OBSCURA – It’s quite normal
Touring Europe at the time of the interview, in order to promote their latest album, ‘Omnivium’, the band Obscura made a stop in Oslo for a night under the series of events ‘South of Heaven’. The review of the concerts can be found here, while the band’s official webpage is http://www.realmofobscura.com/, so that you can keep yourself updated with news about Obscura. Prior the Oslo concert, Steffen Kummerer, the band’s singer and guitarist accepted to sit down for a chat and below you find the transcription of the interview. You can read about the band’s future plans, tour experiences, musical backgrounds and before you start enjoying the lecture, I would like to thank Steffen for his time and the tour manager for fixing the interview on the spot.
(Photo: Kenneth Sporsheim)
So what’s happening in the life of Obscura besides the fact that you guys are on tour right now? The latest album was released last year, right?
Actually we just re released our old demos. We had a couple of ideas to make this one a bit more special. We didn’t want to go by the usual record label way and it was a self released compilation, made out of our self released demo in 2003, ‘Illegimitation’, a preproduction of ‘Cosmogenesis’ which we did in 2006 and three cover songs, one from Atheist, one from Death and one from Cynic. It’s like an overview of everything we did so far. We just released this first of March and the special thing about this is that we released it via crowd funding. We made a kickstarter project, I am not sure if you’re aware of that platform. It’s basically where people come with an idea, it’s like for start-ups. It’s more common for underground movies. You register there, you can pay anything from 5 dollars to back up a project or go up in price and add anything you’d wish. We’ve been one of the death metal bands to do this at all, we managed to raise about 14,600 US dollars for old demos and we were also able to press some vinyls, few t-shirts, etc.
When it comes to reason why we did that, well, if a label releases a compilation it’s always viewed as they or the band wants to make money. We are not too fond of such compilations so we thought that if people really want to have it fund it themselves. If we reach about 3000 dollars then we can make it as it would cover the costs for pressing the CDs. The feedback was that impressive – almost fifteen thousand US dollars. In the end, the decision of releasing the old demos belonged only to the fans, it was completely out of our hands. We didn’t have any say in whether it was worth the money or not. We are very happy about that. In the end, it’s a fair result both for the fans and for ourselves.
Since 2004, Obscura has only released 3 full studio albums, while the trend nowadays is to release an album, tour for it, record new material next year. Or at least everything seems to be in a rush. How did you survive with so few releases and how easy is it to keep the crowd’s attention without new materials?
We actually toured for between one and a half and two years to support ‘Cosmogenesis’. And the same for ‘Omnivium’. This is more or less the last biggest tour for this album and the first head lining tour. In Europe we did two tours actually, the previous one being when the album was just released, in March last year, and it was as support for Hate Eternal. We did two US tours, a South East Asia tour, now we’re going to Japan in June and such a schedule takes a lot of energy. Hence, I guess we cannot release an album every year or so. I also believe that it’s more than enough to release an album every 2-3 years. Besides, the material is ready whenever we are satisfied with it. I mean, we could put out new materials much more often, but they would totally lack the quality.
(Photo: Kenneth Sporsheim)
Then how does the writing process go? Do you set a goal to have things done by that date or do you sit down and jam together and see how it flows?
We never jam. It’s not possible, we live too far away from each other. We compose all the material on computer, send each other different ideas..
Some sort of offline jamming?
Kinda’. As soon as there’s a certain part of the song or the whole song ready, everybody has to learn it then we meet and practice together.
Is it you who starts the creative process and who comes up with new ideas?
We’re pretty democratic. There’s three main song writers so far, Christian Muenzner, Hannes Grossmann and myself and whoever has the best ideas, it means that the song will make it on the album. Doesn’t matter who originated it. For one and a half-year now we have a new bassist, Linus Klausenitzer, and guess he will also bring some inputs to the next album.
You are the original founding member of this band. How hard do you feel it is to change members as often as you did? How easy or hard it is to get them to adapt or is it usually a natural process? Is it trending or is there always the joy of discovering new people?
