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69 Chambers

Voor mensen die op zoek zijn naar leuke muziek moet de Zwitserse Alpen toch vreemd in het gehoor liggen. Er komen echter wel ontzettend leuke bands vandaan. En dat terwijl er voor rock en metal toch niet zo'n vruchtbaar klimaat is, zijn een aantal van mijn favoriete en meest vooruitstrevende bands toch uit het land van koekoeksklokken, stinkende kazen en het befaamde Zwitserse bankgeheim gekomen. De band die hier aan een interview wordt onderworpen vormt daar geen uitzondering op. 69 Chambers speelt metal en rock met een vleugje alternatief en songstructuren die in je schedel blijven plakken. Tel daarbij een tot de verbeelding sprekende hoes op en een line up met prachtige vrouwen die ook nog kunnen spelen, en je hebt wederom een release die je vaker draait dan één keer. Dus het werd tijd om bandbazin Nina Treml van 69 Chambers aan de tand te voelen over het Zwitserse culturele klimaat, het werken met Tommy Vetterli en de publieksvraag om een striptease.

Door: Wilmar | Archiveer onder different metal

band imageYou founded the band in 2001 and eight years later we get your debut album. What have you been doing in between? To be more exactly: could you tell us what made the run from founding the band to releasing the album so long? What were the high ends and the low points?
To be honest, I don't even quite remember if we founded the band in 2001 or 2002. But in any case, it's been a long run from the start to the actual debut album. Mainly, because it all started as a “hobby” project with little ambition. We were three people – a drummer and a bassplayer who are no longer part of the band and I – that just wanted to play music and have fun. We had a whole lot of shows in our hometown Zurich, we recorded an EP in 2003 and we made a video that was regularly played on VIVA Switzerland. But like I said, it was “just for fun” at first. It was me, who was never quite satisfied with the lacking ambition of this band, and also with the rather mediocre quality of playing on a technical level. The main issue was that the other two guys weren't interested in sacrificing more time, money and commitment. Because they were good friends, it took me a long time to move on without them and take the band a step further – which ultimately meant working on a decent album and finding new musicians to play with. Since I was always the one writing the music and lyrics, I decided to keep the name. It was quite a process getting the album together, finding bandmates with the same visions and commitment as well as the ability to play the songs on the level they deserve. Moreover, it took us some time to find a good recorddeal and get the whole “machine” going. So years practically just passed... It's quite shocking for me sometimes to look back and realize how long it has taken, considering the fact that this is what I've always wanted... But I feel like we're on the way now, and I have the most incredible drummer and bass player with me, so I guess it's worth the struggle.

You recorded the album with Tommy Vetterli of Coroner fame. How did you end up with Tommy and how do you look back on working with him?
Many bands tend to save money by recording songs in their home studio, but I figured that I wanted the “all or nothing”-deal without any compromises in the quality of the production. And when it came to finding a professional studio to record a decent rock and metal album on an internationally competitive quality level, then honestly, there's only one choice. At least in Switzerland. No one makes guitars and drums sound as fat as Tommy – plus, since he's working with an analogue console, the overall sound simply sounds brilliant on his productions. Working with Tommy was great – we had the same idea of how the music needed to sound, what effects to use, how to arrange the songs. And even though we had some technical problems, and guitar tuning was hell, it was really fun to work in the studio. His experience, of course, is priceless, plus, he worked with a whole lot of commitment because he really believes in the band. I'll definitely record the next album with him again, no question.

'War On The Inside' is the title of the upcoming release. It sounds like you have a lot of issues that have to be sorted out through the songs. Is that a correct assessment or do you have a different opinion?
Of course, a couple of songs on the album are biographical. And yes, I've my internal wars – and as we all know, the hard times make better music. The title mostly refers to the struggle of getting this band going, though. I've had so many obstacles in the way, and so many line-up changes, and I guess most musicians whom I've dropped, hold a lot of grudge against me. Which wasn't all too easy for me to handle. My decisions were strictly professional, but people take it personal and in some cases, it got ugly...

