These two young Russian harpsichordists show a lot of skill and talent with this great performance of Saint-Saens’ “Danse Macabre”!
I’m just preparing a little series of reviews for some of my favourite russian bands.
Melnitsa surely are one of them with their amazing and versatile folk rock music, which also incorporates influences from neofolk, country, irish folk, and others. When considering their 2012 album Angelofreniya (Ангелофрения), one could argue to label their style as world music – despite the Russian lyrics that unfortunately hinder the access to this music to a considerable extent. That’s a shame, so I’m trying to get some more people to at least notice that there is such great music out there.
Angelofreniya features a lot of great songs, but the one I listened to the most during these days is Ангел (Angel). It features a slow build-up with an interesting rhythm, harp, guitar, strings and percussion, before it transists into something more rock-oriented midway through the song. I love these song build-ups and the instrumentation. Not to mention Natalia O’Shea’s beautiful, warm, expressive voice. On this song she gives you a good impression of her compass.
You can listen to the whole album here.
And check out their Facebook site!
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Florian Toyka of KLABAUTAMANN, VALBORG, ISLAND, and WOBURN HOUSE just before a gig he did with VALBORG. As the live interview originally was conducted in German language and spanned 40 minutes, I decided to shorten and focus it to some extent. Here you can read the most important things concerning the new album “Smaragd”, the band’s history, songwriting processes, odd time signatures, the band’s relation to black metal, guest musicians, impossible live appearances, and the future of KLABAUTAMANN, ISLAND, and WOBURN HOUSE.
Thought-Palace.: Hello Florian! I’m glad that you found time for this interview! I’d like to talk with you about KLABAUTAMANN in general, before focusing on your new record, “Smaragd”.
Florian Toyka: Hello! Thanks, I’m also glad it worked out!
For those who aren’t yet into your music and band history, I’d like you to describe KLABAUTAMANN’s history at least a little. How did the band/project develop over the years?
Well, back in 1998 we (Tim Steffens an me) recorded a song, just for fun. The local youth centre did some funding for a sampler, so we swiftly founded a band, because we wanted to participate. In Tim’s hobby room I played guitar and drums and he played drums. But, as I said, it was just for fun. As lyrics for this song we simply used the ingredient list of a Swedish soft drink. Well, then we made another demo, which also was more of a fun thing, especially lyric-wise. But thereby we somehow got infused and recorded a second demo, and then the debut album “Our Journey through the Woods”. Back then, we had Marlon Drescher as a session-drummer, who once also did session vocals. After him, there came Patrick Schroeder as a drummer. Only as a session member, but in the end he was a steady component.
In general, there has been a lot of stuff going on in these more than 20 years. I know Tim since first grade, we went to the same class in grammar school. And we already became friends at this point.
Okay, I see! As you’ve said, Patrick only is a session member, but he does a remarkable job, and I’m highly impressed by how seemingly easily he plays all of those strange rhythms…
Wel, yeah, but sometimes we had to tease him a little. (laughs) But he’s off the metal road now. He still plays for OWL, the other project of our VALBORG guitarist, Christian Kolf, where he usually records drums. But these are only singular events, he does not practice playing metal anymore since quite some time, rather stoner or with his former drum’n’bass project MONTY BATTLES… And we always have a lot of convincing to do for getting him to play for KLABAUTAMANN. This time, we didn’t even have a rehearsal together, it just wasn’t possible. So he recorded demos where we said whether it was cool or he had to try something different, which was only the case with a few parts. And then, we recorded it this way! But I personally think that it’s better to rehearse a little, like we did for “Merkur”. I mean to hear the differences, but it is hard to pinpoint. I certainly prefer it the way we have now with VALBORG, where we practice several times the week.
I completely understand and I am even more amazed how great the drumming works with “Smaragd”. Patrick certainly has my utmost respect.
Another thing that often comes up in some metal-related discussions is your band name. Several people, especially from the black metal scene, simply don’t want to listen to the music because of this name. That’s when you occasionally have to tell them to do it anyway.
