Thomas V. Jaeger Fills Us In On His 'Solitary Plan' And The Rise Of Monolord

Thomas V. Jaeger has been composing and performing music in the three-person band Monolord for around 10 years, during which time they've gained quite a following. Recently, RidingEasy Records, where they got their start, released instrumental versions of two of their albums, Empress Rising, and Vaenir.

Monolord delves into Heavy Rock sounds, bordering on Metal, and Jaeger has always composed using a number of sound approaches, which he meticulously files away. The time came when he had enough acoustic material to release a solo album, also from RidingEasy Records, titled A Solitary Plan, which came out this summer. Fans are beyond impressed at Jaeger's range and subject matter, since A Solitary Plan touches on many personal, human things that often get glossed over.

I spoke to Jaeger on a day when we'd both come through some extensive power outages in the USA and Sweden and were inclined to comment on the appealing nature of becoming "doomsday preppers" while noting the possibility that global warming was skewing the weather all over the world during the time of pandemic. Cheery stuff! In the end, when we agreed that humanity had probably become "too comfortable" we were ready to talk about some music and why Jaeger never seems to be done exploring sonic directions and possibilities. 

Hannah Means-Shannon: How did you come to work with RidingEasy Records?

Thomas V. Jaeger: Me and Espen, Monolord’s drummer, had a band previous to Monolord that was more like Classic Rock. We released that back in 2010, and we wanted to see if Daniel Hall would like to do a reissue. But then things changed, and we put that band on hold. But at the same time, we started Monolord as a side project. At the same time, we realized the songs were really good and we wanted it to be our main band. After that, we sent the songs to Daniel, and he said “Yes”, right away, after hearing the demo of “Empress Rising”. He asked for some rough mixes for the album, and we sent them, and he said, “Let’s do it”. It all happened on Instagram.

HMS: Do you think that if Daniel hadn’t taken an interest in Monolord, you would have pursued it as much as you have?

TVJ: It made us want to do a whole album rather than releasing one song online. Instead of putting that track up on the internet, we kept it to make a whole album. We had it up on Bandcamp briefly, but realized we needed to take it down. The bass player and the original singer quit, and when we recorded the whole album, I took over the vocal duties and Mika came in. Now we’ve released three albums and two 10-inch records through RidingEasy and it’s been excellent.

HMS: That’s a lot!

TVJ: We’re actually friends now, even more than business associates. We’re still working with Daniel in other ways, but not as a label.

HMS: So your previous band was more Classic Rock and then you moved into Monolord, which was a little bit different. How would you describe the difference between those two approaches?

TVJ: With Monolord, with the first recording, we said that we would have no limits on how many extra guitars we would put down. We wanted to do a really Heavy record. I’d always played Heavy music, making demos and stuff, but I’d never actually played in a band that was Heavy before. Now I have my solo stuff, and Monolord, but I even have stuff that doesn’t fit into those categories.

I had tons of recordings of Heavy stuff that I’d been making for years that I’d been saving. The song, “Audhumbla”, from the first record [Empress Rising] dated from 2004 or 2005 and got recorded in 2013. It doesn’t sound the same as the demo, but the main riff is the same. It’s been fun to save almost everything. I’ve had a couple of hard drive crashes, like everyone else.

HMS: I guess the digital age makes it possible. Or are you more analog?

TVJ: No, I can’t afford that. It’s too expensive to be analog these days. But I have my home studio, just upstairs, ready to record at all times. I have a few amps mic-ed up already. I just need to turn on the computer, and take out whatever instrument I feel like playing, and it’s been a been a necessity to work like this. If I don’t have everything ready to go, I lose my creative spark that I’ve had, if I need to patch cables and set everything up.

That’s why my studio looks like a fucking mess all the time, since I have to have everything set up at the same time. I have one synth connected, and I have a few guitars, things everywhere. I don’t have expensive things, but I like to buy cheap microphones. I have a Stylophone, which is like a small synth, that you control with a steel pen. Instead of keys, it has metal keys, and when metal touches metal, it makes a sound.

HMS: That is so cool.

TVJ: That’s really cool to set up a microphone over, and though you probably won’t hear it in the mix, it’s there. I can sit with those things for hours. I find noise and sound very interesting.

