Thank you for taking the time to talk to us!
No problem, thank you for the interview.
My pleasure. We always like to have good bands in our magazine. You were founded in 1997. That means you’re getting close to the 20 year mark! How has your ride been so far?
Of course we have grown as musicians, and we handle things more calmly. We just know how most of the stuff works, but I think when you’re in a band you never really stop learning. Like I said, I don’t really think about the fact that it’s actually already been so long. Just recently in an interview someone was asking me how does it feel to have released ten records already, and I was like, oh is it ten already? Because I actually didn’t even know.
You didn’t even count? [Laughs]
No, no. I didn’t count. I mean, when I remembered and counted I was like oh yeah really, it is ten. But I didn’t think about it before.
Really. So you’re just having fun with the music and see where it goes.
We actually have another interview in this issue with Prong, and they also have their tenth album out, but they have a huge "X" on the cover.
Ah, alright. Yeah they’re at least aware of their tenth record.
Oh well, it can be a good sign that you’re not aware of it! What are your best memories so far in the last 20 years?
Well that’s a tough question.
I like tough questions!
Yes... [Laughs] I mean, we have been doing many nice things, but I don’t think it’s one specific moment. I mostly remember that it was great to have already seen so many countries in my life, which most people maybe haven't. At least, not as many countries, and maybe also countries I would have never had the opportunity to go to, just for vacation or something like that. It was interesting to see so many cultures and meet so many different kinds of people. I think that’s the best memory in general for being a musician. This was also one of the reasons in the beginning as well, why we started a touring band. Hey, let’s make a band and we can go around the world! At least, that was what we were trying to do. We did not know if it was going to work.
It’s a good goal, absolutely. Are the metal fans different over the world, or do you generally meet the same kind of people from the metal scene?
No, in every country the scene is completely different I would say. I think it’s already different when you come from Germany to The Netherlands. I think that’s already different. The way that people are at the concert and every country is very different. Some countries are more calm, some are very enthusiastic, some are completely nuts! [Laughs] It’s very interesting.
What do you prefer, the "nuts" crowds, or the more calm ones?
I think you can answer that question by yourself [Laughs]
I think I can. [Laughs] But every band is different!
We definitely prefer the more enthusiastic crowds, but with nuts I meant something else. Enthusiastic is when you’re going crazy having fun at a concert, stuff like that. Just in some countries as I said, they’re more calm. It doesn’t mean they don’t enjoy it, but for you on stage it’s just different, a different feel. The vibe is somehow different. But when I say "nuts," I mean like in China for example, we played at a festival from some university with a couple of thousand people. They were walking around with Bengal fire. We were like, what’s going on here? They were, I would say in the pit somehow you know? Inside the circle pit or something they had fire and they were swirling it around. And we were like hey, it’s burning there! And the guy said, "Don’t worry, it’s normal."
That’s normal! [Laughs]
Yeah! [Laughs] Okay. At least it’s open air. We are not going to die here. There’s at least that.
We’re not in house. Thank goodness. [Laughs] In nearly two decades a lot has happened in the German metal scene. There has been a lot of growth with the rise of the Neue Deutsche Härte. How do you view the current German metal scene?
Of course, the scene has grown a lot I think. I mean, the German metal scene was pretty strong for a long time already, but more for Traditional Metal I would say. Thrash Metal, stuff like that. But the whole heavy music scene has been growing constantly over the last 10 to 15 years. Nowadays some bands play a show here and they have like 4,000 people. That is pretty unreal to see, because when we started with this kind of music we were one of the few bands even that did this. This kind of Metalcore, Modern Metal—whatever you want to call it—the real metal scene was like kind of looking at these bands like, “Look how cute, what are they doing there,” you know? Nobody cares. Stuff like that, and then it started growing so fast that it’s somehow almost bigger now. Or at least equally big.
There’s at least a lot more variety in the last decade.
Yes. And what I actually like is that during the last, I would say five years, these scenes are not so separate anymore. They’re like more melted together. It’s not Metalcore against metal or anything, that’s really not the case. Of course there are always people who don’t like this or don’t like that, but there’s definitely more people that listen to both. I mean there’s someone who can have a coat with patches of Sodom, Blind Guardian, Slayer, Heaven Shall Burn, Caliban and Parkway Drive for example. That is not unusual here.