I can imagine. This name basically is the result of the same story like our first song. There was another band in our town, two years older than us, and they named themselves “Mähdrescha”, with an “a” at the end instead of “er”. I really don’t know where the idea for naming us after the Klabautermann came from, but anyway, we used this name with an “a” instead of an “er” as well. When we recorded our debut, we actually thought about changing the name, but in the end we didn’t give it much thought. In the end it’s only a name, but nevertheless you connect something with it. We somehow weren’t in the mood to do so and said: Screw it! Sure, when I’d look at the name now without all of this, I’d certainly wonder a little and be skeptical, but hearing it now I always think about making music with Tim. Well, and if people don’t want to listen to us because of this, it’s their bad, haha. I guess English-speaking persons won’t understand this debate, only Germans and Austrians realise that there’s something off (laughs). If we were a commercial band, it were a dumb choice of name. But this way, we had our band’s logo one day and were lucky with that. The name is certainly odd, but look at GRABNEBELFÜRSTEN, their name was odd, too, but you have to be somewhat open-minded to give it a try.
Yeah, I see, we also had a problem with the name of our former band that was odd and ill-chosen… (laughs) But back to topic. What I always noticed when listening to your music is your affinity, your soft spot for odd time signatures, like 6/8, 5/4, 7/4 and so on. There’s plenty of them in your music. And I am someone who really enjoys this. I think them to represent life better than some steady 4/4 signature. How does this occur during the songwriting process?
Good question, difficult to answer. Well, I like stuff like this since a long time. Sting already did something like this in the 90s, it was pop music with 7/4 and later even 11/8. I always had a soft spot for this, and maybe this was enhanced by playing drums, where this somehow is another thing. When you play 7/8 and a 4/4 figure with your foot, it always is turning around, fitting together, being apart. It somehow feels great in my head, but it’s hard to describe. And I really can’t say why we did it that way. It’s nothing conscious, I think, we did not sit together to write straight stuff that we made odd afterwards, or such. Sometimes you simply write a picking and you realize that’s a 7/8 signature. And then it is how it is.
How does your songwriting process work in general? I figure that’s something that also changed in the course of all these years. Who does what, for instance?
Well, that differs a lot from album to album. For the first one, “Our Journey Through the Woods”, Tim did most of the songs, though only one part, one voice, and I did the second one. There are only two songs on it that I mainly wrote, I think. On “Der Ort”, this somehow is the other way around. But it was almost always the case that one of us came along with a song that was almost complete or at least several riffs. Then, we were sitting together, practicing, arranging, and composing. When we composed the material for “Merkur”, the whole process was a little exhausting because we had a high standard for this one, I think. When this album finally had been recorded, we opted for a more casual approach. As a result of this, Tim made a couple of songs that were relatively primitive, straight and simple regarding the arrangement. But it still sounded like KLABAUTAMANN and I liked the material, so I decided to mainly play bass on this one and I only did a few additional guitar lines. On the new record, “Smaragd”, there are three songs that I wrote for the most part. But it went the same way: One of us had the main idea, the other one contributed his part. For the new album, we met in 2012, I believe, in the Easter holidays for a composing session. We gathered some ideas, worked on them… But there haven’t been any rehearsals for quite some time now…
No more rehearsals means that there won’t be the possibility of seeing you live one day, I suppose?
That’s something I’d categorically rule out, no way. I think this would be close to impossible. There are far too many reasons not to do this. Patrick surely wouldn’t participate, I’d have to practice guitar a lot, as of now I only play drums… No, I don’t fancy that. I mean, this isn’t uncomplicated music, and even when we played live 10 years ago it was getting on my nerves at the end. You have to be highly concentrated the whole time, playing complex stuff… To me, KLABAUTAMANN never has been live music. And it would be too big a project. Plus, it partly is black metal, which mostly sounds like crap when played live. No, I certainly prefer to play such simple stuff live like we are doing with VALBORG.
I can imagine, although it would be amazing to see some of KLABAUTAMANN’s music live one day…
Are you self-taught musicians?
Yes, Tim is a computer scientist, I’m a biologist and soon a psychologist as well. But I had a lot of music around me in my childhood home, my family, as everyone plays some instrument. Tim once had some piano lessons, I think, but actually we are autodidacts. But most metal musicians are.
Yeah, I also think so… What occurred to me when reading in some forums is the question whether there’s going to be an LP version of “Smaragd” or not. Any news concerning this?
Nope, not really. The problem with LPs is that they are expensive to make. Therefore, we would need a real label with people who want to realise this. I also wrote a note regarding this topic on Facebook, stating that if someone’s interested or knows anyone that might be interested, they should feel free to contact us. I’m not that motivated anymore to ask multitudes of labels… Let’s see how the sales of “Smaragd” are going, maybe someone will be interested. Another problem with “Smaragd” is that the record is too long, so this would require a double LP. That’s something we simply couldn’t pay for. Studio was expensive, artwork, pressing, digipak… After this a financial stop had to be made. But I surely would be more than happy if some label wanted to do some LP versions of one of our albums! As a compromise of some sort, we made a poster of the artwork that comes with every preordered copy.
