Interview with Stefan Otto of Nebelung


“…you have to find a path to your subconscious.”

Jason: Hi Stefan. Thanks for taking time out for this interview. Congratulations on Palingenesis (reviewed here), it’s a remarkable piece of work.

Stefan: Thanks a lot for your kind words. Now that the album is being released, we’re really curious how the overall reaction will be. We have never put so much time and effort into an album. In fact Palingenesis is also the first album, where every little step, from writing to recording, mixing and mastering has been done by ourselves. Looking at it now, it’s exactly how we want it to be. And of course we sincerely hope, our fascination for the album will be shared by others.

Stefan Otto Nebelung
Stefan Otto – classical guitar, voice

Jason: I read elsewhere that Nebelung develop out of a blues band and that some of your influences were noise rock. Why did you turn to acoustic instrumentation for your musical vision?

Stefan: We have always been quite open regarding our musical interests and influences. Thomas and me were playing guitar together since late school time, and we played in quite a number of different projects before Nebelung was born. The most vivid of these projects was an improvisational post rock band, with Thomas on guitar and me on bass, that still existed when the first Nebelung album came out in 2005. Due to the fact that we have never been able to successfully find a drummer willing to deal with purely improvisational music in the long run, the project was laid to rest at some point, and Thomas and me put our whole energy into what also seemed a little more rewarding, regarding that we had found a good and successful label to spread our music in basically no time.

Despite all the little projects we had since our early days, Thomas and me always continued to meet the two of us and improvise on acoustic guitar, be it at home or at times in the forests. A huge influence on the tunes that were created by that time came from the acoustic work of Ulver, and some other bands on the edge of the Neofolk genre, which was relatively unknown to ourselves by that time. Getting to know Forseti left a huge impression on me, and due to my strong interest in German poetry – both writing and reading –, it lay at hand to carry this interest into our music.

Jason: Where do you draw inspiration for Nebelung’s music?

Stefan: Our main inspirational moments have always been those rare moments out in nature, when all thoughts come to a halt, and you find yourself in speechless awe before the secrets and beauty of nature. Those rare moments of pure emptiness, getting you so close to your inner self, always had a tremendous impact on us, and – in hard times – have always been the driving forces for ourselves to go on. I think Nebelung has always circled around these thoughts, and has always been an attempt to name the unnameable, and to put into music what words can’t describe.

Jason: How does it inform the music?

Stefan: For me it always seemed that Nebelung songs aren’t ‘written’ in the true meaning of the word, but are somehow pre-existent, and just need to be re-discovered and re-created by closer listening to the silence. This is also an explanation why there hasn’t been a musical output for such a long time now (the release of Vigil dates six years back now). We weren’t lazy, but somehow the frequency had changed, that carried the waves of the music we were to create, and it took us quite some time to find it and to open ourselves to it. The first tunes to Palingenesis were created nearly five years ago now, and by that time we weren’t sure at all where they would lead us. That was something that had to be discovered by ourselves as well in the following years, and at times we were completely overwhelmed by what we found.

Jason: How does your music begin life? An idea, a melody, a riff, a lyric, a theme perhaps? How do you approach writing? Do you work separately and bring complete songs to the band or do you collaborate on ideas?

Stefan: Somehow the music starts as a feeling, a mood, and it’s our attempt then to find the melody carrying that mood. Usually it’s me (Stefan) creating the musical (and lyrical) fundament to a Nebelung track in that manner, which is then handed over to Thomas to accompany what’s already there with his incredible sensitive guitar tunes. With Palingenesis it was a bit more complicated, as stated above, for the feeling had changed and had transformed itself into a deepness that was completely overwhelming for us, and asked for other musical approaches to be completely met.

Jason: Do you discuss how you want the songs and your albums to sound or do they take shape as they are being developed?

Stefan: I think it is both. At times we are not open yet even to our own ideas, and we have to let them sink a little deeper to fully cherish them. But at times they also feel wrong. Of course this can lead to a lot of discussion, as the feeling of right or wrong is quite subjective. But in the end we always find a unified vision and its right manifestation in music.

Thomas List - steel-string acoustic guitar Nebelung
Thomas List – steel-string acoustic guitar

Jason: How does Palingenesis feel in relation to your earlier works?

Stefan: Riper, deeper and more mature.

Jason: What was it that you wanted to achieve with Palingenesis? Did you have a clear idea of what you wanted for this record?

Stefan: No, definitely not in the beginning. Due to our sensitive approach towards its creation, and the fact that it took years to find its true form, it somehow became a mirror of that time. On a personal level, the years in which the album was written and recorded met a time in which I was running through a period of transformation, which led to a new paradigm, and a kind of spiritual renewal. Of course this paradigmatic change also led to a different view on our own music, and, as a result, to a different musical approach. With this slow but steady paradigmatic change also the concept on the album grew, while the final conceptual ideas didn’t reveal themselves before the very last recording sessions. Somehow the influences were mutual, and the work on the album influenced our lives in a similar ways as our lives the work on the album.

Jason: The album title, Palingenesis, is from the greek words for ‘birth’ and ‘again’ and refers to a variety of concepts of rebirth and recreation from the continuing recreation of the cosmos, Christian regeneration, to transmigration. How did you seek to capture, to represent, or to embody this concept in your music?