Throw a Steel Panther patch on as well!
Yeah, maybe too! It’s not so separated anymore. That’s something I really like, and I was hoping that this would happen at some point.
I think it has something to do with all the big festivals as well maybe. Like Wacken Open Air in Germany, there’s a lot of variety there as well. People are exposed to more.
That is true.
Your last few albums, they all had a single track in the German language. How did you land on the decision to do a track in your mother tongue?
That decision was pretty much made right after we did this cover album called “Coverfield,” and we had a Rammstein cover right on that album. Andy before never wanted to sing in German. He always was like, "I don’t like it, it sounds stupid when I sing German," and we were like, "Give it a try!" Then we had that cover song, and then we had to somehow. And we were like, it sounds actually great! Why don’t you try that on one of our own songs sometimes. And then the first song was half German, half English on the “I Am Nemesis” record, and then on the last one it was already German one full song, and we just liked it. We just like the vibe it has. We just wouldn’t want it on all the songs, you know? One or two…
Do you think it brings something extra to these particular songs?
Yes. Especially for the new one I think, for “Mein Schwarzes Herz," the one on the Gravity album. Actually, I like the song but I definitely didn’t like the song as much somehow when it was still in English, because we tried different things on every song. And we were thinking, should we do a German song or not because we think it has to fit somehow to the song. It’s not just a roll of the dice—okay this is the one we make German—it’s not like that. If we wouldn’t have thought that it fits this song, we wouldn’t have done it at all on this album, but for this one it really adds something; some kind of rhythm, or feel; some vibe to it which we think really brings this song to make it somehow special. Like I said, I liked it much more as soon as it was in German.
What I really liked about “Mein Schwarzes Herz” are the almost Pop-like, schlager-like, if you will, background vocals on the track.
You mean the female vocals?
Yes! It was a really surprising sound for me.
We had it before without any melodic, I mean the screams are a bit melodic you know, but the song, the chorus is pretty dark from the chord progression and everything and we felt we had to add something that makes it somehow more interesting. And she was just sitting there, she’s a friend of us. She is living with the guy we’re producing the album with together, they are roommates, and she’s a studio musician. She was sitting there and we were like hmm, why don’t you give it a try. And she’s like, okay! That was some kind of a coincidence.
That’s very nice. I liked it. It’s got a new vibe to it. So, this year indeed you will release your tenth studio album, I even noticed [laughs], and it’s called Gravity. What can you tell us about this release?
In general I would say it’s a more heavy album, it’s more energetic—that’s what you were asking right? What I think about the changes... I think it is like I said; more energetic compared to previous releases, it’s more heavy. I think one of the big changes on this album also is that Andy is doing most of the melodic vocals now because he is screaming it a bit more instead of being very clean, and we think that it brings a better flow to the songs. It’s not like pulling a switch and change the singer between extremely clean and extremely heavy growls and screams, you know, now it’s more flowing together. And Dennis of course is still singing too, but mixed with Andy and more in the background. So Dennis is more a background singer now. He has just a few spots on the new album where he is like the main vocalist on the track, two or something. This was a pretty big change and we think it also brings some different vibe to it.
When I was recording Gravity I wanted to capture somehow also the live energy a bit more than on the recording. So I tried in my studio many different things because I thought the Ghost Empire album, I really still like that album and how it sounds, but it sounds so clean. The songs come across more soft than they actually are. When we played the songs on Ghost Empire they were more heavy than they sounded on the record and I didn’t want to do that again. Now I wanted to capture this kind of feel. It was trying out many different guitar sounds, different drum sounds, all kinds of stuff I was trying out when I was doing the mix and the recording, to have it more rough. More energetic. These I think are the main differences, and also that some of the choruses have a bit of a darker feel to it than before.
Some of them definitely are but one of them, the song "BrOken", what can you tell us about that track?
That one is very soft, yes. We always wanted to have some kind of song like that on the album but Dennis' vocals, we thought, his voice doesn't fit to this kind of song. And we didn’t want any guest vocals to do a song like this, it had to be our own vocalists, you know? When Dennis was doing this we didn’t like how the verses turned out. It was always, the chorus was nice and the verses were like meh, let’s skip it. Then we discovered that Andy can do that and also I think, on the previous record the other songs were not so heavy and a song like this would have given it even more a soft feel to it somehow. But we thought this album now is more heavy anyway and then it doesn’t hurt to have a song like this on it and Andy can carry this now. He sounds really good we think when he’s singing this kind of stuff, so that’s why we put that on the album. It’s a good contrast.
