I N T E R V I E W S
ALKALOID – Interview with Hannes Grossman
by T. Ray Verteramo
December 18, 2014
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|If you have been following Obscura, Dark Fortress, Aborted, Noneuclid, Spawn of Possession, or Blotted Science, then you have been made very aware of this prog-death "supergroup" known as Alkaloid – a phantastical brainchild of Hannes Grossman, inspired by work of the Maestro Florian "Morean" Maier. Their highly anticipated debut, "The Malkuth Grimoire," which has been in the works since July, richly produced by V. Santura (Triptykon, Dark Fortress), had hit the Indigogo campaign trail on December 1, 2014. As of December 19, only just a little more than a fortnight later, they have successfully reached 98% of their goal with over 40 days left.|
What is making this project turn heads is not just the tremendous sound or their tremendous line up of Christian Muenzner (Guitars), Danny Tunker (Guitars), and Linus Klausenitzer (Bass), along with Hannes and Morean (drums; vocals / guitar respectively), but consciously choosing to divert their eclectic, daring vision out of the corporate network and taking their chances straight with the public. Being that some would consider this move a step towards career suicide, regardless of their pre-established fan base, it would have been foolish to resist the chance to speak to Hannes, himself, about the motives and the work.
While searching for this warmongering rebel who laughs in the face of conformity and tweaks the nose of naysayers, what was found was a gentle, thoughtful soul, who just simply wants to make music. This, of course, was far more radical...
Would it be fair to say that when it comes to your art that maybe you have control issues?
Control issues? Uh…it depends. It depends on how far an idea has evolved. Like I'm very happy to give away all the lyric credit and all of that because for me, I think, like in Alkaloid, what we did for one song which is not online yet but will be on the album, I wrote a riff. Just eight bars of music and sent it to Flo and he sent back a whole song just made out of this one riff. He created themes around that one riff, with lyrics and a guitar solo and everything and I got it back like *snap!* And I thought that was perfect! It's just – sometimes, I'm very lazy. Sometimes, I can just send riffs to somebody and have full songs come back so there is no whatever control issue there. That's like the best case to me. But, let's put it this way: If I have made a song and there's someone making a remark and saying I think this song could be better if you do this or that and that's always helpful and I always appreciate that…But, once everything is done and everything is put in place and I have used hundreds of hours to create that song, then I am…hm…how do you say it? I don't really accept a lot of change, because the vision has gone too far into reality.
You have to be open for criticism if you want to create music, it's one of the main rules and I'm totally open for criticism. Anytime. Also for harsh criticism because I think you don't get anywhere without feedback. So, sometimes, depending on how far the song has shaped the more we go towards a finished song, the more we have – how did you say it? The more control issues I have.
Fair enough! It sounds to me – well, art is meant to be selfish, anyway. That's one of the reasons why finding a band is so difficult because it's very much like trying to find a coven. All of you have to be on the same page, with a similar goal, but you all have to bring your strengths to the table. But, it sounds to me that what you've experienced [from your past], by what you're describing, sounds more like communication issues than creative issues.
Yes! Yeah, exactly.
Which I think is slightly different.
Well, it's always communication issues. I would say 90% of issues in relationships of any kind, you have to communicate with people in that sense. 90% of being in a band, I would say.
90% of being a human being…
Yeah. Absolutely, I totally agree.
So, with that, now Alkaloid first – what are you getting from this project that you didn't get from your previous works? And also, you're working with, well, with yourself included, you're working with monster talents, huge talents. Please, describe to me what the working dynamic is like from your perspective.
