Let us start from the moment when the previous album ‘Moral & Wahnsinn’ was released in 2011. What happened next? Did it come up to the expectations in terms of being received and successful?
I think it was a very good album for the band. We got a lot of good feedback from the fans and it is always very difficult to measure success, but when I look at how many people came to the shows and how many albums were sold, it probably must be the most successful album in the band’s career so far. We have contacted many fans from the fanclub who follow the band since the first album and even they were really pleased about the album. So I think ‘Moral & Wahnsinn’ was really an important next step for the band.
Die Apokalyptischen Reiter was mainly huge in German speaking countries before, but what struck me was that you did a tour through whole Europe in 2012. Was it the first time as headliner and what about the reaction of the people in other countries?
I think if you do a live show, the lyrics are not so much important than comparing when listening to an album at home alone, because in the club there is always the music and you see the band performing the songs. There is always a direct interaction between the band and the fans. In the end we are musicians and not poets, you know. Even if you do not understand every word, you can still see the band and interpret the music. The band, the show and the music is a good transportation possibility of emotions from the band to the audience and also vice versa. It is always a great energy exchange if you do a live show. But to come back to your previous question: we told the booking agency… of course the booking agency is always looking at the venue size and the fees you get and they calculate: okay, in Germany or Switzerland you are a big band, you get one or two thousand people every night. It is going to be a huge show and you can earn a lot of money (laughs) when we book a show for you. In other countries of course, it demands more efforts, because the band there is way smaller than in our areas. But we ourselves really like to play abroad from German speaking areas. So we forced the booking agency to try everything that’s possible to get a tour. It was really great, it was working. We did like ten countries in twenty days. It was a strange kind of tour, because we toured from England to Portugal with a big night-liner and a huge crew, so everybody was pointing fingers at us: are you totally strange or crazy doing such a tour? You are playing in countries that you never toured before, like Spain and Portugal. How can you do it? Well, this was something we really wanted to do and even when there were only a few hundred people in the clubs every night, they were fans for such a long time of the band and they were so happy that we finally were able to play in their countries. For us it was one of the best tours ever and we had a lot of fun, because we like playing shows and travelling. That is such a great combination for the band, we really love that.
And it is about time that you broaden the horizon by touring abroad.
Yes, definitely. We are setting it up now with the booking agency. We will tour in October in German speaking countries first, but then we are going to tour in November, December and January in whole Europe. At the moment we are negotiating with few other agencies and bands. We spoke to Dark Tranquillity for instance, because they also try to tour in late 2014. Maybe it could be a good combination, but at the moment I am not able to speak of more possibilities, because nothing is confirmed. It would be good for the band to team up with another band that’s also known in many countries. Yet the problem is getting worse, because of the economical crisis in the EU, especially Spain, Portugal, Italy or Greece is really difficult, because there is such a high unemployment for young people. Like 50% of the young adults are unemployed. It will be hard to pay a ticket. We don’t know what’s going to happen. But we already have a few requests from the Netherlands and France. That is nice to set up a tour anyways.
Let us focus on the new album ‘Tief, Tiefer’ now. It is a double album and the writing process was quite exceptional, since it happened at different locations: you hired a houseboat, you went to a cabin in the mountains and you prolonged your time in the US after 70.000 Tons of Metal Cruise. What came first and can you give more details about these quest for song-writing?
The first step was the houseboat. It was really fantastic. Actually the idea came from my brother-in-law. He did a houseboat trip with his friends in Groningen, in the Netherlands. He showed me some pictures and that was amazing: just some guys having a party and travelling around. All the stories he told me were fine. So I told the band: maybe it is a good idea to rent a houseboat and have rehearsals on the boat. Everybody was into that. We found a nice possibility in the south of Berlin to rent a houseboat, even without experience. Usually you need to have a licence for a boat in Germany, but in this particular federal state, you do not need it. We just had a crush course for half a day, where you get introduced into how to drive forward and backward and do all this stuff. So we packed our stuff in the van and went to the houseboat and it was fun. The only thing that did not work was the electric generator. So we did acoustic songs (laughs).