I really liked the song, it’s also a really nice lyric, but it’s a lyric about being broken; about somebody who gets the short end of the stick. I thought it sounded rather cheerful for the subject matter?
Ok, cheerful? Yeah I mean it is a pretty sad song, somehow.
Yes, it’s a sad song! But you sing it very happily. And I liked the contrast in that as well.
Yes that’s why it has the Ok in it, you know? That’s why "brOken" is, have you seen how we write broken small with OK in the middle? That gives it the positive attitude somehow. Also the message comes across better. This is also a song we’re definitely going to play live. Before we had more soft songs, like “This Oath” and stuff like that but we really never played that kind of stuff live, and this song "BrOken" is a down to earth song somehow. It is not electronic really, it’s more like acoustic clean guitars, drum, bass, rhythm guitars, lead guitar, vocals. It’s more like a Rock song somehow, that’s definitely why we want to play that live.
I think that’s a wise decision, it’s definitely a sing-along crowd-pleaser. It will do nicely, I’m sure.
Hopefully, we will see. We never played songs that soft live before.
There’s a first time for everything! [Laughs]
Yes, you see? Even after twenty years!
Exactly, always new things. How did you land on the title Gravity for the new album, since it’s not a song title?
If you check through our discography we’ve never really had a song called like the album title, that’s one thing, we always like to give it a certain name. The one exception was The Awakening, but that was more like an intro kind of song, not a real song. Gravity means something, it has nothing to do with space or something, we mean it more like in a personal way. Like everything that can pull down or drag down a person or something like that. For example, if you use drugs it can destroy you, pulling you apart. This is also like some kind of gravity. Or the society, bad friendships, bad relationships, everything that the songs are about. All personal stuff which can destroy a person somehow or drag it away from someone or drag it down, that’s what we mean with gravity. It’s just a headline.
I like that. Really deep. I expected it to be something like, “It’s a heavy album”.
Well, also, if you look at the cover artwork, it’s also more dark, it’s just the symbol. It gives it a pretty dark vibe as well. So it means that as well, but mainly it’s the headline for the lyrics on the album.
Great choice. How was the recording process this round, did you have fun making this album?
Yes I always have fun being in the studio. This is different for every musician. Some people prefer more studio work, others prefer more live. I mean I enjoy live a lot as well of course, but I also enjoy being the nerdy guy behind the computer, trying something out, to see the songs grow. This is really my thing somehow. It’s also why I chose the other job I have besides the band. The studio you know, mix and record bands, stuff like that, because that’s what I really enjoy.
It’s not so much different, the recording process than the last two albums at least. We again recorded backwards, which means we started with the vocals, then guitars, then bass, then drums. Like, pretty much reverse. We record the vocals first because we want to give it like more freedom to do changes during the final recordings of the vocals. Because then you are still able to change the songs, or chords or something to match the vocals better instead of having everything fixed recorded and the vocals are there and you think, if you had played a different note there the vocals could do this and this, and it would be better. Eh, too late. It’s why we do it this way, it feels comfortable, it’s really comfortable for us. We started doing that with “I Am Nemesis” and I think you can hear at least that, that’s what I imagine at least, that since the “I Am Nemesis” album it sounds more logical how the music and the vocals flow together. Rhythm wise, melodic wise somehow. That’s why we kept it this way.
Another difference is that, “Ghost Empire” I was recording in my studio, not mixing, this time it’s recording and mixing in my studio. The vocals got recorded in Berlin together with our producer in his studio, and I did the mix here. I was meeting… I don’t want to call him an assistant, he’s a friend of mine who taught me how to mix in the past, and I had him listen through it with some fresh ears for a couple of days, but then I went back home and mixed it. So it was really good that I had the freedom of a trying session, without having someone sitting behind you like “hey, you have only three days left for the guitars, just to let you know”, you know? It’s not like you have to hurry stuff like that, now I could just record and try stuff and as long as I wanted somehow I didn’t take any other jobs from other bands in the meanwhile and just worked on our stuff. I think you can hear that somehow. It’s pretty detailed. On each little guitar effect I worked pretty long. It’s not perfect yet, but it’s not overdone. I think you can imagine when you’re by yourself, it’s hard to let it go at some point, but in general I think the extra time it got made it somehow different too.