Stefan: The concept behind our album is spiritual renewal by facing the darkness and shadows of your subconscious, the suppressed parts of your personality, and integrating them into your consciousness through transformation. For us each meaning of the term Palingenesis is an image for another facet of this path to spiritual renewal, which can be experienced as a process of death, transformation and rebirth. To go through this process, you have to find a path to your subconscious. For us the album is a guide on this path, where each track depicts another stage of the process.

The first track, ‘Mittwinter’, serves as some kind of introduction of what’s to come. From the middle of the track on there’s an ever growing disturbing unrest, leaving the listener in a very sensitive and unsettling mood. Just at the edge of this vulnerability the track stops abruptly, and the monotonous and mantra-like melodies and whispers of ‘Polaris’ guide the listener deeper and deeper into his own inner world. ‘Nachtgewalt’ and ‘Aufgang’ somehow serve the same purpose, each revealing other details and moods of this inner journey. The rainfall at the end of ‘Aufgang’ (German for ‘ascent’) holds the purpose of earthing the listener on his journey, and serves as a preparation for what might be the spiritual climax of the album, the track ‘Wandlung’.

‘Wandlung’ is another word for Metamorphosis, which has been the initial title of the song. In the development of the album it marks a turning point. The spiritual journey reaches a point here, where the flickering of the inner images comes to a halt, and where there’s only silence left. The ever repeating main theme of the song depicts this silence, growing deeper and deeper, and the at first unsteadily shivering and later calmer layers of drones of the Cello and the Indian Harmonium laid underneath depict the transformation made within. At the climax of the track the silence dies and fades away, into a state of nameless emptiness, exposing the listener to the final part of the song – and maybe the strongest part of the album – depicting the bliss and awe followed by this experience. Entering the condition of emptiness is the foundation for spiritual renewal, with the mind held in a state of pure and silent ‘Innerlichkeit’ (inwardness, the title of the last track), void of all imagery, and open to the world around you.

Jason: Unlike your previous works, there are almost no lyrics on Palingenesis. Why did you choose to make an instrumental album?

Stefan: The decision to go without lyrics is based on how the album conceptually developed. Simply put, the music itself just didn’t demand any lyrics. In the few lyrical parts the album involves now the spoken words merely serve as an additional instrument, which was also the reason for the decision to put them into another language (Norwegian). With Palingenesis we wanted to go farther, or deeper than we have gone up to now, so we tried to take on a deeper approach, leaving the insufficient medium of language behind, sparing the conscious, and trying to let the music take a direct and unaltered way to the subconscious. Whatever would arise from there would now be void of a specific cultural imagery, and would be individual for every listener.

Jason: Music is a very powerful medium for conveying messages, secular and spiritual, and we live in an age where, because of our dependency on technology, our relationship with nature has all but disappeared. Do you think that music, something intangible and abstract, is itself imbued with an ability, a power perhaps, to provide an avenue into the subconscious?

Stefan: Absolutely. In my eyes music can be an equally powerful substitute for meditation. One of the most effective tools in this manner is repetition, as you can see in the many cultures where music, or more general, sound serves as a vehicle to guide or carry the person seeking for enlightenment or cognition into his inner worlds. Mantra-like repetition has always been a great way to break open the boundaries of the consciousness.

Katharina Hoffmann - Cello
Katharina Hoffmann – Cello

Jason: What does the future hold for Nebelung? Is there more music in the works?

Stefan: In the next months we want to work on the re-recording of our previous albums. All of our previous work, our debut EP Mistelteinn, the 7” Reigen and the full-length Vigil are sold out since a quite a while, and we have received several requests from fans and labels asking for a re-release. Since these albums were recorded, Nebelung has been joined by our Cellist, Katharina, and many of the songs were partly recomposed to meet our new line up for live performances. Additionally our own musicianship has improved a lot since those days, and thus we don’t want to just re-release our previous work with all its imperfections. Our plan is to release the re-recorded work in a vinyl box-set sometime next year, giving our debut and first full-length also a first appearance on vinyl.

Jason: Any plans for live performances? If so, will we be seeing you in the UK?

Stefan: At least at the moment it’s not sure if we will be able to go on tour with new album. The whole of the album, its delicacy and deepness is carried by a lot of single instruments and melodies, and there are rarely parts on the album where less than three guitars are used for the melodical fundament, which is then extended by more guitars and other instruments. The same holds true for the cello, and the number of parts being carried only by one single cello are really few. We fear it’d mean an inevitable loss of what makes the album such a special experience if we cut away most of these details. So unfortunately there’s not too much planned at the moment, and I can’t promise, if or when we’ll hit the shores of the UK.

Jason: For live performances, what would be your ideal setting and/or venue?

Stefan: For us, the ideal settings are small, sacral or private places, without the need to amplify the otherwise acoustic instrumentation, be it, because the room is small enough or the acoustic of the place makes an amplification unnecessary. We never felt too comfortable on big stages. Our music doesn’t obtrude itself upon the listener, and always requires a careful listen to really cherish what lies within, a condition rarely met at bigger venues.

Jason: Thanks again for taking time out for this interview. Do you have any closing words for our readers?

Stefan: Thank you very much for the interview. And thanks a lot for reading. Your support and interest mean a lot to us.