I started following E-AN-NA pretty early on, with their second or third single, but the band ultimately convinced me with the 2016 EP, “Jiana.” Creativity was never an issue for the members of the band and over the years, their music changed and evolved, but still retained both heaviness and folksiness. That was, at least, up until news of the tango-influenced “Fascinathanatango” came along. In need of answers, I caught up with Andrei Oltean to talk about this new release, the 2020 singles, and what it takes to be a musician in these crazy times.
Hello, and thank you for doing this interview with Tuonela Magazine! How are you doing?
Hi, and thanks for having me! “How are you doing?” is always a tough question for me. It’s both polite and at the same time not expecting an actual elaborate answer on the matter, so I’ll simply say: quite busy with tons of music projects [laughs].
Since our readers may not be that familiar with you, let’s start with a little presentation. Who is E-AN-NA and how was the band formed?
We are a band from Romania. Initially, the urge was to say “we are a progressive folk metal band,” but the truth is, there’s tremendous variation within the styles of music that we deal with. In any case, we did form as a folk metal band back in 2015. We released a couple of singles that were way more successful than we’d have ever expected, so shortly after that we managed to form a full line-up and start playing lots of shows by the beginning of 2016.
How did you come up with the band name and what does it reference?
In ancient Sumerian, ‘e-an-na‘ is said to be the temple of the goddess Ishtar, and the name would translate along the lines of “the home of the sky.” The idea behind the concept is that we want to create a new world, our own world, in which art thrives and people are not distracted by the chores and hardships of daily life. I picked the name while reading Mircea Eliade’s “A History of Religions,” which inspired me greatly.
What kind of band are you, in terms of songwriters? Are you storytellers? Do you write music to spread a message or do you simply do it for the sake of creating music?
This is a very nice question. We definitely want to simply create music, first and foremost. But once this is handled, we struggle to add meaning to it as much as possible and not just throw in a bunch of random lyrics that sound good. Many of our songs have a message and even though we haven’t taken the common path of singing in English, we still try to connect to our audience whenever possible.
Obviously, we’re here to talk about your album, “Fascinathanatango.” How are you feeling about the release?
Very happy, for sure. It is a huge step away from the music we normally create and I do expect it to deter some of our fans. But it’s an album I really enjoyed making, it’s something that I really felt, so it had to be put out. We have a number of other surprises left for 2021, so this is not the end of the unexpected.
E-AN-NA took a gamble releasing a non-metal, instrumental album. Do you expect some mixed reactions, or maybe fans already know to expect such curveballs from the band?
I think a good portion of our fans got used to us making such daring steps. Our 2019 album, “Nesfârşite,” wasn’t that easily digestible at times either, with all the progressive stuff going on, and last year we released almost exclusively non-metal singles, but we kept the E-AN-NA flavor to them. Now of course, there are people that say “Hey, this is not what E-AN-NA used to sound like: I don’t like it!” and that’s perfectly fine. You can’t make everyone happy.
It was stated that “Fascinathanatango” is a concept album. What exactly is the concept? What ideas/stories can you share with us?
Well, on one hand, you have the musical concept, which is clearly a product of several styles: be it either quoting the style of Astor Piazzolla, or integrating some orchestral textures that might remind of Stravinsky or even some sections that are inspired by the uneasy rhythmic chaos of bands such as THE DILLINGER ESCAPE PLAN, but on a totally different range of instruments than those used in mathcore.
The actual concept, or story, or however you want to call it, is the exploration of death beyond the cliché, trying to unveil the multiple facets in which mankind can understand it. To oversimplify it a bit, the album can be split into two parts: before and after death, with “Nimic” being the bridge between. “Nimic” is also the only track to have lyrics. The title means “nothing” and it is basically depicting an old man in a church, meditating on all that a full life has brought, and just wanting to be alone at the end of it. The awe of it all becomes so overwhelming and recalling all the events becomes so intense, that the church catches fire while it rises towards the heavens. Meanwhile, the knocks on the outer wooden walls are the dead, representing all the regrets and doubt trying to make their way in. It is meant to slowly become an unbearable cacophony containing as many E-AN-NA elements as possible, but this time without them being aligned in a coherent form. The essence of the lyrics is the repetition (of the word “nimic,” of life events in general), just like how it happens when you repeat a word so many times that it doesn’t mean anything anymore.
I won’t go into too much detail about the overall concept, as we intend to post a longer explanation on our site, e-an-na.com, in a few days (otherwise this answer would get unbearably long).
What was your vision or goal going into this album? Where did it all start?
It started as one of my many projects venturing into completely unknown territory. As it gained shape, I started talking to the guys in the band about a greater scheme of things to happen in the E-AN-NA world. Our goal is to release a series of EPs that are stylistically different, some stuff we haven’t done before, and have it all under the E-AN-NA “umbrella,” as they would get more visibility than if we would each release their own stuff as individual projects. We are seven people in the band, and there is a huge amount of creativity spreading in all directions. We are trying to make the best out of it.
How hard was it to record the songs during these pandemic times?
It wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t as difficult as you might think either. We are kind of used to working like this because we are seven people living in six different cities. Most of us have our own humble home studios and we’ve learned that often it’s more important to know how to use what you have than to have much. We released a NananaTV episode on our YouTube channel, mostly documenting the string section recordings for “Fascinathanatango.” You can clearly see there that it’s not a professional environment, and if I was to count the hours spent from start to finish, they would surely be well into the hundreds.
