NADER SADEK: THE METALSUCKS INTERVIEW
The worlds of music and visual art often meet and intertwine in ways that allow us to appreciate each work, each medium, on an entirely new level. Thankfully, these marriages are plentiful in the world of extreme metal, and one stand out propagator of this union is Nader Sadek. Cairo-born and NYC based, Sadek has been a visual icon on the scene for years most noted for creating visually striking settings and costumes for bands such as Mayhem and Sun O))). With the help of a pretty heavy-hitting core band featuring Steve Tucker (vocals – ex-Morbid Angel), Flo Mounier (drums – Cryptopsy), and Rune Eriksen (guitars – Aura Noir, ex-Mayhem), as well as appearances by other notable musicians, Sadek’s album In the Flesh is nothing to shake a stick at, either. Quite the contrary, actually – the meticulous composition of each song coupled with the intensity lent by each artist involved in the making of the release could easily set it up as a contender for a spot on an “Album of the Year” list.
Still, Nader does not quite consider himself a musician; rather, an artist exploring various mediums to best portray a concept or an idea that’s been ruminating in that fascinating brain of his. A commendable stance, I think, and tell-tale of the level of talent and drive he truly possesses. Speaking with him, it’s very clear as well; his visions will not, under any circumstances, be quelled. While the theme of In the Flesh is humanities detrimental dependency on petroleum – an undeniably political issue that’s been (rightly so) argued over for ages — in speaking with him about the subject, it’s turned into an eerily poetic, as well as desperate, concept: the living in a seemingly never-ending fight over a substance derived from death and decay. Our daily lives fueled by the rotten remnants of civilizations past.
It would be interesting, to say the least, to see what kind of live show this ensemble would come up with. For those of you in New York City, imaginations can be put to rest in that respect. On Sunday, November 20 at Santos Party House, Nader Sadek will bring to life In the Flesh in a (free!) performance surely not to be missed. Please be advised that in a perfect world, one wherein I’m not a cubicle rat working 9 to 5 in an office hours away from the Big Apple, I would hop a bus to see just what he’s come up with for the event. Sadly, this world is far from perfect, and I’d like to be able to pay my rent this month. Thankfully, though, I got to talk with the artist about everything from his music, his art, his upbringing, video shoots, and man-made machines that consume food and produce, well… see for yourself.
The basis of the album is humanity’s worrisome and destructive dependency on petroleum, which is of course a hot button issue politically. To devote an entire album to the subject, I gather this is an extremely important issue for you personally, is that correct?
I think actually, politics or political themes are unavoidable in all art. Even the satanic black metal stuff, even that’s political. I actually didn’t approach this project as a political subject because I already believe in the philosophy that anything that’s political, you know; almost every choice we make is political. Especially in art, because in art if you’re expressing an idea, that idea is based on the culture that you’ve composed of yourself, throughout your life, and that has a lot to do with politics, it has a lot to do with the country you grew up in.
But, to get more into actually answering your question; I’m also very interested in how petroleum is basically things that are dead. It’s basically dinosaurs, and trees, and plants and all kinds of things that were alive at some point, and were buried in the earth for a very long time and the whole process of their combined decomposition has created a new chemical, petroleum, which is poisonous. Humanity has found a way to create energy out of that, an energy that we now depend on, and not only does it pollute the world; we fight over it. We’re fighting these wars, killing each other; it’s basically the currency of the world. This idea that something that’s dead is what the world runs on, what’s become the currency of the world, is extremely interesting to me.
So, with In The Flesh you were active in the writing process lyrically and musically, though you’ve expressed in the past that you’re “not a musician.” Do you feel like that’s an area that you’d like to explore further and maybe get to the point where you’d consider yourself as such?
Well, you know, my involvement both lyrically and musically were actually pretty minimal. Musically, I only wrote the song “Nigredo in Necromance”, I wrote the music and the lyrics for that. Although I didn’t write the drum beats or all the harmonies, it’s more of a collaborative effort, but that’s really the one you could say 90% was me and then 10% was Flo, and the drummer Andrew and the guitarist, and Nick the bassist. Then I did a spoken word thing so, Steve the vocalist who was on the rest of the album was not on it. So, it was very minimal involvement, I just really like experimenting with all kind of media. “Negredo”, the video, was the second thing I ever directed. I just really like to challenge myself and put myself in situations where I kind of freak out…
But I actually like that, because it’s kind of like learning a new language. I believe that it makes me a have sort of a richer character, in that it makes me learn in other ways or be prepared in other ways, so this project was really me just wanting to push myself way out of my comfort zone.
Bust as far as the rest of the music off the album, and excluding all the ambient pieces; I made those but I wouldn’t say they were separate things but it also wasn’t the same process of writing music because it was more, like – from the concept I knew what kind of sound I wanted to sample, so it was it’s own exercise in a way, it’s own practice, but it wasn’t as complex as writing a song. As far as what I wanted to do musically was, I chose three songwriters – the drummer, the guitarist, and the singer and with their resumes and with the sound that I’m used to hearing from them, I figured if there was chemistry and if they get along personally and understand me and what I’m going for, then, it’s just going to sound as much like an engine as possible. The reason I chose metal as a medium for this concept is because I think that metal already has a very machinelike sound and machines, especially car engines or airplane engines, run on petroleum. So it’s the perfect vehicle, no pun intended, for the concept. I also wanted to use the music to compliment some sculptures that I’ve made in the past which are also based on petroleum dependency, which most of my work is. The idea behind those pieces is kind of like “Well, if we’re using dead things as energy, than maybe we should just use these people that have died for these wars and use their bodies – convert that into energy”.
