NIŌ: Heartfelt Music


Niō is the artistic partnership of drummer Jef Pauly and guitarist Davide Tiso. I have been a fan of the latter for a long time since hearing his work in the avant-garde Ephel Duath. By contrast, Niō delivers a far more grounded experience, recalling instrumental post-metal like Russian Circles and Pelican to a brilliant effect. Although they’ve only got a self-titled EP out at present, the five songs are organically realized and extremely promising, and well worth hearing if you’re thirsting for atmosphere. A big thanks to the band for getting back to me with some questions.

First off — thanks for taking the time to respond to this interview. How might you introduce yourselves to new and prospective listeners?

Niō is an instrumental duo that plays intense, adventurous, emotional music. Our songs have element of post rock, post metal, math rock and noise. We are a very instinctual band that likes to play with tensions and releases, bursts of raw energy, mantra-like repetitions. Open structures, oblique/melodic riffs and muscular drumming.

What’s the story behind the band’s name?

Niō are the two stone guardians that stand at the entrance of many Asian Buddhist temples. They are imposing, fierce and menacing. They are symbolically placed there to protect the Buddha, to protect the truth.
There is a lot of spirituality involved in my will to make music as Niō. This is not a band that simply happened to me. This is both the end and the beginning of a path that was paved by a series of personal choices I made. Niō is both my reward and my sweet punishment.

I like to think that Jef and I as Niō warriors that stand at the doors of our imagination, ready to fight tooth and nail to protect this beautiful musical entity that we created together.

What drew you to this sort of textures-based rock?

I’ve always loved bands like Pelican and Russian Circles, so coming across Niō has certainly been a treat, if a familiar one.

 When we started one of my personal goal was to play shapeless, heartfelt music that could give us the chance to wander with our mind while playing. At the same time we wanted our sound to be powerful and energetic, something so big sounding that challenges the fact that this is a band composed by just two members. The result of this will to play “travel-like music that hits hard and finds your heart” is Niō.

As a duo, what is your songwriting dynamic like? What are pros and cons to the two man band setup?

Our songwriting process is based on constantly feeding each other ideas. No idea is a bad idea. Being a duo with clear and reachable goals gives us the gift of being fast, instinctual, rabid and above all more keen to be adventurous. A classic Niō situation is something like: “Let’s try my idea than we try yours”. Now let’s apply that same concept to a four/five/six members band: good luck with that.

I don’t really see many cons in being two. We are not in two because we didn’t find any other musicians to play with. We are in two because we wanted that challenge. Nothing we record wants to hide that we are in two. There are no overdubs: one guitar on the left, one on the right and drums.

Nio EP cover

You chose “Grey Healer” as the music video ‘single’. What about this song attracted you in particular? What are your thoughts on the production and result of the music video?

Grey Healer is the first song we worked on as Niō. We wanted to celebrate the release of our first work as a band with a video of it. We are very pleased with the video, it’s simple and elegant and perfectly captures what we had in mind to present the band: showing both of us in a room jamming together.

Right at their beginnings, most bands struggle to find their own voice. The first song attempts they put together usually finish in the trash. We were blessed with a different start as a band. Some of “Grey Healer” best moments came together at our very first practice together: we found our sound on day one.

With time in Ephel Duath, Gospel of the Witches, New Diplomat and Vela Eyes between the two of you, you’re both very well-traveled musicians. What’s the experience of playing in Niō been like relative to these other projects?

Playing in Niō is very instinct based and the interaction between Jef and I is fundamental for any aspect of the band’s activity. A solid part of our material born from spontaneous jams. I love that. If we both are in a good day we can get really a lot done in few hours. We record most of our jams from the get go and then we listen to them once home and decide where to get from there.

Both Ephel Duath and Gospel Of The Witches are bands in which I composed the guitars and the song’s structures mostly by myself and then presented my ideas to the other members involved in order for them to compose their own part.

The musical approach used in Niō is basically specular in comparison to the one of my other bands.

San Francisco is a great hub for creative music — I could see it being a perfect hotbed for a band like yourselves. What’s your experience with the scene there been like?

I believe that the San Francisco stuck in the collective imaginary is still a lively, artistic, unpredictable and non-conformist city. Something like the Barcellona of the US.

San Francisco today is unfortunately very far removed from that. This city has been literally sold to the needs of a newborn class, the techies. Sometime I feel that SF these days it’s run like a mall for rich people.
 Rent raised up to 400% in the past few years. The price for food and pretty much any kind of services is skyrocketing. Dozens on historical businesses are closing because they cannot keep up with the economical requests of vampire-like building owners. Fundamental social meeting spots in the city, like independent venues and small local bars and cafe’ are monthly being closed and reopened short after with new concepts or converted in lofts.

Because of some of the above, it is complicated to be a band in SF these days. Right now the scene here is pretty sparse and a lot of musicians have been moving to Oakland and the East Bay.

Our practice space is in a wonderful complex with hundreds of rooms for bands. Sometime is so silent around there that it gets scary, it makes you think about how many people left SF since this economical bubble absorbed the city.

What is the experience performing live with Niō been like? Is there any difficulty in bringing the arrangements to life with two people on stage?

Performing live with Niō is liberating to say the least. The stage is where this band express its best and our intention and focus is to start touring asap. Years ago I preferred to work in studio rather than play live. Now things changed, I can’t wait to jump on stage with Niō and have a collective blast: 3, 40, 100 people, I don’t care for how many people we play for.

Every detail of every song is carefully designed and thought to be able to be reproduced on stage with the same intensity that it was recorded. We spend a lot of time practicing our songs in order to make them flawless both in studio and live. Conceptually, for us recording a song or play it in front of people has the same drive and intention.

You’re both very experienced artists — what advice would you impart to other musicians; words of wisdom you’ve gleaned from your years of music-making?

The most important thing about music that I learned thus far is something that hit me up pretty recently: music is supposed to be fun. It might sounds like a poor advice to new musicians, in reality it’s not: for quite some time I kind of forgot that music was supposed to be fun. For a long while I was playing music trying to keep up with self imposed expectations that were simply unreachable and every music disappointment I got was hitting harder that it should. I reached the point where music wasn’t fun anymore for me but a big headache. After distilling what really matters for me (my passion for playing guitar!) from what I was supposed to let go (the idea of “making it”) I freed myself in such an empowering and exhilarating way. Today I expect nothing else but the joy of playing from music. As a result of this, today I play music with the same joy and excitement I had when I was sixteen.

What hopefully lies in the future for Niō?

We are doing pre-productions for our debut album. We are 95% done with the songs. We will record them at the end of February and we are absolutely in love with them. We are also getting ready for our first collaboration. We are soon going to record something for a split with a very talented dark ambient musician from SF. We will reveal details soon.

Anything I might have missed?

Conor, thank you for the interview and the support.

 Prog Sphere readers, we invite you to check our music at and to write us where to play in your city at

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