Monday, March 18, 2013

Interview With Laakso (Kuolemanlaakso) and V. Santura

As previously posted in this blog entry, the full transcript of an interview with Markus Laakso (Chaosweaver, Kuolemanlaakso) and V. Santura (Dark Fortress, Triptykon, Woodshed Studio) is below (first published at this location).

Together, they discussed the origins of Laakso's doom metal band Kuolemanlaakso, the inspiration behind the band's sound, working together, and the music industry.

The original air/stream date of the short-format interview was Feb. 26, 2013.

Interview Transcript- Jan 29, 2013, Markus Laakso, V. Santura
Emina Hodzic, (Radio Sarajevo)  Present: [] (from Zillertal, Austria), Dzemal Bijedic, (Radio Sarajevo)  Approx. begin at 21:00 (preprep) Berlin time.
Written and transcribed by []
Begins after 37:45

Hello Markus, good to have you here in the studio.  How are you doing?

Markus: Thank you I’m doing well.

So here we are to talk about your baby, called Kuolemanlaakso, if I am pronouncing it well.

Yeah, that was perfect.

It’s a pretty new band out there and you released your debut album called “Uljas uusi maailma”, but before we start talking about that, let’s go back to your roots.  Where did it all begin for you with respect to music?

Well, it’s pretty hard to say, since I’ve been listening to music since I was really, really young and I think the first vinyl that I ever owned was this compilation album called “Axe Attack II” and it had Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Motorhead, and bands like that on it. I pretty much skipped directly from children’s music to heavy metal when I was about six years old, so it’s been a part of my life forever. 

I do have this one recollection when my parents…I was at this classical concert with my parents and they played Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” and I remember becoming mesmerized with it, so I guess it all began really, really early and after that they made me take piano lessons as a kid, which I absolutely hated.  So I guess it’s a combination of things like that which derive from my early childhood.

Who were the early bands and artists that made you sit up and take notice of music (besides Iron Maiden, etc.)?

I think it was KISS…KISS was the band I liked the most and then you know all the other 80s bands like Twisted Sister, Accept, Hanoi Rocks, WASP, and bands like that.  I think it was that they looked really, really, different when compared to regular people.  They had ridiculously long hair and makeup and they were theatrical so it was pretty much the nature of the music and the way they looked and the way the album covers were made and stuff like that, so I think it’s basically that all the guys I know listen to the same bands growing up, so those are probably all the bands I listened to growing up…and, oh yeah, the Scorpions!  I used to love those guys!

I’ve read that you were in California as a youth.  How long were you there, what were you doing there, and did it shape your future life as a musician?  If so, how?

I was there when I was about 11 when we moved to San Diego and we lived there for about two years because of my father’s work…he’s a scientist, like a medical scientist.  He studies diabetes and he’s actually quite famous worldwide and he’s won all the prizes there are with the exception of the Nobel Prize.  So I went to sixth and seventh grade while I was there.  I don’t think it had any influence in the shaping of my future in musical stuff.  I listened to a lot of music while I was there.  For example, Guns N Roses and Poison and all the hair bands were really, really big and I remember getting into Gangsta Rap like Eazy E and NWA and bands like that.  I didn’t play any instruments when I lived there.  I played piano before we moved there, then I started playing guitar after we moved back to Finland.

What was your first band and what did you play?

Actually, Chaosweaver is my first band.  A lot of people were asking me to join their bands when I was a teenager, but I didn’t want to join any bands, just play guitar at home.  I was kind of a shy kid, but when we founded Chaosweaver, it was 2004, I played keyboards and after that, I switched to bass and I’ve been playing the keyboards for a few years now, again because I got tired of the bass.

So many great bands are coming out of Finland and support for metal and extreme metal seems quite strong there.  What is it about Finland that makes this happen?

Oh, that’s a tough question, but I think one of the key factors is the high musicianship of the Finnish metal people…is…everyone plays their instruments really, really well, except for me (laughs), and people are trying to be original when they are making their own albums and not copy off one other. 

I guess it has something to do with the long and cold winters that we have to face every year, which I hate.  That’s like six months of the year of absolute darkness and really cold and shitty weather.

Is that why the suicide rate is relatively high in Finland? (laughs)

I think so (laughs). 

Winter is really, really beautiful, but I don’t even want to go outside if it’s too cold.  Just stay inside.  I work at home, so I don’t have to go outside, ever, if I don’t want to.

What brought about Kuolemanlaakso?

When we were making Chaosweaver’s second album, that was a really, really long process that took about a year and a half and I had some spare time there at the studio because the other guys were…the drummer of Chaosweaver owns the studio where we recorded the album, so we didn’t have any schedules, and there were a lot of relationship breakups in our band…members of our band broke up with their long-term girlfriends and such…

Always girlfriends. (laughs)

Yeah. (laughs)

…and my wife was pregnant at the time so I had to be in a condition in order to drive a car.  I couldn’t drink anything and those guys were partying all the time and playing Xbox and not doing the album.  So I had some spare time in the studio and the Triptykon album came out during that time and I really, really got into it.  I wanted to start making music that was kind of similar, like heavy, heavy, really dark stuff with lots of extreme string-bending and that sort of thing.  So I just started demoing my own songs in the studio and I didn’t even tell the other guys.  Just went there, you know, and closed the door and [they] drank and did whatever they did.  Just demoed a few songs. 

