*When did you really get involved into music in general and into metal specific? Who was responsible for your interest in (metal) music?
I always liked music. When I was about four or five, one of my earliest memories is running around in circles till I got dizzy to tracks like Queen’s ‘Sheer Heart Attack’, which my parents had in their collection. My active interest in playing guitar came from the main riff of Yes’ ‘Owner Of A Lonely Heart’, which struck me like lightning when I was nine. Pretty soon after, I borrowed a tape of Iron Maiden’s ‘Killers’ from the local library (yes, that’s how old I am…) and got totally sucked in. Priest, Metallica, Slayer and Voivod soon followed. At age 12, there was nothing else anymore that interested me, and I got my first guitar then as well. The rest is history.
*Which artists or bands did influence you the most?
In metal, I would say those mentioned above in the early days, later a lot of prog bands like Mekong Delta and Fates Warning too. When I got interested in other styles of music, it was flamenco legends Camarón de la Isla and of course Paco de Lucía which set the course for my flamenco guitar years in my 20s. I wasn’t much into death metal back in the 80s, but when I saw Morbid Angel live for the first time on the “Formulas” tour in 1998, nothing was the same afterwards. I urgently needed a seven-string, and those fantastic low lava riffs still find their way into my work, for example even into the Renaissance opera I’m writing right now. Form the classical composers, it was Bartok, Ligeti and Stravinsky which drew me into classical composing, and with the years, the appreciation for those guys and many of their 20th-century colleagues only grew more. It’s the old phenomenon that the more you learn about something, the greater the mystery actually becomes, at least with the good stuff.
*Which instrument do you play and how and when did you learn to play? Did you had lessons in school or private lessons? If so, was that because your parents expected that from you? Or did you learn to play the instruments by yourself? Do you still follow some lessons?
I’m a guitarist, and if an instrument has strings on it, I’ll play guitar on it. I started with classical guitar and electric guitar at the same time when I was 12-13. My parents insisted that I take classical lessons and volunteered to pay for them, for which I greatly thank them now. Electric guitar was my own responsibility, and I taught myself. Later, I switched from classical to flamenco, and after trying to figure it out for myself in a place with no flamenco around me whatsoever, it greatly helped to work together with a flamenco dancer soon after, learning the chops of proper accompaniment with her. The real work, again, started in the conservatory under Paco Peña. I never finished the guitar course because I soon discovered that composing was the better career for me, but I still draw from those lessons on sound and rhythm from 25 years ago. As for my vocals, that started in my youth because nobody else in my band wanted to do them. It was a thing I purely did for myself, playing the occasional covers with my later Dark Fortress band mates at Christmas when everyone came back home for the holidays. At a certain point, the band was looking for a singer, so I tried out, more for fun than for anything else; after I joined, it was V Santura’s patient work with me in the studio that got my voice to where it is now. The Tibetan undertone stuff I taught myself, however. I haven’t had an instrumental lesson in more years than I can count. I took a small handful of singing lessons years ago with a friend of mine, but haven’t had the time to follow up unfortunately. I know it wouldn’t hurt, and I’m aware that I’m still miles away from being able to call myself a proper singer with my clean vocals. But I do enjoy it, and for the bands, it seems to be good enough. So I’ll continue doing that until someone stops me.
*Do you follow other or are you interested in other styles of music beside metal? If so, what is the music you prefer to listen to?
Well, yes – after my flamenco years, I became a full-time classical composer. I always loved too many different kinds of music to be able to choose just one. My composing career has since allowed me to include whatever I encounter into my work. Building those bridges and tearing down those walls between styles and disciplines has since become somewhat of a defining feature in my music. Of course, the impact of that on my metal vocals is limited, but also there, I try and always find a richer pallet of sounds than just growling the same note over everything. That would bore me to death. I also have a great love for Triphop actually, it’s probably what I’ve listened to most in my house in the last 25 years when you count all the hours. Unfortunately, I haven’t managed to do much with that in my own music, but that’s one endeavor that I know will have its day some day in the future.
*Is music a full-time job for you now or do you have a job beside music? If so, what kind of job are you doing? If you would be really successful with music, would you quit your other job?
No, I’ve been a freelancer for all my adult life, and have been living from my own music exclusively for about two decades now. I’m very proud of that. It’s mainly composing, all kinds of stuff – orchestra, chamber music, interdisciplinary projects, crossovers, electronics, world music, film soundtracks, you name it. It’s essential in a creative profession to keep yourself inspired and interested in what you’re creating, else everyone will notice when they hear the result. So I consciously always look for a challenge, and I don’t mind having to tackle an absurd orchestration, an insane idea, or impossible puzzles with notes. I still play as well – besides the metal bands, I mean. I got asked more and more to join the classical ensembles I write for on stage, and after overcoming the initial terror of exposing myself to that level of musicianship and subsequent scrutiny (…Me?? With an orchestra…?!?…), I soon realized it’s all just music, and if you screw up a run or something, nobody will arrest you. So I just tend to jump into the deep end and worry later about what the hell I got myself into again. Has worked pretty well so far, even though I still shit bricks like everyone else on a premiere night.
*If you could start a band with other musicians on other instruments, which artist would you pick for which instrument and why? (Something like an “All Stars Band”.) Would you still go for a (melodic) black metal band? Or would you do something completely different?
