Congratulations on such a terrific new album! Before releasing it, when the reviews are appearing online, what are the things that go through your minds the most (in regards to the upcoming release)?
Thomas: First of all I’d like to thank you for having us, Bart. We are very thankful that the five of us are in Unhold. We always say it’s not as usual as many may think, that you can go together through all the stages of creating a music album on and on and still have deep connection to your friends. This is a main feeling right now. It’s amazing that it happened again. And now on top we get so many positive reviews for the album. It makes us feel good, to see that there are so many people out there who can feel the same way as we did when creating 'Here Is The Blood'. And this is important. I mean, we do like our music very much. And sometimes it’s a bit strange to be a fan of your own band but hey, it’s the way we do feel about Unhold and then, when you can see that there are others too, it’s just mindblowing!
Philipp: First and foremost we make music that satisfies us and keeps us interested in what we do, but it’s very rewarding when we see that we can convey what we hear and feel to the outside world, that there is a certain congruency between the inside and the outside.
Even though your music has been of a consistent quality since you began, there is always the kind of development that I think is so important to a good band. For you as musicians, what have been the main points of development?
Thomas: Well, we had kind of a special situation before the last album 'Towering'. Our bass player left the band and we found Miriam and Leo as new band members bringing new musical elements like the keys to the band. But most of the music was already written and we started with recording soon after they joined us. So this time we started the creation as a band. When playing already several years together this made us feel safe and our time together brought deep understandings of our way to think about music. We then also changed a bit our writing process. We developed much more of the music individually at home opposed to working in the band room. So the ideas were much more developed when the band worked on them than they usually used to be before.
Speaking of development, from 2012 onwards you have been a band with three vocalists. Was there a point at which you decided: "We need this now and we will look for it?" or was it more something that happened naturally/coincidentally?
Thomas: Philipp and myself are already singing since 1992. So we had two vocalists from the very beginning. When Miriam joined us in 2014 we asked her to do whatever she had in mind. When she then came with her first voice ideas, we were immediately sure that we want to have her voice to be heard in our music as well. We realized that we can see the voice much more as an instrument than we did before.
Philipp: I think it happened quite naturally over time. We explored some vocal harmonies on 'Southern Grave' (off the 'Towering' album), and I had a little experience from background-vocal duties in other bands where I discovered that I actually had a singing voice and so I had some confidence to introduce that to Unhold. Screaming is relatively easy, but over the years I discovered I actually wasn’t always in the mood to yell at people, and singing can be a very powerful emotive element if done in an appropriate way.
About a year ago you welcomed Reto Wittwer as your new bass player. How do "new" members influence the songwriting process? Do they get an equal say in what is going on, or do they first have to wait and see how they fit into it?
Thomas: We are a very democratic band. So as a member you take part of all decisions we take. No matter if its about the music or touring or merch. This is very important for us and specially with Reto as someone who spends most of his time with music, as a very well skilled musician, we can learn a lot from him and develop ourselves and the music in a very positive way. We think that the way we work as a band is the main reason why we’re still alive after 25 years. It takes a lot of talking and understanding, which sometimes is a bit time consuming and it demands from everyone to try to make an effort to make the band work. But it’s this kind of involvement that is bringing us to this deep trust you need to create our music.
Your music is very interesting in that new things seem to happen every time you listen to it. I always find that somewhat miraculous, and it is a thing I think many people appreciate. How much of an effort is it for you to come up with ideas and write these songs?
Philipp: On this record a lot of ideas happened quite naturally and the writing process was easier than ever in my opinion. It was more of a question of having confidence and allowing different moods to inhabit their place. We particularly focused on the album production of the songs and didn’t bother much how they should be conveyed in a live setting. So we allowed ourselves to layer multiple guitars, vocals and subtle elements here and there. It’s very useful to have various approaches to get to song material, we collect riffs and bits while jamming together, which has its very own dynamics, as well as writing whole arrangements just by ourselves at home. We usually put down the music first and then start thinking about lyrics and voice, but that may change as well!
Lyrically you deal with quite heavy topics. If I get them correctly you also talk about things that some people struggle with on a daily basis. Existential questions, that not many people bother about, so that it is frustrating for the people who do and who see things differently. Lyrically, where do you get your inspiration from?