The artwork for „Smaragd“ is certainly something unusual and different from the former ones. It took me some time to enjoy it.
Well, I think the music is quite proggy, so such an artwork still fits it. I guess the people that like the music won’t be scared off. I personally like it very much, especially as it’s the first one that deals with water and ocean. With respect to the water-themed band name, it was almost strange we didn’t treat this topic before. The former artworks weren’t homogeneous, too, plus I wanted to do some cooperation with Costin Chioreanu again. So one thing led to the other.
Now we come closer to speaking in detail about the new record…
I found it exciting and mouth-watering to read your announcements of all the guest musicians who participated on this record… Your brother played trombone again…
Yeah, he did this for ISLAND once, but not for KLABAUTAMANN.
I find it impressive how well the trombone fits into the sound… The same goes for the other session musicians. After the announcements, I wondered how this might sound like, especially with Anna Musphy’s hurdy-gurdy and Fredy Schnyder playing the Hammond organ. But when listening to the album for the first time, I was overwhelmed and didn’t even know where those instruments were actually heard…
The hurdy-gurdy can only be heard in one song, “Murderers”. But there Anna plays a solo, which can be heard quite well, I think.
I heard that clearly during the second listen, when I focused more on the individual parts (and during the many listens since then). But it’s great how smoothly it fits into the sound. That’s different with ELUVEITIE, for instance, where Anna’s hurdy-gurdy is way more ostensible… Which wouldn’t have suited KLABAUTAMANN, I think.
I agree, but I don’t like this band that much, not my kind of music. But Anna and Fredy, those two, they are amazing musicians… I don’t know if you know NUCLEUS TORN…
Well, every time I come across this stuff I’m flashed by what this guy did there. And in the end, both Anna and Fredy did most of that stuff. They are such great musicians, I dare say that ELUVEITIE are only 2% of the complexity and skills that Anna is capable of.
Is she the one who also did vocals on “Frozen in Time”?
I really like her vocals there, so fragile… But I also enjoy the other clean vocals a lot. Chester Gerritse and Ingo Kerstjens did them, as far as I am informed. How did it come to this cooperation? And should one know those two singers?
No, you don’t have to know them. They are Dutchmen, friends of Tim’s. They go back quite some time now. They’ve recorded some stuff together before, and at Tim’s wedding we did some cover versions of MAIDEN songs. And sometimes when there was a wedding, they met with Tim and produced some kind of wedding song together. So he already knew their clean voices. In Dutch and singing some cheesy, gooey stuff, but nonetheless! I considered it a great idea. Especially regarding “Into Depression”, I am super happy with what they did with it. So this cooperation surely has been worth it!
Yeah, I also enjoy it a lot. Gives something new to the whole music. Many of the jazzy parts that went without vocals on “Merkur” now have clean vocals, that’s an interesting new element. And I think I know what you mean about “Into Depression”: This clean vocal harmony during the blast beat part…
But can you tell me what “Smaragd” is about in general? I have my own assumptions based on the lyrics that I got while listening to the album, but…
Unfortunately I can’t tell you anything about it. The whole lyrics-thing always has been of minor interest to me. I even don’t know if I read all of them, to be honest. Tim dealt with all of this, there were several people that contributed stuff. But I really can’t tell you about the actual contents. Regarding this you’d have to ask Tim. He did a lot of work for this album…
Okay, I see. So can you tell me at least why you named the new record „Smaragd“?
That was my idea, but to be honest I don’t remember anymore what exactly my thoughts were. I thought about it for some time and then I was stuck with gems. Soon I had this vision of this frogfish holding that gem or emerald. I had some different ideas about it, but Costin did it this way. So it doesn’t matter anymore. And again: There’s not so much behind it as one might assume. But feel free to interpret it your way.
How’s been the feedback so far?
Difficult to say, as the promotional period just started and I went on tour with VALBORG in the beginning of April. There already exist two or three reviews and the video release for “Into Depression” went well, too. So the feedback was good so far, but it’s too early to get a more precise picture.
I understand. Can you tell me what inspires you (or Tim) to such interesting, complex music? Any general reason for this?
You make music as well. Could you answer this?