Definitely not a black metal band! I already play with the people I want to play with. But if I could choose utterly freely, my dream band would be: – Vocals: Carl McCoy (Fields Of The Nephilim) and Carsten Jäger (Disbelief). I adore the Fields, and Carl’s voice has a magic I don’t find anywhere else. And Carsten Jäger is my favorite growler of all of them. – Guitars: Trey Azagthoth (Morbid Angel) and Ron Jarzombek (Blotted Science). Two hugely influential guitarists for me, and the most interesting composers in all of metal in my opinion. That is, as long as Azagthoth doesn’t write the drum parts and Jarzombek doesn’t write the vocals. I must admit though, guitar-wise, that I have no unfulfilled desires since I’m fortunate enough to be working with Danny Tunker, Chris Münzner and V Santura in my bands. – Bass: Alex Webster I’m sure Alkaloid’s own Linus Klausenitzer is just as good. I just wouldn’t mind getting to know Alex more as a musician. He has insane chops as both player and composer, and seems to be an extremely nice guy. – Drums: Erm, Hannes Grossmann. Who am I kidding. I though about it for a moment, only to have to conclude that Hannes is still the best drummer I know. He blasts you six ways from Sunday of course, and we all know that. But it’s everything else in his considerable package that sets him apart head and shoulders above the rest – his “other” drumming, his composing skills and general level of musical knowledge, and how he is as a person. But well, if I had to find a replacement and could ask anyone, I guess Gene Hoglan would be the guy to crawl in the dirt for.
*If you had been banned to an uninhabited island and you may pick 5 albums to listen to, which albums would you choose and why?
-Fields Of The Nephilim: ‘Elyzium’
-Morbid Angel: ‘Gateways To Annihilation’
-Emperor: ‘Anthems To The Welkin At Dusk’
-Igor Stravinsky: ‘Le Sacre Du Printemps’
-Manolo Sanlúcar: ‘Tauromagia’
*Every new album of a band or an artist is the best one, that’s what they always say. So here is a chance to promote the album. Why should a music lover buy your album? What are the standout tracks for you on this new album and why?
If you don’t believe your new album is the best one you ever made, don’t even bother sending the master to the label, even though it maybe turns out not to be true after all. Buy ‘Spectres From The Old World’ if you like metal, because the band has learned over twenty-five years and eight albums how to make a consistent, intense, varied and rich album which sounds great, is never boring, and where every song adds something unique to the mix. Listen to ‘Isa’ if you like it deep and heavy; listen to ‘Coalescence’ if you like it fast and brutal. Check out ‘Nox Irae’ if you like bathing in blasphemous quasi-religious shudders. Check out ‘In Deepest Time’ if you like brutal verses with melodic choruses. Read and study the lyrics if you’re looking for a fucked-up head trip through emerging and dying universes. Or better yet, just check out the whole album, give it a few spins, forget your expectations or pre-conceived notions about it, and enjoy the plunge into the abysses we custom-made for you.
– See “CD-Review” for a review (written in Dutch) for the new Dark Fortress album ‘Spectres From The Old World’ (Century Media) –
*Every member of the band plays / works with other bands / projects. Isn’t it hard that way to get together and work on an album? Or is there just one person who writes all music and lyrics?
Yes, it’s a real problem. It helps that Santura writes most of the music and I usually do all the lyrics and vocals, and that Santura’s in charge of the entire production as an engineer as well. But for the best end result, you still need everybody’s input, and that’s a lot easier when everyone lives in the same town than in our case, when a band is spread over different countries and nobody ever has time left for anything of less than panic-level urgency. But it is what it is, and we’re not gonna quit our respective lives and other careers in order to move to a small, rather dead Bavarian town in the boonies just so we can rehearse together every Saturday with a band that pays crap money, and stare at our shoes and drink to forget we exist for the rest of the week. My youth was like that already, I’m really not gonna go back to that. I’d rather move to Greenland or something. I love to come home for a visit, seeing my friends and family, but after a few days, it’s good to get out of there again. I guess I didn’t leave my country more than a quarter century ago for nothing.
*I suppose you will promote this album through live concerts. Or is this wishful thinking because of the fact that everyone involved with the band is playing in other bands as well? If so, would you prefer small clubs or big festivals? And is there a chance we can see DARK FORTRESS in Belgium?
Yes, we’re returning to the stages more than in recent years this season. Besides the summer festivals, there’s an American tour planned for June, and a European one for October. I really expect there to be at least one Belgium show on the list, but it’s still in the works at this point. As for what we prefer: Festivals can be awesome, especially the better ones and when the weather has mercy. But also, many festivals have become pretty much indistinguishable from one another in their programming. So it’s more the “special” festivals like for example Roadburn in the Netherlands that give you that unique experience. And club shows are fun, but only make sense to us in the context of a tour because of the thousands of kilometers between us; doing single shows means a week of work and a lot of travelling for most of us. So that’s easier to justify if you know you’re gonna play in front of thousands of people. But what’s really important is that people in the audience are into it, and if they are, it doesn’t matter so much if it’s a big or small crowd. Many times, a gig that promised to become horrible when you arrive at the venue became a feast because of the public, and vice versa. You never know – so you always have to perform as if it’s the last gig you’ll ever play. If you do that, it’s always worth it.
P.S.: This interview was conducted before the restrictions due to the Covid-19 Virus.