KAUAN’s latest release, Kaiho marks a creative departure for the Ukraine-based band known primarily for its unique blend of Finnish-influenced metal and ambient music. After the success of the band’s seventh album Sorni Nai, KAUAN founding member and songwriter, Anton Belov decided he wanted to explore the more ambient side of the equation and set about crafting the songs for the new record in collaboration with Finnish poet and folk singer, Marja Mattlar.
Anton recently took a few minutes to talk us through where and how he uses his favorite Strymon pedals when recording as well as playing live. We also got a chance to find out more about his collaboration with Marja and the inspiration for the new record.
I started using Strymon as studio outboard stomps back in 2013, when we recorded and released our 5th album Pirut. I was probably the only owner of the very first version of TimeLine in Ukraine (it was damn hard to get it since none of the US and EU stores ship pedals here) and I used it very often in production. At this point, “involving Strymon in the recording process” has become a tradition. Kaiho, KAUAN’s recent album, contains a bass guitar fully recorded with DI and DECO. And that’s it for the bass chain, haha! Also, after dozens of experiments with high gain guitar parts, we found out that DECO transparent drive is simply awesome together with JHS Moonshine. We ran them through a Vox AC30 from the 70s and captured its sound with two mics on real tape via an old Nagra IV-S. As a result, many people have commented that we made a quite unique and unexpected “marshy” guitar sound. You can make it loud in the mix but it won’t take over – it just adds this feeling of a wall of sound and pressure. This is exactly what I wanted from the gain guitars on that album. KAUAN was known mostly as a more “ambient metal” band before, and Kaiho was intended to open a new age in KAUAN’s history. It’s dedicated to childhood, so I had a mission to show some serious gain guitars (because of our previous heritage) but at the same time, do this intelligently and with no accent on “metal gain.” A very good example of this sound is the second half of our track “Kasvot.”
Also, I own a real Roland RE-501 which is an etalon of a tape delay machine for me. During the production of the track “Kaiho” we created a few layers of tape delays on piano. The first one is actually doing nothing but flutter. I’m sending a signal to a real RE-501 and it returns as 100% wet with the shortest possible delay time. After printing it, I can simply delete the original source signal and keep the real noisy tape fluttered signal. After I did it two times (for true stereo) I decided to process this piano with El Capistan. Flutter/wow controls, together with “tape age” and a splice effect (genius, guys, seriously, no one has done it before but it’s so damn important to have it in case of real tape simulation) produced authentic results. I made two layers of El Capistan printed piano and panned them in a very slow ping-pong way. And finally, after all of this, the whole audio signal went through my beloved BigSky. I must say, I tried all of the pedals and software reverbs on market. I have VERY high requirements and standards for reverbs. I’m looking for long, beautiful and clear tails with an unbelievable feeling of endless fields. This is exactly what BigSky algorithms are doing so well. Lexicon 224, Strymon BigSky, Strymon Flint (which I’m still dreaming of having in my collection) and Meris Mercury 7 are absolute leaders out there.
We saw a picture on Instagram recently that looks like you are using BigSky and El Capistan in your live performance as well. What is your signal chain live?
Well, actually I’m changing it now. For KAUAN’s recent tour and 2017 live shows I used a special mod of an Ernie Ball volume pedal bundled with PolyTune in one box (brilliant idea). So, all of this goes to a JHS Pulp’n’Peel, next to Friedman BE-OD and ISP Decimator, Strymon El Cap and BigSky in the end. But after our recent tour and some serious investigation, I came up with a Kemper Profiler and two Strymon pedals in the chain. I really don’t like to be dependent on venue backline and we are not such a big band that we have all of our head amps and correct cabs with us. Also, I love to play in stereo (BigSky can assist with this perfectly), so it’s always hard to match a pair of real amps or one amp and complicated stereo fx loop to get it work. Now, with the Kemper and an all-stereo path, I’m assured that I’ll have my own sound at every venue.
What prompted the change in creative direction for the new record? KAUAN has been primarily a metal band up until now.
My age, I guess. I always wanted to write music with no genre boundaries, but perhaps because of my “metal roots” I had a quite limited music color-palette in the beginning; so I’ve been “forced” to start with metal because it was in was my “native” language. After many albums, I slowly came to a more wide-open form of writing and I’m planning to develop this direction further, of course!
How did you end up working with Finnish folk singer Marja Mattlar?
I heard her previous work with Tenhi (album Polku) and was very impressed by her musical personality. When I recorded the demo version of Kaiho, I used her poem as “demo lyrics” and every word of it clicked with the melody so well that I decided to contact her and see if she would be open to allowing us to use her lyrics for the whole album. Marja said “yes”. She is a great Finnish poet and it’s a big honor to work with her.
Do you plan to continue creating ambient music or will metal make its way back into the mix at some point? What are your plans now that Kaiho has been released?
Oh yes, on the 1st of December, my (as Anton Belov) first cooperation with Marja Mattlar, “Kohti,” will be released under our own label kauanmusic. It will be the first release with me as the composer and arranger for Marja’s tracks. Next year I’m planning to concentrate on this solo career as well, if we can call it that. There are two releases planned for 2018 and a new KAUAN album for 2019. Speaking generally on my future creative direction – I love huge clouds of reverb tails dissolving and developing in piano and pads and will be pursuing this sound in as pure a way as possible going forward.