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Sieges Even

Sieges Even is a name that evokes sounds of a progressive nature. The band consisting of Alex Holzwarth on drums, Oliver Holzwarth on bass Markus Steffen on Guitar and Franz Herde on vocals started in the late 80s, lost their innovative guitarist Markus Steffens somewhere around the mid 90s. They were reformed with a new singer and guitarist, got disbanded and reformed again in 1999. This time again with guitarist Markus Steffen. First under two other names. But finally they decided that the name Sieges Even was the only name to work with after two successful albums, The Art Of Navigating By The Stars and Paramount, and with a brand new live album coming up the time seemed right to delve into the history of Sieges Even. Here is part 1; an in depth interview with Sieges Even singer Arno Menses.

By: Henri Serton | Archive under prog / sympho metal

Musical background
At the early age of five back in 1978, I got my very first Kiss record. It was the 'Love Gun' album. From that moment on I knew I wanted to be a drummer. I grabbed my mom's kitchen spoons and started to hammer away on anything I could find. The thing is, I never stopped being a drummer. I had an uncle who was sixteen at the time who told me; 'Arno, listen to this' and he played Kiss for me. The music in combination with the typical Kiss outfit made a lasting impression on me. When I was nine my parents bought me my first children's drum kit. However I smashed that thing up within a week. By the time I was eleven my father bought me a real Pearl drum kit. By that time I had discovered Iron Maiden, AC/DC, an the first maxi single from Metallica, 'Jump In The Fire'. I remember not knowing what kind of music Iron Maiden played but being fascinated by their sleeve I bought their album. I was even then always interested by the graphical aspect of the music. At that age you also start to find friends with whom you talk about metal and hard rock. I turned out that just behind from where I lived, lived a guy who was also into metal. Of course it does not take long before you start playing music with those friends.

The Graphical School in Rotterdam; the 80s
Later on I went at the graphical school in Rotterdam and it seemed that everyone there was playing in a band. Even now when I meet other musicians in Holland I know them from those days. Arriving at that school was like heaven for me. Everyone was a musician and everyone was into metal. Great times! Of course I was playing in my first real metal band in no time. The band was called Usurper and other members were Boudewijn Molendijk en Patrick Harreman. After Usurper a few friends and me started a band called 'Wasteland'. I would stay with this band until the mid 90s. With Wasteland I started to do background vocals. During that time I was listening a lot more to metal band with progressive influences like Queensrÿche. Then someone gave me 'Control And Resistance' from the Texan band Watchtower. 'I thought I was going crazy!' 'My god! What are these guys doing?' That really hit me hard and I tried to unravel what they were doing. Of course it did not take long for someone told me to listen to this German band; Sieges Even. So I bought their first album; 'Life Cycle'. Shortly after that, 'Images and Words' from Dream Theater was released. By then I was only listening to prog-(metal).

Sieges Even: Steps; the 90s
When I first heard the second Sieges Even album 'Steps' I was surprised. I had expected an other 'Life Cycle'. But 'Steps' Was nothing like that. Suddenly there were a lot of clean guitar parts and atmospheric pieces. I always had a problem with the vocalist they had at the time, Franz Herde. He had a very unique style half spoken and half singing. After hearing Geoff Tate and James LaBrie I could not place Franz. Still, the way Sieges Even plays on that album… Their technique is fabulous! When I talk about the essence of prog, going for the real experiment with music, 'Steps' is one of the best albums ever. Those day I started to work in a local rehearsal room. When I was there I heard a lot of different music I normally would not have encountered. The years before has me turning slowly but surly in to some kind of a musical snob. If it was not progressive it was not good enough. But now hearing all that new music, I started to change the way I was listening to music. I joined a guitar band to play a simple form of guitar oriented rock music. And that was so much fun! I still tended to overplay but they kept me in place. In a way this had taught me a lot. Not in a technical way, but I learned a new attitude. A new way of looking at music. A song with three chords can be just a beautiful as a long epic technical composition. That was a big and important lesson for me. It took me back to the roots of rock music. It showed me that making music could be fun. You do not always have to be a perfectionist. Rock music is about having fun! Still I kept on listening to my progressive bands like Sieges Even.

