SERENA-MANEESH with EVANGELICALS at Lee's Palace (529 Bloor West), Wednesday (September 13). $10. 416- 870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
Emil Nikolaisen will try anything to find the perfect moment.
An admitted studio taskmaster, the head honcho for Norwegian dream-weavers Serena-Maneesh insists on exploring every option, every sound to its fullest potential until his vision of good music becomes actualized. It might mean repeated takes of one riff at 3 am or perhaps secretly hitting the record button while an oblivious colleague is hashing out a melody.
"You've got to make a lot of mistakes before you do something right," he says from his home in Oslo. "But very often it can be the first take. It doesn't have to be perfect. Sometimes you play around doing things you shouldn't do, and you can find extraordinary treasures that way. If you just try and try and try, all the failures will lead to a lot of good things. You discover so many things that way."
So it's no suprise that Serena's self-titled debut (Beggars) took months longer to complete than originally projected. Recording the disc in three different cities (Chicago, New York and Oslo) with various producers, including Steve Albini and Steve Bisi (Sonic Youth), didn't speed up the process.
But if heaps of critical love mean anything, Nikolaisen's arduous attempt to make the best record possible has definitely paid off.
"It was an adventure," he laughs nervously. "I really wanted to capture the different people, sounds and instruments of different places. Like Chicago for fantastic aesthetics, mentality and a certain basic rock drum sound, then home where we could spend time trying out ideas and experimenting.
"The labels were shocked at how long it took, but eventually it got finished. It was really important for me to capture things at different places."
One of Nikolaisen's favourite studio tricks is piling on the layers. The record is a densely packed piece of rock that drifts between Stoogey blasts of feedback anarchy and Lina Holmström and Ann Sung-an Lee's whispery, angelic vocals, which are extremely reminiscent of My Bloody Valentine's Bilinda Butcher.
Speaking of which, comparisons to Kevin Shields's iconic band have dogged Serena to the point where they've been called shoegaze revivalists by the music media's ruling class. Nikolaisen isn't denying those influences, but says he could easily do without the often vague tag.
"I really don't care. People can say whatever they want," he says dismissively. "I think it's a term that should be I'd like to leave it alone. It's superficial, because if you look at those bands, so many of them are just great rock bands that used a little too much reverb. Suddenly they're 'shoegaze.'
"I want to look toward the future. 'Neo-shoegaze' or whatever - I don't even know what people are talking about when they use those terms. The rock 'n' roll symphony, as I see it, can be told in so many different ways."
Nevertheless, being named successors to an important band like MBV isn't exactly bad press. Even the musically priggish website Pitchfork deemed their record one of the best of last year.
Still, contentment evades those always in search of perfection.
"I do a lot of self-criticism," says Nikolaisen. "And I'm not saying a good review or a bad review doesn't affect me. I feel very privileged that so many things have been happening in such a short time. It's been surreal. But sometimes I feel like I should never have released this thing. You're always going back and forth. The next minute it's the greatest thing you could have ever made."