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Xinema - 2002 Interview with Xinema

INTERVIEW: Xinema (Sep 2002)
We're moving pictures.. with Sweden's latest prog kings Xinema

In The Spotlight - Xinema
Interview with Jonas Therun, Michael Askemur, and Sven Larsson
Written by: Gdazegod (September 09, 2002)

There is art in rock music, as there is art in motion. Bridging the gap between the two are the Swedish trio Xinema. In an artistic sense, you could say that Xinema are the musical equivalent of moving pictures, bringing back memories from a time gone by. Combining tight structured melodies so prevalent in the AOR genre, and fusing it with longer free-flowing expressions so often found in progressive styles, Xinema have literally found the ultimate melodic merger, and have created a showcase on their brilliant new album 'Different Ways'.

It's not often that this style is detected in a Swedish band, and in fact only The Flower Kings and before them, a band like Kaipa, truly stand out in the prog scene. However, to lump Xinema into the prog bracket is a bit unfair. They have many reference points scattered across the melodic rock spectrum. Pink Floyd, Rush, Asia, Saga, Marillion, Genesis and Dare all rear their head at some point through their music.

So then, what does drummer Jonas Therun make of all these comparisons? 'Well yes this is what we grew up on, so invariably it has to show somehow. But they don't really inspire us anymore, at least not directly speaking. When we write music today we get the inspiration from a lot of sources such as classical music, films, even main stream pop or dance music (believe it or not). But the ones you've mentioned above are great bands indeed, and it's nice to be mentioned together with them.'

Xinema - Sven, Mike, Jonas

Along with Jonas Therun, Xinema are rounded out by multi-instrumentalist and lead vocalist Michael Askemur, plus lead guitarist Sven Larsson. An all round excellent trio with a complete musical understanding of each others roles. Michael introduces the band. 'We've been around in this form since March 1999. We used to have a band back in the eighties called Madrigal, but that came to an end during 1991. By the summer of 1998, we occasionally got together, sat down and talked about old times.'

'I'm not sure if it was a particularly hot day, or if it was all the beer' continues Mike, 'but somehow the brilliant idea of re-recording some of the old Madrigal songs popped up. At first, the intention was merely to document the work we did with that band, and to have a decent sounding copy of it instead of the very low quality demo recordings from the eighties. So we launched this project in early 1999, and as it went by, it became clear that the outcome would exceed everyone's expectations.'

As it stands today, Xinema is a project-based trio. Guitarist Sven Larsson elaborates. 'It's a project yes, and we all have full time jobs. Jonas teaches graphic and web design, and has created all the graphics for us as well as the entire website. Mike works as a computer technician, and I am a guitar teacher.'

Mike and Jonas come from Borlange, a small town in the middle of Sweden, while Sven lives in Soderhamn, another small town about 100 miles north of Borlange. For three guys they sure get a full sound. Mike explains how Xinema go about putting their song structures in place. 'I write music all the time. Mostly it's short pieces rather than entire songs. Then I record these pieces very roughly on the computer, and let them rest there for a while. Later we pick them up to see if they can be of any use. If not, well it's the recycle bin.'

'The good ones can, if we're in a good mood, end up as entire songs. It's a challenge but nevertheless very rewarding to turn a 30 second snippet into a 5 minute song that actually works. It's hard work, and you really have to put your soul into it, but it can be done. Essential here, is the fact that everybody is involved. This is probably also why we sound the way we do. We're very critical of our work. We can spend weeks on a certain song, just to throw it away when we realise that it won't be as good as we want it to. After all it's just a song' And by the way, since the world is crowded with songs, the least we can do is to make sure that ours are no disgrace..'

Depending where you sit on the fence, Xinema are one of those bands that can co-exist comfortably in both the prog and AOR realms. Of late, the only band who have come to close to that level of diversity has been the fabulous Spocks Beard. Jonas offers his thoughts on this subject.

'Actually, we just play our music. Some of our songs may seem more AOR styled while others are clearly prog based. Frequently, our songs contains elements from both realms, and that is perhaps what Xinema is all about. To make it simple: we write and play pieces of music that we really like, and then we put them together into songs. We've always found it a bit awkward to hang a certain label on ourselves. We're more than happy to leave it to the listeners to decide where we belong.'