Later on, there was a party at the studio and I wasn’t even there and the people were listening to projects and demos and albums by the guys that were joining the party, like the guy from Ajattara, for example and then Kouta who was going to be the guitarist in Kuolemanlaakso, who plays guitars in Chaosweaver.  So he had heard those demos at that party and he phoned me and said he really, really loved them and that I really need to make this into a real band and he wanted to be a part of it.  I originally thought I would just play every instrument myself and do the vocals.  Well, not do the drums, but have someone play the drums on the album.

But that’s how we began.

I noticed you mentioned Triptykon and “Eparistera Daimones”.  What is it that got your attention?

Well, usually I buy albums on the release date if I’m interested in them, but this album I bought later.  I just read so many reviews that said like this was a really cool album and like 5/5 stars or something and all my friends were complimenting it, but I really had high expectations.  And when you have really high expectations or something, it commonly leaves you not being that impressed, but I put the CD on and said “WOW, this is some really, really heavy and cool shit!” So probably it was the absolute darkness of the album and the production, which is really crushing and of course, I heard “Monotheist” by Celtic Frost and thought that was an excellent album, but I think this album was even better and it took it one step further, even though it continues the same path.  And also not so typical song structures and the string-bending stuff and the feeling of serenity in the absolute darkness of the album.  That was something else I was really impressed with.

Was it difficult to make an album without being a ripoff of an album that inspired it?

Well, the mission was not to copy anyone, but to get a certain…sort of “tips” and influences and make it something different.  In my opinion, Kuolemanlaakso’s album is really, really Finnish.  If you listen to the melodies, for example, they are really melancholic and typically Finnish.  So the things I wanted to “snatch” from Triptykon, if you want to call it that, was the quality of the production and some of the string-bending things and pitch-black atmosphere.

You mentioned that the other members of the band wanted to be in Kuolemanlaakso.  Was it difficult for them to understand right away what you saw in “Eparistera Daimones” and what your vision was?

Actually, Kouta, the guy I was talking about…I don’t think he’s even heard the whole Triptykon album yet.  He just heard the songs that I had written and I think Mikko Kotamäki, the lead singer, I think he’s a big fan of Triptykon.

I think they understood my vision after hearing the demos really, really fast because the way the other guys joined the band was…I thought about when it was proposed to make this a full-time band.  I thought about it for a few weeks and then I thought about the guys I thought were brilliant musicians and good friends of mine and I wanted the guys to be mellow and easy-going and [have] no egos.  That was really important. 

I wanted them to know that I wanted to make decisions in this band because Chaosweaver is like a three-guy democracy and it’s really, really hard to make a song complete with three guys having the same amount of votes, so to speak. I had a vision about this album and I found those guys who are old friends of mine and they said they were good songs and wanted to play them and wanted to do the album.

What was it like working with V. Santura on production?  How did he end up actually playing on the album?

I think it was really great.  He’s also a really mellow guy and really cool and really nice and talented. He had a lot of great ideas concerning the songs and concerning the sounds and he even composed some of the leads on the album, which he, of course, ended up playing.  I don’t remember which song was the first he played on, but there’s this one song, the second song on the album called “Kuun lapset”, “Children of the Moon” in English.  We were playing Super Mario Land while the other guys were recording.  That was the only song that Kouta (guitar) hadn’t rehearsed with the band and he was like “ahh, I don’t feel like playing that song and rehearsing it”.  I think he asked Victor (Santura) if he’d be interested in playing the song.  I think on that song, it’s only me and Santura playing on the song.  Then there was the intro to “Uljas uusi maailma”.  It’s a really, really shitty part to play, so he played it and I think he even asked if he could play some leads on some songs of the album.  I think they, well, me and Kouta can never play lead guitars like that…ever (laughs), because we’re not lead guitar players and even though I have had to learn the leads on the album because I have to play them live, which kind of sucks ass. (V. Santura laughs in the background)

I won’t ask further about production and guest appearances because we have V. Santura (Victor) here in the studio.  Hello Victor, how are you doing?

Victor: Hello, good evening.  I’m doing very good, actually.

How were you approached by Markus to produce this album?

V. Santura: I think the first time he approached me was when Triptykon played the Finnish Metal Expo in Helsinki.  When was that, Markus?  Was it in 2011?  It was in 2011, I guess?

Markus: February.

Victor: Yes, February 2011, exactly. So we had that show with Triptykon and…there was some kind of aftershow party and I also knew some people from Helsinki that I met and then I just basically was running into Markus and Petteri [Kouta], the other guitar player, or am I supposed to call him “Petteri” in this interview?