A Sense Of Change
In 1991 'A Sense Of Change' was released. And that album represents for me the summit of prog music. It combines technique and beautiful melodies. This album has an impact on me like no other album ever had. I literally think that I had this album in my cd player for over a year. I listened to nothing else. It even happened that I was in a bar with my friends and while they were talking to me I was listening to 'A Sense Of Change' on my Walkman. I love everything about that album; the whole concept; the melody, the melancholy, the lyrics, it is poetry in music! And the singer Jogi Kaiser was great. I loved his jazz-like vocals. Sieges Even was very special to me those days. They were very unknown and did not mean a whole lot in the big scheme of things. But they meant a lot to me. One of the other reasons I like the songs on 'A Sense Of Change' so much was that they were very compact for such a progressive band. Since the mid 80s I was also listening to a lot of AOR music. Being a fan of both AOR and prog music I wondered if those two styles could ever mix in one band. I thought that if one band could do it than it would have been Sieges Even. I was hoping the next album would be a big surprise. And it was! 'Sophisticated' was released in 1995 when I was under the impression that Sieges Even did not exist any longer. Initially I was shocked because I expected 'A Sense Of Change' part II. I did not know that Markus Steffen was not in the band anymore and was replaced by Wolfgang Zenk. Later on I learned to appreciate the album for what it was. But I would have liked it when the development of 'A Sense Of Change' had gone further. Later in 1997 Sieges Even released 'Uneven'. I liked it but I had not the magic like the previous albums for me. In those years the band Wasteland, of which I still was a member, was on the brink of falling apart. And I met my wife in Prague and let her come to Holland.

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A singer?
After 'Uneven' I did not follow Sieges Even that good anymore. I did not have Internet in those days and was not reading that many magazines. Besides I was busy with my own music. The band I had been in for so long; Wasteland had broken up. But I was still playing in that other band. We were joined by Roland he is now also in the other band I play in: Bonebag. The other members of that band decided to quit so Roland and me had to start over again. We were joined soon by a guitarist. All we needed now was a bass player so I called a guy I once worked with in Wasteland. That was the start of my other band Bonebag. And just around that time I got wind of something happening in the Sieges Even camp. On a progressive website called 'Epigram For The Last Straw' I found an interview with Markus Steffen, and later on there also appeared a Sieges Even interview on that site. So then I found out that Alex, Oliver and Markus were playing together again. They used the name Looking Glass Self. I downloaded their demo and really liked what I heard. I though it was great they played acoustic songs. For me the demo had only one disadvantage; Andre Matos was the vocalist. After a few songs with Matos I was ready to jump out of the window. He sounded like he was not motivated. So for me it was great news when Matos left Looking Glass Self. I was hoping they would recruit Jogi Kaiser again. But Jogi had build a very good career as an actor on stage. Three weeks later I am having dinner with my wife and I tell here that one of my favorite bands is looking for a singer. And right away she say's; 'Well, why don't you write them and try out as their new singer? I had my doubts to say the least. Would a band like Sieges Even accept an inexperienced singer? These were my musical gods! I really looked up to them. The thought alone made me very nervous. But my wife said; give it a try, what can go wrong? So I downloaded an instrumental version of 'The Valparaiso Dreaming' from their demo and did the vocals on the vocal lines from Andre Matos. I also send them a demo of myself. Then the waiting began. I had to check the answer on the PC of my work because I did not have my home computer. I had send them the two mp3 files on a Friday afternoon with a note that I was a big fan and that I hoped they would like my vocals. I have never been so eager to go to work as on that Monday morning!

Looking Glass Self
It was so exciting for me because I thought; 'What if they want me to be their new singer?" Then I have to learn to be a singer. To my mind I was not a real singer. On the other hand, if they would have rejected me that would also been bad. So I walk to my PC at work, turn it on and there it was, an answer from Markus! It said; 'Hello Arno. Well, what a surprise on a rainy Friday. What can I say? I have listened to your efforts carefully and must say that your voice is great. Very positive and at the same time expressive... Thanks for your work and we'll definitely keep in touch with you.' At that time Oliver the bass player was touring with Blind Guardian so I had to wait until he heard me as well. The next mail got stated that ' we three really like the way you are singing we see your musical potential and you understand our music. So here is the question; 'Do you want to be in the band? If so you can consider yourself the new singer of Looking Glass Self. And from there the ball got rolling.

Val'Paraiso
On the 21th of December 2002 I flew to Munich to record a demo with Looking Glass Self. When the recording started I was so nervous. I was standing alone in a small box and they were all looking at me while I was doing my vocals. It was weird standing next to Markus and Alex in the studio. I had listened so many years to their music and now I was doing the vocals in their band. It was a bit like that movie Rock Star or what is happening now to Arnel Pineda from Journey. Just after I joined the band we decided to change the name to Val'Paraiso. And we had our first performance. We played only one song at a show from Drummers Focus, the school were Alex is teaching in Munich. I was so nervous my hands were shaking! As a band with Markus, what is now Sieges Even and then Val'Paraiso had almost no live experience. Both the Holzwarth of course do have played a lot of live gigs also with the other formation of Sieges Even. But Markus and me had hardly ever performed live.