That is probably how the idea for ‘Tiefer’, the acoustic album, was born.
Yeah, actually this was one of the main reasons why we did this, because we had no other choice. We could have cancelled the whole trip, but it was really beautiful with the nature and the lake. We just played less loud, drums need no electricity and we jammed. We thought: let us pick up some old songs and try if we can make like campfire versions of it. This was very much the first idea and then more and more new ideas came in and we recorded it. In the end it was such a creative week. You can find at least five or six riffs from that time original in the same way on the new album, even on the electric one. When we were back home we tried all these ideas with heavy electric guitars and it worked really good.
Second phase; how did you end up in Czech Republic in ‘Das Riesengebirge’?
That was also a very remote area. We always need an isolated house, because if we play loud in the middle of the night and we have other neighbours around, the noise would have disturbed them. The Czech Republic and Poland and especially the Great Mountains area is such an isolated remote area where we found a Czech wooden house in the middle of the mountains. It could even not be reached by car. We were there for one week and we rehearsed in the night. In the day we walked around and we even did the video shooting for ‘Wir Reiten’. This was actually filmed by the band in the Great Mountains area.
That is an amazing clip! But you used some excerpts from a movie as well, isn’t it?
Yes, we used parts from the ‘Home’ movie from a French moviemaker. We got a kind of cooperation between the moviemaker and the band, so we got the high quality footage from the filmmaker Yann Arthus-Bertrand and he was really into the idea that a band is taking care of the environment and the society and destroy the environment and make people aware of what is happening on earth. He was really cool, giving us the permissions to use his absolutely fantastic footage. So we just had to add some vocal sequences and this was actually filmed in the Czech Republic.
I know you are familiar with Russia. You have toured several times in Russia and are raised in former DDR. But in 2013 you went to the US for the first time. What about that experience, because it was prolonged with the third part of writing sessions?
Exactly. We had the chance to do this 70.000 Tons of Metal cruise. We said, okay, now that we are here, and that cruise stuff is really cool for three or four days. I mean, it is partying all the time and after a while you are really done with partying, because nobody can really drink anymore. From the beginning we said: let us hire a camper for at least a week and drive along the coastline in Florida a little bit and see what happens. It was as we expected. It was really nice remote area there and great nature. It was in January/February last year, 2013, and here it was cold as hell and snowing a lot, but there it was almost 25/30°. It really felt like a time shift between the winter and the summertime somehow. Everybody was enjoying the weather so much. Especially some songs on the ‘Tiefer’ album were written on that trip. One guy was driving and the others were sitting in the back and jammed a little bit and made some silly jokes. Stuff like this, we felt absolutely no pressure, just as if we were on a school trip. Nothing you need to take care of, this was really fun.
And when did you decide it would become a double album? Before you started or did it happen in the long run when coming up with so much songs?
(hesitates a while) Maybe both, I do not know. When we did these acoustic songs and then we did some acoustic shows, at the same time a lot of heavy songs came into being. So we had the problem that we did not know to how to put this all together on one album. It would be kind of weird, because if you take some of the smoothest songs from the second album and mix it up with the heaviest songs on the first album, it is such a dramatic change in sound. It would be really hard to follow that for fans, so we asked the record company if they liked the idea if we did a king of acoustic EP before, to promote the album. But they said no, because nobody in the metal scène needs an EP, just three or four songs, nobody will take that serious. If you want to do it, do a full album. But we also had a lot of heavy songs for a new album and with only an acoustic album, it would be hard touring with it. We cannot do only acoustic songs on a regular set, the fans would be crying. They want to hear the classics as well as the new stuff. Then the record company said: think about doing a double album. Then we said: okay, we can do a double album, but we need more time. So we delayed the whole album for one year and finished both albums and put it out together. It was hard work, but I think we can now tour for two or three years with both albums. We are going to do a rock tour and for next year in Spring there is already the preparation for an acoustic tour. We don’t think it will work out to combine both styles on one show. In the acoustic shows we will have seated venues, people can sit and it is more like a theatre feeling. You don’t necessarily need stagediving and all those typical things people usually want to see from you during a heavy metal show. I am really looking forward to show both sides of the band.