Laakso: You can call him whatever you want. (laughs)

Victor: OK, the motherfucker! (laughs)

Victor: I met those two guys there and we got quite drunk, of course, because we’re in Finland (laughs) and there’s no way out of that.  So, basically, we were talking about the possibility of maybe making an album together.  To mix it, actually and a few weeks or months later, we actually basically really got into e-mail contact and the whole idea was born that I could co-produce the album and also record it at my place (Woodshed Studio, Landshut, Germany).  And that’s how it started.

What were your first impressions of the demo material when you heard it?

Victor: I quite liked it.  I could really connect with the music, obviously, because it’s some kind of style of music I understand and I know well and know what it’s about. It’s also quite interesting to work with a band that is, basically, admitting that they are influenced by your own band, but I don’t see Kuolemanlaakso as a copycat of Triptykon.  My first impression was, actually, that they were also influenced by Ajattara, another finnish band that I really like.  The first song I ever heard from Kuolemanlaakso as a demo was “Mina Elan” and to me that sounds more like Ajattara than Triptykon.

Not only did you handle production work, but you played on several songs.  How did that develop?  Were there any challenges there?

Victor: (laughs) I remember pretty well on the last day of the recordings, we were still working on the last track (“Aurinko”) and that track starts with a very simple bass riff and we knew we wanted to make a very nice, atmospheric melody over that part and I had some kind of idea.  So I wanted to play something and it really took me…it felt like hours…until I got it on tape and I was really annoyed with myself.  So, that was some kind of challenge.  In the end, I’m really happy and proud of that melody.  For the rest, I was doing whatever…they were all spontaneous things, actually and, well, maybe not a “challenge”, because I was just doing what I do.  It’s quite as simple as that.

What songs did you play on?

Victor: (laughs) That’s a good question.  I have to look in the booklet, actually.

If you can pronounce those Finnish titles…

Victor: I think I played…I think I had an idea on the first track, “Mina Elan”, where there was one kind of cheesy-sounding keyboard…

I actually noticed that because it sounds so like you.

Victor: Well, that keyboard line, when I heard the demo track, I thought it actually should be played with a guitar and so I played that thing on a guitar with a really spacey, kind of clean sound and the guys really liked it.  And then on “Kuun lapset”, the second track, as Markus already mentioned earlier in the interview, there I played almost the entire rhythm guitar, as I remember correctly.  And, well, those additional lead guitars on “Aurinko” and the rest, I’m not entirely sure anymore.  Markus mentioned that I played the intro of “Uljas uusi maailma”.

Markus: Yeah.

Victor: …but to be honest, I don’t even remember playing that.

Markus: (laughs) I have video, dude!

You were too drunk. (laughs)

Victor: (laughs) No, I’m never drunk when I’m working.  I’m always totally sober, actually, but I thought that beginning melody of “Uljas uusi maailma”…I remember that this was different and your bass player Thuomas (Usva) changed it and I think he recorded it.

Markus: Ummm…no.

Victor: There is that middle section…

Markus: You and Usva, you mean that middle section part, together…

Victor: Exactly.  I played some guitars, but I don’t remember the intro.  Or maybe I did? (laughs).

Markus: …and you also did the intro of “Etsin”

Victor: Yes.  That’s my favorite song, by the way.  I LOVE it.

Markus: Cool.

Victor, how much freedom did you have with those guitar parts?

V. Santura: Basically, the few riffs I played…I, of course, totally respected the composition and I didn’t go away from that.  It was just, for example, the intro of “Etsin”, to me, when I heard it, I thought  it really needs that “rotten” kind of Hellhammerish approach with the guitars and I thought “if you let me try, I could probably get that in” because I’m used to playing that kind of stuff, obviously.  So, I just interpreted it a little bit, but I didn’t change things.  I didn’t ask for freedom because I thought it’s not my job and not my duty to change their compositions.  It’s only my duty to make their compositions sound as good as possible and that’s all I tried to do.

What is your opinion of the final product?

V. Santura: It’s one of the albums that I’m most proud of, to be honest because I really love the sound and I’m not always happy or totally satisfied with the final results, but with that album, I think everything went extremely well and smooth.  It was a big pleasure to work with Kuolemanaakso, so in the end I’m really satisfied with the album.

So there are no flaws?  I know you producers have complexes… (laughs)

V. Santura: I actually also do have that…a lot (laughs), sometimes, but with that album, at least with my part of the work that I had to contribute to the album I’m quite proud this time.

Markus, what has the album’s reception been like?

Laakso: Overwhelmingly positive, in my view.  I think the worst reviews have been like, if we were to talk in stars, it’s like 3/5 or 6/10.  In Finland, for example, 5/5 or 4/5 and stuff like that, which is really great because I had no expectations.

Is it because of your native language (the “Uljas uusi maailma” lyrics are in Finnish) or something else?

Laakso: Actually, we’ve been getting a lot of good reviews from Germany and The States and not a lot of people have paid attention to the language of the lyrics or they haven’t been criticizing them, even though they don’t understand them.  I don’t know, the reviews have been really, really positive.