Well, first of all, it's amazing to be able to create music with those people. That's like to me, the most important thing. I've always considered myself a 'band guy,' you know? Even though I did a solo record, I would have never done it if it weren't for the circumstances and everything. I always considered myself a band guy because I think you can achieve more – depends on what kind of person you are – but, I believe you can achieve more when you are on the same page and share the same vision. And of course once that's not the case anymore, then something has to change without bad, hard feelings. And I'm very psyched that I am able to play with all those talented guys. I've worked with Linus and Chris before in Obscura and – actually the whole band idea came together while I was still in Obscura because I wanted to make music with Flo. The new Noneuclid record came out this year. It was actually recorded a few years ago and I knew that record and it was like a big influence on me and a big inspiration because it's very very diverse and unique. It sounds like nothing else on a superficial level, you have to listen very carefully to what's going on. It was very, very impressive. We just share similar views on things and music. Then leaving Obscura finally left me some time to do it, finally because there was nothing holding us back except for the scheduling. And since you asked, what I get from this collaboration is that it goes much, much further. It's not limited to one direction of music. It's not limited in any case.
The risk, technically, the music that you're doing now could be either, because it is extreme, it can either destroy your career or it can make it.
I have nothing against making a record with 12, 4-minute songs, all catchy hit songs. I don't have anything against it. I'd love to do that. But, I just don't think that anybody in the band is any good at that!
Ha! Do you think that's a curse or a blessing?
If you want to write hit songs, you have to be able to write hit songs from your inner self. In whatever you do, if you are authentic, I believe you will have some sort of success. And if you just limit yourself to fit in a certain commercial aspect, or a certain commercial field, I don't think you can make it.
What is so striking about Alkaloid is that these tremendous talents are coming together, creating this tremendous project, that is extremely risky to your careers, and saying, "We're just not going to bother with the labels, we're just going to bring it to the street," and as of last night [December 9, 2014] the campaign, which began on December 1st, has already surpassed 80% of your goal…with 50 days left! I see this and I find myself thinking, wow, this a really big "fuck you" to the industry. Was this your intent?
Well, I'm not sure. We're not the first band to do that, like Protest the Hero, when they were done with their obligations with the label, they did a crowdfunding campaign and they collected something like 300,000 dollars or something like that. Insane!
Yes, but they were done with their obligation, it wasn't a deliberate choice to bypass…
We had an audience already with Obscura, my previous bands, and all the bands I was in. So, these people, they keep following me and the other guys and what we're doing. So, they were already into that. So, what the crowdfunding campaign finally shows off is that we have a fan base. And…I'm not against labels at all. In fact with Relapse and Obscura they were great! They were really really good to us and helped us a lot and they're probably the biggest reason why Obscura was successful at all because they invested a lot of money and time. And the thing is, I just couldn't see that it was realistic to get any support like that from a label anymore at this present day. Labels have made the mistake to invest not in the product, itself – because to me, what you're offering, the product itself is the music. It's not the format the music comes with, it's not the LP, it's not the CD, it's the music, itself. Instead of investing in that, in the "art" as you say, they are investing in the format that is maybe not the future, you know what I mean? And that's why a lot of labels have struggled. They've stopped taking risks, that's the point.
If I were to work with a label, I would have to be sure that they are into the stuff. That's what makes the difference, after all. Somebody believes in us as artists and musicians, I'm pretty sure they would be successful, because at the end, they will deliver quality…To me, at this point, there was no question that we should do it directly to people who are interested. And it's way more fun!
The campaign, itself, is gorgeous! Those packages that you put together are incredibly impressive – whole instruments, solos, and original compositions and then this beautiful pictography, the t-shirt designs…You're also marketing yourselves extremely well, which I would say definitely works in your favor. And we love stuff. Metalheads love merch! And obviously you get that. How much of that came out of your pocket?
Lol! Well, most of…well, thanks, first. That was very nice! We invested a lot of time to do that, especially our bass player, Linus (pro. LEE-nuz), is a programmer. He works as a programmer doing websites -- by the way, if you or you know someone who's looking to do a website, he's really good! He's doing a lot of I.T. stuff. And without that knowledge, it's nearly almost impossible to pull off a campaign that looks that good. When you see the campaign's website on Indiegogo, that's mostly all his programming and graphic works. You need a guy like that and we're lucky to have somebody like him.
