Hello dear guys & Mona! Let us celebrate your amazing debut album ‘Scars & Crosses’ with this interview! How are you doing?
Mona: Hi Vera, thanks! Great to hear you like it. Everything is well in the High Fighter camp, cheers for having us!
Thomas: Hello Vera! Nice to meet you, I’m doing well, thank you.
Since it is our first interview with you for Lords of Metal, let us start at the beginning. The band was founded in Hamburg in Summer 2014. How did you get to know each other and decided to form a band?
Mona: I think it all happened and started as a very lucky fortune, High Fighter is a fusion of two half bands. I have played together with our guitarist Shi in a heavy metal band called A Million Miles before, until this band parted ways in early 2013. It took us almost a year to get our asses back to music, when it's been in early 2014 we decided to start some new band project. We got joined by Ingwer on our lead guitar, he played in the stoner rock group Buffo Hump, who had no vocalist to that point, when he came up with the idea getting band mates Thomas and Constantin involved into the new band. And I'm so glad he did, as the first moment we've all met, started jamming and whenever we're out of the road since then or at home here in Hamburg, High Fighter became more than just a band to me, it became family.
What can we see as main musical influences, inspirers to play/sing in a band yourself?
Thomas: I think there are many different Bands to mention in this case, but one of them is definitely Pantera. This is a band at which we all go hand in hand. Some other Bands/Artists, which inspired me in a personal way, are for example: Kyuss (of course), Queens Of The Stoneage, Type O Negative, Monster Magnet, Down, Corrosion Of Conformity, Kylesa, And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, Mastodon, Annihilator, Led Zeppelin, Socrates (greek progressive rock band), David Bowie, PJ Harvey, The Black Angels, Turbonegro and many many more…
Mona: One of the rare good things my father gave me, where his musical genes I guess. I started singing pretty early and when I was a child. There has never been any passion which I felt so deep inside such as music. But to my most important influences belong the grunge era, followed by bands such as Pantera, Down, Kyuss, Crowbar, EyeHateGod, alongside many more especially in the doom and sludge scene. In general I enjoy the fuzz, desert sound, groove and rock n roll, combined with the heaviness.
Has anyone of you experience in a former band before?
Mona: Yea, think I started in my first “grunge” band when I was twelve or thirteen years old or so, with a best buddy, but that was crap, haha! I can't remember my life without singing, but it probably began to get “real” with A Million Miles, Shi and me both played together in this band for more than five years. Made first tour experiences, got some nice press on a first album...But nowadays and with High Fighter, I feel way more comfortable with the sound we play, the special relationship and love we all have for each other, and also for my voice I am glad I can almost “return” a bit back to my roots, covering various vocal arrangements and colors of my voice, and we create music in a way everyone finds him- or herself in a truly deep place. Things are way different and special to me now, compared to any band I have played with before.
Thomas: I learned to play the snare drum in a marching band in my home village, when i was very young already. My brother and me began to learn several instruments in early years. My Father made us a wonderful gift, when he presented to us our first instruments: drums for me and an electric guitar with amplifier to my brother! I remember times, when we arrived back home from school, and the first thing we did was throwing our school bags in to the corner, getting down to the basement of our parents house and playing together drums (me) and guitar (my brother) as long as possible. It took sometimes 4-5 hours, we played a day. I feel sorry for my Mum nowadays. It drove her crazy sometimes! Sorry Mum and thank you so much for your patience, if you will read that! I started playing in bands when I was about fifteen years old and I meanwhile can count more than ten bands, in which I played drums or even guitar. In the early 90s I played for two years drums in a classic thrash metal band. With the age of sixteen I was the youngest. All the other guys were already mid twenties. I learned much from them in that time. Later I joined a soul-funk band with three singers and horn-section. That was a very nice experience for me as a drummer to jump into another genre. From 2001-2007 I was the drummer of the Band Pyogenesis, recorded one album and toured a lot in Europe. Years after that, I regularly played in a band, performing Top 40 Hits with two good old friends at the Reeperbahn in St Pauli on the „Kiez“ of Hamburg. That was quite a good time to train the skills. Currently I play in another band next to High Fighter with three long lasting friends. We try to keep it up, but it's mostly a fun thing. It's kind of alternative with a touch of punkrock. With High Fighter its really kind of a second family, next to my real family meanwhile. And this only after two years of being together. It's an intensive relationship between us in the band! The musical understanding with each other and the way how we find ourselves in the musically way just makes a lot of fun, both the songwriting as well as on stage. With High Fighter, I really have the Feeling, that I come Home.