I didn’t know what to expect.  Honestly. 

You always have haters around.

Laakso: (laughs) Of course.  I knew the production was really, really good and our singer is quite famous so we would probably get some attention, but the reviews were something I didn’t expect.  They were so overwhelmingly positive.

In the liner notes, it was mentioned that Svart [Records] restored your faith in the business.  Have you previously had bad experiences?  What is life like in the music business today?

Laakso: Well, the contract we made with those guys…well, it’s basically the best contract I’ve ever seen or even heard of.  It’s like really artist-friendly and gives us a lot of opportunity to do whatever we want and those guys are flexible.  My other band (Chaosweaver) is signed to an Austrian label I won’t mention by name. (laughs)

Victor: (laughs) Can I mention it?

Markus: Sure! (laughs)

Victor: Napalm Records.

Markus: Yeah, and things haven’t been going that smoothly with those guys. Well, they have some really good pluses, but also have a few minuses that are not that cool.  The Svart guys they release a lot of albums and release a lot of good music and they really believe in every single album that they ever released, which is great because they’re not in it for the money; they are in it for the music.  It’s been great with those guys and I have absolutely nothing negative to say about Svart Records.  In my opinion, it’s the ultimate label for this band to be on and I wouldn’t even want to go to a bigger label.

That’s good to hear.  By the way, I noticed the album cover is really intense.  How was it chosen and what messages are contained within it?

Laakso: First of all, I wanted the cover to have an owl because I’m kind of fixated on owls and I have been since I saw Twin Peaks in 1991 (laughs). 

I saw this picture on Facebook, because I’m in a Facebook group called “Owls” and somebody had posted a picture of an owl by a Maldivien guy called Maahy Abdul Muhsin.  I thought it was the coolest thing ever, so I instantly wrote him an email asking if he would be interested in painting the front cover of our album.  So he replied to me in about 20 minutes and said “yes and it would be really cool”.  I had explained what the front cover concept I had in mind and he was really enthusiastic about it. And he’s 18, which is humungusly weird because he’s such a talented guy.  So I sent him a few ideas…I think I sent him four ideas- four different ideas about the cover I had in mind and he chose one of them and after a few weeks, he emailed me this really, really cool and genius-looking evil owl.

I wanted it to represent Uljas uusi maailma, which is the “Brave New World”.  The title track, the world that we live in first burns, then drowns in the ocean and in Aurinko the last track, the world pretty much starts again from scratch, where everybody is exactly equal.  There are no rich people or poor people, or differences of the races or whatever.  So that was basically what I had in mind for the album cover and I think it went really, really great.  On the front cover, you see this huge owl and you see the world burning and on the back cover it has the sun…the last track on the album is “Aurinko”, which means “The Sun” and the world begins again and would we make the same mistakes again if we had a second opportunity? 

That’s pretty much the idea that I had in mind.  The art just blew me away because I didn’t want to send him any sketches because I don’t know how to draw (laughs) at all.  So I just had this idea and he delivered it like…I expected it to be cool, but it was beyond cool. 

While we’re talking about owls, did you see the movie “The Fourth Kind” with Milla Jovovich?

Laakso: Yes.

You see that owls aren’t so sweet, actually.

Laakso: (laughs) I think an owl represents an ancient wisdom.  It’s a nocturnal animal, which is, of course, combined with evil shit.  When I wrote one line from the bible “I’m a brother to dragons, companion to owls” (Job 30:29) it’s actually a reference to that.

What does it personally mean to you?

Laakso: Well, if you read that passage in the bible, the whole thing, I think it has a lot of references to being thirsty or being in a really dry, heated place.  “Kuolemanlaakso” means “Death Valley” in English and Death Valley is one of the lowest, hottest, and driest places on earth.  So I wrote down from the bible:

“When I looked for good, then evil came unto me and when I waited for light, there came darkness.  My bowels boiled and rested not.  The days of affliction prevented me.  I went morning without the sun.  I stood up I cried in congregation …my skin is black upon me and my bones burn with heat my heart has turned to mourning and my organ into the voice of them that weep.”

I thought that was fucking cool (laughs).  So that’s why it is on the booklet.

So is there a light at the end of the tunnel?  Because a lot of what you are talking about is darkness.

Laakso: Well, if there wasn’t, I wouldn’t have written “Auriko” and we wouldn’t have the second album being written as we speak.

The lyrics are, in part, based on the poems of Eino Leino.  What subject matter did he deal with?

Laakso: Actually, Eino Leino is one of my mother’s favorite poets.  Whatever your father and mother says is worth checking out…

Is your mother also a metalhead?

Laakso: (laughs) Yeah!