We had to invest a little out of our own pockets for our photos because we wanted to have… the visual aspect is very important for this band, so we did have to spend a lot of money for photos. [Photography by Christian Martin Weiss, from Bavaria] and he is amazing! He is an art photographer and does a lot of um…uh…umm…how do you say, not art, but…stuff from Vogue magazine?
Yes! Exactly. I was missing the word. We were looking for somebody to do that because we want the artwork of the album and everything, we want to have photos and work ourselves into the artwork. Not just have this…I like it, but not this typical animated whatever planet or demon or, you know, it's always the same theme with a lot of the same stuff of layers --
-- Fire…corpsepaint…outstretched hands…trees?
Or drawings and stuff like that. I mean, it's great! I love Dan Seagrave or Travis Smith, but every second album looks like that nowadays. We want to use photos. That's why we had to work with grade professional photographer who is also an artist and could also put his own mark on the whole visual aspect. That was important – to create something unique.
How hard was it to get all of you on the same page regarding the visual package?
Actually, we just thought let's find us a good artist, photographer to do that and we found a guy. And we asked him, "What do you think would be a good idea?" and he pretty much gave some input. And since I'm not the main lyricist, that's Florian – and he's also very into art and all that stuff, so I was saying, "Hey whatever you guys think could work." I'm not a very visual person!
Ah, I see. So you basically left it to the experts, like, "Here, go think of something!"
*laughs* Yeah, more or less! It was like the same thing with my solo record. I hired a guy whose style I liked and I explained to him the lyrical concept and made a few remarks. I mean, I do have certain things that I don't like. But, if the basic things that I'm searching for or are done, then I'm happy. It's not like I have a super precise visual idea or super precise motives for everything. I think it's a better way to work with people who do! Who are actually photographers, because I'm not a photographer. So, a second opinion is very helpful and can create something I would never have come up with.
There's wisdom in that! There's wisdom in trusting someone's strengths…I think that's a lesson that can be learned in any band or any group dynamic.
Exactly. For instance, I do a lot of session work, like studio recordings for bands and stuff and really most of the time they give me rough sketches of what they want to have and I just do whatever I want. And they're happy with that because they're actually hiring me as drummer. And as they know my work, they trust my work and they trust my skills as a drummer better than their own skills as a drummer…you're hiring people for a reason.
We were talking about the dynamic and bringing all these talents together and I saw a Facebook update by [a member of Alkaloid] and it said, "This album was a lot of fun to create and a constant source of inspiration and joy." And he tagged all of you and said, you are all "amazingly gifted musicians and the true embodiments of visionary artists. I consider myself lucky to be in the company of these giants." To me, that is a testament you don't usually see…
[Pause] Yes. That is true. And I also read it and it made me very happy because basically, because everybody…for example, like Danny is in Aborted and it's very time consuming. And he's teaching in music college and all of that. And he's still like -- because nobody knows what Alkaloid will be like in a couple of years. But, he's totally into it! Invested all that time and did all those solos and was totally enthusiastic about the whole thing. That's the best part. It's not just some kind of business you do. It is you say, it's a lot of fun and fulfillment. That's really the best part of it.
It's pretty apparent when people listen to the teaser that there is a very human element to what you're doing. And people aren't stupid. The human race can be silly, certainly, but we can usually tell when something is not on the up.
I think so.
So, please, before we go, tell us: What is the end game?
I'm always thinking in steps. First, bringing the album on the market, actually making it happen. Once I hold this entity in my hand, then we will distribute all the perks – that is the first step. Done. Then, the second step would be releasing it officially and doing some promotion and press. And then, the next step would be playing it live, of course, as much as we can. So, what I would like to do is get us on tour, basically. I don't think it can ever be something like my friends in Black Dahlia who are touring like 8-9 months a year, that would be insane! But, it's their thing, I don't see that ever happening for us. But, definitely, we would like to do touring. That would be our next biggest goal, to play as many places as possible, broaden our fan base, then do the next record. I already have some ideas…
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