Victor Moreno had an idea. Sometimes that is just what you need. A thought, a concern, the desire to make and explore music. That unstoppable spirit moved by the need to offer something different to the public was what started the project known as Rio Noir. Then Jonas Verwijnen got involved with his extensive experience in the music industry, eventually shaping this fusion of musical and artistic palettes that have created a unique and special symbiosis that wants to grow and grow until it conquers us all. Their newly released EP U&I is an experience as dreamy and addictive as any nocturnal drug.
How would you describe the Rio Noir project?
It started out as a solo project under the name Rio Negro, supported by an artistic stipend I’d been fortunate enough to receive from Elektronmusikstudion EMS, the Swedish centre of Electroacoustic Music and Sound Art in Stockholm. As part of the project, I recorded a few compositions for a chapbook of poems I’d written entitled An Abrupt Solidity To The Light.
Early on, I realised I didn’t want to play alone anymore, so I began collaborating with other musicians and artists, becoming Rio Noir. I like to call it 'a collective of people' because, apart from the music, we collaborate together on photography, artwork design, poetry and writing. This also includes the visual installations we perform within for each show, as well as filmmaking. So, it’s some sort of a holistic approach, a group of people and good friends collaborating together where everyone has their role. I’m just some sort of instigator getting it together.
Where did the idea of combining poetry, cinema, and electroacoustic music come from? Are you planning to explore other artistic genres in the future?
One thing just led to another, creating a kind of momentum and so on. The live show allows us to combine all these disciplines. There are no boundaries. We have the studio and rehearsal room in Münchenbryggeriet, a legendary old converted brewery that serves as a hub between different artistic and musical institutions in Stockholm. Right in front of us we have The Royal Swedish Ballet School, and I often think it would be great to collaborate with them – we’ll see. It all depends on whether it makes sense for the project and evolves in a natural, organic way.
Why did you choose this name for your project?
I wanted to make a clear break with the earlier idea, without deviating too much. It’s just a small language twist, but 'noir' is also a literary and cinematic genre associated with mysticism and dystopia, which is very much in line with our project. I also like the fact that Rio Noir is a palindrome, meaning it can be read from left to right or right to left.
Victor, why did you decide to launch your Take Me To The River on December 31?
For this track in the EP, we recorded a thirty-piece female choir – Salt Damkör. It was mind-blowing and I can’t still thank them enough for their amazing effort and help, thanks to the talent of conductor Katarina Hellberg. Naturally, it would have been a dream to include them in the video, but due to Covid, we sampled it for the show instead. We recorded the track in mid-December 2020 and decided to air it on YouTube on New Year’s Eve as the perfect way to say goodbye to 2020 – a year that turned out to be pretty intense for all of us with the lockdown and all the rest. I would say this was a celebration of a new light for the future. It was mixed and mastered by Finnish producer Jonas Verwijnen.
Victor, What has it meant to collaborate with Jonas Verwijnen?
Jonas and his partner Janne Lounatvuori, both from Kaiku Studios in Berlin, have been game-changers for the project. I met him several years ago thanks to my very good pals from Helsinki Joensuu 1685. Jonas has produced and worked with an impressive array of indie bands, including Erlend Øye/The Whitest Boy Alive, Efterklang/Liima, Wolf Parade, The Hidden Cameras, Moon Duo, and many more. It has been such a privilege to count on his prodigious talent and invaluable help. He currently runs a talent agency but better to let him explain this himself…
Jonas, has it meant to work with Victor?
It all started when Victor contacted me about a collaboration and then it kind of took over from there. And now I'm in contact with him weekly, as I'm helping him create new music, and it's tonnes of fun. We have had online mixing and recording sessions through Zoom and Remote Desktop. I met him in Stockholm ages ago with Joensuu 1685 – or was it that Victor wanted to film them or interview them? I cant remember. Then we have just kind of left it on the back burner until now.
I basically modulate and mix (I call it destroying) whatever Victor sends me and usually, he is very happy with it. He's one of the most easygoing persons is know, and his musical vision is always challenging and open-minded, which gives me the freedom to go crazy and do what I want to.
Victor, what was the process like in making your EP titled U&I?
It’s taken me some time to find my own voice as an artist and feel comfortable about it. This also happens to be the first EP where I’ve collaborated with others – an added dimension. You need to adapt to other people’s schedules and musical sensibilities to get the very best outcome. I couldn’t be more grateful for all that.
Each track is like an isolated project where I pretty much played every instrument. Then, depending on the track, another musician would join in to enhance the overall effect. The U&I song was the first one re-worked from An Abrupt Solidity To The Light at Elektronmusikstudion. The vocals were recorded at Ramtitam, a well-regarded studio in central Stockholm where other Swedish artists like Tove Lo and Little Dragon have also recorded.
How long did it take?