…but once I did [check out Eino Leino] I really got into that stuff…In my opinion, Eino Leino’s poems are similar to the music of Kuolemanlaakso because they’re so dark and so depressing and so evil.  So I have had poem books by Eino Leino for a long time, but now I really got into them and he has this style…the rhythm of the language is really musical and it’s kind of hard to get the Finnish language to sound good on top of music because it’s such a harsh language, kind of like German (V. Santura laughs) with the rolling “r” and stuff like that.  The thing is on "Helkavirsiä" the poem book I was studying while writing the lyrics, it deals with a lot of the same subjects as my lyrics.  I dealt with some of the same subjects before I read the book and some after that and some during (laughs).  It basically deals with nature…and by nature, I mean human nature and the shittiness of it and the Finnish forests and the mystique of the Finnish nature.  Those are the things that I felt.

To the present and future…What kind of plans do you have for the future of Kuolemanlaakso?  Are we to expect similar darkness and brutality or significantly new directions and pushing extremes?

Laakso: Well, I think we will continue basically with the same path.  The band doesn’t want to do the same thing twice.  So, the stuff I’ve been writing for the second album has been as dark and as heavy as on the first album, but there are basically two new things: the catchier stuff is really, really catchy and there’s also faster passages in the songs.  If I were to compare them to another artist, it would be Emperor on their first two albums.  Fast and evil stuff combined with really, really heavy and depressive shit plus the catchiness part.  So that’s basically the formula for the songs I’ve been writing now.  So I wrote all the songs on the first album, but now Kouta and Usva have been writing a lot of material, too.  So I guess the next album has to be different because there are probably songs by other dudes besides me and we’ve been doing live shows and we’ll be playing Tulska this summer and we are in the middle of arranging a tour of Finland this summer with another cool Finnish band, but that’s too early to tell because it’s not settled yet.  I really, really hope we get the opportunity to play some shows in Europe and elsewhere, but unfortunately, that’s up to some people other than the band.

So Victor, when’s the new Triptykon coming out?

V. Santura:  Ohh, that’s an evil question right here.  That’s going to be a very interesting thing, which album will be out first.  The next Triptykon album or the next Kuolemanlaakso album.  As much as I like working with Kuolemanlaakso, I hope that Triptykon will be first, but it’s hard to predict, as always, but we are working on it for sure.

Question for both: 2012 was a strong year for metal.  Any album highlights for 2012?

Markus: Want to go first?

Victor: (laughs) No, you go first!

Markus: Alright.  For me, the album that I listen to the most is “No Holier Temple” by a Finnish band called Hexvessel.  They have a British guy as a songwriter and you should definitely check that out.  He’s quite a famous black metal artist, but this album is kind of “forest folk” and really 70s and 60s influenced stuff.  And then I liked the debut album of Jess and the Ancient Ones, which is occult rock and I know the guys and the girl and they are from the same city and myself, which is Kuopio, Finland. The new Tiamat album was pretty good and of course I’m a big Swallow the Sun fan and Barren Earth, and I’m really happy to say that their singer sings in my band as well (laughs).  The new My Dying Bride album was kind of a disappointment, but it was still pretty good.  So, Victor, your turn?

Victor: (laughs) Can we skip that, please?  I don’t think I listened to any albums in 2012. 

Actually, in 2012, I had a period of weeks where I didn’t listen to any music at all because it was getting too much.  I think in the first half of 2012 I was working too much with music and when you work everyday 8-10 hours or something you don’t really want to discover new music.  It’s because you’re listening to music all the time and you’re always analyzing music and at a certain point I really had enough. I had a few jobs that I finished and took a few months off in the summer just to do a vacation and the first 3-4 weeks of it I literally didn’t even put on any music and I waited as long until I really got the need to listen to music again, which finally set in and was a really nice feeling again.  I was going through my classical, my favorite albums and I discovered a few things that weren’t from 2012.  So that question on my favorite albums from 2012 is hard to answer because there aren’t any for me, but that’s not due to the shitty situation in music, but due to my shitty situation.

It’s because of your job…

Victor: That’s what I’m trying to explain- it’s a bit due to my job that I’m not listening to music so much privately.  I’m listening to music all day long for my job.  Then at the end of the day for relaxing you want to do something different from what you just did for work.  So I would rather go out and do sports or sit on the sofa and watch TV.  That’s what I prefer doing nowadays or I practice guitar, but that’s being active with music

Back to work, you have work to finish with Dark Fortress and Triptykon. (laughs)

Victor: Exactly, I just had another break in December, where some production work I had scheduled got cancelled, so I didn’t have any work to do in December, which was a bit shitty in the first place, but then I thought that I could use the time for something and I really got into songwriting for Dark Fortress which was extremely good, so we…by the end of December the other guys in the band met so we got together to check out new ideas and we accomplished a lot so far.  If you had asked me in November “how is the new DF album going?”, my sincere answer would have been negative, to be honest, but now it looks completely different and I’m pretty confident we’ll record a new album in 2013.

Very cool.  Both of you: Where will the record industry be in 5-10 years?

Victor: Wow, that’s a very, very difficult and also interesting question and it’s hard to predict.

We can go back to tapes again (laughs).  Tapes are coming back.  The Devil’s Blood existed only until a few days ago.

Markus: They announced they will not give further interviews and will exist no more and I have no idea how that happened. 

The retro style seemed only temporary; something not permanent.