Musically you are a 'song'-writer, the compositions are not that complex, they do have a catchy character, but here and there you try to mix in a dissonant tone or play it somewhat else. What was the main force of inspiration to bring the music like you do?
It's true, I don't see myself as a singer or as a guitar-player, I'm someone who writes and plays music. I keep the arrangements simple cause that's the way I can convey my emotions best. Plus, I think that simple music sounds heavier when you're a three-piece. I have great respect for bands that play complex music, but only if it's really, really well done. I think that many bands claim to be too good to write simple songs – but good instrumentalists don't make good songwriters. And just because a song is complex, it doesn't mean its intellectual – mostly, I think it leads to nowhere, which pretty much bores me. What I try to do is write songs that are catchy but still not too predictable. I like contradictions, so I mix things that don't seem to fit. I'm not interested in copying another band, of sounding like the me-too-product of some renowned band. I don't pretend to be able to reinvent rock and metal music, but I can at least try to bring in some character – I guess that's my aspiration.

I do hear a big influence from the 'grunge'-scene. Was grunge a musical style that influenced you, and if so, which bands are responsible for making you write music the way you do?
Well yes, I guess I can't deny the fact that my musical childhood was during the grunge-era. To me, grunge is dead, and I can't stand most of the American post-grunge nu-rock bands, but there's still a great influence of bands like Soundgarden, Alice in Chains and Nirvana in my music. Nowadays, I listen to harder stuff like Slayer, Gojira, Meshuggah and the sort – or then really soft music like Tori Amos. I imagine that the influence is there too – somewhere in between the extremes...

The album has a building memento, up to 'Judas Goat' and from that point on I think that the album experiences a weak moment. I am guessing that the songs that follow are older songs and that the age of the material makes it less convincing than the first seven tracks. I could be wrong. Could you tell me something more about that?
Hmm, what can I say. Your assumption is wrong – the songs after Judas Goat are no older or younger than the rest. In fact, practically all songs were written shortly before recording the album, or at least completely rearranged. Perhaps you don't like the slight change of style after Judas Goat... We slow down after that with “The Collapse of Time and Space” and continue a little “poppier”. That kind of music is part of my style just as the heavier songs are – but obviously I can't expect people to share the same range of musical taste. But anyway, I'm sorry to hear the album doesn't convince you all the way through.

band imageOn the album cover we see Nina Treml naked in a kind of bath tub. Is the nakedness a metaphor for the 'War On The Inside'? And who did that awesome tattoo?
Perhaps you could say that the nakedness stands for the vulnerability within this “war on the inside”. And that the black water symbolizes the inability to see through, the blindness, the unexpectedness of events when going on a journey. Most of all, we wanted to create a bold album cover, though. Something dismal and conspicuous at the same time. The photographer and I spent a hell of a long time pondering about what to do... the idea was pretty spontaneous, really. And the tattoos were mainly done in the US – in San Francisco and in Santa Barbara. In fact, my latest dragon, the one on the forearm, was done by a pretty famous tattoo artist called Bill Salmon. I walked into his shop and he nearly laughed at me when I wanted an appointment on one of the following days as he's always booked out for months. But when my friend told him I was guitar player, and that the tattoo was to be made on my guitar arm, he reconsidered and made the tattoo on the same day.

How did you end up with Silverwolf Productions?
It took us quite a while to acquire a decent record deal. Most labels don't seem to want to take the risk of supporting a newcomer-act, let alone one whose music doesn't quite fit into the scheme of typical metal music. They didn't know where to put us when it came to promoting the band. With Silverwolf it was different... they made us a fair offer, the guys are metal fans but venturesome enough to sign a band that's a little different. Plus, they work with a good promotion agency, the distribution runs through SPV and so on. I think we made the right choice there.