It took more than a year to get it all done from my end. Then Jonas and Janne mixed the tracks. Serendipitously, by then I’d met Alexis Taylor from Hot Chip. We spoke about this project and he kindly agreed to help. Alexis suggested that we bring in an audio engineer named Rupert Clervaux, who he’d worked with previously and who has produced such artists as Spiritualized (Jason Pierce) and Beatriz Dillon.
This is not the first time that you collaborate with some other international artists.
That’s right. When I did An Abrupt Solidity To The Light I was so fortunate to receive mastering help from Oliver Ackermann, the American producer and musician who is a member of the New York band A Place To Bury Strangers. German photographer Wolfgang Tillmans generously allowed me to use one of his photographs that I simply fell in love with for the cover of the EP. These are things I would never have imagined to happen but it all felt so damn right at the time.
You perform supported by visual installations. In what way do they connect with your music?
The experience of going to a gig is an integrated package. What you hear, see, feel, the type of venue – it’s all part of an interconnected experience. Nowadays, I think live performances are becoming increasingly demanding in this sense. Due to Covid, artists also have limited abilities to perform in front of a live audience – that is, unless you’re so dang good as The Flaming Lips, playing in front of everyone in those isolated plastic bubbles! (Laughs). So this explosion of DIY content we’re seeing – played live for steaming services – has to deliver something more than just good music alone. I love the type of intimacy of a performance by one or two musicians playing acoustically under a dim spotlight. But for me that could be just one part of the entire experience. Here we can add supporting visuals for added contrast, with each tailored to fit the song and performance space.
Tell us about the first single from the EP Old Devil Midnight. How was your production process?
I recorded everything by myself, programming the beats, adding some modular synths, guitar riffs, and voice. Then it was edited by the talented Lithuanian composer and producer Ernestas Kaušylas aka Brokenchord – a protege of Thom Yorke who remixed Radiohead back in the day. The lyrics are like a short poem inspired by the cliché of selling the soul to the devil, a common theme in blues music. The difference here is that this is a modern representation of the blues with a somewhat Beatnik dystopian flavour.
How has 2020 and the entire crisis influenced the construction of Rio Noir?
I’m extremely lucky to have this stipend at Münchenbryggeriet. There, we have everything we need, including the big room with the stage where we recorded the video Take Me To The River. It is such a luxury, especially now that artists struggle to play live. We are totally independent in that sense since we have everything we need under one roof. It was also very rewarding that the band members all felt secure and good next to each other at the rehearsal space.
In that sense, 2020 and the crisis have had a positive influence in terms of having more time to reflect upon yourself and invest in your work. Sweden is the only country in Europe with no hard lockdown, but there are still strong guidelines to stay home and socially distant. This has both meant more time for writing but also given us the flexibility to rehearse and work with the music with the guys at Münchenbryggeriet. I’m blessed for that.
Your EP U&I is out today, what are your plans after that?
We will release what we’re calling the Skrapan Show after the word 'skrapan,' which means skyscraper in Swedish and is exactly where we played live – a twenty-six-story building once used by the Swedish tax authorities. The release package will include the film, a live EP for digital streaming and a cassette with the four tracks plus the two live cuts as the bonus tracks. Check our Instagram account to learn more soon! The cassette is yet another project I really enjoy.
Swedish Art Director Jacob Huurinainen is in charge of the Art Direction within the collective. He is widely regarded for work he did on the street fashion brand Weekday some years back. Recently, he and his partner launched their own natural ingredient skincare brand, OM-SE, for dry and oily skin, which won a packing design award in Sweden.
How did this idea of playing at the skyscraper Skrapan come about?
For a city boasting mostly low-level historic buildings, Stockholm’s Skrapan is a dramatic aberration – a cultural icon featuring stunning views of this 769-year old town. Once emblematic of the power of the Swedish tax authority, it has today been converted into student housing. It is here, tucked away on the seventeenth floor, where we recorded our first two live singles: Old Devil Midnight and Life Within, Pt. 1. The idea behind the installation was to embrace the odd dystopian vibe of the building, creating a kind of meta feeling. To this end, we filmed a time-lapse sequence of the actual view from the room, which we projected inside the room.
This new set-up is largely due to a brilliant idea from Daniel A Söllscher, a long-time friend who is well-regarded for his dance music project NEAT. Incredibly, right at the time we were doing this, he was aired by Pete Tong on BBC Radio 1! I’m so proud of him! (Laughs). For our show, he controlled the backing track and all the beats with his drum machines, Anton Sandqvist played the piano, and I used my guitar and voice FXs. This was all pre-programmed so we could easily adapt the live show to a forty-square-metre apartment on the seventeenth floor. It turned out very Cabaret Voltaire with The Chameleons type of delayed melodies.
You say the next thing is to work on full-length and live performances. Do you guys have anything booked yet?
Due to Covid, nothing is official yet, but the idea is to attend a few showcases in Europe during fall 2021. Tallinn Music Week and By:Alarm in Oslo are on the top of my mind, as well as some local shows, hopefully. I do believe the restrictions will be over after the summer. We’ll see how that pans out!