Sulka is a Glasgow based act featuring Lukas Clasen, who also fronts the band Polarnecks and plays bass for his friend and fellow Polarneck Callum Grindle’s outfit, Pillow Talk.
I had the pleasure of spending some time with Clasen in the run up to the Sulka album release party (Rave Child devotees may remember reading about the table smashing antics of that party, if not, you can catch up here).
On the Tuesday before the Saturday of the release party, we meet for an interview in a cafe around the corner from Clasen’s flat.
I ask about the first track on the album; ‘Holism’ – a concept which refers to viewing things as part of the greater system in which they reside rather than as being whole entities in themselves.
He says that this name comes out of his tendency to understand generalities better than specific parts that make up the whole, which leads us on to talk about GoldMold, the label on which the Sulka album and Polarnecks EP’s were released.
I refer to it as more than a label and more like a scene – which I lamented immediately; Clasen refers to it as a community, which is a much better term.
Like any holonic, self-organising system, we agree that the whole of what GoldMold produces artistically is greater than the sum of its parts.
This is not to undercut the directed and concerted efforts of the head of the label, but with such a cooperative ethos amongst the bands, it is clear that there is something special afoot.
From here I asked Clasen whether he feels more at ease premiering new materials in such a communal atmosphere as compared to a novel environment.
“Yeah, definitely”, is his response, “it feels like you already have an audience and people there who believe in what you do.”
It promotes constructionism over rejection; it promotes creativity over criticism.
In terms of where Sulka came from, Clasen had written a number of songs for Polarnecks which were considerably more stripped back and acoustic compared to the punky grunge that is typical of his band.
These songs seldom made it into the Polarnecks live set because of their nature, leading to a dichotomy in his work.
The other members of Polarnecks – in their world travels and various occupations – went through periods of absence.
Lukas’ frustrated efforts and his incessant writing of new material led him to develop Sulka as another outlet.
I ask if this more acoustic songwriting with more audible lyrics is inherently more personal; he says no, and that since the inception of Polarnecks the songwriting has been personal, which he attributes to better songwriting than in previous bands where the lyrics were less so.
This shines through, as the lyrics on the Sulka album seem extremely personal and relate to things as simple as getting through the day – without being overtly sappy, self-indulgent or dour.
The lyrics speak to me of an artist who is drawing from their own experience and laying those experiences out for others to learn by and listen to, rather than simply being raw, unprocessed emotion displayed for the purposes of appearing a mysterious and disturbed artist; this is especially evident in songs such as ‘Flawed’ and ‘School Nights’.
Clasen remarks “yeah, you don’t really wanna wallow in your own self-pity, but writing songs is a good way to work through them.”
I ask if his writing takes him to, or comes from, a place of high emotionality or whether it is the case that thinking about such things brings pen to paper; he writes songs when he is not feeling these emotions, but rather from a reflective place.
Although it can be hard to write about emotional times when you are not emotional, it is even harder when you are, according to Clasen.
He reflects on what his state of mind was in the previous day or week or month, or after some catalysing event when he writes.
Self-indulgence has a very specific time and place in music, and Clasen feels horrible if he does find himself being self-indulgent in such writing, as it very quickly becomes apparent that there are bigger issues in the world than one’s own emotional lowliness.
This aspect of the songwriting makes for some very mature sounding tracks on the album and a good sense of balance and consideration.
Sulka is described online as lo-fi and DIY – which Clasen seems somewhat aggrieved about but accepts that these are the easiest words to latch onto.
Although I agree, these are descriptive words in relation to the album; it is apparent that these songs were not professionally produced.
That being said, the mixing is fine and it is by no means undercooked; I ask if a DIY, lo-fi approach was down to philosophy or necessity, “a bit of both” is his response.
Most of the bands Clasen enjoys employ this ethos in some way shape or form, but also he didn’t really have a choice – how fortunate.
We talk about this ethos and the revival of archaic physical formats such as vinyl and tape with Clasen arguing that the correlation between the amount of money spent on production and the quality of the output is seldom positive.
A certain charm seems to permeate through the use of less advanced technologies, artifacts such as tapes or old video cameras bring with them a certain ineffable fuzziness which is lacking in the more clinical, highly-advanced methods in use today.
We agree that they imbue comfort in some inexplicable way; this is certainly evident on the Sulka release, which reminds me of being indoors on a rainy day, doing nothing.
Wholly subjective though this is, it seems to me quite descriptive; the limitations of what is possible given the bedroom set-up puts a cap on just how perfect the release can be.
Clasen produced his whole album using free, severely limited production software, purporting this to be a good thing – frustrating, but necessarily limiting.
Being limited hems one in and stops one from ruining the material at hand by perpetually adding to it.
The next album will most definitely require more means of production; it wasn’t even mastered.
Music – like any holistic system – is alchemical in nature; it is not about each of the elements stacking on top of each other to reach some imagined threshold of quality, it is about the elements interacting and combining in such a way that new qualities emerge.
For an album that was recorded, produced, mixed and mastered by an individual with limited knowledge and expertise in each given area, the album seems professional and intentionally underdeveloped in such a way that the excellent songs underpinning it shine through with a dusty quality that some artists would have paid a lot of money for.
The album is an easy listen, but has a lot of cards up its sleeve; it’s very well balanced and orchestrated.
I ceremoniously round off the interview with the archetypal, terrible question: “What’s next?”
Clasen replies that it would be great to take some leftover demos from the album and make some more noise with them.
Along with some other individuals and bands in the city, Clasen has recently invested in a practice and recording space.
He intends to add some louder flavour to the songs he has written which didn’t feature on the album and make an EP, recording some elements that you can’t necessarily get away with recording in your front room.
We leave from the cafe and drive with Callum, Iain Stott – Sulka’s live drummer – and Cameron Orr – the guitarist from Lovely Ladies (another band on GoldMold) – down to this space to move in some furniture.
It should make for an extremely productive place for this nexus of Glasgow acts – once the toilets are working.
Words: Paul Aitken