Looking at the live pictures on your MySpace, I see two different people on bass: a man and a woman. Who is now the current bassist of 69 Chambers?
Maddy Madarasz is the actual bassplayer. She's been in the band for half a year now – and she's a real asset for the music because she's not only a talented bass player but also sings really well so she can take over the backing-vocals. I really never cared whether I play music with guys or girls as long as the person fits into the band, has the same idea of where we're heading and the same commitment. I'm really glad I found Maddy even though being mainly a “girl band” doesn't only have advantages... it's definitely more difficult to be taken serious as a musician.

The number 69 has a very sexual connotation and given the fact that most of the bandmembers appear to be female, aren't you afraid that guys might get the wrong idea?
Perhaps guys could really get the wrong idea here... Of course, the name has a sexual connotation, and of course we coquet with the image. But the fact that we're two females in the band is probably reason enough to worry about that kind of “misunderstanding” – regardless of the name. But I'd say that both Maddy and I can make ourselves pretty clear when it comes to primitive advances. Plus, our drummer is the perfect “watchdog” ;-). What worries me more is that females aren't taken too serious in the business. Maybe as singers, but not as instrumentalists. Plus, I've experienced shows where a group of guys repeatedly shouted “take off your clothes” – they didn't give a shit about the music or the performance whatsoever. That kind of audience behaviour really pisses me off, but I can handle it. Usually, it's just a small group of idiots acting that way, the rest is pretty respectful. We'd have to be really really ugly and fat to prevent things like that.

You come from Zürich Switzerland, a town and a country that is known for some legendary metal acts, for instance Celtic Frost, Coroner, Messiah. Is Switzerland a healthy culture for bands who want to try it a bit different?
The answer is no. No, not at all. The eighties and the nineties might have been different – the bands you're referring to are from another time. But even then, those bands were hardly accepted in their home country, the media didn't care about them. I don't know how local scenes in Holland are, but in Zurich nowadays, we have a horrible culture for bands that try something different. The scene is great for electronica. Rock and Metal scenes are building up again, but innovation is not really a virtue here. Most bands copy famous bands from abroad. Radios play commercial songs, songs that wouldn't hurt anybody, songs that 50 year old housewives can listen to. Labels mainly sign artists that sing in the Swiss dialect so they don't have to compete with international artists. That's why we headed straight for Germany – the market is too small in Switzerland for heavy music, and Swiss people aren't self-confident enough to be innovative in music. Of course, we've acquired our fanbase, but to the mainstream, we practically don't exist.

I guess that the next step will be touring. Are there plans yet for a trek through Europe?
We're looking at a couple of options for the fall season. But nothing concrete for now. I do hope it will work out, though. We're very keen on going on tour. Unfortunately, we were too late for the summer festivals this year, so there might be a summer break for us...

Final question: Could you elaborate on the line 'The Unfreedom Of The Land Of The Free'? It is a great paradox and I would like to get to know the mind that thought of that line.
I left for the States a couple years ago. I broke up the band, gave up my apartment, sold my car and travelled to Los Angeles. Not, because I was stupid enough to have high expectations – I was pretty certain that I wasn't heading for my breakthrough. But what I wanted was inspiration, to be around a whole lot of people with the same passion for music, the same commitment, the same determination. You see, in Switzerland, people are so wealthy and dependant of their jobs and their quality of living, that they don't take risks. I too have had a good education, and my job pays well, but I never really cared about that. It makes people too cautious, it chokes off the creativity. So I wanted to spend some time around people that have less to lose and more to look out for. Spending time in L.A. actually inspired me and it was great hanging out and playing music with people that share a common vision. But I ran out of money, couldn't find a job, struggled with visa issues and came across so many restrictions, so much bureaucracy and so little common sense, that I felt trapped within the “Land of the Free”. Eventually, I returned to Switzerland. All broke and pretty deluded, but I never regretted once trying to settle there.

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