ELMSFIRE – A Rising Epic Force
Forming in 1999, this German sextet has been through quite a journey in terms of stylistic adjustments and obtaining the right personnel to fulfill their ultimate visions. Through it all, the guitar duo of Germano and Doro remain constant. Originally released as a self-financed record, the band’s debut album "Thieves Of The Sun" came to the attention of Massacre Records, who recently re-released this on a much wider European scale.
Artists like Falconer, Blind Guardian, and Running Wild come to mind when listening to songs like "Worth A Tale" and "Ahab". Substitute vocalist Ross Thompson (Van Canto) does a splendid job with these tracks, and with a new vocalist Erdmann in place, Elmsfire plan to support the album with as many shows as they can set up.
I figured it would be great to investigate more behind this fascinating traditional/ epic metal act, so here are some answers from the aforementioned axe duo Germano and Doro- a male/ female combination your ears need to hear if this style fills your metal soul.
Can you tell me about your own personal development as a musician- at what age did you gain an interest in playing, and how you made the move to metal music? What were some of your initial musicians or bands that inspired you to play heavy metal?
Germano: Hi Matt! First thank you for your review and this opportunity to answer your questions! I was probably in the 8th grade when I discovered the 6 string guitar: The original idea was that my brother should learn to play, but somehow the instrument ended up with me. The real breakthrough happened a couple of years later when I first listened to Iron Maiden, Slayer, Metallica and Testament.
Doro: I started out late learning to play being 17 years of age. I have always admired Slash of Guns n’ Roses but until I met Germano I didn’t really have a teacher. He was so eager to teach me everything he knew, and I guess his passion for the whole thing was pretty contagious.
How do you feel about Elmsfire’s lineup at this point? Could you inform the readers about the struggles of developing the right lineup and the stylistic changes that occurred (as I understand you were more of a death metal band at first, before developing your more epic oriented traditional/ power style)?
Germano: It is a very well-balanced lineup: indeed we had to deal with so many changes during our band history- very frustrating at some points, but we never stopped playing or took a break. The people involved in the writing-process sure did influence the sound but in the end it is always the singer who forced the direction. If we sounded more like death-metal at a time it depended on who was behind the microphone.
Doro: We never made a decision as to what we wanted to sound like. We just played and used whatever resources we had at hand and let the sound develop naturally. We always wanted to involve everyone into the band and in our founding days I think everyone in the original line-up had a much stronger affinity to more extreme varieties of metal than is the case today.
It was later that we had a more clear idea about what we wanted to sound like and what kind of vocals we imagined to go with more melodic riffs. We realized we had a certain Elmsfire-way of doing things and it all emerged to be the epic thing. Yet again I have to say- we never made a conscious decision to play power-metal 🙂
Tell us about the recording sessions for your debut album Thieves of the Sun- do you enjoy the process, how long did it take from conception to completion, and were there any particular challenges on the performance side with certain songs that you could tell us about?
Doro: All in all it took us about a year to complete the set of songs we wanted. Some of the songs we picked were older, some were brand new-it is difficult to say how long it took us exactly, but we felt that the selection was a strong one. Recordings took us about four weeks in two sessions: drums, bass and guitars first, then vocals. The whole thing was a real adventure…
Germano: Oh, that was really a challenge! During the guitar-sessions our singer quit and we had to handle the situation very quickly, so we asked Ross Thompson of Van Canto if he would help us. He was very excited about the idea and did a really great job so we were able to finish the recordings with the second session. After that, we were able to look for a new singer and were pretty lucky to find Erdmann some months later.
Lyrically the band takes real life experiences and use creative mythology to twist things around for the listener. How did Elmsfire come up with this premise- and can you give us an example of what real life experience the song "Stormchild" is based around?
Germano: That´s right! Every song´s based on a real-life experience, we try to forge those into verses. Our original intention is for everyone who listens to the song to detect the basic emotion and then fill it with his or her own interpretation or experience. ‘Stormchild’ is basically about the outburst of emotions when too long repressed, the moment when they can no longer be contained. The event can be cleansing for the soul but also very painful and, watching from the outside-very destructive, lashing out at everything and everyone…like a storm breaking lose.
Germano also did the cover art for this album- was he the first and only choice to do this, or were there other artists under consideration? How important do you see art and image being within the metal genre?
Germano: Yes, I was the only choice, because we had to save money: as you probably know, we produced and then released Thieves of the Sun all by ourselves, it was only later on when we struck a deal with Massacre. We needed all the money we could get for the recording and printing of the CD and we couldn´t afford to spend it on the cover art. Like it or not, which is a matter of personal taste and we have no problem with that, we are very proud to have done everything by ourselves!
