SINBREED – Return to Shadows
You rarely get a second chance to make a first impression in metal. Thus why many artists are so stoked to finally see their years of creativity unleashed onto the public for their first record- and then an underlying sense of fear creeps up when trying to come up with a second record. How do I make something as good- if not better, than that? Will I be able to do this? How will the fans accept this new material? Is there going to be anyone interested again?
I’m sure many of these questions entered the mind of Sinbreed guitarist Flo Laurin after the German power metal band came out strong on their debut album "When Worlds Collide" in 2010. Gaining a permanent second guitarist with Blind Guardian’s Marcus Siepen, the band is rounded out by fellow BG drummer Frederik Ehmke, bassist Alex Schulz and ex-Seventh Avenue vocalist Herbie Langhans. Fortunately for us, AFM Records saw fit to sign the quintet, and this spring we have the follow up "Shadows" – another spirited 10 song platter balancing the line between an American power sound and the German knack for harmonization and melodic passion.
Recently speaking on the phone during late afternoon(my time) to late evening (his time), I was overjoyed at the prospect of probing Flo’s brain regarding the new album, and we were able to get into a whole host of topics regarding his views on the scene as well. Enjoy!
You are personally more influenced by the K.K. Downing style of guitar play over Vinnie Moore- what do you enjoy most about each style, and how do you balance the technique versus feeling equation in heavy metal?
"You named K.K. Downing and Vinnie Moore. For me personally when I was young and I practiced the solo stuff and everything like that I slowly had to decide what I wanted to become. I needed to think about becoming the solo guitarist or the riff guitarist- and in my opinion if you are more of a riff player you are closer to composed songs rather than a 30 second soloist. So KK Downing, he’s an excellent songwriter and he knows how the whole band has to sound to compose full songs, whereas Vinnie Moore is more of the guy who can write melodies. So I look up to him, Yngwie Malmsteen, those kind of players but if I had to choose I would pick KK Downing as an influence and one I look up to."
You now have two active members of Blind Guardian in the band thanks to the addition of guitarist Marcus Siepen in 2011 along with longtime drummer Frederik Ehmke. Did it take a lot of convincing to expand the group to a five-piece and how do you balance activities between Sinbreed and their main work with Blind Guardian?
"Fortunately we didn’t have to convince him that much because he knew the first Sinbreed record because of Frederik. He liked it right away, so when we were looking at the first spot for another guitarist for the live action it was obvious to ask Marcus because he is available when Frederik is available. He is a very good rhythm guitarist and the shows have been great, so it was a natural step to ask him to join permanently because while on stage we had the same vibe in playing these songs so let’s write songs together and see what comes out of it. And when it comes to management of time, we need to map out when Blind Guardian isn’t on tour or recording. Fortunately there is plenty of time leftover for Sinbreed.
Your debut album "When Worlds Collide" came out on Ulterium Records, and now you are signed to AFM. How did this deal come about, were there other record labels interested in the band and if so what made AFM’s offer attractive enough to sign with them?
"First of all the first deal with Ulterium, it was only for one record. This is what the label usually does and we the band preferred, so there’s no bad blood and still a really good relationship still going on. The other thing was AFM was my first choice because they really know and are really into power metal. There are not so many labels who focus on the traditional style of heavy metal like AFM. I’ve followed their work for years- they have Iron Savior, Brainstorm, Rhapsody (Of Fire) lately- and these are all bands that I love and look up to myself. I felt that this was a really good place where we could feel at home and the negotiating started. It became clear that they had a really good vision and plan for Sinbreed, and then it seemed like a natural step to sign with AFM. I’m very happy."
"Shadows" is the new album, and from what I understand you are fortunate to have multiple songwriters now in the band to help formulate the material as the debut album was 95% written solely by you. What are your memories surrounding the writing and recording process, do you have any favorite songs and were there any particular difficulties/ challenges that came up?
"Considering the "Shadows" album you are absolutely right- it was a decision we discussed as a band beforehand. "When Worlds Collide" was on my own writing-wise, but I encouraged the other guys to write songs for the new record. I didn’t want to write a whole record on my own, this is pretty hard because you have so many years for the first album and you have to deliver quicker the second time. It was an invitation from my side and they wrote songs on their own, plus we wrote material together. Writing with someone else was completely new to me, when I write by myself I see nobody else. We wrote songs together in one room together. It was very important to keep up the style of the previous album, and I think we did a good job.