Markus: They are a good band.  I don’t care about retro or whatever, but they were a good band.  Too bad they broke up.

Victor: It’s hard to predict and there are negative messages coming in every few days, from our manager, for instance, who has a very high position with Century Media records.  She’s telling us things about the business.  For example, in France, all Virgin stores have been closed.

Markus: What the fuck is going on?

Victor: I know, or… in the UK will stop their business in March completely and in Italy FNAC will close all the stores in the country.  I used to think that metal music was still selling, but I think it’s getting more and more difficult to distribute the actual albums. 

I think Amazon is getting more and more important when it comes to physical sales and MP3s.  I don’t believe that the CD medium will last very long.  It’s kind of obsolete and it’s not the best medium anyways.  A CD is, quite honestly, a piece of shit (laughs).  What kind of medium is it when you buy it and in twenty years you will probably not be able to use it anymore?  For example, vinyl lasts much longer.  I would love to see a different format besides MP3 because I don’t like the fact that…I don’t like how they are encoding and compressed.  The quality is suffering.  Most people don’t notice the difference, but on a good HIFI system, I hear the difference, of course.  I hope there will be an alternative solution to the CD, but I think the music industry…it’s getting more and more difficult to sell your albums.

Will vinyl help save metal?

Victor: No, I don’t think vinyl will help save metal.  I think vinyl is just a little niche market for the nerds or the fanatics.  The vinyl sales stay constant, but it’s just a small portion of the sales, so it’s not going to save anybody from ruin.  It’s just a little extra that’s at least a bit stable.

Markus, what is your opinion?

Markus: In my opinion, if you download an MP3 album, that’s not the whole thing.  If it’s legal or if it’s illegal, I don’t care.  It doesn’t have the front cover, the booklet…

Victor: Exactly.

Markus: It doesn’t have the whole thing; just part of the whole thing.  Of course, the music is there, but that’s not the whole product.  I really don’t know where the situation is taking us.  I don’t believe the CD will die as such, like, for example, like MiniDisc did, but the sales numbers are getting so low that maybe not all the releases are being released on CD or on vinyl.  There will be many more releases that will be Spotify only or Spotify and iTunes only and particularly that’s a good thing because I don’t support the chew once and throw away culture at all. And by that, I mean the single thing.

I think when metal bands are making an album, they’re making the whole thing.  They’re not making 8-13 songs and that kind of sucks that the people aren’t buying albums anymore.  It’s quite depressing, actually.  But I don’t care because I’ll still do the things I do and Victor will still do what he does, despite that fact.

Victor: Yeah.

Today’s time has some disadvantages, but if I see the big picture, I see the advantages it has.  Sometimes I think to myself if I lived in the 80s I could live simply making my music because I could sell a whole lot more records.  On the other hand, if it was the 80s, I couldn’t run my own recording studio for sure because equipment was so fucking expensive back then and the investment would have been something I would never have been able to do.  Nowadays, you can get gear and acquire your knowledge in different ways and this way I found for myself another niche where I can live off of music.  So it’s not definitely worse or better.

Markus: Yeah, basically it’s not about the equipment and it being cheap.  We have the same equipment as you.  Petteri has the same equipment, but we want to keep making albums with you because it’s about the knowledge you have.

Victor: Yes, of course.  Nowadays, it’s a lot about the knowledge.  In the old days, when you had the big recording studios in Munich…they all went bankrupt…maybe I would have had a job at one of those studios back then, but I’m sure I wouldn’t have had my own studio because I couldn’t afford the investment.  Every time has positive  and negative aspects and when you talk about the music industry situation, nowadays, you tend to get a bit disillusioned or depressive, but I always try to be fair to my own situation and see the positive in things. 

For me, how it turned out, today’s time has big advantages.


Related: (artwork of Maahy Abdul Muhsin)

Friday, March 8, 2013

Interview with Martin "Marsen" Fischer of Long Distance Calling

"Post rock", "atmospheric rock", "prog rock/metal" are terms often come up when describing Muenster, Germany's Long Distance Calling.  It appears there is no general concensus on what they are so far, which, for many bands, is an awkwardly welcome position to be in.

If I had to describe them, the band could quite possibly be a metallic, more guitar-driven modern Pink Floyd.  In some ways, closer to Pink Floyd than many bands in the past have come, but at the same time, forging their own direction.

Much like Pink Floyd, Long Distance Calling's music feels conceptually driven, despite being mostly instrumental.  A "cohesion" in concept certainly exists that needs no words to convey.  However, with the recent inclusion of Martin "Marsen" Fischer (Fear My Thoughts, Pigeon Toe, Frankestoner Grafix) as vocalist, lyricist, and keyboard player, Long Distance Calling is seeking to expand the ways in which they express their concepts to the audience- currently to sold out crowds across Europe.

Martin "Marsen" Fischer, on stage, Sputnikhalle, Muenster, Germany

You’re not from Muenster, correct?

Southwest, Germany.

So then let me ask: LDC being from Muenster, how did you get in touch with them or them with you?