The lyrics are usually full of criticism and social problems. The former album dealt with the topic that people are living in luxury and yet frustrated. Are there things like that which inspired you this time?
A lot of things came together this time. In the very beginning there was really not a kind of rule to continue that storytelling in the new album. Because the song titles and especially the lyrics behind them are a little bit more personal this time, focused on smaller details like word games that only work in German, but for instance ‘Ein Leichtes Mädchen’ is an easy girl that knows no rules. There are a lot of songs about relationships between people and feeling good or feeling sad. The only song that is probably very old school in the tradition of criticism is the opening track of the new album ‘Freiheit, Gleichheit, Bruederlichkeit’. It is about freedom in the end, but seen from another point of view. What happened to the people? They just have time for five minutes to talk and then they need to look at their smartphones and interrupt all the communication. They are slaves of this social networking and at the same time the problems on earth dramatically increase and everywhere. Nobody is doing actions against it. Everybody is working, coming home and frustrated about their boring job and their shitty bosses and then they turn on the television and complain about game shows and football matches that the media bring to the people. They are just not able anymore to see behind the mirror or the surface.
One can find that title on the coins of France.
Indeed, this is something we wanted to combine. It is a strong international message. I think it will be heard everywhere on the planet and we already did a video for it last week in Poland.
Aha with Grupa 13!
Yes, with those guys who worked with Behemoth and others and they were also very much into the idea of the song and they developed a lot of visual effects on it. Some faces of dictators around the world. So it has a very clear political visualization. I think we can still do that kind of lyrics, but originally it was not planned. But this song was way too extreme to put some love lyrics on it (laughs).
In June you will go to Russia again, but now times are changing, to continue with some depressive thing. This will be different due to the conflict with Ukraine. Isn’t there a kind of danger?
Actually the tour was originally planned with two Ukraine shows and one in Belarus, but of course the agency is worried about the whole situation. Originally it was planned to fly to Kiev, do the shows in Kiev and fly to Minsk, and go to Saint Petersburg. It is way too risky at the moment, because nobody knows what’s happening over there, so they cancelled all the non Russian shows on this tour and we start in Saint Petersburg. Of course it is not good for the fans in the other countries, but we can totally understand this. We need a kind of setting that is reliable, you know.
You live in Weimar. On the new promo photos we see the band at the railway station of your hometown. What kind of influence, if there is, does this environment have on your art? What can we image by the place where you live?
Actually it is a very small town. 60.000 people live there, but it is quite famous. I think one of the most famous cities in Germany if it comes to culture and heritage, because great writers like Goethe, Nietzsche and Schiller come from the town. We also have this very famous National Theatre. Between the first and the second world war Weimar republic was actually founded in the National Theatre there. The constitution was signed there. Yeah, it is a lovely, small town, very cosy, and a lot of tourists are here. Every day a lot of Japanese come over. In the old town are lovely houses and a lot of cafés and students. There are way worse places where you can be living, definitely (smiles).
You did some guest appearances on the album ‘Unsung Heroes’ from Ensiferum in 2012. Can you tell about this experience?
This was fun. They are on the same booking agency as us, Continental Concerts and they asked us if we can do a kind of scenario in a pub. They needed something from native German speakers who are in the back and speak some German sentences. So they sent us the demos and the translation of the stuff that we needed to speak and then we just did it. It worked out really good. The funny thing is that last year we played a festival and the day before Ensiferum played and when we came in, the organiser said: please check the space behind your couch, the guys from Ensiferum left something for you. There was a bottle of vodka, some candies and a handwritten sheet of paper with Ensiferum and a heart and ‘to Die Apokalyptischen Reiter, thank you again’. That was nice!
To round off, what are the plans for the near future, a lot of touring I guess…and are there plans for other videos?
We recorded two acoustic songs in the studio when we recorded it. These are actually not real video clips, more a studio edit of the songs. Hopefully it will work out. We will do some summer festivals and in the fall and winter intensive touring will start. We really hope to come to the Netherlands and Belgium in the fall. It will definitely be great to return to the Benelux areas. We need to discuss this with the booking agency. Let us cross fingers.