Some of the most respected qualities in life and music are flexibility, ability to improvise and hunger for progress. I always had a big respect for artists who could step out of their comfort zone and simply do what they like, no matter what the reaction will be. Nile mastermind Karl Sanders has a long term passion for music from the Middle East and he is currently releasing a third solo album called Saurian Apocalypse. We spoke about artistic conditions during the pandemic, mental well-being, guests, computer games and a possibility of bringing the project to the stage.
Photos credit: Nill Silver
Hello Karl, thank you for finding time for this interview. Since I heard for the first time Saurian Meditation, I am always looking forward for more of your solo works. What were the reasons for a long break between the second and a third album?
Thank you for the interview. The simple reason is that I was very busy with Nile during those years. But also wrapped up in there was that I didn’t want to make the record just for the sake of making a record. But after I found myself at home, all touring cancelled during the first wave of the pandemic – I found myself gifted with the strange gift of lots of time to work on music. So that’s what I did. I already had a few things written, and a huge wellspring of ideas that had been building for years, as well as the basic concept – Mankind destroys itself, the earth is taken over by insects and reptiles.
What were your motivations, how to enhance Saurian Apocalypse guests and instruments-wise? When did you get an idea to bring back Pete Hammoura?
Pete and I have been close friends for decades, and I see him about once a week. We play pickleball and hang out. So it was a pretty natural, easy choice to make. As far as the other guests, of course it is gonna be my other close friends – Mike Breazeale, Matthew Kay, Rusty Cooley. Mustafa Stefan Dill is a guitar friend of mine, a jazz genius and Oud master. So that was also an instant “of course”, and George Kollias is, besides one of the best metal drummers on the planet, quite the jazz drummer, so that was also an obvious inclusion.
We were very limited in the past few years to travel, but I am extremely interested to know, if you managed to travel to North Africa and Middle East in the past few years to visit new places next to burial chambers of The Sarapeum with Nader Sadek?
I haven’t been back there since the Nader Sadek trip. But there is so much new stuff to see, that I would love to go back when time and budget allows.
Talking about the past few years, how were they affecting you creatively? Not only from my personal experiences, but also from discussions with many artists, there were waves of frustrations, but eventually a massive motivation to be creative.
Hahaha. Yeah. “Time to practice your instrument is a gift from the Metal Gods, not to be Wasted.” After surviving the first few months of total lifestyle shock, I came to view the shutdown of live music as a curse, but also a gift. Those of us who truly love music understood it as potentially a rare once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do something positive, as opposed to wallowing in negativity and despair. I starting teaching guitar to pay the bills – but soon discovered that working with the students was yet another opportunity for personal growth. To be honest, I had more work and learning than anyone could or would ever ask for. I wasn’t bored, I was fucking busy. All day, every day.
At the same time this phase was a period of long periods being alone, sometimes even very unpleasant re-evaluations of past experiences. Music helped me to get to those negative moods and thoughts even deeper, but eventually pushed me to solve them in my mind and feel much better than in the starting point. Did you have similar experiences?
Absolutely. During the worst of the pandemic lockdowns, Rusty Cooley and I would hang out late night for hours on end, playing acoustic guitars. I was certainly the lucky recipient of an incredible amount of guitar instruction. Some of those lessons made their way into the acoustic guitar ideas on that record, particularly the modal derived quartal concepts. Similar to what we just said, that calm state of mind is why the guitar playing on Saurian Apocalypse is very anti shred, meant to induce a trancelike meditative state, with calm playing, focused on taste and tone. Really, the goal is in giving listeners a sort of cinematic experience, telling stories with music. A few people have commented that the Saurian music is music that gets one high and tripping, without having to ingest anything harmful. 😊
In what setting, do you feel the most comfortable composition/arrangement/writing-wise?
I like to write at home, away from the daily distractions of touring. I find that while on tour, since I am playing the shows every night, I am really on top of the chops, but it’s not really an environment conducive to deep creative thinking. To be honest, I like to be able to hear myself think. For me, I do the most interesting creative work late night, after the world is quiet in the still of the night and I can hear the universe speaking to me musically.