Doro: In my personal opinion art and image especially in the metal-genre, are very important, and they also have to feed certain stereotypes-it’s a METAL!-thing. There is always this demand for either a dark, epic, fantastic or provocative element when it comes to the various types of metal and I think we were aware of this even if just on a subconscious level. For us the most important thing was that there was a connection to the music, to the lyrics, to the overall mood of the songs. The artwork was to express what the album is all about-and Germano simply had that very strong feeling about this whole thing and was able to put it all down in the way we intended it to be.
How would you describe Elmsfire in a live setting? Is it a challenge for sound engineers to get everything sonically balanced with six members on stage? What would you consider the best shows for the band through the years?
Germano: I don´t really know if we´re a problem for the sound engineers, sure thing is we´re uncomplicated and we try to get the best out of every situation. About the best show, I think the best is always the next one 🙂
Doro: I agree. I believe we try to play every show like it is going to be the best ever and get exactly that feeling out of every single one. I have to admit we played shows under really chaotic circumstances, but they were very special and totally worth remembering. Every one, the one we played in a location that was likely to come down every minute but had great acoustics, the ones we played with Van Canto or Die Apokalyptischen Reiter for the excitement and all the things we learned by doing so, or those we played in front of a hand full of people in some Germany-province backyard and still felt like rock stars. You get my drift.
Do you feel it’s a blessing or curse to reside in what many consider a metal mecca within Germany? You have so many well-known music festivals and consistent tours coming through your country- plus great support from in print magazines, webzines, record stores/ fairs, etc… what are your views on this?
Germano: It is both a blessing and a curse: on the one hand you can get enough possibilities to play your music live, on the other, there are so many concerts that you won’t be able to always gather a big enough audience…It´s quite difficult for an underground band to hit the big stages without a deal or connections. When we released Thieves we didn´t get much attention at first…only after the deal with Massacre something got into motion so now a couple of people know more about Elmsfire.
Doro: It is true. For a relatively unknown band it is very hard to get attention for there are such a huge number of bands and the whole scene is very saturated with concerts and festivals in all sizes. You have to be very persistent, keep fighting, keep going to get somewhere. Once you have a foot on the threshold things might become better, but there’s no guarantee, just infinite chances.
If you were stranded on a desert island and could only bring three bands and five albums with you, who would you consider and explain your choices?
Germano: In these times, with mp3-players and stuff, it´s quite difficult to choose only 5 albums 🙂 but if I had to they would be Amorphis (Eclipse), Litfiba (Litfiba 3 and Pirata) and Tenacious D (Pick of Destiny and Omonimus)
Doro: If we’re stranded together, Germano, might I borrow your Amorphis Eclipse and bring another instead? Is that even allowed?
Has the songwriting commenced for the follow up album? If so, what shape do you believe the songs are taking- will you always seek to place new nuances, flavors, and dynamics within the basic Elmsfire framework?
Germano: Yes it has! We’ve already begun writing and a couple of songs are done and at the present time they seem to be a little darker, probably due to the bad experiences we had after the release of Thieves. Actually it’s a work in progress, so it would be a little early to say in which direction the new album will take us in the end.
Doro: Since we never really planned for Elmsfire to develop in a certain direction I am pretty sure that the new elements, dynamics, nuances, tastes will come all by themselves as they have done before. It is always an adventure to see lyrics and music pick the direction and then allow new ideas to influence the outcome. As Germano says- this is a work in progress.
Do any of the band members share any special hobbies or interests away from music? Is it difficult dividing your time between working regular jobs and attempting to make a living through Elmsfire?
Germano: Yeah, that can be difficult. We’re mostly working in shifts and it can get quite a big deal sometimes just to get the whole band into one room for rehearsals…
Doro: Or to pick the dates for a gig just right. But since this whole thing is a shared passion we almost always seem to find a way and manage. I dare to say we found a certain rhythm to handle things-we almost never have to deny a request for a gig or even to cancel something. I believe you could call that an achievement.
As to the first part of your question: I wouldn’t say that we share many hobbies, but there are certain interests, movies, the love for some beers and a good meal in the company of friends that we have in common. There is the occasional festival we all go to for the music or the event of camping…or someone might come up with a truly spectacularly freak idea and the others might be crazy enough to join 🙂
It is all very spontaneous. We like each other.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received when it comes to music philosophy or the music business in general?