It depends. Somehow both. When we started, we were all going to school, life was changing pretty fast at those years. It was just natural that some members left for universities in other parts of the country or even other countries, some had to start working and were not left with too much time for the band. I also tried to push the band more with each year that passed and I remember that in our first European tour in 2006, even then it was too much for some of the band members at that time. I was always trying to push a bit further, but even so it was only a few times that there were any tensions. I still have a very good relationship with most of the previous members and we’re still in touch. For example, for the old demo recording I had to call most of them for all the rights and it was quite interesting to meet again.
It is of course, frustrating if you reach a certain point and somebody leaves, then you have to go again through all the time needed to get a new member involved. And not only musically, but on a personal level since playing in a band is a 50-50 mix of being a skilled musician and having a good relationship with the other guys. I am very glad to play with the 3 other ones in Obscura right now. It works quite well. There’s always so much stress when we’re on tour, like yesterday for example when we had to drive twelve hundred kilometers from Berlin to Sweden, we took two ferries and we had one hour at the venue for the sound check, so that we could allow time for the first band of the evening as well. Such a situation is incredibly stressful, but it worked. It worked because everybody is focused on their work and that contributes to everything functioning well.
Both in the reviews about your albums and when one is listening to them, especially the last one, Omnivium, we notice a lot of elements that could be rather surprising for a death metal band with some, let’s say, less traditional instrument and types of sounds for this genre. What’s the story behind this experiments?
It’s an overall natural process. If we feel that there can be an acoustic part, it’s gonna be one. If one goes through the Omnivium album, he’ll probably notice resemblances with Atheist, Dissection, Dream Theater, Symphony X. So I guess the essence of all of them is what we, in the band, agree among ourselves. Then we just add some blasts.
We try to make our own thing, without denying our roots. And all this experimenting, it has obviously been done before. Overall, we are a metal band with a singer, guitarists, bass and drum players. And I would say we are a death metal band with prog influences, but when we compose the music we just put all the ideas in, we all come up with what we like, there’s no planned directions. If we end up with something unusual, it doesn’t matter, as long as the idea is good and it sounds good.
Does it happen often to hear from people complains about what you do in the music and how unacceptable it might be? Or in today’s metal people are more open to all sort of experiments?
The feedback is mainly pretty good, as without it, without people to enjoy our music and buy our albums we wouldn’t play tonight in Oslo. There’s obviously people who don’t like this or that, but those who listen to the music carefully will always find something for them to enjoy, rather than just hunt for stuff they dislike. Obviously every band is getting bad critiques or complaints, but if you’re satisfied with what you’re going and there’s enough fans and friends who really like it…
(Photo: Andrea Chirulescu)
You happened to play all over the world, from US, Europe to Asia and Australia. What’s the best and worst in your experience so far if it comes to compare the continents?
It’s too hard to compare. Just from touring to Europe to US, is something completely different. In Europe the clubs treat you pretty well, they take good care of the bands, while in the US you just get little money per each evening, between 8 and 10 dollars, for which you need to get food. Hence you always end up in fastfoods due the lack of time, plus you don’t know where to go or you just have to drive huge distances, while you only have half an hour and around the corner there’s anything from McDonald’s, Wendy’s, etc. But, musicwise, people are a little bit more open minded in US. First they listen to the music, and then they either complain or they like it. Especially in Germany, we have a pretty hard standing. People see that you’re not wearing an old jacket with patches from Celtic Frost and Kreator, so you must probably suck. That’s before you have played.
As for Asia?
There’s big differences between each country. In Japan, everything just works. You just come there, the backline is there, maybe you make some adjustments, you play the show. Then the next day you go to the next city and the nice Japanese people put up everything with exactly the changes from previous day and the EQs are set exactly in the same way. Everything it’s like a dreamland for touring there. In Thailand it was really weird, they are completely crazy. Also Singapore or Indonesia, even if not too far away from each other, there’s still big differences in how people react there.
We also played in Dubai and it was fantastic to hear about people flying over from the countries around the region, just to see our show. They were extremely enthusiast since there’s not many shows of this kind there and we really hope to get to play there again. I must admit I would also love to play one day in South America or in Mexico. We’ve never been in Russia either and that would also be interesting to experience.
How ironic is it to get famous with a band called ‘Obscura’?
Not too ironic really, it’s quite normal.
And where does this name come from?