Would you say you’re a bit of a perfectionist in that aspect?
Yeah. Yes I am. I should maybe say unfortunately, yes. [Laughs]
It can be a burden, absolutely [Laughs
Yes, really. Especially since the studio is in my apartment. I have two floors here, the downstairs floor is the apartment, the upper floor is the studio. I finish, let’s say at 8 p.m with the recordings, I just have dinner, watch a movie and it’s like “dammit, I want to finish this!” you know? And I just go back upstairs and sit down until 4 a.m.! That’s the real burden.
It’s one of the disadvantages of working at home. [Laughs]
Yes. I mean, the good part is, I can just leave, go to my own place very quickly, be in my kitchen, my bathroom, my bed, whatever I want in a minute, but the bad part is, yeah. I think that I actually work longer, work more because of this I guess.
That’s only good. How does a typical writing process work? You just explained a bit about how your production and mixing process works, but who does what creatively where it comes to writing?
It’s more or less this way that I write pretty much the basics of it, like the not yet finished, complete produced songs. I think the song is between fifty and eighty percent there, but that you at least get the idea of what I want with this song, where I want to go, direction wise. Then I meet with Benny who I am producing with and I take a couple songs with me, like five or six song ideas and say here, this is what I have done so far. I ask him what his thoughts are, what he likes, what he dislikes, stuff like that. Then we take two or three of those, which we think are the best out of those, and then we produce them and do the fine tuning, the rest goes in the thrash. Then we repeat this process. So basically I write forty to fifty song ideas for each record. At least for the last two or three albums. It works best this way.
Does that mean you have a lot of spare material still on the shelf?
Several people asked me this before, what I do with the leftovers, if I have them stored somewhere for future albums, but I actually don’t do that. It’s a habit, maybe a bad habit, I don’t know, but I always have in my mind that if it’s not good enough for this album, it’s not good enough for the next. So I pretty much just throw that stuff away.
Put it through the big shredder!
Yes. Trash can, empty trash can. [Laughs]
I like that idea for some reason. It’s a waste to throw away stuff that’s creative, but on the other hand I understand your perspective there.
Yes, sometimes afterwards you think like maybe it was just not the right part for that moment because we had only one song left and we wanted something more heavy so then the softer song just got left, but basically that never really happened that way.
It also says something about your self assurance that you can create something new later.
Exactly. I always need like a little break between writing stuff for my own band, like at least nine to twelve months. I’m not the type of person that finishes an album, releases it, puts it away, has two songs ready for the next already and writes one or two songs every month. That’s not the way I can focus on this. I need a break for a year or so, and then I sit down for like a couple of months. Two or three months straight, every day, and then I write the album. I need to come into some kind of zone or whatever.
The album zone!
My girlfriend usually hates me during that time.
[Laughs] I can imagine. You are generally labeled as a Metalcore band. If there’s any genre that has a lot of sub-genres it’s Metal. Do you feel these narrow boxes still fit the modern Metal bands?
I don’t have any problem with that, and I don’t really care for categories. Some bands these days claim “Oh no, we’re not Metalcore," even though they called themselves that like five years ago, only because it’s maybe not “hip” or something, but we don’t really care about this name. We do the music we do, and for some people that’s Metalcore, for some people it’s Modern Metal, for some people it’s Melodic Metal, or whatever. Whatever label they like. It’s heavy music, and heavy music is mostly Metal, so the Metal box fits pretty well I think.
Alright! When writing music, what is more important to you, the energy or the message?
If you would ask me as the instrument writing songwriter the energy, and if you would ask our vocalist, definitely the opposite I would think.
I bet. So in this case the answer is the energy.
For me, yes. This is why we switched a couple of years ago to more lyrics which the band can also identify with, and not only the singer. He had very personal lyrics in the past, but then we thought it’s better if we also have some stuff which the whole band can also at least identify with. For example, with the refugee crisis, we as a band want to say something like that. This is why we switched a bit, so the message is definitely not unimportant for us, but for me as a songwriter, the energy is probably more important, yeah.
