, I hadn’t written a song in a long time, maybe 8 or 9 years. For “Kill Everyone” and “I Hate God”, Sik had come up with pretty much all the musical ideas and a lot of the arrangements, too. If I’m honest, I had lost motivation and was really only going through the motions. That’s why there was such a long break between “I Hate God” and “(D)anger”.
On the back of “(D)anger”’s success we got to play Wave Gothik Treffen in 2017 and we spent several months rehearsing, far more than we’d ever really done before, and that got me motivated again. I was keen to keep things on the boil, which is why we decided on the schedule I mentioned earlier.
Our production process is pretty simple. Whichever one of us comes up with the idea works on it until it’s in some kind of usable shape, then we share it with the other, who continues the process, refining it and adding extra bits and pieces. They all end up back with me and I add vocals, do the final mixing and mastering.
Obviously we are very happy with “Iconoclast”, it turned out better than maybe we thought we were capable of. Still, we can hear areas where we can improve further still, so we’re keen for a follow-up, although we haven’t started anything yet.
<SiK>: As Bones outlined, this album went through a couple stages, the initial gathering of some sounds and ideas, then the process of building them into songs, with a reasonably strict deadline, and in that process a few tracks were written from scratch. At the end of a year we had an album that was 90% or more complete, bar final touches and processes, but we had the album done. We weren’t in a rush to release it, and gave it a little time to ‘rest’, and then, partly as a learning exercise and partly as a ‘what If’, we thought we would try to rebuild the tracks in a different DAW, which forces you to re-examine the elements, and make/remake some of the writing/production decisions. The albums always go through a stage of adjustment/change/etc though usually that is working with what was there, this time it was kind of a tear down, build again, and that process either affirmed what we had, or exposed things that could be improved which, overall strengthened the end product…
Q: What are the main differences between NOVAkILL and all the other (side)projects you both are/were involved with? What makes this project so special?
BONES: That’s easy, we both have the same musical tastes and we (hopefully) never let our egos get in the way of making the right calls. It’s a simple case of the whole being more than the sum of the parts. It’s a rare and special thing that’s allowed us to achieve way more than I could ever have hoped when I first got up on stage, solo, in 1985.
Until recently, I’d never really had any side-projects, but I think at one stage Sik had more than half-a-dozen on the go. But last year I started working on a few cover versions and during that process I realized that it might be a good way to get some live gigs (we haven’t played since WGT in 2017) so I’ve been working on that. I’ve got about 50 covers, mostly successful 80s stuff, and we’re in the process of trying to turn that into gigs. With COVID, it’s been a challenge.
<SiK>: NOVAkILL is Bones and me. We have a process and a sound unique to that combination. My ‘side-projects’ are often ways for me to just try things and experiment, or just ‘do’. NOVA STATE MACHINE started with the idea of doing a ‘pure’ EBM album, but with a different flavour, and I was after vocals in Russian to create a particular sound, though in the process of making the first album (which was also a deliberate homage to some of my favourite artists) things evolved… which working with others always brings. I like the collaboration process, and some of my projects are specifically that… a way to work with certain people… It challenges me to try different things, in ways I wouldn’t normally do. If it is just ‘me’ then I can do whatever the hell I want, be it good or bad… but it is about doing something different to NOVAkILL, sometimes in a small way, like a change to a drum sound, or sometimes in bigger ways, be it song structure or overall sound, but it is all about continuing to work, experiment, learn, develop… and it all feeds back into NOVAkILL through production and writing. ‘Everything is a remix’ some NOVAkILL tracks began life in a ‘side-project’.
Q: We last month celebrated the ‘international EBM day’ (24/2). Does it have a special meaning to you and what’s your perception of EBM?
<SiK>: EBM day has never been a ‘thing’ for us… Every day is Halloween, I mean EBM day… I don’t really go out of my way to mark the occasion. The ‘scene’ down here in Australia is very small, and while there are a few ‘club nights’ here and there, it is not something I tend to do… though having said that, Bones and I had been discussing resurrecting our Industrial club night “Virus”, but then COVID hit and the idea was shelved. Maybe this year we will do something ‘special’, start the next NOVAkILL album perhaps… BONES: I’d never even heard of it until a couple of weeks ago. The scene here in Sydney no longer exists. It’s just gone and I can’t see or think of any mechanism that will change that.