Xinema's record label arrangement is unusual in the fact that Unicorn Records, based out of Canada, have picked them up as their first foreign act. 'First of all, we don't believe that our type of music has enough popularity here in Sweden' says Jonas. 'At least not among the record labels here. So we thought it'd be better if we went abroad with this. Thanks to the internet, it's not such a big deal these days. Anyway we sent a couple of CD-R's to places we had found on the web that looked interesting. To be honest, we really had no clue on what to expect, but one day an e-mail from Michel St-Pere at Unicorn records arrived. He seemed to be a decent guy, with both feet on the ground, and fairly enthusiastic too. So we thought 'Well let's go for it!' and here we are.'

Judging by the strength of the material, Xinema could very well have pitched their stuff at potential suitors in Europe instead. 'I suppose so' says Sven, 'but then we probably would have to wait a while longer for things to happen. And since we've been at this for the last couple of years, we really wanted it to start rolling.'

With 'Different Ways' effectively being a project, the attention to detail indicates a great deal of time was spent on it. 'As mentioned earlier, the original idea for this project was to re-record a number of old songs just to keep for ourselves' says Mike. 'We thought that it was going turn out more like a demo, and we had no time pressure at all. So believe it or not, we spent 2 and a half years before it was time for the final mixdown. We had a lot of breaks during that period of course, so if we should estimate, I'd say it took us about 6 months of effective work to complete. At the end of this time the work escalated, and when we began to realise what it would really sound like, we literally worked around the clock to make it ready.'

Yes, the results are spectacular to say the least. The soaring crescendo towards the end of 'Across The Styx' reminds me of the celtic flavoured material put out by Darren Wharton's Dare, or the Genesis sounding title track'. Combine these with the fantastic duo of 'Distant Lights' and the aural bombast of 'Blind Is The Light', and you have a platter that will appease both AORsters and Progsters alike.. and these are only SOME of the songs of the twelve on the album!

Xinema is bound to grab the attention of both sets. With a foot in both camps, could it be difficult to appeal to both sides? 'Could be' agrees Mike, 'if we talk about the purists. But for people in general we don't think it will be a problem. Somehow there seems to be enough common ground between the two worlds, for listeners on either side to like it.'

Xinema - 'Different Ways'

'I think that all three of us are of the same opinion' Jonas adds. 'There's a reason why the songs on this album are there. To us they're equally good, we've lived with them for quite a while, and they all deserve to be on the record.' The guitar solo on 'Distant Lights' is amazing. I'm sure many guitar-slingers would be interested in hearing that one. 'I guess that's just my style of playing' says Sven. 'For me it's important that the guitar parts in each song really adds some substance to the piece. So I constantly try to vary myself, and on 'Distant Lights' well, it just seemed OK to throw a few extra notes in you know. And it came out just about the way I'd hoped it would. So I'm quite happy with it.'. And for the record, so were Mike and Jonas!

Conversely, from a drummers perspective, I asked Jonas about his origins. 'From the beginning I listened a lot to Neil Peart and Terry Bozzio. There are many great drummers around today, new ones seem to pop up every once in a while. Today I don't really listen to every flashy drumroll these guys are battering out, but the philosophy is rather to strive toward a style of playing that really serves a purpose in our music. Another rule of thumb is that when you're having trouble with finding the right thing to play, keep it simple. It always works.'

So, whats next for Xinema? 'We've started out on our next release' says Sven, 'a number of sketches are ready to work with. And if you like 'Different Ways' you won't be disappointed.' That is an invitation I look forward to with gusto! Also, the good news for keen European listeners is that Unicorn Records have a number of distributors throughout the region. I'd suggest making inquiries over on their website (listed below). For lovers of carefully crafted prog based AOR (for want of a better phase!), Xinema should be on your shopping list now!

Xinema Website
Unicorn Records Website

Xinema - Jonas Therun - drums; Michael Askemur - vocals, keyboards, bass; Sven Larsson - guitars

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