HMS: There’s a new demand for portable synths, I’ve heard, and I imagine you’ll pay quite a price for those, but it’s better to get older stuff if they are still around. The sound is probably superior, too. Are you someone who goes to second-hand shops a lot, or looks for listings of people selling equipment off?

TVJ: Yes, sometimes, but most of the buys I do are from the equivalent of eBay in Sweden. I go on there once in a while when I have a few bucks to spend. Sometimes I don’t have a few bucks to spend, but I find a cool thing. Random browsing.

HMS: How far back for you does songwriting go? Were you a teenager?

TVJ: Yes, I remember borrowing a buddy’s four-channel cassette portable studio. Sometimes I would borrow that and take two microphones and ask a friend to play the drums. I’d record all the drums to a single channel, then I had one channel for bass, and one for guitar. To get more tracks, you had to mix those together, and put them on one track, to get three new tracks. Then I’d go do that until the sound quality was so bad, you couldn’t tell there were drums to begin with.

Every time you did that, you lost some clarity, so you had to go over the top with the treble to make it work. Now, with a computer, I love the way ProTools works. It’s the program I’ve been using the most, and I really like it. It’s simple. Old stuff is charming, of course, and I’m thinking of buying one of those old tape studios again just to do stuff when I’m not at home. When I’m visiting family, whatever, and I can bring a microphone and acoustic guitar.

HMS: That sounds like the approach you’ve been taking with your solo work, doing things in a more stripped-down way.

TVJ: Yes, maybe.

HMS: I grew up with one of the 4-tracks. I know exactly what you’re talking about. They are back in demand. People are buying them again and creating whole albums on them.

TVJ: I think Bruce Springsteen used one of those recorders, a Teac Tascam, for one of his acoustic songs [“Nebraska”] because they couldn’t get the same vibe later in the studio. And now those are really expensive for that reason.

HMS: When you first started writing songs, what interested you? How did you get to the point where you are today with three different sets of sounds that interest you, Rock, Heavy Rock/Metal, and acoustic projects? A lot of people just choose one early on and focus on that.

TVJ: When I was a teenager in the mid to late 90s, everyone was very hardcore about the music they were listening to. My friends were Hardcore Punk, like from the 80s, and if you listened to something else, you were a Poser. Same with the Death Metal guys, if you listened to something else, you’re a Poser. But I was all over the place. Sure, I was a Punk back in the day, when I was in my teens and rebellious. And I still listen to Discharge or whatever, but I am also listening to First Aid Kit, and a lot of slower, even ambient stuff at times.

I realized the other day that I like recording ambient music because you can do pretty much anything you want to do. You don’t have to follow any patterns to build a song. So that’s a newly found thing. I’ve really been interested by soundtracks. I watched 2001: A Space Odyssey the other day, and I have a really hard time with it because I don’t like the score of the first half, with hysterical orchestra music. I had the idea that I’d like to make my own soundtrack to it. I like the way it looks, but I don’t like the music. Someday I’m going to release my own soundtrack to it, so you can put on the record and listen in real time.

Now I’ve been recording four or five songs that are more ambient. They still have melodies, and some have a lot of hooks, but they are only there for 20 or 30 seconds, then never again in the song. It’s a new way of thinking, but I like it.

HMS: That’s really interesting, with more of a linear movement between A and B, rather than the circular movements that are usually used to build a song.

TVJ: Yes, exactly. That’s something we’ve discussed in Monolord. Since I’m the one writing most of the material, of course it’s going to sound a certain way. I realized that I have a few different variables that I use, but how many times can you build songs like that before people recognize the pattern? Because I recognize the pattern sometimes in other bands. But what makes people like a song? And how long should you keep going with a good riff? It’s interesting. It’s a fine line so it’s hard to follow your own principles sometimes.

“Empress Rising” is one riff, pretty much, for 10 out of 12 minutes.

HMS: This is the psychology of listening to music, how people respond and react, how long their attention can be held.

TVJ: Have you heard the Metal track created by an AI?

HMS: No! I haven’t.

TVJ: They took an AI and gave it 1500 Metal songs, and made it write another Metal song.

HMS: Was it any good?

TVJ: It was alright. You couldn’t really hear that it was created in that way. It could be any band with a name with 15 letters or something…like Incantation. I’m a bit harsh.

HMS: [Laughs]

TVJ: But you couldn’t tell it was AI.

HMS: How does that make you feel, as a musician?