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The return of Sieges Even
After the show at Drummer Focus we contacted Mike Möller. He wanted to be our manager and we were thinking of bringing Sieges Even back to life again. Things worked out good so we decided to call ourselves Sieges Even again in 2003. In no time we got a call from the people from the Headway festival. Their headliner for the second day had to cancel. Did we want to stand in on the 4th of April in 2004? Well the band was in shock! Now we really had to work hard to get ready in time for the Headway performance. Especially the other guys really had to work hard to relearn complicated songs like 'Tangerine Windows Of Solace'. I had to learn all of the lyrics of course. The guys came to my house, were I have a small studio, the day before for a final rehearsal. Because of Headway we were almost forced to become Sieges Even again. It gave us a giant kick in the butt! I really liked singing for Looking Glass Self and also for Val'Paraiso. But being the singer of Sieges Even was even more exciting to me and of course still is. Now I felt, I had really achieved my goal. Because now I could sing songs like 'Epigram For The Last Straw' and 'The Waking Hours' that what I really wanted! And of course I told them that Sieges Even is a great name while Val'Paraiso is one of many new bands. And they acknowledged that of course. The Headway gig was really nerve wrecking to me. I felt I really had to prove myself as a singer. On the first real gig and right away as a headliner. Can you imagine? The performance went like some distant dream for me. I hardly remember any details. I know the crowd was great. They really helped is getting through the performance. After the show everyone in the band realized what a good idea it was to call the band Sieges Even again. As a whole the band was very happy and satisfied with this decision. For us Headway was the beginning of all that happened after wards. Including our shows with Journey last week.

The Art Of Navigating By The Stars
From Headway on Mike Möller started to manage us. It took a while for something to happen with Sieges Even after Headway. We had contact with InsideOut but they were a bit hesitant to sign us. They thought we would like to record another Watchtower like record. Our manager Mike visited InsideOut seven times before they finally signed us. They did so after hearing our latest demo. It had taken us a year before we got signed. For me it was very special to go into the studio to record my first cd. Oliver and Alex already had done their bit so I worked with Markus and Uwe Lulis on my vocals. I immediately took my chance to introduce multi-layered background vocals. I wanted to mix up AOR rock and progressive elements. The rest of the band knew that and that was part of the reason why they wanted to work with me. Without being to explicit I could do my own thing and this has given Sieges Even a somewhat other sound. They have given me complete artistic freedom. Right from the start. We were pleased and very happy with the end result of 'Navigating'. The reviews were great. We felt a certain pressure but we went and did it. Then we started touring for the new album. In December of 2005 we played in Moscow. The hall were we performed was sold out! The crowd was ecstatic! So year, that was great to do. We will never forget that. Greece was almost the same. The fans were great. Just after that we toured with Dead Soul Tribe. That tour went also very well for us.

Paramount
After that tour I relocated to another part of Holland, Markus moved to Vienna and Oliver moved to Hamburg. That was also the moment when we started the writing process for the 'Paramount' album. We were sending each other mp3 via the Internet. Around May 2007 we entered the studio to record Paramount. This time I knew what to expect and could concentrate better on my vocals. My first impression of the new songs was a fresher sound and more compact songs. The writing was more song oriented on that album. We did not want to make a 'Navigating' part two. First I wanted to stop with the prominent backing vocals. However it seems to be in my blood so there they are again on 'Paramount'. The reactions of the magazines were very good again. What was good for us was that we got the chance to perform on the Rock Hard festival. On the last day which is the biggest day of the festival. Then it was time to be the support act of Journey. The promoter wanted us as the support act. And so we did. That was a really great experience. During the sound check the members of Journey walked on stage to introduce themselves to us, which was nice of them. We have sold for 600 euro of merchandise. It seems that the AOR crowd is also a good crowd for us.

Playground
Now there is a new live album. It was recorded on several locations. And when Alex heard the recordings he got the idea to release a live album. We could select from a broad range of takes. I am very satisfied with the live album. The songs are played a bit faster they have just that bit of extra power they need. And this is also the first album were I am satisfied with my vocals. It will be released the 27th of July. We will start writing again in the beginning of the next year. For the new studio album we will be writing again as a whole band. So there are lot of things to look forward to. The story of Sieges Even is not over yet for a long time!

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