It does sound like that, yes. And where it comes to your fans, how important is your fan base to you?
That’s actually the most important. Without fans bands are nothing. It’s a very cliche thing to say but it’s still true. Even though many bands say that. It’s not like that we write the music towards that most people like us, because we try to stay true to ourselves and like the music we do and we try to do the music we like best. But in general of course the fans are most important. Because of them we can make music like the way we make music, write and create music, with day jobs that would be completely impossible somehow. It’s so time consuming. If they wouldn’t come to the concerts, buy the albums or merchandise, which is probably the main income for most bands these days, because of this we can eat and do things we like.
Would you say that the current state of the music industry is a lot more fan-driven than in the past?
Yeah. I mean, it’s always hard to say because some people say “I don’t buy the album, I only download it because only the label makes money with this, so I just go to a concert and buy the merchandise”. In a way it’s a bit controvert. It’s a bit true, but also a bit controvert, because it’s true that from record sales usually most bands don’t earn so much if they earn, because they receive advances for recording and the label keeps it, and so forth. Therefore the income is mostly the merchandise and the concerts. But on the other hand, if no one would buy the record anymore, then the record label would not invest in recordings anymore for example, and then bands couldn’t record anymore albums, because it’s not cheap.
It’s definitely a double-edged sword.
In a way, if they buy merchandise it helps in the first place with the income for bands, but if everyone would just download, the labels would drop the band and don’t release their work anymore, or stop giving them recording advances, stuff like that. It’s a difficult subject.
It’s a different world, but the labels still are useful in a way.
In a way, definitely, yes. And I can’t complain because we have a very good relationship with our label. They’re close to us, only half an hour from here. They come around, we sometimes meet them, we have a very friendly relationship. Not just business.
That’s always good. Coming back to your fans, do you have favorite fan-related anecdotes?
That’s again a tough question. I would say that most memorable are the more sad stories than the fun stories. Of course the fun stories are always fun memories, but it’s definitely the more sad stories that stay longer in mind. For example, there was a boy who had cancer. He couldn’t be cured, he was going to die at some point. He released himself from the hospital and our concert was his last life experience. Two days later he was dead. So that’s a very sad story.
Wow. Yeah but it hits home.
It’s very sad, but also very emotional, like what a band can mean for a person. And it’s your own band, so it’s very special, of course.
I understand that. It’s something you take with you and probably build on as well.
This is why the lyrics are also important. This boy said the lyrics mean a lot to me, they were helping me in my situation, and stuff like that, so this is why not only the energy is important of course. Everything is. These are the stories you keep in mind longer than just the fun anecdotes, you know?
It’s impressive. It’s a big compliment to get.
Yeah, that definitely. But we had several experiences like this. Not like that extreme maybe, but also in the past, in the very beginning when we were really without fixed booking agencies and we did the booking ourselves and we were more like a DIY band, I mean we didn’t really have a label and did all our bookings ourselves. We had our phone numbers in the album back then as contact, you know? In the very first self releases and mini-CDs, like fifteen to seventeen years ago mostly. Some girl was at some point later, because he didn’t change his phone number for quite some time, people didn’t think the number still existed so they never called this number really. So at some point he got a call and there was a girl on the phone who was talking about how she wanted to kill herself. And it wasn’t just some attention seeker, she was really doing that. She already took pills and everything you know, when she was talking on the phone. He was talking to her so long that she got rescued and after, brought to some mental hospital.
That’s very intense.
He also kept the contact somehow. At least he checked on her once or twice. These are really memorable and also compliments, that you are the first person these people want to talk to before this kind of moment. It’s extreme I think.
You make a difference in lives. That’s a very powerful thing.
It’s something that really sticks to mind. Actually, nobody ever asks these kinds of questions. You’re the first!
Ah? Thank you. I like to ask things a bit different usually. The human interest part is a lot more interesting than the default run-of-the-mill interviews.
Yes. I know what you mean.
Back to the more standard stuff, how will your year look? Do you have tours planned?
Yes! At the moment we’re booking our festival season, which is starting pretty soon already, and right after that we plan a European tour. Not yet, we’re still looking for the perfect time frame which is somewhere around September / October I would say. That’s the European tour, and then we’ll also go to Russia again for a couple of weeks. I don’t know if that will be before or after that but these two tours will be close together. Then pretty much the year is almost over again. Like I said, the festival season starts in April for us.