We gave a lot of thought regarding the type of studios to use in recording sessions. A band at our status, we knew we could not spend our budget for recording, mixing, and mastering. We made sure to record our own stuff at our own studios, even the drums which can be pretty hard to record at a home studio, I can tell you that! It was the right decision, we had the time to do this and we did the recordings when we felt the songs were ready. It was a pretty long process for the recording, and then we focused on the mixing of it. As you might know I am also the producer, so it’s my role to put everything together, especially with Marcus and Fred they know what they are doing so it’s a bit tough for me to tell them what to do. We met somewhere in the middle- they gave their input and ongoing depth of experience and it helped me to do my job better. We were very well prepared and this is why we succeeded."
Were there any particular songs that took on special changes or transformations from their initial development through to the final recording?
"I can name the song "Standing Tall", which Herbie had for a lot of years in his mind from the Seventh Avenue ideas. He transformed it into a form which he felt would fit Sinbreed better. It still has a Seventh Avenue touch- but this is where I come into play. The version on the record has the Sinbreed style, and Herbie is still happy with what I’ve added to it- which I think is very important."
My favorite songs include "Far Too Long" (especially the twin harmony breaks throughout) and the moody 7 minute closer "Broken Wings". Can you tell us a little bit about those two songs in particular from a lyrical and composition standpoint?
"Great, great! Finally you are the first one who loves "Far Too Long", great to hear that. That was the song which gave me the most brain work, I was a little afraid to get the speed on the record actually. The rhythm guitar sound is fast and aggressive, it’s close to being too fat a tone for a speed metal production but we managed to get it transported on the CD. We gave this song a lot of time and it turned out very well. The middle section there was no solo planned, so we did that solo while we were mixing the record. You mentioned the song "Broken Wings"- Frederik wrote that track completely on his own, which I really enjoy. It’s the album closer, and has a different touch than the other 9 songs. We really like the fact that you can hear a drummer actually writing music, I like the acoustic intro and outro for this song which is important when you don’t have a ballad on the record. Working with Frederik to follow his instructions this was a lot of fun. "Far Too Long" is about a person waiting, getting negative vibes from people, from school, you don’t have to wait to fight for your rights because you are worth it, you just need encouragement to give a little kick. "Broken Wings" was Frederik’s song, so I don’t know much about the lyrics, maybe someday you will have the chance to interview him and find out (laughs)."
You recorded a video for the song "Bleed", which is a half concept/ half band performance clip. Who came up with the storyline and how do you view the importance of videos in the current social media platform versus the older, MTV driven days?
"The concept was based on a short script that Frederik wrote, he read the lyrics to the song and we had a brainstorm session with the director. The director liked the concept of breaking things up between the different personalities which we gave life to the clown, the witch, etc. We as a band had so much influence as to what the clip would look like, sort of a short novel turned into a script. This is our first real video clip. The way to get videos seen now is through social media- it is disappointing MTV does not show videos anymore. The platforms are different but this is where you can first reach the fans, and you have more worldwide access at the same time because of this."
How do you look at the power metal scene in general these days- do you still see things as healthy, vital, and fresh and who are some of your favorites within the genre?
"I’m really happy that the genre comes a little bit back to life. When you are speaking to a German guy who has gone through all those years of traditional heavy metal like Helloween, Blind Guardian, Accept, and Running Wild- those are my roots and my heritage and I’ve been listening to those bands since I was a little kid. Fortunately this is my taste in music, power metal has seen bands that now give this style new life. Grand Magus for instance- this is not power metal so much as heavy metal, but it’s pretty big in Germany and has the power to get high marks in the magazine Soundchecks. My favorite bands of all time include Vicious Rumors, I totally like their "Welcome to the Ball" record, and as we talked about earlier I am a huge Judas Priest fan- I never was into Iron Maiden as much. I love Riot, unfortunately Mark Reale passed away but I dedicated my work on the "Shadows" record to Mark Reale which fans can see on the booklet liner notes."