Philipp: I think everyone deals with tough and hard questions, but not everyone expresses their thoughts about it. Don’t get us wrong: we live an easy comfortable life compared for instance with people struggling to find a place to call home. But dealing with your own sorrows and demons is a deeply human thing i think everybody can relate to. My lyrical contribution comes together in snippets of phrases and words. I collect and arrange them so they make sense to me and sound right to the music. I might add that it’s much easier to put angry words to heavy music, expressing lighter shades of thought through metal is a tough challenge!
Does your music help you get along with the frustrations that life throws at you?
Philipp: Oh yes it does help, but in turn it ironically also provides frustration, haha! In a way playing and singing the same songs over and over again is also like a mantra, reinforcing the content and the energy of the song. Understanding that I’m relieved that we have a wide range of emotions covered in our repertoire, from pummeling sludgemetal to uplifting psych rock hymns. Playing music sometimes can put your mind to ease because it’s a period of time where you focus on one thing only, normally the rational part of the brain shuts down and you dive into an other state of mind.
Of course, most songs are open to interpretation and they will mean something different to person A than they will to person B. Have you ever heard anyone explain one of your songs in a way that you had never imagined?
Thomas: Haha, we just talked about this the other day. Someone called us a Psych Doom band. We never heard this before. And we like it. Or there was someone talking about us as a Prog band. Well not too bad isn’t it. And we sure never thought about The Pretenders when we are into music. But hey, in the end everybody is allowed to get out of the music what they hear and feel. But sure, when you read about your music or when you’re talking to someone and you realize that you feel the same way about your work, then it creates a deep bond that means a lot to all of us.
In several of your songs ('Attaining The Light' and 'Altar' for instance) I seem to notice a certain aversity towards faith and/or religion. Can you tell us your view on these subjects? And if I am correct in sensing an anger towards it, please tell us where that comes from.
Thomas: Yeah, 'Altar' is dealing with religion and its attempt to make people feel guilty for whatever they decided to put in the middle of their stories. So many of those self-titled moral judges are nothing else than driven by their own fear. And why should they have the right to decide about other people's life? I know some people who got caught by religion and now they see themselves as a guard of the one and only way of thinking. How can they get so stuck up? It’s annoying to see that they at the end are asking for blood. We won’t give them ours. No gods no guilt! And in 'Attaining The Light' it’s this kind of being stuck up that goes even further. Thinking about people dying in front of our eyes in the middle sea and the only concern some people have is that the won’t get the new luxury bag or that someone could take them away their seat in front of the slot machine. What the hell is going on here? How can you see yourself as kind of a barrel without lid, where everything is flooding over, where getting fat and playing blazing star in a casino is the only thing happening? How can someone get so self-satisfied that they think they’re worth more than others. We all do know what people are capable of doing when they think they stand above others. And we won’t accept this kind of society. We all have the right to live and no one has any single right to deny on that.
Philipp: I understand the concept of religion, giving easy answers to tough questions. Believing is ultimately not knowing, I can totally accept the fact that there are things in life that can’t be explained, it’s fine! But fabricating a false reality drenched with ideology poses a real problem, leading us to where our society is now. It separates people and creates fictional barriers.
There are also several theories about your band name floating around the internet. What does Unhold mean and why did you choose it?
Philipp: "Unhold“ is an old German term for an ogre, a misfit. In our interpretation someone unfit to society and unwilling to please. Our initial bandname was "Mausloeum“, after the first couple years it didn’t seem to fit anymore, so we chose something more bold that wouldn’t tie us down in a specific genre. Plus it can be pronounced in German and English, which is practical. The meaning in English is an additional benefit, but not so important to us.
Please explain the term "alpine distortion".
Philipp: It’s quite frankly the combination of our geographic heritage - the Swiss Alps - and the distortion of a guitar.
Thomas: I do like the heavy aspect of the term. The mountains as elements formed by tectonical movements are like a statement for energy, long-term development and that nothing lasts forever. So a totally different approach compared with what we often can see today.