Do you have some confirmations already for festivals?
Yes some, but to be honest, I can’t remember all of them. I know it’s Wacken this year.
Awesome, you played there before I know, I’ve seen you there!
Yes, but it was quite a long time ago. In a way it’s a comeback. I think it’s our third time now.
It’s one of my favorite festivals, it has a great feel.
Yes. So this has been confirmed, and we play Highfield, that’s confirmed, the Impericon festival in Zurich, the rest I would need to look up, and there is going to be more anyway.
People should keep a close watch on your festival calendar on your website and Facebook page.
Exactly. The confirmed ones are already online on our sites. We also play Hellfest in France. But watch our website.
I’ll keep an eye on it, I’ll definitely be seeing you somewhere this season.
Cool. I hope you like what you see then, with the new songs.
Will you be playing a lot of new material live?
Yes. I’m not exactly sure how many, but usually when we put out a new album, we play at least five new tracks. Next week we play we play two small shows, one very small, one a little bit bigger, where we play at least seven new songs. We have a look from there how the new stuff feels live. But it’s pretty safe to say it’s at least five. Probably six.
Awesome! When you look at your full body of work up to now, what songs do you never tire of playing live?
"Forsaken Horizon," it’s a pretty old song, I always like playing that. It’s from the Shadow Hearts record, it’s old already but I always like playing that song. We Are The Many and Memorial are also two of the songs I never get tired of playing, yeah, I would stick to these three.
Alright! Are there artists that you would consider covering that no one would ever expect you to cover?
I always like the more interesting cover songs better, from genre-different music than our own. Unfortunately when we did this on our cover EP Coverfield, I don’t know if it’s just for Germany but we have to ask permission when we cover something from a different genre. If you cover in your own genre, if you make a Metal song from a Metal song or a Pop song from a Pop song then that’s just a cover and they can’t do anything about it. But if you take a pop song and make a metal version out of it, if you sell it and make money off it, you have to ask permission. We actually got permission denied by a couple, two or three. The first was from U2. We did a U2 cover song and they denied the cover.
[Laughs] That does sound like U2.
Yeah, without even listening to it.
That also sounds like U2.
It was one of my favorite cover songs of the whole album.
That kind of surprises me. I know a band named Badesalz did a polka cover of U2’s “I Still haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” song quite some time ago (https://youtu.be/2yTR7pPFLuQ)
Maybe, but if you just do a YouTube version you don’t have to ask permission. It’s a very complicated thing.
This was in the nineties I think, and it actually it was a big hit here in the Netherlands.
Ah, okay. I don’t know anything about how that really works; when you have to ask, and if you can fight the decision, if you can do it anyway, but our record company is very careful. Before there is any kind of drama, even if you can win this, we don’t want drama. So we just skipped the song. So yeah, Lana Del Rey would be something I would like to cover, because I really like her music. Not the latest album, probably not so much the latest two albums, but the ones before I really like. This could be very interesting to do.
Just out of curiosity, which U2 song was it that you covered?
The one from the Batman soundtrack, "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me", if you know that one.
I do, it’s a nice choice. It would make an awesome Metal song.
I liked it too. [Laughs]
You could still do it live!
No. You know, I got pretty angry about the band, somehow. Well not really angry, but if they deny the cover song then I don’t want to play their songs anyway, you know?
[Laughs] I get it, I get it.
I was like, whatever. Like for example, Pink Floyd was very different. They said oh we’re curious to hear, and of course they can do that, you know? Very different approach. It’s safe to say I think that Pink Floyd are better artists. They care for the art and they are interested in what people can create with their music, because they know we don’t steal anything from them. They are so rich and they have so much money. No one will stop buying their stuff because someone else, like us, is going to cover something from them. It’s not hurting them and they were just actually curious. They wanted hear the song when it was done, they gave us permission before actually hearing the song and everything.
I like that. I think that’s the right approach. I’m almost through my questions. I have one last one for you, and that’s do you have any last words for our readers?
No, I’m just looking forward to seeing all of you guys, wherever you’re from on festivals and at shows, and I hope you will like the new album!
Awesome! Well, thank you very much for taking the time for us, and I’m looking forward to seeing you on the road!
I’ll see you at Wacken probably!