Maybe rather in relation to specific songs than in general…
I can’t answer it, either. You’re inspired by stuff that happens around you, that you’ve recently experienced, by things you are possibly struggling with. But the bottom line is that I usually know that we’re doing a new record, and when I’m in the mood I sit down to write a song and let’s see what will be the result of this. That’s usually something that happens rather unconsciously. I never did music with the distinct intention do deal with something specific or that I even wanted it to sound like this or that. You simply have to let it flow, somehow. In our early years we were certainly inspired by woods and fields. Close to our town there was a place with a huge forest and a castle ruin. And sometimes after our rehearsals we went there by car, did a night stroll, listened to old ULVER, EMPEROR, ENSLAVED, OPETH. This forest feeling certainly inspired us a lot back then, but at some point you grow out of that.
Guess that’s what you see when looking at the titles of the first albums, „Our Journey Through the Woods”, and so on…
Yeah, way too striking… Could have handled this differently, but well… It’s not a problem at all if you don’t take things that serious as some fans do. In the end it’s simply music you may enjoy, and if you don’t want to, you can listen to something different.
I completely agree. Speaking of taking stuff too serious, this appears to be something quite problematic with the black metal scene, at least in my opinion…
I really don’t have to do anything with black metal. If you ask me, that’s mainly a big kindergarten. People in their mid-thirties still stuck in their deadly serious mental black metal loop, that’s absolutely of no use to me. I mean I don’t want to insult anybody, everyone has to know that for himself, but life certainly is much more than such hyper-stubborn, deadlocked perception. Festivals like yesterday’s Dark Easter Metal Meeting, where we played with VALBORG, where only metal people are walking around, there I get a fit, that’s nothing for me.
By the way: A good side effect of our band name is that you get the scene police off your back. (laughs) “They suck anyway, you don’t have to deal with them.” That’s quite useful!
I wouldn’t label you as black metal, strictly speaking. Perhaps except of “The Old Chamber”, that’s the closest you got to this genre…
Yes, we aren’t black metal anymore, but that’s still where we come from. And we still have a few of such parts in our songs. That’s where we started. I don’t know how to label our new material… If you call it progressive metal, everyone thinks of DREAM THEATER or similar bands. But luckily I don’t have to deal with that myself. (laughs)
Yeah, haha, that’s something the reviewers and promoters have to struggle with! Although I don’t like those genre categories…
Yes, but somehow they are necessary and useful. How else would you try to tell someone in a simple way that a certain album might appeal to him?
Sure, you almost can’t avoid this.
Now to something different: I’d love to know what is going to happen with ISLAND and WOBURN HOUSE. I really love ISLAND in particular, and so I was a little disappointed when you stated in 2015 that the project was on hold. And WOBURN HOUSE even split up…
Well, those are only things that you can read on metal-archives or such sites. As of now, we are very assiduously working with VALBORG, we rehearse two times a week, now there’s a tour, a new record… We write so much new stuff, something is always in the air. So VALBORG is our main band now, and if we decided to do a new WOBURN HOUSE record, we would have to take this time and effort away from VALBORG. And at the moment there’s no purpose for that. But it surely could happen again one day. Maybe we’ll be in the mood again and then we’d set the status from “on hold” to “active” again. Regarding ISLAND, we made that statement because we’d been working at this album for quite some time and people were waiting for it. So it was reasonable to state that there won’t be anything in nearer future…
Okay, those are sad news, partly. But at least it’s not impossible.
I’ve reached the end of my question catalogue now. One last thing: Are there any other plans for KLABAUTAMANN and Zeitgeister Music in the near future?
Well, Christian Kolf did a new OWL album that I can recommend you warmly, it’s a super cool record and will be out in autumn on Temple of Torturous. As I said, nothing new about ISLAND and WOBURN HOUSE. And I really don’t know if there ever will be another KLABAUTAMANN record. “Smaragd” did almost go the same way as the intended ISLAND record… If Tim didn’t work so hard for this album – he partly even got another guitarist to record my stuff – it would have landed in the drawer as well. This certainly was a sad thing for the ISALND record, but the material had been around for such a long time, and one day you simply aren’t in the mood to work with that stuff any longer. With VALBORG we are always motivated now, we do a lot of new stuff. Plus, the day only has got 24 hours. And that does not get better the older you become!
I have to hurry now, we are required to configure our equipment. 4 bands today, so the schedule is a little tight!
Okay, no problem. Thanks a lot for this interview! I wish you a great show today and successful tour in general!
Thanks as well! It was a pleasure. Have a nice evening!