I wanted to also bring that idea to life in the record and that’s why I chose the guitarist Rune Ericksen because although he can do things that sound extremely vicious, he also has tendency to do really melodic, very emotional harmonies and a really good example of that is on “Negredo” or “Mechanic Idolitry”. I think on those songs his harmonies are very emotional, and portray well the concept of a machine that feels pain.
Then there’s the singer, who wrote most of the actual music on the album; he kind of has that same mentality as well where he wants it to be as heavy and brutal as possible, but also emotional. He understood a lot about the sound from the beginning.
You actually touched a bit on a question I was going to ask concerning different mediums. You said you were happy to push yourself, but I was wondering if there’s a medium you feel most comfortable with, or keep going back to?
Yeah, I think what I’m most comfortable with are the silicone sculptures. It’s gotten to a point where it’s pretty simple for me to make them, it’s just something good to fall back on when I don’t really know what I want to do, or don’t feel very comfortable tackling something new, I know I can just go back to the studio and bust one of these flesh things out. Even more comfortable than drawing, and drawing is something I’ve been doing since I was a kid. Drawing is also something that – you know, I kind of have this thing about practicing, it’s definitely a weakness that I want to work on… well, am working on. I just kind of hate working on a craft or practicing for the sake of getting better so when I make something, it’s complete. I like learning every time I have a concept and I want to make a sculpture for that concept, and that’s the practice but it’s also the final piece. I won’t keep working on it or do a million tests; I’ll just go right straight into it. I love the spontaneity of it.
Obviously you’re very passionate about visual art as well as music. For some, one seems to inspire the other. Do you feel that way at all or is it more universal to you than that?
Well, I’d say – I try really hard to stick to concepts, like ideas, and then I try to think of the best way to express an idea. I’ll think of a couple of things and realize “Okay, things aren’t working.” Before I get to any actual art making – just sketching, writing things down, brainstorming. Then I’ll get the idea that I feel is the right one and I’ll go from there. But like I said with the musicians, picking them, it was very concept based, for me. People would come up to me and say “Hey, its cool you got some of your favorite musicians to play in the band” – and they are some of my favorite musicians – but in all honesty, if it weren’t for the concept, I might have thought of someone else. I have to think of “What’s going to carry this idea better.” It’s really about the concept and what I’m trying to express. Of course, music is inspiring. I’d say music inspires me maybe more than most visual arts simply because I don’t really know how to make it, or rather make something so complex.
So you take most of your inspiration from social and economic issues, but touching on the last question, are there any artists, musical or visual, you’d say you’re influenced or inspired by at all?
Oh, cool, yeah. Actually I really love the artist that made a lot of wood-carvings and prints – his name is Gustav Doré. He’s really amazing, I really love his work. But as far as contemporary visual artists, I think he’s been working since the 70’s; his name is Robert Gober – he’s really interesting. He does mostly minimal stuff; I’ve never really seen him do anything huge and monumental. His stuff is just really weird, there’ll be a leg, a really realistic looking leg just sticking out of a wall, and even though it’s just a leg and you see the skin and the hair; something about it is really sick. But it’s also really normal, I mean, it’s just a leg sticking out of a wall. I just think this guy really figured out how to play with people’s minds.
There’s also another contemporary guy that I really like, his name is Wim Delvoye, and yeah, he does some really crazy things. He built this machine called “Cloaca” and that machine digests food and makes feces. You actually give it food, and it breaks it down chemically with the exact same components that our bodies do and it makes feces…. and then he sells the feces as his art.
Yeah, it’s just, like… so bizarre. He sells one piece of feces for like $3,000, it’s insane. And of course the machine itself is a piece of art, too, so that would go for probably at least a million dollars. But he’s made some other neat stuff, too; he’s taken the shapes of gothic cathedrals and made automobiles and construction vehicles – it’s hard to explain, you have to check it out. Everything this guy does is such a trip.
Yeah, I’m kinda surprised I’ve never heard of this guy.
Yeah, I mean, the contemporary art world is pretty weird. Some people get famous and get very successful, but at the same time the contemporary art world kind of imprisons them. There are very few artists, like say maybe Damien Hirst, there are very few that get that kind of fame and exposure, you know? But I think this guy [Wim] has gotten pretty big. Actually, you know what, I saw a show of his over here where he tattooed some pigs. What he did was saved some pigs from getting slaughtered and then tattooed them with like generic tattoos that most people have.
Actually, I have seen that, I can’t believe I didn’t know about his other stuff.
Yeah, it’s that guy.
Well, clearly I’m going to have to look into him a bit more. So, sticking with artists, are there any specific musicians you take inspiration from when you’re working?
