In a move that may surprise some of his fan base, Behemoth frontman Nergal has taken a very different step with his latest work. Me and That Man (Cooking Vinyl Records), a gothic folk project with British/Polish musician John Porter is a startling and compelling collection of songs about love, death, and redemption. We got a chance to catch up with John and Nergal to talk composition, creativity, and collaboration.
GC: Many thanks for your time, gentlemen. Could we start with talking about how this record came together as it is undoubtedly a major departure from what people are perhaps used to hearing from you?
Nergal: I suppose that it is. We contributed on a song a few years ago, it was a Polish version of Highwayman – four guys, one song, but the first time we collaborated we didn’t even see each other; it was a collaboration we did over long-distance in our own home studios. We didn’t get to meet each other until, what, like two years later..
John Porter: Yep, two years later, he calls me up and says “I’d like to meet up with you; I’ve got something that I’d like to discuss with you”. So we met up in some Greek restaurant and (laughs)..here we are….
GC: What inspired you to create this melting pot of an album, this blend of gothic, country and folk?
Nergal: I think the term melting pot is right. You know I think that the record shows how diverse and vast the inspiration was. I’ve just been in the local record shop listening to the record and I’m skipping between songs and I’m like…”how diverse is THAT?!”. We have like country and blues and post-punk. All kinds of inspiration have gone into this big jar and we just mixed it up, all kinds of stuff. Stuff I have grown up with…John has thrown his inspirations in..lots of rootsy stuff too…
GC: Can you tell us a little about the recording process; this sounds like it was done live.
JP: Pretty much, it was. Obviously there are a few things that we added on at different times, for instance, some edited vocals and the children’s choir that we used, this was added on later but most of this was done live together in the studio.
Nergal: Nearly all of my stuff was done “as live”. It was a first experience of that nature for myself ; I have never done a record like this before. With Me & That Man, the entire experience is very different for me. For instance, if I’m playing and I someone makes a complete fuck up then we just carry on, you just let it go and I think that attitude and approach speaks volumes about how this record sounds; it’s very natural and organic. You don’t have to be super perfect and precise; we just go with the flow..This isn’t like recording with Behemoth where everything is tight and perfected….
GC. What about the themes of the record:there is a lot of stuff going around on it. Redemption, love, death. Both considering your own mortality. …
JP: Of course. I think this is something you consider everyday when you get old! You wake up being grateful at being alive and hope you can get back to bed in one piece at the end of the day (laughs)..I wouldn’t put too much of an emphasis on the philosophical side of things in terms of this record though. It’s the way we are, the way we think..the record is about our mindset and where we were at that moment…
GC: The reason I ask the question is I think it’s on the song “One Day” you say “Love and Death are the same thing”…what was going through your mind at that time?
Nergal: I’m not sure. You know, you write a song, you put lyrics to it and you put it out there…and you don’t think too much about things. And then…one day you work out what you had in mind. Things just happen when you’re making art. I don’t overthink about songs once they are done. It’s done. It’s finished. It’s out there: deal with it.
It’s like a painter with their painting. I doubt Picasso ever really knew why he painted the nose in pink….
There is a phrase: explanation kills art and that’s exactly how I feel about making music.
GC: So what is the writing and collaboration process like for you guys?
JP: It’s quite a practical, ideas sharing process but equally very loose and flexible. I have an idea, he has an idea and we see how we can share and add to each others thought process.
GC: How critical are you of one another’s ideas?. Or is it a very warm relationship that you have developed?
JP: To be honest there hasn’t been a need to be critical of each other.From time to time we may question the approach each other is taking but mainly that’s about creative decision making. We haven’t really felt the need to be very critical of each other. Not yet anyway!
Nergal: That’s right. FGrom my end, John would send me a sketch of a song and I was pretty much like ” Wow! I love it!” Pretty much always. So my approach would be not to add too much for fear of ruining the song; I didnt want to come across as a Mr Know-it-all, or appear arrogant at all. Overall, I think we developed a very good synergy.
GC: What have you learned about one another from this creative process?
JP: I would say tolerance and building a deeper understanding of people. Not accepting things at face value all the time.
Nergal: For me, working with John has been instructive. He has worked mostly solo for most of his life. And the same for me. So it was a challenge to..
JP: …not kill each other?! (laughs)
Nergal: (laughs) yes, well..mainly about learning to co-operate. There was a time when I had an idea about adding a choir to a song and John was like “No!” and I was going “Why not? It’s amazing!” and he was “It’s MY song!” and you need to respect each others borders and thought process.
JP: That’s right. You learn to respect each others ideas even if you aren’t always totally crazy about them…
GC: so you have some live shows planned. What can you tell us about your plans for these?
I don’t think it can change very much from the record: you don’t need lots of tapes or effects or Pink Floyd type back-up.
Nergal: I think it will be a minimalist approach but you never know, we might just bring along a school choir as well…
GC: How do you think your natural audience are going to react to this record? Will they be surprised?
Nergal: Yes. That’s good! That’s a good reaction. Look, it’s different, for sure. And some people are going to go crazy for it and some will definitely not like it. That’s fine. The record is done. my work is done; it is out there. I have no control over what people think or do in response to it. Let them decide!
GC: What do you hope the reaction will be?
Nergal: At the end of the day I think more will dig it than not dig it, but I like the controversy that doing something like this generates…the contrary opinions…
With Me and That Man, it’s like an opportunity to throw a stone into a wasp’s nest and stand back and watch what happens….
Let’s be clear though. Behemoth is one thing and Me and That Man is a separate thing also. And I’m cool with that…