We knew each other for a while, since Jan works for Century Media records, the label Fear My Thoughts, my previous band, was on.  Janosh and Florian played in Misery Speaks, so we just crossed paths.  We played a Slovenian metal festival, got real drunk together, and got to know one another (laughs).

It’s always the alcohol that brings people together! (laughs)

That was a while ago, actually.  Fear My Thoughts had split up and I came over and they had advice for me such as how to get a record deal and what else to do.  Business shit, more or less.  They also came up with a graphic design job for me for an old record. 

So we were phoning each other once in a while and then they said “hey, we’re doing this new record and we need a singer”.  I guess they tried out a couple of singers before and then they realized that we had been on tour together, so they knew what I was doing from my Fear My Thoughts past. They just didn’t think of me before.  I liked their music, so I thought we’d give it a try.  I was not sure whether it was a permanent thing or just like guest vocals for about three tracks. 

Later on, they spoke about going live on stage, then it became more permanent from there.

So you are the permanent singer of LDC?

I guess so (laughs).

How far in the writing and recordings did you come into it?

Very late, unfortunately.  The songs were all written and had preproduction and they had all the structures totally written, so there was none of my influence coming into the songwriting.  So we just had those tracks and I just did my thing and sent them back to them and then we met and talked about it and tried new stuff.  I live 600km away, so we were sending things via the internet, but we then met and talked out the details and did the final stuff in the studio in September.

So did you participate in any writing?

I had some keyboard parts that were written according to the songs [that were already written].

(note: the album was released that day and I secured my copy after the show and interview and it reveals that “Inside the Flood”, “Tell the End”, and “The Man Within” feature lyrics written by Martin)

It’s been estimated by the band that only about 50% of The Flood Inside contains vocals.  How do you deal with the [stage] “downtime”, not only with the guitars, but also the vocals?

Well, the missing guitars are really a strange…  I see myself more as a guitarist and a musician than a singer, but I have a lot of electronic keyboard parts and there’s really a lot to do throughout the songs.  On each song, we have a keyboard section and a Hammond organ and we try to make it a bit more “analog”, but we still have samplers and I still have a lot of stuff to play.  So it’s a very challenging thing, actually, because I played keyboards in a band for a long time, but not on stage.  It’s very exciting.

You had a couple of warm up shows already.  How did they go? 

Absolutely great!  Everything just went perfect (laughs).

So it’s not as much of a challenge as you’re making it out to be (laughs)!

Yeah, it’s exciting because I have to deal with these new “instruments”.  It’s more exciting to me because I still don’t know how to move (laughs).  

To me, it seems like a larger gap to bridge between the instrument-based history of Long Distance Calling and bringing in a singer on a more permanent basis.  What was the process like in getting the vocal and musical concepts to work?

I think because I knew the guys already, it wasn’t so far away.  It’s not that far from Pigeon Toe, either, nor from the music I listen to.  I think I kind of dug what they wanted and the concepts and the fact that we didn’t need to talk about it too much was a sign we really connected.  Another positive thing might be that they haven’t worked with a singer before, so they don’t have a comparison. 

And they’re very open to it (laughs).

Yeah (laughs), and they say “this guy sings?  Great!”

Plus you’re actually there, in front of them, not on another continent or in another country.

Exactly (laughs).  The perfect singer!

Typically in fusion and jazz fusion (the background of Martin's band Pigeon Toe), there’s a lot of room for improvisation in live settings.  In a live setting, do you have creative freedom here?

Absolutely.  The room for it might be small right now because I’m checking out my space and how far I can go.  The plan is to eventually be able to jam and expand a song to have a two more minutes of a jam session in between.  It will be possible if we put all the sample stuff together and play it with the synthesizer or keyboard or whatever.

Right now…I try to come up with little stuff and exchange things.  I think it’s a long way until I get to where I want to be, but I think each show I don’t really know what I’m going to do and I don’t have a plan (laughs).

Sounds scary (laughs).

Yeah (laughs).  I have my certain parts where I know what I’m doing and I can always rely on them, but then there’s so much space in their songs because Long Distance Calling is actually a guitar band and the electronic stuff is in the background. It doesn’t really take up a lot of space to go here and there and stretch out a bit.  And those guys really seem to appreciate it.

What is the conceptual basis of the music of the new album?

It has more or less a definitive concept of “The Flood Inside”, which is a journey through human emotions.  It’s very personal in one way and very abstract in another so everyone can identify with the music.  When you listen to the music, you have all sorts of pictures and images going on.

To me, the concept is that of a journey.  It wants to take you to the top of a mountain, but to each person, we didn’t want to draw the concept and say “here it is”.  We give little hints to allow each person to go their own way.

Album cover, "The Flood Inside" (2013)

For those who like categories, what is Long Distance Calling?

I’m not really a guy that categorizes.  We’re not really progressive because some might say that we’re not progressive enough and there’s some metal influences.  Some people want to describe it because it helps them identify.  To me, it’s just great rock music.  “Atmospheric” is a great word.  It’s really hard to tell.