In a previous interview I did with you for another webzine, I noted the fact that Sinbreed’s approach has as much in common with American power/ traditional bands as it does your own domestic heritage. Where do you see the differences in terms of approach, knowledge, and technique?
"Between Europe and the US? First of all this is nothing but which we can estimate and the feelings that I have from my gut. American bands take a little bit more work and thought into the production itself. American productions – Nevermore and bands of that ilk- they really give thoughts to the tone and sounds. This counts for Sinbreed too. In America there have been bands who have been in the scene for a long time but never get up to the top on the songwriting process or production process. In Europe, it may sound a little bit bad but there are many older bands who just focus on the albums they did in the past and not so much interest in the new records. I see Sinbreed more in the US style rather than the English or European style because we care about creating new music with strong production values."
What would be your favorite concert or festival that you’ve attended through the years- and then what is your favorite Sinbreed performance?
"This would be the ProgPower festival in Atlanta that we did in 2012, because this was my first overseas attendance. We know this festival is a special one, it may not be very big in terms of attendance but there are special fans, a great atmosphere, the promoters and crew are very friendly and polite to the bands. Everything went smooth, this was a highlight for Sinbreed to remember 20 years down the line. Just a fan, my first Judas Priest concert when I was in Hamburg, with Megadeth and Testament and a killer three band lineup package."
Where do you stand on modern technology and the fact that the younger generation seem to be spending so much time isolating themselves behind screens/ devices rather than interacting in more of a face to face manner?
"Absolutely I think this is increasing daily, the younger generation grew up with this isolation happening on the internet. As a band you have a lot of ways to get in contact with the fans, but sometimes these fans would rather stand behind the computer or cell phone to forget to go to the concerts. We are talking about festival attendances, and we wish more fans would go and see the band rather than looking up cell phone recordings on the date of the show through YouTube. People will watch a short clip or two of how the concert went in their home city, and this is a disadvantage of having everything accessible from your living room."
Do you still have heavy metal clubs in Germany where they specialize in playing the music provided by deejays and fans who headbang on dance floors?
"Yes, you have to go to the bigger cities to experience this. There are special clubs where you have deejays, maybe 250 people in the club but they are very little. If I want to go out for a beer, I would go to one of these heavy metal clubs to support them."
How do you feel about the new generation of musicians- are there certain aspects that you feel that need to be focused on to ensure the vitality and future of metal?
"Yeah, we talked about this a bit earlier. I’m still a young guy, turning 30, but I have been doing the traditional heavy metal style for the last 15 years which is not very normal. Most of my friends growing up are into the newer styles of metal, growls, keyboards, 3 minute songs- they are reaching into more electro-elements in their music. They have no access to Dio or the first Black Sabbath material. I wish the younger guys like my brother who is 17 that he would expose himself to bands like Def Leppard, Riot and stuff like that. Growing up with the history of heavy metal and how it’s done, because if you don’t have access to this history they have no chance to get in touch with it. The whole heavy metal scene would go in a different direction than I would like to see it."
If you had the chance to host a special dinner featuring people you’ve never met before (musician or otherwise), who would you choose and what would the meal consist of?
"(laughs). I am a really bad cook, so for this meal we would go to a restaurant, I would go for a classic German meal with meat and stuff like that. Who would I pick? Yngwie Malmsteen… I would like to talk to him about guitar technique as I am such a huge fan, but I would be a little bit afraid because of his reputation."
Do you hope to get some shows going for Sinbreed in 2014- either in a festival capacity or maybe a short European tour in an opening slot to promote this album?
"We are currently talking to promoters for a short tour or festival attendance. Nothing else is signed yet- we have the chance to promote Sinbreed a lot in 2014 because Blind Guardian will do more in 2015. We can play live and it will be nice to pick out of 20 songs for set lists. Record number three for the band will come out hopefully in 2016 or 2017- we want to have it come out sooner than 4 years. Songwriting will start taking shape soon and continue for the next 15-16 months, then we find the time frames to record around Blind Guardian’s recording/ touring schedule. There is no time to be lazy, and that’s the way I prefer things."