The artwork on 'Here Is The Blood' is done again by your guitarist/singer Philipp Thöni. I really like the style. There seems to be quite a bit of symbolism involved. Can you tell us more about the art and its meaning?
Philipp: Thanks! Making artwork for your own band is always a special challenge, I mostly rely on my gut-feeling and run with that. Nowadays a lot of covers you see in thumbnail-size, so I wanted to have something bold and iconic, rather than a subtle intricate illustration. The eye represents the observer - us - witnessing all the pain and wrongdoing in this world. Traditionally the all-seeing eye is associated with obscured power and deity, I use it more in a sense of making things visible, giving things a name and a face. The small illustrations inside are loosely inspired by fragments of the lyrics, just an element to add a visual layer to the album.
We talked about the development/evolution of (your) music. Often this is a slow but steady process, but sometimes a band decides to make an album that is completely different for a change. Not everyone reacts positively to this. How have fans reacted to the changes you have made along the years?
Thomas: We do listen to a lot of different kind of music and I think it is normal for us to have different sounds in our souls and minds. Thus, the development of Unhold seems very natural to us. We never questioned it cause it always added new atmospheres to our soundscape and we always have been way to curious to see towards what kind of other new discoveries it will lead us. And when I now listen to 'Here Is The Blood' then I can only say that it added an enormous diversity to what Unhold music can be.
Philipp: Fans tend to project their preferences into their favourite bands and sometimes lose scope of the whole range a band actually covers. We were always a bit exposed to interpretation by others since we never settled just on one niche. A fact that also makes as harder to sell and to "file under“. There’s always people who think our 'Loess' era was the best because it was the hardest and roughest. Or those who quarrel with the fact that we have added keys to our music. But ultimately we have to enjoy making the music and have the obligation to make it as exciting as possible for ourselves!
Can you think of any band that changed direction that made you lose interest in them?
Thomas: I know that this subject takes part in many talks between music lovers. I personally always have two examples to tell. When Kreator released their 'Renewal' and Morgoth their 'Feel Sorry For The Fanatic' albums back in the nineties, I was very impressed by their courage to follow their heart. This was an amazing discovery for me to realize that you can work with variations in heavy music. It was good to see that development is a natural thing. It was even more important to realize that you always have to follow your beliefs and not to let others decide whether it’s okay or not to try out what you feel. For me it’s a confirmation, that the opposite would even be worse. Just to try to do something only because others could like it. No, heavy music is so diverse and it offers so many feelings to add to your stories, sounds and messages that when it happens, it is okay. Just let it happen. And by the way. They’re both still active with a lot of people loving what they do. But how many of the “always the same bands” are still with us?
Philipp: Paradise Lost at one point totally lost me (although they found their path again). Baroness also almost lost me when they started to explore their "proggy“ side. But ultimately I think progress and sometimes change is a good thing. I’d rather be challenged by the music I love than be bored by it. I can totally appreciate a band sticking to their guns, but then I’ll just buy one or two of their albums and that’s it.
Unhold makes really intense music. I have not yet seen you live, but I can imagine it must be quite an experience. There are some bands that maintain their intensity throughout each and every show, and I think it is something to be admired. How do you make sure every performance has the same kind of energy?
Philipp: We are a very emotional band, so maintaining a constant level of intensity and energy is a challenge for us. Important to us is a calm and contained environment amongst us, we usually retreat for an hour before the show, warming up and bringing ourselves into a relaxed and confident mood. What happens on stage can only be controlled so far, you have to invest energy to get that energy back from the audience and your fellow bandmates.
Thomas: For me it is like a dialogue through music. And like in every deep dialogue you need to take care to get fully involved in the atmosphere. Just take 'Attaining The Light'. This song means so much to us that there is no reason to not be 100% heavy involved. Imagining how it is to lose your kids on a beach covered with little rocks. To see the water seesaw over the little body. And to hear people laughing. No, you can’t ignore this and it needs to be said that we do not support this with all our energy. Every single night!
I see you still have a couple of shows this year. With the new album out, can we expect Unhold on tour anytime soon?
Philipp: Yeah we have more shows lined up for next year as well (check our website for current dates), and we’re working on a spring 2019 tour. Feel free to reach out to us if you book shows!
Thank you so much for answering these questions.