Pretty fast, in Winter 2014, your demo EP ‘The Goat Ritual’ got rave reviews. So please tell us about how this release got the ball rolling for you?
Mona: In the summer of 2014 when we formed this band, we heavily jammed on our first songs we have written together. We decided to record them live, as it represents us the most and how we feel comfortable with, so we did. On one weekend, live in our rehearsal room. To that date, still we all just came out off different bands with different backgrounds, but we also haven't played one single gig with this new band when we recorded the EP. ‘The Goat Ritual’ was supposed to be a rough demo only, and we did not expect such amazing reaction we got for this. We're still stoked, and are lucky that we got the chance to heavily tour and play live a lot after we released it.
What instantly leaps to the eye: you are an intensive touring band. Please tell us about the treks you have made so far and how do you look back at them?
Mona: Shortly after we released our first EP, we began to heavily play live in 2015. First some local shows, including a support for Corrosion of Conformity, then we already hit the road for our first European tour including shows in the UK with our good friends in Sunnata from Poland. That happened in April 2015 and been our first tour with High Fighter. Followed by several festival shows, including Stoned from the Underground, Sonic Blast in Portugal, Red Smoke in Poland and many more. In Fall 2015 we went on tour with Ahab and Mammoth Storm. In one year only, after we released 'The Goat Ritual', we have played about 3 tours and numerous shows plus festivals in Europe, and we feel very lucky about these live opportunities. Great memories, important experiences, we enjoy every single show and every moment we can be on the road together.
What were the highlights until now. I think the tour with Ahab was pretty special, wasn’t it?
Mona: Yeah, that run with Ahab and Mammoth Storm has been indeed very special to us! The tour happened last fall, and it was called “The Tour of the Glen Carrig”, but I still prefer calling it “The Tour of the Gentlemen”, haha! We had such incredible vibes on this tour, after not even one day it already became a family, and we're still super grateful Ahab invited us to join this run. Since then we're also close friends of Ahab, I am actually going to see Iron Maiden live together with Corny, drummer of Ahab, the guys also visited us in the studio when we recorded our album, to bring us beer and baked fish. It's been a tour we will for sure never forget, such great memories, and it's special when a tour lineup turns into a long lasting friendship with both, Ahab and Mammoth Storm. But like I said, we enjoy every moment on tour and being out on the road, definitely some more of my personal highlights were the show in London we have played in April 2015, Paris on tour with Ahab, our festival show at Stoned From The Underground last year as well as our first band- flight to Portugal and a lovely time over there at Sonic Blast Festival.
On ‘Scars & Crosses’ you show a massive development and maturity. Playing live might have invigorated your craftsmanship, but also in composing you achieved a natural evolution. How do you look back at the writing process of the songs for ‘Scars & Crosses’?
Mona: Yeah, I think most definitely, it was about playing live so much as we did over the last year. That really got us together as a band and in first place, and influenced our entire songwriting. ‘Scars & Crosses’ sounds way more homogenous to me now, than it did on 'The Goat Ritual'. We have found our place, sound and a common direction after playing live a lot, but we also still try to always stay open minded when it comes to combining different music styles with each other. We're not a pure doom band, nor is 'Scars & Crosses' a pure sludge or stoner record. You will find a lot more in High Fighter.
Thomas: In the musical way and our band understanding, we definitely found us more and more in the last year. Next to live performing we rehearsed a lot. And next to that, we already started to write new material after the recording for our EP 'The Goat Ritual', back in autumn 2014. This is maybe another aspect, to live a 'natural evolution' - to use your words - when you constantly play together. So, we had plenty of time and no pressure, to write new songs.
You have played some of the songs of the new album live before recording them. Did this help when you entered the studio? In which way? Did you eventually change some things last minute?
Thomas: Yes, we performed some of them regularly already in spring and summer last year. 'The Gatekeeper' for example, we played already on our very first gig in our home base in Hamburg in St Pauli. And that was back in December 2014! Yes, of course, it definitely helps to play songs over and over again. Live on stage and in the rehearsal room. Especially live, you have always different requirements, you have to react on every little influence, you play a song always in a different view. These are little influences, but it helps of course. Especially, when you enter the studio to record the songs live. Yes, there were some tiny things, which we put on in the Studio. But nothing, which would have been completely rearranged.
That’s another thing that struck me: the album was recorded live in the RAMA Studios, I guess to hold on to that live vibe during gigs?
Thomas: For us it's important to feel the song in one piece. I have to see and feel the acting and reacting of my bandmates while we play together. This allows me to act and react in a special way as well. Everybody of us feels like this on stage, in the rehearsal room and at least in the studio. That does not mean, that nothing works, if we not see each other hahaha. But this is a kind of communication, which we love and which is essential for us.