I got this super weird album from Gorguts many many years ago and it made me thought that the CD player was broken or something. It’s a very unique sound, you hear it once and you recognise it again no matter what. I also didn’t know of any other band with that name, easy to remember, just one word, so, there it was.
(Photo: Christian Weiss)
If we look at the current line up, are the people in the band musically educated or the kind of musicians who learned by themselves?
Christian has a degree in Jazz guitar from Freiburg and a diploma from Munich guitar institute where he studied metal and fusion guitar. It was a private school though, since official studies only offer classical stuff, no jazz or anything else. When we checked at least. Linus, the bass player, he’s educated in pop music in Hamburg and also has a degree from a regular music university. Hannes took classes for many years (eight or nine) from a professional drummer, learned to play the piano for thirteen years. He comes from a very very musical family. I personally played piano for many many years and had a scholarship for a music school, like a boarding school where I started when I was nine and been there for a couple of years. There I learned a bit of arrangements, little bit of harmonies, I had to sing in a choir, a thing that you cannot tell today.
Is there anything in the direction of a new album for Obscura?
We have something in mind, but we’re certain we won’t go in the studio this year. Maybe next year.
If we look a bit at the lyrics and the particular interest in science, occult
When we started to write the ‘Cosmogenesis’ album, we had a contract for four albums so we decided to make like a quadrology, so ‘Cosmogenesis’ represented the beginning. Then came ‘Omnivium’ which mainly deals basically with evolution in many different ways, like biogenesis, but also on a religious side. We have the concepts for albums number three and four, one it’s going to be about two philosophers, Goethe and Schelling, while number four is going to be a requiem, like a real classic requiem out of the classical music, just in a death metal way. I am not sure if it’s going to happen, it depends on the finances, but we’re hoping to get an orchestra on that one, like in the way of Emperor’s ‘Prometheus’ album. So that’s what we’re going to work in the next years.
You told me earlier you don’t get to jam together, so I am rephrasing my next question to something like do you prefer to sit down and think, play and/or compose music, or would you much rather be on stage?
A hard question as it’s not possible for us to jam at all. We all like to just stand up early in the morning, have breakfast, get the guitars and then start working on a tune. That’s actually one of the most likely thing to happen, especially if the circumstances are nice, for example like on this tour. If you have the whole day stressed out, like in the US tours. For example, I recall when we were support with Cannibal Corpse or other bands, everyone in the band was very nice, no doubts there, but it was very very very stressful, all those extra expenses, you are super tired, you eat bad. Then you are on stage, have to play complex material until your brain feels like fried, well, in those circumstances it’s not something very funny to do.
(Photo: Kenneth Sporsheim)
Some words about the current ‘Omnivium’ tour
We’re very happy with the choice we made, I think each band has its very own style, all very technical. Exivious are maybe on the fusion edge, Spawn of Possession are the most brutal band ever, with nothing repeating at all. I listened to them for like five days in a row and I just don’t get it. I could never play this stuff. Then Gorod and Obscura, a little bit smoother technical death metal but a lot of melodious work. But it’s a nice package and the response we got when we announced it was very very positive. I am just curious how it will go from now on. Until now, everything went cool, everybody helped each other. Even if a lot of equipment got broke, even our guitar tech damaged his foot from the first day and now walks with a crutch and sits on a chair while he does his gig with Spawn of Possession. There were broken strings and I’m actually curious on what will happen today.
How do you spend time on tour when you’re not playing nor rehearsing?
Today was actually the first day with one or two hours when we didn’t have to do anything. Always the first few days of a tour are stressful, you have to organise everything, get a rhythm with everyone, especially if you don’t know each other. All these take some time. For example, today the best thing of Oslo was to go to a cafe, sit down there enjoying a cup of coffee, eating a cake and reading the newspaper. Small moments of solitude like that are very treasured on tour. Another cool thing about this tour, well, usually there’s this one dude in each tour that you can’t get along with. I am still looking for him. Couldn’t find him yet.
Any vital information at the end of the interview?
Like I said earlier, we are going to Japan in June, first time for ‘Omnivium’ and first time as headliners. Everybody in the band is stoked about this and we’re looking forward for the experience.