Three Astronauts on an Expedition Head to India

In anticipation of their performance at Pune’s NH7 Weekender next month, post-rock band God Is An Astronaut discuss how travel is a resonant theme in their music.  
Three Astronauts on an Expedition Head to India
God Is An Astronaut's sound has parallels in beautifully desolate expanses, such as the Antarctic (top), says frontman Torsten Kinsella; The three-piece band is helmed by brothers Torsten and Niels Kinsella, and Llyod Hanney (bottom). Photo by: Colin Monteath/age fotostock/Dinodia Photos; Photo Courtesy: God is an Astronaut

“God is an Astronaut, Oz is over the rainbow, and Midian is where the monsters live,” quips a character in Clive Barker’s 1990 horror fantasy Nightbreed. More than a decade later, a pair of twins in Ireland’s Wicklow County found unlikely inspiration in the line. So much so that in 2002, brothers Torsten and Niels Kinsella used it to name their band—God Is An Astronaut.

With Torsten (guitar, piano, synth), Niels (bass) and Lloyd Hanney (drums) shouldering the post-rock band that doesn’t quite care for a post-rock label (“genres are for marketing purposes”), GIAA’s sound—loosely resonant of nervous butterfly kisses exploding into a laughing embrace—has evolved as much as it has stayed true to core over a course of nine albums. Long, string-cheesy delays and bubbling soundscapes melting into one epic crescendo are not alien to the genre. But what stands out in GIAA’s music is an illusion of time/space lapse, as if you are travelling along one tangent or both, riding song waves that mimic the movement.

Their latest, Epitaph (2018), strays into shadows that show up only fleetingly in earlier compositions like “Ascend to Oblivion” and “Suicide by a Star”. Soaked in the loss of the Kinsellas’ 7-year-old cousin, but coated in the strength and shimmer of the drowned, swimming towards the sun, it is a sound you can expect to hear at this year’s Bacardi NH7 Weekender in Pune. Ahead of the band’s maiden Indian performance on December 7, Torsten Kinsella spoke to National Geographic Traveller India about the journeys undertaken, both real and metaphorical, through a career in music.

 

It has been 16 years since God Is An Astronaut formed. That’s a long time for a band to be around…

One of our primary objectives was to write music we like, and not make music we think the audience wants to hear. We have always put our heart into our music and they can feel that. Music styles do go in and out of fashion but we just keep our heads down and focus on what is important to us.

Your sound has an immense sense of movement and travel.

It’s important for each song to have its own journey—more in my mind than physical travel. I was always fascinated with time travel, rather than travel by planes, trains and cars.

But you do travel. If GIAA members were on a road trip, what songs/artists are likely to be playing in the car?

Nine Inch Nails, The Cure, Whipping Boy, Jon Hopkins, and Boards of Canada.

Three Astronauts on an Expedition Head to India 1

The glacial valley of Glendalough in the band’s hometown Ireland is a perennial source of inspiration for the musicians. Photo by: Bjoern Alberts/Shutterstock.com

Are there any songs that have been conceived on the road, or drawn from your experiences of travel?

I usually can only write in a place of peace and tranquility, usually from my own home late at night. But “Parallel Highway” was inspired by our travels on the roads between Seattle to California. “Komorebi” was inspired by the beautiful Djouce forest in Ireland. It’s a place where you can clear your mind.

Tell us about travelling/touring as musicians?

Most of the time when tour we have strict schedules, very little downtime and don’t get to see too much. We did have time to visit the Niagara Falls during a US/Canadian tour, which was fantastic.

We also visited the Great Wall of China and Red Square in Moscow. Some places I’d like to visit are Switzerland, Scandinavia and the Baltic region, for their beautiful landscapes.

Can you lead us to the emotional material behind some of GIAA’s songs?

“Snowfall” reflects on a series of unexplained suicides in the Welsh town of Bridgend. “Fragile” is about my agoraphobia and my cry to escape my self- imprisonment. “Forever Lost” is about a fond memory of a sunny day in our back garden when my grandparents and our old pet dog were alive and vibrant—a day now forever gone.

What is a not-so-spoken-of track that’s your personal favourite?

“Point Pleasant”, which was inspired by the moth man prophecies in Point Pleasant, West Virginia.

What is your relationship with post-rock? How would has your sound evolved over time?

I don’t like it when style is valued above content—whether it’s post-rock or punk rock, it shouldn’t really matter as much as it does. Post-rock as a whole has received its own share of cynicism, and within it, it’s guilty of elitism. It’s one of the most diverse sub-genres, yet some will claim that all the music sounds the same.

As for our sound, it’s the same as asking me about the ups and downs of my life in the last 16 years—our music emotively documents that. It has become technically more advanced, our structures more abstract.

This is your first time in India—are there any places you’d like to explore?

It would be fantastic to visit the Taj Mahal. The Narayani Temple and Rajgad Fort in Pune look interesting too.

If your musical journey were a travel tale, what are the places that you’ve been to; what were your pit stops in this, say, epic expedition?  

Most of our music has always taken us away from places here, and into a journey of imagination to cosmic distant places—but (speaking of physical parallels) the isolation of the Antarctic is definitely part of the expedition. As is the remote Sahara desert, the Yosemite mountains and valleys, the beautiful Killary Harbour fjord on the border of Galway and County Mayo in Ireland. Glendalough in Wicklow would definitely be a frequent pit-stop.

  • Sohini Das Gupta travels with her headphones plugged-in and eyes open. While this doesn't stall the many accidents that tend to punctuate her journeys, it adds some meme-worthy comic relief. She is Assistant Editor at National Geographic Traveller India.

Psst. Want a weekly dose of travel inspiration in your inbox?