TVJ: I want one of those. I want one of those programs myself.

HMS: [Laughs] But isn't that cheating, though?

TVJ: I was thinking about that this morning. If you had one of those, and you fed it all the Monolord songs that sound a certain way, it would be really interesting to see what came out. I’m fascinated.

HMS: Your creativity isn’t threatened that an algorithm might be able to come up with those things?

TVJ: It can’t yet. The Metal track was not bad, but it was kind of generic, almost what you would expect when the human aspect isn’t there at all. So far it can’t mimic that in music, but maybe in a few years.

HMS: Do you think that a good song has something unexpected in it that the audience can’t predict? If so, is it better to have wide-ranging musical interests and influences, so you can call on them?

TVJ: I think all the good songs have elements of something interesting somewhere. Maybe that’s a guitar solo, or it’s an added keyboard doing harmony, it could be anything. We’ve been talking about this in Monolord, because we are just three people. We could put 900 instruments on a recording, but live? We are three people. How much do you want to do in the studio? You also need to think about the live aspect. If you have a melody made by a synthesizer, you have to take that with you live. So it’s a struggle writing for Monolord at times.

The German band Kadavar made an isolation record, since like most bands, they were supposed to be on tour this year. Instead they made this album reflecting the times that we live in. From what I heard, it’s really “out of the box”, like 80’s Rock. They made something really, really different from what they usually do, since they don’t know when or how they will play live.

We’ve been thinking in the same terms.

HMS: Oh, right, yes. Giving yourself permission to go heavier on the studio side for the sound, because you don’t know when you’ll play live? I’ve heard a couple of bands joke about that.

TVJ: Yes, it can be liberating in a way. But when you start doing that too much, you need to make sure that you don’t lose the core of the song. That’s important to me. Our sound must not be lost.

HMS: Because you have people following your music, so you might lose that connection if you change your sound too fast.

TVJ: I really respect bands that evolve, but if the step they take is too far, sometimes I lose interest. I don’t want something too different. There are exceptions, of course. I would love AC/DC to sound the same forever, and that wouldn’t bother me. That’s what they are.

HMS: [Laughs] Yes.

TVJ: Further down the line, I hope some people can hear the development for Monolord. We started using a little more of the add-ons in the studio and on the latest album. It’s so liberating sometimes, though, with my solo stuff, because there haven’t even been any plans to bring that out live at all.

HMS: I was going to ask you about that.

TVJ: Maybe sometime, but definitely not now. I was thinking about it before all the countries went into lockdown. I was juggling thoughts about how to pull off something live with my solo stuff. But that’s what makes it fun, that I can go upstairs, and sit with a song for a year or more, and I can put nine mellotrons on it if I want to. It’s just me who decides. I need to do both things.

HMS: Creatively, you need both ways of working?

TVJ: Yes. But I noticed that I’m writing softer songs than before.

HMS: In both projects?

TVJ: Yes. But in Monolord, softer doesn’t work, so most of the songs have elements that are harder to make the levels a little more even.

HMS: What prompted the creation of the songs for Solitary Plan? Were you always exploring songs like that on your own that just never got released? Or was it a totally new development for you?

TVJ: When I’m writing for my solo stuff, most of the time I start with an acoustic guitar. When I’m writing Monolord stuff, I start with an electric guitar. So the acoustic guitar has been in focus for the solo stuff always. I recorded the first song that sounded like that album maybe 6 or 7 years ago, but I didn’t actually use those songs on the first album.

But it escalated when I bought a new acoustic guitar. I found a really good old one at a music store. When I got home, I wrote two new songs on the first day that I had it. Those are the first and second track on the album, written hours after I got the guitar. I think they sound a bit similar, so that is why I tuned the guitar differently for the other one since they sounded too much the same.

It started like that, but the rest of the album, I don’t want to say that it wrote itself, but it was easy. When I get a new instrument, it’s almost always sparks some ideas that I don’t think I would have had if I didn’t get the new instruments. Sometimes a new instrument is really inspiring.

I have a good synthesizer with different sounds, and I have a good acoustic guitar, and I have a few good electric guitars for different moods. I need one good guitar for Monolord and one good guitar for my solo stuff. You need to find your good instruments, at least that’s how it is for me.

HMS: Your instruments are like your collaborators, it sounds like. They suggest things to you.

TVJ: Yes, they most certainly are.

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