I found out that the same RAMA studio was recommended by the Ahab guys ϑ Please tell us about your first experience of recording in such a studio? What about the cooperation with Jens Siefert?
Thomas: Yes, during the tour with Ahab and Mammoth Storm last year, Jens was highly recommended by the guys of Ahab. They told us about their experience with the RAMA studios. On the last show of 'The Tour Of The Glen Carrig' in Heidelberg, Jens came over and we met after the gig for the first time. I think that was the point, where we already knew: We will hit the RAMA studios;) He is a nice versed guy. He spent a lot of time to get the right setup for us. We checked everything, before recording, that everybody felt comfortable before we started. To play in the Location was a phantastic experience. The room sound there pushes you! That was real fun!
The mix & mastering was even done in LA! How did you end up with Toshi Kasai?
Toshi once did a mix for a Buffalo Hump song, couple of years ago, when bands could kind of apply or “win” to get a song mixed by him. So we thought, hey let's get in touch with him again to see if he would be up getting involved to High Fighter's album. Toshi was, and we sometimes still can't believe he mixed and mastered our debut album. I mean, he is responsible for the sound of Melvins or Big Business records! As you can imagine, having Toshi being a part of our first album, makes us very proud and we're just more than happy how it turned out.He truly added his unique sound to it, which makes it very special for us.
While recording we got the news of your deal with Svart Records. That must have given an extra push in the studio! How did this deal come into being?
In early 2016 we sent out some super rough demos to several record labels. Svart Records were one of the first that showed up with their interest immediately. And we're super stoked they did, as they belong to one of the coolest labels our scene has to offer and we're all big fans of their roster and work. There were a few more interested in working with us, but at this point we had to go with Svart. It feels like the perfect match, as they understand our sound and vision to 100%. And so far, we're more than happy, feel home and very welcome in such great company.
I see photos of making a DIY video. A lovely dog! ϑ What are the plans and for which song? When will the video come out?
As we speak, our first music video from the album for the track 'Blinders' has just been released! We did this all on our own, 100% DIY! We shot the video at Thomas' lovely place on the countryside, with Alexander Wüst, such brilliant actor! And yes, we also invited two of Thomas's dogs, Rufa and Vanja, to be the special guests in our video hehe. 'Blinders' has been filmed and edited by our Constantin, all totally do-it-yourself attitude, we love it.
What can you tell about the artwork?
Mona: We have worked with Dominic Sohor again, an amazing artist from the UK and who has also been already responsible for the stunning artwork of 'The Goat Ritual'. We love his work and very special, unique style, on 'Scars & Crosses' he especially impressed me how deep he was reading between the lines of my lyrics. The front cover says it all... But also this time, we have send him our music, a general vision and my lyrics. We did not have to change any of his drafts, nor the final result. Dominic always perfectly gets our sound and vibes, and we're more than happy that he again put his magic on our album artwork.
Who has written the lyrics and can you go deeper into the subjects that inspired you to relish the music with proper words?
Mona: I write the lyrics, which I always add on any songs when instrumentals are written and done.
'Scars & Crosses' in particular deals about a dark past, about the wounds and scars of your soul that life may have given you. It's about your inner demons, a life between heaven and hell, this is why I also chose the cross as a symbol or metaphor as the roots of all evil. But it's also about to learn to live with those scars, even people in society or in any relationships will find your scars as a bad attitude, a bad character. You often need to be a 'Blinder', change yourself until you're accepted, liked or loved. On this album we say no, having your scars are not a bad character and you should not change yourself or try to ignore these scars until you're “worth” to be loved. Learn to also love those who have their scars, we all have them...these darkest days, moments and demons in life, your entire history, our scars engrave us, they belong to you as much as the good sides.
What are the plans for the near future, also about gigs and touring?
Mona: We have started our live season 2016 with a recent gig at Desertfest Berlin as well as a show with Crowbar. Beside many already confirmed shows and festivals this summer, we have also just announced an album release summer tour with mighty Earth Ship and our good friends in Mammoth Storm, kicking off in July and which will also include a first show for us in the Netherlands! We try to heavily support our first full length album with hopefully many more shows this year, being out on the road and playing live are the best moments for us...
If there is anything you want to add, please feel free to do it here… ϑ
Mona: Cheers for having us on Lords Of Metal, stay high and see you hopefully soon on the road!
Thomas: Thank you very much for your support and your interest, Vera! Cheers to Lords of Metal!
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