Musically, I feel like some songs are jazzy and upbeat (like “Muntango”), while others are more cinematic in nature (like “Necrotango”). How would you describe the album?
Maybe “diverse” is the word. I would say it’s a very accordion-driven album, that’s for sure, and leaning towards dissonance and occasional mood swings.
What would you say is the “glue” that holds these songs together, from a stylistic point of view?
As I said, the accordion-oriented mentality is one of the factors. Other than that, there are elements that glue sets of songs together, in my opinion, but I am not sure there is a common element that would necessarily hold the whole album together. It slowly morphs from song to song, I think.
During 2020, E-AN-NA has released a number of singles on-line so, when did you have time to work on composing this album?
Contrary to the popular belief, I think there are resources or skills more scarce than time, such as the will to create, or being able to keep your work organized within such a chaos. I’m saying this because, as I’ve said earlier, we didn’t just work on the 2020 singles and the “Fascinathanatango” release, but on a few other future releases as well. I honestly think that we’ll release more than 100 minutes of music in 2021, and we already have plans for 2022 as well.
Speaking of the 2020 singles, how were the reactions to them? Which one is a fan-favorite and which one is your favorite?
I think the fan favorite has to be “Ies,” especially if we talk about numbers, but “Floare de Fier” and “Călăuză” also did great. Being singles, as well as being released some time apart from each other, allowed each song to get all the attention for itself and that shows. “Biba,” the song featuring my grandmother, also had a very warm welcome. Personally, for me, it’s hard to choose, but I’d go between “Doi” and “Ies.”
The artwork for “Fascinathanatango” is polarizing, to say the least. What is it meant to suggest? And how does it tie in with the music, especially with “Nimic”?
Yeah, this was almost an unhappy accident. Exactly, “Nimic” is the song after which I thought of the artwork concept: a church rising towards the heavens while it’s catching fire. Now, this is not meant to be some black metal, anti-religious manifesto. The church represents one’s meditation space, where you can gather your thoughts and revisit memories, a place of contemplation at the end of life, that provides the silence necessary to replay life events and judge yourself before death. It’s the cathartic experience of the hermit, only wishing for silence and distance from humanity. This silence is shattered by all the aspects of life that his mind hasn’t made peace with. These negative aspects take the shape of the dead rising and knocking on the wooden walls of the church, demanding to be let in. So the only way for finality is now up and into the flames.
If I understood correctly, you’ve produced the album yourselves. What are the advantages of such a solution? What was the most challenging aspect of the album’s production?
There is the clear financial advantage on one hand and there’s also the fact that you count on fewer people to whom you need to impose deadlines. On the other hand, there are clearly aspects that we hear we could have done better, but that happens with every release and I don’t think it will ever stop. If we just kept refining songs, we would never release anything. There are also the burnouts, because as I said, we are working on much more than just “Fascinathanatango” (not to mention other musical projects in which some of us are taking part as well).
Are you planning to release any videos to promote this album? I imagine that a tour or just random shows are not options at the moment.
Random shows do have a chance to pop up, but everything is very volatile and we don’t have anything planned. No, we won’t release any video for “Fascinathanatango.” We prefer, for the time being, focusing on the next musical milestones, although this implies the risk of “Fascinathanatango” being under-promoted, on top of not being well received by everyone. You see, this is our great luck: we don’t earn our living from the music we make with E-AN-NA. At times this possibility seemed a romantic idea, but for now, personally, I am glad it didn’t happen. This allows us to make such, let’s call them “artistic steps,” that are not necessarily the wisest in terms of business. That’s because we are not a business. We don’t want to give up on making videos, but now is not the time and the proper record for that.
How challenging is it to release an album in the times of corona?
It’s always challenging to release an album. There are countless structural changes to the songs, we have to match our schedules in order to have all the parts recorded by a certain date, and the list goes on. However, we do it out of love for music, and with that in mind, the agony becomes bearable.
Did you learn anything new about yourself while making this album?
Absolutely. I think we all improved our workflow several times and learned to be more organized in order to be able to deal with such a huge amount of work while also balancing in the mix our personal lives and jobs. Personally, I improved my resilience and learned to recover quickly from burnouts, so much so that I can even have a few of them in a month, and yet still go on and be back on track within 2-3 days. I learned that I can get tired of making music (for a while), but that I am not quite there yet.
How do you think this COVID-19 situation is going to affect the music business in the future? Will streams become a constant in our lives?
I think streams have been a constant of our lives for some time now. They are only somewhat (but not completely) new in the world of concert videos. Or, rather, just more widespread than before. I haven’t given it that much thought as other musicians. I know that for many the pandemic was a desperately needed breath of air, while for others it was the dawn of the apocalypse, especially for people working full-time in the live events industry. When this is over, I think the market will be oversaturated and there won’t be that much room for bands like us to play, compared to the “before times.” However, this doesn’t discourage me, as I believe time will settle everything.
Do you have any last thoughts you want to share with our readers?
Thank you for reading my ramblings and thank you even more if you are giving our music a chance. What we do, we do purely out of love for music, and I honestly hope that it shows. If you haven’t heard it, go over to your favorite streaming platform and listen to “Fascinathanatango.” Also, keep an eye on us this summer, because, as I’ve said, there’s more (completely unexpected stuff) to come! Cheers!
Interview by Andrea Crow