“Fuck you darkness, I am alive and I choose to live to walk upright like a person – to live and be happy, naysayers be damned.”
How broad is your spectrum as a listener? I am happy to hear jazz guitarist Matthew Kay on “No Creature More Deserving of Cataclysmic Annihilation”. I am mainly a fan of rock/metal music, but for the recent years I also work for national Czech jazz radio Český rozhlas Jazz (Please check the works of Shabaka Hutchings, if you don’t know him) and as a half Yugoslavian, I have a massive respect for world music.
There is so much amazing music made in every part of our Earth, if one just takes the time to hear it. We have, at this time in history, the capacity to hear music from people no matter where they are across the world. With the click of a mouse button. It’s absolutely the best time to be alive if one wants to hear some new and interesting music. One can blame no one but themselves if all they are listening to is whatever the latest cookie cutter pop drivel is. There is something for everybody, no matter what your taste or interest is.
When did you fall in love with dark and mystical world music and who helped you in the young age to express these emotions musically?
Film score music. And years ago, playing in bands before Nile with Pete Hammoura. His family is of Lebanese heritage, and he introduced me to an entire wealth of Arabic and Middle Eastern music.
How do you deal with darkness and to find inner peace in the long term?
Mostly with music. It can a chase away the life negating spirits. Even angry or dark music can do it. Any music, really. Dead spirits don’t make music. Live ones do. Music is an act, and a resulting sound, of those who yet live. Not long after I finished rehab in the early 90’s, I discovered not wallowing in darkness is easier than people realize. You say to yourself, “Fuck you darkness, I am alive and I choose to live to walk upright like a person – to live and be happy, naysayers be damned.”
One of the tools to relax once a while during pandemic were computer games for me, which I didn’t play for years. However, I must say, there is no better soundtrack, while playing Rome: Total War 2, than with your music. Any fun relaxations for you in that context? Games, sci-fi movies?
Doom Eternal and Call of Duty 2 Multiplayer online. Funny story, years ago, right after Nile did the Festival of Atonement EP, an odd coincidence happened. There was a game called Quake. The early version of the game played the soundtrack files for the game from the install cd, if you left the cd in the CD player. Well, I had left the Festivals of Atonement CD in the disk drive, so that CD would auto play whenever I would play Quake. At first it was a weird experience, playing Quake listening to Nile, but I started seeing how the two art forms intersected at this unique nexus. It slowly dawned on me how one could write music that worked both sides of the brain. I think that little realization was an epiphany moment, and really was a subtle shift in the way I thought about writing music.
You produced the album yourself and cooperated with Simone Mularoni at Domination Studio. Do you appreciate having someone for another opinion and fresh thoughts?
Absolutely. While I like a cohesiveness of vision, I don’t believe one person should do every goddamn last job on a record. It’s too much, and there is much to be gained from being able to focus on what one is good at, and let someone else who is good at whatever they do, do the thing THEY do best.
Amazing work on animated videos. I am currently preparing visuals & name for my music presentations concept and it’s very challenging for me to solve those issues. Was it simple for you to come up with visual concepts and who was the main support for you?
The guys making the 3 videos for this record, 12 inch Media, asked me what the songs were about, and asked me in the vaguest possible way for some broad stroke ideas. They took those vague suggestions and went and did their own creative artistic take on it. I really liked what they did; it’s a very unique visual expression of the song ideas.
I will be doing a number of interviews at Brutal Assault, where we will be able to see a number of projects, which never played live. Any chance we will be able to see you with your solo material live in the Czech Republic in the future?
Currently there are no plans to do the Saurian material live – it would take a Hans-Zimmer sized budget to do it justice lol. The other day my manager called me and said – “if this record keeps doing this well, you may HAVE to do some live shows.” But for now, Nile music and touring keeps me plenty busy in the meantime. 😊