About a year and a half after last year’s Tau, the Romanian band Negura Bunget return with Zi, the second album in a trilogy. Drummer Gabriel Mafa, also known as Negru, fills us in on the new album, tour plans and other subjects.
Chad Bowar: Was there anything unique about the songwriting process for Zi compared to the usual Negura Bunget album?
Gabriel Mafa: Yes, I’d say we did a lot of things quite different this time. For once we did a complete writing and pre-production session which was one of the most productive thing we ever did. That helped with the cohesion of the album, because it was all put up together. It was also different than our past experience because it was rather short and intense, completely opposite to our past methods.
Did having the same lineup as Tau make the process smoother for Zi?
Yes, that helped for sure. But we also had the whole trilogy planned well from the very beginning. Of course making plans is always easier than keeping them.
What’s the lyrical arc for this album, the second in the trilogy?
While the first part focused on the natural elements, Zi focuses on the human element. It explores different local traditions, practices and beliefs, the connection between man and nature, how that influenced the spiritual evolution. The traditional mentality is a complex system that helps community navigate the potential problems of its day to day economic, social and spiritual life. Exploring lesser known parts of it was always fascinating for us, and now we have the chance to arrange lots of such details in our very own personal system.
As far as sound and style, how does Zi differ from Tau?
I think it’s more of a natural evolution. We tried to keep things simple in terms of recordings. We tried to capture the human element as a presence dwelling these lands. We also did a song with our friends from Thy Veils, which was a completely different experience.
In addition to the usual vocalist, guitarist, bassist, drummer, etc., you also have band members listed as “visual design” and “sound design.” What are their duties and responsibilities?
Our visual designer is a close friend that has been doing our videos pretty much from the beginning. He also played with us live on keyboard a long time ago. Our sound guy, who’s also the brother of our guitarist and our partner at the studio acts as “sound designer” as he always helps develop production layers, some so subtle that very few people notice. The title is of course honorary, although they both feel like part of the band on key moments.
Why did you decide to go the crowdfunding route for part of your upcoming world tour?
We always wanted to play in remote parts of the world. Asia was always very hard to reach for us, mostly because of financial reasons. Doing the crowdfunding helped us a bit with the advance finances we need to make such an endeavor happen. We were already working on the tour planning for a while, and I hope we’ll make it to a lot of countries in that area.
How has the response been?
The response was very good. With a few days left now we are close to raising our goal.
You’re doing a North American tour next spring. What are your most and least favorite things about touring over here?
Yes, we are coming there for the third time. We had some great experiences in the past, and we are prepared for a lot more this time. The least favorite part will probably be the food again. Getting some decent food over there requires a lot of effort, but maybe because we are not used to that way of living. This time we are prepared, we know what to expect and we’ll enjoy every aspect of this trip.
We also have a very exciting project we’re looking for to complete on this tour, it’s just a bit too early to unveil it now. I can just say it has to do with limited editions and Transilvanian taste made in the southern U.S.
With so much material to choose from, how do you go about constructing a set list, and does it change from show to show?
That’s not easy, indeed. We normally have seasonal larger set we prepare, and then we adapt that to individual gigs. Of course this time is more difficult since we have so many anniversaries also. We’ve never been into playing really long sets, so packing all relevant songs on tight time is a challenge.
You’re celebrating the 20th anniversary of your debut album Zirnindu-sa. What do you remember most about the recording of that album?
It is was a long time ago, a lot of memories. We did this album with a small label from Timisoara, Bestial Records, which was founded in order to release the album, and later grew to be the most important one of the Romanian underground. I remember the enthusiasm, the friendship and the joy of doing something we loved even if the odds were somehow against us. Of course, looking back from a technical point of view we struggled, but we did our best with what we had.
With all of the changes in the music industry over the past two decades, what are the biggest adjustments you’ve had to make on the business side of the band?
We had to take a lot more things in our hands. We’ve pretty much done every little aspect on our own at one time: record and produce an album; have it released, promoted and distributed; produced merch, booked and promoted gigs and tours; organized gigs. The present thing is either you do it well on your own, or get someone good to do it instead for you. And finding good people for that ain’t easy at all, impossible in Romania.
As you look back on the Negura Bunget catalog, are there any albums that you think were underrated or overlooked at the time they were released, but in retrospect have held up really well?
I can’t really say this. I mean we’ve always been thrilled with the response our albums got. I think the N crugu bradului (2002) album was maybe the hardest to take in for most of the people, because of its four song/60 minutes long structure. But the album stands the test of time very well, and if anything, it’s one of our strongest conceptual creations.
What is the status of your band Din Brad?
We’ve been really busy with Negura lately, so Din Brad got a bit in the background, but we have been working on a new album for a while. We have some cool material already; we just need to do some more in order to finish the album. And as there’s no hurry with that, we’ll just take our time until the right moment comes to complete it.
How’s the heavy music scene in Romania these days?
It’s going pretty well. Lots of good bands, lots of good festivals and gigs, just not that many labels or magazines. But that’s rather normal for these days.
What’s currently in your heavy musical rotation?
Dead Can Dance, Secters of the Moon, Enslaved, Alcest, Opeth, Kauan, Enya…
Anything else you’d like to mention or promote?
Join us on our endeavor with our new album Zi.
(interview published September 29, 2016)