Doro: I think there is a lot of good advice from all directions, from almost every point of view. Problem is that it doesn’t always apply. If we made one important experience, it’s that we have to trust in our own vision and stick to it without being too stubborn to try something out that might actually work out great. To vary or change little details often works great miracles without letting an idea being dominated by someone else.
Another thing that we learned is that you cannot force something to happen. You have to patiently sit it out and keep going, trust yourself and eventually all the pieces will fall into place at the right time.
How would you describe all of the personalities within the members of Elmsfire- and what particular aspect or characteristic does each member have which helps make the band unique and special?
Germano: The characters within the band are all very different indeed but everyone aims for the good of the band to the best of his or her abilities. The most important thing is that despite these differences everybody is able to add his own handwriting and ideas and the rest are willing to welcome these inputs. It doesn’t always go that smoothly, but we all know how the final product will convince beyond doubt.
Talking about the particular qualities of each member I’d say that Fritz, our bass-player has a genuine talent to talk to people in a very straight way, to cut out great deals, the ability to manage and organize. From the musical point of view he is doing very solid work and he and Doro are very skilled with the lyrics and the ideas for those. Apart from that Doro has a great ability to deal with pressure and delicate situations inside and outside the band. She helps solve differences and arguments and I sometimes wonder how she manages to keep so calm when everything just seems to go to hell. It has kept the band several times in the past from devouring itself.
Nathan, our keyboardist and newest member can be rightfully called a true musician for he has a vast repertoire and theoretical as well as practical knowledge about music (playing several instruments), and a very good ear too-he just knows when something just doesn’t sound right or how it can be made to work when others get stuck. And he has such a nature and good humor that the band has already experienced a benefit from that in a very short time.
Our singer Erdmann is a very ambitious person and he always strides to perfect his skills. He already has quite an arsenal at his own disposal, ways of using his voice that can be truly surprising, sometimes most of all to himself when nudged into the right direction. He is his own harshest critic when it comes to his art and he is never beyond his own doubt. I think that makes him very special, not only as a person but also as a singer.
Drummer Patrick has impressed us with his abilities from the very beginning. Once he has built up a basic structure he is able to decorate that with so many little tricks and clever fills and varieties of beats all so very playfully delivered that you can just call it astonishing. And I personally believe that there is so much more where that comes from, he already got started.
Doro: Germano is the creative center of Elmsfire, the ‘mastermind’ behind the music, the guy that gets up at night because he just dreamed up a riff and absolutely has to record it, before he goes to sleep again. Or you find him so caught up in a riff or the development of a melody he will not even realize you’re right next to him-he’s 100% passion for the music and that’s what makes him so special and at times a bit scary too 🙂
But I guess you can see now how everybody in Elmsfire makes that bunch work so well together, it is like every component completing the other.
What are your feelings on the fast technological and global changes that appear to be taking place in current times? What concerns you most over the next 3-5 years in the world?
Doro: At the time I just watch it happen, astonished by the speed of it, feeling a bit helpless and frozen. I often think: it can’t go on like that forever and wonder how long it will take until technical development reaches its limit. Personally I am convinced that each era can only develop to a certain extent and then naturally comes to a halt-the question is what will happen next. Will we be able keep a certain level or will we simply plunge backwards?
Another thing that worries me is that people really talk to each other less and less to deal with situations of their everyday lives rather than typing messages. A lot of emotional information for example gets lost in that process and I wonder if we might lose the ability of direct communication altogether if we go on retreating into a more virtual world without hardly ever having to leave home.
As I already said, I lean back and watch it happen. It is a process in progress. It has brought us benefits, too, for example that we can reach a lot more people all over the world with our music in a much shorter time…
And by the way there isn’t really much we can do about these fast global changes anyway, right? We’ll have to see how it all turns out.
Please let us know the short term goals and long term goals for Elmsfire- what’s left on your bucket list to accomplish, either musically or personally?
Germano: The first goal is always playing the next gig, Hopefully there will be a lot more of them coming along. One of our major goals at the time is still to do a full tour with an established band, one that keeps us on the road for at least three straight weeks-that would be an achievement, and it would of course be nice to play some fancy festivals and open-airs. I hope we do not have to wait too long for that…:)
The other thing we are currently busy with is working on our new stuff for a follow-up album. So that has got to be the next goal to achieve, one more step on the road.
We intend to take them one at a time.
Thank you for the opportunity to answer your questions and the interest you take into Elmsfire and our music!