I like a lot of stuff, actually I really like Wagner. He really inspired me, especially as far as the live show I’ll be doing on the 20th, where we’ll be playing the whole album from start to finish; Wagner, and even some soundtrack music, although I don’t own very much. I really see this album as a soundtrack, and that’s why it’s also really important to me to make videos for each song. Hopefully, I’ll have it in the budget to make all of them, right now I’m working on the third one. I think the album has that feel – I think we were very successful, or the musicians were, in creating that vibe. The album itself is very atmospheric, but also has tons of blast beats and tons of crazy guitars, which I think is something that’s extremely difficult to pull off, you know, and those guys did it. I’m really grateful and really proud. In that way also, it makes it easier for me, when I think of an idea for a song I can come up with it easily; from hearing and feeling the songs I can immediately come up with a color scheme, like with “Sulffer”, for example – it was so easy to think of smoke and water and caves, you know, all these things came right away to me. Making music can be a real challenge, but when it comes to coming up with ideas for it it can be real fun and really easy.
Yeah, I’m looking forward to hopefully seeing more of the videos as they come out!
Yeah, totally. Since the guys are here, we’re gonna take advantage of that. We’re gonna be working on “Mechanic Idolitry”, which we actually shot an into and an outro to in Egypt when I was there like a month ago, so I’m really excited about that. I was lucky, I ran into someone who is a really big fan of the album who let us use the same kind of camera we used for the other videos, which is really important, because I want to keep things consistent. I also have a friend who’s really into Egyptology and knows the in’s and out’s; he knew of this pyramid that was partially destroyed and actually it was illegal to visit it, but he knew of a way to get into the desert without the authorities seeing us. It was really kind of scary because I was wearing a costume and stuff. I was thinking “if they catch us with cameras, and all this, who knows what they could do to us”. It was really exciting and scary. There were a lot of things happening too, that made the whole experience really magical – I can’t wait to edit it and put it all together. I’m sure everything will come together really well.
So, as far as growing up in Egypt, do you feel like your bringing up in Cairo gives you a unique perspective as far as the New York art and music scenes are concerned?
Yeah, you know, growing up I was always fascinated by Western society, and thankfully, I was lucky enough to travel as a kid; I got to see some of Europe and some of America. And also, a lot of Western music and movies are very popular in Egypt, and I mean all over the world, people love Hollywood movies. So, being on the outside, I think it made me appreciate it in a different way than people who grew up in the states, who might take it for granted. For us it was more of a rarity; not that local culture was “bad” or “not good” or… it’s just – it’s something kind of like a paradox or something contradictory because the local culture you take for granted. It’s not exotic. So, to me, Hollywood was what was exotic. The local culture was cool, but it didn’t interest me as much because I was surrounded by it all the time. Now that I’m here I’m actually trying to kind of remember and revisit my past – think about things I kind of neglected. Definitely, living there and growing up there, in particular, really shaped my way of thinking. Then when I went to college in Minneapolis, it was a real culture shock. It made me see things so differently from before. Minneapolis is pretty much the exact opposite of Egypt; It’s cold, it’s not highly populated, and the only thing they had in common was having the largest rivers in the world… but that didn’t help much. I think the combination of Minneapolis and Egypt really shaped how I think now.
Alright, I think we covered pretty much everything I was going to ask –
Actually, if we could, I’d love to talk a bit about the “Sulffer” video –
Yeah, I’d love to hear about that, actually.
Cool. Well, basically, I actually hand-built everything in that video, including the cave. It’s not actually a real cave, I built it in my studio.
Really? That’s awesome, I had no idea.
Yeah, it’s funny, no one ever asks about the sets or where we shoot. Funny story actually, there was this guy in Greece who was interviewing me, and beforehand I mentioned that I had built the cave, and he wanted me to say in the interview that I built it, but I forgot to say it.
It was a film interview, and afterwards he reminded me that I forgot to say it and I was like “Ah, no!”. So, I figured I’d take advantage of this interview to say it. I just want to get that out there because, I mean, the “Negredo in Necromance” video – we took some portable batteries, we had some storyboards. Went out into the woods, shot it, came back and in about thirty hours straight we started it and finished it. But with “Sulffer”, it took two weeks to build that cave, you know, eight hours to film. There was just something weird about that song – everyone had a difficult part in it going into the studio, you know, too technical for me to really get into or understand, but something about the timing of it was really bizarre. What was weird was – even making the video for it was like, just shit kept going wrong. For example: we shot it in November, and it just so happened that when we were pouring the water in the cave, the water was frozen so when the singer went in to act his legs were freezing. Plus there was a lot of water and a lot of lights and we were kind of worried that the lights would fall in the water and kill the singer – so thankfully that didn’t happen. Man, it was just like – there were so many issues. But we survived, and it just made all of us stronger people, and hopefully that comes through on the next video. Plus, editing on that took around six months because the guy we had kept going on tour – he does lighting for Girl Talk, he’s an interesting guy. But I’d have to wait for him, and it was just an insane process. After that I was like “Okay, I’m not doing any more videos.” Then, months later, I was like “I really have to make videos for each song” and started to get inspired again.