Have you seen metal fans in the audiences so far?

Diverse, actually.  We’ve done two shows and we’ve been together during festivals [in the past].  I think we might be for metalheads that are a bit more open-minded, as well as people who had Pink Floyd in their backgrounds.  I don’t think the young people are really into us.  The songs are really long.

We all have ADHD right now.

Absolutely (laughs).  When a great riff comes up, they might wait two minutes before it starts rising. 

So what to expect in 2013 and beyond from Long Distance Calling?

This tour and I hope we can start songwriting during it, actually.  Some festivals, probably more than before because having a singer might make us more interesting for them.  Another tour, maybe in Sept/Oct.  A lot is going on for this album and we have to get out there.

If you don’t like what’s on the record, that’s fine, but to see us live is something different.  To me, Long Distance Calling was always a band that you needed to see live.  The energy and the fun they have on stage is really what this band is about.

Are you primarily a music writer or a lyricist?


So we’ll see influences from you in both ways in the future. 

Yeah.  I’m really happy that I’ll be there from the beginning for the next record and probably because I’m a keyboardist and I like the analog style, like the Hammond organ.  Probably that will somehow be influenced. 

What challenges have you had coming into the band and working on old and new material?

The challenge with any band is to get up on stage and be as good as you possibly can.

LDC has had a few internationally-renowned guest singers. For instance, John Bush.


Have you already tried out “Middleville”, the song John appears on?

We wanted it.  It was an option, but I have to say that I’m not as good as John Bush.  This guy is just an awesome singer and I don’t think I want to hear a song that is so special with his voice.  I don’t think if I don’t want to hear the song with a different vocalist…

More songs with lyrics in the future?

I’m not sure, we might stay with that “50%”.  I think we’re going to start writing the songs first and see if they need lyrics, then decide if they are better with or without lyrics.  I don’t think we’re going to be a 100% vocal band because, to me, I love the instrumental stuff.

In that way, you fit, as you’re an instrumentalist and a music writer, so you seem to understand their methodology.

Absolutely.  I also see myself most as a keyboardist than a vocalist.  Then there’s those three songs that I actually sing on.

What can we expect from your other band Pigeon Toe (fusion/prog band featuring Norman Lonhard of Triptykon)?

Pigeon Toe is writing the next record.  We hope to release it this year, but it’s not certain.  We’ve already booked the studio, which will be with V. Santura (Dark Fortress, Triptykon) at Woodshed Studio.

Then possibly a tour.

Everyone seems to go to Woodshed Studio these days

Absolutely (laughs). 

What can we expect to be the musical direction?

Well, it’s hard to say…

Do you guys even have a musical direction (laughs)?

Right now (laughs) we have a couple of ideas and we have 3-4 songs that we are working on and I showed it to a couple of guys I know because it’s always hard for me to explain and they said “this is absolutely Pigeon Toe” (laughs).

Pigeon Toe, featuring Martin "Marsen" Fischer

So basically what to expect from Pigeon Toe is that we won’t know what to expect?

Yes (laughs).

Where do you expect the music industry to be in 5-10 years?

5-10 years?  I hope that there will still be a place for bands like Long Distance Calling and Pigeon Toe and others because these are bands that have an audience that appreciates music that still comes out in a physical format.  Things have changed.  Everything is getting faster with the internet…

I don’t know a lot of people anymore that have records.  A good friend of mine was the guitarist in Fear My Thoughts and he sold all of his records-maybe 800.  He said that he just didn’t need the physical record.  You can just buy the music, which is a weird thing for artists.  Like me, I like the cover art.  Pop and chart music will be even more superficial than now, but this music that is so intense will still exist.

The music will always exist, but the format…no one knows…
Right, no one knows.  In a way the live shows will be the same.

What’s your equipment list?
(indicates visually it’s very large)

Ok, so what’s your favorite guitar?

Gibson Les Paul Custom because it’s very expensive!  When I bought it, I was really happy to buy one that didn’t cost as much as a new one because it’s 30 years old and it’s very heavy…

There’s this one scene in Jurassic Park when a guy picks up binoculars and another guy asks if they’re heavy and he replies “yeah, and expensive!”.  So heavy things, to me, are always associated with “expensive”.

The guitar sounds great and it’s never been out of tune and looks great. 

That’s the guitar we see you with in the Pigeon Toe pictures, right?

Mostly, yes.

And will we see you on stage here with it, or will you purely handle the electronics?

Mostly the electronics, but the idea is if in the future there’s room for more guitar sounds, then why not?

Related: (artwork of Martin "Marsen" Fischer)

Swallow The Sun live here
Amorphis live here 
Orange Goblin live here
Attic live here
Victor Griffin's In Graved live here 
Kadavar live here
Valient Thorr here
Krakow live here 
Valborg live here
Solstafir live here
Audrey Horne live/interview here
Bison (Bison BC) here
Kalmah live here
Triptykon live here
Long Distance Calling live/interview here
Nachtgarm (Negator) here
sG (Secrets Of The Moon) here